Jamaica 2017

February 26, 2017

An uneventful night. The unseen island to our north, perhaps forty miles away was Haiti. There were no fishing boats to be seen and only a couple of freighters passing to our south. There had been no moon and the stars occluded by rain clouds as dawn approached. Later that day we could see the Haitian coast and the tall mountains lying beyond. We also noticed the smell of woodsmoke on the air. Our track took us close by the Ile a Vache and Pointe Carrefour at the southern tip of Haiti. We could now see buildings and hamlets ashore and could see the dry, desert look of the hills. What we have read is that the hills have been denuded of trees, the wood used for cooking fires and the rains now cause excessive erosion of these hillsides. Hard to confirm these claims with binoculars from five or six miles away but certainly, the land looked quite different from the Dominican Republic to the east, sharing Hispaniola as they do.

We now headed into our second night at sea, clear of land and exposed to the Jamaica Channel. The winds and seas did begin to build in the late afternoon and early evening but again died away, leaving seas in the 2 to 3 foot range. This would not be a full night at sea as our speed has been slightly better than expected and we have run consistently about 100 nautical miles per twelve hours with both engines running at 1,900 RPM. By midnight we could see the lights of Jamaica ahead of us.

February 27, 2017

Our rhumb-line route took us almost parallel to the northeast coast of Jamaica and the lights ashore began to separate into individual buildings or streets. It also began to rain, reducing both our visual ability and clouding the radar picture. We were again looking for fishing floats and unlit skiffs and both would be nigh impossible to spot in these conditions. As we passed near Folly Point, it was raining hard and we were surprised by a bright blue / green flash of light from ashore. This was repeated twice more and we identified this as a laser. The radio remained silent however and we ignored the possible signal. It could only be something like a bored Coastguard officer at 0230 hours and in weather like this.

At 0300 hours we began our turn into Port Antonio. It was raining even harder and we had dropped and zippered the forward “window” on the flybridge. This was to be a full instrument landing. We slowed down to around 5 knots and with the radar at a 1/4 mile range to pick out the navigation markers, we edged landwards, turning into the narrow channel behind Navy Island. We then turned again to head deeper into West Bay and Annette rolled up the forward vinyl window. Despite the rain we needed better vision for what lay next. There were two darkened yachts ahead of us and Annette spotted mooring balls. We edged up to the first but there was no pigtail to grab with the boathook. The same was true of the second we tried and then the third. These were obviously to be attached by someone in a dinghy. Annette lassoed the third ball, we tied on and turned off the engines. We soon had our dinghy launched (even remembered to reinstall the hull drain plug – useful to prevent sinking!) and attached a line through the shackle at the top of the mooring ball. We had arrived! 0335 hours (actually 0235 local time, we are in the next time zone) at 18 10.8 N 076 27.3 W, Jamaica mon!

February 27, 2017 later........

After a blissful 3 hours of sleep, my bladder hurled me out of bed in retaliation for the two celebratory beers consumed at 0400 hours. It was light. I blearily looked outside to see what everything looked like in 3D color rather than as a 2D radar image. It looked different. There was a man paddling a bamboo cane raft, termed a “bili-bili” in Fiji and called a “raft” in Jamaica (no sense of cultural connectivity) and another fishing from a skiff (referred to colloquially as “fishing”). I called the marina on both of the published hailing channels and received no response. By now Annette had similarly dragged herself upright and after restarting the respective cardiac systems with caffeine, we dinghied over to the marina. They were horrified that we had left the boat without clearing quarantine and the like and insisted that we immediately move to a slip. No worries mate. We returned to Doodlebug, motored over to the slip, backed in and tied up. The marina office girl had given me a stack of forms to fill out and as I labored over these, Annette worked at restoring a sense of order to the interior as we expected multiple inspections. The Customs, Immigration and Coast Guard guys showed up but said we had to be cleared first by Quarantine. The latter official was on another boat but would be with us in five minutes or so. Around noon, we had been waiting for almost three hours when the quarantine man showed up. We signed more forms and he left. Another hour had passed and I tried again calling the marina on the radio, still without response. One of the marina workers who had caught our lines came by and asked if we were checked in. We had tipped him generously earlier but whether this was an issue or not, he took off to search out the missing officials and returned about twenty minutes later with Immigration and Customs. More form signing, the passports were stamped and they left. We were just imagining that we were through, when the missing Coast Guard official showed up. He asked what time we had arrived and I explained that our arrival on the dock was 0920 hours but our arrival in the harbor had been around 0300 hours and in the pouring rain. He then admitted that he had watched us arrive on his radar. I asked if he had shone a laser at us and he admitted that he had. We chatted about AIS (they don’t have a receiver) and he said that they only have a VHF radio. If he had called us I would have talked to him. Anyway he was pleasant, as were all of the other officials. He left and at 1400 and something hours, we are legally here. Only took five hours.

