Monday, January 13, 2020

Port Antonio, Jamaica


Yah Mon, Jamaica is Fabulous

This post should be prefaced with a big thank you to our friend Russell in Bocas who first told us about Port Antonio and how safe the harbour is because hurricanes rarely hit this coast. Also, the Marina has a haul out boatyard with embedded concrete anchors to strap your boat should a rare hurricane occur. And finally, Russell said that because Port Antonio was not a big tourist destination the locals were very friendly, not trying to hustle business and theft is very rare.

We sailed the 100 miles down from Santiago de Cuba (yes, a long overdue post on Cuba is still in the works) arriving in Port Antonio on 17 May 2019. The coast is a mountainous verdant green. Houses dot the hills but there are no big resorts or high rises evident. The entry to the harbour is made with the lighthouse to port into the East Lagoon with Errol Flynn’s Navy Island to starboard. The entry to the West Lagoon is immediately to starboard following the narrow channel behind Navy Island, now a deserted park with the remnants of Errol Flynn’s docks and houses overgrown in the lush, dense vegetation. Once into the well protected West Lagoon, the Errol Flynn Marina is on the left. This was to be our introduction to Port Antonio, warm hospitality. Float planes kept flying low into the harbour and helicopters were making numerous low passes, we felt like we were back in Vancouver harbour.

We had emailed from Cuba and radioed as we approached the coast. When close to the Marina we could see there were people ready to guide us to our berth and receive dock lines. Everyone with big smiles and friendly greetings. The marina attendant introduced himself as “Flower” and the two others were “Hulk” and Pressley. Nicknames are ubiquitous in Jamaica, nearly everyone has one. We were informed that we had arrived during the filming of the next James Bond movie due to open in April 2020 hence the one float plane making numerous passes and the one helicopter with a camera pod filming everything. The West Lagoon was a stand-in setting for Santiago de Cuba and the boatyard had a faux Capitan del Puerto guardhouse. A small classic sailboat down the dock was Bond’s retirement pastime.
Explosion on the Bond movie

The 24 hour secured marina has berths for approximately 20 to 24 boats depending on their beam. The office complex has a laundry, hot showers and a pool side restaurant. The complex is owned and managed by the Jamaica Port Authority and encompasses at least a kilometer of well-designed and maintained shore line park around the West Lagoon and opened in 2002. Starting at the entry to the lagoon with a public beach, a small cruise ship terminal, the Errol Flynn Marina, a long park adjacent to the town past the locally used “Ole Marina” ending with the boatyard. The boatyard, also with 24 hour security, has a well maintained 100 ton by 24’ wide marine lift, washrooms with showers, indoor secured storage areas for dinghys, outboard motors and sails. The yard was built with 5 warehouse/shop bays that could house various marine support businesses but unfortunately the 2008 economic crisis put an end to the development of a big yacht industry in Port Antonio as it did in numerous other countries we have visited.
Kanilela with tie-downs

When we arrived we met George Munro, <> who at that time was the boatyard manager and who helped us source everything we would need to put Kanilela to bed for another hurricane season. He personally runs the travel lift for every haulout and splash with careful attention to every detail. We removed our furling genoa, furling stays’l, main sail, bimini, dodger and the wheel to reduce all possible windage prior to tarping the cockpit then used heavy webbing straps winched tight to the anchor blocks to ensure no tipping.
George's Yard office and marine lift

