Yesterday was the last day of the 2017 hurricane season, and so it is that we now contemplate our fourth (4th) season cruising plans! We have previously communicated with you about the devastation that this past hurricane season has left behind throughout the northeastern Caribbean. The damage has been vast, but the strong will of the people on the affected islands has proven impossible to suppress. Things are not yet back to normal but the strides that have been taken by the international community and the locals has been incredible.
PROGRESS OF RECOVERY
We have been monitoring the progress of the recovery efforts on a daily basis. In addition to our general concern for the well being of our Caribbean friends and their economies, we also have been paying close attention to the recovery of the yachting infrastructure. Obviously, we need circumstances that will allow us to adequately provision with food and fuel in a safe environment for the Pilots’ Discretion and her crew if we are to turn her north towards the United States this cruising season. Additional concerns include the ability to leave the Pilots’ Discretion in a safe and suitable environment should we need to fly back home for any reason, which necessarily requires access to operational airports with flights. Access to competent medical care, and dockside electricity and water are also logistical concerns as we plot our course north. We have found the following sites helpful in monitoring Caribbean wide recovery efforts:
- Sailors Helping Sailors – providing up-to-date information on port status and opportunities to volunteer in rebuilding efforts across the Caribbean;
- Sailors Unite – Caribbean Comeback – A guide to what is open and available in British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and St. Marteen/St. Martin, including airports, transportation, restaurants, hotels, provisioning, marketing and shops;
- ExplorerChartbooks – includes Turks and Caicos Marinas Report;
- Noonsite – provides information by anchorage or by island, so sailors can plan their cruising in the Caribbean with an eye to appropriate behavior and precautions wherever they decide to go; and
- Caribbean Safety and Security Net: “Know before you go” safety and security updates throughout the Caribbean.
We will continue to update the above list and our blog as we obtain additional information when we proceed north. If anyone viewing this has additional resources that will keep mariners updated, please send them to us in the comments section below and we will add them to this list or include in future updates.
Our current evaluation is that the islands require a little more time to deal with the lingering devastation but they are getting closer everyday. We do believe that they will be in a strong position to welcome cruisers this coming cruising season. In fact, this may represent an opportunity to see what a jewel the Caribbean islands can be when not overrun with crowds. We are confident that our Caribbean friends will have the welcome mat out for all cruisers that choose to make this season the one that they cast off and set a course for the trip of their dreams.
As for the preparations to get underway for the Pilots’ Discretion, we are reporting good progress. There are a significant number of details that have to be addressed prior to getting underway. The good news for us is that we are currently located at the IGY Rodney Bay Marina in St. Lucia where we have all of the services we require to ready our vessel. We would be remiss if we did not publicly thank Mr. Sean Devaux, General Manager of the Rodney Bay Marina for all of the assistance he has provided us as we prepare to head north. Our initial commitment to him was that we would be staying at his facility through September 2017. As the hurricane season devastation to our north became clear, it was initially impossible to determine when it would be prudent to depart. Sean has been great, he has told us that we can stay as long as necessary without a long term commitment. Additionally, he has worked hard to provide us will real time status updates of all of the marina facilities along our route north, even if those facilities are not a part of his organization (Rodney Bay Marina is part of the international marina group known as IGY). We are currently coordinating our annual engine and systems maintenance and that should be complete shortly.
EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) Maintenance
One component of our systems preparation is ensuring that our life vests, life raft and all of our emergency signaling systems are current and fully functional. This is normally a routine inspection but this year we got quite a surprise. We have an ACR EPIRB (emergency position indicating radio beacon – a device that includes a GPS to determine our exact location and a satellite communication system to notify rescue personnel in the event we need assistance). We bought the unit new just before we left on our trip. Each time we get underway, we run the unit through a self test program to ensure it is fully operational. It has always past each of those tests without fail. On our most recent trip back to Florida we elected to have the unit recertified due to calendar age.
After researching facilities that are certified to service maritime rescue equipment, we elected to have the folks at Solution One Maritime, LLC in Tampa look over our unit. Expecting nothing much more than an administrative paperwork exercise, we were left very surprised when we got a call from Yusri Jadallah, the Managing Director for Solution One. He explained to me that he had found a very small leak in the case that protects the electronics and that he was certain that had the unit been deployed in an actual emergency at sea, the electronics would have likely failed due to exposure to salt water. He went further to explain that ACR would repair the unit under warranty but their estimated turn time would likely be 4-6 weeks. Yusri told me that he understood that the long turn time would create scheduling problems for our crew and as a result he offered us a brand new unit to utilize for as long as it takes to get our own unit back. As far as we are concerned, the folks at Solution One have gone way above and beyond to ensure that our family is safe and our trip uninterrupted. We have utilized other sources in the past for our emergency equipment needs but from now on, Solution One is our vendor of choice for our life raft, life vest and emergency electronics needs.
