Wednesday 2 February to Tuesday 15 February - Antigua to Bonaire
Wednesday 2 February – Wednesday 9 February
The last week has been mainly focussed on spending time with family. Both sets of grandparents Nick and Sally Gambier, and Michael and Sheila Calascione, have arrived, and are staying in a lovely house in Turtle bay, overlooking Montserrat to the Southwest.
As if that was not enough excitement for the girls, on Friday, Biba Parry, one of the girls favourite ex-teachers from Newton Prep came out with her boyfriend Will, to stay with us on board.
So the week has been spent mainly at beaches here in English harbour, or about 15 miles sail away at Nonsuch bay, on the Eastern (windward) side of Antigua.
We took the Duck round to Nonsuch on Monday. Quite a bouncy ride round there, but well worth it once we had threaded our way in through the rather nasty reefs that protect the bay. Nonsuch is a huge bay, about five miles across, totally protected by a fringing reef. We spent a very happy day on Tuesday snorkelling around the reef, and having another exquisite lunch as guests of Peter, Riccardo, and Angelo at Harmony Hall. Definitely one of the most memorable places we have seen on the trip so far.
On the way back we had another fuel blockage problem. The engine would not fire as we came in to English harbour, and resisted all attempts to bleed it after switching filters. Our old friend, the fuel tanks again. What a bore, and really worrying that it should show itself again so quickly. Obviously needs some radical attention to the tanks. I again opted to get towed in. Having been in English harbour for a week, and having more crew on board, it would have been even easier than last time to sail in. But it would be a foolish risk to take with the fluky winds at the mouth of the harbour and the ‘play it safe’ angel on my right shoulder won again.
We moored up and set to work. With Nick Gambiers help, we bled the engine again and eventually got the engine going again. The filters were full of crud, despite the fact that we had filtered the diesel judiciously ever since leaving Malta. It had obviously been churned up in the big seas we had leaving Nonsuch bay. I slept on it and decided that next day we were going to have to really sort the diesel tanks out once and for all.
That evening we had a lovely dinner at the house that our parents are renting at Turtle bay, overlooking Montserrat to the South.
Thursday 10 February
Big day of boat fixing today. With the help of Mel the Mechanic, we pumped out all the diesel in the two tanks. At the bottom we could see that there was clearly some crud built up. There is a baffle which masks the other half of the tank, designed to stop diesel from slooshing around in a big sea when the tanks are half full. There is no means of getting behind the baffles to inspect or clean there. We unbolted the two tanks from the boat, and after much huffing and puffing, got them out onto the jetty. Once in the Yard, we were able to see through the inspection hatch into one side, and got to work with a high pressure hose. Loads of crud came out. We stuck the pressure hose behind the baffle, and some more crud came out. We were suspicious that there was a load more to get out that we could not get to, as every time we flushed it, more crud came out. The only way we could get behind the baffle and find out what was there, and then clean it if necessary was to cut a hole in the stainless steel top of the tank. I gulped. More expense, more time, and we were due to leave for Panama the day after tomorrow. I wondered if we should just leave it and be content with the thorough flushing with the pressure hose, petrol, and liquid soap that we had given it and hope for the best. We decided to go for it. Mel the mechanic took me to the local welding shop and we cut into the tanks. Once we could see behind the baffles, the source of our troubles revealed itself. Even after all the pressure hosing and washing with petrol and detergent, there was still about half an inch of crud there in some places. A real mess. Its probably not been cleaned properly there for many years, maybe since the boat was built. We soon cleaned it thoroughly with the pressure hose. By the time we had finished they were gleaming. Hopefully that is the last of our problems with fuel, at least for a while.
Caroline in the meantime was off with Sally provisioning for the trip to Panama. The girls went to the beach with Biba and Will for half the day, and then to the grandparents villa.
Friday 11 February - English Harbour, Antigua - Lat 17 deg 00 N, 61 deg 45 W
Day of final preparation for the trip to Panama. The crew will now be Nick Gambier and a guy Mark Vear, who came across the Atlantic on a Swan 51 called ‘Grandee’, and is doing some sailing around the Caribbean.
The engines (main and generator) are serviced, and we fit a new roller furling line, as we had noticed some chafe start to appear on our line.
