Friday, April 28, 2006

Puerto Rico

We left just before dawn the next morning and had flat seas until we turned down the coast past Punta Nisabon, DR. The wind came up that afternoon and the seas were a little rough but calmed down as the sun set. We were able to keep the main up the whole way and shut the motor off for a while. We angled across the hourglass shoals and took one tack to get out across the narrow section. The next morning we were off Cabo Rojo, the southwest corner of Puerto Rico, motor sailing in calm seas all the way to Ponce. Thirty two hours to do just over 200 miles!

Ponce is a terrific provisioning spot. Benno and Marlene on "Diesel Duck" (that's it above) were already anchored so we arranged for a one day car rental from Popular Car Rentals for $39 (they picked us up at the Yacht Club and dropped us off) and shopped at Sam's, Wal-Mart and Pueblo Supermarkets.

We had to make two trips we got so much stuff! That night there was a sundowners party for boaters in the harbor at a small park. At least twenty boat crews were there - great food.
Diesel Duck and ourselves left Friday morning at 4:30 AM and had a beautiful sail down the coast to Salinas. This is a lovely protected spot but if we'd followed our charts' advice, we would have had
to skip it - they all showed much to shallow water The Salinas Marina has a Laundromat ($1 per machine), pool and snack bar which they let all the anchored boats use.We met up with friends from Columbia, Luis and Natalia, on Vagamundo and rented a car with them for two days to see some of the island. Ponce on the south coast was very different from San Juan. We appeared to be the only non Puerto Ricans in the city. The Museum of Art there was world class! The Castillo, built in the 50's for a prominent family that is now available for a tour is build high up on the mountain overlooking the city. The gardens and view were worth the trip alone.

San Juan was beautiful and at least until later in the day, not crowded. Once the cruise ships empty, the streets load with
tourists. We walked all around the city and toured the fort. Unfortunately I had a bad case of the stomach flu and was a bit of a party pooper. We found a very nice restaurant however with something for everyone. We drove through the island on the way there and back along the east coast - a very twisty road with lovely views.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Los Haites National Park, Dominican Republic

We left Luperon Thursday night April 13 in marginal conditions with our friends Ed and Linda on "Dreamtime" around 5:30 PM with northeast swells around 5 - 6 ft. and NE winds 10 knots. We were able to keep the main up most of the night and the waves moderated as the night went on. The winds shifted more to the west by morning and we were downwind sailing as we approached Escondido where we had thought to anchor. We had made such good time that it was only 8 AM and we talked it over after speaking to Chris and decided to go directly to Samana. The cliffs of Cabron were so beautiful and the scenery down the east coast lovely. Added to that, after making the turn south, we were on a beam reach and of course that's a sailor's definition of perfect. Jurassic Park was filmed in this area and it does look like that.

We anchored in Samana Bay at 3 PM and were almost immediately boarded by four men; the "Harbor master" who spoke very good English, the assistant commandant, and two other "officials". They asked for drinks (we gave them fruit juice and soda) and tips. There is a $15 port fee. The harbor master came back out with another "dispachio" and receipt for the $15. We were very annoyed by the whole process but talking about it together with other boats we learned a lot from the experience.

We thought the harbor was very pretty with lots of room to anchor. Steep hills with multi color homes surround the anchorage on two sides and on the other was a long footbridge connecting a series of islands. We took our dinghy in the next morning and hired a motorcycle with two person carriage to take us to the market. He waited and took us back. The open air market was really interesting and we got some vegetables and fruit. We took a nice walk along the harbor too. A boy "watched" our dinghy for a small tip.

We sailed across the bay to Los Haites National Park at Bahia San Lorenzo and that was a really beautiful location. This was one of our trip highlights so far. The anchorage was gorgeous and unique.
Lumpy green hills with caves and cliffs line the bay. Our guide book said it was as similar to Bora Bora as you can get in this hemisphere. A ranger hut with one official who comes in by boat each day is on a small beach. There are interesting caves nearby that he took us through which were extensive and had Taino Indian carvings.

