Days 78 - 98 (April 4 to April 23): The Dominican Republic, an unexpected change of pace, landscape and adventure abound
Apr/30/2013, Dominican Republic (Puerto Plata and Samana)
The North coast of the DR has a famed reputation for being vast, rough and difficult to sail (from West to East). Here you really start to feel the constant effect of the trade winds blowing strong from East to West. Our journey from South Caicos to the DR began around mid-day Thursday March 2nd. We sailed out of the South Caicos inlet waving good bye to the nice people and soft sand bottom that we had been grounded on for the last few hours. We sailed through the night in open water on a rhumb line for the DR to Puerto Plata. The Atlantic has some pretty interesting contours on the way over including the Mouchoir Bank, an area where the ocean goes from miles deep to just below the surface in a very short distance ...an island that was never meant to be (during our time anyway)... The water would go from fairly calm 4-5 foot swell to 8 foot swell for no apparent reason. This is primarily caused by large open ocean swell compressing against the bank as the depth moved from thousands of feet to less than 100. Besides that the sail to the DR was uneventful, just what we hoped for. As we approached the DR's north coast at sunrise the majestic landscapes did not disappoint. Huge lush green mountain peaks were a huge contrast to the dry, low and flat landscapes we had become accustomed to in the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos. The size was disorienting at first to our senses. Even when we still had an hour left to make landfall it felt like we should already be slowing down as the size of the land makes you feel closer than you really are. We pulled into a very posh marina known as Ocean World which is essentially the DR version of Atlantis. 5 years new, complete with Vegas style shows and casino, a waterpark, aquarium, live animal shows, swimming with dolphins and sharks, restaurants, and a huge pool with swim up bars...this was going to be a welcome place to "camp out" for a while! Rachel had to fly home in a couple days for work so this was a great spot for me to mindlessly wait for her return and get some minor boat work underway.
Like always we crashed the first night, catching up on some sleep after our night sail. The next day we rented a car and headed out to get the lay of the land. I was warned about the driving methods here and saying it is hectic on the roads is an understatement. Mopeds and scooters litter the roads like flies moving in every direction.
Traversing the wrong way down roads is perfectly acceptable as is driving at any speed you like, even through red lights and stop signs! There are essentially no rules or enforcement. We were especially amused that the passing lane appears to also serve as the oncoming lane of traffic! After a few miles we settled in and became part of the commotion. We even blasted some local radio stations to get the ridiculous high paced rhythm down.
We drove for about an hour to a place called Cabarete, which is one of the world's most coveted Kiteboarding destinations (so much that one of the beaches is called "Kite Beach"). Hundreds of Kiteboarders dominate more than a mile of coastline, ranging from sponsored professionals to first timers. In addition to being a kite paradise the beach front has really developed over the past few years, moving from one or two wooden fishing houses to hundreds of bars, restaurants, shops and street vendors. The beachfront restaurant bars stretch almost down to the water where you can sit at a table under or under an umbrella in beach chairs and be pampered for pennies on the dollar while watching the action on the water...awesome... We ordered up some tacos and Presidentes (beer) and planned our return with our own Kite gear, which we realized we should have brought along with us.
We walked the beach after our meal to get some exercise and noted just how relentless the wind funnels into this section of coastline...an observation that would come in handy weeks later when we sailed past this same spot on Soul Purpose. We drove home that night but not before stopping in to a few local shops, resulting in our purchase of the DR original drink Mamajuana. A mixture of chopped wood, herbs and leaves that is soaked in red wine, rum and honey. The guy who sold it to us insisted we drink a few shots with him first and naturally we obliged. He told us it was "Dominican Viagra" and that "we would see later!" I had visions of going to a DR hospital with a 5 hour boner that would not go away, but fortunately (or unfortunately) the claims were exaggerated.
The next day, Friday, was party day, you know because we needed to unwind from the tough life we have been living here in Puerto Plata! We relaxed by the pool for a couple hours and caught up on some reading and tanning. That night we booked a dinner/show package at the Ocean World Marina. A fancy 4 course meal, with unlimited drinks, leading to an hour and a half Vegas style singing and dancing show (with the Latin flare of course) which also had unlimited drinks for a grand total of $90! They pumped us with drinks brining new ones before we even finished the ones in front of us.
We hung out and took some pictures with the sweaty performers after the show, but the 10+ drinks we consumed led us straight into Ocean World's plan and we marched full of hell to the Casino! We hit some slots for over a half hour, coming out even...more free drinks... We then hit Rach's favorite, Roulette, were we made friends who were happy to ride our momentum at the table. I don't know how but over the course of about a half hour we managed to go down about $100 and then Rach ran our tally back up to +$60 in less than 5 minutes. The rest of the table was getting loud and boisterous, while we all spoke broken Spanglish, all the while just betting with Rach while she made everyone a bunch of money! We left the table while up and still hot and headed to Blackjack. It was probably the first time either of us actually played at a Blackjack table. So we made new drunk friends who were happy to have another hand against the dealer. Naturally I lost the $60 that Rach made us but we had a blast, going up and down taking some risks that paid off, some that did not, but definitely getting our money's worth of fun.
The fun continued on Saturday which was a highlight for us. Shaking off the haze from the casino, we drove to 27 Charcos - Balneario Damajagua (or in English, 27 Waterfalls). This is naturally beauty at its finest. A place where Mother Nature provides a natural waterpark full of rock water slides, cliffs that plunge into pools of water and above all else, just beautiful uncorrupted landscapes. We hired a private guide to show us where the more advanced trails and cliff jumps are. This turned out to be a great decision because after a 45 minute hike up the mountain side, he let us have full reign of the national park, even cutting groups of 20 people who had undoubtedly signed up for a group trip from their resort at quadruple the cost of a private guide. Our guide grew up here as a child, spoke a few words of English, but seemed to immediately understand that we were there to experience the park, not eat snacks on the sidelines. The whole day was a blast and not one we will soon forget.
