The De-evolution of Fish, in the Caves of Bonaire (Sailing La Vagabonde) Ep. 29

Sisyphus; a character in greek mythology who was doomed to the task of repeatedly rolling a boulder up a hill and watching it roll back down again.
Having spent the night on anchor at our last destination in Los Roques it was time to weigh anchor and head to our next stop along the line, Aves. I like to stay at a place for at least 2 nights because every time we go from home base mode to sail mode or vice versa there is quite a bit of work involved not the least of which is manually extricating the outboard from the back of our tender (Cunningham) and re-mounting it on the back of La Vagabonde. No easy task and will eventually result in a hernia I’m sure, or loss of toe, or both. Despite Elaynas anthropomorphism of Cunningham the wrestling of the outboard invariably results in frustration and even physical violence towards our beloved tender before removal can be accomplished. There are waves, wakes, slippery sunscreen, screws, ropes, occasionally halyards, grease, sun, and now a crescent, spanner or wrench depending on your origin’s vernacular because the outboard was seized to our galley bench due to lack of greasing over hurricane season or perps due to the larger lack of “preventative maintenance” issue which is becoming apparent we have on La Vagabonde and the screwer handle thing broke off.
Once the outboard is in place and tender itself (Cunningham) winched aboard via halyard the entire vessel (LaVaga) must be turned from comfortable into seaworthy. Elayna’s bowls of fruit, decorative hanging lights, Lyre, precariously placed and half drunken glasses of wine and the laptop which is ALWAYS under an open window and on the edge of the table must be removed, stacked and stashed away. Dishes done, ropes uncoiled, spray dodger lowered and then raised again, hatches closed (this one should be done last otherwise it gets awfully hot awfully quickly inside) and navigation triple checked before weighing anchor.

In this particular anchorage we were completely surrounded by coral reefs and heads, the charts did not match from one system to another and we were unsure of the tides. We found ourselves motoring slowly Elayna prominently bestrode the bow on Rock-watch whilst my polarised lens clad eyes flicked from the chart plotter to the depth sounder to the surrounding reefs. Inconsistent charts resulted in a quick pre departure briefing lacking in both options and ideas and a completely arbitrary course was eventually set.

La Vagabonde “draws” 1.8m meaning that the bottom most part or “keel” of La Vagabonde is 1.8m below the surface of the water. It was disconcerting to see the depth sounder display numbers closer to 2 than 3. Depending on the clarity of the given water that you are in the bottom can seem deeper or shallower than it is. Sea water clarity or turbidity is affected by currents, tides and in particular by a river run off or down current of a disturbance like waves crashing into a sand/mud bank. For example every sailor knows someone who in particularly pristine waters has tried to anchor in 12m of water.
I have a suspicion that it is times like reef traversing where luck comes into play. I’m on a roll this time, I feel my luck could change.

I hear old nautical quotes like its not if but when your going to hit a reef and the million words of caution I have received online delivered in a very different spirit. I have a suspicion that the more we drive over the top of reefs and rocks and dodge them and become versed in the art of judging the colour of the underlying reef by taking into account local conditions and current turbidity levels and coupling that information with that of the depth sounder that we will become slightly better at performing this task but ultimately what I think is that we will just become less concerned.

