Built next to the quay of the ‘Kleine Werf’ in 1729, the island’s Maritime Museum provides an insight into the past, present and future of the port of Curaçao. The museum is uniquely situated at the watery crossroad of St. Anna Bay and the entrance to the Waaigat; the century old mansions of the Scharloo quarter are nearby.
A permanent exhibition with displays of authentic nautical charts, ship models and navigation equipment combined with the latest in audiovisual technology tells the story of more than 500 years of maritime history in Curaçao. The museum also offers a number of interesting tours. For instance, visitors can cruise Anna Bay along the famous Handelskade, and see the maritime related businesses of the inner harbor from one of the ferries.
Steam for Oil
The oil industry had a huge impact on the island’s economy and community at the beginning of the 20th century. Production started in 1918, refining Venezuelan oil from the Lake of Maracaibo. It brought economic stability to the local people and boosted development of the harbor activities in the Schottegat. Hubert Vos, an inventor, artist and engineer employed by the refinery in the early years was given leave to spend hours on his hobby, which later became his life’s work. With twenty miniature steam machines and six electric motors he built a model oil refinery based on where he worked. On moving back to Holland, Vos took the model, which was actually able to refine a mixture of oil, with him. Twenty years after his death in 2002, his son, Edwin, donated the model to the Curaçao Maritime Museum, where it became the center of a very special exhibition. Among the visitors are many local school children who learn about their industrial heritage by viewing the model.
Curaçao owes its maritime prosperity to its favorable location. The Schottegat, the island’s largest harbor was formed at the end of the last Ice Age, and the capital, Willemstad, is built around it. Anna Bay, Schottegat and Waaigat together form a stretch of inland water of some four square miles (10 sq km) with a depth of around 65ft (20m) and a tidal range of just two feet (60cm). This makes this safe, natural harbor the perfect place for ship repair. In 1926, the first dock was built: a floating dry dock named after the then Dutch queen Wilhelmina. Within three years, capacity was doubled with the Juliana Floating Dock. Fulfilling wartime demand, the Beatrix Dry Dock was excavated in 1941. In the 1970s, the Curaçaose Dok Maatschappij (CDM) greatly expanded its capacity by building the Antillia Dock, a facility capable of handling ships of up to 130,000 ton.
The dock facilities received a substantial boost when it was taken over by the Dutch global company Damen Shipyards in September 2016. In November 2017, the company received ISO 9001:2015 and ISO 14001:2015 certification, and recently took delivery of two new floating docks, a 230 meter Panamax dock and a 120 meter dock. The arrival of the docks attracted thousands of spectators and international media attention when they were piloted through the narrow channel of Anna Bay, on board the 255 meter long Chinese ship Xin Guang Hua, the second largest semi-submersible, heavy-lift ship in the world.
This new milestone for Curaçao’s harbor was monitored by the museum team and reported on their Facebook page, ready for teaching the local kids about this strong economic pillar of the society in which they are growing up. The museum has been organizing educational trips since 2000 with approximately 1,750 students per year. Last year the museum received students from 42 primary schools, who, in preparation, studied the book ‘Our ports, then and now’.
New director Thamara Moreno-Vervuurt, and assistant director Margriet Kistemaker, make sure that things are always humming. Over the last few months conferences have been held within the museum, International Museum Day was held on May 18th, and ‘Floating’, a temporary exhibition was organized with the Dutch Society of Maritime Arts. Beautiful maritime works of art were brought to the island by Captain-lieutenant Jeroen van Zanten, of the Dutch naval vessel Zr.Ms. Holland. Arriving in Curaçao to fulfill her duty as station ship in the West, the vessel served as a floating gallery showcasing work of six members of the Dutch Association of Marine Painters.
The museum has a collection of books on display and for sale. The collection is regularly updated and the latest acquisitions are prominently displayed on their Facebook page ‘Curaçao Maritime Museum’. The popular harbor tour is available on Wednesday and Saturday at 2:00pm.
Els Kroon is an award winning freelance photojournalist and former teacher. She lives and works in Curaçao and Kissimmee, Florida.