October & November 2008

ABC Islands to Grenada

General Overview - Leg VII

We headed east out of Cartagena, thru the ABC islands (Aruba, Curacao, Bonaire,) Los Roques, Venezuela and into Grenada in time for Thanksgiving. It was an "uphill" battle that provided us with the challenges that go along with heading the "wrong direction" into opposing trade winds and seas. It was also the stretch that made us question our sanity at times! The beauty of the islands and the blue of the seas are what magazines covers are made of and what provided us with the payoff we were seeking.... plus the fact that we got 500 gallons of fuel for .50 cents a gallon along the way!! We are moving out of the more Latin American countries and are seeing much more of a Caribbean flavor on the Atlantic side of the Canal. Photos of this leg and our entire web site can be viewed at www.Dreamweaver-bigbear.com


We knew that the next 850 miles between Cartagena across the top of South America thru the ABC’s and into Grenada were notoriously very nasty, specifically because we were going east ..... the road less traveled .....the wrong way! We would be heading uphill against the eastern tradewinds, currents and seas which is what we did from the time we left Cartagena in mid October until we reached Grenada at the end of November. It was the many beautiful stops along the way that made the rough, steep seas tolerable for that long. It was along this passage that we three girls questioned our men’s sanity much less our own, for being out here with them!

We calculated that the run from Cartagena to Aruba would be about 375 miles which would take us approximately 55 hours if were lucky and more like 75+ hours if we weren’t – we weren’t! We run slower than Wandering Star and Voyager so we set out a day ahead of them and figured we would rendezvous somewhere along the way.

We left early and arrived in Pt. Hermosa later that afternoon. Jeff and Stephanie, friends we met in Cartagena, were there on Musetta. Apparently their engine wouldn’t start so they had to call for a mechanic. Pt. Hermosa is on the Columbian Coast and not necessarily known to be a very safe area. We didn’t know how unsafe until Stephanie filled us in. The mechanics, from Cartagena, had to have the police escort them to the waters edge, where Jeff met them and brought them to their boat. The police and mechanics warned them about the bay and said when there is more than one boat it is generally OK but definitely not ok for only one boat to stay alone for the night. Unfortunately, for us anyway, they repaired Musetta’s engine by 5 pm and they had to leave the anchorage to bring the mechanics back to Cartagena – leaving us there - you guessed it – all by ourselves! J&A and L&R weren’t due in for another day, we didn’t want to turn back and pushing forward would mean that we would have to cross the mouth of the massive Rio Magdalena – a nasty area with lots of debris in the water, which didn’t look like a viable option, so we sucked it up and stayed the night!

We like to think we are always calm, cool and collected but it did get our attention! Especially mine anyway! There was no moon so it was a very black night. We covered all our windows, locked all the doors, turned out all the lights, and got out all our "bad boy" paraphernalia (including a butcher knife, a machete, bug spray, flairs, etc.) .... just "in case." One of us stayed up "on watch" all night and needless to say got very little sleep. We pulled anchor at 4 am and we were outta there before first light! We were happy we didn’t try to cross the river in the dark as we saw tons of debris including large trees and even a dead pig floating in the current several miles out!

We slogged our way thru big seas bouncing about like a ping pong ball. After checking our ham radio email we discovered that Jo & Adie’s engine had quit while they were behind us in the pounding seas! They bobbed around like a cork, rolling from side to side trying to get the engine going for 3 hours before having to be towed by Voyager, to a bay 4 hours away. They were soooo fortunate that they were traveling within sight of Voyager as this stretch is very remote ..... very few boats passing thru, and no Coast Guard or "Vessel Assist" to help out. They were able to get the problem (a clogged fuel line) fixed and were on their way the next morning. (See Wandering Star’s logs for a blow by blow description of what they went thru! www.mvwanderingstar.com)

The seas never really let up for more than short periods of time for the next few days and nights. You better believe that we were all very happy campers when we pulled into Aruba, the first of the ABC islands! We checked into the country and proceeded to celebrate our safe arrival. We rehashed our trip from Cartagena to Aruba and before the evening ended, we girls serenaded our men with our rendition of "I Will Follow Him" and they in turn serenaded us with "My Girl" and a wild version of "Whip It!" It is all on tape for posterity and will go down as a trip highlight!

