Monthly Archives: September 2013

From the Janitor

Just to let you know I’ve moved things around a little. Photos are no longer on their own gallery pages but have been included into the appropriate (I hope) posts.

You’ll have noticed the pages are gone from the top. The information on them are now in a normal blog post but entitled “xxxxx – INFO”. So the information has not been lost, just rearranged a bit.

Renovations are ongoing for a bit.

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Grand Cayman – Info

In one word: expensive.

Georgetown is a beautiful harbour to navigate, well marked, open with no hidden surprises. Customs and Immigration is super easy: they meet your boat and hand you paperwork, once completed they’ll tie you up to the nearest pier and finish the stamping and welcoming inside. No matter how long you’re staying, it seems to be an automatic 30 day permit.

Just off the main harbour, there is a row of transit buoys. From there you can dinghy pretty much everywhere depending on how long you want to take to get there. It’s safe to beach or tie up anywhere that’s not in the way or private property – take the keys and your valuables, of course, but the dinghy will be there when you get back.

Georgetown seems to be geared exclusively for cruise ships and that is understandable as they get usually 2-5 per day. Almost the entire downtown is duty free shops and high end merchandise. The cruise ships come in Monday to Friday with an occasional visit on Saturday. Since no one is around, everything is closed Sundays (I guess sailors and other visitors don’t count); bars and churches are about the only things open.

Restaurants are expensive but the food is pretty good. At Breeze’s, we had one order of fish and chips, an appetizer of shrimp poppers, one beer, one drink and it totaled about $60 US. Cayman Cabana has great cheeseburgers and super salad – there again though, it’s expensive.

Divers Supply is the largest diving store here and they have a great selection of everything watersports. Their prices are a little high so shop around; the little dive shops along West Bay Road offer much the same stuff (a little at a time) but usually cheaper.

Grand Cayman, like Jamaica, is a British island so they drive on the wrong side of the road here too. The difference is that here they will sometimes stop to let you cross, there is much beeping of hellos and waves and they are not as crazy. Sidewalks are hit and miss; it seems they change from one side of the road to the other every block or so so you’re either constantly crossing the road or having to walk on very narrow shoulders.

There is almost every type of bank here and they seem to be more tied into the main system. For example, in Curacao, the CIBC First Caribbean Bank could not take care of normal day-to-day banking needs; you had to withdraw from the machine to get Gilders and deal with your daily limits, etc. If you exchanged at the teller, they charged you tax on top of the exchange rate. Here in Grand Cayman, the CIBC is also First Caribbean but you can do everything there that you would normally do at CIBC at home. Of course, you can always pay in US and get CI in change; all places take US dollars and most will take a major credit card. The exchange rate at the moment is $1 CI = $1.25 US so approx

$8 CI = $10 US. It’s backwards to what it normally is outside the country but I guess that’s what happens when the economy of Cayman is strengthened by the offshore banking of the US elite.

Fuel (gasoline) is about $5.60 CI per imperial gallon = $7 or so US. Diesel is a little more expensive, about $0.40 per gallon.

Gunk-holing and camping on the hook is allowed pretty much anywhere around the island. You don’t need a special permit to move around here, ya just gotta tell ‘em when you’re leaving.

Fishing is allowed off the boat or off the shore but you need a permit and it’s catch and release only. Other seafood taking is not allowed at all.

Cigarettes can be found at the gas stations or at Foster’s Food Mart. Marlboro at ESSO is about $8.50 CI, at Foster’s is about $7.15 CI. Gas stations have some beer in cans, not a wide selection. Big Daddy’s is a liquor store next to Foster’s that has everything and is kinda central to Georgetown/Seven Mile Beach.

The local brew, Caybrew, is done right here and has various types under the same name….Light, Amber, Lager, etc. I’m told it’s pretty good (personally I loathe beer in all its forms both before and after it has been drunk)

You can pick up a tourist book at the bank or a free map at the gas station; they are also geared mainly for cruise ship or resort type people. Restaurants, hotels, shopping, touristy attractions are all front and centre but the marine stores/liquor stores/wifi hotspots, etc are nowhere to be found.

Speaking of wifi, there is free wifi at Burger King but it sucks worse than their burgers and there are no outlets. There is free wifi at the coffee shop on Fort St but it is closed weekends. When it is open, it looks very very similar to a Starbucks inside and has great latte.  Guy Harvey’s, right across from what they call North or South Terminal which doubles as a taxi stand, is a restaurant/bar that has free wifi, outlets and is open every day.