Biba and Will leave us to spend a few days exploring other parts of Antigua. It has been excellent to have them on board. The girls have spent lots of time with Biba, and after a week had managed to shake the habit of calling her ‘Miss Parry’. Will has been superb crew and really mucked in to life on a boat so well. We shall miss them.
A final dinner at Catherine's Café, a lovely French restaurant on the waterfront and we are ready to go. Tomorrow we set off at 10 am, bound initially for Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles. This island is about 450 miles away, near Aruba and Curacao, and is part of the islands known as the ABC’s, just North of Venezuela. Bonaire is famous for its outstanding undersea coral, diving and snorkelling. We plan to stop there for a couple of days, then continue on the next 700 miles to Panama, so that we can transit the canal with another yacht called ‘Escapade’ on around Feb 23rd.
Saturday 12 February
Awake to a flurry of activity in English harbour. Today we set off for Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles, which is about 470 miles away to the West, just off the Venezuelan coast. Before we go we need to fill the tanks and also all the reserve jerry cans with fuel, fill with water, and say goodbye to three of the girls’ grandparents. The fourth, Nick Gambier is coming with us for the trip to Panama.
We are slightly delayed by the lengthy process of stowing the lazarette, the big locker in the stern. This is the first time we have loaded up with so much diesel in reserve Jerry cans, and it is a tricky jigsaw puzzle to solve.
Eventually we are ready to go around midday. We decide to put on a bit of a show for the farewell committee, so red t-shirts appear and the big red flag is hoisted. A quick twirl round the harbour as we get the main up and we are off, bound for the southern tip of Montserrat.
Visibility is not great to start with, but soon the haze clears and we are treated to a wonderful view of the benighted volcanic island as we sail past it at 9 knots.
We settle into a watch system, and try to get used to the strange sensation of being on a long passage again after two months of mainly island hopping during the day.
Sunday 13 and Monday 14 February
We are making good fast progress South West on a broad reach. The Duck is really enjoying the following wind. We are taking on a small amount of water. On inspecting the lazarette, we find it is coming in through the rudder stock. The nut at the top of the stock needs tightening, which is fairly normal after it has been newly fastened with fresh packing inside it. This was put in after the major surgery in St. Martin. Not a job to do at sea, so we will sort it when we get in to Bonaire.
The watch system has settled in well, and after the first night, when I always find it very difficult to sleep, we click into the routine and sleep very soundly.
On Monday night we start to pick up the lights of Isle des Aves, safely off to the South. These islands have a wicked fringing reef, so we have set course to give them a really good wide berth at night. The navigation lights in these parts are highly unreliable, especially after recent hurricanes.
Tuesday 15 February
At dawn we are very close to the Southern tip of Bonaire. As it is very low and flat (it’s Dutch, after all) in the South, we approach with care – it very hard to pick out any features at all until we are right close up. The problem of the featureless topography is exacerbated by the fact that a couple of severe squalls wash over us just as we arrive at the Southern tip and seek to pilot ourselves round, reducing visibility to a few hundred yards. They soon blow over however, to reveal a really beautiful boomerang shaped island, newly washed by the rain, and surrounded by crystal clear blue water and a bank of coral.
Soon we have dropped the main and motor in to Harbour village marina, where we plan to stay for a couple of nights. A really pretty little harbour. Soon we are moored up, and Jan the Norwegian yard manager helps us with the right tool to tighten the rudder stock nut.
One amazing feature of the mooring on the pontoon is that the marina has a phone connection for each yacht at the dock, which is hooked up on board. So for the first time on the whole trip, I can connect on board the boat at land-line style modem speeds! Well I think its exciting anyway.
After the usual round of customs and immigration we set off to explore the area. Bonaire is a tiny island, (pop 14,000) which, with Aruba and Curacao, forms the Netherlands Antillean archipelago known to yachties as "the ABC’s". It is a marine park all round the island, and you are not allowed to anchor anywhere apart form a very narrow strip on the shelf just off the beach in the capital, Kralendijk. It supports itself mainly through tourism, and most tourists come here for the diving, which is really spectacular. It has some of the best coral around, and the water, as I said earlier is crystal clear.