Tag Archive: thorny path


The Virgin Islands

The Virgin Islands

Swan Dive into the Virgin Island waters

Spanish, United States & British

            All the Virgin Islands are spectacular.  Close easy sails in protected waters are the hallmark of these islands, making them the charter capital of the world.  We had never heard of the Spanish Virgins and this was our first visit.  Puerto Rico recently renamed them the Spanish Virgins to get some of the great publicity associated with the other two.  It’s worked.  Tourism is thriving.  The islands are generally unspoiled, beautiful from the lush forests to the undamaged coral beds in the sea.

In Salinas, Puerto Rico we rented a car to pick up some friends from San Juan airport on the other side of the county.  They have 2 kids that are Ella and Chases ages, but the boy is older and the girl younger.  For the next 10 days they would use the kids rooms while we all packed into Rivers2Seas.  Our first stop, Cayo Santiago, brought us to what we called Monkey Island.  Monkeys had full reign on this island and humans are not to go ashore.  With all the games of tag and loud screeching we could have fit in well with the animals.  Ella has grown a distaste for chickens and in particular roosters as they often keep her up at night with the constant cock-a-doodle-doos.  The monkeys gave them a run with the loud chatter, but it was so different that we enjoyed the bantering.

Sailing East from the mainland to the large island of Culebra brought us to Tamarindo Beach.  This is home to a US National Marine Park.  To protect the fragile corals, mooring buoys have been placed all over so that sailors do not mar this spectacular area.  (A giant bonus for those sailors with broken windlasses that must lift the anchor by hand.)  The white beach is soft and inviting; the sea fans below are more inviting with every color imaginable waving back and forth from the gentle tide.  Chase (our Turtle) and I snorkeled next to a large Leatherback turtle for a couple minutes before he swam off.  He doesn’t like to use a snorkel so he holds his breath and watches.  He’s practicing for something, because he can hold his breath for a really long time, take one big breath and go back under.

Hiking fifteen minutes across the island brought us to Flamenco Beach, rated as one of the top 10 beaches in the world.  Whoever rates these things hasn’t asked me for my opinion.  Yes, it is beautiful with a long shallow bay and wide beach.  But, all the pink tourists are there.  Trash fills the bushes and seabed.  The seabed is dead from all the poor practices of snorkelers grabbing the coral and fans.  To me, none of the top 100 beaches could ever have a parking lot next to it.

The town of Dewey is a jewel in these parts of the tourist path.  Small locally owned shops and restaurants are the only ones here.    We found a great place for lunch along a canal and then headed off to do some laundry for our friends.  Laundry is one of those things that takes forever to do and just really has no fun to it at all.  Their 6-year-old had made a nightime mess of Ella’s bed, so we really didn’t have a choice.

Alone in the anchorage sits Rivers2Seas - the waves and sea rages to the west, the calm anchorage to the East

A short motor up to Culebrita brought us into a large bay with crashing waves all around.  Conditions were not ideal with a north swell running, so we were the only boat here.  Perfect conditions!  A mooring ball was washing up on shore, lapping in the waves, so we didn’t have total faith in the buoys here.  We tied up anyway and kept a close look out.  The rest of the day was spent playing in the waves and sun on a great beach.  There was no parking lot here.  There wasn’t a single car on the island – my kind of beach.

I swam out to the boat to fetch a few beers and the boogie board for the kids.  We hadn’t been able to use it yet and these waves were perfect.  I gave Ella a quick lesson and she surfed in like a champ.  The preceding five surfs didn’t go so well.  Ella learned a new term.  Being maytaged.  As you are being rolled by a wave it can feel like you are in a washing machine.  She got thumped – repeatedly.  Lots of tears by the end.  Chase upon seeing that she was done and crying far up the sand, wanted his turn.  Really?  Did you see Ella?  Do you hear her still recovering from the thrashing?  Ok, let’s go.  I figured a way to hold on to the back of the boogie board and body surf behind while giving stability to the board.  Chase was giggly ecstatic and couldn’t get enough.  He even wanted to stand and really surf.  Finally, I had to say no to my adventurous 3-year-old.

into the surf

Maytaged!

Our Surfer

A short hop over to St. Thomas and the US Virgin Islands brought us into the other side of tourism.  Hundreds of sailboats, four cruise ships a day all pack into Charlotte Amalie to make this the most visited Caribbean island.  A duty free port makes this a fantastic place to save a lot of money.  To do so though, we would have to buy a $20,000 watch.  We didn’t save any money.

