A Preliminary Cruising Guide to Guyana
Part One: Guyana Basics
by Jack Cooley
This is titled a "preliminary cruising guide" because I believe it is the first attempt at a cruising guide to Guyana. It is based on a single sailing trip aboard S/V Mystic Adventure, from Trinidad to Guyana and return, in a flotilla with three other sailboats (Mood Indigo, Wind Rose, and Janus). We spent most of the month of March 2004 anchored off the Baganara Resort, on the Essequibo River, some 35 nautical miles upriver from the Atlantic, and about three miles upstream from the town of Bartica. The river is between one and two miles wide at this point.
It is my sincere hope that someone will carry this project forward by adding additional information and detail.
Although all of the information that follows is believed to be accurate, no warranty is made, expressed or implied. There may be errors and omissions, so undue credence should not be placed in this guide. This guide should be used with navigational charts, navigational aids, vigilant eyeballs AND LOTS OF COMMON SENSE.
Cruisers, bored with sitting out the hurricane season in Trinidad, often look for additional areas to cruise that are out of "the hurricane belt". Popular destinations include Grenada, Tobago, the delta rivers of the Orinoco and other nearby rivers, the north coast of Venezuela and the Venezuelan offshore islands.
I believe that Guyana can be added to this list of hurricane-season cruising "favorites". In time, it could develop a recreational boating infrastructure similar to Trinidad. There are canvas shops, welders, mechanics, etcetera, and though early "explorers" to Guyana may need some patience and persistence to find these services, labor rates are very reasonable.
From Trinidad, the sail to Guyana was not overly rigorous. For voyagers from South Africa to the Caribbean, Guyana could be a welcome respite - and in fresh water, too. Sailors crossing from Europe can make their Atlantic crossing shorter by leaving from the southwestern bulge of Africa, making their first landfall at Brazil's northeastern bulge, then stopping in Guyana on their way north.
Guyana is the only English-speaking country in South America; much of the dialect is similar to that of the Caribbean islands. Guyana lies between latitude 1° and 9° north, and longitude 57° and 61° west. In area, Guyana encompasses 83,000 square miles (roughly 480 miles long and 240 miles wide, and roughly the size and shape of Nebraska or Kansas). The country has four distinct geographical areas: the coastal belt, the forested region, the savannah zone, and the sandy zone. Over 80 percent of the land area is still forested, and only 2.5 percent is cultivated. The country's coastline lies 1 to 1.5 meters below sea level at high tide, necessitating elaborate systems of drainage canals. The main rivers are the Essequibo, Demerara, and Berbice.
Agriculture accounts for half of the nation's gross domestic product, with sugar and rice for export, extensive timber operations and a range of other products including coffee, fish, shrimp, fruit and rum.
The climate is tropical: hot and humid, but moderated by northeast tradewinds. The mean annual temperature is 27.5°C, ranging from 20 to 34°C in the coastal areas to 18 to 40°C in the interior. The rainy seasons are November through January, and May through June. The dry seasons are July through October, and February through April. When we were there, in March 2004, the nighttime temperature was very pleasant, and there was an occasional shower at night. Daytime temperatures were comfortable on cloudy days, and quite warm, but not unbearable, on sunny days. A northeast wind of 10 to 20 mph usually prevailed in the afternoon, providing welcome cooling. An afternoon shower, lasting 20 to 30 minutes, usually materialized between 2 and 4 PM.
The Essequibo River is the largest river between the Amazon and the Orinoco rivers, and the longest in Guyana. It originates in the southern tip of the country, with its headwaters in the Acarai Mountains on the Brazilian border. It flows north for about 630 miles (1,000 km) to empty into the Atlantic Ocean 13 miles (21 km) from Georgetown, the capital. Its estuary, 20 miles (32 km) wide, is obstructed by islands, silt and sandbars, but is navigable by small ocean vessels to Bartica, 30 to 35 nautical miles (80 km) inland.
Guyana has a population of about 750,000. Ninety percent of the population appears to live in the coastal zone, with another five percent along the rivers, and five percent in the interior. The interior has the feel of a "frontier".
Exercise the same safety precautions as you would in any city or unfamiliar environment. Most areas are safe on foot by day, or by taxi at night. Be on your guard when walking through crowds, and don't venture on foot into low-income neighborhoods. Don't wear expensive or flashy jewelry. Personally, I did not feel a security threat, whether I was in the city or in the country.
