Our latest video aboard Rivers2Seas – a Modesitt Mirages Production
Archive for January, 2012
The Dominican Republic lies along the Thorny Path to the Eastern Caribbean. Many sailors try to avoid it as they think it is not a good cruising destination. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Complaints about the need to check in and out with every port are true for the most part, but you can anchor along the way between ports and the customs officials are pleasant. I’ve read that a $3 bottle of rum can help too.
We sailed from the Turks and Caicos but arrived after sundown, so we pulled sails and motored slowly 10 hours east up the coast to Rio
San Juan. A wonderful small fishing village where it seemed the whole town was playing baseball on the beach formed by the rivers mouth. A friendly fisherman told us to anchor a hundred yards to the west where there was better holding, just behind his two fishing trawlers. The local policeman hired a fishing boat to come check on us. We hadn’t officially entered the Dominican Republic yet and he wanted to know why. I explained about the tough day at sea and he agreed to let us stay.
Motoring back west to Ocean World Marina outside Puerto Plata enabled us to base out of this newly built refuge (2004). For $1.65/foot for our catamaran, it was cheaper than most marinas. All the amenities like showers, laundry facilities, pool, casino and restaurant are here. Attached is also the Ocean World Adventure Park with all sorts of aquariums, swimming with dolphins, a sea lion show and more. Where else could Ella swim with a dolphin, get a kiss and a hug and it only cost Lindsey and her $30US?
Leaving Rivers2Seas in the marina with its’ 24hour security enabled us to rent a car and tour the interior of the D.R. I had been warned about drivers being crazy and this proved to be correct. I have dealt with many places like this, but usually on a bicycle, so it seemed easy to me. Aggressive offensive driving with one hand on the wheel and the other on the horn is the key. After reaching the main city of Santiago the driving craziness picked up. Chase, who is 3, noticed this and took the middle seatbelt and wrapped that over his body too. He now had a 5-point harness holding him in. I’m sure when I drove across the sidewalk, he knew his extra precautions were necessary.
Driving in the big city was fun and we were able to provision some groceries from a huge store. The best part was leaving down to the underground garage via an escalator. A special track enabled the cart to stay put without hands. The kids enjoyed the small streets packed with cars, cows, chickens, kids and people going everywhere. On the way home we stopped at a small town that we needed to first drive across a shallow river to get there. The town, if you could call it that, centered around a small park with several benches and a tire swing. Ella played on the swing, but then some kids came out and played with Ella and Chase. Despite the fact that the kids looked nothing like them, spoke a different language and seemed to have nothing in common, they were soon all playing together.
Leaving the marina at 7pm we were able to get the most bang out of our buck. Two nights and three full days, water, electricity, internet to Skype family and friends, laundry, hot shore-based showers and a Dominican flag came to just under $200US. Cheap for marinas, but also the reason we have been on the hook the last three months. Using the night lees from the islands is best so most of our sailing or motoring is done in the dark. While a little unnerving at first, the night brings a calm to the seas and winds too that is so needed on this Thorny Path to windward.
Venturing back into the now familiar anchorage of Rio San Juan, we were able to tour the town now that we were officially in the D.R. Early that morning I spotted a fisherman rowing his small vessel nearby. I called him over when he came closer. His oars were beautiful glistening in the morning dawn. Trying to buy the pair of oars, he told me to meet him in town later.
As soon as our dinghy hit the beach, kids appeared from everywhere. The school is nearby and apparently the kids all escaped to see these two white kids sailing the seas. Overwhelming is an understatement. They swarmed around everywhere. Curious and forward they were soon all sitting on the dinghy and surrounding us. My new friend said he would have to make me a pair of oars so we planned to meet at 5pm on our boat. He would show up later and try to give me the new oars. I wanted the old ones that his hands had worn the grips, a notch from the gunwhales, and a piece of bicycle innertube giving the blade some reinforcement – priceless.
Touring the town and the small streets, made more for a motorcycle than a car, showed much of the culture here. People were everywhere. Hanging out in the street, sitting in chairs by their homes, playing dominoes, doing laundry (half the homes had laundry drying on their fences) – all of it with others as they laughed and enjoyed the day. Americans hide in their homes or backyards; here they are all together. Poor, without a doubt. Rich, too in their personal daily life. Admiring a rocking chair on the sidewalk, two kids brought us inside the dimly lit workshop. The father then brought us next door to show off some completed chairs, and all his furniture that he had made with simple tools. Strong and beautiful. He has a door leading off the large dining room table that has the entire bay for a view that people pay millions for.