I drove Rach to the airport on Monday as she had to fly out on business. I had all kinds of plans for my alone time (e.g. kiteboard and mountain bike everyday) that was curtailed by double ended excrement. A day after Rach left I woke up around 6 am sweating with stomach cramps. My favorite part was cleaning up the gallon of puke that went into the sink but would not drain. I was puking so much that I decided that it was easier to just puke into bags and throw them in the trash...cleaner, more efficient and no cleanup. The sickness that I attributed to eating some old mushrooms subsided after a couple days, but fortunately the marina had great wifi where I managed to stream the entire first season of Dexter via Netflix.
Our last adventure in the DR before planning our next leg East came after Rach returned and we headed back to Cabarete for some kiteboarding. We were pumped for this... My good friend Alex Boylan who travels the world regularly hooked us up with a guy, Jon, who was one of the founding fathers of Kiteboarding. He also lives on Kite Beach and owns a shop /kite school there - Method Lodge. Jon wasn't in the shop when we dropped in but we met his beautiful wife and child who told us we could find him after lunch. We headed for the beach, planned our approach and set up Rachel's kite which was a perfect size for both of us in the 30 mph winds. About 5 minutes after inflating it we found it nearly deflated! As we headed back to the car we stopped in to see if Jon had returned and could give us guidance as to where we could get local kite repairs. Jon took us right in and had us park in his private atrium lot on the beach side of the street. We diagnosed the kite leak, but could not find a suitable way to repair its faulty internal bladder. As if a stroke of luck blessed upon us from God we found another bladder in our kite bag that we didn't even know we had?! What? I am not asking questions, we were just happy to find it. We replaced the internal kite bladder ourselves and headed back for the beach at dusk. I was first to take the kite into the wild waters of Cabarete! For about 30 seconds I was in heaven heading out about a half mile, catching air and instantly loving the consistent winds and lofting swells! Then right as I turned to come back to shore the kite twitched and started doing a death loop, 360's. I wrestled the kite to keep in under control and luckily managed to keep my board on and in front of me...a line had snapped and there was no easy way out of this! The kite was flopping in and out of the water, spiraling out of control but fortunately I was headed with the wind, diagonally back to shore. When I got close, a kid, not more than 10 years old swam out, wrapped up my lines, grabbed the kite by the edges and sailed it back in, pulling me with it! Typical of the culture we have observed here in the DR...genuine, happy to help. He and his friends packed up my kite, washed my gear and even carried it back to our car. I gave them each 100 pesos and 200 to the kid who swam out. Later on at dinner with Jon he put it into perspective for me...the few hundred pesos that I gave out, less than $10 total, would mean that those kids would eat a nice chicken dinner tonight with their whole family rather than just vegetables or rice...a good deal for all of us. Although, we were bummed that we didn't get to kite - we decided there were too many signs to ignore after the popped bladder and line breaking and figured that kiting wasn't meant for us that day :( - we were able to experience some local culture, connect with a new friend in the DR and work out some kite issues that would have been impossible to fix anywhere in the Caribbean but Kite Beach.
We said our goodbyes to those we had met around the marina on Tuesday April 16th at 6pm when we headed out for a night sail to Samana Bay (Northeast side of the DR). We had planned one potential emergency anchorage (Escondido) in case the conditions became untenable, but as usual Soul Purpose tackled the varied conditions with ease. We have learned over the past few months that when conditions are big, we can keep our water tanks low, reducing weight in the bow and making for a much better hull angle of attack on the waves. As mentioned earlier in this post we did hit the uncomfortable headwind (25 knots) and waves (8 foot) coming around the point near Cabarete. It was an interesting view looking back at the twinkling, lively shore of Cabarete from outside the reef rather than from the beach. The shoreline has some crazy underwater contours...2,400 feet to 40 feet in less than 30 seconds and then back again to deep water! It is always a bit unnerving in the dark of night, relying on gauges when there are entire mountains just below your keels. Needless to say we played it conservative and gave the reefs a wide berth. We dodged some storm cells and heavy rainfall throughout the night using our radar but all said it was a great sail.
Samana and the surrounding area is littered with huge, lush rock face walls making it look more like Bora Bora instead of a Caribbean island. There are massive caves and giant birds circling them making it look like a scene out of Jurassic Park, beautiful. We made landfall in Puerto Bahia Marina Resort. This is getting ridiculous. This place is postcard perfect and only 3 years old. Infinity pools, cabanas, Ibiza style lounges, art galleries and a couple nice restaurants all for about $40/night!
After a couple days of being pampered at the resort, getting some work done, meeting some fellow cruisers, and even working out! we headed out for Samana (town) in the dinghy. A 25 minute ride in a fully inflatable dinghy in 4 foot swells, fun, but we are contemplating a larger rigid bottom dinghy now that we actually use the dinghy for something more than a 500 foot trip to shore! In the Bahamas everything was sand, here, mostly rock, making the possibility of tearing through the bottom of our dinghy like tissue paper a potential reality if we got careless. Yes, I am trying to sell Rachel on this idea and this is a gratuitous plug for my desires for a new sick dinghy! Ok, back to the point, Samana did not live up to its reputation for being dangerous or intimidating. It was actually quite cute and lively. We pulled up to the shore after crossing under the "Bridge to Nowhere" and chained our dinghy to a Navy ship.
