Wednesday, 20 December 2006

Bonaire to Cartagena to Land's End and Norway

More guests

Stein’s mother Eli, accompanied by Kim and Jeanette Halle, arrived precisely at 0320 a.m. on 9th October at Flamingo airport in Bonaire. Eli unfortunately had a bad case of sciatica, but was otherwise as sharp as ever despite approaching 91 years of age. Kim and Jeanette are a young couple, friends of Eli, who are themselves considering buying a sail-boat for long-distance cruising, and wanted to get a feel for the life.
After the jet-lag had been slept off, we spent the first couple of days driving around, enjoying the now familiar sights of Bonaire, its surrealistic salt-lakes and hills, the impressive North coast cliffs and the Washington Slaagbai national park with it lakes full of flamingos. This week was the annual Regatta Week in Bonaire, with daily races for sail-boats of all sizes, dinghies and wind-surfers. This was not anything we wished to take part in, we’ve never tried racing, the very thought of other boats sailing close to us with danger of collision puts us off… So this was mainly to our disadvantage, as there was no chance of a place in the marina, which we thought would have made life easier for Eli, and there were festivities each night with huge stereo equipment along the water-front blasting out music until about 3 a.m.! But we did have a couple of day-sails for the benefit of Kim and Jeanette, well away from the racing crowd; one up and down the west coast of Bonaire and one around Klein Bonaire, the small island just off the town of Kralendijk. They enjoyed both the sailing and snorkelling and the life aboard, and went home still more determined to buy a boat.
Eli was with us for another week and a half, which we spent partly in the marina where we eventually got a berth, but the as the mosquitoes found our ankles very tasty there, we moved back to our buoy in the bay after a couple of days. In a rather desperate attempt to escape the heat and the mossies inside Stein slept up front on the trampoline for several nights. At sunrise Diana would found him wrapped up like a mummie…
While on the buoys Eli managed amazingly well to climb in and out of the dinghy, even with her back pain. She was happy to spend most of her time on the boat, enjoying the warmth and sunshine and doing some of the dinner preparations.
There was a change of weather during this time, with wind from the west for a few days, something which happens a couple of times a year, and makes life on the buoys much less pleasant. So we moved across to another buoy off the now lee-ward west coast of Klein Bonaire. This was very comfortable, although when we left it after two days, the coast-guard passed us and told us that those buoys were only for day-visiting boats! We suspect they had been kind and let us use it, as they must have seen us while we were there.
Eli travelled home to Norway on her own, and had a good trip, thanks to KLM, who upgraded her to business class and looked after her well. She even had pleasant company as in the next seat, to her surprise, was the daughter of an old friend from her home town. This lady was on her way home from Lima. It’s a small world, indeed.

On our own again

We enjoy having guests, but after six weeks non-stop, it was quite nice to relax alone again on board. By this time we felt we had seen enough of the Dutch Antilles, and were keen to get to Colombia with its more exotic culture, and Diana was looking forward to trying out her hopefully improved Spanish. On 28th October, we sailed off at dawn to go to Curacao, and after a gentle morning going the right way in the light trade-winds, we could anchor in Spanish Waters, the large protected lagoon in Curacao, where the foreign yachts gather and which we now know well. We had hoped to be here only a couple of days, mainly to pick up a new EPIRB (emergency beacon) to replace the one which had been stolen in Venezuela last year. But as so easily happens, something had gone wrong with our order, and we had to wait over a week for a new one to come. Time was spent doing a few small jobs on the boat, and enjoying the company of other yachties, who gather at Sara Fundie’s Marina, a small bar/restaurant where one can leave the dinghy, use Internet, have a shower and wash clothes. This delay meant that we had no longer enough time to visit the last of the ABC islands, Aruba. As we had heard this island described by two different sailors as ‘Disneyworld’ and ‘Las Vegas’, it was no difficult decision to make to sail straight from Curacao to Colombia.

