Aruba, Aruba!!

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Saturday 8 February 2014

Our 4 day trip from Grenada to Aruba was reasonably plain sailing as crossings go. It was our first long passage double-handed since we’d crossed from Gibraltar to Las Palmas. After our luxury crew of five for crossing the Atlantic we now had to do everything ourselves. Sailing wise, for downwind sailing the main challenge is getting the spinnaker pole in position, which is a fair old chunky beast, and inevitably one line will get itself in the wrong position and you have to sort it out on a rolling foredeck.

The Atlantic crossing had failed to deliver true trade winds but now we had them and apart from the odd lull we ticked along quite nicely. Squalls however were still present and after a few soakings in stinging rain we opted for a squall strategy of putting the autopilot on, grabbing everything and dashing down below. The novelty of stinging rain soon wears off!

Our challenge was to get in to Aruba in daylight given its coast is lined with reefs and you have to go into a harbour that is bordered by reefs to clear customs. We made customs in the nick of time, not thanking them for how shallow it was and needing to raft up alongside a Venezuelan fruit and vegetable boat.

We berthed up in Renaissance Marina in the main town of Oranjestad. Aruba is an old Dutch colony previously occupied by the Spanish. One result is that conversations may be in English, Spanish, Dutch or a local dialect which mixes all three. It was all rather biazarre.

We’d been expecting a Caribbean style island but the presence of Starbucks and a cruise ship terminal soon put paid to that one. A quick walk around town had alarm bells ringing as we saw streets lined with jewellers and big brands like Gucci, clearly aimed at the cruise ships. We had friends Simone and Isla Casaglia flying all the way from Milan to visit us for two weeks and we’d all been looking forward to turquoise seas and white sandy beaches.

Susie and I were soon running around trying to find what to do on the island with our friends! After a couple of days the panic subsided as we accepted that Aruba was a popular island destination for Americans and there was a fair amount to do and yes, relief, it did have spectacular white sandy beaches and turquoise seas. And several MacDonald’s, Burger Kings, Wendy’s…. What more could you ask for?

Simone and Isla arrived a day late thanks to Miami airport which still seems to mess connecting flights up with its unwanted long passport control queues and customs checks. Susie became friends with Isla and Simone during work days in London and a few years back we attended their wedding when they tied the knot in Italy. They are now happily settled in Milan so we now bounce backwards and forwards visiting each other in London or Milan.

First up, relax your friends with some beaches. Best of all, the marina was linked to a hotel and it had its own private island, complete with white beaches, iguanas and pink flamingos! Perfect!

We then chose to hire a car and explore the island. Dirt roads are involved at times and one slight hesitation about which was the right track and we were in white sand. Simone driving now thought he was in the Paris-Dakar rally, which in hindsight was a good thing as we buried ourselves in said white sand just short of the needed path. Lots of shovelling, nothing. More shovelling, wood underneath tyres and out we popped to the relief of four people now firmly coated in soft white beach sand.

Back at base, we had befriended a local fisherman called Leo. Leo is a deep sea fishing skipper taking wealthy clients out on a daily basis. A common ploy to secure a fish is to send your beloved out for a chat. This time we had both the lovely Susie and Isla armed with homemade cookies. The results were of course very rewarding and BBQ fish courtesy of friendly Leo was enjoyed several times.

While we had hoped to sail with Isla and Simone, strong winds and the lack of good anchorages put paid to that plan. We did get out for a good day sail and two nights at anchor. And yes it took several attempts to anchor as the white sand that we’d deemed the world’s softest, wasn’t too deep and with the wind gusting the anchor easily dragged through it. But we enjoyed swimming, snorkelling, BBQs and games of Yahtzee and Monopoly Deal. We can also confirm champagne and nachos are a rather good combination.

Back on land, we hired a 4 wheel drive to explore the Arikok National Park, making full use of the 4WD and being grateful we didn’t have a normal car hire again. The coastline was spectacular with waves crashing in, small beautiful bays and a monstrous wind farm added into the bargain too!

Keeping us entertained, our new neighbours in the marina were a spectacular 115 foot SunSeeker super yacht (or stink pot, as sailors rudely call them). This attracted crowds taking photographs of the crewed boat and we were in prime spot to watch it all. To be fair, the skipper was a friendly chap. I admitted that pulling out of our spot with winds gusting, the threat of hitting him made me a tad nervous and he admitted the same in reverse and he even apologised for touching us with his fender on his one parking. It is quite intimidating when a triple-decker is bearing down on you!

The days flew by as we enjoyed the beautiful beaches, and finally settled on a beach dinner for our farewell. A table in the sand facing the sea, a sunset, good food and good friends, it was indeed bliss. Two weeks were soon up. Susie and I have a policy of putting ourselves on holiday when friends come to visit and it had been a very relaxing two weeks with Simo and Isla. Chaps – thank you so much for coming so far to visit us – we really appreciate it and hope you had as much fun as we did. May your days lack Squidgies and be full of ZeeRover treats.

Next, Adina sails on to the remote San Blas islands of Panama. It will be our toughest passage to date as the wind and seas that have blown across the Atlantic pile up into the corner where the American continents join. It’s rated as the fifth worst sea in the world. We’re planning to hug the Colombian coastline up to Cartegena and then head across to San Blas as the winds finally subside. Ten days zig-zagging the San Blas islands and then we head to transit the Panama Canal!

Aruba! Aruba!

(Pictures to follow as we currently have no internet access)

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One response to “Aruba, Aruba!!

  1. Charlotte says:

    I’m glad the Monopoly Deal game is proving so popular 😉 lots of love to you both xxx