At 5am, we dropped our friends off to catch a taxi home.  They would be carrying two bags home for us to lighten our load.  Forty pounds of maps left us – we have come a long way in six months.  The next day we had to do chores ashore.  Buy a $1000US of groceries to replace some of what we had eaten from our provisions.  Do laundry and wash our sons’ comforter.  All in all one of those hassles that eat up a whole day in paradise.

We now had three days to make it to the British Virgin Islands to pick up my dad from Beef Island.  Checking into the country in Jost Van Dyke made us toast and cheer.  This is the first place Lindsey and I chartered a bareboat and came sailing together.  We toasted our friends that were with us on that first charter and laughed about how much we have learned since then.

Dinghying right up to the airport we waited for my dad.  He appeared looking great and gave both kids a huge hug.  A porter followed closely behind with a large box.  This was the new anchor windlass that I had ordered and sent to his house.  At 55 pounds it wasn’t the easiest thing for him to drag around, but to me it was pure gold.

This would be an emotional visit; my mom’s passing almost a year ago and we haven’t been able to see each other much.  Partially because my dad found it brought back too many memories.  True.  But, they are all great memories of my mom.  We would shed many tears during our visit and have some great talks about mom, life, depression (of which I know too much) and his great passion – birds.  For now, we had to load his small duffel, my large box and ourselves into the dinghy so we could show off our home.

the Birders

It’s difficult for people to realize how big and how small a boat can be.  Every available space is utilized for specialized purposes.  There are no “dead spaces” on a boat, but if they are found, bags of Cherrios fill the void well.  My dad would occupy the workshop room that has a single berth in it as well.  He marveled at all the gadgets and systems on Rivers2Seas.  A modern offshore cruising boat is far different than the wooden ships of centuries past.  Comforts like refrigeration and the ability to make water have changed the whole adventure.

The first night we didn’t want to stay in the crowded lagoon near the airport so we motored over to Virgin Gorda and the Baths.  Lindsey and I had been here previously and thought the hike through the boulders with turquoise water at your feet is one of the worlds best.  Up there with

Downwind sailing

some famous hikes like Matcap on the Grand Canyon.  A north swell appeared during the night, surfing Rivers2Seas towards the shore.  We

were on a required mooring ball but the balls were too close together and a 2ndball became entangled in the rudder at about midnight.  For an hour we tried to unhook it, then to make sure it didn’t happen again.  It did.  Waves were crashing into the nearby boulders and it seemed

we would be next the way they tried to pull us into shore.  It would be a tough, uneasy nights sleep and when Ella woke up in the morning she summed it up perfectly.  “Dad, when I looked out my porthole, it looked like we are out to sea.  Are we out to sea?”  My dad thought it was all normal and had a good sleep.

Sailing west back towards the US Virgins where dad would be flying out of enabled us to have some great downwind sailing.  Because we have been going straight into the wind for whole time, wind and waves the would rock the boat rather drastically.  Now we were with the elements, gliding gently west.  The kids wanted to know if we were really moving because it didn’t feel like sailing.  They wanted more of this peaceful sailing and so did we.

Unfurling the genaker to catch the wind from behind us was spectacular.  It was the first time Lindsey or the kids had seen our blue and white billowing sail.  Rivers2Seas looked strikingly beautiful sailing that day.  This is why gentleman don’t sail to windward.  This is easy and fun.

We celebrated Chase’s 4th birthday with a boarding of pirates who raised a flag up our mast in the middle of the night and left behind a treasure map.  Following the map, Chase found a small wooden treasure chest full of precious stones and doubloons.   He also was given a dagger, bandanna, and pirate tattoos.  His first move was to run after me and toss me from the ship.  Hmmmm?The captain has been thrown overboard

studying 1001 things pirate

rest before the attack

Some beach time and some snorkel time brought us back to St. Thomas where we would bid farewell to dad and then pick up more friends later that day.   I left dad with a pile of wooden paddles on his shoulder as he headed for the plane.

