Amida's Log: Season 2006 & 2007
Amida travels from Trinidad to Aruba, Bonaire & Curacao via the out islands of Venezuela
and back to the Grenadines.
Heading to the ABC's (Aruba, Bonaire & Curacao via the out islands of Venezuela)
A reluctant outboard, a marriage proposal, lots of diving, turning 60 and various other tales…
Amida's Log is back. By popular demand, I am back to work writing our Log. In this case, "popular demand" was just Marilyn,
who has been gently persuasive, no not nagging, since we left Trinidad in late October 2006. I finally relented and made a New
Year's resolution to do the Log.
(Marilyn here..to be honest Andy just finished the log the week before we left Toronto for Trinidad (Oct 17, 2007) )
You will have noticed a much better look and feel to the Amida website. The text and pictures are together now and the history,
ie previous Logs, is more easily accessible. Marilyn bought a $12 piece of software, which is pretty good for web page editing.
One of these days we will even publish a map showing where we have been as I finally figured out how to do this, without
paying anyone for the map content.
(Marilyn here again… with a quick update. Would you believe, I broke our computer's removable hard drive, which had all of our
pictures from the 2006/7 season and it was going to cost $1,000 to recover them! So I must apologies that we don't have any
nice picture to go with Andy's great stories! Sorry folks! Murphy is still my faithful companion. However I do promise we will
have pictures with the Log for 2007/2008)
The last Log ended with Amida back in Trinidad, on the hard, in June 2005. The plan had been to return to her in February,
which allowed us to put in seven months of work renovating the fixer-upper house we'd purchased in Collingwood. House
projects are very much like boat ones, they take far longer than planned and gobble up money at pretty much the same rate!
So, the plan got changed when we realized that not enough work had been accomplished and that returning in Feb would leave
us with a pretty short sailing season, as hurricane season starts again in June. So, we decided to miss the season altogether,
complete the house Reno, and sell the Toronto house. This all happened, except the house Reno is not exactly complete, but
that is another story altogether.
Eventually, we got back to Trinidad on October 25th 2006, accompanied by four huge duffle bags and four carry-ons, being just
within Air Canada baggage allowances by ounces. For the next month we fixed all kinds of boat problems that sixteen months of
heat and humidity had caused, upgraded or replaced items, while getting dirty, sweaty, and frustrated in the process. The bank
balance took a major hit as a result.
For those not interest in the details, skip a couple of paragraphs.
Replaced were the starter battery, the starboard stainless steel 50g water tank (which if you recall, was new when we left
Toronto), the EPIRB battery, lifelines, chainplates, the mast step, masthead sheaves, the Genoa halyard and the ST60 Depth
Sounder. We decided to strip the many years worth of antifouling paint that had built up on the hull bottom, down to the gel coat
and have it primed with epoxy prior to two new coats of antifouling being put on. The life raft needed servicing and the Yanmar
engine required its regular maintenance. Each and every one of these items has a story behind it, but writing them all would
turn the Log into a book. The reluctant outboard is the only one I will describe in any detail, as it is perhaps a good example of
my belief that mechanical entities are at war with the human species, winning more battles than they deserve to.
I have absolutely no skill in dealing with outboard engines, so we had left the 8HP Yamaha with a mechanic while we were back
home. This was partly done for reasons of security, i.e. it could not be stolen off Amida, and also because he was to service the
engine. Of course, on our return, the work had not been completed but I had anticipated this and checked on progress a long
time before we actually needed to use the dinghy. A few days later, I collected the engine and mounted it on the stern rail,
where it usually sits when not in use.
The day before we were due to depart, we needed to visit the Customs and Immigration offices across the bay to complete the
reams of paperwork that accompany an arrival or departure. So, I put the outboard on the dinghy transom, pulled the cord, and
the engine sprang to life. Unfortunately, the expected strong stream of cooling water did not materialize. In it place was a weak
piddle that did not even match that of a 65 year old male's. We turned it off and paddled the rest of the way. Of course, it was a
Friday and when we had finished with the departure formalities and I tried to contact the mechanic, he had already left for the
day. A great stroke of luck followed and I was able to get his cell phone, actually talk to him, and find out he was planning to
come to work on Saturday morning. Not only that, but he showed up as promised, which alone merits inclusion in this Log. It
transpired that he had not bothered to change the impeller! Luckily, I had a spare one, which he then installed.
It was now around 1:00pm on Saturday and we were due to be leaving the marina within the hour. I collected the engine,
mounted it on the dinghy for the short return trip back to Amida, pulled the starter cord, after which it did not retract! A frantic
phone call to the mechanic proved not to be terribly useful and I decided that we would get the problem fixed in Margarita,
Venezuela, where we were heading. Moral of the story, check things out with lots of time to spare, in case they don't work as
advertised…which is usually the case!
One further story needs to be told, namely that of our visit to the Trini authorities to complete the checking out procedure. We
already knew that the amount charged for the privilege of leaving Trinidad increased if the visit to the Customs Office occurred
after 4pm. If the reluctant dinghy had not been so, we would have had plenty of time. As it was, we got to the office at 3:53pm
and were told we had to visit Immigration first. There, after filling out the two-part form (they still use carbon paper there!), we
were told that we needed to pay them as well. Unfortunately, they were not able to give us any change, so Marilyn had to race
around the nearby stores getting a 100TT note broken into five 20's. On her return, the officials told us that, regrettably, they
still could not give us the necessary change, so Marilyn repeated the run around, this time to break a 20TT into two 10's. By the
time this was accomplished and we made our way to the Customs Office, it was 4:08. To our amazement, the officials decided
that overtime charges were to be applied despite our protestations that we had actually arrived at 3:53 and had spent some 10
minutes fixing their "brother officers" in the Immigration Office's shortage of change problem. These protestations fell upon
extremely deaf ears so I fell back upon the ultimate form of pressure on officialdom… I want to talk to your supervisor. He also
appeared to be quite deaf, so I had to resort in my usual way to asking for his name, rank, number, the name of his supervisor,
as well as the name and address of the Minister in charge of customs matters. I would need all these to write a letter expressing
my extreme displeasure. It is a letter I do intend to write. However, I not only need to conquer a touch of procrastination, but it
should be done after we no longer need to visit Trinidad. Because, not only do they use carbon paper here, but there is a manila
folder in a filing cabinet for all of Amida's paperwork. I can imagine Amida being boarded and searched by zealous officials that
want revenge for my letter writing. But, one day it shall be done!
