Aruba MTB trailing

Round the cacti, over the rocks, through the sand and avoid the thorns. If you can do all that while still enjoying the view and keeping an eye on the GPS, then you are ready to go trailing in Aruba.

A six o’clock start meant we were well on our way by sunrise and had the first trail – Tribu Trail – finished before we met any one else. On the far side of the island there was sand, wind and a loan fisherman casting into the breaking swell.

On the second trail we actually met a few other mountain bikers and Neill got a huge thorn straight through tire and inner tube but that is just part of the fun if you leave the tarmac here.

We finished the tour with a fresh coconut and two beers and were home before it got REALLY hot.

Our track is at GPSies.

Desert Biking

Wikipedia says that Aruba has a hot semi-arid climate. But when you are cycling along a dusty track what you are thinking is “desert!” Maybe it is the dust or the cacti, the whiptail lizards scuttling everywhere, the rattlesnake lying on the road or just the baked rocks? Maybe it is the temperature of above 30°C or the humidity of nearly 80%?

Arikok National Park

Finally we have found an anchorage where the waves allow us to land the bikes and a possibility to store them safely on land. So we are now once again bikers and life is good. Shops, gas suppliers and ice cream parlors are now all easy to reach, at least on the downwind leg. The wind blows constantly at 30km/h from the East so upwind legs are great training and really test your stamina at the end of the day.

Serious thorns!

Today we got up early, rowed to land and headed (upwind) to the Arikok National Park. We entered along a track and were immediately “in the desert”. The park authority had laid two thin strips of concrete for 4×4 vehicles to drive along. Cycling up a steep hill trying not to wobble more than fifty centimeters took some practice. The views were stunning. As far as we could see just stone, thorn bush, cactus, sky and sea. The only rattlesnake we saw was dead which was a shame as they are a seriously threatened sub-species. Huge thorn bushes are everywhere with finger long thorns that wreck bike tires.

When we reached the north side of the island the vegetation was reduced even further by the salt laden air and we cycled through the barren landscape to reach the Quadirikiri Caves which were just being unlocked by a park ranger. We entered the cave and had it to ourselves – apart from the bats that live there and were flying around and the biggest “creepy crawly” we have ever seen. The back of the cave is dome like and has two holes in the roof. It is like a natural version of the Pantheon in Rome – just smaller and minus the crowds. Stunning!

Quadirikiri Caves

Soon after the caves we met the tarmac road and followed it back towards the visitor center where we took a quick diversion up the seriously eroded track to the top of Sero Arikok. Steep, dusty and rocky. At least the quad drivers we met applauded our stamina and cheered us on. At the top we had a panoramic view across the island.

It was now nearly midday so we cycled in to town and bought ice cream, cycled to a workshop to collect our repaired anchor winch motor and then returned to the marina for two ice cold beers. After 50km, 650 meters of climbing and half the way “upwind” we felt we had earned a treat.

The part of the track until the ice cream is at GPSies.

Curaçao kindness

I finished a previous post about the joys of clearing in to Curaçao with the words “I don’t think Curaçao is really trying to encourage cruisers.” It is a real shame because during our time in Curaçao we met some great people and they were all really friendly and helpful.

Robert at the Santa Barbara Plantation answered our emails within minutes – unheard of in the Caribbean, found us a place at the marina and drove us to the bus to clear in.

Jill and Joop were amazing but we have already praised them in English and German. But thank you once again for your friendship, the fun times and all the help you gave us.

scenes from “the party”. Ana cooking. Diana as DJ and everyone having fun

And then there was Ana and Dani and “the party”. We were out for a walk and strolling along the beach at Caracasbaai when Ana asked if we wanted to join the party. She runs a catering business and had invited a few friends for a barbecue on the beach. Her friend Diana was the DJ and together they know how to organize a party. She told us she had great empanadas which – due to our Spanish still being at the very basic level – we misunderstood as bananas. We were pleasantly surprised when we took the first bite. There was officially only beer so I don’t know why we were drinking tequila and vodka. Heidi was dancing in a lineup with Colombian and Venezuelan ladies but she fitted right in. Dancing, drinking, swimming and great food. What a great day in Curaçao.

Nurse Heidi working on the neighbor’s mosquito bites

Vernon was “the guy at the dock” who let us use his pontoon and organized us a guy to repair our jib. Luis was that person. He not only repaired the sail but then found us a motor shop to repair the broken winch motor. He taxied us there and the next day picked up the motor for us. You really appreciate such help when you are in a bay at the “other side of the island”.

