April 8th – 9th: Cap Cana – Barahona
We had originally planned to make a few stops along the southern coast of the D.R., but the delays rebuilding the Symbiosis engine changed that plan. Now we would go straight to Barahona, the last port of entry before crossing into Haiti. It was a 173 n.m. cruise, so we would leave in the morning and arrive the following afternoon. We thought we had arranged the check-out in advance with the marina, but the Navy guys were very slow to give us our Despacho’s (exit papers), so we left about an hour behind schedule. We were happy that Symbiosis had no engine issues during the long trip – it was a miracle!
It was an easy cruise. The seas were fairly calm during the southward leg, and it was virtually flat during the long easterly leg. Unfortunately for Symbiosis, there was little wind, so they had to use their motor most of the way. Of course, that led to a new problem – they were worried about fuel consumption. The boat had a 90-gallon tank, which should have been enough for the passage with a decent reserve, but with essentially a new engine, Scott was nervous about fuel economy. We told them that worse case, we could bleed off some of our fuel for them (we hold 1,250 gallons), so not to worry about it. Still, he was easy on the throttle, so we slowed down to five knots for a large part of the trip. Even at that speed we arrived at Barahona a little after four on Sunday afternoon. Thanks to some favorable currents, we averaged over five knots for the trip. Something odd happened during the night watch. Scott hailed me around two in the morning to tell me that Noi had reminded him that when they had passaged around the northern side of the D.R. at night, they had seen some strange white floating buoys. She wanted to be sure that we were looking for them. I thought this was another crazy Noi concern – after all, we were thirty miles offshore in 12,000 feet of water, so there could not be a buoy. About fifteen minutes later, I saw something white floating on the water. Sure enough, it was just as Noi had described. I called Scott to tell him, but he had already run onto it, but he said it was a very soft collision.
Position at destination: 18º12.378’N, 71º05.163’W
Air temp: 85, Humidity: 64%, Water temp: 82
Nautical miles for this leg: 173.3 Total: 11,417
Departed at 10:00am, arrived at 4:15pm
April 9th – 10th: Barahona, D.R.
Based on the cruising guide and the charts, we planned to anchor inside the harbor. We felt our way up, passing a small marina, but once we were inside, we changed our minds. There is a huge dock for a coal ship that calls there, and we had no idea when it would be arriving. We decided to anchor in front of the Navy pier outside the harbor – the water was calm, and there was nothing in the forecast. Once we were anchored, we sat on the bow to watch the festivities in town – it was the Sunday before Easter, which is a big deal in Latin America There was a parade of some sort going on at the Malecon. Given the late hour of arrival on a Sunday, with a festival going on, we were not expecting to be greeted by the officials. We were wrong. Around 5:30, we saw a panga headed our way, full of officials. There were two guys from the Navy, the Port Captain, immigration, customs, and drug enforcement. Once they got close, it was clear that they had been partying for a while. Once on board, we showed them our paperwork and explained in my broken Spanish that we were leaving the following afternoon, so we would need the zarpe. They were friendly, and asked for cervezas. Unfortunately, we did not have any cold ones, so I gave them $20 to buy some when they got back on shore.
Then they left for Symbiosis. I called Scott to alert him, and I suggested they prepare to give out some cold beer, if they had any. They also had no cold ones, but they did have a bottle of red wine. But here is the best part of the story: after the officials left, Scott called with a great tale. When we were staying in Puerto Rico in the summer of 2015, I had bought a case of 5-Hour Energy drinks, but I had never used them, since we had not been making any overnight passages. Now that we did have a number of long passages, I gave a dozen or so to Scott. He had placed them in a basket in the cabin. The officials saw them, and asked what they were. Of course, their English was limited, and Scott’s Spanish was even more limited, so something got lost in the translation. They thought that the bottles were some kind of liquid Viagra! Scott offered them up, and the guys very happily accepted them. We could only imagine how their nights were going to end up!
