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A Tour of the Schottegat Harbor

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Curaçao’s fortunes have long been tied to the Schottegat, the remarkable natural harbor around which Willemstad was built. It’s the largest harbor in the Caribbean and, behind Rotterdam, the second-largest in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. And it’s allowed the island to become a great center of trade. Since 1915, the Schottegat has been home to Curaçao’s Isla Oil Refinery. We took the ferry tour of the harbor offered by the Maritime Museum.

Harbor Tour Curacao

After our boat set sail from Saint Anna Bay and entered into the harbor, the first thing I noticed was the its sheer size. From east to west, it’s about four kilometers long, and seen from the water, it’s a lot bigger than we had realized. The shipping barges which loom so massively as they pass through the Saint Anna look relatively small when anchored in the Schottegat.

This is a side of Willemstad which most people don’t get to see, as the harbor is used entirely for commerce and military purposes. There’s no water-skiing on the Schottegat, and definitely no swimming. Thanks in large part to the refinery, the water is seriously contaminated and recreation is strictly forbidden.

Our ferry boat went in a counter-clockwise circle around the harbor, first passing Fort Nassau, an old fort which has been converted into an upscale restaurant. We went by Curaçao Scrap, where the island’s metal refuse is compacted before being packed onto barges for recycling in other countries. And we saw the headquarters of the Dutch Navy. Curaçao might now be autonomous, but it still depends upon Holland for its defense. Which is good, since the world is terrified of Holland’s awesome military might.

My favorite part of the tour came when we sidled up next to a large dry dock, where a barge was currently stationed. The dry dock is a complicated piece of technology, whose need I’d never even considered. How else are you going to paint or repair a giant barge? You can’t just drag it onto land! It reminded me that there are entire industries about which I know nothing. We watched the crew paint their ship, and were told that this is something they’re required to do around the clock, since the boat is losing money every hour that it isn’t sailing.

This harbor tour leaves every Wednesday and Saturday at 2pm from the Maritime Museum. Tickets can be bought for just the boat trip itself, or in combination with entry to the museum. Unless you can get a gig working on one of the barges which are stationed here, this is probably the best way to see the Schottegat.

Location of the Maritime Museum on our Map
Maritime Museum – Website

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January 21, 2016 at 2:44 pm Comments (0)

The Queen Emma Bridge

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Two bridges connect Punda to Otrobanda. For cars, there’s the towering Queen Juliana Bridge, which reaches a height of 56 meters above the Saint Anna Bay, and is the tallest in the Caribbean. And for pedestrians, there’s the Queen Emma Bridge, which rises zero meters over the water. The Queen Emma, you see, is a floating bridge.

Queen Emma Bridge Curacao

On first learning about Willemstad’s floating bridge, my first thought was, “Well, that makes sense. There’s no reason to force traffic up and over the water. I wonder why more bridges don’t simply float?” I needed a few seconds to remember that things usually have to pass under a bridge, as well. With the huge oil refinery in Willemstad’s harbor, a lot of big ships need to get past the Queen Emma — and none of them are submarines.

Queen Emma Bridge Curacao

So, whenever a ship needs in or out, the bridge must open. But this one doesn’t raise and lower — it just moves to the side. The Queen Emma rests atop of a set of pontoons. The final pontoon, connecting the bridge to the Punda side, has a motor and a driver. And when a ship arrives, the entire bridge opens on a hinge, just like a door. For small ships, the bridge only needs to open a crack, but for larger vessels like oil tankers, it will swing all the way over to the Otrobanda side.

It’s a strange sensation to be on the bridge as it opens. First, the operator will close the gates on either side, and anyone still on the bridge has to wait. Usually, it’s just a couple minutes, but occasionally it takes fifteen to twenty. In the meantime, anyone who isn’t stuck on the bridge can cross between Otrobanda and Punda using a free ferry.

And even when the bridge isn’t opening, it’s never stationary. As you might expect, a floating bridge undulates with the water and, on a choppy day, everyone walking across appears to be totally drunk. And if you are totally drunk, well, good luck. At night, on our way home from Pietermaai’s bars, we saw a few stumblers nearly fall into the water.

The Queen Emma was built in 1888, but renovated in 2006. It’s really unique and, at first, the idea of a hinged bridge is amusing. However, it becomes less amusing, the longer you live in Willemstad. We used it almost every day and I’d estimate that 30-40% of the time we wanted to cross to Punda, we had to wait. It didn’t take long for the novelty to wear off, and for us to join the locals in sighing with frustration, when the bell started to ring.

Location on our Map

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Queen Emma Bridge Curacao
Queen Emma Bridge Curacao
Queen Emma Bridge Curacao
Queen Emma Bridge Curacao
Queen Emma Bridge Curacao
Queen Emma Bridge Curacao
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December 19, 2015 at 9:45 pm Comments (0)
A Tour of the Schottegat Harbor Curaçao's fortunes have long been tied to the Schottegat, the remarkable natural harbor around which Willemstad was built. It's the largest harbor in the Caribbean and, behind Rotterdam, the second-largest in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. And it's allowed the island to become a great center of trade. Since 1915, the Schottegat has been home to Curaçao's Isla Oil Refinery. We took the ferry tour of the harbor offered by the Maritime Museum.
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