Fw: 12:31N 70:02W Aruba & Curacao

Conor & Marion Wall
Fri 4 Feb 2011 07:28
We set off from Bonaire to Curacao at 1000 on Sunday 30th January. The distance is only 35 miles or so and we arrived and had anchored in Spaanse Water, a natural harbour to the south west of the island, by 1630.
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This exclusive hotel on our starboard side entering and just inside on our port side this floating party bar
We once again waited to do the customs and immigration formalities until the following morning. Sorry we bothered, a lot of people do not bother. Firstly we were obliged to catch a bus or pay about $20 for a taxi each way to get to the town of Willemstad which does not look very far on the map but took us almost an hour by the time we waited for the bus etc.
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This is what it looks like in the closed position completely blocking the entrance to the harbour.
Here it is being opened to let ships and ferries out.
The town of Willemstad is quite impressive and there is this amazing floating bridge that seems like it has been there forever. It swings open, using what looks like a ships motor and propeller to drive one end of the bridge while the other end is fixed to the wall. It opens to let the large ships in and out and this is quite often every day. No vehicles use it now but once upon a time it was the only way from one side of this harbour entrance to the other without making a very long journey around the harbour.
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Some of the pretty buildings around the town.
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Customs was a pleasure and over in a very short time due to the fact that they subscribe to the computer system that I mentioned in an earlier blog. Nice air conditioned office nice location and friendly staff. What a contrast from the immigration authorities that I had to visit next. Up to now whenever we have done the clearance procedure it has been necessary for only the skipper to show up with the documents and passports etc. On this occasion I had to cross the 1000 year old bridge and walk for what seemed forever, getting lost in the process, and finally getting wrong directions from a dental practitioner. I then had to go through a security check to get in to the area where immigration was and finally find the office which was not marked by any signs. Joined the queue of people before me and all this to be told that Marion needed to be with me. She was shopping, what else. Off I went in search of my wife and eventually both of us were in the office. At customs they allowed us to check in and check out at the same time. This saves us two trips to their offices and on some of the islands that we have visited in the past, this could mean a half a day of waiting around etc. We had not intended staying for a long time in Curacao and you usually get 48 hours to leave the islands after you have done the paperwork. But no this immigration officer was digging her heels in and insisted we come back the following day to check out. After lots of nice words and pleads we were so fed up that we practically told her that she could keep her country and that we would leave immediately. She was not happy as now she had no choice but to check us out and almost refused to do it. She insisted that we were gone before the deadline of noon the following day which she revised downwards from the usual 24 to 48 hours that you normally get.
We did in fact stay an extra day despite her and provisioned the boat at the local supermarket, free bus included. We did not however tour the island but had not intended to anyway as the town of Willemstad is the main attraction on Curacao.
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Some of the pretty little houses around the harbour of Spaanse
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We left Curacao on the evening of Tuesday the 1st of February 2011 with the fading light for a night passage to Aruba, a distance of some 80 miles. Once again this was a difficult passage to plan so that we would arrive in the daylight. We wanted to be out of Spaanse harbour before dark as the navigating within is tricky, hence our leaving time of 1730 hours but the passage to Aruba was quicker than expected even though we sailed only on the reefed main for a large part of it.
We arrived at Oranjestad harbour in the dark and picked our way in through the reef to the inner harbour which was tiny and with very little room to manoeuvre and furthermore, no places to tie alongside to. We were tired from the overnight passage and just wanted to drop our anchor so that is exactly what we did, in the only free spot in the harbour. Less than two hours into my sleep I woke to a lot of activity outside and stuck my head out of the hatch to have a look. Another massive cruise ship had arrived and the local tour boats were gathering to take the passengers on trips to the outlying reefs and beaches. We were in the middle of it. Eventually one of them requested that we move and it was at this point that we learned that the customs and immigration were no longer in this port but were now situated in a commercial port some 4 or 5 miles back in the direction we had come from. Furthermore we were obliged to take our boat there for inspection, if required.
The little harbour is to the right of the breakwater and we were anchored somewhere close to the building opposite.
We had been warned about the tough rules on this island and that you should report no less than two hours after arrival so we thought we might be fined for not complying. We motored back the 4 miles or so but we stayed inside the reef the whole way back. There was quite a breeze blowing and as we could retract the centreplate if it got too shallow we felt happy enough even though our chart of this area was a little dubious. Better than ploughing into a head wind with lumpy seas. We did find some shallow water but managed to clear the shallows with only minor keel retraction. On arrival at the industrial harbour we were directed to a dodgy looking concrete quay wall that had some manky tyres and spiky bits here and there. There was a strong breeze blowing and by now we were both very tired not having had much sleep. We tied up behind a Venezuelan trading boat and Marion stayed with the Toucan while I went across to the office. Formalities were straight forward and no inspection required. By the time I got back to Toucan another Venezuelan trading boat had tied up behind us and was about to rip our pushpit off or at least damage the transom. We were lucky. These people just do not care. We take our boats very seriously and do everything to avoid damaging ours and other peoples boats but so many of the work boats out here do not give a damn.
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Wherever you find cruise ships you find fancy shopping malls. This boat trip takes you to the centre of one.
Formalities completed we set off back to a nice anchorage close to the tiny harbour where the massive cruise liner towered over everything. The anchorage was lovely, shallow water white sand good anchor holding and a nice bar on the beach. We slept well. A very pretty town was explored later in the day and the following day but once again we did not tour as we under some pressure to get to Panama.
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One of the rare occasions to use Wi-fi and Skype.               The beautiful anchorage, Toucan in the right of the picture. 
We left Aruba for Cartagena on the Friday the 4th February for what was to be one of the hardest journeys of our sailing career.