SNAKES AND LADDERS FOR A BAG
Tuesday 3 Feb 2015
CUSTOMS!....and GOING BACKWARDS
Decision made to leave LUPERÓN tomorrow early and head all the way BACK to Turks and Caicos Islands to get THE BAG back, so today was ‘Clear Out with Customs, Immigration and who-all-else-Day’. Various things occurred to delay actually getting IN the dinghy and heading ashore, not least the discovery that all my Clearing In paperwork was sodden – inside a waterproof ziplock bag! Well, at least I’d had the sense to put my passport and ships documentation inside another waterproof bag. . So that all had to be dried out in the sun for an hour or two. Then discovered in horror that the passport etc was also wet! WHAT? This is not possible… Although not sodden, various pages were now stained with smudged ink from the over enthusiastic use of it by our very own DR Customs, and included a bad stain right across the important US Visa photo. Boy, they’re going to love that. More drying out. I could only conclude that it was condensation that was the culprit – I had inadvertently sealed IN very moist air which had subsequently condensed out overnight on reaching its dew point. It had been a very wet few days..
Finally arrived outside the Customs Portacabin at 1210, ten minutes after they go for lunch for 2 hours. Went off up the road and met up with Craig and Christa ensconced in Wendy’s Bar, Christa increasingly stressed trying to organise the necessary ‘interview’ and finger-printing session required to get a US Visa, in Santa Domingo on the SE side of DR. 3 times, in the middle of her internet conversation with the Embassy, the internet connection cut out – definition of stress in my book. Bought a round of orange juice, then went up the road to buy some food, bumping into Tom of HORNBLOWER TOO and Billy his crewman in JR’s, drinking beer, before returning to Immigration for clearance out at 2pm.
However at 2pm it was still not open, so wait outside for some time until Immigration pitch up. Finally, $20 lighter I emerge with instructions to visit the Commandante - the unsmiling uniformed one I assumed, who had come out to the boat on arrival - walked over the very dodgy bridge with planks missing and up the hill to the official building at the top, all in pleasant tended grounds overlooking the inlet.
The tall slim guy dressed in US Marine-like disrupted pattern combats with ‘ARMADA’ on his tunic I’d seen before walking about, indicated for me to sit out in the grounds, and was looking decidedly nervous.
‘Commandante?’ I queried. The response in blisteringly fast Spanish was not encouraging, judging purely by body language. He spoke not a word of English, so I got out the excellent ‘Spanish for Cruisers’ ring book and tried appropriate phrases on him.
‘Malo tiendo’ was all I got, repeatedly, and at increasing volume. This took some time to work out, but finally arrived at ‘bad timing’.
He walked off, and spent some time on his mobile, clearly talking to The Man. Returning, one word killed it off.
Back on the boat, Tom and Billy arrived back from JR’s bar and announced dramatically that they were ‘just gonna go at 5am tomorrow and to hell with it’. I had to smile.
‘They can put me in jail if they like, I DO NOT CARE.’ Ah, how beer loosens the tongue!
He too would be heading up to Turks and Caicos Islands, on his way back to Florida to haul out his Beneteau.
Next day at 8 o’clock he was still there. ‘I had a change of heart’, he explained, ‘when I woke up’.
‘Sobered up, more like’.
Wednesday 4 Feb 2015
CUSTOMS PART II
At the appointed hour of 8 o’clock I returned.
‘Commandante?’ I said to the ARMADA, looking about me.
Now he was sweating. Clearly not only was the Big Man not here, it felt suspiciously like he wasn’t going to be here by the way ARMADA was behaving. A look of pure misery clouded his face, for he was now faced with an increasingly unhappy English cruiser and a massive language barrier.
More phone calls.
Another Skipper came up the path – the always smiling German, Andreas, of KAMA.
When informed of the situation he turned on the hapless Armada man: ‘Oh, so we can go now then YES?!’ After more delays, finally the ARMADA got out some paperwork – could these forms be the sole reason for our presence there, DESPACHOS?! These exit clearances were required on top of visits to Customs and Immigration.
