After consulting with my weather router it looked like we had a good “window” to leave Provo on October 22nd and head for the Dominican Republic. We arrived at Blue Haven Marina and found the boat just the way we left it – this is a good thing when you leave your boat for weeks at a time. We left at sun up and headed out to sea and were immediately chased down by a pack of wild dolphins. They were like a biker gang circling us on the freeway! Check out the video to see how scary they were up close. However that does usually mean good luck for a passage.
It was a long 75 nautical miles to Ambergris Cays. The Caicos Bank was scary because it was super shallow and the coral heads came up to the surface so we actually had to steer around them. We had our eyes peeled for 10 hours and steered around several coral heads that would have ripped our keels off it we hit them.
We arrived at Ambergris just before sunset (as usual) and anchored in 10 feet of water. We had read that the snorkeling on this island was some of the best but we had to wait until morning because we were losing daylight. The night turned into a party with a near full moon, Cuba libres, wine and a Cuban Cigar.
The next morning we had time to hang out at the anchorage because we were only moving 22 miles to Great Sand Cay. We had a big boat “tinker” list before we could snorkel:
- I had to go up the mast again to fix the camera that stopped working. After I messed with all the wires while Lennie looked at the display screen she realized that there was actually a Camera 1 / Camera 2 switch that was turned to a non-existent Camera 2 so the Camera was actually working.
- I had to caulk the hatch at the floor of the master stateroom that keeps leaking even after several attempts to stop it.
- I had to replace the bilge pump in the Port engine room because the automatic switch wasn’t working – and you definitely need that working or it will be too late when the engine room is full of sea water.
After finishing the tinker list we headed to the snorkel site. Don’t judge a book from its cover! From the surface it didn’t look like anything but rocks, but when we jumped in we realized these were massive rocks that had caves and fissures through them, sticking out of white sand, with so many big fish we felt like we were in an aquarium.
You have to Tend to your Tender
Around noon we headed for Great Sand Cay. We were able to put up the sails and turn off the engines for the first time since leaving Ft. Lauderdale. It was an awesome 3-hour sail! Great Sand Cay looks just like its name. There is a lot of history and Pirate treasure there and we were going to find it. We anchored close to it in 15 feet with big swells rolling in. The swells in the anchorage became breaking waves on the beach. We didn’t know how we were going to land our dingy. After finding one big spot we gunned it and jumped out at the last moment and raised the motor. Then we had to wait for the next wave to help us get it ashore. This is where age matters. Our new awesome dinghy weighs 400 pounds so although we got out and were ready to pull we couldn’t get it quite high enough on the beach to get it out of the waves. We headed over to the east side of the island to start our exploration. Within five minutes we climbed the hill to look over at the boat. I turned and looked down at the beach where we left the dingy and saw that a wave had picked it up and carried it back into the water and it was now sideways and being filled with water with each breaking wave. Forget the gold, that dingy was $14,000! We ran down the hill and got her turned around and out to sea. Although it was full of water the engine still worked. We took it back to the boat and bailed her out and removed all the sand. We had been waiting a year to explore Great Sand Cay and it was over in 5 minutes.
We went to bed around 10:00 and woke up at midnight. There was obviously nervous energy and we couldn’t sleep anymore. So at 1:00 am we got up and sailed out of Great Sand Cay. The moon was almost full and lit up the water which was calm with a 10 knot breeze. We were able to motor sail while Lennie and I took turns napping on the aft deck. We averaged 8.5 knots and around 8:00 am the mountains of Hispaniola came into view. I was also excited to have Lennie on board who could speak Spanish to all the officials who would be waiting for us in Puerto Plata. Our deal is Lennie does all the talking in Spanish and French countries and I have her back in all the English speaking ones.
Lennie was nervous about the checking in process. Although we have checked into dozens of countries, the Dominican Republic is known to be one of the toughest and reportedly corrupt. They couldn’t be more wrong. We hailed the marina on the radio at noon and in less than one hour the navy agent, narcotics agent, immigration agent, and customs agent all were on the boat with a marina representative smiling and friendly and only charged us the normal legal rate. Of course I declared my shotgun and they had no problem with it and took it off the boat for safe keeping and said they would give it back to me when we were ready to leave port.
There are no motorcycles in the junk yard
Motorcycles! We took a cab to a beach restaurant for lunch as we were starving and exhausted after the trip. Puerto Plata is not a vacation destination, it is a small town with working people and everyone has a motorcycle, maybe two. The cops are on motorcycles, the kids are on motorcycles, the great grandmas are on motorcycles, and the taxis are motorcycles. But wait, what if there is two of you? No problem then you both ride on the back. And what if Mom and Dad and the kids want to go to the beach? Yep, all four of them get on one long motorcycle. I am sure each town has a hospital with an extra large emergency room because no one wears a helmet and there are apparently no rules to the road.