February 28, 2017

The marina here sits almost in downtown but is walled off by electronic gates and security guard patrols. We had walked through town yesterday, seeking ATM machines, post office and the like and today repeated the procedure to check out the various grocery stores and purchase an emergency case of beer. Everyone we have met has been friendly, helpful and outgoing but we cannot help but note the level of security in the various stores.

Annette dove into a frenzy of bread making, laundry, sand collection processing and organizing, while my major task was to service the two engines and associated fuel systems. The process was made more tedious and complicated than it should have been, after we had earned a credit for unused and returned bottom paint in Nanny Cay, Tortola last year. The vendor could not provide a cash refund, thus one of the purchase items we had made to use the credit was a five gallon drum of engine oil. This stores well but is not exactly convenient to use as it weighs fifty pounds or so. I won’t do this again. The logistics are that each engine contains 2 and 1/2 gallons of oil. The dirty oil has to be extracted from the engine and replaced with clean oil that comes from the single five gallon drum. I searched Doodlebug for empty one gallon plastic jugs, decanted clean oil into some whilst filling others with dirty oil. The deck was soon scattered with oil cans everywhere with me trying to remember which was which. By late afternoon I had managed to change oil and filter on one engine and had shuttled the 2 and 1/2 gallons of dirty oil into the emptied five gallon drum. The next step was to obtain a couple of pints of “clean” diesel fuel to service the two fuel filters on that engine. The last time I did this, I had several jerry jugs of fuel stored for “emergencies”. I had then become concerned that this fuel was getting “old” and had poured it into the main tanks. Today I had planned on using a manual pump to extract a little diesel from the main tank into a small container. The manual pumps in question are already permanently installed on the two fuel tanks but I had never before tried to use them. Needless to say, neither worked. Try again tomorrow.

March 1, 2017

Today is Ash Wednesday, a public holiday in Jamaica and the streets across from the marina looked deserted. I began the day by changing the engine oil in the second engine, a process that I expected to go much smoother in that yesterday’s oil canister dance didn’t have to be repeated. It would have been smoother too, except that I dropped a full gallon jug of dirty oil in the cockpit, splashing some (but not all, thank goodness!) dirty oil over the white fiberglass decks and white bench upholstery. Then the “on engine” oil filter decided to vomit black oil all over the engine compartment. Fortunately, it all stayed in the engine room as this lies beneath our bed and bedding.

One of the dock workers had wandered up to our boat and yelled, “Good morning Captain, how’s it going?”. I said, “I’m working! Work, work, work. I don’t get the day off for a holiday like you guys!” Jamaican’s do have a sense of humor however and he offered to haul off the five gallons of dirty oil and dispose of it. That was an easy decision.

I next walked walked into town to the gas station, one of the few businesses open and purchased 6 liters of diesel fuel. Back aboard Doodlebug the on-engine fuel filters were replaced (you have to fill the new filter with clean fuel before installation otherwise your engine won’t run) and the on-line Racor fuel filters serviced. These filters separate contaminating water from the diesel fuel and have a clear plastic bowl that is supposed to be inspected daily and drained of water if necessary. From our first purchase of Doodlebug, our filters had contained a thick black sludge of anaerobic bacterial growth that made this inspection impossible. I had purchased the necessary gaskets in order to service the filter bowls a year ago and the day had finally arrived! By evening we were done. Annette had completed her sand project and I had all of the engine servicing completed, ready to rumble. I still need to service the transmissions (the gas station didn’t stock automatic transmission fluid) but that can wait for another day.

