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

The Thorny Path

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.

fort in Dominican Republic

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.

School is out when the white kids arrive

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.

Love for rivers!The following day we were able to blow up our packrafts.  These are 5-pound inflatable Smiles all around on the Rio San Juanrafts 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.

Fishing in Escondido

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

fishing on Rivers2Seas

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.