The Virgin Islands – I think we could stay here forever! We have been here before on charter boats and loved it, however being here on our own boat without a “schedule” is so much better!
I guess I should back up and catch everyone up from our last detailed post that was in Farmers Cay, Bahamas. We spent several weeks in Georgetown, Bahamas, making new friends and participating in the festivities of the Annual Cruisers Regatta (I learned the proper way to toss coconuts!). We were introduced to another couple that had the same plan of heading South to Grenada/Trinidad for the summer and decided to buddy boat with Wade and Maureen on Just Drifting, a Beneteau 473. While Maureen took leave of the boat to be in attendance for her first grandchild’s birth, Wade’s mom Marge joined the party from Georgetown to the Dominican Republic. While in Georgetown we were lucky enough to find a cruiser who was heading back to the US and didn’t have any use for his copy of Bruce Van Sant’s “Gentlemen’s Guide to Passages South”. We accepted it graciously, read it cover to cover and decided we would try to follow it as much as possible, however we just don’t have the patience or time it takes to have a completely “thornless” passage.
Our first stop out of Georgetown was a peaceful night on the tip of Long Island. The next day we headed for Rum Cay (hoping to sample some rum) to meet up with our buddy boat and return their jerry cans. Because of our draft we couldn’t get to the fuel docks in Georgetown, so we borrowed Just Drifting’s jerry cans to fuel up before we left (poor Jon had to dinghy back and forth across the bay in heavy chop at least four times with 6 gerry cans full of diesel). When we got to Rum Cay the wind was out of the South and blowing 26 knots. The anchorage faces the South and the reef isn’t really big enough to offer any protection from the waves. Not the best night on the hook we have had and it was Jon’s 50th birthday! I tried to make it special by cooking steak au poivre over creamy truffle butter mashed potatoes while Wade made a key lime pie. We decided we would celebrate Jon’s birthday month, even a full year instead of just one day, especially since we didn’t get much sleep. So much for sampling any rum, we didn’t even get to go ashore.
We left the next day and headed to Mayaguana, Bahamas. Although this anchorage was a little rolly we decided that we would wait here for the next weather window. Jon and Wade went spear fishing along the reef that protects the anchorage and caught several lobster. We also had a lot of luck finding conch in this area – I made cracked conch, poor man’s lobster (made from conch) and a baked conch dish. All were delicious! We went ashore one day and met a local guide Scully. What a nice guy! He sold me a couple of lures that I named “the greenie meanies”, he assured me these would help catch “the big Mahi Mahi”. So far the only thing I have caught with them has been sea weed… After about the fifth day rocking and rolling in this anchorage we had an opening in the weather to cross over to the Turks and Caicos (T&C’s) bank and make our way to the Dominican Republic (DR).
We left late one afternoon and motor sailed the entire night to make the T&C’s bank just after sunrise the next morning. What a beautiful country, it would have been nice to stop here for a night or two however they have just changed the cruising fee to $150 to clear in even for a few days (you used to be able to pay $15 for a permit for one week). We did stop and drop the hook to rest up at Ambergris Cay and then again at Big Sand Cay. Jon and Wade found many more conch under the boats at Ambergris Cay so we had enough to put a few in the freezer.
T&C’s Big Sand Cay is a small island in the Atlantic Ocean with the only inhabitants being sand crabs, birds, lizards and lot’s of no-see-um’s. It is a great staging place to rest up and prepare for the overnight trip to the DR. We put our Yolo paddle boards in and went ashore to stretch our legs. I had never actually paddled to a beach with a surf before and I got rolled as I hit the shore and ended up swimming in the surf with sand getting into every crevice (my mouth, ears, nose, in my hair – it took weeks to get all the sand out of my bathing suit), not a graceful landing! Jon’s dismount was much better. It was amazing to stand on the hill and compare both sides of the island – one facing the north east with its hard pounding surf and rocky shore and the other with a sandy beach and smooth crystal clear blue water rolling peacefully ashore. Proof of what the consistent wind from one direction can do to a shoreline.
We had a magical sail the first half of the night to the DR. We were under full sail enjoying a reach making 6.5 – 7 knots. The sky was clear and I just knew I was going to get to see the Southern Cross. Well, not tonight… About half way across the sky began to fill with clouds and the radar showed clusters of thunderstorms all over. We tried to maneuver around the storms but they seemed to follow us and converge just ahead of us. The wind went from 15 knots to 30 in just seconds and the steep choppy waves begin to build. We reefed the main and mizzen and furled in part of the jib, still under sail alone we continued forward in the squalls. About 4:00 in the morning I began to smell earth as the outline of the mountains of the DR rose out of the horizon and by 7:30 we saw the entrance to Luperon. As we entered the foreign port we were amazed at how dirty the water was; we had been warned ahead of time and made sure we had full water tanks before arriving – no making water in there. We were guided to a “mooring” (which was a plastic bottle hanging on a small line that disappeared into the water) by Poppo (Pop Oh) acting as the local harbor guru – moorings, water, fuel, tour guide, taxi services, you need it he’s got it. The “mooring” was $2 per day, you can’t beat that!
