Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Mona Passage

Crossing the Mona Passage was the second to last hurdle on our journey along the thorny path. We were a little disappointed that we couldn't spend some time cruising Bahia Samana but the desire to move forward was powerful. We loved the DR for so many reasons but found it draining at the same time. The weather was optimal for pressing on and so we plotted our course and cleared out.

The planning and details of our passage making are so important to us in the moment. We huddle over weather reports, charts and guides for what must be, collectively, many hours. We ponder and analyze and often stop each other in passing to suggest an alternative or add a forgotten consideration. We compare notes with others going the same way. During our travels we have met sailors who simply go. And sometimes they go alone. They've crossed oceans backwards, forwards and upside down. It's easy to feel inadequate - even cowardly - after these encounters. But when we reach a destination safely and comfortably with our smallest crew members well rested and feeling positive about the experience, we can grab one of those all too rare flashes of self-acceptance. We have to live with our own limitations and tolerances and, especially, those of the kids. Bravery be damned! For as long as we're sailing, we will continue to be total weather bores!

The Mona Passage is the body of water between the Dominican Republic and the west coast of Puerto Rico. It has a bad reputation for its varying wind conditions, currents, capes, shoals, and thunderstorms. So, in typical yellow-bellied form, we planned our trip carefully and it was....annoying, bouncy and boring. We left the marina in the morning and staged ourselves at Cayo Levantado for a night departure. Once anchored, we were surprised and excited to hear, after six months, VHF transmissions from the US Coast Guard in Puerto Rico. We kept the radio on just to hear the sweet sounds of those mush-mouthed coasties making their Securite announcements! Andy took the kids snorkeling while I chewed my nails fretting over being in yet another non-legit anchorage.

Overnight we traveled along the coast of the DR and it was the most challenging part of the trip. The number of practically invisible little boats we encountered during the moonless night was mind numbing. A turn at the helm meant standing up, eyes wide open, scanning the darkness for twinkling lights for a couple hours at a time. By 7:00AM we tacked off the coast north of the hourglass shoals. It was pretty bouncy for most of the day but by nightfall, as we turned southeast toward the coast of Puerto Rico, the conditions settled and we had a peaceful motorsail toward Puerto Real. We entered the channel at 3:30AM, nearly hit a wreck, dropped the hook, and collapsed into the deep, deep sleep of the truly unburdened.

Approaching Cayo Levantado we saw fishermen setting out their net in the spot where we wanted to anchor. It has that ideal tropical paradise look.

These guys redirected us to a spot on the south side of the island. It didn't look promising, the charts didn't give a lot of detail, and we didn't have a backup plan for the backup plan.

We found the one sandy patch. There were very dense schools of fish moving around that were so dark we thought they were patches of coral and so dense they were giving us false and alarming readings on our depth sounder. 

An impromptu movie theater is set up during a long, hot, boring passage.

We arrived in Puerto Real, PR in the wee hours of the morning of Cubby's 8th birthday. For the first time ever, the kids let us sleep in. Instead of waking us up they set up a stuffed animal tea party and served themselves oreos and coffee for breakfast. 

This was more a moment of desperation than an actual desire for fast food. We all felt gross, sad, and hungry afterwards. 

It took us about 5 minutes to get completely sucked back in to the world of stuff. 

The birthday girl was sad not to wake up to presents to open on her bday but a trip to Toys R Us more than made up for it. Between the Bahamas and the DR there was nothing to buy. And no TV or peer comparison to fuel the desires. Which is a happy place for a parent. But we quickly learned the flame of wants never fully extinguishes. It just burns low until the colorful flashing marketing lights fan the flame and then it EXPLODES. We were all susceptible and found ourselves suddenly needing all kinds of things.

We took turns secretly picking gifts while The Rock kept Cubby distracted.

A spontaneous dinner out with new friends makes it feel extra special.

With about an hour to spare, the wish to open presents ON THE DAY is granted.

