The first day in Bonaire I replaced the burnt out alternator with a spare we had on board. The spare was the original Volvo alternator that we replaced in Holland because its capacity was far too low. The situation was far from ideal. In order to keep the fridge and freezer running, we had to motor 3 to 4 hours a day depending on the wind strength in the anchorage. Apart from this, we had a lovely time in Bonaire, enjoying the beautiful clear blue waters and the Dutch delicacies available from the restaurants and supermarket.
On the 3rd of July we continued to Curacao. The alternator repair shop in Curacao told us that our alternator was beyond repair. Both the stator windings and the diodes were totally gone. It was better to install a new one. I ordered a Balmar 150 Amp alternator from the States via FEDEX.
On the 9th of July Tania flew to Tobago to teach yoga and art classes on a retreat. This is a story in itself. When we were in Tobago in September 2002, Tania met Denise. Denise has a practice as a psychologist in England. She was in Tobago to investigate the possibility of setting up a retreat course there. They got talking because Tania also wants to set up a retreat one day. They exchanged addresses, and kept in contact. This is how Tania was invited to teach on the retreat course that Denise was setting up. It was to be the first in a series of courses in Tobago. The next ones would be in August and November. The whole thing turned out to be a bit of a disaster. Instead of the planned 16 participants, only 4 people had booked on the course, and of those only 2 actually turned up. So Tania was teaching a group of 2. Nevertheless it was a good learning experience, and Tania had another opportunity to enjoy beautiful Tobago.
Meanwhile I stayed in Curacao to work on the boat. The hull needed polishing and waxing, which was a major job working from the dinghy. Apart from that there were various small repairs; some varnishing; and the new alternator arrived, so I could install it. Time flew by.
Tania came back from Tobago on the 22nd, in time for her birthday on the 30th. She had set her mind on a special birthday present. At the SeaQuarium in Curacao you can swim with the dolphins. She had wanted to do this for a long time. As you can see in the photos she enjoyed the experience tremendously.
On Tania’s birthday itself we hired a car to see more of the island. The view from a cliff overlooking Santa Martha Bay and dinner in a former plantation house were highlights of the day.
Holland (15th of August to 18th of September)
From the 15th of August to the 18th of September we were in Holland. Both our mothers have their birthday in this period, and they were both turning 75. Reason to celebrate. My brother René and his family were also coming to Holland. His wife Béatrice had resigned from Shell in Bangladesh, and they were planning to have a short sabbatical before returning to Australia, which has become their home country.
My parents had rented a holiday home large enough to accommodate themselves, René and his family, Tania and me. We also took the opportunity to visit lots of other family and friends. Our hire car made lots of miles. One day we went to see the "Batavia", an accurate replica of an 18th century Dutch merchant navy vessel. It was built using 18th century techniques and materials. The yard was working on a new project: "de Zeven Provinciën", an even larger 18th century vessel.
On the day before our departure back to Curacao, Tania met Monica. Monica teaches classes of meditative dance and modern dance and improvisation to bring the dancer back into contact with his/her body. Seldom have I seen Tania so enthusiastic about something. She immediately wanted to do a full week course with Monica. Just in time she managed to postpone her flight by a week. I did not change my flight and flew back a week before Tania.
Curacao (18th of September to 1st of October)
Back in Curacao I found that the two solar panels, which we had ordered before our departure to Holland, had arrived. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to install them before Tania arrived a week later, because I had picked up a bad cold on the plane to Curacao.
Tania contacted Gloria, whom we had met on our first visit to Curacao. Gloria is a Reiki master, and certified to teach others to become a Reiki master too. Having done Reiki 1 and Reiki 2 in Oman, Tania very much wanted to proceed and become a Reiki master herself. She managed to do this before we went to Bonaire.
Gloria’s son Glennert is a keen sailor. He had just purchased an old 30 ft ketch, which happened to be next to us in the marina. He grabbed the opportunity to come sail with us to Bonaire.