And as our “payback” for all this kindness, we rescued Brigitte from the rocks with her windsurfer, Heidi nursed Wim’s mosquito bites and we showed a very tired Andreas and Cecilia how to clear in to Curaçao.

The Jill and Joop Curaçao experience

We met Joop the first time we tried to clear in to Curaçao and he saved the day. A few days ago we met Jill and Joop at a nearby bar. There are people you just enjoy being with from the first minute and these two definitely fit in that category. It felt like we had only been talking for an hour when we were asked to pay and go home as the bar was shutting.

The next day we cycled the long way round to their house via Willemstad and Fort Nassau (which is of course on top of a hill). We were met with cold beers to be drunk in the swimming pool. This was followed by a fantastic Thai meal and a few more drinks. Jill runs a great restaurant for the select few guests. A few more drinks and it was agreed that we would stay the night and see if we could sleep on land or remember how to use a shower.

North coast of Curaçao. St. Georges Bay

The following morning we were fed up on coffee, muesli and home made smoothies before being sent off for a bike ride with Joop.

As a job Joop used to fly out to ships off Rotterdam by helicopter once the wind reached force 9 and then get dropped by rope on to the containers below. He also tried to stop tugs tipping over in hundred foot waves by hiding up Norwegian Fjords. Nowadays he “just” leaps from pilot boats on to cruise ships or cargo ships. His hobbies are snowboarding, skiing, surfing, mountain biking, road biking and kite surfing. He once cycled up Teidi three times in one day! We should have guessed this wasn’t going to be a gentle wander round the island.

Joop and Heidi out and about on Curaçao

The speed was “fast” but the route was fantastic. We crossed desert, volcanic coastline, cactus forests, salt flats and beaches. We passed blow holes, wind generators, kite surfers and dead goats. A truly amazing cycle ride. A few times we were allowed a quick pause before being reminded “we aren’t tourists” and encouraged to set off again. At a beach we were allowed a stop long enough to eat an apple. If we do this every day we may be as fit as Joop once we reach his age.

Back at the house Jill had prepared another dream meal. We barely had time for the cold beer that was pressed in our hands before plates of mushroom, noodle, prawn taste bud explosion were set before us. This is the way to live!

Thank you Jill and Joop for all your time and a brilliant Curaçao experience.

The route back to the boat is here.

Fun entering and leaving Curaçao

When you enter Martinique you stroll across to a marina, ships handler or cafe and fill in a formula online and get it stamped by an employee. Leaving the country is just as simple.

When you enter or leave Antigua you fill out everything online then go to one office at the port of entry where they print the stuff out and you sign it.

When you enter Curaçao you can also fill everything out online. This doesn’t change the fact that you have to travel to the offices in Willenstad. The offices are right next to the dock but you aren’t allowed to enter the port so you anchor in Spanish Water and take a bus in to the town and then walk to the customs building. There you find a sign saying they have moved so cross a canal (this was a dutch colony) and look for the office down a side road, up some stairs and round a corner. There are of course no signs.

waiting for the harbour master

At customs you tell them that you filled everything out online so that they only ask you a few more questions, ask to see proof you left the previous country, check all your papers and then give you a clearance form. They then send you on to immigration in the blue building you can see from their window. Walk downriver, cross two more canals and the river (by ferry or swinging bridge) and then walk back up river to the blue building. Fail to find immigration so ask someone who points at the green building.

You can also tell Immigration that you have filled out everything online but they don’t care so you get lots of papers to fill out by hand. Do that. Give them all your papers and passports and receive more papers in return. Ask where the Harbour Masters office is and be directed upstairs in the blue building. Also be told that the harbour master closes from 11:30 until “twoish” for lunch so you just missed them.

Enjoy the unexpected long lunch break before returning at “twoish” to discover that the entire office has taken today (Friday) off as yesterday was a holiday but will be back on Monday.

By Monday we had decided to sail to Bonaire so we revisited customs and immigration again and went through the whole process again. Practice makes perfect.

A week later we were back in Curaçao so bus, customs and immigration again. Customs had us in their system so that was easy but immigration had never heard of us so we filled everything out again. Then off to the harbour masters office. This time they were open and only to happy to issue an anchor permit as long as we told the lady on exactly which day we intended to be in which anchorage (and in one case which part of the anchorage) and for how long and were willing to pay $10 per anchorage. Of course we could change our mind at any time as long as we personally took the bus back to her office and told her (and paid some more dollars).

