1 – 8 March 2014: Samana, Dominican Rep to Boquerón, Puerto Rico - 18 01N 67 10W
Another Cold Front So We Get To Move
We waited in Luperon on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic for the next front to come off the USA mainland and suck up all the trade winds and leave us in peace! The winds and seas eased so we left at first light and pushed on due east along the northern shores.
Conditions were perfect for motoring, it’s a tough coastline to sail, with few safe anchorages, so we were happy to burn some jungle juice in flat water rather than bash to windward impersonating a submarine!
The scenery was spectacular, lush green jungle edged tiny coves with golden sands, the currently tame North Atlantic lapping at the shores. In other bays huge pieces of rock had broken off and lay scattered like marbles, no doubt the work of the same North Atlantic, but when it was in its full fury.
Ticking Off The Miles
Since leaving Black Point in the Exumas Chain of the Bahamas we have done 5 consecutive daysails of around 50 miles, and this was now our 3rd overnighter of around 140 miles. All the time we have been nibbling away, south and east, slowly getting closer to the Caribbean.
At dusk the wind filled in enough for us to sail through the night, each time we rounded a headland we would hug the coastline, keeping out of the contra current. The arrival of dawn saw the skies laden with heavy clouds, bans of squalls ensured a clean boat, what little wind we had was sucked away and we motored the last couple of hours into Samana on the northeast end of the Dominican Republic.
This time of year Samana sees thousands of tourists, all coming to whale watch. We had rather hoped to do some whale watching of our own whilst in the bay but we didn’t spot or smell even one. I did see one spout, way in the distance and that was that. We had been visited on our trip from the Turks and Caicos to Luperon during the night by a couple of huge beauties, gliding along each side of Balvenie, maybe they had been on their way to Samana!
So Different to Luperon
Downtown Samana was just so different to what we expected. Although tourists join whale watching tours from here, very few actually stay in town and prefer to stay at one of the beaches on the other side of the peninsular.
This colourful row of quaint terraced wooden buildings opposite the waterfront looked very cute. On closer inspection we discovered they were fairly new and over half of them were empty, the others housed a handful of upmarket tourist shops and galleries. I later read that Cruise Ships sometimes anchor off a nearby private island and 2000 sun loungers choke the beach.
Maybe this commercial development was planned for those that prefer a land and shopping excursion, but the Cruise Ships are few and far between, and there didn’t look to be much trade in between.
We stretched our legs and covered downtown Samana in about half an hour, found a little local spot that had the tiniest espresso machine ever and checked the weather again. The light winds would last another 36 hours and that was more than we needed to cross the Mona Passage to the west coast of Puerto Rico.
The Mona Passage has a fierce reputation for being a body of very turbulent water, just above it in the Atlantic there is a trench with the 2nd deepest body of water in the world, in the Mona Passage there are shoals to 20 metres, the Atlantic sets south into it and the Caribbean escapes north, all in all it can get very very messy.
Conditions were dead calm at 1pm when we got back to Balvenie, no sea breeze even, we were happy to motor to get the miles done. At 2pm we weighed anchor, still in glassy seas, 10 minutes later the sea breeze kicked right in with over 20 knots on the nose, flip. We motored out of the harbour and decided to let the sea breeze blow itself out, we took shelter at the nearby Cruise Ship island, Cayo Levantado.
Just on dark we set off again in calmer conditions and sailed a while till the breeze dropped out then motored off into the night. At dawn a gentle north easterly filled in and for the first time in what felt forever, we sailed with the wind on the beam …. magic.
Mishaps in Mayaguez
We sailed all day and covered the 143 miles in 23 hours, anchoring in the port town of Mayaguez before dark. We had crossed the Mona Passage without incident and we were in Puerto Rico, yet another country. Next morning we dinghied ashore to check in. We met a couple at the dinghy dock who suggested we were better going to the other dock about a mile away as it was much closer to Customs, so off we went. When we got there we were re-directed back to the dock we had just come from and another Customs building which processed private yacht arrivals - not off to a good start and the day just got worse.
Next up was the supermarket which was close to the dinghy dock. Always keen to stock up on heavy items if we don’t have to carry them we loaded up 2 trolleys, paid and headed for the carpark exit – intending to take the trollies across the road then bring them back. NO – there was some sort of scanner at the car park exit and a lock came down over the trolley wheels, they weren’t going anywhere!! And so began Marks trips backwards and forwards with the groceries to the dinghy dock while I guarded the remains in the trolleys. There were a couple of homeless men asleep on the beach near the dinghy dock, we imagined them waking to find bags of beer, rum, coke and a fine selection of food nearby – thinking all their Christmases had come at once!!
It was a wet ride back to Balvenie, the sea breeze had kicked in and a nasty little chop was coming across the bay.
Back onboard I loosely attached Dougie the dinghy while we unloaded bag after bag of groceries. Then we took out the fuel tank for the outboard (which we do to reduce the weight of the dinghy hanging on the davits when we lift it.) At this point we normally either lift the dinghy or tie it on properly – that is what we normally do!!! But today we moved the bags into the cockpit, then down below, there were lots of bags and this takes time.
All the time in the world for Dougies makeshift knot to come undone in the choppy seas and for him to float off with a good breeze pushing him on his way. There was only one other yacht in the anchorage and they were ashore so couldn’t help, Dougie was heading for a shallow band of reef so we couldn’t take Balvenie to retrieve him, the only other option was to swim out then row back as there was no fuel tank onboard now!! To make matters worse though, we had one of our oars stolen over summer and our new oars don’t lock in so its really a two person job to paddle. So it was clothes off, snorkels and flippers on, and in we both jumped – every second saw him drifting further away.
Well it took us nearly an hour to get back, we paddled him, then tried one swimming and towing him while the other pushed, then paddled again. The winds eased a few times and we made headway but then it would fire up to full force and we would barely hold our ground in the choppy waters. It was with immense relief we tied back up to Balvenie and reflected on what we had done and what we could have done differently. We don’t think it was a smart move to both jump overboard but we don’t know how else we could have got him back.
We lifted anchor shortly after, I must have checked the charts through the shallows south about 10 times before we left, we didn’t need the events of the day to deteriorate any further.
Meeting Old Friends and New
When we dropped anchor in Boquerón late afternoon we were greeted by hearty waves from the crew of Australian yacht Feijao. Next day the Australian invasion continued with Jim and Carola off Koza arriving, last seen in the Exumas and they have since been to Cuba and Haiti. Then Taipan arrived, well we last saw David and Kris in Malaysia in 2007, they took the southern route and this year have sailed across from South Africa.
Party Time in Puerto Rico