Jill, Dave and their son Kai, who is Ella’s great buddy, appeared from Colorado full of awe and wonder.  They are not water people at all, but wanted to experience life at sea.  We loved showing them around on a very mellow short distance sail back to the British Virgin Islands and then back to the US Virgins.

appetizers

Jill has an old friend that lives on St. John so she wanted to spend most of our time there.  Usually, we only spend a night or two in an anchorage so it was sort of relaxing to spend four nights in the same spot.  A nice beach, with a parking lot, had a mellow lapping of waves that was perfect for the kids and our non-water friends.  A six-foot Manta Ray patrolled the beach much to our delight.  Swimming out frantically to get a look at the behemoth brought me in close.  When he finally came into view, I jumped; he was really big.  I grew accustomed to him and got some great video of his seemingly effortless gliding.

Jill and Dave gave us the best gift possible.  On Lindsey’s birthday

Kai learning to drive the dinghy, Chase giving instruction

(and Kai’s too) they let us have a date night.  Just the two of us.  We joke about reading a scientific report that said it was best for your kids if you could eat one meal a week together and talk; no TV it said.  We have had three meals a day for the last six months together and 24 hours a day of togherness.   A date at the nearby campground had some OK food, but it was all special and spectacular.  A movie came on after dinner, but we couldn’t stop talking and had to leave.  Finding a hobie cat catamaran let us lounge on its’ trampoline, talk and sip wine.  One of our best dates ever, even when the skies started dumping rain sending us for shelter in a kayak shed.  We each pulled up a kayak and laughed.  Even on land, we are still water people.

We gave our friends some more bags to take home full of useless stuff and treasures we have acquired, bidding them farewell.  After three weeks of guests, we had some great times and conversations, but it was good to have Rivers2Seas back to ourselves.

Against the wind and waves we headed back to Virgin Gorda and the Bitter End in Drakes Bay.  It would be ten days of waiting for the weather to improve so that we could make the last leg of the Thorny Path to Sint Maarten.   Several hikes, some SUP rides and as always swimming off the boat and playing on the beach occupied our days.  Talking to some friends in their dinghy beside our boat, Lindsey dropped her wedding ring in the water accidentally.  This isn’t her expensive diamond, we left that in Colorado; it is her sentimental ring.  To a woman, it doesn’t really matter.  It was her wedding ring.  I donned the SCUBA gear and went searching in the 25-foot deep water.  I couldn’t find a thing.  I had the kids drop pennies off the deck and followed them down.  One landed eight inches from the ring.  I returned to the surface a hero.

drying off after a refreshing swim

Finally, the weather cooperated and we could make a 4am sail to Sint Maarten 80 miles away.  Testing the navigation lights the night before proved they had gone out.  Three hours later, a corroded wire was found to be the culprit and we were back in working order.

I was so excited for another passage that I could barely sleep.  We left with another boat, Another Road to…, leaving the British Virgin Islands in our wake.  Within half an hour the autopilot stopped working.  Heaving to for twenty minutes so that I could work more comfortably in the dark recesses of the boat and figure out the issue helped but I still couldn’t get it working.  Raising sails we sped off towards our destination.  Sailing, Sailing, Sailing.  It was fantastic, except we had to hand steer, which is really tiring.  Once the sun came up I tried to fix the autopilot again.

Working on a boat in good conditions is difficult.  Doing repairs at sea is really tough.  Imagine laying on your back halfway though a dog door to your house, the thin metal piercing your back.  As you hang halfway through fumbling in the complete darkness your head is so far below as to be almost completely upside-down.  Brace yourself with one foot on the ceiling so that you don’t spill into the hold and then start working on the wiring trying to clean terminals and check the wiring with a voltmeter.  Add in some smells from strange things in the bilge coupled with the smell from Chases toilet which he has trouble flushing.  No airflow in here because while sailing we would probably get water as well, so its stifling hot.  Now, imagine that every five seconds you are raised six to eight feet and are dropped.  Repeat for half and hour.  Difficult to say the least.  I still couldn’t get it to work but needed a break before I got really seasick.

Chase was seasick and I cuddled with him in the cockpit on our beanbag.  We closed our eyes, wishing for calmer days.  Twenty minutes later, Chase looks at me with that look and barfs all over the two of us.  We look at each other and say “yuck” simultaneously.  We laugh for a second then clean up the mess.  Fun on boats.  Somehow, I didn’t follow in the barffest.