A rough sail

The area along the North coast of Colombia from the Dutch Antilles to Cartagena has a bad reputation for being a rough stretch of water. However, we had looked at weather forecasts on the Internet, and as there was almost no wind in Cartagena and light trade winds otherwise, we thought we should be lucky. We set off on 8th November in perfect conditions, and the first day had a beautiful sail with double foresails, doing 6-7 knots. The night was a bit rougher with some current between Aruba and the mainland of South America, but the second day was back to sunny, gentle sailing. When the wind began to increase in the afternoon, we were not quite mentally prepared, but as the wind was gusting to 30 knots by the evening, we realised we were in for a hard night. Fortunately we were sailing with the wind, but there was a strong, tidal counter-current of up to two knots, making the sea very rough with big breaking waves hissing around us. Heavy banks of cloud and flashes of lightening over the mainland made the place seem even more forbidding, especially as darkness fell. We considered trying to make a landfall in the dark, as there are some beautiful bays on the coast which others had recommended. So we came within a couple of nautical miles of land, but the sea was so rough and the night so dark, that we didn’t dare to try and indeed regretted having come so close to land where it was probably even rougher. The wind remained over 30 knots all night; i.e. force 7-8 conditions. (The highest recorded on our instrument was 39.6 knots.) Trying to keep White Admiral running straight puts a great strain on the steering. We were sailing with a deeply reefed genoa. In spite of a concentrated effort, the steering was occasionally so erratic that the sail gybed with a loud bang and a violent shake. Of course, in order to get it back on the right tack another gybe and bang and shake was necessary. The poor, battered sail must be a high-quality product; it survived the night without any visible wounds. In retrospect it would have been better if we had changed earlier to a storm jib hanked on the inside stay...
The autopilot was unable to handle the violent motion, so we hand-steered throughout the night, changing over every half-hour. Dawn came as a blessing, although the same conditions continued throughout the morning. Only in the afternoon as we approached Cartagena did the wind drop and the seas became gentle enough for Otto, our Autohelm 4000 autopilot, to take over again.
It was exciting to see the old city walls of Cartagena appear, then the penincula of Bocagrande with high-rise hotels and apartments and simply wonderful to motor into the large, sheltered harbour, where we anchored in front of Club Nautico just before sun-set.
What a great sleep we had that night!

Cartagena

Colombia has a bad reputation, most people only associate it with drugs and guerrillas, but even so Cartagena has become a popular stop for the yachties, thanks to a beautiful city, a coast-guard which takes its business seriously, and a very friendly yacht club. Club Nautico caters mainly for the foreign yachts, consists of a large bar/restaurant with a dinghy dock, where one can have showers, wash clothes and get rid of rubbish for a small fee. The good atmosphere is very much thanks to the dock-master, John, an Englishman who gave up cruising to settle with his Colombian sweet-heart in Cartagena, and who welcomes everybody and makes them feel at home, This is a place people seem to get stuck, many of the other boats had been there for months or even years.
Cartagena itself is a historically fascinating city, built by the Spanish in the 16th and 17th centuries, with inner city walls up to 12 metres thick to keep out English pirates like Sir Francis Drake and Henry Morgan! The architecture has been well-preserved and one can spend much time just wandering around, looking at the many churches and old buildings with ornate balconies and lush inside gardens. The city is also a popular residential area and very much alive. Only a short walk from the most famous sites are shops of all types. That includes several small foundries. Here we ordered a bronze replica of the top for our Taylor stove, as the old top was full of rust. It was done in a couple of days and very reasonably, too.
One of the biggest forts in the world stands guard behind and overlooks the centre of the city, making one understand how eventually a large English force was repelled by a much smaller Spanish/Colombian one.
Outside the city centre there is a large, poor, sprawling area, typical of Latin America. People seem friendly though, and we had no bad experiences, though there are a number of beggars, and endless people trying to sell souvenirs. Very few people speak English, so Diana had to put her elementary Spanish into use. She can make herself understood quite well, but has problems understanding what people say back, especially when they talk fast in some dialect which cuts the ends off words!

Mompos

We were keen to experience a little more of Colombia than just Cartagena, and decided to take a bus journey inland, despite warnings from American cruisers that we might be kidnapped! In fact, there is very little chance of this now, the situation has improved during the last years, and the guerrilla problem is limited to certain remote areas of the country.
Mompos (also known as Mompox) is a small town 200 km from Cartagena, inland and up the river Magdalena. It was also built by the Spanish in the 1500’s and used to be an important port and a refuge for families fleeing from the attacking English. It also has well-preserved old buildings in typical Spanish style with atria in all the houses, although the feeling is one of ‘fallen glory’. Some of the churches and well-to-do homes are well-kept, but most are in need of masonry work and paint. The only other tourists we met were a doctor and his wife from the capital Bogota. They were on holiday, and took us with them into private homes to look at jewellery. Intricate, filigree jewellery is a speciality of the area, both in silver and gold, and the prices are very reasonable. We ended up buying some ear-rings as presents. Nobody spoke any English, so Diana had good practice, though often ended up feeling very frustrated…
We also visited the dilapidated, local public hospital, and we highly recommend it to anybody who is not too pleased with the health services here in Europe!
The best hotel in town, Dona Manuela, cost 20 pounds (250 kroner) for a double room, in a big building with huge patios and a swimming pool. The room was clean but quite run-down. Dawn brought strange noises as howler-monkeys visited the banyan tree in the patio just outside our window! (We also saw these monkeys in tall trees elsewhere in town.) We stayed only one night, found another hotel which was just as good for 15 pounds. How the hotels in places like Mompos survive is a puzzle, as there seems to be very few guests. We heard that tourism has unfortunately almost disappeared after all the trouble the country has had.
The area round Mompos consists of marshland with a rich bird-life. We were offered a tour in a lancha, a large, canoe-like boat with a sizeable outboard engine, and were taken through narrow channels in the swampy vegetation to a large lagoon with floating islands, innumerable egrets and cranes and a few fishermen in engine-less, dug-out canoes. It was a very calm, dream-like place in the setting sun. On a proper island is a new hotel, where we stopped for a drink. This was even more of a puzzle as there were no guests, and it would be hard to find a more remote spot!
The bus journey back and forwards to Mompos took about 8 hours, including one hour’s ferry journey. The life around the ferry was fascinating, with restaurants along the banks of the river, catering to the waiting passengers; rough wooden shacks with fish being grilled over open fires. The ferry was 46 years old, looked as if maintenance was an unknown word, but carried an impressive number of cars and buses. One could sit in the bus, but it felt safer to be on deck with the food and drink sellers, or one could join the captain in his simple bridge on top deck. Here we were welcomed in, while in Europe there would have been a no admittance sign...