The next morning we dinghied ashore to see the town. We went to the Navy dock, which had the hugest horizontal fender we had ever seen – it looked like a submarine. We found a place to attach the tender, and tied the stern up as well, as the surge was high. We were greeted by Fernando, a local guide for cruisers. We had read about him in Active Captain – he provides advice and guidance, but it’s not free. We gave him the equivalent of $10 to watch after the tender while we explored the town, and we politely declined his costly advice about restaurants… We walked along the Malecon, and then headed up a street where the public market was in business. The market was spread over a number of blocks, occupying a narrow set of alleys. Despite the heavy pedestrian traffic, and goods all over the road, there were several people riding through on motorbikes. We picked up some inexpensive produce and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
View of the anchorage Symbiosis at anchor
Entrance to the market area
Un niño lindo That’s a lot of bananas
Noi loves these markets
We are still too squeamish to buy meat at the outdoor market
Warriors! They have followers everywhere
We had lunch at a small pollo asado place, and then returned to the Navy dock. Scott needed fuel, and there was a station across the street (no fuel dock in Barahona). Noi and Rosé decided to wait in the station as Scott and I ferried fuel. Fernando helped us get the jugs down to the tender – the surge had gotten worse. We made a number of trips to get his tanks filled up. Once we were finished, we went to the Navy office to get our Zarpe, which always takes far longer than you think it will. Technically, you are not allowed to leave port after 6:00PM in the D.R., so we told them we would be departing before that time – and we left at 5:55PM. While we were waiting, Rosé came over and asked for some cash. While waiting at the fuel station, she offered to buy sodas for a couple of local kids. It took about five minutes for the word to get out on the kid network, and she was inundated with requests for sodas and chips. That was a precursor of Haiti. We wished we had more time to stay at Barahona, which had a number of Eco tourist sites in the area, but we had to move on in order to make our flight.
April 10th – 12th: Barahona, D.R. – Îles-à-Vache, Haiti
We departed before sunset, heading southwest down the Pedernales Peninsula. At the tip of the peninsula is a large island called Isla Beata. There is a narrow channel between the island and the mainland, bit it is large enough and it carries enough depth to easily pass through it. However, with the shallow depth, we were concerned there would be a lot of fish traps, and we would be there around two in the morning. We decided to stay in deeper waters and go around the southern side of the island.
The forecast for the seas during the run to Isla Beata was light, at two to three feet. That lasted for about four hours. A little after 10:00PM, the waves picked up to four feet or so, coming on our beam. The stabilizers kept up, but the ride was uncomfortable. We also had some intermittent rain showers. As we passed the channel north of Isla Beata, we entered water around two-hundred feet deep. Sometime after that, we heard a loud knocking on the port hull, near the berth. I figured we had picked up a fish trap, and the buoy was banging against the hull. So much for our plans to avoid the fish traps. I figured I could wait until first light, stop the boat, and dive under it to cut away the trap. With the dawn light, I was able to see what was happening. We had picked up a line with a Styrofoam buoy on it, which was banging against the hull. The line was actually caught around both stabilizers – on the starboard side, the line was trailing behind the boat by a good thirty or forty feet. I slowed down, and decided to try and snag it with the boat hook – amazingly, that worked. I pulled in the line on the starboard side and cut it off. That action released the buoy on the port side – we were lucky that it wasn’t jammed against the stabilizer.
After rounding Cabo Beata, the seas laid down, and were almost flat. It was great for us, but not so good for Symbiosis, since they had little wind to push them along. We did have an easterly current, so we made reasonable time. The passage was 190nm, so it took around thirty-eight hours. The rest of the day and night passed without event. As the sun rose the next morning, we approached the southern side of Île-à-Vache, and we were greeted by a minefield of fish traps. Just about that time, Scott hailed us and said that his engine had died – unbelievable! There was no wind, so we decided to tow them in. We had never towed anyone behind Tropical Blend, but we had the 100-ft nylon trap that we used for the stern anchor as a tow rope. We backed down on Symbiosis, and handed off the line. It worked well, but I had to do a lot of steering through the traps, and Scott used his rudder to help as he could.