It was the first place where we saw locals hanging out at the bars and restaurants. Open air lounges and bars line the streets as do rickshaws and motorcycles. We grabbed some surprisingly good pizza at a place called Bamboo and then went walking down the streets in search of some fresh fruit. We found a little grocery store which had a bunch of brand new apples so we picked up some for us and some for our neighbors. We walked some back streets on the way back to the boat to get a better feel for the place. Again, everyone was nice, offering a ride here or there but not bothering or badgering. I found it funny when a guy on a small bicycle would offer both of us a ride...3 people on a one speed, single person bike...the norm. Some kids even gave Rach a flower as she walked by. We motored back to the marina at nightfall and decided that we needed to toughen up and get out of the marina. We headed for Los Haitises the next morning.
Los Haitises is decidedly our favorite anchorage in a long time. It is only about 15 miles away from the marina and forms its own protected bay with little atolls rising up from the depths all around.
We are the only boat here. We ventured inland with our trusty dinghy yesterday (March 21st) through little canals lined by huge rock cliffs and endless mangroves. Only pictures can attempt to convey the visual impact of this place....
We brought lunch, beer and headlamps with us for a day of exploring dark underground caves. Just another day! Life is good. There were all kinds of ancient cave art from early cave dwellers, stalagmite's, stalactites (Rach and I still don't know which ones grow up and which grow down but discuss it regularly as if we are geologists). We hypothesized what the art represented ranging from boats to aliens to primitive sex to Chinese people. The things you discuss when you are alone in a cave...yes again we have paradise to ourselves, awesome.
Day 2 at our favorite anchorage had Rach finishing some work via satellite phone leading to another shore expedition. We heard there might be waterfalls inland so we are going on a cave/waterfall mission.
We met two Dominican guys ashore who were sitting in the area where we made landfall. Neither spoke a lick of English. We mustered up and awful attempt at Rosetta Stone level 1 Spanish...Boy, drinks, run, car, hello, I go, jello is good when eaten with little girls? We basically have no idea what we are saying and the locals look equally confused. But, like always we smile laugh, shake hands use hand motions and don't act standoffish... The two guys just started leading us around showing us bats hanging from cave ceiling and some beautiful cave pools. Later that day our new friends, who think we want to eat Jello off a small child, brought us back to their shoreline perch and brought out a machete. One motioned for a coconut and we anxiously accepted... "yes, small child please!" They laughed and perfectly hacked open the coconut. We drank the fresh juices which have a clean, semi-sweet and somewhat tangy taste. I offered it back to them... "you drink small child coconut, yes?" They laughed and shared the drink with us. Afterwards we cut it up and ate the white coconut flesh which was really quite tasty. We said our goodbyes laughing and mutually happy with the simplicity of our encounter.
We headed back to Puerto Bahia Marina the next morning to collect our Dispacho, a document saying that we can leave and head to the next port which in this case was Boqueron, Puerto Rico. Before leaving we had an all too quick cocktail with fellow sailors, Alex and his wife. They were ending 8 years of sailing and gave us all their Caribbean charts (Rach couldn't be more excited, she loves her paper charts)! Such nice people and flattering that they gave their charts to us, saying that they were looking for some deserving people to pass them on to... The journey that lies ahead is about a 150 mile passage in open water with a reputation for consuming boats, large and small. We will have to beat into the wind heading eastward in the trades across the Mona Passage and skirting the edge of the 5 mile deep Puerto Rican Trench. We are excited to be moving on to Caribbean waters where it feels like we are bringing Soul Purpose to a place that she was born in our minds many years ago when we started reading "Sailing for Dummies" aboard charter boats...
Mix of sun and clouds & a dark starry night Apr/03/2013, Mouchoir Bank (Atlantic Ocean) and South Caicos, Turks & Caicos Islands
So it's 9:44 PM, Derek is asleep on the couch and I'm on my first night watch headed in open water to the Dominican Republic (DR). I figured rather than start falling asleep at the helm as I stare aimlessly into the night that I would be productive and type up a blog post (it also helps me stay awake; yes its only 9:44 but we were up at 5:30 AM today (I'll explain that later)). If all goes well, I'll be able to post this update via the satellite phone later tonight or in the morning (photos will have to wait till we have wifi at the marina).
Unlike the overnight sail we had on our way to the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), we don't have any moon tonight, so it is pretty black out. Luckily there is a clear sky and lots and lots of stars. There's just enough starlight to keep an eye on the single black bird that's flying around the boat tonight; I think he's drafting us and taking rests on the deck when he gets tired...he already scared the crap out of me though! I was looking toward the horizon, focusing on lights in the distance and he flew right next to my head! There seems to be a pattern with these overnight sails and animals flying at my head leaving me screeching and Derek jumping to see what's the matter... (if you look closely in the night time photo, the bird is sitting on the tip of the bow!)
I'm still mesmerized by the sight of the evening sky from the middle of nowhere...It's amazing what a starry night looks like when you're far offshore - it is simply beautiful - you can spend hours just watching the stars twinkle and if you're lucky you might even catch a falling star or meteor. Other than watching the stars, I glance every few minutes at the chartplotter to check course and watch the radar for other boats. We haven't seen anyone since leaving the Turks and Caicos, but I picked up a blip on the radar about 20 minutes ago and can now see the mast light of a fellow traveler...they seem to be headed northwest, back towards TCI - it's a light wind tonight and too bad for us, we're headed upwind at 60 degrees, but since the wind is so light we've had to ride with the motors on in order to keep making good progress. We decided to launch today from South Caicos since we saw a lull in the wind for about 12 hours forecasted this afternoon into tomorrow morning. Travelling what they call the windward passage, notoriously, windy, rough and with winds against you, boats must take every opportunity to move east, whether winds are northerly, westerly or no/light wind at all. So, with a light wind it in today's forecast (about 10 kts) off we went at about 2 PM on the 110 nautical mile trip from South Caicos to Puerto Plata (Ocean World) in the DR. We wanted to arrive in the morning light, so we planned an overnight sail around the wind which should put us at Ocean World around 6 AM tomorrow...we'll wait offshore until the sun comes up before heading into the harbor...we've got long motor-sail ahead of us 'till then!
