1.8.2015 25 KM from Gilligan's Island to Isla Cajo de Muertos (Coffin Island). I decided to skip Ponce. The harbor is deep - 30 feet and it's full of mooring balls which forces me to go to the Ponce Yacht Club to take a slip and probably $45 a night. Tulum III and China Rose sailed out of Gilligan's at 1AM. The crews - Ever After, Silent Dream, both already in Ponce, PR and Tulum III are all headed for Salinas for various reasons. The reef exit from Gilligan's was a little touchy. It was just not clear that the water was deep and hard to tell where the reef started and ended at night. All we can do is trust the Garmin chart and GPS coordinates. We exited without issues. Tulum III went first and quickly got ahead doing about 5.5 knots I was moving slower at about 4.8K on average. We kept radio contact on the hour through the night. For hours off in the distance I saw a field of blinking red lights. It was strange because it was more like a runway than a sea way. For hours I wondered, "What is that?" Was it a new kind of warning beacon or a new navigation aid or a really large port. Only in the daylight did I realize it was field of wind generator towers. About 5 AM I pulled off to Coffin Island. With no moon I could see the outlined of the island but no detail and certainly I could not tell where the safe water was. Not wanting to enter the anchorage in the dark I shut down the motor and hove to until daylight. I quickly moved toward the beach and set the anchor in about 15 feet of water. I took a 2 hour nap, had some lunch and dropped the kayak in the water and paddled about to get some depth readings and get out of the swell. DNR had a few day moorings here but nothing for overnight. They're too close the iron-shore for my comfort. Later porpoise came by the boat to blowing their signature exhale and spray next to the boat. After lunch I took the Nikon camera and hiked up to the lighthouse, toured the museum and generally walked around the developed beach area. It obvious there's lots more activity on the weekends. I was the only boater. A couple of power boats stop briefly but didn't spend any time all.
01/06/2016, Gilligans Island, PR
1.6.2016 Ever After and Silent Dream sailed out at 5AM for Ponce. The east entrance around the reef looked good from the charts - we entered the day before from the west - and I heard them on channel 69 clearing the reef shortly after pulling anchor. Tuolumne III and China Rose stayed to explore the island. After tidying up a little, listening to Chris Parker on Caribbean Weather Center, Elisa, Rudolph and Bob explored Gilligan's Island underwater. We swam the mangrove channels which were full of tiny fish. Mangroves are after all the nursery of the water. I didn't realize how undercut the mangrove roots are. They jut out for the sea bed sometimes cut back in 3 or 4 feet at the bottom and provide shelter for the little fish to hide in. Then we swam around the entire island. Not much reef but lots of sea grass and mangrove on the ocean side also.
Today was good. Started out watching a game of Dominican baseball, then played a game with a whole gang of Dominicans, had a beer and a long chat with sailor Hank, and then made a lovely dinner.
I see on Facebook that my friends on Blue Moon and Shenanigans have made it all the way to Samana. It looks like they had a wonderful trip there and the seas were mellow. That's good news for all of us.
The ball game was fun but it's a good thing I once played baseball because I had no idea what was happening from the conversation. But a really fun morning with the players and all the kids running around. Clearly the players make due with whatever they have. No uniforms although many have major league shirts, caps and even pants. Just nothing that matches. All the gloves and even balls are well worn to the point of falling apart.
Then it was our turn. Gringos against the Dominicans. Well the big players disappeared and now at noon in the heat of the day. This is a pickup game so anyone most any age can play. Since some of us are pretty bad at this slow pitch baseball the rule is no strike outs. In other words bat until you hit the thing and you get on base or get tagged out.
So the kids under 5 or 6 get to run for the gringos. We bat and they run. Thereby saving gringos from heat stroke and earning a soda at the end of the game. They run with all their might.
I have to report my batting was miserable. I lost count of how many swing I took and at one point I offered to let the 5 year old bat for me but there was no relief. I keep on embarrassing myself. I did run myself on my first hit and brought in one of the winning runs.
When we took the field I found an old ratty left-hand glove. For some reason the third finger pocket was stuffed up so i curled that finger up. It was a good thing no hitter ever sent a ball to me in left field. Not to mention my throwing arm is about 25 years old. I'm not sure I could send a ball back to the infield. I hope I will improve for next week's game. Everyone was quite gracious.
