05/16/2012, Rincon Peuto Rico
We had another false start from Sousa. Am I becoming a timid or smarter sailer? I hope the latter. We upped anchor in relative calm at 8pm and motored out of the very dark harbour...dodging unlit boats and mooring balls. Half an hour in and knowing that I have a double reefed main with a huge rip just under the reef, I was cautious.
Two storm cells lingering from the afternoon came closer, lightening flashed close and so I aborted the sail. An hour latter we had Ooroo tucked back up in the harbour. Mark and I agreed to wake after midnight for the third attempt. Oli, with a stomach bug slept.
While drifting into a two hour sleep, I realized what caused Oli's bug. The only thing he ate that no one else had was his fingernails! We keep a clean boat but it did make me think about the filth around us. We are constantly walking in dirty streets and then picking up our shoes and stowing them, we gut fish, we anchor in harbours were who knows what floats by, grime ends up on a boat and in your cloths even when surrounded by the cleanest of water. Eating a finger nail....is a combination of all of the above. With that discovery he decided to take antibiotics and kick this lingering illness over board.....but aside from that......and earlier that day....
Time on board was running out for Dakota, and Charlotte didn't want to spend her last 4 days with him feeling sick. They departed Ooroo to fly to Puerto Rico. Oli has his surfing mate, Jen meeting us in Rincon as well. He would have loved to go but stayed to help with the passage.
We departed at 1am for Samana Bay. I had first watch until 5am and watched as lingering cells danced around the mountains and 12nm out to sea. They kept me entertained with the radar as I made sure none came to close. The moon appeared at about 3. Finally we had the conditions we needed to motor sail east. I hate having the motors on but we had a schedule.
I like the saying..."if you have a plan, something can go wrong". Plans and schedules are the same. We have continually had deadlines and I don't like them at all. Pick ups and drop offs. I never guarantee we will be were we want to be on time however it doesn't stop the pressure from being applied by the fact that all on board want these schedules to work.
So as we sail to Samana, we have Jen to meet in PR and Dakota needs to get his luggage off before he flys back to Oz. We decided to take advantage of the fact that we had finally broken away from the land and had fair weather, light winds, sea slight, a dodgy mainsail, no sea sick people on board and a full tank of fuel.....we bee line for PR while we can. We haven't checked out from Customs in DR?
That in itself may create an issue. The truth of the matter is that I made my decision because of the sail...not the schedule. PR has more infrastructure for fixing it or indeed the space to rig the spare if indeed she doesn't fly with the double reef. We will soon find out if customs in PR has issue with our decision.
Now 24 hours latter we are motor sailing SE in a constant 15 knot breeze doing between 4 and 6 knots. We are close to entering the Mona Passage, separating DR from PR. We have perfect conditions....that is unless we wanted to sail the whole way.
Our line to PR takes us north of the unseen but infamous shoals. They are one reason for the Mona Passage being respected by seafarers for centuries. These shoals are 50 to 100 meters deep but they deflect currents coming from and astounding 10,888 meters (according to my Navionics Charts). The Puerto Rico Trench to our north is the second deepest spot on earth. The ocean is deeper than Everest is high, by about 2000 meters. As Mark pointed out, we know more about the moon than what is below the keel. The ocean below us right now is deeper than the highest Australian mountain.
So far the plan is working.
It's 1am, 48 hours now since we departed Sousa and we have bought Ooroo to an almost standstill. We are only 12 nm off Mayaguez, our check in port to PR. We are early. The last 20 hours have been fabulous sailing. The morning stared with with motors still running and two Mahi Mahi caught. We showered by soaping up and then being dragged behind Ooroo on a mooring line.
As the day progressed, the 15 knott wind backed to a point were the engines could have a well deserved rest. We sailed at 7 plus knots, up from the 4-5 we had been getting from engines alone. Our ETA improved. The sailing was smooth. Marine traffic was light but we kept an eye out for trees. We have seen 3 that would be big enough to hole the boat....imagine the insurance claim "I hit a tree".
I'm still trying to wake up. I had a deep dreamy sleep helped by the fact that Oli donated an hour to my slumber. A thank you, I think from him having the night off due to his flu (he's back to his old self now). I had dreamt that all the people I have met on yachts were all neighbors in real life. It was a little like Rum Cay all over again. Swapping food, cooking together and being sad to say goodbye.
