01/16/2013, Ocean World Marina
From the coast it is already clear The Dominican Republic is a beautiful country. As a flatlander born and raised in The Netherlands everything higher than a sand hill is a mountain. So I call The Dominican Republic a rugged country with 4 mountain chains and 3 large fertile valleys running roughly east-west. The Cordillera Septentrional backs up the north coast, the Cordillera Central runs in the middle of the country and 2 smaller mountain systems called Sierra de Neiba and Sierra de Baoruco lie in the south west. The valleys are very fertile and very suitable for agriculture. Although the tropical trade winds, the surrounding ocean and the high elevation produce a climate far from tropics. Many times we found it quite cold, especially at night. These climate conditions give the DR the richest flora in the Caribbean. In many cases it reminds us of Indonesia, the country which we believe is the most beautiful in the world. So we put the DR in that same category and could live here forever. However, this describes the country side and not the cities and villages. The cities and villages are dirty, stinking and full of trash. It seems that the people in the DR do not realize that they are destroying one of the most beautiful countries in the world. At the same time the people are very friendly, helpful, and gracious and are very hospitable. Please start cleaning the streets and stop throwing trash out on the streets. The main highways are in excellent condition and in many cases are 4 lane highways. The smaller and city streets are okay, but have many potholes. The sidewalks are horrible and for people like Dorothy and I who like to experience a city by walking through it, this is quite dangerous, especially at night. This is of course due to the problem in any developing country; the politicians find money for new projects but never for maintenance. We found beautiful parks in Santo Domingo just for exercising, walking and biking. In other words we love the DR and the people, not so much the cities.
Puerto Plata is just 5 miles east of the Ocean World Marina and is a very interesting city with a great history. It is the second oldest town in the New World but except Fort San Felipe, the oldest European fort in the New World nothing can be found about the history. After the Spaniards abandoned the north coast of Hispaniola they burned all the cities and forced all the people living in this area to move. This is all the fault of the Dutch since they had the 80 year long war with Spain and started using the harbors along the north coast of Hispaniola. Fort San Felipe is wonderfully restored and we had a great time to visit it. The other main attraction is top of Mount Isabel Torres. You can reach the top of this mountain with a cable car. The mountain is part of the national forest and the vegetation is beautiful with flowers and ferns, but you also find pine trees. The view over the city and the ocean is breath taking. The city has a very wonderful boulevard along the coast starting from Fort San Felipe to the east. Puerto Plata is a tourist town with many good hotels and resorts along the coast.
Santiago is just 65 km south from Puerto Plata connected with a very nice road over the mountains. The city is in the middle of the Cibao Valley with a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains. The city has a lot of history but the buildings are not maintained and have nothing attractive anymore except The Monument. It was originally built during the dictatorship of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo in 1944 as "Trujillo's Monument to Peace." He ordered its construction in his own honor. Yet, symbolically the monument was built for the centennial of the Dominican War of Independence, which was fought in 1844 to gain sovereignty from Haiti. After Trujillo's assassination in 1961, the government changed the name of the monument to, "Monumento a los Héroes de la Restauración" (Monument to the Heroes of the Restoration). So it is now dedicated to the heroes of the Dominican Restoration War, fought from 1863 to 1865 against Dominican Colonist and Spanish forces. The monument is located on a hill in the middle of Santiago, with spectacular views of the city and surrounding mountains. It also has a surrounding park and it is an attractive place at night where people go to relax. We visited the monument on Sunday and many families spend time in the park that surrounds the monument.
Continuing south through the valley and over the mountains for 135 km. we came in Santo Domingo. Santo Domingo is the capital of the Dominican Republic and is its largest city. It is the oldest European city in the Americas where people have been living since it was founded at the end of the 15th century.
Santo Domingo was the first capital of the Spanish colonies in the Américas. It became the starting point of most of the Spanish expeditions of exploration and conquest of the other Caribbean islands and the adjacent lands in the continent. There are still many buildings from that time (16th century) and part of the old walls. The city is big, noisy and in many places very dirty. The traffic is very crowded and the taxis make it very difficult to drive. Taxis are just junk cars that have no lights, fenders or any other parts that can be destroyed and due to that they make their own traffic rules. We did a lot of walking and found many nice places and we loved the parks and the boulevard along the coast.
