Island Shelter

Another edition of… Island Notes

A small squall approaches Bonaire.

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.

Lac Bay photo by Hettie Holian de Kruijf

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.

photo courtesy of STINAPA

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.

Kadushi cactus

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.


Flying Fandango

Another Island Note from down in the land of bon bini.

The Dutch call them vlinders.  The Bonairans use barbulètnan. Spanish speakers, mariposas. And the English users, butterflies.  All of those descriptors impart beauty, elegance and grace.  I find that fitting for what I consider to be the most alluring of all insects.

Bonaire is fortunate to have its own butterfly garden.  It is located on a dirt track that eventually leads to Lac Cai, a point of land that borders the channel leading from the lagoon, Lac Bay, out to the sea.  It is because of Lac Cai that I never got to the butterfly garden before.  Whenever I traveled the road there, I was always on a mission—to do turtle surveys in Lac Bay for Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire; to dive the challenging, current-riddled Wild Side with my dive buddy, Bruce; or to lime about on a Sunday at the Lac Cai bar, listening to Latino guitars and drinking ice-cold Polars in the hot sun.

But after four years, I decided I had waited long enough.  I purposely drove the Lac Cai Road to go see butterflies.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  Since the Butterfly Garden doesn’t open until 9, I left early to try my luck getting some early morning bird photos.  Good move.  The flamingos were very cooperative on this fine day.  But as the sun rose, the ‘golden hour’ evaporated like a margarita in a sailor’s glass.  With that, I pointed my Subaru to the garden.

What follows are just some of the species of butterflies that live at the garden.  It is a large, screened-in oasis complete with a gurgling fountain and soft chirping blue parakeets from Central America.  Add a generous dose of Blue Morpho, Zebra, and other butterflies, and what you have is a flying fandango of color.

No, this is NOT a butterfly!

Post Script.  Thanks to Diane and Georgie Rigault who now have plans to put in flowering plants around the facility that will attract Bonaire butterflies.

Doin’ the Salt Pier Rumba

Another edition of Island Notes

Yours truly at Salt Pier

If you head south of town, south of our fair capital of Kralendijk, you will eventually see a metal structure extending out into the sea.  It resembles a dinosaur skeleton left behind.  Or perhaps an enormous erector set discarded by a giant.  It is, in fact, the salt loading pier of Cargill Salt, where freighters dock for days while machines feed a conveyor belt that crosses sky high over the coastal road, dumping solar dried salt directly into the holds of ships.  Salt Pier is also a prized dive site, and the destination today of the BWDC, the Bonaire Weekend Dive Club.

The entire membership gathered this morning for the dive.  That would be my dive buddy, Nat Miller, and uh, myself.  Small, but mighty.  The BWDC had heard that, due to security reasons, permission from the harbormaster and some other official might be needed, plus a dive master as a guide.  Upon arriving, we saw no ship on the horizon.  It is Karnival weekend so there is a possibility that the officials, and also probably a few dive masters, may be in costume, deep into their cups or both.  After all, it is Karnival! The BWDC decided to game on.

French Angelfish

What followed was an amazing dive.  There were numerous barracuda.  One, actually, was longer than myself.  I gave ample distance to this toothy assassin.  I spotted a grouper the size of my washing machine, a reclusive drum fish that played coy-darting in and out of the coral, and just a whole bunch of fish.  Schools of blue tang, damselfish, grunts, and yellow snapper peppered the water between the pillars supporting the pier.  We came upon angelfish of French and Queen varieties.

Queen Angelfish

And later a spotted eel happily buried next to a sunken beer bottle.

We were back on the beach by 11am.  Just enough time to rinse gear, shower and join the pulsating Karnival crowd snaking down Kaya Grandi.  What a Sunday, doin’ the rumba.

Post script…  Nat took a bunch more that he will be posting on his blog when he gets around to it.  These dive photos motivated him to get back to his page that he hasn’t updated since last year.  He’s working on January now.  When he gets to the Salt Pier photos, I’ll be sending a link so you can see more.  Poco poco.  The boy from Cincinnati is now definitely on island time.

Just Another Day On The Water

Another Island Note…

It started out simple enough.  Now that my sailboat, Kontentu, lays permanently at a marina dock, I realized that the loading of dive gear could be incredibly easy.   And diving from a boat opens up the thirty or so dive sites that dot the perimeter of Klein Bonaire, our offshore island.  I had dived Klein a few times with Wanna Dive, a local dive company.  They run boats daily to the islet for a good price, but I was never able to choose the site.  Going with my own boat heralded a new age of total freedom.

Joining me for the first expedition was my regular dive buddy, Bruce.  While he has hundreds of shore dives under his weight belt, Bruce, like me, has done few dives at Klein Bonaire.  We chose to go to Forest, a dive site described by the New Guide to the Bonaire Marine Park as… atypical, special. Forest is an avalanche of orange elephant ear sponges and dense bushes of black coral; tiger groupers of every age and size.  Sounds good to me.

Bruce sailing with me in a Force 9 storm to Jamaica a few years ago.

Conditions were calling for piping 18-knot winds, gusting to 20.  For the maiden voyage, there were a lot of logistics to work out.  Our dive gear was assembled and filled the recessed deck of the boat.  There would not be much room to move around if we needed to tack while sailing. I chose instead to motor out to the dive site two miles away. Better to keep it simple for this first attempt.  But before leaving port, I removed the sail cover and put in a reef (this reduces sail area for high winds) just for good measure.  Always good to have a Plan B in case shit hits the fan.

As we approached Klein Bonaire by motor I heard a small ‘thump’, the kind of sound that occurs when something hits the prop.  I immediately looked back and saw no flotsam behind nor any damage to the propeller.  Perhaps something had hit the hull.  Game on.

About ten minutes later we were motoring along the south coast of Klein paralleling the reef about 20 yards away.  The dive buoy from Forest was in sight.  So was an approaching squall, dark and furious.  No worries.  We should be hooked up and in the water by the time the storm reaches us.

Then the proverbial shit did hit the fan.  I suddenly heard a ‘pop’.  Looking back to the transom, the outboard motor was titled 30-degrees.  Something had gone terribly wrong.  My first action was to quickly get away from the reef while we still had power.  I got some distance away when I heard the second ‘pop’.  Now the motor was listing 80-degrees with the prop nearing the water surface! I immediately hit the kill switch and grabbed the motor as I thought the entire mount might break and head into the drink.  Bruce scrambled back to the stern and helped me unscrew the motor clamps from the now-very-twisted bracket.  Of course, the wind from the squall hit us at this time producing 3-4 foot waves.  That really made getting the motor off a challenge, but at least the boat was being blown parallel to the reef.  We finally got the motor loose and found a place to stow it on the deck between the dive gear.  It was time for Plan B.

By now the squall was in full force.  I would guess winds were 22 knots, gusting to 25.  I rarely sail my boat in any winds over 20 knots, but there was no choice. I asked Bruce to point the boat into the wind and I raised the reefed main.  With all the dive gear and a motor low on deck, plus two guys on the rail, Kontentu sailed like a champ due to all of its cargo.

Long story, short.  We easily sailed home through the squall and back to the marina.  I inspected the twisted bracket along the way and discovered two of the four mount’s bolts had sheered off.  It would have been just moments before the other two broke sending the motor and bracket down in 400-feet of water.  We entered the marina and I swung a 180 and popped the main sheet.  Kontentu kissed the dock and we were home safe.  So was the motor. Just another day on the water.

Kontentu sans motor, awaiting the next sail.