It is now February 2014 and The Fox has been cruising the Bahamas since our arrival on January 15, 2014. This is actually our second cruise through the Bahamas; we were here for the first time from November 2011 through the first week of February, 2012. I had avoided blogging about our first trip to these islands because I knew we would return and I wanted to compare the 2 voyages to each other. I also wanted to avoid writing about an especially bad experience I had here, the first time. That bad experience has now been negated. So, here goes:
We entered the Bahamas on our first voyage in November 2011, at Rock Sound on Eleuthera Island, about 75 miles due east of Nassau. Rock Sound is an official port of entry, with both Customs and Immigration officials whose job includes checking pleasure vessels into the country. The Rock Sound office is difficult for first-timers to locate, as it is concealed from view from the water and even from their own dock. I regret having worked so hard to find them.
Bahamian officials like you to tie up your boat to their government dock when you first check in to the country. We discovered that for our 6'2" keel the Rock Sound dock shoals at low tide, but we couldn't reach it at high tide due to the supply boats using it. So it took us a while to even get to where we were supposed to be. That turned out to be the least of our problems.
The Rock Sound officials were unhappy that we wanted to check in with them, in the first place - despite having 6 people plus a supervisor in the office. They were frustrated that they had to complete our entry paperwork, yet when I produced 5 pages of official forms I had already downloaded and completed (properly), they got even more unhappy that I had done it myself. They asked what our last port was, and when I told them "Palm Beach, Florida," they replied "We don't believe you." They became angry because our boat was registered in Seattle, a city unknown to them; and they had a large problem with how our original boat's registration looked. They got sore because we owned our boat and had no lien holder (I guess most boats they encounter, are mortgaged. Not ours.) Finally, the Customs supervisor was called in to take me to task - for all of the above, and for being in their office instead of having My Husband The Man Of The Boat do the paperwork.
I put on my Stupid Face and listened to this dogpile for an hour and a half. Upshot: I paid the $300 check-in fee in cash. In exchange, I got the usual paperwork: a receipt for my payment; the 12-month Temporary Import Permit for The Fox (a half-page form), plus the 90-day fishing license (another half-page form). But there was more:
I got the absolute statutory minimimum time allowed for our personal visas - 30 days. Other Bahamas cruisers tell us they routinely get 90-day or 180-day visas at the other Bahamian ports of entry. So yeah, we got hosed by The Man in Rock Sound in November 2011. In 7 years and 9 countries of cruising, it is by far the most confrontational experience I've ever had in checking in to a country. Cruisers? Never, ever use Rock Sound as a port of entry.
That said, everybody else on shore was terrific - friendly, helpful and welcoming. However, my experience with the officials was so unpleasant and arbitrary, we didn't go ashore and spend tourist dollars like we tend to do. We got out of Rock Sound on the next outgoing tide.
Let's compare that experience to my check-in experience of 2014. We arrived at Governor's Harbour on Eleuthera Island, a mere 26 miles north of Rock Sound. The government dock at Governor's is deep and wide - no problems with access. The town itself is very picturesque and worth a visit. Customs believed me when I told them we'd come directly from Palm Beach, Florida. They were not put out by having me fill out their forms. They saw no need to question my ownership of the boat nor its registration. Immigration automatically authorized our visas for 90 days. In short, the Governor's Harbour officials were professional, courteous, and competent. So if you make it to Eleuthera Island, and I encourage you to do so because it is a terrificplace to be, stop first at the Governor's Harbour Customs office in the yellow building above the government dock; and make your next stop the Immigration office on the top floor of the white building next door. They'll take good care of you.