We also visited the most famous beach east of Santo Domingo, Boca Chica. It is the largest reef protected bay in the Caribbean. The short distance from the capital city, the crystalline waters and the white sands turned Boca Chica into the most crowded beach of the Dominican Republic, especially on weekends and holidays. Boca Chica has two small islands and two marinas. Boca Chica beach has immaculate fine white sand. You can walk in the water and the depth will barely change, the water will be higher than your waist (or a little bit over) all the time. It is too crowded for our taste and the tourist guides won't leave you alone and keep offering you unwanted advice and try to take you to every store and/or restaurant.
Back in the marina with improved weather we are waiting for an opportunity to continue our sail to Puerto Rico.
Chris Parker the weather guru for the Caribbean wrote in his e-mail yesterday morning that the expected moderation in the trade winds did not fully come through and that his advice was not to plan or make any sails or crossings to the Dominican Republic or east along the coast line of the DR until at least next week Thursday, January 17, 2013. But we left Luperon yesterday morning at 6.00 AM, an hour before sunrise for a 13 miles sail east to Ocean World Marina.
Sailing conditions on the north coast of The Dominican Republic is based on the trade winds strength and directions. At the same time there is a strong current from east to west along the coast. The typical trade wind is from 15 to 20 kn. from the south/east. But other weather factors can influence this and the wind can go up to 25 to 30 kn. and any direction from east/north/east. But the large Caribbean islands have an enormous amount on influence on the trade wind and can make them completely or close to completely disappear up to 30 miles of the coast. This effect starts in the evening and can last to the next morning. The island, with its mountains loses its heath developed during the day faster than the sea. This creates a land breeze the together with the wind that comes down from the mountains pushes the trade wind on the coast. So the best time to sail this coast line is at night or early in the morning,
We stayed for one week in Luperon and planned to use this beautiful protected bay to leave Island Girl and make some land trips across the island. However, we came to the conclusion that this would not work out because of problems to keep our batteries full during the night when the trade wind dies down and the fact that the bay water is too muddy for the water maker and the water supply is non-potable water. So we obtained a "Despacho" from the "Navy Commandante" to leave Luperon and sail to Ocean World Marina. After a weather delay of one day we took yesterday morning the chance and left.
In preparation we changed 2 days ago from an anchorage to a mooring buoy. The Luperon bay is very muddy with thick blue clay and when you pull out your anchor you have to thoroughly clean the chain to prevent that all the mud gets in the anchor hole and the bilge. With 100 ft. of anchor rode that is a long process that you don't want to do early in the morning in the dark. So we waited yesterday morning until we had sufficient daylight to circle around all the other boats in the bay. Most of the boats do not use an anchor light and subsequently this was a challenge. We made it safely out of the bay and into the ocean, but as soon we came in the ocean we encountered a big squall with up to 45 kn. wind and the waves seemed to tower over us. The good thing was that it lasted only for about 15 minutes and although the rest of the trip was very rough with 25 to 30 kn. wind on the nose we made it in less to 3.5 hours and arrived at 10.00 AM in the marina.
The marina is protected from the ocean by a sea wall and Island Girl is in a slip just next to the sea wall and there is a constant water vapor on the boat from the waves slamming against the sea wall. The noise from the waves braking on the sea wall sounds like thunder. Next to the marina is a water park and Adventure Park, a casino with Las Vegas style shows (see www.oceanworldmarina.com). The marina is on the west side of the bay and the remainder of the bay has many resort hotels, bars, shops and restaurants along the beach. One of the bars looks like Nikki Beach in Miami Beach. Close to the marina is Puerto Plata the second oldest city in the new world with Fort San Felipe, the oldest European Fort in the new world. From Puerto Plata you can take a cable car ride to Isabel de Torres Mountain with a large statue of Christ on the top. We will stay in this marina for some time so we can visit Santo Domingo and Santiago and our first 'stop' will be Puerto Plata.
Luperon was fun and we had a great time in the bay and in town. People start to recognize you when you walk around and everybody is extremely friendly. On Sunday afternoon we went to a dance hall and although Dorothy did not want to dance, we had a great time watching. Dorothy was so impressed with the dance moves of the ladies that she felt that we would make fools of ourselves, forgetting that I spent many years in Latin America. As mentioned before, we have the time of our lives and hope to continue to enjoy our trip.