Insect annoyance was minimal in the areas we visited in March; however conditions may be entirely different during the rainy season. I also understood that mosquitoes were rampant in the mining camps. The tourist information indicates there is a risk of malaria in certain parts of the Guyanese interior. As a precaution, we started a preventative course of anti-malaria tablets (Lariam 250 mg), a week before arriving in Guyana, and continued with weekly tablets for a week after departing. Consult your doctor for additional information. Georgetown and coastal areas are reported to be malaria-free. Visitors should drink bottled water, which is widely available. Hospitals are available in Georgetown.
Shopping hours are generally 8:30AM to 4PM (closing at 5PM Friday, noon Saturday); market hours most days are 8AM to 4PM, Wednesday 9AM to noon, Sunday 8 AM to 10AM). In Bartica many shops were closed from noon to 3PM.
The time zone is the same as Trinidad (add 1 hour to EST, and subtract 4 hours from GMT).
I did not see any ATM's in Guyana, however cambios (exchange bureaus) are readily available. I also understand you can use your credit card at the bank to get a cash advance. We took US dollars with us, and found them easy to exchange to Guyanese dollars. The exchange rate was roughly $1 US = $200 G. Keep your cambio receipts, as you may need them to change your money out of Guyanese dollars when leaving.
Guyana's telephone country code is 592, followed by a seven-digit number. Direct dialing is available from Guyana to any country in the world (USA direct 165, Canada direct 161, UK direct 169). Local phone cards are available at reasonable rates. Internet cafés are widely available at reasonable rates. We found that our Pocketmail (e-mail device) would not work on the Guyanese phone system.
Trinidad & Tobago Coast Guard ("North Coast Radio") monitors VHF Channel 16
The Guyana Coast Guard monitors VHF Channel 16
The Georgetown (Guyana) Light House monitors HF 8281.2
Guyana has had very little experience with recreational sailors. Their entry system for yachts is based on that for commercial ships - awkward, lengthy, cumbersome, and expensive. However the government is committed to correcting these things. In our case Christopher (Kit) Nascimento, Managing Director of Public Communications Consultants Ltd, Georgetown, Guyana ( 226-0240; [email protected]), negotiated simplified entry procedures at a reasonable cost. Kit has offered to extend his assistance to other cruising sailors, until such time as the government officially implements simplified entry procedures at a reasonable cost.
Our flotilla coordinated our entry into Guyana with Kit on a real time basis. As a result we anchored at Two Brothers (near Parika Stelling) and dinghied ashore to the Two Brothers dock. Kit met us on the dock, and was accompanied by the Customs and Immigration officers. Our entry/exit fee was US$16, and the formalities were accomplished in short order. Of course we needed to present our passports and ships' papers to the Customs and Immigration officers.
Kit also arranged for a local guide, familiar with the river, to accompany us from Parika, upstream to Baganara. Kit has offered to extend this opportunity to future cruisers, at a reasonable cost, and I heartily endorse this recommendation, at least for the foreseeable future. Although numerous waypoints for this segment of the trip will be given in Part Two of this article in next month's Compass, you'll feel much more comfortable if accompanied by a local who has intimate knowledge of the river and its shifting sand bars.
Kit also indicated that cruisers could rent a local cell phone at a reasonable rate.
Nautical charts we used included:
o Imray Chart B, Lesser Antilles, Martinique to Trinidad
o Admiralty Chart 517, Trinidad to Cayenne (well south of Guyana)
o Admiralty Chart 527, Approaches to Demerara & Essequibo Rivers
o Admiralty Chart 533, Mouth of Essequibo River, Guyana
o Admiralty Chart 2782, Essequibo River, Mouth and 20 miles inland
o Admiralty Chart 2783, Essequibo River (Mamarikuru Is. to Bartica)
It would also be nice to have Admiralty Chart 483, Trinidad & Venezuela, Gulf Of Paria (including the Columbus Channel and Serpent's Mouth, south coast of Trinidad)
NOTE: The above charts are undoubtedly available from Bluewater Books, 1481 S.E. 17th St, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33316, USA, tel (954) 763-6533, www.bluewaterweb.com. In Trinidad, Imray Charts are available at Budget Marine, Chaguaramas; Admiralty Charts are available at Marine Consultants, 43 Charles St., Port of Spain, tel (868) 625-1309.
Useful land touring maps are published by the Survey Division, Guyana Lands Department, Ministry of Agriculture, Georgetown, Guyana. I suggest:
o Seacoast of Guyana (& 70 miles inland)
o Tourist Routes Map of Guyana ([email protected])
Next month: Part Two, Navigation
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