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Fort Montagu, where John Wells introduced us to Commander Tellis Bethel.


From the previous post, one can see that we’ve a water maker issue.  It has to be replaced.

Our boat came with a 40 gph water maker.  For those reading this that may not be in the know, a water maker takes salty sea or unpotable water and forces it under high pressure through a membrane and, through the process of reverse osmosis (RO), produces pure drinkable water.  The membrane filters everything out of the undrinkable supply except water molecules…dirt, sand, bacteria, minerals, everything.  The technology has been around a long time to do this.

On a boat that is cruising, there are only a few ways to obtain pure potable drinking water.  One can carry it on board, of course there is a limit to how much they can take…in our case, 80 gallons.  A boat can also catch rain water, an iffy proposition depending on if it rains or doesn’t.  One can buy it at a port of call.  Or, one can make it themselves on board with an RO water maker.  As the body can’t live without it, pure drinkable water is a way big thing with cruisers.

Many cruisers have water makers on their boat; many don’t.  Some are quite content to carry an exceedingly small amount of water on board with them.  Others have fairly large water tanks on board.  Conserving water while on board is always a big thing, water maker or not.  But, having a water maker on board greatly increases one’s comfort.  Showers, for instance…not really an option for a boat that only carries 80 gallons of water and has to pay to refill the tank each time they run out. 

Many pride themselves in how little pure water they use, and their minimalist approach is admirable.  But, once one goes down the minimalist rabbit hole, all sorts of other things could also be eliminated…like an auxiliary engine, navigation by sextant instead of by chartplotter, auto helms, etc. none of which are absolutely necessary to sail or cruise.  Where does one draw the line?  For us, we want a water maker.  And, the long and short of it is the water maker that was on our boat was antiquated and unusable without essentially rebuilding it from scratch.  In North Bimini, when ours petered out, we chose to keep whatever salvageable part we could as spares, and spring for a brand new unit.  We chose a Technautics unit from the same vendor we used when we replaced our refrigeration.

In Bimini, we called the company and purchased the unit.  We arranged for it to be shipped to the marina we had reservations for in Nassau, Harbor Central Marina.  It was shipped out within a day or so from California; our tracking number indicated it would be delivered in the Bahamas at the marina this past Monday, day before yesterday, December 19th.

Now, something the average person in the States seldom ever, often never, has to deal with is custom duties.  If one goes out of the country on vacation and upon coming back they bring too much of what is allowed, they might have to pay a duty on the gifts and souvenirs.  And, in the States, the limit of what one can bring into the country from another is not all that high – a couple of hundred dollars or so – before US Customs will charge them a duty.  And, the same applies when entering a foreign country from the US…immigration/customs will ask if you have anything to declare?  If it’s more than what that country allows you either pay the duty or forfeit the goods.  It’s generally a pretty straight forward proposition.  But, being on a boat can be another story.

Over the weekend, our tracking number for the water maker indicated the unit was in Nassau and indeed would be delivered to the marina last Monday.  Early Monday afternoon, we received a phone call from DHL, the shipper who handled getting the unit from California to Nassau.  They politely told us the water making unit was in their facility here in Nassau and they would gladly deliver it to the marina…after we paid a $2,000 duty!

Yikes!  We weren’t expecting that, for sure.  And, here’s why.

In some countries a foreign flagged vessel can import replacement parts for their vessel and no duty is charged…the Bahamas is one of those countries.  There are only two conditions to be met in order to be declared exempt from the Bahamas’ import duty.  One, the vessel must have entered Bahamian water legally and have a valid cruising permit.  And, the other is that the boat must be in transit to another country.  We satisfied both of those requirements.  And, though not really a requirement, it is suggested, though not required, that a copy of one’s cruising permit be in the shipment, as well as the packages labeled “Repair Parts for Boat In Transit.”

Well, needless to say, we pushed back.  We informed the DHL shipper of the Bahamian law that applied and politely, though firmly, indicated we had no intention whatsoever of paying the $2,000 duty.  The DHL agent requested we email him a copy of our cruising permit and he’d “check into it.”  He’d let us know his disposition the next day.

The DHL agent’s response and actions didn’t quite do it for us; we weren’t comforted at all.  As is often the case with cruisers, we turned to the internet for assistance.  I put out posts on three Facebook groups I belong to explaining the situation and requested information and help regarding our situation.  Comments started to pour in almost immediately.  All were appreciated but most of the comments simply boiled down to “they can’t do that.”  But, one post stood out.  From the Seven Seas Cruising Association FB page came the following post:

“Call John Wells, 242-465-3243, Tell him Capt. Gil said to call. He will probably charge you a few hundred bucks to act as your ships agent but it’s better than a couple grand.  I just spoke to him, he’ll take you to pick it up.”

Enter Bahama John…

Around 0900 on Tuesday, we called John Wells.  Without hesitation, and with no additional information, he said he’d pick us up at the marina at 1000 hours.  He showed up exactly on time and he and my husband left.  Less than two hours later he and Chuck returned with our new water maker.  We paid no duty.  We did, however, have to pay a $400 Value Added Tax (VAT).  We were told we could even have the VAT waived if we kicked and screamed long enough.  But, considering there was no US Tax on the purchase, we decided to leave well enough alone; we paid the VAT, obtained a customs receipt, grabbed our water maker, and returned to the boat.  John charged us $90 for the hour and a half of his time and him furnishing the transportation.  John told us, “The shippers are always trying to pull something like that.”  We called the day a success.  Our $5,100 water maker ended up costing $5,600, instead of $7,600. 


Commander Tellis Bethel


John (Bahama John) Wells, whose name and phone number I have permission to give out, was in every good and great sense of the word, a character.  A real gentleman who seemingly knew everybody on Providence Island (Nassau).  Later in the day, we arranged for him to give us a two hour tour of the area in his minivan.  He was a wealth of information.  There wasn’t a person we ran into that didn’t know who he was, including Tellis Bethel, the Commander of the entire, albeit small, Royal Bahamas Defence Force.  Commander Bethel, whom we met, was exceedingly polite and friendly as well, taking the time to give us a printed poster of the Bahamas from his car and explaining to us his efforts to have the water around the Bahamas, Turks, and Caicos renamed the Lucayan Sea, in honor of the indigenous people who first settled the area in 600 AD.  There was no doubt that Commander Bethel and John were very good friends, first name basis and all.  We were told that though the Defence Force was quite cordial and friendly to cruisers, should they board our boat and we were not treated with dignity and respect, we should not hesitate to call the Commander.  We won’t.

Meanwhile, Chuck and Chris are installing the water maker.  Weather doesn’t look particularly promising after tomorrow, so we might be here through the weekend and Christmas.  Our friends, Justin Smith and his girlfriend, Sher are on their way to Nassau from Hoffman Cay, in the Berry Islands.  Expecting them in this afternoon.  It’s Sher’s birthday and they asked us to go over to Paradise Island for a couple of hours of gambling at the Atlantis Casino.  I can’t wait.



  1. Really great post. Thank you. Very much.

  2. Happy New Year!

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