Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Boatyards 'R' Us

Boatyards are not bad places to be. Now, before you faint, hear me out.

The daily business of boat maintenance (and below)

All these supports will be in use soon - the storage yard is fully booked 

We've delayed our departure a few days because it's been blowing a gale and the arc off the north-east coast of Colombia has a wicked reputation for building mountainous seas in strong winds. No way do I ever see us setting up camp in a boatyard again for months at a time, as many cruisers do - and as we did at Port Napoleon in 2011. But a couple of weeks is more than tolerable, especially when you've got interesting company. We've found that here at Curacao Marine.

A full house - view from the top of the hill (below)

This isn't a marina, as such. You don't stick around for the view. Willemstad has its charms, but it's a very small city, and a long hot walk over the hill. Over on our side, the only retail is chandlery. In other words, you're here either to work, or because you're ready to cut and run.

Willemstad's Bizarro Mundo cafe - reminder of another world (and below)

Polar beer is the local brew

The Swedes pack up for the season - HR39 Balance
When we arrived shortly before Easter, most of the slips at Curacao Marine were empty, but in just two weeks the season has changed. This is a popular storage yard, Curacao is drier than Grenada or Trinidad during the summer and boats are pouring in. Part-time cruising sailors are taking off their Crocs and pulling out their suitcases, bound for summer at home in Vancouver, Gothenburg, Phoenix, Hamburg, Bordeaux, Toronto. They'll be back later in the year, or even next year, when the cold chases them back to the Caribbean. In many ways we envy them. Geography makes it much harder for cruisers from our part of the world to "divide their time", but it's not impossible. You just have to organise yourself differently.

This is what draws them back - Knip beach on the west coast of Curacao

Yesterday we heard a knock on our hull and a short, lean man with cropped hair came alongside. "Enki," he said, and he looked at us, and at the boat. Neither Alex nor I recognised him. We waited for some explanation. Not a buyer, surely? He continued: "We met in Turkey." We struggled to place him. He sounded North American but his accent wobbled a bit. We waited some more. "Cokertme." He said it the way the Turks say it (chockertmee). A light went on, dimly.

The boatyard "facils" have had a makeover - the Palapa Bar is self-service

Dick, his name is. He's a ex-pat New Zealander who married a Canadian, Marian. They have a catamaran with a Turkish name - Van Kedisi (it means, Van cat - a type of cat which swims in Lake Van, in the east of Turkey). We'd met Dick and Marian the very first time we anchored in Turkey in 2012. Of course we remembered them.

We had no idea what we were doing back then, and they they were old hands. They seemed to know everything about Turkey - they even spoke a bit of Turkish. Dick had been working in Saudi Arabia for many years, and they'd raised their children in Saudi. During that time, they kept their boat in Turkey, and took their holidays along its lovely Aegean coastline. The Centre of the Universe, Dick said they used to call Cokertme (it's a tiny village, and we became very fond of it too).

They retired back to Vancouver, and in 2013 Dick brought the boat across the Atlantic. To meet him again here in Curacao - that makes us feel as though we've come a long way, and as though the world is small, both at the same time.

Then there's Andy. Andy is a Berliner, who is very much at home in Australia. He's already crossed the Pacific twice in his own boat. Now he's crossing a third time in a catamaran named Matilda. Matilda isn't his boat. He's delivering her for friends.

Matilda on the hard

We met her owners, Andy (another Andy) and Jane, last year in the gulf of Corinth, and immediately took to them - as I suspect people usually do. They're warm, enthusiastic, relaxed people - and they're English. They emigrated to Australia a few years ago, and as the name of their boat suggests, are mad about the place. They were on their way back to Australia in Matilda and we hoped we'd see them again either in the Balearics, or failing that, in the Canaries.

But in September, Andy was diagnosed with myeloma, a bone marrow cancer. He and Jane went back to England to get treatment and now, April, is when the going gets really tough for them. Every time I see Andy (Berg) working on Matilda (she's sitting right in our sightline), I remember that nothing about cruising is guaranteed. Just because you buy the boat doesn't mean you get to sail her. We sincerely hope that Andy and Jane get to sail their Matilda again in Australia.

Gubby (and below), on a mission to Maine
Gubby Williams is an English shipwright, late of Heir Island, Ireland, who is reviving an American classic yacht which had fallen into shocking disrepair (the owner is a commodities trader whose wallet can absorb the cost of its drastic surgery, one assumes). If anyone can make this boat float, Gubby will. He's a wooden boat man from way back. He took a break from the grind this morning to drink a cup of tea in our cockpit (he spotted my teapot) and talk about Cormac McCarthy's The Crossing with Alex, who knows McCarthy's books better than I do. Conversation with Gubby is diverse and never dull.

At the end of the pontoon is a boat called St Leger, owned by another Canadian couple (there are a lot of Canadians in the Caribbean). They're also heading through the canal (Enki, Matilda and St Leger are, as far as I can tell, the only boats which are leaving Curacao - the rest are going up on the hard). Doreen and Michael built St Leger themselves 35 years ago. They've been cruising since 1991 and have spent years on our side of the world and in Asia. Their conversation is littered with names of boats and people who are spread across the the world's oceans.

They're going to Cartagena, in Colombia. We're heading for the San Blas islands in Panama. Perhaps we'll catch them in the holding pen for the Panama Canal.

Dick is taking his boat to New Zealand next year - more interesting than the Caribbean, he reckons, and just as easy to get to from Vancouver. We all see the globe in the way that suits us, don't we?

Dried fruit, juice, champagne, instant noodles, jam and teabags - what's missing?

These places are beginning to seem real

Enki spruced up, and ready to move on

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