Dominican Hell Ride
08 August 2008 | Dominican Republic
There has been a tremendous amount of excitement in our little floating world as of late. We decided to bypass Colombia knowing it added 1200 miles to our journey North this fall. We will be sad to miss seeing all our new friends now in Cartegena or soon to be arriving there from Bonaire. The 'ole Omarsea is in need of some serious work and we have decided to brave the hurricanes and seek shelter in Puerto Rico untill the storm season ends in November so that we can make necessary repairs. As she is a 14 year old charter boat there have been many things to repair and replace. As many of you already know we installed a diesel generator and water maker last fall. However there is still quite a lot of work to do in getting these systems fully up and running. We also must replace most of the lifelines and stantions as they have proven to be very unsafe. Additionally the genoa has seen its last sailing days and will need to be replaced. So we are shifting our focus from cruising to working for a short time to get the boat in top condition. Puerto Rico promisses to be a good place for these repairs.
Our trip North from the ABC's was a tribute to human endurance. We started out of Bonaire headed for Spanish Waters and a quiet anchorage. When we arrived at Spanish Waters we found hundreds of drinking power boaters zooming through the closely anchored sailboats in an inland bay packed beyond capacity. If we had stayed I would not have let the kids swim around the boat for fear they would be run down.
We started North for Puerto Rico that afternoon but 20 miles into the trip the Jib blew apart on us and we headed West for Aruba instead. The next morning we arrived in Oranjistad, after checking into the country and getting some much needed rest we made repairs to the jib and cleaned out the debris in the stb fuel tank. Over the next few days we were able to explore some of the down town areas, buy groceries and take in a movie with the kids. Once we felt the boat was in condition to sail we checked out of Aruba and headed North East into 20kt winds and 8 ' seas. The first 50 miles were a bear. The seas and winds set us 30 degrees off course to the west and we found ourselves headed for the DR instead of Puerto Rico. Try as we may we were unable to gain enough easting to even make the west coast of PR. Originally intended to be a 80 hour passage we made the decision to go to the DR late in the 4th day of sailing. Conditions improved daily the farther North we went. Seas were 4-6' by the time the Omarsea passed the 16th parallel. Still 200 miles south of the DR we entered a belt of amazing thunderstorms. Squall after squall hammered us every 5 hours. Huge bolts of lightning striking on the horizon lighting up the night with blinding flashes. Winds dropping to null the rising the 50 mph in minutes. One squall forced Jean and I to take down the Bimini top for fear it would be torn to shreds. We took pictures of the leaden clouds and curtains of rain approaching. 100 miles South of the DR the Squalls became less frequent and tempestuous in nature. We were able to skirt around many of them and on the final approach to Boca Chica we piggy backed on particularly nasty squall almost the entire day never receiving winds over 20 kts and staying reasonably dry in the process.
We began to see more and more shore birds. Some rested on the ships boom in complete exhaustion. We had flying fish leap out of the waves and land on deck. One particularly athletic flyer struck the dodger and fell down the companionway onto the cabin sole flapping around the boat just outside Ben's cabin. We were able to catch and get it overboard mostly alive. Several others were not so lucky as we discovered them dead on deck the next morning. I have heard of people eating flying fish for breakfast after finding them on deck. It is said they are delicious. However these were too small to make much out of so back they went into the sea. As we neared land we began to see objects we could recognize. Flipflops, cups, styrofoam and plastic bags to name a few. Signs of civilization were all about us now. There were mats of sugarcane everywhere. Sugar is the #1 export from the DR. Cane fields dominate most of the level areas and you will find huge sugar refineries at every major port. We noticed fish beneath the mats of cane as we went by. But we were to tired to deal with cleaning fish at that point.
The D.R. turned out to be a very interesting place. The people are extremely poor. Yet they are also very creative and industrious in their business dealings. One needs to be fluent in Spanish to truly enjoy all that the D.R. has to offer but if you are like me and only speak a smattering of Spanish, there are a great many adventures in store for you. The country still has loads to learn about how to attract and keep cruisers here. The check-in process is long and complicated. You are expected to work with Customs, Immigration, the navy and the Marine Guard or Coast Guard. Each officer will be expecting different information from you and the Navy will make a cursory examination of your vessel both on arrival and on departure. Their main goal is keeping foreign nationals out of the country. They will be looking for stowaways that do not have a passport more than drugs onboard. We chose to come into Boca Chica on the South Coast. It is the riviera of the D.R. and is a very busy port. As you enter there is a container ship terminal to port. The channel is well marked and will bring you past the two marinas available here. The first is the Club Nautico. Here they have fuel, water and slips. Just beyond staying to the North edge of the channel in 16 feet of water you will find the Var Par marina. This facility is brand new and very modern. It has a restaurant, internet access, free water with the slip, 110v power, and if you prefer moorings just to the south. Raoul is the dock master and is a very well connected person. We recommend spending a few minutes with him to arrange your needs while you stay. Greg the taxi driver is a fountain of information and can help you get anything you need as well. Propane can be filled here. The tanks are taken by motorcycle to a place toward the west end of the country, filled and returned the same day. $19 for a 10lb tank taxi fee included. The people here are very nice to deal with. Their food is fabulous, particularly the local chicken and potatoes. We found that the average meal which consisted of 5 courses cost about $10 pp. The restaurant at the Var Par marina is run by Rubio who will cater to your every whim. He invited us into his kitchen and showed us the special of the day he and Teresa were preparing. When the food arrived at the table despite telling Rubio that we were only moderately hungry there was far too much to eat and we spent a wonderful 2 hours lingering over delicious food, cold beers and great service. On our departure we were told we needed to get a "Dispatcho" from the Marine Guard. It was a formality that caused us a small problem. Having stored the dingy on deck we would have to walk the 2 miles there and then back or take the local motorcycle taxi service as Greg and his auto taxi were busy. Jean and I decided to take the adventure and hopped on the back of the motor bike. We had seen three people on bikes before here and now I realized why. This is how most of the islands 9,000,000 inhabitants get around. The driver was excellent and though he tried to squeeze past a couple of cars with us onboard causing our pulses to race we arrived at the Marine Guard building cool and refreshed with the nice ride. When we entered I was sure this was the correct place but there were 20 some people walking around without uniforms. We were invited into an office and given seats by an officer who handed our passports and papers to another man who left the office. Beer was being served all around and we were told that the present Captain was being replaced and this was his last day at the post. It should be noted that we were not offered beer ourselves and the officer we were working with did not drink. After about 10 minutes of polite conversation our papers were returned to us with the Dispatcho and we were back on the motorbike headed to the marina. While getting on the bike Greg the auto taxi driver met us and Jean said she felt like it was getting to more like home now that she was running into people she knew. The Omarsea and her crew spent the day at the dock waiting for the winds to die down. By 9PM we were able to pry her off the dock and begin heading out for Perto Rico. We settled into our passage mode and jean put the kids to bed. It was with a bit of sadness we were leaving. Perhaps we will find our way back some day.