They were! YES, he had been authorised to do the business himself! Progress at last. But that flash of hope died stillborn as ARMADA stared vacantly ahead as I provided appropriate info for his form, as best as could be divined.
‘Matriculation! MATRICULATION!!’ he just kept repeating.
‘Nombre de baco’ I replied encouragingly, jabbing with a finger. ‘PINBALL WIZARD!’ No reaction at all.
This was all too much for Andreas. He disappeared off to get help, returning with the handsome, multi-lingual and impeccably dressed Juan de Paris – the one who had first greeted me on arrival outside Customs. At last, an interpreter, not for us so much, but for the ARMADA, and quickly joined by another of their team who began filling in Andreas’s form, whilst also making painstaking notes in a tiny notebook. Half an hour later, papers written out in triplicate – no carbon paper here boys – they all stood up and announced they were coming to visit our boats, a procedure not found anywhere else I’ve heard of. We all trudged back over the dodgy bridge and assembled down on the jetty, passing a highly stressed out Tom of HORNBLOWER TOO standing impotently outside the Customs shack.
‘Oh great. Its only cost me A HUNDRED DOLLARS so far’, he bellowed with great emphasis in that Colorado drawl of his. I had paid $20, but there were two on his boat. Even so..
They were now all just standing around the entrance to the dinghy dock, when yet another of their cohorts gave us the good news that they were going to give us our despachos here on the jetty, as they knew ‘we were serious Skippers’.
‘But usually people give a small gift, something, it is appreciated’.
Andreas exploded. ‘ANOTHER tip? I gave you guys TWENTY DOLLARS when I arrived! No way!’ .
LUPERON TO PROVINCIALES, TURKS AND CAICOS
Back on the boat, despacho safely stowed away, I had a premonition of problems uncoupling from Papo’s mooring buoy so kept the dinghy in the water until I’d unwound the giant knot that swinging on the mooring had created. With the strong winds arrival I had run a second, stronger line through the mooring, just in case, but now found that I had threaded it not through the buoy’s (pronounced boo-eey by Americans) bridle, but incorrectly through my own. If it had parted, the second would slipped off and proved useless! Duh
Good job I did.
When it was time to slip and proceed, nothing happened on releasing one side of the mooring line – held fast somewhere down in the barnacle encrusted , crab infested slimy lump of hemp that hung under the buoy. Great.. It should have slipped through easily after all the unravelling I’d done. The dinghy was now firmly lashed to the deck, all systems go, and I wasn’t going to get it out again. Damn! Anyway, there was no way I could go out there fiddling with it, as when it did release, Pinball would be blown into the boat behind pretty damn quick. I considered calling up Papo on VHF, which he monitors. Then, as if enough fun had been had at my expense, the line began to slip through my hands. Freedom! Good buoy!
Unlike on coming in, thanks to Papo Pinball knew exactly where the deep channel lay through the narrow entrance, and so never saw less than 5metres – ploughing right through what appeared on the chart as very shallow. It was 11am, precious hours wasted with clearing out now behind us, and as always, a surge of joy on making the open sea.
I think that’s the trouble with Luperon, yes its cheap, the people are friendly and helpful, but it’s enclosed by mangrove, no swimming in the dirty water and for me a bit claustrophobic. And, if I’m honest, a bit sad too. Both ‘marinas’ were in parlous state, a superbly situated hotel overlooking the water was abandoned, and Craig reported no less than three large resort complexes just over the hill on the coast as failed enterprises too. Millions has been spent here, and lost. The longed for tourist dollars just didn’t come I guess.
FAST AND FURIOUS
It was NOT a pleasant sea state. Initially a beam on swell against our NW’ly heading, it progressively changed to a quartering sea by nightfall of 2metres but short and unpleasant. I felt sick right up until reaching the lee of the Caicos Bank in the early hours when the sea flattened out a bit. However, still ate the odd meal, keeping it simple, and kept it down.
