Caribbean Ferries

On November 10, 2008 · 3 Comments

Regular readers have gotten used to my unnatural fascination with, and periodic musings about ferries. I’ve been slowly cataloging and mapping ferry systems from around the world using the Google Maps API — the operative word being slowly — and I’m ready to release the latest compilation.

This now joins the earlier sets,

To be honest, Ferries of the Caribbean was the most difficult one for me to produce to date. Many of these ferries were mom-and-pop operations that didn’t have a web presence. Those that did might have used any of four languages depending on location (Dutch, English, French or Spanish) and translation software has its limitations. I discovered that many routes were transient and could discontinue or restart based on time of year, fluctuations in the price of fuel or the wherewithal of local entrepreneurs. Even finding dockside waypoints had its complications since many Caribbean ferries were simply modified pleasure craft. They’re more akin to Water Taxis than specialized roll-on / roll-of watercraft found in other areas I’ve researched.

Nonetheless, and those minor frustrations aside, I learned a lot more about the Caribbean, its history, its cultures and its peoples during my various Internet searches. Many of these ferries serve local populations that may not have the means or inclination to island-hop by aircraft. Ferries provide an economical way to connect outlying islands to population centers, deliver mail and packages, and bring goods to market. Sure, some of them catered to the cruise ship set, but greater numbers served the basic transportation needs of a local populace where roads cannot exist by definition.

Here were some of the interesting spots I discovered along the way.

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The Bahamas is part of the "and beyond" portion of the map since it’s actually just outside of the Caribbean basin. Viewing the Sea of Abaco from above conjured up all sorts of wonderful images to me, of pristine reefs blanketed by shallow sapphire waters. Several ferries cross here regularly, connecting Great Abaco Island to outlying cays with colorful names like Elbow, Man-O-War, Scotland, and Great Guana.

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Big Corn Island sits some 70 kilometers off the coast of Nicaragua. It’s part of Nicaragua while at the same time it’s removed. Some inhabitants speak English as a native language, a vestige of an earlier time when the Corn Islands were included within a British protectorate. The "Captain D." serves Big Corn Island weekly, starting deep within the interior of mainland Nicaragua. The journey begins at El Rama and winds downstream along the Rio Escondido to Bluefields before cutting across the open Caribbean.

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One of the more curious ferries I ran into was in Willemstad, Curaçao in the Netherlands Antilles. It crosses the Sint Annabaai Channel between the two historic sections of the city, Punda and Otrobanda. Punda is the older section of the city and dates to 1634 when the Dutch took Curaçao from Spain. Otrobanda is the newer side, relatively speaking, with its roots going back to 1707. Otrobanda derives from a Papiamento creole phrase that translates to "the other side," which certainly deserves credit for accuracy although perhaps not so much for originality. Why am I curious about this ferry? Well, because it doesn’t seem to give much advantage. There appears to be a bridge nearby that seems to be a viable option even by foot. Perhaps someone who has traveled there can enlighten me. OK, I was actually more fascinated by the derivation of Otrobanda.

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Saba is another island within the Netherlands Antilles, and the smallest of the set. It also has the point of highest elevation in the Netherlands at Mount Scenery, an 877 meter dormant volcano. Less than 1,500 people live here among the woodlands and lush ferns of this quiet corner.

On November 10, 2008 · 3 Comments

3 Responses to “Caribbean Ferries”

  1. Co says:

    The ferry to Otrabanda has his departure not near the Emma bridge, but more northern at the other side of the Waaigat. So the distance between the ferry and the bridge is longer than you might expect.

    There are two bridges to cross the channel to Otrabanda: the Emma bridge and the Juliana bridge. Both have a disadvantage. The Emma bridge is a floating bridge (‘pontjesbrug’). It has to be removed if a ship sails through the channel (which happens a lot). The Juliana bridge is a very high bridge. Ship pass under it, but if you want to walk across this bridge, it’s a steep climb. So that makes the ferry a very usefull alternative for the local people (and a pleasant trip too).

  2. Co says:

    No wait, I made a mistake. I shouldn’t have made a response based on memory alone!

    Youre right that the ferry is near the Emma bridge, but the Emma bridge is often not usable. It’s a pontoon bridge and when ships are going in or out the St. Annabaai, the bridge has to be sailed away by rotating around a turning point at the Otrobanda side. This takes a lot of time en makes the ferry a reliable alternative.

  3. Ah yes, a pontoon bridge! In that context the ferry does seem like a good alternative. Thank you for providing that additional clarification.

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