As the first tropical depression of the season was brewing, we searched for cruising guides to Curaçao, sailors experienced with approaching Curaçao, and a safe haven for our sailboat once we arrived. We were too late. So we took the information that we had gathered, which included the phone number needed to contact the authorities as we approached the island, and set sail. Nothing during our several hundred mile sail was as unnerving as our final approach.
In retrospect, the flyover bridge, just as we were able to distinguish the southeastern tip of Curaçao from a large tanker on the horizon, was the first indication that simply slipping into a protected bay for the evening was out of the question. It was hours before we doused our sails and pointed our bow toward the waypoint for the entrance to Spanish Water. Uncertainty and dark headlands backlit with red, white and yellow lights and the sound of the surf kept us from braving the harbor entrance that night. As we powered north toward Caraças Baii, we were hailed over the radio and intercepted by a RIB. The options given to us by the authorities were not what we expected, and we ended up holding offshore for the entire night.
First light revealed high bluffs blanketed by a desert landscape; white sandy beaches buffeted by aquamarine waves and frighteningly narrow gateways to sheltering harbors. After several attempts to penetrate Curaçao, our nerves were shattered. Every phone call that we made, whether it was to find a slip, a place in an anchorage or assistance checking in, led to Clifford Neuman of Curaçao Yacht Agency.
Neuman, piloted us through the mouth of the channel leading to Spanish Water and around the mangrove islands, shallows and anchorages to safety. While windsurfers buzzed the flat waters and wind whistled over the headlands and through the rigging, Neuman took me on a whirlwind mariner’s guide to Curaçao.
We pounded through the Caribbean Sea’s waves and headed north to Willemstad, passing through the floating bridge and so close to the inner city’s outdoor cafes, which line Sint Anna channel, that we could have placed a lunch order from his boat. Brightly painted Dutch colonial buildings lined one side of the busy waterway and Mexico’s tall ship Cuauhtemoc occupied the other. We passed under the Juliana Bridge, one of the highest in the world and into Schottegat, the second largest natural deepwater port in the world. Everything was big – the port, the tankers, the dry dock and the refineries. Even Curaçao Marine was big by Caribbean marina and boatyard standards.
After making long term docking arrangements at Curaçao Marine, we hopped in a car and drove to Immigration, at Orta Banda, under the Juliana Bridge. Once processed, we drove to Customs on the other side of the waterway, which is located near the floating market in Punda. After clearing, we drove quite a distance back to Fisherman’s Harbor at Spanish Water. From there, I took a dinghy back to our yacht.
Without Neuman’s assistance and transport, my orientation via public transportation or taxi, would have seemed like drudgery and consumed the lion’s share of the day. Spanish Water is quite a distance from Willemstad and the waters outside this virtually landlocked harbor are too exposed for long-distance dinghy rides, so be prepared to take the bus from Caraças Baii (the Fisherman’s Roundabout) to Punda. Don’t expect to be able to hale a taxi from there unless you make arrangements through Sera Boca Marina/Santa Barbara Plantation, which lines part of Spanish Water’s shore.
Curaçao is a large, resource rich, affluent and diverse island with sites such as the Floating Market, Willemstad’s museums, Hato Caves, the Ostrich Farm, Seaquarium, and Chobolobo Mansion and activities such as diving, windsurfing, horseback riding hiking and partaking in music festivals, awaiting you.
Coast Guard: 913
Curaçao Yacht Agency: [email protected], Tel: +(599-9) 520-4667.
Curaçao Marine: www.curacaomarine.com,
Tel: +(599 9) 465 89 36.
Lynn Fitzpatrick’s articles on sailing appear regularly in international publications including AARP The Magazine and Cruising World. She has been a highly competitive Snipe sailor and was the 2008 Sports Information Specialist for sailing at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.