There are very very few laundromats on the island but the best one is ____________ on Eastern Ave. It costs $2.00 CI per wash, $3.00 CI for dryer but the many many machines are well maintained and the place is very clean, open and airy, with sturdy and clean folding tables. The lady who runs it, Linda, is a love who takes pride in keeping her place nice and it shows.

There is no such thing as a public shower. The only think I can think of is to pay a drop-in fee at one of the local gyms (there are several) and use the locker room/shower there.

Shopkeepers are a funny lot here. They automatically assume you’re with the cruise ship and will ask for your ID for the duty free. When you tell them you’re not “that” kind of boat people, they are split right down the middle: some love you and some will ignore you. There doesn’t seem to be any in-between. Except in the marine stores….they just love everybody connected to boats.

Cabs, like everything else, are expensive. We dinghied to the Avalon Resort right beside the public beach about ¾ the way up Seven Mile Beach then taxied over to Marine Diesel in Morgan’s Harbour. It was $30 CI return with about a 10 minute wait in between and big smiles and welcoming conversation from Barry with Charlie’s Cab Service (shameless plug for you). The next day we taxied from the South Terminal Taxi Stand to Harbour House Marina, about the same distance; it was $30 US return with about a 15 minute wait in between but also included grumbles and complaints from the taciturn driver about having to wait a few minutes longer than we said. Ya takes yer chances.

Marine stores: There are a few smaller ones that cater mostly to outboards, fishing, skiing, tubing and the like. In our estimation, there is only one marine store on the island: Harbour House Marina, Marina Drive (www.harbourhousemarina.com). They are a full boatyard and chandlery and their retail store is huge, two floors, that contains almost everything you could need. If they don’t have it, they will gladly order it in for you. The people there are wonderful, friendly and helpful, and really advertise the fact they like their work. Alfredo Challenger is the Assistant Manager and so accomodating, he will talk with you on the phone, answer questions, follow up with your needs, etc. Carl knows the store inside out and has great knowledge about a lot of different things. He can help you with rigging, wiring, plumbing, a step for your ladder, stern lights, just everything from soup to nuts. What he really excels at though (and you can tell he is interested and likes it) is electronics. We were told our brand new Garmin 4210 was toast, that it wouldn’t even accept power, and so have been navigating (if you could call it that) without it so far. Carl took a look at it, connected it at the store and said it was fine. He connected all the wiring for us, gave us instructions on how to finish it, and even did the internal setup of our boat dimensions, mast height, draft, etc. This we didn’t find out until later when we had it all set up on the boat and turned it on. Poof! It was all done.

We were like 0 for 10 with this thing. The dealer/salesman who sold it to us said it was a “plug and play” type thing since we already had a Garmin (421S) – nope. He told us it had an internal antenna and the one in the box was an “extra” – nope. The technician who tried to install it said it wouldn’t accept power let alone anything else – nope. He said we needed to almost re-wire in order for this to be accepted – nope. He said we got a duff machine and we should send it back – nope. Everything anyone said about this thing was wrong. Carl didn’t say a word, just took it and plugged it in and set it up. Then explained it all. We can’t thank him enough for all his help, time and energy spent on us this week. Garmin will also be getting a letter of kudos about Carl.

Weather forecast for this area is found at the NOAA site: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/text/MIAOFFNT3.shtml but use your judgment. They were calling for 10-15 knots NE to N and 2-4 ft seas today and tonight. It hasn’t gone under about 30 knots all day and I’m damned sure the seas are higher than 2-4 feet! We are in an inlet marina, surrounded on all sides by breakwater and land, and we’re rocking and rolling.

Jamaica – Info

Finally, a blurb about Jamaica.

Royal Jamaica Yacht Club, Kingston – only marina of any size. Port Royal was almost destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in October and is just rebuilding.

The yacht club has electricity, water, terrace bar, clubhouse, pool, change rooms, showers, washing machine ($600 J per load; there’s a clothesline out back you can use), fuel ($1.33 J per litre). Mooring was $286/week in the main marina, $216/week at the overfill dock where we were. It may sound like we were stuck out on the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ but we had a better breeze (less mosquitoes), better view, more quiet, and still had power and water.

Most of the boats there are in storage of sorts, their owners being foreigners that come a couple times a year to visit. Most of the people that work at the yacht club are the managers of these boats – they clean and maintain them, captain them when the owner comes in, etc. In their spare time, when they have any, they act also as maintenance people for visitors. Luther, the mechanic, is one such – he takes care of a boat regularly but has time to do repairs for visitors.

