On 25th October 2014 the “travelling wilburys” (Cadman family) were on the move again. Although we were all travelling, it was to completely different destinations. Paw Paw was on the move from Curacao back to Bonaire and Keenan was moving to Washington DC. We arrived in Bonaire safe and sound after a gruelling 10 hour sail into wind, waves and current – not the weather predicted – surprise, surprise!. Then to top off the day, every mooring ball had been taken when we arrived in Bonaire and anchoring is prohibited. My prayers were answered though, when we found the last one tucked away as the sun set. It wasn’t ideal, but it did until the following morning. We definitely weren’t expecting that many yachts packed into the small mooring field. We were up early the next morning to scout around for a better mooring ball and claimed the only other vacant one after a yacht left. Needless to say, we were delighted to be back in paradise – swimming, snorkelling, diving – we were back on holiday again!
Our return to Bonaire was short lived, however, when we decided to set sail earlier than intended, as a suitable weather window opened up sooner than planned.
Prior to our departure though, we did get to enjoy some unexpected delights such as a freshly caught Mahi Mahi. It was thanks to Ronnie from Campechano who caught it on their sail over from Curacao to Bonaire a few days after our trip. It was chilled by lunchtime and on the dinner table that night. We had so much of it, though, that it was another first on Paw Paw the following night – Sushi - which actually wasn’t at all bad for a first attempt, thanks to Chef Roy!
We also had one of our best snorkelling adventures ever – We joined Georgia (Chris and Paul) for a dinghy ride to a reef a little north of our anchorage. We got to see enormous parrotfish, an octopus, a large school of Blue Tangs, a few Scorpion Fish, a Moray Eel and, best of all, turtles, one of which was as real character. We found him scratching his shell on some coral. He then surfaced right next to us; returned to his scratching; surfaced again, before deciding to wander off. We got to spend at least 20 minutes in his company – Just amazing!
Halloween was rather different from previous years – We went for a sail to Klein Bonaire on Campechano (Babbie and Ronnie) with some of their friends, followed by a picnic lunch, a snorkel and a walk on the beach before sailing back again at sunset. We then got to enjoy the live entertainment along the beachfront from our foredeck.
Other delights included:
· A “Taste of Venezuela” evening at the Consulate – Great food, great company and I believe the rum was excellent. Of course, it begged the question as to whether or not we were technically in Venezuela.
· Having our new neighbours in the floating village over for sundowners and a light dinner aboard Paw Paw. I guess we could conclude that a good time was had by all when no one left until midnight and, then when they did, there were a few unintended swims associated with the perils of getting into one’s dinghy after one too many.
· Elaine enjoyed a very pleasant luncheon aboard Exit Strategy (Rose and Dan), with all the ladies who participated in the early morning “noodling” classes, to celebrate Rose’s birthday. Dan was an excellent “cabana boy” who keep us all well supplied with mimosas.
· We managed to enjoy a few dives off the back of Paw Paw, but unfortunately, due to our earlier than intended departure, Roy had to cancel his night dive. He did, however, get to have dinner (with Elaine) at the Argentinean restaurant he had wanted to visit on our first trip, but missed for various reasons.
Although our time back in paradise was over all too quickly, we did get the opportunity to learn so much on our combo fishing / sailing trips on Campechano. It would be remiss of me not to mention that Ronnie, besides being our Spanish teacher in Curacao, is actually an Olympian sailor as well as a CORT (Caribbean Ocean Racing Triangle) champion and Babbie is a two time Caribbean Champion sailor. Talk about luck being on our side to have the opportunity to learn from the pros – priceless!
So, with a tinge of sadness, on 11th November 2014, we set sail for Puerto Rico and the Virgins, excited, though, to experience our first sailing season as cruisers and commence our final plans and activities for the World ARC.
On 13th November 2014, we completed our first multi-day passage with short-handed crew (i.e. only Roy and Elaine aboard). Besides a very strong south equatorial current which we had to cross just north of Bonaire in high, confused seas for nearly 8 hours, as well as the challenge of an upwind sail, that no matter how much easting we made, we had the wind and current constantly pushing us west beyond our destination, it was nonetheless, a very rewarding and great sail! All things considered, Elaine decided she would not swap the brilliance of the stars on her midnight watch, the colourful sunrises and sunsets, the waning moon that lit our way, the sea birds that hitched a ride or swooped down for a peak or the dolphins that frolicked on our bows, for anything!
Once we arrived in Ponce, Puerto Rico, it didn’t take long for us to miss the international food stores we’d enjoyed for months, but we did enjoy the traditional USA stores to stock up on items we had run low on, as well as complete our Christmas shopping and enjoy a local lunch at the Caribe Plaza Mall in Ponce with fellow cruisers from Rosanna (Peter and Mariaan), as well as visit the Plaza Las Americas in San Juan. Our first evening in Ponce, though, was very unpleasant, as we were swarmed by mosquitoes and woke to a mass of dead ones all over the deck. We found out later that the authorities had been fogging ashore, so the mosquitoes obviously decided to try and take refuge on Paw Paw – It was indeed a mess to clean up. I guess it’s not all roses in paradise. The highlight of our stay in Ponce was a visit from Keenan, whom we hadn’t seen for a few months. Although it was a very long way for him to travel for just 2 nights and a day, we thoroughly enjoyed seeing him and catching up. Since he hadn’t seen down town Ponce when he lived in Puerto Rico, we had a touristy day out.