Happy Birthday, Cubby! 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Ocean World to Samana

If talking about the weather is boring, then obsessing over it is torture. But we do what we have to do to travel safely and comfortably. At one point, though, the waiting and analyzing got so mentally irritating we were just about ready to cast off the lines and head out into anything to get the heck off the dock. We usually have a good time anywhere we go but the last week at Ocean World was pretty tough. We were done burning through cash, the pool was closed, the wind was relentless, the salt spray in the cockpit was making everything feel disgusting, and if we had to listen to the blaring sea lion show (which we had all memorized in English and Spanish) one more time someone was going to get cut. Compound that with the actual responsibility of planning our trip along the daunting (to us) north coast and, well, let's just say it wasn't the highlight of our travels so far. Thank goodness for our neighbors at OW, particularly Randal on Island Time; Lea and Roland on Victoria's Ghost; Vicki, Frank, Annika and Margaux on Lagom; and Lavonn on Cat's Meow.

Because of the concerns about drug and people trafficking, the customs requirements are pretty strict in the DR. Technically you're only supposed to have your boat in official ports of entry and when you want to leave you can only clear out to your next official port. Something like that. But there weren't any more official ports along the north coast and the next stop, Samana, was too far to make in one shot given the conditions. Regardless, our plan (as devised by others, most notably Bruce Van Sant) was to anchor in certain unofficial spots along the way to duck out of the winds that pipe up during the day and to rest. This also meant traveling at night to take advantage of the katabatic effect of the cool air sliding down the mountains and keeping the prevailing winds offshore until mid-morning.

It was a lot to think about, but overall, we had a comfortable, though tiring, trip and we're proud of how we operate as a team especially when we join forces to shout at the kids about waking someone up from a well deserved snooze. The best part was seeing this stunning coast from the water. It's really, really beautiful!  

We cleared out of Ocean World at 6AM and got out of the channel by 6:30. After watching those channel markers rock and roll for three weeks it was truly liberating to be past them and out on the seas again.  

Our first stop was Sosua which was only 15 miles from OW. But that gave us plenty of time to re-anchor 3 stinking times to avoid the coral. It's a busy beachy spot and we were nervous about being told to move. The whole unofficial-ness of these anchorages made us feel somewhat vulnerable.

We finally anchored with our stern just in front of a large patch of coral. It was great for the kids to snorkel over but it also meant having lots of glass bottom tour boats, kayakers and snorkelers peering into our living room as we were a bit of a curiousity.

Headed right for a squall in the night on our way to Rio San Juan.

There's always time for a big snuggle even when the mate is tired and cranky. 

When we arrived in Rio San Juan we plopped ourselves down amidst the small fishing fleet in a bay protected by a reef. We were told this crew was heading out for many days. 

One of the risks of anchoring in these spots is the potential for a shakedown. There's pretty much nothing you can do about it except be polite and play the game because, as we said, we weren't even supposed to be there. We allowed the guy in uniform, one other whose role we couldn't discern and another who claimed to be the translator, on board and let them take a quick peak around the outside of our boat. We answered their questions about our comings and goings, trotted out our cute kids and joked around about this and that. At first they told us we couldn't leave until 6 the next morning even though we were planning to leave at midnight. They explained that in the night, if we heard a boat coming around it would be the Comandante checking on us for our security but he would need gas money for this. This was total bs but we agreed on $10 and threw in 5 beers. Everybody was happy so they told us we could leave whenever we wanted! Andy took this pic as they were motoring away. The Comandante refused to have his pic taken but had no issues taking it #inthearse

We left Rio San Juan at midnight, dodging countless tiny fishing boats with teeny tiny lights, for about a 12 hour ride to Escondido. Rounding Cabo Frances Viejo seemed to take an eternity but we were told it would feel exactly like that.  

Approaching Escondido

Escondido was stunning. The small bay was bordered by sheer hills on all sides. with a long stretch of beach. There were a few people and occasionally a donkey would walk past. The wind would come rushing down the hills in rapid, noisy gusts that ended as quickly as they began. Small swells rolled the boat comfortably and we wished we could stay for a few days.  

Andy and Drew paddled ashore, had a coke and explored. This is a fishing boat manned by two people. 

