We chartered out of St Martin
last week. A LOT of sailing. In 8 days, we went from St Kitts, to Antigua
, to St Barths, then back to St Martin
. We were new to the customs procedures in the area. We even had a professional skipper
with us, but he had never traveled down to the areas we traveled, as most people just stick to the Anguilla
, St Martin, St Barths area. I had left my cruisers guide at home, because I figured the professional skipper
would know all. Originally, my brother was going, and was the skipper, but bailed on the entire trip at the last minute, causing me to find a replacement (I don't sail).
So, our itinerary was to go to St Kitts on the first day, just as a stop over en route
. We arrived too late for customs, so we anchored, and waited for the morning to clear-in. I've never seen such a rude bunch of people in Basseterre. The port authority office was not helpful. We went in, paid our money
, and then they said we had to go to immigration at the cruise dock
. Well, guess what, the cruise dock
isn't open this time of the year. So we headed back to the port, and were then told we would have to go to the airport
. Mind you, we didn't even want to visit St Kitts. We were just staying there the night. So, we load up in a taxi and head
to the airport
. Eventually we find the immigrations office, and were greeted by the rudest civil servant I've ever encountered. Officer 517. Literally snatching the passports out of our hands. And guess what? She couldn't find a passport stamp. Where she really screwed up, and we didn't realize this until we were in Antigua, is that she had KEPT our clear-out sheet. All we had in our procession was the receipt of payment and charges. This is something our skipper should have noticed, but did not.
So, we finally get out of the airport, with no stamps, essentially having wasted an hour, and get on the boat to motor
for 10 hours to Antigua. We come in really late, and decide to use Deep Water
Harbour since it was so well marked. We found out when we attempted to clear in the next morning that we did not have a clear-out sheet. The simply would not allow us in, and said we would have to go back to St Kitts. We decided that wasn't an option. We went south to Jolly Habour, were they are much more accustomed to small yacht issues. Had the same problem this time, but I ended up begging (the skipper just shut up this time and let me do the talking, partially because he was French and his English
wasn't 100%, and partially because he realized he was so angry at the situation, he would make it worse). Thankfully, the begging worked, and they allowed us to clear into Antigua without having the clear-out sheet from St Kitts.
It amazes me that there is not a system that all the islands can use to verify these things, and make the actual sheet of paper not of 100% importance.
I know you aren't supposed to do this, but having experienced what I did, if I were to do this all over again, I would check out of St Martin with the destination
port of Antigua. I would stop over in a harbor in St Kitts for the night, ignore checking into customs (essentially pretending I never went there), and then sail onto Antigua the next morning. When I check into Antigua, I'd just tell them I had been sailing non-stop. I know its illegal, but St Kitts was so bad, I think I'd take the risk.
So, in short, if you go to St Kitts, especially checking into Basseterre, expect some aggravation, and make darned sure you have a proper clear-out sheet before you leave. If you have to go to the airport, expect more difficultly.