Homeward bound

White Admiral has now been lifted on land in a large marina called Ferroalquimar. We have done some bargaining and there should be a new fibreglass awning (bimini) over the cock-pit on our return as well as a general waxing and polishing.
The last few days we managed to find time for some more sightseeing, including a visit to the huge El Morro fort behind the Old City. (Its full name is Castillo de San felipe de Borajas.) Constructed to defend the coastline during the 17th and 18th centuries, this dramatic fortress rises 140 feet above the sea on a rocky promontory, and is composed of six levels of ramps, barracks, dungeons, turrets, towers and tunnels.While there we wanted to see some of the numerous tunnels and agreed to take a guide for about one hour. He was a lithe Colombian, about 40 years old, had a good vocabulary of English words and knew a lot about the old fort. The only problem was that he repeated most sentences very fast and several times! We realised he must have a bad case of Tourette’s syndrome and although a bit tiring to listen to, had to admire him for having chosen such a difficult profession!
The taxi came as arranged on Friday evening, 24th November, but on arriving at the air-port, we wondered why there were so few passengers, and soon found out that our plane was delayed by 10 hours… But at least Air Madrid put us up in one of the best hotels in Cartagena, and arranged to have us returned early the next day. Security here is no doubt a reflection of the country’s drug problem; every single passenger had to open every piece of luggage which was thoroughly searched. Cameras and PC’s had to be switched on to prove they were not hollow boxes...
We missed our connection in Madrid of course, and here Air Madrid took no more interest in us, as we had booked the next flight to London on another air-line. So more expense with hotel in Madrid, and a fee to change our Easy-Jet booking. As often as we travel, we have to expect a few small problems. In London we stayed at Elisabeth and Hugh’s new ‘Skin studio’, which they have been working hard with for the past few months. It was fun to see it taking shape. There are two studios which can be used by Elisabeth or other photographers for their fashion and advertising work as well as a third floor occupied by a new photographic agency.
Before returning to Norway we had decided to go to Cornwall for a few days to walk along The Coastal Path. This is a more than 300 miles’ long path round the whole Cornwall coast, but we had only time to do the part from St Ives around Land’s End to Mousehole. It was wild and windy, wonderful scenery, very few people out and about; we had the pleasure of being at Land’s End all by ourselves in a gale at 8 a.m.! We spent the nights in bed and breakfast places or local inns, lovely to creep into a warm pub after a day’s walking. Altogether a great walk, only spoiled a bit for Diana who got blisters from her new walking boots.
After visiting Stein’s mother in Sandefjord, we are now back home in Kristiansand. Stein is hard at work again in cardiology, Diana is unemployed (an underestimated condition!) and we are looking forward to Christmas with most of our children and grandchildren.

Saturday, 7 October 2006

Bonaire, Dutch Antilles, 7th October, 2006.

Another summer over.

We arrived back at Curacao Marine on 16th September well after sun-set.
We had spent two days in England en route, partly to help Robert get installed in Cambridge where he is going to do a year’s post-graduate diploma in Computers, and partly to visit Elisabeth, who with her husband Hugh’s help is setting up a photographic studio (Skin Studio) in West London, in addition to just moving house, so full activity and lots of excitement there! Thanks to our not-too-great planning, Martin and the two children, Hedda aged 4½ and Johan aged 2, had arrived three hours before us… The boat was covered in dust, boat parts spread around the cabin and on the bunks, Martin unable to find anything, and two children with jet-lag who didn’t know if it was night or day!
Summer in Norway had gone quickly, even though we were home for 5 months. Work took up most of the time, Stein with quite a few nights and week-ends on duty at the Cardiology department, and Diana doing a locum in an ophthalmology practice. We didn’t have much spare time to enjoy the exceptionally warm, fine summer, although Stein did have a week free in June and August to spend with his mother at her summer cottage. We also had a long week-end in Scotland at Diana’s cousin’s daughter Gail’s wedding. A trip down memory lane for Diana, meeting relatives from her mother’s side of the family at the wedding, and staying with a cousin on her father’s side.
The family/sporting highlight of the year was that Stein and all our 3 children, also son-in-law Hugh, took part in the “Birkerbeinerrittet” cycling event, 91km up and down the mountains between Rena and Lillehammer; ‘hell on wheels’ as Hugh described it. Martin was the fastest of our group, getting the ‘mark’ to show he was in the top quarter of his age-group, followed by Robert and Stein. Stein was a little disappointed not to get the mark which he got last year no bother, as he had cycled just as fast this year, but there must have been some new, sprightly 60 year-olds in his age-group! Hugh and Elisabeth found it particularly tough, as London is not the right training ground for off-road bike practice, but they got through it in a respectable time and we hope they will be tempted to come again next year.

