Bonaire to Curacao
27 February 2008 | Spanish Water
We made one last trip to our favorite cafe, Brasserie Grandi, for breakfast just before clearing out today. We left our mooring around 13:00 after finishing our business ashore. It is an easy four hour sail to Curacao.
We made a slow pass by Klien Bonaire on the way out to get a good look at the little island. It is very arid on the interior, like its big brother, but has some nice beaches and, as expected, it is surrounded by nice reefy dive sites.
We were leaving the Chris Doyle Cruising Guide coverage area for the first time in a long while. The Doyle Venezuela Guide also covers Bonaire but stops there. A new guide on all three of the ABCs was published just before we left Fort Lauderdale so we would be switching to that for Curacao and Aruba. The ABC Guide is great to have and is packed with good information but it is not as well laid out as the Doyle Guides (or perhaps we're just not used to the style). You have to dig through it a bit to find the approach navigation info, which IMHO should be the first thing in every section.
We made decent time, sailing in the 8-9 knot zone on the way to Curacao. Bonaire blocks most of the seas for a good bit of the trip and just when you start to get the full Caribbean seaway affect you round Curacao and get back into the flat island lee zone.
The biggest problem sailing to Curacao from Bonaire is the rhumb line can be dead down wind. We ended up jibing our way along the route. On our last Jib we were slowly peeling off the coast with the wind 150 degrees to port apparent. I don't like to go much deeper then 150 apparent due to the jib risk and the slow down that come with running. As we waited for the angle to make the entrance to Spanish water on our final tack we noticed the tour boat Mermaid heading our way.
Klien Curacao is a small satellite island southeast of Curacao. Mermaid does day charters there out of Spanish Water. We were sailing and they were motoring in a sea way so the bearing varied a bit but they seemed to keep coming at us over time. We kept a close eye on them but assumed that being a 60 foot power vessel, they would steer a little to starboard or kick down a couple knots if need be to allow a safe crossing. We were obligated to stand on, so we did.
Phase two of the colregs kicked in as they got closer and I began to consider trying to get out of their way. The problem was they were not really keeping a constant heading. I couldn't tell if they were going to try to go in front of us or behind us. It mostly just looked like they were going to go at us. I couldn't alter to starboard because we were sailing as deep as we could get, altering to port would be a bad idea, slowing down would be tough without reefing, having no power over the wind I couldn't speed up and other than radical maneuvers (which I quietly planned) the best course seemed to be to continue to stand on. They would certainly slow a bit to let us cross, right?
We'll the new guy must have been on the helm that day. Mermaid kept coming. I got on the VHF and hailed them on 16 three times to ask their intentions and make sure that they saw us (sail 72 feet off of the water usually work) but got no reply. They obviously wanted to go to Spanish water, where we were going, so rather than delay their trip 10 seconds and slow or turn to starboard they turned to port and kept coming at us. I was astonished. We were a sail boat, to starboard, less maneuverable, and the overtaken, any of which would have required them to pass astern. When it looked like they were actually going to ram us I got the crew ready to jibe away while I yelled at their bridge (we were close enough for them to hear me). I said, "sailboat/velero!!", and pointed to the sails, then explained, "we can't turn right!".
At this point they were 20 feet off of our beam and running parallel to us but not able to actually overtake. The tourists were shouting curses at us assuming that we were just some pesky pleasure craft in their way. I was just about to give the command to jibe when a scuffle took place on the bridge deck of Mermaid. An older gentleman came on deck looking a little shocked, waved his hands in apology at us and then began shouting creatively at the wheel house. Mermaid slowed and passed behind quickly. She was up to speed and back on course in moments. The ocean would be a safer place if people were required to learn the rules of the road prior to operating a vessel (particularly a commercial one!).
The entrance to Spanish Water is rather small and very hard to make out from off shore. Fortunately we had Mermaid to show us where it was. Once we could lay the waypoint we jibed and shortly there after watched Mermaid make the entrance. The entrance can be tricky with a break either side and some shallow water about. I would not want to try it in heavy weather.
Once in the straights we took in the beautiful scenery. The edges of the waterway that winds back into Spanish Water are rocky and steep and there are some tabled mountains in the area that give the route a dramatic tone.
Once inside Spanish Water is a very large complex of bays connecting and running back in rivulets through the hills. My guess is that 80% of the cruising yachts in the ABCs are anchored in here somewhere. The main anchorage was fairly crowded but we decided to give it a try because we wanted to be close to the docks that access transportation to town and the sun was dropping. Though you would have no waves in Spanish water even in a Cat 5 hurricane the wind does blow very strongly.
We anchored once is what looked like a spot but didn't like the potential swing with the yacht to port. Our second attempt put us a little to much in the channel. Fortunately a passing dinghy with some helpful cruisers directed us to a nice spot close to the fishing boat marina. We finally set the hook that would hold us for the next week at 19:00.