Saturday, April 14, 2007
Arriving in Aruba!
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We arrived in Aruba around 11:30 on Monday, April 9th. The sail over was mostly uneventful.
We had a stiff breeze (20 knots gusting to 30) almost dead astern with a following sea on our quarter, which made for some tricky helm work. When ever you are running that close to the wind there is always the possibility of an accidental jibe (where the boom gets back winded and slams from one side of the boat to the other) which can be very expensive if not life threatening, given the very large size of our main sail. To prevent this we used a very complex device called a "preventer". It consists of a fifteen foot long line tied to the end of the boom at one end, and lashed to a stern cleat at the other. This forces the boom to one side. You can still unintentionally jibe, but the boom won't fly across the boat. Its kind of tacky to use, but it works, especially with a new crew.
Our course out of Trinidad had us following the coast about 70 miles off shore. Given the wind direction and our lack of a spinacker (a sail designed especially for sailing down wind) we had to tack back and forth a couple of times before we reached the island. We had to sail around the top (northern most) part of the island and then down along side its western shore to reach the main port of Oranjastad. At first we weren't certain where to go so we drove around a bit looking for the Customs Dock. We eventually were told to pull up along side this cement pier and wait. A few minutes later two customs officials drove up in a car and checked us in. It took less than 3 minutes and they never left their vehicle. Then an Immigration official showed up in another car and drove me to the Immigrations office (less than a block away) and processed our papers. We were cleared into port in under a half hour, and there was absolutely no fees for anything. The difference between this landing and Trinidad couldn't have been more stark.
Aruba itself is basically a tourist attraction. It was formerly a Dutch colony (and is slowly working its way towards independence) so many of the names of things seem to be spelled with far too many consonants. Pulling into the harbor we passed an enormous cruise liner. You just can't believe how large those ships can be. It had a fifty foot high TV screen on the top deck that we could clearly see from the harbor. It also had an ice rink, bowling alley and several swimming pools, yet as soon as the boat pulls up there is a stampede of passengers trying to get off. Each day a new cruise liner pulls in and unloads thousands of pasty white, middle class Americans wearing very bad shorts. Aruba is littered with them.
Once cleared through customs and immigration we parked the boat at the local casino's marina. A young man by the name of Nageen (who worked for the marina) came up and explained that it was a holiday so the marina was closed, but we could stay there and check in tomorrow. He then managed to get our power and water lines turned on. This was on his day off, he just happened to be at the dock waiting for a friend. This kind of service stunned us - if this were Trinidad we'd of had to sail back out to sea and wait until next week! Pretty much everyone we dealt with on the island was like this. Helpful, happy, hardworking, outgoing.
We asked him about security at the dock, and if it was safe to leave our boat unattended. He looked at us as if we were asking if water is wet, then pointed out the twenty or so security cameras that lined the docks. "There is no safer place on this island" he said, "the casino doesn't like crime". He was right. If there was any problem with muggings or theft we never heard tell of them. The island is sort of like a Caribbean Disney World for adults. There wasn't much in the way of amenities for cruisers per se, but it is definitely an island for rich tourists.
We spent the rest of the day relaxing in the marina's two pools and waiting for AnnMarie to arrive. She had been visiting her folks in Florida and was due to fly in around 3pm. When we checked in with her we found out that her flight had been canceled, so she wouldn't arrive until tomorrow. The next day she showed up, and we began getting ready to set sail. This meant taking on fuel and going through the checkout process with Customs and Immigration. We were told we needed to sail over to the next dock for fuel. We didn't understand which dock and ended up at the wrong one. A few minutes later a woman from the marina drove over to us, got on board and directed us to the correct dock. She then escorted me through the Customs & Immigration process and even convinced them to allow me to stay a little longer after we checked out. This could never happen in Trinidad.
We got the boat fueled up, and were ready to go when we noticed that the fuel gauge wasn't reading correctly. It turned out to be a faulty sensor, but in the process Mota noticed that some fuel lines we'd installed last week were leaking a bit, so we decided to change them out. This ended up taking several more hours. We stayed at the dock until almost midnight, yet no one complained or charged us more for it - even though we were supposed to be gone by noon. It really was an amazing place, and if you are ever sailing past I recommend it highly. From what we were told the island has thousands of great dive sites, and there is no end of beautiful beaches around it.
We set sail and are now headed for Panama. Up until now the crew had been getting used to the routine of sailing. Now everyone knows exactly what to do, when to take a shift, and what needs to happen. It is mostly dull. Until something goes wrong. Today we lost the autopilot. That means that each watch has to actually steer the boat. This doesn't sound like all that big a deal, until you've been spoiled by an autopilot for several hundred miles and are suddenly forced to man the helm in thirty knots of wind and a nasty cross current. What were relatively peaceful shifts are now work. I tried to determine what had failed - it appears as if the rudder angle sensing unit has gone bad. I tried rinsing it with alcohol and letting it dry. This got it working again for a few more hours, but it started acting up again. I'll need to replace it once we get to Panama.
During the day we had good winds (around 20 knots) and smallish swells, but tonight the wind has picked up to 30 knts and the seas have gotten bigger. Every few minutes a wave slams into the side of the boat and makes everything in the salon bounce straight up. Its called "bridge deck slap" and sounds like someone is smashing the bottom of the boat with a giant hammer. We haven't seen much traffic at all, a few freighters here and there, nor have we spotted any other sea creatures (except Jen said she saw a turtle) and we have been completely unsuccessful in catching any fish. We are forced to eat the meager rations we brought on board, including such hard tack as deli lunch meats, fresh fruit salad, mac'n'cheese, cool whip and other such gruel.
At one point we stopped to test the sea anchor. It is a largish parachute like arrangement you release off the bow when the wind/waves are so severe you can't safely sail. A line is tied from it to the bow of the boat, and it allows the boat to drift slowly backwards (maybe a half a knot) while keeping the bow pointed into the wind. If ever you're in a really bad storm and just need to stop and rest, this is the just the ticket. We'd never used it before so I wanted to see how easy it was to deploy (it was very simple) and how well it worked (it worked great). Since we were sixty miles from anything, and just drifting in the sea, we decided to jump overboard and go for a swim. If you've never done this before, I recommend it highly. There is something magical about being in several thousand feet of water with no land in site and swimming around naked.
Afterwards we had a great meal and began sailing again. We are still several hundred miles from Panama, but are on track and hope to arrive in a day or two. I'm not sure how many of the crew can stay for the journey through the canal, it all depends on what we find out when we get there. Needless to say, it has been a wonderful time at sea, we've enjoyed each others company and remain unmolested by pirates, Trinidadian Customs Agents or the US Coast Guard. It looks like we might be sailing into a local storm tonight, but otherwise we are doing well.
We'll keep you posted on our progress.
Oh, for those that care, our location is N12.20.66 W074.10.31. We're the white catamaran with the naked people running around on top.
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