Tag Archive: cruising hispanola


Panama to Providencia

Panama to Providencia

As we enter Colon, dozens of giant ships are anchored everywhere awaiting transit through the Panama Canal.   Black smoke rises all around Colon as people protest the government and a planned sale of prime commercial land called “the Free Zone”.  The violent protests between the Panamanian people and police resulted in several deaths, commercial businesses closing, looting, citywide street closures and general mayhem.

 

the escort into port

We are safe in the marina at shelter bay, but nothing can be accomplished while here.  I need water filters, fuel filters, maps and groceries.  The taxi drivers will not venture into Colon.  If they don’t feel safe then I sure don’t want to be there.  In the week that we are in the marina, tensions escalate most days as discussions volley back and forth from the government and the people.  During a lull in the Molotov cocktail throwing, I am able to get a taxi for $50US to take me to the grocery store.  After two months without a large grocery store to fill our cupboards we are really low on food.  The locals have the same idea to stock up with food and join in the melee inside the store.  All the bread and chicken is sold out.  People cram the aisles pushing carts into each other and me.  A frustrating three hours waiting in different lines for cheese, meat and then the long checkout lanes and finally I am able to push my two cartfuls of foodstuffs outside.

The marina provides shelter from the nearby crazy city with a nice pool, a surrounding jungle and other boaters to talk with.  This has been our only experience with living in a marina and the fun associated with it.  Everyone is constantly working on his or her boats and are willing to talk and hang out.  It’s kind of like a working party.  I couldn’t work much except to change out a shive (pulley) for the main halyard at the top of the mast, which saves a whole lot of work hoisting it up.  Everything else I needed parts to accomplish and that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon.

Walking into the jungle gives us all a fun diversion from the boat.  Howler Monkeys swing

Friends in the trees

from tree branches just over our heads screaming as they go.  All of a sudden, several of them start throwing poo at us, which sends all four of us into a panic.  “Run!” I scream.  Luckily, the kids heed my advice and run like the wind.  From a safe distance we howl with laughter as I relay to the kids what they were throwing.  “Then what were they pouring on us?” Chase asks in his innocent four-year-old way.  “Well, that monkey must not have had any poo, he was trying to pee on us.”  “What?!!?!”  The laughter continues as we walk away.  No direct hits today.

We are out of propane after our stay in the Kuna Yala.  The propane stores in Colon have all been closed or impossible to get to.  We could wait for things to settle down, but that could be weeks.  Cold sandwiches taste good too; it will have to change our menu a little.  We have places to go.  If we aren’t going to be able to enjoy anything in Panama, we might as well go.  Pulling out of the marina winding through the docks, our friends on Spruce jump out of their boat saying they have three small one-pound propane bottles.  “Do we want them?”  You bet!  I need to maneuver close to the dock as Andy tosses each one to Lindsey.  She was a Golden Glove recipient in her Division 1 softball days during college, so she fields them all with ease.  It is one of those fantastic moments in boating where everyone is there to help each other.  I am choked up with sentiment and our luck.  I need coffee in the mornings.

Leaving Colon behind our wake feels good.  Black smoke rises all around in even more fires than when we entered a week ago.  One of my great sorrows about travel on a boat is that we can rarely make inland forays to the countries.  Leaving Rivers2Seas at anchor all night or for days at a time without us doesn’t feel safe for the boat or our belongings.  We had hoped to travel to Panama City and maybe do some rafting while here as our boat was safely snuggled into the marina.  So if we weren’t going to be able to enjoy our stay, I’m glad to be on the sea again.

Sailing for fifty-two hours brings us to Providencia, Colombia, which is a hundred miles off

Providencia – providence

the eastern coast of Nicaragua.  It’s a strange location that would become more dramatic to us in the coming days.  We had to motor most of the way, but seas were calm making for a pleasant passage.

Providencia is a clean, artistic, and small island.  At only four miles by one mile it is small and the inhabitants are proud of the fact that there is less than one person per square kilometer.   It’s nearby sister island of San Andreas boasts the densest population of any Caribbean island.  This is definitely the place we want to be.

Going for one of our strolls to view the area, we cover several miles along the Eastern coast walking over painted causeways, tranquil beaches, loud jungles and the bustle of a small town at work.

