Been a busy first week, sorting out our dive gear, finding our way around and annoyingly, having to buy a new dinghy.
Doyle’s guide is out of date in a couple of places. Both Customs and Immigration are now located in the same office in a terracotta coloured building at the head of the North Pier and there is no video to watch before starting your diving, just a 25 US$ park fee for a year’s pass.
We were warned in advance not to expect Bonaire to be as picturesque as some of the lovely bays we have anchored in and this is true. The moorings are in a line off the town waterfront and the waterfront isn’t that pretty. A lack of hillsides and palm trees does mean it isn’t a view you wake up to saying ‘Wow’ but the locals are great, eager to tell you about their island and many cruisers wouldn’t spend hurricane season anywhere else. To quote ‘Nemo’, ‘the place just grows on you’.
To us the town seems like a mix of Caribbean and Wild West Frontier, with long, pavement free, dusty roads, with some expensive shops for the cruise ship passengers along the way. Naturally there are many dive shops to cater for the tourists and lots of great restaurants with all types of cuisine, including Argentinean. The marina has a weekly burger night for 10 US$ and happy hour from 5-7pm daily. Prices are all in US$ and it isn’t overly cheap here. Our mooring is 10 US$ a night with no discount for longer stays but it includes being able to dump the rubbish at the marina. Gio’s ice cream parlour is apparently excellent, so we intend to visit, just to compare it to Elena’s in Rodney Bay.
There isn’t a huge cruiser presence here, unlike Grenada or Trinidad but those we have met have been very friendly and helpful. We spent a lovely evening with Tranquility, Tango and Coho. Most are here for the hurricane season, so we will get together a lot. The visitor moorings are nearly all taken but this is still less than 40 boats, with a few more in the marina. No daily radio net is held and people tend to phone one another instead, so we have a local SIM from Digicel, plus a dongle to access the Internet from the boat. There are a few services useful to cruisers, such as the weekly supermarket bus, free of charge and a laundry will send a car to pick you up so you can do the washing yourself or just let them do it. Every day Venezuelan farmers bring fresh produce to sell on the waterfront, none of it chilled. The smaller supermarket we checked out had everything we need and we understand the biggest one on the island is very well stocked with food from the US and Europe, especially The Netherlands.
The moorings themselves are either attached to 3 huge concrete blocks or sand screws. Two separate ropes lead up to two floating buoys with loops through them, to which you tie a line from each of your bow cleats. The first one was easy to pick up but I jumped in the water to pass the second line through the other. Boats up to 55 feet are allowed to use the moorings, so there aren’t any larger yachts here. Guess they would have to use the marina or ask for special permission to anchor in very deep water. The seabed drops off sharply to 40 metres just behind our boat, so we only had to get our diving gear on and plop off the stern to dive down to the reef below. Couldn’t be easier and we are now moored by the Dive Friends centre and can get our tanks filled there. Karel’s Bar plays very loud music until 2am on Friday and Saturday nights, so we decided to move once another mooring became free.
The ATMs work for our bank cards, the shops have had no problems with our cards either and Rob is being taken back to his working days, as he listens to Dutch being spoken again. Everyone speaks English too, fortunately for us. The town is safe and clean and the island is obsessed with protecting the environment. One dive shop owner told us that within 50 years he thought the reef would be gone, killed by the warmer water and rising acidity levels. If that occurs, Bonaire would lose a huge amount of tourism, a very sad prospect.
There is much to do and see here, a national park, flamingos, kite surfing lake, huge salt production areas and an ancient town to visit. We can hire a Harley Davidson (Rob says he knows how to ride one, although I’ve never seen him), a scooter or car and explore at our leisure. Knowing we have at least 2 months, possibly 3, here, means we don’t have to rush around. Bonaire is holding a Jazz Festival this weekend and have an artisan’s market every Friday evening.
So, the bad news. Our Avon has only had 2 years use but has an inflatable high-pressure floor, which is clearly not up to the job. We bought the Avon due to it being made of hyperlon and able to better withstand UV but the floor is actually plastic, not hyperlon. With the inevitable sand and tiny shards of shell being brought into the dinghy, the floor hasn’t stood up to the lifestyle and has developed punctures twice. It was successfully repaired in St Lucia, through a technical process of rubbing back the plastic, bonding a special patch, then compressing, heating and sealing it but when we first used the dinghy here, I came back from Customs to find Rob sitting in a soggy dinghy and looking very dejected.
We discussed at length what to do. Getting it repaired here was unlikely but we have to rely on a decent dinghy for shopping, laundry, visiting friends and getting to the dive sites. Almost everyone resorts to a hard bottomed dinghy and we decided to stop throwing money at the ‘old’ one and luckily found Budget Marine had a hard bottomed, hyperlon tubed, AB dinghy in Curacao to ship in within 2 days. It was very frustrating to have a nice clean dinghy, which is in great condition bar the small hole in the side of the floor but we are convinced it would continue to develop leaks in the future.
We picked up our new dinghy yesterday and are glad already. The sides are higher so we get a drier ride and it is much more stable for climbing in and out of. We haven’t found a single dinghy dock here with a low platform to get ashore, so there is a lot of balancing done on the side tubes of the dinghy. Our dive tanks and gear are heavy and the more solid dinghy makes transporting it much safer. Then the outboard started playing up!! Rob spent ages trying to clean the carburettor and it did then run whilst we went miles up the coast to Bruce’s dive shop, only to refuse to start again when we left. We had to row all the way back to the boat, a good couple of miles but got new spark plugs along the way and a short tow from Gordon on Coho. It was running again last time we tried but Rob is going to look at the timing as it still isn’t right!
Money has disappeared fast this week but we hope this will be the end of it. The only other issue is the engine alternator charging the batteries too much and this may have been the cause of the fried AGMs. It could be a faulty diode, not too expensive to replace. So far, we haven’t found anyone on the island who can check it for us but there is no rush as the solar panels are keeping us in power and we just run the diesel generator for hot water and powering up the phones and laptops 3 times a week.
All is well with us. The crystal clear waters, abundant aquatic life, dive site maps and availability of equipment are making our first diving ventures very pleasant. Galene arrived late yesterday, so there is a second British boat on the moorings and our friends on Badger’s Sett should be arriving next week too. Party time!