Published Articles

Up the Essequibo was published in the January 2010 edition of Caribbean Compass. To see the original article and photos follow the link or copy into your browser window.

Up the Essequibo
I became aware of a voice shouting 'Troutbridge, hello Troutbridge'. I became more awake and thought that it must be the Guyanese Coastguard hailing , as we were anchored off Roeden Rust, flying the Yellow flag, having arrived from Charlotteville (Tobago) the previous afternoon, the 2nd October 2009. Venturing on deck, I found the cheerful face of Kit Nascimento grinning up from his speedboat. 'We're on our way up to our place at Hurakabra, give me a call when you are 15 minutes out of Bartica and I'll arrange for Customs and Immigration to come out to you'.
The planning for this trip had started during the winter of 2008, before I retired and left Guernsey in Troutbridge, my Broadblue 385 retirement home. I'd purchased Doyles guide to Trinidad, Tobago, Barbados and Guyana and started wondering if there was an alternative to four and a half months in Trinidad. It appeared that there might be. So, here I was with an Australian couple (Pam & Jim) whose boat was on the hard in Trinidad, not to mention crewmate Cadey aka 'Sammie the Seal' , and another boat, Moonshiner, waiting for the tide to continue up the Essequibo river to Bartica where Customs & Immigration awaited us.
Despite a slightly negative write up in Doyles about the trip down to Guyana, the two boats had taken a pleasant four days to get to Tobago, stopping off in Scotland Bay, La Vache Bay and Grande Riviere before crossing to Charlotteville. A week disappeared in swimming, walks and a few repairs, then we set off for Guyana, completing the trip to Roeden Rust in 3 days and six hours. We were able to sail during the hours of darkness and motor sail during daylight, it seemed as though the wind veered as the Sun came up and backed as it set. The sea was slight all the way down with only the occasional 'bounce' to disturb things. The much talked-about North Westerly current put in an occasional appearance, but never seemed to be more than a knot or so against us, all in all quite a pleasant trip. Maybe we were just lucky.
For those who just love the mad social whirl of Chagauramas, you'll hate Guyana. I mean, I think I was the fourth boat this year to go up the Essequibo this year, the anchorages were uncrowded if not actually deserted) and there wasn't a pot-luck, jump up or dominoes afternoon to be seen!
The waypoints shown in Doyle's guide are more than adequate to enter the Essequibo and continue up to Bartica, however on my electronic chart system (Navionics) and on Moonshiner's system the boats were sometimes shown as being onshore and the track between some waypoints were shown as crossing the land. Working on the principle that it would be sensible to 'stick to the wet stuff' a certain amount of interpretation was required, but anybody with an ounce of common sense should be able to stay out of trouble. Troutbridge has a salt- water draught of about 1.2 metres and had no trouble, Moonshiner with a salt-water draught of 2.3 metres touched the bottom a couple of times taking the flood up to Bartica, but no harm was done. It's worth noting that there are virtually no buoys in the Essequibo river, a local source of information telling us that there was no money in the kitty to maintain them and there weren't many visiting ships or boats to warrant making any provision to maintain those that were still in place.
Approaching Bartica, I called Kit (592 455 3200) and he was as good as his word, sending Dominic (Dom), the manager of his resort to meet us in Bartica.. Dom waited until we were safely anchored and then ferried the officials out to us. They were both very pleasant and the fee was US$12.50. Everybody was given one month in country, but I suspected that we could have had longer if we'd asked for it. This took place on a Saturday afternoon, about 1700 and there was no extra charge for working those hours or for coming out to the boat. The Immigration department is located in the police station at Bartica and the immigration officer will walk you round to customs. The fee for checking out is also US$12.50 and I'm pretty certain this is the only place I've visited where the officers shake hands and hoped that you've had a pleasant stay!
Sunday, we visited Hurakabra resort for lunch and a chat with Kit. The standard charge at resorts on the river seems to be US$15 per head for either lunch or dinner and there was a reasonable charge for Dom to pick us up and take us back to Bartica in the speedboat. In any case, Kit had been very helpful in his emails and had made no charge for sending Dom to assist with officialdom, so we felt the least we could do was to patronise his resort. Other boats might have to pay for this service or Kit may continue to send Dom to help with clearing in, either way he and Gem (his charming wife) are running a business.
