Date: 03 May 97 14:48:57 EDT
From: Gene Gruender <>
Subject: Jamaica

May 2, 1997

We finally got away from Acklins Island, Crooked Island Group, on Tuesday and set a course for Great Inagua Island, the southern most port of entry for the Bahamas. This was a trip of about 80 miles, and we had good wind for a bit, were becalmed for a bit, then finally made it in - some 26 hours later, not a record trip.

We went ashore to check out through customs and immigration and found we didn't have time to see what would have been a very nice island to visit. Great Inagua is not a yachters island. Therefore, it's the sort of place a cruiser looks for. It is a huge salt plant for Morton salt, which makes it one of the few Bahamas Islands that is not based on tourism. The people are outgoing and friendly and there really is a lot to do. We didn't get to do much, but got a good outline from the only other cruisers there. They'd left 3 times and kept coming back, all this spring. If you are going to be cruising in the area I'd recommend a stop there. We'll spend more time the next time we go to the Bahamas.

The salt operations are fascinating. They pump saltwater into large flat ponds, then slowly move it into lower and lower ponds until at the last stage it is dried completely up and loaded with earth moving type equipment. There are mountains of salt, literally millions of tons.

There are endangered Bahamian Parrots in the wild there. They were flocking into the town when we were there and you could walk nearly up to these pretty birds. They wouldn't let you touch them, but they'd let you get within a few feet of them, and move just enough to keep that distance.

Back on the other side of the island is a huge flock of flamingos. We didn't get to see that, but they sounded like quite a sight to see.

Probably the most interesting thing, though, was the pirates! Yes, pirates do exist in the Caribbean - I guess Captain Ron is exonerated. They had been captured at the time we got there.

It seems that there were two Dominican boats, using boat very loosely, which had been captured. The bigger one was about 26 or so feet long, the smaller was about 22 ft. The large one had 17 people on it, the smaller one 12. These were boats with hulls made from planks with what appeared to be hand smeared fiberglass on the underwater side, very crudely made. The tops and cabins were made from plywood nailed together, just as rough as it sounds, and called a boat. I assume they had some type of motor below, as there was no sailing rig. It was amazing anyone had gone to sea in a piece of junk like those things, but there was more.

They'd been caught fishing in Bahamian waters with no permits or permission. At some point they'd also attacked a Haitian fishing boat and stolen all their gear and fish. Then they'd slashed all their sails so that they couldn't follow.

When we got there, the Dominican captain was in a Bahamian jail and the crew was put to work in the marina. The crew was being sent back to the Dominican Republic - the ruling was that they were just following the captain's orders. The captain was being held until a $12,000 fine was paid by someone - I hope he had friends somewhere - and then he was to be turned over to the Haitians for punishment. Come to think of it, he may be hoping that the fine is never paid.

After getting checked out we set sail towards the Windward Passage about Wednesday at noon.. With 5 knots, it started out to be a slow trip, then got slower. Only when someone is relying on sail power would the windward passage be becalmed! After several hours of sail slogging slow progress, we finally tried the engine for a while. I'm glad to say the drive train is still intact, although I don't know how much of it's life we used up. Late in the night, we went through the passage, passing within about 10 miles of the Cuban coast. Was I worried about the Cubans? Not really, but I did expect to get boarded by the Coast Guard or DEA or someone out of Guantanamo Bay as we passed the area. Lucky for us, nobody bothered us.

Thursday was spent alternating between a nice breeze and nothing. We were shooting for a window at Jamaica of 8 am to 4 PM, trying to avoid overtime charges from checking in. It was looking like a noontime arrival until about 11 PM we got into the Trades, just like Herb the weatherman had told us we would.

If you haven't sailed in the trade winds with the wind just in front of the beam, you can't imagine how your boat can go. With a steady 12 to 14 knots and very calm seas Rainbow Chaser was like a racehorse set free. We were flying at about a steady 7.5 to 8 knots, hour after hour. You just can't imagine the power when it gets going. The only problem was, it put us to Jamaica much too early!