One final item regarding Trinidad, namely that the security situation seems to be getting worse. There was an incident earlier in
the year where a boat was boarded and the occupants held up and robbed. There were also several dinghy thefts, one of which
occurred while we were there. The local cruising community has organized night watches but these have had limited success.
We were a little nervous about heading to Venezuela, as the situation there is also potentially bad.
Finally underway, we motored between the islands at the entrance to the Gulf of Paria and found ourselves on the open ocean.
It was a great, great, feeling being on the water again after such a long time. We headed north, towards Grenada, as this is the
accepted way of avoiding potential problems with boats coming out of Venezuelan fishing villages looking to increase their
wealth at the expense of cruisers. We also maintained radio silence other than a brief check on the status of our buddy boat,
Moustache (Jeremy and Sonia Bangay), every two hours. The wind was not strong enough to keep the sails filled and they
suffered as the two boats wallowed in the swells. We put in a double reef in the main, leaving it up for the sake of boat stability,
and reluctantly turned on the engine. Our destination was the Los Testigos islands, some 95 miles west from Trinidad.
Our concerns over security were unfounded and we arrived safely to begin the first of many instances of "checking in" with the
local island authorities. There are many, many small islands off the coast of Venezuela and most of them appear to have a
Coast Guard "presence". It might be a mere shack but, they're there… and you are expected to drop by with your boat papers
and declare your presence. You are allowed to be a "boat in transit" which means you can stay at each island for two days, and
then you must move on. This is actually a pretty fair process as there are so many islands that two days at each would be more
than enough time. The Guards are very pleasant to deal with, despite not being able to speak much, if any, English. Many of
them are just young kids on a three-month assignment, and welcome the chance for some company.
Finally in Los Testigos itself, you need to drop anchor in front of the Coast Guard shack, check in, then move on to one of the
preferred anchorages. On our way back from checking in, we were taken aback by a group of red shirted young people who
waved at us with gay abandon from the dock. We went over and discovered they were from the state oil company and were
handing out free red T-shirts and baseball hats to celebrate the upcoming Presidential election. Interestingly, Chavez' color is
also red… more on this later…gives a new meaning to the term "free" elections!
With the anchor now dropped in the correct place, we could relax. The anchorage was splendid, just what you might see in a
tourist guide. Between two small hills, was a low saddle, which funneled the wind, keeping us cool, the batteries charged, and
the bugs away. Facing us was a clean, white, sandy beach. Around us were no more than six or seven other boats, a much
lower number than in the typical West Indian anchorage.
As we munched on our lunch, Marilyn noticed that a neighbouring sailboat's dinghy had become detached and was being blown
away. We called Jeremy on Moustache as he had already put his dink into the water while ours, without a working engine, was
still lashed onto the deck. The dinghy was easily rescued and returned to its grateful owners, who showed their appreciation with
the gift of a bottle of wine. Being a true gentleman/women, Jeremy and Sonya shared it with us on the basis that we had spotted
the potential disaster in the first place.
Later that afternoon we took the dinghy over to the island for a little exploring. There were magnificent giant sand dunes, quite a
struggle to climb, given the soft sand that was more than a little hot! The view from the top was a sufficient reward for our
The next day, we set out for Margarita, 50 miles away. The wind was initially in the 10 to 15 knot range and, for a change, not
on the nose but aft of the beam. It was a perfect scenario to dig out the spinnaker and try it out for the first time since we left
Toronto. It took a while to find the blocks and sheets, but eventually up it went… a magnificent sight. Unfortunately, it was not to
be blissful for long, soon the wind strengthened, with gusts to 25 knots, which was too much for peace of mind and safety, so
down came the spinnaker. The rest of the trip was quite uneventful but still a lovely sail.
This island is a favourite with many cruisers and it is easy to see why. First, there is a huge anchorage, which is, in most
prevailing wind conditions, free from swells. Secondly, it is cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap! The anchorage is a little isolated
but the taxi fares cost only a couple of dollars each way. The stores are well stocked and the beer very tasty.
Our first chore, as usual, was to get checked in. This looked to be not an easy accomplishment, as there are several
departments that need to be visited and they are neither close to the anchorage nor to each other. Luckily, an entrepreneurial
cruiser who eventually took up permanent residence here offers a service of taking your boat papers and passports in the
morning and returning at end of the same day with the requisitely stamped pages. It was a no brainer to use him, even though
the amount we paid him, plus the various ministries made Margarita the most expensive place to check in.
The next chore was to fill up with diesel and water. To explain in detail how we accomplished this would take a mammoth effort.
Suffice it to say it was pretty much a nightmare, even though the diesel was cheaper than the water at 10c a gallon! Part of the
problem was that, apparently, diesel could not be sold to foreigners three days either side of the presidential elections. The
election was pretty much uneventful. Cruisers were advised to stay on their boats as there was a possibility of violence in the
streets depending upon the outcome, however this did not transpire. Chavez was duly re-elected and that night the sound of
fireworks prevailed long into the night. There is a fair amount of anti-US rhetoric around and Chavez has huge support from the
less well off masses. He spends vast amounts of oil revenues to "support" these folks and they reward him with re-election. One
of the more visible recipients of his largesse, are the fishermen sporting relatively new 75HP Yamaha outboards on the sterns of
their fishing boats.