The following day we were able to blow up our packrafts. These are 5-pound inflatable rafts that fit a person and a gear bag or for us an adult and 40 pound kid. Paddled with a regular kayak paddle, these boats track well and are responsive to a paddlers commands. The kids were ecstatic about our first river expedition here. Making a map of our planned route, first to the beach, then up the riverbanks, then paddle down the river back to Rivers2Seas. The journey is one of the best of my long career with rivers. Vines hanging into the river, flocks of white egrets flying up the river, but mostly, two kids who just couldn’t get enough. Each had to paddle a ways themselves. Ella wanted more spins, Chase wanted more paddling under tree tunnels. Finding a flat rock in the middle of this muddy river was the perfect spot for a picnic lunch. Paddling up the river we found a new town, parked the rafts under a tree and bought some Oreos and drinks at the local store. As we sipped a Presidente’ beer, the owner, two kids, two neighbors and his wife talked with us about the Dominican Republic. When Chase had to use a bathroom, he offered his home. Lindsey said the house and bathroom were spotlessly clean. To say these people are friendly and hospitable is not enough, they are spectacular. We paddled the rest of the way home in bliss. Some moments you know will last with you forever, this was one of those times. The kids’ smiles just kept getting bigger and so did Lindsey’s and mine.
Upanchoring at midnight, we motored to Escondido for a sunrise entrance. Towering mountains all around covered in palm trees, fog bouncing in and out of valleys, orange cliffs plunging to the sea welcomed us to this dramatic place. Only a few structures line the small beach. Another small beach was just off our stern and had some good boogie boarding on the surf. The best view was that of five fishermen in a longboat. Four had a single oar that they rowed; the fifth was in charge of the net that they would circle around the fish. Others would have a line on shore keeping the net taut. They would pull on the oars just outside of the ocean surf, dancing to the surfs beat. When we left at 2:40am, we realized it was a one light town. That is, there was one single light on in the whole place. A full moon lit the place up and then was dashed away by another storm. The seas were up to about 10 feet, storms came in and out but the most disturbing part was trying to stay near the cliffs. The closer the better for a calmer passage. I could only manage to get within 400 feet. The crashing waves, no visibility at times and pounding rain kept me away. Once rounding the corner into Samana’ bay following seas enabled a surf of 13 knots. That’s fun!
Samana’ Bay is home to birthing Humpback whales. Tourists come from all over to see them. We have hit the first day of the season and most boats are not seeing the giant creatures. A daysail brought us no luck either. This city is one of many typical border towns throughout the world. Characters good and bad abound. Cruise ships anchor near us bringing in thousands for their 4-hour experience into the Dominican Republic, then disappear to the next destination.
A call to Chris Parker to find out his thoughts on crossing the Mona Passage brought the reply “can you leave right now?” We could. It was either leave today in “not horrible conditions” or wait at least two weeks for better weather. After checking out of Samana’ Bay that is, which entails paying the fee in one building, waiting for a secretary in another and having the navy clear us out. I told them I was going to Punta Cana and not clearing out which enables us to stay in the D.R. if the seas were bad. The secretary had to type our dispatch with all our names, birthdates and passport numbers on an ancient typewriter complete with flying letters and the bell at the end of the line. Typing with one finger she hunted and pecked for the letters. Secretary? I don’t even ask my office staff if they can type – it’s assumed that they can. Governments around the world can give jobs to people who in the private sector would have been fired long ago.
Leaving at 3:40PM, as we sailed out of Samana’ I saw the first Humpback whale. Later, we all saw some. Ella was upset about only seeing it’s tail and butt. Chase was ecstatic about seeing three blowholes go simultaneously. The sun set into a beautiful orange glow as we left the Dominican Republic Behind.
The Mona Passage crossing was spectacular. This passage that is known for being treacherous with steep seas, cross currents and hectic winds is known throughout the sailing world. We had medium seas while motorsailing most of the time. Near Mona Island halfway across, I had ten minutes of fierce fishing. With two lines off each transom lures trailed in the water as we cruised along – trolling. The first strike
brought in a Barracuda. As soon as I got him off the line and back in the water the line was out and the other line hit, then the first one again. I pulled in a tuna, but he escaped a foot away. The second one turned out to be a seven pound Blackfin Tuna. As soon as I had him filled with rum, the line hit again. This time with a blaze of blue and yellow we landed a Mahi Mahi, eleven pounds and taller than Chase at 42 inches.
