Cruising parnoia - valid?
I haven''t been to all parts of the Carib - mostly western, so I can''t be specific about the eastern part. I''ve also been all over central America. It saddens me to say that when I returned to the US I felt far MORE in danger than when I was in Nicaraqua.
That said, I cruised in a small (30-foot) boat without alot of stuff, my dinghy was a hard rowing model with no engine to steal. I didn''t look or act wealthy. We also had to kids.
There is theft, especially dinghys, in the Carib. Anytime you show up in a vessel that is worth 20 times more than the locals make in a year, there is risk. However, the risk is MUCH greater in places where cruisers are common and the local population is large (and poor). I generally stayed away from large population centers and in three years had nothing stolen. Once in Mexico, a local tried to steal my propane tank to use for lighting his squid lights. He couldn''t get it out, so he left. That was the worst incident. Local kids borrowed my dinghy in Guatemala while we were ashore, but had it back before we returned - no harm done.
If you''re going to the popular areas of the Carib, you''ll have to be cautious, but it''s still safer than walking in downtown (insert US city here).
That said, cruising does not carry with it the security of living in our country - the police, courts, insurance, etc...
You''ll need a new mindset. This is an adventure, not a cruiseship journey - some risk is to be expected.
I think in the popular areas of the Carib, you''ll have to lock up your boat when you leave, though where I was I never did unless I was gone overnight. Usually, you can find another cruiser to keep an eye on things if you''re gone for awhile.
I did not have insurance and only knew of one cruiser who did - his boat was financed. He was hit by a shrimper at anchor in Costa Rica. After helping him secure his broken mast, I rowed ashore to call the local police. No answer. I called the next morning and was told they might be able to come by in a day or two, but we''d have to pay for their gas. Things don''t work the same in other countries. He eventaully got his police report and 9 months later had his repairs done. Once my dinghy was run over by a drunken local in a fishing boat. It cracked it and sank it. I repaired it with some fiberglass and epoxy and kept going for two more years. Sh** happens.
As for the officials, I can''t comment on the eastern Carib, but we were always treated well by the local officials. If you get boarded, they will want to see all passports with entrance stamps for all passengers, ship''s papers (state reg or documentation), maybe a zarpe (ship''s clearance from previous port). In Mexico, we were boarded numerous times with very cursory searches done. Always painfully polite. We always were cooperative, offering something to drink, trying to speak their language, etc... The USCG is far more invasive and rude.
We were once boarded by the Nicaraquan Coast Guard 2 miles offshore in the middle of the night. It frightened us since they zoomed up on us in the dark. But, again, they were just doing their job, were polite and we laughed about it later.
However, if you are not in the country legally, or you have drugs/guns aboard you are SCREWED.
Getting boarded by strangers is not common. Don''t invite anyone on board that you wouidn''t invite in your house. No one was allowed on our boat, except officials, without our permission.
One point. If you are travelling with kids, especially small ones, I think you''ll find even better treatment. Especially in Latin American countries, the addition of kids made us a family that locals and officials could relate to. I''m certain several times that we were shown more kindness and courtesies because of our kids. Kids are natural icebreakers.
I hope this helps some. Others with more experience in the Carib might offer more advice. The bottom line for me was that aside from the risks inherent in cruising, I felt much safer in 99% of the places I visited than in a large US city.