It's never what you know, but who, or whom

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Flag of Aruba  ,
Thursday, May 31, 2012

It's never what you
know, but who, or in proper English 'Whom.’

So there we were, sitting down with a friend of our called Marianne who is a school teacher on the island. When she suddenly said, "You sail don’t you." Well the last time I actually sailed was delivering a ‘Tall Ship’ which is one of those vessels that comes from a bygone era. About one hundred years ago. The era when they sent men up the rigging to climb the ropes.. work their way along the spars that the sails were lashed to. To lean over and pull the ropes to unfurl them while balancing on a rope. You know the sort of thing. Anyway, I only crewed that boat which was always in sight of land. In fact, never really that far away. The only other time I sailed was what I might correctly call ‘a baptism by fire’. Aboard a Whitbread round the world racing yacht. Again off the coast of southern England. In November. Definitely not the best month to try sailing. At night as well... Oh, and did I mention that a storm force 8 sprung up? All in all and this is going to sound strange, a terribly beautiful experience. And one that really  got the adrenaline flowing. Wonderful. So to get back to now, having had exactly one weeks sailing experience, said, “yes.... I sail.” Well, it was not a total fabrication. I just felt I might be a little economical with the true facts. (Just like so many politicians.) Well she said, “our mutual friend Dave has just bought a boat in Panama! And he needs to get it back here, to St Maarten.” My eyes widened. Now this was what any true sailor would call real sailing. Against the prevailing winds and sea currents. So without any hesitation leapt at the opportunity. “I’ll  do the second and final leg from Aruba, just of the South American coast of Venezuela back up to St Maarten.” So as I’m typing this, Dyana & I are waiting in the departure hall of the small Dutch Island called Curacao to catch  the second flight to the even smaller island of Aruba. So far, nothing has gone wrong! The flight leaves at 10:15 pm and gets there about 11.00. Hopefully the hotel will still be open when we get there. More later.

Miraculously, everything went exactly to plan. The 2 hour obligatory wait in St Maarten’s
Princess Juliana Airport for the checking in procedure. Then the 2 hour flight to Curacao with Insul Air. In Europe they’ve actually banned these aircraft from flying because of the noise. And they really are noisy when they fly over our apartment on the way to their destination. Oh! Yes. I must tell you about the first class section of the plane. What a laugh. We were sitting in row 5. And rows 1 to 4 were unbeknownst to us... the 1st class section. Strangely though, they had exactly the same seats as us. Not wider; or with more legroom; or in fact anything that we could see. However..... and this is the big thing......  they were served an orange juice before the flight started! In a little plastic cup! And during the flight.... a ‘wonderful’ little sandwich appeared
also served in a small brown open cardboard box. Well... I was just amazed. Because we plebs sitting in the back simply had a plastic cup of juice and the tiniest little pack of nuts. The airport in Curacao is fine. Larger than I thought it was going to be. And now the three hour wait for our connection. I will however always remember this airport. I had the worst hamburger in my life
there. I won’t go into detail, but NEVER.... and I repeat NEVER eat there. It’s much more nutritious to starve! Then the tiny plane hop over to Aruba which took a mere twenty five minutes. And now we’re here!

So now it’s a week later, and as they say, ‘even the best laid plans of mice and men............ or ........... when stuff happens; It really happens.’ The boat which should have arrived on Friday didn’t. It was a 30 year old French built vessel just bought by our friend in a city called Colon in Panama. He, Dave and a ‘captain’ Mike, (not me,) were going to sail it from there, around the top of South America  to Aruba. And that’s where I was going to pick her up and assist in taking her back to ST Maarten. Nobody however told the weather that that was the master plan! In fact the weather had other ideas. And what I’m about to tell you normally happens with me on board.
The route from Panama to Aruba is effectively sailing due east. The prevailing winds are due west; in exactly the opposite direction. Impossible to really sail. And did it blow. 30/35 knot winds. All in the wrong direction. And this in turn made for big seas. Twenty one foot swells.. not at all nice. They ripped the trailing dinghy right off the back of the boat and it was lost
forever. The cooking propane system failed; (nothing hot to eat or drink); the mainsail developed a tear.... and to cap it all, the fuel which was driving the vessel along became contaminated and then the engine failed. So instead of running aground somewhere at the mercy of the wing and seas, they called the coastguard out. They finally arrived and towed them into Santa Marta where the boat is undergoing repairs. And a new dinghy will have to be bought; and everything
else put right. So now you know why I’m sitting in the airport at Aruba waiting to fly back to St Maarten. (Much safer really at this stage.) Dave, the owner reckons they’ll be away again on Tuesday, two days away. I wish him luck! This is the Caribbean and everything happens slowly. Thinking about it though, he may have meant Tuesday fortnight. So the plan, if ever there was one is for them to fix the boat; sail it to Aruba, call me when they get there and I will then fly down to another small island called Curacao to pick it up. Only one thing we have to bear in mind is that the hurricane season is fast approaching.