Children on board.

After the chaotic start in Curacao, things quickly got better even up on the hard with electricity and fresh water installed. The first day was spent getting the boat back into shape, mostly by Stein, while Martin, Diana and the kids spent some of the day driving to one of the island’s best beaches, Porto Marie, as a boat-yard is not much fun for young children. The day after, the boat was ready for launching, and after a trip to the local authorities to check in, Stein drove White Admiral from the yard in the main town, Wilhelmstad to Spanish Waters, the main anchorage for foreign yachts, a large, very well-sheltered natural harbour. The rest of us still had a hired car, and chose to drive by way of a beach and meet Stein there, but he had a longer, rougher trip than expected, so I felt I should have helped him…
Martin, Hedda and Johan came for two weeks, a great chance for us grand-parents to get to know the little ones better, and apart from boat and domestic chores, most of the time was spent playing, reading, swimming, snorkelling and going tips with the children. The first week we spent on Curacao, revisiting Porto Marie by boat, and another beautiful beach a little further North, Casabao. It is easy to sail up the West coast of Curacao in the prevailing South-East trade-winds, a bit rougher and slower beating back down again. The kids loved the beaches and the swimming, and four-year old Hedda surprised us by learning to use a mask and snorkel like a pro!
We decided to sail to Bonaire on the evening of 26th September. This is a sail of about 40 nautical miles, right into the prevailing wind. We had hoped that the winds would be light as they often are at this time of year, but no such luck; a fresh breeze was forecast, and that is what we got all the way. With the kids dosed with Vallergan, a mild anti-histamine/anti-sea-sickness remedy, we set off on a Southerly tack into the bumpy sea, tacked a few hours later, and once more again in the early morning near the North end of Bonaire. Fortunately the children slept well until dawn, then joined us as we motored the last few miles into the main town of Kralendijk, where buoys are laid out for visiting yachts.
We logged 80 miles, double the distance if we had been sailing with the wind.
The days in Bonaire with the family were even better than in Curacao, thanks in part to a great beach/wind-surfing centre on the east of the island called Le Lac. This is a large inlet with a reef over the entrance, so there is always a good breeze and flat seas, perfect for wind-surfing. The beach is shallow and also excellent for kids to swim, and with a colourful bar right on the water’s edge for cold drinks and ice-creams, we couldn’t ask for more. Martin had a good time with gradually bigger sails, brushing up old skills, learning beach- and water-starts and getting an impressive speed over the lagoon. (And big blisters in his hands!) Even more amazing was seeing our four year old Hedda speeding along on a sailboard with a small sail, little brother sitting happily on the back of the board! (He only fell off once…)
The other attraction the kids loved on the island is the Donkey Sanctuary. There are wild donkeys on Bonaire, mostly a nuisance the government want to see an end to later this year, so a sanctuary has been made to try to round up as many as possible, so far 341 donkeys. One drives round the sanctuary slowly and can stop and feed the animals. Johan was sitting happily in the back seat looking at the donkeys from a distance, but when suddenly three curious heads filled his window, he yelled and wanted out of his safety-belt. He soon recovered on Grandmother’s lap, and was happy to throw food to them when we stopped, but didn’t quite have the nerve to go too close. Hedda, on the other hand quickly became expert at feeding them from her hand.

More friends.