Gringos and Dominicans sat down for a beer after the game which was great fun. I had a long conversation with Hank who doesn't really look like a sailor and he keeps to himself a lot. Turned out he's 63 I think, recently retired physician, internal medicine. So we talked a long time about the different phases of life and career. He basically supported what I feel. He wants to sail while he can for the next decade and see the Caribbean and perhaps sail across the Atlantic. He bought ans refitted 46' Amel so he has the boat to do it in. For the immediate future he's heading south in the fall.
On the colorful side this town appears to be full of guys - that's probably less than 10 but I seem to keep meeting them - who came here on a boat 6, 8 or more years ago in search of a girl and sold the boat and moved on to shore. I can't say for the most part they're the most likeable people but there some of Luperon's artifacts.
Then I walked up to the vegi stand and bought eggplant. I wipped up some onion, egg plant in hot spicy Thai sauce. Very tasty and quick. Sunday is the boaters swap meet at 8:30. A little early for me but I'll get there and check it out.
SEE THE PHOTO GALLERY titled
OK. I just realized due to exhaustion I failed to describe our crossing from Turks and Cacios to the Dominican Republic.
Few things challenge my confidence like sailing solo on the open ocean, alone with the wind blowing and the waves crashing against the boat. In the dark of night it is so easy to get turned around and the only way you can feel where you are is when you're into the wind. It tests my confidence and the boat as I click on the auto pilot and step from the seeming safety of the cockpit onto the foredeck to clear lines, reef the main, or clean up crashing fuel cans, all the while holding on with a finger or two as the boat pitches at a 30 degree angle cutting through the waves and knowing there is no backup. No one who will call for help if I go over. Actually not a person for 50 miles around.
I left Back Creek in Eastport last October, setting sail for the Caribbean via the Intracoastal Waterway and then through the Bahamas, finally reaching the Turks and Caicos in June. The weather blew hard for three weeks while I hunkered down in Providenciales, but now I was ready to get off the dock. So when the wind calmed from the mid-20s and was forecast to be about 16-18 knots for at least three days, we grabbed the weather window and set sail, five boats in all. Three of us left together - my buddy boat Wayne on Emma A, a 1990-ish 30' custom-built steel monohull, Mitch and Ruth on Brezeen, a newish Catalina 42, and me on China Rose, my 1970s vintage Columbia 36. Two others would leave later. Wayne and I set sail at 6 am for the 40 or so miles to Six Hill Cay for wind protection and a good night's sleep. Brezeen, with her powerful motor, left three hours later and took a different route. We did not see Brezeen until the following afternoon. The wind appeared to come right from our layline so I tacked out and over all day, resisting the temptation to turn on the motor and bang into a two to three foot chop.
What strikes me about the Caicos banks is how shallow they are. Of course, I have charts and I was warned: "Don't sail at night! These waters require visual navigating." Specifically, travel in calm water and look for coral while standing on the bow and avoid any dark patches that may be a rock or a reef, they said. Looking around, there was a good two foot chop so I could forget the clear water idea. And standing on the bow looking for coral is a difficult task with only one person on the boat. We were many miles from any island and in some cases in less than seven feet of water. Considering I draw 5' 6", it was a little unsettling.
As the sun set, I broke down and turned on the motor so I could make better time toward the anchorage. After a short while I checked the bilge and realized I had developed a fuel leak and had a half a gallon of diesel floating in the bilge. I needed the motor but didn't want to waste the fuel so I throttled back.
Finally, after sailing all day we arrived at what we had been told was the protection of Six Hills Cay only to find there was no protection from the wind at all and while the site was beautiful it looked a lot more like Tierra del Fuego than a protected tropical island. But we stayed. The next protected anchorage was more than an hour away so we anchored in this desolate, unprotected marine park for the night with the wind gusting into the 20s. I turned on Drag Queen, my trusty anchor alarm.
