Sailing Adventures

Jamaica - a Lil Slice of Paradise, Mon!

Treasure Beach, Jamaica
Usually Gerry and I sail our Nordhavn 57 "Orion" by ourselves. This time Gerry declined to join me for the 5200 NM trip from from Florida to California. She was enjoying staying home being a Grandma for a change. Since she wasn't going to be aboard, our insurance company insisted that I have at least two other crew members for the fast transit back to the Pacific. We have room aboard for four people to live comfortably so I advertised for able bodied seamen. I planned to break the trip into four segments - Florida to Jamaica, Jamaica to Panama, Panama to Mexico, and Mexico to California. I hoped to find crew willing to accompany me on each leg. Within an hour or two of the posting, my friend Ron Rubin called to say that he and his partner, Dr. Wendy Shore, owners of the Nordhavn 46 "Alcyone", wanted to join me. When I asked which leg they were interested in, he said "All of them". That made it easy! My old friend and business associate Bob Thomsen joined me in Florida and we sailed to George Town on the Great Exuma Island in the Bahamas where Ron and Wendy joined us.
I includeD Jamaica on our itinerary primarily due to its location. We needed an international airport for making a crew change before heading south across the Caribbean to Panama. Kingston is a major city and is easy to reach from the U.S. Initially we intended a quick in and out of Kingston so Bob could fly home and Peter Murphy, the new owner of our last boat, the "Four Seasons", could join us. However we weren't impressed by the Bahamas so we decided to make an early departure in favor of a new and hopefully more interesting country. What a great decision that proved to be! From the first sight of land (after a 48 hour non-stop run from George Town) we fell in love with Jamaica. It is a beautiful mountainous tropical island. Flowers abound!
The marina manager at the Errol Flynn Marina in Port Antonio was warm and welcoming even before we got to land. He asked us if we would mind making a circle past the local park before coming in as there was a festival going on. A TV film crew had come up from Kingston for the day and Paul hoped they would get some nice footage of a pretty white yacht entering his marina. What a way to be welcomed into a new counry!

Whenever a foreign vessel enters a country, the Captain must go through the Dance of Customs. And Immigration, Health & Environment, and the Marine Police. No one is allowed to leave the vessel until the process is done. Our first official in Jamaica was a nice young woman accompanied by her young son. She was from the Health Department. She inspected our passports and crew list, made sure none of us were deathly ill, and told us we could now leave the boat - but not to leave the marina grounds until the other officials cleared us in.
Even though it was Saturday and the offices were officially closed, we soon were visited by five young gentlemen representing Customs and the Marine Police. They inspected our passports and crew list and had me fill in many pages of forms repeating the same information over and over. Then they thoroughly searched our boat looking for drugs or stowaway Haitians. As is typical in these cases, they opened a few drawers, looked at the beautiful cabinetry, and made comments to each other until the piece de resistance - I opened the closet door that hides the washing machine and dryer. This is always a show stopper!
Finally about 1830 in the evening, two fellows from Immigration arrived to stamp our passports, inspect our crew list, and have me fill in a few more forms with all the same information that had been giving me writers cramp all day. "We are finally done," thought I.
But no, first thing Sunday morning the Coast Guard battalion showed up. They were displeased that the Marine Police got there first and had snagged an important document that I should have kept for them. Oh well - you snooze, you lose!
It appears that Jamaica has a full employment act to make sure all visitors are properly processed in with all the right forms, mostly in triplicate. Unfailingly the young officials were neatly uniformed, stern, polite, and welcoming. Based on the uniforms and equipment, I would guess that the effort is financed by the DEA. Overall the treatment was more courteous than anything we have seen when entering the U.S.

Port Antonio is the sort of town that make foreign travel worthwhile. It is attractive in a poor and somewhat worn way. The streets are narrow and poorly maintained. Construction shows why earthquakes are so deadly in many countries. In no way is the town fixed up for company. It is no a tourist town, just a place where real people live and work.
Almost everyone we met were outgoing, always smiling, ever polite and welcoming. On several occasions someone insisted on walking with us for a couple of blocks to make sure we didn't get lost. The children were mostly dressed in attractive school uniforms and seemed bright and happy. There was almost no begging. Unemployment is high and we saw quite a few young (and not so young) men hanging around idly amongst the fragrant scent of ganja. Ganja is considered a sacrament by the Rastafarians. The people don't appear to be lazy - there was a strong entrepreneurial spirit.
Jamaica must be a young island and is mostly limestone. Once away from the coast, it is steeply mountainous with deep valleys and gorges. The north coast is wetter and more jungle-like whilst the south coast is dryer with cactus, palm trees, bamboo, and (at higher elevations) pine trees.

One day we went in search of fresh fruit and vegetables at the market. The market is perhaps a square city block in size. It is filled with wandering pathways between ramshackle booths consisting of some rough tables, old boxes, and tattered tarps to keep the rain off. The typical shop was about 8'x8'. The proprietors were all friendly and mostly good salesmen. They were eager to tell us about their wares which ran the gamut from DVDs (or homemade copies of DVDs) to shoes and clothing to housewares and foodstuffs. The aisles were nearly wide enough for cars and occasionally a taxi would ease its way through the crowd.
Before long we struck up a conversation with Bleachy Paul, who assured us that he would take us on a wonderful tour of the neighboring countryside. All we had to do was rent a car and pay him $20 each and he would drive us to all the prettiest spots, including the famous Blue Hole where Brooke Shields did something famous. In the meanwhile he herded us over to his sisters fruit stand where he proceeded to carve up various strange and unusual fruits and vegetables so we could have a taste. We bought a load of fresh provisions including papayas, a breadfruit, and a bag of aqui which is the inside of a strange red flower/fruit/growth that has an unusual delicious flavor.

