Ensenada Honda, Isla de Culebra, Puerto Rico
Position: 18:18.315N 65:17.926W
Date: Saturday 15th March 2014
Although Charlotte Amalie had been very tourist oriented we had quite enjoyed our few days in a larger town with the hustle and bustle that goes with this. As a contrast the large sheltered anchorage was very peaceful and we had had a good few nights sleep.
We cleared out late Friday afternoon. The atmosphere in the customs office was so much more relaxed than in St Johns and the lady who dealt with us (ununiformed and with no gun) was extremely helpful and talked us through what we would have to do both whilst in St Thomas and when we arrived in Culebra.
We left Saturday morning and had a leisurely sail across to Culebra. We covered most of the distance under cruising chute with between 4 and 7 knots of wind apparent and a boat speed of around 4 ½ knots. It was all very enjoyable.
Sail Rock on the way to Culebra:
The entrance to Ensenada Honda, although reef bound, was well buoyed and we found our way in without any problems. Once anchored near to Cayo Pirata at the head of the bay, our thoughts turned to clearing in to the new territory. Our pilot book said that we should simply walk to the small nearby airport where the customs officers were.
John from Joho a Dutch boat anchored next to us came over in his dinghy for a chat. He explained that he had arrived a short while before us, and he was also looking to check in. He had been told that before going to customs you must first phone through. You would then be given a number which you must take to the customs office before they would talk to you. His phone wasn’t working, could we contact them on my phone?
I only have a UK phone, so calls to Puerto Rico are expensive, but if I have to call them then so be it. The first time I called the phone was answered by someone who didn’t give his name but just muttered a couple of unintelligible words and hung up. I tried again, same grunted reply and hung up line. The third time I was put through to an answering service that demanded the 10 digit number of the recipient I wished to leave a message for. This was getting us nowhere.
John then went across to a French boat nearby, who were also trying to clear in. Somehow they managed to make contact and whoever it was that they spoke to said that if all three boats went to the airport together then we would all be dealt with there. So we dinghied ashore and walked to the small airport.
Once there we were met with the customs officer who told us that as we had not individually phoned through prior to arrival then he could not deal with us. We explained what had happened and he appeared not to believe us. ‘If you have not phoned through, then what do you expect me to do?’ he said. In circumstances like this, when dealing with a truculent official it is difficult to keep your cool, but biting my lip I described how I had phoned several times at international rates but had not been able to get a sensible reply. John explained how he had no phone, so how could he be expected to call?
I don’t know why but he started to soften a bit, rang a number on his phone and gave it to me to talk to the official. I got the same grunted reply and hung up line. I returned the phone and the officer started to believe us a little. The officer used his phone to call a few times more, and eventually it was answered by a polite English speaking officer who talked me through a list of about 50 questions relating to the boat and its crew. (I had just filled in a form asking the same questions and to which I had written the same answers).
From then on things seemed to ease considerably and after only about 90 minutes we were able to leave with the officer smiling and joking, customs clearance completed and cruising permits issued. So to date we have had three episodes with US customs & immigration authorities on three different islands and they have each been completely different.
The unusual lifting bridge in the town of Dewey on Culebra:
The view looking towards the splendidly sheltered anchorage in Culebra