Category Archives: Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao

The ABC islands

Columbia Passage Sunset Night 1

Columbia Passage

The Columbia passage is 280 nm (nautical miles) from Aruba and we wanted to arrive in daylight.  Matt uses several apps for weather, but a new favorite is PredictWind Offshore which is an app that charts your course based on your boat model, and the current wind and wave conditions.  We set our sail plan based on the average of several models provided by PredictWind Offshore.  Basically, we were looking at a downwind sail with a wind speed average of 17-19 knots and less than 1 meter waves.  It predicted we would arrive in 40 hours.  Based on this data, we decided to leave Aruba around 1400-1500 with the hopes of arriving Santa Marta around 0800-0900.

We reserved a slip at the Marina Santa Marta arriving on 4 November. The marina’s hours of operation on Saturday are from 0800-1700.  If we arrived before 0800 we would have to find a place to anchor or moor.  Unfortunately, we were not able to find out if there were any moorings or anchor spots near the marina before we left.  The one map that we found showed an anchorage in 10-15 meters of water which is too deep for us as we only have 100 meters of chain.

We always seem to learn a thing or two on each passage. One key learning was that we should have made meals before setting sail.  It is not terrible cooking when the boat is on a downwind tack, but it is easier if meals are prepared ahead of time.  The day before we left, Matt cooked up a huge batch of fejuiada which is a Brazilian bean stew with pork shoulder, black beans, sausage, spices, onions, tomatoes, and a few other bits of yumminess.  We also had an extra meal from Maria (our Venezuelan chef) and tuna salad for sandwiches.  We were all set.

At 1400, we pulled up our anchor, raised the main, hoisted the small spinnaker, set our course, and put out the fishing lines and teasers.  Our Columbia passage begins.

Columbia Passage with Small Spinnaker

Columbia Passage with Small Spinnaker

Matt is sitting at the starboard helm and I am at the port helm.  There are fishing polls behind each seat.  2.5 hours into our sail, the fishing pole behind me starts to do a small dance, but doesn’t “zing.”  Matt happened to be looking at me and I caught it in my peripheral vision – yep, something is hooked.  Matt reeled in a tuna which was pretty small but would still make a great snack!  The drag was set too high and our fish was too little which was why it did not zing.

Big Eye Tuna #1

Big Eye Tuna #1

About 45 minutes later, the same line sang out loud “ZING” and spooled out.  Before Matt could get to the line, a second line went “ZING” and we suddenly had two “fish on.”  I brought in the two teasers as Matt hauled in the next tuna and then pulled in a bigger tuna.  Sweet, three big eye tuna’s, two caught on a cedar plug and one on a skirt.  We didn’t even have to turn on the engines, slow the boat down, or alter course.

Big Eye Tuna #2 and #3

Big Eye Tuna #2 and #3

With the freezer full, we decided to pull in the lines so we did not have to worry about them during the night.  We were settling back in when a pod of dolphins decided to play with us.  They were fairly small dolphins, but very playful and stayed with us for well over a half hour.

Matt enjoying some dolphin time.

Matt enjoying some dolphin time.

Just as I was thinking this sail could not be any better, the sun started to set providing a spectacular sunset!

Sunset on first night.

Sunset on first night.

We decided on 3 hour shifts for the night.  Matt took the first shift at 2030 as I took a nap.  The rest of the night rotated on and off with only one sail change around 2330.  The wind shifted slightly so we had to jibe the sail.  We turned the engines on to give us forward motion in order to take the kite down before resetting.  All went smoothly and we carried on for the night with just the main and kite flying.

Matt was sleeping (or trying to) as I listened to my music during my 0500 shift.  My mom, or the Heavens, or the universe were trying to get my attention, because as the sun was rising, “Alive” by SIA started playing and it just got my blood pumping.  Hearing this song at such a majestic moment took my breath away.  I am grateful for every waking moment of every day.  But some moments are extraordinary reminders of just how far I’ve come – all I can say is “thank you!”

We rounded Peninsula de la Guajira just after sunrise with wind in our main and our spinnaker, we were on track to have a 200 mile day.  We were averaging almost 9 knots and had a top speed of over 15!  Just cruising along with good winds and waves.

Mid-morning brought another pod of huge dolphins that were out to show off.  They were having a good ole time at the bow of our boat.  Some would then jet out a 100 yards in front of us and would jump out of the water and flip around.  So fabulously fun!

Second pod of dolphins on day two.

Second pod of dolphins on day two.