I went below to find the problem wire, twenty minutes later found it, tested the system and we were good to go.  It worked for five minutes.  I

celebration music -
The Thorny Path is complete

worked some more doing an upside-down game of Operation trying to put an itty-bitty wire into a hole that seemed smaller.  By the fourth wire, I was barely holding on.  This time it worked.  Autopilot back to working order we could relax more and sail.  The winds increased throughout the day so that by the end of the 14-hour passage we were making nine knots through the sea.

St. Martin and Sint Marteen make up the smallest island in the world divided by two countries.  We made the bridge opening just in time to follow a procession of boats to the inside harbor.  The bridge was on the Sint Marteen side and is a Netherlands island; we motored off to the French side of St. Martin and anchored, opened a bottle of champagne from Spain and toasted the end of the Thorny Path.  From here we would make a 90-degree turn to the south and have more favorable winds.

The bay is filled with cruisers and derelict boats that barely float.  On the morning net we found a sea anchor for sale for only $100.  Normally, more than a thousand, so I jumped at it and filled some of the space that we made giving our friends useless gear with a possibly vital piece of equipment.  As the couple gave it to me, they said, “Enjoy, I hope you never use it.”  Me too.  A sea anchor is deployed when the seas are so violent that the possibility of losing your boat is a large possibility.

St. Martin is home to some great marine chandralries and some cheap food.  We finally were able to finish some provisioning, buy some marine spares and gear needed to do some more boat projects.  I try to buy local beer when possible and asked in a French restaurant if they had any local beer.  “We are French, we do not make beeeeer,” she said with a sneer.  If she would have spit after saying it I would not have been surprised.  The whole island is a thriving tourist depot full of cruise ship tourists and jet lagged whiteys from the north (soon to be pink or red).  As soon as possible we up-anchored and headed for Saba.

The guidebooks warned of difficult anchoring and tough dinghy access to the small but 3000-foot high extinct volcano island.  We are now tied to a free mooring ball off a giant 300-foot tall sheer cliff with luscious rainforest above it.  A cloud hangs over the tallest summit like a sombrero.  Dinghying to shore led us to a road that must be at least a 25% incline that after about a 1000 foot ascent brings you to a town called the Bottom.  The roads here have inclines from 20% to 45%.  Lots of fit people, but no bicycles.  It felt like we were in the Netherlands with the quaint architecture, clean countryside and friendly people.  Only 2 other sailboats are here.  Yep, this is my kind of country.  Beautiful, striking, not as easy, but not a tourist trap.  This is our kind of place.

the happy family aboard Rivers2Seas

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Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico
We made it to Puerto Rico but checking in proved to be rather difficult. When I called to check in, the officer first asked if I had a decal.
“Decal?”
“The decal enabling you to check in easier.”
“No, I don’t have a decal.”
“But, you are a US flagged vessel. You MUST have a decal.” (what happened to easier?)
“I don’t and I have never heard of THE decal.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.”
“Then you will have to come to Mayaguez to check in. The offices are closed until Monday so you’ll have to wait.”
“That’s fine, but can we go ashore?” (Normally, only the captain can go ashore until everyone has been cleared.)
“If you are all Americans that would be fine.”
Having cleared halfway in we took the dinghy into town, which was hopping. It was more of a carnival atmosphere than anything else. Puerto Rican tourists strolled the narrow streets with Medallia beers in hand. A bar named Los Remos (the paddles) beckoned us for dinner and drinks. Chase and Ella danced to the band while we sat there and smiled, proud of our voyage so far.

Onboard Rivers2Seas we have about 35 flags for different courtesy

Rivers2Seas

flags. These flags are hoisted on the starboard spreader to signify that you have checked into a county and show respect for the place you are cruising. Flying the yellow flag signifies that you and the crew are under quarantine until being officially cleared into the country. Having thought that we were going to miss Puerto Rico, we didn’t have the needed flag. We didn’t have the Dominican Republic either, but the marina had one for $15. In all of Boquerón I could only find two flags: a 3 foot by 5 foot cheap flag or a well made 4 by 7 foot flag. Normally the courtesy flags are one foot by eighteen inches. For $10 we had the largest flag out there. Our boat stuck out in every anchorage with the red, white and blue of Puerto Rico flapping high above.
Pulling into the fuel dock to fill up the almost empty diesel tanks, two gentlemen working on their boat nearby grabbed our lines. Sailing is easy; it’s the coming into contact with land that is difficult. Anytime we can get help it’s welcome. Awhile later after filling up with the cheapest fuel yet – the bill was “only” $400US, a group of men stood on the dock admiring our large flag. Our new friend came over and promptly burst my pride bubble. “Nice Puerto Rican flag – but it’s upside down.” Knowing that this is the signal for a declaration of war, embarrassment doesn’t quite fit. The single star in the middle should have the point pointing to the skies. He was quite nice about it and then proceeded to point out that more than half the boats in the marina had upside down flags.