Most people use motorcycles instead of cars and carry anything that a truck would.  Seeing a desk go by between two guys on one bike or a family of four or five or dragging fifteen rods of rebar twenty feet long behind or an entire welding setup is simply entertaining.   Riding the taxi to fill our two propane bottles, I rest each on a knee speeding to the store.  I certainly had no helmet and carrying two bombs is less than appealing, but it cost less than it would have in Panama and there are no riots in the streets or tear gas or bullets flying by or Molotov Cocktails…it’s pleasant.

The people are what make this island spectacular.  All are friendly and welcoming.  Many islanders in the Eastern Caribbean are jaded by tourists and see us only a walking dollar.  Here people are truly welcoming.  At one restaurant the proprietors sit and talk with us the entire meal, only leaving to stir the food or flip the fish.  Walking down the street with two jugs of diesel and talking with a local man I express how much I like his island and the people.  Clearly this man does not have much money, yet, as we part he slips a lime into my shirt pocket.

The kids have been waiting for Halloween and asking repeatedly if the locals celebrate the

our cowgirl and Ninja Turtle

holiday.  They do, but in a different style.  All the kids pack into the town gymnasium in a screaming melee of giggles.  Welcomed with open arms as we strut in with a cowgirl and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, we grab some open seats in the bleachers.  All sorts of shows are put on with the culmination of a funny and talented clown that had the entire place in hysterics.   The speakers are turned up so loudly and the result so static ridden that I can’t understand the Spanish.  When a bunch of girls go up to the stage for what I think is a costume contest, I urge Ella up there.  The contest turns out to be a dance contest and I can honestly say that I am so glad Ella is voted off.  Kids in the audience choose which kids would get to stay on through several votes, whittling down the number of kids on stage.  Whoever dances in the most lewd, seductive and provocative way gets the most cheers.  All these six year olds need is a pole and they could be on any strip club.  There are others in the crowd who appear equally offended by the crazy behavior, but it’s their island.  When the boys get up there the gyrations get hotter and bigger.  There is even one boy and girl acting out a man and woman having sex.  It’s crazy.

The kids get treats and cakes and ice creams from the adults, but no trick or treating.  I had hoped for that as a good way to meet locals.  We are all a little sad.  But, Halloween came in a sort of Charlie Brown style.

Hiking to a rock outcrop named Morgan’s head gives us a nice hike through jungle with lizards darting every which way.  Frogs announce our arrival around each bend with miraculous views when the trees part.  A snack of saltines with peanut butter gives us a little rest for the hike back home.

 

great walkways

Some rumors about eminent war with Nicaragua explain why there are three navy battleships in the outer anchorage.  It’s rather unsettleing.  After civil unrest in Panama and now nations at war, it seems as the world has gone mad.  Nicaraguans feel that San Andreas and Providencia and the neighboring coral banks should be theirs because they lie within 200 miles of their coast.  Nicaraguans feel that the wealth from fishing and oil reserves this large area could provide is worth going to war over.  Colombians feel the same way in their desire to protect their islands and fishing grounds that they have held since 1822.  There will be a decree stating what the international court of justice decides in less than a week.  The Colombians meanwhile are strengthening their position, thus the three navy battleships nearby.  I don’t want to be anywhere near this place when the decree comes out.  War is never pretty and my ship wouldn’t survive much of an attack.

Pulling up anchor at midnight we start the 380-mile trek to Roatan, Honduras.  We wanted a weather window for Isla Mujeres, Mexico but that wasn’t happening and we would rather wait in an area that isn’t at war within itself or with other nations.

Chase and Ella are both seasick in the seas but we have a great fast sail up the Nicaraguan coast and the fabled Mosquito Coast quickly disappears.  The two kids compare puke bowls and whose is bigger in a way that only kids can do.  The bowls fill as fast as we can dump them.

A hundred miles out from Providencia, a Colombian navy frigate angles his boat pointing at Rivers2Seas as he questions us over the VHF radio.  They are obviously making a statement that these are still their waters.  I think it’s weird when he asks if there are any women on board.  I think it’s outrageous when he asks if we have weapons on board.  The Honduran coast has a few of its’ own pirates and a bad reputation among sailors.  Now, I have told everyone within earshot that I have a young wife on board and no weapons to defend ourselves.  It’s not reassuring.