01/05/2013, Luperon Dominican Republic
We are in Luperon in the Dominican Republic (DR) and we love it here. We met a lot of people who do not like Luperon just like the people from the catamaran "Bad Kitty" who followed us from Sapodilla Bay in the Turks and Caicos. Is it because most people do not like the confrontation with people living in poor circumstances with little public service of fresh water, sanitary sewer systems and electricity? At the same time many people here are without work and living in poverty. It can be very depressing, but the people are so friendly and a lot of things happen in the street for instance when you pass by and greet the people you directly create a bond and if the language was not a barrier you could share many stories with them. We went to the home of a street vendor to drink coffee and of course to buy a couple of bracelets that one of his sisters makes. We had a great time with his mother, two sisters and his little niece (see the pictures). The area around Luperon is beautiful and reminds us of the Puncak in Indonesia. We are sitting in the cockpit of Island Girl and look at the beautiful lush green hills around us. In the morning before the trade winds start blowing and at night after the winds die down it is so peaceful and quiet; it makes us so very content. In other words Dorothy and I are back home in the tropics that we have missed so much.
But how did we get in this paradise especially with the statement from Chris Parker, the cruisers weather guru today in his e-mail weather report for people who want to sail from the Bahamas to the DR:
"I don't see any opportunities to move unless you're comfortable with wind (and resulting seas) not far below GALE Force. Suggest finding something to do where you are, and hope for some opportunities for desperate folks to move after Fri11...with better opportunities for all folks to move by about Fri18."
We made it just before the door closed. It was rough, both the wind instead of predicted 15 - 20kn, a sustained wind of 25 with some gusts up to 30kn and waves accordingly. I do not know how to measure the wave height but I know for sure some of them were over 10ft.
We left Sapodilla Bay on Tuesday to take fuel in the South Side Harbor and left this marina early in the morning to sail the Caicos Bank to Cockburn Harbor in South Caicos. It was a long 45 miles with the wind on our nose and short angry waves. We dropped the anchor in Cockburn Harbor at 6.00 PM just with the last sliver of light. The next morning after a visit to the local library for internet connection and some weather information of our son Robert on the phone we checked out with customs and had the anchor up at 10:45 AM. I told Dorothy that the Turks Channel out of the coast should give more flat seas. As described that was not the case and she reminded me the rest of the day and night many times about this statement. We sailed for 80 miles with average speed of 6.5 kn, close to the wind. However, when the trade winds kicked in that did not work anymore and we had to continue on the engine with sometimes speeds less than 3 kn. The boat was rolling and in many cases jumping the waves. It was a long and tiring night. We arrived in Luperon around sun-up. This was recommended so you could see the shoals in the dark muddy water. I could not and grounded Island Girl and gave the "commandante" and his group who pulled us off the mud bank the chance to give him a "present" against common advice. But he allowed us in the country. After visiting the Department of Tourism, Immigration, Agriculture and Port Authority we are now legally in the DR for the next 30 days. When we returned to Island Girl after a short walk and a nap, the catamaran "Bad Kitty" came in with about the same stories without the rolling but with big slamming with the flat middle part of a catamaran. We have always loved to sail The Bahamas with its beautiful water in the banks and nice but dry islands, but to see the coast of Hispanola with its lush green mountains in the morning sun is a new and very impressive experience. And that is what this trip is all about, doing new things like Dorothy drinking beer for the first time in her life when we had lunch in a local restaurant in Luperon. We are going to visit many places in the DR, a country with so much history and hope to write about it in our next blog.
12/29/2012, Sapodilla Bay
In our previous blog from George Town I mentioned what George Town is too many people. What I did not mention is that George Town's nick name is "Chicken Harbor". Many people have plans to sail in the East Caribbean and choose to sail The Bahamas from Bimini, Nassau and the Exumas to George Town and make the crossing over the Exuma Sound to Long Island and south east to the large Caribbean Island of Espanola (Haiti and Dominican Republic) and Puerto Rico and further to the Windward and Lee Islands. This means that as soon you pass the north point of Long Island you expose yourself to the real North Atlantic Ocean and this large body of water can bring quite large northerly swells. Exposing yourself, the crew and the boat to this this environment makes many sailors "chicken out"; they decide to stay in George Town and try it some other time in the future. During our Christmas party on "Hamburger Beach" we met many sailors who shared this experience and are very happy in George Town. We shared our table with a couple from Germany who together with their 10 year old son make a 6 month trip and a couple from Switzerland who sails for a long time already since their retirement. It was a nice beach party.