On the radio, I heard some chatter coming from Americans in the anchorage. Once they finished their conversation, I hailed them and explained that we were towing a boat into the anchorage. The captain I spoke with said they would have a couple of dinghies ready to assist Scott with anchoring. We rounded the western end of the island and turned for the anchorage. We had seen a few of the small fishing boats, carried by the pieces of sail we were bringing. We knew that Haiti was a very poor country, and we had read that boats anchoring would be constantly visited by locals looking for any jobs they could do on the boat. Once we were spotted, the Île-à-Vache armada started heading towards us – a bunch of small boats being furiously rowed, trying to snag the first job. Once they came alongside, we explained that we were towing Symbiosis and that we needed room to help them. The guys definitely spoke English, but they had no intention of surrendering their positions, so they followed us very closely into the anchorage. Once inside the anchorage (called Port Morgan), we were shown where Symbiosis could anchor, and we towed them close in and they let the line go. With help from a few cruiser dinghies, they were able to get set.
Position at destination: 18º06.217’N, 73º41.578’W
Air temp: 85, Humidity: 57%, Water temp: 82.5
Nautical miles for this leg: 189.2 Total: 11,606
Departed at 5:55pm, arrived at 10:00am
April 12th – 14th: Îles-à-Vache, Haiti
While we were setting our anchor, we had a dozen or so young men literally hanging on our boat. Once we were set, I explained to them that we had recently waxed the boat, and that we did not have any topside jobs to be done, but that did not deter them. They found out we were there to deliver supplies, and they asked for some of the supplies directly. We explained that the Good Samaritan Foundation was expecting the supplies, and that we could not just start handing them out. Rosé decided to give away our remaining boat shirt, which were a big hit. I think she handed out at least forty of them.
It was impossible to get any sleep with the constant visits to the boat. We got hold of Phelix Joseph from the foundation, and he said they would be by in the afternoon to pick up the supplies. While we waited, Noi and Rose took the kayak ashore to see the village, and Scott located a diesel mechanic to look at his engine. He had found some gunk in the line, and bled it out, but that didn’t fix the problem. The local mechanic worked on the injection pump, which seemed to solve the problem, as the engine ran for fifteen minutes without an issue.
We offloaded the supplies, and suddenly we had room on our boat deck and in our forward cabin again – a Haitian miracle! We made arrangements for dinner on shore at a beachside restaurant with the cruising contingent in the bay. There were a number of nationalities represented, as many good people were there to work on improving the lives of the local folks. The following day a group of people decided to hike over to the main village, Madame Bernard, on the island to see the market. I elected to stay on board, as I wasn’t feeling like a long, hot hike. Rosé, Noi and Scott went along with several of our new cruising friends.
The gang and their “guides” – small boys that showed them the way for a dollar apiece
Îles-à-Vache clothesline Approaching Madame Bernard
Fishing boat under construction Baskets for sale
A very busy day at the market Noi found hot peppers!
Views of the anchorage from the hill
Rose made it back around 3:00PM, and we started to get the boat ready for the long passage to Jamaica. Of course, we still had many visits from boat boys seeking jobs or donations. They are not overly aggressive or demanding, but they are persistent. We managed to give away some old things we had on board – fishing gear, shoes, etc., but we really had to let them know that we didn’t have anything else on board for them, and in some cases, we simply stopped talking to them as we worked inside the boat. It’s tough to see people living in such conditions, but we can’t help everyone. It is encouraging that the people are very nice and respectful, and they seem to have a good spirit.
That evening, we again went with our fellow cruisers to a restaurant on the hill overlooking the bay. We gathered at a “bar” on the water’s edge before hiking up the hill. At the bar, there were a few children. One of the small ones, maybe five years old, borrowed Rosé’s phone, took a few selfies, and used a makeup and Halloween app that Rosé was not aware of – amazing. While we were waiting, one of the local people from the foundation came by with a big watermelon for us, as a gesture of thanks. Rose didn’t want to take it, as she was concerned that this was of value, but I let her know that it was important for them to give us a gift in return. We ended up splitting it with Scott and Noi.
We had a wonderful dinner at the restaurant, which was at someone’s house. It was a pretty steep hike going up the hill, and the trip down in the dark using flashlight apps from the phones was quite an adventure. We took a couple of rolls of paper towels over to one of our cruising friends, as she couldn’t find any locally. We planned to leave at 6:00 the next morning.