So anyway, we made the best of the weeks time we had on the island. And the one thing that struck us was that it has become really Americanised. With all the usual names you will definitely know. Radisson.. Hyatt.. Westins to mention a few. And right behind the hotels which are on this strip of fabulous beach are all the usual restaurants.... TGI Fridays... Burger King... plus I must say some excellent other places where we usually ate. One evening we went to the
Hibachi Chef in a restaurant called Blossoms. It’s as much a WOW show as he cooks and sets fire to almost everything right in front of you; as it is a gourmet eating experience. The chef ‘David’ in this case was an entertaining artist ‘par excellance’.  Never have I laughed so much as he threw bits of excess food into a well in the top of his chefs hat. Please click on the pictures because they turn into short videos and as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.  

And back to St Maarten now and at the Aruba airport.. through check in and security.. and waiting at the gate. The bus arrived to collect us and drove to a normal sized jet. WHAT! It didn’t stop! And just kept going till we saw what can only be described as something from Orville and  Wilbur Wrights day. The tiniest little two enginned aircraft with twelve seats. Quite impossible to stand up in. And although we all had seat numbers, on entering nearly on hands and knees, the
little plane had no seat numbering system. So we sat anywhere. The pilot sat at his controls with a bottle of water and reading a newspaper. Once he finished reading, he opened up the little window flap; pushed the bottle of drinking water through it, and splattered the remaining water on the front windscreen. The newspaper followed through the small opening and he actually started cleaning his windscreen with circular hand motions. And this did not go down well with European passengers! This time the looks were more desperate than furtive!

As you might imagine, no air hostess so I was wondering how they were going to do the usual spiel on air safety, something we all see, and ignore. The Captain turned round looking through the opening between the cockpit and us. “If you need any information, it’s on the card in front of you. OK? Any questions? No? Good then,” as he fitted his earphone over his head, adjusting them more comfortably over his ears and returned to face the front. Some anxious looks from the Europeans as they shot furtive glances from one to another. (A South African Airline called Khalula has the right idea. Instead of the usual, “You fasten the buckle like this....... and adjust it like this....... and unfasten it like this.” On Khalula they say, “If you don’t know how to use one of these, you shouldn’t be flying!” How true. It’s worth Googling them. What a great laugh you will have. So, settling back into the seat thought, ‘it is what it is. And this is the Caribbean after all.’ And to cap it all, it was really hot inside. The first engine sprung to life and the plane did a little shudder as if being woken up. The second engine started and it felt much more balanced.
Then I saw something I honestly did not ever think I would ever see. In the front of the pilot and co-pilot there are lots of gauges and switches. And all the passengers could watch as he deftly switched this one on... that one off.. twiddled with this and that until he was happy. Reminded me of a child being taken to the sweet shop and being allowed to touch everything before being
bought something. And now here it is! For those of you who use a satnav in your car, the pilot just switched his one on. And followed the instructions. Wow I thought, hope we don’t need a petrol stop along the way. So I thought. With a bit of luck, even I might be able to fly this thing in the right direction. And true enough, he followed the ‘road’ from Aruba to Curacao. And just after we were airborne with lots of noise and vibration, the air conditioning system switched itself on. Huge consternation as white ‘smoke’, condensation really, streamed from the tubes above us few passengers. Filling the cabin and making visibility slightly difficult with tiny rivulets slowly running down each and every port hole.

In fact the satnav I had in England used to have a flag at the destination, and guess what... Yep.. you’re ahead of me, so did this one. As we arrived at Curacao airport, the little flag seemed to wave... saying you’ve arrive at your destination. I would love to have a go.
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starlagurl on

That's a great story!
I had a similar experience on WinAir flying to Saba. The tiniest, most laid back airline ever.

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