Saturday, April 23, 2016

Provo Radio

In Providenciales, TCI, all vessels are expected to announce their arrival and departure to Provo Radio. We weren't aware of this protocol as we arrived, so we were a day late announcing our arrival. This wasn't a problem as the radio operator is friendly and their primary concern is safety. They simply asked me to confirm that we had cleared into the country with Customs & Immigration.

Shortly after raising the anchor in our spot tucked in beside Bay Cay, I hailed Provo Radio on VHF 16 to announce our departure. The Provo Radio operator asked me to switch to Channel 74, which I did while maintaining dual watch on Channel 16. Traffic on Channel 16 made it difficult to have a conversation on Channel 74. The Provo Radio operator asked me to confirm that we had cleared out with Customs & Immigration and had supplied them with information on all passengers aboard. I confirmed this, the operator wished me a good day, and we both returned to monitor Channel 16.

After about 15 minutes of motoring, we heard, "Singing Frog, Singing Frog, Singing Frog, this is Provo Radio, Provo Radio on Channel 1-6." Surprised, I returned to the nav station and hailed Provo Radio. Again, the operator directed me to switch to channel 74 and this time, I first turned off dual watch.

"Provo Radio, this is Singing Frog," and we proceeded to have a conversation for the operator to obtain emergency information about our vessel and passengers. The operator explained that they had been unable to obtain a vessel description or a passenger list from Customs & Immigration, then explained what information he would require from me. He first confirmed the spelling of our boat name as "Sierra-India-November-Golf-India-November-Golf Foxtrot-Romeo-Oscar-Golf" and I responded, "Confirmed."

The operator wanted to know our boat description (sloop), including hull colour (white) and draft (5' 7"). I provided the make (Benéteau) and he responded, "That one is a good boat." He asked if we have a life raft (8-man Plastimo) on board or a tender. He asked if we have a EPIRB and I responded with Skye's prompting that we have a PLB. The operator asked for the PLB identification number and Skye brought the unit to me. I need to practice my phonetic alphabet because I stated "Beta" for "B" instead of "Bravo." The operator graciously didn't correct me. He asked if we have other radio equipment on board, to which I responded, "Negative." He asked me to provide our call sign if we have one. I supplied our MMSI number.

As I provided the names and birth dates of the crew, the operator acknowledged that we have a gentleman on board who will be celebrating a birthday in a few days. I responded, "Yes. It's a big one - a decade birthday." The operator congratulated Skye and wished him a happy birthday.

The operator asked if we have emergency communication equipment on board, such as a satellite radio. I responded that we do not have a satellite radio, but we use a SPOT device as a backup for reporting emergencies. His other related request was unclear to me and I asked him to respond. Skye was standing beside me by now, asking for clarification of the request. The radio operator elaborated with examples, "Someone back home, a mother or father, favourite aunt or uncle, to contact in case of an emergency." I chuckled sheepishly and responded, "Yes, my mother, Linda Olson," and provided her telephone number.

As an aside, this exercise reminded us to make sure that all our emergency contacts have a way to contact each other. We aren't sure that my mom knows how to reach Skye's dad, for instance.
At the completion of our radio conversation, the Provo Radio operator apologized for the interruption (are we sure they aren't Canadian?) and wished us good weather and safe harbours. He also assured me that all information obtained was solely for emergency purposes to share with Turks & Caicos and the US Coast Guard.

"Thank you very much. We appreciate your concern for our safety."

This was our first experience of providing such detailed information on our vessel and passengers over the VHF radio. I enjoyed the process and the feeling it gave me that someone was looking out for us to keep us safe. We wondered if TCI gets some funding from the British government for this service, and if their proximity to Haiti has necessitated it. There has been some marine criminal activity originating from Haiti, including human smuggling and boardings. In the Dominican Republic (DR), our next stop which is a border nation to Haiti, the country requires clearing in and out of every port and prohibits entry or departure before sunrise or after dark.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Lessons Learned in Turks & Caicos

Bay Cay, TCI
We arrived on the banks at Providenciales around noon on April 19. After three hours of motoring and visual piloting to avoid coral heads, we dropped the hook about 2 miles SW of South Side Marina.

Skye promised to prepare dinner if I would clear in. The clearing in process can be somewhat daunting at times due to the unknowns and being at the mercy of the officials who will grant us entry to their country.