A systematic desensitisation is what a psychologist would use to combat a phobia of dogs or heights. Move the person closer to the dog, then a little closer and a little closer and time spent not getting bitten or mauled will result in the fear becoming less intense. The ridiculous thing for us though it that the more time we spend driving over the top of semi-uncharted reefs the more likely we will be to eventually hit one and all the while becoming a little less concerned. Until we hit one. Which the old sailors tell me is a matter of when not if and people I have never met helpfully caution me to try to avoid.
Orpheus sat gloomy in his garden shed, wondering what to do, with a lump of wood and a piece of wire, and a little pot of glue. OH MUMMA… … OH MUMMA.
We are now less than a mile from where we had anchored and because we are heading downwind the “apparent wind” is minimal. Its hot. The sun we waited to hang high enough in the sky to aid in our navigation and was at the awkward height of being between the spray dodger and the canopy. Causing more sweat to run into my eyes. The sounder drops to 4 meters. 4 4 4.2 4.5 5 6 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 6 5 4 3.2 2.2 2.1 2 2 2 1.9 My heart sinks as I look down, we are going slow enough that it will be a minor yet EXTREMELY inconvenient fibreglass repair. 2 2 3 4 7. “That was a bit shallow” Elayna yells from the front with her disarmingly warm smile. She knew. “Probably some fish there” I replied. And there would have been.
Once we got into some 10’s and 15’s, the charts/gps’s now concurred on both our position and what lay ahead, that being large islands rather than inconspicuous coral heads, my anxiety abated. We then turned La Vagabonde around directly into the wind in order to hoist the main sail. Elayna manned the helm whilst I stood at the base of the mast ready to pull on the halyard at the exact time the battons were between the lazy lines. Using my weight to pull down on the halyard and Elayna taking up the slack we hoisted the main sail quite quickly and with minimal, and this is key for longevity of sail life, flapping and flogging of sail. We then eased out the head sail and spend about 30-45 mins trimming and checking and re-checking wind direction and speed and adjusting sails accordingly. This makes for as comfortable and safe a passage as possible. We had to patch the main in Cape Verde and it is quite a job to do correctly.
Elayna then set about the task of organising some lunch whilst I read up on the island that we were going to. Aves. I will have either pre-researched a destination, have a guide book or accept the fact that I have not been vigilant and if some obscure pitfall was to befall La Vagabonde that it would be solely my fault and that the information was available if only I had taken the time so seek it out. It is astounding the number of things that can get ya on a boat and there is a balance between spending your waking hours on the internet/inside a guide book and bombing around the globe irresponsibly. There didn’t appear to be any specific mouse traps in the particular anchorage we were heading to and in several technical exchanges with other sailors headed in this direction I hadn’t heard anything so it appeared as though it would be ok.
The weather was quite rough and Elayna got a little seasick so lunch was a huge effort for her. Its hot down there and rocky and virtually impossible to cook, I think, I don’t really go down unless its calm. Vegemite and biscuits. I honestly wouldn’t have asked for anything else. Brilliant.

It was not a long trip and as the wind picked up and the seas grew it cooled off a little but I still try to remember to keep my fluids up. We sailed past the drop off I had my eye on as a potential spear fishing locale and around the light house keeping my eye once again on the unfamiliar surrounds and in particular what the water was doing on the surface to tell of any submerged dangers. As we rounded the point the sea calmed and then flattened completely. I moved forward and in unison Elayna eased the headsail sheet whilst I hauled in the furling line and we rolled in the head sail. As we pointed into the wind again it was time to drop the main so Elayna turned on the engine and pointed us directly into it whilst I knocked off the halyard and scrambled forward to pull down the sail as quickly as possible and jammed it all in the bag and zipped it all up.

Now we swapped positions, as Elayna walked past she lowered the spay dodger then moved forrad to resume Rock-watch and I motored towards our anchorage, I was glad that the wind had stiffened mid morning even though it had gotten a little uncomfortable because it had bought us an hour of time and the sun was a little low already to truly expose any reef, it was probably 4:30.
Sisyphus was being eternally punished for believing that his cleverness surpassed that of Zeus.
I was a little sunburned but according to my 5th micturition of the afternoon, a favoured pass time of mine, I was well hydrated. The many nearby reefs didn’t cause too many problems as we approached, the channels in Aves could be made out quite easily. We dragged on first attempt but managed to stick the second. The transition from sail mode to home base mode ensued with all of the decorative and superfluous exigence of one of our new avian amigos busily circling above. Whilst this was occurring I looked at the outboard. I sat down and stared at it for a time.