Although Dorothy and I have crossed the Gulf Stream from Miami to The Bahamas many times over the past 4 years, a few times in extreme conditions, we still had some concerns about how we would handle the challenge to sail the Atlantic. We are in Provo (Providenciales) in the Turks and Caicos Islands, so we passed the test. This was a 240 miles long trip that we decided to do in one shot without stopping. It took us 51 hours from anchor up in George Town to anchor down in Sapodilla Bay in Provo. We had selected this weather window for its calm seas and wind. However, the wind was from the South East and that meant that we had the wind all the time and in many cases the current as well on the nose except during the Exuma Sound crossing. The wind and swells constantly changed in strength and the swells also in direction. We had calm seas and very confused seas (waves and swells from different directions). We had the most extreme condition when I was cooking breakfast on Thursday morning, but we ate and had a great time. It was full moon and the ocean was beautiful with this incredible light source. The most beautiful time of the day was when the sun came up and the moon was still over the horizon. Light came from two opposite sides with all different colors of the clouds. It was a great trip, but wished we could have used the sails instead of the engine as much.
Arriving in the Caicos Bank is a wonderful experience. As soon as you come close to the entrance of channel, in our case the Sandbore Channel, the water color changes from dark blue to azure blue with clear visibility to the sandy bottom. However, before we went through the channel I wanted to empty the waste tank but the macerator pump tripped and seemed to be clogged. We had to empty the tank with a hand pump! Welcome to the life of a cruiser, no plumber available to do the dirty work. But everything is functioning again. This morning we had breakfast in the cockpit after a long night's sleep, the sun is shining, we have a nice refreshing breeze from the north east, and the bay and the bank are beautiful. A nice reward for yesterday's hard work.
Provo is a tourist destination with many resorts including Club Med on the north side of the island. This part of the island has beautiful beaches and calm water due to a reef system along the coast that protects the beaches from the Atlantic. This tourist flow has increased the cost of living on this island to an extreme level and most cruisers are just passing true. We will stay a couple of days before we continue on to the Dominican Republic.
We wish everybody a Very Happy, Healthy and Prosperous 2013 and we hope for ourselves that this retirement trip will give us all the things we have dreamed about.
12/22/2012, Monument Elizabeth Harbour
George Town: According to our pilot book it is the turn-around point for most; a stopover for some, the winter refuge for others, but whatever it means to us personally, George Town is the cruising Mecca for cruisers in The Bahamas. George Town is over 200 years old and during the winter season George Town can often host 400-plus boats. At this moment we are for anchor in a small cove in Stocking Island called the Monument. On top of the highest hill is indeed something that looks like a monument but it is sometimes called the Salt Beacon because it was used (when lit) to guide cargo ships into Elizabeth Harbour to George Town for the purpose of picking up salt. The salt was mined at various places on Great and Little Exuma. Between the Great Exuma Island with George Town and Stocking Island is the Elizabeth Harbour. I have some trouble calling it a harbor. It is a channel with a lot of shallow areas and one distinct shipping lane showing on the charts but is has no visual features on the water. Many boats anchor too far from shore and encroach into the shipping lane, like we did when we came in on Wednesday. Luckily a fellow cruiser came to warn us, since the mail boat that came in the next day passed very close by the spot where we dropped our anchor the first time. Now after the cold front moved in last night with wind up to 35 kn. boats are anchored on purpose in the shipping lane to have more room with the high wind and rough water. But now I am ahead of myself.
We left Nassau on Sunday on our way to Highborne Cay. It was a bad day with a lot of wind on the nose with a lot of squalls with more wind and rough water. We passed the Yellow Banks based on a track I saved in the chart plotter from our previous trips since it was impossible to read the water and find the coral heads that can be close to the water surface. Just before we anchored at Highborne the wind calmed down and we had a very pleasant night.
