Continued by First Mate...
We pick up a scruffy guy with a bag and a pretty Dominican girl who look like they need a lift into town. What a small world, the drums turn out to be his, tricky to keep on his boat and ferry backwards and forwards. Geoff (or another Jeff) will be playing at Shaggies on Wednesday night and takes us on a tour of Luperon pointing out various places to eat which are all closed. He takes us past Shaggies before we drop him off near a herd of moto-conchos.
There's a guy roasting most of a pig on a bar-be-que and later we regret not picking up a bag of this delicious looking pork. We stop to buy cigarettes and Colin points out a sheep in a shop doorway just watching the world go buy or maybe it's just waiting for the shops to open. Our search for breakfast in Luperon proves futile so we head back to the Marina to wait for the staff, a meagre toastie sandwich and much-needed coffee. Ray turns up and has a list of minor repairs he hopes Colin can help him with and, after pumping up the leaky dingy we head out to Odyssey.
The boys bond over marine electrics and auto-pilots whilst I sit on the upper deck enjoying the tranquil scene and pondering on which boat to buy. Trying to make myself useful, I haul up a bucket of sea water to wash the decks down but only manage to wipe around the hatches and clean up a little. Eventually Colin and Ray have managed to fix the light on the compass but other things need parts or modifications so we motor back to the Marina for a beer and some lunch.
Later we wander around to look at a boat which had sunk. The new owner is trying to raise it from the deep, watched by other yachties who all have opinions on the best way to do it. I notice the boat is one that is on my list of possible boats to buy - cross that one off then! What a shame, it is a lovely classic yacht with a teak deck that's going to need some major refitting. We pick our way back along the rickety wooden walkway, stepping over soaked foam seating and other bits of the interior of the sunken yacht.
Arrangements made to meet Ray and Barry at Shaggies later we set off in our hire car followed by our Captain and his crew on an orange scooter (which could belong to a past girlfriend of Ray's but that's another story).
I'll leave the story of Shaggies to my skipper, suffice to say it was hectic, chaotic and loud with some interesting looking folk - just what I'd expected but more so. Next day Ray thinks he may have lost his phone when Barry ditched the scooter and tipped him into a bush. Later we find it on the boat with 43 missed calls from his 26 year old girlfriend.
Tuesday Dec 1st, we arrive back in Luperon to go sailing again at Captain Rays' unique sailing escuela, and we're going to be here for three days so we've decided to seek out some accommodation instead of staying on Rays yacht. Jackie has googled a couple of possible small hotels in Luperon, but after a quick reccy we head for the Luperon yacht club on the off chance of getting a room there. When we arrive the car park is full and we find a full scale wedding reception underway. They have rooms at $50 a night for two, the room we can have has a toilet and shower, aircon, two single beds and a full drum kit!
We'll move the drum kit, she says and we accept the room. The yacht club is a two tier round cana roofed building that overlooks the wide expanse of Luperon bay. The party is underway downstairs where a live salsa band is setting up, whilst we opt for a cold Pesidente on the top terrace. This is when we meet with Jeff and Lucy, he's English and she's an American, they've just got back from Las Vegas where they went to get married. We and this couple are the only non party goers there so of course we fall into conversation and for the next couple of hours enjoy the overspill of the frivolities downstairs as well as tales from Jeff and Lucy of sailing exploits and other less nautical things. Over the next couple of days we'll hear more about this odd couple, she seems a gentle soul whilst Jeff is quite the opposite, perhaps to the extent of crass, but maybe it's the aftermath of their own celebrations and a little too much vitamin R.
We've come to Luperon, midweek to go to Shaggies bar where there's a sort of open mic, jam session on Wednesday and I'm going to go and play a few tunes and meet some of the "local" musos, who are all expat yachties. Jeff, it turns out is one of these, and his wife, Lucy, also plays flute, they'll be there tomorrow.
At about 10pm, with the party now running down and Jeff and Lucy gone we go off to our room. The aircon isn't working and the Luperon night air hangs heavy, the fan just about moves the heat around but doesn't cool us. The lights are out in Luperon but the yacht club has it's own generator, unfortunately the generator is situated on the roof directly over our room. Fortunately we have consumed the required amount of rum to send us both soundly off to sleep, eventually.
We wake before dawn, the yacht club is deserted and Jackie takes an early morning dip in the infinity pool as the sun inches into a clear blue sky, and a giant full moon, all shimmering silver dips below the opposite hill. The choice of a room at the yacht club may have lots of faults in the fixtures and fittings dept but we can't fault the dawn, this is worth the $50, well maybe $25. which is what it costs in the end.
Today we're meeting Ray and are going to help him fix some things on his boat, we've arranged to meet at 9am at puerto blanca marina, and as there's no breakfast at the yacht club we head on down there at about eight to try and find a coffee and a bite to eat.
11/24/2009, Luperon DR
By the time we leave the luperon yacht club, fed and watered darkness has descended on the bay and we make our way by torch light down the steps to the jetty where our dingy is tied up. Jackie and me will be staying aboard Odyssey tonight, but Ray and Barry are going back to Rays house so we sail them over the short distance to the "Marina", drop them off and putter off in the saggy dingy into the darkness of the bay. Somewhere out in the middle
lies our hotel for the night, but after a few G&Ts and as all boats look alike in the dark finding ours maybe a bit tricky.
Maybe more by luck than judgement we find Odyssey and clamber aboard remembering to secure the dingy with a clove hitch, and a few oxos' around a cleat, just to make sure.
Our provision chest has the essential bottle of rum and some sprite, we pour a couple of glasses, and sit on the back of the boat, on flat calm water, the temperature is about 25 degrees and the skyis a canopy of stars, with a beautiful crescent moon dipping in the eastern horizon. This is the perfect end to our first adventure with captain Ray. It's airless very hot inside the boat so we get the cushions out onto deck and stretch out to drift off beneath the stars, dreams are made of this.
I wake up at about 6am, and pop my head up above the gunnel to see the beginning of a spectacular dawn, Jackie is sitting topside, she's been up for a little while restling with the stove, to make us a cuppa, but Rays querky cooker has defeated her efforts, so she's content to just soak up the stillness all around. I have more luck with the stove and manage to finally coax a cup of tea out of it. As the light lifts we're becalmed on this mill pond of Luperon bay, where the sailboats are one by one picked out gleaming white in the morning sun.
A row boat with one lone soul glides between the yachts heading for his lobsterpots, I suppose, and as he passes in the distance I can hear him singingto himself, and the dawn. We sit and watch, I get my watercolours out to capture the scene, but the boats keep swinging round that
makes for a difficult subject. At about 9am we take to the dingy, after pumping her up a little, to have a little sail around seeing if we can spot boats for sale that we've seen on the internet, and finally head over to
the "Marina" for breakfast.
About 50 yards from the shore the engine coughs and splutters to a stop, it's run out of fuel. We take to the oars for the last leg of the trip, although we're not too good at this and our forward
trajectory is more of a zig zag. A passing sailor in a working dingy offers us a tow and we tie up at the jetty, I refuel, before going for breakfast. Ray arrives to meet us and we sit for an hour chatting to other Luppies before boarding the Dingy for another days sail on Odyssey.
By now we know our way out of the mouth of the bay and we're soon up with the sails and once again bouncing along in 5ft swells and a stronger wind than yesterday. We're going to do lot's of tacking today,and won't be out as long, but it's as good or even better than yesterday, maybe we're getting the hang of this sailing now, and maybe Rays a good teacher. He's always calm whatever the situation, even heeledright over at almost 70 degrees he reckons all is fine, we loose the wind at that angle and back she comes,racing along at maybe 8 knots in very sloppy seas.
After a three hour sail we're entering Luperon bay again, and this time Ray has ditched the chart and has decided, in his words that we just eyeball our way in, and although we watch the depth finder like hawks, this time we never have less than 8ft under the keel, and with Jackie at the helm, we enter harbour with no more incidents. We lunch on the special at the "marina", and listen to more of Rays sea stories, of which there are many, on the next table to us is Bruce Van Zant, who wrote the definative caribbean cruisers bible, A Gentlemans guide to passages south, how cool is that, but we're too shy to say hello, it's enough to be dining and sailing in his domain.
That's about it for the weekend, only to say that for Ray it's been a reason for him to pull up his anchor and get back to sailing, he seems to have thoroughly enjoyed taking his boat out, at last, and we have learned lots more about the art of sailing, especially here on the high seas of the Dominican republic. We say our farewells and arrange to make a date in the next week or so to do it all again.