I fucken hate our outboard. Mercury. Perhaps I had unconsciously been blaming this engine for Elaynas previous bout with Ciguaterra even though the biomagnification involved was ostensibly of dianoflagelates rather than heavy metals and it turned out to be (probably) Chicangunya the mosquito born virus rather than Ciguaterra which both have remarkably similar symptoms. We still aren’t sure. I internalised my dislike of our malfunctioning, ironically heavy Mercury and resigned myself to the task ahead taking comfort in my silent avowal to be less gentle than I perhaps should be during the mounting procedure. The very same avowal made during the aformentioned breaking of the screwer handle thing.

Whilst dreaming of a catamaran with davit arms that would raise and lower a tender in seconds I unscrewed the outboard from its mount and manhandled it onto the tender. At least, I thought, I’m not an Egyptian trying to build the Pyramids without having first invented the wheel. Trying to push a gigantic block up a wetted slope to drop in place on the Pyramid only to walk down the bottom and start pushing another block of stone up the ramp again.
Once home base was set up again I tried to start the outboard for 15 mins. The most delicate game I have ever played trying to coax this fickle engine into life. The perfect mix of throttle, fuel, accelerator and air followed by an incongruous and earth shattering revving until some insane per minute number is reached, a quick pause before as fast as the hand can move dropping the tiller accelerator into neutral then into gear in the hopes it not dying. Clunking forwards Elayna picked herself off the floor and started filming once the outboard had heated up and started behaving itself.

This place was beautiful. Birds everywhere. We settled into our new location, burned around and really enjoyed ourselves. Elayna had on one of her new swimsuits and looked quite fetching. Dinner was easy on anchor and my only concern was that if the wind swung during the night we would hit a reef so I got up twice when the wind blew up to make sure. The next day we caught a few lobster, went from home base into sail mode again, wrestled the outboard and set sail for Bonaire.
I make note of it in the movie but by far the most different thing for us and most interesting thing occurred in Bonaire. We have sailed over reef and to islands before, broken things and checked into a new country. In Bonaire we kept getting recognised. It is usually really cool, someone will come and say hi, we will chat for a bit and amazingly they usually offer us something like a car or a house! What the hell is going on? These amazing people at bare minimum try to help me with some jobs on La Vagabonde like drive me to refill our gas bottles, offer opinions on our misfiring gas stove or guide me on the intricacies of marine electronics. Overwhelmingly helpful I suppose would be the sentiment at the moment. It pretty much mitigates the inherent difficulty in performing rudimentary yet specific nautical tasks in a foreign country.

I can’t thank these people enough for making our myriad of jobs/problems surmountable if not easy. Muchas gracias.

Comments 36

  1. Not surprised you’re getting recognized – your YouTube views are becoming respectable. Keep on having fun!

    1. Hi R & E,
      I am also living my dream. In 1992 saw the boat I dreamed of at a boat show (Pacific Seacraft Orion)….but living in mountains of two states in USA, was content to do lake sailing with occasional trailering to distant large bays & sound & Atlantic for week at a time…plus some chartering in Caribbean. So went thru 8 sailboats, but in 2015 moved to southwest Florida. After 6 months, got my dream boat, a 1983 model from southwest Mexico. Now in boatyard doing many things to make it great….a quality built blue water yacht just needs much exterior cosmetic work. Named her Sea Spirit….had the word Spirit in 5 boats….but this one will go to SEA. Enjoy your videos and writings. I hope to also post some videos on you tube after learning how.
      Best wishes,
      Jim & Eileen (married 1970, started sailing together 1982)

  2. Finally famous Riley – a childhood ambition achieved ! Sooo much better than being Sam Newman!
    Those caves were insane. Really enjoying the underwater filming.
    love from us here stuck at home

    1. Post

      Kim I presume? I did not want to be famous! and Sammy is probably the most tragically misunderstood character in modern Australian media.

  3. I couldn’t even watch you crawling through the cave. Too claustrophobic for me. Liked the rest of the movie.

    The trip from Aruba to San Blas off the coast of Venezuela and Colombia was the most exciting sailing I have ever done. 35-40 kts of wind off the starboard quarter. Big rollers just about cresting on us all day and night for three days. Fastest 500 plus miles we ever did.

