A time comes when you know you need to go. You get some kind of ‘island fever’ and start feeling restless. You miss that cocktail of freedom, fear and excitement you only experience when sailing.
After months spent with our new friends in Bequia, playing pétanque and tennis, hiking and having way too many sundowners…saying goodbye wasn’t easy. But we had to!
Our next destination – Curaçao
Curaçao belongs to the so called ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao). Geographically speaking, they’re not in that order; the first island you encounter coming from East is Bonaire, Curaçao is in the middle, and Aruba is the last of the three. I’m specifying this for a reason, other than just being pedantic :): while sailing east to west is quite a pleasant experience, I wouldn’t say the same about the opposite. Let’s say you come from East and decide to stop directly in Curaçao, like we did; going to Bonaire from there is no cup of tea! With 2.5/3 metres waves in your face and the wind on the nose, even a relatively short journey from one island to the other needs to be carefully planned.
Coming from Bequia, our trip to Curaçao was roughly 460 NM, which at an average speed of 6 knots, meant 3 nights and 4 days of downwind sailing. We took it easy and sailed most of the time with only the jib on. When the wind was lighter, 15 to 20 knots, we would have both the jib and the code 0 open.
The sailing was very enjoyable, despite the big waves (2.5 metres). Luckily the period between them (the interval between one and the other) was such that they didn’t bother us too much, that’s also because they were coming from the back!
Sailing through tricky waters
In the past, there have been incidents of boats navigating close to the Venezuelan coast, who had been boarded and robbed, so we were a bit afraid at the idea of sailing in tricky waters. And when I say a bit, I mean I would freak out any time a boat, especially of fishermen, appeared to be chasing us. Mentally, I would go through all the best hiding places on the boat (wrapped up inside the code 0, or the second jib, inside one of the spacious cupboards containing electric cables, under the mattress in our cabin, right next to the leaky boiler Gc keeps fixing!)
I would have preferred to wait and travel in a convoy, but we couldn’t find other sailors leaving at the same time, so we decided to go anyway. I mean Gc did….:) I’m ok with procrastinating!
Our tricks not to be tricked!
During the navigation, we kept at a great distance from the Venezuelan coast, and turned the AIS off at night, from time to time. Luckily, the passage was uneventful, and we only met loads of cargo ships and few fishing boats on our way. The first night was quite challenging as the area off the Grenadines was very trafficked.
We kept seeing one cargo after the other on the radar, and needed to make sure we wouldn’t get hit by any! The other two nights instead, we were almost completely on our own, no one else around except for a great full moon which made the crossing quite magical.
Gc and I did 3 hour shifts starting around 9pm and finishing at 9am. After the first one and half days, we got into the routine and didn’t feel tired anymore. Gc spent most of the crossing experimenting with a new way to make focaccia dough, which doesn’t require kneading, and baked one tray after the other.
I spent time reading books, memorising poems and eating a lot of focaccia, while Gc perfected his technique :)!
“Bonbini Dushi” – Welcome to Curaçao sweetheart!
When we finally got to Curaçao, it was noon. Entering Spanish Waters, the main anchorage, was quite an experience. After months in the Grenadines, we were immediately hit by the change of scenery; luxurious villas scattered along Santa Barbara beach and golf resort, super yachts moored along the pontoon. We were not surprised to find out this is one of the richest and most expensive parts of Curaçao.
Spanish Waters’ anchorage though is definitely not one of our favourites. It is very crowded, the water is muddy, and it’s quite dangerous to swim around because of the motor yachts constantly passing by at full speed, and with loud music on. No chance of them seeing or hearing you if you happen to be swimming in the wrong place. A few weeks before our arrival, a boy had lost his life there, run over by one of these speed boats.
At weekends, there is more traffic here than in central London!
The only dinghy dock where you can leave the tender is small and rather neglected. You’ll see dinghies parked in second and third row and getting off yours can be quite challenging. The only positive note is that there is a security service, so less chances of your dinghies being stolen.
Despite this premise, we loved Curaçao and actually had a great time there! After 30 minutes on the island, we had already experienced first hand how nice, kind and genuinely happy to help, locals are.