Thirty hours into the sail and we turn to the West which brings some better seas.  I

seven colors of green

understand better the desire for these fishing grounds as our freezer bulges with two five pound Skipjack tunas and a fifteen pound Blackfin tuna.  These are good waters.  I hope along with the locals of Providencia that whatever happens, oil will not be drilled for here.  The prospect of black gold changes everything, but the locals seem to have the right mindset.

We spend our time reading, napping and telling stories to the kids.  The kids play innumerable imaginary games as we bounce down the seas.  My favorite is when Ella sets up a desk and starts selling raft trips.  I’ll take a hundred people please!  Going to bed, the kids ask for another “Daddy story.”  I give them one of my newest titled, “Don’t chum the waters,” which sends them into hysterics.  They keep interjecting their own thoughts and views; the laughter is loud and boisterous.  Lindsey calls me out to check the sails, so I do some adjustments and by the time I return Chase is fast asleep and Ella is telling me to turn off my light.   A minute and a half ago we were all rolling in giggles.  Even on the little crew passages are tiring.

Our timing for the passage proves perfect as we motor into French Caye, Roatan, Honduras just before dark, 65 hours after leaving Providencia.  If we made it in the dark we would have had to drift offshore all night until we could see the entrances and reefs.  Another good passage is behind us.  I can barely stay awake and fall asleep before the kids at 7 P.M.  Lindsey does that last haul with the kids and crawls into bed minutes later.

Advertisements

Guadaloupe

Guadaloupe

by Lindsey Modesitt

We arrived in Deshaises (pronounced Day-Hay) right before sunset after a rollicking ride.  After touring around the anchorage we settled on the back side in a secluded little spot.  After dropping the anchor, the kids ran up to the front trampoline to play “Jake and the Neverland Pirates” it is a kid show from a perfect end to the dayback home about some kids that live on a boat, and fight bad pirates, usually specifically, Captain Hook.  While having our sundowner wine, the kids enjoyed swinging gently from the anchor (as opposed to bucking wildly on the seas).

Guadaloupe is a fascinating country.  Steeped in history, it is now a French country (and has been mostly….throughout history) and they do everything French.  All the way down to the perfect, I mean PERFECT, du Pain (bread).  Brad and I have been reading Caribbean by James Michener and he has a lot to say about this island in the shape of a butterfly.  To start, the island really is in the shape of a butterfly, dissected in the middle by a river that is so narrow, according to Michener, you could jump across it (or motor sail your sailboat up according to recent guidebooks).  The western wing is called Basse Terre and the eastern is called Grand Terre which is interesting as “Basse Terre” means small island and this part of the island is anything but.  With big towering volcanic mountains, this is the bigger of the two sides (and newer volcanically) as opposed to “Grand Terre” meaning big island and it is more of a salt and sand flat, beautiful, but older and therefore more run down by centuries of nearly constant trade winds.

The economy is based entirely upon French society with everything being imported from or exported to, France.  The people of France still buy sugar made from sugar cane, at a higher price than other easily made sugars, just to ensure a thriving economy of this and other French islands in the Caribbean.  Not to mention the funding that comes from France.  It is an interesting thing to witness as almost every single island in the Caribbean has a thriving history of sugar production (thus Rum and molasses production but more importantly RUM!) but these French islands are the only ones to still use the sugar from these islands as their main source of the white powder goodness.

the familyThe language is entirely French with very little “bleeding” of other languages.  My high-school French got a workout to say the least.  After lots of gesturing and apologizing we generally got our point across with one minor mishap with the taxi driver from the Botanical Gardens taking us way out of our way (and his) all because I couldn’t get him to stop the car at our anchorage, instead we travelled to the popular (and packed) beach.  After much gesturing and apologizing again (and perhaps a few goats offered to his grandmother while I walk around in France) we turned around and after yelling arretez-vous s’il vous plais!!  I think he understood I was not trying to arrest him but wanted him to stop the car.  Thankfully he was very easy-going and full of laughter so we said our good-byes.

