We dinghied over to the Fisherman's marina this morning to look for transport into town. We ended up taking a bus from the circle a short walk away. The locals here are amazing, much as in Bonaire, they speak Papiamento, Dutch, Spanish and often English. With a little help from the locals we ended up in Punda, the south bank of Williamstad.
Our first order of business today was to clear into Curacao. While we always try to respect the laws of the countries we visit I must admit that we have found very few countries that care if you, or even give you the ability to, comply with the strict nature of the clearance procedures set forth. In fact the customs and immigration requirements often conflict. Only the captain can come ashore but the entire crew must be present types of things.
I know cruisers who press the officials for proper procedures, paperwork and promptness, these generally get hammered. There are also those who never clear in, these almost never have problems. We have found that making clearance the first thing you do ashore and bringing the entire crew along seems to be a practical approach acceptable to all parties. If they ask you to come back after lunch, go have lunch. If they are closed, enjoy your day and come back tomorrow. The bigger the boat the more detail oriented you need to be and if you are commercial (i.e. 120 foot motor yacht on charter) you should follow things to the letter. Most places just want to get the little pleasure boats out of their hair as quickly as possible. Exceptions would be the USA, back water bureaucracies, and island groups that make a living off of the small yachts.
The folks in Curacao were very nice but you do have to run around a bit to hit all of the stops. First is customs, a large corner building right on the waterfront with CUSTOMS written in huge letters across the top of the building. Stinky in there for some reason, but folks were great and services was fast. Next is Immigration, located on the other shore inside the inner harbor cruise ship docking area, back under the Queen Juliana Bridge (the really high one). You cross the innovative opening/floating Queen Emma poontoon bridge to get to the other side of town.
You have to get a pass to go down into the cruise ship port but service is good. After immigration you head across to the upstairs Port Captain's office. Like Bonaire everything is free. The hassle in Curacao is that yachts are really only welcome in Spanish Water. If you want to anchor out and about you have to clear your itinerary with the Port Captain. You also need to take care about timing your clearance out because immigration keeps shorter hours than the other two offices.
Hideko and Em shopped and looked around the town while I handled the paperwork. Once complete we had a nice meal in the impressive traditional surroundings of the Governor across from the cruise ship forum entrance. We had a fun day exploring town and took a cab back to the Fisherman's marina at the end of the day.
02/27/2008, Spanish Water
We made one last trip to our favorite cafe, Brasserie Grandi, for breakfast just before clearing out today. We left our mooring around 13:00 after finishing our business ashore. It is an easy four hour sail to Curacao.
We made a slow pass by Klien Bonaire on the way out to get a good look at the little island. It is very arid on the interior, like its big brother, but has some nice beaches and, as expected, it is surrounded by nice reefy dive sites.
We were leaving the Chris Doyle Cruising Guide coverage area for the first time in a long while. The Doyle Venezuela Guide also covers Bonaire but stops there. A new guide on all three of the ABCs was published just before we left Fort Lauderdale so we would be switching to that for Curacao and Aruba. The ABC Guide is great to have and is packed with good information but it is not as well laid out as the Doyle Guides (or perhaps we're just not used to the style). You have to dig through it a bit to find the approach navigation info, which IMHO should be the first thing in every section.
We made decent time, sailing in the 8-9 knot zone on the way to Curacao. Bonaire blocks most of the seas for a good bit of the trip and just when you start to get the full Caribbean seaway affect you round Curacao and get back into the flat island lee zone.
The biggest problem sailing to Curacao from Bonaire is the rhumb line can be dead down wind. We ended up jibing our way along the route. On our last Jib we were slowly peeling off the coast with the wind 150 degrees to port apparent. I don't like to go much deeper then 150 apparent due to the jib risk and the slow down that come with running. As we waited for the angle to make the entrance to Spanish water on our final tack we noticed the tour boat Mermaid heading our way.
Klien Curacao is a small satellite island southeast of Curacao. Mermaid does day charters there out of Spanish Water. We were sailing and they were motoring in a sea way so the bearing varied a bit but they seemed to keep coming at us over time. We kept a close eye on them but assumed that being a 60 foot power vessel, they would steer a little to starboard or kick down a couple knots if need be to allow a safe crossing. We were obligated to stand on, so we did.
Phase two of the colregs kicked in as they got closer and I began to consider trying to get out of their way. The problem was they were not really keeping a constant heading. I couldn't tell if they were going to try to go in front of us or behind us. It mostly just looked like they were going to go at us. I couldn't alter to starboard because we were sailing as deep as we could get, altering to port would be a bad idea, slowing down would be tough without reefing, having no power over the wind I couldn't speed up and other than radical maneuvers (which I quietly planned) the best course seemed to be to continue to stand on. They would certainly slow a bit to let us cross, right?