There is a bus to Port Royal (west) or Harbourview (east) but dangerous to ride after dark. It’s about a 1-1.5 mile walk from the yacht club security gate to the main road and the lane is not lit. If you want to go anywhere, have the marina people call a cab they trust as not all cab drivers are reliable either.

A Jamaican dollar is 85:1 USD approx depending on the exchange rate of the day. So $1 US = $85 JD

The supermarket in Harbourview has pretty much everything and the prices are okay.

Bread – $200-300 JD or $1.50-2.00 USD

Yogurt – 3 for $107 JD or $.90 USD

Cigarettes are found at smoke shops only and are local brands only. Romeo y Julieta is like mild Marlboro. At the club bar: Rothman blue – $750 JD = $8-9 US

The local beer is Red Stripe and I’m told it’s quite good. Club bar price: $200 JD = $1.75 US, juice is the same price, water is $100 JD, Gatorade is $185 JD.

“Tastee” is like a small fast food place that seems to be as numerous as donut shops in NA. A Tastee Pattie can be ground beef or chicken lightly spiced Jamaican style, folded in a flaky pastry and baked. And they are oh so good! 3 patties, 3 sodas, 1 large fries came to about $800 JD = $7-8 US

There is one marine store for the whole island and situated pretty much in the middle, 50 km and over the hill from everywhere. It’s not got a whole lot of choice, basic parts only, and very expensive. Racor fuel filters were $50 US each. If you gotta go there, go with someone you can spend time with because it’s about an hour each way through some pretty rough areas – it’s worth it to stop for lunch and a beer.

Gloria’s in Port Royal has the BEST seafood EVER!! You sit outside downstairs or upstairs and, because it’s so popular and packed all the time, you get to share a 6 ft table with others. It is a fantastic way to meet people. We had a lobster dinner and drink each, taking home about 2/3 of each dinner because there was just way too much food. The total came to $3125 JD = about $36 US ! One of the favourite local dishes is parrotfish and it is done so well that you can pick up the whole skeleton in one go – and it is still so moist and tender.

Gunk-holing and camping out on the hook are allowed all around Jamaica. You need to get an intracoastal waterway permit which is no big deal – they just like to know where you are and whe

The yacht club is okay for staying at but real inconvenient to get anywhere. It costs a lot to go by cab over to Kingston to do anything like restaurant, sightseeing, shopping, etc. And you can’t take the dinghy across even though it’s only a mile or so because it would be stolen. In fact, we had to put the dinghy up on the davits at night just to be safe.

You can tell Jamaica is a British island – they drive on the wrong side of the road….and they are crazy! You don’t dare walk anywhere; even sidewalks are unsafe, they seem to be just parking lot overflow areas.

Banks are hard to find unless you are downtown in the business district. Most places takes major credit cards and US cash, and will give J dollars in change.

I don’t know anything about shopping like what kinds of stores besides groceries or marine. In old Kingston, however, there is a huge shopping district that reminds me of an outdoor bazaar or market. The streets are lined with little shops but it looked like all the merchandise was on the sidewalks. That just meant that the people were all in the middle of the road. There were times the car was surrounded and they just wouldn’t (couldn’t?) move, so we inched forward as best we could, beeping all the way. There was absolutely no animosity though, from anyone. Everyone was smiling, waving, yelling to chat with us, calling to each other, laughing, dancing in front of the car instead of walking, etc. It was just busy – oh so busy.

There were probably restaurants and bars and nightlife in Kingston but we didn’t go there except on our little tour the one day. If you want typical North American food, I’m sure you could probably get it. Why you would want it when Jamaican food is ever so much better is beyond me, though. We always found that if you want the best of anything, especially food, go where you see locals lining up.

Curacao – Info

Curacao

A special thanks to Arie and Henrietta two of the most fantastic people here in Curacao

Since this our first blog let me explain the format, I write about things regarding the sailing department, as first mate Peggy would put it ( the important stuff); and she writes about what she calls the interesting stuff.

Let’s start with the first impression. If you are planning to come here on a short (1 week or 2) at a resort and do not plan to venture too far out, then this is a very nice place. But if you plan to be here for a month or so boating from bay to bay and gunk holing there is one word: DON’T.

Actually I am waiting to set sail before posting this blog as I am sure the local authorities will not appreciate what I think about Curacao.

Two years ago they got their independence and the general feeling of the island has made a 180 degree turn. One of the local politicians was quoted in the paper as to say, “ all whites should be taken off the island in body bags.“ It might have been simple rhethoric, but you get the picture. There is a huge sense of not being wanted there.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many fabulous people around but the majority do not like outsiders (whites), and are unfriendly, not service oriented at all, downright cold and their favorite past time is to ignore you. Even if you are in their store to buy $1,000.00 of merchandise, expect to be ignored.