We saw another kid boat “Twilight Rodeo” that we had met in St. Kitt’s.  Their kids are 6 (boy) and 8 (girl).  All of the kids got along incredibly well and the parents got some much needed adult time.  Then  the next day we thought it was time for some beach time with other kids so together with Twilight Rodeo, we went to find a beach.  We found one that was empty and spent the afternoon SUPing, eating, drinking and just plain relaxing.  The kids loved it and we loved it.  It was time for us to continue on down the western coast sohome we up-anchor (after a SUP/snorkel) early the next morning and caught a breath of wind for a sparkly sail to Pigeon Island and the Cousteau National Marine Park.  Before we had left Deshaises Brad had happened by another American cruising couple that were selling their boat, Brad inquired about their scuba equipment, and we found ourselves the proud new owners of some scuba gear complete with BCD’s, tanks, weights, and computers, for a song.  Just in time too as we were headed to Cousteaus’s marine park which is said to be one of his favorite places on earth.  With Twilight Rodeo behind us, we anchored and set out across the sound for the snorkel area with the kids.  It was like jumping into an aquarium.  After a little prodding (and a borrowed floaty from Twilight Rodeo) Chase and I set off at a pace a bit slower than Brad and Ella but the two families had a great time and we all crawled back into the dingy.  After dropping the kids back at the boat, we had an enlightened moment and thought we would all swap kids and have a “date dive.” So that is exactly what we did.  Elizabeth and David watched our kids while we took off with our new scuba gear (although mine was malfunctioning a little so I borrowed Elizabeth’s BCD) and Brad and I headed to depths I haven’t seen since diving in Thailand 9 years ago.  It was brilliant.  We came up with ear-to-ear grins.  Twilight Rodeo had some problems with one scuba tank not filled so we took the kids back to our boat so they could play together in the depths too.  They loved it, we loved it, the kids loved it.  We set a date to do it again the next day before taking off to the city of Basse Terre (on the southwestern coast of Guadaloupe).

Basse Terre is also the name of the capitol of Guadaloupe as well (not just that side of the archipelago).  We anchored there (after SEVERAL annoying attemps at anchoring) and got ready to check out of the country and say goodbye to Twilight Rodeo as they were picking up some family and exploring the island for a couple more weeks.  Before checking out, we had heard that there were some spectacular waterfalls that “you must not miss” called Chutes de Carbet.  Always ones to see and do anything that has to do with rivers, we happily set off on this adventure.  We wanted to get a little more of the culture and people of the island so instead of renting a car, we chose to jump on the local bus (and with lots of gesturing and apologizing) we found the one that was definitely going there so we hopped on and high-fived at what great travelers we were.  The bus dumped us on at the junction of two roads and the bus driver pointed to the sign that said “Chutes De Carbet” that way……We started up the road and after about 20 meters there was a little tiny side-of-the-road eatery.  Brad suggested we eat there and I protested as it was only 10:15, the waterfall is right there (we were told it was a 20 minute walk to them) and we will be back in time after working up an appetite.  After realizing that our snack situation was a little dismal, we decided we could eat before and after.  We sat down for the most amazing chicken sandwich I’ve had since we’ve been travelling.  It was incredible.  We gobbled it up, asked the Madam about how far to the waterfall and if there were taxis going often just in case we got tired of the walk.  We were assured there were definitely taxis.  Just stand there and one will be by.  After standing for about 20 minutes in the stifling sun (no wind since we are inland), I walked back down to the restaurant as it was in the middle of a banana plantation, and inquired about buying a stalk of bananas.  She laughed and told me I could have as many as I wanted.  I pointed to Chase and said he eats a lot!  She shrugged and pulled about 30 from behind the counter….free.  I said great, we will be back to get them after our walk.  She sun umbrella - islands stylesmiled and said no problem (I think as this whole thing was in French).  I went back to my spot and waited for some taxis.  Another sweltering 20 minutes and a man came by in a beat-up Toyota-type truck (French version whatever that is) and we climbed in back (including the kids!! Sorry mom;) and rode for what felt like forever.  We got to a little village where the man kept apologizing and saying he was going a different way from the waterfall at that point and couldn’t take us any farther.  We thanked him for his generosity and thought that they MUST be just around the corner.  Brad and I have always found, throughout all of our travels, that people exaggerate and most places that “there is no way you can walk there” is right around the corner and we barely, if at all, break a sweat getting to whatever place it is.  That includes being with the kids.  We set off up the road.  After 30 seconds of walking a women came to a screeching halt in front of us and implored us to stop and turn around.  “It is very far, no way can you make it, with kids too!! No Way Turn around GO BACK!!”  We smiled graciously, and knowingly, and continued on our path.  What insued was the biggest slog fest, parents-apologizing-and-promising-kids-whatever-they-want painful, cry-provoking (of both kids and adults).  Several cars went flying past us (no taxis mind you) most were full of people and therefore could not take a pooped family of four.  We kept going, and going and going.  It was brutal (and straight up).  Chase and Ella were near mutiny and if we weren’t being their mules, they probably would have caught whatever car was going the other way but since they were riding on our shoulders, they couldn’t flag anyone down.   5.5 km later we got to the top of a hill and a couple with an old landcruiser came up over the top and saw Chase laying across the road in determined protest.  They stopped and said our car is a mess in the back, no room.  We said we didn’t care and climbed in.  They asked where we had come from and we told them where we had left the bus.  With looks flying between the two of them, they got really quiet.  After another half of a mile, they turned around a round-a-bout and said there you go.. WHA????? Here is the entrance to the START of the walk to the waterfall…..I looked at Brad with a “let’s catch the first car leaving NOW!!) and he said we made it this far…we are seeing the waterfall.  Chase and Ella seemed doomed to their fate and with nary a complaint, they followed us down the trail to the falls.  It was very Rocky Mountain National Park-esque with lots of signs and perfectly built stairs until we arrived at the falls.  They were beautiful.  We took one more look and headed back down.

