I was a half-mile offshore when the storm hit. A half hour before, I had pointed Kontentu south leaving the bank near Witches Hut in an attempt to outrun the massive, black cloud forming over the northern part of the island. But by the time I had reached the coast by Seru Largu (Big Hill), the huge squall was upon me. Seru Largu always funnels wind speedily around its southern slope and onto the water. Today was no exception. I normally avoid trials at sea by skirting around the smaller storms or just not leaving port. But this particular disturbance had formed fast and was large and mean. There was not much left to do but to sail through it.
When the clouds opened up, a million raindrops punctured the sea’s smooth surface. The Maytag man must have flipped the “on” switch evidenced by the churning, foot-high, mini-waves that instantly surrounded the boat. I was suddenly in the full spin & rinse cycle. The wind cranked in violent gusts. I had to let out my main sail to where it was nearly parallel with the wind. Still, Kontentu flew through the water. So much rain fell that I had to bail out the water with one hand while holding fast to the rudder with the other. Visibility was reduced to 10 yards and the color gray dominated sea and sky. It was cold.
But this event resembled larger slices of life. Bad things, like good things, eventually do end. So did this squall. What immediately followed was a gust of fresh aroma from the island—pleasant smells of trees, shrubs and earth. The rain had nourished once again and the sea calmed down for reasonable sailing. The improving conditions allowed me to ponder how the island is often a shelter. That is certainly true for sailors. On very windy days, I often hug the leeward shore of Bonaire and sail in the island’s shadow where winds are partially blocked by the land. The island offers me that refuge.
It also does the same on the windward east coast where a long reef breaks up violent waves, and in the process, protects the underwater creatures living in tranquil Lac Bay. Mangroves ring this lovely lagoon providing a nursery for all kinds of reef fish. Once they get some size, they flee the bay for larger water. Lac also sports sea grass on its shallow, sandy bottom. My buddy, Robert Van Dam, who is one of the leading experts of sea turtles in the Caribbean, calls Lac Bay “a supermarket” for turtles due to its nurturing and abundant sea grass.
But the island provides shelter underground as well as underwater. Expansive limestone caves provide refuge for Bonaire’s bats. Several kinds called Lepto and Glosso are considered “keystone species”, meaning that if they were eliminated, their disappearance would drastically affect the survival of many others.
In the case of Bonaire’s bats, 15 other animal species are dependant on them as pollinators of the island’s three kinds of candle cacti—Yatu, Kadushi and Kadushi di Pushi. Without these plants, these other species would be in deep kimshi. That is why Fernando Simal from the national park and others are taking inventory of all caves so that they will hopefully be protected in the future, preserving the intricate balance.
Bonaire is even sheltered by its little neighbor, Klein Bonaire, an islet a kilometer to the west. Every fall, the usual wind patterns change, battering the normally docile leeward side of the island. But Klein protects a fair portion of Bonaire’s west coast from these damaging wind reversals. It is a case of one island providing shelter for another.
So as I repeatedly tack Kontentu through the marina’s channel on my way in, I am heartened by the strength of this island to protect her own—fish, turtles, bats, people and their boats. I tie up to the dock. The water in the harbor is still. The wind blows the palms briskly above. I peer out to the white-capped waves beyond the sea wall from where I just came. My island, once again, gives me shelter.