Bienvenido!

As we do prior to entering any new port, Brian and I researched our destination for several weeks prior to arriving. We’d read and taken notes from two cruising guides: Cuba: A Cruising Guideby Nigel Calder and The Cruising Guide to Cuba First Edition by Simon Charles. We’d conversed with cruisers of various nationalities about their experiences visiting Cuba via the water. I’d been learning Spanish from a program called Fluenz (I’ve been thrilled with this program, it’s perfect for my hands-on learning style). Brian was reviewing his high-school learned Spanish as well by using Rosetta Stone. But with all that preparation we still felt the anticipatory jitters of the unknown as we neared the entrance to the Bahia de Cienfuegos.

Our wind died about five miles from the bay’s entrance, then very lightly reappeared right on our nose. “That’s got to be a sign,” Brian commented. “Oh, shush!” I commanded, “let’s fire up the engine and get there already!” As Communications Officer I was given the job of contacting the authorities to let them know we’d like to enter their country. I was shuffling through the appendix of our cruising guide hastily memorizing key nautical words and rehearsing various openers for the VHF conversation such as: “Capitan del puerto…barco entrada, por favor…dos personas…” The guides had warned us that we may be stopped and escorted into the harbor by the Guarda Frontera, Cuba’s equivalent to Coast Guard. We’d seen only one fishing boat thus far and no other activity on the outskirts of the bay. Finally, the Captain put his authority to use, “I’m not continuing until you hail someone.” Ok, ok time to shine. After some debate we’d decided it best to just hail a marina, who according to the guide books may also facilitate our entry. Here goes…”Marina Cienfuegos, Marina Cienfuegos, Marina Cienfuegos.” And we waited…

No Guarda Fontera boats came zooming around the corner, no response en Espanol came over the VHF. Here is where arriving last comes in handy. We heard the familiar voice of Matt (sv/Serendipity) on the VHF. He instructed us to continue onward into the bay and head toward the marina, that someone would direct us to a slip once we arrived. Well that’s easy!

You’ve seen our beautiful Bahia de Cienfuegos entrance photos, a nice ending to our five day sail. So I’ll skip ahead to the juicy stuff…clearing customs! Sure enough as we approached the Marlin Nautica y Marinas a gentleman was on the docks waving for our attention and directing us to a particular slip. That gentleman was the harbormaster and he gave us a smiling, “Hola!” as he grabbed our bow line. Matt and Jessica were also on the dock as was Luki (sv/Skebenga). Quite the welcoming party! We settled in next to our new neighbor (yes, that pirate ship is actually sitting on the bottom and there are real fish swimming on deck), and awaited the parade of officials that per our research would soon be entering and searching out boat.

20130527-130331.jpg

The clearance process wasn’t nearly as intimidating as the guide books had informed. It actually went quite smoothly and lasted about two hours at most. Had we known more Spanish it would have been even simpler. Most of the officials spoke broken English and between that and our combined, limited Spanish vocabulary we did understand what was happening every step of the way. An Immigration officer came to the dock first and requested our passports. Then he walked away with them (SCARY!). Ok, still under our quarantine flag we couldn’t get off the boat in pursuit so…we waited to see what would happen next.

A physician on behalf of the International Sanitary Control was our first guest. He completed a questionnaire with us to ensure that we were in good heath and that no crew members had died en route. Then a woman on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture entered the boat. She inspected the expiration dates on our canned foods and eyeballed our produce. She was quite chatty and gave us some good tips regarding changing money, shopping, and traveling via land in Cuba. Then we had a bit of a wait prior to Customs, Immigration, and Guarda Frontera coming aboard.

It is important to note that it was extremely hot in Cienfuegos. Of course Rode Trip has no air conditioning, poor ventilation, and little space. When five officials piled aboard representing Customs, Immigration, and Guarda Frontera the heat encouraged them to move through their paperwork as quickly as possible. They brought with them two dogs; each took a turn sniffing through the interior of our boat. It was quite entertaining to have the dogs aboard. They leapt inside with one jump from the hatch and scampered up the ladder with ease to exit. Two men sat at our small table and each completed a pile of paperwork. I had prepared two copies of our boat’s documentation, two copies of our crew list, and two copies of our passports – the documentation and crew lists were appreciated and I didn’t need any more than two. The officials and Brian signed and stamped several documents and left us with a neat stack of papers and two visas.