  4. Sigh…..Bloody hot and dry in Perth right now, and its a Monday, back at work after a weekend at Rotto……So…..Thanks for the Video, was very refreshing, and well needed!!!!! Loved the caves, be sure to try and get to the Yucatan one day!

  5. Farkin jealouse don’t change, u guys rock. On a serious note what do you recommend a cat or a lady like La vaga forgetting about price difference your thoughts would be hugely appreciated .

    1. Post
      1. After years of sailing mono, we’re chartering a cat out of Martinique next week so looking forward to comparing the two. As you say Riley, easily stowing the tender seems like a big plus on a cat.
        Great vids, enjoyed seeing you at places we’ve visited in the past and glad you called in at Saba, often overlooked.
        Best wishes from Cornwall

  6. Love to hear all these details Riles, sometimes the images make it all look too easy 😉 how fantastic to meet some of the lovely people ‘following’ you. All the best, can’t wait for the big 3.0. Xoxo

  7. When you get fed up (literally) of eating fish try making a marinade out of Marmite/Vegemite – makes the fish taste very beefy! Great in caseroles/ stews as well.

  8. Before I read this I made note of the make of outboard and thought to myself, “Is that one a heap of junk like all the other Mercs?” Honda, Tohatsu/Nissan, Yamaha. All better.

  9. Riley and Elayna
    The videos and stories are fantastic.
    You two are fearless, although that cave was very cool, it looked a bit risky.
    I love how well the two of you get along. I think my wife and I would be a bit grumpy
    after months together 24/7. We were once asked want was our secret to 35 years of marriage,
    my response was, I work a lot.
    I am also impressed by your video production skills, have you had any training before starting the show.

    I will throw out a request, can we see more of the day-to-day chores you mentioned in your letter.
    Life on a sailboat looks great, and I am regretfully that I did not buy one when I lived in Miami Florida.
    Maybe when I retire.

    Cheers and keep the videos coming, I check for a new one every day.

    Ron Meyer
    Indianapolis, Indiana

  10. Perhaps ditch the outboard and go with a rowing tender instead? Good workout and no mechanical issues to worry about!

  11. Hi there,

    What a wunderfull adventure you have. You passed by a ship you can find on this site
    The designer of that boat did so in accordance with Jacques Cousteau.
    When people love the sea, then they wil love nature. When they love nature then they love them selves. When there is love there is peace.

    I always get this way when I read or see something about your adventure.
    Keep it up!

  12. Dear Elayna and Riley,
    As usual a great video I loved the Stramotolites they were great. A small comment the fished are not De-evolving back to a time when they had no eyes. They are evolving to best survive in a dark environment, eyes not needed, so they are possibly evolving more acute electrical sensors to find find prey, and I think populations such as these tend to live longer and lose color pigment. . .
    I agree with Ron I like to see what you have to do to keep the boat going…..Is the rudder fix holding out? You guys are living a dream many of us would like to do, keep it up take care….Brian in London


  14. Omg. I hated my outboard for same reason (Suzuki 10). I singlehanded my 44 all over NW coast of n America. The outboard was very challenging as a singleton. But whenever I had guests, I’d use the halyard & this made it less of a life threat. Good luck with that. Also – don’t jump!!

  15. Hi Elayna n Riley,

    Absolutely love your lifestyle and outlook on life… totally enjoy your videos. Please continue to share!

    “Not all those who wander are lost;” (JRR Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings)

    Love from Long Island, New York
    Ron Marcisak

  16. Hey Riley, how is the Merc behaving since the check over?

    Just food for thought.. Weaver makes a very unobtrusive tilting davits that will work on your boat. They seem pretty reasonable as far a cost goes. this system along with the tilting OB motor mount is available at defender for around $900.00.

