|Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela to Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles
October 6, 2006 - November 11, 2006
It was October, 2006, and hurricane season was waning. Our very interesting and thought-provoking times on the Venezuelan mainland were coming to an end and wanderlust was becoming an overwhelming force.
Despite all the bad press and crime fears we experienced when entering Venezuelan waters, our stay there in 2006 proved the resort areas of Margarita and Puerto La Cruz as safe as anywhere in the U.S.A. these days. We had many interesting experiences without incident and our crime fears had vanished. For an optimistic view on crime issues, click here:
Postscript on Venezuela and Crime Against Cruisers
Nevertheless, we were anxious to head out to open, clean water again. The plan: head to the remote islands situated to the west and off the north coast of Venezuela. These islands include Tortuga, Los Roques, and the Aves. All of these small island groups are about 60 to 100 nautical miles off the coast of Venezuela and are far west of the large resort island of Margarita.
Very different from Margarita, the western island groupings of Tortuga, Los Roques and the Aves are pristine and basically uninhabited, except for the main island of Los Roques, Gran Roque, that has a very small town with sandy dirt streets and an air strip.
Known to be peaceful and virtually crime-free in comparison to Margarita and the Venezuela mainland, we were looking forward to making an exit from the “emotional crime tunnel” we entered a few months earlier when we departed Grenada and began worrying about piracy in Venezuela.
Yes, it will be awesome! We will soon be “breaking out on the other side” as they say, and once again sleeping soundly again with trade winds blowing through wide-open hatches.
We will head even farther west in this report to the island of Bonaire (one of the so-called “ABC’s” comprised of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao). Most Cruisers make their way west through the ABC’s and wind up in Aruba, the end of the chain. It would be more accurate to call them the ACB’s, because the islands lie in that sequence, west to east.
It is in Aruba that Cruisers wait and wait and wait for a good weather window to Columbia, the gateway to the Western Caribbean. Aruba used to be Dutch and part of the Netherlands Antilles, but is now an independent island. The passage from Aruba to Columbia sends you through the fifth-roughest patch of ocean on earth, according to Jimmy Cornell, famed author of the book World Cruising Routes. Fierce trade winds, swift currents and damn big waves often conspire treacherously just west of Aruba, creating an area of severe conditions sometimes covering areas 300 miles long and 300 miles wide (that’s 90,000 square miles folks!).
We heard of one delivery captain who had sailed 50,000 miles in all the world’s oceans and only feared for his life once – making a passage between Aruba and Panama. He said the waves were so large and breaking, that at some certain moment the entire deck, including the coach roof of the 40 foot sailboat, went completely underwater as a massive wave broke and rolled a mountain of whitewater over the vessel.
So, as you might imagine, Aruba can be a popular place to hang out. Many sailors simply turn around and head back up the Eastern Caribbean. It is the Southern Caribbean version of Georgetown in the Bahamas (called "Chicken Harbor" because boats hang there rather than venturing farther south in the Bahamas where it means leaving easy cruising and safe harbors and undertaking arduous sailing southeast and down the “thorny path” upwind into the trades).
Curacao, the “C” of the ABC’s is highly populated and well known as a more industrially-developed island that offers first-rate boatyards and marine services. It’s a Netherlands Antilles Dutch island. Many Cruisers haul out there and store boats for hurricane season.
The “B” of the ABC’s, where we are going in this report, is also a Netherlands Antilles Dutch island named Bonaire – a SCUBA diver’s paradise and hands-down one of the best Cruising destinations we have ever visited (considering we love to dive).
Clay Coleman, fellow Louisianan, lawyer, famed underwater photographer, and published author of The Certified Diver's Handbook, cites Bonaire as one of his favorite destinations. When still living in Louisiana, several years ago we had the pleasure of enjoying a three day dive trip off the Texas coast to the Flower Gardens reef as guests of our friends Steve and Karen Adams. Clay Coleman just happened to be on that trip as well. During our conversations with him, he explained that Bonaire was one of his favorite SCUBA diving destinations and we never forgot that. Click here to see
Clay Coleman's web site
By now, you know the drill. Before we loose lines and head to sea, here is a map to get you oriented. We will leave Puerto La Cruz and head NW to Isla La Tortuga; then NW to Isla Los Roques; then WNW to Islas de Aves (two small dots between Los Roques and Bonaire); and, then finally W to Bonaire.
So now that you have an idea of where we are going in this report, let’s get underway!
Puerto La Cruz to Isla La Tortuga
On October 5, 2006, at 03:30 and long before dawn, the alarm clock sounded. I immediately got dressed and began the tasks of releasing Indigo Moon from all her shore-side marina connections: water hoses, shore power electrical cords, cable t.v. connections, extra lines, the gangplank and its rigging – all these “umbilical cords” of sorts had to be disassembled and stowed. I was careful to be quiet and not wake neighbors, but my activity on deck in an otherwise perfectly still marina quickly drew the attention of the security guards patrolling the docks.
When we checked out in the late afternoon the day before, I made sure the marina staff notified security I was leaving before dawn. A disconnect in communication could mean the guards might think I was attempting to slip away in darkness with an outstanding marina bill (I heard that this happened to one of our friends: "The guards “freaked out”).
We had no such complications. In fact, the security guards smiled and stationed themselves at each of the cleats where my stern lines were hitched to the dock and motioned to me that they would release the lines upon my command.
The engines were warmed up and all systems were “go.” The winds were very light and directly aft and there would be no drama getting away from the dock where we had been moored stern-to for three months. I waved to the guards and smiled, and they quickly uncleated the stern lines, coiled them, and threw them safely on the deck with choreographed-like precision. I pushed the throttles into forward gear at idle speed. Melissa was at the bows, tending to the lines running out to the mooring balls mid-channel.
Perfect. In less than a minute we were clear of the dock, the neighboring boats, and the mooring balls. While leaving the port engine in forward, I pulled back on the starboard throttle and placed it in reverse at idle speed, slowly and quietly spinning Indigo Moon ninety degrees clockwise in the channel in order to point her bows outbound toward the sea. Then, it was both engines in forward again at idle speed and Indigo Moon was on the move again, gliding ever so smoothly toward the open sea.
That is the instant when it always happens. As soon as the boat is safely clear of all dockside obstacles and headed to brand new, wholly unfamiliar destinations, I get a rush of adrenalin and joy that arrives with such force that the sensation might just as well have resulted from a “mainline” injection of “Cruising” into my blood stream. There are few experiences I love more in life than heading out to sea.
Just then, with a beaming smile on my face, I looked back at the guards, both faded now into dark and featureless figures silhouetted in front of one of the dock’s lamp poles. I waved. The figures waved back. Then they stood perfectly still, hands on hips, watching me motor away very slowly. In an instant, I was yet again reminded of how extremely lucky we are to be Cruising. It could just as easily be me standing on that dock (with two hours of my night shift left and no other prospects), watching some other lucky guy sailing away. So, it was upon a foundation of great humility and appreciation that I continued to bask in the sheer exuberance of being underway again.
As we continued to make our way out of the marina, we took note that 48’ Custom Catamaran Serendipity was already gone from its spot farther down the seawall. We are “buddy boating” west together, at least as far as Bonaire for now, where they plan to turn around and head back up the Eastern Caribbean.
As we maneuvered out of the channel and into Morro Bay, the Gods arranged a stunning sunrise. This fantastic vista set me in a spiritually-focused mood even more so. I reflected on all our experiences during our three month stay in the marina. I wondered if we would ever return to Puerto La Cruz.
There have been many spiritual mornings like this one over the last two and a half years, and none more poignant than when watching a port disappear in our wake, realizing we may never pass that way again. I was surprisingly melancholy about departing Puerto La Cruz.
We had a beautiful exit from Puerto La Cruz as the sun came up and shone on the mountains and islands. We got one last look at the amazing geological formations of the Venezuelan mainland near Puerto La Cruz.
The winds were light and the trip to Tortuga was an easy one. A leisurely day sail, we would arrive at Tortuga in plenty of time to anchor in daylight. By 09:00 we were truly offshore, under sail and lounging in calm seas, all in awe of the beauty of the sea.
I must interject that Indigo Moon was in fact a perfectly comfortable and habitable “condominium” while moored in a Puerto La Cruz marina with shore power and air conditioning humming. Nonetheless, it produces no magic at all while so doing long-term.
It it is not in a marina at all, but here at sea that true magic happens – under full sail and headed to a wholly new, unfamiliar destination. It is only during these times that this crazy contraption called a catamaran produces an obscene profit that greatly exceeds the sum of its parts.
“Never say never” as they say, but based on the experience of living in a marina in Puerto La Cruz for three months, I don’t think we would ever enjoy such a life long-term. Chances are, if we ever stop moving and live in one place again, Indigo Moon will be sold. To be happy, she needs to be free.
Alright, that’s enough about all of that!
Let’s shift gears and get back to reporting on the trip. Not only were we under sail again in blue water, but I had fishing lines in the water too. Nirvana!
Our marina/cycling friends in Puerto La Cruz on sailboat Ka’imi reported catching a 35 lb. Mahi Mahi on one of their several sails to Tortuga and I was hoping for just such luck. Well, we did not catch “the big one”, but I at least got one little Mahi Mahi that would do for supper.
Here are some more photos:
We were mesmerized by the color of the cobalt-blue water. Unlike the gun metal grey waters to the east near Margarita, the western waters were brilliant as we approached Tortuga. It was not since the Southern Bahamas that we had seen such vibrant sea colors. Awesome!
ISLA LA TORTUGA
Before we get much further, it is probably best to properly introduce the Lucia family. Jeff and Pam have three spectacularly beautiful and smart daughters, Rachel, Marcie and Jillian who in turn have three pets: a Beagle dog named “Buddy” (which caused confusion considering I am named Buddy too) and two cats, “Whiskers” and “Kapu.” This happy family of eight (counting the pets), is cruising aboard a 48 foot custom catamaran that is quite simply enormous inside.
Here is a link to their web site:
We first met the Lucias when they pulled into the Bahia Redonda Marina for a month long stay (we had already been there two months at that point).
There were lots of other kids in the marina and it was a fixture of daily living to see the Lucia girls skipping up and down the docks behind Indigo Moon and playing with other children (many of whom are from other counties – an international marina playground, if you will).
In fact, while we were in the marina, there was an international incident of sorts regarding marina kids. The conflict was between the United States and France (shockingly uncharacteristic and unexpected, right?).
It was all about a black kitten. There was a brand new litter of kittens up at the east gate of the marina (obviously some of the Rat Patrol cats still get around) and the various children of the marina played with the litter of kittens daily for about a week. Like library books, the kittens were “checked out” by kids for the day and returned at night.
There were a few adult cruisers who were devoted to all the animals in the area and they fed the marina cats too. They were advocates trying to find permanent homes for the cute new kittens and the litter dwindled in numbers over a week’s time.
In the meantime, the Lucia girls and two French girls aboard another boat took turns playing with a black kitten they all liked. All was well until the oldest Lucia girl, Rachel, finally decided (after much skillful negotiation with parents Jeff and Pam), that she was adopting the black kitten as a present for her 14th birthday.