On the advise of our friend the entrepreneur, we hired a local young woman to take us on a tour of the island, in her rather
decrepit automobile. The island is not large and there are not a huge number of things to see, but it was a great day. The
highlight was a tour of a mangrove swamp, during which the boat driver stopped, seemingly in the middle of nowhere in
particular, and showed us an exceedingly well-camouflaged sea horse a few inches below
the surface of the water. There was also a visit to a local beach, lined with craft stalls, where we bought two pearl bracelets for
next to nothing.
Back at the anchorage, we stopped in at a beach bar for a drink and discovered Caiprahinas. This wonderful cocktail is made
from squeezed limes, a particular kind of alcohol, which is impossible to either spell, or find, and spoonfuls of sugar to stop the
concoction from turning your mouth inside out. Of course, the lack of the requisite type of alcohol is easily remedied by liberal
use of vodka or white rum, which are in plentiful supply. Some bars add limeade or lemonade which dilute and further sweeten
the mix and make it even tastier and, as a side benefit, require many more of them to make you totally incapacitated… for, of
course, a very very cheap price. It actually is a very tasty libation and we decimated the supply of limes for the next few days.
We also enquired of our new friend, as to the availability of an outboard engine mechanic and found a fellow, in a shack, who
spoke not a word of English, but understood my hand signals extremely well. It took two attempts, but eventually, the outboard
was fixed and the dink became usable.
Eventually, it was time to leave Margarita. We had planned to sail over to the western end of the island and anchor there
overnight, but were dissuaded by reports of a recent boarding and robbery. Instead, we left mid afternoon and sailed directly to
A short while before it was time to weigh anchor, I noticed a local fishing boat dropping its nets not far from us. The process was
simple and age old. The top edge of the net floated on the surface while the bottom sank and the result was a mesh curtain in
which the fish would become entangled. The fishermen banged on the side of the boat with sticks as they turned the curtain into
a circle, at which point it was pulled into the boat. The only problem was that the net was drifting closer and closer to us and we
had been intending to leave soon. The worst-case scenario flashed through my mind as I imagined the net getting tangled with
the prop and our departure significantly delayed. This, of course, did not happen and the net was retrieved skillfully. The catch,
however, was quite pitiful as only three midget fish were stupid enough to get caught. Not even enough to feed the cat, for an
hour's effort! … perhaps just a little more lucrative than a job at IBM these days?
The journey of 80 miles to Tortuga was quite eventful. The winds were in the 5 to 20 knot range, not too bad, but it was quite
rolly sailing downwind. For a couple of hours we used the whisker pole, and set the sails "wing on wing", then took it down as
nightfall approached. That night, during my watch, I noticed the lights of what appeared to be a freighter approaching. Most of
the time the laws of space and probability apply. We and such a freighter pass each other with oceans of space between us,
pardon the pun. From time to time, our courses bring the boats close, but without discomfort. Occasionally, the sea gods decide
to create havoc to spice their otherwise boring lives and our courses lead to a potential collision! This particular incident seemed
to be of the last flavor, as I watched the freighter come closer and closer. So, I changed course by 10 degrees in order to pass
around the freighter's stern…. but our relative bearing did not change! I changed course again, by a further 15 degrees, with the
same result, which was now quite disconcerting. I just could not fathom, what was happening. I became even more distressed
on next seeing both his red and green bow lights bearing down on me. The trouble with seeing lights at night is, it is tough to
distinguish between large ones far away and small ones very near, yet the difference can be fatal. Moments later, the red and
green lights became a solitary red and the dark shape began moving towards my stern and soon passed behind me. Relief!
Later analysis came up with the scenario that the freighter, which was quite substantial in size, determined we were on a
collision course and, quite properly but unusually, changed course to avoid us, a boat under sail! This occurred just as I was also
changing course, which meant that, relatively, our maneuvers cancelled each other out. Luckily, the freighter continued to
change its course in order to avoid us and eventually passed by. The same analysis indicated I should have been trying to hail
the freighter on the radio, which I shall certainly be doing the next time the sea gods decide to play chicken with us mortals.
Also our approach to Tortuga was more than a little scary, being just after dawn, the island seemed to suddenly appear on the
near horizon. According to the chart, we needed to avoid a reef and find our way behind it in order to be protected from the
swells. It was Marilyn's watch at the time and she noticed the waves breaking over the reef on a course that seemed a little too
close for her comfort. Even worse was the sight of an abandoned, sunk, catamaran, sitting on top of this reef. She called me up
from below where I had been snoozing and we decided to take a wider curve around the reef than the original course planning
had indicated was required. This was a good thing as when we finally had our anchor set, the chart plotter showed Amida as
sitting on the beach! It turns out that the charts for these islands are not in sync with reality. This incident reinforced our
approach of never planning to approach a new anchorage in the dark and always always with caution.
The next day was the highlight of our culinary experiences in these islands. We came upon a fisherman's hut, right on the
beach, where we had a fresh lobster dinner served to us with rice and salad, for the improbable sum of $12 per person, and no
corkage was charged on our wine either! What a delight!
Our next leg was 95 nautical miles to Los Roques, a trip of almost 20 hours at our "planning" speed of 5 knots.
We left in the afternoon so, if we made better time than planned, we would arrive just after dawn. It turned out to be a good
strategy as, while the wind started at 10 - 15 knots, it died and we ended up motoring for hours and arrived at the entrance to
the reef around 8am. The entrance was harrowing. It was extremely narrow and, facing east towards the prevailing wind, quite
rolly, with 6 - 8 ft waves crashing into the gap. Moustache took the lead and, again, the electronic charts were quite a bit off, so
it was a purely visual approach. We took the precaution of closing the cabin hatches, which was a good thing as one wave did
crash into the cockpit, soaking the only copy of our cruising guide for the area! Once we were inside, the navigable channel was
quite visible in contrast to the surrounding shoals and reefs. Still all in all tooooo stressful!
