23 January 2018
Photo: Waterfront Willemstad
Monday morning, 15th January, we planned to leave Rodney Bay at 11:00 for the 460nm passage to Bonaire. However, that morning Gambion came into the marina. This was a kiwi family we had spoken to on the radio in Prickly Bay, Grenada and had since been swapping emails. It was good to spend an hour with them, before we cleared out, dropped our lines and headed over to the fuel dock to refuel.
We were finally on our way at 13:30, sails set wing on wing and doing reasonable speeds. The 460nm passage, our first of the season and something we will be used to by the time we reach NZ, was relatively uneventful. The second night after we had further reduced sail for a large rain squall at midnight, there was a squawking sound coming from the aft deck. Lighting up the dinghy with the spotlight revealed four sea birds settling in for the night, they finally departed at first light. There were enough large tankers and cargo ships to keep us interested and we finally saw the Southern Cross in the night sky again. We stayed 30nm off the Venezuelan islands as a safety precaution before turning to head directly to Bonaire.
We arrived in Bonaire at the end of our track at 13:30, exactly 72 hrs after leaving St Lucia. Brian was excited to have achieved the exact same finish as start time. Bonaire is a low lying island and having turned the corner to sail down the east side, we had the breeze but no wave action. We continued to sail around to the main mooring area, you are not permitted to anchor in Bonaire, avoiding the kite surfers on the way. As we reached the mooring area, there were no moorings available, you cannot pre-book them. We radioed the marina only to be told there was a fishing competition on and they were full, as were all the other marinas. Everyone we had spoked to and the cruising guides all indicated there was not an issue with the moorings as there were plenty of them. We asked what our options were, the marina guy said our only option was to sail to the island Curacao, 25nm away. Sailing to Curacao would have us arriving after sunset, and the cruising guides all said the anchorage should not be entered after dark. What to do? We had a close look at the charts and there was a bay that could be entered after dark, so on went Dol’s motor, out went the sails and we headed to Curacao, (pronounced Cure a sow), with as much pace as we could. We may or may not get back to Bonaire depending on the weather as it is in to the stronger trade winds.
We arrived at Fuik Bay and entered using the leading markers. The bay was enclosed by a low wall, very peaceful and calm, we saw turtles in the bay the following morning. We hoisted the Curacao and yellow quarantine flags, had dinner and went to bed for a good sleep. The following morning we headed around to Spanish Waters, the main anchorage. Spanish Waters is an inland water way with a very narrow entrance with a large resort at the entrance. We had decided to book into the Seru Boca marina so made our way round the appropriate arm and tied up. Seru Boca marina is part of the Santa Barbara Golf Resort, which has an 18 hole golf course, full resort complex complete with 4 restaurants, it was the resort we saw on our way into Spanish Waters. The main security gate is a half hour walk from the marina, everyone is checked in and out. Although remote, we found the people to be very friendly and helpful. On the first day we were given a ride to the main road where we caught the local bus into Willemstad for Customs and Immigration clearance.
Punda, the centre of town has a wonderful mix of candy coloured buildings and a very busy harbour. We first went to the Customs Building where Brian said the staff were probably the friendliest and most helpful he had met. From there we walked across the Queen Emma Floating Pontoon Bridge to clear Immigration. The Queen Emma Bridge is a pedestrian only bridge that crosses St Anna Bay linking Punda with Otrobanda and hinges open to allow the large container and tanker ships egress to the harbour. The bridge was originally opened in 1888 and fully restored in 2006. As we had lunch, we watched a large container ship come down the harbour and the bridge move, the ship does not stop so if pedestrians are on the bridge when it needs to move they get a ride across the harbour.
We hired a car for a few days to explore the island. On Saturday after the usual stops at chandleries, we went to the Maritime Museum. We watched an interesting video of Curacao’s history: Arawak Indians first inhabited Curacao around 500 AD, then came Conqueror’s, the slave trade, British Rule, Dutch rule and finally independence in 2010. The flag represents the sky, sea and the 2 islands with the 5 points on the stars representing the 5 continents its inhabitants are from.
The fresh fruit and vegetable market stalls are mostly owned by Venezuelans. Curacao with its close proximity to Venezuela has close trading ties and given the current issues in Venezuela many of the migrant workers are attempting to stay.
There is artwork throughout Punda, much of it colourful. From Punda we drove out to Willebrodus to the flamingo lookout, with low expectations. We were pleasantly surprised as the flamingos were close and you could actually see them. It was then onto the plantation house, Jan Kok, which is the studio for the art work of Nena Sanchez, a well-known local artist. Again her work is bright and vivid, sadly she passed away a few years ago. Back to the boat to get spruced up for dinner at Shore, the nicest of the resort restaurants. All dining is outdoors at the water’s edge, although being dark you could not see much.
Sunday we drove to the west coast of the island and visited Christoffel Park and Savonet museum. The park has many walking trails of varying degrees of difficulty and also a couple of driving trails. We drove around, stopping at various lookouts and points of interest including Caves with Indian drawings. It was then back to the boat for some boat jobs that needed doing and a relaxing evening.
Tuesday we were back in Willemstad early to clear out with Customs and Immigration, as we are heading back to Bonaire on Wednesday. There were 4 cruise ships in port, 2 of which were inside the Queen Emma floating pontoon bridge
The weather forecasts indicate the breezes are dropping and with us having to go back into the Trade Winds we did not want too lively a forecast. Given our experience when we initially went to Bonaire, we are taking no chances and have a confirmed marina booking.