We cleared out today and spent our last evening walking around the charming downtown area of Willemstad. The Renaissance hotel on the north side of the harbor entrance has made nice use of the old fort walls in their construction. We enjoyed some tasty crepes and ice cream on the ground of the fortress and spent our last hours in Curacao looking out over the sea as we walked along the fort walls.
We had a big list to cover today prior to clearing out tomorrow. We had to get Roq and exam, pick up our mail from the US and do some last minute shopping.
The Vet we called was Dr. Geus. We met him at Sarifundy and he did the full exam and helth cert while we sat around and had colas. It was really wonderful and reasonably priced.
Poor Roq has had so many of these exams. Unfortunately many countries post requirements for a proper health certificate minted within the last 30 or 14 days or even from the last port in some cases. We have been advised that Roq (13) never needs another rabies shot, they simply will do no good anymore. Not that he can get Rabies, the contrary, he has had 13 years of vaccinations and can in no way come down with the disease at this point short of a fluke and the shots are making no difference.
This is all irrelevant to the bureaucrats passing legislation however. Oddly, in practice, no one has ever given Roq a second look or asked for any of our pet papers except Nevis and Kitts (who were maniacal about it). We have always declared him at customs but they just stamp the forms and that's that. We don't look for trouble in this department but we do keep Roq in the highest state of health and inoculation possible regardless. From what I hear Australia and Europe will be Nevis and Kitts all over again and then some.
After visiting with the doc we attempted to secure our mail. As I suspected the free ports of the ABCs are not so free of hassle when receiving one's mail. We always have a DVD or two in our mail and this really seems to confound the customs folks. After quite a go round I convinced them that the invoice Saint Brenden's Isle put on the box was all that we had and informed them that they could go through the packages one by one assessing their taxes as suited as long as we had our mail by tomorrow. They threatened to charge the video game fee on the DVDs if I didn't produce the invoice. I told them again that I had no invoice, that this was simply my mail, like any other American would get in their mail box and that if it meant getting my mail they were more than welcome to charge me the Video Game import rate (11% or something). That seemed to stump them, left with no other threats they agreed to charge me the max rate and have the mail ready by tomorrow afternoon.
In retrospect the only place we have ever been able to forward our mail with a few things from Amazon in tow without hassle has been the BVI. We haven't tried everywhere but the mail in the BVI was delivered right to our boat at Leverick Bay no fees and no questions asked. As crowded as it is the BVI has much to recommend it.
We shopped a bit in the area of the FedEx outlet back behind the main port of Willemstad and discovered a Sushi restaurant. It was alright by Japanese standards but quite a welcome treat for us.
Hideko and Em went out to explore the beach areas today while I worked on our passage plan. We plan to leave Curacao soon and then hit Aruba. After a short stay in Aruba we will then sail straight through to Cartagena Colombia.
It should take us about 48 hours and I have not been able to find a commercial Colombian Cruising Guide. There are some neat write ups on the net but from a navigational stand point I'm relying on Chris Parker's weather routing, the US Sailing Directions (targeted at big ships) and the paper and electronic charts we have. We have some friends in Cartagena now so they have been a big help also. We have been looking forward to visiting Cartagena for a long time so it is an exciting trip to plan.
03/01/2008, Spanish Water
Curacao is the best place to work on your boat in the ABCs from what I can tell. They have a small (but bigger than Bonaire's) Budget Marine, a good Napa and a lot of big ship services that can help in a pinch.
We took the bus the the area of town where Budget and Napa are located and picked up some parts we needed. After that foray we decided that a rental car might be in order. Things are far apart in Curacao and you will miss much if you stay holed up in Spanish Water.
We ended up trying Limestore Resort for the rental. The owner answered the phone and agreed to pick us up (quite a concession give our location half way across the island at the ex-Applebees restaurant). The car we ended up with was rough but perfect for bombing about Curacao. The rate was cheap and it was more like borrowing a car from a friend than checking out at Hertz. No detailed inventory of scratches on the car (it would have been hard to discern new from old) or up front payments.
The car, though running on its spare tire the whole time, served us perfectly and we saw much more of Curacao with it.
The Limestone resort is a neat little place with a small private beach on one of the deep fingers of Spanish Water. They have several little cottages and it is a place I would happily stay if I were to come back to Curacao by plane. Not fancy, but quaint and very homey and friendly. They have some boats and can arrange dive trips and lots of other excursions.
02/29/2008, Spanish Water
There are many neat places around Spanish Water. The main anchorage in the north west provides good access to transportation and the main cruiser hangouts in the harbor.
The south anchorage, my favorite, is quiet and less windy and also right across from the beach and dive shop (pictured). Other areas have their advantages as well.
Many cruiser hang outs have a special place that caters to the needs of the sailing wayfarer. In Isla Margarita it is Juan's Marina. In Curacao it is Sarifundy. At Sarifundy cruisers can grab food, get a drink, send and receive mail, do laundry, get all of the necessary info on clearance/transportation and provisioning along with various other conveniences.
Hideko and Em took a free trip to the market from Sarifundy's this morning and I met them later in the day for a nice light lunch and some cold drinks.
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.