And so, Rachel triumphantly brought the black kitten home to Serendipity one morning and ceremoniously named it Kapu (much to Rachel’s dismay I immediately started picking on her and calling the kitten Cat-Poo).
Mid morning, the oldest of the French girls led a mission to visit Serendipity and extract Kapu. They wanted to take him back to the French boat: “It is our turn to play with the kitten” she declared with the purest of French resolve and confidence. When it was explained that Rachel had adopted the kitten and it was no longer “community property,” the French girls upped the ante by claiming the kitten was “theirs” and that their father already said, long, long ago that they could have the kitten for keeps.
Jeff Lucia managed to intervene on the dock just as the kitten was starting to be used as rope in a tug-o-war contest between two rival gangs of kitty-frantic girls! With kitten in hand and held high above the building mob, Jeff calmly walked down to the French boat (with opposing mobs in tow), and in very friendly fashion Jeff asked the French girls’ father if he had in fact agreed to let the French girls adopt the kitten. The official French response: NO WAY!
And with that official French response, the kitty-cat incident was over. The cat was saved from further tug-o-war abuse and feline ownership was firmly established once and for all with Rachel Lucia. But, alas, the whole affair left some scars. Despite admirable diplomatic efforts extended by Serendipity, the French girls were rather sore losers with up-turned noses about it in the end.
So, that is how the Lucia crew went from seven to eight members! New kitten Kapu was taken to the Veterinarian and got “fixed” and received his shots and thereafter passed his physical for sea duty and was enlisted into service aboard Serendipity as entry-level mate. He only spoke Spanish, so at first he had a hard time communicating with the other American animal crew members, Warrant Officer Buddy the Beagle and Chief Petty Officer Whiskers the Cat. But they managed just fine.
It was not long at all until Kapu took to the rigging like a natural and he found his special space in the hollow end of the boom! You know the feeling -- like somebody's watching you -- and then you look up and there's Kapu saying hello!
And so, with a Venezuelan National named Kapu in company we all headed out to sea and set a course for the island of Tortuga.
While the island of Margarita represents hotels, casinos, shopping malls and a “busy” getaway for affluent Venezuelans, Tortuga, Los Roques and the Aves provide the opposite: natural, pristine settings where Venezuelans can “get away from it all.”
Tortuga is the closest island to Puerto La Cruz and a weekend favorite for Venezuelans. The occasional helicopter touches down I’m told. Young and beautiful, the most-affluent come out to Tortuga and small nearby islands like Cayo Herradura. You will often see offshore racing boats like Fountains and Cigarettes come out to spend the weekend. There is also a small airstrip on the main island.
On Cayo Herradura, other than the lighthouse, the only structures are a handful of fishing camps that are really nothing more than dirt-floor lean-to type structures. I have been told that fishermen from various coastal towns obtain two week permits to come out to Cayo Herradura and thus share the camps and the fisheries on a rotational basis with other fishermen.
Here are some scenes from beautiful Cayo Herradura:
In our previous report on the Venezuelan mainland at Puerto La Cruz, we spoke of The Virgin of the Valley, Venezuela’s favorite incarnation of the Virgin Mary. She is the protector of the Navy, the fishing fleet and all Venezuelan mariners.
Thus, I guess I should not have been surprised by the fact that there were shrines on Cayo Herradura honoring the Virgin of the Valley and seeking her protection. There were two such shrines on Cayo Herradura, and a even a fishermen’s graveyard too.
Here is a look at the first shrine I encountered:
As I walked further down the beach, I came upon temporarily uninhabited fishing camps, allowing me to take a closer look. There were no doors or windows or locks on the structures.
It was most intriguing to see how the camps were decorated, allowing for a glimpse into the culture of Venezuelan fishermen. In addition to decorating with images of icons of their faith, they also included images of foreign-built SUV’s, armored warriors on horseback, and movie star Penelope Cruz.
Here is a tour of a few of the camps:
The above picture is interesting to me, because, although surely incidental on the fishermen’s part, there are actually four icons of faith here: The Virgin of the Valley, Jesus Christ, Dr. Hernández’ and Yamaha – the brand of outboard motor that powers the entire fleet and upon which their lives literally depend at times.
So we are all familiar with the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, and Yamaha. But who is Doctor José Gregorio Hernández you ask?
Well he is a very famous Venezuelan medical doctor. Born on October 25, 1864, the doctor studied medicine in Venezuela and abroad in France and reached legendary status as the most famous healer of the poor in all of Venezuelan history.
The doctor was hit by a car and killed on June 29, 1919, and after his death his fame accelerated to the point that he is actually in the process of being conferred Sainthood by the Roman Catholic Church. Between 1891 and 1916, aside from practicing medicine, Hernández sought priesthood on more than one occasion, but paradoxically his health was allegedly too frail and prevented him from becoming a priest (I had no idea the priesthood was so physically demanding).
It is reported that Dr. Hernández treated the poor for free and often paid for their medicines out of his own pocket. In fact, legend has it that he was taking medicine to a poor patient in Caracas when he stepped off a streetcar and was struck by a car and killed.
After Dr. Hernández death, Venezuelans began claiming to have been granted miracles after praying to Dr. Hernández. The doctor is commonly invoked in the name "José Gregorio" by both doctors and patients for prayers of healing. He is also a protector of those making journeys. He has become known all over Latin America and Spain.
As far as Sainthood is concerned, in 1949, Venezuelan Catholic Church officials began the “beatification” of Dr. Hernández. The process of his canonization started during the Vatican I, wherein he was given the title “Venerable” – a tile that apparently directly precedes the title of “Saint.”
And so, the fishermen’s faith rests on The Virgin Mary and Christ for protection, José Gregorio for the power of healing when sick or injured, and finally to the power of Yamaha to push them swiftly and reliably across the 80 miles of open sea between the mainland of Venezuela and the fishing camps of Tortuga.
Let’s look around some more:
Farther down the beach, there is yet another shrine to the Virgin of the Valley and it is surprisingly fancy: slab foundation, stucco concrete walls, and a real tile roof. So, while the fishermen have accepted rickety shacks and leaky lean-to structures as acceptable for themselves, they have obviously insisted that the image of their protector reside in a proper home.
There were several other bunk house-type structures on the north end of the beach and the interior decorations were interesting there too.
We arrived at Cayo Herradura in the middle of the week and there were few boats. By the weekend a couple of high-powered "go-fast" offshore racing boats showed up full of rich, young and beautiful Venezuelans who camped on the beach.
The Venezuelan girls spent quite a bit of time 100 yards down the beach from the boats, out on a perfect point of pure white sand suspended in the turquoise waters. They were photographing each other in the shallows, even "hands-on" posing each other in various states of “all-fours” sensuality (and from all angles), all while wearing the tiniest of thong bikinis. I watched from the deck of Indigo Moon, anchored only 100 yards off the beach. I couldn't quite tell what they were doing at first, so I grabbed the binoculars and watched for quite some time just to make sure they were all okay and not in any distress.
The guys hung out by the boats and drank Polar brand beer and ignored the photo-shoot. The girls’ actions were very serious and purposeful, however, and the whole affair took on the appearance of a professional undertaking. Apparently, photos like these are good for serious bragging rights with the other girls back home in big cities like Caracas: “Hola Chicas; look where I was last weekend! And I am hot, Hot, HOT!”
We spent several days at the picture perfect beach at Cayo Herradura and soaked up the sun while swimming in the ultra clean, cool waters. It was a fabulous breakaway from the marina life and in one fell swoop we were transformed from “marina rats” to offshore Cruisers again. It was a glorious homecoming and just what the doctor ordered to renew our spirits.
One day fishermen came by in an open boat crawling with live lobsters. The rail of the boat held four small sticks, each rigged with a pull-loop of 150-pound-test monofilament line. Very simple tools used to free dive and snare the crustaceans.
I ran down and grabbed a twenty dollar bill and held it up. In response, seven small to medium Caribbean lobsters were held up. I spoke: “Uno mas, por favor?” And seven became eight. Grilled lobster and lobster pasta soon followed! Fabulous!
The day finally came to move on and head west to the next set of remote Venezuelan islands: Los Roques (Spanish for “The Rocks”), located 85 miles to the northwest at a heading of 311 degrees magnetic.
ISLA LOS ROQUES, VENEZUELA
There were three boats headed with us to the Los Roques: catamaran Serendipity and monohulls JJ and Respite. We were all at Cayo Herradura and ready to move on.
Considering the trip is 85 miles, it cannot be accomplished in daylight, especially considering that the Los Roques cover an area of 14 by 25 miles and include numerous islands big and small scattered amongst endless patches of shallow coral heads that can only be navigated in good overhead daylight -- all just like the shallow banks of the Bahamas, where nighttime navigation can be treacherous.
We had already determined that the C-Map NT+ software on our Furuno GPS units was not accurate here in Venezuelan waters. It showed us anchored on land at Cayo Herradura; thus, one more reason as to why “making landfall” at night in the Los Roques would probably be literal if attempted.
Those of you who have never used a GPS unit outside the U.S. are probably unfamiliar with the inaccurate cartography that often presents itself in other areas of the world.
In Ft. Lauderdale, for example, I could put a hood over my head and use the GPS to successfully navigate the narrow canals and the New River without incident (assuming there is no other traffic, of course) – the “moving map” cartography is pinned perfectly to the true latitude and longitude position pursuant to the GPS signal.
Not so in other areas of the world. In parts of the Bahamas, we often crossed land according to the GPS mapping. Once you determine how skewed the GPS chart features are in relation to the actual position you see with your own eyes, and in what direction, then you can “guesstimate" things a bit in daylight, but nighttime reliance on the GPS could be disastrous.
In the Bahamas, every morning I would enter up to a dozen waypoints into the GPS, using precise positions from accurate paper charts. The cartography on the GPS was so unreliable it might has well have been a cartoon in the Bahamas.
I don’t know why C-Map can’t do a better job in these remote areas, but apparently they can’t.
And so, our extensive Bahamas cruising already prepared us for anything that the Los Roques could possibly throw at us, as long as we arrived in daylight. In order to do so, we all decided to make a night passage, with the monohulls departing about 21:00 and the faster catamarans at 23:00.
It was an easy passage with a bright moon. The only drawback was that there was not quite enough wind to keep the boom under steady pressure, and therefore still, in the easy but rolling seas. Every fifteen seconds there was a big “POP” and attendant squeaks in the rigging as the main sail re-set over and over again. No amount of rigging extra lines and preventers would quell this action completely.
Nonetheless, we enjoyed kind seas on a moonlit night with great cruising company while headed for a well-known Cruisers’ paradise. You can’t beat that.
In the Bahamas, you will see five hundred boats jammed into Georgetown Harbor alone in the high season. I bet there were no more that 75 boats in the entire Los Roques when we visited there.
The explanation is easy: not too many people make it all the way south to Venezuela and beyond. The majority never venture south of the Bahamas. Fewer still venture south of the Virgin Islands and it thins out even more so by Grenada -- thinner and thinner as you go south and then west.
Let’s take a look at our arrival in Los Roques:
You might notice I have a bit of a stern face in the above photo. Well, I’m not mad, just concentrating! I am running the reefs on one engine only.
