Hemisphere Arrives

Another edition of… Island Notes

I had sailed past the world’s largest catamaran in the world for four days in my trusty 14-foot, gaff-rigged cat boat going in and out of the marina.  I guess it was on day 4 that the bell finally rang, somebody turned on the lights, the cerebrum started sparking the old synapse connections.  “I gotta get aboard this behemoth!”  A quick e-mail to the London management company and a phone call hours later from the captain of Hemisphere secured my entrance.  “Your timing is excellent,” said Captain Gavin.  “I have an opening this afternoon.  Tomorrow we set sail.  Come on down.”  What follows is my story aboard Hemisphere for the Bonaire Reporter…

Hemisphere dwarfs a 40+ foot yacht.

I first saw the mega-catamaran arrive off the eastern shore of Klein Bonaire last week.  The boat appeared enormous, perhaps 80 to 100 feet long.  But chalk up that miscalculation to distance, dark blue hulls and appropriately proportioned parts.  By the time the vessel docked at Harbour Village Marina, I realized that I had vastly underestimated its size.

The boat in question is called Hemisphere.  It is the largest catamaran in the world.  “We’re just under the magical 500 (tons),” explains Captain Gavin Bladen, “which keeps a lot of regulation requirements away from us. Douce France, the next biggest cat in the world (at 137-feet) is only 300 gross tons.  If we tied her along side, her coach roof would be at our deck level, and her deck half way up our hull side.”

Apparently in the world of mega-sailboats size does matter. Hemisphere is 145-feet long, 54-feet wide and is built from 73 tons of aluminum. But Bladen is not boastful.  Rather, the understated English captain is simply proud of the amazing super yacht that he gets to sail around the globe.  He spent seven years as project director during the design, development and building of the super cat.  The owner of Hemisphere is an American businessman who chooses to remain anonymous.  “This is his first boat,” remarks Bladen. “He was coming up to retirement and only wanted to do one boat.  We could have done a smaller boat and learned what we wanted and then build the boat of our dreams, or just do the boat of our dreams and be done in one hit.”

They chose the latter and the ‘one and done’ choice was launched in August 2011 from the Pendennis shipyards in southwest England. Hemisphere immediately sailed south to the Mediterranean and turned heads in every port.  After a trans-Atlantic voyage, she is spending this spring cruising the Caribbean.  “The owner has done a lot of the Caribbean from Trinidad north,” continues Captain Bladen.  “So I recommended to sail to Los Roques (Venezuelan islands 125 miles east) and that we cruise to Bonaire to do diving.  Bonaire’s a fantastic location. I’ve heard about it for 20 years.  It lives up to its reputation.  The diving’s excellent—crystal clear water, the coral is in fantastic condition where we’ve dived, and the fish life is very good.  It is protected.  It’s good to see that.”

The forty-something captain leads me to the port hull stern and down a series of wide, elegant teak steps.  We enter a room that serves as the yacht’s dive center.  There are 12 tanks each with their dedicated filling station—your choice of Nitrox or regular air.  This reflects the owner’s passion for exploring the world’s water wonders. Bladen describes a typical day. “We do a dive before breakfast.  We come back for breakfast and do a dive or three afterwards. This vessel is a heavy dive boat.”

Fins, buoyancy vests, regulators, kayaks, water skies, wake boards and paddle boards fill the rest of the space.  There is a teak-decked, 27-foot Scorpion inflatable tender with a 315 horsepower, inboard Yamaha that can whisk you away to the dive site of your choice.  Not satisfied?  Choose the 54-foot F&S custom sport boat for game fishing, diving or guest excursions.  The craft follows Hemisphere wherever she sails. The catamaran is crewed by a team of ten of which two are responsible for the 54-footer.

If you are contemplating a charter, you will need more than your American Express card.  The yacht rents for $250,000 per week for up to 12 guests.  That is exclusive of food, drink and fuel needed for the Hemisphere’s two, 12-cylinder, 495-horsepower Caterpillar diesel engines.  The chef on board will cater to your every culinary need.  “Say that your child wants Coco Puffs for breakfast,” proposes Bladen.  “We will make sure that cereal is on board even if we have to fly it in.”  The attention to personal needs continues.  Three thousand movies are stored in the ships’ electronics center that can be fed directly to the six guest cabins.  Prefer to watch the ocean roll by while under way?  Don your swim trunks and take a dip the irresistible spa pool located high above on the ship’s flying bridge.