There were fees associated with clearance, of course, but we couldn’t change money prior. This was another moment when arriving last came in handy because we were able to borrow CUCs rather than utilize the marina’s exchange at 20% (at the nearby hotel where we did exchange money the exchange rate was 14%). So here’s the breakdown for fees: Immigration for Visas
$25/person, Customs $20, Ministry of Agriculture $5, and there was another $10 that quite honestly we don’t remember where it went. We also gave out three glasses of water, one beer, one tube of toothpaste, two toothbrushes, and two sets of Wiki Sticks (children’s toy).

20130525-135109.jpg

Finally, we went to the marina office to complete a contract to stay at the marina. We splurged and stayed at the dock for connivence at $ .53/foot. Docking included water and electricity; we used as much water as we wanted and did not hook up to the electric. The facilities weren’t great; we actually used the shower only once during our week long stay. We preferred to use our own bathroom and solar shower on the boat which were clean. There were no laundry services and there were trash and recycling on site.

At the marina we were encouraged to purchase health insurance; $3/day/person. This is twice as expensive as our current health plan. It seemed that only the USA boats were approached regarding this plan. We were given the night to think it over. We forgot to return the next morning to purchase the plan and we were never asked about it again.

All cleared in!

20130525-135023.jpg

Welcome to Jamaica, Mon!

We sailed into the West Harbor of Port Antonio, Jamaica with a new day’s sunshine lighting our way. The entrance channel was well marked and easy to navigate, although we did throw in an extra tack to avoid colliding with a fisherman on his skiff. We hailed the Errol Flynn Marina, where we’d planned to stay during our visit, and received docking directions. Errol Flynn Marina is a Seven Seas Cruising Association (SSCA) cruising station. Just as we rounded the corner, we fired up the Perkins to bring us smoothly into the dock.

20130505-134331.jpg

20130505-134343.jpg

We were tired, but very excited to see our friends when we arrived. Serendipity had arrived the previous night and had already enjoyed a restful night in the calm harbor to refresh from the passage. Nila Girl and EZ were at the docks and as soon as Rode Trip was secure Ren and Ashley stopped over to say hello. We received a very warm welcome from Paul, the General Manager of Errol Flynn Marina. Our quarantine flag was flying along with the Jamaican flag. Now all we had to do was wait for Quarantine, Customs & Immigration, and Coast Guard to give the go-ahead to explore their country.

20130505-134734.jpg

Check-in was a simple process; all of the officials were very professional and pleasant. In between their boarding our boat, we enjoyed a delicious breakfast with Ren, Ashley, and Nick. Ahhh it was wonderful to have some fresh food! Ashley cooked up a feast of scrambled eggs with peppers, onions, lobster, potato, and topped with sprouts, in addition to cheesy grits, and a dazzling plate of watermelon. Brian and I shared a loaf of bread we’d baked that morning while en route; boy was it delicious once spread with butter and jam! Nick cooked a hearty plate of bacon that disappeared shortly after being placed in front of the hungry crowd.

We were first visited by Quarantine. The woman looked a bit perplexed when she asked whether we had any meat aboard and we replied, “canned meat, we have no refrigeration.” We also explained our composting toilet to her as there is a strict no dumping policy in the harbor. We were asked to not bring any canned meat ashore and to use the facilities. No problem! Customs and Immigration squeezed five people onto Rode Trip. “You don’t use the air conditioner?” one of the gentlemen asked after taking a seat on the couch around our little cabin’s table. They shuffled papers around and requested copies of our documents. We were prepared with copies of our passports, boat documentation, and crew list. There is no cost to enter Jamaica. I would say this was no sweat…but you can imagine with a full boat of people sitting at a sunny, breezeless dock there was actually quite a bit of sweating going on! Finally, the Coast Guard boarded the boat. We provided them a copy of a crew list and a copy of the boat documentation. Free and clear!

20130505-135719.jpg

While docked, we filled our water tanks which were much more empty than we’d anticipated. Water is $ .12/gallon at the marina. Then we invited some Finnish tourists aboard for a tour and had a good conversation about traveling. We anchored Rode Trip in the harbor; use of the marina facilities at anchor runs $12/day.