As we look forward to our fourth cruising season, we also reflect upon all that we have to be thankful for this past year, including time spent with family and friends, good health and ongoing adventures. We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the spectacular time we had spending Thanksgiving Day last week in Marigot Bay with dear friends, both old and new.
Since Pilots’ Discretion left her home base, Port Tarpon Marina back in 2014, we have developed a schedule for her that is dictated primarily by the weather. Our requirement to have the boat at, or near, suitable shelter during the hurricane season has resulted in the bulk of our travel occurring outside of the North Atlantic hurricane season (June 1 thru November 30th). During the hurricane season, we have settled into our hurricane home away from home. The first couple of years out we elected to weather the hurricane season in Grenada. (See A Day in the Life of Grenada, 2015/08/07 and Summer in Grenada, Season 2, 2016/09/03.)
This year, with the pre approval of our boat insurance carrier, we decided to spend the hurricane season a bit further north at the Rodney Bay Marina in St. Lucia. As a result of our increased familiarity with the service providers in the areas that we spend the hurricane season, it only follows that we have tended to deal with our “boat projects,” first in Grenada, and now this year, in St. Lucia. In addition to the normal operational maintenance, that is just a part of owning and operating a floating home, we also have elected to make various improvements to the Pilots’ Discretion while we have been in the Caribbean. This year we have made a few additions, both large and small, that hopefully will add to the capabilities of our vessel.
FUSION SOUND SYSTEM
Those of my friends that have known me since childhood would probably reject the notion that I am becoming an aging hippy afloat in the Caribbean. My more conservative characteristics aside, it is true that I do occasionally still enjoy a few rifts on the air guitar while listening to geriatric rockers like Mick Jagger and Robert Plant. In my quest to further develop the musical tastes of our boat neighbors, I have tried to share my impeccable musical tastes with however many marina mates are within earshot of the Pilots’ Discretion sound system. Much to my chagrin (and our neighbors relief), the Pilots’ Discretion came with a rather anemic 180 watt sound system that labored to comply with my demands for accurate fidelity at an adequate volume level. Something had to change and it has. We have replaced our old sound system with a Fusion AV-750 4 zone audio and video system (https://www.fusionentertainment.com/marine) that includes 4 zone dedicated amplifiers that put out an ear splitting 1600 watts of power. Let the audiophile lessons in the Rodney Bay Marina commence! In addition to the improved music, the system also allows all of the Giant’s fans aboard to enjoy our MLB subscription as we listen and watch our favorite broadcasters (Dwayne Kuiper and Mike Krukow) describe the action at AT&T park (OK, admittedly there has not been much to enjoy with this Giant’s season, we steadfastly remain the eternal SF Giants optimists).
KAHLENBERG AIR HORNS
Next up on our list of noise making improvements is our addition of a set of Kahlenberg air horns. We first became aware of these exceptional horns while we were boat shopping with our favorite Marlow sales rep, Eric Gervais. Our pal Eric was quick to point out these top of the line signaling horns are standard equipment on the Marlow Explorers that we have been drooling over for years. The Kahlenberg horns have an unmistakeable sound. If the neighbors don’t notice our new music system, they will not be able to ignore our new signaling horns. We have decided that if we are not going to buy a Marlow, we may as well sound like one. (Click here to hear it!)
Our largest improvement to the Pilots’ Discretion this season is the addition of a “Yacht Controller.” The Yacht Controller is a microprocessor controlled wireless device that allows you to control any size yacht, wirelessly, from anywhere on board the vessel. It’s real utility is that it allows the Captain to be anywhere on board that provides him, or her, the best visibility, and even the ability to man the helm while simultaneously handling lines and fenders while arriving or departing a dock or while involved in anchoring operations. Picking up a mooring ball is also a snap with the Yacht Controller. Again we have to say thanks to Eric Gervais for allowing us to first experience the Yacht Controller aboard the Marlow Explorer. (Click here for Yacht Controller Demonstration)
We spent the day yesterday training all members of the Pilots’ Discretion crew on the capabilities of the Yacht Controller. It was actually quite entertaining watching the reactions of people on the docks, and in the waterfront restaurants, as our 50′ Sea Ray pivoted and maneuvered in and around the docks with nobody stationed at the helm.
We have been very fortunate this hurricane season to avoid any direct encounters with any tropical storms. As this is being written, we are currently watching hurricane Irma carefully. Sadly, we have many cruising friends with roots in and around the Houston Texas area. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of the people being affected by Hurricane Harvey.