HORNBLOWER TOO had been visible behind at about 5nm that afternoon, but I gradually lost him. He told me later ‘you left me for dust’. I don’t race, so this is most unusual, but Pinball was really cracking along, giving averages of over 7kts SOG all the way until reefed right down.
By nightfall, now reefed and slightly slower, I just went below and lay in a bunk dozing, with a half-hourly check on deck of course, position, chartplotter for any AIS contacts, and a visual check ahead. Other than getting off a boat, lying down when the motion is unpleasant is the best thing, as it converts unpleasant motion into quite pleasant motion horizontally relative to the body. The wind had increased to Force 6-7, still on the beam, so below was a good place to be, even in the Tropics. Force 4 was the forecast!
At 1930 a magnificent full moon arose out of the waters bathing all around in light, the sailor’s friend.
Then just before midnight Tom called me on VHF. ‘PINBALL WIZARD I’ve got you about 3 miles to starboard.’
‘Roger that HORNBLOWER TOO. Looking…’ I saw nothing.
‘Not visual HORNBLOWER TOO.’
‘Ah no, well my mast-top tricolour is blown’. That would explain it.
‘I’ll put the anchor light on for a moment’.
Sure enough, there he was just 1.5nm abeam. The anchor light went off. I was not to see him again until daylight.
‘Hit a goddam great TREE’, Tom continued, ‘damn thing, right in the middle, hope there’s no damage’.
Ouch! Now that’s really dangerous, floating tree trunks sink boats.
To be doing over 7kts groundspeed was quite a novelty, helped by the powerful Equatorial Current, and it was just as well I’d left later than planned otherwise I’d have arrived at French Cay, 14nm due south of Provo and right on the edge of the shallow CAICOS BANK, way too early still in the dark. To cross the Caicos Bank from French Cay required good daylight, with the sun over the shoulder so as to spot keel ripping coral heads. Tom was a few miles ahead as I had reefed right down overnight to slow down a bit – the later the better for this bit.
‘Sailing vessel approaching French Cay, making 6 knots, this is Provo Radio.’ The details given fitted HORNBLOWER TOO, who hadn’t answered, so I replied giving mine.
‘Are you sailing in company?’
‘Do you know if he’s heading for Sapodilla Bay?’
‘Not sure, but I believe so’, I replied cagily. I didn’t want to be seen to be taking charge of HORNBLOWER TOO without Tom’s agreement.
The trip across the Bank was pleasant, with a nice breeze giving a very broad reach. But with the prospect of coral heads to avoid I couldn’t carry on steering the boat by windvane, it would have to be by autopilot so that I could quickly take avoiding action if required from a position up on deck. But on passing the area of coral I had marked on the chart without meeting any, I could relax a bit, and re-instate the windvane steering as there were none on this last ten miles to Sapodilla Bay.
On arrival Tom was already anchored up in the best spot, and taking a dip round the boat. What a good idea.
Anchored behind Tom in Sapodilla Bay.
Set off for Customs round the other side of the headland in the dinghy in a brisk SE’ly which was kicking up waves that soaked me, as I had to sit facing aft with hands on the choke and throttle just to keep the outboard running – it was malfunctioning again, and stopped about a dozen times en route, dirt in the carb I guess. By doing this, I managed to get there, wet, and hauled it up the beach having forgotten to bring the grapnel anchor. It was rough there! Walked up towards Customs, when the guard on the gate started shouting at me, squeaking even at times, most odd. I decided to ignore it as I don’t like being shouted at much. But he came and got me in the end, only to tell me Customs were shut – public holiday. The trip back wasn’t too bad, with the engine just about hanging on in there. Regretted putting my best shirt on!
Having anchored behind HORNBLOWER TOO more out in the middle, I up anchored and moved closer to the rocky promontory with the wreck on it in the hope of getting a stronger wifi signal. It worked! Can now just about work wifi from the boat, on one pip.
Watched the film The Terminal, with Tom Hanks again. A great plot for a film but spoilt a fair bit by the inevitable Hollywood crap; eg; the happy ever after ending: the no-hoper winning everyone round etc. Disney World again.
NEXT: BAGS OF FUN