Bonaire (1st to 25th of October)
In Bonaire we took part in the annual regatta, but not in our own boat. We would have loved to, and we probably would have done very well. However, our insurance doesn’t cover racing accidents, and we just did not want to take the risk. So we took part as crew on a cruising catamaran "Lambada". The winds were light and Lambada was performing terribly. Unlike a monohull, the empty weight of a catamaran is very low. Therefore you cannot bring too much gear on board without effecting sailing performance (and safety for that matter). Cruising boats are generally loaded up with several tons of diesel, water, tools and spares as well as supplies, and Lambada was no exception. So the first two days we finished last or almost last. The skipper had seen enough. He simply disappeared for the rest of the week. One morning we went over in our dinghy to step aboard for the next race, and we found that Lambada wasn’t there!
We took a tour of "Rooi Lamoenchi", a former plantation. The owner and tour guide Ellen inherited the land and the plantation house from her father. She lovingly restored the plantation house and cleaned up the land with the help of some local labour. She put up signs identifying trees and bushes. What makes this tour so special is her loving care and attention for the land, and her stories about the way life must have been when this was a working plantation.
Tania and I started to discuss our plans for the future. We had really enjoyed the previous year of cruising, especially our visit to Cuba. We had grown accustomed to our life of freedom but for many different reasons we didn't want to continue doing this forever. Unlike many of the other cruisers in the Caribbean we are too young to retire, both financially and mentally. Our financial position is still reasonably good, but clearly we have to make some money in the not too distant future. We both need the satisfaction that comes with achievement. For some time the challenge of preparing ourselves for this trip, equipping the boat, then maintaining her and improving some of the on-board engineering systems, as well as the successful completion of some of the more challenging passages satisfied this need (especially for me). Now we were ready for something new. Tania wanted to try something other than going back to being a seismic interpreter in the oil industry, but I have always enjoyed my job as a process engineer, and wouldn’t mind going back for a number of years, especially if this meant taking part in a major engineering project.
Tania is longing very much to live in a house for a while, if only part time. And this feeling is growing stronger and stronger. She needs space for her artwork without having to tidy up every time after painting for an hour or so. She also needs space for her dance. She loves tropical plants and waking up to the sounds of tropical birds in the morning (and so do I). She also simply loves the land more than the sea and she needs to stay put from time to time long enough to build lasting friendships.
I simply love the boating life, and wouldn’t want to give it up forever. It would be ideal for us if we could live on land for six months and sail the other six months. But how do you find meaningful work for six months a year and make enough money for the other six?
If I found a job in the oil industry, we could store the boat and use it only in the holidays. We could do this for a maximum of two years at a time. Beyond this, it really doesn’t make any financial sense. There is a lot of capital locked up in the boat. It would be better to charter a boat for the holidays. Besides, a boat deteriorates faster laid up ashore than being actively used and maintained. Perhaps I could do an oil project for a couple of years, and then sail for a couple of years etc. Alternatively, we could sell the boat, make enough money to retire and then buy another one. I started to look on the Internet to check out the job market. Bonaire has good Internet facilities at a reasonable price. I found a number of jobs advertisements and applied via e-mail. On most applications I did not get any reply. Not even a confirmation of receipt. It appears that this is not uncommon now that jobs are being advertised on internet. Perhaps they receive simply too many responses from candidates that would never qualify for the job.
Tania is looking in a different direction for a solution to our ‘problem'. Maybe she wants to set up a retreat in a beautiful tropical setting. A place where people come to relax and enjoy nature. And also a place where people can take yoga, dance and art classes. Some classes she could teach herself. For others she would invite guest teachers. She could take interested guests on trips to the volcano's and give geological explanations. Clearly such a venture would take 12 months a year of hard work just to break even, especially in the beginning. But the reward would be in the lifestyle and perhaps I could make some money with the boat, taking charter guests on local trips. For this option we are looking in the direction of Panama and Costa Rica. We have heard good things about Costa Rica, and about the Bocas del Toro region of Panama.
A final consideration is that I love boats and I love working with boats. Perhaps I could make some money with that. For a start I am taking a distance-learning course that will result in a diploma for yacht surveyor.
I received an e-mail from my brother René. As part of their short sabbatical, he and his family had rented a holiday home in Guadeloupe. Later that month they would take a bareboat charter yacht for a 5-week period. It was low season, and therefore reasonably priced. Wouldn’t it be great if we could meet up somewhere in the eastern Caribbean? For us this would mean a 500-mile trip straight into wind, but we were looking forward to seeing them again, and we decided to do it. We agreed to meet up at Union Island.