We dropped anchors in the lee of the reef with a strong wind blowing at us, which made a good "set" critical, as well as frequent
checks to ensure we were not dragging. That night, the winds blew in excess of 25 knots, but the anchor did not let us down!
The next day we decide to move to a different anchorage where the snorkeling was "great". We weighed anchors mid morning
and set off for a short, three or four hour, motor trip. At least that was the plan. The charts and guide indicated we follow the
channel and then turn sharply to starboard, going past "Long Reef". The problem was that finding Long Reef proved to be
impossible. Visually, nothing matched what the charts indicated. Normally, I drive and Marilyn navigates. This is because I am
better at driving and she at navigating. Except when we raise or drop anchor, when she drives and I do the (occasionally) hard
lifting. Simple. So it was that day. I drove and would ask where to head next and today the disconcerting answer was that she
was not entirely sure! We went up and down the channel, looking for the gap and the elusive Long Reef. Eventually, we decided
to make the turn. Unfortunately, it was not in the right place (you know 50:50 ... and we were 50% wrong!). Soon, we had reefs
and coral heads all around us and we were not exactly sure where we were. In the highly technical sailing vocabulary, we were
lost. We were looking at the paper chart, the cruising guides hand drawn chart, and the electronic chart. All appeared to be at
odds with each other, and with what we were seeing. We headed in the general direction towards our destination and came to
the conclusion that we were in trouble. Oh yes and Jeremy and Sonya were following us!
Underwater coral and reefs are quite easily seen as long as the sun is shining from the appropriate direction, i.e. not from ahead
of you. Our problem was that we could not go back to our previous anchorage because that meant going into the sun, and not
being able to see any of the reefs we had just passed. We were, in other words, committed to finding a new anchorage. Around
4pm, we decided we would need to drop anchor pretty soon, as dusk was approaching and we still had not found our
destination. Looking at the charts and watching the depth gage, we looked for an area with depths of between 35 and 50 feet
max, as Moustache had limits in the amount of scope they could lay down. We found such a spot, Jeremy dropped his hook, only
to experience trouble with the windlass and he had to take over manually. We then dropped our own anchor. We put on masks
and snorkels to check the set and discovered both hooks were set on a down-slope, which would make dragging easier in high
winds, but re-anchoring was out of the question. We set the alarms on both our hand-held GPS units as well as the chart plotter.
Not feeling up to cooking a big dinner, we had snacks, settled our frayed nerves with a couple of large doses of medicinal wine,
and chilled out in the cockpit, with an attentive eye to our position relative to the adjacent coral heads. We talked about the day
and its challenges and, it seemed to me to be a perfect backdrop for a marriage proposal! Having survived the stress of that
day and knowing we each depended on the other in order to stay alive, which was indicative of a successful relationship. By the
way she did say Yes!
Now, if Marilyn was writing this Log, I imagine what took me a few sentences would have been drawn out to a chapter or two, as
there are many more details that could have been included. If you are interested in them, you'll just have to get in touch with
That night the three GPS units alarmed four times between them and, in the dark, it was hard to tell how much we were moving.
Needless to say, there was not much sleep on board either boats, but we ended up without a problem.
You may remember I started off recounting how we had wanted to move because we wanted to snorkel? Well, next day we
decided not to do that but to move, yet again, to the relative safety of a new anchorage. This one was sandy, sheltered, and yet
still windy enough to drive the wind generator and provide cool air…and had no coral heads!
Just after lunchtime, we launched the dinghy and motored over to the beach so we could go for a walk. A little terra firma was in
order. As we approached, we noticed that a dink that had been tied off too shore had drifted off and its owner was having a little
trouble retrieving it. It was no problem for us to collect it on our way in and hand it back to the owner who then invited us over
to their boat for cocktails. Their boat Lulu turned out to be a 61-foot Oyster, almost twice the length of Amida! Now, this yacht is
the height of sailing luxury: four heads (bathrooms for landlubbers); a washer / dryer; electric winches; a diesel generator; TV
in the bedroom and an extensive wine "cellar". We ended up using one of the heads and a bunch of the cellar before we had to
depart. What a great time we had! This was one of those times when you find you have an instant connection to another couple,
but no time to take it further. We traded email addresses and said we would keep in touch.
The next island we stopped at was Isla Carenero. A pretty anchorage, only six boats there; a dinghy ride to go snorkeling; drop
the dinghy hook; snag it on a piece of coral 25 ft feet down; dive down to free it up pulling down on the rode as an assist;
decide snorkeling would be a waste of time; go back to Amida; have a glass of wine; leave the next day for the Aves.
It was not far to get to the first of the two Aves islands, some 40 miles. The wind was from 150 degrees and it was a little rolly,
but bearably so. I was sitting in the cockpit reading a Diana Gabaldon book, so understandably my attention was focused on the
plentiful bodice ripping rather than the sea around us. Then, inexplicably, I suddenly had a thought come into my consciousness
that we had not seen any dolphins since leaving Trinidad.
I paused from reading, looked up, and there, a few feet away one came into view, breaking water so effortlessly for a few
seconds, then disappeared. I was astounded, flabbergasted, gobsmacked. There was no earthly explanation.