Whilst at anchor off Bartica (incidentally, I suggest you anchor a little further off the town than shown in Doyles, to remain clear of the barge traffic), we were visited by the irrepressible Joyce Davis, the lady who owns 'Mood Indigo'. She and her late husband, David, built a house on the Essequibo a few years ago and Joyce seems to be happy for boats to anchor near Mood Indigo, but please remember that this is a private house, not a resort. She invited us to come to her place and drop anchor, which we did and invited her out to the boats for sundowners. The following evening she reciprocated, showing us around the grounds of her home. Whilst there, we encountered the third boat in the river, Erasmus a New Zealand boat and the following day came across the other boat, Orchid.
Gem will undertake organising tours for visiting boats and with hindsight it might have been better to have used her services. There appears to be no advertising regulations in Guyana and tour companies seem to be in the habit of offering tours at attractive rates then, when you book, these rates are not available. Fairly typical (actual) rates seem to be around US$250 for a return flight and guided tour at the Kaeieteur Falls and around US$600 for a five day/four night overland trip into the interior. Again, a word of caution, the people are very friendly and willing to please but don't expect the level of equipment/comfort that you would expect 'back home'. As a retired airline pilot I was content with the local airline we used to fly to the Falls, others who went on the overland tour were not so lucky and had a road accident. The driver had no first aid training and there was no first aid kit in the four- wheel drive. Medical help was a few hours drive away, so have a look over the vehicle first and consider taking your own first aid kit. That said, apparently the trip was very worth while. I would regard any river/road trip as an expedition rather than a tour and equip accordingly.
River transport is well organised on the Essequibo, a one-way trip from Bartica to Parika (the nearest porton the Essequibo to Georgetown, the capital) costing approximately US$10 per person. Although the boats appear fairly crude they are subject to regular government inspection and all passengers are required to wear flotation vests (supplied). The ride takes just over the hour and can be great fun if a little wet at times. The river itself is a chocolaty brown colour and when swimming visibility is close to zero. The current can run at up to three knots so a line off the back of the boat is highly recommended. There appear to be no 'nasties' in the river although in some places Piranha are present (but the locals claim are never a problem) as is the occasional Anaconda. The latter seem to stay in swamp areas and have never been known to be a problem to swimmers. The locals all drink bottled water, but my water-maker just loved the fresh water and delivered at least twice its rated flow rate. Nobody had any problems drinking the water maker product water during the nineteen days we were there.. We anchored off Baganara Resort for a couple of days. They were very welcoming although virtually closed during the week. Navigating up and down the river requires some care and judicious use of the ebb and flood, but most of the rocks seem to be accurately charted. Those with shallow-draught boats could have a lot of fun 'gunk-holing'.
To summarise, the trip down was easier than we were lead to believe, the trip back to Trinidad was an off-wind pleasure with at least one knot favourable current most of the time. It's worth noting that the current closer to the coast is much stronger than further off-shore. The difference in tracks down & up was about 10nm, but there was a marked difference in the strength of current. The return trip took two and a half days. The Guyanese are a friendly people and although there is some crime on the river, we never felt threatened. Bartica has a 'frontier town' feel to it, but again feels safe, certainly in the early evening. Maybe staggering around at 3 am wouldn't be a great idea, but that's true of a lot of places. We were warned that Georgetown wasn't safe at night, indeed a group walking back from a restaurant to the hotel were told by a local lady that it would be better to hail a taxi, but nobody had a bad experience.. Organised tours are not particularly cheap and the local produce, whilst reasonable quality, is not cheap either. Petrol (gas, for the Cousins) is around US$1 per litre. Diesel prices I'm not sure of, but it is available for visiting yachts. There are local mechanics willing to work on boats. They are able to improvise, but if spare parts are not available 'in country' it may take up to 10 days to import them. Kit was willing to help with this process and may or may not charge for this.
Guyana, a beautiful, fascinating country, well worth making the effort to visit. Anybody used to one day inter-island passages followed by tying up in a marina may feel a little daunted by the prospect of the trip, but the reality (at least on this trip) was that with a little care, planning and provisioning the trip can be uneventful. I would definitely recommend going across to Tobago and spending some time there before heading south.
I trained and was in practice for three years as a clinical hypnotherapist. This link will take you to a case history I published (with the patients permission) in a trade publication.