It happened like this: I wanted to catch a big Mahi Mahi on the way to the Los Roques and trolled all night and morning. When we approached the cut to enter the shallow banks of the Los Roques (shallow water means the end of Mahi Mahi fishing), I radioed to the “fleet” that I was going to keep fishing a little longer and headed away from the cut and instead motorsailed toward open water and some big birds working the water.
Well, the birds turned out to be “Boobies” and they had no qualms about diving for my artificial lures! The pink-skirted lure visible in the photo behind me (on the fishing rod), was snatched up in a Booby’s beak and flown to 75 feet in the air where the lure was fought over between several of these huge birds (wingspans of several feet).
As all that went on, the winds and seas were building in the mid-morning sun. At the helm, Melissa headed up into the wind and I furled the jib. Then I managed to get my lure back without hooking a bird (miracles do happen).
But, while I was fighting birds on the port rod, the starboard fishing line got under the boat and wrapped in the prop. The transmissions were in neutral and we were drifting when then line wrapped. The action of the boat in the large seas caused the props to freewheel every so often as waves pushed the boat backward, thus wrapping the line.
I dove in with a mask and fins on in the rather large seas and could not get the line out of the prop; it was just too rough and I was going to get impaled by the prop or the rudder if I kept pushing my luck.
What’s the big deal? Why worry about fishing line? Well, we have saildrives and they are the exact equivalent of the lower unit of an outboard motor or outdrive lower unit on a ski boat. The units are full of gears, oil and utilize rubber seals around the prop shaft to keep oil in and seawater out.
It is well known that the biggest cause of saildrive prop-shaft oil-seal failures is fishing line. Monofilament line is thin enough to fit between the prop and the lower unit housing and wrap directly on the prop shaft. Then, as it builds a mass of line in that small space, it tends to spread horizontally and directly into and past the oil seals, compromising them. Armed with all this knowledge, I immediately killed the engine and put it in gear to halt any further line wrapping.
Once inside the reef and anchored, I donned mask and snorkel again. With tools in hand, I removed the prop and found only six loose wraps of fishing line that had not encroached anywhere near the oils seals. And my good luck continued: despite being in deep water for the task (40 feet), no tools or parts were dropped. In literally ten minutes all was taken care of without incident. That’s even better than catching a big fish!
So, now that we are here and can exhale, let’s get a better look at Los Roques:
We initially entered the banks of Los Roques at the southeast corner’s Boca de Sebastopol where we anchored for the night. Then we moved north the next day on the banks inside of the reefs to Boca Del Medio where we enjoyed snorkeling. We were amazed at the extent of the coral reefs and the vibrant sea life.
We snorkeled around the edge of the reef at a cut at Boca Del Medio and were stunned by the size and scope of the coral structures. At one point there was a wall of coral about 40 feet tall. It seemed to go on forever. The “wall” was really a tangle of massive coral branches, some a foot or more in diameter, with nooks and cracks and open recesses that went inward as far as the eye could see. It reminded me of peering into the interior of a very large pile of trees pushed up by a bulldozer after a stand of trees has been cleared. Much of the coral was bleached, unfortunately, but still the coral structures themselves were spectacular enough to stupefy even the cynical.
After spending the night at Boca del Medio, we moved to the northeast corner of the Los Roques where there is a very large, solid rock island named Gran Roque (Great Rock). It is at Gran Roque that there is an airstrip, a small town with sandy dirt streets, and several small posadas (hotels) and restaurants on the beaches.
Venezuelans fly into Gran Roque from the mainland and stay at posadas for the weekend or longer. As part of the trip, the vacationers hire boats to take them on day trips to any one of the scores of remote islands and beaches.
Located just a couple of miles to the east of Gran Roque is Francisquis, a popular place that has a fully protected anchorage, nice beaches, good snorkeling and a small beach bar/restaurant. Considering its close proximity to Gran Roque, it sees the majority of the “day trip” tourist boat traffic. It is also popular with the sportfisherman and poweryacht crowd.
We did not care for Francisquis very much because it was sort of the "Grand Central Station" of Los Roques. We were looking for remoteness after the three month stay in the marina in Puerto La Cruz. So after one night we moved west along the northern Roques and spent the night at Sarqui. The winds were light and the trip was less than ten miles, so we hoisted the spinnaker only and had a very pretty, slow sail.
We spent a couple of nights at Sarqui. It was nice enough, but still not quite remote enough. A big power yacht dropped its bow anchor and backed up to the beach and tied off to the mangroves. Soon thereafter, a family emerged and began water sports activities by pulling their children on skis and wake boards behind the yacht’s big twin outboard tender/speedboat.
They could have water skied on the other side of their yacht in part of the anchorage where there were no boats at all. Instead, they obviously decided it would be more fun to go around and around us. Continuously, they spent hours creating large wakes and rocked us. All that mattered to them was their video cameras and capturing the images of their little darlings’ performances on the water.
They were obviously extremely rich Venezuelans who were surely well-connected. For all I know, the guy is a General in Chavez's military, so we did not dare complain. It was illustrative, though, and yet another all too familiar scene where an ultra-rich big-power-yacht-owner has no concern for the little guys. We saw a lot of that mega-yacht behavior in the Bahamas and for a moment it seemed we were in a time warp and had been transported back to just such an area in the Bahamas.
Considering that the power yacht kids’ water sports feats were not interesting enough to warrant me rocking and rolling all day in their water ski wakes, it was time to move on.
Next stop: the westernmost Cays in the Roques: Cayo de Agua and Cay West. It is there that we finally found our “ Shangri La.” Many elements came together that provided us with a week of bliss wherein we enjoyed experiences that, to date and after over 10,000 miles of Cruising, most closely resembled “everyman’s” image of the perfect Cruising Dream. It was, in a word, flawless!
First off, the trades died; just a slight breeze for a week. This made the waters of the outer reef at Cayo De Agua swimming-pool calm and accessible in ways that few seldom see.
The reef itself was an amazing wall of coral branches with tunnels and recesses so deep it seemed that they must eventually terminate somewhere in New Jersey! There were abundant schools of Snapper and Grouper were everywhere. Caribbean Lobsters were out in the open for the picking.
Over one hundred species of tropical fish adorned the reef. Moreover, in addition to the reef, huge coral heads of brain coral and other structures dotted the clean sand bottom 20 to 30 feet below as the bottom sloped down into the depths off the reef. It was the Bahamas on serious steroids (and without the 500 other boats in the anchorage).
We got into a routine. Every morning at about 09:00 we would go snorkeling with the crews of Serendipity and Respite.
Then we would make our way around the outside reef and take in the sights for a few hours while fishing for “lunch.” By 11:30 we always caught enough for all the boats.
By 12:30 we were all back on our boats grilling fresh lobster and fish for lunch. Of course, several hours of snorkeling, fishing and a fresh seafood lunch brought on a good siesta. Then, a few hours later, as the sun got low in the sky, we would all go swimming at the beach and watch the sunset while soaking in the cool shallows and discussing whatever leisurely subject presented.
This went on day after day after day. Finally: a “groundhog day” that is a direct duplicate of Heaven.
How often have you looked back years after the fact and realized that certain occurrence or period on your life was precious? We are all able to look back in our lives and see things clearly in our wake. It is a much rarer experience, however, to immediately know, concurrently as something actually happens, that it is so perfect it will be one of the “Crown Jewels.”
We knew we hit the "Cruising Lottery" at Cayo De Agua. The right weather, the right people, the right location, the right health, the right sea conditions, etc. We opened our souls and drank it in. Yes, after two and a half years of Cruising, we finally “caught lightning in a bottle” and we lived an absolutely perfect Cruising Life for a week.
One night the air was rather still and humid, so Melissa and I had the crews of Respite and Serendipity (nine people) over for a lobster and fish dinner aboard Indigo Moon, all with the generator running and the air conditioning on! It was obscenely decadent!
And while we had many perfect days, one brought fierce thunderstorms. I have articulated this before in prior trip reports, but some of the most beautiful vistas are witnessed during storms and/or approaching cloud banks.
Here are some shots:
Unfortunately, we learned later that a Prout catamaran anchored about five miles away took a direct lightening hit and it fried all their electronics. We talked to them a couple of weeks later in Bonaire and they were headed to Curacao to replace everything – a minimum twenty-thousand dollar endeavor on a Cruising sailboat. We felt awful they were hit and we were reminded that none of us know when we might be next.
On another note entirely, during our stay at Cayo De Agua, there we also many numbers of small migrating birds, finches of some sort that were always tired out. So much so, they would even land on the water sometimes.
They were constantly hanging around on the boat and one flew into the salon one day. We let him rest. He slept for quite a while, and then, as quickly as he had flown in, he rocketed back out the salon door and flew away.
Also during our Los Roques cruising times together, we celebrated two Lucia family Birthdays!
First, their oldest daughter, Rachel, turned 14 at Tortuga while we were anchored at Cayo Herradura and we attended a Birthday Party for her aboard Serendipity.
I wrote a special poem for Rachel and we had some special earrings just for her. It was fun, and the main salon of Serendipity was decorated with balloons and streamers and candles. Birthday cake candles are hard to come by, so the ever-ingenious Lucias use baby marshmallows on toothpicks to serves as candles instead.
And if all that was not enough, we got to celebrate Pam Lucia’s Birthday too! We had the pleasure of attending a party for her aboard the monohull sailboat Respite while we were anchored at Cayo de Agua!
The number of marshmallow candles on her cake indicates she was 26. That looks about right, huh?
Here are some more shots:
As you can see, the Lucia girls (a.k.a. “the Serendipity Girls”) are absolutely adorable. I had a lot of fun hanging around with them. As you might imagine, they are always up to something.
Soft-spoken Rachel loves animals, horses especially, and she aspires to be a veterinarian one day (which I am sure she will do if that is what she decides). Quite the refined and beautiful young lady, Rachel enjoyed discussing all sorts of subjects with us.
Marcie is the Lucia family stuntwoman and she reminds me of myself at her age: she never sits still, loves the outdoors, and is bored in a nanosecond. With amazing coordination, a fierce competitive spirit, and a ten-second attention span, I concluded soon after getting to know her that she would be a stunning success as a race car driver of Top Fuel or Funny Car quarter mile dragsters.
She already has a gazillion-dollar smile, and if she ever wanted to, she could be a superstar in that arena. Of course, “Momma Pam” kicks me hard in the shins for saying so. Nobody wants their baby doing 330 miles per hour in less than 5 seconds! But Marcie would be the “Cat’s Pajamas” for sure.
Jillian, the youngest, is sharp as a razor and misses nothing that goes on around her. She is the most astute 8 year old I have ever seen. She has a promising career as a film director or corporate CEO, or working in any capacity where snap decision-making is called for. Plus, hands down, she has the best giggle in the world – how can you beat that!
I guess you can tell that I’m hopelessly smitten.
All of the girls would visit Indigo Moon now and then, especially to have me drill holes in sea shells for the purpose of making shell jewelry. Baton Rouge Dentist extraordinaire, Chad Lacour, set me up with a few dental drill bits. Utilizing the bits in my cordless DREMEL tool, I can bore tiny holes through delicate shells without cracking them -- it works perfectly. A couple of years ago our then buddy-boaters, Larry and Ulla aboard catamaran Roughlife, "turned us on" to the fact that dental drills were the best tools for the job. I am still in the process of making earrings for all the pretty ladies that work in Chad’s office.
