A scuffle seems to be brewing between Colombia and Ecuador/Venezuela. From what we hear the Colombian government hit the FARC but crossed the border into Ecuador doing it. Ecuador began shouting foul and now Chavez is grandstanding as well. Not what you like to hear just before transiting the waters at the Venezuela Colombia border.
The trip from Curacao to Aruba is a bit further than the hop to Curacao from Bonaire so we began getting the boat ready at 06:30 this morning. It is about 90 nautical miles from hook to hook and we were shooting for an arrival before 17:00. As can happen in a crowded anchorage the boat in front of us was floating on top of our anchor. They were helpful though and when we hailed them the master got up and hauled on his anchor chain in his underwear until we could bring our anchor up.
We motored out of Spanish Water in the quiet of early morning. It made me think how much of a difference one transit of an area makes to your knowledge and confidence when piloting. No matter how much you read about a place it never amounts to more than a sliver of the experience of actually passing through even just once. You still stay all over the sounder and keep a careful watch but you are in a very different place the second pass. The entrance to Spanish Water is particularly beautiful and I appreciated it much more on the way out.
It was a scattered cloud day, as it has been for most of the last month or so. We put up the main and rolled out the jib but didn't have enough wind to kill the starboard engine and still make our arrival target.
As we came up to Willemstad a rather large USCG cutter announced itself. Bush's answer to Chavez threatening Colombia? I know they don't like folks passing close in the homeland so I asked if they minded if we stayed on the same tack passing just off their stern. Not a problem came the courteous reply.
The seas became mixed as we got out from behind Curacao with some south and west in the wave pattern. It had also become pretty overcast with clouds streaming off of Curacao. We just kept motor sailing at 8-10 knots, put in a jibe and after nine hours of fairly eventless sailing we reached Oranjestad well up the industrial coast of Aruba.
The port of Oranjestad is more or less the bit of coast running along behind an extended sandy reef area. You can enter from the north or the south but the big cruise ships seem to come and go to the north. Oranjestad is a working port and has a small container facility and room for about five cruise ships. The bad news is that this is where you are required to tie up your little plastic boat to clear in.
Upon arrival you must announce yourself to the harbor control so that they can tell you where to go and ensure that you don't get creamed by a tanker or the like. After attaching to the 6 foot high concrete dock you await immigration whom the harbor master has already called for you. After immigration you walk over to customs to clear there. Once in you get permission to leave again and make way to the Renissance Marina, which is about the only place to park a yacht in Aruba.
The marina is nice though and the staff are great. There are some skinny spots in the marina area that deeper draft vessels will have to creep around. The swell gets into the marina a bit.
If you like being in the middle of things, this is your marina. It is pretty much the center of Aruba. Restaurants everywhere within walking distance, a casino across the street, and as a Renaissance guest you have access to the private island and the hotel facilities.
Since we started looking into the whole circumnavigation thing, Hideko and I have had a fun time trying to find Asian participants in the cruising world. You don't find too many. About a year ago some Internet friends on a Switch catamaran introduced us, remotely to Wakamizu and crew, a Japanese flagged and crewed Lagoon 470. They are bound for Japan from Spain. Hideko had kept in touch with the skipper and over the last few weeks our courses have been converging. A week or so ago we decided to try to meet up in Aruba.
As we motored into the marina we saw Wakamizu for the first time. They were not only in the best spot in the marina but they had saved up the spot on the end of the T right in front of them. They were waiting on the dock to help us tie up. It was so great to meet them after all of the time chatting over the Internet. We shared a bottle of champagne and stayed up late (for us anyway) sharing sailing stories and talking about the places we'd been and where we were going.
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.