After business time it didn’t take us long to hit the streets with our friends. We walked out of town to get away from the hustle (LOTS of HUSTLE) and bustle and just start to admire the scenery.

20130505-135951.jpg

We had a bit of refreshment while walking up a very steep hillside. Ice cream for only $50 Jamaican dollars – what a bargain! ($ .50 USD)

20130505-140024.jpg

20130505-140033.jpg

Not only did we take in a magnificent view of the harbor from the top of the hill…

20130505-140133.jpg

…but we also came away with a backpack full of fresh mangoes!

20130505-140209.jpg

Welcome to the Berry Islands, Bahamas! January 24, 2013

Ahhhh, well rested on Thursday morning we awoke to sunshine and cool breezes. We’d made it! Brian got our day started by listening to the weather on our Single Sideband (SSB) receiver. This will become our new morning routine as forecaster, Chris Parker, provides wind reports each morning at 6:30am. Boy, that’s early! What about this so-called “island time?”

Our goal for the day was to safely get ourselves to the Great Harbor Cay Marina and clear customs. After breakfast, Brian called the dockmaster on the VHF. “We’d like to come into the harbor for fuel and customs,” he stated. “Fuel is on the right as you come in, marina is around the corner take the first empty slip,” was the reply. Ok, that sounds simple. Again using the charts and depth sounder we kept to the channel. As the guidebook forewarned there were missing navigational markers, but our chart seemed to be dead-on. We were quickly getting acclimated to the clear view of the bottom through the water. We entered the harbor through a rock wall lined channel and peeking around the corner we spotted the fuel dock. Hmm, how exactly do we dock? There was a long, high dock extending out between several pilings. It seemed logical to just tie up along the end of the dock, so that is what we did. The gentleman helping us informed us that people usually pull into the slips, now visible on either side of that long dock. “This is ok,” he reassured us. We must have made an entertaining morning for him! The fuel dock is also the fuel station for cars, it is open daily until 12:00pm.

After fueling, we made our way into the harbor and found the Great Harbor Cay Marina. Two gentlemen were waiting at the slip to assist us. While docking, I got a quick lesson on how to rig a spring line (Brian usually does this but of course he cannot drive and rig lines simultaneously). Settled at the dock, the dockmaster provided customs paperwork and I got down to business completing multiple copies with our information. I think I now have our documentation number memorized as well as our gross tonnage (8), net tonnage (7), length (32), width (11), and engine horsepower (55). Once completed we waited for customs to arrive. They came and reviewed our paperwork and took our fee of $300 (still being debated whether boats 35ft and under are $150 or $300). All clear!

20130125-100058.jpg

Next we found internet access at the marina office and sent off messages to our parents letting them know we were docked, cleared, and A-OK. We returned the iPad to the boat before we set out exploring and were treated to three manatees swimming by. They were so strange! Their tails reminded me of a beaver tail and they barely moved as they floated by. I was able to capture them just in the knick of time.

20130125-100241.jpg

20130125-100236.jpg

20130125-100248.jpg

Brian and I set out walking in search of the Beach Club with only spoken directions from one of the marina staff, James. It was great to stretch our legs after another four days on the boat. It was warm, but not too hot, and we took in our new scenery. Along the way a car stopped and a very friendly woman, Andrea, offered us a ride with her to the Flats. “Great, thanks!” We hopped into the car and got acquainted with Andrea. She and her family have been wintering at the Bahamas since the 80’s; this year she is here with her parents and her siblings and nieces and nephews come and go as they are able. They have a condo that is exactly across from our boat’s slip at the marina. We arrived at the Flats, a beautiful stretch of sandbar at low tide. We walked in the warm water and searched the beach for sea shells and sand dollars. Andrea was a pro at finding sand dollars.

20130125-100404.jpg

20130125-100417.jpg

20130125-100424.jpg

Afterward, Andrea drove us to the Beach Club and then into town to show us where the grocery store, liquor store, and hardware store are. She drove us back to the marina and we welcomed her aboard Rode Trip. What a great start to our Berry Island explorations!