The westerly Aves island was the better of the two. There were only three boats anchored the first night and just the two of us
the second. The cruising guide indicates one should call the Coast Guard on the VHF in order to check in and we decided that an
overnighter did not warrant such bureaucracy. The next day, having decided to stay one more night, we were approached by
the Coast Guard and boarded. Of course, initial thoughts were that we were in trouble and not speaking Spanish in that situation
was a major disadvantage as it would be harder to weasel ourselves out of the predicament. We were politely asked to produce
our boat papers and there was no problem, to our relief. At the end, one of the young officers asked, in halting English
accompanied by many hand signals, whether we had a spare antenna for the VHF radio which he pulled out of a Ziploc bag. The
answer was in the negative but, on a whim, I decided that I would donate our old hand-held VHF to them. It was a unit we no
longer used, as its battery capacity was insufficient for our needs, but would likely be OK for theirs. It was heartwarming to see
the looks of, first, surprise then gratitude on their faces. Needless to say, we did not get into trouble for not having called them
the previous day.
This was the last island in the Venezuelan chain before we set off for Bonaire. We thoroughly enjoyed the trip through them and
would not hesitate to recommend a visit. In hindsight, we should have spent more time in Los Roques they are stunning. Maybe
we'll go back for one of our many wedding anniversaries!
We reached Bonaire and immediately decided it was one of the best cruising destinations in the Caribbean. The island is geared
for scuba diving and no anchoring is allowed. Instead, there are 6 ton concrete blocks to which are attached mooring balls, at a
reasonable cost of $10 per night. The Customs and Immigration officials are, I swear, the friendliest officials on the face of the
planet, unlike their counterparts on many of the islands of the eastern Caribbean, such as Trinidad and St Lucia. Even better,
there was no fee for checking in, unlike the $100 we paid in Venezuela. There are numerous restaurants with good, plentiful,
and reasonably priced food. We found one which served the best burger we have ever eaten: with blue cheese, Gouda cheese,
bacon and pineapple yummy. The grocery stores are pretty well stocked. The beer and wine are reasonably priced and the
locals are very friendly. What more can you ask for?
Mind you, it is not perfect. There is insufficient wind on the sheltered side (lee) of the island and we were forced to run the
engine every three days to charge up the batteries. Lack of a strong wind also meant that it was hot down below, especially at
night. Running the fans meant it was noisier than we were used to.
We rented a truck to explore the island and its National Park. It was like driving on a safari, with dirt track roads wending
through a cactus desert. We got to see many, many flamingoes, a wild pig, wild donkeys, dogs, goats, cats, and cows. We came
across an iguana that had attacked another touring couple; it had clawed its way up the fellow's leg, ripping his skin. I cannot
imagine a scarier situation than a possibly rabid, foaming at the mouth, pre-historic reptile embedding its talons into the flesh of
one's legs as it climbs up… precisely what are its plans on reaching the face? Rip out the eyeballs? Nasty!
Our last day in Bonaire was spent shopping which was almost as scary as the episode with the iguana because Marilyn was out
looking for some kind of diamond encrusted bauble in lou of an engagement ring, since she wanted to where her mothers.
Apparently, a traditional engagement "token" is from the guy to the girl, not the other way round. Luckily, there was nothing that
caught her eye, though I must admit I held my breath when she examined, rather too closely for my liking, $3,000 diamond
earrings. My own tastes were far more modest, with a $20 T-shirt taking the nod.
December 21st saw us leaving Bonaire and heading to Curacao for Christmas, in 8 to 25 knots of wind and reaching speeds of
6.5 to 7.5 knots with sails set wing on wing. Perfect sailing. We dropped anchor in Spanish Waters and were immediately
re-united with buddies from previous season, most notably Always Sunday, Will of the Wisp, Blue Marine, Wind Dancer, and
Windquest. It was like coming home! We met most of these folks during our first season of sailing in Luperon, Dominican
Republic. Since then, our paths have frequently crossed and we have come to regard them as our extended family. The
anchorage in Spanish Waters is large and very well sheltered. Its downside is that it is quite far away from "town", Willemstad,
so shopping for groceries or boat bits requires a bus ride and becomes a whole day's trip. We needed to check in so that was
another reason for going into town. Willemstad, is a very pretty place with a harbour surrounded by pastel painted buildings. As
you would expect, very Dutch. There is a floating market with vendors who come over from Venezuela with fruit and vegetables
at very reasonable prices. It is clean and safe, with lots of cafes, bars, as well as jewelry stores, it being a destination for many
cruise ships. The jewelry stores posed another bauble purchase opportunity for Marilyn and I gamely accompanied her in the
quest for something suitable. Luckily, nothing seemed to entice.
The social life in Spanish Waters became exceedingly hectic over the next few weeks. There were parties on board pretty much
every boat over Christmas and New Years. We spent Boxing Day on the beach, and enjoyed some excellent snorkeling. We
noticed that, in the evenings, the locals would set off lots of fireworks. One of the resort hotels hosted a firework display that
rivaled any we have seen previously, including those we have watched from the outdoor deck at the National Yacht Club. This all
culminated on New Year's Day when the sky was full of bursting stars for several hours. It was an incredible, and unforgettable,
Spanish Waters, while sheltered from the outside ocean waves, had a very strong wind, which funnels past a large hill. The
winds reach 25 knots by late morning and this meant our batteries were pretty much at full capacity all the time. The downside
was the water was pretty choppy and we were forever getting wet as we dinghied from boat to bar, or boat to boat for a social
visit. A word of advice here….always purchase a Dinghy with high sides.
