Aruba, and in particular Oranjestad, wasn't really our scene. Catering mostly to huge cruise ships and tourists arriving by plane, it was expensive, very Americanized and the cultural monuments were small or fake (a fakely Dutch-looking mall for instance).
A tropical depression, Thirteen, soon after named Julia as it became a tropical storm had forced us to stay put on the Tirb for a few days to make sure everything was fine in the strong winds. That had been tiring, but eventually, a week after arrival we were set to explore a little more. We had decided to check out the North of the island where supposedly there are two anchorages and as we left, I wondered why none of the boats at the town anchorage by the airport were going there.
A sinking sailboat and a jammed anchor
The main difficulty with anchoring is that the vicinity of the beach is shallow and already a mile away we were starting to read 10 to 15 feet - we wouldn't be comfortable anchoring in less than that. The water was this turquoise color we had long awaited and you could see the bottom among the white caps from the wind which was blurring ever so slightly the picture.
The amount of tourist boats around that beach was phenomenal and when we saw a pirate boat coming at us, Yalçın decided to take their stern and try to follow them close to the beach. But hey, it looked like they were just drawing less than us as they sped through the depth we were already uncomfortable with. There was one sailboat around where we were, the only one. It looked like the owners were on shore, with no dinghy onboard and no cover on the main sail, they might have arrived recently. We both noticed the bow was sitting a little low in the water and Yalçın had a different perspective on the situation: the boat had been sitting here for a while and the sail cover had worn off and torn.
We set anchor after it dragging two or three time - that might explain why not many people were around, poor holding - but we had spotted another anchoring spot further North where we could hope to be closer to shore and slightly more protected from the wind (maybe) which was supposed to gust around 30 knots at night. We'd have lunch here and take off.
Once done, we decided to wait for the new location to deep in, which made sense but what if it wasn't as good? Looking at the window, we saw the other sailboat, it was sitting low on the water. What should we do? We didn't know who to call and decided to take a picture and post it on the Facebook group that hopefully the owner who had left their boat here would monitor and decide what action should be taken. We had highly underestimated the emergency of the situation.
We tried to retrieve our anchor and as I suspected deep down, there was an issue, the windlass couldn't pull it up! It must have jammed on a rock or something as we dragged... Someone had to dive! Yalçın, for once, had announced he wasn't going to swim and I was dying to dive in since we arrived. Even though I'm not nearly as good as a free diver as Yalçın (in fact I'm not a free diver at all), I went for it. The water was a delight of clarity and sea light: half a dozen fish were hovering around the anchor and, the anchor itself looked nothing like stuck: no rocks, only the tip was a little buried, no idea what could be wrong with it.
I came back up and we attempted to lift it again, Yalçın at the engine and me, at the windlass. Still no success, and with the worry of mistreating the newly repaired windlass.
I needed to dive again and Yalçın would tension the chain for me to better understand what was going on. It did seem to have a strong hold in this little hole and I basically needed to take it out of here. The only problem, even if it was only 10 feet deep, I wasn't able to reach the anchor. Yalçın proposed to come in as he would be able to dive the anchor for sure and move it, but... I'm stubborn and sailing is all about finding solutions. What if I was on my own or Yalçın couldn't help one day? I decided to route a line all the way under the chain and to the anchor, that way, I could put the anchor out of its hole and we'd be good to retrieve it. After getting a long enough line and feeding it in a slow-mo choreography, I tried to put but it turns out, the anchor was not moving and I was only pulling myself deeper in the water. The problem was that it was still pretty windy and the anchor was loaded with the weight of the boat.
I didn't notice but as all this was happening, a police boat had arrived near the sitting low sailboat which was now plain sinking. Other local motorboats were buzzing around and one dropped someone onboard: good! We felt kinda stupid not to have measured the emergency of the situation.
Back to our problems, we decided, as a last resort, to have Yalçın try to lift anchor on his own, manning both the engine and the windlass. That may give me a window where I could unstick the anchor. I tried to pull several times and we still reached the point where it was getting stuck with the windlass. I kept trying not believing in it and it moved. The anchor moved! I pulled some more, giving it all I had and it finally came out of its hole and lie on its side. Hourra!!! Yalçın would have no problem taking up the anchor now setting the boat free, so I'd better swim back to the boat.
Meanwhile, the rescue was still happening on the neighboring boat, at a painstakingly slow pace. The boat had been opened, probably by the person who went onboard but there was no one to be seen anymore. 6 policemen were watching the scene from their boat floating around. A little nerve-wracking: why was no one bucketing? With the adrenalin of the anchor rescue still rushing through my body, I was determined to get onboard convinced we would know better where to find the bilge pump or the thru-holes, in short how to diagnose the potential issue that was sinking this boat. We sailed by the police boat and offered our help, but they declined with a thumbs-up. I instantaneously regretted asking for permission rather than for forgiveness and we couldn't quite resolve ourselves to leaving the area. Minutes passed and nothing was happening... Someone's dream was slowly sinking and everybody was watching without acting. We couldn't take it! We decided to anchor nearby and swim to the boat. Even if we turned out useless in helping find the leak, we could bucket as we were seeing one such recipient in the cockpit. As we were performing our anchoring maneuver, a Coast Guard boat approached. Finally!! Someone was going to do something! They were ready with a long hose, what looked like a badass bilge pump in hand. Looks like it would be ridiculous for us to try to reach the boat now... but the coast guards were taking their time, chatting with the police etc. Yalçın was saying "They are thinking about getting there without getting their feet wet". They eventually jumped on, installed their pump and extremely slowly, it seemed like the bow of the boat might have started coming up. We eventually lifted our anchor which was dragging badly, wondering what was going to happen to the boat, if they found the source of the water intake, and if there was any haul-out facility in Aruba (I don't remember reading about any).
North anchorage and bleeding finger
We kept going North along the island in search of a better anchorage. We eventually found a spot after 4 or 5 unsuccessful trials where our anchor didn't set. The bottom here was definitely not very good. The first thing we did was jump in to check the anchor! It didn't appear super set, lying on its side, but we had backed on it quite a bunch and nothing had moved. Yalçın dove all the way to it it seemed to him that it was going to hold. Indeed we had gusts up to 30 knots the following night and we didn't move an inch.
After our swim, we enjoyed a cocktail at sunset as the tourist boats were setting their sails to go back. Their numbers were enormous. I set to cook some of our last veggies for dinner (we had been deterred by the cost of groceries on the island) and to wrap up this crazy day, I cut my finger while peeling off a butternut squash with a recently sharpened knife. Damn, it's been a hell of a day!!