 

As we left the ranger station (the round-about where the other car let us go) we walked about .5 km and found a little vendor.  We asked about taxis back down and as her laughter bellowed down the lonely pavement behind us, we begin our 6 km walk (at approaching dusk) back down the mountain.  With kids on our shoulders we flung our thumbs in the air.  The first car couldn’t get by us fast enough, we had seen them walking to the falls (the ranger walk to the falls) and they weren’t very happy with us then so we were pretty sure they weren’t stopping.  The next car slowed down as they passed us and looked at both kids on the shoulders, mom and dad shot, I didn’t even turn around to check if they would stop.  They passed me and around the corner was Brad with an almost asleep Chase on his shoulders and they slowed to a stop on this 40 degree road.  They got out of the car and offered a ride, we poured ourselves into the car and Chase fell asleep on my lap before Giselle closed the door.   We met Cristor and Giselle (I think that was their names, I apologize if I remember wrong but I wanted to crawl into the back and fall asleep too).  They asked where we were going and I said the bus stop at the end.  Through Cristors amazing English and my tentative grasp on French we had a brilliant conversation with them.  The kids were snoring as were told them our tale and again, looks were exchanged in the front seat.  As we neared the main road (where the bus stop was, although we came out at a different spot so I couldn’t get my loot of bananas) I started, tiredly, to get up and wake up a drooling Chase.  Cristor looked at us and said you must put on your seatbelt for this part….WHA???  He explained that they were staying in Basse Terre (the last day of vacation before heading back to France) so they could take us all the way to the boat.  Brilliant, I wanted to cry, but I held it together and the fantastic conversation continued until we crawled out (poured ourselves out really) right in front of our dinghy and with several “Merci, Beaucoup” (thank you very much!!) and a Bonne Journe (good journey)…we said goodbye and they will forever remain in our hearts as the angels that rescued us from certain death.  If you two are reading this…Thank you again.  We arrived just before five on Rivers2Seas and toasted to good people, you don’t even know, that change your life.  The next morning, we pulled anchor and headed toward Les Isles Des Saintes (All Saintes Island).

on the way to All Saints island

 

 

 

 

