Obviously, when we were in port our preferred activity (in fact our voyage’s primary objective!) was to visit the area, and this could take many forms, from walking or cycling around to renting a car or a driver, or joining an organised trip, sometimes arranged by the Rally organisers and other times organised by the Rally crews on their own.
Unfortunately, the time for these leisure activities was claimed also by a number of mandatory tasks related to the voyage’s logistics; first of all, the:
– IMMIGRATION PROCEDURES: in Europe we have almost forgotten frontier lines, but as soon as set sail from the Canary islands immigration and customs procedures become a mandatory formality when entering or leaving a Country, and in the Caribbean every island is a Country of its own! There are no fixed rules, typically the Customs, Immigration and often also Port Authority and Health offices must be visited, often in a specific (albeit sometimes unknown) order, and the various offices are not necessarily close one to the other! Sometimes, the procedure requires the crew to moor or anchor in a specified place and then stay on board and wait, wait, wait for the officials to come aboard.
In some Countries (e.g. Panama, Galapagos, Egypt) it’s more or less mandatory to use the services of an agent, in others (Indonesia) a Cruising Permit must be obtained before entering the Country, or a Visa is required (Australia), or arrival must be announced by e-mail (Fiji and Australia) and sometimes the same entry/exit procedures must be performed even to move from one port to another in the same Country (Fiji).
Most of the times, nearly the same procedures must be performed in reverse order before leaving the Country and t is essential to get the Customs exit form that will be required when arriving in the next Country; besides being a waste of time, sometimes this is very inconvenient when only some ports are entitled to perform such formalities (for example Tahiti for the whole French Polynesia). Sometimes, such as in Tahiti, Authorities are open to some flexibility and allow crews to check out before actually leaving the Country, but in most cases departure must be within hours from the check-out procedures. Some crews occasionally took the risk of checking out before actually leaving, at their own risk (it must be pointed out that in many places the local officials are very annoyed by foreigners behaving like the local laws are none of their concern).
Except in a couple of occasions, we were not subject to more-or-less explicit requests for “presents”, and formalities were usually performed in a corteous – if perhaps unhurried – manner, but nevertheless the process may be very legthy and it is not uncommon to spend half a day for check in and just slightly less (we already knew the location of the offices!) at departure.
Being in a Rally sometimes helped, at least the organisers advised us on the procedure to be followed and in some cases were even able to organise a dedicated procedure to be arranged for the Rally crews, and sometimes an agent was hired to take care of all formalities in our stead.
– GET LOCAL MONEY: with the exception of the few supermarkets and hotels, most transactions had to be settled in cash, preferably local money, so the first job after having been cleared into the Country was “finding a Bank” or preferably “finding an ATM”!
Luckily in most of the cases this turned out to be not a problem, in the whole voyage we had to go to a Bank to get some cash only once, just when arrived in Antigua, and that was because we were not yet aware of the ATM sitting in the lobby of the nearby supermarket!
Occasionally, in the smaller places, we had to ask some shop or hotel to exchange small sums from Dollars (or Euro) into the local currency.
….and by this time, the first day in port was gone! Before being free to go sight-seeing though, there were many other tasks that needed to be done or at least arranged:
– if our stay in the Country was long enough, we usually purchased two local SIM-cards (or sometimes full telephones) which enabled us to call each-other at a very low cost and usually gave much better tarifs also for international calls, compared to the prices of our domestic operators. Furthermore, being pre-paid cards, we could easily keep our expenditure under control.
– we had to find out how to refuel the boat: sometimes there was a fuel pump where we could go with the boat, in some other cases there were locals offering to come to your boat with a tanker or coming to collect your jerrycans and bringing them back refilled, but on other cases we had to take care of that ourselves, perhaps taking the jerrycans to a faraway street pump.
In the worst cases, refuelling could easily take a full day to be performed!
– also the refilling of gas bottles was something to investigate as it was normally not available in the vicinity: sometimes an entrepreneuring local was offering to take care of that, other times the Rally organisers took care of it themselves, but on a couple of occasions like in Oman in the middle of nowhere, we had to take care of it ourselves!
– another “classic” was laundry: if plenty of fresh water was available, we could perform washing ourselves, but normally it was possible to have our dirty stuff washed by a shore-based service, or do it ourselves with the washing-machines made available in some marinas.
– the Rally organisation came very handy when professional repairs were required (sailmakers, electricians, engine specialists were hard-to-find and usually very busy!), but also when we could perform repairs ourselves, if spare parts were required it was often impossible to find them locally and we had to ask the Rally people to buy them for us back in Europe and hand-carry them to the next destination. A very handy service that was used extensively by all crews!
No surprise that all these activities could easily keep all crewmembers busy for 2 or 3 days, if not more! In the meantime, we took advantage of every spare moment to begin exploring the neighborhood and find out things like:
– shops, what could be found and where
– existence of any large shopping center or supermarket, and how to get there
– places and things to see and how to get there (usually the Rally was organising some visit to the most obvious attractions and some event like folk-dances or traditional eating, but there war plenty of room for additional tourism according to individual tastes)
Often we were also renting a car, both for touring as well as for provisioning needs, and in some cases we kept the car throughout our whole stay.
….and then, reprovisioning! Victualling was a lengthy job, usually requiring several visits to local shops and markets (an unmissable experience!) and whenever possible one or more trips to larger shops or supermarkets for the hard-to-find stuff.
…and finally, with our conscience clean and our wallets dangerously empty, we could devote whatever time was left to visit the wonderful place we had come to see!…