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Our Experience of Officialdom in the DR

By Sue Richards last modified Jan 17, 2010 08:13 PM

Published: 2010-01-17 20:13:02
Countries: Dominican Republic

Sent by Bill Earl
SV ZIAMAR, a Sunbeam 37

We crossed from the Turks and Caicos to the Dominican Republic over a month ago and had a very wide variety of experiences. I’ll try to recount some of them.

Monte Cristi
Our original plan was to sail the Windward Passage and the south coast of the DR but that was scrapped after a bad crossing to Monte Cristi. Our reception in Monte Cristi was relatively easy. We were boarded by the Marina de Guerra, the “drug” inspector and a local tour guide (Giovanni) who served as interpreter. I speak fluent Spanish so the interpreter wasn’t needed but they didn’t know that from shore and he proved to be a valuable asset in any case. I wasn’t asked for any fees but voluntarily over tipped them $20 each. Probably $10 each would have been more than enough.

Monte Cristi is not a Port of Entry, so we were originally told by an unofficial representative of Immigrations that we could clear Immigrations and Customs at Ocean World (Puerto Plata) when we got there.

We dinghied ashore to the Yacht Club, we were anchored on the western side of El Morro, the mountain that defines Monte Cristi. We had breakfast and a bit later we were told that the Immigration officer would drive from Manzanillo (the nearest Port of Entry). He arrived about an hour and a half later and took care of the paperwork. We had a long, interesting conversation with him in the restaurant of the Yacht Club. He told us that the rules had changed and there were no fees for any of us (there were 4 of us on the boat) or for the boat. We did tip him about $20 for his gas for driving all the way from Manzanillo.

Our plan was to leave Monte Cristi near midnight and sail to Ocean World. But the next day when we went to get a despacho from the Commandancia we were told that we could only leave between about 7:00 and 18:00. We were also told that there had been an attempt to pirate a sailboat that was sailing past Monte Cristi the night before. The attempt was thwarted by “intelligence information” and the local Marina de Guerra. I haven’t verified that report. So, we decided to leave the next morning at 7:00 and the Marina de Guerra came out in a motor boat and gave us our despacho early in the morning.

Punta Rucia
Since we left Monte Cristi a bit late we decided to go only as far as Punta Rucia where we anchored off the beach. The local Commandante and intelligencia came to the boat and looked at our despacho for Puerto Plata and took it, telling us to come to their headquarters to get it back later, because we planned to leave early in the morning. We dinghied to the beach later and went looking for the Commandante. Punta Rucia is a small village primarily along a single dirt road so we found him near a restaurant in town. We decided to get some late lunch (or early dinner) and asked him and intelligence agent to join us for something to eat. They declined but took our offer to buy them some rum to drink. We spent most of the afternoon and evening with them and a few of the restaurant folks eating and drinking. In the end they gave us our despacho back at the end of the evening. We had planned to leave early the next morning. As we were walking to the dinghy, the Commandante mentioned that he could use a little tip but he was very polite about it. I tipped him about $10 at that point. The next morning we decided to stay another day. We saw the Commandante for a moment in the afternoon and he just waved.

Ocean World
The next morning we sailed early to Ocean World. At Ocean World we contacted the marina on VHF-16 and they directed us into the marina. Staying at the marina makes all of the paperwork pretty simple. They take care of just about everything. The Marina de Guerra came by and took our despacho from Monte Cristi and gave us a cursory inspection and that was it.

Staying at Ocean World makes life pretty easy. Roberto, the “concierge” speaks good English and is extremely helpful. We spent a couple of days waiting for weather to head to Samana. When we decided to depart, we wanted to leave at about 6:00 AM and there is a Marina de Guerra office right in the marina office building and there is always someone on duty. The officer on duty was the same one that had been on duty when we came in and he printed out our despacho on the computer. As I was leaving he mentioned a tip (quite politely) and I gave him $10.

Rio San Juan
We decided to stop in Rio San Juan for the night. We got in around sunset and anchored in with the fishing fleet. The anchorage was a bit rolly so we were up early and left without ever seeing any officials.

Puerto del Valle / Escondido
Our next stop was in Escondido. We were able to find our way into the bay and down near the beach. The bottom is rocky and holding isn’t great. A fisherman came by late in the day and warned us about the difficulty of anchoring where we were. We anchored off the beach after several tries and set an anchor alarm. We raised the anchor at about 7:00 the next morning without seeing any officials for the second night.

Samana / Santa Barbara
We arrived late in the afternoon and after our bad anchoring the night before decided to pick up a mooring ball and see what we might have to do about it later. The Marina de Guerra and intelligence agent came out with their translator in a small skiff. They were pleasant and did their inspection without asking for a tip or anything.

