Gone. Gone are the days of floating peacefully along the canals of Canada. Gone are the days of watching shrimp boats, lit by tiny fairy lights, spread their nets and slowly move through still waters. Gone are the days of passing through the tall grasses of the low country. Gone are the days of dolphins swimming next to our boat in the glasslike Intracoastal Waterway. Gone are the days of visiting with kids in Annapolis and Florida. Gone are the days where the biggest challenge is judging our speed so that we make the next bridge opening without having to wait an hour. We are in the big time now. Those waves that had me leave the boat and let Jeff help John back in New Jersey would be welcome. We travel all day and all night to get to our next destination. Our first overnight passage was to the Dominican Republic.
Saturday, April 23, arrived. I was not excited about doing an overnight trip, but there was no place to stop between the islands. The day before, John and our buddy boat captain, Craig, studied the weather once again. Craig had talked to Chris Parker, the professional Caribbean maritime weather forecaster. Every weather site was reviewed again and again so that the most advantageous time of departure could be determined. The weather seemed like it would be pretty good. Seas were expected to be three to five feet. It was the best we could expect for the foreseeable future, so it was time to go.
We waited in the Turks and Caicos for the tide to come in so we had enough water for AfterMath and La Sirena, Craig’s 37-foot Island Packet sailboat, to safely leave South Side Marina. At 9:00 AM, it was time to go. I had meals prepared that could be eaten cold and we were stocked with granola bars and bottles of water. The first sixty miles were spent in the Caicos Bank. The area, surrounded by reefs and islands, provides calm waters and made for a pleasant passage. We then exited into the Atlantic Ocean for a 90-mile crossing over open seas to the Dominican Republic. Seas were three to five feet and most of the trip was done in darkness.
Boating at night has its challenges. Night travel is advantageous because the winds generally die down some at night, reducing the windswept waves riding on top of the swells. Night passage also allows mariners to leave in light and arrive in light, which is critical when entering or leaving unfamiliar ports. However, because it is dark, you cannot see the sea state and judge when the boat will be hitting the waves. The sea state is normally measured in seconds, which is the time between swells. Generally, we want 8 seconds or more between swells. Anything less makes for uncomfortable ride. Although John says we had an 8 second swell and seas were only three to five feet, I would beg to disagree. Maybe it is because I have a hard time staying awake late at night, or it may be because I do much better when I can be outside as we move along, but I did not enjoy my first overnight passage very much.
The first sight of the Dominican Republic with its gorgeous mountains.La Sirena entering the Dominican RepublicOcean WorldThe lovely pool at Ocean World. I was asked to stop taking pictures at the pool because they didn’t have the cushions that usually surround it out just yet. It was prettier with the cushions, but I still think it looked nice like this!The seal show from our boat
We arrived in Ocean World in Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic and immediately checked in with the Navy, Immigration, and Customs. Thankfully, the check in went smoothly for us and for Jake and Kirby. The officials were not the least bit interested in our thick file of records we keep for the dogs. We only stayed in Ocean World one night, but it was an interesting place. There is a marine park there, complete with dolphins, seals, and tigers (I’m not sure why they are included in a marine park), but other than seeing the seal show from the boat, we did not participate. There was a gorgeous pool at the hotel/casino there, and I did get to spend some quality time enjoying the water after the trip across the ocean.
We were able to spend a little time in the marina the next morning before we once again met with the Navy and Customs where we were issued a despacho that allowed us to travel to our next port of call in the Dominican Republic, Samana. This leg would also require an overnight passage to facilitate a daytime departure and arrival. We started at 2:00 PM on Monday, and arrived in Semana about 8:00 AM the following morning. This leg had us travel along the coastline, which makes for rougher conditions due to shallower water depth, wind, current, tides, and what is known as cape effect. Therefore, our ride would be far less comfortable than our previous overnight passage. It is the first time we have ever had chairs fall over, lamps fly off shelves, and constant banging inside cabinets as we traveled, even with our stabilizers turned on. Generally, it was miserable.
