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Brutal passage to the Dominican Republic

January 25, 2016

It’s been a month since we arrived here at Luperon in the Dominican Republic and it’s time for an update!

 

WARNING:

We do not attempt to change the course of others. We are sharing our experiences and our own personal stories. We will offer advice upon request but that advice again, is based on our own personal experiences. We hope you enjoy reading abot them : )

 

Luperon is your first option for landfall, sailboat or power boat, after leaving Turks and Caicos. There aren’t too many other options for dropping the hook along the north coast of the DR

Ocean World marina is one of the others. We visited Ocean by rental car and its clean and new, but sterile feeling and at $1.65 per foot per day taxes included, we are even more happy we chose quaint little Luperon, and I mean quaint!

It has picked up bad name for itself over the years. I have heard about these negative stories from past years, stories of corrupt officials and unjust fees, even thefts from boats.

While they may be true, we’ve experienced none of this and have heard of less.

The officials here were incredibly friendly when we arrived and are very official meaing they do not ask for more than what the Capital asks they collect.

We continue to see Navy Officer "Richard" in town. He always has a smile and a wave for us. The Customs and Immigration office is right at the head of the harbour and we pass by it every time when we venture into town. Always a good morning or a hello for us as we walk by. One of the Customs agents gave Cole a Mango yesterday, seems the Mangoes are coming into season.

We have been here a month and a half now and we personally think the bad days are long gone.

We have heard rumours of corrupt officials in the Samana Penninsula, but we won't say anything more than that was what we heard, at least until after we have dropped the anchor in Samana Bay and have some first hand experiences to report, probably after this weekend. (Jan 30/2016)

 

The local businesses and the towns people in Luperon have been working hard at changing their bad reputation and you can feel the pride and the friendliness as soon as you arrive. Krista is working on a neat post about what Luperon means to us and what cruisers are missing when they avoid little Luperon.  We love it here, but I’ll leave that story for Krista to tell.

 

Cole on the scoured beach at Datum Bay. Saltair 3 lonely at anchor in the background.

 

I’m going to take you back to our crossing, I have a video in the works with some good footage of our uncomfortable and potentially dangerous passage to Luperon, but you will have to keep checking out our YouTube channel for that one.

 

We arrived in Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) from the Bahamas about 24 hours after lifting anchor in Datum Bay, Acklins Island. 

The islands of the Bahamas down in the Acklins group were hit hard by hurricane Joaquin and the beauty of the island has changed. They are still incredibly gorgeous and remote, but the shore line has been changed forever. 

When Joaquin hit the Bahamas it was a perect storm. The moon was full, it was actually a Super Moon, meaning in it was at it's closest to the earth in 15 years, there was even a lunar eclipse. We saw the eclipse from the dock at Cooleys Landing, Fort Lauderdale.

With a Super Moon, the tides become incredibly large. Hurricanes pack a lot of wave surge. So the two together made for an extreme hurricane event. 

The shore lines have been pushed back into the interior of the islands and the ocean floor has been scoured. Everything that was on the bottom was tossed 50 feet up onto the shore and piled up and down the shore line like a man made break water. An upside for cruisers, beach combing is incredible now, corals, shells and sponges that were rarely found before are scattered along the shoreline. The trees are bushes have turned brown, evidence of the salt water beating they must have took, but everything is now showing signs of regrowth. Even on the ocean floor you can see new sponges and corals forming. A good sign that mother nature is slowly healing these jewels of the Bahamas.

 

 Walking the newly made breakwater at remote Datum Bay, compliments of Hurricane Joaquin.

Amazing beach combing,corals, sea fans, sponges, all dried out and waiting to be discovered.

 

Don’t expect to see another boater down here. In our 3 days of sailing along these Islands we saw just 2 other boats the whole time, one was a local in a fast little fishing boat, the other a long time cruiser in his Tri-maran.

It’s remote in this area, there aren’t any towns or villages close by. Self sufficiency is a must in these islands. No one is coming to your rescue should you need it.

 

We had planned on spending the night on the hook at French Wells. It's a wide but incredibly shallow entrance into the anchorage at French Wells. We came in on a rising tide close to high tide and didn’t touch bottom, but it was close. See next video : )

We draw 3’9”. 

It is gorgeous here and it is the only anchorage around besides farther south about 25 nautical miles to Datum Bay.

