July 2nd, 2015: Las Terrenas
We decided to join Ralph and Stacie for an afternoon visit to Las Terrenas, a beach resort on the north side of the island, about 45 minutes from Samana. There are apparently a lot of expats living there, as we saw quite a few Americans and Canadians. English was widely spoken. It’s definitely a tourist town with some beautiful beaches, a lot of stores, and a large number of beach bars and restaurants. After finding a place to park, the ladies went shopping while Ralph and I knocked down a few cold ones. The beach was really nice, with just a handful of people on it.
After shopping, we walked up the beach on a boardwalk fronted by a lot of beach bars, and had some happy hour drinks and snacks at a place run by a Canadian woman. Again, the beach was gorgeous, and most of the patrons were expats. The joke here was that the owner said they were open every day, except for Tuesday. You do the math…
On the way back to the car, we found this building, shaped like a ship, which has some shops on the bottom floor and hotel rooms above it.
There was a very nice grocery store, Super Pola, where we both did some provisioning. Outside the store were several produce stands. We had seen some of the stands with these white plastic balls suspended from them, and Ralph inquired about them. Turns out they were filled with cheese, and Ralph bought some. The idea of cheese, even in really good packaging, hanging outside in the extreme heat and humidity didn’t really excite me. He and Rosé tried some a few days later, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. We drove back in the dark to Puerto Bahia. There were a lot of motorcycles on the road with very dim lights, as well as erratic pedestrians. No wonder that the D.R. is one of the most deadly countries in the world for drivers. Traffic in the rural areas is peppered with motorcycles, scooters, horses, and the occasional donkey. We also learned that the national sport of the D.R. is sitting in your front yard and staring at traffic.
We were still waiting for a weather window to cross the Mona Passage. Every day, the wind was blowing fifteen to twenty, and the seas were five to six feet on the nose. We were hoping to find a window with the wind under fifteen, and the seas three feet or less. The long-term forecast indicated a settling of weather around the 8th or 9th, so we kept our fingers crossed. In the meantime, we got in some quality time at the pool.
Our Presidenté family (Jumbo, Grandé, and Pequeño) came out to wish us a fair voyage:
July 6th, 2015: Cayo Levantado
Across from Samana, there is a small island called Cayo Levantado, which is a local tourist destination. There is a big hotel on the island, but it is used primarily by day trippers. We arranged a water taxi to the island for ourselves and the crews of Lasata and Honeymoon Forever at a cost of $15 per person. Once we arrived on the island, we were greeted by a departing helicopter. It took off from a clearing that had almost no horizontal clearance – the trees were very close to the blades, but the pilot did a good job compensating for the gusty winds.
The west side of the island has a curved beach and a number of bars and restaurants. We rented some chairs on the beach for a few dollars, and settled in to enjoy the day.
At lunchtime we ventured to the restaurants, which all had the same food selection. We had some whole fried fish, while Robert, Virginia, and Claudia (Honeymoon Forever) sampled the local lobster. Drinks and food were great! After lunch, we checked out the snorkeling off the beach, but there was really nothing to see.
We left the island on our water taxi at 4:00. On the way back we took some photos of the Puerto Bahia Resort. You can see Tropical Blend bobbing in the surge. The worst thing about Puerto Bahia was the surge – it was really strong, and it blew out one of our fenders. The tide was about three and a half feet, and at times, it was a real challenge to get on and off board the boat using the rough fixed concrete docks.
July 9th – July 10th 2015: Marina Puerto Bahia – Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico (Marina Pescaderia)
The weather was finally improving, and anxious to be in Puerto Rico, we decided to leave on Thursday morning for the overnight passage to Puerto Rico. The forecast was for winds up to fifteen knots and short period seas at three feet, the best we had seen in a couple of weeks. Our original plan included a stop at Punta Cana, but we abandoned this due to weather and a report from another boater that the harbor was choked with seaweed. We did some final provisioning in Samana, got all of the laundry done, and notified the marina and officials that we would be departing on Thursday morning. Lasata was planning to come with us, but they were concerned about being slower, so they wanted to start an hour or two earlier. We planned to leave by 10:00AM in order to arrive at Cabo Rojo early the following afternoon.
