Sunday, 31 July 2016

Cruising To Suriname

Image courtesy Noel Pauw - Waterland Marina Resort
Here is the Waterland Marina in Suriname on one of those lovely foggy river mornings. It's not always like this of course, and the jungle is green and growing across the river and right beside the marina site. The noise of the howler monkeys is a delightful and constant companion every morning and evening, some obviously quite close, though we never sighted them on the dock.

Image courtesy Noel Pauw - Waterland Marina Resort
We feel the Waterland Marina is the premium cruising boat location in Suriname, safe, secure and very friendly, if a little isolated. Potable water, WiFi and AC power (110v/60hz & 220v/60hz) are available on the dock. The weekly Sunday luncheon there is a spectacular social celebration of fusion food, well attended by locals and visitors.

There are other choices however, and our friends on the catamaran Ceilyhd stayed a little further downstream at the town of Domburg, where the Harbor Resort Domburg offers swing moorings on the river plus restaurant, bar, WiFi, pool and laundry at very reasonable rates. If you're happy on a mooring, then this is also a very good location, specially since the restaurant is open each day, which is not yet the case at Waterland.

Suriname is not a destination you choose for palm trees and sandy beaches. Yet this country does have beautiful places, and a colorful history, however you should visit the interior and explore the natural environment to have the best experiences.

The stand-out benefit of visiting Suriname is the generally respectful social conditions and safe surroundings. It's a kind of old-fashioned place, where people are a little shy but will happily stop and talk to you in the street. The capital Paramaribo (more info here) is a great place for provisioning, with three major western-style supermarkets offering products and produce from around the world. Paramaribo also offers a wide range of marine engineering and maintenance services.

Paramaribo River Entry
Most cruisers enter via the Paramaribo River, which is quite simple, the channel being deep and well marked - though the number of buoys differs from those shown on the charts, and our three different charting systems all disagreed on these to some extent. Large ships and tug/barge combinations ply the river entrance, with traffic controlled by the Maritime Authority of Suriname ("MAS"). Visiting yachts should call MAS as they approach the channel and request permission to enter the river. Using a rising tide it can take up to six hours to reach Domburg or Waterland, so an early morning approach is recommended. Note that the tide runs at up to 3.5 knots upstream, so pushing against the tide will slow you down considerably.

Waterland Marina, Suriname River
Both Waterland and Harbor Resort will provide all the guidance needed for the necessary immigration and customs clearances. On arrival we first visited the MAS offices to process the vessel in, then the Consular Office to obtain a visa stamp (a small fee is charged for this), then finally the Military Police office for the immigration stamp.

Outbound clearance was easier - visit the military police one day before for an exit stamp in the passports, then notify MAS of departure by VHF radio when outbound in the channel. Very simple. We recommend Suriname highly as a safe and relaxing stopover for cruising boats in the region.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Paramaribo, Suriname

Paramaribo Homes - Photo By Evan Gatehouse
Our two weeks on the Suriname River were punctuated by frequent trips "into town" - meaning the capital, Paramaribo. Suriname has a population of around 560,000 people, half of which live in Paramaribo.

Previously known as Dutch Guiana, the Dutch history is evident everywhere. It is the only country outside Europe where Dutch is spoken by a majority of the population.
Ley, In Trouble At The Fort

After dealing with the Portugese signage at our last port of call, we were back in learning mode here, trying to deal with Dutch words that seemed to have far too many syllables....that our Aussie language training had not prepared us for. Of course in the end we discovered that many of the locals also speak excellent English.

Historic buildings are everywhere in the downtown area, and along the river bank a complete historic village (world heritage listed) is preserved alongside the old Dutch fort.

Paramaribo is somewhat a frontier town - gold mining is the major export industry, having taken over from the (now defunct) bauxite mining industry, which in turn took over from the (now defunct) sugar cane industry.  Much of the gold mining is undertaken by small teams working in remote areas, and the infrastructure to support these enterprises is evident everywhere - this is a great place to buy compact rock crushers, six inch bore water pumps and four wheel drive trucks. Paramaribo also supports a reasonable marine industry, with two (small) floating docks and a larger slipway.

Celebrating Emancipation
The people are a mixture of African, Javanese, Dutch, Chinese and local Indian descent. As everywhere else in the developing world, the Chinese folk run the stores and supply chain...

However the unusual aspect of Suriname is the extent to which the cultural groups have intermingled, creating a cultural mix that seems settled and a shining example of tolerance.

One of our first experiences was a national public holiday that celebrated the anniversary of the end of slavery. Paramaribo was in carnival mode, with the usual processions plus music and dance on performance stages in the park. This was a day to be proud of, and the local ladies underlined that point with costume and hats that certainly drew attention.

Unfortunately the population is presently not well served by it's leaders, with the current president flaunting democratic process. So, whilst this is an extremely safe and welcoming nation, the economy is in disarray and the government is effectively broke. Business (and society in general) seems to have taken the failure of governance in it's stride, and life goes on, perhaps more dependent on cash transactions than in the past...