One of those great things for us happened as we turned Rivers2Seas south, we started sailing – fast. The trade winds are rather constant winds coming out of the East going directly West. A sailboat can sail best when on a beam reach, the wind coming at it from 90 degrees. The windward and Leeward islands that make up the Eastern Caribbean form a nice curve mostly to the south all the way to South America. A nice beam reach, perfect. The islands are all close enough together that all sailing can be done during daylight hours and since we could go faster with such favorable winds, doing 75 miles in a day can be easy. Because we were no longer heading straight into the wind, Rivers2Seas settled down slowly bobbing through the waves. It almost felt like cheating. Almost. While sailing we could read books, the kids could play their imaginary games, and most importantly Turtle wouldn’t be seasick.
St. Kitts welcomed us with brightly painted homes and a giant cloud over the single mountain. A strong stone fort built in 1690 dominated our landing in the capital, Basse Terre. The history of wars, pirates and great battles is everywhere. The fact that most of these countries are run by different countries shows that nobody actually won. The poorness of the inhabitants shows that they probably all lost.
Checking into customs and immigration at the large port that is more used to the arrivals of cruise ships gave us a view into the city. Nice shops lined the cobbled streets with well-dressed shopkeepers inside. Turtle and I stumbled upon a young school class all in blue uniform talking about an old ships rusted helm wheel sticking out of the water. They stood on shore, we drove up close in the dinghy. We went back to the boat and picked up our girls for a day in town.
The stores are cool with the tourist things you find in these spots and more pirate mannequins than I have ever seen. A cold local beer in a sports bar informed us that Peyton Manning would be coming to the Broncos football team back in Colorado. Cool! Having our news satiated we headed for town. A cool sounding museum to Admiral Nelson beckoned us. Its’ displays, artwork and writing would have done any 6th grader proud. A great subject, cool artifacts and yet they still made it a poor museum. Trudging through some stone gates to the back of the museum brought us into the real city.
The first city was apparently built for the cruise lines and had guards along the stone walls keeping locals out and most of the cruise passengers inside. The difference couldn’t be more drastic. Tiny shops had smaller “shops” on the sidewalk no bigger than a small card table selling fruits, scissors and shavers – you name it. The streets were packed, people going everywhere, horns honking and the typical island people just sitting. We were on one of our usual hunts for a park to play in which we never found. A giant stone church gobbled up most the free land and had a pair of teenagers throwing a ball, but that was about all the “play” we could find. At the supermarket we passed on the packaged chicken feet and settled for some more mundane food like spaghetti.
Sailing for Nevis doing 8.4 knots for the 10-mile passage was as easy as picking up the free mooring ball when we arrived. On the other side of the wide miles long white beach was the Four Seasons Hotel. We invited some new friends on Twilight Rodeo to use our slide and play while the adults talked. Many of the people we have met on this trip mirror our thoughts. They started their own company twelve years ago, sold it and now wanted to travel with their kids while they could. We had a great evening, drank too much wine and stayed up too late. Fun.
The next day was spent at the beach seeing how high and far I could throw the kids. I call it my shotput workout. With one 40-pound kid in my palm I launch them high overhead as far and high as possible. They swim out and then beg for more. After 50 tosses each, I’m spent. A half hour later, the workout resumes.

Sailing at 8 knots for the 40-mile passage to Montserrat brought us to a marvelous little island. Instead of the usual cloud obscuring the peak of this volcano, it was being obscured by smoke, ash, and steam. The plume stretched far out to sea. It would turn out to be a great science lesson. This volcano is one of the most active in the world and has scientists monitoring its actions closely.
Hiring a taxi for the day to do a tour gave us some great history of the island. Our biggest desire was to see the volcano and shortly after our arrival at the volcano observatory, sirens started going off. It was ERUPTING! Rocks and ash flew skyward miles above the cone, ash drifted off to sea with the winds, boulders much bigger than homes tumbled down the sides, white steam escaped new vents and we gasped. “This is cool,” Chase exclaimed. It certainly is cool. The sirens were alerting residents that half the island was now off-limits as a large eruption was a distinct possibility. Heading inside the volcano observatory, a video informed us on some of the really big eruptions that changed this island so recently. The biggest was in 1995 and today’s was the biggest in the last few years. A great addition to our science class today was the kids feeling the volcano, smelling the sulfur gasses and seeing those rocks flying. A little hard for them to comprehend that the earth was exploding; a little hard to explain that we were safe, mostly.

Eruption!!!
For lunch we stopped at Apple Studios, where the Beatles taped the White Album. What a great place to record an album and why not? Secluded in paradise to let the creative juices flow. The kids didn’t understand about the Beatles and were more excited to see the gold record by Cheap Trick that was recorded there. Hmmm?
The rest of the tour showed us some of the housing now that the inhabitants moved from the lush volcano side to the arid windward side. The British government has spent a lot of money to help them relocate but the transition hasn’t been good for all of them. Money doesn’t make a garden grow where it shouldn’t.
Ella and I spent the early morning talking to fisherman, learning about fish traps, fishing and most importantly oars. An old local, Hap, taught us how to build an oar out of local woods, securing the blade to the shaft with stout wire. After his fishing outing, we towed him to shore with the dinghy and bought his oars for the collection.
Another quick sail brought us to Guadaloupe.

The Dominican Republic

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.