The day we arrived and anchored in Spanish Waters after 4 days out at sea, we needed to go to Punda (the town centre) to check in into the island. This is a rather time consuming process as the customs and immigration offices are far from Spanish Waters, and they’re not close to each other. We read that it normally takes up to 3 hours to complete the check in.
Our case, though, was quite different! After leaving the dinghy at the gated dock, we asked for information about the buses going into town. The guard standing close by told us that they were not very frequent, that we had just missed one, and would have to wait at least an hour for the next. Reading disappointment on our tired faces he added, “wait a second”…and stopped a car about to exit the parking area. After a quick chat with the driver, we were welcomed aboard a comfortable Toyota Yaris and offered a lift all the way to the Customs office!!
Thirty minutes later, we were on a hunt for the immigration office, which was proving very difficult to find…we asked for information and… there we go…. another kind driver offered to take us there! He dropped us in front of the immigration office and waved us bye!
Last but not least, once we had completed all the check in procedure, we mentioned we didn’t know how to find our way back, and one of the immigration officers offered to give us a lift back to the town centre; 3 lifts in less than 2 hours! What a welcome!
Once in the beautiful town centre, we found a nice bar by the canal, and sipped the first cold beer in 4 days, which tasted incredibly great. Around us, the colourful building of Punda’s promenade, which looks a bit like a little Amsterdam, with Queen Emma’s bridge (“The old swinging lady”) opening in front of our eyes to let a boat through.
Our time in Curaçao
You know you’ve been too long in the Grenadines when you get overexcited when stepping inside a Carrefour! When we first went to the big Carrefour inside Sambil shopping mall, I felt overwhelmed at the sight of so much food!
There was even a deejay playing music in the middle of it!
Curaçao is incredible when it comes to shopping, it has several shopping centres, all kind of shopping districts and an incredible variety of produce. Fruits and vegetables are so abundant and cheap!
The first week went by running around to buy boat parts, fixing things, doing shopping (we bought new cushions and carpets for Gladan, bedsheets, clothes and whatnot, after months of deprivation :)) and getting Gladan ready for our new guest, Beatrice, GC’s niece who would fly in to join us for a few weeks.
Thanks to Beatrice we had a chance to feel on holiday again and spent a few days exploring the island. We went to the north-west part of the island, which is plenty of beautiful beaches, bars and turtles popping their heads out from time to time in Playa Blanca.
Locals are very relaxed and there is a great blend of cultures, religions, and languages.
We found a pirate in Curaçao!
“Nay nay” – Jo would say in between a cigarette and a sip of the fourth cup of our espresso coffee. ‘This coffee is amazing, Señorita!’
Jo is a legend around Spanish Waters and does a bit of everything. He was recommended to us by another sailor who mentioned he was a good mechanic – although a bit eccentric… Originally from Holland, he’s been living in Curaçao for the past 20 years and knows everyone there – especially beautiful women!
A few times he had to start his engine in a hurry and quickly sail away to escape from some very upset husbands. “One morning, I was drinking my coffee – filtered coffee, not even a tiny bit as good as your espresso, Señorita– he started telling me the story- when this woman I had only met the night before…you know how it is…showed up with her suitcase and told me, “Jo do you have an engine on your boat?” Yes of course, I do! “Then turn it on, quickly. My husband wants to kill me!” So I lit a cigarette, gulped down my coffee, and started the engine…”
Slim and fit, with blondish hair crowning his head like a crest, and a cigarette always in his mouth, Jo looks a bit like a pirate. He certainly is one of a kind! Despite his rough look, he is a generous, cultured and caring person. After working in a kindergarten for many years, he decided to change lifestyle and career and started working on cargo ships travelling around the world on big beasts.
Nowadays, Jo organises day tours for families on his 2 motor boats. He loves entertaining kids and their families and also makes pizza for them on board: “I make the real one, with great fresh ingredients not the shitty stuff you find around here…”
When it comes to food, Jo definitely knows his stuff. He took us around the island, introducing us to the best selection of street food; Sunayna’s chicken soup, the “batidos” truck which also makes amazing arepas, Mama’s Indian food…our heads were spinning around….so much food and so many stories from his past!
Going out with Jo meant stopping at every corner to eat something here or drink something there. A constant feast for our palates and souls.
I think we met the best pirate of the Caribbean’s!