Anyway, the Serendipity Girls came over often and we would have fun, taking our time and carefully examining various sea shells and how nature constructed each of them. Then, we would collaborate on exactly where each shell should be drilled and why, taking aesthetics, design and structural concerns into consideration.
Here are some shots at some of the jewelry we've made so far:
As time went on we became the best of friends with the Serendipity crew and it was not an uncommon sight to see Serendipity and Indigo Moon in close proximity in an anchorage. In fact it was safer that way. Whenever I went swimming and used a float to lie on, you could bet that it would not be long before Marcie and Jillian staged a sneak attack to capsize me and take away the float. By anchoring in close ranks, it made their swim over to us easier (they had much more fight left in them if they didn’t have to swim so far).
On another note, it is not all fun and no work out here. We do in fact allocate time for serious undertakings, often conducting scientific experiments that may in some small way help our fellow man. For example, I posed a serious question one afternoon as to just how stable our Ocean Kayak is. It is rated for two adults. But is it truly seaworthy? Is there enough floatation to allow for a margin of safety, or is its floatation rating on the edge, barely able to support two adults.
I made the slightest suggestion of performing tests and the Lucia girls were “on it” in a flash! The results: our kayak is plenty seaworthy.
We had a great time at Los Roques as you can see. During our three weeks there, the weather was very calm. It was light air sailing or motoring as we worked our way through Los Roques and that was just fine with me.
On Indigo Moon, our bimini top zips open above the helm. I often stand on the seat, steer with my foot and lean against the bimini whenever I need to spot reefs. While motoring alongside Serendipity one morning, they caught me in the act:
All in all, we had a blast. In addition to outdoor activities, we also visited Serendipity and played Mexican Train Dominoes with the Lucias. The girls are so fiercely competitive that the Dominoes game became a “contact sport” if you can visualize that! It was priceless entertainment, especially for a wicked old instigator like me.
I had a lot of fun with the girls. Marcie and Jillian got a big kick out of making me hold the new kitten, Kapu, like a baby wrapped in a blanket. It was easy to be a good sport and pose with Kapu -- the giggles went on for quite some time.
But ninety percent of the time, we were outside and soaking up the pristine natural beauty of Los Roques:
Eventually, we began running low on supplies and fuel and it was time to head west. We wanted to see the next (and last) set of Venezuelan islands too, and if we were to do so, we would have to let go of this Paradise named Los Roques.
As a fleet of three, Serendipity, Respite and Indigo Moon departed Los Roques at dawn, and headed approximately 50 miles slightly north of west to another, much smaller group of Venezuelan reefs and islands: the Aves De Sotavento.
But before we move on in our triplog, and now that you have heard about and seen some of the fun we have had with the Lucia family, let’s switch gears for a few minutes and talk about the issue of taking school-aged kids Cruising.
Sidebar: School-aged Kids on Boats
At first blush it probably seems a forgone conclusion for most folks that taking school-aged kids Cruising is irresponsible somehow. Lots of parents want to go Cruising, but succumb to such initial gut-feelings and soon decide that they should probably postpone any such Cruising dreams until all the kids have all graduated from school, etc.
Melissa and I don't have kids, but we have spent months and months “buddy boating” with other Cruisers who have in fact taken their school-aged kids Cruising. Children are homeschooled. Learning their “ABC’s” while underway is merely one more natural facet of the Cruising adventure for kids.
A few months ago, I was hanging around an internet chat board that is sailing-related. A mother of two posted an e-mail she received from her sister-in-law (a public schoolteacher) seriously questioning her as to whether or not it is responsible to take two school-aged children Cruising for four years on a sailboat.
The woman who placed the post was concerned about her sister-in-law’s rather negative spin on Cruising and sought feedback from real Cruisers. I (along with many others who actually have kids out here) answered her post.
As you might already guess, to a person, all the Cruisers encouraged the woman and her husband to take their kids Cruising and not even give it a second thought.
The e-mail serves as a handy outline for examining various issues. I have received a plethora of e-mail inquires about this subject over the last couple of years, so its high time we turned our attention to the topic of kids and Cruising.
So, issue by issue, I will quote sister-in-law in bold and then offer my response (in italics). It is yet another interesting look at just how differently all of our minds process things. By the way, I have generalized sister-in-law’s e-mail and changed all the names to protect the innocent, namely ME!
One more thing: at the outset, keep in mind that my commentary on this issue is not about whether anyone is “right” or “wrong.” My comments are certainly not intended to be indictments of those who think absolutely differently than I. Thus, please do not dare misconstrue any of my comments as any form of criticism. As the old saying goes: "I am not better than anyone else, but I am as good as anybody."
Besides, what do I know anyway? I don't even have kids! And of course everyone thinks independently. I judge no one. Parents and teachers all do the best they can while raising/teaching kids, and it is no “piece of cake” sometimes. “Walk a mile in my shoes”; “live and let live”, and all of that.
What I am most certainly doing here, however, is strongly advocating that my experiences demonstrate that Cruising with kids is just as healthy, happy, and responsible as any landlubber’s plan for raising and educating kids in schools.
So, with that giant preface/disclaimer in place, here goes: take it away sister-in-law:
“Being a public school teacher you know I'll have questions about homeschooling. So, specifically how will you address the kids’ needs? What will be done to make sure they are staying on track? Will they be given standardized tests to assess growth?”
I can understand your sister-in-law's concern. It is very hard for her to accept that something as unconventional as homeschooling on a boat can in fact be as good as (or in some ways even superior to) an education offered within the allegedly hallowed halls of learning institutions.
It is quite predictable that your sister-in-law (as a public school teacher) perceives taking kids Cruising as breaking all the “Brick-in-the-Wall” rules: "You can't have any pudding if you don't eat your meat! How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?!"
I am no expert in child psychology or education that’s for sure. So, let’s go ahead and stipulate at the outset that my opinions are, at best, subjective, anecdotal, scientifically unreliable, absolutely bias, and probably bald-faced statistically irrelevant sampling errors sewn together with sweeping generalizations.
Nevertheless, with my own eyes, I have in fact seen what I have seen in the last fifty one years of life regardless of what any expert has to say about it.
To that end, I can report that, to a person, the numerous Cruising children we have met (ages newborn to 17) have been the most interesting, smart, confident, engaging young people we've ever encountered. Quite frankly, it has been beautiful seeing kids out here to the point that I sometimes honestly feel sorry for kids marching in step within the institutionalized grids of grade schools.
So, despite sister-in-law’s concerns, I say follow your own dream. Take the kids Cruising and simply be responsible in the homeschooling department. There are materials available that provide all the necessary tools to homeschool “on schedule” and “on target” so that kids receive a perfectly fine education while underway.
Of course, you have to be honest with yourself. If you are already an undisciplined parent and know in your heart that you won’t be able to follow through admirably in the homeschooling department, then that is another matter. But, if you are the organized and determined type, and have the “wear-with-all” to responsibly “lay down the law” and homeschool, all things being equal, it appears to me that your kids will be quite well-rounded and confident in the end. It is without question that they will enjoy immensely broader perspectives than their land-based provincial peers.
More important, let’s face it. Before Cruising and homeschooling can be “written off” or summarily labeled as a wanting choice, one must first ask how our schools (both public and private) are doing these days. More pointedly, what great educational and socialization opportunities are being forfeited by going Cruising and homeschooling the kids for a few years?
While lots of kids are out here Cruising, other so-called "well adjusted" kids back home attempt to “progress” and “standardize” in an environment where some of them show up at school and text-message the “dope man" on their cell phone during class while surreptitiously listening to their iPod instead of the teacher, all while hoping that the most pissed-off psychotic kid in school doesn’t come shoot the whole class before lunch!
And read Greg Isles’ Novel “Turning Angel” if you want a sobering look into what school-aged kids are up to in both public and private schools these days!
I know that there are many reputable schools and thousands and thousands of dedicated teachers who spend their entire careers doing a commendable job. And I especially respect all of those who work so hard for so little pay (and often without support and without even the most-basic of teaching tools).
But dedication, hard work and aspirations of excellence can’t erase the fact that there has been “trouble in paradise ” for a long time now. And it seems there are endless excuses for why our formal education system in the United States can’t do a better job and why other countries have long since passed us by. Teachers’ Unions want more money with no accountability (don’t we all). The general public wants teacher evaluations and testing and better schools, but without any increase in taxes or teacher pay.
Tensions are building at home too. In many families, both parents have to work to make ends meet. They are too tired at the end of the day to spend a lot of time with kids and oversee/monitor homework like parents used to do in the “old days.” In fact, many parents are obviously too tired these days to even mount a campaign to teach simple manners to their children, much less tackle Algebra II. Of course, it is not that they don’t care fundamentally, but rather that it is really HARD to expend that much energy after a long, stressful work day.
Further, there has been a fundamental shift in teaching responsibility the last three decades. When I was a kid, parents and teachers were “partners” and it was understood and accepted that parents were to be (and were) active participants in teaching, charged with the task of ensuring the children completed their studies at home. Good manners mattered too, and corporal punishment was an option to be administered by teachers when needed.
Nowadays, many parents expect schools to be solely responsible for their kids’ education and those types of parents feel it is unfair to require the parents to do anything! Their stance is that they are paying a school to do the job and they resent the school piling any work on them at the end of the day. And God forbid if their incorrigible, disruptive, snot-nosed, ill-mannered, has-it-coming, Holy-terror of a child gets paddled at school! Touch a hair on that "little angel's" head and lawsuits will fly! It seems the whole system has been shifted too far off the axis it was better-situated on when I was a kid.
Also, there is hybrid middle-ground emerging. Some parents simply find it easier and quicker to do the kids’ homework for them. The parents say they only “help” the kids, but the parents really do the majority of the work and get it done and out of the way so that the parents can get more rest. Nothing is wrong with that in their view; the kids LOVE it and "Little Johnny" still gets a Gold Star in the morning.
Of course, that is not serving the kids’ best interests. Can’t you just see the young executive in the boardroom: "Gentlemen, we’ll get this meeting underway as soon as my Mommy shows up – she’s running a little late today so please bear with me.”
All in all, I don’t see a lot of truly “happy and healthy songs” being sung in general about our schools and dysfunction abounds in many cases. Homeschooling is not an eccentric or irresponsible choice in comparison.
“Also, what about extracurricular activities. . .? (music, sports, girl/boy scouts, church groups...)? Learning to work/play/cooperate/compromise with others (not just your family) is an invaluable lifelong tool.”
Kids out here get to meet extremely interesting people of all ages from all walks of life. How curious is it that your sister-in-law views a land-based "groundhog day" life within the walls of a grade school as an enriched choice! Out here, kids see new things and meet new people constantly, including many other kids from around the world, not just neighbors down the block.
Life aboard a boat requires work, cooperation and compromise, and lots of it. Seamanship alone, and all of the science that goes with it, provides plenty of hands-on work/play/cooperate/compromise experiences that provide a direct link with science and physics and mathematics in a way that can't be replicated in any classroom setting.
Also, there is much interaction that serves to advance the “socialization process” of the children out here.