The mega-yacht left Bonaire on April 13th and headed for the Aves for several days.  Saint Lucia and Sint Maarten will complete this year’s Caribbean cruise.  Then later this year, Hemispherewill sail back to Europe visiting the Azores, Nice and Venice along the way.  Before he departed, I asked Captain Bladen what he liked most about his job.  He didn’t hesitate.  “I get paid to sail around the world.  I am very fortunate. I’ve got fantastic owners and we share the same goal, which is to take the boat and explore.”

Hemisphere steams toward the Aves (Venezuelan islands) passing by Bonaire's Pink Beach on its voyage east.


Sailors Who Never Left #9-Patrick Hulsker

After repeated visits to Bonaire, perhaps sailor Patrick Hulsker has finally found a way to remain on island.

Talk to Patrick Hulsker and you soon discover a recurrent thread during his 43 years—sailing. It started at an early age while growing up in the small polder village of Zaandijk in North Holland.

“When I was 6 years old, my father built me a Pirate.  It’s like an Optimist (a small stubby boat used by the youth at the Bonaire Sailing Regatta) but with a sharp nose.  I just hopped in and learned it the hard way in small canals, river style.”

Hulsker was hooked on the wind.  By age eleven he became one of the first windsurfers in the Netherlands as that sport was introduced in the early 1980s.  Later, he progressed to a Dragon, a deep-keeled, 9 meter, international-class race boat with a crew of three.  “I ended up on the bow (the front of the boat) handling the spinnaker (a large, colorful fore sail used for downwind sailing).  I was a young, light guy.  It’s all about feeling, balance. When you are in the flow, it’s like a dance.  It just goes.  I love it.”

Family pressure interrupted the dance and Hulsker was encouraged to enroll in the University of Amsterdam to study law.  That lasted about six months.  “I was not happy.  A friend came to me with a newspaper ad. They were looking for a charter boat captain in Aruba.  I thought with my big mouth, I should give them a call.  In three weeks, I was in Aruba sailing.  We did day charters for tourists from the docks of the Harbor Village Casino downtown.”

Soon, Hulsker met a Dutch guy who hired him to be his private captain and cruise the Caribbean aboard a 38-foot steel sloop named Iltshi. Rob and Jeanette ter Borg (Sailors Who Never Left #7) had built the boat.  It wasn’t long before Patrick sailed Iltshi to Bonaire and met the couple aboard their charter boat, Sea Witch.  “That was a great time in 1992,” recalls Hulsker.

Patrick on Klein Bonaire 1992.

“Bonaire was really quiet in those days. We were docked at Harbour Village Marina, living aboard. When I wasn’t working on Iltshi, and I hung out at the Sunset Beach Hotel or would go to Playa by dingy or bicycle.  Everybody knew each other back then.  I still see some of those people on island.”

With the promised Caribbean cruise on hold, Hulsker’s attention moved elsewhere.  He met a Dutch girl who he followed back to Holland in the summer of 1993.  Patrick got a job working as a PR liaison for a brewery.  The girlfriend returned to Bonaire by that winter.  The following year, Hulsker returned to the sea. He helped a couple sail from the Panama Canal down the west coast of South America.  “We sailed in schools of humpbacked whales.  We were in small villages.  Everyone was so friendly.  It was an amazing voyage.”

By 1995, Hulsker was back in Holland and met his wife-to-be, Manon Cromheecke, who was studying medicine.  Patrick also got serious about a career. “I worked in the financial sector during the ‘golden years’. I was as an investment consultant for development groups.  I made a hell of a lot of money and put much of it into the stock market.  Later, I bought property in Zaandam.  I lived there and rented out the rest. That move made me financially independent so I could sail again.”

Hulsker joined the Dutch Commodores Cup team, sailing a Bashford Howison 41 Australian racer.  From 2000 to 2005 he was crew on two of the top Dutch racing teams, sailing in World and European Championship competitions.  One of his crews became Dutch champions in 2003.  During this time Hulsker had the opportunity to teach to one of the Dutch princes the finer points of competitive sailing.   But the demanding racing schedule did not stop Manon and him from making repeated trips back to Bonaire. “I followed my heart.  I liked the laziness of the island and I mean that in a positive way.  When I walked down the street, people said ‘hi’.  In those days, there was really a friendly atmosphere between the original Bonairans and the people from the Netherlands.”

