Aruba Bound — 70 Miles The Hard Way

Curaçao falls astern. Photo by Robert Scott
Curaçao falls astern. Photo by Robert Scott

After three months in Curaçao it was time to move on. Aruba was calling, and it was only a short 70nm sail away. Once our decision was made we waited for our weather window. The ABC islands are in the lower part of the chain they call the Windwards. We set our departure date for April 22nd. My wife was celebrating a birthday milestone on April 26th and I promised her Aruba!

On Friday the 21st we cleared customs and immigration, planning to depart the next morning. Up before first light, we made our way out into Spanish Water. There we raised fifty percent of the mainsail and unfurled fifty percent of the jib. We then eased our way through the narrow channel at Punta Santa Barbara, heading out to the open waters of the Caribbean. The wind hit us and immediately filled our sails. God, I love that feeling when our vessel catches the wind and starts to gallop like a mare.

We stayed on port tack for about two miles then made our tack to starboard and settled in on our course, locking the auto pilot. The wind was clocking 24 to 26 knots coming from 170 degrees. We were almost wing and wing and I had to rig a preventer for the main. At 0743 hours, just as I was headed out of the cockpit to get my trolling gear set up my wife roared, “Dolphins, lots of them, 11 o’clock”.

Building seas. Photo by Robert Scott
Building seas. Photo by Robert Scott

I grabbed my camera gear, secured my harness to the jackline and headed forward hoping to get a few shots of them before they moved on. Within ten minutes I had all the pics and video I needed.

I was making my way back to the cockpit when the vessel swung wildly to starboard and heeled over 25 degrees! In that split second, I knew immediately what had happened and grabbed the wheel while simultaneously handing Virginia my camera. I could hear items below crashing on the salon and galley floors. I instantly brought us around to an off-wind heading. It was apparent to me that the auto pilot had disengaged. With the boat stabilized, and having taken a minute to calm down, I asked Virginia to take the helm while I started to investigate.

Seeing dolphins is one of cruising’s great pleasures. Photo by Robert Scott
Seeing dolphins is one of cruising’s great pleasures. Photo by Robert Scott

The first item I checked was the pivot arm on the rudder reference control. Hooking myself to the jacklines once again I headed aft and discovered that it was intact. So much for a simple solution. Next on my checklist would be the Fluxgate Compass. There’s not too much that can damage that because it is so well enclosed and protected. It was clear of any interference. Next it was the turn of the course computer. I took out my voltmeter and proceeded to check all connections. Every single connection checked out positively. Now I’m seriously perplexed. But with 60 plus nautical miles left to go to Aruba there is not much else I can do but hand steer the rest of the way. Virginia was exhausted by the time I returned topsides to take over to get us back on course. I soon discovered it would be a very long day manually steering in high winds and following seas. We had come to rely on our trusty auto pilot.

The hours passed, and the seas and winds got rougher. My hands and legs were cramping. Virginia could not take the helm any longer because of the forces on the rudder. They were too strong for her to maintain a straight course and she was not comfortable with that. More hours passed with more cramping. Virginia was feeding me cheese and crackers when I got hungry and bringing water as I needed it. Finally, at 1356 hours, I shouted, “Land ho.”

Our yacht Honeymoon Forever on the dock and safe and sound in Aruba’s Renaissance Marina. Photo by Robert Scott
Our yacht Honeymoon Forever on the dock and safe and sound in Aruba’s Renaissance Marina. Photo by Robert Scott

We spotted the southernmost tip of Aruba, 9.18nm out. That immediately had a positive effect on my well-being. We radioed Port Control for docking instructions to clear Customs and Immigration. They instructed us to pull into the ‘commercial docks’ which are decrepit at best, then tie off to the large concrete piers, which have no cleats. They have massive old tires hanging to fend you off but be cautioned, they will mess up your topsides. Use every fender you have. The process was slow at best.

In the meantime, we radioed the marina to let them know of our situation and they said they will wait to assist with our docking. The docking style at the is Med Moor with a mooring ball forward. Finally, at 1745 hours we were officially cleared into Aruba and made our way to the Renaissance Marina where the marina staff was waiting on us. With their help, we were secure in our slip in a matter of 15 minutes. Excellent. At this point I was physically and mentally exhausted. It was truly 70nm the hard way. It was time for a cold adult beverage and for my lovely wife Virginia and me to celebrate another safe arrival in another port. Time to get started on her birthday adventure here in Aruba. Cheers!