We had a great time in Luperon – the food, beer, rum, and fresh veggies sold from the back of a pick up truck were all very inexpensive. The local people were very friendly and you could see how they treasure their family and friends. There were also a lot of cruisers that landed there and have never left. A very relaxed atmosphere, I would recommend it to anyone who happens to be cruising the northern part of the DR.
We took a day trip up to the 27 Falls – this is a natural set of water falls that begins at the top of a mountain and traverses down through 27 different water falls. You hike up the mountain on a man made trail and then get into the water. The only way down is to jump into the deep pools, slide down the smooth rocks, float in the clear, cold water and hike the wet, muddy trails and slick ladders that line the water way until you are down to the bottom. It is certainly something you should do if you ever get the chance! It was thrilling, scary and fun all at the same time – better than any Six Flags ride I have ever been on.
As part of our day trip we went into Puerto Plata for a few groceries, a side visit to the Amber Museum, and visit a “master” cigar maker. Jon and Wade were shown how to roll cigars by the master. We stopped for a bite to eat at one of the local places in a little town in between Puerto Plata and Luperon; we had grilled chicken, beans, rice and plantains or yucca and of course a grande La Bohemia cerveza – all five of us ate for 800 pesos. Time for a nap!
After ten days of having a wonderful time in Luperon it was time for us to move on. Clearing out of the country was quite interesting, fees for this, fees for that, no receipts available, we had heard stories about the customs and immigration fees for DR, I have to say most of what we heard seemed to be true.
The weather window was supposed to hold for a trip along the north coast of Puerto Rico and allow us to head directly to St Thomas, USVI. Well, so much for that – we were blown down along the eastern coast of the DR in rough seas with a northerly swell so we decided to tuck into Samana, DR and wait it out. Just before sunset we were escorted into the channel by a pod of dolphins, before it was completely dark we anchored off a Cayo Leventado, a beautiful island outside the Samana harbor. We headed into the port of Samana the next morning. As soon as we dropped our anchor in the port of Samana the customs officials were on their way to our boat, no hassles here, they seem to be very understanding and often get boats that had no intention of stopping here. We spent a couple of days in Samana waiting for the right weather window to head to the southwest coast of Puerto Rico, only two other cruising boats appeared while we were there. When you enter Samana it seems magical, until you hit the streets – everyone on the street wants to sell you something or are begging for a hand out, and they are very persistent. We also spoke to several people that warned us to watch our boat very carefully, never leave anything lying around, be on board before dark, and always lock up your dinghy (even if you have it raised in the davits on your boat). We spoke to one of the local guys that interprets for the customs officers and he said that Samana used to receive many cruising boats every day, but due to the theft issues they now only receive several a week. I was really looking forward to getting out of Samana.
Finally we had the window we were looking for to cross the Mona Passage. We followed Van Sant’s advice and motor sailed down the east DR coast in calm flat water. Our pod of dolphins were there to escort us out of the channel and play in our bow wake once again. We were looking for the night lee (the wind that is generated by the cooling of the land after the sun goes down – it gets sucked out over the warm water and overrides the trade winds if the trades are light). We were surprised to see little tiny spots on our radar off the coast and smell a strong cigar odor (we were in fairly deep water several miles off shore), turns out the radar spots were small fishing boats (boats being a generous term, they were more like little rowing skiffs) – we heard that the fishermen would go out in these for days at a time. We must have seen at least ten while under way, and those were the ones that would hold up their lantern when we would get near so we wouldn’t run into them. No motors on these things only a set of oars.
When we were off the point of Punta Macao, north of the treacherous hourglass shoals, we turned east, bound for Boqueron on the southwest side of PR. The wind shifted directions underway and was actually out of the South so we ended up sailing into Mayaguez, PR (where we would have had to take a bus or taxi to go into clear customs anyway). After two days in Mayaguez walking all over the place and meeting some very nice, helpful locals we headed down the coast to Boqueron. It was Easter weekend and boy do the Puerto Ricans love to celebrate their holidays!
Boqueron is a beautiful, colorful, lively little town with a very large protected harbor. They like to refer to themselves as “The Key West of PR”. Now we lived in Key West for over a year and there is no comparison, but I didn’t tell them that. On the port side of the boat is the town, off the bow is a very long, beautiful sandy beach, and off to starboard is a hurricane hole and hills spotted with just a few private residences. The people are so happy here in PR. We spent a few days walking around the town, the beach, and sampling the local cuisine. My favorite was the shrimp empanadillas.
We left Boqueron on Easter Sunday to motor sail all the way around the south side of PR, through the Spanish Virgin Islands and up to St. Thomas USVI’s. We had located a marina where we thought we would have our boat hauled out, an insurance inspection completed along with a bottom paint job (more on that in our next post). We also had friends who were meeting us in St. Thomas and we wanted to be there in plenty of time to get things ready for their visit. We will have to go back to PR one day, what a beautiful country and we didn’t even scratch the surface, plus I really want to experience the Spanish Virgin Islands. There is just so much to see in this beautiful world. That’s probably more than enough for now, I will post a separate blog for the Virgin Islands soon.