Once settled, I tore open the motor, dug into the quarter berth and under the fuel tank to see where the fuel was coming from. No luck. I saw nothing that looked like a leak. The motor was dry. Was the tank ruptured where I could not see it? Did that rat I saw last week eat through a hidden hose? Nothing made sense. So I went to sleep wondering what surprises might await me in the morning and how would I motor if needed.
Wayne on Emma A called on the radio just before dawn and we hoisted sail for Big Sand Cay, 20 miles to the east across the Caicos Passage (and a great whale watching area in the winter). The wind angle was good. I sailed and did not tack too much and approached Big Sand a little after noon. Mitch was already anchored and Wayne was about 3 miles to my port, heading into the little harbor.
"China Rose, this is Emma A. I have big problems! I'M SINKING," yelled Wayne into his VHF.
I was too far away to help but Mitch popped on the radio . I heard Wayne say "I'm taking the boat up on the beach." In a last ditch effort to keep his boat from totally sinking underwater Wayne had motored the boat right up on the beach to prevent his boat from filling up further.
By the time I arrived, Mitch and Wayne, with the help of Lost Marbles and Seldom Sene, had Emma A pumped out and the water had stopped coming into the boat. But now Emma was beached, though fortunately on a rising tide.
I dropped my anchor near the beach in 12 feet of water and hopped in the dink with Mitch, took Emma A's anchor out from shore and Wayne started manually winching the boat off the beach, four agonizing inches at a time. The waves were pushing him back as much each time he pulled on the stretchy nylon anchor line.
How was this going to work? A six ton boat being pushed by the waves and one guy tugging inches at a time on a stretchy nylon anchor line. We tried pulling her off with the dink which almost sank us as Emma A snapped back on the dinghy transom. It was like trying to move a boulder uphill.
Then unexpectedly, with the grace of a wave, Emma A floated right off the beach. Good thing she's a steel boat. But what do they say? Problems come in three's? Now we were 60 miles from Caicos and 80 miles from the Dominican Republic -- and we still didn't know why Emma A was sinking.
Though he could not see well, Wayne had surmised that the rubber coupling on his PSS dripless fitting had torn. After running some tests, which basically consisted of turning the motor on and off and trying to detect when water came gushing out and when it didn't, Wayne concluded that the coupling didn't leak as long as the motor was off.
Good news, kind of. But there were no resources anywhere to make more permanent repairs. We'd have to sail somewhere.
The 60 miles back to Caicos was downwind and the 80 miles to the Dominican Republic was off the wind. Wayne considered the options and the risks. Then he said, "Let's go on to the DR." So we nervously tinkered around for about 30 minutes then at 4pm set out for Luperon. We had to travel at night for the 15 or so hour sail to be sure we arrived in the morning. An early arrival was required because the winds pick up in the afternoon, making it nearly impossible to enter Luperon, and especially treacherous without a motor to fall back on.
I trimmed the sail for Luperon swinging wide around the reef surrounding the west side of Big Sand Cay. The sun slowly set as Emma A drifted further to the west. With no moon, the sky was pitch black and Emma A was nothing more than a speck of light on the horizon three or perhaps five miles away. I wondered, what if something happens? How long would it take for me to get to him if he started to go down? Probably too long, I thought.
The wind was blowing 18-21 knots and I was sailing 40 degrees off the wind. With a double reefed mainsail and a full headsail, making 5.5 to 6 knots, conditions could not have been better. Apart from the fact that my buddy boat had a bad coupling and might start sinking at any minute.
Every three hours we checked in via VHF radio. Around 3 am I radioed out -- "Emma A this is China Rose." No reply. I tried again. "Emma A, this is China Rose. Wayne, do you read me?" Silence. What was going on? Did Wayne sink and I missed it? Was he sitting in his dinghy 40 miles from nowhere, hoping for me to come rescue him? I couldn't see any lights. For that matter, I couldn't see anything, anywhere, at all. I changed to Channel 14 which we had been using several weeks before. "Emma A, this is China Rose - do you hear me?" I was practically yelling now.
"China Rose, this is Emma A. I'm OK and sailing 6 knots." What a relief! He was out of sight about five miles behind me, but moving - and still floating.