March 2, 2017

This morning I decided (BTW Annette really decides these things!) that I needed to go to the doctor and get something for my cough that had been getting worse over the past couple of days. I Googled “health clinics” and found one nearby within walking distance. We soon found the place but were told that only the gynecologist worked today. I’m pretty sure that at I’m too old to be pregnant and after being informed that the doctor isn’t in until tomorrow afternoon, asked if there was another nearby. The receptionist reluctantly gave us the information that there was indeed another doctor, officed on the opposite side of the street. We found the office, signed in and waited perhaps 40 minutes to see the doctor. He checked my blood pressure – good; stabbed my finger with a pin and tested my blood sugar – good; listened to my chest and then wrote me out a prescription for antibiotics and expectorant. I paid cash for the visit, equivalent to 21 US dollars. Back across the street was the pharmacy and after dropping off my prescription, I paid the equivalent of another US $20 to the cashier, walked back to the drop off window and picked up my drugs. No waiting, no copays, no paperwork, forty one bucks total. What a system! We should get a Congressional task force to fix this.

On the way back to the marina we found the auto parts store and bought ATF fluid for the transmissions, the last engine related items to be serviced.

Back at Doodlebug, I decided that I was going to call in sick today and spent the balance of the morning and afternoon reading and lazing around.

March 3, 2017

Annette was washing bedding today, off using the marina laundry facilities and the stripped beds promised clear access to the machinery beneath. The job of changing transmission oil isn’t particularly hard and an hour or so later it was done. Our engines should be good for another 250 hours, equivalent to 2,000 miles of passage.

This marina has been the first place we have stayed since Grenada, where there has been a good international mixture of cruisers. These cruisers are also “serious” passage-makers and many are headed from here to Panama, through the canal and beyond. Jamaica lies on the traditional path of circumnavigators and the month of March is the traditional time to pass through the Panama canal, in order to be in the southeastern Pacific Ocean around May, say in the Marquesas islands, signaling the end of the southern hemisphere hurricane (cyclone) season.

Several of these cruisers had recently returned from Santiago de Cuba, our next destination. When I queried them as to marina conditions there, they confirmed that the dock we need to come up to, has rough concrete sides. This intelligence was the reason Annette and I were over at the lumber yard in the afternoon, looking for a length of 2 by 8 timber. The yard manager was very pleasant to chat with and insisted that his worker find us a “knot free” piece of lumber. We now have two five foot long “fender” boards that are hung over the side of the boat, on the outside of our inflatable fenders and provide a sacrificial surface between our hull and whatever we are laid alongside.

Annette kayaked over to Navy Island, formerly owned by Errol Flynn, in her non-stop quest for sand samples, whilst I was mentoring the young crewman off the next boat who was seeking advice on circumnavigating. “First you need a boat.....”

March 4, 2017

Slow day. Took my antibiotics and chilled.

March 5, 2017

I was feeling somewhat better today so joined Annette in kayaking over to the nearby Navy Island. The weather had deteriorated with a near gale blowing offshore and although we were sheltered from the wind in the lee of the island, we had to cross the waves that had entered the narrow channel separating the island from the main island of Jamaica. The waves were not breaking, otherwise we would not have attempted this but still provided some adrenalin to paddlers sitting atop kayaks. We landed at a beach behind a decaying dock and lifted the kayaks onto the bulkhead and clear of the waves. The dock led directly to the remains of a large hotel the jungle was in the process of reclaiming. The concrete walls and intermediate floors were intact but the roof was missing in places and about to collapse entirely in others. The lobby walls of the hotel bore painted names referring to Errol Flynn and the Bounty. I did not know that Flynn had acted in the Mutiny on the Bounty and Wikipedia indicates he didn’t. Flynn made his screen debut playing the part of Fletcher Christian in a 1933 movie called “In the Wake of the Bounty” that was more in the style of a documentary with some acted out vignettes inserted.

