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Cruising the DR – Our Experience

By Sue Richards last modified Apr 28, 2009 11:51 AM

Published: 2009-04-28 11:51:45
Countries: Dominican Republic

Sent by Michael Pass, 3 April 2009
SV “Blue Sky”

We were headed to the Dominican Republic on our way to Cuba and were encouraged by reading Frank Virgintino's new Cruising Guide: we were looking forward to seeing the DR. What a disappointment the experience was - we now wish we'd sailed right past without stopping.

We arrived at Marina Zarpar (page 66 of Frank's guide) where the staff were indeed helpful and friendly and forewarned by Frank, we expected plenty of officialdom. Sure enough, a party of 4 were eagerly waiting on the dock as we were still tying up. The whole check in process takes about 2 hours and about $200 including the little extras that are shamelessly requested. We were rather intrigued by the Drugs man, who gave us a clean bill of health and then said "If there is anything you need...".

Incidentally, Marina Zarpar, whilst a pleasant and new facility, is designed for sports fisher boats, maybe up to 45 feet so if you're on a yacht of over 45 feet the space is very tight, so do arrive before 1000 when the sea breeze gets up and you can have a 20 knot cross wind whilst berthing. It is also rolly and potentially dangerous as local power boats speed past the end of the dock at full throttle.

Our next stop at Salinas, Bahia de Calderas (page 55 of the guide) was marred by a Marina Guerra who came out on a fishing boat and trod mud all over our yacht with his army boots. He took our despacho and refused to return it the following day, demanding a bribe to give it back. After a 4 hour delay we eventually escaped with the despacho, having taken it from his hand. The proprietor of the Hotel Salinas here was indeed very helpful and he refuses to even speak to the Marina Guerra and we'll omit his personal description here.

Barahona (page 50) was no better and we enjoyed the pleasure of 3 boot-clad officials examining each tin in the lockers (this took some time...) and unwrapping each tomato. The following morning the Immigration man insisted on taking another $43 from us, initially for immigration dues, then when we persuaded him that was payable only once on entry to the DR, it became "harbour dues". Since he (as all of them) were toting some fairly serious weaponry we didn't have much choice other than to pay up again.

Reckon on about $100 in fees and sundry extortion every time you stop. By the way, we're now in Cuba, where the check-in process is a whole lot easier and cheaper and VERY much more friendly.

On the positive side, the Dominican people are open and friendly and there are a whole lot more smiles than you'll ever see in the Lesser Antilles, but if you want to visit, do so by air - you really should not bring your yacht here.

Finally, Frank Virgintino "feels very safe" (page 12) sailing down the west side of Hispaniola as Navassa Island "is also a (US) Naval Base". This is just plain wrong as the island was abandoned in 1996 (check the CIA World Factbook) and is home only to some rather dangerous looking Haitian fishermen. Not recommended as a stop unless you have plenty of defence on board, we - having no weaponry on board - felt extremely unsafe and left: the most unsafe experience in three years cruising.

Noonsite comments;
In the DR, many officials will ask for their tip and also for a duplicate immigration fee due to either a desire to steal and sometimes due to an innocent mistake. See noonsite warning here.

Clearing in at Boca Chica costs $200. This includes the boat, the visas and the cost of all tips and fees with officials, plus a despacho (cruising permit).

Further clarification from Frank Virgintino;
The Drug Interdiction base at Navassa is there and very much functioning. The guide never suggests stopping there, and only mentions that it is there and that sometimes drug interdiction boats will come out and stop cruising boats to do a check.

In the guide I say that if one goes down the North coast of the DR and gets into difficulty, there is no one to call. On the south coast, if one passes through the Windward passage (Cuba and Haiti), there are two American Bases. One is Guantanemo and the other Navassa, which is an island the US owns and staffs with drug interdiction boats.

Marina Zarpar comments;
The marina was not designed for fishing boats and (at the time of writing) there are only 2 in the marina while there are over 40 sailboats. In addition the marina was not designed for 45' boats but rather has boats currently in the marina up to 148' and many slips accommodate up to 70'.

On weekends, local boats do speed in the bay, but if you are in the marina the breakwaters protect you from any roll or danger.