Traveling in the Caribbean – is there a language barrier?
In the eastern Caribbean, a few islands are French. Not just French-speaking, but honestly French in the sense of having all of the privileges and responsibilities thereto appertaining (such as voting in National elections, for example.) Barb and I don’t speak more than a few words of French, but have always managed to get by, either because we were dealing with multi-lingual locals or because we were sufficiently adept with sign language and gesturing. 🙂 And the delicious French food makes the effort well worth it!
The rest of the eastern Caribbean islands are former English or Dutch territories, and on all of those English is the predominant language.
The Dominican Republic is Spanish, but we got by just fine w/ English. Likewise in Venezuela. All of South America (except Brazil, of course) and Central America are Spanish-speaking. We have talked w/ folks who couldn’t speak a word of Spanish who said they experienced no problems making themselves understood in South and Central America.
Off the northern coast of Venezuela are the ABCs (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao). Their official language is Dutch (and Papamiento), but English is spoken widely and we had no problems when in Bonaire and Curacao.
How do you buy food? At local markets – and other – what do you look for as it relates to food safety?
On many of the islands there are surprisingly good supermarkets. But on some islands in some settlements the grocery stores are very minimal. We usually get our fresh fruits and vegetables from local markets, as do most of our cruising acquaintances. We, and other cruisers we know, wash the fruits and vegetables thoroughly when we return to the boat, and we have never had a problem with “stomach problems”. Nor have we ever had problems with buying prepared foods at local restaurants and/or from street vendors.
In general, it is unnecessary to pack large amounts of “American” foods. I think most first-time cruisers pack too many canned goods and extras. If you don’t eat it at home, you probably won’t eat it on the boat. We also find it fun to try local foods and to cook with local products and recipes.
Do you have a kit of non-prescription and prescription medicines?
We have such a kit, with contents influenced by our attendance at a talk given by a doctor at a Krogen Rendezvous. Most of it is common sense, but it includes some prescription painkillers and prescription antibiotics — one for “above the waist” and one for “below the waist”, as the doctor charmingly put it. We also use lists found on the web in one of the cruising-oriented email lists, about which more later. It is amazingly easy and cheap to buy prescription-type drugs in many of the islands, but not in the French islands since their standards are similar to those in the U.S. And we have a copy of a book found in a marine chandlery about medical matters for cruisers. The book is:
A Comprehensive Guide to Marine Medicine, Weiss and Jacobs, Adventure Medical Kits, 2005 (Available from Bluewater Books and Charts)
Have you considered the great loop; from your journals it would appear that you’ve made a deliberate decision not to – why?
Hmmm. I’ve heard raves about the experience. But I have also heard descriptions of debris-filled waters. We had a neighbor, when we lived south of Savannah, who bought a boat in the Great Lakes and brought it down the Mississippi. Hit a submerged log and did major damage to his prop and drive shaft. I’ve heard about a relative lack of marinas, and a lack of good safe places to anchor out of strong currents and/or out of danger of being hit by a barge train. Also, I love the clear and warm waters of the Caribbean as opposed to the muddy and cold waters of the rivers coming down the middle of America. However, if we ever get tired of the Caribbean before we get to the point of not being able to cruise any more, we might well go up the East Coast and into the Great Lakes. And maybe by then I’ll feel better about going back down via inland rivers.
I assume that we’ll have internet ability to do our on-line banking, but when you travel to these places is it best to have cash, credit cards, traveler checks, combination of all – please explain in detail what you’ve experienced?
ATMs are widely available. We use them almost exclusively as a source of cash (in the currency accepted on that island.) We pay for groceries in the larger stores by credit card. We use credit cards to pay for marine supplies, bottom painting, etc. We haven’t used traveler checks in years, and don’t know any cruisers that still use them. We don’t think they are even accepted anymore in the islands. Many banks are now charging fees to withdraw cash from an ATM not affiliated with their bank. We have gotten around those fees by using a VISA card tied to our Schwab account that refunds any fees charged. We also opened an account at a Scotia Bank so are able to use all their ATMs with no fees.
When choosing credit cards we have found that it pays to shop around, because many cards charge a 3% to 5% fee for foreign transactions. We switched to a Capital One VISA card which does not have a foreign transaction fee and have also recently discovered that one of the VISA card’s available with our bank does not charge those fees either.
What are the negatives about living on boat as a primary residence?
Barb and I both love living on board. (We know couples in which the husband ignored his wife’s misgivings, only to have to sell the boat after a few short months.) It is a great life, but you both need to be on the same page in order for you to feel that way. We know a few couples in which the wife has said she would “put up” with the experience for “x” years, and then they would have to return to “normal” living. There are any number of couples that cruise for y months a year and then return to the states for 12-y months.
But this hasn’t answered the question, has it? We don’t have a list of “negatives” that eat at us. But living aboard does create some changes, however, that some folks might find negative.
