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by Dan and Jan Ahart

Chapter Seventy-Four

"In that moment it seemed that from his hilltop he was looking over Time rather than Space: and in his ears there whispered the soughing of the winds of eternity as they sweep into the past."

From 'The Road to The Sea,' by Arthur C. Clarke.

And as much as we liked Bonaire, time was sweeping by and we needed to get to Panama before the Christmas winds became too strong, so we continued our westward journey to the island of Curacao, which is pronounced - "Kur ah Sau." Curacao is the center island and the largest of the "ABCs," which are Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, the three Dutch islands in the southern Caribbean, just off the north coast of Venezuela.

Curacao is by far the most industrialized of the three islands. It even sports a large oil refinery that belches nasty odors and smoke - mostly at night. During the day, when the cruise ships are in port, the discharges are kept to a minimum. The refinery used to be owned and operated by Royal Dutch Shell, but with constant strikes by local unions and the outdated and pollution prone equipment, Shell sold it to the island government a number of years ago for one Florin - the local currency. The Curacao government in turn leased it to the Venezuelan oil company, PDV, for a token fee. Since PDV is owned by the Venezuelan government and has enormous oil reserves, it operates the refinery profitably, especially since there are no pollution restrictions. The benefits to the island are that several hundred people are employed and fuel is half what it costs in Bonaire or Aruba. The rest of the island is typical of this area - green during the rainy season and brown during the dry season. The people are nice and the main town of Willemstad is like a small version of Holland, complete with a few windmills. A large cruise ship arrives about every other day, but they only stay the day and leave at dusk.

Facilities for cruisers are far superior to those at Bonaire. There is a huge and extremely well protected lagoon for anchoring called Spanish Waters. We estimated about 50 cruisers visiting while we were there. The holding is good and there is no charge for anchoring. There is one yacht club where fuel can be purchased and two other commercial marinas. One, which provides haul out facilities and one where old oil can be discarded and buses to town can be caught. Willemstad is about a 25-minute bus ride, which is the only nconvenience. One of the small marinas has a bar, restaurant, dinghy dock and a daily free mini-bus to a local grocery store.

There is some diving and snorkeling, but nothing approaching the opportunities in Bonaire. However, we never got a chance to check out any swimming opportunities at all. No sooner had we dropped anchor than our refrigerator began to act up. It would turn on by itself via the thermostat, but it would not turn off. We would let it run for a few hours and then turn it off manually. While we were contemplating this problem and looking for a new thermostat, the expansion valve began to freeze up, which is usually an indication of low refrigerant. It was time to look for professional help. We found it in a fellow cruiser, who had extensive equipment and knowledge about such things. Unlike any other person who had worked on our refrigerator, he asked my why I didn't have a set of gauges and a bottle of refrigerant and fix it myself. With a challenge like that, I replied that if he would teach me how to use it, I would buy the necessary equipment. He agreed and in short order we had a set of gauges and a 30 pound bottle of R-12 refrigerant, which is no longer used in new refrigerators in the U.S. and is very expensive there, running about $40 a pound. Here it was $5 a pound.

So, with a professional instructor and new equipment we set to diagnosing our problems. The first step was to try and get enough freon in the unit to check for leaks. We found two leaks, both in original plumbing that we should have replaced when we re-built the cold box a year ago. The leaks were both on the low pressure side, which meant as the freon escaped, moist air was also sucked in. So, the freon had to be evacuated and the whole system put on a vacuum pump for 24 hours to get all the moisture out. Prior to doing this, we took out the old "drier," which will absorb small amounts of moisture and replaced it with a new one. We also took out the old leaky connections and soldered in new joints. After pressure testing all the new connections, we ran our generator for 24 hours in order to power the 120 volt vacuum pump that we rented. Oh yes, we also installed a sight gauge that has a color coded element in it. When the element is green, there is no moisture in the system. When the element is yellow, there is moisture. The glass is also large enough to be able to see the liquid freon moving along. Finally, after three days of chasing after parts, installing, soldering and vacuuming, we were ready for the big test. The unit still didn't work right. The new thermostat was for a freezer, not a refrigerator and had to be re-calibrated. Another day delay. The next day we tried again. The expansion valve froze up meaning the unit was low on freon, which we knew was not the case or the valve was bad, which was the case. Again, we evacuated the freon and replaced the expansion valve. Two more days delay. Finally, with the unit charged with freon for the third time, it worked. Now all we had to do was watch the gauges for another day to be sure we had the right pressures, indicating the right amount of freon in the unit and we were home free. It seems to be working great and I still have lots of freon and the gauges for future repairs, which we hope will be a long way off.

Our other excitement while in Curacao involved a very rare, according to the locals, lightning storm. About 0300 (isn't it always in the middle of the night?) we started to hear serious thunder and see very impressive lightning. Within 20 minutes the storm was on top of us with 30 knot winds and white caps in the lagoon and an incredible amount of lightning. There's not much one can do under such circumstances other than stay below and hope for the best. Twice the lightning and thunder were simultaneous, very bright and very loud. We were not hit, but we learned the next day that five boats were hit, one twice. But no one was hurt and there were no fires. Some very good friends sustained severe damage to all their electrical wiring, radios, pumps, etc. The initial estimate of damage exceeded $30,000. Needless to say, they were going to be laid up for at least a month for serious repairs. Lightning is capricious. None of the boats that were hit had anything in common other than they were in the water. One was steel, and the rest were fiberglass. Only one was a catamaran. If any humor can be found in such circumstances it is the boat that had four cases of beer stored in the bilges. Every can was burst open. The boat reeked like a poorly cleaned bar. Stay tuned.

Dates: ,
Locations: Curacao
Keywords: clark quote, lightning

The Ahart Odyssey 1999-2004 Dan and Jan Ahart. All rights reserved.