Errol Flynn had owned the island but never lived here, although he moored his yacht “Zaca” in its lee. He had constructed a thatch roofed structure around an existing tree and this was the alleged scene of “wild Hollywood parties”. Why are all Hollywood parties described as “wild”? Why do you never hear about quiet parties where they discussed neo-colonial architecture or knitting patterns? I presume that such “wild Hollywood parties” means that there was a considerable amount of alcohol consumed followed by or accompanied with, some degree of sexual coupling - pretty much standard fare for college campuses.

After Errol Flynn moved on, a California developer purchased the island to build a high end hotel plus rental villas but this was never completed as he ran out of money. The project was taken over by the Eiler’s, the first family of home builders here. The hotel was completed and operated as the only private island resort in Jamaica. After five years of operation, Eiler’s fired a local employee for stealing funds and he and the entire staff then took over the island, commandeered the two ferry boats and held the Eiler’s and guests for ransom until they received their termination pay. The Eiler’s left within a week and the project faded into extinction.

Despite other claims, Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond thrillers, never set foot on the island however Captain Bligh used the shallows facing the current marina as a “careening station” but I haven’t read anywhere that the Bounty itself was ever careened here.

There was an overgrown trail that led east from the hotel complex and we followed this through the jungle and past ghostly, jungle draped buildings, drainage culverts and leaning retaining walls that spoke of past homes, past dreams and past lives. We were alone on the island as we wended our way to the easternmost point that had an ancient gun platform for the battery that commanded the entrance to Port Antonio harbor. As we approached the cliff’s edge, we were exposed to the force of the offshore wind, plus blown spray from the crashing waves that were hurling white foam over 40 feet into air. We gazed across the narrow channel where we had made our nighttime entrance and whose navigation markers were now pitching in a maelstrom of waves. Awesome!

March 6, 2017

An early morning start as we had hired a taxi to drive us to Kingston for the day. The weather forecast was for worse offshore conditions today and we had added extra lines to Doodlebug before leaving her lashed down in her slip. The rain poured down and the wind howled as we headed west along the coast road. As we passed by the bays, the angry waves swept down on the beaches in a tumble of brown, muddy foam. At one point there were large rocks across the roadway, thrown up by the breakers. The edge of the road looked as though it was beginning to erode and the spray beat against the side of the vehicle as we edged carefully by. I wondered if the highway would still be here for our return.

The coast road was generally well surfaced but as we turned south to transit the mountain range, the road narrowed, became pothole filled and the heavy rain had waterfalls tumbling down the cliff faces and occasionally running across the road way. In places there were washed out sections where the holes had been filled with rubble but not yet resurfaced. The traffic on this section of road was light but our driver insisted on passing other vehicles in the most amazing places. Eventually the road plunged downhill into the early morning commuter traffic of Kingston, the capital of Jamaica, population around 700,000. Our driver continued to drive very aggressively but I relaxed knowing that any wreck would likely be at sub-lethal velocities.

Our first stop of the day was the Bob Marley Museum, located in Bob’s former residence in Kingston. This was an excellent tour and we joined an Argentinian girl, a couple from Holland and a German girl with our guide Ricky. Our fellow tourists were almost as interesting as the tour itself. The Dutch lady was wearing a very slinky, black evening gown with a thigh length slit and her partner had a very dark skin as well as large ear lobe inserts as worn by African tribesman. His features did not match his skin color however and Annette pointed out to me that his skin color was much lighter behind his ears and in the fold of his neck. Bob Marley might have related in that I learned that his father was alleged to have been Captain Norval St. Claire Marley, a white man, although the documentary “Marley” indicates that he was in fact a 60 year old private in the British army who impregnated Bob’s mother Cedella Booker when she was 16. The tour was well done and Ricky added a lot of interesting background information. Bob’s music success led to him becoming involved with politicians and politics, although I am unsure as to whether the former were simply exploiting Bob’s fame and popularity. One result however was an assassination attempt in 1976 when three gunman broke into his home, shooting Bob, his manager and his wife. The manager and Bob’s wife sustained major injuries but recovered. Marley however sustained minor injuries to his arm and chest. The bullet holes still pockmark the kitchen wall where this happened.

Bob Marley left behind an impressive collection of music and awards when he died at 36 years old of a melanoma diagnosed some 4 years earlier.

