Daily Archives: July 18, 2013

Second verse, same as the first

Have I mentioned lately that our freezer is trying to kill us? It’s a built-in chest with a thick and heavy lid that’s held open by a lift spring but in this humid climate the spring gets frosty sometimes which knocks it off column, causing the lid to slam down with a bang, or a scream if you happen to have a body part in there when it happens. Both Jack and I have had our bell rung a few times, and last week I didn’t get my fine-boned arm out of there before the monster struck. I was sure in the moment that my arm was snapped in two but it wasn’t, and I figured a day or two of icing and Advil would get me back to normal.

It didn’t, and even the addition of an Ace wrap did nothing to improve it. Making falafel was painful. Opening a door was painful. And raising the dinghy was really painful. Jack wanted me to go to a doctor, then Mark chimed in, the crew of What If registered their votes and I finally had to agree to get it checked out. I know approximately where the hospital is, right on the waterfront in St. George’s. One night while we were anchored there we got disoriented and mistook it for a cruise ship but that was after a few painkillers.

We decided on a much earlier start than our Day at Customs and we got the bus into town about 7:45. It was a Nissan minibus with a cracked windshield, a sign noting a 19-passenger limit and a massive driver we’ve nicknamed Crash. The seats are worn so smooth and slippery that I was helplessly flung from side to side as we cornered the hilly roads at speed, unable with a lame arm to hang on. At one point I slid so violently that I knocked Jack across the width of the van and into the lap of a young woman occupying the jump seat on the other side. Awkward.


We got into town and tapped on the roof to indicate we wanted to get out, but the driver ignored us and we rode all the way to the bus terminal, a few blocks further than we wanted. I was checking my map to confirm which way to walk when Jack asked two ladies how to get to the hospital. They pointed to another bus stop marked ‘H’ and told us it costs $3 EC for the shuttle. We had just paid $2.50 EC to ride all the way into town from Woburn Bay so I thought another $3 was excessive and started walking. I tend to walk fast when I get cranky and at this point I may have left Jack in the dust. I followed the route I was familiar with and headed toward the waterfront where I asked a policeman how to get to the hospital.

“Do you have a vehicle?” he asked. I told him no and he sighed and told me to follow him. We walked through the gate of the police yard, back toward the tunnel we’d just walked through from the depot.

“But I thought it was over there,” I whined, and I pointed back toward the water.

“This is a shortcut.” I looked behind me to make sure Jack was following but I couldn’t see him. We got to the other side of the yard and the policeman pointed toward a flight of steps beside the tunnel.

“Follow that man,” he said and I could see a white shirt just starting up the steps. I looked over my shoulder and finally saw Jack limping and panting through the police yard.

“Let me guess,” he gasped. “Back through the tunnel.”

“No,” I said and I pointed up the steps. “Short cut.” We started up.

We’re from Pittsburgh and we know steps, but soon we were both wheezing and groaning in the hot sun as we climbed to the top then followed a switchback road until we reached the hospital grounds. Shortcut my ass. The $3 shuttle was looking good. Jack wisely held his tongue.



Once again the signage was lacking and it took some wandering around and a lot of questions before we found our way to what we hoped was the intake for emergency. The door was at the far end of a small room where patients with broken limbs had their casts cut off by a dour man in a white shirt, so while we waited in line we were being dusted with plaster and serenaded by the swhizzzzzzz of the power tool, and in one case by the screams of a young girl who was convinced he meant to cut her arm off.

Eventually there were too many people squeezed in there so we were told to wait outside until the intake nurse called us.


After a while the nurse took us one at time to another tiny room where she filled out a card with name, age, complaint and address. That last one is always a challenge but she didn’t bat an eye when I said I was living on a boat at anchor in Woburn Bay and she wrote “Woburn Bay” in the address field and told me to go back outside until they called my name. The waiting area was getting full but you couldn’t complain about the view.


While we waited a uniformed guard brought in a handcuffed prisoner with his arm in a cast and he went to the head of the cast-removal queue. A little while later another prisoner with a broken limb was hustled in and out again. This was getting creepy.

Finally a nurse appeared at the Plaster Room door and called three names, one of which I took to be an approximation of mine. The other two patients and I followed the nurse through the Plaster Room, through the intake room and into something more recognizable as a hospital ward. We were each put into an exam room and I settled in for a long wait.


Not more than five minutes later a woman came in and introduced herself as the doctor and I explained what happened to my arm. She gently felt around my wrist, asking me to tell her where it hurt. I told her it didn’t hurt to touch but when I move it, particularly when I rotate it, I feel a shooting pain up to my elbow. She nodded and said it sounded like tendon damage, then said she would order an X-ray to rule out a fracture, then prescribe treatment when she saw the film.

She gave me a slip of paper and showed me out the back door, down an alley, past the ambulance bay, along another alley to an unmarked door. I was to have the X-ray there and bring it back to the exam room. I hoped I’d remember the way back.

