Saturday, April 25, 2009

Curacao & another hurricane in August 2007

As soon as our family left Bonaire, we headed west to Curacao. Friends Donna and Bruce Rill were flying in to visit us in just a few days. We stopped overnight at the tiny island of Klein Curacao, tied to a large mooring that belongs to a tourist day-tripper boat. We knew the tourist boat wouldn't be there at night and that we would vacate the mooring long before they could possibly arrive the next day. What we did not count on was that the Curacao Coast Guard uses a high-intensity radar to monitor boats coming and going at Klein Curacao. Another boat arrived around midnight and tied to a mooring not too far from us.

On our way up to Curacao the next morning the Coast Guard came alongside and boarded us. They searched every single locker and cabinet on our boat, including the freezer and fridge. does feel sort of strange to watch some strange men going through your cabinet of lacy underwear. Bill stayed in the cockpit with one of the men, but I said that I wanted to watch them inside our boat and that was okay with everyone. This search was fine with us because we didn't have anything to hide. But it did make us wonder why 2 old people on an American-flagged ketch warranted such a search. As the Coast Guard was about to depart, one of the men said something about us having arrived at Klein Curacao during the middle of the night. I explained to him that we had arrived at Klein Curacao well before sunset. I even had photos on our digital camera that were date and time stamped that showed the sun setting in the west just as the moon was rising. I also pointed out that their Coast Guard helicopter had flown over us the day before when we were sailing over from Bonaire and they took our boat name. So then he wanted to know the name of the boat that had arrived during the night and did we have any contact with that boat. Sorry Charlie; can't help you. That boat was still on its mooring when we left Klein Curacao but we didn't look at the name. And it was a much bigger boat than S/V BeBe. Well, at least that explains why we were searched so thoroughly. They thought we were smuggling drugs or guns.

We found the narrow entrance into Spaanse Waters and were soon anchored. A few days later we moved and docked at the local yacht club, which consists mostly of sports-fishing boats. We thought it would be nicer for our arriving guests if we were tied up at a dock where we could use shore power and run the air conditioners. Donna and Bruce rented a car at the airport when they arrived and drove all the way across the island and found us with no problems. The weather was not good to go sailing so we spent the next few days exploring Curacao with Donna and Bruce. Curacao is a really neat Dutch island.

Then Hurricane Felix threatened a direct hit on Curacao. What is it this year??? Two hurricanes within 2 weeks way down here in the southern Caribbean. We spent one day storm-prepping the boat for the impending storm. This was good experience for Donna and Bruce as they got to see what should be done to prepare for a bad storm. But all that work was for nil. The hurricane passed 43 miles north of where we were docked at Curacao Yacht Club in Spaanse Waters. Felix was a category 2 hurricane at that point. We were extremely fortunate to be on the south side of the storm and in a very protected area. The experience was basically a repeat of what happened when Hurricane Jeanne passed north of Tortola in September 2004 while we were at the Mooring docks. It was truly a “non event.” And we are so thankful that it was!

We all had gone to bed early, expecting to be awakened by high winds and rain about 2 a.m. Each of us did wake up off and on all night long, but it wasn’t because of the really bad weather that we had expected. Bill and I took turns getting up and checking the computer for latest coordinates and satellite imagery.

The anticipated high winds never materialized. Highest winds were less than 30 knots. And the barometric pressure never dropped like we thought it would. Stayed slightly above 1008 the entire time. Spaanse Waters is totally protected from the seas with the multi-dog-legged narrow entrance to this huge fingered lagoon. We expected to be blown against the dock by the westerly winds and water as the hurricane passed, but the conditions never got bad. No worse than a regular rainstorm. Again, we are so thankful that this area was spared from the bad storm conditions.

We visited the Punda, Sharloo and Otrabanda sections of Wilhemstaad. Each section has its own special flavor. Punda means “the point” and Otrabanda means “opposite side.” I don’t remember what Sharloo means. Sharloo was the financial district many years past, inhabited mostly by Dutch Jews. Sharloo is home to the Maritime Museum, which we enjoyed visiting one afternoon. Punda is the site of the old Waterfort and has more shopping and restaurants and is more interesting than Otrabanda. But one must not miss out on seeing Otrabanda as that is where most of the museums are located.

We visited the African Slave Museum and would highly recommend it. We each learned tidbits of history that were very interesting. The most interesting thing Bill and I learned is that the slave trading business was started by the Moors. The Moors captured more than 600,000 Europeans and transported them back to Africa as slaves. So the actual business of slavery was started by blacks enslaving white people. That was shocking news to us. Then it was blacks capturing blacks and selling them to white people. So all the blacks today should not put the total blame of slavery on whites. There is plenty of blame to pass around on that subject.

Punda and Otrabanda are connected by a floating pontoon pedestrian bridge that also acts like a drawbridge for shipping traffic in and out of the industrial harbor of Wilhemstaad. The bridge swings open widely to allow large container ships egress to the harbor. Would hate to have that job as bridge tender; doing nothing all day long except swinging that bridge open and closed. There is also a ferry across this harbor entrance. Both the pedestrian bridge and the ferry are free.

One day we drove out to the Hatu Caves on the northern side of the island. Unfortunately it started to rain heavily as soon as we arrived. It is not possible to do the tour in the rain, so we piled back into the car and drove back to the yacht club. Bill got concerned about being off the boat with the weather turning so bad so quickly. The hurricane was approaching Curacao much faster than had been predicted. Returning to the boat was a good idea because that allowed us plenty of time to prep the boat in anticipation of the approaching hurricane. All of which turned out to be a total waste of time because the hurricane veered north just as it neared Bonaire and Curacao was spared any damage whatsoever. Lucky for everyone in the ABCs.

Donna and Bruce left shortly thereafter. They had flown down for a sailing vacation with us, and we never even got to leave the dock. Soon after they departed we set sail for Cartagena. We opted to go over the top of Aruba and take the offshore route to Cartagena, rather than follow the coastal hopping route. This offshore route is notoriously rough and it certainly lived up to that reputation. It is a sleigh ride; very fast and quite rough.

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