Saturday, February 24, 2018

Made It To the Caribbean!

OK, the title is a little overstated; we won't actually arrive in the Caribbean Sea until we cross the Mona Passage, likely in mid-March. But we've arrived in the Dominican Republic, which is definitely a Caribbean nation. It feels like a major milestone. Getting here over the last three months in this unsettled weather year has certainly been an effort. And the DR is completely unlike anywhere we've been on Windbird yet.

A week before we crossed to the DR, I flew from Provo, Turks and Caicos to Atlanta, GA for a 4-day work trip to Santiago, Chile. Normally when I fly during the cruising season (ideally only every 6-8 weeks), I bid or pick up a domestic trip so that I can get three landings to reestablish landing currency. In this case, though, I was going to training immediately afterwards so I treated myself to a nice easy South America trip with an enjoyable 36 hour layover while I refamiliarized myself with the Boeing 767 cockpit in preparation for my checkride. After I got back from Santiago I had an extra day off to hang out with Atlanta friends Kevin & Jeannie, renew my FAA medical certificate, and study for training. Then it was two intense days in the simulator, followed by a frantic rush to the Atlanta airport to barely make the only flight of the day back to Provo. Also on that flight: my close friend and frequent partner in crime, Brad Phillips, who agreed to crew aboard Windbird for this passage so that Dawn could crew for our new friends Dane and Makayla on S/V Sea Otter.

While I was gone, Dawn and Piper stayed on the hook in Sapodilla Bay, a first for them as we've always taken a dock or mooring ball when I'm gone. For this week, though, the winds were constant out of the east and the anchor was well buried; we were confident Windbird would stay put and Dane and Mak were close if Dawn needed help. We had made friends with a vacationing Canadian couple and their children who were renting a villa on shore. Piper had fun playing with the kids on the beach several times a day, and Dawn had the whole family out to the boat.

When Brad and I arrived back to Provo, Dawn and Dane picked us up and then we drove across the island to meet with roving customs agent LeRon so he could check us out of the TCI. After we got back we had happy hour aboard Sea Otter with several other boats in the anchorage, and then we went to Windbird to get a good night's rest before our early morning departure. The alarm went off at 5:30 am; we prepped Windbird for passage in the dark, took Piper to shore, and then dropped Dawn and her bags off at Sea Otter. Brad and I got the anchor up right at sunrise, 7:20am, and headed southeastward with Sea Otter close behind. The wind was quite light at first, and then came up to 12-14 knots; the 2 foot chop only slowed us to an average of 4.5 knots while motorsailing and short-tacking with mainsail up. There weren't many coral patches across the Caicos Bank, and we had good light to easily see and avoid the few that cropped up. By the time we approached the Six Hills Cays in mid-afternoon, Sea Otter had fallen about four miles behind so we stopped to let them catch up. Once they did, we had just enough light to sneak through the reef just south of Long Cay and exit into the Turks Passage. Just as the sun set, I caught a decent (10 lb) Mutton Snapper. Cleaning it on the pitching deck in fading light was a bit challenging but I got it done.

From Long Cay it was only 23nm to Big Sand Cay, but too close to the wind to sail direct. The 5-6 foot seas in the Turks Passage made motorsailing too slow, so we unfurled the yankee, shut off the motor, and settled down into a beat in 15 kt ENE winds. Our first leg was a long, 15nm port tack down to Big Sand's latitude, then we short-tacked between that line and the rhumb line. Sea Otter isn't quite as weatherly as Windbird and fell well off to weather, but as the seas settled down on the east side of the passage they resumed motorsailing straight to Big Sand and ended up catching us. We fired up the engine at 3nm out and made a beeline for the anchorage, where we arrived at 2am, anchored, and fell into bed.

I got up at 7:30am to talk to Chris Parker on the SSB. His forecast for the day's leg to Luperon wasn't nearly as rosy as it had been before, so after thinking through the options Brad and I launched the dink and went over to Sea Otter to discuss our strategy. I was concerned Sea Otter wouldn't be able to lay Luperon, especially if the wind and seas picked up. We decided Windbird would still go to Luperon and they would bear off for La Isabella or Punta Rucia if necessary, coming up to Luperon in the following night's lee. If neither of us could lay Luperon, we'd both sail down to Montecristi and check in there. Back on Windbird, Brad and I had breakfast and got the boat ready to go. Sea Otter hoisted anchor at 11am, and we followed suit at 11:30.

As it turned out, the wind was initially a bit lighter and more northerly than forecast, and though it turned more easterly during the day it never got as windy as Chris had said. Brad and I beat to weather for the first 30nm, gaining easting just in cast the winds shifted markedly. Sea Otter wasn't able to sail as high as us but was able to lay a line that would put them about 10nm east of Luperon. They were faster than us in that direction and soon disappeared over the horizon, but at sunset we bore off to a close (almost beam) reach and romped along at 6 to 7 knots, passing them in the early morning. At 40nm out we could see the lights of Puerto Plata; at 25nm the wind was already starting to fade. At 12nm the wind was down to 10 knots and shifted SE, and we could strongly smell land. It was ok since we were quite early and looking to waste time. Finally, at 6nm out, the wind was only 6 knots and too far SE to make headway so out we started the engine and motorsailed for Luperon, arriving there at 4:30am and heaving to for the next 3 hours. The stillness of the night calm, after what had been a relatively brisk sail in 6' seas, was a nice preview of the night coasting strategies one uses to make easting on the north shore of the DR.

At 7:30am there was enough light to head in through the entrance to Luperon harbor. The lushness of the scenery and the hills and mountains surrounding the bay were a beautiful shock to the senses after months in the Bahamas and TCI. We took a mooring ball just before the first of about a thousand little squalls this week came through the anchorage. After showering and straightening the boat a bit, I picked up Dane from Sea Otter and headed to shore to check in. This is a somewhat complicated procedure in the DR - made more complicated by the fact that not all officials speak English and my little knowledge of Spanish is quite rusty - but everyone was super friendly and pointed us in the right direction. I thought there might be a problem that Dawn had done the passage on Sea Otter and then was joining my boat, while Brad was on my boat but was subsequently flying out, but a simple explanation satisfied the officials. The order of check in was as follows:

--Immigration. Paid 3000 Dominican Pesos ($60) for the boat plus 500 Pesos ($10) for each crew, valid 30 days. American dollars accepted with going exchange rate. Filled out immigration cards, official scanned passports and entered ship and crew into his log. About 20 minutes.
--Customs ("Aduana"). Filled out paperwork, but no charge. About 10 minutes.
--Agriculture. Not much paperwork, just a $10USD charge. She was very happy with Piper's paperwork.
--Commandante, Navy, Anti-Drug official. All done up the hill at the Navy outpost, some paperwork but no charge. Very friendly, though it's obvious that these are the guys paid to be suspicious.
--Port Authority (next day, closed on weekends). $10USD charge for up to 7 days.
--Tourist Card (next day, closed on weekends). $27.50USD per crew/passenger.

All in all we paid $155 in fees. All fees were clearly posted and the officials made a point to explain them, and at no point was there any attempt to extort or even ask for bribes or tips (as has happened in the past in Luperon). The first four steps took roughly 2 hours, and the final two perhaps 15 minutes.

In our next post, I'll cover some of the things we've done our first week in Luperon.

No comments:

Post a Comment