I would personally find it much more alarming to have kids in school back home. The issue would become: precisely who are the other students my kids are supposedly learning to “work/play/cooperate/compromise” with? It is a fact that, as a parent, you will not know the true character of the classmates that your kids eventually make friends with at school.
“Play” might turn out to be ten-year-olds doing hard drugs or experimenting with sex (or worse) behind the gymnasium during recess. “Compromise” could mean that it’s your kid’s turn to take the 9 mm automatic pistol home and hide it tonight. “Cooperate” may mean twelve-year-olds taking turns driving a parent’s car they snuck off with at 2:00 a.m.
We all know that things are not as innocent as they used to be a few decades ago. When I was a teenager, parents were praying and crossing their fingers that kids would not smoke pot, or listen to Rock and Roll, or grow our hair too long, or get pregnant and, without any extreme mental gymnastics, many teenage "pranks" could be labeled as "kids' just having fun and blowing off steam."
Lord, if we could only ratchet things back down to that level! Now it's a world with teen shootings instead of fist fights, astonishingly addictive/harmful hard drugs like crack cocaine and Ecstasy instead of pot, AIDS instead of herpes, and Rap music that glorifies killing the Police and demeaning women instead of Rock with the most controversial themes being "love the one you're with" and "don't bogart that joint my friend."
Yes, the U.S. cultural landscape upon which kids grow up has changed to something considerably more ominous.
Looking at all this from still yet another perspective, I was very fortunate to be able to litigate a very diverse range of cases in my always interesting law practice. It turned out that I had a natural aptitude for Family Law and also the “stomach” for it as well. Family Law eventually made up fifty-percent of my practice and child custody trials came naturally to me.
As such, I have “seen and heard it all” as they say. Child custody cases are quite intense and all the “skeletons” come out of families’ closets. I’m pretty jaded and can't be surprised or shocked anymore after a career that included in Family Law. And for good reason based on my professional experiences. Whenever a parent brags: “My kids would never do that!” . . . or . . . “My kids would never turn out that way!”, or "it's the parents' fault" I just shake my head and keep my mouth shut and pray for them instead.
One parent/father and personal friend I know back home has had an exasperating time with a teenage son who inexplicably befriended other illicit drug-users at school. The kid could not steer clear of trouble despite the fact that he has awesome parents, was attending the best school in the City, and lives in a huge home in the very best of neighborhoods. By all outward appearances, this kid was securely poised for a life of accomplishment and greatness. Instead, he quickly became a "lost ball in high weeds."
The kid's father was discussing his woes with me one day when he finally took a deep breath and said: "We have done everything possible -- exhausted every option, seen all the professionals, explored and fully undertaken every conceivable course of action. I have finally resigned myself to the fact that there is nothing more any of us can do at this point. My son is simply lost for now and it is up to him. All I have left, Buddy, is a new prayer that say I every morning and every night: 'Dear Lord, please keep that little shit alive until a miracle happens.'"
I don’t care what walk of life you come from, how “important” or “advanced” your city, state, or locale is, how much money or influence you have, how great your house and neighborhood is, how stellar your kids’ school allegedly is, or how perfect and superior you think you and your family are. It is a fact, like it or not, that you never know, nor can you ever predict, who your kids will ultimately relate to and get involved with while out of your sight and attending school.
It is not uncommon for parents to have no earthly idea what their kids are really up to or thinking about. Some parents intentionally "stick their heads in the sand" and don’t want to know for fear of what they might actually find out! Other parents are so rich, powerful and arrogant that they don't worry and assume that their kids are invincible and incapable of getting into trouble no matter what they do (or that any such trouble can be "fixed" with a phone call or two).
Truth is, it is not really a stretch to say that sending kids off to school these days is a bit of a “crap shoot.” If you are unlucky, school can turn out to be the place where your kid joins the wrong crowd and turns truly bad corner from which sometimes there is no return.
A thought-provoking movie that provides a reality check is TRAFFIC. Baton Rouge’s own Steven Soderberg directed this film that takes a gritty look at the hopelessness associated with the illicit drug problem in our country nowadays, including drug use by extremely affluent and intellectually-gifted school-aged kids. It’s tough to watch, especially because it’s accurate and true and underscores how parents are often unable to insulate their children from illicit drugs no matter how bright the kids, how upscale the surroundings, and how politically powerful the parents.
And while Cruising and homeschooling surely has drawbacks of its own (everything does), Cruising avoids every scintilla of the major juvenile delinquency and drug risks delineated above, all of which are associated with today’s public and private schools. That, my friends, is a Cruising advantage that can’t be discounted.
Moreover, out here, it's all about a completely different life-focus altogether. What would you prefer to provide for your children during their formative years:
1) take a break from the masses and bring your kids on an interesting journey that results in life-long friends from around the world and allows your kids to see much of this amazing, diverse planet with their own eyes (all while being properly homeschooled); or,
2) immediately get your kids in step and marching along in a regiment of other kid-clones all wearing the right clothes, joining the right teams, cheering for the right college and professional sports figures as seen on the right flat screen t.v., and headed to the right shopping mall while riding in the right SUV, and all at the right second and third mortgage rates?
Most people are happy with (or at least feel more comfortable with) the second choice and wouldn’t have it any other way. And there is certainly nothing wrong with that choice if that is what you value. I am not knocking them at all. There is a lot to be said for establishing a life in one spot and nurturing a support group of family and friends over a lifetime in one single locale, experiencing no long-term shift in lifestyle. There are priceless attributes to that choice too (especially if you have to make those “fix it” phone calls we talked about earlier).
The point is, however, that there is absolutely nothing wrong with going Cruising for while either. True, it is perhaps unconventional to a degree. But, it is just as viable a choice and it has priceless attributes too.
So, if you want to go Cruising, the first step is for YOU to actually accept that Cruising is honestly a responsible option: not a dream, not a fantasy, but a real, perfectly attainable goal irrespective of what naysayers may spout.
And there is the rub. Most people (especially those who do not have any affinity whatsoever for boats and the sea), cannot accept that Cruising and homeschooling is a rational choice. You might as well say you are joining the Circus, or moving to Los Angeles to become a movie star, or going off to live in a 60's-style hippie commune and grow dope and tomatoes and "live free."
Selling your “stuff” and moving onto a boat is just plain “crazy” to them -- like you are sneaking off and shirking your responsibilities, or making some psychotic, desperate last attempt to “tune in, turn on, and drop out” one more time. But, no matter how irresponsible, immature, nonsensical or terrifying Cruising may seem to landlubber detractors, Cruising is real and magnificent and is none of those things. It is a readily-achievable grand adventure of a lifetime. Right now, while you are reading this, families are out here. Cruising is not a mirage captured in the slick pages of sailing magazines. Real families with real kids are out here successfully Cruising and homeschooling at this very moment -- and loving it!
Just the other day, I overheard on the VHF radio that a little girl on a neighboring catamaran was celebrating her third birthday and the family had traveled 10,000 miles so far during her first three years of life (along with her older brother aboard too). Many landlubber mothers would be horrified: “Oh Lord, they are crazy and took a little baby out there!” But such concerns are rooted in a total ignorance of what the Cruising adventure is really like for families.
I contend that it is absolutely, perfectly, spectacularly fabulous to see a three year old with 10,000 sea miles under her belt (or under her diaper, I guess in more apropos). What a grand introduction to this wonderful planet we live on!
To this day, some of my fondest memories are from my two Atlantic Ocean crossings aboard ships with my family when I was five and six and my sister was seven and eight. In the early sixties, we departed Manhattan and crossed over to Europe on an ocean liner, traveled all of Europe and camped in a VW camping bus for a year and then returned across the Atlantic to New Orleans on a freighter (with the VW in the cargo hold). My life simply would not be the same had I not experienced those ocean crossings and the travels in Europe as a child. It was invaluable, priceless, and it took BIG guts on my parents' part, but I did not know it at the time, of course. It all seemed perfectly natural to a six year old.
I guess you could say I was homeschooled for that year. By the time we returned to America and I turned six years old, my sister and I had drawn our toy swords in Robin Hood’s Oak, seen the changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, gazed upon Paris from the Eiffel Tower, played Christians and Lions in Rome’s Coliseum, climbed the Leaning Tower of Pizza, peered over the Berlin Wall, gasped in horror at Auschwitz’s ovens, stood at the Acropolis and the Parthenon, attended a real bullfight in Madrid, and hiked in the Alps in Austria and Switzerland, just to name a few of the many, many things we did.
And yes, I remember the trip! So don’t ever think that kids are too young to appreciate an adventure on a grand scale. Kids know and understand way more than adults give them credit for anyway. If I wanted to know what was going on in a difficult Family Law case, all I had to do was ask the parent to wait outside and let me talk to the kids. They don’t miss a thing.
Anyway, my father taught me to begin to read on the ocean crossing home. Thus, while on our European extravaganza I learned to read and got a history lesson that few ever experience at any age – and all before the first grade. Let’s just say that I was a tough act to follow on “show and tell day” in the first grade at elementary school!
In just such a fashion, Cruising can provide your kids with lifelong memories of experiences that will only get more and more precious with time. Years later in life, while in the company of other drivers sitting behind their steering wheel sullen-faced in a rush-hour traffic jam on a cold and grey winter day, your Cruising kid might just be smiling and happy while recalling any one of a thousand great Cruising memories that are “in the Bank.”
“What will be the effects of living in such "tight" quarters with their parents? Socially, emotionally there is lots of research on the need for a teen’s independence from parents.”
Much time is spent above decks and playing in the dinghy and ashore in the outdoors. People live “in” houses and “on” boats. Cruising families are not locked inside the vessel as if hostages in a steamer trunk! Although very small compared to houses, boats do have viable “personal space" options.
Most kids I know have their own cabin and do with it as they wish, even locking out rival siblings who are forbidden to enter. By land or by sea, kids are still kids, and boats do in fact have staterooms with doors that can be closed. In catamarans, kids often have their own hull and all the privacy imaginable.
Regarding kids’ independence and emotional growth, it is my experience so far that generally there is a discernable difference in the demeanors of landlubber kids and Cruising kids.
It is my experience that Landlubber kids are mostly shy around adults and many would rather “eat dirt” than walk up to an adult on their own initiative and engage in a conversation. They generally ignore adults (even when spoken to nowadays). It’s routine for parents these days to have to prod their children into “appearing” and saying hello to an adult. Supposedly, the kids “are just shy, that’s all.”
When I was a teenager in the late sixties and early seventies, the Credo was “never trust anybody over thirty!” And watch out for “The Man!” In our American school system, adults become the enemy, or at a minimum the opposition. The movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off provides an entertaining, lighthearted refresher course in case you have forgotten.
Conversely, a majority of Cruising kids I have encountered don’t see adults as the enemy at all and most will comfortably take the floor on their own in an adult setting. They are confidently independent. Refreshingly, they are actually interested in things other than themselves, including meeting and talking to adults believe it or not. It’s truly amazing to see the outgoing confidence that the Cruising lifestyle instills in many of them.
On the need for "peers" issue, kids of all ages go and visit each other and have sleepovers on various boats. Also, I've seen boats turn around and head a few miles back to a port they just departed, because the VHF came alive with calls from a boat with kids they have not seen in a long while or since last Cruising Season. Cruising grounds often become neighborhoods of sorts where kids interact exactly like they do back home.
And more: playtime is real different “out here.” Instead of staring hypnotically at the freakish Cartoon Network for hours and listening to Rap music, eating junk food, text messaging, running up the cell phone bill and getting no exercise, Cruising kids spend much of their time kayaking, swimming, snorkeling, surfing, hunting shells on the beach, making shell and bead jewelry, fishing, reading books and doing all things outdoors. The wee ones invent games of Pirates and Princesses employing their energy and imaginations to have fun instead of staring at a Nintendo screen, etc.
In all fairness, however, there are periods when Cruising can be very lonely for children, especially for the older teenage only child. Without siblings to play with, the only child can feel pretty isolated at times. Accordingly, popular Cruising destinations (ie: more-crowed) may be in order to seek out a larger inventory of other Cruising kids and make sure your only child has opportunities to play with other children as often as desired.
For example, teenagers are usually found in healthy numbers in the Bahamas in-season, especially in areas like Georgetown where hundreds of boats spend the Cruising Season.
“We won't get to experience "life" with your kids through their formative years. How will that distance affect their relationships with us and their grandparents? Will they be more disconnected from us? Time with family is important...won't you miss that interaction?”
Everybody is different. My family was excited and happy for me and wanted me to go Cruising and thought it was just plain cool! They love me and want me to be happy and live MY dream, not theirs. But then again we don’t live down the street from each other either.
I would imagine it would be extremely traumatic and difficult for some families to part for any significant length of time. Where I grew up, it is not uncommon for south Louisiana Cajuns to have three generations of large Roman Catholic families living in several grand homes built within what amounts to their own family village, all situated on the same patch of sugarcane and soybean-planted acreage the family has owned since the Louisiana Purchase it seems. It is a wonderful life. I have often admired such close families.
A family and kids determined to go Cruising, however, and departing from within that type of tight-knit family structure would have to sneak off in the night like the Family Von Trap in the film The Sound of Music, or else they would never get away with it! Thus, I know it is extremely difficult for some families to break free and go Cruising and I am well aware that it sometimes requires being able to stand up to intense adverse opinion and a wild sea of mixed emotion.
Perhaps you can assure your sister-in-law that you are not sailing off the edge of the Earth. Nor will you Cruise forever. She's still your family and you will still see each other. Hundreds of thousands of jet planes crisscross the globe everyday. You are not going sailing on another planet. Nor will you be out at sea for months, or even weeks on end. You can go home and visit as often as you like and you can call her everyday if you like (maybe she’ll buy you a satellite phone as a bon voyage present).
Most of all, your family needs to know they are just as loved and just as important as always. Emphasize that you are not sailing away from her or the rest of the family; instead, you are simply sailing toward a dream you can not deny. The dream and your love for your family can and will coexist in full measure.
“What happens if one of you gets sick? How about the kids' shots/check-ups? Meds? How about your health issues? Have you checked into International Health Insurance? And heaven forbid something happens to one of us back home...how will you get back in time?"
Humans have a strong propensity to support the illusion of control! But it is merely an illusion, nothing more. Your sister-in-law might as well be asking “what will happen” if Aliens land in your backyard and cook hotdogs on your gas grill tonight. Nobody ever knows exactly what will happen or when. You could be in the next room or out on the porch "and not get back in time."
That is why it is good advice to take care of all business today, not tomorrow. And that most certainly includes Cruising if it is honestly your dream.
Health issues and vaccinations are not a problem; we've found all the medical and basic care needed, and most of the time it is just as good or better than at home and comes at a tenth of the price. Often, medicines that require a prescription and a second mortgage back home are virtually free and available over the counter in other countries.
If you are beset with something truly awful that requires "cutting edge' care, you can fly home. Sure, you can forgo Cruising and sit on the curb of your favorite Hospital and be ready for whatever ills might come calling over the years, but what kind of life is that? If you are in good health, get out here and don't worry about it!
“Could this be a more appropriate trip for adults/retired, when the kids are 18? Do the kids really know what 4 years away means? Do they really want to go and be away or are they just "pleasing" parents? Have you talked with a child psychologist to see what effects (positive and negative) this will have on the kids?”
If you are physically and financially healthy, DO IT NOW!
First, I would not bring a psychologist into your family circle unless you or your kid(s) suffer(s) from a known, diagnosed, actual pathology that needs addressing before you can Cruise.
Going Cruising is nobody’s business but yours. Sister-in-law probably hopes that you’ll go see a psychologist who in turn will be so shocked at this Cruising idea that instantly a big butterfly net will be thrown over you and you’ll be saved from yourself.
Don’t fall for that one! You don’t need anybody looking into your family’s minds unless someone actually suffers from symptoms that suggest mental illness.
At a minimum, if you feel you should consult a psychologist, make certain that you search out a very reputable psychologist who also owns a big sailboat and is a true sailing enthusiast! Search high and low and travel to a far city if you have to. Whatever you do, though, NEVER EVER consult a non-boater on this issue.
Second, I steadfastly contend that it is a major mistake to wait until you are “old and retired” to Cruise - that is just plain bad advice. You will be too tired and in relatively poor health. You will not enjoy the very best that Cruising has to offer.
You will regret (at least to some degree if you're honest), not going when you were physically stronger. Sure, you can try to manhandle a dinghy outboard over the stern rail at 65 and 70 years old, but it will not be easy.
It is with good reason I sold my law office and went sailing at age 49. I saw the same pattern reoccurring amongst my clients: hard work, frugal saving, and the accrual great wealth -- all with a plan to retire in their sixties and follow their dreams.
Heartbreakingly, time and time again, their dreams proved wholly elusive in the end. They were too tired and in failing health; their dreams passed them by. All the money in the world could not restore their vim and vigor and they simply missed their chance to follow their dreams.
Add grandkids on top of that, and it gets to be almost impossible. The sight of one’s own grandchild is so fascinating and magical that all those sailing magazines, previously savored above all else and immediately upon receipt, tend to stack up and get dusty.
Despite the odds being somewhat against them, however, truly “older” Cruisers are out here. I help them all the time. They can't dive down and cut a rope off the prop, or do heavy lifting. They can't hike the steep mountain trails. They can’t free-dive to thirty feet and get that big lobster for dinner.
Sure, they still have fun and have the best stories. They see the same stunning sunsets we do. But, they are nonetheless limited in their activities because they waited so long to go Cruising.
That’s the plain truth of it. There are many surprise “curve balls” thrown in life, not to mention natural, fundamental changes in our interests as the years unfold. Thus, if you ever see a clear shot at “stealing home plate” and living your Cruising dream, you better take it immediately and without hesitation – run as fast as you can and don’t look back!
And why not go now if you can? In the end, by your sister-in-law's standards, there will NEVER be a good time to go. Think about it. According to her, you need to be very close to everybody in the family right now, because something might happen and you "need to get there in time.” Let’s face it: “something” is always happening within an extended family: births, illnesses, deaths, graduations, weddings, and then there’s always Thanksgiving and Christmas too.
So, when you get down to it, it’s simple. Your sister-in-law does not share your dream. She will probably never consider it sane (unless you talk HER into seeing that shrink who loves sailboats).
“Is it ever really safe? Many people sail their whole life and still end up in trouble at sea. How credentialed are you? Do you feel that you have an extended amount of training for sailing/teaching/counseling/doctoring/dentisiting/socializing/tourguiding?”
Here's a "newsflash" for sister-in-law: none of us are getting out of here alive.
Truth is, we will all "end up in trouble" one day: cancer, car wrecks, other accidents, heart attacks, Alzheimer disease, you name it. I always think of the late, great comedian Red Foxx (a.k.a. Fred Sanford) who said: "All those health nuts are going to be awfully surprised one day to be lying up in the hospital dying of nothing!"
While I have absolute respect for the Sea and know that history dictates many a better-skilled soul than I has perished therein, I still contend that ocean sailing is safer and safer with the advent of radar, GPS, Sat Phones, professional weather routers, improved weather forecasting, EPIRBs, life rafts and improved boat building techniques, etc.
With modern tools and easily obtained knowledge and experience, there is an extremely good chance of Cruising a lifetime and never encountering anything close to a survival storm at sea (the best plan). And in the unlikely event that a rescue is necessary, today’s advanced technology has greatly increased the odds that you will be found and receive help at sea.
Plus, you can't lump the Sea all together and paint it all with the same brush as landlubbers always seem to do (you can’t fault them – all they know is what they have seen in scary movies or read in chilling books depicting tragedy, etc).
For example, rounding Cape Horn vs. crossing the Gulf Stream from Ft. Lauderdale to the Bahamas is not the same thing. Island hopping down the Eastern Caribbean is way different than sailing in the wild, iceberg laden seas of the Roaring Forties down south near Antarctica!
Most, if not all, of the infamous horror stories at sea start out: "we had to deliver a boat by thus and so date and left even though hurricane season was not over" . . . or . . . "our original route on this delivery was changed and we were redirected into waters known to be rougher this time of year and took a chance" . . . or . . . "we decided we could make a run for it”. . . or . . .“considering our brand new ship is huge and unsinkable, let’s run at top cruise speed through an area known to be full of icebergs and see what happens, etc." Not always, but often the common threads of unnecessary risk and overconfidence are present when tragedy strikes at sea.
And sure, you can get into trouble and make ocean sailing dangerous if you really try -- just get cocky and thumb your nose at Neptune and gamble upon beating the odds of a known risk that you never should have taken in the first place.
On the flip side, if you are perfectly vigilant and keep your boat ship-shape and truly wait for good weather windows and sail “in season” the odds are overwhelming that you will be fine. Simply follow good advice and don't get impatient and take chances. If you do so, as far as I am concerned, offshore sailing is not risky at all compared to anything else in life.
I found that our before-Cruising fears of "what will happen offshore in storms and large seas " were much larger than the actual conditions we have encountered on offshore passages. As always, what you have not experienced yet is always the worst feared.
If you are a moderately skilled and experienced sailor offshore in a sound boat, you are most-likely fifty (maybe one hundred) times safer than you are doing 80 m.p.h. in an SUV on a freeway packed with cellphone-yacking-commuters on the way to work.
To be honest, I don't have any long-term Cruising friends who would even think of taking on a morose, serious tone and proclaiming that Cruising is dangerous in any way whatsoever, storms and pirates included. We just all do the homework and continue to hone the skills and pick the best weather windows, etc.
And so, I do not perceive that the odds of getting hurt at sea are any better or worse than car wrecks, cancer, choking on a jerk-chicken bone, getting hit in the head by "blue ice" falling from an airliner’s toilet tank 30,000 feet above you, heart attack, getting shot in a drive by, getting shot by pissed-off students who brought guns to school, getting run over on a bicycle, getting eaten by a shark, getting hit by lightning, having the neighbor's lawnmower throw a nail into your head while you check your mailbox, leaning against an ungrounded electrical conduit on a streetlight pole, or. . . .
Anyway, don't be hard on sister-in-law. She's scared and genuinely perplexed, so go easy. You are demolishing her vision of what life is supposed to be like. Basically, you are proposing pole-vaulting over a very high emotional fence that surrounds her comfort zone. She does not know what lies out there beyond that fence, and that’s very scary for her.
