The popular anchorage of Spanish Water, Curaçao, is a convenient stop-over on the way through the Southern Caribbean. Curaçao may not be as pretty as its neighbor Bonaire or its underwater world as spectacular, but the cruiser community in Spanish Water, with its range of services, is certainly worth a visit.
On the chart the channel into the widespread lagoon of Spanish Water looks simple enough, and I’m sure it’s a piece of cake in calm weather. However, running downwind along the southern coast of Curaçao at the height of the trade wind season, in about 30 knots, we were starting to get slightly nervous as the chartplotter insisted that we were almost there and we still couldn’t see the entrance. A rocky shoreline with breakers everywhere, and finally a narrow opening without markers, a sandbank on one side and decidedly vicious looking rocks on the other. Another incredulous gaze at the chartplotter—yep, that’s it. Holding our breaths we surfed down the high swell into the channel and entered another world. Calm water, hotels, marinas and villas dot the shore and then a wide lagoon with dozens of inlets opens up. It’s a bustling place with speed boats buzzing around and, despite the huge area; it’s not easy to find a parking space in the forest of masts. Anchorage A, B, C or D? Each one has its advantages and disadvantages. Near the dinghy dock there’s much traffic, in the middle boats pitch relentlessly in the mile-long fetch, and the protected anchorages entail long dinghy rides.
We opted for a spot in a side bay in the quiet ‘suburbs’ of the floating town, took the bus to the lovely and very northern-European looking capital Willemstad to clear in and got back to Spanish Water just in time for happy hour in the bar next to the dinghy dock. Chatting with the mainly Dutch cruisers, we were surprised to find that many of them had been anchored here for months or even years. Looking at the murky water and the bland, dry landscape we couldn’t help asking why anybody would want to choose that spot as a home. The answer was always the same: Because it’s so convenient. Free shuttles run twice a day to the local supermarkets, a water boat comes by to fill up the tanks, treasures of the bilge are traded on the morning radio net, all kinds of activities are organized for and by cruisers and, of course, there’s the daily happy hour with the coldest Polar beer on the island (sometimes you have to wait for your beer to melt before you can drink it).
Towards the end of happy hour we observed interesting rituals: People stripped down to their underwear and put their clothes into dry bags, others stretched out tarpaulins over the bows of their dinghies and huddled beneath it. What was going on? On the way back to our boat we quickly got the answer: The trade wind is funneled into the lagoon where the waves build up considerably in the several mile long fetch and the anchorage lies exactly upwind from the dinghy dock, so very wet dinghy rides are a daily routine. Wringing out our clothes back home and shaking the water out of our ears we decided to take along bathing suits and goggles to the next happy hour.
To finance their living in the floating town some live-aboards offer convenient services to transient yachties. You find floating mechanics, watermaker and fridge specialists, pet sitters and boat sitters. As our Yanmar was in need of some attention, we hailed the local mechanic on the radio who found time in his busy schedule for a thorough overhaul. Listening to the mechanic’s gossip we learned about the neighborhood quarrels and realized that we were indeed anchored in a small town. After waiting for spare parts and finishing other boat jobs, we were theoretically ready to leave for Colombia at the end of July. But then we made the mistake of announcing our departure plan to the ‘locals’ and were bombarded with horror stories of the passage around the mythical Cabo de Vela at the northern tip of Colombia. We soon had the feeling that each time the stories were retold, the waves grew higher, the winds faster and the countercurrents stronger. It dawned on us that the conveniences of the anchorage were not the only reason why boats got stuck here. Fearing that we’d end up as live-aboards in the lagoon ourselves (filling a market niche, maybe a cake delivery service?) we set out despite the warnings. We had a fast trip around Cabo de Vela in a stiff breeze, but without any encounters with freak waves, countercurrents or yacht-eating sea monsters.
Birgit Hackl, Christian Feldbauer and ship’s cat Leeloo have been exploring the world on their yacht Pitufa since June 2011. Visit their blog at: www.pitufa.at