After 6 hours of clearing customs we were finally allowed onto the hurricane ravished cement dock and had cleared a private vessel into Cuba. To me this was quite a fulfilling feeling as I can’t imagine many people my age sail their own private vessel into Cuba.
Customs in Cuba was thorough, we had a mosquito inspector, a doctor, a chicken inspector, a boat inspector, an immigrations officer, a drug inspector, an electronics inspector, and a customs official come on the boat. It was a constant flow of people and boy where they thorough, the drug inspector took apart the entire boat, went through all the medical supplies and then asked if he could have a mobile phone. The electronics inspector wanted all our radio equipment and GPS equipment sealed. This would have been somewhat challenging as we have over 12 GPS and numerous radios, in the end he said I trust you but if you get caught using it you will have to leave Cuba.
We berthed next to a big sailing vessel from the Netherlands running a high school at sea (what an experience for the students), the year 10’s had gym classes everyday and asked if we would like to join them, to which Nick C with cigarette in mouth and beer in hand said for sure and then pretended he was the gym instructor barking orders. The teacher quickly put a stop to this less than admirable instructor.
The town was filled with lots of pretty girls who for some reason treated us like rock stars; we didn’t argue and made lots of new friends.
After one week in Cuba it was time to head to the pirates lair of Kingston Jamaica for some supplies.
We left Puerto Rico at 6pm and after our jail time and expenses we were slightly jaded by the American System. After 3 hours of sailing we were almost 10 miles off the coast of Puerto Rico before a speedboat with spot lights blazing was circling us. They weren’t on AIS, nor were they communicating via radio. After 3 circles of Charm Offensive and the creation of a washing machine on the ocean they finally contacted us. In a stern American voice, “State your purpose”, I said “sailing vessel Charm Offensive, we are leaving your country and on route to the Dominican Republic, over”. They said please check your nav lights to which there was no problem but couldn’t be seen as there spotlight was so blinding. They then did one more circle and the U.S. coast guard took off at a rate of knots. We enjoyed San Juan but were also pleased to be out of this tightly controlled country.
What a contrast it was to arrive in Luperon, a well protected natural harbor on the most North Western point of the Dominican Republic. We had customs come aboard in jeans and a t-shirt; they wanted beers and bribes to which we reluctantly obliged. Having a quick check in we were ready to check out the town. As you enter from the dock there is a big sign “Gringo cruisers welcome” we got some photos and went in search of some foam to make our cockpit seats more comfortable. With foam in hand we returned to the boat for dinner before heading out to the local night spots. I meet a nice local girl who invited me to a local wedding the next night. The wedding was interesting with lots of dancing and a pig on a spit.
The following day we hired motorbikes for $10 from people in the street and went in search of an ATM. The ATM was a good 25km away in the next town; we shot along the country road looking at cows and palm trees, an interesting sight and mix I had never seen before. Nick C being a motorbike enthusiast decided to light a cigarette and ride along, I might add we had only thongs, singlets and no helmets. Not something I would normally do but when in Rome. So Nick C with Cigarette in hand was flying through one of the little country towns when all of a sudden a speed bump appeared out of nowhere, whilst the law of Physics had imminent death written all over it, Nick’s expertise somehow kicked into gear and all he ended up with was the scare of a lifetime for both him and Chris B who was travelling nearby.
We had a nice sail from St Martin, with the jib poled out, main out and preventer on. Chris a less seasoned sailor took us pretty close to a fishing boat and woke Nick C up to ask are we to close? Nick C said “considering we can hear the engine and see the people perfectly in the middle of the night I would say yes we are to close”.
We arrived at Puerto Rico in the afternoon and had to contact U.S. customs as Puerto Rico is a U.S protectorate. We did most of the paper work over the phone and were then told we had to go to customs. We hoped in a taxi and went to see customs, at first the customs officer were friendly asking about our ESTA visa waivers and where we had been etc. They asked Nick C what happened in 2005 to which he replied I crossed over the Canadian Border without a passport to America before being taken away, interrogated and then let back into Canada. That was all cleared and it was now Javier’s and my turn, they said we are illegally in U.S. territory and as we entered by private vessel and not a commercial signatory our esta visa waivers were deemed invalid and we had 2 options;
Option 1: Be deported, not be allowed to sail my boat out and never be allowed back into the United States of America
Option 2: Pay $585 per person to get an expedited 6 month visa
After a big negotiation we realised the only option was to pay the money. We asked if they took card but they only took cash, a real extortion if you ask me. Who carries around $1070 in cash? Fortunately for us Roland does. We then paid for it and were put in lock up until the visa paper work was sorted out, this took around 4 hours. Finally after being driven home by the customs officer who had now taken pity on us illegal aliens and spending $1070 we were allowed legally into Puerto Rico. We explored el Morro the Puerto Rican fort and learnt all about Puerto’s strategic position in the Caribbean.
