It made me envious; I know, that’s ridiculous, but still.
Dauntless spent two and a half years in Northern Europe because I knew we would like it. The weather, the people, the cultures all, the food, fit my number one criteria of staying off the beaten track and living well as I did so.
That was expected. All the lands of coastal Northern Europe have a real seafaring culture. Every boat waves at you, especially fisherman. From Galicia in northwest Spain to the far eastern Baltic, it was a wonderful experience with minimal bureaucracy.
In those 2+ years, 20+ countries, 100+ stops, mostly in towns and cities, I probably spent less than 120 minutes on the formalities of checking in (Passports, boats documents, crew lists) and checking out.
No wait, there was no checking out.
The peoples, the lands, met and greatly exceeded my expectations.
Then, we headed south. 90% of all boats are south, mostly in the Mediterranean, you know, Italy, Greece, Turkey and southern France and Spain. Everyone wants to go there, so that’s a big Do Not Enter sign for me.
So, we headed south with low expectations. Little did I realize they were not low enough.
Prices trebled, temperatures doubled and bureaucracy was like a pig is slop. The first two stops in Portugal took the same amount of time as the last 100 stops of the previous two years.
And then it got worse.
In virtually every stop, 5 to 10 pieces of paper to sign to check-in; make sure you return tomorrow to fill out and sign the same papers to check-out. Don’t even mention the expense.
But you have read all of this before. Turns out Martinique was the high point of the entire Caribbean. It’s almost weird to say that they were the least bureaucratic. In fact, they were just like northern France. But that was certainly the exception.
So now, having endured all of that and more to get Dauntless a quarter of the way back around the world, I sit here with envy of Dirona.
But I realize it’s not Dirona I’m envious of, it’s being in the middle of the ocean.
I’m a traveler, so when I’m not, I’ll always be envious of those who are.
We knew it would end badly; we only hoped they would have mercy on us.
We did our best to stay out of trouble, but when your time is up, it’s up.
Now, as we rewind the events of the last few days, it’s clear we never had a chance.
It all started innocently enough. The uneventful three-day passage from St. Vincent to Bonaire was just that uneventful. But now, it’s obvious, those strange lights we encountered was just the tip of the iceberg.
We spent an uneventful few days on Bonaire. It truly is a diver’s and snorkeling paradise, at least for anyone who has not been to Hawaii. Certainly, the most fish I have seen since… Hawaii, but that was 30 years ago,
The plan was Bonaire, then Curacao and finally Aruba, the three so-called ABC’s.
20 miles e
ast southeast of Curacao, there is a small island, called Kleene Curacao. It’s almost on the way, so after a long day, we figured to anchor off the windward shore. This is the island with the wreck and the old, abandoned lighthouse.
After walking around the island
, climbing the lighthouse, making photos of the wreck, upon returning to Dauntless, I heard a low droning noise that can only come from a low flying turbo prop
aircraft. It was a Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard (DCCG) plane making a low (200 ft.) pass, parallel to the beach banked over to get a close look at our little Kadey Krogen.
That was interesting. This was not our little boat’s first encounter with aircraft checking us out. The Canadians off Nova Scotia, the French off the Brest Peninsula, did the same. Seeing we were clearly not a fishing boat, we never saw them again.
But this time was different.
Next morning, we get underway to do the last 20 miles to Curacao. This time, a DCCG helicopter circles our boat three times. A couple hours later running parallel to the coast, just a couple miles off, the same helicopter returns and circles us again for 5 minutes.
So, it was no surprise when an hour later, we get a call on the VHF from DCCG asking us our destination.
OK, that’s simple, it’s Oranjestad, we’ll anchor just off the airport’s runway.
No, that won’t do, we are being asked to stop at customs in Bacadera, 4 miles south of Oranjestad.
No problem, that’s on the way. I tell them we’ll be there in about an hour.
Then 20 minutes later, I’m hailed again, this time by the DCCG RIB that’s right off our stern quarter.
Initially, they seemed to want to follow me to Bacadera. OK, but then finally they asked the question that it seems everyone has been dying to ask for the last few days, what am I streaming off the paravane poles?
I told them it’s a bird to stabilize the boat and reduce rolling.
Could I please retrieve them so that they may board our boat?
Of course, let’s end this drama!
They watched alertly as Micah and I went through our now well practiced, 4-minute routine: Dauntless in idle, then neutral, as boat slows I go to fly bridge, while Micah goes to side deck. After 2 minutes, boat is slowed enough for me to start retrieving poles. Then it’s just a matter of pulling birds out of water.
Once that is done, they ask me to go “Dead Slow”, and as Dauntless wallows around like stricken whale, they come alongside and three guys come on to Dauntless’ side deck.
They are really professional and even nice. They obviously are thinking we are fishing. They do a quick look around, take a picture of our passports and satisfied that we are not and have never been fishing, they prepare to leave. This time though, they let me go the steadier speed of 5 knots, which makes it easier for the RIB to pull alongside and for them to return.
They add that we do not have to stop at Customs at Bacadera, but can proceed to Oranjestad, anchor for the night and check-in the following day.
Which we did.
At which point the customs asked us why we did not check-in the night before?
I stated simply that I did as I was directed. That ended that discussion.
All in all, it was a good experience. The only frustrating part was not so much about the fishing that wasn’t but just the paperwork to check-in and then a day or two later, the same paperwork to check-out. For long term cruisers, not an issue, but for someone like me, who wants to see many places in a short time, they make it very time consuming and ultimately, I will not come back.
In fact, only a week later, closing in on Cartagena, I realized that check-in normally takes few days, check out two days and we only wanted to make a two-night stop.