Just before 1100 the winds left us and our boat speed dropped to 3-4 knots.  We limped along with both sails up and tried our best to maintain our course.  Several hours later, we hit our 24 hour mark and here are our stats:

24 HOUR STATS for Columbia Passage:
  • 187 miles sailed (we so wanted to hit 200)
  • 15.5 Top speed (awesome speed for us!)
  • 7.9 Average speed (far cry from 9)

It was a bit frustrating with just the spinnaker out and no wind. We were forced to use the engines so we turned on the port engine but it would not start!  WTF?  This is the engine with the new alternator, but that one charges the house batteries, not the starter battery.  For $hit $ake.  It was not worth running one engine so we continued to limp along without the engines until the winds picked up which was around 1500.  We jibbed the spinnaker again and were clicking along at 7-8 knots.  Yeah!  Life is good.

Both nights were blessed with 95% moon (almost full) which produced a brilliant well lit sky and ocean for us.

Almost a full moon lighting our way.

Almost a full moon lighting our way.

Our original arrival time was between 2300 and 2400 when we were averaging almost 9 knots.  But with the decreased boat speed, our arrival time changed to 0300-0400.  About 15 miles away from our destination, we had to take the spinnaker down and turn on the engines in order to make the marina.  To our surprise, port started right up (thank goodness), but starboard was not spitting water, which is not good.  The engines intake sea water to keep them cool so spitting water is imperative.  Matt primed it–nothing.  He replaced the impeller–nothing. It wasn’t until he re-tightened the hose clamps and primed it again, that it finally started spitting water.  We were back in business.  We did not want to learn how difficult it would be to anchor or pull into a slip with one engine.

It is never ideal to arrive to a new place in the dark, but we had no choice.  We slowly motored around the anchorage just outside the marina with the hopes of finding a shallow place to drop the hook.  Luckily, I saw a boat just outside the marina entrance so we headed toward her, dropped the hook, and fell fast asleep!  And with that, the Columbia Passage comes to an end…Good Night.

FINAL STATS for Columbia Passage:
  • 278 miles sailed (we so wanted to hit 200)
  • 15.5 Top speed
  • 7.2 Average speed
  • 38:45 Moving time

Light It Up Sparky – Alternator Issue

Sugar Shack has four alternators on board, two for each engine.  The small alternator charges the starter battery and the large one charges the house batteries. One of our large, 130 amp Mastervolt alternators has “issues” and it was time to fix it.  Matt had already taken it a part, cleaned the brushes, and tweaked things, but it still wasn’t working.  He suspected it needed new diodes which we did not have on board.  He found a place called “Marlon’s Garage” in Aruba that had good reviews for rebuilding alternators.


Matt pulled the big boy out of the engine, placed it in a plastic bag and we hefted it to Marlon’s Garage.  When I say “we” I mean “he” by the way.  We scouted the location earlier so we didn’t have to walk around carrying a 40 lb bag.  The garage was nice, clean, and stocked with a variety of vehicles in 15-20 bays.  All of the employees had really nice embroidered shirts with “Marlon’s Garage” on the back and their names on the front.  Surprising since these are mechanics working around dirty cars and parts wearing these expensive shirts – but good branding!

The garage was filled with lots of treasures.  The owner, a lifelong car enthusiast, had a few Ferrari’s, a porche, couple of corvettes, classic mustang, and old caddy.  We later discovered that he has over 50 cars in total and he is still collecting.

We walked in and they immediately took the alternator in to be tested.  They determined that we needed new diodes and possibly a new rectifier but they could easily do the repair.  They asked us to check back just before 12 to see when we could pick it up.  We left an $80 deposit and went on our way.

We met our friends Dave and Tanya on “Dea Latis” and headed to Price Smart to load up with some groceries.  Half way through our shopping, I realized it was almost 12 so I went outside to try to call. After several failed attempts I went back inside and finished shopping.  Matt kept trying but it was a bad connection.  However, Matt was able to determine that our alternator would be ready before closing.  We returned our fresh groceries to the boat and decided to explore the town while we waited for the repair to be completed.

Around 5p we headed back to Marlon’s Garage to pick up our alternator.  All three diodes were replaced. The shop did not have a rectifier so they actually fabricated a new one for us.  All for the low price of $130.

We loaded her back up into her plastic and headed back toward the dinghy dock.  It was hot, with little to no breeze and we were both exhausted.  A cold beverage would perk us up!  We stopped in on a local bar to regroup.  After we addressed our more pressing needs by cooling down and resting, we realized we were famished.  We left after two rounds and stopped at a Cuban place by the marina.  It was really lovely, with a band, nice ambiance, and super tasty food.  28k steps later, we crashed hard!

Matt installed the rebuilt alternator the next day and was pleasantly surprised to find that it charged at 30-40 amps while the engines were in idle.  The other alternator charges at 10-15 amps at idle.  Then he pushed the engine to 1500 RPM it charged at 100 amps.   Whereas the other one charges at 30-40 amps at 1500 RPM.  Wow, this is amazing!