Inside the X-ray office I gave my slip of paper to the receptionist who wrote another slip of paper and directed me to the cashier. I paid $30 EC, got a receipt and took it back to the receptionist then sat in the waiting room.



Again I barely recognized my name when the technician called me. He pointed to an unmarked door and when I entered, I gasped and said, “Oh my god,” under my breath. Two trash cans were overflowing with used bandages. The paint was peeling off the walls and the room didn’t appear to have been cleaned since Easter. I nearly made a run for it, but just then the technician came in with a film plate and set to work lining up the X-ray machine, gently positioning my arm for the two views he took. He was kind and competent and I was out of there in minutes.

A few minutes later I was called back again and the receptionist told me the doctor wanted to see me. I was shown into an office even tinier than the Customs Office. I had to sidle very close to the doctor at his desk in order to get the door closed. He had my X-ray on the viewer and asked me to describe what happened to my arm. I told him about the freezer lid and pointed to where it collapsed on me. He said he wanted to be sure they had filmed the right thing because — and he pointed at the X-ray — my bones looked fine. And they did. Beautiful, unmarked bones. I breathed a sigh of relief, mostly because I didn’t want to ever have to go to the man in the white shirt to get a cast taken off.


I thanked him and took my film back outside, retraced my steps through the concrete alley maze to the exam area, handed the X-ray to the nurse and sat in the hall to wait. I could see the doctor take a look and she came to talk to me.

“Your arm is not broken,” she said and confirmed that I had injured the soft tissue. She told me to go to a pharmacy and buy a wrist support, the kind with straps. “We don’t have them here,” she added. I’m to wear the support for at least two weeks and to try not to use my arm. I thanked her and she directed me to leave by the back door again, and I wandered around until I found Jack still sitting by the Plaster Room.

“I’m done,” I told him. “It’s not broken. We can go.” I was very happy to get out of there, especially after Jack told me several more manacled prisoners with broken limbs had been brought in. What in heaven’s name are they doing to them?

We took the now familiar road from the hospital past the fort and down to the waterfront below, then back through the tunnel where we searched three pharmacies for a wrist support but there was none to be had. I guess it’s back to my Ace wrap for the duration.




All in all I was completely satisfied with the care I received. The facility was considerably less than the sterile environment we’re used to and would it kill them to put a few signs up here and there? But I was shown nothing but kindness and competence and I have no doubt I’ll be back to normal in a couple of weeks. Or at least that’s what I was thinking until we flagged down the first Woburn Bay bus we saw only to discover it was Crash again in his 19-passenger terror machine. Miraculously we made it home without further injury.


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A rite of cruisers’ passage

We’ve been lost without our Spot Messenger. It’s become a ritual for us whenever we move to a new place to hit the button and update our location on the blog or especially to track our progress on passages. So when ours died without warning a few weeks ago we were pretty happy that the company said they would replace it for a nominal fee even though we were out of warranty. We were advised to have packages sent via the Post Office and we’d have an easier time getting them through customs right there. Unfortunately the Spot people sent our replacement unit through UPS which went to the airport. Big difference. They also declared a customs value of the cost of a new unit instead of what we actually paid for the replacement. This matters, too.

We planned an early start to the day knowing it could take a couple of hours to navigate the bureaucracy and collect the package. We were on the bus out of Woburn Bay before 9 am, changed buses in the lagoon in St. George’s and arrived at the airport about 9:45. We asked at the information desk where we should go and the lady looked at our papers and pointed to the Liat Airlines check-in counter.


We showed our papers at the counter and waited while the clerk fetched a supervisor who looked at our papers and said, “Why did they send you here? You need to go to customs.” And he pointed toward the other end of the building.

By the way, there are barely any signs in this airport. No signs for customs, no signs for baggage or ground transportation or any of the other useful signs you find in other airports. We kept asking people who kept pointing this way and that until we found a security guard who told us the customs office was beyond a security fence and that we’d need a pass to get there. We found the security office and learned that only one of us could go. Who was the package addressed to? Me. Ok then, you can go, the guard told us and he pointed to Jack. “You go sit down.” I was on my own.

I walked to the gatehouse where the sleepy guard pulled a large handwritten logbook off a dusty shelf and paged through to the last entry. I wrote my name and signed it and he pointed to a low building where I was to go. There were two doors, one marked Customs and the sign said I should knock before entering, which I did. It was the smallest office I have ever been in. Squeezed into the tiny space was a desk, a filing cabinet, two chairs and a uniformed officer.


I said hello and gave him my papers. And then came the bad news.

As a vessel in transit we can receive “ship’s stores” for the minimum customs duty but we have to have a C-14 form which we can only get at a yacht entry port and must be signed by the customs officer at the port. The nearest port with a customs officer is two more bus rides away, then two more bus rides back to the airport plus the duty — I was starting to add this up in my head.

