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.


  1. Mr. Joaquín!!!
    This is Francisco from Dinner Key (Mainship)
    Just a quick note to let you know that I continue to follow ALL your posts and as always, they are fantastic!!!!!!
    Question - no way to reach your destination via the South of DR?
    My best to all the family!

    1. Pepacho, thanks for following. Yeah, you can take the Windward Passage between Haiti and Cuba, and Marie and I gave it some thought. We decided against it because if we had any equipment failure we would be between a "rock and hard spot" (Haiti and Cuba)

  2. Good grief!!! But in the end is worth it.
    Where are you planning to spend hurricane season?

    1. Calypso Cat, it is worth it. We are just rough weather shame. The destinations are fantastic. It is hard for us with the kids and only 2 adults. That makes for 4 hour shifts and you can't rest much, so we end up a little beat up. But once we get to a place, oh man!