Looking at the twinkling lights of Mayaguez I'm hoping it's an omen for our time here. Certainly with Rincon only a few hours further away we will have Charlotte, Dakota and now also Jen to be family again. We just have to find them.
We pulled into the deserted customs dock at 6am only to be told by the security officer that a ferry has priority over us to clear customs. We may have to wait until tomorrow. Mark asked if we can head to Rincon and come over via bus tomorrow....."no problemo"
So I'm sailing just two hours up the coast....we anchored at Rincon at 8.30am to find Charlotte, Dakota and Jen on the beach....it's lovely here...the water is glass glass. We are technically here illegally. Oh well, beers and BBQ Mahi tonight. We will worry about customs latter.
No more plans or schedules for us. At least for a while.
05/13/2012, Sausa DR
An awful sound, riiiipppp, and again some more rriiiipppp. I've been talking about getting new sails when I get to St Maarten and now I'm acting on that thought.
We sailed out of Luperon in a 15 to 20 knots and a reef in. The reef was in because we had a small and difficult to repair tear in the sail. The 35nm sail was pleasant for all but Charlotte. Our destination Sosua. The guys found this lovely little bay while traveling around on bikes and so we knew it was a good staging point for the trip to Samina Bay and then Peuto Rico. We love the town. Lively yes, prostitutes yes, ugly tourists looking for prostitutes yes and a dive boat that tried to make us move on from our anchorage yes. We didn't move as we are in a recognized anchorage. Needless to say it not overly boatie friendly with no dingy dock....but doable never the less. Oh and I'm now 13 games up on Oli in the first to 100 pool comp.
We actually like the town and can recommend it for sure.
The plan was to depart here on the 12th for a night motor sail with predicted 5-10knots from the east all the way. We also had the hope to find some land breeze in the evening. We left at 4pm with 15knots. My mistake. There were storm cells visible to the west...the same as the day before. So everything looked the same as what we had experienced. Within 30mins we had 30knots as the cells fought each other for the right to make wind. And the land breeze fought them back. This isn't good I said and then rriiiippp. I could actually see clear seas between the cells and we were heading for it. We hit ten knots of speed in seconds while Oli, Charlotte, Dakota and Mark frolicked on the tramp up front. The rain was cleansing. The air temp dropped alarmingly.
Working like a wet but well oiled machine we had the ripped main down and genoa furled in seconds. We turned and ran for home. These sails hadn't been cared for and as I mentioned before when we lost battens. The things you learn by experience is astounding...but not very helpful at this point.
The rain was such that Mark wore a dive mask to see. Cold and with Ooroo cleansed of salt we re anchored.
In the warm light of day....I was up at 7am, I inspected the damage. I went to shore and requested quotes for new sails and Mark and I inspected the genoa and set the main with its second reef.....as the huge tear is below that. We still have half a sail and genoa....but only just. We will baby this thing to St Maarten were Ooroo will rest for 6 months....will be re clothed and made ready for the remainder if the journey.
These amazing and unpredictable waters are to be respected. With new sails we will set a new protocol to ensure it doesn't happen again and we know that 5-10 knots means nothing.
Dakota has only 5 more days here. So Charlotte and Dakota are now flying to PR for some R&R. Oli wants to be with them as his friend Jen is also meeting him there. But we need him for the next 3-4 days so we can make the passage. Oh and the poor guy has a belly bug and fever that may actually mean he won't be much help at all.
It's now 3pm, the wind is like yesterday at 15 knots. But the afternoon storms are not as visible as the last two days. The forecast is like yesterday's....perfect. We won't leave until night, when the heat of land stops fighting the coolness of the ocean. If no storm cells are visible by eye or radar we can only hope that we get the promised still night....and that our worn out double reefed sail holds.
05/09/2012, Luperon DR
Yes a strange title for a sail blog. What it means is I have time alone on Ooroo.
The last time that happened the crew came home to find me doing just that. Yes, those who know me can believe it.
This anchorage is a little to tight for that to happen again in Luperon.
Oli, Charlotte, Dakota and Mark hired motor bikes this morning and went in search of more young gringos and a good time....as if they have been lacking on board Ooroo. I expect them back late tomorrow.
I do enjoy my "lone time".