Well, I guess I should back up a bit too and give you a synopsis of our time in TCI....
Being Good Friday, we didn't even attempt to head into Provo after arrival...instead we packed up again and headed across Caicos bank to the eastern part of the TCI. We left a little later than planned and had to make a stop at Six Hill Cays to anchor as we couldn't make it all the way to South Caicos before nightfall and you do not want to cross the bank at night - there are plenty of scattered, uncharted coral heads which would be absolutely no fun to ground a hull on. The wind and swell were opposing, so we anchored on the south side of the cays to escape the winds...it took three tries but we finally got the hook set. The anchor alarm only went off a few times due to wind shifts and current, fortunately no boat slip all night.
We pulled up anchor in the AM and finished the trek to South Caicos. We arrived midday and hurried into town for some food and to check out the area. Being Easter weekend, we knew we only had the rest of Saturday where things would be open. We went for a ten mile walk around to the Northeastern side of the island where we checked out the beach and a new hotel that's being built (it is huge!). We came upon a bunch of teenagers partying at a local beach BBQ spot near some homes that must have been destroyed by a hurricane recently. We chatted with the adolescent islanders for a bit, but we left them to their hormones and moved on in search of food.
We stopped at the Ocean Club for a great lunch/dinner and even took a pizza to go! Everyone in S. Caicos is super friendly and they all want to build up the local economy and spread the word about the beautiful waters, diving, fishing, etc. We met some great people along the way like Norman, Randy, Anthony and "Juice" and plan to visit on our way back so we can explore some more and get some diving in - after all it is the third largest reef in the northern hemisphere (I think). Our encounter with Randy was especially memorable as he has travelled back to South Caicos after 20 years in Miami. He is amazed that the electronic age has reached his hometown (computers, tablets, cell phones), but he is disappointed that locals don't band together to build the local economy and make it attractive for tourists. He hopes to organize the community and wishes people would stop only looking out for themselves. Oh by the way, Randy was also trying to figure out which Batman movie to watch that night. I should also mention that Randy's brother Anthony was knawing on what looked like a small tree branch. I had to ask what it was and in true kind islander form, he ran inside to grab a machete where he sliced it up in to pieces so we could try raw sugar cane for the first time! It came from the DR actually and was extremely tasty.
Easter Sunday was low key, we just chilled on the boat with wifi and a book. It was overcast until late afternoon, so we didn't venture out to explore until 5 PM via dinghy. We checked out a neighboring island and a sunken boat in about one foot of water! I hard boiled some eggs for Easter and we had hoped to eat the rest of our sushi, but realized we were out of soy sauce! Guess sushi will wait til tomorrow when the store is open.
Monday proved to be a little more exciting...we slept in and noticed two other boats had arrived the night before. After a quick stop in town to pick up bread and soy sauce, we decided to dinghy over to the other boats to see if anyone else was sailing south. The first boat was a beautiful blue 55' monohull with two very nice English women on board. We chatted with them for a few, but they were headed to the north shore of TCI - they were anchored near the harbor entrance and we started taking on waves while sitting in our dinghy along side their boat since the swell. After I took a huge wave soaking my left side, we released our painter (rope on the front of the dinghy) and drifted away while saying our "goodbyes" and "safe sails." We next dinghied over to an aluminum hulled sailboat with a German flag. The captain and first mate promptly invited us aboard and next thing we knew we were four beers deep with our new German friends Andrea and Georg (Hans-Georg). They had just come from the DR and the Caribbean and were headed to the Bahamas. We exchanged tips about where to go and what islands and activities not to miss. We even exchanged courtesy flags as I didn't' have a DR flag and they were missing a Bahamas flag - I definitely got the best part of that deal as their DR flag was in perfect condition while our Bahamian courtesy flag was more like a half-flag. It has been hoisted on board for so long, including our trips to the Abaco and Bimini last year that literally half of the flag had worn away in the wind...it wasn't just faded, it was actually missing!
Before we departed "Muscat" (their boat), we invited Andrea and Georg over to share the rest of our tuna sushi. As promised, they arrived 30 minutes later and we shared a rum and coke while D finished preparing the sushi. I have absolutely no idea what we talked about all night, but before we knew it, it was dark out, we had devoured all the sushi, polished of a bottle of rum and were snacking on cheese and crackers...and next thing we were on PayPal transferring $160 from Georg's business to our PayPal account - see they didn't have Bahamas charts and we didn't need ours anymore - yep, believe it or not, I sold my paper charts! Haha. Not to worry, I already have new ones on order being shipped to FL where I'll pick them up when I fly home in a week or so for work.
Needless to say, we made some great new friends, totally unexpected and unfortunately we were only able to share one day together, but it was memorable and we'll definitely find a way to visit them again...maybe even in Berlin at some point! Georg says he's thinking of trading in the mono for a catamaran soon, so perhaps we'll sail together cat with cat soon!