Spanish Waters also has a couple of sailing clubs with very active racing programs. The anchored sailboats were a part of their
course and were used to great effect by the racers, a little like the spectator fleet at the Americas Cup. One of our favourite
fleets was the Optimists, which went out even in 20 to 25 knot winds without a problem. The skill of these boys and girls was
On the technical front, the various systems aboard Amida were performing rather well. I had spent days and days before we left
Canada loading our CDs onto my Birthday iPod and must say I was a little disappointed with the result. The main problem was
that various kinds of music seem to be recorded at different volume levels and we, as newbie users, had the system set to
perpetual shuffle, which resulted in a Rock tune blaring out while the next chosen Classical track was too quiet. Eventually, I
played Genre shuffles, which meant we would have classical music (my favorite) being played for a few hours followed by Rock
(Marilyn's preference) for a few minutes. We also found a classical FM radio station with a good selection of music. Disappointing
was the fact that Radio Canada (CBC) has cut down on its' short-wave broadcasts so we were no longer able to listen to news
from home, which maybe was a good thing. Our tax dollars at work! The inverter started to give us problems, which was
frustrating since I had already replaced it once. The last techie news item is that we purchased a water maker from a buddy
boat. It was a small Pur 40, which makes just over a gallon of water an hour. Other boaters have units that range from eight
gallons an hour all the way up to 45! Installing our unit was a challenge and, of course, it refused to work for it new owners.
After several hours of trouble shooting and tweaking, I got it to produce some 8 gallons when it ran all night long. Unfortunately,
that proved too much work for the little guy and it quit completely, as did I.
Email was becoming a major problem because the Globalstar service was abysmal and the number of spam emails
horrendously high. Imagine picking up your phone and having to wait 15 minutes before the dial tone came up. Then, once you
started to talk, the line would drop after perhaps 30 seconds. That is what you get with the Globalstar satellite system.
In early January, we signed up for scuba lessons. We had started a scuba training class in Toronto, had done all the theory,
passed the exams, but missed the checkout dives because of my leg injury. So, we thought doing it all again would be a piece of
cake. The theory was easy, especially as we are more than a little competitive and did not want to be upstaged by the other.
Fortunately, we both got 97% for the exam, so no one had bragging rights. The water-based skills were different however, I
found it hard, at first, to get used to the underwater environment. One of the exercises we had to do was to take of our mask
and breathe for a minute using air from the tank, then put the mask back on and purge the seawater out of it. It sounds simple,
but as I watched Marilyn successfully accomplish this feat, the minute felt like several hours. It came to be my turn and after 15
- 20 seconds I started to feel uncomfortable. Then, no matter how hard I tried to calm myself down, my breathing became more
and more irregular till, I am crestfallen to admit, I "bailed". Next day, however, something was different and the exercise was
not at all a problem. We took our final dive and received our certificates. We celebrated by purchasing used equipment from our
instructors, so we had everything we needed for future dives, except the tanks.
We had arranged to meet up with Don and Janet Vallery in Aruba, to celebrate Don and my 60th birthdays. I am the senior
citizen, being a full two days older than him. The hotel we stayed at was perfect except for two things. It was quite expensive,
as is all accommodation in Aruba. Worse, however, was that is backed out onto the island's over-worked sewage lagoon. This
tidbit was not, strangely, included in the advertising information on their website. The smell was not too bad inside the hotel but,
on the beach, from time to time there came the unmistakable waft of someone else's dinner… eaten a few days ago.
The beach itself was superb, with acres of sand, umbrellas, lounges, a few bars… just like Florida. Aruba is also a cruise ship
destination and had, you guessed it, more than its fair share of jewelry stores. Yet again, we trudged through them all, at least
once, searching for that elusive, yet perfect, bauble. Yet again, Marilyn even with Janet's help was not happy with any of them. I
could not believe my luck was holding for so long! Thank goodness all the stores buy their stock from the same uninspired
What I saved on the bauble we spent on groceries, wine, and going out for dinner several times. The restaurant Don chose on
his birthday had, easily, the best purchased meal I have ever eaten! (Marilyn here …don't you love how he said purchased!)
Don and Janet are also scuba divers so we rented equipment and went out for two two-tanker dives. A two-tanker
means, you go out for dive number one, come back to the boat for a rest, then go down for dive number
two. While the staff were very knowledgeable and caring, the equipment we rented was definitely past its due
date. The problem is that diving can be dangerous and life threatening, so having anxiety about the state of one's
equipment is not conducive to a stress-free experience. Janet had trouble trusting her rented equipment and gave
up after her first dive. Don, Marilyn, and I soldiered on and were rewarded with seeing astounding wrecks of ships and
airplanes. Getting back onto the dive boat was quite a challenge, once we surfaced, the swells were substantial.
Our second dive was a drift dive, which means that you let the current take you along and the dive boat meets you
wherever you surface, rather than you needing to swim back to it, against the current. Both dives were great
and although not necessarily knows for it's diving it's well worth it.
All too soon, the Aruba experience was over and Don and Janet returned to Canada while we flew back to Curacao.
We stayed a few more days during which we decided to visit the Slave Museum. What an experience that was. A key role of
every museum is that of education and we were certainly much better informed when we left. The museum is located in a part
of the city that a few decades ago had been dilapidated and worn. The whole area was bought up by a visionary who has
restored the buildings and turned them into hotels, restaurants, stores, and of course, the museum. The story of slavery is
disturbing and it is amazing what man can do to fellow man. There are a lot of visual images of exhibits that will remain vivid
forever, but one of the more interesting factoids was that a good, healthy slave, was a very expensive "commodity" and could
cost around $1500, a lot of money in those days.
Disaster then struck as, one day, the computer refused to boot up. Henry, one of our boat buddies, a real techie and major
help, managed to rebuild our old data onto a new Acer computer that we managed to purchase, for a good price, in Curacao.
The computer that died was the one that had been christened with a spilled glass of wine during a previous season, then had the
mother board replaced, and it was that mother board that had now failed. So, in three sailing seasons, we had had two terminal
computer problems. Not a good track record! Murphy!