11/24/2009, Luperon DR
First up is the mainsail, I turn the boat into the wind, as instructed, and, Ray and Barry hoist on the line that takes the mainsail to the top of the mast, it flutters in the breeze and after an ajustment of the main sheet we're under sail at last about half a mile offshore. We've managed to miss the reef and avoid getting snagged on the lobsterpot markers which are just plastic milk bottles bobbing about the entrance. When we sailed in Largs there was a wind indicator at the top of the mast, but on Rays boat it's fallen off, but the wind generator is a good indicator, except that when I look up at it I'm blinded by the sun. Anyway the best way is to feel where the winds coming from, says Ray, and he's right after a little while I can tell when we pick up speed, or loose it.
Odyssey has a tiller and this takes some getting used to, it's sort of counter intuitive, as you have to push in the opposite direction to where you want to turn. The engine is off now and we're heading out into the Atlantic, with a good breeze off the right hand side of the boat, or starboard as we sailors say. Time to hoist the front sail, or jib, this is done by pulling on a line that unrolls a sail called a furling jib. This causes a few interesting exchanges between Barry and Ray who at this time are manning the ropes. Just a note here to say that Rays friend Barry is over here on holiday and knows almost less than we know about sailing, and he wears a hearing aid which hampers communication at times. He is also one of natures clumsey types, a combination that causes some mild amusment from me and Jackie, with Rays exasperated jordie lilt, exuding frustration at his second mates ability to complete the raising of the jib without snagging a line of pulling when he should be paying out his line. It's all done in good humour though and with the Jib now set we enjoy a bracing race across the bumpy seas sailing at about 5 knots.
It's totally exhilerating, neither of us feels remotely sea sick and we take turns at the helm. We're out about 15 miles before we turn and head back towards the shore and back to Luperon. Ray seems pleased with the performance of Odyssey, and we have had a great experience and learned a lot of anecdotal stuff, from Rays' unique unflustered style of instruction. The wind has strengthened on the way in and we're often heeled over at well beyond 45 degrees before we make it back to the entrance to Luperon bay. The mainsail comes down, the engine kicks back into life, and the jib is furled, as we now try to pick the right line to sail back into the bay, Jackie steers clear of the lobster "buoys" and the reef, which is just off to port and we enter shallow water.
The depth gauge reads 12 to 13 ft as I take over the helm, Ray has the "chart" out and is checking the GPS. We need to zig zag at this point, but with no indication from buoys Ray wants me to head towards a headland of beach that we graced on the way out. We're not doing more than one or two knots, when suddenly we come to abrupt halt. Oh dear we've run aground, the depth went from 10ft to 5ft 6" in a few yards. Ray throws the engine into reverse but to no avail, forward does absolutely nothing either.
We need to unfurl the jib, says Ray, this will help the boat heel over to free the keel that needs more than 6ft to clear the bottom. We all sit on one side of the boat, but we're still stuck fast, we rock as best we can but it now looks like we're well and truly grounded. At this point a sudden gust takes both Jackie and my hats off into the water and they slowly float away with no chance of retrieval. Mine slowly sinks whilst Jackies straw bonnet sails off into the distance.
Ray has exhausted his options and is thinking of calling for a tow when suddenly the depth gauge shows 7ft and we're floating free. We slowly regain our inward course when Ray realises we had picked the wrong bit of beach to head for. It's all a learning curve, and Ray says he always includes grounding as part of the course. Twenty minutes later we're safely back at Odyssey's mooring and heading, in the dingy for a cold beer at the "yacht club". We've been out for seven hours in gusts of up to twenty knots, and in quite choppy seas and it's been fantastic, tomorrow we'll be doing it all again, but without the grounding.
11/24/2009, 19.53.60N 70.57.0W
We're in Luperon at the Puerta Blanca so called "Marina", it's 9.30am and we're half an hour early, so we've ordered breakfast and are waiting for Ray to arrive to take us on a weekend sail down to El Castillo. Ray arrives with his friend Barry at about 10, and over coffee we get the low down on our itinary. Plans have changed, since we spoke a few days ago, because Ray tells us, that to leave Luperon he would need a despachio, which basically is a piece of paper from the harbour master to say we are not new arrivals to the country. Without this we can't dock in El Castillo so Ray suggests we go for a day sail and return to Luperon Bay for the night.