We had no problems falling asleep, especially since we'd been anchored in the harbor for a few days safe and sound with no anchor alarms; while the wind was due to shift direction, we didn't think much about it while drifting into a deep sleep preparing for our overnight sail on Tuesday. When you live on a boat and sleep in different harbors regularly, you start to learn (or obsess about in D's case) every creak and noise, especially when at anchor. With your eyes closed, you often speculate the origin of a new sound...this is what happened at about 5:30 AM on Tuesday. A new light "knocking" at the starboard stern woke both Derek and I, still hazy from the night before. We
first thought it was a wave lapping under the hull, but it was so different than we'd heard before...we finally got up to check it out. Sure enough, the wind had shifted and we'd spun with our stern to the north...into the shallows of the harbor. After about an hour, after the sun began to rise we fully confirmed that we'd ended up in water too shallow for out 3.5' draft - ugh - grounded! We tried pulling in the anchor to see if we could move into the deeper water, but it was too late - SP wouldn't budge! D jumped in and confirmed our speculation; it's not a good feeling to see your husband standing in water up to his waist next to your boat! As D walked, yes walked, around the boat, we realized we were on a shoal with the bow still in deep enough water and the stern in the shallows. The creaking and clanking continued as the tide was still going out! I think I watched Derek cringe every moan the boat let out. A catamaran sits on her keels when out of the water, so we figured we'd be okay but the sound was not comforting. The worst was the rudders as the tide continued to lower, the rudders would lift then fall back on their bearings making a large clank - it took a while to realize it was the sound of releasing pressure not adding pressure, which at least gave us some comfort that we weren't in danger of damaging our rudders or sail drives. We added another line from the mast winch to the anchor chain to help pull the bow down and the stern up - adding a turn or two on the winch as the tide lowers, providing more downward pull and hopefully forward pull once the tide starts rising again...we are patiently awaiting 8:43 AM!
In order to turn our time on the ground into something productive, D walked around with a scraper in hand and cleaned the growth off the hull, which should make us faster during our next sail!
It sure is an eerie, weird, abnormal feeling to sit with a 5 degree angle across the boat (the port keel was on higher ground than the starboard) and have a total lack of peaceful drifting while aboard in the middle of an anchorage! But, sure enough, after several hours, Soul Purpose slowly started to float again, moaning just as much on the way up as she did on the way down! As soon as she was ready, we hauled up Soul's anchor and set sail for the Dominican! While the unintentional time on the ground delayed us an hour, it actually worked out better for arrival in the DR...never a dull moment!
Days 70-71: From Georgetown to Providenciales (Turks and Caicos)
Bright starry night...nearly a full moon! Mar/28/2013, Sapodilla Bay, Providenciales, Turks & Caicos Islands
Touchdown and just a few minutes after sundown...again. We dropped the hook in the pitch black anchorage of "Provo" (Northwest corner of Turks and Caicos Islands) after two full days and an overnight run straight from Georgetown. What a great sail, all things considered. We had between 8 and 22 knots throughout the entire trip (mostly 18 knots) always on port tack, with wind angles between 60 and 120 degrees! You really can't ask for better conditions than that in the Atlantic at this time of year. We chose to leave Georgetown after a passing cold front (note the heavy winter foul weather gear in the pictures) because it brought 2 full days of North winds. Some sailors don't like this because it's cold for one and can be a bit less predictable. But we had a great game plan full of fall backs and evasive courses if needed. The boat charged along for 35 hours, averaging 7 knots and even peaking a few times over 11 knots! Now to be clear, Rach and I have a history of terrible overnight sails. It never deters us from doing it again but hitting a gale in the middle of a dark night has become the rule for us, not the exception. Last night was different. We had a huge moon which made the Atlantic swells the same color as the pale sky, looking like 9 foot freight trains riding along with us. It was so bright it felt like a dimly lit day, unreal. Rach made soup for dinner to ward off the cold (yes 72 degrees with wind is very cold for us now) and then she took the first shift at the helm while I tried to get some sleep early (at 8:00 pm).
Taking a shift at the helm means, putting on extra warm wind breaking clothes, strapping on a self-inflating harness, tucking a search and rescue beacon into your pocket and of course sitting down at the helm with a hot chocolate for 4 hours of doing little more than watching gauges and making a few small adjustments to the boat's course. Not being an early closer, I couldn't sleep really so I just tossed and turned listening to the boat creak and moan as it raced over and sometimes through the big swells. I finally gave up after an hour and a half of listening to one particular squeak that could actually drive you insane and told Rach to give it a shot. I went to take a shower and just after my first rinse I hear a shrieking scream like sound from Rach! I ran from the shower, slipping and banging into walls (don't forget the boat is charging through 9 foot swell at 8 knots at this point) yelling "what, what, what is it?!" When I got to the helm I stood there dripping wet and naked looking at a 10 inch flying fish that had flown onto the boat and just missed Rach's head as it crashed into the side of the windshield! Needless to say, it scared the crap out of Rach, mainly because she thought it was bat at first. Weird thing is that we had just discussed earlier that night that our boat was too tall for them to fly on deck and how strange it must be for monohull sailor's who's boats keel over, presenting a wall for the fish to fly into. That's the thing about the ocean...you almost hesitate to say things out loud or even think too deeply about her and the way she works . It's as if she's listening and might just choose to respond...
The days and nights went as smoothly as could be expected (and hoped). Changing sail trim here and there and occasionally, if the wind got light, switching to our large Genaker headsail became the norm. Sleep for us topped out around 4 hours each that night, as we are still not good at sleeping until we finally get overtired. Oh well, hopefully someday we will get better. We sailed past Long Island, Rum Cay, Samana (questionably the island where Columbus first made landfall), Plana Cays, Mayaguana and finally we were on approach to Turks and Caicos. There was nothing in sight or within 24 miles on the radar so we decided that before checking into a new country that we should break out our guns, re-familiarize ourselves with them and take some practice shots. Of course we both went for the Automatic Rifle! We had a blast peppering off rounds and watching the water blast up into the air. We also took out the 12 gauge shotgun which I had converted into a pistol grip. That was an experience in itself although the kick back almost broke Rachs hand...not her favorite gun, but it is still my bed buddy.
