The passage to Curaçao went way smoother than the passage to Aruba. Maybe our weather window was better chosen, maybe we knew better what to expect and maybe we had done more improvements and checks on the boat and were starting to build trust in his ability to beat up for days on end. At least, that's what we hoped. Also, we were never very far from land: as we lost sight of the shores of Aruba, the lights of Curaçao appeared in the dark sky. Overall, the trip was shorter too, only 24 hours - it would have even been shorter if things had gone according to plans as we arrived in Willemstad, the capital.
But let's start at the beginning...
Day "-1": Sunday, October 16th
We had decided to leave on Monday morning to make the most out of calmer winds for the first two days of the week. Consequence: most of the prep had to happen on the day before departure, on Sunday. We were still in the Bucutiweg anchorage: Separated from Oranjestad by the airport and sheltered from the Caribbean seas by an island, the calm and shallow bay had been by far the flattest waters we'd seen in Aruba. The tradewinds blew incessantly even there, but wind waves didn't have enough distance to build up, making it a perfect place for boat work and passage prep.
We tidied up the boat in the morning. It's always amazing, as you get relaxed, how things spread out compared to their neat underway arrangement, where everything has a spot it won't leave even if the boat heels over on either side - on principle! Galley, V-berth, quarter berth, carré (saloon) and even the bathroom, every part of the boat has to be attended to and tidied up...
And then, there's outside. Cris, our removable solar panel had to be folded up and stowed away inside, the anchor locker had to be tidied up after our repairs etc... We had also decided to check the backing plates of the lower shroud attachment one-third up the mast, as we had noticed some cracks during our last inspection and our rigger in Berkeley had recommended we kept an eye on it. With all that beating up, it was a must! So Yalçın hoised me (Marie) up the first spreader. No change in the backing plates, reassuring! I took some photos for future reference and realized that at this point, I could as well go all the way up and buy us even more peace of mind for the upcoming trip: if the rig still looked in ship shape after our wild beating up to Aruba, we'd be fine to Curaçao!
When I told Yalçın I was done at the first spreader, he jokingly asked 'So we got to the top?' and I don't think he was expecting a yes as an answer...
Everything looked fine all the way to the top. After the rig check, we had lunch and moved back to the anchorage in Oranjestad to enjoy the turquoise water there one last time (and check things under the hull and do a little bit of hull cleaning, mostly the propeller shaft and the rudder) as well as the beach, where we'd use some last internet as well. Coming back to Tirb after margaritas and nachos (very typical from Aruba! ^^), we took care of some food preparation for the next day and left a few things for the morning: deflating the dinghy, some more food prep (sandwiches, potato salad mixing, commissioning the hydrovane etc). The alarm is set at 7!
Day 1: Monday, October 17th
Despite a rather long list of things to finish in the morning, we managed to lift anchor around 9, which had been our goal. Direction the administrative port of Barcadera to visit customs and immigration. It went smoothly and I could check us out without a problem. We didn't get the chance to take our time at the dock to finish tying up the anchor (very important to prevent it from pounding as you beat up) or do some last internet jobs, as the immigration official who signed our papers waited by the boat for us to depart. The anchor was tied in the channel and we were off at 10:30 AM.
We motored for 2 hours - 2.5 hours along the Aruban coast in the South. The coast was offering us some protection from the Caribbean chops and we were able to maintain a speed of over 4 knots most of the way. The oil refineries landscape contrasts high with the resorts in the North. At around 11:30 AM, we went for our potato salads. It had been a long morning already and we remembered the 24 hours without being able to eat during the last trip, so better get some head start before we were unable to keep anything in.
Once well clear of the Southern tip of the island, we hoisted the sail and started beating up in the Caribbean Sea. The wind was calmer than last time: around 15 knots gusting 20. We were able to carry the full jib with two reefs in the main for the entire trip.
Rapidly, we tacked to the North on starboard. A way again to spend the least amount of time possible in current and port was forecast to be the favored tack later in the afternoon. We snoozed and listened to podcasts as Tire Bouchon glided along toward Curaçao. Just kidding! The gliding still involved a lot of pounding as we were now fulling in the waves, yet less wind also meant smaller waves, so it wasn't as bad as the previous time.
The rest of the afternoon was spent singing out loud together, with more or less accurate lyrics, especially for English songs! The beauty of having no one hearing you for kms on end.
After the sun set dramatically behind some distant clouds and the silhouette of Aruba disappeared in the background, I tried to sleep in the cockpit for the first shift: 6 PM to 9PM. I got some rest but couldn't sleep. The stars were beautiful. Too often, I looked at them and drifted away in my thoughts... At 9 PM, Yalçın went down to the cabin to sleep.