The currents in the anchorage at French Wells are strong and change with the tide. We weren’t comfortable switching back and forth through the night while at anchor, so after a few hours of enjoying the white sand, incredibly clear water and exploring the mangrove canals we picked up anchor and headed for Datum Bay. We were a little late hauling anchor and knew it would be dark when we arrived at Datum Bay but it’s a wide open anchorage and the winds were forecast to be incredibly light. Datum Bay is not a good spot for an extended stay.

We awoke to flat calm seas and more gorgeous beach. Again the beach combing for treasures was amazing. There was a Cruise ship passing by a little off in the distance. We left by noon for TCI (Turks and Caicos Islands)

 

It was 24 hours to TCI and an uneventful night passage had us arriving in TCI near noon.

As you get closer to TCI, still miles out, “Provo Radio” is the first voice you will hear. They have you on Radar long before you see the Islands. They make you feel a little like Big brother is watching, it’s comforting to know someone is there for you, but the voice on the other end of the VHF is far from welcoming. You can ask them questions should you have any, but their answers are vague and seem un-informed as far as any information you would like to learn, but try anyway, there may be a tidbit of helpful info in his answers. It was the same voice at Provo Radio the whole week we were there.

 

Saltair 3 at anchor at French Wells

 

We dropped the hook in Sapodilla Bay, rather than try and negotiate the shallow and crowded entrance to the South Side marina about 10 miles further. There are other marinas on the North side but we didn’t see them. 

It’s a $50 fee per boat to enter TCI and $50 to exit. You can clear Customs are the marinas or if you anchor at Sapodilla Bay as we did, you can dinghy over to the commercial docks, clamber up the cement wall, walk across the working shipyard dodging working cranes and fork lifts along the way to the yellow building that houses Customs and Immigration. If it’s a rainy day, the ship yard will be muddy. Maybe try the marinas lol  : )

$100 dollars total is reasonable for Customs and Immigration, but what is not reasonable is that this fee only lets you stay for one week. After the 7 days are up you are required to pay an additional $300 and a $50 exit fee on the day you plan on leaving TCI. We chose to leave on our 6th day and avoid the extra $300 fee. Fishing licenses I think, are extra but I’m not sure, no one at Customs and Immigration mentioned anything about a fishing license.

I did hear a conversation on the VHF of a sailboat arriving on the north side of Provo, at Turtle marina. He hailed the fuel dock saying he wanted to fuel up his sailboat but did not want to clear Customs, that he would be leaving shortly after he had fueled up. The marina told him that it would be ok to do this. That was the last I heard of their conversation so I imagine it all worked out for them. Another option.

 

The Light house at Datum Bay 

We toured the Island in a rental van shared with another cruising couple and saw what we needed to see. We picked up some provisions at the large IGA grocery store at much better than Bahamas prices. There was portably much more to see here, but we knew we would spend at the most another week in TCI and for a $300 fee, it seemed a little ridiculous.

There isn’t much at Sapodilla Bay other than a small area of beach to land the dinghy at and one restaurant up the road from that landing spot. It’s a nice restaurant on a lagoon. We had beers here, nothing more.

 

On day 6 of our time in TCI, around 10 am, we cleared Customs, hauled up anchor and headed out across the banks for the overnight 120 nautical mile journey to the DR. (Dominican Republic)

It was rough and windy but all the forecasts (we use a minimum of 3 Wx sites to be sure we have the best forecast) told of 10-15 knots of wind and decent seas. 

It took us 7 hours to cross the banks and the wind was much higher than what was forecast and the seas were large and confused but we did alright, believing the winds wold die at night and the seas settle down a little once we were in the deeper water. 

Not so. 

Around 8 pm in the dark, after clearing the banks we made the turn from East to South bound for Luperon, and the winds picked up from there, so did the waves.

It was dark now, so we don’t really know just how large the waves really were, but as we would fell off of the crests of them our engines died. I think the force of gravity from falling off the waves began to pull the fuel away from the engines causing them to sputter and stall. First the Port engine and then the Starboard engine. This was not good. Both engines at the same time. We needed them. The wind meter on the boat was reading 25 knots and gusts of up to 30 knots. Or boat speed was very slow at 2-3 knots because of the constant crashing of the boat into these huge waves, huge waves that at night we could barely see. The radar was picking up squall after squall coming our way and we needed our engines to dodge them or be hit by stronger winds and rain. Rain is fine but we didn’t want to get into any wind stronger than what we were already in. I couldn't understand why we were moving so slow with both sails up so clicked on the outdoor deck flood lights and there was the answer. Our main sail had ripped in half! Unbelievable!

