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Jamaica - sailing adventure

by Chrissi

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It was a relatively uneventful sail to Port Antonio, Jamaica. We ran into a few squalls packing thunder and lightening but Naga ate up the miles in her usual fashion and we arrived without incident.

Jamaica on first view is a lush green tropical paradise. Sailing into the harbor we passed a private island once owned by the infamous Erroll Flynn. Tall coconut and palm trees rose their bush heads up from the deep green jungle foliage, and red, yellow and orange flowers peppered the trees and hillsides. The water color was a rainbow spectrum of blues and greens with patches of gold and brown where the underwater reefs lurked.

Instead of our usual antics of pirouettes and high speed tacking through the anchorage, we dropped the sails and motored to the dock like ‘civilized’ yachties. Before even the officials could come aboard to clear us in we were attacked by a barrage of boat boys with offers to clean, sand, paint or varnish the boat, offers of tours and excursions, offers of any goods or services we may need, want or desire. One young man brought a tall bunch of bananas and swiftly, with his razor sharp machete, sliced us off a few hands which we hung in the rigging to ripen.

The officials we had to deal with in Jamaica were, to put it kindly, a little inept. When we cleared in with immigration our passports were stamped with the wrong date, several months in the past. However when we cleared out a week later the correct date was stamped. This showed that we had been in Jamaica for over eight months. We didn’t notice the mistake until we were on our way once again.

When the customs agent came aboard the boat to clear us he told us we should take down the ‘Q’ flag, the yellow quarantine flag every yacht is required to fly until it is officially cleared in. And so we did. The following day a big angry Jamaican in clunky brown leather shoes calling himself the quarantine officer payed us a visit, stomped black marks all over our clean white deck, then berated us for removing the Q flag before he had come aboard. Never mind that he was a day late, never mind that we had no idea we had to deal with a quarantine officer -whatever that was - never mind that we had been told by another official to remove the flag. This mans puffed up self importance and anger were comical, but it was making me angry too. I told him I would call customs so he could take this matter up with his colleague. This quieted his grumbling a little and he proceeded with the redundant paperwork. When that was completed he just sat there sucking his teeth and tapping his ugly shoes on the deck. Offers of coffee and food were turned down and we didn’t know why he wouldn’t leave. After a few minutes of uncomfortable silence he said, ‘Captain, I think you should give me a little something for my time.’

I couldn’t believe it. This rude man was waiting for backsheesh. Jack was shocked too. No official ever has just asked us for a bribe. Sailors are generally counseled ahead of time by marina staff or other sailors if something extra is required, or the bribe is concealed in superfluous paperwork. Nobody ever just asks for a bribe. We knew that not giving him what he wanted would only cause trouble for us.

‘How much?’ Jack asked.

‘Oh whatever you can afford,’ he said casually.

It was all I could do to keep my mouth shut. Jack gave him $10 and he and his shoes finally got off our boat.

We had several offers of taxis from the boat boys to take us to town so I had thought it would be a long walk from the marina. It turned out that ‘town’ was a only a short two blocks from the marina entrance. I thought that we were just getting hustled, but when I got to town, I could see why everyone was so hungry for the Yankee dollar. Poverty in Jamaica is the rule rather than the exception. We were told that the unemployment rate is over sixty percent. It is a grinding and ugly poverty, much more discernable here in Port Antonio than anywhere else we had visited so far. There were beggars in rags in the streets, and on the dirty sidewalks filthy children sold rotting fruit and vegetables. There were clapboard shacks falling under the weight of rusty corrugated tin roofs, and shredding plastic tarps and lean-to’s provided a semblance of shade for prematurely aged women selling akkie, mangoes, fish and bananas. Shop windows were covered in so much dirt that you couldn’t see what was being sold inside. Trash and squaller were everywhere.

All along the waterfront in Port Antonio a major construction project was underway. The government was building a huge marina and resort complex. We saw flyers and pictures of the proposed completed project and couldn’t understand how there can be such a contrast, such decadence and wealth separated from such grisly poverty by nothing more than a stone wall. I hope that the completed project will provide a few more jobs for the people of Port Antonio.

The Jamaicans I met were mostly very friendly to me; the women at the laundry, the girls at the grocery store, the shopkeepers I visited. I sat for a while and chatted with an old woman on a stoop, she gave me a banana and wouldn’t take any money for it. It seemed the women had most of the jobs while the men lazed around under trees drinking and smoking. I was harassed by one filthy-haired Rastafarian with a shiny denim jacket, smelled like it was a very long time since his last bath. He kept following me, trying to chat me up. I tried to be pleasant and shrug off his attentions but he wouldn’t go away.

“Let me give you some good Jamaican loving,” he slurred while holding his crotch. I laughed so hard I thought I was going to pee my pants. I turned to him and told him not so pleasantly what he could do with his smelly self and his ‘good Jamaican loving’ and he slumped back to his shade tree cursing me.

One night during our stay there was a mini festival in town. There were street venders selling jerk chicken and ribs, baked breadfruit, boiled peanuts and beer. The smell of ganja perfumed the air and reggae music blared out from speakers in front of shops and bars. There were young girls dressed in sexy clothes and Rasta men in colorful but droopy attire. There were families gathered on the corners, children playing on the sidewalks, and a general feeling of good cheer was in the air. One raggeddy old man performed contortionist tricks for us while we sat on a dirty stoop eating street food. There was a parking lot that had been boarded off for a concert but we didn’t attend - the music playing was rap and hip-hop, not our style.

Most of our time in Jamaica we spent on board fixing this and that, varnishing the teak, and getting ready for the next leg of our trip to Columbia. We did a little dinghy exploration but we didn’t take much time exploring inland. No trips to the rivers and waterfalls, no trips to Kingston or Montego Bay, we didn’t even trespass on Errol Flynn’s island to raid the mango trees. Many of our yachtie neighbors went on various excursions and tours but we just weren’t in the mood to join them. That was about it for our stay in Jamaica. The poverty we found here was really depressing to us and we were anxious to get going.


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