He was so excited that he took the other 130 amp alternator off and said let’s go have this one checked too.  We huffed back to Marlon’s, had them check it and they said it was fine. They suggested that the regulator might need to be tweaked.  Humf…Matt had checked that it was still not putting out the same amps as the rebuilt one, but it was still charging the house batteries.

The good news is that both large alternators are charging the house batteries.  Yeah.

Aruba Ariba: Island Life

The most popular drink on Aruba is called the Aruba Ariba which has  a lot of alcohol (see ingredients at the end of this blog) and tends to make any day a good day.

I Love Aruba signs all over the island.

I Love Aruba signs all over the island.

Bonaire and Curacao are vastly different from their sister island, Aruba, in that Aruba is very commercialized.  All three of the islands are relatively small, flat, and dry.  But the significant difference between them is that Aruba has its independence from the Netherlands where Bonaire and Curacao do not. you can read the official history of their independence on wikipedia, but a friend of mine provided a more colorful one from a local.

Aruba made its first bid for independence in the mid 80’s and Holland allowed them independent governance but not independent status. They put them on a trial run, and supposedly, their full independence as a country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands was largely dependent on their ability to prove economic self-sufficiency.   So…..they started leasing land to big American resort chains,  tore down their cultural landmarks,  and proved themselves a thriving economy such that 6 years later they were afforded “country” status independence.   But most Antilleans feel they sold their soul.    Which it kind of feels that way to me.

As a tourist destination, it was no surprise to see 5 cruise ships in on the same day which means close to 15k people descend on this island at once.  The cruise ship port and the hotel row are littered with name brand stores, many of which I have not seen since I lived in California. Most visitors are from the U.S. where other islands we visited had a nice mix of cruisers from all over the world.  It certainly is a different vibe, not bad, just different.

Life size blue horses are located throughout Paardenbaai, the cruise ship area, to show the importance of the Caribbean Sea and horses.  Horse trading dates back to the early days of Spanish Colonization and continued for centuries afterward.  Historic accounts relate that at times the herds would count up to thousands of horses, roaming the island.

Paardenbaai Bay Blue Horses

Paardenbaai Bay Blue Horses

A local steak house has a great marketing tool – a big black bull advertising the local steak house on a bench.  It also makes for a great photo op.

Photo Op with Large Bull

Photo Op with Large Bull

While we were anchored over by Malmok Beach we had a fun tour group visit us daily.  The Seabob Tours of Aruba would take their tour group by the SS Antilla, then under our boat, and over to a swim area and back.  The tour guides, Englebert (not sure of spelling) and Aramis were so happy and entertaining that it was actually as fun for us as it was for his tours!

On the 2nd day, they were kind enough to bring us homemade Venezuelan food which consisted of a tasty soup, beef and veggies over rice.  Not sure how they managed it, but they brought the lunch over on a Seabob without spilling a drip!  It was so tasty that Matt and I decided to visit them for lunch the next day.  We were served Chicken Cordan bleu served with rice, plantains and vegges.  Maria is the chef in training who brings the lunches over daily – she has a very promising future!

As with every island, we are always on the hunt for a good grocery store and bulk store.  It took us awhile, and a lot of false starts, but we were finally able to locate a few good stores in Aruba.  The first place we found was Price Smart and some how we managed to get our friends Shawn and Sharon to walk to it (a mere couple of miles).  Price Smart is a bulk item store (like Costco or Sam’s Club) and has several good deals, but was lacking on fruits, veggies, and breads.  Next we found Super Food which is “more than just food” (that is their tagline).  This was an enormous store, but a little on the pricey side (even for Aruba). A case of beer was about $55 U.S. where we had been paying $30 elsewhere.

Super Food's Building Didn't Fit in My Photo - HUGE!

Super Food’s Building Didn’t Fit in My Photo – HUGE!

Our last store  was Ling and Sons which is part of the Van den Twill family.  Sharon and I had tried to find this store on our walk and missed it by 2 blocks.  Armed with better intel, Matt and I found it a week later.  This is a great store, full of a variety of Dutch and American food.  Priced as you’d expect in Aruba.

All in all, the people on Aruba are very friendly and easy going.  There is something for everyone, if you don’t mind the mass amounts of tourists everywhere.

The ingredients for the Aruba Ariba:
  • 1/2 oz. vodka.
  • 1/2 oz. 151 rum (better if using Ron Rico from Aruba, higher proof)
  • 1/8 oz. Coecoei.
  • 1/8 oz. Creme de Banana.
  • 1/2 cup orange juice.
  • 1/2 cup cranberry juice.
  • 1/2 cup pineapple juice OR you’re favorite “punch drink”
Happy Hour Aruba

Aruba Ariba and Amstel Bright.