Noi and some new friends View from the hilltop restaurant
Panoramic view of the anchorage
April 14th – 15th: Îles-à-Vache – Port Antonio, Jamaica
We got up at first light and prepared to depart. Unfortunately, we got a radio hail from Scott, and you guessed it: his engine had once again failed, having died shortly after he started it. He did not want us to wait for them, as he didn’t know what it would take to fix the problem, and he knew we had a plane to catch in Jamaica. We agreed to move on, but we did take them some water and some money. They were very low on cash, and needless to say, there is no ATM on the island. We sadly said goodbye and headed out to sea. We had a pretty good forecast that day, but as soon as we pulled out of the anchorage, we were blasted by twenty-knot winds. Once we made the turn westward to Jamaica, the wind started to diminish, and by 10:00, it was dead calm with very flat seas: perfect trawler weather.
I decided to try some fishing. It was a little difficult with the Sargasso – lots of seaweed snappers. I also got several legitimate strikes, but I couldn’t land anything. Finally, late that afternoon, I hooked something big. After a long fight, I brought in what I thought was a Wahoo. By this time, the seas were starting to pick up, so Rose headed off course for a better ride while I cleaned the fish. I had not fileted a fish on quite some time, so it took me about an hour to get the job done. Sunset was upon us, and the seas continued to build. By ten that evening, we were facing big beam seas, with up to eight-feet swells. The stabilizers could not keep up, and we were rolling a lot. The wind kicked up to thirty knots, and we knew were in for a long night. Down in the engine room, the vent hose from the wing engine shaft was draining a lot of water, so the waste can was filling up every thirty minutes. We decided to take one-hour watches, with two trips per watch into the engine room. We continued to alter course in search of a better ride, eventually adding two hours to our crossing. I began to have delusions – for the first time ever, I got nervous, thinking about the trouble we would be in if the engine failed under these conditions. While we had a backup engine, both ran from the same fuel tanks, which is usually the reason for engine failure. It was incredibly unlikely, bit the horrible passage was giving me that paranoia. If nothing else, this was reminding me why we were ready to hang up our cruising shoes.
The weather was horrible all night long. At dawn, the wind backed off to fifteen to twenty knots, giving us hope, but the seas were still angry. Because of the course changes, we saw land at the southeastern corner of Jamaica first, and then turned northwest fairly close to the coast. The sea state gradually improved over the day, and it was actually calm when we approached Port Antonio. Once inside the bay, we hailed the Errol Flynn Marina a few times to no avail. We pulled into the dock, tying up alongside until we found out where they wanted us.
Position at destination: 18º10.833’N, 76º27.207’W
Air temp: 87, Humidity: 58%, Water temp: 83
Nautical miles for this leg: 182.9 Total: 11,789
Departed at 6:00am, arrived at 1:30pm
April 15th – May 3rd: Port Antonio, Jamaica
We were instructed to wait on board until the authorities came on board to check us in. While waiting, we discovered that the marina power was at 50Hz, the European frequency standard. Our air conditioning unit really didn’t like that, as the motors were running slow. I got worried about burning out a motor, so we decided we would have to forgo using the AC while at the marina. If we really got hot, we could run off of the generator. As it turned out, our location just next to the Blue Mountains was relatively cool, so we weren’t too uncomfortable. The marina also had a pool, so we could soak in the afternoons.
Clearing in took a lot of time. Since we were arriving on a Saturday, we had to pay the overtime fee of $68 – normally, clearing in is free. In addition to customs and immigration, we had to meet with the Quarantine officer. He asked about food we had on board (mostly where we had purchased it), our state of health, and about any animals on board. Once we completed check-in, we visited the marina office, which was Jamaica slow. We are advised that the Coast Guard would visit us, but at an unknown time. (note – they finally showed up Monday night). After completing all formalities, we visited the bar and the pool. Feeling quite exhausted from our miserable transit, we hit the sack early that night.
The following day we arranged with a local guy to wash the boat – it was totally salt-encrusted. We met our neighbors on the slip next to us, Maris and Linda on the S/V Amekaya – they were fellow Americans, on their way to Rio Dulce for the summer. There was a small social group in the area, with some on anchored boats, and some in the marina.
The Internet service at the boat was lousy at beast, but we found it was decent at the pool bar, so we went up there to watch the opening Warriors playoff game against Portland – a great win, by the way.
