Best ever Customs and immigration

Alia Vita
Rob & Frances Lythgoe
Sat 20 Dec 2014 16:01
13:17.61N  61:14.35W

We left Martinique at first light yesterday and arrived at Chateau Beliar, Saint Vincent, before dark the same day. I love it when a plan comes together. 

Chateau Belair, Saint Vincent.

On our arrival in the bay we were approached by a 'boat boy' in a decrepit dinghy and another boy on and old 'thing that flated' which he was paddling. The lad in the dinghy is operating a hand pump to keep the dinghy afloat whilst he is talking to us, and the other introduced himself as George.

Being approached by boat boys was a regular occurrence in St Lucia where mooring buoys needed to be moored to, and in exchange for a small fee they would simplify this task even though we don't of course need any help.  The big problem is that you are accosted by several of these 'boat boys' competing for your business and sometimes a long way off your arrival in the bay itself. They are generally a pain in the neck but one has to admire their efforts in trying to scrape a meager existence. They offer to fetch fruit, take your rubbish, operate as a water taxi to shore etc, and if all that fails they beg and their last resort is an offer of 'security'. Some are OK, some are bad and some will be criminal. Our stance has been to be firm and say no from the start. A boat that accepts their approaches seems then to encourage others to try their hand.

We dealt with the two in Chateau Belair Bay in similar fashion until the lad in the dinghy, whilst pumping to keep it inflated, announced he was a 'captain' from customs come to take us ashore. He obviously wasn't quite as official as he made out, but he was the only local in the whole of the Caribbean that we had seen wearing a life jacket. This was either because he was slightly official, because his boat was about to sink as soon as he ran out of sufficient energy to keep pumping, or more likely that he was the only one we had met that actually had a life jacket and was just showing off.

In any event we knew we had to check in to customs but our guide book told us they closed at lunch time on a Saturday and it was now 5pm. We negotiated a fee of $10EC, about £2, for the round trip to customs which saved us the trouble of putting our dinghy in the water and then finding somewhere safe to leave it on shore. Our dinghy would most certainly be a prized possession here.

Captain Gamal in his leaky boat​

By the time we got there, about 90 seconds, we were on first name terms with Gamal. He directed us to Customs which turned out to be a bungalow right on the beach and the home of Camille, a lovely lady dressed in her official St Vincent Customs polo shirt. This had to be the best customs ever. We were welcomed warmly to St Vincent, given a map and some local knowledge and sent on our way with a big hug. That's how you do it, if you are reading, USA!

Best customs house ever.

After customs we had to go to immigration. We didn't take a photo because it was in the police station, but again we were greeted and dealt with in the friendliest of good humoured manners by a local policeman dressed in football shorts and a 'New York, basketball vest. Surreal. By the time we got back to Gamal on the beach, Camille was already in the surf waving to us. Love this place.

Yesterday morning we were in Martinique and had never seen so many yachts in one place, brand new buildings, supermarkets, spending Euros etc. We sailed for one day at 8/9kts,passed St Lucia completely by and arrived at a bay with one other yacht on an island where so far its inhabitants appear to have close to zero, but they are all friendly, happy, smiling soles. I would actually describe Chateau Belair as third world, and I think we will return here to check out of the country and to see how Gamal's dinghy is doing in the flotation stakes.  I have no doubt there will be money elsewhere on the island, but I'm not convinced it will be better for it; time will tell.  In the same country as this island, St Vincent and the Grenadines, is Mustique just 15 miles south, an island where you need a mortgage to buy a beer (we are told) which doesn't seem very Caribbean to us. We will have to go of course just to have the 'rounded' view of the country.

From this bay there is an 8 hour hike to the top of the volcano from where you can peer over the rim in to the crater which is a 1000 foot sheer drop. A guide is advisable and no surprise here, but Camille knows just the person! This is another good reason to return at some point.  We are now off to the south of the island where the airport is to pick up Tom who is with us for a week.