Although we have long been besotted with ‘Beyzano’ she certainly comes through for us when we need her and our 3 day 22 hour passage from St John’s USVIs to Bonaire gave her many opportunities to show us her qualities. She is an amazing boat, no doubt about it but then most owners say the same about theirs. OK, not that many but maybe we are just sentimental.
We knew the first few hours towards the east side of St Croix would be brisk as the forecast was for a force 4-5 and we were hard on the wind. Beyzano tore through the waves at more than 9 knots sometimes, getting us well past St Croix by nightfall. We logged 175 miles during the first day but were very tipped up for a lot of it and glad we had made sandwiches in advance!
As we left the area we heard the US coastguard asking for help. A boat in Brewer’s Bay near the airport was on fire and they wanted to get it near the runway so the fire truck could hose it down. We didn’t hear any more but it sounded like a risky undertaking. Fire and boats never mix well, given the gas bottles on board and all the flammable materials.
This trip was nearly all done on one tack and it was our good fridge tack as we call it, meaning the side we were leaning over to is the one our fridge is and we could open the door without all our food falling out. Bit of a bonus! We had made up the lee berth, on the other side, as we would have fallen out of bed without the big cloth to hold us in. In the event I tried to sleep there the first night but the speed of the boat made it so noisy and bouncy, that I had to give up and sleep in the cockpit instead.
We started off with 2 reefs in the mainsail (we have 3 reefs to make the sail gradually smaller in windier weather) and a little bit of genoa reefed in as well and Beyzano was comfortable enough. We saw just 3 ships on our plotter but only 2 came close enough to see. Huge tankers over 1000 feet long.
Rob did the first watch from 1900-2200 but when I started my 3 hour watch we could see a big black cloud and lightning strikes seeming to touch the sea. Didn’t look good. Rob gaily went off to sleep but I kept watching the sky, lit up by a half moon and I wasn’t happy! Soon enough the lightning got closer with a few big thunder claps to make us feel bad and threatened. Along with fire, lightning isn’t good on a boat as a strike will take down all the electronics, stopcocks can be blasted out of the hull, leaving us with holes in the boat and the engine electrics might be fried as well.
So I got Rob up, we reduced our sails, put the iPad and handheld radio in the oven, which acts as a Faraday cage and hoped for the best. At one point we had lightning both sides of the boat but somehow it missed us, thankfully. It was a tense time and the wind increase was the least of our worries. Beyzano coped brilliantly, kept going and soon enough it was all over.
Until the squall. Not long after, we could see another black cloud approaching and turned on the radar to check where it was going. We could see 3 squalls in front and to the side of us and couldn’t avoid the first. We took in all the genoa this time. The wind spun round quickly and increased to the extent that our autopilot could not cope but we managed to keep the boat going and avoided gybing by careful hand steering. I got absolutely drenched helming. Once that blew through we had a good night but both stayed in the cockpit, cat napping and keeping watch. It was so good to see the sun starting to rise just after 0500.
Chris Parker (weather forecaster) had advised us to head for a waypoint a long way south but did say if it seemed too far to the east, then go for another he suggested. We decided to do that but it meant we had a bigger current against us and pushing us west, slowing the boat down by 2.5 knots for nearly all of the remainder of the journey. For what should have been a 461 mile passage we actually logged 581 miles and although Beyzy was flying through the waves at over 7 knots for most of the time, we were down to 4.5 over the ground, so it took us a bit longer to get to Bonaire.
The waves weren’t huge but the sea was confused making the boat roll about at times. We could hear some waves approaching, slapping the side of the hull and pushing us around. I felt queasy and neither of us wanted to eat much. We used a frozen meal the first night and after that we just snacked. At least there wasn’t any washing up to do! It was also difficult to walk around inside the boat and showering with just a hand free isn’t easy but you have to hold on with the other, or risk bruises when you get thrown around. The dinghy stayed put, well restrained with extra lines. We always carry it on the davits and leave the outboard on as well, some of the weight taken by the cargo hoist we had incorporated into the arch. The dinghy doesn’t move an inch and has now been in some quite rough weather.
The second night we saw another few black clouds but just 1 brought rain, nothing more.
It was good to see the stars and phosphorescence again, the sunsets and sunrises and after saying we had only seen 1 dolphin all season, we got a pod of them playing in the bow wake. They always make a clicking sound by the cockpit first, as if to say ‘we are here, come and watch us’ and we did enjoy a few minutes being entertained by their antics before they left as quickly as they had arrived. Lots of little flying fish flew up around us, gliding for amazing distances given their size.
We didn’t bother fishing in the end as the floating weed, which has been a constant presence this year, just caught in the line. You can see some of it in the photo of the tanker above. Not sure I would have been up to gutting anything in those conditions anyway.
The second and third days were good sailing with a force 4-5 on the beam. We had full sail up, it was a little rolly but there wasn’t much to do other than keep a casual watch, trim the sails and keep an eye on the wind speed. It was frustrating to have such a lot of current against us but nothing we could do about it. Our other hero of the trip was ‘Cyril’, the autopilot. Cyril steered almost the entire trip for us, coping with the swell admirably.
As we got within 100 miles of Bonaire it was clear we would arrive around dawn if we slowed down a little during the night. There aren’t any dangers around the coast and the water is very deep close in. On AIS we noticed a yacht called ‘Puff’ heading in the same direction and called them up on the radio for a chat. We passed them about an hour later and took photos of one another to swop. The wind increased and the current decreased during our last day making it a faster, smoother sail in the calmer seas. We were going too fast and with night approaching started reducing sail so we could arrive in daylight but Beyzano had other ideas and didn’t want to slow down. We reefed both sails, then reefed again but still too fast. Then we took all the genoa in and even with 2 reefs in the main she was still doing 6.8 knots. Typical.
We carried on down the eastern side of Bonaire, seeing the lights from the lighthouses very clearly; always good to know you are where you think you are! We rounded the southern tip in the dark and the sun started to lighten up the sky by the time we passed the salt mountains. The western coast of Bonaire is a great sailing area with smooth seas but plenty of wind. By 0645 we were approaching the mooring field by the capital Kralendijk. There seem to be fewer than in 2013 and we heard that some broke and haven’t been replaced but there were 2 suitable for our depth and length, not too near other boats or moorings. There are big concrete blocks with 2 separate lines with little floating buoys and an eyelet for your 2 mooring lines to go through. Usually we can reach 1 and then swim or use the dinghy to get the other. This time Rob managed to pick up both and we were there!
This was our longest passage since December 2011 and one of the toughest at times. We were glad not to have to use the engine until the last approach, as in the past we have been over cautious with the weather and didn’t get enough wind to sail. Apart from the thunderstorm, squall, current and confused sea it was a good trip but we were both tired and glad to arrive, catch up with ‘Orion I’ and ‘Blue’ again, clear customs for free with the friendly officials and a short form and get an ice-cream from Gio’s in celebration of our safe arrival in Beyzano and Cyril’s capable hands. To thank Beyzano, we are going to buy her some new genoa sheets (ropes).