Monday, June 23, 2014

Swimming with piranas

We have thoroughly enjoyed the time that we have spent in the Dominican Republic. We loved the people, a friendlier culture is hard to find.  So, it would be fair to assume that Punta Cana would only be a variation on the last 2 months or so, right? Guess again, Punta Cana has been more like staying in Dracula's castle with vampires all around just waiting for you to drop your guard, and then suck the blood out of you. Punta Cana is not the Dominican Republic. 
The place itself is the product bulldozers, cement, and landscaping. All of the vernacular character is sucked out, and replaced by the imagery of pompous wealth. The Americans that come here are somewhat affluent, but have only 5, maybe 7 days to relax after having worked all year. The underlying urgency to enjoy a "vacation" precipitates their turning a blind eye to the price gouging. "It will all be over in less than a week, so just make the best of it now."  It's is like a feeding frenzy, and your money is whats on the menu. For example, when you rent a car the attendant will try to mark the fuel a bit higher than it really is. Then when you try to return it he'll mark it lower than it really is. Any complaints by you while they do this, simply get ignored. If you get angry enough they'll try to give you some spin, and still not correct the report. I think that they siphon the fuel for their own use or profit, and the company's none the wiser. What's 20 bucks to a rich American?
At the gas stations they pump about a gallon or two of fuel out, and have the nozzle off the pump waiting for "Sucker Joe" to pull up. You do not pump your own fuel here. They'll try to stand between the pump, and the driver. They are quick about concealing the meter, and have the nozzle in place, in your car, and pump a little fuel out before you tell them how much fuel you want.
The restaurants know that you'll never come here again, at least not in the near future. They know that you'll pay the bill placed in front of you regardless of the food you were served. Heck, even the government joins in, and tacks on a 28% tax cause you're just a dumb rich American. Oh, add a tip to that! Let touch on the quality of the food, which is probably what inspired me to write this article. Cooking is my hobby. I have enjoyed culinary delights from New Orleans to the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. Not often, I not bragging, but I've had a little exposure. The only resemblance to a quality meal was the price. In Punta Cana I have had a worst grouper than I thought was possible. It was microwaved into a rubbery substance that required a sharp steak knife to cut through.
At the end of the day, what bothers me most is not the money, it is being persistently thought a fool by so many. It's like they have all attended a "Swindle the American" seminar.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Samana to Cap Cana

The Samana Peninsula has one of the world's most beautiful beaches according to Conde nast. I would hate to be the one making that sort of call, you will inevitably make more enemies than friends.

Eva at one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Playa Rincon, Samana DR.
The roads are really nice, and wind through the mountains, and small villages, and at perfect intervals, "Bam!", a spectacular view of mountain, valley, and ocean, all rolled together like a Twinkie. We planned our day-drives to be loops, returning to the marina at the end of each day. The area called Terrenas was very touristy although naturally beautiful. If you like getting a little-for-a-lot, this is your kinda place.
The beach at Las Terrenas.

Las Terrenas.

What happens when you have more money than sense? A boat building!
You can tell that you have city kids by how impressed they are when they see a cow. The closer the cows are to the fence, the more excited the kids got. A burro just takes it over the top!
The kids were amazed by the cows.
We were looking to have lunch at a town called "Las Galeras". Being the slow season, we didn't have a lot of options. Hadrian is the biggest challenge to feed. He hates all that is different, won't try it without multiple death threats from me. I don't always have the fight in me. A pizza restaurant set off all the bells whistles, so we pulled up. These guys were really from Italy, no second generation here. They didn't speak English or Spanish which made me wonder what would bring a person out to this remote area, so distanced from their paisanos. They must have killed someone in Italy? Just to thicken the plot, it was their first day open, no menus yet, but hey, you don't really need a menu for a pepperoni pizza. Well think again, what this guy knew as pepperoni was really red peppers. Even then it was no "New York" style pizza. The ingredients were sparse to say the least, we're talking famine. There was a randomly-placed smidgen of cheese, like it was caviar. Poor Hadrian couldn't make the correlation between the piece of "flat bread" that laid before him, and the picture of a pepperoni pizza embossed in his memory banks, so I ate the pita, it was fuel.
The "Resort and Marina Puerto Bahia" is the lap of luxury. Like many other places around the Caribbean, the economy really hit it hard. They are just holding on, waiting for better times to come, a common theme out here. There is something to be said about deep pockets, wish I had one.
Eva had a spa day.

