The Mona Passage
We flew back to Punta Cana in the DR on Sunday the 21st of December. Chris Parker our weather router said it would be snotty conditions for two weeks and we should consider waiting until early January to make this last trip to the Virgins. Of course we had two weeks off so we let the schedule not the weather dictate our travels. This is not normally a good thing so as you can imagine we were on the phone with Chris a lot over the next week. I can picture him seeing my number come up on his caller ID and shaking his head each time.
We were on a mission…
We landed and went straight to the store for provisions. When we got to the boat all was in order. This is the 4th time we have left it and each time you hold your breath when you get back hoping there is no theft or damage etc. Once stowed we talked to the marina and made arrangements to leave at 5 AM. Whoops…problem. The Navy, Drug enforcement, Immigration and medical guys were off on Sunday afternoon and the DR requires a lot of red tape to leave a port. We were stuck…or not? We made “special” arrangements for them to come Sunday night at 6 PM to do our “despacho” paperwork. So then for the first time since leaving Fort Lauderdale, these guys searched the entire boat. Opened suit cases and lifted every floor hatch etc.
We left at 5 AM on schedule. The marina guys were worried about us since the Mona Passage is considered the roughest in all the Caribbean. It’s where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea and it is shallow with steep seas and lots of wind. We thought “Hey, It’s only 80 miles how bad could this be?”
I told Lennie we would head straight east out of the marina for 1 hour and if it was too rough we would turn around. She was tired of the corrupt system and the stress from the inspections the night before and said she could handle whatever the Mona throws at us. And throw it did. We pounded East for 7 hours to cover the 35 miles to Mona Island which is in the middle of the passage. It has an “anchorage” if you can call it that so our plan was to make it to Mona Island and spend the night and continue on the next morning.
When we finally made Mona Island we were surprised to see a Coast Guard Cutter laying right off the anchorage in the shelter of the Island. They called us and told us they were launching a boat and they would be boarding us as standard procedure. Once we got in the tiny cove and secured the boat they came aboard. They said it was a safety inspection but it was a “Haitian Inspection” as they explained there is a huge human trafficking problem with Haitians getting to Puerto Rico and entry into the United States. The Coast Guard ship is there permanently checking each vessel for contraband. For us it was comforting since the “rescue in case of emergency” guys were in the middle of this messy weather with us. As we went to sleep that night I looked out the front window and saw the Coasties cruising back and forth an 1/8th of a mile from our boat, Pleasant dreams :).
Offshore Checklist needed
I was having trouble understanding why we only averaged 5 knots and when we went for a swim it was apparent. The bottom of our boat was completely covered in barnacles. Like we have never seen. The props, the rudders, everything. We spent hours using spatulas from the kitchen to scrape them off. Once complete the boat again cruised 8 knots under power and about 6.5 going into heavy seas. With all the planning we do and checklists we cover we did not remember to have the bottom scrubbed before each leg. And this marina had a bigger barnacle problem than we thought possible.
The next morning we woke early put on our armor and prepared for the leg from Mona Island to Puerto Rico. The problem was the conditions were deteriorating and Chris Parker said we should wait 4 days. We only had food for 3 more. Our only option was to try. We left the anchorage – which now had waves breaking across the inlet and the boat was going up and down. We waited for the right moment and floored it and made it outside the reef. We raised the main and headed north around Mona Island. We were ready for it.
No… actually we weren’t.
We got to the north side and the waves were 10-12 feet and close together. It was actually scary. We turned tail and ran back to the anchorage. The entire process took 3 hours. Now back in the Anchorage we started to accept our fate. We couldn’t go ashore on this beautiful island because it’s prohibited. We tried to land and the Park Ranger met us at the sand and said “go back to your boat” so I didn’t argue. We went to bed that night assuming we would run out of food and have to head back to the DR and dreaded the thought. (I know, I know, it sounds like 1st world problems but none the lessJ) So the next morning I awoke and Lennie was already up and had studied all the current conditions and forecast. She had seen live reports from the Puerto Rico offshore weather buoy (which I am gonna punch in the mouth when I see it) and she was dressed and ready for battle. I knew instantly there had been a break in the weather that morning. We raised both anchors and left the harbor and headed south around Mona. We assumed if we get 10 miles east by 8 AM the conditions would improve in the “wind shadow” of Puerto Rico 40 miles away and it did!
Kiss the ground
We landed in PR at 4 pm and it was celebrations and libations all around! What an experience. We are glad we experienced this because we learned a lot about the boat and ourselves. We broke NOTHING even with all the pounding into wind and waves. We also hardened ourselves a bit with the experience. We really know what offshore conditions look like. Its easy to read a NOAA forecast that says “wind 20-25 Knots SE waves 6-8 foot with occasional 9-11 feet with a dominant period of 7 seconds” but what the heck is that like really……we now know. Although you may think this will stop us from traveling in tougher conditions I think it’s the opposite. We may be more likely to go in conditions that we are familiar with and we know the boat can handle it.
It aint over yet….
Although we had reached PR and the last big crossing was behind us we didn’t realize how tough the south coast or Puerto Rico really was. The wind accelerates along the coast so now it was 25-30 knots on the nose with 6-8 seas. The benefit is there are anchorages and harbors along the coast about every 20 miles. So you go out early and bash it out for 3 hours and come back in and tour a small town. It was great. We made it 110 miles East to Fajardo which is the boating capital of Puerto Rico and reminded us of Fort Lauderdale. Target, Walmart, West Marine and the biggest marina in North America. We planned on stopping for 2 days of boat service and maintenance before we headed to the virgins. Oh….and you can see the Spanish Virgin Island of Culebra from the harbor. Yes… we were there!!!!!
We love Rodriguez
And finally….when we had ATT signal somewhere in PR Lennie and I had 4 missed calls on our cell phones from the dock attendant back in DR. I assumed we had left something. When we called back I spoke to the marina manager. He said that Rodriguez and he were expecting us back in the marina within hours of us leaving and that the wind had gotten so bad they were worried about us and started dialing us for days but there is no service out there so we didn’t know or think to let them know we were fine. Thanks Rodriguez!
Check out the Video for this Post: