Barbados, Sonimtech

Well, I think I've posted enough about the Atlantic - It's time to move on! Arriving in Barbados after Europe was a culture shock - I did very little research on the country, (other than how to sail to here), so everything was a suprise; when traveling, I always think it's best to have zero expectations, so you can never be disappointed! Upon docking in Port St Charles, I had to see Customs, Health and Immigration. This was all a big deal in comparison to Europe, where if you are an EU citizen it's quite literally plain sailing (except for Portugal, who like paperwork...). Everyone was incredibly friendly, and I guess that set the tone for the rest of my stay. The Immigration department insisted I drink plenty of Rum, meet a local girl and party hard. He said you only live once.

In Port St Charles, they have a small marina with private berths, and a few 'visitor' berths. Of course, they really only want visitors who sail enormous yachts (ie. greater than 100feet). Naturally, Constellation didn't fit that criteria, but fortunately she fit the 'Oh my God, you sailed the Atlantic in THAT?' criteria, so I guess you get a little bit of respect, for insanity rather than the size of your wallet. The dockmaster was however fairly adamant that 'small boats stay in Bridgetown' (which is secret code for: Please leave, your size is hurting the look of the superyachts!). So, it was a gentle sail down to Bridgetown, where I anchored out the front of the yacht club.

To travel throughout Barbados, there are several choices. If you have money, you can take a taxi. If not, there is the public bus system and the private bus system. The public system run ordinary blue buses, but the private buses are slightly smaller and yellow, or there are the mini buses, called 'ZR's'. If the slowness of my voyage had been less than thrilling, the private buses made up for it. To describe a typical journey: As the private buses work on commission, they race each other for customers. On one bus, they purposely blocked traffic so a competing bus couldn't overtake! Sporting Magnaflow exhaust systems, graffitied dash boards, the drivers wearing racing gloves and spoilers, these guys get you places, quick. The stereo system blurts out banging hip hop, the school kids sing pitch perfect to the lyrics, and the grandmas nod their heads, syncopated. The radio station they play is also interesting, the DJ insisting on singing over the top of the current track, and dimming the song to exclaim 'yo yo, let's party till luncheon' or something similar - I'm just imagining a station in Melbourne with one of our horrible breakfast radio DJ's singing over the top of Hotel California... An awful thought. The smartly dressed school boys (their uniform obviously still around since British rule) wear insignias reading 'Fear God, Think Clean, Aim High'. As you can imagine, I alighted for the beach bar with WIFI, thinking with cleanliness, but fearing rain over other things of a higher nature... Besides, I don't think God ever intended us to fear much of anything, but it was a complex argument to pose to the kid sitting next to me, while the reggae was turned up so loud.

Upon first impressions of the Caribbean, it really does seem everyone is quite simply, cool - I've been transported back to being the dorky kid at school... Even the old men have an aura of coolness I could only aspire to. I guess here I'm the dorky white guy, and that in itself is interesting. With the majority of 'native' Barbadians coming from a lineage of sugar cane slaves (of African lineage), it's a new feeling being well in the minority after Europe. The last time I felt like I was being looked at as a curiosity, was an accidental tour of some less than intelligent places to be walking in Bronx during 2004. The difference is, everyone here is immensely friendly and open. It's difficult to get used to people saying hello to you on the street, and not wanting anything. Coming from a culture where you don't get anything for free, the 'Bajans' are on the whole lovely and friendly people. Just yesterday while I was out 'exploring' the countryside near the Airport, I had ran out of change - A man at the bus stop insisted he give me the exact coinage for the fair (they don't accept anything other than the correct money). Not to mention Martin who I had been conversing with via email who provided a lot of pilotage info for my arrival, and handed me some money before departing on his own Atlantic voyage, exclaiming 'a donation for your trip' - Thank you kindly Martin.

After marveling at the colour and warmth of the water (this took a few days...) I proceeded onto the more bureaucratic aspects of my stay here, namely my requirement for a US visa. I visited the embassy, and was told to fill out a form online... I did that, and went back the following day, spending two hours waiting in various lines and sitting in offices waiting for my number to be called. Eventually number 62 was called up, and I had the opportunity to talk to a real person, at which point I was told I needed proof of employment, and a bank statement showing I had sufficient funds to enter the country! As you can imagine, I've been sailing since August of 2007, and employment is not really my forte. Neither is sufficient money. With the help of a former employer, I procured a letter and a bank statement, which magically did the trick... I also needed to provide a form because I'm male, and between the age of 16 and 45, which has something to do with terrorism. I had to list all the countries I'd visited in a tiny box within the last ten years; a list extending off the side of the page... Eventually I soldiered back to the embassy with all my paperwork, and arrived at 0730, exiting at at lunchtime, with my visa approved, being sent on to St Lucia early next week. Great day! Next time I decide to sail into Fort Knox, I think I'll better prepare my entry - For example, getting this visa months before, ie. when I was meandering through Europe or getting myself stuck in various places for lack of cash.

After my embassy delights, I had to extricate a Sonim XP1 mobile phone that was generously donated by Sonim Technologies, from customs at the Airport. After providing a commercial invoice stating a demo value, the cheeky people at customs opened the package, and Googled the phone online, and took the duty value from the most expensive retail value they could find! The duty was calculated at 20%, even though the package stated 'yacht in transit'... Personally, I think it was illegal of them to charge me duty, but I couldn't find specific documentation to say I was essentially 'stateless' and exempt - I tried the 'I don't have to pay duty on retail items, why should I pay it on items posted to me as gifts'? They didn't get it. Thankfully Sonim fronted the duty bill, which is most appreciated - Thank you to Angela at Sonim Tech in San Mateo for the phone, and also for all the assistance in actually getting my hands on it! Having destroyed one phone in the North Sea, I think the XP1 is better built for the task of sailing and being constantly dropped!

My second real gripe with Barbados, and something that kind of tainted the nice stay I was having here, was being told I had to pay $50 to leave the country, when I went to get my paperwork stamped at customs. No one ever told me of this charge, and it certainly isn't documented anywhere (there is one place it mentions a $25 charge if you're over 5 tons). I spent a lot of time petitioning the clearance fee, spending four and a half hours at the customs office. I know, $50 doesn't sound like much, and I've paid much more for marinas in Europe, but nowadays I just can't afford it, and that money could be a week or two of food... Even though this all really annoyed me, the customs guys made me coffee, and even fed me cake! So, what can I say... The people are fantastic, but rules maybe not so much, especially for small-time sailors. Barbados is a convenient place to stop if you need a US visa, but due to the clearance fee (and this is really only applicable to poor small cruisers), and general cost of things in Barbados, I would have to recommend that people continue on the 70nm to St Lucia. This is a disappointing recommendation, but the Barbados government don't really seem interested in small cruisers entering their country, and I guess that's what's going to eventuate: Already I've met several people who've said fewer and fewer people are arriving via private vessels (except the super elite).

So today, I head off to St Lucia! I'll leave at night to sail in the cool of the moon, and arrive with plenty of daylight as I sail into Rodney Bay. Below are a few photos (a hard reset on my screen-less digital camera brought it back to life!)

Sunset, Carslile Bay, Bridgetown, Barbados

Luckily 'Constellation' has a good 'Constatution'...

Constellation, at anchor in Bridgetown

Carslile Bay, Bridgetown, Barbados

More photos at the usual place.

-moby nick!