Happy, busy days go quickly, and soon it was 30th September, time for change of guests. Our good friends Mads and Else-Berit Velken arrived from Kristiansand early morning, and Martin and kids left on the same afternoon, so everybody had a beach-trip together, and a little more wind-surfing for Martin and Mads that morning. The younger Hoffs left on an 8-seater Divi-Divi plane for Curacao to get their KLM-jet home via Amsterdam, and the older generation sat back and enjoyed a gin & tonic without having to read a story or check if anybody was about to fall overboard…
With a new crew interested in walking and hiking, the next day was spent on a trip to the Washington Slaagbai National park in the northern part of the island, a favourite we have visited several times before. This is a dry area, with spectacular coastal scenery, lakes full of flamingos and a good climb to the top of the island. This was Mad’s 60th birthday, and after an active day, our guests treated us to a great meal in a local gourmet restaurant, “La Guernica”, with excellent Spanish-style tapas and lovely fish dishes.
The highlight of the week was a trip to the western atoll of the Aves island group. This was another sail against the wind, and this time it was even fresher, often near-gale force. The 40 nautical miles became 90, with long tacks first South and then North, taking 16 hours. But it was worth it, to lie first at the beautiful Lone Palm Island, with soft sand right round and emerald waters, then a trip into the lagoon, anchoring inside the outer reef for great snorkelling. We had caught a dorado and a small barracuda during our sail, and Stein harpooned a grouper in he lagoon, so lunch and dinner were secured. These islands are part of Venezuela, but there are no authorities here, so we didn’t check out of Bonaire, officially just went for a day or two of sailing… The return sail was still very fresh, but the experience is quite different sailing with the wind, and a few hours of pleasant down-wind sailing with the genoa brought us back to Bonaire.
After a last couple of days relaxing, snorkelling, shopping and a windy and wet dinghy trip to the nearby island of Klein Bonaire, Mads and Else-Berit are now on a KLM jet on their way to Amsterdam, and we have cleaned the boat and changed the sheets.
We are now awaiting the arrival of mother-in-law, Eli who is coming tonight with a young couple, Kim and Jeanette Halle, who want to learn a bit about sailing. They will be here for a week, and Eli will stay another week and a half. We will stay put in Bonaire while they are here. We have had enough of beating into the wind for a while, and will be happy just to day-sail up and down the gentle lee-side of Bonaire, enjoying the warm sunshine and watching it set over Klein Bonaire.

Tuesday, 11 April 2006

Aves, Bonaire & Curacau - Curacao, 9th April 2006.

Stein and I arrived at Caracas airport on 28th February, three hours later than expected, thanks to a plane cancellation from Miami. Would our taxi driver Aries have understood the message that Elisabeth had given to him on the phone from London? He knows not one word of English, neither does Elisabeth know any Spanish, but after a quick lesson from me, had told him we were now arriving at 11 p.m. Anyway, there he was smiling as always, as we shuffled out of the baggage pick-up, and we got on the way to the marina; this time a three hour drive, due to a diversion because of road-works. It turned out the poor man had been waiting for several hours, as he thought Elisabeth had just confirmed what he had already been told!
When we got to the boat in the middle of the night, we could do nothing but get our baggage aboard, see that there was no break-in this time, and crash to bed. White Admiral was looking good the next morning, newly washed and polished at no cost, as part of the compensation for the break-in a few months ago. We felt a bit jet-lagged, but got to work getting her ready for the water, and she was lifted in the next day. We were joined by Robert another day later. He has been working in Venezuela for a few months, doing web-design for tour operators, but had now decided to move on, and we provided a pleasant (and cheap) way of doing so.