Our next stop was to tour Devon House, the residence built by George Stiebel, Jamaica’s first black millionaire. George was born in the 1820’s, son of a German Jew and his Jamaican housekeeper. This was not a time when mixed races were accepted by Jamaican society and George dropped out of school when he was 14 to apprentice as a carpenter. When he was around 20 years old, his father funded his start up shipping business and he began moving cargo between North and South America. He owned three ships and supposedly was involved in gun-running during the Cuban revolution. Around 1856 his ships were caught in a storm off the Venezuelan coast and destroyed, although George managed to swim to safety bearing some quantity of cash. This he used to purchase a mule and begin a new career as a peddler in Venezuela. He began trading gold and by 1873 he had built a large and profitable business. His wife Magdalene had remained in Jamaica but upon the death of his son, he returned to Jamaica to live. Magdalene and George enjoyed the house together, throwing elaborate parties until Magdalene’s death in 1892. After George’s death in 1896, George’s daughter and descendant’s lived in the house until 1922 and then the property was purchased by the Lindo family, who brought elaborate dinner parties back to this wonderful property. The house briefly housed the Jamaica National Museum and the home has since been restored with both original and replica period furniture and artifacts. After a great lunch, we toured this magnificent house in company of an elegant and knowledgeable lady guide. We noted that several members of the British Royal Family (including Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip) have toured this property and wondered if they also wrapped up their tour with a scoop of rum raisin ice cream from the Devon House ice cream store as did we.

The return drive to Port Antonio was equally exciting as the drive out. We had to detour around the section of the coast road which had been partially blocked this morning and was now impassible. Doodlebug was still afloat and waiting for us upon our arrival.

March 7, 2017

A rainy, windy day spent on such delightful chores as servicing the shower pan filters, as well as conducting internet research for our scheduled trip to Cuba.

March 8, 2017

Annette has been researching sand, land snails and bauxite (aluminum ore) and today Doodlebug had a visit from Denise, a marine biologist with the Alligator Head, Marine Biology research group. Annette had mentioned this interest when chatting with local dive operator Steve Wideneur, who originally hails from near Roswell, New Mexico (home of flying saucers and little green men – Steve is not green though) and Steve had kindly followed up by contacting Denise.

The Alligator Head Foundation (from their website) was set up to support the East Portland Fish Sanctuary, the Alligator Head Marine Lab and to assist the communities dependent upon marine resources for their livelihood......the foundation also works with contemporary art, digital media, food, culture and music production.......”

Wow! Did they leave anything out? The collaboration with the art community is through the Thyssen Bornemisza Art Contemporary Academy of Austria. Which leads naturally to 57 year old Francesca von Habsburg, an art collector and owner of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary Museum. Francesca became an Archduchess after marrying the grandson of Austria’s last reigning emperor, Karl Habsburg-Lothringen. She was born in Switzerland to Hans Heinrich Agost Gabor, Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza de Kaszon et Imperfalva (he doesn’t receive many post-cards) and his third wife, fashion model Fiona Frances Elaine Campbell-Walter. Wikipedia reports that Francesca had a reputation for London partying in the 1980’s as an “It” girl. I had to look this up since I have never dared to call a girl “It”, at least not to her face. Paris Hilton might fit the description of an “It” girl and the Kardashian girls too, if they had any “real” money.

Anyway, Francesca has a place here in Port Antonio, Jamaica, donated the property the Alligator Head foundation currently occupies, kicked in $25 million to get things rolling and The University of the West Indies committed another $30 million to cover the salaries of the first three researchers for some number of years. A rough calculation indicates that these are US dollars values not Jamaican dollars. Not a bad start to a fledgling operation.

We had a wonderful visit with Denise as she is knowledgeable on many facets of Jamaican ecology.

