February 26 - 28, 2014: Underway for Jamaica
The weather has been superb and is forecast to be perfect for the next week or so. The trip south from George Town to Port Antonio, Jamaica, is about 450 miles and will take us almost three days. Our route follows the shore of Long Island (south of the Exumas), past Great Inagua Island, around the eastern tip of Cuba and the Windward Passage, then a turn to starboard past Guantanamo Bay to Port Antonio. At the moment we are 27 miles north of Cuba and the ocean is about 10,000 feet deep here. The air is 88 degrees; the water is 83 degrees and lazily rolling under our starboard quarter. There is almost no wind, which is why we have a motoryacht with air conditioning.
Argo has performed beautifully. On the first day, we cruised at 1100 rpm and used 4.2 gph while cruising at 7 knots, which come out to 0.6 gallons per mile. Now we are going about 8 knots at 6 gph. We are testing our fuel burn rate at different rpms so we can better plan our strategy for the Pacific crossing. We use the generator(s) between 10 and 14 hours a day to cook food, charge batteries, make water, and run air conditioning at night. The generator uses about a gallon an hour. So in round numbers we are using about 160 gallons a day. With 3,200 gallons of fuel on board, we could do this for 20 days, and with our fuel bladder we can another 23 days to that total. It should take about 15 days to cross the 3,000 miles (2,400 gallons estimated usage) from the Galapagos to the Marquesas Islands. It seems to me, and you might agree, that running out of fuel isn’t a good idea, so careful planning is a must!
Around 6 pm on Thursday we reached the Windward Passage, which is the channel between Cuba and Haiti. We passed through it two years ago on Odyssey, our previous boat, and it was as gentle as a lamb, just like today. Lucky us!
In the morning we passed the protection of Massif De La Hotte, the southern peninsula of Haiti and we began to feel the large swells rolling north from the Caribbean on our beam. As the sun rose, the sea changed and the wind rotated so that by afternoon the swells were much smaller and more pleasant. The day was lovely, but as it dragged on we became more anxious to reach Port Antonio. Unfortunately we were in an adverse current all day so our speed was limited to just over seven knots. As the sun set, the Blue Mountains of eastern Jamaica appeared as a silhouette high in the clouds and were cast in a rose shade. Rebecca made us a wonderful dinner of the Mahi-Mahi that we caught at sea the night before.
Coming into a strange harbor requires close attention and vigilance, particularly in a third world country like Jamaica because of unlit boast and potential unmarked obstacles. At night the lights of the city present a background in which small boats, if they have a light, are indistinguishable from the background. Most are too small for the radar to pick up, so care and watchfulness is the order of the day (or night). We looked around for the harbor entrance and we spotted some red and green lights marking the fairway entrance right were the chart illustrated them to be; we checked the code blinking from them and knew we were in the right place.
We slowed and proceeded in, then made a turn to starboard and entered the west harbor through a small channel. By this time we were going very slowly, as it was quite dark and there were many small boats at anchor. We looked for the marina, named Errol Flynn after its founder, but it didn’t seem to be located as shown on the map. There was a very large four mast sailing schooner tied up at a pier, but in the dark it was hard to tell its orientation. Typical of Jamaica, the nightclubs were blasting loud sensual sounds, the party was in full swing, and a sweet fragrance wafted on the breeze. We inched our way toward the schooner, watching the depth and mindful of how to get out if we were in the wrong place. A couple of people on the schooner confirmed this as the marina and we decided to bring Argo to rest at a portion of the dock in front of the schooner under her protruding foremast. I turned Argo around and brought her starboard side to the peer as Rebecca and Tyler made sure we had adequate fenders out and that no protrusions from the peer presented a danger. As we approached, fellow sailors scrambled out of their boats to give us a hand with the lines; one fellow was still in his PJ’s!
Within minutes of tying up the Jamaica Marine Police arrived, two very nice officers. They wanted to come onboard immediately, but Rebecca wanted to see their identification. The two fumbled around trying to scrounge up their cards, but only one of them could find it. I wasn’t sure if Rebecca was going to relent and let both on board. But after a minute or two of discussions, aboard they came—with their shoes on although Tyler wiped the bottoms of them off.
These two filled out a bunch of paperwork and then inspected the vessel from stem to stern. It took the two officers about an hour and a half for the whole ordeal. They went through all the drawers and even tossed the dirty laundry. We were then told we had three more inspections to go through: Coast Guard, Immigration, and Health. By this time we were very tired, but not too tired to have a few Dark and Stormys.