I don’t think Curaçao is really trying to encourage cruisers.

Frenchies on board

When we left Germany, lots of people told us that they would be “popping out” to see us. Until now only Max had managed it but the last two weeks we enjoyed having Gertrud and Jon on board. They flew from Germany to Curacao and immediately began to melt in the heat. We collected them at the hotel pier, allowed them to move in to the “master suite” and then took them for a hike under the midday sun to do some shopping.

They told us that over half their luggage was made up of things that we had ordered in Europe and had sent to them. Luckily they managed to buy enough while they were here to ensure they had some luggage to take home.

Frenchies on Holiday

We introduced them to the joys of clearing out with immigration and customs and then from Curacao we sailed three days against the wind to Bonaire. Gertrud is definitely not an upwind sailor so on the third day, after a stop over in Klein Curacao, we continued in the night so that she could sleep and wake up in the next port – just like a small cruise ship.

Bonaire calls itself “Divers Paradise” so Gertrud and Jon were in the water more than out of it. They scraped all the plant and animal life off our hull while diving and returned after each trip with a list of fish and corals they had seen.

Out of the water we visited the national park in the north of the island where Jon showed off his off-roading skills in a rental 4×4. We drove through a cactus forest, snorkeled among thousands of fish and enjoyed the unspoiled nature. It was a satisfying but tiring day and once again we ended up in the ice cream shop before we once again “forced them” to play cards and drink alcohol.

in the national park

The Frenchies had sewed us a new wind catcher on which they painted our Yin-Yang logo. Jon gave the bikes a quick service and when we wanted to sail, they both had the boat prepared before we left. Probably they need a rest after this holiday – especially as everything happens in at least thirty degrees centigrade.

From Bonaire we sailed back to Curacao through the night and anchored in a lonely bay before berthing in a marina to clear in and then putting our two guests in an air conditioned taxi and sending them back to a cooler climate.

Jon was kind enough to write us a guest post.

At sea in the Caribbean

We were two days out of Marigot on St. Martins, about two hundred miles from anywhere in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. It had been a good day with lots of sun and little wind. In the morning we had changed to our Parasailor and thus maintained our momentum despite the missing wind.

We had also modified our prototype deck cover to give us more headroom and more shelter – another project that is progressing well through fast prototyping with pegs, ropes and a bed sheet.

We now have a data logger keeping track of both system voltage and fridge temperature so another ongoing project is optimising the one without sacrificing the other. Who would have believed a tenth of a volt plus or minus ciuld be so interesting or that tracking the sun with the solar panels so rewarding.

Artemis at sea in the Caribbean

In the evening we cooked dinner which we ate in the cockpit direct from the saucepan. The only other sign of life was a huge ship just visible over the horizon. Perfect timing allowed us to follow our meal with a glass of chilled wine as the sun set. As we ghosted along in the breeze a pod of dolphins joined us to play at the bow. With the wine finished, thoughts turned to Neill getting some sleep.

And then …

The wind came back. Suddenly the boat was healing and being dragged upwind by a fifteen knot wind in the Parasailor. Luckily we are an experienced team so lifejackets on, boat turned downwind and Parasailor snuffed. At which point the AIS alarm started trilling to let us know the huge bulk carrier was no longer over the horizon but heading our way. Ships seem to be magnetically drawn to us. They have millions of square miles of ocean but always seem to want to pass close by to look at the “little boat”. Or maybe we are just paranoid.

With the Parasailor stowed, the “normal sails” set and after ducking behind the ship we were off again at over five knots. After half an hour of tidying up ropes and dish washing, it was time for a second try at an evening drink – this time a shared can of beer.

And then it was time to switch on the navigation lights and see what the night watches had waiting.

Biking St. Martin

After being at St. Martins for over a week, it was finally time to get the bikes on to land and do some exploring. As always it was a bit of a logistical jigsaw puzzle with bikes, dinghy, rucsacs, outboard motor, locks, pontoons and tools but well worth the effort.

The first day we cycled anticlockwise round a huge lagoon and in the course of a few hours left the Republic of France, entered the Kingdom of the Netherlands and then returned to France. On the way we stopped off to buy ice cream in the Netherlands, a rope in France, a USB charger in the Netherlands and then some beer in France. The language changed, the currency changed but it remained very hot and the drivers very considerate everywhere.

the end of the runway is a beach. Bad place to be when big planes start.