Ray then tells us that although he bought his boat, a 36ft contessa, three years ago he has only sailed it for one day and that was yesterday when he and Barry took it out to see if everything still worked. Still he seems confident that every things fine and so we head off to the jetty to climb aboard the dingy, although first Ray has to blow up the dingy as it's got a slow leak that he's tried to fix but so far he's failed to find it. Well I know what he means little leaks can be a bother, so we brush this off as an everyday hazard with dingies. Hold on, says Ray as he goes to start the out board it may shoot off at high speed as he has to start it at full throttle.The engine kicks into life and in a cloud of smoke we leave the jetty and skip across the calm waters of Luperon bay to find "The Odyssey" waiting serenely at anchor for us.
On board we find ourselves on a blokes boat, it's a bit of a mess to tell the truth and badly needs a womans touch, and a good bit of spit and polish. Anyway we're hardly going to be below so what the heck, we're here to learn to sail, and what we can see, and understand the bits that make the boat go are all there and Ray exudes an air of confidence that make us relaxed and ready to and learn to sail.
Ray shows us where the life jackets are, although we never put them on I'm reminded now, and showed us the toilet, which for some bizarre reason they call Head, and the rest of the downstairs stuff.
Once underway, Ray turns on his hand held GPS and gets out the chart. His chart for Luperon bay is an A4 copy given to him by a friend in Luperon which, although the course is clearly marked, it's relation to the shore is a little unclear to me. However there are, what they call waypoints, which are marked on a map of the sea and correspond to degrees of longitude and latitude. North to south lines go one way and the others go around the circumference, listen to me with me long words, they both represent 360 degees of a circle, and I remember being taught about that in school 50 years ago, and now I get to use it.
A GPS can pinpoint where you are at sea to within a yard. So looking at the readout on his GPS Ray is confident that we're on course and we putter out towards the mouth of the Bay, and out to sea. The waypoints, scribbled in biro on the "chart" proved to be fine. In my RYA dayskipper manual Ive read up on the international rules of the bouying systems,for harbors, and expected the same, or if not a little like it here. But when you leave Luperon there are no bouys. So these waypoints are crucial to the sailors, especially leaving and entering harbour.
Ray has put Barry on the tiller, and Barry is not the quickest of wits, and once or twice on the way out we had Ray chastising Barry for his heading skills, and his confusion in picking out transits, or landmarks as your landlubber would call them. Besides the GPS Ray has a bit of kit made by "Garmin" which I recognize from our Largs start yachting course. It tells you your depth and speed, unfortunately, this one is displaying no digits where it says speed, Ray has still to figure out how make that work, but he can get that from the GPS if he needs to. Cool, and those other three instruments that don't seem to be moving, oh that's the wind speed, but it's broken, the wind direction, is also not working plus another dial that stayed static. This made up the electronics of the Odyssey, although we did have a VHF radio that now and then would crackle into life, but only when someone in Luperon bay was organizing another sailors party so we paid it no attention.
The seas off the North coast of DR are often rough but today is just a pleasent 3 to 4ft swell and a good stiff inshore breeze. Lets go sailing.
11/16/2009, Dominican Republic
We're holed up in our apartment just east of cabarete on the North coast of Dom. Republica. We arrived late Sat, and after a get over it day on Sunday we decided last night, over a couple of margaritas that today would be a good day to visit Luperon. Like I said in the previous entry, we are hoping to connect with a guy called Ray whose offered to give us some lessons whilst we're out here on holiday for the next month.
Being from the Uk were about 4 hours ahead of the time here so we're always up very early, this morning we were up at about 4.30am. We figured it would take about two hours to drive to Luperon so we watched the dawn come up over our beautiful beach and after breakfast set off at about 8am.
We had a map, courtesy of the National geographic society, that we were hoping was going to guide us there, but by the time we left Puerto Plata we were starting to realise that this map wasn't exactly helpful. The main problem is that in Dom Rep you very rarely get signs that tell you where you're going so at best it's a guess that your on the right road. Number two problem is that towns that appear on the map are not on the road that we're taking, and towns that are signed aren't on our map. Anyway we found the Luperon turning and eventually Luperon itself. A quick enquiry as to where the Marina was, and we're told straight on. But staight on takes us 20 miles out of our way. We turned round and after backtracking to Luperon we eventually pull into the Luperon yacht club only to find out that it's open everyday except Monday. Today is Monday, doh.