I had a bar day.

This is a 2nd story infinity edge pool. The view blends right into the ocean.
One of the quirky perks that they offer is a one-way ride into town, getting back is your problem. Out here, you take what you can get, so off we were into town. We decided to have dinner at a Chinese restaurant figuring there has to be a common denominator. I must say that it was closer to what we are used to than the Italians were. We enjoyed walking the town until the sun went down, and began to contemplate how we would be getting home. The public transportation mode of choice were these small motorcycles with a trailer hitched to the back. They could seat 4. By the time we were ready to engage the motoconcho's they all seem to have gone home. We walked along briskly in search of one, and caught the last one still running. The marina, at about 3 miles away, is about the limit for these vehicles, and the guy was hesitant, but it would be a nice close on a hard day's work. I offered him 300 pesos, and he brightened right up. We all got in, and he started his little 100cc 2-stroke motor. The little bumble bee came to life with the roar of a model airplane. Now this is very hilly terrain, that motor had to pull the whole contraption up, and down the hills, not easy. The little motor screamed at full throttle as smoke from the oil laden fuel streamed from the exhaust-pipe. We had to move our heads around looking for a patch of clean air to inhale. Half of our jockey's game plan was based on momentum. If he could get it all going fast enough on the down hill side, well then he could make it up the other side. As I studied the physics of all that was going on, I was drawing on very probable unfavorable conclusions to this "wild toad ride". If we were to have to stop on an uphill, the ride would be over. The little motor would not have the power to get us moving uphill, but scarier yet was that I determined that while on the downhill run our driver would not have the ability to stop because the trailer had no brakes. Once on the downhill, he would be 100% committed...unless he jumped off, but where would that leave us? Well, it was time to pray, again. When we safely got back to the marina, they didn't allow the motoconcho in past the gate. The marina sent a car out to get us. They didn't want the motoconcho's on the property because they were too dangerous.
I have reworked the lip between the front hatch and the deck. It is now weather tight, even under pressure. We have a really nice weather window ahead of us. The run from Samana to Marina Cap Cana is about 90 miles. The only catch is that the wind will be on the nose if at all. It will take us about 24 hours to motor this leg of the trip. 
I found this at the deli counter, little smoked Peruvian fart, literally translated.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

"Eastward ho!" or "Why can't we get it right"

The water along the northern coast of the Dominican Republic is always rough. It goes from being 10,000 feet deep to 50 feet deep in less than a mile. The currents from the North Atlantic Ocean funnel through the area chaotically and it is inevitably, "what lays ahead". We have procrastinated departing Ocean World like champions. We have quibbled, and squirmed shamelessly. We are losing all credibility as sailors. Time never rests, and hurricane season approaches, so we need to get going. We don't want be sailing for days on end, so we're going to try to hop our way along, stopping to rest as much as possible. Our first jump will be from Ocean World Marina to Samana, 140 miles. This is the story of that leg, on our way through the eastern Caribbean.
Every passage starts with a hearty "Bobs red mill" legume stew. We can eat for 3 days on a single batch.

I watched the weather reports like a hawk, and not just one source. Oh no, I used three different sources. But, there was one particular source that had really good news. It was just what I wanted to hear. Wind blowing at 2 knots, gusting to 3. You can't even fly a kite in that much wind. We could motor all the way in nice calm seas. The other two reports didn't favor us a well, so we leaned towards the better weather report. In retrospect, it's kinda like going with the doctor that tells you "nothing's wrong", you know, the under-qualified one.

Getting out of Ocean World was a roller-coaster ride. The waves were huge and the wind howled. Mirador climbed up the waves, I could see nothing but sky. Once at the top, the bow would dive, I could see nothing but water, and she would plow into the next wave. The sea would wash over the deck as the bow of the ship emerged on the other side of the wave. This motion would stop all forward progress. The GPS would read "speed 0.0". Then we would get going again, and repeat this whole cycle over and over. This went on for about a mile, about two hours until we were in deeper water. Sea water was just cascading onto our mattresses through the front hatch.

