Island Notes 40
Dancing With The Storm
It didn’t look good. This was the third consecutive day that winds over 20 knots were forecasted. In fact, the Dutch Antilles Weather Service issued this warning: SMALL CRAFT OPERATORS SHOULD CONTINUE TO EXERCISE CAUTION OVER ALL THE LOCAL WATERS BECAUSE OF STRONG WINDS AND ABOVE NORMAL WAVES.
My sailboat, Kontentu, can handle winds up to 19 knots, about 22mph. After that, I stay home due to excessive pounding on gear and people. That is no fun. And the weatherman today was guessing winds between 11-21 knots, but with gusts 22-33 knots, approaching near gale-force. A dangerous wind of that strength could easily cause a knockdown. That is when a sudden wind is so strong that it slams the boat and mast parallel to the sea. Once the sails take on water, it is extremely difficult to bring the boat back up, especially when sailing alone.
But I had turned restless. I was tired of waiting for better conditions. Perhaps I could sneak in an early morning sail before the winds built up. Quickly, I downed a cup of coffee, fed the cat and walked the dog. With morning responsibilities complete, I swam to Kontentu. The weather was sunny with maybe 10-knot winds. I hustled to get the boat ready, and minutes later I released the mooring line. I was sailing.
By this time, the rising sun was gone. I looked to the east and saw a dark gray storm outlined by a dull, mean, yellow sky. To the south, however, it looked like the storm ended. I decided to sail in that direction and try to beat the weather. No way did I want to be out when the storm hit. That is when those deadly near-gale force gusts happen.
Kontentu clipped right along. I felt my decision to head south was paying off in spades even though the storm to the east was growing and looked fierce. As time went on, new storm clouds appeared on the horizon that were south of the storm. This wasn’t good. I was headed directly for a peninsula called Punt Vierkant. It would take me nearly a half hour to sail around it so that I could continue south–too much time to beat the storm. I decided to maintain my course heading toward a beautiful strip of white sand we call Airport Beach and see what would happen.
In the sky, I could see the island hoppers–stout prop airplanes that ply the air between Bonaire and Curacao–changing their normal routes in and out of Flamingo International Airport. No way did they want to take on the wrath of the storm. Dutch Antilles Express and Divi Divi Air were both making adjustments. I looked back at where I had departed my mooring at Playa Lechi, about two miles to the north now. Rain was coming down heavy. With Airport Beach fast approaching, I had to tack to the east, the direction of the storm. Neptune was with me on this one. I had reached the very end of the squall line. The wind picked up quickly, but it was controllable. No gale force gusts here. A soft rain that lasted less than a minute gently rinsed me. It was refreshing. By the time I completed the tack and headed back north, the majority of the storm has passed and was on a full tilt boogey toward Curacao some 38 miles away. My plan had worked. I was now sailing behind the squall line in little wind. My only concern now was if another storm was to follow.
There were some towering clouds coming on to the northeast, but they were destined to hit the national park on the northern tip of the island. I was home free. The sun returned and very light winds barely moved the boat past downtown Kralendijk. I passed the massive freighter, Tolo, at dock. On her deck lay the windmill towers destined for Bonaire’s new wind farm that promises to supply thirty percent of the island’s future energy needs. Cruising past the City Café, I could see tourists leisurely devouring their breakfasts. My thoughts turned to food and what I would eat upon return. But most of all I thought about how well this sail had gone. I had made the right decision, beaten the storm and was sailing home safe. I was not smug. I realized that I had just got away with one. Mother Ocean was nice to me today. She let me dance with the storm without even ruffling my boutonnière. Fair winds.