Docking With the Big Boys

Barbados is the most densely populated of any island in the eastern Caribbean, but for cruising sailors it is distinctly off the beaten path. There are two major reasons for that. First is that it is literally 100 miles off the route that most cruising boats take, the other is that it is an island that is very nearly round, and it has an extremely limited choice of mediocre anchorages.

This lack of visiting boats leads to a couple of follow-on effects. The local regulatory infrastructure is not really in tune with the needs of cruising boats, and the amount of information about cruising the island is limited and is frequently limited, conflicting, out of date, or just plain wrong. It is not even mentioned in our printed cruising guide to the Windward Islands.

Almost all of the data sources we consulted (including the official Barbados web pages) indicated that Port St Charles in the northwest corner of the island was a port of entry, and a place we could easily clear customs. We called the marina there before we left Grenada to confirm the schedule, and found out that they are no longer a port of entry, and we would have to clear in in Bridgetown.

Upon our arrival in Bridgetown, we contacted “Bridgetown Signal” on the radio to let them know of our approach, and we asked permission to anchor in Carlisle Bay and dinghy in to clear customs. Our advance information from usually reliable sources suggested that this was pretty standard. Not true, or at least not true today. They instead directed us to enter the main harbor and tie up to one of the cruise ship docks and only then go to customs.

This is more than a bit of a pain, tying a 53 foot sailboat to a dock designed for a 100,000 ton cruise ship is not simple. Everything from the bollards to the fenders is just not to our scale. Getting off, and back one, the boat is a gymnastic exercise.

Harmonie at the big boy dock. The perspective here is a bit deceiving, it’s a LONG way down to our deck from the quay surface.

Fortunately the weather was benign, and the process went smoothly. The local customs officials were reasonably efficient, but obviously not used to such small vessels. Once we cleared in, we were released to go to the anchorage.

There are a number of boats in the Carlisle Bay anchorage, but they are all local boats and tourist day boats. Not one other visiting cruising boat is visible.

Carlisle Bay is a pretty terrible anchorage. Ocean swell consistently wraps around from the south west, and hits you sideways as you sit to the easterly blowing tradewinds. This means that boats roll… a lot. None of the usual tricks of trying to turn the boat into the waves work for very long because the wind and current change direction through the day. Whatever you do for a comfortable set at noon fails at 17:00 and then it changes again by 23:00.

Carlisle Bay Sunset
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