Yesterday was a huge day. We spent hours at the waterfalls with helmet and life jackets jumping, sliding and basically frolicking in the 27 waterfalls near by. We had no expectation of what would be there. So needless to say it was surpassed. It was allot more exhilarating than I could have imagined. Putting your trust in a guide who points to the place 10m below and counts to three... Then you jump.
They made us cross our arms across the chest and then shoot down 5m natural rock slides only to hit the water below and then get taken away in the white water, reentering that place were you can breath air another 5m downstream.
The highlight.....was when Charlotte didn't fold her arms and got beaten and bruised by the rocks going down. She emerged coughing and spluttering and crying in pain. Now you think I'm a masochistic bastard...but the highlight was holding my little girl until she regained her composure and then holding her hand as we continued to jump and slide. Priceless. Like Oli she doesn't hesitate. She just jumps, gets bumped and jumps again.
I have also discovered that Dakota likes to talk. Not about anything useful I might add. You sort of tune out up until he says something hilarious. I had to match his bull shit with some of my own just to shut him up. He is great to have onboard and looks after my Charlotte, like any dad would expect. Also priceless.
I hope he knows how to ride a motor bike?
The Dominican Republic is a huge contrast to the Bahamas. Lush green mountains, cattle being mustered on horse back, guys ridding donkeys and lots of cheap fresh fruit.
My first duty of the day was to finely chop some Mahi, add fresh lime juice, chopped mango, pineapple and skinned tomatoes. The final touch was Tabasco and chillies.
It's my special Cevechi Salsa. That's my lunch....just add corn chips.
Last night I cooked Mahi puttanesca, Oli contributed an Argentinian Melbec and Dakota and I shared a Cuban Cigar. Can I say Priceless one more.
I have a wicked plan. Jules knows these plans only too well. This one also includes her.
I'm coming home. Starting 2000nm and two months behind schedule I didn't want the pressure on to push onto the Pacific and miss all the good stuff. My old China and honest boat broker, Tony Brewer has booked me a dry berth in St Martin. Ooroo will have to fend for herself for 6 months while I head home to reconnect with my girl, my parents, my mates and my business.
I will also get new sails, a new loo, dingy and have the rigging tuned.
Mark is heading to South America and may hitch a ride with his mate in Martinique. Oli may come home for Christmas after exploring the jungles of Equadore and Charlotte will walk the Camino in Spain. Oli want to complete the Pacific with me.
So the wicked plan suits all. I'm glad my kids have the get up to go places.
05/06/2012, Luperon, Dominican Republic
We finally left Rum Cay for the Dominican Republic (DR). I'm on the first watch, 9pm till midnight and we have 20 knots of Easterly wind and are cruising at 8-9. The moon is almost full. It's a beautiful night.
But Rum Cay almost kept us. It did keep Marianne. The plan was to leave the afternoon of Thursday and anchor away from Summer Bay Marina so we could up anchor early and escape. Bobby had other plans. He said stay, no charge, why anchor when you can socialize with us. So we stayed and socialized. When we did finally leave....at 6.30 the next morning I hit a reef. Totally my lack of concentration on the unmarked exit to the marina. I got into it at low tide and here I was touching up a reef at high. No damage was done except to my ego. We managed to back out with a stack of curses on my part, check the keel and keep sailing. I wasn't going back. And here we are 18 hours latter, Charlotte is asleep a the on the sofa...feeling a little off with the rocking and rolling of Ooroo. Dakota is right next to her watching Californacation, laughing out loud with earphones on, while Oli and Mark sleep.
Rum Cay was our first real Yachty Experience. Pot Luck dinners consisted of the collective talents as fisherman and chefs. Bobby and his partner Grow, excelled at that. Each night we had 20 plus people, fresh fish, guitars, beer and rum.
The days were spent fishing, reading, exploring and constantly fixing things. Talents are exchanged. Marks electrical skills, Dakotas refrigeration skills, spare parts were exchanged for rigging advise, rum for water etc. everyone chipped in to turn a bad wind situation into very memorable stay. I can highly recommend this place...hospitality, tranquility, honestly and integrity. Sorry if that sounded like a school motto...but I did mention Rum earlier too.
We have sailed almost 90nm of our 325nm trip and in doing so clocked up our first 1000 nm in Ooroo.