Next stop – Sosúa. This is a small vacation town with a nice beach and it was only a 12 -mile trip to get there. When we arrived some locals in a fishing boat gave us a mooring ball to tie to. Since it was noon we decided to go into town and have lunch. It’s a cute little town with mostly tourist from France, England, Canada and Germany along with restaurants from each of those countries. As usual, we wanted a waterfront restaurant so we found one – called “Waterfront”. The beer in the Dominican Republic is Presidente and you can get them everywhere and they are cold. In fact, it was my third cold beer experience since arriving, it is a passion to them. I have decided that Americans drink warm beer. The food was so-so but the WIFI was blazing hot so we were able to get some work done. Oh and I also had a glass of tap water during lunch. More on that later.
We left Sosúa at 1 AM for the big leg to Samaná.
We got this down
The North Coast was awesome to look at. We were between 10-20 miles offshore. We were making 8 knots and the radar showed no other boats. Since this was our second overnight trip we were better prepared and had our systems and procedures down pat. (To Lennie’s Mom and Dad – skip to the next paragraph now) The biggest one is harnesses. You see the worst thing that could happen is you wake up from your shift and your spouse is not on the boat. I know that sounds crazy but shit happens. Our rule is we wear life jackets and harnesses offshore and especially at night. I am researching a device that attaches to the life jackets that makes the overboard person show up on the radar screen like the ships do. We also use “jacklines” which are ropes going from bow to stern so you clip into it and you can walk forward and aft on the boat and always be attached.
Must be a big cemetery for fisherman
So after a long night the sun comes up and we see something in front of us. I am making coffee and Lennie yells and turns the boat hard to starboard. I rush to the cockpit and see that we almost sailed right into a fishing net. Good thing the sun was up for her to see it.
We had read about some of these hazards but at the same time everyone makes this run at night since it’s calmer along the coast. We know that hitting the net would have caused propeller damage, so we kept our eyes peeled and over the next 8 hours we saw dozens of offshore fishing nets and more surprisingly about 40 small fishing boats. It was incredible. Not one of these small 20-foot open boats had an outboard newer than ancient. Each one had two men onboard. They had no radios or electronics. They were in big seas. And I wouldn’t be caught dead in those conditions. We assume they know what they are doing or maybe they suffer the consequences a lot. AND THE RADAR SHOWED NOTHING! So live and learn. We are buying night vision equipment for our next overnight (yes they have those for boats).
Around midday we saw a Pilot whale. Its about 15 feet long and instead of this one running away, she came right up to the boat and rolls sideways so she could look at me. Then she starts making her whale music noise (I am not making this up see the video link below) so we put the boat in neutral and expected her to leave. She doesn’t. She dives under the boat. She circles the boat. She goes behind the boat and then swims right between my two hulls. It was one of the coolest things we have ever had happen at sea.
We finally round Cabo Samaná and are within 20 miles of the marina. (Lennie’s Mom and Dad skip ahead here) Pretty soon a fishing boat that we see in the distance starts heading toward us with three guys in it. We keep watching and they keep heading toward us. We change course, they change course, this goes on for 10 minutes. Finally I ask Lennie to grab the shotgun and some shells. She brings them into the salon. 5 more minutes I tell her to take the wheel so I can load the gun. I leave it in the salon. Surprisingly there is no massive adrenaline rush as I was sure they were fisherman. I just wanted to be able to wave them off if they tried to get next to our boat and with a show of force if necessary. I also had the knowledge that there had been no violence toward cruisers on this coast so I am sure they are fisherman. Right? Pretty soon they turn toward the direction we are going and stop aiming at us. They wave. We wave. They accelerate and are hidden by the waves in minutes. The lesson: I am glad I cruise with weapons, as being indefensible offshore is not comforting to me. We also carry bear spray and a stun gun.
So after all that we make it into Puerto Bahia Marina and even though we checked in two days ago in Puerta Plata, every time you enter a marina they call it a “port” and you go through all the red tape again with the onboard inspections, but hey…we follow the rules of the country we are in and I would never (Lennie’s Mom and Dad KEEP reading here) do ANYTHING to put my wife in jeopardy in another country. And the Comandante didn’t even ask why my gun was warm and sweaty.
Next trip: Samaná to Punta Cana Dominican Republic
- Almost nothing
- The hatch over the master bedroom developed a leak on our faces. We took it apart and re-caulked it so we think we solved it!
- Me. Remember I drank the water in Sosúa? Bad move.
Click the link below to check out the video.