The next day all six of the boats in the anchorage took our dinghies up the narrow (at times only 12 feet across) winding Rio Chiquita, an amazing and lovely trip, to the end. This felt a bit like a Disney ride but much prettier and without the animatronic animal figures. There is a substantial dock to leave the dinghies with an armed guard, then we walked to Paraiso Cano Hondo, a eco-resort with a series of little waterfalls made from a stream diverted throughout the facility.
As it was Easter Day lots of families were spending the day here swimming in the pools. We wished we had worn our suits. The food was good. You chose your meat/fish and then the side dishes came family style. Natural materials are used very artistically in the construction and the twelve of us had a great lunch. We met the owner, a Cuban American from NJ who has a ranch nearby.

After lunch there we climbed a steep path and staircase up the mountain behind the last hotel units to a pretty view. The construction of all this is amazing. We all agreed that this was what cruising was all about!

The other four boats left on Monday night but another boat we're traveling with, "Diesel Duck", and ourselves waited for the light and variable conditions on Tuesday to cross the dreaded Mona Passage. Monday was my birthday and Benno and Marlene came over with some fabulous food for a celebration.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Dominican Republic

We really enjoyed the Dominican Republic and it was great seeing it with Mitch (shown here with Scott and looking like he's enjoying life!) and Diane Korbey. We did the famous all day waterfall trip out of Luperon and that was really fun. The first part of the day was really a glorified shopping expedition but the wood/stone carving cooperative was interesting, we did buy one, - and the villages on the trip up into the mountains were a trip back in time, even in the DR. Later in Santo Domingo we went to the Museum of Anthropology and what was in the exhibits was on display in reality in the mountain villages.

Picture below show us at the museum and a carnival costumer. The falls themselves were very exciting and challenging. There are 16 different levels of falls to climb and on the way down you slide or jump the up to 20 foot drops. The women in our group made it to 4 and the men to 7. This attraction couldn't exist in the States, the liability issues would be too great!

Our trip to Santo Domingo was great. The Zona Colonial is mostly 1500's buildings and churches and reminded us of Rome and San Juan. We ate at two great restaurants in the evening and saw several interesting museums. Mostly we just walked around and took it in. We stayed at the Duc de Wellington, Bruce's favorite. After we upgraded our rooms, it was very nice ($61 cash), but the standard rooms were small and dark. We took the local buses both directions. They pack these buses like Japanese trains - seats fold down to load the aisle. Diane and Mitch flew back home from Santo Domingo. We were so sorry to see them go.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Georgetown to Luperon, Dominican Republic

We stayed in this lovely spot for a week and met many other interesting cruisers. A group of south bound boats had had several meetings already and we joined them for several more. We had "Lioness III", "Nereia" and "Casa del Mar" came over for drinks one night and all had dinner together another night. Diane and Mitch Korbey flew in on April 1 with twenty pounds of meat, assorted groceries, lots of boat supplies and our mail. It was so great to see them and we decided against the big "Bob" party on the beach in favor of a quiet dinner together. The next morning most of the boats in our group left for Conception Island.
There were eight boats in a convoy behind us going out the North Channel Rocks cut at dawn. It was pretty rough and many had to use the full strength of their engines to maintain headway. This is one of the many times we are thankful for our big diesel motor. We spent the day motor sailing into the wind and waves - even though the wind wasn't that strong, it feels that way when you're headed directly into it. Three of the boats peeled off near the end of Long Island and either anchored there or headed south down the east shore; Dan and Jamie on "Nereia"(that's Jamie on the left in the second picture below with Dan in the middle between Terry and Marietta), Ed and Linda on "Dreamtime", and Alistair and Joy on "Seagulls". Terry and Marietta on "Lioness III", Mike and Linda (on the right immediately below with Benno) on "Casa Del Mar", Mick and Jill on "Nortada" and Benno and Marlene on "Diesel Duck" followed us. Conception was amazingly lovely, the water crystal clear and the anchorage surrounded by reefs and beaches. We celebrated on the beach with drinks and food and snorkeled the following morning after a long walk. Around 2 PM we started for Rum Cay and we at least sailed the whole way making up to 7 knots with fairly large seas. Near Rum at 4:30 PM we tried to start the motor and couldn't see any water discharge. We'd had problems with our impeller before and assumed we'd blown another one. This meant sailing into the reef entrance in rough seas and over 15 knots of wind. The easier entrance was 10 miles away but we couldn't sail direct but
had to make long tacks to position ourselves. It was almost dark when we finally crossed the reef and pulled down the sails as the sun set. Three dinghies from our fellow sailors appeared, roped themselves to us and motored us over to the anchorage. We really enjoyed our "sundowners" and dinner that night!
The next day Scott tore apart the engine while Diane, Mitch and I dinghied into the small village for some provisions and a walk. The engine checked out fine and the weather was looking great so we decided to sail the 140 miles directly to Mayaguana and spend a night there. We had a meeting aboard our boat to discuss everyone's plans. "Diesel Duck" decided to sail direct for the Turks and Caicos. The rest of the boats decided to sail two separate nights with shorter distances and join us there.