On Thursday morning, I went to the marina office to check out and pay our bill. The marina manage, Gavvy, was out that day. The guy who was in the office had typical Latin customer service skills – slow! When I walked in to the office, Ralph and Stacie were in a discussion with Shepherd (Navy) and the immigration officer. Since they had been in the D.R. for more than thirty days, they had to pay an extra fee (you can stay up to thirty days on the original tourist visa), but exactly what the fee was seemed to be up for debate. The officer finally came up with a number, with Ralph didn’t have the cash to cover it, and there is no ATM at the resort. They had about 75% of the requested amount, and the officer agreed to take it. Hmmm…. Knowing that Ralph would need $20 to get his international despacho to leave, I let him know that I could loan it to him. After this checkout, he had to wait for the on-board inspection and then he wanted fuel, so I doubted that they would be ready before us. However, our marina checkout took a very long time. The staff member was on a phone call, and continued the call while I was sitting there. After about ten minutes, he answered a call on his mobile phone, put the office phone on hold, and had about a five minute conversation on the mobile. After that, he resumed his conversation on the office phone for another five minutes or so. One think I have learned in the Latin world is that phone calls take precedence over in person visits. There is no, “can you please hold?” in the translation. Anyway, after he finally finished the call, he asked me how many days we had used water – apparently we would only be billed for the days we actually used any, so I guessed four days. Then he asked how many garbage bags did we drop (again, the honor system), and I guessed three. He didn’t ask me about gthe laundry use, which was also on the honor system. Then he started to work on the bill … forever. It must have been fifteen minutes to enter and print the data. After an exhausting forty-five minutes, we were done. Shortly after that, Shepherd and the drug guy came on board for their “inspection” and gave me our despacho. I offered them a couple of the small bottles of rum to thank them for their efficiency. It was 10:30, and we decided to leave immediately – Lasata still wasn’t at the fuel dock. We called them to let them know we were leaving.
There are several routes to go across the Mona Passage. Bruce Van Sant suggested a route for trawlers over three nights, but we hadn’t experienced the night lee that he discussed. We decided to take a fairly direct southeasterly route, which would put the waves about 30° on our port bow for most of the trip. We would closely follow the shoreline to Cabo Engano before striking out for the passage, shortly after sunset. Here is the route we took to Cabo Rojo.
Once we got past Cayo Engano, the waves started to pick up considerably. This would be true all the way across Bahia Samana. We kept looking behind for Lasata, but we didn’t see them. When we turned southward at Laguna Limón, conditions improved somewhat. We only saw a few small fishing boats, and lots of floating sargassum seaweed. Fighting the Equatorial Current, we were averaging around 5.5 knots. Around 8:00PM, we left the coastline for the Mona Passage. This passage is considered one of the more dangerous and difficult passages in the world, so we had considered our crossing carefully. It’s extremely deep in places (over 15,000 feet) but there are also deep shoals (around 200 feet) where the current comes rushing up to the surface, causing confused seas, unpredictable currents, and general mayhem, even for power boats. We took a slightly more northern route to bypass Hourglass Shoal, then southeast to Isla Desecheo before heading down the lee coast of Puerto Rico. For the most part, the passage was pretty smooth. We passed by Isla Desecheo shortly after dawn, and after that, the current went away, as did the waves. We saw some big storm clouds and rain on the western shore, but they missed us. A little after 1:00PM, we entered the Puerto Real harbor. The entrance is surrounded by reefs, but there were markers to guide us through the channel, which got as shallow as nine feet as we idled in. I called the marina, and confirmed the fuel price at $3.00 per gallon, so we decided to fuel up first, purchasing 450 gallons. After we tied up at the dock, I called US Customs to check in – this was the first time we had our Local Boater Option and float plan, so we were expecting a phone check-in only. The officer that answered was doing an inspection, so he said he would call me back in then minutes (after I told him we had LBO). I figured he would probably call back as we were docking. Close – he called just before I cranked the engine to go to our slip. Check-in was indeed finished on the phone, and we moved over to find our slip. The marina was actually fairly full, so we had to squeeze in to a double slip with another boat, separated by a piling. It was really tight – I think we had about sixteen feet between the dock and the piling. Just as we started to back down, the skies opened up with a drenching rain. It took me a couple of tries to get lined up, but I finally shoehorned Tropical Blend into the slip.