It was on one of those visits in 2002 that the couple wed.  “I love boats so we married on Rob and Jeanette ter Borg’s boat, Sea Witch, while moored off  No Name Beach.  We married barefoot.  My wife was in a bikini. I was in old pants.  That’s the first time I ended up in the Bonaire Reporter.  We made wedding rings to go around our necks from the silver and gold of old family jewelry because when you’re a captain and a surgeon, you can’t have rings on your fingers.”

Bonaire had such a hold on the couple that they named their two sons Cai (now 9) after Lac Cai and Tiko (age 5), a common Bonairan name.  After repeated trips to the island, Manon secured a job in early 2010 as a surgeon in the hospital.  These days Patrick does occasional boat work and takes care of the two boys.  Unlike other sailors in this series who came to the island and never left, Hulsker has had a difficult time remaining.  Is this return permanent?

“That’s a good question,” responds Patrick.  “We might have to leave in the future due to the demands of Manon’s career.  But we now have some property here.  We bought some land.  Bonaire is still in our hearts.”

The Adventure of Good Return

Another Island Note…

Of all the non-profit organizations we work for, the Bonaire Animal Shelter takes first place in showing gratitude toward its volunteers. Hettie has worked there for over four years and I do a bit now and then for them.  Last year, they showed their appreciation by renting the Party Bus (Wheels of Love, Island Notes 91).  This year the wheels stayed ashore as this wild bunch of animal lovers took to the sea for a two-hour voyage aboard the Good Return Bonaire.

The GRB, affectionately known locally as Bootjes Biertje (the little beer boat), is actually 50-foot long and bills its cruises as “a cruise beyond paradise”.  Ours certainly was.  The Animal Shelter hosted about 50 people on board and soon the rum and quiche were flowing, so to speak.  I took my Cuba Libre to the pilothouse to talk with captain and owner, Gerrie F.  He was my on-the-water neighbor when I had my sailboat, Kontentu, out on a mooring in the bay.

“I bought Good Return about two years ago on a trip to Maine.  She’s what they call a scalloper, a Maine fishing boat that was crafted from local oak in 1963.  But Good Return never worked as fishing boat.  As you can see, the cabin slants forward.  It’s designed that way so that when the boat is loaded with catch, it levels out and the captain can still easily see ahead.”

“How did you get the boat to Bonaire?”

“A friend and I took her 3500 miles from Maine to here.  We traveled down the US east coast, across the Bahamas to the Dominican Republic and then south to Bonaire.  It took a month.”

“Any adventures along the way?”

“Oh, yeah.  As we neared DR, we were adrift due to dirty diesel that I had bought in Nassau.  The engine wouldn’t run anymore.  We called in a may day.  The US Coast Guard responded and towed us into Porto Plata in the Dominican Republic.  That’s when the real trouble began.”

“What happened?”

“We were towed to the commercial dock.  It was full of bad ass people, thieves and dock rats.  They were planning to come aboard in mass to steal as much as they could.  That’s when I got the riot gun.”

“The riot gun?”

“Yeah.  It’s like a shotgun but looks very intimidating. I cocked the breach and the pirates froze in their tracks.  I told them in my terrible Spanish that if they stepped aboard, I was going to blow them away.  I ended up sleeping on deck with the riot gun, lock and loaded, pointed toward the shore.  Nobody came aboard, but it was a long night.”

“What happened then?”

“We finally got the fuel situation taken care of but had to stop at several more ports along the south coast of DR due to bad weather.  But in every port you had to pay bribes.  The last stop, I ended up paying $2200 to get an exit stamp.  It was unbelievable.  I wanted to leave early in the morning to avoid a big storm that was on the way.  They wouldn’t release us until late morning.  That delay costs us big time.”

“Bad storm?”

“Oh, yeah.  It hit us about noon.  It was a brutal 14 hours, a bad start for the last 400 miles of our journey.  I was so glad to finally see Brandaris (Boanire’s highest peak).  I kissed the dock when we finally landed.”

These days Good Return leads a much gentler life.  She mostly plies the bay or shuttles people to the off-shore islet of Klein Bonaire.  On those excursions, Captain Gerrie pulls out his surf kite and carves up the waves while his passengers snorkel.  Not a bad life for either the boat or the captain.