We'll the new guy must have been on the helm that day. Mermaid kept coming. I got on the VHF and hailed them on 16 three times to ask their intentions and make sure that they saw us (sail 72 feet off of the water usually work) but got no reply. They obviously wanted to go to Spanish water, where we were going, so rather than delay their trip 10 seconds and slow or turn to starboard they turned to port and kept coming at us. I was astonished. We were a sail boat, to starboard, less maneuverable, and the overtaken, any of which would have required them to pass astern. When it looked like they were actually going to ram us I got the crew ready to jibe away while I yelled at their bridge (we were close enough for them to hear me). I said, "sailboat/velero!!", and pointed to the sails, then explained, "we can't turn right!".
At this point they were 20 feet off of our beam and running parallel to us but not able to actually overtake. The tourists were shouting curses at us assuming that we were just some pesky pleasure craft in their way. I was just about to give the command to jibe when a scuffle took place on the bridge deck of Mermaid. An older gentleman came on deck looking a little shocked, waved his hands in apology at us and then began shouting creatively at the wheel house. Mermaid slowed and passed behind quickly. She was up to speed and back on course in moments. The ocean would be a safer place if people were required to learn the rules of the road prior to operating a vessel (particularly a commercial one!).
The entrance to Spanish Water is rather small and very hard to make out from off shore. Fortunately we had Mermaid to show us where it was. Once we could lay the waypoint we jibed and shortly there after watched Mermaid make the entrance. The entrance can be tricky with a break either side and some shallow water about. I would not want to try it in heavy weather.
Once in the straights we took in the beautiful scenery. The edges of the waterway that winds back into Spanish Water are rocky and steep and there are some tabled mountains in the area that give the route a dramatic tone.
Once inside Spanish Water is a very large complex of bays connecting and running back in rivulets through the hills. My guess is that 80% of the cruising yachts in the ABCs are anchored in here somewhere. The main anchorage was fairly crowded but we decided to give it a try because we wanted to be close to the docks that access transportation to town and the sun was dropping. Though you would have no waves in Spanish water even in a Cat 5 hurricane the wind does blow very strongly.
We anchored once is what looked like a spot but didn't like the potential swing with the yacht to port. Our second attempt put us a little to much in the channel. Fortunately a passing dinghy with some helpful cruisers directed us to a nice spot close to the fishing boat marina. We finally set the hook that would hold us for the next week at 19:00.
Out last day in Bonaire. None of us wanted to leave but it is time to move on. The South Pacific is calling. We got in a few dives off of the back of the boat today for good measure.
We moved out of the Marina and onto one of the moorings off of town today. The moorings are $10 a night and the fee is collected by the Harbor Village Marina dockmaster by dinghy. In retrospect this is the place to be in Bonaire. The only problem is that the town pier dinghy dock is not competed yet. If it were there would be no better place to park your boat.
Access to town is still pretty easy via the Nautico dock, Yellow Submarine is near by for tank fills, all of the best restaurants are close by and you have a perfect dive site directly under your boat. Bonaire is 50Hz so we couldn't plug in at the marina and thus didn't even miss the shore power. Town can get a little noise on weekends but this simply adds to the flavor. We could have easily stayed on a mooring at Bonaire for months.
02/24/2008, Lac Baai
We traveled to the southeast side of the island today to check out the windsurfing haven. Lac Baai is a large, shallow, sand bottom mangrove bay just behind a fringing reef. It is on the windward side of the island and almost always has wind in the 20s if not the high teens. If you wipe out the water is deep enough to break your fall but shallow enough to make it easy to stand up and get going again with a beach start.
Em, Hideko, Roq and I visited the bay in the morning and watched so pros doing lessons for 12 year olds that were better than I'll ever be. We came back in the afternoon for lessons of our own.
Hideko made big strides and was riding around the bay with greatly improved control after some tips from the instructor. I was tired of raising the mast with the uphaul and came to learn one thing: how to beach start. The instructor gave me just the tips I needed and before long I was getting going with the mast in the air everytime.
The water in Lac Baai is very shallow and thus very warm. It was a great day under the sun with just the right amount of wind for us.
02/23/2008, Andrea I
We went out diving today (what a surprise). We did Em's deep dive. In a futile attempt at demonstrating the wit dulling affects of nitrogen narcosis, I asked Em to do a math problem at the surface and a similar but different problem at 100 feet. She did the math faster at 100 feet. Go figure. We had a great day diving and another tasty evening at the pizza place afterwards.
02/22/2008, Harbor Village Marina
It rained a bit today. The weather in Bonaire this time of year seems to be a bit overcast. You get some wonderful days and a lot of great afternoons but it is very windy and you can get a bit of overcast. Not a crew to fight the weather we let the dive gear get a good rinse and played Dominoes.