And even worse, if you are successful and happy and your children progress fantastically academically after “jumping the fence,” then it seems she might have to question the validity of her strong and heartfelt opinions on these subjects. That is all pretty heavy stuff.
All I can say is that when you and your children are asked, twenty years from now, what is the coolest thing you or your family has ever done, the answer of "Cruising" will probably be swift, certain, unanimous and there will probably not even be a distant second!
Always remember Mark Twain’s invaluable view: "Twenty years from now, you'll regret the things you didn't do, rather than the things you did do. So cast off the bow lines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
For those of you interested in obtaining additional information about homeschooling, visit homeschooling.com. The following link at that site answers frequently asked questions on the subject of homeschooling:
Also, you can peruse a plethora of success stories regarding homeschooling on boats by simply “Googling” this query: homeschooling on a sailboat
You will find pages of interesting web sites. So, don’t just take my word for it, see about all of this for yourself if you have kids and want to go Cruising.
Finally, as far as I can tell there is only one, single significant drawback that suggests Cruising and homeschooling is not a hands-down fabulous opportunity: WORK for the parents. It takes a tremendous amount of effort and industry, commitment, self-starter discipline, planning, and structure to homeschool perfectly. Cruising friends who homeschool often remark that it “wears them out” sometimes, but they are still happy they decided to do so and wouldn't change a thing.
Putting it bluntly, Cruising and homeschooling is not for the halfhearted or the lazy. Also, parents with “Type B” personalities might have trouble keeping the pace and laying down the law. If you are up for it, however, the end rewards for both parents and children are boundless as far as I can see.
Really, I guess Cruising is no different than any other endeavor in life: no result worth truly having is ever easy.
End of sidebar
Now that we have the issue of Kids on Boats “put to bed”, let’s get back to the trip log and our passage from Los Roques to the Aves!
AVES DE SOTAVENTO
And so, we departed our Cruising paradise at Los Roques and headed west to the Aves.
The Aves are made up of two island groups, the Aves De Barlovento and the Aves De Sotavento, both configured as small archipelagos with shallow banks, reefs and various small islands with awesome beaches. They are directly in line with a compass heading to Bonaire 35 miles farther west and thus are a natural stop.
We had reports from other Cruisers that they much preferred Sotavento to Barlovento, so we opted to sail right by the latter and spend our two nights in the Sotaventos (the Venezuelan Coast Guard has an outpost in the Sotaventos and there is a maximum two night limit on visiting yachts in the Aves, so it’s two nights and then move on).
Here’s the “skinny” on our passage from Los Roques to Aves Sotavento:
All boat owners desire a good photo with the chute (spinnaker) up and it is hard to get one. I decided to motorsail with mainsail only and be a chase boat in order to take lots of spinnaker pictures of both Respite and Serendipity. Plus, I wanted to troll fishing lures and it would not be fun at all to simultaneously fight a spinnaker and a fish.
While in the Aves, we had fishermen come by and offer lobsters. Jeff on Serendipity traded a few simple flashlight parts for some nice lobsters and I traded four cold cans of Pepsi for four slipper lobsters – the sweetest lobster meat of all.
We spent two nights at anchor in the Aves and it was a very pretty, remote place to be sure, but like horses “headed to the barn” it seemed we were absolutely fixated on the next big thing: Bonaire.
We already knew from other Cruisers’ reports that many things were waiting for us in Bonaire: truly good restaurants, awesome pizza, BBQ, ice cream, fully-stocked marine chandleries, very-friendly English speaking people, world-class SCUBA diving, and no more worries about intestinal parasites!
Yes, we knew that a fabulous Cruiser’s oasis was waiting for us only 35 miles to the west.
It had been eight and a half months since we left the advantages of U.S. waters in the Virgin Islands. We had just spent a long time in Venezuela, struggling with the language barrier, fighting intestinal parasites, worried about crime, hunting for decent food, and working around the unavailability of even the most basic products sometimes. Of course, all of those things fall under that giant heading called “Third World.”
And so, Bonaire was a very powerful magnet: a Dutch island that is part of the Netherlands Antilles, where everything is clean and modern and first-world-like in comparison. We already suspected that Bonaire would be neat and clean and the people friendly, considering the Leeward Caribbean island of Saba is also part of the Netherlands Antilles and it too was just so.
Considering all of that, we almost didn’t spend a second night in the Aves. In fact, Bonaire was calling us so loudly that we almost didn’t even stop in the Aves at all.
Two days later, as we departed in the morning for Bonaire, our VHF radios crackled with excited chatter about real cheeseburgers and pizza and gallons of ice cream, all of which we planned to devour in massive quantities by noontime!
In Chris Doyle’s Cruising Guide, the opening description of Bonaire is as follows:
“Bonaire is as charming, quiet and extremely clean island with a population of around 11,000 (2001 Census). The main town is attractive, with pastel colored buildings and red tile roofs. It comes with a wonderful selection of waterfront restaurants. This alone would rate it as a great port to visit, but when you throw in the attraction of some of the Caribbean’s clearest water and best diving, you have an unbeatable combination.”
And so, let’s get going and see Bonaire!
Heading west from the Aves, we sailed downwind and the swells got bigger and bigger as we encountered fast currents running between the Aves and Bonaire. It was a short trip and in less than five hours we were rounding the southern tip of Bonaire. Once around the southern shore, we headed north along the leeward shore of the island.
The sailing on the lee side of south Bonaire has been descried as some of the best in the Caribbean because for miles the southern end of the island is flat and the trades blow across it unimpeded. Thus, you enjoy flat-calm water and a steady 25 knots of wind. right on the beam. Perfect.
We easily hit 9 and 10 knots as we sailed six miles up the western shore of Bonaire, headed for the main town of Kralendijk which is located almost halfway up the western shore of the island
In no time we were tied up to a mooring in the Harbor Village Marina’s mooring field and raced ashore with the crew of Serendipity to the City Café. Also, Chuck and Terri Hill aboard Maker's Match were already in Bonaire and they joined us as we devoured cheeseburgers and fries – the genuine articles that we had not tasted fully since Ft. Lauderdale really. Then it was a “three scoop” trip to the ice cream shop.
It is not an exaggeration to say that, food-wise, it felt like we had been paroled and released from some sort of sentence of bad-food incarceration in the West Indies and Venezuela.
And the City Café was just the tip of the iceberg. Pasa Bon Pizza makes the best pizza I have ever eaten and I’ve been around folks. And I am not joking, it is hands-down the absolute best. This could be dangerous for our waistlines!
And more: Casa Blanca steakhouse features genuine Argentinean Beef that is spectacularly flavorful in comparison to the un-aged beef we had become accustomed to in Venezuela.
It’s all good, and the best part, as an added BONUS, you can drink tap water, have ice cubes melt into your Diet Coke, and eat any foods without getting intestinal parasites! Yes Lord, we have been delivered to the Promised Land!
Here is what “going out to dinner” looks like for Cruisers:
But the food is only one small facet of this Gem called Bonaire.
As far as provisioning and laundry are concerned, Bonaire is the best Cruising destination we have ever arrived at, anywhere, including the U.S.A.
Grocery stores, a Budget Marine (like a West Marine), NAPA auto parts, scores of dive shops, restaurants, laundry, fuel – everything is either directly on the shore or only a two block walk on flat ground from the dinghy dock.
No other place we have ever been is even a close second in terms of convenience and Bonaire is logistically the most Cruiser-friendly destination imaginable. Daily chores of Cruising are a breeze, instead of the daylong adventures we experience in locations where services can’t be accessed without serious hikes up the mountains (if at all).
I even found a new pair of sailing gloves that fit! The Budget Marine actually had an X-large pair (very hard to find it seems), and I was able to retire my old sailing gloves that had over 10,000 miles on them.
And guess what? With weekly chores done in record speed, we used all the extra time to SCUBA DIVE.
Yes, in addition to all the wonderful attributes of Bonaire as a Cruising destination, it is much more than that and is primarily a World Class diving paradise. All of Bonaire is a Marine Park and the entirety of its shores are lined with coral reefs and some wrecks too.
Bonaire’s subsurface topography makes it a diver’s dream. The water is very deep all around the island, very close to shore. There are a few small beaches on the western, leeward side, but not all that many. There are patches of shoreline including sand, rock shoreline, ironshore and various combinations thereof.
These attributes make Bonaire the “shore diving” capital of the world where vacationing divers can rent gear and a pickup truck and dive 61 different dive sites, including reefs and ship wrecks from the shore. Our friend Susan Porter has a book published entitled Bonaire Shore Diving Made Easy. Susan’s book is THE guide to shore diving and snorkeling on Bonaire. Here is a link to her web site:
Simply wade in with your gear on and swim fifty yards to the reef where the depths quickly plunge to 100 to 200 feet and then on to 1000 feet and more in some areas. Most rent-a-car businesses even offer small pickups outfitted with racks just for hauling dive gear.
All that adds up to a tremendous advantage: all the diving you want without the "cattle call" of dive boats and having to invade a reef on a schedule with a gang of strangers poking about the entire area. No, instead you can easily find a world-class reef to call your own and dive on your own schedule, and without wrestling all your gear on the deck of a crowded dive boat.
Dinghy diving is even more convenient. Each reef is well-marked and has a buoy with a mooring line for boats up to 38 feet. So, you can load your dive gear into the dinghy and run to any of 61 dive sites off the main island, or any of 23 more that are located around Klein Bonaire, a small island that lies less than a mile off the shore. That’s 84 dive site folks!
And here is the kicker: there are many, many dive shops and tank fills are cheap: anywhere from $2.00 to $2.50 per tank. So, just pull up your dinghy to the dive shop’s dock and get your tanks filled while you wait!
Adding all that up, it became instantly apparent that our dive gear and tanks would quickly pay for themselves.
Let’s take a general look around Bonaire:
As mentioned, our friends Chuck and Terri Hill were already at Bonaire when we arrived and sure enough Chuck was alive and well, despite the terrible and inaccurate Marina rumors of his death back in Venezuela. We (and Serendipity) were glad to “lay eyes” on Chuck after all that.
While speaking of Chuck and Terri on Maker’s Match, I would like to point out, on the crime issue, that they probably slept better than anybody else when in “iffy” areas in the Caribbean. They have a secret weapon: not karate, not rocket propelled grenades or burglar alarms or spot lights or blinking LED lights. No sir . . . much better than any of that, they have VINCENT! (named after Sergeant Vince Carter of the old Gomer Pyle t.v. show).
Vince is a full-grown boxer and he patrols the decks of Maker’s Match and aggressively bites anything that comes within a foot of her toe rails: fish, people, birds, dinghies, boats, ships, you name it! One look at Vince pacing the decks and the “Bad Boys” want no part of Makers Match!
Okay, that’s a look around the mooring field and a glimpse of town. Enough of all that! Let’s SCUBA dive!
I made some custom bungie cords to secure our dive gear in the dinghy and it dawned on me that it looked like a suicide bomber’s rig, or maybe a crazy nitrous-oxide-fed dinghy drag racing boat. Anyway, it was fun to see all rigged up and ready to head to the various dive sites.