When not in use the Main Sail sits in what is known as a sail bag. It protects the sail from UV degradation. Unfortunately the head of the Main Sail on most boats never quite gets completely tucked away inside the sail bag. It is always in the sun. Most sails however have a stronger material stitched on here to account for this. While back in Florida we had ours inspected and reinforced. I guess that wasn’t enough because this is where it ripped.

Unbelievable!

Now what!

Let’s recap;

Both engines were stalled out, the waves were huge and we were crashing into them, they would soak the whole boat and into the cockpit, our speed was minimal because of the waves, the wind was gusting up to 30 and there were squalls coming our way repeatedly, and now the Mainsail was ripped in half. I was getting worried, but still we were both calm and confident in the our abilities and in the safety of our 42’ sea worthy Catamaran. Not over confident mind you but not panicky lol!

I went up to the deck in these crazy winds and waves. Think of Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump lol! 

Tied on by my life jacket harness I inched my way forward to the mast in order to haul down the ripped main sail. The gib sail was still full and at this point giving us our only forward momentum and stability. 

Main sail down and soaking wet I inched back to the cockpit where Krista was manning the helm. To make matters worse, there was a small cay and associated reef called Ambergris Cay (not the one in Belize) just 4 miles to the West and the wind was coming at us strong from the East pushing us toward the reef, slowly but definitely.

Now we were worried. Into the engine rooms I went to try an figure out what was going on but in those waves, and in the pitch black of night, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong, other than I was getting sea sick down there.

Hauling myself back up to the cockpit we tried to try start the engines again and to our excitement they both started!

With Gib sail up and both engines running again we were able to make some forward way and get past Ambergris Cay and the reef 4 miles to the West.

The waves still weren’t diminishing and either was the wind. 40 minutes later the Port engine stalled out again. This happened 2 more times with both engines until the waves began to shrink slightly, but they still remained confused and uncomfortable.

We believe the engine issues stem from the size of the waves. As we would fall off of these large waves gravity would pull the fuel away from the engines causing them to sputter and stall. We have since found a good solution to this problem should it ever happen again. We have low pressure electric fuel pumps installed inline that can be easily turned on should they need to be. Problem solved.

The wind had shifted and was now coming more from the SSE and it was causing us to change course taking us farther and farther of course from Luperon. There is another spot along the coast that you can drop the anchor in with good weather conditions but it was another 60 miles off course for us and we would have to back track to Luperon the next day. We kept trying to point as close as we could to the wind hoping to get as close as we could to Luperon. 

This trip was supposed to take us 22 hours, we were close to that now and our GPS told us at present course and present speed we would arrive in Luperon in another 18 hours! What!? Yet on a perfect course with the conditions we had expected, we were less than 4 hours away.

 

The sun began to rise. Cole had come up into the cockpit earlier that night to try and get some sleep. It had been just too rough for him in his bunk in the V of the port hull, so he had grabbed a blanket and crawled under the cockpit table, pulled  as many cockpit cushions as he could in around, trying to keep the spray from the waves that kept entering the cockpit off of himself. None of us left the cockpit for most of the trip, Krista and I were soaked early on and stayed that way. I don’t get seasick but as soon as I would enter the salon to simply grab some water, I was instantly nauseous. This was not fun.

 

Well long story coming to an end, with continued large seas only now in daylight, we managed to make our way to Luperon but arrived in the dark at 8pm. We had to negotiate the tricky entrance into the harbor. Heave-to and waiting for daylight to enter was not an option. With our GPS and a 3,000,000 candle power spot light, we wove our way to a spot inside the harbor and dropped the anchor in complete darkens then collapsed with exhaustion!

 

But wait, it’s not quite over!

10 minutes later the Navy arrived (they said they were Navy) in a small boat with 4 men and broken English or no English at all, they were trying to convince us to pick up anchor and move into the very small local marina. I think they were hoping for a commission from the marina should they have convinced us to move. Krista took one look at them and in a firm voice told them she was sick and was not moving anywhere! The she disappeared inside the boat and that was the end of that. They left soon after.

 

We awoke to a beautiful harbor and slowly began our recuperation. 

 

Thanks for reading : )

Brad

 

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