Taking a taxi to Mayaguez to officially check in let the kids see that we were in America – sort of. American stores of every variety make up most of the businesses, all with a Spanish flair. It’s pretty cool. The first question at immigration was “do you have a decal?” I could have yelled at the guy, but held my tongue. We now have our own, official, spectacular DECAL.

The happy family aboard Rivers2Seas

Heading south around the corner of Puerto Rico and then East along the coastline enabled us to see the arid landscapes and picturesque lighthouses. Winds were light and seas relatively calm. We weren’t sailing Rivers2Seas, but we weren’t getting beat up either. Overnighting near a phosphorescent bay we made a nighttime tour in the dinghy with new friends from Wildest Dream. The bay had some bioluminescence that would glow when disturbed. Just another real life lesson for the kids on ecology and organisms. The coolest part was when the organisms were sucked into the cooling system of the outboard. Large fireballs of light would shoot out. David from Wildest Dream, myself and Chase thought the fireballs were fantastically cool – it must be a guy thing.
Next we headed to Caja de Muertos (coffin island). Trying to catch some wind offshore, I managed to make some good time but it was like being on a broken rollercoaster for hours with no break. As a US National Park, the island has some good trails and information. There are also five mooring balls so that anchors don’t mess up the underwater ecosystem. Having had to raise the anchor by hand since the Bahamas, a mooring ball represents a day off for my back. A mooring ball is a permanently placed anchor, generally a heavy concrete block with a line and a ball floating that we can tie a line to and be done. We tied up and headed to shore.
Hiking along the path with towering thirty-foot tall Organ Pipe cacti all around and

The three amigos on a hike

lizards scurrying about, fit in well with Ella’s habitat lesson. From the top we toured the lighthouse, gave a lesson on navigation, windward and leeward shores while watching Rivers2Seas floating tranquilly far below. Most hikes we rarely get glimpses of our home, the foliage being too thick to see much of a vista. Lighthouses by their very nature of signaling to mariners where a headland or island is located have become desired hikes for all of us because of these great viewing areas.
The draw of the mooring ball or the great National Park, I’m not sure which, enticed us to stay another night. The next day we swam at the beach, collected seashells, watched the kids body surf the waves and then toured the museum. Relaxation and education – what could be better? Our best lessons with the kids are the ones where they don’t realize that it’s a lesson. Boat kids learn quickly that lessons and education and learning aren’t just a school thing; it’s a life thing. They see Lindsey and I gleaming information from other cruisers, locals, guidebooks and the internet. We are in constant learning mode. To be safe, to find the fun spots, to miss the bad sections, to find the exhilarating hikes, we must constantly be learning. The kids see this and emulate what we are doing. It is one of the great benefits of having our kids with us 24 hours a day.

Turtle

Ella

Laundry day

Leaving our mooring ball at 3:45AM was so easy, just untie one cleat and pull the line in. Lindsey went back to bed, while I navigated by radar and GPS. No moon, just Rivers2Seas floating below a sea of stars with bioluminescence filling the black sea. More than ever I felt like a space traveler going Mach speed though the galaxies. Sure we were only going 6mph, but that must have been the space-time continuum confusing me.
Outer Space has always fascinated me and looking at stars has made me feel so small. One of my favorite trips ever was skiing into Holy Cross Mountain with my buddy Bryce and his friend Dale. Dale was one of those great teachers that loved to teach anyone who cared to learn. He taught me names of distant galaxies and the fables and legends that went along with them. As I froze my butt off in a snowbank, he went on and on giving me my greatest space lesson. Sadly, he died the same day as my mother in an Alaskan avalanche sliding down a peak on a sled. Obviously, his joy of life never diminished. He must be orchestrating spectacular light shows with my mom now. Cheers, you two, the shows have been wonderful. This morning’s sunrise is just another spectacular ball of fire changing colors before me and all around. Peace.