We dinned on the Mahi Mahi, I managed to pull in. This fish will feed us for three days? We had previously lost two lures to the big ones out here.
We sailed between Crooked Islands and Plana Cays. We are missing some recommended spots in these islands however after 6 weeks in the Bahamas we are due for the cultural change that DR promises. We also have a weather window that should make this passage ideal.
The night sail was much the same as the day with winds from the east. In the morning while having bacon and egg sandwiches we passed Turks and Cacos to the north and where comfortably beating into a 15 knott breeze.
FISH.....Oli was up and had the fight of his life. After loosing two Mahi's the day before we changed the line on the rod and re rigged the lure. It didn't fail us. Oli landed a Mahi that will feed us a further 4 days. We estimate it to be 20+kgs. My flea market $85 rod has just caught more than it's value in one fish. Yeh.
As if things couldn't get better the wind backed to the NE. Our 6 to 7 knots will now get us to Luperon in the DR before the land breezes kick in tomorrow. Providing it doesn't die off to much overnight.
Now we ponder....how do we cook the Mahi tonight?
It's midnight and Mark woke me from a wonderful sleep. Ooroo felt like she was on railway tracks. The wind and water seemed to be working as one and not as opposing forces. There was no slapping, bucking or whistling, yet I could tell we were traveling fast. The full moon ignites the night. Mark was hyper from the wonderful watch he just completed and it was contagious.
The NE wind didn't last but we are on the same port tack as was when we left Rum Key 260nm ago. Now only 30nm from the shore and 60 from our destination, the wind is veering, pushing us slightly away from our harbour. But we are still on time and a land breeze may yet drag us home on the one tack. 6-8 knots in 15 knots of breeze. Perfect.
I can feel the land...there is an unmistakable warmth and the sea dampness is reduced. The winds are becoming flukey. We have left the low lying Cays, shallow banks and deep trenches of the Bahamas to an island with mountains as high as any in Australia and oceans just as deep. Everything will be different. The people, language, smell, sailing, politics, environment and the price of Rum.
I love the feeling of apprehension caused when you are about to discover something new. You either feel excited or fearful. And it's the choice of each traveler which of these journeys they take.
I'm about to pass over to Oli for the final watch. He has to deal with the winds now. They have dropped, I'm motor sailing and we are heading into a slight chop. The glow of land is viable.
So we motor the last 35nm. The wind doesn't exist but to create a ripple on the water. The land looms, green mountains are book marked by the blue of the sea and the blue of the distant haze around even higher mountains.
The serenity was interrupted 10nm from Luperon we thought we were heading into a huge net. A collection of rubbish and weed 10m wide, stretched as far as we could see. It was a barrier between the blue ocean and the muddier waters of nation of many millions of polluting people. There is clearly more rain here than the Bahamas. The rivers clean the country but dirty the sea. It's still a beautiful landfall.
As is the Harbour. We anchored to be told we should take a mooring for $2 a day...they guy that collects the money livers beer etc to the boat...very civilized. Within 10 minutes we had advise on customs from two yachts who had gone through the process in the hour before...this is how it went,
1- Rafael, A local guy introduced us to the Navy Commandant who was on the dock when we arrived. Mark and I took him and two others to the boat so they could inspect her. Oli, Charlotte and Dakota waited in the shade....it was suggested they stay put. They opened cupboards, looked in draws and bags and hatches...they checked the bilge randomly. I was asked if I had a gun. They recorded passport numbers and boat registration details and questioned why I overstayed my Bahamian entry visa...weather and a layover at Rum Cay was the answer. Very acceptable.
2 - Back on shore we went to the tourism registration office...paid $10 each. Lovely guy there.
3 - Then to Customs right next door. The guys wasn't there so someone yelled and he arrived...It was like a sea container converted into an office. We filled out more forms, had our passports stamped. This guy also had no uniform. I paid $43 for the boat and $10 each as our entry fee. I sat in his air conditioned office and sweated while the others sat outside in the cool breeze.
4 - We met Gladys. It's Sunday so she had her curlers in and looked at Dakota and said "Grande". He is a very tall dude. The curlers were as big as beer bottles.....She was the agriculture controller. No we don't have a pet. We paid her $20 for not having one. Goodness knows how much it would have costed with a pet. Mark impressed Gladys with some Spanish....thank goodness someone knows something.