Islas de Aves.
As soon as we had stocked up at the reasonably priced Flamingo supermarket in Higuerote, and got a clearance for the Aves islands from the port captain (who couldn’t clear us out of the country as there is no customs at this port), we headed for the most westerly of the Los Roques islands, Cayo de Agua, a favourite from our last sail in October. Before we left, we took a dinghy trip in the dusk to a nearby mangrove lagoon, to introduce Robert to the flocks of herons, green parrots and red ibis flying in for the night in huge numbers, an amazing sight. Then we left at 9 p.m., gliding out into a surprisingly quiet night. This is the height of the trade-wind season, and the winds are usually brisk, but we had to motor-sail the first half of the night, before the breeze picked up and gave us a gentle sail to our destination.
Cayo de Agua is the perfect tropical paradise, with its azure water and white sand, and we had a lovely day walking, snorkelling and swimming. The boys tried the fishing line with no luck (spear-fishing is forbidden in this national park), but a friendly Venezuelan in another yacht saved the day by presenting us with four mackerel type fish just as I was wondering what I would make for dinner!
The Islas de Aves are two large atolls with several smaller islets, lying between Los Roques and Bonaire. The Easterly of the two is about thirty nautical miles from Cayo de Agua, this was a pleasant day sail, running with two genoas before a light breeze. We anchored on the north side of the most southerly island, with dense mangroves, and incredible amounts of birds sitting on the branches. We were so fascinated that we forgot to take in our fishing line as we arrived; it got entwined in one of the propellers, but fortunately no damage done. (Every sailor needs a bit of luck!) At dusk we took the dinghy and quietly rowed along the banks, watching the birds, including red footed boobies, which we have otherwise only seen in Galapagos.
The three days at this lovely anchorage were very sociable ones, first with Danish Anne and Toke on “Rumkath”, a couple about our age who spend three months a year in the Caribbean, and the rest at home in Denmark. We particularly enjoyed the Danish rye bread which Anne kindly baked for us! Then we met Jamie from USA, a friendly, sporty Texan girl sailing on her sister and brother-in-law’s catamaran; “Blue Marlin”. She is a few years older than Robert, but enjoyed chatting and drinking beer with him, and went a long walk on the island with us, including a rather scary climb up the light-house for a great view! The last yacht here was “Iron Bark II”, a steel boat (Nick Skeats Wylo II design) with Australian/English couple Trevor and Annie, aboard. They are impressive sailors who have spent a winter season in Greenland, iced up for ten months, totally without communication to any other living soul! Trevor has also done the same on his own a few years ago in the Antarctic... I told Stein not to get any ideas, I love sailing only in the warm tropics. But one of the great joys of sailing is never knowing who one is going to meet on the boat next door…
Spear-fishing is allowed on these islands, so Stein and Robert were able to catch a few, mainly parrot fish. The local fishermen were also eager to trade with us; we got three lobsters (langouste type) for some litres of diesel and drinking-water, and more fish for Paracetamol tablets (painkillers), skin cream and a few Cokes! Stein found time for some wood-work, finally finishing off a frame for the galley-window which has been waiting for completion for a couple of years since we replaced this large, originally sliding window with a proper hatch. Robert did some wind-surfing and pc-work, and I became a little better at Sudoku and Spanish.
On 10th March it was time to move on from Barlovento (the windward atoll) to Sotavento (the leeward one); a short four hour sail in a moderate easterly breeze. Our first attempt at anchoring between two small islets was not successful; when Stein inspected the anchor it was lying on coarse coral and no proper sand nearby. We moved to another island, Curricai, where we anchored on the sandy shelf on the lee side. Curricai is a beautiful little island with sandy beach right round, one large palm tree, many small recently planted palms and good snorkelling all around. The next day we decided to take a trip out to the easterly reef about two nautical miles across the lagoon, picking our way through the coral heads and anchoring on a sandy ledge just behind the breakers on the outside reef. It felt rather scary to be anchored away from any land, but as there was good holding, we felt we could safely spend the night there. Here the snorkelling was even better, with all kinds of colourful reef fish, and Stein harpooned a large midnight blue parrot fish as soon as he went in with the spear-gun. We motored back the next day to the first anchorage, using the noon sun to pick out the reefs easily.

Bonaire.
We left for Bonaire, one of the Dutch Antilles, on 13th March just as dawn was lightening the eastern sky. There was now a more typical fresh, easterly trade wind and we were soon doing 7-8 knots with the two genoas poled out to each side. It was only 11 a.m. when we arrived at the south end of Bonaire, here a huge fish caught the line, probably a marlin, made one enormous leap and took off with hook and most of the line… Disappointing, to say the least, but then we had a fast and pleasant sail the last few miles up the west coast in flat sea to the main town, Kralendijk. Bonaire is very clean and environmentally conscious, as its main industry is tourism and diving, so visiting yachts are not allowed to use anchors, but must use one of the many buoys which are set out for the purpose. We had a stressful last few minutes as our steering wire slipped out of place, and we had to get out an emergency tiller before we picked up one of the buoys. Part of cruising is that there is always something to be repaired, so I am thankful to have a handyman like Stein aboard! At Immigration I was feeling a little nervous, as the paper from our last port in Venezuela was not really for sailing to another country, but just to Aves. As we were waiting, the people in front of us were having an argument with the immigration official because they had not the right papers. Our turn came; the officer looked at our clearance paper, and to my amazement smiled and said this is what the people ahead of us should have had!
Bonaire is a charming island with pastel coloured houses in the main town, the population is only about 11.000, and most people speak four languages, their own patois Papamiento as well as Dutch, English and Spanish!
Stein and Robert were most interested in the diving, and had soon met up with another diving enthusiast on the next boat, Colonel Richard Christiansen, just known as Chris, a Vietnam veteran who had lived dangerously as a helicopter machine gunner and later a pilot during the war, getting shot down seven times! But he seemed a gentle and charming man who happily lent Robert a set of diving equipment and joined Robert and Stein to see part of the fantastic reef which goes all round the island. It was just a matter of diving down behind the boats!
The northern part of the island is a national park with strange, dry scenery, brackish lakes with lots of pink flamingos and the highest point of the island; Subi Brandaris. We decided to hire bikes, along with Jamie, to spend a day cycling north to the park (15 km) and then through its Short Route (24 km). The tracks in the park are very rough, and my bike punctured shortly after arriving there, but first with the help of a Dutch and then an American couple in pick-up trucks I got the bike transported round the park so that I could do the climbing with the others. It was quite a hard climb up to the top, but it was worth it both for the spectacular views and the wild-life, with indigenous yellow-shouldered parrots and big iguanas. The kind Americans took me right back to the bike-hire shop, and we had a pleasant lunch on board with them the next day along with Jamie and Chris (whose boat is named “Colonels Lady”!).
Robert’s good friend Anders Jacob decided to take a couple of weeks off his psychology studies in Oslo, and arrived on 21st March. By this time Robert had just got to know another yacht, “Durabo” from Texas. Aboard were two pretty, extrovert girls; Casey and Sarah, both in their early twenties. So when Anders arrived it was all go! The four of them had a great time together, and were inseparable for the next two weeks. Robert got them all to do the cycle trip in the national park again, including the hike up the mountain, this time with me in a following, hired truck to pick up those who found it too hard going. Robert and Stein managed the whole 34 kilometre trip (the Long Route, this time) on the rough tracks; the others made a brave effort but were glad to be picked up when they were exhausted. Otherwise they went diving, wind-surfing, kayaking and enjoying the night life of the island, and we only saw them for an occasional meal, and for a day-trip to Petit Bonaire; a small island just west of the main one, with a lovely beach for snorkelling and more spectacular diving.
Casey and Sarah were sailing with Casey’s laid back father Doug and his Brazilian girlfriend Gina. Doug was known by everybody, including Robert and Anders, only as “Papa”. This man seemed completely unharassable. Skipping on deck, loud music, crowds at every meal, youngsters coming and going at all hours; no problem! The only situation that could get him slightly perturbed was finding no beer in the fridge… (The Golden Cruisers’ Law in the Tropics: If you remove the final cold beer from the fridge, replace it with a six-pack!)

