May 2008 will be remembered by thousands of inhabitants and visitors of Curaçao as the month of the Caribbean Navy Days. During the third weekend, the famous Anna Bay, the waterway to the inner harbour, was packed with Navy and Coastguard ships—frigates, cutters and supply vessels from Curaçao and seven friendly nations. The Netherlands, UK, US, France, Trinidad & Tobago, Colombia, Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles each were represented by one or two ships.
During this maritime spectacle in the heart of Willemstad, the organizers, Royal Netherlands Navy and the Coastguard of the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba, showed what they stand for: peace and security at and from the sea!
The 48 hour event kicked off on Friday night with a spectacular opening concert of the Band of the Royal Marines. Massive Sound, a local company, set up a huge stage. Together with local artists, the imposing Dutch musicians thrilled thousands at the Brion Plaza with their sounds, ranging from military marching music to swinging salsa and a local Tumba.
On Saturday and Sunday the action-filled program suited each and every one who attended. The wharfs on both sides were transformed into a maritime action place where visitors could test their sea legs, record the fastest time on cross-country skiing, conquer an obstacle course, climb a wall or try to beat the marines. A variety of navy and coastguard units, an impressive décor on both sides of the bay, were open for the public. In the afternoons long lines formed at the gangways. At the many stands and displays could be seen how the Marines operate in the snow, how they communicate with each other, and how they can monitor the enemy even when it’s dark.
And for those who like suspense and sensation, there were dazzling shows. Each day the navy and the coastguard showed various aspects of their daily work: rescuing people that are drowning, intercepting a drugs transport, and descending from a helicopter from above the Anna Bay.
The most spectacular show, however, was performed by Captain George “Dog” Clifford in an American F-16 fighter of the South Carolina Shaw Air Force Base Viper East Demo Team. The DASH-8 coastguard patrol aircraft and the Lynx helicopters also performed breathtaking air shows.
On Sunday morning there was a moment of reflection when the Navy pastor and a local priest conducted a well visited, open-air ecumenical service. A brass quintet and a gospel choir added musical luster to the service.
Admission for all activities was free, as was the entrance to the Maritime Museum. The new director, Joan Thesseling, organized an exposition of paintings made by local school kids who participated in a competition organized by the Marines.
The atmosphere was extremely relaxed. Commodore Peter Lenselink largely reached his goal: an informing event filled with active fun and shows that brought joy to the local community. Lenselink actively took the time to meet the people in the street. His speech of thanks after the closing parade was rewarded by an overwhelming applause. The 2008 event counted the most visitors ever. It couldn’t have been better…or perhaps it can be. The next Caribbean Navy Days in 2011 might welcome the United States Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron, popularly known as the Blue Angels, in their bright blue and yellow F/A -18 Hornets.
Els Kroon is a Dutch former teacher who now lives and works as an award-winning free-lance photojournalist on Curaçao.