Sunday, 5 April 2015

Curacao blue

Enki's Willemstad drive-by - the district of Punda to starboard

The next bridge is over 55 m high - all the better for fuel tankers to pass beneath

Past the pretty stuff...we approach Schottegat, one of the world's largest deepwater harbours

The Queen Emma floating bridge is now back in place
Curacao is an easy downwind day sail from Bonaire. We arrived in Willemstad, its capital city, the way all ships do, no matter what their size - by way of the front door.  My mother  stopped in Curacao on her way back to New Zealand in 1955, and I feel sure she saw what we did (her ship came in for re-fuelling, as many ships did back then, before going on through Panama). Willemstad's front door - the fortified entrance of Sint Anna, a wide channel of water which divides Willemstad down the middle -  won't have changed much in 60 years.

It's a thrilling entry. The wondrous Queen Emma pontoon bridge, which joins the two halves of Willemstad, was pulled back to shore for repairs on the day we arrived, so we didn't have to mull around in the open sea waiting for permission to enter the harbour.  Passenger ferries which flit back and forth when the floating bridge is opened for water traffic were taking on pedestrians. We passed the docks and their palate-tingling pastel-coloured buildings, passed the cruise ship terminal, and under the soaring road bridge named for Queen Juliana; and then turned into Schottegat, Curacao's large deepwater harbour. In one of its many corners, most of which service the interests of the petrochemical and marine re-fit industries, we found Curacao Marine, within sight, but thankfully upwind of the smokestacks.

The view from Curacao Marine's pontoons (and below - at sunset)

Curacao is the big smoke, in every sense. Willemstad is dominated by a gigantic sprawling oil refinery, originally built by the Dutch Royal Shell company in 1915 to process Venezuelan oil. The oil industry's future on Curacao is reported to be uncertain (Shell bailed in 1985, all but giving the refinery to the local government which rents it to the Venezuelans, whose lease expires in 2019).  It's hard now to understand why it seemed a good idea to situate an oil refinery (the largest in the world at one stage) in the middle of a "heritage" city. But then again, Curacao was built on dirty money.

Dutch maritime history is a long and complicated story - the museum tells it

The Kura Hulanda museum lets nobody off lightly in its telling of Atlantic slave trade history

Bronzes from Benin - circa 16th century
Willemstad was built by the Dutch in the 17th century to support the island's first filthy industry, transporting and selling on slaves.  Curacao was the major clearing house of the Atlantic slave trade. Over the course of two centuries, about half a million Africans were delivered in chains onto Willemstad's docks and sold to Caribbean plantation owners at a depot now on the property of the original oil refinery. The Dutch themselves had relatively little use for slaves on Curacao, which like Bonaire, is an arid island covered in scrub and cacti. Lush doesn't come to mind. But there's colour, lots of it, both above and under the water.

At the entrance to the Spanish Waters anchorage oil rig

Willemstad streets are so very Dutch

So what are we doing here?

Enki alongside, ready to be hauled

Enki needs her bottom repainted with anti-foul before she crosses another ocean. We chose Curacao Marine after hearing its reputation extolled by several cruisers we knew or met along the way. She's in good hands, we think. We've been caught out a bit by Easter, but then again, the longer stay on the hard has given us time to explore Willemstad and the island, and to do a few jobs we'd put aside for.....well, a boatyard, I guess. Like polishing the topsides, and dealing with a serious twist in the anchor chain. Time is short now.

Here's what they use at Curacao Marine - a 60 ton hydraulic trailer

Taking it one step at a time - living on the hard

Good-bye Hempel, hello Micron 66 - but first, the barrier coat

We had another incentive to stop in Curacao. Andreas Klassen, the osteopath whom Alex saw in desperation in Bonaire, lives and works at Jan Thiel, a suburb built around a glitzy resort to the south of Willemstad. We've been down to Jan Thiel twice already, with a third appointment booked for the Tuesday after Easter. I wouldn't say come to Curacao just to see Andreas, but if you're in the area and your joints needs attention, the man has wondrous hands. Alex is much better articulated than I've seen him in months.

Andreas and Alex's old bones - a fine pairing

This is the Caribbean they sell in the brochures....

And the people seem happy enough with what they've paid for. 

Further up the island's west coast are a series of white sand beaches where, on a Saturday afternoon over Easter, we were among only a handful of pale-skinned bodies. The campgrounds were packed with families doing what families do - sleeping, clearing picnic tables, splashing in the shallows, drinking, building sandcastles, flirting, changing nappies, adjusting the angle of the umbrella.  Not so many black people snorkelling though, or even swimming beyond the shoreline - and it couldn't have been lovelier, or easier, right off the beach and along the reef at the cliff base. I don't know why it should be that white people will fly for several hours to swim amongst brilliant fish and colourful corals, while locals don't much care to look beneath the surface of Curacao's blue. But there's far too much I'll never know.

This beach is not for sale .... bring your own bucket and spade

Playa Lagun

Yes, even here....

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