19 April, 2013, Casa de Campo Marina, La Romana, Dominican Republic
This last week has been another eventful one for us. We re-visited the San Gabriel Cave on the southern shore of Samana Bay at a different time of day and with a torch this time. We found the above twistng tree bathed in sunshine wrapped in vines growing out of one of the collapsed chambers in this particular cave system. It looked like a giant prehistoric claw. We also found pictographs and many other massive caverns. We've never seen so many incredible caves in one place. On Monday we headed over to the port of Samana to clear out of their area. Maynard was taken ashore by 5 officials then had to face 14 more officials in the Port Office just to be allowed to move from Samana Bay to our current location. They took our boat papers and started pulling pieces of paper out of the folder scattering them around their office, all the while talking in Espanol. Maynard had a heck of a time keeping track of everyone and what was going on. Another American cruiser was yelling at other officers in the background so it was very chaotic and stressful. However, all papers were finally returned to him and he was whisked back to Vanish where a "donation" was insisted upon before we could leave.
We'd waited for some weather to pass then chose the best weather window possible to make our way south via the Mona Passage, a stretch of water between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. It has a reputation as being one of the most difficult passages to cross in the Caribbean and is fraught with variable tidal currents due to the water being squeezed between the 2 large islands and also by sand banks which extend out for many miles from both coasts. The passage is 5000 metres deep in places and has a rift zone running through it. It has frequent earthquakes and was the site of a devastating earthquake with resultant tsunami that hit western Puerto Rico in 1918. All we had to do was head in an easterly direction following the D.R. coastline then turn south. However, the wind was 17kn to 28 kn and seas were 2 - 3 metres with short sharp waves with a cross current so it was very uncomfortable dropping into the wave troughs. We had to keep our speed down to 7 knots. Vanish stayed on track and steadily made progress without any problems and mostly we had no seas hitting the fly bridge windows. We encountered a few bad rolls, even with the stabilizers, but overall, even though a couple of us felt a bit 'off', we were able to eat and do watches as per schedule. Mind you, I was very happy to be done with the Mona Passage as it was not my favourite place to be. I'm sure smaller yachts have experienced some pretty horrendous sailing conditions in this area.
The engine bilge has always had a bit of water in it which is not uncommon on vessels of this type. However, on this particular trip, we noticed more water than normal and quickly determined it was coming through the stern seals - not much, maybe a gallon or two per hour, but still something that we want to try to rectify. The stern seal is a carbon graphite seal manufactured by PSS so we gave them a call in Seattle, Washington, USA. After reviewing a couple of photos of our seals, they concluded quickly that our issue was one in which they were very familiar. To their credit, they immediately offered to replace our seals and are sending two new seals, one for each side as I write this. They have also sent us, for want of a better word, a patch which we can use until it is convenient to pull the boat out of the water. We'd planned to haul out in Colombia anyway for its annual service so there is no inconvenience.
We are now in the Casa de Campo Marina & Resort near the town of La Romana on the south coast of the Dominican Republic with many other beautiful yachts from around the world, some in the range of 50m (164ft). The marina can hold up to 314 vessels but if a hurricane comes, they all have to leave. Where do they go? Who knows? There are very few owners or serious cruisers here at present. We've only seen a handful of people in the many restaurants and shops but cruise ships do seem to call in. Once again we seem to be on our own quiet path on this voyage.