Despite the political and economic challenges, the local folk are happy and proud of their nation. The people are somewhat shy and reserved - as a visitor you need to initiate contact and develop your own experiences. Tourist activities are not always obvious in this place, but they are there for the finding. We were warmly welcomed wherever we traveled.

In a low-cost rental car we toured most of the city and surrounding areas, including frequent visits to the local private hospital when our friend Evan on the catamaran Ceilydh was hospitalised with heart attack symptoms - he's fine now, but we did have a few stressful days while the problem was sorted. The largely European trained hospital staff were competent and supportive, and Evan now knows that his arteries are in great shape!

The Stunning Timber Cathedral In Paramaribo

Friday, 22 July 2016

Removing River Gunk

Back in Sarawak, northern Borneo, we experienced significant staining on the bow from the river waters. The Suriname River brought it all back to us and we arrived at Waterland Marina with a significant brown "moustache" on the bow.

We found other boat owners were busy scrubbing with heavy duty cleaners and even kitchen scourers (yoiks) trying to remove the stains from their paint or gelcoat.

However Ley was able to erase the brown stain the easy way - with half a lemon.

Slice a lemon in half, squeeze a little to bring juice to the surface and wipe over the hull.

It doesn't disappear instantly, but it is much easier than other methods. A little sunshine also helps accelerate the process. Our neighbour tried using a lime and found that worked just fine too.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Life On The Suriname River

Crystal Blues arrived on the Suriname River exactly a week ago, on June 26. Having covered just on 5000 nautical miles in 8 weeks, we were looking for somewhere safe and calm to rest up and do essential maintenance.

We motored up river that morning, starting at the arrival buoy, well offshore, at first light (6:00am). From there we were in a narrow dredged  channel to enter the river - in fact we followed two small cargo ships into the river, the first ocean traffic we'd seen in days.

By 12:30pm we had arrived at Waterland, a very friendly and surprisingly sophisticated resort / restaurant / marina in the middle of the jungle. The marina is small, just twelve berths, but has AC power (110v/60hz), potable water on tap, a first class floating dock and a beautiful secure environment.

The contrasts that day were quite amazing - from Atlantic swells in the early morning to jungle river travel later in the day. We followed the river through the capital of Paramaribo, then further inland past the village of Domburg, when all signs of habitation disappeared. Just jungle green on both banks, until we reached Waterland, about 30 nautical miles inland (the channel is marked and deep all the way up river).

Then the final contrast hit us - within 30 minutes of arrival we were drinking cold beer in an open air bistro under a jungle canopy overlooking the river.  We prepared ourselves for the 'special' Sunday lunch here as Brazilian jazz drifted across the compound, mixed with the sounds of jungle birds, howler monkeys and two very tired but very happy cruisers. Cheers !

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Losing Track Of Time

Sailing in the middle of a very large ocean, the days do start to blend in to one and time seems to distort a little. Ley and I move into a well practiced cycle of watch keeping and boat management, navigation, weather reporting and sleeping.  Days are punctuated by meals and sleeps - the latter taking on increased importance in this slightly time-warped world. Days roll by, weeks pass, then we realise that we've been traveling for months. Crystal Blues is our own private "adventure pod", safely carrying us across oceans with very few complaints.

Last year we sailed just over 5,300 nautical miles, from Malaysia to South Africa via Sri Lanka, Maldives, Chagos, Rodrigues, Mauritius, Reunion, Madagascar and Mozambique. This year we departed Cape Town late in April and are three days (450 nautical miles) away from Suriname on the north east coast of the South American mainland. This voyage is around 5,000 nautical miles and has included visits to St. Helena, Ascension Island, and Fernando De Noronha.

We crossed the equator three days ago, with an appropriate rum drinking ceremony, about 120 nautical miles off the northern coast of Brazil, almost at the border with French Guyana. Yesterday we passed by the mouth of the Amazon River, though being far offshore we saw nothing.

As I write this we are at 04 degrees 11.43 North and 049 degrees 01.35 West, on heading of 308 degrees true, traveling at around 7.2 knots.  We're motor sailing in very light airs, at reduced RPM - the Guiana Current is giving us a lift of 1.5 knots.

This Atlantic crossing has been good to us - less than 20 hours of engine use since we departed Cape Town, though the sails have certainly taken a bashing. At every stopover we've had the sewing machine out on deck doing sail repairs, and I can see more work to be done in our next port. In Suriname we'll head up the Suriname River around 30 miles, to reach the small Waterland Resort and Marina, where we'll take a break and spend some time doing maintenance chores and local touring.

Incidentally, our log books tell me that when we reach Suriname Ley and I will have sailed over 48,000 nautical miles together, over almost 19 years. We certainly didn't plan for it, but the adventure continues...