I remember quite clearly, walking out of the American Embassy, having made application for a new passport...Feeling angry, apathetic, and somewhat abandoned, with 2 police reports and some ripped clothing in my backpack..sadly coming to the realization, “No one looking out after your back. pal”. The shotgun..mentally pulsating in my brain...my hand tightening from a mixture of pent-up emotions.
What a joke I thought, the sign read..American services between 8:30-1200 Monday through Friday. Closed the last Wednesday of the month to catch up on administrative work...I laughed..welcome to a piece of America... “all they are doing here is processing foreign visas”. Citizens be damned.
Tomas, what would you expect from a young female clerk in window 11 where I was directed.. Fill out the papers and then go to the cashier with a $100.00 for a new passport..Yes we do take Visa. “It took me 4 hours to get there..this was my second time back, having missed the noon deadline the first time around... My fault I guess, I should have checked first, not realizing 1: 30 PM would possibly be out of bounds.
All this was becoming a distant memory, when upon reading an article on another cruising site of a vessel named “Chill” attacked off the coast of Venezuela.. Nov 8th,. The Captain had been killed. “Had I seen this vessel before”.? Maybe Cartagena, the San Blas, Bocas...Sooner or later we all run into each other.. I began to swallow hard; this incident, coincidental with conversation around the yacht club of a shoot out on another boat, up in the Rio Dulce..where my friends on Second Wind were discussing it, planning tohead there shortly, brought it all back. It seemed ironical though... Frankie was a bit scarred, but they had a great time in Venezuela inexpensive fuel and beer.. not to mention the scenery just few months earlier on their way sailing west.
One person's voice will generally be ignored...When and if Cruisers unite in purpose though..with numbers and resources..there will be action..it then becomes a political issue...This is the reason why I responded in kind...My response to that thread follows..some redundant from above:
Venezuela is a very dangerous place to cruise these days. What would you expect from the likes of Hugo Chavez..
Everyone I know who has sailed there, with few exceptions have had “mucho problems”...mostly with dingys stolen..more the rule now, than the exception. The current Venezuelan administration could care less, so it's open season for the criminals there.
What I'm conveying is all second hand knowledge from cruisers I met in Cartagena, who would cruise there every couple of months or so, many because of visa expirations in Columbia..It's now pretty much off limits with visa renewals being made at Obidalia..Columbian/ Panama border and the entrance to the San Blas coming west.
2 boats however that I know quite well, one American, one British who sail as buddy boats..had a great experience there enjoying inexpensive beer and fuel..notwithstanding the beauty of Venezuela.
Cruising the Caribbean is a bit dangerous..I've learned the hard way not to take things for granted...Once you let your guard down you are going to be a victim.
In all fairness, Columbia has enjoyed a bad reputation, but what I experienced is just the opposite . The present govt is working hard to change that, to encourage cruising and tourism.. I Found Cartagena to be rather safe, both day and night spending 6 weeks there on the hook off Club Nautico. I also was encouraged, at Club Nautico, to visit the Columbian Islands on my way west to the San Blas archipelago. I encountered no problems..although my instinct told me not to anchor to long at Isla Fuerte...2 days.
I learned the hard way back in Panama..wandering around Colon like a tourist..within 3 hours held up at gunpoint, fought my way out of that jam but they got my passport..
Nobody is watching your back..The American Embassy, couldn't have cared less..fill out the forms at window 11 and pay $100 at the cashier's, and we'll give you a new passport in 10 days..."What a let down"..All the American Embassy cares about is processing Visas for Panamanians to the States..The place looks like, where you get your drivers license renewed..2 windows for Americans..18 for Panamanians...I went away thinking "no one is watching my back"...Welcome to a piece of America..”Well I expected a bit more”... I'm only human...maybe an interview or something...take a look at the police reports..even had my ripped clothes with me from the fight..Lucky not wearing a toe tag... They couldn't get me down..got my balance, when I pivoted around..hit the guy with the gun, solid in the face. What I had going for me, they have to do the job fast..once there is resistance they are gone..
First day at anchor at Colon...criminals cut the lines on the dingy silently during the night.. I discovered it gone next morning.. Should have had it out of the water...I figured maybe they felt it was like taking candy from a baby..and perhaps return to rob me the next night...The Good Lord I guess, even looks after criminals..I was angry enough after these two incidents to kill..I was locked and loaded with 6 in the chamber on my 12 guage..waiting... the lights out..supposedly sleeping..The plan.. silently wait till they board..hit the spreader lights, and blast away.. the more the merrier..They would never have the slightest chance close up.. They never showed...and I was left with one hell'uva fighting temper....the ferocity of payback time perhaps verging on insanity.
There is a problem...not having a permit for that country...irrespective of criminals coming aboard, if I use the gun on them $10,000 fine...maybe even jail time..The solution..get a permit..here it's $20 as they say in James Bond "license to kill"?... I never followed up on that...I'm certainly not that angry now to kill.. I accept it.. learn from it... and move on.. Not having my dinghy, I'm at the yacht club now..after 9 months on the hook. The Good Lord sometimes works in strange ways..
Look we hear these stories down here all the time..a couple of boardings yesterday at Rio Dulce..one crew member, one criminal dead in a shoot out...As a result I heard the authorities now patrolling 24 and 7 up there..This is now yacht club conversation in the Carib.
Good sailing friends, a retired Cardiologist and his wife that I met in Providentia, got held up off the Galapagos..got an E-mail from him the day after it happened..a la sideband at sea.
At the fear of rambling on..I just wanted to reply to the area of piracy that IS real...I've been a victim..and know other victims and have heard some terrible stories down here and that's my point. to pass on information from experience.
In part why I'm writing this is that the cruising community being aware of this increasing menace, will begin to think and act in accord with some viable solution... I know not.
Please remember 95% or more of the people are wonderful..There is that element who watch you all the time looking for vulnerability in a strange land..They know you have resources, they have none...and will try to take it away from you
As a side note: Not to be forgotten though, I have had a wonderful time cruising ...my episodes on my website A Few Good Boats .Com
, speak a different story, along with the upload to this site of what I feel my most colorful pictures along my cruising journeys. I'm a proud American, a war vet, not afraid to fly my colors in any country...a bit of a rebel, and treasure my American Flag that flew in friendship alongside the Cuban Flag sailing into Havana, Marina Hemingway. I met some wonderful hardworking people, who want to be friends with America, who in their hearts, I could clearly hear... You came a long way, on your boat, we appreciate your gallant efforts, welcome to our Country. You are safe here.