The yacht club sounds very grand and although it's got a couple of infinity pools the size of a saucer I think it's seen better days, maybe when it's humming it's a different vibe but today it looked a little forlorn, and abandoned. We take one of the myriad of tracks to find ourselves at a keyside bar. At least we've found some water and some boats and best of all a bar where we can buy a cold cerveza. This place is also very quiet but there's someone to serve us a beer and that's enough. We ask about Gill, but recieve blank responses, we need to find Gil, who sells the boats to find Ray whose going to maybe take us sailing.
We run into a German lady in her mid 60s' who speaks English and knows Gil, but doesn't know how we get in touch with him even though she's had her boat on his books on and off for some time. She's been here for four years after sailing from Germany. She can't live on land she says, too many problems, and prefers to stay anchored here in Luperon bay. She gives us all sorts of negatives about buying boats here or even sailing here, it's all too difficult, but we take this with a pinch of briney, it's not what we want to hear and go off looking for Gil. After abortive sortees around the myriad of tracks we're back at the bar and run into a guy who says follow me I'm going to pass by Gils house. About a mile from the "marina/bar" we finally track down Gill, Luperon yacht sales man.
Gil (short for Gilbert but known as 'hilberto') lives in a building that is based around a container that he put on this piece of land some years back. It's hard to spot the container now but a part of it is still his office. The other 2/3rds has been converted to bedrooms. He's a convenial grey haired, but wirery Canadian who seems easy to talk to. He says he'll call Ray who may come around, which he does a few minutes later. Rays wearing shades and reminds me of my friend Tony, who went of to live in Thailand. He's seventy but seems full of beans and is obviously enjoying his expat life-style in the wild west type of town that is Luperon. Ray is a Newcastle man and still has the jordy lilt to his tonuge, I feel very easy in his company' but I'm not sure if he's really a proper sailor at this point or just someone with a boat eager to make a few bob.
He takes us off to meet with a man he's going to buy a telly off, the telly is on a boat in the bay and we drive off to meet Jerome. Jerome has a 38ft boat moored out in the bay, and we meet him on the ramshakle pier just on the edge of town. How we missed this bit of Luperon I don't know, but soon were in a dingy bobbing out to Jeromes boat. My boats for sale, he says , what are you looking for? That's exactly what the German lady said. Everybody here it seems is stuck here trying to sell their boat. Anyway we get on board Jeromes boat, have a beer and he demos his TV to Ray.
Afterwards we motor back to the keyside in the punt and Jerome takes Rays car, which he's hired for a few hours to go pick somebody up from the airport. We chat to Ray about sailing and got into town to conclude our intro in a humble small cafe that Ray recommends. Here we hear a little more of Rays adventures at sea, that are very entertaining, and give me more cofidence that we may just be able to learn a little more about the dark art of reefing and rigging, especially on the North coast of Dom. Rep.
He insists we come and visit his dominican domain, where lemon trees and Mangos grow in his Garden. But the house is a bit of a dissapointment, a little spartan, and a lot unkempt. The garden is also a wasteland of scrub stretching for all but 10 yards. But to give the man his dues it did have mango and lemon trees in it, I think.
We've taken Rays number and have said we're up for a voyage round the headland where we'll stop for the night before coming back to Luperon. There's a nice little fish resteraunt he knows in El castillo which sounds good to me, we'll stay overnight and sailback the next day. We can't get a price out of him but it will be less than Sunsail in the BVI, he says. I think he's a bit embarassed about money so we don't press that one, and just agree that sometime in the next week I'll call him and we'll arrange a time and a place. It's not exactly RYA but it's sailing in the Dominican Republic, and that's enough for me, and it's good enough for Jackie.
We leave at about four and head back to Orilla Del Mar, a two hour drive at prime chaos time on the road through Puerto Plata, but arrive before dark, infact with just enough light left for a dip in the pool, and a debrief of the day to Louise and David who have done Luperon. They liked it, but not for the same reasons we did, we were there for the boats, we had seen these boats on the internet and now here we were, and just a jot away from building on our start yachting course, but here in the caribbean, just down the road from our apartment, this was going to be a new adventure in Dom Rep and a little off beam, shall we say, but it fits in perfectly with our plan, so all we got to do now is call Ray, arrange a date, and we'll be sailing in the Caribbean.. Woooooooooooooooooooooooooweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.