- Going shopping is sometimes a major expedition. You have to take your dinghy to shore, secure it in a safe place, catch some form of transportation to the grocery and/or market, and then haul your purchases back to the boat. Whether you find this a major negative will depend in part on your attitude. We have had some experiences on these expeditions that have produced mile-wide grins on our faces.
- Some anchorages can be rolly (and therefore uncomfortable.) The solution is to use the published guides and advice from other cruisers to find protected anchorages, and to perhaps use passive at-anchor “flopper-stoppers”.
- Free and available wifi connections are no longer a prevalent as they used to be. We ameliorate this problem by usually buying a data plan from the local cell company. We are able to share the data among all of our devices. We also have had a satellite telephone that in a pinch we can also use for email. We almost exclusively use it when we are out at sea for a day or two.
Do you have friends that come to visit you and what are the pros and cons involved with the logistics of 2 couples (or more) on board?
Yes, we have had guests a number of times, and have thoroughly enjoyed the experiences. Our Krogen 48 is quite commodious – our guests have their own bedroom (stateroom) and their own shower and bathroom (head). One has to be careful about making commitments to be somewhere on a specific date to pick up or drop off guests, but we have always avoided problems by building in a cushion of time. You don’t want to get into a situation where you feel obligated to travel when the weather conditions would otherwise suggest that you not do so.
If you would enjoy your guests on land, chances are you will enjoy your guests on the water. If a short visit is all you could stand on land, you will want to tactfully ensure that the visit on the water will be of similar duration.
What satellite internet and phone services do you have and what do you recommend?
We subscribed to Global Star satellite phone service, and also had special software that enabled us to use the phone to send/receive email. An alternative is Iridium, which reportedly has much better coverage, but is more expensive and slower for sending digital data. We have not used the service much in the past few years so we have suspended. the service.
Is there a book or other research information that helps rate/rank the different Caribbean marina areas?
We don’t use marinas much – we mostly anchor out. We occasionally pop into one briefly in order to equalize our batteries. But in Trinidad, where we must spend the most active of the hurricane months, we do then use marinas because there are no decent anchorages for large trawlers. Also, many Caribbean islands don’t really have appropriate marinas. But there are excellent published sources that describe anchorages and marinas and more. I’ll list some of the best of them later…
Are there places in the Caribbean and Central America coastline you would not go and why?
Mainland Venezuela has gotten increasingly unstable and dangerous and only the foolhardy get anywhere near its northern shores. There have simply been too many acts of violent piracy. When we cruised from Carriacou to Bonaire in December 2014, we traveled an arc that kept us far off to the north of Los Roques and Las Aves, islands that are far enough from the mainland to have been formerly considered reasonably safe, but are now also mostly avoided.
There are anchorages in St. Vincent that have horrible reputations for breakins and robberies: Wallilabou and Chateaubelair, in particular. Two web sources of news of incidents on the water are: www.noonsite.com/General/Piracy and www.safetyandsecuritynet.com .
Do you travel in groups – for safety? Are there safety concerns – specific to security and personal safety?
We like to travel with at least one other boat when they are good friends AND we are on the same schedule, but otherwise we have no concern about venturing out on our own.
What mechanical services can you find while traveling? We expect to be able to do most of the lighter maintenance and other repairs ourselves. Will that work?
Some islands have excellent mechanical services. Others have virtually none. Some particularly good ones are Puerto Rico, St. Martin, Martinique, Curacao and Trinidad. To a lesser extent St. Lucia and Grenada.
If one of us got ill, is there a reference resource of where you can go to clinic or hospital on your travels?
Yes, the guidebooks list such facilities. And other cruisers will have recommendations.
Based on your experiences what would you do differently?
- Start earlier (when we were younger).
- Equip the vessel with a pair of flopper-stoppers and appropriate arms (for at-anchor stabilization) before leaving the USA. (We didn’t secure a pair until we got down to Puerto Rico in 2007. We initially used the standard boom of the Krogen 48 North Sea from which to suspend them, but added the appropriate poles in Oct. 2010.)
- We wish we had a less energy-consuming refrigerator. If we were starting from scratch we would not have – as we do now – a domestic self-defrosting 120 v. AC unit. But we love its size, and the ability to keep, say, ice cream, in the freezer. This makes us immensely popular with our friends on sail boats with small inefficient refrigerators.
- You cannot have too much storage space for spare parts, lubricants, and tools. I should have built or had built more storage racks down in the engine room. I did do some, but in retrospect I didn’t do enough.
- I would not wait so long to install solar panels. We now have three panels on the pilothouse roof and two more on a constructed-for-the-purpose T-top. They keep our batteries ever so much happier and greatly reduce the frequency and duration of our generator use.
- I would not wait so long to replace a nominal 17 gallon-per-hour watermaker with the ever so much more productive 50 gallons per hour unit that we now have. Rinsing off dive gear and soaking underwater cameras takes lots of water, as does keeping salt and dust rinsed off the exterior of the boat.
