Apr 28-30, 2017
We arrived around 5:00 PM on Friday in Aruba. Mark hailed the Port Authority on the VHF. We were told to anchor out, and check-in later. No problem. We had heard that you can “Q” flag places in the Caribbean. This means, you do not have to check-in, as long as you have your yellow quarantine flag up, and you do not go to shore. Since we arrived late on Friday, and the Port Authority charges extra for weekend and holidays at their dock, we decided, we would just stay on the boat and check-in the following Tuesday, given that Monday was a holiday. We were happy just to hang out and do nothing, while trying to get our sleep schedules back to normal and start dealing with the crossing carnage. Come to find out, “Q” flagging it is not the proper thing to do.
Sunday afternoon, an Aruba coast guard 30 ft inflatable with 5 guys in full tactical gear came broadside and boarded us. They wanted to know who told us we could anchor in the spot where we were located. “Well, no one. It is listed on our charts as a designated anchorage.” We explained that we were told to “anchor out and check-in later” and explained our subsequent thought process of waiting until Tuesday. They took pictures of all of our boat paperwork. They went thoroughly through both hulls of the boat. Things were still pretty tossed around inside. Angie was a bit embarrassed. They wanted to know who we talked to at the Port Authority. We didn’t get a name. They radioed the Port Authority and told them our story. After a lengthy discussion, we were told we could check-in on Tuesday and they left.
A half an hour before sunset, the coast guard boat came back. They told us we had to go immediately to the Port Authority and clear in to the country. We were in a bit of shock at the change of plans, but were able to pull anchor in the 35 knot winds and get moving within 15 minutes. Angie was hastily trying to get fenders and lines ready for going dockside. All of these items were in our far forward storage areas and she had to hang upside down to get them. Once pulling everything up, she was getting fully covered by the waves crashing over the front of the boat while trying to get them installed. The up and down motion, was making her sea sick.
Docking the boat was quite challenging at the Port Authority dock. The winds were blowing like crazy and we had a current pushing against us. After 5 attempts, we could not maneuver close enough to the cruise ship dock cleats to tie off to their huge cleats. Mark called them on the VHF because no one was present at the dock. We needed someone to catch the lines or we would not be able to dock. Finally, a vehicle showed up. A lady gets out of a jeep and Angie tosses a line that landed at her feet. She just stared at us, yelled in Spanish at the coast guard boat that was now pulled up in front, then turned around and went back to her vehicle. Angie was dumbfounded. Two guys from another vehicle finally pull up and again, Angie tosses a line to them. The first attempt was a fail and the line ended up in the water. With the second attempt, the guy caught the now heavy and soggy line, and Angie about pulls him into the water. He didn’t know how to tie the boat off to the cruise ship monster cleat. Angie tries to explain it to him, yelling over the howling wind. At this point, with the boat bobbing up and down, and the stress of the situation, Angie starts getting extremely nauseous, shaking, and is sweating profusely. Her blood sugar dropped like a rock. She is praying she does not puke or pass out in front of these people. When the bow was finally cleated, Mark reversed the engines to swing the back of the boat over, and tossed a stern line to the customs guy and we were finally tied up. The cruise ship docks do not have good protection from surge and the boat was really bouncing up and down.
We finally get the boat close enough to the dock to be boarded. We had customs people and immigration people onboard. Angie was thankful she at least had the dishes cleaned and put away this time. Again, both hulls were thoroughly gone through. Angie gets all of the documentation filled out. One of the officials starts getting seasick from the boat movement. They confiscate our two spear guns and our exit paperwork from the Bahamas and then leave to make copies.
By the time they come back and say we are all cleared-in, it is pitch black out and nine o’clock at night. The final guy off our boat told us to go to a different anchorage, pointing in the opposite direction from which we arrived. We explained that it is dark out, and that we cannot go to a different place, not being able to see the reefs or coral heads or be able to read the water colors for depths. It would be unsafe for us to try to anchor in an unknown location at night. We said we would go back to where we were, since we can follow our route on our chart plotter safely back to a familiar area. He was not pleased and told us to go to the new location again, but we did not care and proceeded to the anchorage, following the exact route back shown on the chartplotter. There was no way we were going to put ourselves and Uno Mas at risk. (Hindsight, we are so thankful we did not go where he wanted us to anchor due to reefs and shallow areas.)
We later realized we were anchored in a different area than we originally thought. We were off of Eagle Beach/Low Rise area, which is NOT a designated anchorage. This cove seems to be the epicenter for the island’s jet ski activities. The jet skiers seem to like using our boat as an apex to go around throughout the day.
Angie made an Aruba courtesy flag to replace the quarantine flag. Thankfully, it wasn’t too intricate. We moved to the next cove North, to the High Rise Beach area, the official anchorage. We also found out that “Q” flagging does not mean you can hang out for an indefinite amount of time. You typically need to check-in within 24 hours of entering a country. “Q” flagging is usually done when people are just anchoring for the night and then continuing on to the next island or country. Good to know!