Curmudgeons trump canines on a Jamaica run

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As readers might remember, I have delivered boats with a retired British civil servant named Barry Terry. We specialized in the run from Florida to the Caribbean and back.

A couple of years ago, Soundings published my account of our worst delivery ever. This is a story about our best delivery, even though it involved contraband.

Our client wasn’t a bad guy, but because of the nature of this endeavor I’m keeping his name confidential. The Client, as he shall be called, was a midlevel guy in the U.S. entertainment industry, and he presented us with a formidable challenge in his initial email.

The Client: Hello, I have a 32-foot [sportfish boat] with twin 350s, and I would like to take the boat from Miami to Jamaica this July. What is the possibility of doing this? I would be going on the boat.

The challenge, of course, was that the boat was on the small side, and it would have to transit some lonely waters powered by a pair of gas-guzzlers to reach its destination.

Me: Certainly such a trip is possible, and July is a good month to do it, as long as no hurricanes are floating around out there when we try. Do you happen to know the range of the vessel and its fuel burn at various speeds? We would need some idea of those numbers to put together a plan and quote a price. Have you owned the boat long? Is she in good shape? Also, are you equipped with a basic electronics suite?”

His answer was encouraging:

The Client:Good to hear you are available. Let me first say that July hasn't 100 percent been locked in; this window has just opened up to me, and I won’t know for sure for another few weeks. Worst case scenario, I would have to wait until next season. By the way, when does it become too late?

I recently bought the boat from my friend. The boat is currently in Cross City, Fla., getting basic servicing done. I am installing a new electronics platform: Raymarine C70 with 2-kW radar, Sirius Weather and possibly an autopilot. I will also have a secondary GPS/chartplotter system.

The boat has two 90-gallon and one 80-gallon fuel tanks below deck. I will have 125 gallons above deck. (The final solution on the above-deck fuel tanks is to be determined.) That will give an operating range of 380 miles.The boat gets 1 mpg at 17 to 18 knots if the seas lay down, 15 knots fully loaded.

Me: Sounds like a nice boat. The C70 will be a joy for you. Without an autopilot, however, we would certainly want three people aboard. The total distance is approximately 800 to 900 miles. Small boat, lonely water. Even though she's moderately fast, I think with fair weather we might take a week, factoring in a couple lay days for weather. (Carrying fuel on the deck of a light-displacement vessel means going in calmer-than-usual seas.) We would run during the day through the Bahamas, with plans to overnight at refueling stops. Night runs (deep water) probably from Clarence Town on Long Island to Great Inagua and then on through the Windward Passage to a convenient port in Jamaica.

I was concerned about range (actually, I'm always concerned about range) because there is a fairly long passage, about 300 miles, from Matthew Town on Great Inagua to Montego Bay. Though refueling en route is possible in Haiti and Cuba, each is somewhat problematic for its own reasons, as I'm sure you understand. By the time we get to Matthew Town, we would have a pretty precise idea of what she burns at cruise, however, and could plan accordingly from there.

Hurricane season is in full swing August to September, but, of course, there's always the possibility of hurricanes and named storms earlier. But in general, yes, better before August. In a crisis, there are places in the Bahamas where we could actually have the boat hauled, but nowadays there’s no reason to be surprised. The only problem is if there are other issues, such as a breakdown, that prevent quick movement at the same time a hurricane threatens.

Okay then, Barry and I, based on seven days, will receive $3,000 as a flat fee. No increase if the trip takes longer due to weather. We renegotiate only if some major mechanical problem prevents us from moving for a long period, not very likely with twins. With tools aboard, Barry and I can usually manage to fix run-of-the-mill stuff that goes wrong. Normally, we get half the fee up front, but because you are coming on the boat, we can reduce that. Say, a third. You also pay for transportation, groceries and any other legitimate expenses. Besides good faith, the upfront portion of the fee gives us something to draw from for initial airfare, etc.

Obviously, you are aware that the price of fuel is quite high in the Bahamas, so that will be a big expense for you. Leaving Miami with the deck tanks full will save money later, but the deck tanks probably needn't be refilled again until the big jump after Great Inagua. We will look more closely at the availability of gasoline along the route, however, since we normally do this in diesel-powered craft. It shouldn't be a problem since the Bahamas runs on small outboards.

A life raft is a nice insurance policy, but an inflatable in the cockpit would be OK, if it fits. Must have good anchors and rode, too. You might want to see how a couple of 50-gallon barrels full of water affect trim and performance to get an idea of the effects of carrying extra fuel on deck. And it is absolutely essential that whatever tankage you choose, it can be securely lashed in place. I cannot emphasize that enough.

If this hasn't scared you off, please send me a couple of images of the boat and a little info about you and your boating experience.

And so it went. Alas, The Client’s television work precluded leaving in July. By January, however, he was back in touch.

