Trina had read up on other people’s experiences of sailing to the Dominican Republic before we left Bonaire, so we had a rough idea of what to expect. Expect to fill out a lot of forms, meet a lot of officials, and hand out a lot of tips. It’s a bit of an intimidating experience, and unless you speak Spanish you won’t really have much of a clue as to what’s going on.
We turned up outside customs and immigration as the national flag was being raised and the morning army ceremony was being conducted. We went into one office, were ushered into another office, and generally sat in silence whilst officials in all sorts of army regalia scrutinised our documents, frowned and asked questions in Spanish.
The boy solider from the night before was tasked with inspecting our boat with his colleague. Alejandro translated that they just needed to go onboard and take a look inside to look busy. Back at HC they casually walked around the boat, tried to open a couple of cupboards, but not being familiar with the catches I had to help them. They poked at a couple of bin bags of clothes and asked what it was and left. We later learned that we should have slipped them some $$ when they were inside the boat.
We were then told that there were no spaces under any circumstances for us in the sparsely-filled mega yacht marina, but we managed to persuade them to let us go back to the rocky concrete pontoon. We had some commotion getting HC on the pontoon as the wind was blowing us off, and the 3 pontoon boys really didn’t know they were doing. One pulled my bow line in tight, and the guys with the midship and stern lines just kept letting them slip out of their hands, looking at me with zero expression. The result was that our bowsprit acquired some battle scars. I told them to let go, and we circled around again and tied up.
As we couldn’t stay in the marina there seemed little point hanging around on the bumpy pontoon watching everyone else party. The decision was made to just get back on the road that evening. Our 14 hour stay was to be a short one, and we now had to go checkout which wasn’t going to make the Colonel very pleased, as he was creating more documents and making phonecalls to another Colonel further down the island where he thought we should be anchoring for the evening. Still, they were neither friendly nor unfriendly, some smiles here and there, and always a firm handshake at the end.
Walking through Silicon surgical valley we were back on the hussle, and had to provision for the trip to The BVIs. Alejandro found out he had some friends with a villa nearby (we were not jealous at all lol) and would help us provision and then head off.
I’ve found this vid which I think gives you a good impression of what sort of people the place attracts 😀
Some things in the DR seem to have been designed a bit too small. The distance from a toilet to the cubicle door is not suitable for anyone over 5ft. The aisles in the supermarket are too narrow, and the foot count is so high it made the shopping experience an utter fucking nightmare. There was a mix of Prada-handbagged Kardashians, protein-shake slurping baseball-capped ballers, and gangs of families stacking crate after crate of beer into their trollies. We split up and found nothing much but beer, potnoodles and biscuits for our trip. Getting to the counter was an olympic feat with multiple tailbacks leading to each counter. We jostled into position. The noise was honestly deafening, but it was difficult to see what all the commotion was about. The Latino chaos would have been pretty funny if we didn’t have other things to do.
We breathed a sigh of relief when we got out, and we now had a new companion. A bag packer was with us, to push our trolley back to the boat. Walking past customs and immigration, Alejandro was called in. Any time we walked past, someone would call us back in to sign something. Earlier me and Trina were called in to some building, given some forms to sign, and only at the end did the guy say “I am immigration” with a smile. Good to know!
All I could think of at the time the scenes from banged up abroad, where brits would be made to sign a forced confession, not knowing what they were signing and being sentenced to 8 years in a Qatari prison as a result.
Back at the boat it was time to say goodbye to Alejandro. As a parting gesture he gave us his iPhone charger as we couldn’t find one in the mall (which consisted of 4 shops). We were really grateful as Trina’s iPhone was our most accurate and detailed form of navigation (it really pains me to admit that). Alejandro was off to find his friends and hang out in what must have been a pretty swish villa. We waved him goodbye and carried on with our boat jobs.
Trina went off to do some laptop admin work, and sign some forms to clear out. In the DR, once you clear out you have precisely 1 hour to vacate. Normally you have 24 hours, and with no one to check up on you I’m sure people bend even those rules a little.
Whilst Trina was away I went to work jumping into and out of the engine bay fixing bits and pieces. I didn’t have much time but hurried around trying to fix the autopilot which would make our life so much easier.
Then came a knock on the boat. I go out, and the DR troops are there looking down at me, Trina standing by.
“Where you go now?” says one firmly.
“When you go?”
“We go in an hour, give or take.” Hoping the ‘give or take’ might give me a little longer to fix the autopilot.
There’s a murmur as they look at the boat and look at us. The guy smiles and I thank him, and give him a firm handshake with a $40 exchange. They say, live your life like you’re the main character in a movie. This felt like a low budget Nicholas Cage Lord of War film.
“You go where?” asks another chap.
“The BVI’s,” I repeat.
“So when are you leaving?” says another.
“1 hour, give or take. I’m just fixing the engine” Repeating what I’d already told them, holding up a spanner and showing my dirty hands.
“30 minutes, YOU GO!” No more smiles.
“Ok, 30 minutes we go,” I agree, and they leave.
Trina whispers, “I have to go finish these forms on the laptop!” and dashes off.
Fuck’s sake I think! Can this day get any more surreal? I give up on my jobs. Wrap some electrical tape over loose wires, throw my tools back in their drawers and get into pre-departure mode. Turn the tracker on, boot up the 90’s chartplotter and pull out life jackets and harnesses.
30 minutes later Trina returns, apologising that she couldn’t delay the colonels (not that she needed to). She calls over the pontoon lads, and seeing as slipping lines is the one skill they excel in, they successfully slip our lines and mope off.
It’s 5pm, and as we head off I had to take one last look at the fancy-pants restaurant over my shoulder. Everyone’s gearing up for another big party night, people sitting down having fancy-pants conversations, over voluminous glasses of fancy-pants rose wine, and punters sipping on fancy-pants cocktails in the pool. I forgot to mention it had an infinity pool attached to it. Bastards!
Our 14 hours in the Dominican Republic was over.