A few days later we decided to sail to Les Haitises National Park for a few days while waiting for weather to cross the Mona Passage. Our original plan was to sail directly from Les Haitises to Punta Cana and then cross to Puerto Rico. However, when we went to get a despacho from the local Comandancia we were told that we couldn’t do that. We could only get a despacho for the park and then would have to return to Samana for another one to Punta Cana. The other problem was that the Comandante was off in town somewhere and we waited a couple of hours because he is the only person who could sign the despacho. There were some Dominican guys in the office trying to arrange a boat sail and they were even less happy than we were. Before issuing the despacho I was told that I had to go to the Port Authority and pay for anchoring in the bay. (I had already paid the mooring ball owner $5 per day, which I didn’t consider to be too bad.) After chasing around I managed to find the guy from the Port Authority (he was sitting on the malecon by the dinghy dock) and he charged me $30 for about 5 or 6 days of staying in the bay. With his receipt, I was finally issued a despacho for Les Haitises.

When we returned from Les Haitises we managed to get a despacho after another two hour wait for the Comandante who was, again, somewhere in the town. The despacho was delivered to the boat by a Sergeant in the Marina de Guerra (the same one who had inspected our boat when we arrived). The only person that I tipped was the secretary in the Comandancia who kept trying to help us get the paperwork done as quickly as she could. We sailed towards Punta Cana at about sundown. Overall I found the costs from the port authority and the constant delays at the Comandancia a bit of a pain.

Les Haitises
Just a little digression. This is a beautiful park with an excellent anchorage in the Bahia de San Lorenzo. On Sunday there were a number of motor launches bringing people to see the caves but most of the time it was calm and quiet. The Park Rangers came by in a motor boat on Sunday afternoon and charged us 100 pesos per person for use of the park. They were pleasant and even gave us a receipt for the fee.

Punta Macao
The winds weren’t very favorable so we decided to anchor at Punta Macao and make it the rest of the way to Punta Cana the next day. We managed to find a pretty good anchorage off the beach. There were lots of dune buggies and parties on the beach.

After a bit, a fishing boat started to make its way to us with four men paddling. When they finally arrived at our boat the party consisted of a very young soldier with an M-16 and no boots on, the intelligence agent, their translator, and the fisherman who obviously owned the boat. The three of them boarded and did the most thorough inspection that we’d had. Clearly, the guy from intelligence was in charge. The poor young soldier was getting very seasick with the warm conditions and rocking while he was below. As they were leaving the intelligence guy said something about how they’d watch our boat from shore and protect us but he’d like a tip. I gave him about $8 and that started a discussion between me, the translator and the intelligence agent about how little it was and how we really weren’t supposed to anchor there and he was being so nice to allow us to stay because it isn’t a regular port or harbor. In the end it cost us about $27 in tips which wasn’t too much but I felt like we’d been extorted in the end. The noise on the beach died down at sundown and we left early the next morning for Punta Cana.

Punta Cana / CapCana Marina
The weather for crossing the Mona Passage had turned pretty bad so we decided to stay at CapCana for several days while waiting. We had to sail all the way into the marina because we’d lost the voltage regulator and didn’t want to run the engine for more than a couple of minutes. When we hailed CapCana on VHF-16 they told us that they would come out and pilot us in. When we got close we hailed them again and a nice RIB came out and slowly piloted us into the marina.

Once we got to the dock the marina had one of their security guys take the despacho from Samana and they took care of everything. Everyone at the marina was helpful and we got great service. When we decided to leave, we thought we’d sail out (across the Mona Passage) in the early evening. We were told by the marina office that the Marina de Guerra (who have an office right at the marina) wouldn’t let us leave between 1800 and 600 and that we’d have to get all of the clearance from immigrations, etc.

I was told that the “law” was that the Marina de Guerra would only allow sailing from 6:00 AM to 6:00PM and now a lot of the minor issues that we’d had in Monte Cristi, Ocean World, and Samana made some sense. But if those are the departure times allowed, that makes Bruce Van Sant’s sailing the night lees a little tricky.

We decided to leave at noon the next day so I asked to get our despacho at 1100. Of course they were late and we completed all of the paperwork by about 1215, which was OK. The marina told me that there was a $10 or 20 fee for the departure paperwork for leaving the country and not to pay anything else. They actually sent someone to the airport (only a few miles away) to get the immigrations and customs folks and when everyone got there we completed a bunch of paperwork, got our passports stamped on the dock and had our departure inspection. After the inspection (by only 3 guys) the officer from the Marina de Guerra said that the fee was $20. Upon looking in my wallet, all I had was a $50 bill and I asked if there was a way to get change. He just looked at me and politely said to forget it.

It’s a long saga. Lots of different places and lots of different experiences. Overall, the Dominican people were wonderful. We had fantastic service in the marinas, good food, and generally really enjoyed the country and the people. I wish we’d had the wherewithal to sail the Southern Coast as Frank Virgintino recommends.

However, the constant boarding and inspection, even in little anchorages, is a bit tiring. And I found that the differences in “tipping” from place to place to be a little disconcerting. I don’t mind the tips, I’d rather not offend people and I’d like to get the best service possible and leave a good impression. Hopefully, the DR will eventually come up with a simple cruising permit and can dispense with some of the minor hassles. I certainly appreciate the fact that the Marina de Guerra serves a purpose in minimizing crime and preventing smuggling of both drugs and people.