In early February, we sailed back eastward again to Bonaire. We were lucky that a weather window opened up and we were
able to sail on one tack, in a reasonable sea state. Actually, we motor sailed as the tacking angle was not quite perfect. An hour
from Bonaire I noticed the bilge light was coming on quite frequently. Investigation showed that there was a lot of water coming
from a hose which routed cooling water to the engine. I decided the best option was to motor on, keeping a close eye on the
engine temperature, and to hope that the problem did not become worse. We reached our mooring ball without further problems
and I discovered the source of the leak was a clamp, which had given up the ghost….rusted through! Got to keep an eye on all
Our sojourn in the ABC was coming, regrettably, to an end. We had developed a very close relationship with Walt and Honoree
on Will of the Wisp and were not looking forward to saying good-bye to them. They too are divers and we shared a number of
excursions using either W of t W or Amida as the mother ship for our excursion. One of the few benefits of being a relatively
small boat of less than 38 ft in length is that, in Bonaire, we are allowed to take Amida to a dive-mooring ball. The "big" boats
are limited to using their dinghies and are faced with a bumpy, wet rides. Taking W oft W or Amida meant we could take a rest
after our dive, have lunch, then take a hot shower (only on W oft W) before heading back. One of the dives was memorable in
that it was our first spotting of a green eel. We had seen many smaller, spotted ones, previously and they look to be vicious
creatures with lots of sharp teeth ready to chomp down on an unsuspecting diver. The green ones are huge, with a neck size of
at least 30 inches, making shirt purchases difficult. Marilyn, who likes to swim close to the reef in order to see the little fish that
hide behind plants and rocks, had completely missed this huge, huge, green eel. When I pointed it out to her, she went visibly
pale. Needless to say she no longer swims so close to the reef.
The last activity of note in Bonaire was out trip with Walt and Honoree to do some turtle tagging. Easy it is, they said. All you
need to do is to swim along looking for turtles and, when you find one, the experts take over. That, at least, was the theory. In
reality, this was the equivalent of a swimathon. Our previous snorkeling experience was that we would casually swim around till
we got bored. Turtle spotting, however, is WORK! You swim for an hour, at Formula One speeds, take a short rest, and then do
it again. Needless to say, it was exhausting. We managed to spot, catch and tag, five turtles, which were then released. The
good news was that, on the way back, we fished with a hand held line and caught eight or nine nice fish, which we devoured for
supper. Honoree pan seared them and we had them with Soy sauce and Wasabi! Yum!
A good weather window for our trip eastward came at exactly the right time. The problem with the "return trip' is that it is
against the wind, waves, and current. The conventional guidance is to head south to the Venezuelan coast and head east in
short spurts, leaving an anchorage early in the morning and putting down the hook as soon as the wind picks up. We were
familiar with this kind of sailing, as it is the only way to successfully navigate the south coast of Puerto Rico as you head
eastward, which we did in 2004. The wind gods were looking after us this time because the "best" initial direction was not south,
to the coast, but much more east, where we actually wanted to go. We ended up sailing for over 24 hours before the free ride
ended and we were forced to head north. We knew this trip was going to be very challenging because it was the first one we
were making in this direction, we were alone, and it was going to be several days before we would see land again.
Having used some precious diesel fuel when the wind had died, we decided to put into Margarita Island on the north coast, just
to fill up the diesel tanks. Our cruising guide was a little dated. It was correct in saying there was a fuel dock there, but sadly
wrong in assuming the dock actually had fuel to sell! It turns out the pump had been broken for several years. So, having
dropped the anchor, we took our diesel and water containers in the dinghy with the intent of finding a gas station. We were lucky
in that the beach restaurant by which we grounded the dink helped us find a taxi, which would take us to the gas station. It turns
out that there are different prices for diesel for locals versus us foreigners. No problem, said our driver, just leave it to me. Give
me money and I will get the containers filled up. This, indeed, he did, for a ridiculously low price of 10c per gallon! The problem
was, when I reached for my wallet once we got back to the restaurant, it had disappeared. I assumed Marilyn had it but she had
already exited the taxi. Turns out, she didn't. The incident became a Sherlock Holmes mystery. How could a wallet disappear so
mysteriously? Thank goodness, I had removed some US$500 just before we left Amida. Eventually, we decided that what had
happened was, my wallet had been on my lap and had fallen to the ground when I got out of the taxi, and this I had not noticed,
but someone else had, and scooped it up quickly. All it took was thirty seconds! The net result was the cheapest fuel fill all of a
sudden became the most expensive.
We left Margarita and were shocked that the course we were now on was going to lead us back to the Dominican Republic! when
we really wanted to get to the Grenadines, and the difference was some 400 miles! Gradually, ever so gradually, the wind
moved to the south and our target destination became better and better till, eventually, we were heading towards Martinique,
where we made landfall around mid-day. The entire voyage, including the splash and dash in Margarita had taken six days. The
longest we had ever been at sea.
Of course after such a long voyage, the sea bottom where we were trying to set anchor was the most challenging we had ever
come across. We tried setting the CQR seven times before switching to the Bruce, but all attempts resulted in dragging. The last
resort was the Danforth, which bit on the first attempt. Hummmmm.
Martinique is tres expensive, with beer costing double what we paid in Bonaire. Wine, however, is tres cheap. They also have
this great rum orange liquor that we love and this gave us an opportunity to buy a few bottles (6) to bring home to serve at our
Wedding. The island also does not allow you to make Collect Calls… anywhere, not just from the public phones. This made
contacting our credit card companies somewhat problematic and we need to talk to them because one credit card was now
stolen and the other had stopped working. Thank goodness we also had our bank machine cards for backup.
After a days rest we headed into the capital of Martinique to belatedly, check in. We came across a chandlery. Of course, no real
self-respecting sailor would pass by a chandlery without checking it out. This is similar to a woman passing by a jewelry or shoe
store …nothing wrong with a quick visit to check out prices and content. In this particular chandlery, however, we came across
Don and Heather, fellow members of the National Yacht Club in Toronto, who were heading south in their first season away from
home. The probability of this happening was pretty much the same as you meeting the brother of your best friend from Grade
One while climbing Mount Everest. Of course, we retired to a restaurant and had lunch, an expensive one as I recall. Fun was
had by all.