The night went by, dodging mysterious red lights (maybe on the coast) and ships. One of them puzzled us a little and in the morning, we understood it was a coast guard vessel patrolling the entrance of Willemstad. Things remained simple for the night, no sail change, just a few tacks that we always did double-handed. No electric action, except for a few clouds in the morning which encouraged us to tack towards land a little earlier than Willemstad and then follow the coast.
Day 2 - Tuesday, October 18th: 'Permission not granted'
Upon arrival, we had to call Willemstad port authorities on the VHF in the hope they'd allow us to enter the harbor by opening a pontoon bridge that closes the entrance of the bay. Being slow in making progress toward the city - 3 knots as the wind was dying on us - we waited to be quite close to make radio contact and request permission, but still, we did it before dousing our main sail...
I hailed the port authorities on 16, the channel which is usually monitored by the coast guards and authorities. Nothing! A second time... At the third time, another vessel 'Pelican' replied that I should call them on 12 instead. Alright. I repeated my calls on 12 and eventually got a response. They asked if we had a reservation at Curaçao marine, the yard and marina in Willemstad. Turns out we had contacted them on Thursday asking for slip availability as well as a quote from their mechanic and had gotten no answer. So no, we didn't have a reservation but we had tried hard to! In particular, to meet Hans there, a Dutch boat owner who was going to sell us his liferaft, which is the main reason we had decided to go to the marina for a night or two. I was already craving a running water shower, but... no reservation, no permission to enter Willemstad! We were redirected to the anchorage of Spanish waters 5 miles South and we 'would have to organize our own transportation to visit customs and immigration'. That meant taking a bus from Spanish waters and then walking for an hour in town to visit the different offices. We were not mentally prepared! We had organized our own transportation already, its name was Tire Bouchon, why were you not letting us in!!?? Also, that made no sort of sense in light of Aruba not allowing us to anchor anywhere before tying up to the customs and immigration dock to check in...
I tried to remain calm despite thinking it was kinda of criminal to ask people to sail more and make their day difficult after a night at sea: 'was there a way to contact the marina to make this reservation?'. The reply was that we could try on the radio on 16 but that it may still be too early for them to hear as it was 7 in the morning.
No answer on the VHF from the marina... We resorted to using our international SIM card to check if there was finally a response to our email to the marina. Their mechanic had been forwarded our quote request so there was his answer, but nothing about availability. The marina's phone number was on Navionics, so we tried to call. 7:00, no answer. We had started beating our way up to the entrance of Spanish waters, figuring out it'd always be easy to fall off and return to Willemstad in case our luck turned.
7:15, someone picked up! I was almost taken by surprise!... but they had no room until the end of November. Bummer bummer bummer! So about our mechanic job? It would have to wait too, lovely! Well, we were already underway to Spanish waters and I guess, we'll bite the bullet for the bus trip...
Arriving in Spanish waters, we understood why the marina was full. The anchorage was huge as was the number of boats here. Curaçao is outside the main hurricane path and a lot of cruisers spend their summer here during hurricane season. To some extent, that's also why we were here. The marina was filled with yachts that spent the summer on hard and were now slowly going back in the water to get ready to sail again.
We eventually found a spot to anchor, quite happy it was close to the dinghy dock, but also exhausted. It was 9:30. Almost 24H after we departed from Aruba. But we didn't arrive quite yet. We had to take the bus and do our entry in Curaçao, a process that would go more or less smoothly. We didn't have enough small change to pay for the bus so, as we stood there sheepishly (we had to get on that bus!!), a lady we didn't know paid for the extra cents to allow us to reach the town. Next adventure: visiting immigration, harbor master and customs. Despite the friendly help of an Australian and a New Zealand couple of cruisers, we had to take the long way to immigration and walk for close to an hour (one way) under the blazing sun. Yet, everything went smoothly with the officials and at 4, we had officially entered Curaçao with Tire Bouchon and were welcome for 30 days, which should be plenty. We succumbed to a KFC in town to have wifi and to give news to our families and contact the owner of our future liferaft: we were hoping to find a way to meet him in the marina tomorrow. He kindly replied he had a rental and could pick us up at the anchorage the next day and then drop us off with the liferaft if we went for it. That'd certainly make up for not being able to go to the marina and would make our life way easier! After an ice cream, the bus and the dinghy back to Tirb, we passed out in our berth! Curaçao would have to wait for another day!