Sailing to Aruba, with Dolphins!

Before the rest of the story, here’s Jazz, somewhere between enthusiastic and overwhelmed as she calls Andrew to get his ass up to the bow and see “lots and lots and lots and lots of dolphins”:

We checked out of Curaçao, with a loan of our friends’ rental car, and got up the next morning to sail up the coast. We’d scrubbed as much as we could reach of the sides of the hull and the chain and bridle, the night before, from the dinghy. Even so, hauling anchor meant many cycles of bringing up a few feet of chain, then scrubbing and spraying it off. The rate of growth in Spanish Waters is pretty impressive, and because it’s pretty deep, there was a lot of chain to do. But we got it done, and motored out into the channel to calibrate our new autopilot. When it asked to take over the boat to do “15 zigzags”, we figured we should probably get into more open water, so we headed out the channel. Of course, they ended up being very small zigs, and by the end we wished we’d done it in the calm bay. Ah well; we can always revisit it another time.

That done, we went to put up the sails. The wind was almost directly behind us, so we figured we’d use the downwind pole and sail with just the genoa. When we went to pull the sail out, we quickly realized that our port winch wasn’t working right; Andrew had swapped the positions of a couple of gears. So we set the sail on the other winch, and Andrew took a couple of minutes to swap them back.

Aside from that, it was a lovely sail up the coast, with the new autopilot doing its job wonderfully. At one point we got a pass from the coast guard helicopter, but they didn’t seem particularly interested in us. It was nice and flat, so we were able to run the watermaker for most of the sail. We were also pretty excited about using our back shades under way for the first time since installing them. They worked! Look at us and our fully shaded cockpit!

We dropped anchor in Playa Chikitu, which would be our staging area. We wanted some time to clean the boat properly, and to rest for our “actual” departure at 3am the next morning. It was a lovely place for both of those things. Here’s Jazz dropping the anchor in 20 feet of water over pristine sand. We ended up pretty close to a floating bottle, which we didn’t worry about because we figured it was a crab pot.

As we prepped to get in the water, a little boat full of tourists came up and tied to the floating bottle. It turns out that that’s actually a mooring, from which the local guides drop off tourists to swim to a little wreck. (Picture from a little later.)

So we scrubbed the hull, and did the dishes, and took a little swim over to the wreck, which turned out not to be all that interesting, but at least we’d gotten in the water. About when we were getting out and getting cleaned off, a big coast guard boat pulled into the bay. They dispatched a tender to come around and “do routine checks” of paperwork, and cursory checks of everything else, coming aboard and leaving footprints with their big black boots. Awkward timing, but they seemed pretty relaxed about it, and let us off with an “ask us next time” for not having the proper anchoring permit. (Which you can’t actually get, because anchoring permits are for people who are still checked in. We could have made it to Aruba in one leg, but it’s much more comfortable to stop and stage here if you want to get your arrival tests during business hours, thanks COVID.) Anyway they let us be, and their boat hung out in the distance as the sun went down, a strange mixture of comforting (no Venezuelan pirates please) and foreboding (I swear, officer, we’re leaving any time now…)

So we went to bed shortly after sunset, and woke up at 3am to check the status of the nightly storms. We determined that, while there were reasonably big storms to both the north and south, neither was close enough to pose much danger to us before the rising sun chased them away. So we hauled anchor and motored west. Not sailed? Nope; the night-time wind was too light for even the spinnaker to do any good, and we needed to arrive in business hours.

After an hour or so of two-man storm monitoring, we each took a couple of hours of nap. By that point the wind had picked up a bit, and we were able to sail engine-less for maybe half the trip. It dropped again right as we rounded the corner of the island, and we decided to motorsail to keep our speed up and make it to the office on time. The coast was looking pretty unappealing at this point.

We were about an hour out from the customs dock when we were joined by a huge pod of dolphins, who proceeded to play around the bows of the boat, and to show off with big jumps and tail-slaps, until we had to leave them to turn into the customs dock. This was an amazing reminder of why we do what we do.

We tied up to the customs dock with only minimal trouble. The wind was blowing gently off the dock, so the approach was gentle. But we’d planned to turn around, and decided at the last minute that we weren’t sure we had room, so we were racing to switch the fenders from port to starboard as we approached. We were greeted by a security guard who notified the marina that we would be coming, and settled in to wait for a doctor to take our PCR tests. She arrived about an hour later, and gave us some of the least painful nose-swabbings we’ve experienced to date. Then it was off to immigration, an easy stop, and customs, who accepted our paperwork and came aboard to do a reasonably thorough search. We were a little nervous, as we hadn’t mentioned the cat, but they also hadn’t asked, and they basically said “nice kitty” and proceeded to rifle through our dishes and underwear drawers. They were pretty nice about the whole thing, and didn’t make too much of a mess beyond a lot of very dirty bootprints. Although, with the trash fire on a not too distant hill, the boat was pretty thoroughly dirty already. Right, see the lid of Jazz’s second water glass since arriving, already covered in sticky black ash. We were glad the cat had compelled us to keep the windows closed.

So we slipped off the dock, and headed three miles further up the coast to the “airport” anchorage, to await our test results. This proved to be a bit more of a challenge than we’d expected, because neither of our phone plans turned out to work in Aruba, which is not part of “Chippieland”. We could have looked this up in advance, but we made a bad assumption because Aruba is also sort of a Dutch Caribbean island, and Jazz’s card, purchased in Statia, had held up through Saba, Bonaire, and Curacao. This left us stuck in a catch-22 where we couldn’t go to land to buy sim cards until we got our results off the internet. (The marina didn’t seem to understand how to email our satphone.) Fortunately, our friends Drew and Patricia from Nautilife swung by and shared a hotspot, coincidentally just a few minutes after our results came in. And we were free to head to shore to find a Digicel office and a happy hour.