The last challenge was getting into Luperon, Dominican Republic which is known for a reef on the port and the starboard sides and then a shallow muddy entrance which is not well marked. I lined up on the waypoint recorded by Bruce Van Sant in his classic A Gentleman's Guide to Passages South, held my breath, dropped the sails and motored forward right up to where the water makes a hard right. There I was met by local guide and all round fixer Pabo who guided me to a great anchoring spot.
Wayne, on the other hand, sailed in and was towed by Pabo to a safe mooring. Brezeen sailed on to Ocean World Marina and Blue Moon and Shenanigans would follow the next day. I dropped into bed about 7 pm with no worries, leaving the fuel leak problem for another day. Before we started our for Luperon this is our gang at Southside Marina in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos.
The photo shows left to right Kurt and Kim on Shenanigans, Wayne on Emma A, Cheryl and Pete in the back on Blue Moon, Ruth and Mitch on Brezeen, obscured in the background are Ginger and Lanny (renegades who sailed on to Jamaica) on Swiftsure, and Bob Pratt owner of Southside Marina and all round bocce ball officanado.
Today I went on a long motor cycle drive into Porto Plata. About 60 kilometers. I have to say it was interesting and terrifying. The country side is wonderful rural and bueatiful. It looks a lot like Haiti but a little more organized with small towns along the way. Town and the main road are congested and no rules apply other than get ahead of the next guy. Lots of chicken, cows, horses, donkeys, ostrich's along with heavy traffic, all manner of trucks, potholes, missing man hole covers, dirt patches and hundreds of Chinese motor bikes. Three of us rode to town, had a nice lunch by the sea then did a little shopping in the wallmart style grocery and what not store. Tonight I came back to the boat fixed a chick pea buroto and went back to Wendy's bar for the movie. A fictional account of the Americas Cup Race which was very fitting for a room full of sailors. I'm not convinced that the motor cycle is the way to get around this country but it was a different way to kick start the tour.
I had a small motor cycle scooter back in the early 1970s. It was fun but not as much fun as a sports car which while dangerous was still a lot safer.
So at the risk of being hypocritical please don't mention my failing to Grace. After many years of preaching - successfully I think - ABSOLUTELY NO MOTOR CYCLES I don't want to open that door. I would rather be a hypocrit. I can live with that.
Spent today getting to know the town a little more. Found the grocery store and the bank. Had a long chat with the canvas guy in town. Good thing because the sunbrella is starting to separate on the jenney so that needs to be re stitched before sailing again. Turns out he and his wife Susan have been sailing for years and now have given up the sailing life and built a house in Luperon. He warned me that Dominicans have a1000 ways to take you and you have to be on your game all the time. Not really my experience yet though I'm sure he is right about some. To illustrate his point he was told his house would be $150,000 USD, but he had to suspend construction when the costs passed $350,000 USD. the good news is that they have finished the house and moved in. Then I went and had a nice chicken salad for lunch. Very simple carrots, tomatoes and lettuce with and oil and vinegar dressing and a coca cola for $5. Not bad for a healthy lunch. I got a surprise email from a long time friend Carla Freeman who moved to Arizona 10+ years ago and we had lost contact with. Turns out she also knew a friend who recently passed. Then went to Wendy's- the gringo bar - that's not a bad phrase here - and chatted with several sailors about their experience sailing north and South. No shortage of stories and opinions as you might expect. There a lot of people here who have sailed as live aboards for 20 and 30 years. Crusty one might say. Storm clouds formed over us and we had a eight tropical downpour for a few hours. It was a welcome relief. I've been told it has not rained here in three months. So it cools the air - a positive - but now the mosquitoes come out. Monday is movie night so afternoon stories it turned into hot dog hour. For 50 pesos - that's a little more than a dollar - you can have a dog with relish and mustard and something they can cheese but I think it's created in a dark laboratory somewhere. then the movie Took Hanks and Linda Hunt (I think) in Cast Away. I stayed for a half hour before returning to the boat before sunset. I had not brought a flashlight and there are no city lights here and no moon at the moment so very difficult to find the boat after dark. Tomorrow I'm going to lookup a new friend that i was introduced to by our old friend Frankie. Rudy and Margaret who are long time sailors that are land-bound by age, now in their 80s and live part-time here in Luperon. She will be here with her son for a week around the 28th. To be continued...