Gunk holing is not permitted, boaters have to stay in a marina in the water or on the hard, or in Spanish Waters.

Me, I am refitting Ete Infini in Piscadera bay at Royal Marine( yes with an ‘e’ not ‘a’ ). People here are the very friendly kind with Juan-Carlos the marina manager but he will nickel and dime you to death: we were leaving Nov 30, paid up until Dec 12 but were still charged $20 for water use. Here you can dinghy to Pirate Bay just adjacent to Piscadera Bay. Nice swimming water, but the beach is full of broken coral thanks to a hurricane a few years back.

The price at the marina is somewhat affordable, haul in and out and three months with power was about $1,800.00 U.S . But I am sure things will go higher soon. Since the island is almost bankrupt and prices are already starting to climb.

Boat store wise, is on the good part of this trip. There is plenty of marine stores here, Budget marine (2) and Island Water World are my favorites, but get their catalogue first. Some items are cheaper at one store, and others are cheaper at the other store; they are very competitive. So shop around. They have a very decent inventory. Other marine stores are, Curacao Marine fairly ok, and Caribbean Nautical. This one I would stay away from. Caribbean Nautical was formely known as ABC marine. I waited 3 months for a quote on $4,000.00 worth of electronics, $1,500.00 worth of installation, still I only have a partial quote. As I said before, people ignoring you is a national pasttime here.

Most beaches, if not on resort properties, have entry fees, and like I said gunk holing is frown upon. Some people do it, until the authorities kick them out after a few days. On the other hand, the boat entrance is fairly easy, uncomplicated and somewhat efficient, mind you Custom and Immigration are quite a bit apart, so a cab ride would be a good idea. Clearing out is also easy, visit custom a day or 2 before the planned date, and turn in your visa card at immigration the day you leave, and you are on your way. If you had the same experience that I had, it will be a one time visit.

Pegg: a blurb about what we found in Curacao. Pictures to follow. 🙂

NAVIGATION

It can take a bit to get around Curacao, especially in town, ie Willemstad. But that’s where pretty much everything is so you got no choice. Sorry about that.

There are no (or very few) street names, even on what seem to be main roads. The streets themselves are more like what we would call alleys, or large driveways. They are laid out like a rabbit warren so even looking down them to see if they connect to anything is useless. The map is extremely large scale and every single road/pathway/alley/driveway/cowpath is on it, paved or gravel. What is approximately 2 inches away on the map is only about 100 yards in actuality. But that is only in town – once out in “the country”, that all changes. If you are lucky enough to have a navigator, please cut her some slack when she says “I just don’t have a clue.” If her nose is in the map trying to figure out where you are, she’s missed the turnoff already.

The "road" to the propane station

The “road” to the propane station

We found that navigating by landmarks is THE way to go. Turn right at KFC, left at Subway or just past McDonald’s….you get the idea. (For you fast food junkies, you’ll be in seventh heaven here! More on that in the food section.) In fact, KFC and Subway are about the only places actually written out; other stores, banks, gas stations are icon only. Take a pen with you and mark stuff on the map that you come across. I will tell you that you’ll find all kinds of neat stores and shops when you get lost and if you don’t mark them, you’ll never find them again.

And to top off your adventure: turn signals are only an option, cars are usually halfway into the intersection before they stop and most of this is done at high speed. Have fun! J

MONEY

Currency accepted here is either Dutch Guilders or US Dollars and almost all businesses take either or even a combination of both. If you don’t bring Guilders with you, don’t try to change them at the bank. IF the bank allows you to without an account, they’ll charge you 6% on top of the exchange rate.

The easiest way to exchange your money is right at the store. You give them US Dollars and they’ll convert it and give you Guilders in change. Do that a few times the first day or so and it will build up fast. If you have a hard time differentiating the coinage (like we do) just hold out your hand full of coins and the cashier will pick out the correct amount. One thing I’ve noticed is that they are very nice about it and completely honest.

SHOPPING

If you are here for any length of time, shop around for the best prices. Otherwise, here are a few ideas for staple items:

Centrum– groceries, small household items, beer, cigarettes, drugstore items that don’t need a pharmacist.

La Curacao – big department store, great for bedding, housewares, small and large appliances

Kooyman – a semi-independent store competing with Home Depot and doing a fine job of staying in business. They may not have as much stuff but what they do have is quality and the staff is most excellent. Potable grade marine hose is available here.