The Client: Would mid-late-March be an OK departure date? Or would it be better to wait for April? What would be the earliest date to depart, where we could experience high pressure for calmer seas? Also, do you have any idea what is the average price per gallon we could expect to encounter throughout the Bahamas?

Me: Good to hear from you! April is better than March, and May is better than April. Barry will get back to you on the price per gallon.

Then the deal began taking its first real complication. The Client had a producer friend that might come along, and they would turn the voyage into a six-segment travel documentary. Since Barry had more experience than I as a “civil” servant, I let him respond. We didn’t mind the fourth hand. We didn’t mind the film project, but it threw our initial quote out the window.

Barry: Delivery has now become a different project with different priorities. We originally planned the delivery for seven days at approximately $420 U.S. a day, where with any weather problems, we would take as the rub of the green. (I am a golfer.) The project could now add between 12 to 18 days. Plus, with stopping to shoot, it could also mean not being able to use weather windows.

That said, we are not averse to taking part in the project, but your budget would now have to be based on $420 U.S. a day for Peter and me ($210 U.S. a day each), plus expenses, airfare, food, etc., which could be 20 days if all goes great but maybe 28 if we hit weather problems.

Though he was confident that, with sufficient time, he could raise the money to film the series, The Client did not want to wait until then to get under way. Instead of a travel series, they would film a mini-reality show about Barry and me, a pair of crusty, past-their-prime delivery skippers. Oh, and one more thing: Could he bring along his two dogs?

This was a truly bad idea, but Barry and I had become caught up in the escalating drama. We said yes.

Barry: Okay. It’s going to be cozy, four guys and two dogs. Can they stand a watch?

The Client: [joking] They can't stand watch, but they make for some great emergency rations in case we get stranded on a deserted island! What are your thoughts on security being brought on board for the trip? Can you rate the necessity on a scale from 1 to 10?

Barry (the retired British Customs investigator): “Four guys, two dogs — you have security. Guns on board cause more problems than they are worth. I have cruised the Caribbean for 20-plus years, never felt the need, never had a problem.

Meanwhile, I conducted a little research about the reality of bringing dogs to Jamaica by boat. I even spoke with the manager of Errol Flynn Marina, who strongly advised me not to. Why? It turns out that despite the twin curse of crime and poverty, Jamaica has managed to remain rabies-free, unlike much of the developing world. It had done this by an outright ban on the importation of pets from any nation except the rabies-free United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.

It turns out that a number of foreign visitors to Jamaica buy homes there without realizing they will never be able to bring their dogs into the country. And some of them break the quarantine by smuggling Rover in by boat, which, to put it mildly, Jamaican authorities frown upon. And wouldn’t they just love to catch a gang of Americans trafficking something into Jamaica!

Barry: Peter and I have looked more closely at the implications of taking animals into Jamaica. We have both independently come to the conclusion that it is not a good idea. It is totally illegal to take animals into Jamaica and is looked upon as a criminal act to smuggle animals into the island. The penalties are severe. You would have your boat confiscated and be fined or imprisoned or both. We would also be fined or imprisoned or both. Also, the dogs would be destroyed.

There is no way you can legally import your dogs to Jamaica, which I am sure you are aware of. Apart from putting ourselves at risk, there is also the moral issue. The law is there for a reason: Jamaica is rabies-free, as is the U.K., and they wish to keep it that way. If you have read our resumes, you will see that I was a U.K. Customs officer responsible for enforcing the very law you are now contemplating breaking, with my help.

If the sole purpose of the delivery is to get the dogs into Jamaica, I think the risk is too great, and both Peter and I are not prepared to break that particular law. As mentioned before, I am not the most diplomatic guy, and I am trying to be nice about this. Will still be very happy to take you and the boat to Jamaica but not the dogs.

I thought that would be the end of it — no delivery, no reality show. We had lost track of how many emails we had exchanged with The Client — scores of emails — so it was unusual that we did not hear back for a week. To his credit, when he finally replied, The Client’s response was disappointment without recrimination. To our surprise, he wanted to press on with the delivery. He paid us half our fee in advance. I began to make arrangements for a gasoline truck to meet us at the marina in Santiago, Cuba.

The Client: Something tells me this could still prove to be a great trip. As I was recently talking with an executive producer I work with, I was talking about filming a trip through the Caribbean, and he turned to me and said, “In order for something like that to be really compelling, you really need a character that's a crusty old curmudgeon.” Which I now fully expect at least one of you two to be.

Alas, as the date to make airline reservations drew near, The Client changed his mind. He said he didn’t have enough money left after having work done on his boat. He thanked us and said he hoped to be able to make the delivery with us in the future. And to his credit, he mailed a check for the balance of our fee. Never met the guy in person. Never saw his boat.

And that is why, despite having lost a chance to become Hollywood curmudgeons, the Jamaica trip was our best delivery ever.