Aruba, known as "The Happy Island," as it so states on their license plates, was a pleasant island. We took a slip at the Renaissance Marina right in the center of town next to where the large cruise ships dock. It was nice to be able to just step off the boat and walk into town and or just people watch. It was surprisingly desert like as we discovered by renting a car and touring the island.

After looking for a place to go dancing on our last night, as we hadn’t taken in any of the many clubs Aruba is known for, we ended up at Sr. Frogs and danced our hearts out to music provided by a very gregarious latino who spoke Spanglish and knew how to get the crowd going. In the middle of the restaurant and dance floor they had a large 50’ long enclosed water slide. It was still 85 degrees outside when, after joining the congo line dancing around restaurant, I got a wild hare and decided it was time to go down the water slide. I guess I sort of surprised a few people, my sister Jo in particular, who was handing me a tablecloth to dry off with and fresh lipstick so I wouldn’t look like a drowned rat?! It brought back memories of younger years .... there is just something silly about dancing in a crazy place like this that is just plain fun!

On to Curacao, the "C" of the ABC Islands. We anchored with about 100 other boats in Spaanese Waters a large protected bay the size of Lake Arrowhead, next to a guy with 9 dogs on his boat!! The area was beautiful and many cruisers settle in here for months and years at a time. We took a bus into the main town, Williamstad (45 mins away) which is unique. Tall, narrow, brightly colored pastel buildings with narrow cobblestone streets. A large channel of water, 1,000 feet wide separates the two sides of the town and there is a floating/pontoon bridge and ferries to cross from side to side.

Like Aruba this island has a Dutch heritage and everyone speaks a multitude of languages. Locals speak Papaimento (the local dialect) and most speak English, Dutch, Spanish and/or French. It is mandatory that they learn to speak these languages in school. Most of the adults have lived in Holland, St. Martin, and or Martinique and travel between them frequently.

We took a cab into town one evening as it was Regatta week-end in Curacao and lots was going on. On the way there we asked our driver why we see so many Obama signs around the ABC’s? He said that it was because the ABC Islands are allies of the US, but neighbors of Venezuela, (who doesn’t like the US) which makes it very hard on the ABC’s. Venezuela does not like them doing business with the US which puts them in the middle. They feel that may change for the better if Obama were to get in. Anyway, the taxi driver then went on to play the local "Obama" song, who’s lyrics include "out with Bush, it’s time for a change, free at last," etc. etc. We found it very interesting to see how involved they were in American politics to say the least. Makes the world just that much smaller!

We snorkeled a local dive site called "Tugboat" where a small tugboat sunk in about 25 feet of water years ago. What we found unusual about this site was that they had an underwater art gallery! Twenty large photographs of people and places in Curacao framed in some sort of watertight frame then hung 20 feet underwater all around the sunken boat. The water was so clear it was a wonderful yet unusual site!

We tend to buy food and keep eating the new stuff rather than pull out what’s in the storage lockers. I don’t think I have made a decent loaf of bread since being on the boat so I decided to give it a try .... again! I carefully followed all the directions, kneading properly and waited patiently for my bread to rise..... and I waited, and I waited, and I waited! I figured after several hours I should cook my "bread" even though it was only 1/8th of an inch bigger than when I began. Four hours later I finally threw away my large warm hockey puck and went out to the store buy some bread.

The next week we ran out of eggs and cereal. In spite of my bread making disaster from the previous day, I was again determined to use what we had on board before going out to the store. Pancakes – that’s it, "I’ll treat us to some yummy pancakes this morning" I thought. I had a mix on board that simply said "only needs water." Only water .....sounds like something quick and easy I thought. I pulled out the mix and proceeded to make pancakes. I even added the dried blueberries to make them tastier!. I am not sure how in the world one could screw up pancakes, but I managed to. They too didn’t rise a bit ..... no bubbles appeared, they just came out hard and rubbery .... just like my bread?! Now I generally consider myself a pretty decent cook but the last few days have left me with the idea that I need to go out to eat more often, or perhaps it is time to go shopping and replace my basic cooking staples with fresher ones?!

Before leaving Curacao the six of us rented another van and toured the island, which is about the size of Catalina. It is much more lush and beautiful than Aruba but still has some very dry desert like areas as well. There were many old plantation houses around the island and one in particular that we visited had been converted to a colorful art gallery and studio that was quite original.