The food and drink was okay at the bar, but the currency makes your eyes pop out of your head. The exchange rate was around $130JMD to the US dollar, so a burger was listed at $1100JMD – it takes a while to get used to that. We went into the town, a very short walk from the marina, to find an ATM. We picked up $40,000 Jamaican dollars, or about $300 USD – a fat wallet, indeed. The town was pretty run down, but it didn’t seem unsafe. There were a number of characters, seeing a couple of tourists, that tried to talk us into a number of tours, but we weren’t interested. There are licensed tour operators in Jamaica – their cars have red license plates. The touts approaching us acted like they had never heard of licensed guides. We met someone who took an unlicensed guide to the Bob Marley museum, and the driver was smoking dope while driving. The museum was actually closed, so he took them someplace else, and wanted to be paid extra because of his own incompetence.
Soldier Camp Restaurant
The group of boaters at Port Antonio organized a trip to the Soldier Camp Restaurant one evening. We walked up to it, which took around forty-five minutes. It wasn’t too hot, as we usually had overcast conditions. Port Antonio is at the foot of the Blue Mountains, which is rain forest. And it rains. And rains. And rains, a lot. The restaurant looks more like a house than a restaurant, but the food was quite good. It was local fare – basically, chicken, fish, or shellfish with beans and rice. I had coconut curry shrimp, and Rose had jerk chicken. After dinner, we took a couple of taxis back to the marina, as it was quite dark and the walk would have been tough in the dark.
April 21st – May 1st: Roatan Birthday Party
While we were in Jamaica, we received word from Scott that the fuel issue on Symbiosis was finally solved. They actually had experienced one more false start, leaving the anchorage only to have the engine (which I dubbed The Anti-Christ) fail yet again, requiring help from cruisers’ tenders to re-anchor. Scott eventually found that he had a bacterial infestation in his diesel tank. He had to pump out the fuel, filter it multiple times, and hand-clean the tank. He got some biocide to add to the tank, so he thought he was good. Even after that, he found a small air leak in the fuel line, and had to go to the “mainland” to get a new fuel hose. They finally left on the 19th, thinking they would have decent weather (just like we had thought), but they had a passage that sounded as bad as ours did. Maybe there is something about that passage that makes it very unpredictable. Sometime during the passage, Scott found that the Anti-Christ engine was now losing oil, but he had enough for the passage. They arrived on the 20th, just a day before we were due to leave. We welcomed them in and showed them around a bit. They would watch after Tropical Blend while we were gone.
To get to Roatan from Port Antonio, we had a route right out of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. We had to get on a bus (fortunately right at the marina) at 4:30 in the morning for Kingston. Here is our itinerary:
Friday: Depart at 4:30am for Kingston
Arrive Kingston bus station at 7:10
Depart for the airport at 9:10 (only 15 minutes)
Depart for Miami at 12:50pm, arrive in Miami at 4:00pm
Spend the night at an airport-area hotel
Saturday: Depart for Roatan 11:10am, arrive at 11:30am
The bus was supposed to be a very modern highway bus – we had previously seen it at the marina station. We got up at 4:00am, and it was pouring down rain. We had a soaking walk to the station, where we found that for some reason, we would be traveling by van that morning. So much for the comfortable ride… The route follows the coast for a while, and then heads south across the mountains to Kingston. That part of the trip was on a narrow, winding mountain road with many hairpin turns. Despite the lousy road and the cramped conditions in the van, we managed to catch some sleep. Once we arrived in Kingston, we found the “station” to be severely lacking in comfort. It was just a small waiting room with hard plastic chairs. We finally made it to the airport, where we had to kill a few more hours. American did not have a lounge there, and we found that we were not allowed to go to the actual gate. There were moat dragons preventing people from moving into the concourse area until the flight was called for boarding – very strange. When we were finally called, we found out that the concourse was completely devoid of anything but gates. No stores, no restaurants, no nothing. The dragons were actually doing us a favor by holding us out of the concourse. The flight was fine, as we had upgraded, but when we arrived in Miami, the hotel told us that they could not pick us up, as the shuttle was out buying water. They advised us to take a taxi, and they would pay the fare. Once checked in, we found a nearby Japanese restaurant where we went crazy. Back at the hotel, Rose took advantage of the tub, and we enjoyed really cold air conditioning while watching another playoff game. Life was good.
