After leaving Grenada to visit family in Canada, I returned to work in Kuujjuaq in the arctic and Ian returned to the boat in Grenada. By the time I got back to Grenada, he had muscled through a couple of COVID lockdowns but still managed to get through a ton of boat jobs – including the installation of a Hydrovane self-steering wind vane. This is a brilliant piece of engineering. It’s this mondo steel frame mounted on the back of the boat that once you set the course, the ‘vane’ directs its rudder to steer for you, sans electrical power. So we have two steering options – the autopilot and the wind vane – may we never have to hand steer insh’Allah.
While waiting for the arrival of the fancy lithium batteries that we ordered, we sailed up to Carriacou, one of the islands at the top of Grenada with a cool beach vibe. We rented a car and did a loop of the island, wandering around the northeast corner trying to find “The Boat Builders of Carriacou”. These guys are famous for building these solid racing/fishing boats using the island’s white cedar (this is a great film about them). We found one guy who was set to complete his fishing trawler by January. Two years to build (he has a day job) and paid off in two months during tuna season.
Then, with amazing luck given COVID, quarantine, and tight timing, we met up with my brother when he and my nephew-in-law brought his boat down from St.Vincent after being hauled out since June 2019 when we left it there after crossing the Atlantic. It’s a great loop to the storyline – had I not done the crossing in 2019, I probably would not have met Ian, had I not met Ian, I definitely would not be living on a boat now.
With new lithium batteries and solar panels installed, we sailed off into the sunset, heading due west to Bonaire and spent the three-day sail discussing how we were going to use all this reliable electricity (so far, we have a new hot water heater and iron).
Bonaire is an island known for diving. We got a mooring on the lee side (the calm side), near the capital Kralendijk, where the shore quickly drops off to 130 feet depth. Folks scuba dive by just gearing up and walking out the front door of their hotel. Ian took a freediving course to complement his spearfishing – that is (a) to improve his chance of survival (in my opinion) and (b) to increase his catch (in his opinion). He can now go to 100 feet and hold his breath for 3 minutes and 45 seconds.
Bonaire is part of the smattering of Dutch islands in the Caribbean, and they all have this scrappy vibe to them. They serve iguana, the massive wild-caught descendants of dinosaurs, on the menu. They don’t pretend it’s some delicacy but it’s practical and tastes like chicken. They also make liquor from cactus, ’cause it’s practical and tastes like alcohol.
When comparing Grenada to Bonaire, we noted the difference in their historical narrative. In Grenada, plaques at tourist sites state that this factory/wall/monument/fortress was built by African slaves brought against their will to the Caribbean to be forced to work in dangerous and inhumane conditions. In Bonaire, the plaque at the salt flats describes the “small huts constructed during slavetimes as camping facilities for slaves…these huts were used as sleeping quarters and places to put away personal belongings of the working teams”. Our guidebook tells us slaves could walk back to Rincon on the weekend (30 km) to visit their families. I think Bonaire is glossing over the context that ‘slave’ and ‘salt flat’ conjure up.
We kept an eye on a weather window to leave Bonaire and sail to Cartagena, Colombia. It’s a three-day downwind sail (i.e. comfortable) with only one vomit-inducing stretch called The Washing Machine where the large Magdelena River exits into the Caribbean Ocean and the current is confused and fierce and the waves are high. The weather window showed 15-20 knots at The Washing Machine in the early morning with good light to watch for detritus exiting the river (like trees, and perhaps urban legend–but a floating school bus was once sighted there). The actual event unfolded with us hitting The Washing Machine in the middle of the night in 30-38 knots of constantly shifting winds, confused waves, and once, the boat rolled perilously to one side, water crested the cockpit, and I may have screamed.
We arrived safely in the beautiful old town of Cartagena feeling a bit beat up but quickly found respite in enjoying ceviche served fifty different ways.
You can check out where we are on the map with our sat phone link here.