After our shooting frenzy, Rach, as always set out a few fishing lines to see if we could get lucky. We had already lost 3 fish and 3 lures on this trip. A few that bit out in 8000 feet of water, were not exactly meant for our light tackle (80 lb test lines). These fish were big, one biting right through our metal leader lines! We were racing to make Provo before nightfall and about the only thing that we would allow to let us lose a minute of sunlight would be the chance at fresh sushi. The line starting flying out and Rach took the helm to turn the boat towards the fish to release the load. I started reeling...this one was not getting away! Sure enough, after 5 minutes of fighting, we landed a beautiful 30 pound tuna. I fileted it on the spot while Rach got us back underway. I filled an entire large freezer bag full of only the sushi grade parts of the tuna, totaling about 6 pounds of fresh meat! We put it in the freezer to prepare it for tomorrow's feast! Actually this much tuna will feed us for 4 meals at least!
Approaching Provo is not recommended at night, but fortunately we installed a portable sun in the form of a searchlight fit for a Navy ship. I always dreamed of having a wireless controlled searchlight and now, mounted halfway up the mast I can turn the sun up and down, left and right with a little remote control. We piloted through the entry to the Caicos bank, up "the funnel" and through coral heads until we reached the anchorage. We expected to find it crowded with 20 or 30 boats as this is a main international port and landing point for those headed to the Caribbean. Not a boat in sight...I guess we were the only ones who felt this was a good front to ride south! It seemed fitting as well since we had not seen a single boat in 2 days during our sail. I truly can't describe the feeling of setting an anchor in a calm harbor after 35 hours of mental focus, relentless wind, noise and erratic boat movement. When I shut the engine off I came inside and tried to figure out what to do, the silence was deafening. I didn't even know where to start and Rach looked easily as useless as I did! We cleaned up a bit and went to bed for 10 uninterrupted hours of sleep. When we awoke, still the only boat in the harbor, we were surrounded by kayakers, swimmers and snorkelers all descending with curiosity from the nearby resort. Arriving in pitch black we had no idea that we were at the foot of a major high end resort. I had walked outside stretching in my underwear that very morning! Oh well, time to go check in and see if they will let us into their country...
Today marks the end of the longest stop and the departure from the pristine Exumas! We are currently sailing East out of Elizabeth Harbor's North Cut in "Georgetown," Great Exuma. It's been nearly 3 weeks and as fun as it's been, adult summer camp is over and it's time to buckle in for some real sailing and adventure! Wait, wait, let's rewind for a minute...what is Georgetown and what happened there to keep us so long? Well that's sort of like asking yourself when you were a college student, after a night of drinking and bar hopping, why you went to bed at 7am and still have chicken nuggets stuck in your facial hair. You don't really know, you just know that you would do it again and it was a good time...
Time seems to stand still in Georgetown and every day is Groundhog day. Every morning at 8:00 am, hundreds of boats, spread out across at least 5 different anchorages in a 5 or so mile radius, tune into the morning Cruisers Net broadcast on the VHF radio. Here Herman, the chair of the net, covers the weather, reviews local businesses, discusses local events (volleyball at 2pm, DVD swaps and engine repair training at "Da Chat and Da Chill", etc) and opens the microphone to the "boaters general" (where cruisers can post things for sale, ask for help, etc). The "net" has announcements of boater arrivals and departures and closes out with everyone standing by on VHF channel 68. From that point on, hundreds of boaters from all over the world begin calling each other to discuss the salient material that was just introduced on the net and switching to various ship to ship VHF channels. This is all done with nearly flawless execution and symmetry from very experienced "boaters"...every, single, day! The amazing part is that you can't help but set an alarm and listen to the net on your VHF radio from the comfort of your bed, listening to all that is going on around you! It's remarkable how many laughs you get from eaves dropping in on other peoples open channel communications...imagine listening in on your neighbors telephone calls each day and you get the picture. Georgetown has boaters who came for a week and stayed for years, people who were bound for the Caribbean and decided to stay for months and turn back to the USA. It's an extremely fun and easy place to be. Volleyball every day and "Chat n' Chill" beach, bonfires, regattas, rake and scrape dancing every Monday, snorkeling, hiking, island exploration, private postcard beaches...you name it, all from an extremely protected anchorage where literally thousands of boats can be and barely get in each other's way. Above all else, you make friends. Similar or dissimilar, no one really knows why they are there or when they are leaving exactly and the fun just begins again the next day. The beauty is that these are "like" friends...people who cruise local and foreign waters on their boat and who fundamentally understand the allure to cruising that everyone in the harbor feels. They have persevered through many similar experiences and enjoyed the freedom and indescribable personal returns that only others who have traveled the world in this way truly understand.
Rach and I made a bunch of friends in Georgetown, but Mark (retired cop from NYPD) and Chrissy stand out. They were on a Catamaran just like ours, we met them in a grocery store and had a blast ever since. Needless to say, quite a bit of our fun was had together. From exploring the islands, to drunken darts, late night dinghy races to mixing it up with locals at "Eddies Edgewater" - we found plenty to keep ourselves entertained. We will miss them and hope we get to sail or hang out together again.
So what else? The fact of the matter is that we needed the right conditions for sailing from Georgetown to points southeast, such as Turks and Caicos. While waiting we managed to hike a mini mountain, purchase some elaborate coconut shell cups, party in the party island, prepare our taxes, do some actual work and get out and sail our boat every few days (usually to make water - we have a reverse osmosis system onboard that turns ocean water into drinking water). You go a little soft staying in Georgetown. The open Atlantic is not a cushy place most of the time. Heading out of Georgetown means getting your guard back up, doing your homework on weather/wave conditions, plotting exact courses and timing, keeping the ship ready for the worst and of course, sleepless nights on multi-day passages in open water...responsibilities of the highest order...preserve the boat and your lives at all times. So here we are, the sails are set, were making 9 knots and while leaving Georgetown we are saying our goodbyes over the VHF radio on a day when no one else sees fit to go (the wind is strong today). We should make landfall again in about 34 hours in Turks and Caicos, but you never know what will happen, just that you need to be ready for anything. Actually we tried to leave yesterday morning and woke up to a squall just minutes before leaving...pouring rain and 28 knot winds told us that we could relax for another day... You just can't control the weather.
