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…