While preparing Kanilela for storage we had Hulk, his wife Rudy and Pressley do our much neglected varnishing with a well applied 8 coats of Epiphanes. Although Port Antonio has good hardware stores, marine supplies are somewhat limited but there is an excellent well stocked marine store, Durae’s Boat Sales and Marine Supplies, in Uptown, Kingston that stocked the Epiphanes. Durae’s prices are very reasonable considering the duty the Jamaican government puts on imported goods and is the best stocked marine store we have seen since Fisheries Supply in Seattle. On a subsequent visit to Kingston in November I met the semi-retired owner, Ducos (sp?) and his daughter, Holly and son-in-law, Jodie who now are the managers.  The store is located in a residential neighbourhood and over the years it expanded until, when Holly was still very young, they had to move into a new house and the store took over all of the space. The stock is organized by room locations so finding what you are looking for is an adventure. There was a fire several years ago that destroyed most of the house but Ducos rebuilt and restocked so it is all new with well presented stock, just in an assortment of rooms. Ducos, Holly, Jodie and Gizelle are really friendly and helpful and if your arrival is timed right and Ducos is there he will insist you have a glass of over-proof rum punch that goes down far too easily. It makes for a mellow, enjoyable trip through the Blue Mountains back to Port Antonio as I can attest to after a few occaisions. If you are not in Kingston, Tara Courier Service do a daily trip to Port Antonio and delivered the varnish the next day for a reasonable $7.70. ($1000 Jamaican)

You never walk away from a boat that is your home and that you are leaving in a potential hurricane area feeling completely secure but we knew we had done all reasonable precautions. We then took a taxi to Kingston Manley Airport to return to North Vancouver with a visit with Bree and Matt in New York and made it home in time for Emilia’s fourth birthday on June 5th.

Our time away from Kanilela is bracketed by a June 5th birthday and Ojie’s October 5th birthday, this year her seventh, time flies. Highlights of our summer consisted of building a set of stairs down a rock face to Secret Cove on Dustin’s new property, with daily progress reports from the two little foremen who clamboured thru the construction with the ease of a pair of mountain goats, a visit to see Ross and Betty on Thormanby Island, time with Rod and Annie up in Oyama, visits with Maria and Adam in Langley, and dinners with Rick and Helen, Wendy and Tony, Heather and Gary, Bob and Francine, Brenda, Paul and baby Ava Grace and finally ending with a visit to Prince George to see my sister, Dora, nieces Meredith, Megan and Debbie and their respective families. I extended my usual departure date to attend my former colleague and good friend Vic Lemecha’s 80th birthday in Canmore Alberta, he and Sharon never age, incredible.

I returned to Kingston on November 6th and stayed in the small village of Port Royal on the end of a long sand spit that gives protection to Kingston Harbour. In the days of pirates feeding on the gold laden Spanish galleons, Port Royal was the wealthiest and most debauched town in the Caribbean, infamous the world over. A devastating earthquake brought an end to that and it is now a quiet, rustic village with friendly people and a historic fort to visit. George had given me the name of a sail repair man, “Jagga”, Garen Ricketts who lives in Port Royal hence my main reason to stop there. I had an enjoyable two days using Port Royal as a base to organize shipping the sails to Jagga when I returned to Port Antonio, picking up marine supplies, eating jerk chicken and drinking Red Stripe beer. I had Harry, Harold Anderson, a Port Antonio taxi driver, meet me at Durae’s to take me and  all the boat material I had brought from Canada and purchases in Kingston back to Kanilela. 

Returning to a boat after six months away is always done with trepidation but everything on the boat was fine, all the work preparing for our departure had proved worthwhile. The diluted bleach washing of all surfaces followed by a misting of tea tree oil had prevented any mold and the small borax and sugar cakes placed in dark corners showed no signs of being eaten but there were no roaches or insects on the boat either. After the horror stories we have heard we were once again very pleased with the results of the effort. I began reinstalling the sails, bimini/dodger and doing some fiberglassing on the lazaret and anchor locker hatches as well as getting the boat ready for another season while Mags had wisely stayed in North Van getting our lives there in order for another winter away.
The boatyard in the top left across the Lagoon from the Errol Flynn Marina. Ken at anchor. 