We have a new underwater camera and were still getting the hang of it. Our efforts were rudimentary at best. You must constantly adjust the white balance and manipulate other controls to get a decent exposure. By then, the subject usually swims away. All actions must occur simultaneously at the very instant a fish gives you that one chance. Very hard!
Nonetheless, here are a few of our woefully deficient beginner’s efforts last year:
Yes, Bonaire is a wonderful stop for SCUBA enthusiasts.
With the end of October looming, it was Halloween before we knew it. Melissa and I made sure we had treats to hand out, knowing that there were plenty of Cruising Kids in the anchorage. Sure enough dinghies full of Goblins came by and we were happy to shower them with candy.
Melissa and I agreed that this was a much healthier Halloween for kids than what seemed to be developing back home in the Big City of Baton Rouge prior to our Cruising departure.
The last time we gave out Halloween candy at our house in Baton Rouge, literal gangs of adult teenagers from a nearby federal housing project swept through our neighborhood rudely demanding candy and complaining if we didn’t have exactly what they wanted. It took on the ugly appearance of post-riot looting much more so than kids having Halloween fun.
Also, at one point a long, lanky, tattooed young woman emerged from an old Camaro that pulled up and rattled to a stop. She was wearing jeans three sizes too tight, a halter top with no bra, and wandered up the walk with a one-year-old baby on her hip. The lit cigarette dangling from the corner of her mouth jiggled as she managed a caustic “Trick or Treat.”
Melissa and I must have looked at her like she was nuts, because she looked indignantly back. With jaw set, and in a perfect Holly Hunter, Raising Arizona, southern drawl, she looked at us and exclaimed: “It’s for the baby.”
You’ve gotta be kidding!!! How is the baby going to eat a Snickers Bar with no teeth?
Neighborhood kids had already long come and gone, moving along quickly in the streets and then disappearing after all the strangers invaded our nice little piece of paradise. So, after “Holly Hunter” split, we closed the door, turned out the lights and that was it for Halloween! We went “dark” the last year we lived in the house.
It is often the unanticipated that provides the brightest contrast between this Cruising Life we live and our previous landlubber lives. Who would have thought Halloween would offer sharp clarity?
Nonetheless, it did. As Cruising kids came and went for Trick or Treat by dinghy in Bonaire, I smiled and quietly reflected on how absolutely wonderful it was to be having innocent FUN again on Halloween. Little surprises like these really drive home how awesome the Cruising Life is at times.
We enjoyed other interesting experiences too. It was just our luck that the Queen was visiting during our time in Bonaire. That's right, Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands flew in to pay the island a visit. While she was here, she visited Kas di Arte to open the new exhibit highlighting works of many Bonaire artists. Some of the boats in the mooring field were decorated for the occasion. It just so happens that we were on a mooring directly offshore from the celebration and had a front row seat from fifty yards away. After visiting the art collection, she was treated to several dances performed by local children.
Another wholly unexpected experience I enjoyed was horseback riding in Bonaire. The "Serendipity girls" wanted to go and I agreed to go too. Jeff Lucia and Melissa opted out. So, it was Pam, Rachel, Marcie, Jillian and me.
This ride is unusual in that it includes riding to a beach where the guide strips the tack from the horses and they go swimming – with you on their backs! Yes, you swim with the horses. Rachel, equestrian enthusiast that she is, was absolutely beside herself with excitement about the trip.
Here are some shots:
We had a great time and it was, again, one of those unexpected adventures. When the Lucias got back to the boat they e-mailed some friends about going horseback riding and that “Buddy” came with them too. Well, the only “Buddy” their friends know is the Lucia’s beagle dog, Buddy. Thus, an e-mail was received wanting to know how in the world Buddy rode a horse, etc. We all got a laugh out of that and thereafter we became known as “Buddy the Person” and “Buddy the Dog” respectively in order to avoid further ambiguity.
Shifting gears now, there was one thing that happened to me in the “bad luck” department while in Bonaire. It was my time to get injured on the boat. Those of you who have read all our reports will remember that way back in Saint Martin, Melissa took a bad fall on the stairs down into the starboard hull and struck her shin so hard on the metal-trimmed edge of a stair tread that it almost cut to the bone.
Immediately after patching her up, I went to a chandlery in St. Martin and bought an adhesive-backed non-skid tape that is about four or five inches wide and placed the super-grip sandpaper-like black non-skid on the stair treads, including the top edges of the metal-edge tread trim (that was previously very slick when wet).
Well, in the first light of morning one day in Bonaire, while still half asleep, I took the slightest misstep on the way to the head and instinctively put my left foot sideways and down fast to catch myself. Trouble is, as my left foot whizzed by the bottom of the stairs, the front edge of the toenail of my middle toe brushed against and firmly caught on the sandpaper edge of the lower stair tread. It hurt really, really badly and I let out an uncontrolled guttural gasp! But, it was too dark for me to see the damage.
Fearing the worst, I bit my lip and continued on to the bathroom and relieved myself before turning on any lights and seeing anything, lest my genitals entirely retreat and refuse to function for an indeterminate amount of time at the mere sight of the injury.
Sure enough, that was a good call. After going to the bathroom, I took a deep breath and turned on the bathroom light to see my toenail laying all the way back and resting on the top of my toe! Melissa woke up to yet another uncontrolled guttural gasp, this one even louder than the first.
The toenail was ripped off so quickly and completely that it was perfectly whole. It looked like a fake nail from the drugstore and was absolutely pristine except for the slightest sandpaper scrape on its front edge.
For those of you who like to see that sort of morbid thing, click here to see what a nail-less toe looks like:
Of course, the injury itself was not all that bad in the grand scheme of things, but the worst part was that we were in a world- class diving location and here I was with a busted toe that hurt like Hell. Just the thought of putting booties and a fin on the ultra-sensitive toe made me cringe and begin to hyperventilate.
By the second day, though, I could not resist diving and simply wrapped the toe tight with bandages and dove anyway. I had a bit of a "lame duck" appearance while using my fins and favoring the injured foot, but the salt water was kind to the wound and it healed over within a week and didn’t get infected, so I was very lucky.
To this day, as you might imagine, I give those stairs a wide berth and walk past them as though a severely pissed-off water moccasin is hiding under that bottom stair tread!
All things considered, and aside from my toenail torture, it was a perfectly magical time in our Cruising adventures as October came and quickly went. We soaked up the “everything is wonderful” life in Bonaire.
With hurricane season waning, November marks a lull in the trades and time when Mother Nature opens her arms and invites Cruisers to undertake long passages and move on. These seasonal weather windows must be taken advantage of. As such, it is also a month for making big decisions as to where we would Cruise during the coming year.
There are two popular choices.
Cruisers who don’t like overnight passages and who are not interested in the Western Caribbean backtrack and island-hop east to Grenada and head back up the Eastern Caribbean to the Virgin Islands and perhaps back to the Bahamas and Florida.
Those looking for new destinations, however, head west past the ABC’s and begin a new chapter in their adventures by entering the Western Caribbean via Columbia and Panama. Then, it’s either go through the Panama Canal and into the Pacific or head north on the Caribbean side of Central America to Belize, the Caymans and the Mexican Yucatan, etc.
Many of our friends were planning to head west to Columbia and Panama’s San Blas Islands – a known paradise and current Mecca for all Caribbean Cruisers.
Others were heading back east to Margarita to load their boats to the gunwale with “free” beer and fuel, and then head out again.
Although Caribbean weather patterns take a small pause in November, soon thereafter one of the most important features presents: the trades pick up fiercely in December and often blow hard for weeks, a phenomenon known as the “Christmas Winds.” So, if we were going north and doing any “easting” at all, it had to be before the Christmas winds kicked in.
We had only been in Bonaire three weeks and were already kicking ourselves for staying so long in Bahia Redonda Marina. We could have been in the Los Roques and Bonaire instead. We definitely vowed to return to Bonaire for next hurricane season and get a BIG second helping of this ultimate Cruising destination for those of us who love to SCUBA dive!
I got out the charts and started looking at distances. It had taken us eight and a half months to island-hop from the Virgin Islands all the way to Bonaire. I studied the charts, looking at what was involved in heading west and then looked east and cringed at the idea of beating upwind for hundreds of miles back Grenada. Then I noticed that the Virgin Islands are not really that far at all from Bonaire.
The Caribbean Sea is very wide east to west, but the Caribbean Basin is not long north to south. In fact, it was a much greater distance when we crossed the Gulf of Mexico from New Orleans to Marathon in the Florida Keys (twice).
The more we talked about it, what we really wanted more than anything was a long respite from the third world and to head for a place to re-provision the boat and order/buy anything we needed without a hassle and without paying duty, etc. Melissa had a "bad go around" with the intestinal parasites while in Venezuela. We had just recovered from the crime fears that came with entering Venezuelan waters for the first time. And we had not been able to buy the types of provisions we wanted for months. Since leaving the U.S. Virgin Islands, we were unable to order and ship any provisions or boat parts without paying an absolutely usurious FedEx charge in addition to hefty duty and tax charges.
The Virgin Islands hold a special place in our hearts. We were married on St. John ten years ago and have always enjoyed the beautiful beaches and hiking on St. John. The more we discussed it, the more appealing it sounded to simply head straight to St. John, be there in only 2.5 days, and then take a long, relaxed break from the third world for a while in U.S. waters. We could have parts shipped, fly back to the States from St. Thomas, and hang out on St. John and just relax.
And so, I started looking at weather. Sometimes the trades go south of east. Sometimes the trades die altogether for a couple of days. Our course to St. John is 42 degrees magnetic from Bonaire. Upwind anyway you cut it, but if the winds would clock just south of east, out of maybe 100 or 110, and get light, it was surely doable by motorsailing close-hauled on a starboard tack.
Serendipity had planned to go all the way back to Grenada and island-hop north, seeing a few spots they missed on the way down. But, after a few more dinners out and listening to me "run my mouth" ad nauseam about how great it would be if all of us were back in the U.S. Virgin Islands for Thanksgiving and Christmas, they finally gave in and decided to head straight to St. John with us.
We contacted our professional weather router, Chris Parker, and he somewhat reticent. He didn’t quite adopt our optimism about making St. John from Bonaire; instead, covering his bets he remarked: “Well, just remember, Buddy, that if you get out there in the basin and the wind backs and you can’t quite make it to St. John, you can always bear off a little and make it to Puerto Rico, no problem.”
Things developed quickly thereafter. Within a day, a window opened for us and Chris Parker’s advice: leave ASAP!
And so it was. On November 11th after a mid-day walk to Customs and Immigration, the crews of Indigo Moon and Serendipity returned to their boats and began busily readying their decks for sea.
The plan: we will depart the mooring field at about 19:00 and leave Bonaire in darkness, rounding its northern point into the open sea where we will then enter a waypoint for St. John U.S.V.I. If the Weather Gods are kind, we should, without any deviation in course over ground, make landfall two and one-half days later at about 07:00.
Well, this is a good breaking point. We will cover that passage in our next installment. Stay tuned for our next report covering a direct, two-and-one-half-day crossing of the Caribbean Sea and then another heaping helping of beautiful St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands (our all-time favorite place). It is in St. John that we will enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas and the entire Holiday Season in bathing suits on the beach, all in the fine company of many Cruising friends. We hope you will come along too!
Until next time,
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