Checking In, and checking in, and checking in... - January 25 - 26, 2021
So here we are in Luperon, Dominican Republic. This is a long update, but may be of interest to anyone contemplating checking in here.
This is our first time to the DR, and we weren’t sure quite what to expect. We found a Facebook page called Luperon Sailors and Cruisers, so requesting to join that group seemed to be a good start.
We reached out and asked for any tips and tricks for entering the harbor after dark. Our “plan” had been to arrive in daylight for the best visibility coming into an unfamiliar harbor, but, boats being boats, that “plan” fell apart somewhere between the Bahamas and DR.
We received quite a few responses from the folks on the FB page with some really great intel. There are some fish traps in the channel to watch out for, the channel does a dog leg to the left and you have to hug the rocky shore, and other tips that were helpful. The group also had detailed instructions on protocols and what to do upon arrival, especially in the days of COVID, so we carefully studied the instructions and tried to do it all right.
We followed the entry protocol and called the Commandante de Armada Luperon (Chief Navy Officer) as we neared the harbor. As it was getting dark, he instructed us to anchor in the outer bay, remain on the boat flying the Q flag, and check into Customs in the morning. As we were coming in, a dinghy zipped over to us with two Australian cruisers and said that the Navy had called them and said they should escort us into the harbor and pick up a mooring ball. So we did. We got to the ball and they helped us pick it up and then said goodbye.
The next morning, we dutifully packed up passports, boat documentation, Bahamas exit paperwork, and went to check into the DR. This is a somewhat laborious if not complicated process that involved several visits to multiple departments, lots of carbon-paper forms in triplicate and a few bucks. Oh, and a healthy dose of DR-style SPANISH.
When we landed at the dinghy dock we were greeted by a very nice gentleman who wanted to help us out. He helped us to tie off and disembark the tender, etc. We wanted to give him a tip but only had larger bills, so we told him we’d catch him on the way back. He asked (in Spanish) if we were going to Customs, we said yes, and he gave us directions verbally and with a lot of hand signals, too.
First on the check-in odyssey, we walked up to the office of Migracion (Immigration) and found a bunch of gentlemen sitting under a big shade tree with a few dogs at their feet. One of the men rose and greeted us, asked what we needed, and we communicated that we needed to check in. He alerted one of the shade tree gents who then approached and took us into the office.
This particular office is located in a small shipping container. Conveniently, the desk is in the shaded part, and the guest chairs, not so much… We did our best to communicate with the officer in (my) broken Spanglish when he asked: where do you live? what was your last port of disembarkation? where are you headed next? how many nights will you stay? where is the boat? Understanding the questions was the hardest part, especially wearing a mask! My advice to any sailors coming into port here is to do a quick refresher on your Spanish and for heaven’s sake at least have a cup of coffee before you check in, because I do while speak a little, tiny bit of Spanish but I went in cold and it was a little tricky with the comms. We paid our fee of $71 for immigration $9 for something else (lost in translation) and then there was a $1 fee for Agriculture. We had $80 but we did not have any small bills to cover the $1 so they said we could come back and pay that later.
After Migracion, it was the Autoridad de Portuaria. We were motioned to wait on a little white bench in the shade for the boss. We waited for about 20 minutes, and met a charming and very friendly little pup who we later learned was named Blanco. Meanwhile, Dirk had a class coming up, so we were kind of on a shot clock.
I attempted to ask one of the shade tree guys if the PA gentleman was coming soon. He was very friendly and quite talkative in Spanish. Very rapid Spanish. I could tell that he was trying to relay something to me about water… At first I thought he was asking if we wanted any water, to which I said, “no, gracias.” But that didn’t seem to be it. He walked me across the street to a hut containing a water cooler and showed me the level of the water (which was low) and said something about “Papo” (the boss?) and motioned away from where we were, so I inferred Papo had gone to get some more water? Possibly? “Papo fue para aqua?” The reply was an enthusiastic “Si!” so I’ll call that one a win. I think he also alerted us to a laundromat down the street.
The shade tree folks said we could come back later to finish the process, so we agreed to do that since we were short on time. So back to the dinghy dock went to find our buddy cleaning and polishing Kittytonic. He really did a great job. We gave the gent his tip and headed back to Catatonic. Blanco the pup gave us an escort all the way to the dinghy dock and even gave a little whimper as we motored away. He’s a good kid.
Dirk did his classes and in a brilliant stroke of timing, just as he finished, the Commandante de Armada de Luperon showed up with the Agricultuario rep and some additional folks from the Capital of Santo Domingo and wanted to come aboard! They apparently do a little boat visit and ask you about produce products (and were very interested in the cheeses I have aboard) and your trash (which they took away). The Santo Domingo gang was along to observe the operations of the Luperon team. They were a very friendly bunch and other than a few muddy footprints and manhandling of a cheese and a salami, it was a nice visit. We finished up the administrative work, offered them a water or juice and they were on their way.
After Dirk’s second class, about 2PM local time, we headed back in to try to finish the check-in process. On the way I wondered… hmm… is there Siesta here? Not sure, but we figured we’d proceed anyway and check it out.
We went back to the dinghy dock, tied Kittytonic up and marched back to the shade tree. This time, we were told by a very nice lady “it’s a holiday and the Autoridad de Portuaria office is not open today. Please come back tomorrow.” So IDK what happened between Papo’s water errand and then the office being closed, but the one thing that was clear was that we were not completing our obligations at the Port Authority on that day.
Oh, and apparently there is *kind of* a siesta observed here, but with COVID curfews (curfew is at 5PM today but goes to 7PM tomorrow), some places are siestaing and others not.
Next stop was up the hill at the office of the Commandante de Armada Luperon (Commander of the Navy). He and the team were very nice and accommodating, asked us basically all of the same Qs, took copies of our boat papers and passports, did carbon copy forms in triplicate. There was no fee collected by the Navy.
But we still weren’t finished checking in.
On Tuesday we made another attempt! On the way to the dinghy dock, we saw the Navy boat out and about the anchorage. Doing naval things, I suppose. We were again met by our buddy who took care of the dinghy the day before and he helped us disembark and tie up. Then the Commandant of the Navy walked down the dock and said his hellos. He admired Kittytonic. We joked about her being our “car.” Then he said, hey, mind if I take her over to the other (Navy) boat? We were like… hmmm…. What do you say when the Commander of the Navy wants to take your dinghy? “SURE! Go right ahead!” came out of our mouths. So there he went… It’s all good in the hood here, folks.
We arrived at the shade tree and found the gentleman from the Autoridad de Portuaria! He ushered us into his container (air conditioned!) and we sat with him, handed over boat papers and passports (carbon copy forms were completed in triplicate), paid another $30 ($10 to enter the harbor and $20 to stay a week).
In the same container, yet another stop. I think this was Customs. More forms, another review of boat papers, the same questions, and we were finished. No fee at this stop.
And then, one final, glorious stop with Agricultuario, more carbon copy forms in triplicate, we finally paid our $1 Ag fee, and now we are official! WHEW!
Oh - and after navigating all of this, it turns out there is actually a service that will navigate this process for you (for a fee, of course). I believe it’s called SailClear. But where’s the fun in that?
We ran back into town on a couple of errands, and Blanco sniffed us out again. He escorted us on our walk all the way into town and back, he went right into the market, even waited on line with us. He stopped to say his hellos to his canine buddies along the way but always caught back up to us.
After we finished our errands and arrived back at Kittytonic, she was securely in place and our friend was once again polishing and shining. He said the Commandant made a big mess stepping on the hulls, so he was taking care of it and making her “muy lindo,” and she was.