Bonaire, the last of the ABC Islands was next. The whole island is a protected national park and no anchoring is permitted; therefore, we picked up a mooring right in the center of town. The island is known as one of the best for diving and is surrounded by a double reef. We could snorkel right off the back of our boat and felt like we were in an aquarium. Although Bonaire was visited by Cruise ships it never felt crowded or busy like Aruba and Curacao did. It was a little more like the early days of Big Bear. The whole island has a small town feeling to it – not overly crowded and a little more artistic than the others, rather than just touristy. We again rented a car and drove around the small, quaint, but not so commercialized island, finding some wonderful sites. The water around Bonaire was a turquoise blue and we stopped to see many of the dive sites. After finding the little town of Rincon and having traditional local lunch, including stewed goat meat we continued on to the salt mines, which, from afar, appear to be large mounds of snow. It is the first thing you see when you approach the island by boat or plane and was the primary source of income for the island before slavery was abolished. It was disturbing to see the old concrete slave shacks, (now newly restored) to see how small they were, and to imagine that 4 slaves lived in each of the huts that they were barely even able to stand up in. Wow, have we come a long way!! The southeast end of the island brings windsurfers from around the world. The beach bar at the resort is probably the best, most authentic beach bar we’ve seen yet. Floors of sand, surfboards all around and girls in bikinis running around – the guys didn’t like it a bit!?

My long time friends Annie Andre and Jan happened to be coming in on a cruise ship the morning we were scheduled to leave for Los Roques, Venezuela. We delayed our voyage until the afternoon so we could get a chance to visit. It was great fun spending the morning on the island, and on our boat, catching up on each others lives. They bought me a fun sign to remember our visit that reads "Group Therapy" with pink flamingos sitting around a beach bar drinking martinis!

The ABC islands are all a part of the Netherland Antillies and each are unique unto themselves. We can see why so many people slow down and spend years just cruising between Bocus del Toro, Cartagena and the ABC’s! We, on the other hand are trying to see as much as possible and move rather quickly from place to place soaking up all we can in the time that we have. So much to see, so little time!

Dreamweaver carries about 800 gallons of fuel and we had used about half of that since our last fill up on the Pacific side of Panama. The cost of fuel in the ABC’s was about $5.25 a gallon and in Grenada (our next stop) it is over $6 per gallon. It made sense to us to try to get some cheep fuel in Venezuela, since we were traveling right thru the area.

Knowing that their have been an increase in "pirates" closer to the Venezuelan mainland we were hoping to avoid that area. Once we left Bonaire, we drove all night and anchored in Los Roques, a small group of Venezuelan islands 71 nautical miles from the mainland. We’d heard that a barge came over from the mainland to deliver items to the island as well as fuel for their power plant and fishing fleet every week or two. We’d also heard that if we approached the captain of the boat, and no one else, AND if he had any extra fuel, he may sell it to us. However, we should expect to have to pay a "premium price" rather than the $ .05 per gallon the Venezuelans pay for it. It was up to the captain to decide! Lots of IFs here!

The gods were looking down on us as the "landing craft" came into the Los Roques anchorage the following morning. We talked to the captain who agreed to sell us 500 gallons of diesel at the "premium rate" of - get this, $ .50 cents per gallon! It has been a long, long, long time since we bought fuel for .50 cents per gallon. We figured it saved us at least $5.00 per gallon over what it cost if we had to buy it in Grenada – that’s $2,500!!!!!!

As soon as we all filled up our tanks, we departed for the 300 mile, 60+ hour trip across the top of Venezuela to Grenada along with Wandering Star and Voyager. Within the first 15 hours the other boats were far enough ahead of us that we lost VHF contact with them and we were on our own for the next few days - and nights. Seas were very rough for much of the trip and we were dodging squalls for a few nights. Like the Baja Bash a few years ago, we took a lot of green water over the bough. Water seeped into the front cabin thru the hatches that made for a little mess, and naturally we discovered a few more leaky areas but no earth shattering life changing moments occurred.

Pulling into the harbor in Grenada, the first island in the Caribbean’s Windward Island chain, was a real sense of accomplishment for us. Our target was to be in Grenada for the Thanksgiving Holidays and we arrived with a few days to spare. We were able to call our families at home and then shared a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner on Voyager with Jo & Adie, and Les & Rose – knowing how blessed we are to be able to celebrate Thanksgiving here in the Caribbean! We hope those of you sharing this journey with us had a wonderful Thanksgiving and much to be grateful for as well!!

Love & Dreams,

Ken & Dottie
Dreamweaver

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