March 1, 2014: Moored at Port Antonio, Jamaica
7 AM came early this morning. That’s when the Coast Guard came knocking on our stateroom window. They wanted to come aboard right away too. Again, two birds; they wanted to fill out the same paperwork and look at my flares. That was it. About 10 AM the nice lady from the Health Department arrived, she didn’t want to take her shoes off either, but complied with our wishes. She had almost nothing to say, but did fill out a bunch of papers substantially the same as the other officials. At this point we were almost done, but we needed Immigration to come aboard or we couldn’t leave the boat. They finally showed up at 5 PM, and then wanted a $38 extra payment for overtime!
That evening we had a wonderful time with three other boating couples. One of the couples, Ismael and Olga are from Barcelona. Olga is a gorgeous young woman and Ismael is a thin, middle-aged, athletic man who looks every bit the Castilian – like a figure from a Goya painting, like a portrait of Hernando Cortez. Both are bright, animated and lots of fun! They have lived on a catamaran for at least eight years and have cruised the southern Caribbean extensively around Venezuela, Columbia and Panama.
The second couple was Westa and Ian. Westa is a former teacher in Harlem, while Ian is a retired British Army officer. Both are lovely people. They live on a 45-foot Benetton and spend their winters in these waters.
The third couple was French, JeanMarie and Coco. JeanMarie is a trauma doctor who treats sailors crossing the Pacific on French tours and also does Grande Prix races like the one in Monaco. Although his wife Coco doesn’t speak English anymore than we speak French, we didn’t learn much except that she gets sea sick as soon as they leave the harbor. She takes a couple of pills and goes to bed – even on long, five day cruises. He stands all the watches and sleeps in ten-minute catnaps. Amazing!
March 2, 2014: Jerk at Port Antonio, Jamaica
For the most part, this was a welcomed day of rest. At 1730 we had our little band of friends over for cocktails, and then we all went to a Jamaican Jerk place for dinner. As it was Sunday, nothing conventional was open, so we headed for a beach bar not far from the marina. After a short cab ride we found ourselves in a crazy place: huge speakers blaring awful music at a decibel level not tolerated by sane people.
Out back was a sort of open shack with chicken wire sides that had a charcoal grill and pork and chicken being roasted. The Maroons, a group of runaway slaves and local Indians that centuries ago killed and roasted feral pigs, developed jerk. They marinated the meat with spices found in the Blue Mountains, and cooked the pigs overnight in pits so that their location wouldn’t be detected by the rising smoke from their fires. Jerk meet is very tasty and quit inexpensive. A quarter of a chicken costs about $3 american, however the cook simply selects some pieces and chops them into finger food sized pieces, bones and all. When eating it in the dark as we did, it is a little difficult to tell what you’re actually eating until it is too late!
March 3, 2014: Blue Mountain tour from Port Antonio, Jamaica
Today we decided to take a tour to the Blue Mountains, about 20 miles away. Our driver, Wayne Murdock, picked us up at the marina on Jamaican time, i.e. 20 minutes late. He is a former Olympian on the Jamaican Bicycle Team who lived in the U.S. for several years, which made for interesting conversation during the drive.
The Blue Mountains rise 7,500 feet from the sea on the northeast coast of Jamaica and are steep, volcanic, and covered in a beautiful, lush rainforest. A very narrow, tortuously winding, two-lane road crawls up its slopes, which was built by slaves in the in the 1700s. Terror lurks at every turn as fearless drivers speed around the blind curves blowing their horns to warn oncoming traffic of a possible collision, but doing almost nothing else to prevent one from happening.
The Blue Mountains are famous for their wonderful coffee, which is some of the best in the world. Our main objective was the Twynman Coffee Farm nestled about 6,500 feet in the clouds. There we met David and Dorothy Twynman, mother and son who have farmed 150 acres on the mountainside for two generations. Twynman coffee is considered the best of the best, and we thought so as well as we sat on their veranda enjoying cookies and freshly brewed coffee and looking out at the verdant valley below.
A bit lower on the mountain we stopped at a Rastafarian plantation of about 100 acres. These people espouse a life of harmony with nature and other human beings. As it was explained to us, Rastafarianism isn’t religious per se, rather a philosophy of life centered on the African experience. It is particularly appealing to the decedents of former slaves who do not have direct knowledge of their origins. Of course there are many people who are a couple of standard deviations from the original intent of its founder, former Ethiopian Emperor Hallie Selassie. Ethiopia is viewed by Rastafarians as the place of human origin and of African culture. I don’t think the Emperor was a pot smoker, but many Rastafarians seem to think weed helps them calm down, meditate, and commune with all that is. On the road back to Port Antonio I could have used some weed: the car had no A/C, the window was either up or down, no in-between, and the springs on the car had far outlived their usefulness.
Nonetheless, we arrived back at Argo in one piece and happy for the experience.