Clear blue skies turning to overcast (last day) Mar/03/2013, Rudder Cut Cay, Exumas
We spent three nights at our own private anchorage off of Rudder Cut Cay, which is a private island and apparently the owners take their ownership seriously seeing as they post "No Trespassing" signs on all of the beaches and even have wireless cameras watching each beach! It's too bad, seeing as the beaches are beautiful and there is no house in sight, so I'm not sure what the owners are worried about. Regardless of our inability to set foot on land, we found our own fun and made an adventure out of it anyway, hence staying three days!
The first night we pulled past another sailboat and onto the next bay where we were free to anchor all alone. We settled in after a few hour sail from Farmers Cay - unsuccessfully fishing while on the Exuma Sound :(. We had hoped to spearfish, but by the time we anchored, the tides had switched and it was starting to darken outside. We planned to explore via dinghy the next day.
The next morning we did some work on the boat while we waited for the clouds to clear. Finally around early afternoon, we decided to hop in the dinghy and venture around the island's shoreline to check out the nearby caves and some distant "little" islands. On a whim we decided to take a fishing pole with us and fish off the dinghy while underway. Never in a million years did we think we'd catch anything, but sure enough, although were unsuccessful with the big boat, we landed a HUGE barracuda on the dinghy! It was so big that as we reeled it in, the fish started swimming and actually dragged the dinghy in circles! Haha! The only problem was that we didn't think to bring a knife or any tools with us, so now we had a gigantic, angry barracuda on the line with huge teeth...we were afraid if we brought him in the inflatable dinghy, he'd either pop it with his teeth or with the hook, or just as bad eat one of our fingers off while we tried to de-hook him. So...we dragged the sucker all the way back to the boat - we had almost reached the far off little island when we caught him and now the poor fish had to be dragged in the water all the way back to the catamaran! Surprisingly he didn't drown on the high speed trip back, he was a little banged up and not swimming so straight, but Derek decided to continue his taser testing and after arriving back at the boat alive, the poor barracuda got a shock to the brain via taser! He calmed down though, enough for us to pop out the hook and return him to the sea. I have to say, he was the strongest fish I've ever seen, while his swim away and alongside the boat was very very slow, he was upright and swimming! I now have a different appreciation for the barracuda!
Unfortunately, our "fishing" experience put us back on board Soul Purpose cutting our exploration trip to the little islands short. At least we were able to check out a few cool caves before our "catch". We closed up the boat as it started to cool off after the sun went down and decided it was a good night for a movie. We set up the computer and TV and got comfy on the couch. Partway through the movie, Derek jumps up and yells "Holy Shit...a firework!" Now remember, we're in the middle of nowhere with no other boats in sight and we don't even see any homes on land, so how the hell can there be a fireworks show? We're not sure, but we leapt out of the salon and sat on the deck wondering "could this really be happening?" The fireworks went on for a while and were slightly behind the cliff, so we released the lines, dropped the dinghy into the water and made a mad dash into the black night and open water to get a better view. In pitch black (there was no moon) we floored the dinghy and sped to sea. It was well worth the run as we turned down the engine and watched a huge private fireworks show for about a half hour! After the last sparkle fell towards the sea, we turned around and headed back to Soul Purpose...still wondering if the show actually happened or had we started to lose it being alone in paradise for so long that we were just imagining it?
While we had planned to spearfish then hike to the green house ruins on a neighboring island this morning, we woke to a looming cold front and gloomy weather. We moved the boat towards Little Darby Island where you can hike to the green house, but changed our minds as a little rain came in. We scrapped the hike, planning to do it on our return trip. We hoisted the main sail, rolled out the jib and sailed through the inlet to open waters on the Exuma Sound. There was a light wind on our stern, so we flipped to our genaker, killed the engines and sailed lazily toward Lee Stocking Island. About an hour later we were nearing Lee Stocking, but we just weren't ready to stop sailing, so we opted to head to Gerogetown instead. We rolled into GT around 5 PM, just as the sun was setting and a small downpour was just beginning. The harbor is full of boats, a few hundred all at anchor, so after taking a pass through the anchor field, we picked out a spot near shore (shallow depth for the cat ). We dropped anchor, then pulled up to reset to give more clearance to a neighboring boat. We dropped again, in sand and grass, and dragged anchor, so up it came again! After four attempts, in three different spots, our final drop was successful so we finally shut the engines and retired to the salon as it was getting chilly without sunshine. It is 67 degrees now outside, which is cold to us now, and we're toasty inside after having had a hot dinner and piping hot showers!
Rain with a little Sunshine (my mom) arriving around 3pm Feb/22/2013, Allans Cay to Staniel Cay, Exumas
It can't always be perfect in Atlantis. A cold front was moving through bringing high winds over 25 knots and lots of rain. The temperature dropped to below 70 day and night. After our day of self-indulgence, we pretty much just cleaned up the boat and prepared for my mom and Dan's arrival. Any of you who know my mom realize that all she really wants is warm (actually hot) weather, clear skies and a place where she can get out and exercise a bit. As chance would have it she arrived on the only crappy day of weather we had seen for about 4 weeks! No big deal, after she and Dan arrived we made up a stiff roadie (stiff drink to be consumed on the walk or ride to a destination...for the lay people) and headed for the Casino! We marched up to a slot machine and all four of us stood in front of it like we had finally arrived! Mom found a machine with a pull down lever, pushed some buttons, inserted some money and then pulled the lever with conviction! Nothing happened of course because she forgot to insert her Atlantis Marina card! Who knew and who cares, we all got a good laugh as four of us tried to figure this new puzzle out. Fortunately our luck changed. The drink guy came, took our order right as my mom pulled off her first successful round at the slots! I think she turned 5 bucks into about 15 and then back to 5 again...free fun, what more can you ask for? Actually, the real fun came to Dan as he realized that drinks in the Casino are free! Rach must have had an extra shot in her drink because as soon as we got passed the slots she clapped her hands and said something corny like, "yeah I'm feelin' lucky..." She then turned to me and said "give me some money." I kissed my clean 50 dollar bill goodbye and sat back to watch the show. She proceeded to walk up to a Roulette table, never having actually played before. She was placing bets like she know what she was doing, a couple of chips here, a couple there, some red, some black, who knows? Then after a couple of rounds she gets strategic and decides to place three chips, among others on number 29. Sure enough it falls on her exact number. Now she got excited thinking, cool I won, maybe I'll make a couple dollars. Never having played before she didn't realize that the payout for picking the exact number was 35 to 1! HAHA, she more than tripled my $50 which nearly covered the amount of food that I puked up the day before! Awesome! Thanks babe!