The last half of the day we could turn the motors off and sail at nine knots into Boqueron Bay in Puerto Rico. Rivers2Seas took us 185 miles in 25 hours against the current and the winds through the Mona Passage. We have traveled 1352 miles so far along this route. With the most difficult sections of the Thorny Path over, we feasted on sushi and Mahi Mahi steaks. A glass of Chablis in hand, Lindsey and I toasted – We made it.
Ella’s First Post (transcribed by Brad)
I sailed all through the night from the Turks and Caicos to the Dominican Republic. It was a bit rough; the boat was rocking back and forth. The sails were up and it was windy. I got sick for the first time, dad said I was seasick, and I threw up all over my feet. It was disgusting. I cuddled with my daddy and that made it better. Twenty-Eight hours later I saw land and yelled, “land ho.” We anchored.
We rented a car and my dad drove on the sidewalk and went honk, honk, HONK, honk, honk, HOOONNNKKK! The other drivers
kept honking like my dad. I went to go see a fort, but it was closed. A nice security man let us in so we could tour the fort. It was cool to see. There were cannons and a treasure chest. I have never seen such a big treasure chest before. They must have had lots of gold, but we couldn’t see inside it. The pirates must still have the key.
We then anchored in Rio San Juan, which is a little fishing village. We took our packrafts and paddled down the river and came upon a flat land. Daddy made a fence disappear and we walked to small store. We bought Oreos and drinks. I practiced my Spanish. To say hello, I said “hola.” Then, “me llamo Ella.” Afterwards we walked back to the boats and accidentally stepped in the cow pies (that’s a fancy name for poop.)
We came upon a rock and had lunch there. As we paddled down the river we met a man who was catching crabs; he had a bunch of them. You need to be careful of crabs because they can pinch you.
I walked around the town with my family. There were a lot of people. Some were playing baseball or just hanging out. For Christmas they had plastic bottles cut up for decorations. They had little houses with lots of clothes drying. We met a man who was making rocking chairs and he showed us his house too. On the back of his house he had a door that opened so he could look out to sea. We
bought an ice cream from a walking salesman and then my dad bought a huge bunch of bananas. It was the whole stalk. We walked to the end of town and then had to walk across a river. Then we took our dinghy back to Rivers2Seas.
Tomorrow, we are going to look for Humpback whales. The whales are here to have their babies. I know how you speak Humpback whale. To speak Humpback whale you go “howu ahhh.”
Leaving the Turks and Caicos at 4am proves easy. Hoisting the mainsail and unfurling
the jib gives us an average of 8 knots of speed. Seas were large at 9 feet but manageable as they were on the back quarter. The winds picked up throughout the day and so did the seas. The Offshore Weather Report states that the significant wave height is the average height of the waves. Actual height may be twice that – or more. So with some waves topping 18 feet, some larger, winds topping out at 28 knots we were moving! One reef in the main and two in the jib and we still managed to hit 11 knots. Most of the time winds were at 20 knots and waves simply large but manageable.
Chase has been prone to seasickness all along so the fact that he woke up three hours into the trip ready to puke was no surprise. When Lindsey went down I took
note. When Ella, who has never come close to seasickness, threw up all over her feet and the cockpit I let off a little to get more of a following sea. That just meant we surfed down some of these screamers – a little more disturbing for myself. Chases favorite drink is blue Gatoraide. He was quite excited later when he discovered that when it came back up it was still blue. AND when you eat something yellow like crackers – blue and yellow make green. Holy cow, what a lesson on colors.
It was right about this time that I ran across the cockpit with binoculars in hand to check on a suspicious boat bobbing, that I first slipped in a pile of puke. Despite being a trained scientist, binoculars and microscopes have always made me nauseous. So it must have been a miracle that I could even see the fishing trawler bobbing in these seas without getting sick. It wasn’t fishing or moving and people were all about its decks. As we sped by with sails blazing the captain hailed us on the VHF radio. Responding to his call in Spanish we quickly changed to English.
They had been without power for 12 hours and had been drifting at sea in these bouncy seas. At 73 feet long the vessel was fairing
well. The engines had overheated and now would not work. Their generator had run out of fuel and they only had a limited amount of time left using the VHF. Miss Kristy was motoring with cargo from Haiti to the Turks and Caicos. They were in distress and requested that I call their master, Mr. Robinson or the United States Coast Guard. Mr. Robinson wanted nothing to do with the issue. The captain had told me that 14 people were aboard, but it may have been 140. The language barrier and his distress made it difficult. We couldn’t tow her and we didn’t really want 140 Haitian refuges onboard.