Another fishing boat. This is the size of the things we were trying to avoid in pitch blackness along the coast at night. 

Tangent all alone in the distance. 

Just hanging out writing in the sand. See Tangent out there? 

This is what Escondido looks like at night. There's a light on that hill. 

Sunrise over a cape (cabo) as we make our way to Samana. 

These guys are really hard to see at night! 

We made it to Samana! First order of business: find the pool!

Overlooking Bahia Samana. 

We finally got the photo! 

We got a ride into Samana just to check it out. We were accosted by so many people trying to sell stuff - tours, hats, knick-knacks, sunglasses - that it was kind of exhausting. 

First chinese food in forever! It wasn't half bad. 

This parking lot has the best view.

One order of the muggets chickenen, please. 

We needed a ride back to the marina. Rather than spend a ton on a cab we decided to join the ranks of the rickety and helmetless and catch a ride on this moto-rickshaw thingy.

It was quite fast on the straightaways but almost didn't make it up the hills. 

Everyone is passing us. 

Photo op with our driver. It was a quick tour of Samana but there was no time to linger. We had to get to Puerto Rico! 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Cabarete 3x

Before we left the US Andy bought himself all new kiteboarding gear. He only had one opportunity to try it out in the Bahamas so there was no way he was going to leave the DR without heading to Cabarete. This is one of the top kiteboarding spots in the world so it would have been crazy not to give it a shot. We loved it for it's cool vibe, restaurants and shops lining the street and beach, and the chance to swim in clean ocean water again. We liked it so much we visited three times! On our first visit we got there too late in the day to get the lay of the land and fit in kiteboarding. But we had a nice lunch and swim and sussed out the scene. The second visit was made for the sole purpose of getting Andy on his board but, alas, zero wind. Third time lucky!

Alleyway leading to the beach where we liked to grab an ice cream at the end of the day. It was very picturesque but hard to capture. 

Cool surf shop. Motorcyles seem more abundant than people here. 

Cute refreshment stand.

At the Kite Club on our second visit where Andy watched the wind and the kids made friends with the pups. 

The Kite Club (and its cafe) was a really pleasant place to hang out. On this part of our journey we are so much at the mercy of the weather that we often have to wait and wait for the right opportunities to move. It was pretty frustrating sitting on this kiteboarding beach with zero wind, unable to kiteboard and realizing it would have been a great opportunity to head east. Arrgh! 

Tasty food, comfy seats and a super view. Frustrating for Andy but the rest of us had a fab day! 
Killing some time. These people love to drift and do this whenever they see a current.  

A couple weeks after we arrived Drew found this entry in his Guinness Book of World Records. We kept trying to get a photo of this exact family portrait but Guinness did it for us. It's totally commonplace to see 4 or 5 people plus babies, mattresses, propane tanks and, in the case of a security guard or police officer on his way to work, a very large gun, on one motorcycle.

The driving is so insane we were warned not to do it in the dark. Headlights, driving on the correct side of the road and signaling are all optional and generally opted against. Andy was cool as a cucumber and got us around safely with only a few minor heart attacks. This is our view of a Puerto Plata intersection at night. I wish photos had sound.
Day 3 and out comes little gofly, our tiny kite. 

There was a lot of wind from very early on so Andy hooked up with an instructor and got started,

And he's up! We thought Andy did a great job and had fun watching him get up and go. He was harder on himself and it was pretty tough with all the experts flipping and flying all around him but he did really well.   

At one point we counted about 70 kites flying at one time. Crazy crowded but really cool to watch. 

An ice cream treat after all of our hard work collecting sea beans. 

Evelyn got a chance to take Stormy over a couple jumps. 

Back at our temporary home, Ocean World, Andy took on the role of arts and crafts teacher while we hunkered down, obsessed over wind forecasts and plotted our move along the north coast. Here's the painted stick race he came up with. Does the picture reveal how gross this was? Who needs an intestinal parasite AND one that burrows into your feet? Ick.   

Aero-Glyder, Magenta and Zapper!