“How much is the duty without the C-14?” I asked. Mr. James took out his calculator and starting figuring the duty based on the full price indicated on the declaration form. I pointed out that what was in the box was a replacement unit for which I hadn’t paid full price. I pointed at the fine print at the bottom of the waybill where it said “warranty replacement no charge.” I pulled the old dead Spot out of my bag and explained that this was a dead one and what was in the box was to replace it. I was ready with a printout of the email from the Spot people telling me how much they were charging for the new unit.

Mr. James held up his hand and said sheepishly, “I feel your pain. But I have to go by what the form says” and he tapped the total key. $137 EC. Crap.

“And how much with the C-14?”

Tap, tap, tap, total. $13 EC. Plus the cost of an agent. Agent? Yes, apparently I can’t do this on my own because the information must be entered into The System and only agents can access The System.

I was starting to hear the theme from the movie “Brazil” in my head.

As I was mulling all of this over Mr. James waved to someone passing his office door. In came another uniformed Customs officer and Mr. James explained my dilemma. There was a little back and forth, most of which I couldn’t understand because my ears haven’t yet gotten used to the local dialect. After a few minutes I got the sense that something good happened, I shook the new man’s hand and he left.

“What just happened?” I asked.

Turns out that was the boss and he was on his way to the port of entry and would get me a C-14 and bring it back. It wouldn’t take long. Ah, how nice! I thought, and sat down to enjoy the air conditioning. Mr. James was friendly and interesting and I didn’t mind the wait at all, but as time went on I thought maybe I should give Jack an update.

I walked back across the gravel lot to the gatehouse and woke up the guard to tell him I’d be right back. He didn’t seem to mind. Jack was in that happy zen place he goes to when he has to wait somewhere and he brightened as I walked up.


“Don’t get excited,” I said, “we’re not even close” and I brought him up to speed on the process. By the time I got back to Mr. James he had the C-14 form and we filled it out and I signed it. Then he told me to go across the hall and talk to the agent. That office was just as small and jam packed with three clerks behind a narrow counter with a pile of computer equipment, printers and fax machines at one end. I gave them my papers and one of the men dialed a number on his cellphone, spoke briefly into it then handed me the phone.

“Hello?” I said. The voice on the other end was rapid and incomprehensible. I hate when I can’t understand people, especially when they’re speaking English. I asked him to repeat things several times, then shook my head apologetically and hand the phone back to the clerk.

“I’m so sorry,” I said, “but I can’t understand him.” Eventually between the agent on the phone and the clerk I understood that the agent’s fee was $150 EC. What!?! This is a tiny package, I told them, not a big shipment. They seemed unmoved. I told them I had to think about it because the fee was more than the customs duty for using no C-14 and no agent.

I walked across the hall and reported the fee to Mr. James. He was shocked but said they had no control over the agents because they are private enterprises. He went over to talk to the clerk, and before I knew it, both Mr. James and the clerk were squeezed into the Customs office with me and the cellphone was again thrust into my hand.

“Hello?” I said. Again I listened to the agent and tried to comprehend what he was saying. Apparently he was offering to lower his fee to a somewhat less extortionist $87 EC. I told him that was still too much and I repeated that it was a tiny thing for which I paid nothing and I shouldn’t have to pay this much to get it out of customs.

Finally he asked how much I thought I should pay.

“Fifty,” I said. And he agreed. I handed the phone back to the clerk who conferred for another minute or two and told me the agent would be there about 11:30. It was nearly 11:00. I went back out through the gatehouse without waking up the guard and updated Jack.

Back in the customs office Mr. James shared his thoughts on Grenadians, IT, marketing, and a host of other topics and before long it was nearly noon. I ran across the hall to the agent’s office and asked the clerk for an update. He made a few calls and tracked down the agent, then told me they were waiting for a code from St. George’s and did I know that the office closed from noon to one for lunch?


“What code?” Mr. James asked when I reported back to him. But it was noon and nothing could be done until one so I went back through the gatehouse to Jack and we had lunch at one of the food kiosks outside the terminal building. I was back a little before one o’clock and resumed my conversation with Mr. James. Finally the agent arrived with the receipt for the $13 EC customs duty, papers were passed back and forth, I gave the agent his $50 EC fee and the $13 for the duty and we all shook hands.

“That’s it, you’re done!” said Mr. James.

“But where’s my package?”

The agent pointed to one of the papers in my hand, then to a man dozing in the corridor. I handed him the paper and he disappeared into a warehouse and came back with our little package.

Meanwhile I asked the agent for a receipt for his fee. He pointed toward the terminal building and Mr. James said to go down where you check in for flights. We went back to where we started, to the Liat Airline check-in counter and talked to the supervisor again.

“Why do they keep sending you here?” he asked. We gave up and went out to the bus stop.

We were home by three o’clock. It only took six hours.



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