We just flew all night, putting an honest 7 1/2 nautical mile behind us hour after hour. Before sunup. we were approaching the coast of Jamaica. Jamaica is a high, mountainous island, much more than you'd guess if you haven't seen it. As a result of this, it blocks most of the wind. I continued to sail in, since we had time to kill. Now the sailing closely resembled the sailing I used to do back on Lake Travis among the high hills, with the fluky, changing winds, sometimes nearly nonexistent. It was probably good that it was early and most people weren't out, as they'd have wondered as I slowly worked my way in and down some very narrow channels at about 1/2 knot, making a very crooked path as we followed the 1 or 2 knot puffs of wind nearly on our nose. Eventually we made it into a dock where someone kept yelling that we should go there for customs.

Nellie has described that part, so I won't repeat it. We eventually had them all show up, although it took many hours to get it done.

Several people have asked me specifically to let them know how Jamaica is.

It's a beautiful country. The people are just wonderful, they are so excited to get to meet us and talk to us. We have a number of people who are trying to do stuff for us, of course they hope to get tips or something out of it, but whether we take them up on their offers or not, they stay and visit and tell us all about their country. And, they are well educated and intelligent, not some backwards natives somewhere, as some people might think.

Port Antonio is a port not so frequently visited by tourists, although several boats a week come here. As a result, it doesn't have the services of a major center, but it doesn't have the atmosphere, either. Although prices are about as high as the Bahamas for food, etc., it is really a great placed to visit.

One of the down sides is that they have a big problem with drugs passing through. As a result, they control your travels by boat much more than most places. Our friend from the boat "Outta Here", a native Jamaican, had told us they now will issue a cruising permit to travel along the coast freely. We didn't find that to be the case, even when we pointed out that we were told it had changed. We must check in and out of each port, and can only officially go to ports that have customs offices.

The customs guy started out being a very serious faced, hard sort of guy. After we'd worked on our papers for abut half an hour, it must have become obvious to him that we weren't drug runners, or any other sort of devious characters and he started to loosen up, smile from time to time and lose his seriousness. We wanted to stop at one port before the next one that had a customs office and he mentioned that they can't "officially" give permission to go to ports along the way, but "unofficially" they sometimes do. We're not sure at this point if we have "Unofficial" permission or not, but we have to clear out of customs when we leave and we'll try hard to find out where we stand.

The bottom line is, if you're cruising anywhere in his area, I think you'd make a mistake to pass it up. I haven't and will not go to Kingston, but I can tell you that Port Antonio is a delightful place to visit. You'll fell welcome,. almost like an old friend, within an hour of arriving. (Just as I was writing this, Allambre, a new friend, just knocked on the side of the boat. He'd brought us a big bunch of fresh bananas as a gift.) The way to sum up the place is their attitude, which is repeated in nearly every sentence, - "No problem, mon!"

A side story about the drug problem. Recently the Jamaican Coast Guard was chasing a Colombian drug boat. This was a cigarette boat with two huge outboards on the back and an additional inboard motor in the belly. It also had a full load of cocaine and two Colombians with satchels full of money. They ran up on the reef in the middle of the night near a beach party that was going on. The Colombians gave one girl $1000 and a bag of cocaine to make a phone call, then quickly disappeared. The locals quickly found the whole mess, with bags even stuck in the tree branches. By the time the officials found the mess, the boat was about bare, the Colombians long gone. As they told us, a lot of Port Antonio residents made a lot of money, and a few people died over the whole deal before it cleared away. So, there is really a basis for the Jamaicans concerns over drugs in their waters.

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I've now had my Jamaican haircut - I'd say they aren't used to cutting a white boys hair, they got it much shorter than I'd have liked, but he did work hard at it. For about $3 I can't complain. We filled up with diesel, 30 gallons at about $39. Not bad.

We're settled in for a few days and will go on a river rafting trip tomorrow. Like I say, it's not a bad place at all. Stop here if you get the chance.

Gene Gruender
aboard Rainbow Chaser
sitting in Port Antonio, Jamaica