We then headed south from Martinique, to St Lucia, dropping in at Rodney Bay. We were now in familiar territory, having spent
time in these waters two or three time previously. The sea conditions were perfect and we must have averaged something over
6 knots. The weather itself was not great, foggy and drizzly for several days. We stayed at the marina in Rodney Bay and used
Skype (for the first time) to talk to the banks in Canada to sort out the troubles with our credit cards. In addition, I had the
opportunity to watch a few football matches since the marina has cable
to the slips!
From St Lucia we had another perfect sail to Bequia. It took us seven hours to cover 50 miles, with a reef in both the mainsail
and the Genoa, and wind in the 20 - 25 range, with gusts to 30, in waves if just 5 to 6 feet. The knot meter was showing 7.8
knots, on a consistent basis, which was probably the fastest we have ever traveled. Perfect!
This is one of our favourite islands. It is relatively well priced and has lots of funky bars, restaurants, and Internet cafes. The
wine and beer are reasonably priced and the groceries quite well stocked. What more does one need?
We had managed to get to Bequia just in time for their Regatta and decided to put our names onto the crew sign up list. We
were immediately rewarded with a request to crew the Regatta aboard a Santa Cruz 70 called Hotel California. This boat has a
PHRF rating of -30, yup, that is indeed a minus! She reaches at 12 knots and beats at 9. We did well over the two days but,
when corrected time was calculated, ended up 4th overall. What great fun we had. Being part of the regatta rather then just a
spectator is a definite must! Especially on someone else's boat!
Another major thrill was having the Maltese Falcon drop anchor close by to us. This is one of the largest sailboats in the world,
with a length of some 250 ft. She has three masts, each with five square rigged sails. Apparently, she is available for charter for
a mere US$500,000 a week… plus expenses.
From Bequia we took a ferry over to visit St Vincent and had a wonderful day visiting the Botanical Gardens, seeing a bread tree
that is a direct descendant from the first one brought over by Capt Bligh, finding Poinsettia trees, and learning that a Ficus
Benjamina and a Banyan tree are both Fig trees! The food shopping was great and it alone made the trip worth taking.
A few days later,Dave and Linda Fuhro arrived. They are good friends from Canada. We spent the next week visiting various
islands in the Grenadines, doing a little diving in Bequia and snorkeling in the Tobago Cays. It was in the latter that we had our
first sighting of a shark. Actually, Marilyn spotted it first and in no time at all, she was behind me, tapping on my shoulder to
point it out, in relative safety. We think, having looked at our book of tropical fish, that it was a Lemon shark, and therefore
harmless. Needless to say, it did not appear to be so when we saw it in the water mere feet away.
The Fuhro's charter was a 40 ft Leopard catamaran from Moorings. The Moorings has the reputation of being a quality charter
boat operator, for which they charge a premium price. Despite this, the cat had a broken alternator bracket, a faulty CD player,
a leaking head, a dodgy water pump, and a VHF radio that did not work! They also had a guarantee that "essential" equipment
would be treated with priority, Strangely, the VHF was not include in the list of essentials, despite the fact that is was required to
report problems. We loaned Dave our hand-held VHF so he could talk to Moorings about these problems. Hmmmm … Go figure.
Grenada was the last island on our trip. We had been there for a week during our first season and had missed landing there
since. She is looking good after Hurricane Ivan's damage in 2004. We rented a car to tour the island and found a source of the
BEST cocoa chocolate. Yum Yum! Best is the fact that this chocolate is actually GOOD for your health, as is red wine in
moderation, and many other so called vices. We spent some time shopping in the local market for spices we decided to us for
our wedding guest gifts. Haggling with the various vendors was fun and the results were well worth the efforts.
The right to develop the lagoon in St George, Grenada has been purchased by some rich Brit and he is going to build a mega
marina there. We were at anchor in that lagoon when we were approached by an official looking tender and told to move. Of
course, this was not something we wanted to do and on asking for the reason, we were told that the rich Brit owner's mega
yacht was coming into the lagoon and needed swing room. Our response was that we were here first and, had they come a day
or two earlier with the request, we would have gladly moved, but it was not too convenient to do this now as we had an island
tour planned for that day. They were not quite sure how to react to this response and the tender went away, presumably for
consultations. We now jumped into our dink and went on shore for the day, truthfully on our island tour. On return, we found the
mega yacht in place and that Amida was not interfering in any way. So, we had not needed to move in the first place and our
rather brazen approach worked well. We are bearing this in mind for future incidents!
From Grenada it is an 80-mile trip to Trinidad, one we are quite familiar with by now. The weather forecast was for 15 - 20 knot
winds, which was perfect. The reality was, instead, the most variable wind speeds we have ever experienced. Starting at 20 to
25 knots, it gradually diminished to a paltry 2 - 5 knots and necessitated the use of the engine as we headed into the well-known
Noserlies. Why would things be different for the last trip of the season!
Trinidad is where we draw up the list of items that need to be fixed before we set off again for the next season.
This list reached 105 items, I kid you not. Some are trivial, e.g. installing the handhold by the companionway entrance. We have
managed without it for four seasons, so it not a life or death kind of thing. Other items are more important, e.g. we want to
install a plastic track over the current metal one on the mast so the mainsail can be raised and lowered more easily; the
standing rigging needs to be replaced; various leaks need fixing; the water maker needs to be serviced; etc, etc, etc… lots of
money and lots of frustration. But, this is our home for seven months of the year and she has treated us well, despite our
occasional abuse of her.
Here we are then, the season has ended, we are returning to Collingwood to be landlubbers for five months. There is as
wedding ceremony to be planned, house projects to be completed, and friends to visit. Life is grand.