    Motor Mount:

  17. Your commentary really enhances the video.

    Twenty years ago I threw our tender outboard over the head of my mate in the dingy to the bottom off of Newport R.I. Anger gives one incredible strength!
    We dove for it the next day and winched it onboard for the local trash man. Sounds like your outboard must be a relative of that one.
    Elayna is really a good sport to do things like crawling through those caves. I would think she would be concerned about her scratching the heck out of her legs?

    Stay safe,

  18. You two are living the dream, I always enjoy your vids, they are refreshing and lighthearted. You both just seem to take it all in stride no worries! One thing I thought was worth mentioning in case you didn’t already know was when you purchase fuel for the outboard buy the highest octane available and make sure you don’t get fuel with anything more than 10 % ethanol ( e10). Ethanol based fuels will absorb water and are hard on motor internals, rubber hoses and plastic engine components, acting more like a solvent that will clog fuel filters and carbs and eventually destroy your outboard. If it’s possible, purchase a fuel stabilizer when refueling, this will at least lengthen the time before the fuel loses it’s quality. Storing the outboard with a full tank will also limit condensation when the motor is stored for long periods in between use. I imagine buying any fuel at all is challenging at times and your choices are limited but I hope this helps.
    Anyhow I look forward to watching more of your videos and wish you safe travels and smooth sailing! Cheers!

  19. Loving the quality of the videos, you are just getting better and better!

    Always a good day when they turn up in my inbox, except for the feelings of intense jealousy!

    I think what differentiates you is that there is always an interesting sidelight to the sailing. The story about the caves, while claustrophobic, was well worth watching, even if the rest of the video had not been (but of course it was).

    Keep them coming, pleeease!

  20. Loved the blog, article or what do we call these ramblings on the inter webs these days? The best part of this is its your choice. Live life and what it throws at you or sit in your abode and watch TV. I choose to live life. So what you hit a reef……….. Fix it. Move on and get with it. I kind of agree with the previous poster, get rid of the out board and row. That’s my opinion and I’m sticking with it. If you were running paying passengers to the bar and back that’s a different story. Less fuel and lots less problems. But……you need to have the right dingy for rowing and an inflatable is not it. Great for diving and hauling food but not much else. Has Elayna tried the patches for sea sickness? I have had great luck with them with folks that need a quick fix. Take them off when not needed or as soon as conditions allow.

  21. Hi Riley and Elayna I have finally watched all your episodes and plan on keeping updated on your adventures! What got me hooked was the freedom and laid back life you two live. I like how you guys truly film everything as it really makes me feel like I’m there. Keep on sailing my friends! Cheers
    Mark C.

  22. Again another great video and story of what’s happening…..Riley, I know what you mean about outboards…..ugh. I have had my share of problems thru out the years. If you don’t need to go fast I suggest a smaller outboard, they are a lot easier to lift and smaller to store. And with the cost of a bigger one you could get 2 and keep one as a spare……remember a sailor should be redundant on several items of importance…Keep on sailing, smiling, and loving life as you do. You both are Great. I, as always, will be looking in my inbox for another adventure…..God bless, Dave

  23. Hi there,

    We just found your blog! Our little family of 3 will soon be getting a sailboat and cruising the Bahamas. Right now though, as far as we’ve made it in the process is to move out of our house, rent it out, and move into my wife’s Mother’s house. Yep – you heard right… we’re temporarily living with the In-Laws to make the whole Sailing Adventure come together.

    Also we did go ahead and set up a blog of our own. It’s not as good-looking as yours yet, but it’s coming along. We think it will be a lot better once we can actually blog about, you know, sailing – haha. Anyways, our blog is over at if you care to check it out.

    We’ll continue following along with your blog! Always nice to read about other sailor’s adventures to keep our spirits up and stay excited.

    Take care!

    Ben, Tambi, and Molly
    Sailboat Story

  24. Riley,
    Contact between aluminium alloys and steel will cause electrolytic corrosion, it’s a bitch but can be controlled. The product I use is called “Duralac” the label describes it as ‘anti-corrosive joining compound’, ‘use on masts, winches, aerials, batteries, bolts, screws, rivets, etc.’ I’ve used it for decades and in my experience it works.


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