We were really lucky that Mr Bhirwani allowed us to leave our bikes in his shop overnight so on the second day we just needed to get ourselves on land and pick them up. Pure luxury!

After the flat, seaside tour yesterday we decided to do our traditional “ride to the top of the island” tour today. We found a great MTB route but it started on the other side of the hills so we started by cycling up a very steep road to Pic Pleasant which is the highest point and offered great views. That meant that we had three hundred meters of climbing to “get warm” – which is a joke when the temperature is 27°C in the shade.

Looking down to the “French Side” and the lagoon where Artemis is at anchor

Once we had made the obligatory pictures, we followed a single trail down through the woods to the far side of the island. Heidi was chasing an Iguana at one point but we didn’t find the native monkeys. The trail was difficult but mostly “bikeable”. Once at the bottom we turned in to the first cafe to refuel with water and juice.

The route back up the mountain was “interesting”. Once we passed the “Passage Interdit” sign and climbed over the barbed wire fences the path became less steep but rocky. A little later it was full of rock steps. A really great workout pushing our bikes uphill through the sun drenched, windless “jungle”. Adventure pure!

Zoom in and you can see the perspiration. And maybe the Iguanas in the “jungle”

And then it was just a quick roll back downhill in to town where we treated ourselves to beer and baguette burger.

St. Martin

Last week we arrived at St. Martin. Another tiny Caribbean island – this one is only 90km² and strangely it is divided roughly 60/40 between France and the Netherlands. We are currently anchored in “France” so cheap wine, cheap cheese and cheap bread. This is the way France should be – everyone speaks English, it is always warm and there is no tax.

This is the island where we have finally accepted that what we are really doing is completely refitting our boat and just finding nice places to do it. In the last week we have been working on the boat every day.

Refitting Artemis in St. Martin

We removed the hundred kilograms of rust that used to be our anchor chain and replaced it with a shiny new 50 meter long version. We also added some nice little colored markers to show how much chain is out. The chain is no longer dirty, no longer jams and you can see the markers. Anchoring is suddenly much more fun.

We also rewired the battery box. The perfect combination for such a job is an electrician and a nurse. The electrician curls up so he can get at the bits and the nurse hands him the tools as required. After the third crimp, she knows the process as well as he does and the right tools appear magically uncalled for.

We also managed to finally dig the corroded plastic out of the towed generator that should allow us to now convert it to a wind generator. That was fun as we did it in a “metal container workshop” under the Caribbean sun. We used to pay to use the sauna in Allgäu – now we just work on the boat.

Our fridge is Swedish and strange. It sort of did what we wanted sometimes but we never understood it. The only manual we had was in Swedish and for a different model. Luckily we met a dutch guy who sailed round the world as a young man and met a Swedish girl who took him home with her. He had a manual in English but still for another fridge. But he had similar problems so suggested we change the wires that feed the fridge. We did that and it is now less strange.

And today? Today is Sunday so we planned on doing nothing and sleeping all morning. Great plan. Unfortunately the Swiss neighbor was leaving to cross the Atlantic at sunrise and realized he was missing the “vital part” so swam across to our boat – his dinghy was stowed in the locker – and knocked us up to help him find it.

Finally being tourists at Fort St. Lois

But this afternoon we finally managed an afternoon of “being tourists”. Visit fort, wander streets, drink beer, video chat with friends, read and sleep.

“Anchor Pro” app

Last week we wrote about how often we used our Rocna anchor and relied on it. Maybe just as important is an anchor watch program or App that lets you know when the anchor is not holding.

When we anchor we set our position in the Android app “Anchor Pro” We tell it where the anchor is and how much chain we have out. It immediately starts to monitor our position relative to the anchor. If we move outside the radius we have defined, the batteries on the tablet run low or it loses GPS signal, it lets out a very loud alarm.

The app is very easy to use but loaded with clever options. Really useful is the ability to define only a segment of a circle as being “OK”. Here in the Caribbean the wind comes from the east so you can anchor “a little bit closer” to an object to your east and then input a larger radius to the west than to the east.

Also nice is that when you leave the boat with the tablet you can switch the app off and, on your return, tell it to use the old position. You can also switch on the “heatmap” view and see all the positions that have been logged. A nice tidy grouping (as shown here) suggests that you are holding well and can enjoy a run ashore.

Anchor Pro showing the heatmap

A well set anchor, a good mattress and this app are our secrets to a good nights sleep.