One of the infinity pools at Puerto Bahia, SamanaBeautiful water and grounds at the resort
In Samana we stayed in Puerto Bahia, a lovely resort with two infinity pools, lush landscaping, a beautiful lobby, and even a welcome event for cruisers. I made good use of both of the pools there. We also rented a car to tour the island; that turned in to quite an adventure of its own!
Following Wesley anywhere he took us!Driving in the Dominicah Republic is a bit wild. They say if you are in an accident the driver is sent right to jail. Thankfully, we didn’t find out if that was true.That’s Wesley in the gray striped shirt on the right. He wasn’t happy until we got all the way into town.Lots of man hole covers seem to be missing in Las Terrenas. This is how they are marked. There are countless holes open like this with a palm tree branch stuck in them.
The Dominican Republic is a direct opposite from the Bahamas. The Bahamas are rocky islands with little vegetation, but the Dominican Republic is lush, mountainous, and green. When we rented a car, I told John I would really like to get into the mountains as well as get to a beach. The excursions office at Puerto Bahia told us that Las Terrenas, a beach town, would be a nice place to visit when we were driving around, so we headed down one of the two roads that led to the area. When we were about half way there, a crowd of people in the street stopped us. A policeman who was there told us we could not continue along the road as it was closed. Hoping we could really keep going, we asked what was happening. Through broken English, we found out that there was a protest going on and that the road was shut, as it was very dangerous. A young man on a motorcycle approached us and asked where we were going. We told him we wanted to get to Las Terrenas. “No problem”, he said, “there is another way. Do you want a guide?” We told him that we would be fine, but he led us out of the road anyway. When we got to a turn off, he again asked if we would like a guide. A friend of his rode up on another motorcycle, and we were told this friend was a good guy and would guide us to our destination. Finally, after negotiating a cost of $20, we were on our way. In just minutes after accepting our guide, Wesley, we followed him onto a street that we would have never thought was traversable. All rock, dirt, mud, puddles, and steep hills, we traveled for close to an hour through the mountains and back roads of the Samana Peninsula. It was absolutely gorgeous, but we were not sure our rented Pathfinder was really up to the challenge. There was even one hill that took us three tries to make, backing up and getting a running start before we succeeded. When we finally reached our destination, we were very thankful to Wesley and we gave him an extra $5 for getting us there in one piece.
Our Pathfinder, on the right, after we made it to the beach.The view from the restaurant.Craig, La Sirena’s owner and captain, and our friend through these adventures.Craig and John at the restaurant
After our exciting drive, we decided to have lunch at a lovely little restaurant on the beach. The seafood was fresh and delicious and the shade, the cooling breeze and the turquoise water were relaxing and refreshing. It is a good thing we were refreshed because our ride back to the resort, on a lovely highway that traverses the mountains, was stressful. At the very beginning of the highway, the transmission went out on the rental car. We had no reverse and almost no forward. The 26 mile drive, through curves and up and down mountains, was slow, but we made it back to the resort where we parked the car sideways over a few parking places so the agent didn’t need to reverse out of a spot. John called the rental company and when they came to pick up the car they were very apologetic and offered him a good deal on another car for the next day. He thought we had done enough driving through the Dominican Republic, and refused the offer.
The Dominican Republic is a beautiful country and we would love to go back and spend more time on the way back. The people there are very friendly and helpful. At the marina in Samana there are boat boys who are ready to help you with anything you would like for a small tip. They also offer to do work on your boat for you while you are there. John had all of the stainless polished and some scraping, sanding, and refinishing of teak done for a price that was too good to pass up. We really hated to leave Puerto Bahia, but the time had come to prepare for our crossing to Puerto Rico.
We made our plans, determined the time to cross, prepared the boat, medicated the dogs and me, and got ready for another overnight. Ready for the dreaded next leg. The crossing of the Mona Passage.
To be continued……