The first night the seas were rough enough that Diane and Mitch couldn't sleep in their V berth and had to share the salon seats. The next day it smoothed out some but we cleaned up the lower bunk bed and that made a quieter berth for Diane. It was a lovely evening and so easy with four of us to share watches. We stood two hours watches with six hours off. The next morning we spoke to "Dreamtime" who were now ahead of us and had decided to sail directly for Luperon. We had never considered that option but had always planned to go through the Turks and the Caicos. When we looked at the charts and spoke to Chris Parker about the weather, we realized it was a great opportunity.

The weather was going to disintegrate in two days time and we'd be stuck in Provo for most of the next week. We needed to arrive in Luperon in the erly morning and according to the bible "Passages South" by Bruce Van Sant, the anchor had to be down there by 8AM. That gave us some time to spend in the idyllic anchorage at Mayaguana tucked into the reef for the afternoon snorkeling, napping, and having an enormous late lunch. We did have showers briefly and a gust of wind that generated a water spout which looked like a thin tornado coming down from the clouds and roughing up the water at it's terminus. Near sundown we carefully retraced our path out of the reefs and set sail for the Dominican Republic. It was a lovely trip, 2 nights and one day of good seas and wind enough to mostly sail. We saw very few boats, mostly sailboats heading north from Puerto Rico. These three nights in a row sailing was a record for us and with a fabulous crew, lots of fun. Diane and Mitch are such great company and of course, much more experienced sailors than ourselves. They cruised the Caribbean and South America for eight years on their boat, "Segue". One unusual occurrence was the appearance of a Coast Guard helicopter which flew out just to circle us and then disappear on the horizon. Another was stopping the boat while out to sea and in pairs being towed behind the boat on a long line - the water was wonderful, a deep clear sapphire blue.
At 4AM we could see a faint glow on the horizon and the smell of land, quite distinct, was lovely. Soon the high mountains of the Dominican Republic loomed up and so did a series of showers that thankfully didn't contain gusty winds. At 6:30AM we were off the entrance to Luperon and called "Seacomber Mike" as advised. He came out in a dinghy and led us through the sometimes narrow channel into the anchorage and then found us a good place and advised us on the process of setting the anchor. At 8AM as ordered by our guru Bruce Van Sant, our anchor was down (and set opposite to the direction of the other boats and towards the prevailing winds)! The four of us celebrated with a big breakfast.
Luperon is a hurricane hole, surrounded by deep mangrove lined channels. High mountains stretch off in the distance on three sides and over one hundred boats shelter within. There is a small marina and a "yacht club", really another small marina, each with a bar and restaurant. The yacht club sits high on a hill and has a beautiful view of the harbor. The town itself is small and simple, two main streets with small stores/cafes etc. lining them. There are several locations with intermittent internet access and tiny grocery stores with various choices. Several open air restaurants are in town as well. This is a town with a lot of "expats", known as a black hole, where cruisers come and often, never leave. The Dominican people are very nice and the scenery everywhere, beautiful - and of course, things are much cheaper than the states. We met a number of former cruisers, some still
living on their boats, others that have bought property, that now call Luperon home.

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