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.

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