Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Picture: Ross and Bev overlooking the crater on the Quill, Statia

After 4 weeks of company, which we did enjoy, it is still nice to get RAFT back to ourselves. On our way back from the airport, we took advantage of rental car to start reprovisioning. The next couple of days were spent getting water, doing laundry and then getting water again. Fortunately in Deshaies, water is free, as long as you are prepared to fill your own jugs and walk across a good size parking lot back to the dinghy.

With RAFT is back in order, we are ready to take off, but that requires checking out of Guadeloupe so we can head for Antigua. Normally checking in and out of the French islands is a piece of cake, usually Douanes are open standard office hours, seven days a week, no charge. We had heard from other cruisers that the office in Deshaies was often closed, but we hadn't had any problem in June and the other day when we went by they we open. The day before we wanted to leave, we set off for the office, to find it closed with a sign on the door said "Permanances" and listed hours Wed and Thurs only one hour around the lunchtime. Since they weren't open when we were there in the afternoon, we figure this must be the hours they are open. "Permanances" was not in our cheap French/English dictionary, so we went over to the French boat beside us, their English was limited but they did have a better dictionary and that indicated that it meant Office on Duty.

With the correct information, RAFT and about a dozen other boats showed up at the correct hour and were issued their clearances to leave for Antigua. By contrast to the French islands, check in at the English islands is always more challenging. Despite what the cruising guide states, Antigua does want everyone to attend the check in. We knew this in advance, so both of us went to the office in English Harbour. We made sure that we arrived on a weekday during office hours although the cruising guide indicated that there were no overtime charges for weekend check ins but we were not chancing a change in policy since the guide was printed. The check in staff were more interested in the cricket match they were watching on TV then providing us with the eight part forms. Press hard please!! We had to check in with Customs, Immigration and Ports Authority, pay $37 US for the privilege of anchoring in English or Falmouth Harbour for 4 nights and cruising in Antigua for 30 days.

We did the obligatory tour of Nelson's Boatyard, oooed and awed at the megayachts complete with helicopters, 40 foot motor tenders, full crewesÂ….Oh for the life of the rich and famous.

Picture: English Harbour (foreground) Falmouth (back)

As previously stated our cruising guides indicated that there were no overtime charges for checking out of Antigua on weekends and that there were Customs/Immigration in Jolly Harbour. After checking the weather, we made plans to sail from Falmouth Harbour on the south coast of Antigua to Jolly Harbour (on the west coast) on Saturday. We would arrive in time to check out with customs and immigration, so that we would be able to make an early morning start with good winds heading for Nevis on Sunday.

The sail to Jolly Harbour went according to plan, and once we turned the southeast corner we were amazed how the coastline changed, and for the first time since the Bahamas, we were sailing in 10 feet of blue, blue water, skirting along gorgeous sandy beaches. But this did not distract us from our destination, and we anchored in Jolly Harbour well before noon.

Once we were sure the anchor was well set (not difficult in 10-12 feet over the sandy bottom) we were off to town. Wanted to check out the reported good grocery store, it was excellent and bought most things on our list. We are currently travelling another couple so the guys were dispatched to take the groceries to the boats, while the girls went to get the clearance papers. Having following the signs to the offices, and yes as promised, customs and immigration were open. But they refused to check us out because the ports authority office is not open on weekends, and we must also check out with them first. Other boaters had indicated there are no port charges to be paid, so we were not sure why we needed to see them, but those are the rules and there are no exceptions to these rules. Our choices were to check out Monday morning in Jolly Harbour or return to Falmouth. None of us could understand why Customs and Immigration are even open when they can't do anything on the weekend.

So we got an extra day to go check out the beautiful beaches we saw as we sailed up.

Monday morning, 0745 the guys this time go to try and check out and Antigua once more tried hard to prevent our departure. The 3 Port Authority staff (who had the weekend off and forced us to stay 2 extra days) arriving for work at 8:00 am. But they inform all the waiting boaters that they still could not check in or out because 1) they don't start work until 8:30 am -- 2) none of them had the key to unlock the office today -- 3) they did not know where the key was or when it would arrive and 4) tomorrow they would be closed again because it was the opening of the Cricket matches in Antigua. (a National holiday) By 9:30 in the morning the key arrived by government bus. All the boaters dutifully lined up to have our papers stamped and our charges assessed (zero dollars for us because we paid in English Harbour) so we could move next door, Immigration. Filled out the same 8 copy (press hard on those carbons) Clearance form that we filled out in English Harbour with the only difference being we had to tick the OutBound box instead of the Inbound box. Next it was off to Customs to have him stamp each of the 8 copies and give us the top copy as proof that we cleared out of Antigua properly. But the Customs Officer was late for work. He was supposed to be there by 8:00 am but didn't show up until 10:00am. Once he arrived the guys were in and out of his office in 2 minutes flat.

Despite late start we were able to anchor off Nevis before dark hoisting our yellow Q flag. Unfortunately, we had missed the good wind day, Sunday, and we had to motor the entire way. The current weather forecast indicated light winds and waves for the next few days. After all our checking in/out issues in the past two islands, we decided to bypass St. Kitts/Nevis and head directly to Statia. We had fond memories from visit to Statia when we were here in 1999 and wanted to return. Statia is a small Dutch island, non touristy, the main industry being a major ship redistribution center for the oil. To the north of the small village and harbour is a large oil terminal and there are always a good number of ocean and local oil tankers anchored. Tugs continue to move in and out of the harbour as they do their work on the big boats. The tug wake and the ocean swell (Statia is basically circular, so even anchoring in the lee of the island, we are affected by the waves streaming around the island) make the anchorage rolly, but the island is worth it. But it is not a place to visit when the winds/waves are up, or if there is a northern swell.

Checking in and out of Statia was easy, one government worker in a convenient dockside office did it all. Only one form, one copy, to fill in, and for $20US everything is stamped and you are legal. Plus they give you a receipt to hand back in when you check out.

Just like in 1999, we hiked the Quill, the extinct volcano, about 1800 ft above sealevel. The trail has been improved since 1999, now signed and groomed. Ross decided to be a he-man and did the extra leg into the crater. Again the trail is much improved, but very steep. Since we knew that there were another hiker and guide were in the crater, Bev elected to stay with our sailing partners at the top. He made it and back, huffing, but glad to have done it, and Bev wished she had!! We hiked around the crater, enjoying beautiful views to the south, before returning to the village and stopping at the first bar we saw for a well deserved cold beer.

Winds and waves are expected to be high on the weekend, so on Friday we head back to St. Kitts, another English island so here we go again. Last time we arrived on a weekend and had to go to both the airport and commercial port to get checked in. St Kitts is not cruiser friendly. Port Zante is an okay marina, but the anchorages outside Basseterre are rolly, and there are no dinghy docks. Ross decided to start this time at the commercial port. Here he did find Customs, and was able to exchange 30EC for a 30 day cruising permit which would allow to anchor anywhere in St. Kitts except Frigate Bay. However, Immigration is no longer at the Commercial port, it has been moved to Port Zante. Off he goes to the Cruiseboat dock, where he climbed up the 8' to the pier to continue his trek. At Port Zante he discovers that no one had shown up at Immigration that day, and was instructed to go to the Police Station. Once there, Immigration gives him the necessary forms (only 3 copies double sided) and they want him to return to RAFT to get Bev's signature. Fortunately he was able to talk them into allowing him to sign for her and we are once again legal!! Of course, if we want to go to Nevis, we have to return to Customs to get a Nevis passÂ….. Think we will wait awhile before we head there!!