Curaçao's Anchor Permits
Bureaucracy or Necessity?
by Deborah Waterson
In the world of cruising the names of Curaçao and the other ABC islands are being more widely used. They are seen as especially safe and secure and have a growing range of maintenance and repair facilities to offer. Sitting out of the path of hurricanes they are seen as a good alternative in a time when hurricanes have wreaked such havoc with other popular sailing grounds in the Eastern Caribbean. Few realise that each ABC island has its own superb cruising area: Bonaire in the lee; and Curaçao and Aruba in their north and in their lees, with flat waters and good winds.
Given that Donald van der Reijden and I are the authors of the soon-to-be-published ABC islands cruising guide, Compass approached us and requested that we clarify the issue of anchoring permits in Curaçao, why they are in place and why we cruisers need them. They are seldom used elsewhere in the Caribbean and seem to be a point of confusion.
Getting Your Anchor Permit
When arriving in Curaçao by yacht, after Customs and Immigration procedure has been completed the next move is to obtain an anchor permit from the Harbour authorities, located in Motetwerf, opposite the Immigration building. They are located upstairs above the AVD security company in a double-storey yellow building.
The staff here represent the harbour master himself, who is physically situated on the opposite side of the water in the Scharloo (Punda) side of Willemstad in the Curaçao Port Authority building. They are friendly and efficient and will issue you with a free anchor permit for the duration of your visa (see "Visas" below), for the bays you specifically request, including the anchorage in Spaanse (Spanish) Water, where you initially dropped your anchor on arrival. Should you renew your visa you will have to return to them to renew your anchor permit as well. They also ask that when you move anchorages that you inform them. Their office hours are 7:30AM to 12 noon and 1:30PM to 4:45PM, Monday through Friday, and they have an office number of 434-5999 and a 24-hour telephone number of 510-5909.
The vast majority of cruisers get their visas upon arrival. Citizens of the USA and Canada get 14 days on arrival, renewable to 90 days for free on application. Citizens of the BENELUX countries and most other Europeans receive 90 days on arrival.
For other passport holders, a visa must usually be obtained prior to arrival.
The Spaanse Water anchorage has four options. The main and second anchorages, that most cruisers use, are in the northwestern side of the lagoon, with holding in mud in 15 to 20 feet.
The third option is to the west of Curaçao Yacht Club (which you see straight ahead of you on arrival from the entrance in Spaanse Water), up a narrow section between the main anchorage and the yacht club. This anchorage is limited to a few yachts and anchoring is good in 20 feet of water and mud.
The last option is in the southwestern corner of Spaanse Water in a section called Kabrietenbaai. This is a lovely secluded part of the lagoon, a little removed from the hustle of the rest of the lagoon, but close to the dinghy dock leading to Caracasbaai and clear sea water; holding is again good, in mud, in 25 feet of water.
Most cruisers never venture further than Spaanse Water and happily spend their time in Curaçao there, sharing social happy hours, pot lucks and shopping trips into town.
Other Permitted Anchorages
Other bays you are permitted to anchor in include remote Klein Curaçao; picturesque and secluded Fuik Baai; and, to the north, pretty Santa Cruz, complete with a small dive school, restaurant and fishing community. Others are on the southern side of Porto Marie, a busy tourist beach; Santa Martha, another protected lagoon near the Sunset Waters resort; Groot Knip, a popular beach with locals and tourist alike; and Playa Forti in Westpunt, the farthest north, a large bay with spectacular cliff frontage. Most of these bays are quiet and secluded during nights and weekdays, and busier over weekends.
Why Coastal Patrols?
One will often see the coast guard helicopter and small fast boats with armed guards, as well as CITRO (the local voluntary rescue organisation) around and feel reassured that should there be a problem help is not too far away. The helicopter and fast boats also patrol the coast and the other anchorages besides those in Spaanse Water.
The reason behind the visible presence of the coast guard is for the protection of the ABC islands, including the coastal waters of Curaçao. This includes the protection of cruisers and watersports enthusiasts. They are there to enforce local laws, and part of this law enforcement is protecting the islands from drug- and people-smuggling. If it sounds threatening, be reassured it is not, even though Curaçao and the other Dutch islands are close to the coasts of Venezuela and Colombia, and have direct flights to the USA and Europe daily, making it an ideal port of entry for desperate people fleeing poverty and for drug barons seeking more wealth. This is greatly reduced and controlled by the coast guard and other law enforcement agencies, both local and foreign, who maintain strict protocol and enforce the rules.
Unfortunately these smuggling ventures are conducted on vessels not dissimilar to the ones we call home and cruise the islands on. Therefore Curaçao asks that while we are in their waters we abide by their request of having anchoring permits, so they can differentiate between those of us that are there as tourist visitors and those that are a threat.
The coast guard throughout the ABC islands will be seen daily either by helicopter flying overhead, frigates travelling between the islands and fast RIBs moving between the bays. Should they find anything suspicious, they may request boat paperwork and permits, but generally are courteous and not in the habit of harassment.
Working with the System
Curaçao is not an especially bureaucratic island; they are simply trying to protect their best interests and ours. Unfortunately, a minority of cruisers think they can ignore the law and when they get caught out, feel wronged. Some cruisers do not always clear in, and although visa renewal is easy and the cost negligible, others do not renew their visas on time as they are "leaving with the next weather window" - which can take up to a month to appear. Similarly, anchor permits are easy to obtain and renew at no cost at all. It's too bad that the few cruisers who flout the law can make authorities suspicious of others who simply misunderstand the rules or have received inadequate information.
If we were visitors to any other country and we overstayed our visa period, or cleared out and then stayed longer, the consequences would be deportation and/or fines. Curaçao, on the other hand, has had incidents where cruisers whose nationality requires them to obtain visas prior arrival, but have arrived without, have had the officials give them 24- to 48-hour temporary visas so they could prepare for the next leg of their passage.
Curaçao is generally a friendly, law-abiding nation which just asks visiting yachtspeople to be the same. My husband and I have recently finished writing the official cruising guide to the ABC islands and have dealt with the heads of most departments, including Customs, Immigration, Port Authorities, Harbour Masters, Coast Guard and others. All were extremely helpful and co-operative, even if they were not used to dealing with individual cruising yachts and are still learning their requirements. As time goes by hopefully with the help of the cruising guide, visiting yachts to the ABC Islands will be armed with knowledge prior to their arrival and so help avoid confrontations, which can spoil their time on these beautiful Dutch Islands.
The Gotto Go Cruising Guide
The soon-to-be-published Gotto Go Cruising Guide to the ABC Islands has sketch charts and maps (including detailed sketch maps of the locations of Customs, Immigration and harbour authorities), contact details, and aerial photographs of all the bays and anchorages of the three islands. Armed with this, we believe the visiting cruiser will, as we did, have an enjoyable stay encountering only friendly, helpful people. The Gotto go Cruising Guide to the ABC Islands will be for sale by the end of this month. We trust and believe this guide will help explain all procedures, so all cruisers can enjoy a prolonged stay in these beautiful islands.
Copyright© 2006 Compass Publishing