Bonaire to Union Island (25th of October to 3rd of November)
Our first stop after Bonaire was Aves de Barlovento, the eastern part of this Venezuelan Archipelago. It was a difficult overnight trip straight into wind. We made 51 miles of easting in 24 hours, even using the engine for a few hours. We were tacking north of Las Aves. Friends of ours had told us that the west setting current was lighter in the north than in the south. With hindsight we should have gone south. The current north of Las Aves was 1.5 – 2 knots. For the rest of the trip east we would stay between the Venezuelan main coast, and the offshore islands.
The anchorage at Aves de Barlovento was lovely as ever. Apart from a handful of other cruising boats and a few Venezuelan fishermen the place is completely deserted. We anchored in beautiful blue water. ‘Aves’ means birds in Spanish. The island has a large colony on breeding Boobies and Frigate birds. Tania went ashore in the dinghy to take some photos of the chicks. We stayed in the anchorage for 24 hours before continuing to Los Roques.
The overnight trip to Los Roques was a lot easier. Both the wind and the current were lighter. We made 45 miles of easting in 18 hours. We stopped six hours for some rest, lunch and a swim and then continued on to Isla Tortuga.
Things were getting better and better. The wind was shifting a little bit north of east, so we could make Isla Tortuga with long tacks to the SE and short tacks to the NNE. We made 77 miles of easting in 21 hours. At Isla Tortuga we stayed only 5 hours and then continued to Porlamar on the east side of Isla Margarita.
Porlamar is a place where you can find a concentration of cruising boats, mainly because living is so cheap there. The downside is a very high crime rate. We met up with Nick and Gertrude on board Tartufo. We also bought some cheap beer and filled up with cheap diesel (600 litres for US$ 30!).
We stayed almost 48 hours in Porlamar and then headed straight for Union Island. The wind was forecast to be between ESE and SE. If this were true, we could make Union Island in a straight line. Unfortunately the wind was somewhere between E and ENE, and we had to tack our way to Union Island. It took 51 hours.
Just before we reached Union Island, in the early morning light, we saw a group of hump back whales heading west.
Who could think of a better place for a reunion than Union Island? As we entered the anchorage at Clifton harbour, René, Béatrice, Léa and Thibaut were waiting for us on board ‘Ti One’, a 50ft Beneteau.
Ti One had to be returned to the charter base in Guadeloupe on the 18th of November, and we were planning to sail up north together.
Union Island to Guadeloupe (3rd to 17th of November)
At Union Island we checked in to the country of "St. Vincent and the Grenadines", and the next day we sailed together to the Tobago Keys, one of our favourite anchorages in the Eastern Caribbean. The first thing we noticed was that the anchorage was unbelievably crowded. And the season was only just starting! In the past year we had grown accustomed to the quiet anchorages of Venezuela and Cuba.
At the Tobago Keys the six of us made some lovely snorkelling trips. One night we had barbequed lobster on the beach and played charades by the light of a full moon. The kids were very creative!
Along the trip north to Guadeloupe we were basically backtracking the same islands we had visited before. However, it was so nice to sail in company. The kids loved to sleep over wih us on board Alegría, and Tania liked to spoil them with breakfast in the morning. Sometimes we had pancakes and sometimes we had home baked croissants. The kids were both eager to help baking. They made a mobile together, and Léa wrote stories.
One night we watched the full eclipse of the moon from the deck of Ti One. The next morning Tania and Béatrice did Yoga on the beach.
Near the village of Trois Ilets on Martinique Ti-One got stuck on an uncharted shallow. The bottom was heavy mud which made it very difficult to break free. In the end a local boat pulled hard on the main halyard thus heeling the boat so much that she could motor off using its own engine. The next morning we witnessed the traditional boat races. These colourful wooden boats , about as wide as a dugout canoe carry a huge sail. They are called Gomiers. Eight crewmembers and a helmsman lean out on poles, trying to balance the boat. On the day of the races it was completely calm, but the crew were able to develop an amazing speed by rocking the boat from side to side.
It was a sad farewell when we finally reached the charter base at Pointe à Pitre, Goudeloupe. We felt a bit empty when they had gone. René and Beatrice were planning to set up a business at their home in Perth, Australia. What were we going to do next?