As I called the USCG on the satellite phone to initiate a rescue, the vastness of the sea overwhelmed me. Seventy miles from the coast of Haiti might as well be a 1000. With the seas rolling every which way, I could only make out the boat half the time. The USCG took all the coordinates and information about Rivers2Seas. The most difficult part was that I couldn’t find my own telephone number. We ended the conversation so that I could relay the information to Miss Kristy.
“Miss Kristy, Miss Kristy, Miss Kristy, Rivers2Seas…I have contacted the US Coast Guard and they are notifying the Haitian navy.” I felt bad at this point. Do the Haitians have a navy? Would they care? My answer came quickly. An hour and twenty minutes after I notified the USCG, they had a helicopter hovering over the scene. They dropped a canister onboard with a charged VHF marine radio to keep in contact with Miss Kristy. A USCG cutter was underway to tow them ashore; it would arrive in 12 hours. The helicopter hovered overhead for two hours then had to leave to refuel. They would be back in two hours. That’s the last we heard.
Taking your family into the open ocean is intimidating, overwhelming and just plain scary at times. The what-ifs occupy your mind as you have nothing to do but think as your boat gets pounded by waves. What if we need a rescue? What if Ella or Chase goes overboard? Knowing that there are men and women in the USCG who are trained to help in these situations is comforting. Seeing them in action is wonderful. Seeing our government help other nationalities is the best. America has superb resources and it’s great to know that when called upon…America is up to the task. I shall wear my orange shirts proudly thinking of our USCG.
I veered Rivers2Seas off a little more, shaken a bit by the experience, stirred a little bit by the vomit all over and the adrenaline dump knocking me out. I had been at the wheel for seven and a half hours. I tried to snuggle with Chase who wanted mom back and then with Ella who wouldn’t stop trying to wake me to play. An hour later after my “refreshing” rest, it was back to the wheel.
Making landfall in the Dominican Republic at 10pm proved rough. We wouldn’t be able to anchor until sunrise. We motored up the coast with the smell of cow dung and smoldering fires filling our nostrils. To me, this mix of smells is so pleasant as it is the smell of developing countries and the wonderful people within. We anchored at 9am in Rio San Juan, Dominican Republic. This is not an official entry point and even if we had entered legally, we would not have permission to be here. A 28-hour sail, puking kids, a seasick wife and myself exhausted we dropped anchor.
A half hour later, I was asleep; Lindsey was asleep and the kids were playing with trains. That’s when a fisherman came by and said
that we should move a couple hundred yards over because we would drag anchor. We pulled up the anchor by hand moved Rivers2Seas over and then started our day…Life on a boat.
The local commandant visited us awhile later and wanted our papers, which we didn’t have. Luckily, I speak Spanish and he was nice, but firm. The kids help in these situations as does the remnants of vomit as you try to explain that you are exhausted from a rough day at sea. As long as we left by midnight we were OK, 11pm would be better. We left at 4am. Which as I write this, sitting at the helm in a calm sea motoring back along the coast the world looks beautiful. A large full orange moon is setting straight ahead dancing in and out of the clouds. Lights from the coastline twinkle a mile off my port side. The sun will rise in an hour or so to uncover towering mountains up to 10,000 feet high…Life on a boat.
Leaving Georgetown we headed East following a book by Bruce Van Sant, Passages South – The Thornless Path to Windward. Traversing East through the islands is difficult since most of the
wind comes out of the east. He has a series of rules to follow creating windows of opportunity to make the passage. We now simply say things like “Bruce says” and it is so. We had originally planned on sailing for four days and missing this difficult Thorny Path. We had difficulty finding crew who could join us for the journey and for our first long passage we really wanted the help. We take turns at the helm; plotting positions, adjusting sails and looking for other boats occupy our time. Following a schedule of two hours on and two off makes for a difficult night of sleep. So we follow Bruce’s Rules and make short hops down the Thornless Path. The progress is certainly slow.
From Georgetown we sailed to Conception Island, which has some of the finest diving and
snorkeling around. Ella and I saw a Spotted Eagle ray four-feet below us that’s body was longer than her and the tail was twice as long. Hundreds of fish swirl around keeping us company. Lindsey saw a Grouper that easily weighed a hundred pounds. Chase likes to swim only in the light water (shallow). He knows that in the dark water (deep), sharks lurk looking for a tasty little guy to eat.