2 nights were spent at Simpson bay in St Martin getting ready for our 2 day passage to Puerto Rico; we purchased a bbq, explored parts of the island and then set sail for Puerto Rico.
We moored Charm Offensive at a beautiful bay on the North Western tip of the island St Bart. Javier and Chris grabbed the spear guns and went hunting for dinner. Within 30 minutes they had 4 fish and a big sting ray. Javier was very excited about his sting ray catch, we were less impressed but once he cooked it up and we tried it, we were sold. It tasted like calamari and was excellent shallow fried with some mayonnaise.
Australia Day! We celebrated Australia in true Australian style with beach cricket, beers, a bbq, Aussiemite, cork hats, Australian singlet shirts and some swimming.
Antigua appears to be the super yacht hub of the Caribbean; we saw more super yachts than we had seen the entire trip. I was lucky enough to make friends with the crew on Rupert Murdoch’s super yacht and they took some of us for a spin in their 44ft tender and showed us round Rupert’s Perini super yacht.
We meet an Australian lady at the marina called Jacqueline who owned a pub on the North side of the island and told us she was having a big Australia day party. We all crammed into a Minnie bus and began our Australia day journey to “Jacky O’s Beach Bar”. It certainly was a journey we had a geriatric driver who didn’t break 30km/hr over the 30km trip, after an hour of bus songs we were there. We were all given Australian singlets, a hat with corks, some beers and a cricket bat. It was definitely worth the long trip.
English harbor is a well protected natural harbor but the marina costs are relatively high due to the super yacht presence.
Prince Rupert bay is a beautifully protected bay on the North western side of Dominica; we anchored here, found some ducting for the air conditioner, gained another crew member, went to a reggae party, and almost lost Nick Cowdrill in the dinghy.
Like any normal anchorage, we put 5 times the anchor chain out, swam on the anchor and then went ashore in search of some ducting to extend the air outflow of our newly purchased air conditioner. After almost a day of searching and walking back and forth we found an air-conditioning store on this sparsely populated island. Dominica has a population of 40,000 people and it is one of the smallest countries we have visited on this trip. We purchased the ducting went back to the boat and fund that it was a bit small but with modification from Roland and I we made it fit. Then we celebrated by watching a movie in the newly air-conditioned cabin.
That afternoon Chris Bennet a mate from Sydney came and joined the 4 of us and the five of us went out on the town (beach) to a reggae party. We had a great time drinking a little too much for the most of us and way too much for Nick C. Nick C decided to stay a bit later as he made some new friends. He dropped us back at the boat and took the dinghy a shore. After a bit more drinking he got back in the dinghy to find that the engine wouldn’t start. He started rowing out to what he thought was Charm Offensive but turned out to be another white yacht. He then rowed around in a stooper, back and forth, up and down till after 1hr of rowing he looked at the stars put his hands up in the air and mouthed off profanities before looking to his left and realising that Charm Offensive was right next to him. I won’t be putting Nick C in charge of navigation across the pacific.
We dropped anchor at St Anne Bay Martinique which is on the south side of the island, a beautiful bay with crystal clear water about 5 metres deep. Here we had a quiet night and had a short walk around on shore.
The following day we set sail again and headed north to Fort de France, the main city of Martinique. Martinique has a population of 408,000 and is a French ruled island. It sits in the Eastern Caribbean Sea. Pierre Belain d’Esnambuc sailed into Pierre bay in 1635 after being driven from St Kitts by the English. A Beautiful island in the Caribbean where the French rule has continued to this day, the island has a strong influence from France with wonderful terraces, streets and language. Roland and I went out in search of a generator to help with our power consumption issues, I now know it’s a must have on all modern cruising boats. To Nick C and Javier’s delight Roland also purchased a brand new air conditioning unit so we can keep cool in the cabin at all times.
So now cool and with all the power we need we set sail in search of Dominica, a short 80nm sail saw us spend about 10hrs at sea. We sailed with a rough 20kts of wind and averaged 8kts on the trip. We arrived and dropped anchor in Prince Rupert Bay, Dominica late afternoon, again the clear water and perfect conditions followed us. We went ashore, had some chips and a few beers before heading back to the boat for a fantastic meal prepared by Javier.
We will now be transiting a bit earlier. Our pilot is meant to arrive at 3:30pm so by the time we get to the first lock it will be between 4 and 5pm Panama time.
Charm Offensive and her crew will be crossing the Panama Canal tomorrow afternoon round 5:30-6pm Panama time or 9am-10am AEST.
We cross through the Gatun locks first and then spend the night in Gatun lake travelling through Pedro Miguel and Miraflores docks the next day.
If you want to follow the fun (cough cough) of Gatun Lake lock online the cam is: