A gentle sail in no more than a Force 3 on Thursday brought us another 37 miles west and to the lovely anchorage of Spanish Water in Curaçao.
We had to motor the last couple of hours to ensure we arrived by 1630, as the entrance to the lagoon is narrow and tricky with several shallow patches and reefs on each side. In the event, the channel was so calm and beautiful, we didn’t have any issues apart from the chart plotter showing us on the land rather than the water. This sometimes happens in the Caribbean, so you need to be ready for ‘eyeball’ navigation and someone sensible in the bow looking out for reefs.
The swanky Hyatt Hotel is to the east of the entrance and looked stunning. The beach is white sand with crystal clear water and we later spent many hours swimming there, having tied our dinghy to the long pontoon in front of the beach. A huge classic charter boat motored past us as we motored in and one of the guests shouted ‘beautiful’ over to us, obviously impressed with ‘Beyzano’ – very kind, given the boat he was on!
There are 4 areas in the huge lagoon where you are permitted to anchor and we chose the smaller, more secluded one to the south, as there were only 4 boats there. It is very calm and surrounded by pretty vegetation and the bottom is mud, holding onto our trust spade anchor first attempt. The wind and current moved each boat in different directions though, so being well spaced is essential as we were often stern to stern with the neighbouring yachts. We purposely arrived after 1600 so we didn’t have to go into the capital, Willemstad, to clear in as we had read and been told that the offices shut by then but later found out that Customs is open 24 hours a day and Immigration is open from 0730 to 2100 daily.
The following morning we dropped the outboard back on the dinghy and left it at the dinghy dock by the fishermen’s piers and got the big, air-conditioned bus, (not the minibuses) into town. Friends provided us with some local coins before we left Bonaire, as the buses prefer Guilders. It cost 1.70 NEG which is about 60 british pence each for the 20 minute journey.
The bus station is by the water in town and you walk past the floating fruit and vegetable market where sellers from Venezuela live on their boats for months, selling their produce next to them. In the photo you can see one of the boats in the background.
The waterfront either side of the harbour is very pretty, with colourful buildings in a very Dutch style. The Customs building is on the waterfront, clearly marked and they now use the online system ‘SailClear’ which you can update prior to arrival to make life easier. Otherwise, the friendly staff just fill it all out for you whilst you sit in the cool office and there is no fee. After that, we walked across the Queen Emma Bridge to the other side and along the harbour to the Immigration area by the port office. To get into the dock you have to ask at the gatehouse, get a slip of paper and go further up the port nearly under the huge traffic bridge. Again the staff were friendly and there was another one page form to fill in, this time on paper. After that I went up the outside staircase on the neighbouring building and obtained an Anchoring Permit for 10 US$. They don’t have change, so you need to have the exact fee. The permit is for the specific bay and in theory, if you move, you should inform them but the official admitted most don’t and just shrugged, so it didn’t seem to be too important.
On the way back, the pedestrian bridge was opening for a couple of small boats to get through but it didn’t take long before the small engine pushed it back again. It sits on a series of boat shaped floats and has apparently been in operation since 1888.
After all that we were thirsty, it being 35 degrees! Relaxing for lunch on the waterfront we took in our new surroundings and enjoyed the cooling sprays of mist coming down from the canopy above us. Then we found the tourist office and took away a host of brochures and maps to help us make the most of our few weeks here. The Maritime Museum looks interesting for the next trip into town and they are spending a lot of money doing up the town centre, with expensive shops, wonderful restaurants and bars. It certainly has a more affluent feel than Bonaire but the downside for us is that you can’t dive off the stern of your own boat here and the water isn’t clear in the lagoon. We will have to take an organised trip on a dive boat if we want to dive here but that is expensive, so won’t be a daily event!
We came over to extend our stay in Bonaire until nearer mid-November, as on both islands you are only allowed to stay 90 days in the same year, so it is possible to stay the entire hurricane season between the 2 if you need to. An alternative is to pay a lot of money and obtain an extension for a further 3 months. In Bonaire friends have done this and had to provide evidence of funds, health insurance, clear criminal records and attend an interview.
There is a cruiser’s net on VHF 72 at 0745 and a few small marinas around Spanish Waters offer happy hours, laundry and showers for the several hundred boats anchored in the bays. A waterboat delivers water and called in on the net to announce their service. Thursday evenings are cruiser’s night at ‘The Pier’, with a very good cheap meal served to everyone on one long table. Norman’s Bar, next to the fishermen’s dock is another favourite meeting place.
We are enjoying being anchored again, as it costs nothing and we don’t have to worry about wind reversals. A free shopping bus runs at 1000 every day to take you to the cheaper supermarket with a Budget Marine chandlery nearby. The more expensive one is within walking distance we were told but that depends on how much you like walking!