Tourism is the biggest industry in Jamaica. Sandals Resorts alone has six all inclusive resorts in Jamaica. Unfortunately the term "all inclusive" really means "all exclusive". These facilities do their best to insulate their guests from any contact with the real Jamaica and its people and culture. It makes you wonder why anyone flies all this way and spends all the money to have what is essentially an American experience. If you don't like foreign places, why not just stay home?
When it came time to depart Port Antonio I got two more visits from the officials before receiving a temporary cruising permit and permission to continue on to Kingston, a distance of less than 100 miles. I was firmly told to check in with the officials when we arrived, which would be another week as we planned to visit some anchorages along the way.
The first anchorage we visited was Port Morant, a beautiful protected harbor on the east end of the south coast of Jamaica. Although we weren't required to report to the authorities upon arrival, we barely had the anchor set before an official looking panga arrived with five or six uniformed members of the coast guard, the marine police, and a woman who held some other important office. As expected they were very formal but polite as they inspected all our paperwork. Later they ferried another young official from Immigration out to visit, to inspect our paperwork and to make sure we didn't intend to leave his country for foreign lands before clearing out with him. We assured him that we were coming to Kingston soon and would follow the proper procedures to clear out before heading to our next destination.
The six pack of military lads plus a couple of bosses then spent the next three days waiting for us to leave, though there was another larger boat that came in one evening and left at dawn so they all had to gear up and go inspect his paperwork too. This is not a busy port.
Ron and I took the dinghy across the bay one afternoon in search of fresh produce. A handsome young sub-teenager was standing on the beach waving his arms and gesturing that his little spot was the best place to land the boat. He then took us under his wing and walked us through a group of fishermen mending their nets (and enjoying a puff of ganja). We hiked for half a mile up some steep goat trails past some poor shacks, scrawny people, and scrawnier dogs, before coming to a paved road that led to a crossroads. On one corner was a gas station with a cooler and a couple of shelves of crisps and cookies. Across the street was the market with a few empty tables under a leaning lean-to covered with tarps. Unfortunately the only thing for sale was a few flowers and a couple of breadfruit. So we bought our guide a can of pop and wended our way back down the hill to the boat.

According to the locals Kingston harbour is the seventh largest in the world. Long Beach and San Francisco don't need to worry about being upstaged yet. It is a very protected harbour as there is a long peninsula that hooks around it. The airport is on the peninsula within eyesight of the Royal Jamaican Yacht Club. The RJYC didn't have room for us on their docks but there was a safe anchorage just outside the boat basin and they welcomed us into the club. We enjoyed a few meal, some rum drinks, and access to their WiFi.
Need I mention that the officials came to inspect our paperwork and have me fill in a couple more forms with the same information as all the rest? When we decided to move 30 miles west to another anchorage for a few days, the officials returned to issue us a new cruising permit. When we came back to RJYC a few days later, the official came to retrieve his permit unscathed and warned us to call him when we were ready to leave the country. So far we have been visited by nearly 20 officials - and they haven't charged us a dime! Gotta love a country like that!
For our cruising friends, there is an excellent chandlery named Durae's Boat Sales, 18 Roswell Terrace, in Kingston, phone 876-905-1713. It is an odd business, located in a house in a quiet residential neighborhood. There is no sign or indication that it is a place of business. There is a button by a gate that alerts them to release the lock. Then there is a second locked gate to be buzzed through. Once inside, two bright young women welcome you. They know their stuff, what they have in stock, and prices. Tony Ducos, the proprietor, is a handsome elderly gentleman who insists on giving tours. One room is filled with spools of rope. Another has nuts and bolts and electrical fittings. He has an entire room full of anchors. Rows of props. Upstairs are fenders, life rings, and pumps. It is truly a well equipped marine supply and a pleasant surprise in a Caribbean town. Very friendly and laid back, yet professional in a way that West Marine would be wise to emulate.

Port Royal is located on the end of the peninsula that protects Kingston Harbour. In the 1600's it was known as the richest and wickedest city in the world. Jamaica is located near the trade routes used by the Spanish to transport the gold they stole from the Incas to Spain. England tried to help by licensing privateers (pirates with permission) to harass the shipping.

Dr. Wendy Shore sitting in a gun port at Fort Charles, the only fort that survived the Port Royal Earthquake in 1607

Henry Morgan and many other pirates used Port Royal as their base for depradations against the Spaniards. Later Morgan became Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica. But in 1607 a major earthquake struck Port Royal. Two thirds of the city disappeared under the waves. All but one of the forts were destroyed. The remaining Fort Charles sank over 5' in the sand. Giddy House, a munitions storage building, is still standing but is half sunk in the sand at an extreme angle. The seashore, which once was deep enough for ships to tie to the walls of the fort, is now a thousand yards away.

Giddy House at Fort Charles, Port Royal
Giddy House at Fort Charles, Port Royal
Giddy House

As I said at the beginning, we initially considered Jamaica to be a convenient stop for a quick crew change. After spending a couple of weeks here, I consider it to be one of the nicest islands we have visited. The terrain is much more interesting than the Bahamas. The people are warm, welcoming, and fascinating. For me it has been one of the pearls on my string of life. A lil slice of paradise, mon!