March 31 - April 22, 2014
Aruba is the westernmost of the ABC Islands. It is approximately 75 miles west of Curacao and only 17 miles north of Venezuela.
Aruba’s history is discussed on our ABC Islands page. However, Aruba has one interesting bit of unique history. During World War II, Aruba was one of the main suppliers of refined petroleum products to the Allies.
Aruba may be small, but it is flashy and glitzy with countless high-end jewelry stores, casinos, and lots of night life.
Aruba is the smallest of the ABC Islands at only 75 square miles. It is flat and dry. It tallest spot is only 617’ above sea level, and much of the island is home to only cactus. There are no rivers.
There are two ports on the west coast – the Barcadera and Playa. The Barcadera is a few miles south of the capital, Oranjestad. It is where the ‘trader boats’ go. The traders are the Venezuelan boats that bring in Aruba’s food. The Playa is the commercial port in the heart of Oranjestad where the container ships and cruise ships go.
Aruba is densely populated in comparison to Bonaire and Curacao. Aruba has more than 102,000 on its 75 square miles for a population density of 1,470 per square mile. That is nearly double the density of Curacao (881) and ten times the density of Bonaire (150).
This arid, riverless, and densely populated island has substantial water needs that are met by the third largest desalination plant in the world. Their on-island desal plant produces 38,000 tons per day.
Aruba’s economy is based on five main industries. They include tourism, gold mining, phosphate mining aloe export, and petroleum refining. More than three quarters of their GNP is based on tourism. They have minimal agriculture and manufacturing.
Our sail from Curacao to Aruba
In a word – miserable. The seas were bumpy and rolly. We were trying to go slow so that we did not arrive before daylight, so we did not have enough sail up. And we should have sailed further off the rhumbline to get a better sailing angle. But we did not. Nita was seasick most of the night (first time in a few years), and that put an extra load on Bud who was on the verge of getting sick. All in all, a miserable night.
We arrived at Barcadera Harbor at 0800, and it was a surprisingly pleasant experience. We could not tie to the dock because the only open spot is only 6’ deep and we are 6’8”. So we rafted up to one of the Venezuelan trader boats. They were helpful and friendly, and they started passing fresh fruits across to Bud as Nita went to clear customs and immigration. They gave us fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, mangoes, and papaya. We gave them some cigarettes we had on board for just that purpose. Clearing in was quick and easy. Then we sailed the few miles north to Renaissance Marina in Playa Harbor. We were tied up and licking our wounds by 0940.
Our time in Aruba
Ok – we’ll admit it. We did not want to come to Aruba. We had heard that they were not very ‘cruiser friendly’, and we did not want to deal with Barcadera Harbor. And we had no interest in the shopping and casinos that Aruba offers. So why did we come? A few reasons. First - It is almost 100 miles closer to our next destination (San Blas Islands in Panama), so we can be one day closer and get slightly better weather predictions. Second – We really needed to clean the boat after half of the island of Bonaire blew down on us while we were there. Our entire boat was very dirty, and this would be our last opportunity to get water and electricity until we arrive in Colon, Panama (a few more weeks away). And third – We wanted to take on more provisions. We are loading up for our long haul in the Pacific later this season. Aruba seemed a good place for all of those.
So Aruba was pretty much a functional stop for us. And it was a good one. We got internet and watched the weather closely. We cleaned the boat above and below deck. We put on a lot of provisions. We caught up laundry. And so goes the exciting cruising life.
Renaissance Marina turned out to be a good experience. They are friendly and helpful, and we had a great slip. We were just inside the breakwater with a great view. We did have to look at the daily cruise ships (sometimes three per day), but they did not bother us. Just others out enjoying some sea time. The grounds are literally crawling with iguanas. Sometimes there are at least 60 in view at one time. Nita thinks it is a bit creepy.
The shore along the marina and associated hotel is rocky rather than a sandy beach, so there are constant free shuttles that run out to their private island. We, as marina guests, have access to the island. It is a pretty sandy island with a small bar and restaurant. There are two swimming lagoons and far too many iguanas. There is also a small flock of flamingoes.
We saw a weather window to head to Panama, and we planned on leaving on Tuesday, April 15. But Bud caught a cold, and we decided that we did not want to start a long passage (5 days?) with one of us sick – just in case it got worse before it got better. So we decided to wait for the next weather window. It looked like Monday, April 21, so we left the marina and checked out.
During our few weeks in Aruba, Barcadera Harbor was closed for extensive renovation. Check in and check out now is done in the main harbor. The docks there are designed for large ships, not small sailing boats, so it was not particularly convenient. But all went well, and we got checked out.
We had too much wind almost as soon as we left the harbor - 25 knots steady with gusts of 30. The seas were short and bumpy. Not a good way to start a passage. So went six wet miles north and anchored off the high rise hotels at Basurati. We were pleasantly surprised to find our friends on SV Laya there, so we invited them over for cocktails, and we made a fun evening out of our unplanned delay. We also completed a few 'last minute' chores that did not get done before leaving the marina. All in all, a good delay.
In the morning, we had coffee while watching the pelicans in the anchorage. Awkward looking birds. Then we headed west,
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