Thursday, April 23, 2009

Lazing About in the Aves

Isla de Aves are two separate little island archipelagos separated by about 10 miles of deep water. Huge numbers of birds make them their home, mostly boobys but also heron and other seabirds. The first island group is Aves de Sotavento and is about 40 miles east of Bonaire. We and Tony and Hilary of "Miss Charlotte" (a 46 ft. Halbery Rassey shown below left at anchor) decided to spend a few weeks there lazing about. You can see a picture of them at the end of the this entry.

Both our boats had been in the Bonaire/Curacao area for almost 6 months and needed to leave the country to restart the 6 month customs period. Traveling east means bucking the wind, waves and current so we carefully followed the weather and left Bonaire with a two day forecast of less than 15 knots of wind and 4 foot seas.
Miss Charlotte at anchor
The first part of the trip around the south end of Bonaire was rougher but then the predicted weather kicked in.
The Aves are part of Venezuela and there is a small coast guard station at Sotavento. Our plan was to spend one night there then proceed on to the Aves de Barlovento for most of our stay.
Hilary and Scott
We'd then stop and get our papers stamped by the coast guard on our way back to Bonaire. Once they see you, they want you to leave within 48 hours if you haven't legally checked into Venezuala. Which of course we hadn't.
A large reef surrounds the clear water, islands and smaller reefs. Most islands consist of no more than sand, a few plants and an occasional palm tree.
One larger island anchors each of the two island groups and these are dense with mangroves on the protected lagoon side and bare and windswept on the other. This section is really lovely and colorful with "meadows" of southern glasswort, seaside purslane and saltwort all in different shades of green and gold. See the picture below.
Hilary and Scott get ready for some snorkeling. You can
see the channel through the reefs
The Dutch once mined guano here and the ruins of old forts are now all that remain. Today a few fisherman maintain simple wood huts on a few of the smaller islands for occasional trips but they have wiped out the conch population and are working on the lobsters. Scott saw two conch and no lobsters for two weeks.
He left the conch not wanting the distinction of eating the last two alive.
The water varies enormously in depth. This results in a huge variety of blue green colors that at some times of the day meld into the sky. The snorkeling is excellent and there are many protected spots to anchor. To get around we practiced "eyeball navigation". The charts show the configuration of the reefs, islands and the depth of the water between them. But after studying them we put the chart down and us our eyes to follow the deep blues and dark turquoise/jades paths among the more pastel shallow areas.

The path to the Memorial from the mangrove entrance

There's a gap in the mangroves where you can pull in your dingy and
then follow the path above 

The channels are often narrow but easy to see when the light is good. This happens when the sun is above you or behind you. It's almost impossible when it's in front. So we time our arrival and departure accordingly. We found a lovely spot just north of Isla Sur, the second bay in from the west, with great holding and well protected by a series of small reefs.
Hilary gets our hors d'eouves ready - that's our Scott
Free sign behind her on the left. It's brown as we
varnished it.

Hilary, Scott and I took our dinghies out to several different reefs each day to snorkel. They varied enormously but all had lots of great fish and some, healthy vibrant corals. Storms and fisherman have caused a lot of damage. Once I came across a 6 foot nurse shark sleeping on the sand inside a coral corral - and backed out very quickly. That is the first shark we'd seen since we began our trip, while in the water.

We painted and varnished boat signs to place there  in Bonaire and one lovely evening left them there, drank wine, and saluted the many sailors who came before us.Scott and I had been here two years ago with "Angel" on our way to Bonaire from Grenada and knew about the boater's memorial on Isla Larga. A small gap in the mangroves allows access to the "moors" on the windward side and there with the ocean pounding behind is this beautiful spot.
Every other morning Hilary and I dinghied over to a beach and did our exercises and yoga. What a beautiful spot to meditate afterwards - and have a swim. That's me at the top of this entry.
It was hard to pull up anchor from this peaceful spot and return back to civilization. But weather windows only come once in a while so when a good one arrived we sailed for Curacao. Scott and I needed to apply for a 90 day extension on our immigration visa. Tony and Hilary are hauling their boat in two weeks and returning to London and Tuscany (tough huh!).

Tony and Hilary on "Miss Charlotte"

Close up of the Miss Charlotte sign

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