March 9, 2017

This morning we visited the Alligator Head Foundation property. We visited with Denise but Annette’s true interest was to find a parrot fish “slime sac” on the sea shore. A single Parrot fish allegedly produces or rather excretes, about 800 pounds of coral sand during its lifetime, producing many of the wonderful “white coral sand” beaches that we associate with the tropics. What we learned from Denise is that Parrot fish “sleep” at night and to mask themselves from predators, they generate a surrounding slime sac like a bubble, that I presume hides their electrical field, or “scent” as others claim. In the morning, the fish “wriggles” out of its cocoon and continues nibbling on coral. Denise indicated that the discarded sacs often wash up on shore at their facility. Although Annette diligently combed the seashore, she found no Parrot fish sleeping bags and was mildly disappointed.

That evening we had reservations at the “Mille Fleur” restaurant associated with the Hotel Mockingbird Hill. The restaurant had rave internet reviews but there was only one other couple besides ourselves dining. The locals apparently rightly know that you never trust the internet.

March 10, 2017

Two more cases of beer plus the last few groceries groceries and we are set to leave. In the evening we visited the “Fan Club”, a private facility where a local and dashing entrepreneur “Nino” hosts an eclectic gathering every two weeks, accompanied by live music and interesting conversation. Nino had invited us via Steve and it was a magical evening which at least a partially made up for last night’s disastrous attempt to celebrate Annette’s birthday (Annette had been gracious as usual but I had been pissed off).

March 11, 2017

This morning we began the day with pouring with rain and a series of loud “explosions”, much louder than mere gunfire. We had learned two days earlier that this sound is made by breakers / fuses, or whatever mechanism is used, to protect the Jamaica power supply system. Near the coast the overhead wiring, insulators and distribution systems become caked in ocean salt. When a heavy rainstorm hits, the fresh rainwater dissolves the salt and the resulting electrically conducting solution shorts out and overloads the power grid. Such a heavy downpour was heading right at the marina and we could hear the “bangs” of the electricity breakers firing as the wall of water became closer. This phenomenon meant two things for us. First, I had to stow power cords, water hoses and single up Doodlebug’s mooring lines in heavy rain and second, the diesel pumps where we had made arrangements to refuel this morning, would be without power and inoperable. Two hours later the power was back on and we took on diesel in our main tanks and also filled our 10 jerry jugs with “spare” fuel. We had arrived with less than 30 gallons remaining in the port tank and 38 gallons in the starboard tank, assuming of course that they originally held their advertised capacity of 150 gallons each. We motored about 68 hours since the last fill up, which works out to be 3.4 gallons per hour using both engines. This is 10 percent greater fuel consumption than when we first purchased Doodlebug but the hull and propeller are both fouled. Using these numbers, the extra jerry jug fuel gives us additional range of 125 miles.

We now have our exit documents, have paid up at the marina and are tied to a mooring. The wind is still blowing hard in the Windward Passage north of us but is forecast to drop tomorrow afternoon.

March 12, 2017

Another rainy morning. We have “cleared out” of Jamaica but the trip to Cuba we estimate at 14 hours. The Cuban’s don’t like you arriving at night so our plan is to leave our mooring tonight at 1800 hours to arrive in Cuba at 0800 hours tomorrow morning. When it stopped raining briefly, we decided to wander back into town to buy an emergency case of beer. As we left the marina we ran into “Edgar”, a local born Jamaican who hangs around the marina hoping to find some kind of employment. When we told him we were just going to buy a case of beer, he tagged along with us, just because he has nothing better to do. The grocery store was one of the few establishments open on a Sunday and we made our purchase. On our return to the boat, we stopped to chat further to Edgar before bidding him farewell. There are few boats in the marina and even fewer of these are likely to be seeking a travel guide on a rainy Sunday morning. It seems such an act of desperation on Edgar’s part to hang around the marina all day in the hope of bringing in a few Jamaican dollars.

At 1710 hours, a whole fifty minutes ahead of schedule, I could stand the waiting no longer and we dropped our mooring and headed out to sea, bound for Santiago de Cuba, Cuba. The sky was overcast with scattered rain cells but we managed to avoid these and watched the full moon rise in the east before it plunged into the clouds. The forecast was for seas in the 3 to 4 feet range as we headed out, dropping later around midnight. The first part of the forecast was reasonably accurate but around midnight, the wind and seas began to build. The moon was hidden behind a layer of clouds but still cast enough light that you could probably read a book if such an archaic object was carried aboard.