The last big storm in Bonaire was Tropical Storm Omar in 2008. It was bad enough to wash boats ashore from the moorings. Below is a video of a boat rescue from the city side mooring where we stayed. If the mooring lines had both snapped, that boat would have been washed up onto the road.
Matthew was due to become a hurricane just as it reached the ABCs. We still had a few days before Matthew’s arrival, so decided to head to Spanish Waters in Curaçao, a known hurricane hole. None of us were ready to leave Bonaire, but you have to do what you have to do. We would make the best of it.
No one could believe it. One short week after arriving in “hurricane safe” Bonaire, we were preparing to run from a hurricane. Since I am telling this after the fact, you all know how it turned out. However, while you are in it and experiencing the need to make potential life or death decisions, it is a big deal. Day after day Matthew held to his track heading straight for Bonaire. Matthew was traveling at 15-20 knots per hour and our boat only goes an average of 6 knots per hour, so it wasn’t like we could wait for the last second to see what would happen. Bonaire had no hidey-holes for us, but fortunately Curaçao did.
This is what the Spanish Waters Lagoon looked like on our chart plotter. There is only one long and narrow entrance into the lagoon and then it branches off in multiple directions. We made reservations for Seru Boca Marina for Livin’ Life, Slow Flight, and Coco de Mer. — Sula was able to secure a decent slip in Bonaire and stayed behind. We hoped they would not get too much wind or surge in the marina, as it didn’t seem well protected. We were sad to say goodbye and a little worried about Stu and Lesley, but knew we would see them again soon, likely in a week after everything blew over. — Seru Boca Marina is located at the sailboat icon all the way on the bottom right of the lagoon. It is VERY protected. We didn’t think much surge would be able to get in there. That was the plan. Time to go.
Coco de Mer wanted a few pictures of their boat with the sails up. It’s really hard to get pictures of your own boat sailing, since when your boat is sailing you are usually on it. So we got a head start, knowing they would fly by us with their spinnaker. They caught and passed Steve on Slow Flight pretty quickly.
The Bonaire Coast Guard buzzed us, checking us out. They did a quick circle around us, then headed towards Coco de Mer and Slow Flight.
They quickly passed Coco, but circled around Slow Flight a couple times. That happens to him a lot. Steve thinks it is because his dinghy hides his boat name. That could be why, but it could also be because he is the only one of us not transmitting on AIS. By looking on AIS, the Coast Guard knows exactly who we are, but Steve looks dark and suspicious. I don’t know for sure, of course, but AIS is my guess. I’m actually glad to see the CG patrolling, considering our close proximity to Venezuela.
Ahhhh, downwind sailing. It is so amazing. We never had a chance to do it all the way from Florida to Grenada. Going west is a dream. This shows us going 6.7 knots with 5.9 knots of apparent wind. Apparent wind takes the boat direction and speed in consideration in the calculation and differs from true wind speed. By looking at the water, true wind speed was more like 10 knots. In a catamaran, downwind sailing is smooth and relaxing. This is why we are sailors! Sometimes I wondered after days of beating into the wind heading east, especially around Puerto Rico.
We felt justified in running when we saw the big boys go! Jack’s Sin is a mega power yacht that was docked in Bonaire and they passed us going to Spanish Waters. This tug also passed us, though we can’t confirm they were hiding from Matthew.
This is the long narrow entrance into Spanish Waters Lagoon you can see in the bottom of the chart pictured above. A shallow reef covers almost half of the entrance and I recommend entering during good light to see into the water. There is a dock right at the entrance, but that was not where we were going. We motored right on passed to the center of the lagoon and turned right. Seru Boca Marina is quite a ways in. We were feeling good about our decision to come here.
The marina is surrounded by mangroves and it was a bit of a squeeze to pivot into the slip. Dave handled it like a champ. His docking skills have really gotten good! The only thing we still struggle with a little is getting off a dock when there is a strong wind blowing us onto the dock. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen a lot and is why we are not so practiced at it.Wade and Hodges from Coco de Mer had already been to Curaçao and knew their way around. We all benefited from their previous experience. I don’t know how we would have found the customs and immigrations buildings without them. It was definitely not intuitive! We rented cars for the week, which helped because Willemstad is not at all close to Seru Boca Marina. Dave and I also needed to find the US Consulate to finish the paperwork to sell our house. Spanish Waters is so far from everything, we need to use the cars to go shopping, hiking, sight seeing… anything.