Regarding the galley what are the items you need the most, use the least and if you had an open wish list for galley equipment (stove, fridge, ice maker, etc) what would you recommend and why? If your stove is propane, how easy is it to get refills during travels?
We don’t have an ice-maker. We do have a garbage compactor, which we never use, but which serves as a convenient place to “hide” the waste container in the galley. Our vessel also came (we are the 2nd owners) with an automatic dishwasher, which we used only very seldom. While in Trinidad we replaced it in Nov., 20 with additional storage space in the form of a large drawer for silverware and two deep drawers for pots and pans. We have a nice microwave/convection oven, which we use frequently. We have a three-burner propane stove that also has a smaller-than-domestic-but-reasonably-sized oven. (We once brought back to the vessel a large frozen turkey only to discover that it wouldn’t fit in the oven.) We have two 20-pound propane tanks up in a ventilated compartment on the flybridge, and have never had trouble getting a refill. (The guidebooks generally mention where to find this service, as do the “cruiser nets” that exist on VHF in the morning on many of the islands in the eastern Caribbean.)
What are the hardest things about living aboard?
I am really having trouble coming up w/ negatives. Here is one that is a bit of a stretch, perhaps: I used to be able to run on almost all of the islands. Now, after knee surgery my running days are over. How to stay active? On many of the islands, the roads are too narrow and/or steep for biking. During our extended stay in Bonaire, we solved the problem by joining a health club and exercising in the morning before our dives. On other islands, we do a lot of hiking and walking.
If you don’t have a home address now, do you have a base where you receive mail?
When we retired and sold everything in Georgia, we changed our “residence” to a mailing service in Florida. This not only solved the problem of having a place for our mail to be sent but also freed us from state income tax and yearly property tax on our trawler.
Many many cruisers use the same highly competent and professional service. They (the service) not only forward mail on request, they also scan the outside of envelopes/packages so you can view them when you have an internet connection. If you want to see the contents of an envelope, you move the envelope to a scan folder and the contents will be available for viewing and printing the next day. It is particularly nice when you are waiting on an important piece of mail and would otherwise need to have it sent via FedEx. Occasionally we request that all of the envelopes (that we have moved to the “send” folder) be FedExed to us – wherever that may be. If guests are coming to visit, then we have the mail sent to them before they depart and they bring it with them. The mailing company is “St. Brendan’s Isle”, and their URL is www.sbimailservice.com.
Is there a research place you recommend regarding boat and travel insurance?
I don’t know of a single location for that specific purpose. But I will list below several trawler-specific subscriber email lists that periodically cover the topic. You could repose the question and/or consult their archives.
We are relatively new to boating on a trawler. Are there books you would recommend?
The Complete Book of Anchoring and Mooring, Earl Hinz, Cornell Maritime Press, 2001
Boat Docking; Close Quarters Maneuvering for Small Craft, Charles Low, Harvey Island Enterprises, 1997
Boat Handling Under Power, John Mellor, Sheridan House, 1988
Are there guidebooks you can recommend?
The Gentleman’s Guide to Passages South, Bruce Van Sant (A classic book about how to get from Florida to South America.)
In addition to the books by Doyle listed below, Van Sant also recommends the following three books, which I own but have never used (because the guidebooks serve the same function and more)
Caribbean Marinas and Services
Guidebooks by Chris Doyle:
Cruising Guide to the Leeward Islands
Sailor’s Guide to the Windward Islands
Cruising Guide to Trinidad and Tobago plus Barbados
Cruising Guide to Venezuela and Bonaire
Guidebooks by Stephen Pavlidis:
The Trinidad and Tobago Guide
The Turks and Caicos Guide
The Puerto Rico Guide
The Leeward Islands Guide
The Windward Islands Guide
The Virgin Islands Guide
We own virtually all of the above. We use Doyle’s guides the most, but also often consult Pavlidis as we approach a new location.
Are there email lists you can recommend?
We are members of Krogen Cruisers, and therefore are eligible for a subscription to the email list “Krogen Cruisers List”, which is populated by Krogen owners and wanna-be’s. An invaluable resource for matters Krogen. You can subscribe by going to the website:
I also subscribe to the email list “Trawlers and Trawlering”. Very busy and very informative list. You can subscribe by going to:
I also subscribe to the list “Cruisers Network Online”, which tends to focus on points in the western part of the Caribbean. You can subscribe by going to the website
Are there other web resources you can recommend?
If you go to the website:
you will find an informative web site that contains bunches of stuff about Krogens, and toward the bottom of the page (in section 9) of that FAQ, links to general articles, including
Hull Design (advocating full displacement): http://www.his.com/~vann/KrgStuff/boatperf.htm
1-VS.-2 Props: http://www.his.com/~vann/KrgStuff/1-vs-2.htm ;
and many many more. Do visit the site.