The next day on Monday we didn't have any wind so we used the engine to sail to Warderick Wells, our most favorite place in the Exumas. But this time we did not intend to stay and we left on Tuesday morning for Black Point. We engined out to the west to get a better sail angle and after this we had a wonderful sail to Black Point. When we went to the Exuma Park Head Quarters to pay our mooring and internet fee with our dinghy the outboard engine did not want to get into neutral and due to this I could not re-start the engine. So I rowed the dinghy back to Island Girl that turned out to be more difficult than expected with the strong current in the North Mooring field. A fellow cruiser jumped in his dinghy and towed us back to Island Girl. Luckily I found somebody in Black Point who fixed the problem. That was a big relief, our dinghy is the 'taxi cab' to shore and you cannot do without it when you are anchored or moored.
The next day after we woke up we realized that this was an unexpectedly beautiful day to go through the cut into the Exuma Sound and even make it to George Town about 45 miles to the south. We left in a hurry to make the Dotham Cut but the incoming tide was already running and it took me the full engine throttle to have a speed of 2.5 kn over the ground in 7 kn water speed. So the current was close to 5 kn. After this the motor sail to George Town was paradise with a nice easterly wind and calm water. While anchored here we spent a lot of time to fix problems with our wind generator and we are waiting now for the wind to go down to install the rotor again. The cold front that moved in last night is still blowing but the sun is shining and with the full cockpit enclosure, the beautiful water and scenery we are in paradise.
12/14/2012, Nassau Harbor Club
A boat needs to be in the water, but water needs to stay outside the boat. If you violate these rules, things will go wrong. We found this out the hard way during our overnight trip from Bimini to Nassau. A couple of months ago a small nut with rubber water protection broke off the helm control unit for the electric windlass. We could not find a replacement in the store and we completely forgot about this missing part. Due to this, water penetrated the unit, causing corrosion and subsequently a short in the unit; the unit engaged the windlass to pull the anchor in. This created an enormous amount of tension on the motor and the anchor chain. The breaker tripped but only after the motor was very much overheated. In our efforts to get the tension off the anchor chain we burned the motor and we needed to order one from the manufacturer of the unit in California. Since this is a very expensive motor we first needed to send money before the motor was shipped to Nassau. FedEx did a wonderful job with the overnight shipments but it still took until today, Friday December 14, before the motor arrived. The FedEx service center is in downtown Nassau and our boat is in the Nassau Harbor Club Marina. This marina is a little over 2 miles from this service center and we used our folding bikes a lot and even transported the 30 Pounds motor with the little bike.
This does not mean we had nothing to do while waiting for the new motor to arrive. The old motor needed to be removed which was quite an undertaking because of the very small anchor space in the bow and of course the motor was stuck so it took a lot of hammering and brutal force to get it out. Every sailor will explain to you that anchoring is more than just throwing the anchor over board. It is very important to use the correct scope. The scope depends on the weather, current and the type of soil. Depending on these factors you select your scope from 1:5 for a well-protected area with limited amount of current and wind. In bad conditions the scope can be up to 1:10, but most typical it is 1:7. This means that you need to know the length of chain or rode you have out. We had it easy since our helm control unit was indicating that for us. Since this unit needs to be rebuilt we have to fall back on the old system of length marks on the anchor chain. Our main anchor has 250 feet of chain and 100 ft. of rode and the secondary anchor has 150 ft. of chain and 200 ft. of rode. We needed to pull both of these from the boat to the pier; measure the lengths, applying paint marks on the chains and of course put them back in the boat. We worked hard this week; we are going to take it easy tomorrow and we will continue our trip on Sunday.
If you believe we worked hard this week, you really need to feel sorry for our neighbors in the marina. Three young people on a 31 ft. Island Packet. After graduation they took off for a year sailing on an old boat with a lot of problems. However, the biggest problem occurred during the crossing to Nassau; the chain plate broke and they are repairing this here in the marina. The chain plate of an Island Packet is bonded to the inside of the hull. To do the repair, all the cabinets, seats and furniture need to be removed and the epoxy that covers the plate needs to be grinded off. After the plate is repaired it needs to be installed by covering the plate with resin. They are doing this enormous job while still sleeping on the boat. A great group of people.