Our plotted course would take us through 4 bays, and capes. The seas inside the bays were manageable. However, getting up and around each of the capes was torture. The tips of the capes were completely exposed to the open ocean, the currents, the wind, and it's waves. The weather was supposed to be calmer through the night, so we're doing this in the dead of night. Three am does not hold the appeal it once had, say when I was a clubbing teenager. A set routine is not a virtue for a sailor, it's a vise. Marie and I take turns at the wheel. I try to take as much of the burden off of her as I can. I'll take the wheel for 6 to 8 hours, and then have her drive for 4 hours. It is so unpleasant on rough nights that even this takes a big toll on her moral. She is at times mortified. I always have concerns, but I trust my ship, and fear doesn't rattle me as much, at least not at that level (could be lack of intelligence). The kids are really good sports about these passages. They take seasickness pills that must contain Quaalude, just judging from behavior. They lay around the nooks and crannies of the cockpit, all curled up like roly-polies. Poor Hadrian  was soaked out of sleep by a rogue wave. I thought for sure that he was going to give me hell, but he just looked up and surveyed his situation. He slowly gathered his things and made his way down the companionway hatch as I just sat there biting my lip. I was torn between laughing and feeling sorry for him, too bad it wasn't my brother Richie.
The nice calm anchorage at Rio San Juan.
After 12 hours of relentless motion, we decided to anchor at Rio San Juan, and rest a little before barreling on. I took Mirador into this beautiful cove with green hills all around us. It was about 7 in the morning. A few locals were fishing. Instead of using anchors they drop bags of rocks, and tie make-shift buoys (milk jugs) on, in about 200 feet of water. This is a big hazard for boats motoring by. At night these milk jugs are not visible, and they can foul your propeller in a New York minute. The buoys are scattered all over these bays, we got lucky. I laid the anchor in about 12 feet of water, 100 feet from the mouth of the river, and then went promptly to sleep. We arose at 4 pm for part 2 of our passage. Wind, and current completely determine our fate. At its worst our speed is 1 mile per hour, you can pinch a cow to death at that rate. At its best we clip along at almost 6 miles per hour. Not knowing the luck of the draw, we had plan "B" in our back pocket. We would lay-over at Escondido for the night if we were too slow, if not we could slip right in to Puerto Bahia Marina just before dusk.
Arriving at Escondido at noon.

We got to Escondido by noon the next day, that meant we had plenty of time to attempt the run to Puerto Bahia, and so we were off. The capes are always rough, Cabo Cabron was no exception. I hugged the coastline in the hopes that it would buffer the wild seas.
With plenty of daylight left, we decided to keep going. This is Cabo Cabron.
Finally we round Cabo Samana, and can raise our sails.
The mountainous landscape of the Dominican Republic is life changing beautiful. The lush vivid tropical fauna perched on this dynamic terrain with the brightest blue ocean as a backdrop makes me reflect on the years that I had spent inside an office cubical, and I thank the Almighty for planting in me an insatiable wanderlust. My fear of dying is nothing compared to my fear missing out on the splendors in this life, and so we travel.
As we rounded the Samana Peninsula the winds came around to our stern, no longer on our nose. Too tired to raise the main, we opened the Genoa instead. Mirador quickly stepped up to 6 knots. She was born to sail. We were now 12 miles from the marina, and it was 4 in the afternoon. We decided to call ahead, less the dock master close shop, and leave us out for the night. After a few attempts our satellite phone came through, and secured our place on the docks. As we entered, the dock hands were too slow to point out the slip that they wanted me in, and I overshot my mark. I had to turn the boat around and reset my approach. When something like this happens, everyone that is available comes out to watch, and admire your docking skills. Even my neighbors cat came out to give me all of his attention. Nobody can out-stare a cat. On the second try I got her in like a glove, and everyone went back to what they were doing, disappointed. The marina at Puerto Bahia was really well protected, and Mirador sat calmly in her slip.
Inside the boat was in shambles. All of our beds were wet with sea water. Marie and I took a few minutes to reflect on the last 36 hours. It is one thing to go for a 6 hour sail on Biscayne Bay, it is a whole different matter to do an offshore passage across the DR's hostile north coast. We unequivocally concluded that we do not like the passages, but we do love the destinations.