Once we’d said our goodbyes to Keenan we joined a convoy, with Campechano leading the charge and motored to Salinas, where we found a very peaceful and scenic anchorage. Our hosts, Babbie and Ronnie, ensured we had a great week in Salinas – Deep Sea fishing with Robbie (Ronnie’s twin brother). Elaine joined Babbie to attend a Bell Choir, directed by her sister-in-law, which was excellent – Such talented children. We also got to visit Hacienda Buena Vista, a historical coffee plantation dating back to the 19th century – Just amazing. Besides enjoying the local cuisine at various local restaurants, we also joined Babbie and Ronnie, their daughter Gerry-Anne, son-in-law, Josean and extended family for a wonderful Thanksgiving Dinner at Gerry-Anne and Josean’s home in San Juan. A visit to Cabazes de San Juan, which included a tour of the nature reserve, including the historic light house and a “play” in the bioluminescent lake, topped off our visit to Puerto Rico. It was sad to say our goodbyes to such wonderful hospitable friends - We will remember our stay in Puerto Rico with fond memories indeed, including my first attempt at making a flan for Ronnie per a recipe form Babbie – Not sure it was all that good, but Ronnie ate it nonetheless, after a delicious stew, complements of Babbie, aboard Campechano.
With our departure from Salinas, we started to slowly make our passage east to the Virgins, with a night stop in Patillas. Then onto Pta Arenas, Isla de Vieques, Spanish Virgin Islands, where we found an idyllic beach for the night and enjoyed a swim and snorkel – our first since leaving Bonaire 3 weeks previous. Our next port of call was an enjoyable sail over to Isla de Culebra, where we enjoyed some sightseeing and caught up on chores. Our first day at anchor, we took the dinghy to Melones Beach and enjoyed a spectacular snorkel. Although the sea life was not as abundant as Bonaire or Curacao, the variety of healthy, large and colourful coral was a sight to behold. The following day we hired a golf cart and toured the island, visiting the Museo Historico de Culebra as our first stop. It was interesting to discover the impact that the US military had on this island, given that they had used Isla de Vieques and Isla de Culebra as a bombing and target practice area, with unexploded ordinances still prevalent today, thus totally destroying much of the sea life and preventing any development for the best part of 60 years, particularly on Isla de Culebra. As such, one has a sense of going back in time, since the island is not commercialised and completely unspoilt. By a strange twist of fate, this is indeed its charm. The north east beaches of Playa Larga Beach and Zoni Beach provided an excellent panoramic view of Culebrita, Botella Cay and Cayo Norte. The north west Flamenco Beach reminded us of South Africa, with rough rollers that spilt over the course, golden sands which stretched for miles and where we had too lay our beach towels down on the sand – No beach chairs and umbrellas here unless you brought them along yourself together with a picnic lunch. We also managed to squeeze in a very unusual dive off Tamarindo Beach with Galene (Rowena and Richard) as well as a very enjoyable dinner aboard Paw Paw with them. I believe a good time was had by all as the party went on into the wee small hours. Needless to say preparations and our departure to St Thomas and St John, the US Virgin Islands, was postponed by a day. Isla de Culebra will definitely be included amongst our favourite Caribbean islands.
Our first overnight anchorage in St Thomas was intended to be Honeymoon Bay, but when we arrived it was crowded with live-aboards who looked like they had been there for years. We decided to head for Lindbergh Bay and anchored just off Emerald Beach, where we enjoyed sundowners at one of the resorts and a walk along the beach. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the best choice - We hadn’t been in a rolly anchorage for months, so it was an early rise the next morning to set sail after an uncomfortable night. However, while enjoying breakfast, the largest cruise ship in the world, Allure of the Seas, decided to drop in for a visit – 5200 passengers, 2300 crew – Can’t imagine just how many eggs or toilet rolls they need for a 7 day cruise.
Although we had planned on one more night in St Thomas, before heading to St John, plans changed slightly when we arrived in Christmas Cove, Great St James Island, where we found a beautiful spot on a free mooring ball. I guess we couldn’t think of a better place to “deck the halls” on Paw Paw and embrace the holiday season, so we’ve decided to stay for a little longer. We will then make our way to St John for a few nights and onward to the BVI to meet Keenan, who’ll be joining us for Christmas.
In closing, with Thanksgiving just passed and Christmas just around the corner, Elaine took the time one beautiful starry evening in Salinas, while listening to relaxing Spanish music coming from one of the beach houses, to reflect on our first 9 months as full-time cruisers aboard Paw Paw – that we are fit, healthy and able to enjoy this cruising life together, for a block of ice in her sundowners, for an actual glass on a rare occasion from which to enjoy a drink vs. the plastic ones we have on board for safety reasons, for a comfy seat to sit in whenever the opportunity presents itself, for the rain to give Paw Paw and the dinghy a fresh water wash-down, for our safe and rewarding passages, for a wonderful son who travels miles to see us, for our first grandchild-to-be, for all our friends and family, including all the new sailing friends whom we met this past hurricane season in Bonaire and Curacao and who made our transition to the cruising lifestyle that much easier and for people like Babbie and Ronnie who were so willing to share their experiences to help make us better sailors / fishermen, and who opened their hearts and home to us so generously. More than this, we cannot ask for!