Ronan (10) and Ryan (11) made a “movie trailer” for our Caribbean cruising adventures. We added it to our “VIDEOS” page at: https://pilotsdiscretion.com/videos/. We are also sharing it here, below. I think we found our new videographers! They had a lot of fun making it. We hope you enjoy watching it! Click on the below image to play.
We have also created a dedicated YouTube channel where we have compiled the videos from our blog, and uploaded additional videos from our journey. To view the videos click on the link below (or copy and paste into browser):
If you are cruising, or thinking of cruising the Caribbean with minor (under 16) U.S. citizens, be sure to check the expiration dates of their passports and leave plenty of time to navigate the renewal process. As a practicing immigration attorney, I routinely track and monitor expiration dates of clients’ immigration documents. Recently, while cruising geographically halfway down the Caribbean chain, we had the pleasure of navigating passport renewals for our minor crew aboard, Ryan and Ronan.
Unlike U.S. adult citizens , whose passports are valid for 10 years, minor U.S. citizens’ passports are only valid for five years. Since some countries require at least six months remaining validity on a passport to allow entry, this effectively limits the duration of a minor’s passport to 4.5 years. In addition, while U.S. adult citizens have the option to renew their passports by mail, U.S. citizen minors must physically present themselves, their renewal application, and original supporting documents, along with both of their parents, at a US passport agency. Not surprisingly, other than the U.S. territories in St. Thomas and Puerto Rico, there are no U.S. passport agencies located in the Caribbean. Logistically, this requires a trip to the United States, or a U.S. territory, either by boat or by plane. These are all factors to consider when planning one’s cruising itinerary.
Standard and Expedited Passport Renewal Procedures (6-8 weeks)
As mentioned above, to renew a U.S. citizen minor’s passport, the passport application (Form DS-11), and original supporting documents, must be submitted in person at a passport agency or authorized passport application acceptance facility. The child and both parents must be present. There is an option to have only one parent appear with the child(ren), so long as that parent has signed and notarized authorized consent from the other parent on Department of State Form DS-3053. This option at least allows for one parent to stay with and attend to the boat.
If you do not happen to be cruising with all of the required original documentation, i.e. birth and marriage certificates, you will need additional time to order them online, by phone, or by fax and have them shipped to you. The processing times and fees to order the original documents vary from state to state and agency. It cost us $10-$30 per document (additional fees to expedite) and took between 2 to 10 weeks for delivery. The time required was variable from agency to agency. As they say in the commercials, “your experience may vary.”
The current standard processing times for a passport renewal is 6-8 weeks. The passport agency personnel takes and holds the minor’s original documents, including their passport, while the application is pending. Original documents, the old/canceled passport, and the newly issued passport are returned upon completion of the application process 6 to 8 weeks after filing. This generally is not a problem for landlubbers, however for minors cruising the Caribbean, no passport means they cannot leave the United States and return to their boat for 6 to 8 weeks! For an additional fee of $60 , you can request “expedited” processing and the passport agency will aim to complete processing in 2-3 weeks, however there are no guarantees. If there are any problems with the application, fees, or supporting documents the process will be delayed. Whichever route you choose, suitable long-term accommodations will be required. For additional information regarding passport renewal procedures for minor U.S. citizens go to the Department of State website at: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports/under-16.html .
If relinquishing your child’s passport and ability to travel for 6-8 weeks while the renewal application is being processed does not sound appealing, there is an alternative “emergency passport application” process. To apply for an emergency passport, all of the above standard processing requirements must be met. In addition, you must be able to document, via confirmed flight itinerary, international travel within two weeks of the date of the scheduled passport appointment at a Regional Passport Agency. Only certain locations will process emergency passport applications. You can locate these locations on the U.S. Department of States website at: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports/information/where-to-apply/agencies.html. Again, not surprisingly, other than Puerto Rico, which is a U.S. territory, there are no locations located in the Caribbean. The most convenient office location that we found, relative to our boat’s position, was in fact, San Juan, Puerto Rico. We left the boat in St. Martin and flew to Puerto Rico. We scheduled the earliest available appointment at 7:30 am and received the passports that same afternoon!
The passport office in San Juan, Puerto Rico is located directly across the street from Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, which is a nice place to stroll while waiting for your application to be processed.
Anticipating it might have taken more than a day to process the renewals, we scheduled to be in Puerto Rico for several days. We made the most of our visit by touring Old San Juan and El Morro Fort.
All of this process may seem intimidating at first. To be fair, we found all of the folks that we interacted with at the various agencies to be both professional and genuinely interested in helping us address our somewhat unusual traveling constraints (at least from the perspective of our landlubber friends). The key to a successful outcome is proper advance planning.