So the Swiss gave the rally and its organisers the thumbs up. Not even mentioning that they had had a small run-in with a drifting sand barge in Paramaribo at 3am in the morning!
Not everyone was so forgiving, but the crew of Quicksilver did a fine job of putting things in perspective:
Here is what they had to say (or link to their blog here):
We were due at the Hurakabra River Resort for our first official welcome on September 11th, and eight of the expected ten boats were in place. A very warm welcome was extended by the Tourist Authority, hosted by Kit and Gem at Hurakabra with television and radio coverage, and over the week we were there we were given river tours, walks and a beach party. Family members of one of the rally participants were even included in the welcomes. There had been a lot of effort put into our visit to Guyana and although there may have been one or two hitches, David did his best to smooth things out. On days where no activities were planned boats went to Bartica and Baganara to see what else was available on the river and finally on the 17th September we departed Hurakabra as a group and headed down river on the tide to Roden Rust where we spent the last night on the Essequibo and the morning of the 18th we left for Suriname.
On the 20th September we arrived at Paramaribo to anchor opposite the Torarica Hotel, keeping clear of the marked area which fronts the presidential accommodation (clearly marked on up to date charts). We were visited by the local Maritime Authority (M.A.S.), very courteous and friendly men who spoke excellent English, and came aboard for a cold drink while sorting paperwork. We asked if they saw many yachts and they commented that although most visiting yachts go onto Domburg, Paramaribo is an anchorage, they never once said we should move up river. We explained that we wanted to explore the town and take advantage of the tours offered and not be an hours drive, out in the sticks. This they understood and said we were OK where we were. Unfortunately the Torarica Hotel had second thoughts about our use of their landing dock, as they were in bad repair and they feared litigation as a result of any accident. Eventually the cruisers negotiated reasonable rate for the use of the hotel pool, while David and the Mets Travel representative tried to sort out passports and check in, which was not as smooth as envisioned though polite. The check in system is not really geared for cruisers as yet, in fact the only people interested in our visit were the tour operators, this will no doubt change if and when the media becomes involved, but all transport was laid on and the whole thing was made as smooth as possible.
Early in the morning of the 22nd September a crane barge drifted into one of the boats at anchor moving on to slide along a second boat, whoever was on board the barge waking up at this point put on his engines and moved away fast. As no sound alarms were made, fog horn or even DSC radio, we slept through all this and were unable to offer help in identifying the runaway barge which would have been easily followed by dinghy. We awoke to an understandably upset crew, unfortunately the first boat hit had two children on board and with the frustration we all know when trying to deal with officialdom and a rising awareness that this barge would never be identified, there are a lot of them on the Suriname river, tempers flared. The upshot being that the first boat hit and and one other moved up the river to Waterland to decide if they wished to continue with the rally or return to Trinidad. David did offer them alternatives and we offered to do any repair on the hull they needed. The rest of the boats, including the other casualty elected to stay in Paramaribo.
Unfortunate as this incident is, it only merits comment here as David, the organiser of the rally, has been falsely accused of failing to provide a safe anchorage. The area chosen was out of the shipping lane and nearest to the proposed landing site. As we are aware, it is up to each Skipper to read the chart and chose his own site, under maritime law it is the sole responsibility of the skipper of any craft to ensure the safety of his crew and vessel, this includes ensuring the vessel is properly equipped and insured, if an anchor watch is deemed necessary again it is the skippers responsibility.
30th September and David with Mets travel organise the transport to take crews to check out and five boats are leaving Suriname for Saint Laurent du Maroni, two boats left early, one missing the blue waters and one working with the rally to facilitate our welcome in St Laurent and one boat had move up to Waterland so they could be on a dock while they replaced their water pump. We enter the river Maroni on the 1st October and set anchor until all the boats arrive and we can proceed up to St Laurent and our official welcome on Friday 3rd October, and a fabulous welcome it was. St Laurent is working to make this marina happen and the first stage was to switch on the Wi-Fi, we all know how important that is! Once again we were wined and dined, a river trip organised and transport laid on so we could go to the out of town laundry and supermarket. There was even a new event at the request of an Amerindian village, laid on at the last minute. All boats and crews didn’t make it but I am glad to say we did.
The rally at 200 euro a boat was exceptionally good value and we enjoyed it immensely, every assistance was offered and David and the organisers worked very hard at making it a success, and we would recommend it to anyone looking for a new experience. However, anyone thinking of joining a future rally, you are leaving the blue waters of the Caribbean, this is probably not suited to anyone new to sailing, it is up to you to check your insurance covers you for the extra miles involved and remember that you and you alone are responsible for the safety of your vessel and crew.