08 January 2008 | Tobago
We moved back to Store Bay this morning to have easy access to the dinghy beach. Once the big boat was anchored and set we headed in to clear out. Jeremy at United Auto Rental came to pick us up and rented us a car.
As we drove over to Scarborough we decided to take a detour through the Hilton Plantation resort. This is a large chunk of Tobago with murky mangrove ponds surrounded by well manicured grass and greenery. The resort has several flights of condos and a golf course along with the main hotel. The grounds are lovely and the ponds are supposed to have Caymans in them though we didn't see any. Something about this preplanned vacation home setup just seems a little too contrived to me. I guess it suits many well though. You have 24/7 security, expensive but sufficient shops and restaurants, water sports and what have you all right there.
The hotel had the misfortune of being constructed largely of steel. That and a location just meters off of a breaking windward beach makes for a lot of rust. The entire hotel is rusting all about its joints and really looks a little ramshackle for it. Everything is nice inside and the beach is lovely, though vigorous.
In Scarborough we stopped in at Immigration first. The Immigration office is above the gateway building for the ferry and cruise ship docks. After filling out the three obligatory forms in triplicate we waited a short bit before getting to see an officer. When we informed the officer that we wanted to clear out he asked for our clearance into Tobago. When we checked in with Customs they told us that we didn't need to check in with Immigration. Apparently not the case. The officer was fairly unhappy and told us that he would have to call Chagaramas. Our punishment was to wait for twenty minutes for this process to commence. Once everything was in order again we were clear for departure anytime within the next 24 hours. No fees or penalties.
Next we made our way to Customs up the street a block. The one way street at the water front makes this a "you can't get there from here" situation. You must drive into town, head back up a few blocks via a street where you drive on the opposite side from usual, and then come back down upwind of the customs office. When we stepped into the office we found the same guy who had been there to clear us in on duty. We said hello and told him that we wanted to clear out. He asked when we were leaving and I told him that we would sail for Grenada at or before dawn. He looked up, promptly checked the clock on the wall which read 3PM and said, "you'll have to come back".
After some discussion he informed us that you must clear out of customs and then immediately return to your vessel and leave. I told him that we were only a crew of two and that a good night's sleep was an important safety consideration. I also told him that it was unlikely that if I got up at 2AM, dinghied ashore for a night time beach landing in uncertain conditions (it can break pretty big on the dinghy beach), it was not likely I would be able to acquire a cab or other transportation to Scarborough, many miles from Store Bay. Even if I could it seemed a little draconian.
He kept referring to Scarborough harbor, indicating we should anchor out there. I told him no sane small boat captain would anchor out there right now (see picture above looking out to Scarborough). Finally another officer came by to listen in on our discussion. She exchanged some hushed words with our officer and a resolution was made. He agreed to clear us out as of 11PM so that we could leave at first light. That of course meant that we would have to pay overtime for clearing out after hours! I happily paid.
In the end it didn't cost too much to clear in to Chagaramas and out through Tobago. I can say that the Trinidad and Tobago bureaucracy is not really streamlined for small boat however. I have been nowhere else in the Caribbean where you have to clear in and out of ports within a country other than the Dominican Republic. T&T also gets top marks for requiring the most forms of any nation we have been to. The people were mostly very nice (Tobago) or at the worst simply aloof (Trinidad). If T&T could take a few pointers from their neighbors in Grenada and put Customs and Immigrations for small boats in one office and put everything on one form, then allow one check in at the first port and one check out at the last port it would be a pleasure to visit in every way.
Back in Crown Point we returned the rental near the airport and walked back to Store Bay. This turned out to be an unfortunate decision and it began raining cats and dogs. We sheltered at the Pizza Boy restaurant and ended up getting a pizza for dinner (not recommended). Once it let up we headed back to the dinghy and bailed it out on the short hop over to Swingin' on a Star. In an hour or so we were stowed and ready for a beam reach to Grenada.