Rafael also recommended Wendy's for Internet and the coldest beer. It's $1.75 a long neck.....now that's speaking my language.
335 nm in 52 hrs, we have now covered about 1200nm in Ooroo and still haven't used a tank of fuel. The sails did flog lightly as we motored...but so starboard tack was required.
No mum, it wasn't me that broadcasted a Mayday. But one was called never the less. Sitting in the Rum Cay Marina for yet another day, I was a little bored. I was hoping to sail the next day but the weather is unusually bad. In fact it's Monday and we won't depart the Rum until Wednesday at the earliest.
Bobbie got a phone call from a woman at Cat Island. She received a mayday and knowing that Bobbie has all the toys including a Cessna, he was the one to start the search and rescue mission. This very iPad I'm typing on now was was our first tool to launch the rescue. I typed in the longitude and latitude and discovered that they had hit a reef that stretched 4km north from Conception Island...about 20nm away from Rum. I grabbed my hand held VHF and with that, the iPad and Mark we headed to the nearby airstrips to start the search.
Todd (also stranded here due to weather) went back to his boat to act as a VHF relay for any communications that couldn't reach the coast guard.
I got the back seat of the Cessna because its quite there for communicating on the radio...as if half a meter makes a difference in a little 4 seater. I was there to try and contact "Tell Tail", the distressed yacht. I have a bad voice for radio....but a great face for it.
We flew over the island that have become our home. Watching the land depart we turned sharply with the 20 knot easterly almost on our tail.
"Tell Tail, Tell Tail...do you copy". I got a response .." .what?". That was Charlotte also listening in on board Ooroo. Oli told me latter ... "what was Charlotte thinking interrupting the emergency frequency during a rescue". She apparently heard my voice and thought I wanted to speak to her. She is lovely.
We could see the ocean swell below. I was glad to be in an aircraft and not sailing. Two meter waves rolled into Conception Island. We flew directly there seeing no sign of trouble....remembering that at this stage, all we had to go on was a call from a person on another island with a message...Long, Lat and the name Tell Tail?
Bobbie changed course to avoid a huge rain cloud and then once over the island he flew up the clearly viable and onerous reef.
We saw it. In the distance with a partially mast furled main and genoa was a yacht...sitting proud on the reef.
"Tell Tail Tell Tail, do you copy". "This is Tell Tail". We have contact...and not of the Charlotte kind.
I advised them we where in the air and heading their way. Another voice came on the VHF. It turned out to be a Yacht under motor who had also heard the Mayday call and was heading toward the stranded yacht. We can only assume that yacht had taken refuge on Conception in this weather and had been listening to the radio. That was the second piece of luck these ship wrecked sailers had...the first being the person who Bobbie called only 30 minutes earlier.
Tell Tail and I conversed. They were glad to know an aircraft was heading there way. They repeated there Longitude and Latitude but at this stage we didn't need it due to seeing the yacht. Booby then....and I don't know how, spotted a life raft a mile from the stranded yacht. We flew to it.
I spoke to the rescue boat advising them that the yacht was abandoned and the cruisers (an ironic term I must say) were in a life raft. For the record the rescue yacht, we think was Joix e Deux (latter interpreted by Marianne as "happiness of two" or in Aussie speak "two peas in a pod" as it looked like from the air).
They had been communicating with Tell Tail but didn't, like us know that they had abandoned ship. Bobby asked me to relay that Joix e Deux should turn 15 degrees to port. Through this process, as an inexperienced radio operator we had a lot of "please repeat" "say again" and the obligatory "over, copy and out". We also had a lot of engine noise.
We circled very close to all three vessels only 100 or so meters above the waves. I will post the GPS track from my iPad on Facebook ....it looks like we did loop the loops and had a wonderful time.
I communicated as we passed over Joix e Deux that we where on a direct heading to the raft. Once over raft we advised them " it's below know". We got a relieved wave from the two occupants inside. The rescue yacht now had an almost exact position. It took half an hour for the raft and rescuers came together.
We circled the beautiful stranded yacht on a pristine wave swept reef. Tell Tail and it's 50 foot of fun and dreams was now a nightmare. It looked like it should be sailing. From the air it appeared that they misjudged the reef by about 100 meters. But the strange thing was that the yacht was 30 meters into the middle of the reef. It's like it either caught a wave that dropped it there or hit the reef, was laid flat and then washed into its resting place.