Sailing on to Rum Cay we had a quick stopover. Taking the dinghy over to the island for dinner, we found out that reservations were needed several hours in advance. The reservations are needed so they can catch dinner. The bar/restaurant seemed nice with its sand floor and pool table in the middle. The cigarette smoke kept the mosquitoes at bay, but Ella refuses to breath if someone is smoking. We left for home. Sadly the lock holding us to the dock jammed and couldn’t be opened. A friendly man, Marco, took us all back to Rivers2Seas and then returned me with a pair of our bolt cutters. The boat was free instantly. Realized that we needed a better lock certainly, but a better cable as well. Marco was one of 50 single men on the island; they also have 15 married couples and four single ladies. Rough odds for the men!
Our first night sail brought us to Mayaguana. Twenty-four hours of motorsailing took us 140
nautical miles to our last Bahamian island. Lindsey and the kids had never sailed at night, which is a wholly different experience. Waves come and rock the boat that can’t be seen, winds change direction, noises are accentuated and the mind worries. The plus side is that the stars can be spectacular. When the bioluminescence swarms the boat if feels as though we are floating through space.
The kids were jealous of our stars outside and made a couple starry light shows in the salon where they were sleeping. The waves were chaotic and bounced each of them every few seconds into the air. Surprisingly, each slept wonderfully. Lindsey and I each had about an hour and a half of sleep during the crossing.
Abraham’s Bay in Mayaguana is a huge bay that had eight boats in it; all at least a half mile from
each other. We took a family snorkel to a little reef, but jellyfish drove us back. New Years Eve was spent marveling at the vastness of the Milky Way. The next day we wandered into town to find some lunch. Everything was closed so we played at the town park. A man, Fernando, was talking to us and then ran off to get the bar owner to open. We had a couple of Kalik beers while watching the Miami Dolphins play the NY Jets in a New Year’s Day football game. Having not watched TV in over two months, the whole experience was surreal. Chase and Ella played dominoes while we chatted with locals and watched football. When the owner had some food delivered we asked where he got the takeout. Keep in mind this is a town of 200 people. It was from his sister across the street. Knowing food was not going to be an option we paid our bill and headed down the street. One of the bar patrons stopped on his bicycle to say we left too early, “his momma was making us food.” Immediately, we headed back to the bar. Four heaping plates of fresh turkey topped with cranberry sauce, potato salad, real macaroni and cheese and corn filled out bellies. All payment was refused.
The next day Chase and I went on a search for wild paddles as Lindsey taught Ella her schooling. After a few miles walking and several inquiries, we were led to Earil Cartwright whose advanced age didn’t prevent him from furiously trying to dislodge a blade from his rusted out lawnmower. We chatted about Mayaguana, bone fishing and other white folks he had met. He brought out a 12-foot pink bladed oar he made 20 years ago from hand tools. We walked back with the oar over my shoulder.
Taking a sail following the islands lee shore we staged at Southeast Point for the run to the Turks and Caicos. At 1am, we up anchored and motored over a glassy sea to arrive 45nm later at 9am. The electric windlass broke necessitating the anchor and chain to be set by hand. The anchor weighs 45lbs and the chain a whole lot more. Until we can get the motor rewound in the Dominican Republic I will be the windless.
A boat with all its many systems is prone to breakage in this harsh salty environment. I used to
think I was adept at fixing most anything. That was before I became a sailor. As chief maintenance man of the transportation department, sanitation department, electrical company, water company, gas company, and communications department, I feel as though I should have sent Christmas cards to all these folks back home who did jobs bringing us these things so effortlessly. In the last week I have had to rewire the propane solenoid, fix a cooling leak in the diesel engine, manufacture a part for the dinghy outboard transmission and take apart the anchor windlass. It seems unending. I am reminded of years ago as Kent and I “canoed” across Nebraska. We pulled that red canoe 600 miles down the Platte across sand; we didn’t canoe much. Those were difficult times and the frustration was immense. I feel that frustration now and hope that it gets better. The sailing when we do goes great, but the fixing of everything does not.
For now we have been given clearance to be in the Turks and Caicos (or as Chase calls this country, Turkeys and Naicos) for seven days. The winds look favorable so we should be in the Dominican Republic soon.