Heading into Salinas harbor around 7AM, a military speedboat came up on our stern really fast. Moments before hitting us, the boat veered off and reconnoitered with another vessel. A few minutes later, we were flanked on either side by an impressive fast hypalon gunship and a local police boat. Luckily, no guns were drawn, but the presence was frightening. The police boat was trying to hail us on the radio. We could hear nothing. Close enough for talking; I let them know in Spanish that I couldn’t hear. They fiddled with the controls and still nothing. I asked if they were on channel 16, the universal emergency and hailing channel. More fiddling with controls. Finally, we were talking. One of the police officers gave the other the universal look of “you fool.” Nevertheless, they were going to follow us into the anchorage and board Rivers2Seas. We had to anchor twice which meant pulling the chain by hand, all the while with two gunboats at our side. We had hoped because of the early hour that the other boats in the anchorage hadn’t seen the parade. During the week we spent in Salinas we were constantly bombarded with “what happened with the police?” They were on the wrong channel and had to save face and check all our papers. Fun, military style.

Salinas is known for a good marine chandralry, good restaurants and cheap supermarkets. A cruisers paradise. In reality, the marine store had moved out of town, the restaurants were mediocre and the supermarkets far away. A cruisers reality. Often cruising feels like fixing a boat in paradise, looking for parts in a confusing city and being shocked by food prices.
Our watermaker had not been working right since we started in September. My friend

Bromiliads in bloom

John on Bikini helped me trick the computer and fill our tanks anyway. We ordered membranes while in Georgetown, Bahamas to fix it correctly. After a couple days of emails and working out the issues of our now extinct manufacturer the dealer informed me that he couldn’t sell us the membranes because of dealership exclusivity areas. I would have to order them from a guy in New Jersey. That guy didn’t have the parts either and didn’t want to order them from the manufacturer. I called the original guy back in Florida and pleaded for help. He thankfully did and so the saga of our well travelled parts begun. He had them air shipped from California to Florida, then shipped them ground to North Carolina to a guy who was sailing to the Bahamas, that guy gave them to a wonderful guy Mick in Georgetown, who gave them to our friends on Bikini who air shipped them to Fajardo, Puerto Rico. We rented a car and headed 100 miles to Fajardo to pick them up two months after the initial order. The kicker was that as we headed across the Mona Passage, the watermaker decided to work and now the parts are just another $1200 spare part aboard.
Renting the car and getting to a large West Marine store enabled us to fix all sorts of things on the boat. My list was long and the kids ran all over the store adding to the two carts of supplies. Day’s worth of projects now awaited me, but first we had some more touring to do with the car.

El Yunque National Forest

El Yunque is the only US National Park that is a rainforest. We had some spectacular hikes looking for flowering bromeliads, critters, and waterfalls. More education from the tourist sites and maps and the lessons on habitat continued. The lushness of the foliage, cascading waterfalls and intermittent rain was like moisturizer on our skin. The kids ran down the spongy muddy paths screaming, “look at this” every 100 feet.
Heading into Old San Juan, we toured the large

Just another famous fort

forts with thousands of other cruise boat tourists. Cool forts but the people all seemed fat and pink. We wondered what all the locals thought of the pink tourists. The Puerto Ricans were all dressed to impress with the shoes being a focal point. Our water sandals did not pass muster. A fantastic sushi dinner on the main walkway while sipping a Medalla beer let us people watch.

The kids couldn't get enough and pointed everywhere

The next day we restocked the boat with $1400 worth of provisions from a Sams Club, Wal-Mart & local vegetable store. We had already stocked up in Boquerón a week ago with $800 in groceries but cheap food is hard to find in the islands. The fridge and freezer were stocked full. Some American brands like GoGurt (freezable yogurt) excited the kids. When you have a three-week search for Cherrios, finding a favorite specialty food is really exciting. Finding NutterButters in the store sent Chase screaming through the aisles until he found mom. Our kids have certainly learned how to be thrifty with their treasured foods. We eat less than we ever did in our land-based life, but spend three times as much on food of generally lesser quality. It’s one of the great frustrations for all cruisers.

In Salinas bay we drank coffee each morning looking for the elusive Manatees that frequent the area. Often we would see ripples but not much more. Once a huge 1000-pound lumbering blob came right up to Rivers2Seas. It was spectacular. Seeing animals this rare and so close is one of the great fortunes for all cruisers.

The crew

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.