Being laid flat is the assumption I have...otherwise why launch a raft from a yacht that didn't appear to be sinking? One day I would like to know? But right now, the call from Cat Island, the rescue yacht and Bobbies + Cessna may have very well saved two lives.
We circled watching as the two craft come together in an awkward dance. We could see life lines being thrown, retrieved and eventually a reunion of the unknown sailers was complete.
The life raft was set adrift to carry on a journey void of human cargo.
Bobby did a fly by. He tilting his wings in acknowledgment and received waves of thanks from the sailers below.
My radio work had a allot to be desired. Joix e Deux asked me at one stage how they should get the guys on board. My suggestion of using a halyard and bosuns chair...and approaching them down wind so they could drift alongside was a complicated one.
Maybe only necessary if one of the sailers was injured. In the end it was as simple as just noising into the wind, allowing the rescued to clamber on board the rescuers yacht.
Bobbie took us home to and for Rum.
I saw a whale breach in the wild waters below.
PS. In the light of day, I reviewed the GPS track from my iPad as we flow over the stranded Yacht. To my surprise the yacht should have been in 13 to 20 meters of water and half a nautical mile north of the reef. Yet the reef was all around the yacht. Unless my GPS was off by half a mile (very unlikely) these sailers would have thought they had plenty of room. With the wind and waves they just wouldnt have seen what was really there. My heart goes out to them....and I have also learnt a valuable lesson.
04/28/2012, Rum Cay, Bahamas
Rum Cay has seen better days. Years of wanna be resort tycoons, crooks and dreamers has left a big question mark on the island. A lot of land is in dispute having been sold more than once by a person who didn't own it in the first instance.
We tired up to the dock yesterday along side a 70 foot yacht and a 42 foot ketch.The yacht is the 4 bedroom home of young business man and parter,Chris and Sara. It's has all the bells and whistles. The ketch has Todd and Gay on board. Todd's a sailing journalist and long time sailer type.
We took Todd's advise and decided to hang around here until the weather improves. Rather than been smashed by on the noise and unpredictably strong winds, we are here to get to know these guys and the eccentric marina owner Bobby allot more over allot of Rum.
The marina is a funky place. Ramshackle docks, broken and twisted by last years Hurricane, a scattering of colorful beach shacks and homes and the BYO restaurant and bar make for a unique setting.
Sara came around to introduce herself and invite all to a bring what you have communal dinner at the bar. I made my fresh chilly and pineapple ceviche and added goats cheese and crackers for starters, Bobby contributed "to die for" Conch fritters and Sara and Chris had fresh Mahi in sesame seed marinade, BBQed with our fresh asparagus. Salads and fried rice topped off the meal thanks to Todd and Gay
It's was a fantastic feast. At midnight we assisted Todd to power his ketch further into the marina, partially closed off due to the shifting sands created by the Hurricane. It was high tide at midnight and Todd's ketch had to plow its own entrance thru the sand. He made it after what seemed like an eternity with engines at full thrust and the kiel in the sand. He tucked in for the night.
Today was going to be a day of collecting water from a nearby fresh water pond. The ever generous Bobby was going to drive in his jeep to supervise the pump out...."bring soap and towels for your freshwater bath" he said. But Chris has offered freshwater from his own watermarked to fill our tanks....in exchange for a bottle of gin. It's a deal. The bath can wait.
So with no water to collect it looks like we will invade the local bar this afternoon. Stay tuned for how that turns out. Oli and I will resume our first to 100 pool comp (dad 68 son 58).
Marianne was advised to make a plan B for flying home to Belgium. We possibly won't get her to the Dominica Republic for her flight out on the 4th. The weather is set to blow for 5 days. The plan right now consists of hitching a ride with Bobby to Nassau in his light plane. Not a bad option indeed. Bobby also surfs, dives, parachutes, etc etc. He has the toys and we are just the people to help him play with them.
We also have the mailboat coming in tomorrow. It's like a party day when that happens apparently. Bars and shops are restocked to keep the 70 odd residence and 10 sailing tourists happy. It's great place to be stranded....I just wish Jules could be here as well.