Thursday, 25 May 2017

Where Am I ? Social Change In Caribbean Cruising

Sailing west from the BVIs, a cruising sailor enters an area that is increasingly influenced by proximity to the United States. While the southern end of the Caribbean oscillates between French, Dutch and English histories, and quaint provincial social influences, the northern islands are suddenly and dramatically quite American.

Crystal Blues In Cane Garden Bay, Tortola, BVI's

The British Virgin Islands, the biggest charter boat destination in the world, is where the influence really starts to blossom. The poor British there have given up on the Pound Sterling, let alone the Euro, and have adopted the US greenback as their standard currency, along with switching their channel markers and buoyage over to the US style "red right returning" system (IALA Region B). So much for tradition. Then again, Region B was in use even in Martinique, an otherwise 100% proudly French territory.

Moving westwards, the US Virgin Islands are of course, well, US.  Then you come to the Spanish Virgin Islands, part of Puerto Rico, which is really, well, part of the US. Next we sailed over the top of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, before pausing in Cuba. Here we found that even Cuba uses the IALA Region B buoyage, besides being the home of the worlds best collection of 1960's American cars.

Street Traffic In Cuba - Horses, Bicycles & 50s - 60s US Classics
It doesn't help that almost every island in the Caribbean, north and south, uses the US country code (+1) for their international telephone dialing prefix - all having nice 3 digit area codes under the US regional communications umbrella.

Of course this American influence isn't all bad, standard regional buoyage systems make sense, and we certainly enjoyed the social services and amenities provided in Puerto Rico and other places.

However I do fear for the future of Cuba - they already run two parallel currencies, a local Peso worth very little and a tourist Peso that is closely pegged to the US dollar and worth 25 times the poor local currency.  So market shopping in rural Cuba is done using the "people's money", but marina payments by visitors have to be done in the tourist Peso. When a power outage caused the local banks to shut their doors, we had no trouble changing greenbacks for tourist peso's in the local market square - the population are happy to take greenbacks. When President Obama wound back the restrictions on US travel to Cuba last year, we found that by November there were more than 30 flights a day out of Miami into Havana, and even more out of Fort Lauderdale. For those wanting to visit today's Cuba, we suggest you move fast.

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