A big TV, a big bed, a bathtub, and A/C – life’s good Waiting at the airport
The following day we flew to Roatan without any further difficulty or strange happenings. By that afternoon, we were at the resort and with our friends. The first couple of nights we were in a single room on the hill, and on Monday we would meet up with Marty and Lynne (our friends from Australia) and move into a large condo overlooking the pool.
Catlin – the birthday girl Her hat about says it all
Tim, Catlin, Michelle, and Lucky Lucky and Michelle
Pre-sunset on the beach
Sunset over the pool
On Sunday morning, most of us went to a restaurant for brunch – they featured bottomless mimosas. I don’t think they were prepared for us… Marty and Lynne showed up, with a crazy tale. They had been on a long trip in Europe, and their luggage was lost by Alitalia. They had been trying to get it sent to them for sometime without much success. They had a night in Houston before flying to Roatan, so they went shopping – hence the Texas-themed wear in the photographs. While they were in Roatan, the airline finally sent their bags to their home in Australia, and actually tried to charge them for getting them to their home in Noosa.
We booked an afternoon Most of our time was spent in the pool, with the bar and restaurant located at the pool, including a swim-up section.cruise on a catamaran that featured a live rock band – what a great idea! The weather was great, so we were able to drink and dance up a storm. We had a fabulous time, and most of us overdid it – especially the birthday girl.
On Cat’s birthday, we assembled in their room for the celebration, including decorations, cake, mimosas, and presents.
Birthday decorations and a very original design cake
Mimosas all around There are presents!
It’s a pool party! Marty, Catlin, and Michelle
After the crazy rock-and-roll cruise, we had a fairly quiet day. For the evening, we went to Bite on the Beach, a nice restaurant.
The big chair photo Tim and Lucky
Catlin wasn’t feeling great after the rock-and-roll cruise, but she rallied
Ryan, Missy, Marty, and Rosé Lynne, Marty, and Rosé Swing-time for Rosé
After dinner, we returned to the room, but only the heartiest of us were up for more partying. There had been a small cat that was hanging around us, and it decided to crawl under Marty and Lynne’s bed. It took quite a bit of coaxing to bring it out.
On our last day, we all got together for a photo on “the big chair”. We said our good-byes and made our way to the airport. Christi had made special champagne flutes for the occasion, with commemorative etching on them. Unfortunately, they were seized by airport security as potentially dangerous. Hmmm… I should have smashed them after they were banned – I suspect they are currently in the house of one of the guards. The trip back was almost as complicated as the trip out, but with less waiting time. We flew back to Miami, spent the night, then we flew out the next day to Kingston. We had a shorter connection on the bus, and this time we got the full bus back to Port Antonio. That seemed very silly, as there were only three passengers on board, including us. I was surprised at the speed the bus made through the mountains, given the very curvy road. We arrived back at the marina around sunset, and met up with Scott and Noi again.
Back at Port Antonio
We just had a couple of days left before we moved on. Scott and Noi had gotten to know the community pretty well. We found out that like us, Maris and Linda on Amekaya would be heading to the Caymans next, so we compared notes and made some loose plans to meet over there. We spent some time exploring the local market before we left.
Back to the Errol Flynn Marina Another open-air meat market
How much was that again? That’s all? Produce market
Cashews So much fruit, so little time
The Mystery of the S/V Aria
Before we left, we heard an interesting and frightening story about some cruisers we had met at Port Antonio. Michael and Tammy Hetzer on the S/V Aria had left, bound for Providencia on their way to Rio Dulce in Guatemala for the summer. However, on the south side of Jamaica, something happened to their boat and they abandoned it. According to Maris, they said they had struck a reef and abandoned the boat before it sank. They said they were picked up by some local fisherman, who transferred them to a freighter, which eventually took them to Cartagena, Columbia. We looked at a chart, and there are some reefs south of Jamaica, but they are well-marked, and they appeared to be visible above the water. As we understood the situation, the incident happened in daylight. We were mystified by what might have happened.