Tracy and I had been to Bonaire four times over the last 14 years for diving and underwater photography. It’s one of the most lovely islands and best diving in the Caribbean however it’s far off the track of the cruising community as it’s location makes it a destination rather than just a simple choice like going from Antigua to St. Martin.
If you are on your way to Panama, however, the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao) could figure into your plans as they make for a nice stop-over point to break up the 1100 nm passage into a 500 nm passage followed by a 700 nm passage. As Bonaire is entirely within a National Marine Park system, anchoring is strictly forbidden anywhere. The only places to put a yacht are in a marina or fight for space on a small selection of tiny mooring balls located 20 meters from the beach. In an emergency you are allowed to anchor in 200 ft of water (a little deep for us!).
I had made contact with Harbour Village Marina several months ago and found out they could handle a yacht of our draft and length. So, all I had to do was let them know what dates we wanted to come visit. Before leaving Antigua, I dropped some email off to them noting we would be on our way down and was informed our dates were completely filled as the upcoming Carnival weekend was their busiest of the year and all sorts of yachts came up from Venezuela to participate. Absolutely no room was available.
OK I thought, good time to try out one of the other islands. When looking for information on cruising yachts visiting Aruba or Curacao I found very little information. Strange, they were also destinations for lots of sun-seeking vacationers so I wondered why cruisers didn’t say much about them? As it turns out, there were very few places to anchor on either island and the clearance in/out was more tedious.
With no other choice, I settled on Curacao as Noonsite had some cruisers chatting about good anchorages in 2-3 locations on the island and it seemed safe, etc. After checking several charts and finding they all agreed there was enough depth for our yacht so I went ahead with our plans to spend a few days before pushing on for San Blas, Panama.
After a lovely 500 nm sail from Antigua we arrived about 22:00 and proceeded to our selected anchorage site. To our amazement, Caracas Bay (shown on Google Earth as empty) was full of oil tankers with a new terminal facility built and busy all night long servicing tankers. Obviously this was not a good place to put our anchor out!
So, onto the next location, Spanish Waters. The charts showed good depth all the way in with 6 meters as the shallowest part at the entrance. When we arrived there at 01:00 in the morning, Giamma smartly decided we should launch the tender and go take a look first before committing ourselves to transiting a narrow channel into the bay. We launched the tender in big swells and jumped in to go take a look. I was in the front with the portable depth reader and called out the numbers to Andrea as we headed in. At first we had 9 meters then down to 6m. Looking good so far, then we found 5 meters and 3.7 meters. OK, this wasn’t going to work either.
So, both our primary anchorage and secondary anchorage were no good. What to do? No where else to anchor anywhere in Curacao, late at night, everyone exhausted from running watches for 3 days, etc.
Bobbing around in big swells surrounded by oil tankers Giamma and I conferred and decided we either had to proceed onto San Blas, Panama (700 nm away) or go to Bonaire and see if the next morning we could work something out to stay there. Bonaire seemed like a better choice so we slow-motored the 20nm over there arriving about 08:00. Hovering just outside the marina entrance Andrea and I tendered in so I could try to talk the marina into letting us stay for a night or two. I didn’t have any preconception we could be successful but had to try anyway.
At first, everything was reserved and there was no room for us just as they had told me in email. Then (perhaps feeling sorry for us!) they looked at the schedule a little better and saw well, maybe one night was available. We eagerly took it and moved into a nice spot at the entrance to the marina. Just before we were ready to sleep like zombies, the marina manager came by to say if we could move 2 meters further he could fit both us and the other boat reserved for our spot. Happy days! We moved and now we can stay through the big Carnival weekend as well as have time to participate in the wonderful diving found here.
Moral of the story? A personal appearance sometimes is the key to getting what you want. Email, internet, etc. are all fine but face-to-face still works best!
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