Port Antonio, Jamaica

The crossing from Cuba to Jamaica was not particularly pleasant as we found ourselves in an uncomfortable, sloppy sea that made for a tedious passage, not helped by the problem of being only able to fly the jib, due to the damage we had taken South of Haiti on the main. We arrived into Port Antonio with grey skies and 3m waves crashing against the lighthouse. Once inside the harbour, though, it could not have been more different. The West Bay is extremely calm and very well sheltered by the Blue Mountains that stand to the S of us, so much so that we have had to run our generator pretty much every day as the wind has been non-existent and it has been particularly cloudy.
We came alongside at the Errol Flynn Marina so that we could check in. It was quite a paperwork heavy procedure but the actual check in was pretty painlessand good natured, with Stewart chatting to the Customs and Immigration staff in depth about the West Indies U19 World Cup win at cricket. They were far more concerned about talking cricket than checking the boat although they were surprised a Scotsman could have an interest in the game!
Once checked in we moved off the dock onto a mooring ball at $16 a night as there is no anchoring allowed in the bay. It did give us use of all their facilities, including excellent showers, washing machines and the swimming pool so it has been a good deal. Note this goes up to $25 a night from 1 Apr after Paul the General Manager here went on a conference to find out what other marinas charged in the West Caribbean and realised he was cheap. It is still a good deal but obviously more than before.
It is hard to believe that we have been here in Jamaica for a month. The original plan saw us stopping only for a few days, if at all, but with the requirement to order spares and fix the main we decided to head to Port Antonio, where Paul is the Ocean Cruising Club Port Officer. I was concerned about the security of the country and had never felt a strong desire to visit but we found that we were very pleasantly surpised. Port Antonio is a really friendly, laid back town where the locals passed the time of day with us and we were made to feel extremely welcome. It is regarded as the safest town in Jamaica. They are quite rightly proud of their somewhat manic town and are keen that you enjoy your stay. We never made it to Montego Bay but having spoken to several of the cruisers here, we aren’t missing much, an overpriced ‘expat’ supermarket being the main attraction.  Here we are off the typical tourist path so it does not suffer from hard sell experienced elsewhere in the island.  Shopping is basic but adequete and there is a very good market for fruit and veg.
Our time here has been spent mostly doing boat jobs.  Unfortunately this has meant a good deal of time waiting for Jamaican customs to clear in (expensively) some parts and as a word of advice, I’d say never, never try and get parts sent to Jamaica.  The buracracy is extreme, so pointlessly over the top and difficult that it would be better sending it anywhere else instead.  However, it is better than Cuba and for us, needs directed that we suffer.
We have installed our SSB radio and pactor modem (hit Texas with the first sailmail email exchange – 1300miles – yah!), installed our two new 100w flexible solar panels on the bimini, had our hulls polished cheaply by the excellent Rudy and ‘Hulk’, we have made new cockpit cushions and finally fixed our mainsail baton points with parts that had to come from France. It feels like we are finally nearly completed with our projects, which is a relief as we start looking at our Pacific crossing. Now down to routine maintenance…….
Since we left most of our boat kid friends in St Martin in December and said a very sad farewell to our friends on Almost There in Puerto Rico in January, we have increasingly noticed the need for the girls to find friends and their happiness at seeing old friends and familiar faces. WIth our transient lifestyle, it is completely understandable. We met John and Trish from Lumiel in Cuba before we left and the girls were beyond excited! They rushed down the dock and could not stop chattering away. Once we arrived in Jamaica they latched onto any and every child on a boat they could find. Age, gender or nationality were not an issue. Hannah spent the day with four year old Ollie and his family on the beach building a raft, they both swam with and looked after Marlene and Juliane (aged 4 and 2) from SY Invictus and they had great fun swimming and exploring the trimaran of the 2 yr old daughter of Ashley Chapman from SV Jade. Ashley holds three current World Record for free diving including 63m with no fins. https://vimeo.com/41599967. Ashley and her husband, Ren, were a lovely couple and she is as hard as nails – 5 minutes plus on a single breath……. They already have their two year old swimming and practising head down swimming.  Amazing.
Two weeks into our visit and our old friends, Paul and Fiona, on Gone Walkabout arrived amid much excitement. They were closely followed by Julia and Mike on Sasquatch and all of a sudden there there were more boat kids than you could shake a stick at. The girls had a great time exploring Navy Island, swimming in the pool, having sleepovers and generally having lots of fun (and late nights) – as did the adults with plenty of rum being drunk! Mike on Sasquatch celebrated his birthday with a little get together on the dock, which meant our boats were not ransacked by lots of kids.
Rudy and ‘Hulk’ had told us there was a ‘not to be missed’ fair at the cricket ground with pig-chasing, so decided that we must not miss it and took the kids along. The fair consisted of stands from various island businesses and government initiatives. The kids were very taken by the boxes of baby chicks that turned out to be offered up as prizes for the various competitions. A very hopeful Lincoln pointed out to Fiona towards the end of the day that if you took up a box you could take home some of the leftover chicks with you. Fiona calmly responded, ‘Off you go and find a box then!’ Fortunately one was not to be found and so Gone Walkabout remains chicken-free. Competitons were entered into wholeheartedly and varied from coconut husking, pig chasing (yes, chasing – we thought it was racing until we saw the poor pig being oiled up!), dancing with a big bunch of bananas on your head and so on. The support from the crowds was great and the kids had a blast.
Having finally received our spares, we then found ourselves waiting for the weather. As we fixed our main on the Monday, the winds picked up and as a result so did the seas. We did not fancy swells of over 2.5m so the decision to wait was made. Thursday came and we all checked out in preparation to set sail on Friday morning; Gone Walkabout and Sasquatch were headed to Cuba while we were going South. Stewart and I then started discussing the anchorages near Colon in Panama, which are not particularly safe, and the marinas, which are pretty expensive. Staying put for the weekend was not a hard decision to make and it meant a couple fewer days paying for a marina, which is always a good thing.
The bonus of staying put was that we finally made it to the fabulous Reach Falls. We decided to forego the US$150 dollar taxi tour and take the local bus at a much more reasonable price of less than US$10 for all of us for the return trip, an hour each way. We weren’t sure we were going to fit in the already overcrowded minibus but this is the Caribbean. We were then amazed to see the bus stop several more times for pickups – they managed to squeeze the 22nd person into the 15 seater minibus without the bat of an eyelid – there is a different definition of personal space here!
All things given, it wasn’t a bad trip! We then declined the offer of a guide to take us on an unofficial tour of the falls, which turned out to be a good decision as the backpackers that did take the tour were not actually allowed in to the Falls themselves. The walk up to the Falls from the main road took us about 45minutes and entry cost US$10 for adults and US$5 for children. It was well worth the fee as we spent a good three hours there swimming, exploring the caves, jumping off rocks and exploring up the river. The girls declared it their ‘best day EVER’ and I think I pretty much agree!
Jamaica has been a blast. Endless reggae wherever you go, clubs blasting music out over the bay to 0400hrs Thursday through Sunday and some of the more extreme variants of car entertainment systems I’ve seen. But everything is done with a smile. We have had the question, ‘What’s that smell, Daddy?’ to which we have had to reply, ‘Weed, dear!’ There are lots of happy locals here! We have had the local kids playing on the beach, kids being kids and just wanting to have fun and ask questions. We’ve met some really good people and made some good friends.
Port Antonio has been brilliant, safe and somewhere I’d be happy to recommend to those that follow us. Jamica – One People!