Position at destination: 18°04.436’N, 67°11.320’W
Air temp: 77, Humidity: 91%, Water temp: 87.5
Nautical miles for this leg: 148.5 Total: 8869.1
Departed at 10:30am, arrived at 1:30pm
We were extremely low on US dollars, so we decided to ashore to find an ATM. It was raining off and on, and the streets were flowing with a lot of storm runoff. We talked with some people just outside of the marina, and they told us there was an ATM on the main road south by a bakery, not too far away. We walked a considerable distance and never saw a bakery or an ATM. We did see a few cars that decided it would be good sport to splash us…
The marina’s website gave us a better impression than what we really got, but it wasn’t too bad. Active Captain listed a depth of twelve feet, but it was close to seven. We kicked up a lot of mud while docking. We didn’t find the showers, but we had already showered on board, so we didn’t look too hard. There is a tiny restaurant there, and a small store, but we didn’t use either of them. We had a narrow weather window to get to the eastern side, so we planned to stay just the one night. Around 5:00PM, we heard from Lasata – they thought they would be in by 6:00 or so. They were assigned a slip just across from us, so we helped them tie up. Ralph told us that their prop got clogged by seaweed, so he had to jump in to clear it up, causing delay. We joined them for dinner at a nearby restaurant. They were planning to stay for a couple of days, so we said our goodbyes and went to get some sleep before our dawn departure.
July 11th 2015: Marina Pescaderia – Cayo Mata (Salinas)
We left just after sunrise, planning to go a little more than halfway to Fajardo. The forecast for the next couple of days was decent, with winds of fifteen knots and seas two to three feet. For the short run south down the lee shore, the water was like glass. As soon as we rounded the corner and turned east, the wind jumped up to twenty knots and we took seas of four to five feet right on our nose. I had read that the south shores of both the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico were much better than the north shores, but you couldn’t convince me that Saturday morning. We hugged the coast as close as we could, considering the numerous offshore reefs, but it was still a tough slog against the waves. We pounded for most of the day, staying outside of the numerous reefs that dot the southern shore of Puerto Rico. When we got to the Salinas area, we found an anchorage where we could get shelter from the east wind and the waves. While pulling the snubber out of the anchor locker, Rose noticed that one of the fenders we had used in the DR marina was flat. I tried to pump it up, but it would not hold air. Apparently the relentless surge and the rough concrete docks had killed it.
Position at destination: 17°56.849’N, 66°17.850’W
Air temp: 88, Humidity: 62%, Water temp: 87
Nautical miles for this leg: 63.6 Total: 8932
Departed at 6:00am, arrived at 5:45pm
July 12th 2015: Cayo Mata – Marina Puerto del Rey (Fajardo)
We left early in the morning, optimistic about our last day cruising before arriving at our summer hurricane home. That optimism was short-lived, as we once again had winds up to twenty-five knots, and heads seas around four feet. It was another lousy day pounding into the waves, with intermittent rain squalls drenching us, forcing us into the pilothouse. As we rounded the southeast corner of the island, conditions improved somewhat, but we were still plagued by squalls. At last we saw the sea of boats present in the huge PDR marina, and we entered the channel to tie up in our summer home.
Position at destination: 18°17.326’N, 65°38.018’W
Air temp: 86, Humidity: 76%, Water temp: 86
Nautical miles for this leg: 58.1 Total: 8991
Departed at 6:20am, arrived at 4:30pm