We dress in our formal Gémeaux white shirts since nobody onboard has the requisite roman numerals in their name to don a blue blazer. We are parade celebrity newbies and feel a bit inadequate as we depart amidst fellow sailboats decorated in hundreds of colorful flags fluttering from their masts. We make up for it, however, and sail rather than motor to the parade start with our massive orange and white spinnaker sail that screams, “Here we come!
Willemstad is a UNESCO World Heritage City. This capital of Curaçao is situated in Punda on the St. Anna Bay with rows of pastel-colored shops, offices, and restaurants emulating the colonial architecture of their Dutch motherland. Locals and visitors sip coffee at the waterfront cafés as the Queen Emma floating pontoon bridge opens and our parade of boats enters in formation.
Few people are aware of our celebrity status and motive; most stare in curiosity and good-naturedly return our waves and enthusiasm. Through our VHF radios, we undertake a series of increasingly complex synchronized maneuvers up and back in the little harbor. We manage to avoid any embarrassing collisions with one another and finally declare our first Parade of Sail a success. The parade motive? Celebrating the inauguration of a new local tv station.
Our celebrity status does not grant us any exceptions from the mandatory step of clearing Customs and Immigration so our next stop is the 1-mile sweaty walk to officially announce our arrival to Curaçao. This bureaucratic protocol in the sailing world could fill a book with stories. Each time we arrive at (and also depart from) any one of the many Caribbean islands, we are at the mercy of a different system—some demand only the captain appear, others want all crew members and pets to come; some use carbon duplicates, others have computers; some require no money, others charge a fee for everything. You must always bring your own pen and never, ever come between the hours of 10 and 2 or you’ll sit outside until lunch is over. Offices typically are small and buried in mountains of paperwork, with a few small fans struggling to keep the sweat from dripping onto your official paperwork. Today, our entire party of six is required to appear. We enter a room painted in cool midnight blue with a temperature to match. Nestled in the corner of this walk-in refrigerator is a treasure that delights us all, brings smiles to our faces, and decidedly makes Curaçao the best Customs office on the planet. A drinking fountain. Pretty please…can we stay at Customs all afternoon?
Our celebrity status does grant us free docking in this capital city so we side tie Gémeaux to cleats mounted on the edge of the main street, amidst parked cars and gawking passersby who are as unaccustomed to seeing a catamaran in the city center as we are to being in this urban anchorage. The town is clean and quaint with many pedestrian-only alleys winding their way through attractions that serve both locals and tourists alike. I like the mix. There’s a Sketcher store next to a local pharmacy, fruit and vegetable stands along the water that sell souvenir spices but also crates of gigantic squash, roots, and tamarind. We discover Dagaz Gelato and enjoy the tastes of passion fruit and stracciatella inside another air-conditioned respite before the frozen treats liquify in the humidity.
The bayside balcony at Le Gouverneur restaurant with a bird’s eye view of our floating home, delivers exquisite service and deliciously-grilled meats on their Green Egg barbecues. Back onboard Gémeaux, we fire up the generator that disturbs not a soul on this festive Saturday night, and greet the perfect end to a perfect day…sleeping in our air-conditioned cabins.
The next several days in Curaçao are divided between chores, prepping for our upcoming sailing itinerary, and each day learning a new name—78 of them in our new circle of friends. Ruth and Allen have departed but David and Barbara are still on board, helping with projects and happy to read a book while we attend obligatory rally events. Having company on board prods us to race through chores, or abandon them completely, and get out to play.
Sources tell us that Playa Piscado is a must-see for snorkelers. Naturally, we make that a priority destination and sail north for about 20 miles to explore a different side of the island. Uncertain about the anchoring permissions in this little bay, our captain graciously agrees to send us off with snorkeling equipment while he circles around on Gémeaux. Secretly, Allen enjoys the peace and quiet. And funny enough, we enjoy everything but peace and quiet.
Once in the water, we wind our way through a maze of local fishing boats anchored around a small pier. The little wooden platform is overflowing with tourists, screeching in delight, clearly captivated by something in the water. We are as curious as they are and absolutely dumbfounded when we make the same discovery. Turtles. Not the solitary turtle you spot out of the corner of your eye who is gracefully swimming by. And not the giant Leatherback turtles we witnessed in the turtle sanctuary of the Tobago Cays, who alternate between lazily resting on the sea bottom and gracefully surfacing for air. The turtles of Santa Cruz are here for a sole purpose—to eat the heads and tails and unwanted pieces of the fishermen’s daily catch. We watch in astonishment as we witness the Jekyll side of about 20 of these sweet creatures aggressively chomping down on fish parts and gulping them down. A turtle feeding frenzy. Who knew?
Some describe Curaçao as a crowded, dirty island. And true, it’s a much more urban environment compared to its sister island, Bonaire. To us, however, Curaçao was a delight. We spent nearly two weeks on this island and as the official origin of our sailing rally, it became much like home. We loved our proximity to the Sunken TugBoat—just a short dinghy ride and walk to a shipwreck, making it an easy, daily event for some pretty spectacular snorkeling. Provisioning was a joy among a variety of grocery stores stocked with Dutch treats, fresh produce, and LaCroix Pamplemousse! Of course we tried Blue Curaçao—that liqueur we all know makes our drinks blue but didn’t realize until now that it’s made from the dried bitter orange peels of the Laraha tree native to Curaçao.
But like many of islands we visit, it’s the people who leave a lasting impression. Our very first night in Curaçao, we met a local couple who casually strayed from their own agenda and told us all about their island, the best restaurants, and sights not to miss. Celebrities or not—add this island to your list of places to visit.
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