Building Depot – the large chain wannabe of Home Depot, and it seems they expanded into more home-making oriented items. They do the tool thing, plumbing and electrical supplies, bathroom and kitchen fixtures, carpet and flooring, lawn and garden…..all the same as HD; but they also have a department store type portion with bedding, housewares, appliances, some sports equipment, school supplies, decoration and knick-knacks. The staff is not as friendly as Kooyman, though, and a lot of items are not priced so you have to take them to the cashier to find out.

Marine Stores:

Budget Marine – a large chain around the Caribbean found on most islands. Register your boat with them and save the tax. Good selection of hardware, plumbing and painting supplies. Not bad electronics and water sports departments. The store here has super nice and helpful staff and they remember you when you come back for stuff you forgot the first time – which always happens.

Island Water World – a large, semi-independent store with great hardware and plumbing supplies. A good selection of electronics, painting and plumbing supplies. Some water sports equipment, some clothing/footwear, a few charts, and good miscellaneous items like coolers and air horns. Very nice rope/chain section.Register your boat and save the tax. Most helpful and friendly staff, extremely clean store.

Caribbean Nautical (ABC Marine) – a smallish store with big attitude. It seemed to me that paint and electronics are their specialties with not much else. They may know a bit more about electronics but customer service is not their forte.

The three marine stores are on the same road within .5 mile of each other so it’s easy to shop around.

If you have a Yamaha motor, there is only one guy on the island that can or will work on it, Jan Tak. Ask at one of the marine stores to get his number – then be prepared for a run-around that takes lots of time and energy. He’s good at what he does and comes highly recommended but the guys you have to deal with up front are a pain.

There is no certified Garmin technician on the island. There are, however, lots of people that will tell you they are. Some are good techs, some I wouldn’t trust our machine with. Island Water World staff don’t know a whole lot about electronics but they are extremely helpful in finding someone who does.

Gas stations are not as plentiful as we are used to but an unexpected empty fuel tank means only a couple miles walk anyway. The island is just not that big.

There is only one place to get propane on the island and it’s tucked back into one of those rabbit warrens I mentioned earlier, and closed on weekends. You need to go to the CurOil office and get a receipt for your tanks. We were charged $24.80 NAG per tank, a full BBQ tank price even though ours were only 12 pounds not 20. We took the tanks across the compound and left them Monday morning and were told to come back Wed afternoon for them; he took one copy of the receipt and we took one. Wed afternoon, they weren’t there – “come back tomorrow”. Our car was due to be turned in that day so we now had to pay an extra day. Thursday at 2:00 pm turned into 4:00 pm but we finally got our tanks. Once we were sure they were in this shipment, it was back to the office to pay for them, bring the receipt back and he turned them over. Super nice guy, we couldn’t get angry as it wasn’t his fault.

Other Shopping:

Downtown in the Renaissance Hotel area is a huge promenade full of upscale stores. If you are dire need of a new Rolex or Gucci bag, you’ll find it there.

There are clothing, footwear and sports stores scattered all throughout the Willemstad area. Some little jems are tucked away on side streets and are only discovered when you’re trying to find somewhere else.

downtown shopping

downtown shopping

4 main street shopping Willemstad

You can find computers and parts, printers, office supplies, music, cameras and photo equipment…pretty much anything. There are a few large strip malls but mostly it’s independent shops and boutiques.

INTERNET

There is free wifi at Starbucks, McDonalds, Burger King and some Subways. There is also wifi at the marinas but not very strong so you need to either boost it, get closer or just go with what you get.

FOOD

There is fast food all over the freakin place. McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, KFC and they all seem to be on corners which makes navigation easy. We found a Tony Roma’s and a Denny’s as well. Of course, there are little cafes and bistros all around, several Chinese and Thai and Spanish and Italian restaurants, and down on the promenade there are many independent restaurants. You won’t lack for food here.

MEDICAL

I was very surprised and impressed to see the various medical facilities here. Thank goodness we didn’t have to use them but I hear they are great. There is a huge hospital here and I saw signs for Internist, Cardiologist, Nephrologist, Immunologist, and many many MDs. There are dental clinics and denturists, as well. The pharmacy section at Centrum is pretty well stocked with normal stuff from Tylenol to shampoo, first aid supplies, tooth care, skin care, etc. For anything else you need to go to “Botica” which is sorta like a Shopper’s or Rexall. There you can find just about everything you need. For contact lens wearers – there are optical stores that carry Bosch and Lomb products.