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Punto Fijo and Puerto Cabello Updates

By Sue Richards last modified Jan 30, 2012 03:45 PM

Published: 2012-01-30 15:45:53
Countries: Venezuela

We are currently in Venezuela and have been to two of the ports.

Punto Fijo

First we entered in Punto Fijo, which noonsite has listed as not being a valid port, but that is no longer the case. However, it is not necessarily a recommended port!

When you enter Punto Fijo you must go to the Club Nautico Cardon, which is 2-3 miles south of the Navy base. You will undergo many searches (when you check in and when you check out, not sure why they bother with the latter) and will be charged an exhorbetant amount by the agent. The only foreign boats which check in there are from Aruba, and according to the Arubans they are charged $300 to $400. We were charged $290. This figure assumes the black market rate, which at the time was about 8.5 bol to $1. The guys at the club are extremely nice and it's no problem to find someone to exchange money.

Now, if you are checking back out of the country they will give you a zarpe and all will be fine, however, if you are trying to continue in the country they will be unwilling or unable to give you a cruising permit. They will give you a zarpe for the next port, though will be reluctant as they only really know about zarpes to Aruba. Keep a copy of your zarpe to Punto Fijo from wherever you were before. You will need it to get a cruising permit in the next port. If your original zarpe was not for Punto Fijo, make sure you have an excuse in advance, something simple like a storm or amoebas should suffice.

Another thing of note in Punto Fijo is that the city has a "free zone" which extends to most or all of the city. Consequently it would be a good place to stock up on supplies.

Puerto Cabello

Our next port was Puerto Cabello. When we first arrived the woman, Alejandra, in charge of the marina, was very worried that we didn't have a cruising permit. She said we could go to jail, then changed her mind and said the agent in Punto Fijo might go to jail. Her advice was to leave right then for Curaçao, then continue to Puerto La Cruz where they can give the permit more efficiently.

For various reasons this was not an option for us. The agent you reference on noonsite appeared offering his services and saying that he could help, but it would be very expensive and take a very long time (quoting 6 weeks to 3 months). We were aware of the possible delay, but 3 months was not acceptable and honestly we did not trust the man. It is not obligatory to use the agent and from the few times we dealt with him we would not recommend him to anyone willing to spend the time going to the Port Captain's office themselves.

At a marina party the evening we arrived, we met the receptionist of the Port Captain's office, Gustavo. He said there was no problem with our lack of permit. He showed us what papers we needed to file for our inspection (the prerequisite to filing for the permit) then arranged for our inspection. I have to say also that we did not trust Gustavo, but our inspector did seem like a good guy. We had already some papers from Punto Fijo for military and seniat searches, so I don't know what the process for that would be, but I imagine it's just a little more tedious legwork.

It took just under three weeks from the time we entered Puerto Cabello to get the permit. I guess we were lucky. My advice for anyone trying to get it without use of the agent (i.e. faster and probably cheaper, but more of a headache) would be to contact the inspector directly:
Adan Villamizar ([email protected])
and thereby cut out the middlemen.

The biggest fee you will pay is for the inspection. We payed $200 and were pretty sure the middle man was getting a cut (contrary to his protestations) as the middle man was the one we paid.

On a side note, when someone charges you in dollars always remember to convert it by the legal rate and pay in bolivars or you will kick yourself later. The permit itself costs 152 bolivars, which you pay for in stamps purchased from the post office.

Another piece of advice is when you go to the Port Captain's office ask the security guard to send you to the Documentaciones desk. That is on the inside where the knowledgable people are. The receptionist likes to play agent on the side and though he works at the Port Captain's office his help is not necessarily free.

The people say Puerto Cabello is the worst and most corrupt port in the country. The Port Captain is infamous! When we wanted our permit expedited we started demanding to see the Port Captain. All of the sudden the permit materialized. A good trick as long as they don't actually let you see the port captain, I guess.

Legally they have 20 days from the time of the filing of the inspection, we got ours in 5. We were told the big delays come from having problems in your inspection, so be sure to have all your flags, radios, life jackets, etc.

If you arrive in Puerto Cabello from Curacao or some other foreign port and do not need a cruising permit, i.e. you will leave to another country, you will pay nothing and not have to deal with all the crazies. This is second hand information from a dutch boat we met while there. They came down for a week and said they do it every year and are not charged. The marina gives zarpes free as long as they are not for a different state, though we were told at the Port Captain's office that if you have a cruising permit you do not need a zarpe when traveling in the country.

All really confusing!

A note on the marina as well. The marina is horrible. As long as you are in the process with the Port Captain's office you are not legally allowed to leave (though I heard once of someone else escaping). You do not want to be on dock 3 for sure and if it is the high wind season beware. Two of the three docks broke while we were there (we were told it happens every year) due to swells of only 2-3 meters. Many boats came loose. Boats being stored tend to break lines on the rusty metal things which are everywhere. These boats will bash your boat and your lines will break. So be vigilent towards your tie ups and those of your neighbors. Once the first round of big swells come in (when the waves are crashing over the breakwater) you will get an idea of whether you are in a good spot. Then maybe you can relax.

The maintenance at the marina is non existent. We were told by others who have had their boats there awhile that this downward trend is since the marina was taken over by the government. The gas station is no longer functional, but sometimes someone will come selling gas out of big drums.

Despite all this, we met some very nice people, which somewhat made up for the rest. Also, we walked the town constantly, returning usually by 8pm. We never felt unsafe and had no problem with theft at the marina either.

Ginny and Steve Ladd
s/v Thurston

Ginny and Steve's blog has some good photos of Puerto Cabello Marina as described.