Curacao.
When the time came to move to Curacao, we were back to being just two aboard, as the boys were invited to do the sail on Durabo, and for some reason preferred the company of pretty girls to Stein and me… We left at 7 a.m. on 27th March, a day after Durabo. This was a nice, gentle sail in the faithful easterly trade wind, and about mid-day we arrived at Petit Curacao, a small, flat and dry island a few miles south of the main island. Here we found Durabo anchored on the lee side, and we dropped our hook beside them. The island boasts a broken down, but spectacular lighthouse and a couple of wrecks on the eastern reef, otherwise it is arid and flat with low, scrubby vegetation, but nice white beaches. After a couple of hours with walking and swimming, we sailed the last 15 nautical miles together to Curacao. We were pleased to see our good down-wind sailing-ability with the poled genoas, while Durabo had to tack downwind to fill their main and jib. We both anchored near Sarifundy’s Marina in Spanish Waters, a deep natural harbour, one of the most sheltered anchorages in the Caribbean.
Curacao is a much bigger island than Bonaire, with a population of about 150.000, and is an industrial society with one of the biggest oil refineries in the western hemisphere, having a lot of business with Venezuela, and the supermarkets even have Castello cheese, balsamic vinegar and pine seeds! Wilhelmstad is a pleasant city, again with multicoloured houses along the water-fronts and the famous Floating Market where small boats from Venezuela sell all sorts of fresh fruit, fish and vegetables.
Curacau turned out to be quite bureaucratic, making us check-in at both Customs and Immigration, then having to also get permission from the Harbour Office for any other anchorage one wants to visit outside Spanish Waters. But everything was totally free, no anchoring charge either, while in Bonaire one has to pay US$ 10 per day (18 Guilders) for the use of a mooring.
My brother Jim, who lives in Oakville near Toronto, Canada arrived the next evening to spend a week with us. I thought it would be busy on board with him and the young boys, but it worked out fine that the boys were occupied with the girls, so we could look after Jim. We hired a car for the first two days, first to meet him at the airport, and have a drive round the island. The island proved to be bigger than we thought, and the road signs totally inadequate, so we gave Jim a fright at the airport, by arriving late after losing our way! Things soon improved though, and the drive round the island the following day was pleasant, finding some charming bays along the west coast to swim and drink fruit punches, feeling like real tourists! A couple of days later we decided to see more of the island by sailing, and we motored first to Fuikbaai, a sheltered inlet with a partly abandoned phosphate mining area just beside it, not very beautiful, but we had an interesting walk around the mining area. It was also a nice peaceful bay apart from a visit from the Coast Guard at 3 a.m. who not too politely told us to put on our anchor light! We sailed 20 n. miles up the coast the following day, to a pretty sandy bay called Porto Marie. Durabo with the boys arrived the day after. This is a good area for walking, as it is in a private plantation, mostly now used for hiking and bird-watching. We managed to see parrots, orioles (the national yellow and black birds), yellow warblers, doves and mocking birds. In Fuikbaai we had also seen a large hawk or small eagle.
The Coast Guard visited us each of the three days we were here, though were a bit friendlier than the first lot. Apparently there is a big problem of drugs and illegal immigrants passing through the ABC-islands from Colombia and Venezuela, which is why the Coast Guard is so active.
Jim was due to get his plane back to Toronto on 3rd April. We had to leave the boat at 5.30 a.m., walk 3 kilometres to the plantation gates where we were met by a taxi. We saw him off at the airport, and then spent some time shopping in town, before getting a bus back to Porto Marie.
It didn’t surprise us when we heard that the boys now wanted to sail to Aruba with Durabo, and we waved goodbye to them the same evening. Anders would be going back to Norway from there a couple of days later, and Robert will be coming home soon too, either from Aruba or from Cartagena in Colombia – we think…
Stein and I are now enjoying the peace of being on our own again these last few days. We motored back to Spanish Water four days go, and are now getting White Admiral ready for storage. There is always time for some socialising though, and we have met a couple from New Zealand, Joan and Sandy Mill aged 70 and 74, who sailed with their children five years before we did in the 1970’s. They are now sailing slowly round the world in “Zeferin”, having left in 1999. So it gives us hope that we are not yet too old for this game! And to illustrate again how small the World is, when I asked if they knew Dr Eric Horne, who was in my medical class at Glasgow and had gone to work in New Zealand, Sandy replied that Eric is his GP in Auckland!
Tomorrow White Admiral is being lifted on land for storage in Wilhelmstad, and two days later we leave for home, visiting Elisabeth and Martin and families en route, then Stein’s mum Eli in Sandefjord, before getting back to Kristiansand. After Easter we will both be back at work for the summer.
So that is all for this time round, we will be back here in the middle of September. These Dutch-Caribbean islands are definitely worth one more visit!
Join us then!