In Willemstad, there is a famous floating market. Venezuela is a mere 40 miles (64 km) away and these vendors commute daily to sell their fruits, vegetables, and fish. The produce looked beautiful, but we needed to check into Curaçao.
We parked the car across from the floating market and walked the rest of the way. We passed by the Bank of Venezuela in middle of a weekday, but it was closed. Not sure if it was closed indefinitely due to the economic problems in Venezuela.
Someone told me a different meaning for the rainbow flag in Curaçao that I can’t remember, but I looked it up and Curaçao is a very friendly island for the LGBTQ community. This ship is used for a pride cruise. September is gay pride month and special events were being held for a week: Sept 24 – Oct 2. So while we were there, the already colorful city was was even more colorful with the gay pride flags.
The Iguana Cafe offers seating right next to the water, a tourist paradise that we skipped over. I liked their huge iguana, though.
I had been missing seeing canons. Every island has them, but I didn’t see any on Bonaire. They must have them somewhere. These looked poised to take out the tourists crossing the floating pedestrian bridge.
This view is looking across from the Punda side to the Otrobanda side, which literally means “other side.” There are two ways across St Anna Bay: By the free ferry seen stopped at Otrobanda here…
Or walking across the Queen Emma Pedestrian Pontoon Bridge. The ferries only run when the bridge is swung open. Here is some interesting info on the bridge:
The bridge is hinged and opens regularly to enable the passage of oceangoing vessels. On the opposite end from the hinge is a small shelter where an operator controls two diesel engines turning propellers. The propellers are mounted perpendicular to the length of the bridge and allow it to swing parallel to the shore. The process only takes a few minutes to complete. The bridge was built in 1888 and was completely renovated in 1939. Originally it was a toll bridge. Individuals without shoes were permitted to cross the bridge without paying the toll; however, today, a toll is no longer applied. (Wikipedia)
This is a view of the pontoons. Walking across the bridge feels very stable. However, if you are on the bridge when a vessel needs to pass through, you will be stuck on the bridge and will go for a ride. There is a light and a tone at either end to warn you when the bridge is going to open.
A relatively small pilot boat passed through and the bridge only opened far enough to allow it through; then closed again.
Once across to Otrobanda, we were rewarded with the famous postcard view of Willemstad. I love how colorful, clean, and cheerful looking it is.
We walked past this Rasta Car Wash, which is juxtaposed to the waterfront. I’m not sure where they would wash cars, but I sure know where they drink beers. The fence is topped with empty beer cans. I think there was a bell to ring for service.
After showing our IDs to be permitted into the cruise ship port, we were allowed entry to walk the final distance to the Immigration Office. After finishing here, we had to go back across the Queen Emma Bridge to the Customs Office, which is at the far left end of the colorful waterfront buildings in Punda.
We like to take pictures of the funny things we see. I thought 7-Elevens were everywhere, but apparently they can’t afford the ‘le’ in Curaçao. No, this isn’t a direct rip off. Hahaha! Catchy slogan, eh?
We had a light meal at a sidewalk cafe. I couldn’t help but noticing the promise of an ice-gasm. Who wouldn’t want an ice-gasm? Brilliant marketing! We all had to try for one. The ice cream was good, but sadly I didn’t experience an ice-gasm.
In case you had any doubt where you were… These big letters are popular with tourists who climb in and on them to pose for pictures. We were fuddy-duddies and didn’t pose, but Wade and Hodges did.
Dushi means ‘sweet’ or “sweetheart” and is a slogan used all over the island. Seemed a bit odd to me, but the huge iguana behind the letters seemed perfectly normal. Haha!
Dutch people really do get creative with their garbage. This fish playhouse thing is totally decorated in repurposed refuse.
Dave and I left the others to go find the US Consulate. We crossed the tall Queen Juliana Bridge. The bridge may seem excessively tall, but cruise ships are barely able to pass under.
Looking over one side of the bridge is not pretty at all. There is a huge oil refinery and there were flames burning at the top of a couple of the stacks. Really black smoke was coming out of the stacks with flames, so soot must be a problem for the surrounding areas when the wind blows in the wrong direction. Yuck.
But looking over the other side, we could believe we were in some quaint European town. It doesn’t look like the Caribbean at all.
We met back up with the others at Mundo Bizarro, an eccentric bar with a really good vibe, for sundowners before returning to our boats. The bar had one of the best vending machines ever: Pringles! Who doesn’t love Pringles? So far Curaçao is: a pain in the butt to find customs and immigration, cute and quirky, artistic and unique, run down in places and totally renovated in others. I’m glad we came but, yes, a car is necessary. Next we explore some more.