Skye prepped (lowered it from the davits, attached the outboard and pumped up the pontoons, replaced the paddles and gas tank) the dinghy while I collected the boat papers, passports and my wallet. Skye had confirmed that Customs' hours were to 4:30pm and I was ready to go at 3:55. The 2-mile dinghy ride we had compared to "Chat 'n Chill to the end of Monument" (George Town, Bahamas reference) turned out to be more like "the end of Monument to the end of Sand Dollar" and NOT parallel to the beach.

I was driving our 10-foot dinghy by myself into waves and 15-knot winds. In settled conditions, I am challenged to get up on a plane with my short arms and no weight at the front of the dinghy. I tried shimmying forward on the port pontoon to have my weight as far forward as possible. I nudged the gas tank forward in another attempt to balance the boat, but it kept sliding backwards. I realized quickly that I was riding in the wet (windward) side of the boat, so I carefully switched to sit on the starboard side to steer. The starboard pontoon was pretty soft so I felt the pressure of every wave. I debated pumping air into it, but was nervous about losing control of the dinghy.

Several times, when I tried to drive faster, I scared myself into thinking I nearly flipped the dinghy. My flotation device was an old waterlogged, ripped life jacket that we had been keeping as a "spare." I was wearing the kill cord, but didn't know what I would do if I ended up in the water, especially with an overturned dinghy. I was using my upper thigh muscles to steady myself and clenching my teeth out of fear. I was angry about how country rules that ONLY the captain (Skye and I are co-captains) can go ashore to clear in, can cause real risk to personal safety.

After about 40 minutes, I arrived at the calm and protected South Side Marina. Unsure about where to locate the dinghy dock, but also mindful that I was late for Customs, I hastened to tie off behind a skiff. With wobbly legs and feeling pretty shaken, I approached the marina office and opened the door to step inside. I was greeted pleasantly by Nevarde, who supplied me with a welcome kit of forms, magazines and brochures. She told me that a Customs official would meet me soon under the gazebo.

I sat at the gazebo table to complete my paperwork, then waited ... and waited ... and waited for the Customs official. Delthea arrived around 5:30 to clear me in. Then I still needed to wait for Immigration to stamp our passports. Nevarde called Immigration but was unable to get through.
I tried to radio Singing Frog to let my family know I was ok. When, after several attempts, there was nothing heard, I asked to borrow the marina's radio. I tried VHF 5 and 16, but still had no response from our boat. I later learned that they were hearing me, but I could not hear them. Occasionally, I heard static on Channel 5, but never anything discernible. As daylight disappeared, imaginations wee active on Singing Frog.

Around 6:00, Bob (the marina owner) was able to reach Daniel from Immigration, who said he would come to the marina, so I resolved to keep waiting to be properly cleared in. I purchased a courtesy flag from the marina office and I was feeling encouraged that I would soon finish and return to the boat going downwind before dark (I hadn't brought a light).

As time went by and the sun was going down with no sign of Daniel, I finally decided to return to the boat and come back the next morning to finish clearing in. As I was bailing the dinghy (yes, we have a small water leak), other boaters called to me that Immigration had arrived. They invited me to go first, but Daniel wanted to speak first to the people who would be leaving early the next morning. He explained to them that he didn't have his equipment with him and arranged to return in the morning to stamp their passports. I interjected to explain that I would be back around 11:30 the next morning, then rushed to get home to Singing Frog.

Leaving the flat channel to the marina, I accelerated to plane and was able to maintain this for most of the way back to our boat. I was again motivated by sheer fear, especially as the skies were darkening fast and coral heads were appearing near the surface on my route home. The drive home took about 20 minutes and I arrived, shaking and tense, to a fretful crew. Austin met me at the swim platform and took the dinghy painter to hold me to the boat. He helped me off after I placed the radio and my bag of documents down at his feet. He hugged me tight for a long time and I couldn't stop the tears from coming.

Skye had paddled over to a neighbouring boat, "Hullabaloo," to ask if he could borrow their dinghy to look for me. I heard Singing Frog being hailed on the radio and Austin went down to let Skye and Hullabaloo know that I had returned safely.
Don't feed the iguanas!

Love the rock formations

Singing Frog anchored off Bay Cay - couldn't escape the swell

Exploring Bay Cay

Lessons learned:
1.     Consider bringing another crew member ashore to balance the dinghy if the distance is far in rough conditions
2.     Be alert to the dangers of being a woman alone in (potentially) a poor country. Bring Austin, Aidan or Skye with me.
3.     Wear a life jacket for long dinghy rides alone
4.     Carry a flashlight
5.     Whenever possible, call ahead to arrange to meet with Customs & Immigration

6.     Test the hand held VHF radio before leaving Singing Frog