Just Like That

March 23, 2023

And just like that we are in the Dominican Republic!

Okay, that made it sound too easy. It really wasn’t that easy, but we did arrive in Samana (Dominican Republic) yesterday and are only a little worse for wear.

For those that may not be too familiar with issues around sailing/motoring, moving east in the Caribbean is a bit difficult. The ‘trade winds’ blow from east to west pretty consistently during this time of year (and get worse as the summer proceeds). Some may remember those trade winds from their high school days reading about Europeans discovering America. They are great if you want to get from North Africa to North America. They are a lot less fun, when you want to get from the Turks and Caicos to the Dominican Republic.

Still, the winds declined a bit from Monday through until today and we decided to take the early bit of the window and leave Monday morning to head to Samana. The early parts were quite boring as we rounded the Western side of the Caicos. We thought things would be really easy. To top it all off Megan was enjoying the spectacular blue waters on the Caicos bank and then the dolphins came to play for a little while. Oh what fun it was.

We did take a few risks to make the plan work. The first was crossing the banks. The water is ‘mostly’ over ten feet deep, but unlike many of the popular routes in the Bahamas, the routes are not as well travelled and so the risk of there being a rock sticking up somewhere that isn’t on the charts is still high. We did find one place where the chart said 21 feet of water and it was only 12 feet. The point is its a real risk and we accept it with some understanding that it could mean a very, very bad day.

The second big risk is that we weren’t going to be ‘off’ the bank until well after dark. It’s one thing to cross all those shallows and look for a dark spot (rock or maybe grass) or green spot (shallow rock or very shallow grass) and steer clear. Its another thing completely when the sun goes down and there is no moon (Tuesday night was a new moon!! Zero light after the sun went down).

As we approached the bottom of the banks (Just north of Ambergris Cay), the water was deeper, but the number of coral heads was high and the uncertainty (uncharted areas and warnings on the charts) was very high. Still we slowed down and pushed through the middle cut, exiting around 9pm.

From that point on things got even worse, but in entirely predictable ways. Those trade winds were pushing through at 15-25 knots depending on the location and hour and the winds were mostly directly on the nose. I did try turning a bit in either direction for periods of time to reduce the bouncing and give us brief breaks, but it was bumpy and it didn’t stop.

We started the journey close to Mabuhay (N50) and S/V Shiksa (Beneteau 38) but we were on different routes and different schedules. We were in contact with Shiksa by email and tried to hail them on the radio as we passed them (they were anchored at Ambergris Cay). In the end they decided to move earlier than planned to catch the ‘least annoying’ bits of the winds. Their destination was Luperon, so we likely won’t see them again for now.

Meanwhile Mabuhay decided to stay further north, away from shore for as long as possible to avoid the Tuesday afternoon winds coming on shore. My theory was that the lighter current near shore would offset the winds and be a better route. In the end I think offshore may have been better, but nobody on the water avoided wind and waves. It was bumpy.

By late night Monday we were approaching Dominican Republic (near Sosua/Punta Cabarete) and had been beaten up for so long that I dipped into the bight just a bit where the water was less bumpy and slowed the boat down so I could let me stomach settle. At this point we had some smooth water and were only travelling at about 4.0 knots so we could relax a bit. In hindsight it might have been good to speed up there, but we were tired.

As usual the captain (yes, me) was not able to keep any food or drink down so dehydration become a worry and I began to take in sips of water to stay hydrated. In the end I lost about six pounds. I know it’s just water, but I will say being at sea is the best diet I have ever tried. The mental health professionals reading might say it is a mariner’s form of bulimia; certainly there has to be something wrong in my head to keep this up!

One other risk is drift nets. Near shore in the Dominican Republic drift nets are used to catch fish and to say they are not easily seen would be an understatement. They are nearly impossible to see. By sunrise I lifted the pace on the boat again and we made decent time toward Samana Bay. Until we hit the drift net that couldn’t be seen.

Luckily I was at the controls and heard it (perhaps hitting the hull) and went immediately into neutral. We could see it behind the boat but it didn’t look like we were dragging anything which was a good sign.

I have also rigged up a camera mount on our boat hook for the GoPro camera, so Megan and I got the GoPro out quickly, put it into record mode and got that under the boat to record the props. Phew, nothing on the props. Going under the boat in 3-5 foot seas to cut away a net when not moving is a dangerous endeavor, so I am very happy we didn’t have to do that.

Still, while we were looking at that video we were being pushed back onto the same drift net so we got the engine started and moved away quickly. Back underway and a little more aware of how to identify a drift net on the open ocean (think of an empty, white, 1gal water jug tied to a string in the open ocean with whitecap waves all around. Ugh.) We didn’t hit anymore drift nets!

As we approached Samana (Cabo Cabron, and Cabo Samana), the waters were very troubled. With huge waves pushing us around, it was a bit uncomfortable, but the stabilizers did their job and kept the boat mostly horizontal. Still those waters should be taken with a great deal of respect, and probably further off shore than I was. (I was about one mile off shore or less most of the way around. Too close for bad weather, but with stabilizers on a fully ballasted yacht with modest winds, not too bad.

As we turned the corner, we did see a few whales breaching in the distance. We were much too far away to really appreciate the beasts, but it was nice to see. We will try to go out on a proper whale tour on Saturday with a guide and hopefully get some good photos then.

In the end we arrived at Marina Puerto Bahia just after lunch and enjoyed the many hands to help our 15’10” wide boat into the 16′ wide slip. Normally that would seem really hard, but in this case it is fixed, cement docks and a couple of very large poles on the other side. I don’t do much that impresses Jinhee but every time she watches me slide this boat into an impossible space she says nice things to me for a few hours afterwards. 🙂

The boat was ridiculously salty and the admiral required it to be washed down before resting, and so Megan, always the trooper, grabbed a hose and brush and worked through the majority of the exterior with me while Jinhee worked on the inside. That was topped with pizza and beer with the Mabuhay crew and a very, very long sleep.

Today we rented a car, went to town to see what there is to see in Samana, get cell phone chips, and a lunch, that was about 1/3 the cost of the Turks and Caicos. (Cell phone SIM cards! ~USD$24 for about 10 days of service for three people. Rogers won’t even look at us for USD$24 each!). Now there are some drinks and a pool for the afternoon and who knows what else will make up the evening.

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