11 Apr 2006 by Stein & Diana

Monday, 27 February 2006

Norwegian Winter Report (London, 27th February 2006 by Stein

his is being written in London as Diana and I are on the way back to Venezuela and our faithful White Admiral – reportedly in good shape and un-broken into in Astillero de Higuerote! I realize that most people that enter our web-site do so for the more exotic stories and pictures, so this report is going to be fairly brief. But family, friends and work back in Europe is also an important part of our lives…
After Galapagos, on our return to Norway in November, we as usual had a few days here in UK. Where we, of course, saw Elisabeth & Hugh, but also drove up north to Lincoln where Diana’s aunt Joyce and uncle Donald are now living. They have spent most of their adult lives in Durban, South Africa, but since retirement have for many reasons been unsure of whether to make UK or South Africa their eventual home. Now it looks like Lincoln is the definitive location. Back in 1981/82, when we were towards the end of our circumnavigation with Red Admiral, we stopped to work in Durban and there had regular contact with Joyce and Donald. On this recent occasion we visited Lincoln Cathedral with them. The magnificent building dates back to 1092! And we also chanced to meet Diana’s Cousin Gordon visiting from South Africa – it was about 40 years since the two last chatted eye to eye!
Our house in Vigeveien now has lodgers living in the ground floor. It means we can come and go whenever we like at the same time as somebody is keeping an eye on the house. And give us a hand with clearing the snow! For this winter we have had plenty of that white stuff from the heavens…
Our work situation was the same as during the summer, Diana doing an Eye locum in private practice, I at the Cardiology Dpt. of SSK; the local hospital. We both have enjoyed this very much; working is still an important dimension. In my case echocardiography continues to be a big fascination and a skill I am gradually acquiring.
My mother, Eli turned 90 in early December. You may remember that she visited us on White Admiral in Venezuela a few months ago, so she’s not doing badly for her age! She did not want any big celebration, but in Kristiansand we nevertheless went to Bakgården restaurant for an excellent meal with all the trimmings. Around the same time we also visited Susanne & Frode and said hello to our old cat, Opus, at his new home in Tromøya, Arendal. No cat could ask for a better retirement…

We travelled to Smestad, Oslo twice to see Camilla & Martin and our two, lovely wee grand-children, Hedda & Johan. Also they visited us for Christmas and we had a long week-end together in Haglebu, Eggedal a couple of weeks ago. Haglebu is where our good friends Dagmar & Christian Platou have their mountain cottage and where we also had a similar Hoff/Platou family reunion last year. So wee Fritjof is also one year older and wiser much to the delight of his grand-parents (Dagmar & Christian) and of course his parents Hans-Christian and Symira. Including the latter two we were a total of seven medical doctors present. Thank goodness Martin with economics, Elisabeth with photography and Hugh with motor sports provided some alternative talking topics!
The weather and skiing conditions could not have been better, and provided us with great conditions both for walking and skiing. Apart from two long day trips I also had two memorable cross-country skiing trips in the full moonlight, one alone and one with Dagmar & Christian. That latter trip was a wonderful mixture of a physical experience, of a long-standing, precious friendship and of winter’s cold and tranquil beauty. - It is indeed not necessary to go far from one’s own door-steps to find moments of real magic.


27 Feb 2006 by Stein & Diana