“No – she went of her own accord.” Boom! The oldies are nearly always the goodies.
Despite light winds, the sea state between Cuba and Jamaica was bouncier than a small child full of E numbers. A persistent swell caused a rolling motion that, combined with the effects of that one-too-many Cuba Libre, plunged Maria into seasickness. Consequently, she battled throughout the night hugging a bucket for comfort. Fortunately, as we approached Montego Bay the next morning, the sea calmed down, Maria recovered, and the bucket went back in its place.
Our expectations of Montego Bay were high. After all, the place is famous for its lovely beaches, all-inclusive luxury resorts and golf courses. So it was a bit of a shock when we arrived at the anchorage to find that it looks like Southampton Docks. We couldn’t find the anchorage at all. Local boat moorings take up the entire area to the south of Montego Bay yacht club, and the only place we could find to park was just outside the channel in over 10 metres of water. The good news was, as is often the case, we were the only boat there – at first.
After anchoring Lady Jane, our priority was to clear into the country. The Jamaican authorities are keen (I blame the British), and it’s unwise to slack around. So we launched the dinghy, tied up at the yacht club, and found our way to the office. The people at Montego Bay Yacht Club couldn’t have been more helpful. They called the authorities for us, gave us some forms to fill in for health, customs and immigration – and provided a place for us to sit and complete them.
It’s just as well the club had a supply of forms. Half an hour later, the authorities came along (five people), and I was still fighting my way through the paperwork. And it took another hour before we were formally in the country. Despite the thorough process, the Jamaican authorities charge nothing for yacht clearance. It’s a rare bargain.
High Winds and Burst Dinghy
The day after clearing in, we set to work getting the stains off the deck. The air pollution in Santiago de Cuba had left Lady Jane looking like she had contracted a boat version of the measles. Brown splodges covered the deck from stem to stern. Soap and water wouldn’t remove them. And out the array of cleaning products we dug out of storage, the only things that worked were oxalic acid diluted in hot water, and On and Off (a cocktail of numerous acids). I had to clean the deck twice to get all the stains off.
To celebrate our newly-clean boat, we decided to head off to the yacht club for happy hour. But, as we arrived at one of the docks, the swell pushed our dingy underneath one of the pontoons where something sharp burst one of the tubes. This made for a very miserable hour. With Maria’s finger on the hole, we made our way back to Lady Jane as quickly as we could to find some way of stopping the leak. As is usual when something needs glueing or bunging up, we used a packet of Sugru (it’s like an adhesive putty), and within half an hour, we had fixed the leak. Even though it does look like someone has stuck chewing gum on the top of the dinghy.
The evening swells provided advance notice of the winds that arrived the next day. And it was howling. We saw one boat coming out of the local moorings area with its mooring ball dangling from its bow, and another boat that will never make it out again – it sunk. A local fishing boat captain tied his boat to the yacht club pontoon but was worried that the line holding him off might break, so I helped him get another line out to a second mooring ball. Despite the winds, however, we didn’t move an inch.
The real drivers for going to Montego Bay were provisioning and meeting some old friends of ours, Michelle and Tony, who were on holiday in Montego Bay. And as luck would have it, not only were they in Jamaica at the same time as us, they were staying at a hotel less than five minutes walk from the yacht club. So we arranged to meet them at a local restaurant.
As we walked along the street, a car stopped beside us, and inside were our friends. Michelle recognised my walk, she said, but I thought it best not to ask for more information in case she said I look like Charlie Chaplain. Their hotel pool lifeguard was in the driver’s seat. He had offered to give Tony and Michelle a lift into town – and said he would pick us up later if we wanted him to. Nice guy.
Our original choice of restaurant was closed, so went to the Pork Pit instead. The Pork Pit is, for want of a better description, a huge barbeque. It’s good. After eating there, we walked further into town to have a look at the hellhole that is Margaritaville. I know it’s popular but, to my eyes, it would be better shipped over to Magaluf. We did find a nice quiet bar to have a drink in, but not before I had wandered into a brothel. Not intentionally – honest guv. This was an easy mistake anyone could make. I only realised when I was greeted by a selection of hotly-dressed women instead of freshly chilled beer bottles.
Beating a hasty retreat, we continued walking on what later proved to be the longest pub crawl with the fewest pub stops. The next bar was at the restaurant we intended to go to at lunchtime – accessed by a floating bridge. And by the time the evening drew to a close, we had walked just under six miles. We had a great time with Michelle and Tony. Frankly, we don’t know where the time went.
Jack, a long-term member of the yacht club, befriended us shortly after we arrived at the club. And on Friday night he invited us over to the Member’s Table to meet some of the other club members – many staying onboard for the winter months.
And on Sunday we joined some of them for dinner at an excellent Thai restaurant. Carolyn, who operates a tour company, took us all there in her minivan. And when I talked to her over dinner, she said she is planning to be the oldest woman to circumnavigate the world. And I’m sure she will be.
Because we were scraping the rusty bottom of our boat supplies, we thought it prudent to stock up. Some areas of Panama – notably the San Blas Islands – have little in the way of shops. So we headed off to Progressive supermarket on the recommendation of our good friends on JaJapami who visited Montego Bay last year.
Someone at the yacht club told us the market rate for a taxi to near the supermarket is 200 Jamaican dollars for two people (around £1.15). And that’s what we paid on the way there. But the unofficial taxis at the supermarket, who have formed a mini-cartel, charge 1000 Jamaican dollars for the same journey in reverse. There’s no negotiation, and we had no option to but to stump up the cash. With two trolley loads of food in our possession, we wouldn’t have been able to walk more than 100 meters before collapsing into a sweaty heap.
Clearing out was easy, thanks again to the yacht club staff. We told the club on Monday that we wanted to leave on Tuesday morning, so they arranged for immigration to come to the club. The process on the way out is a lot less paper-heavy than on the way in. And the officials a lot more cheerful.
The weather forecast for Tuesday promised light winds strengthening later in the evening. This was perfect for getting around the western corner of Jamaica.
Our only concern was getting out of the anchorage. During the week, a boat that had been asked to leave the marina to make room for the yachts participating in the Miami – Montego Bay yacht race, chose to anchor right on top of us. When he saw how close he was to us, he moved forward. But, unbeknown to us, all he had done was to drag his chain further way. So when the winds arrived again, his chain straightened out and he ended up back within 20 metres of us. I called the yacht club to ask them to get hold of the captain, but the only people who turned up were the yacht club staff to check that he wasn’t dragging his anchor.
Fortunately, the light winds on Tuesday were from the west, so that boat was behind us. If they were from the east, we would have been stuck behind that idiot’s boat.
But, with the anchor now safely plucked from the seabed, we were off to Linton Bay in Panama – about 650 miles, or four days away.