The nights didn't end there. We headed out on a mission to find some good ribs... After we covered about a mile of indoor ground, checked out a few restaurants and put back a few drinks, we ended up at the very same place that Rach and I gorged on food the night before! The ribs were great and the huge fish swimming all around us didn't hurt the ambiance either! We strolled back to the boat and tucked in early enough to get ready for our departure to the Exumas the next day. It is great to have my mom and Dan aboard and I'm sure the adventure is just getting started.
A vacation week in review - From Atlantis to halfway down the Exumas into Staniel Cay (2/17 - 2/22)
We hightailed from Nassau to Highborn Cay with perfect following winds and seas. My mom and Dan did great seeing as they just boarded a boat only half a day ago and were now sailing at over 9 knots in 5 foot seas. The boat even touched 13.6 knots for a few seconds when the wind and seas picked up! We arrived in highborn after sunset and used the new high power wireless spotlight to guide us into the anchorage. A couple minutes after dropping anchor my mom asked if we were there yet and about to drop anchor...I love it when I know people are getting comfortable on the boat and can start to relax and turn the brain off. We headed off to Allens Cay the next morning, sharing out time on land with hundreds of huge iguanas that ran down to the beach to meet us, looking for food. The pinkish prehistoric beasts were pretty aggressive actually, but very unique nonetheless.
We hiked up the island a bit to check out some ruins and some beautiful views of the azure surroundings. We made out way back to the boat and decided the anchorage was too rough to spend the night so we headed back south to Highborn for the night. Now the next part that ensues will make more sense if you know me (Derek) well... I don't like it when things go wrong with my boat systems or any of my technological devices. I usually buy the best, pay more for it and maybe even by back ups just because I don't like to half ass important things... In turn for my diligence and payouts I expect performance from my equipment. For some reason everything went awry this day. First pulling into the anchorage my starboard engine oil pressure alarm was going off. Second, when the anchor alarm switch triggers it prevents the windless (anchoring system) from operating. Third, when we opened the food storage area to get buns for out burgers we found a foot of standing water since the 6 month old water pump diaphragm blew out rendering all water systems on the boat inoperable without profuse leakage. Lastly, the guy at the gas station the day before overfilled my gas cans and the heat from the increasing temperature pressurized the cans so they started overflowing into the gas locker creating a wonderful gas smell in the guest cabin. Really? On my boat? I was not happy.
I planned to hire a charter plane or speedboat to take me to Nassau so I could find a new pump and then fly back the same day. Long story short, we bought a pump (actually 2 to be safe) from West Marine in Fort Lauderdale Florida, paid a courier to take them to a private charter plane in Ft Lauderdale airport and then had the parts flown into Staniel Cay a day later! Unreal that all of this was accomplished through phone and email for only $45 more than the $500 of parts! A friend that we made in Nassau, Drew, offered to take the parts down from Nassau to us by boat since he was headed that way. Remember that Drew was the guy who hooked us up with the guy who got me my Honda generator...I need to buy Drew a drink or two one of these days but to my knowledge he is setting out on a trip across the Pacific soon! Anyway, we had a great sail to Staniel, arrived before nightfall and picked up the parts at the bar. I love the islands...go get your parts behind the bar, the guy from the airplane left them there for you, haha! We installed the new pump in a few minutes and Dan was back up and running with two hot showers and 50 gallons of water usage a day (just kidding Dan). Its hard to summarize the experiences at Staniel, pictures probably do better justice. Visiting swimming 400 pound pigs, snorkeling the Thunderball Grotto (underwater fish filled cave) and the beauty of the anchorage itself.
All that said we couldn't have topped the private day anchorage we found on the South West side of Pipe Cay. Its not on a map as an anchorage, but if you picture a cove big enough for one boat to anchor, with glowing blue water and a sandy beach drawing you in then you will get the picture. We blew up our 6 person party island, pack the coolers with beer and used the dinghy to tow my mom and Dan near the beach into about 2 feet of water. We sat in 85 degree sunshine with the iPod playing and beer flowing without another soul in sight. Great day. The drinks made their way to the brain when we were deflating the party island as you can see from the pictures. The picture below shows Dan using some of his keen deflation skills.
We anchored the night in Compass Cay with only one other boat. The next morning we got an early start and headed back to Staniel Cay so my mom and Dan could catch their flight.
They treated me and Rach and great lunch at the marina restaurant. After we said our goodbyes, Rach and I decided to walk the island. In about 5 minutes even though we started in the opposite direction we found our departing guests standing in a gazebo like deck waiting for their flight...the airport. We walked right up and gave them a kiss goodbye again while their 20 something year old captain viewed their passports and checked their body weight! The islands... We'll miss our family guests and hope they come to see us soon for more fun in the sun. By the way, even if you doubt as much as I did, Dan can readily demonstrate the fish catching power of a Nathans hot dog...he might even gloat after he proves your doubt wrong!