CURRENT LOCATION: Anchored in Bahia de Luperon, Dominican Republic
19 53.944' N, 070 57.086' W
The morning started early when, at 2AM, Chris (aboard Christa
) hailed us to indicate that he was raising anchor. We followed shortly, and by 3AM we were motor-sailing around Cabo Isabela bound for Luperon.
The ten-mile trip around the cape was relatively uneventful. The night lee had exerted itself, and the winds near land were a manageable 10-15 knots. It is a bit daunting, perhaps even scary, to sail only one-half mile off of land in the darkness of night. I suppose that we should be happy that we had a bright moon; however, the moonlit glow of waves crashing on the shore seemed to us just a little too close for comfort.
As we rounded the cape, we faced a 20-knot headwind and steep seas. Consequently, we were forced to go in even closer to land. As we edged nearer the shoreline, Sheryl kept an eye on our distance from the 'land blobs' lighting up on the radar screen while I kept one eye on the water and another on the depth gauge. We both cast frequent furtive glances at those glowing breakers immediately to our starboard. Fortunately, Van Sant was correct, and we found deep water and smoother conditions very close to land.
We were about a half-mile ahead of Christa
and kept Chris updated as to the wind and wave conditions at our position. We also served as a radio relay, since he was motor-sailing with the engine compartment open in order to watch for transmission fluid leaks (making for a very loud cockpit). This little bit of assistance allowed him to focus on sailing the boat and getting to Luperon with a still-functioning engine. As it turns out, the leak was much diminished while the transmission was in gear, so he made it with no difficulties or damage to the tranny.
As we approached the entrance to Luperon harbor (or Bahia de Luperon), we encountered a greeting party (intended to assist Chris in the event of engine difficulties). We said hello, but kept motoring on by to make our own entrance to the harbor. Our chart indicates that one out of three first-time visitors runs aground before anchoring in Luperon. We were determined to be one of the 'other' two.
As we motored through the narrow entrance (with reefs to the left of us and shoals to the right), we were entirely focused on the job of navigating and piloting (our 'team' approach to guiding the boat that I have shared in previous entries). Sheryl compared our surroundings to the information on the chart while I steered the boat and kept an eye on instruments (namely depth and GPS coordinates). We discussed amongst ourselves the best path to take to safely transit this entrance, ie. "I think we should go a little further to the right" and other statements of that nature.
It was then that I noticed that one of the dinghies which we assumed had come out to greet Chris, had turned off and followed us (the driver was a stranger to us). He began to shout his recommendations as to our course, as well. Although I appreciate his intent, to share local knowledge, I prefer that WE pilot our own vessel as opposed to a stranger in a dinghy.
Once we entered the harbor, our mystery dinghy guide broke off and motored away (without another word). We did a slow tour of the harbor, looking for an anchor spot and almost
ran aground on one of the many mud banks randomly scattered throughout the otherwise deep harbor. Fortunately, sailing in the Neuse River and its tributaries in North Carolina had prepared us for maneuvering in water through which you can see nothing. Our old skills at 'feeling' out the bottom by constantly eyeing the depth gauge quickly reemerged.
We had arrived at first light and all the boats were sitting in very calm water, aligned to a very light wind or perhaps even some unseen current. We picked a spot, dropped anchor and laid out about 100' of chain in the direction that the boats were pointing. The mud bottom had appeared to give us a very good set of the anchor. A few hours later, we were boarded by the customs official and a naval officer. They indicated that we needed to go into town to check in with Immigration.
As we finished getting the boat settled and were preparing to depart for town, the winds picked up and we began to swing on our anchor. As we swung toward a neighboring boat, I began to think that we had out a bit too much rode. Therefore, I went to the bow and pulled in about 20-feet of chain. Initially, Sheryl said, "We look good now," but as the winds continued to increase, we closed in on the boat again. After pulling in another 20-feet of chain I began to realize that we were dragging anchor. I called out, "Sheryl, get the key back into the ignition and start the engine."
Sheryl motored forward, away from the now very
close boat and I gathered in the chain. Strangely enough, I had to work pretty hard to pry the anchor from the mud. We started to re-anchor in the same general location, but we just were not getting a good feeling about the proximity of other boats (especially if we were going to drag anchor). Just then, a fellow off of one of the neighboring boats came up in his dinghy to offer advice. He indicated that they, too, had trouble with the holding here, and that we should try to find a place where we could let out 150-feet of chain. I thanked him for his advice (especially since we were already inclined toward finding a new anchor location, ourselves), although his recommendation may have simply been a kind way of telling us to go anchor elsewhere, away from his
We picked up the anchor (this time before even re-setting it) and motored over to a spot in the harbor which appeared wide open. Of course, the chart indicated that there was one of the aforementioned shallow mud banks there, but we felt that we could sound it out and anchor a safe distance from it. Sheryl was at the helm when the numbers on the depth sounder began to plummet. She quickly put the engine into reverse and expertly backed away from the shoal water. Good, now we know where it is.
We selected a spot a safe distance from the mud bank and pointed ourselves up into the wind with sufficient room to let out 150-feet of chain (another point upon which our helpful previous neighbor and I agreed). By the time we set the anchor and attached the snubber, we were only a few feet from the mangrove trees, rimmed by a shallow mud bottom (I scanned the area from the dinghy with our hand-held depth sounder to see what was around us). Since we needed to leave the boat to go to town, we felt comfortable that if we drug anchor while away the only issue we would have is getting it off the mud or out of the cushioned embrace of the mangrove trees (rather than the terrible alternative of hitting another boat).
We went to town and immigration was not in. We were told (in Spanish) to return at two-thirty (dos y media). We strolled onward to check out the town. The town definitely has the feel of a 'developing' country. Cinder block buildings with tin roofs, goats and chickens roaming freely, and children seen wearing less clothing than would be deemed appropriate in the States (lucky kids, for it was a hot one out here under the tropical sun). We happily observed stores with fresh fruits and vegetables (not often available in the Bahamas) and a place that sells unrefrigerated eggs (hallelujah).
Our exploration of town came to an immediate halt when we came upon Capt. Steve's Restaurant & Bar. Cruisers we knew from Provo, French Cay, and stops in the western Dominican Republic were gathered here. In desperate need of a drink and a meal, we stopped for lunch and stayed until after dark. We never made it back to Immigration, but it seems like a pretty relaxed place so we are not too worried. By the time we made it back to the boat, the night lee provided an unmoving pillow upon which to place our weary heads. I think that we are going to like it here.
NOTE: Upon waking, rested and refreshed the next morning, I finally figured out what had caused our anchoring problems. We had not dragged the anchor one inch. Instead, here is what happened:
When we initially anchored amidst the other boats, we assumed that they were pointing toward their anchors (on straight-out rodes). But, as often happens with heavy chain rode on a muddy bottom, light winds can turn the boat without moving the chain. We had that happen to us after extratropical storm NOEL passed us while anchored in South River, NC back in early November. The light winds which followed found us staring back upon our anchor float off the stern of the boat.
In any case, when we arrived (in light winds) we mistakenly laid out our anchor and rode (spaced as though the boats were going to swing together on long rodes), as you can see in Figure 1.
, below. When the winds did pick up (from the opposite direction that the boats were initially pointing) we swung a full radius while the other boats only turned and took up a little slack in their chain, as you can see in Figure 2.
It is a good thing we had not yet departed for town when the wind shift occurred. If we had not been there to haul in the chain that critical 40-feet and start the engine to motor forward, it is likely that we would have hit Boat A. Another lesson learned, dear Reader, another lesson learned.