The Errol Flynn Boatyard is the perfect place for a haul out and doing repairs. You can live aboard while doing work and it is an excellent place to leave your boat while land travelling in Jamaica. George Monroe, now the yard manager and acting manager of the marina as well, is the nicest, most helpful, conscientious person who has now become a good friend. We will miss his humor and conversations when we finally depart Port Antonio. George has assembled a very competent group of boat repair and maintenance people capable of excellent quality work. We saw a somewhat worn older white fiberglass powerboat transformed into a new medium pale blue hull with a very good finish all with Jamaican talent.  Kimone Bell, in the marina office, was always available by email when we were away and sharing information when we were back at the marina. 
Top of mast photo of Errol Flynn Marina office, restaurant and pool, with Catholic church behind

Right behind the marina office is the Knutford Express Bus terminal with service to all parts of Jamaica. We did not want to sail west to explore the country because we would have to then beat east to continue to Puerto Rico and the Eastern Caribbean so the inexpensive air conditioned bus with wifi was the perfect solution plus it afforded us a scenic view of the country. On our first leg west to Montego Bay we met a British couple, Ann and Shaun from Chester, who visit Jamaica annually and recommended Toby’s Resort where they stay. Priced well below the typical big name resorts but well maintained for its age and staffed by friendly locals, it met our needs perfectly. We also went out to a good restaurant with them one night ending with a visit to Shaun’s favourite, small, rustic local bar run by Shawna. We were immediately brought into the conversation with the three locals drinking there as we had reduced the bar to standing room only with the addition of the four of us. A great time. Montego Bay is a tourist destination and some locals can be excessively persistent about providing service we neither wanted nor needed but it was fine and easily handled so Mo’Bay is a good stop. The local museum/art gallery located on Sam Sharpe square was excellent.
Pool at the SOV Westside, Negril

Next day we boarded the Knutford bus to Negril. As an aside, the Knutford web site is excellent for last minute booking as you decide when to move on and payment can also be made on line. After passing through beautiful countryside we arrived in Negril, a small town on the south west corner of Jamaica. The town is divided with the BnB/small resorts on the white sand beaches of Long Bay to the north and the small resorts on the cliff faced shoreline of the West End. Negril has a reputation for aggressive hustlers trying to take you in their taxi to their beach resort but after getting off the bus and telling the pushy ones to “chill mon” we found ourselves left with one driver willing to go where we told him to go at a price we told him he should be charging. All good. We found a place just reopening after a rebuild on the West Side so we could snorkel the cliff faces. The SOV (it was to be the Sovreign but the name was already registered in Kingston) was good but still getting all systems up and running.  Andrew, who seemed to do everything as well as bartending could not do enough for us so made up for the reopening shortfalls. We had a good time snorkelling and found a great jerk meal at the Sweet Spice Restaurant on the east edge of downtown.
Port Antonio Xmas tree

After a couple of days we continued along the south coast back to Kingston where we again stayed at Deez’s Inn in the Uptown, Bradican area. The Bob Marley museum is well worth a visit and our guide was amazing. Our group was mainly Jamaicans living abroad who had returned to visit family and friends and were totally engaged with our guide. It made it a lot of fun. As it was our fourth time in Kingston we were able to use the local city buses and route taxis, both very good and safe. While we are told there are parts of Kingston to be avoided, notably Trenchtown, Trivoli Gardens and the downtown westside, we never experienced any issues. Everyone was friendly and helpful when needed.  Finally after another obligatory trip to Durae’s to see our friends and spend boat dollars we returned to Port Antonio.
After some very good maneuvering without a tug the 
Seabourn Sojourne joined us in the west lagoon.

We splashed the boat a couple of weeks ago and returned to the marina. It felt like coming home. We are still detailing a thousand little things and starting to watch for a weather window to head east. New Year’s eve day we had a small cruise ship with 400 passengers, only the fourth to visit in two months so it provided some excitement in town.  
Crews of Blessed, Nychea and Kanilela on New Years Eve 
 Last night we went to dinner with Jill and Tony on s/v Nychea out of Guernsey and Amanda and Alberto on m/v Blessed from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, at Fusion Bites Restaurant then returned to the dock to be joined by Ken out of Calgary and Dennis from the Netherlands for some more drinks. We almost made it to midnight! 
Top of the mast view of Port Antonio
We still have not been to a Maroon village in the Blue Mountains coffee country so still things to do but we are starting to loosen the docklines.
The aquamarine 130m deep Blue Hole thru the canopy, yes, Brooke Shield's Blue Lagoon

An old Lodge on Titchfield Peninsula behind the marina
Every Grady White needs its 3' long pet Iguana
A Port Antonio sunset

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