March 2017: Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic

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October 24th, 2018 by

February 27th – March 12th: Marina Puerto del Rey, Puerto Rico

After getting Scott settled in, we needed to report in to US Customs. Although the USVI is part of the states, it is a duty-free port, so you have to clear US Customs when traveling from there. During our previous stay, we had not bothered to call in, and neither did anyone else we knew, when traveling from USVI to PR. However, now that we were living in the era of “extreme vetting”, the dock helpers told us that we had to call in before we could leave the dock. We called in, but it wasn’t so simple. We had to provide our SVRS numbers, and we were asked why we did not file float plans. We answered that we were told in St. Thomas that we did not need to file a float plan to go to Puerto Rico, which was true. The Customs agent in Puerto Rico said that we did need to file the float plan, but agreed to check us in without an interview. The dock helper told us “the rules” were changing all of the time now. Geez…

Scott set about trying to find a diesel mechanic, but he didn’t have much luck, despite the nearly one-thousand boats at the marina, and the several hundred more at the Fajardo marinas. I told him that when we needed Yanmar service, we were told we would have to wait for at least a month. A good mechanic would be extremely busy in Puerto Rico. Since there wasn’t much more he could do at that time, we made some plans for shopping and touring. We decided we would pick up supplies for Haiti at Costco and Walmart. We rented a car for a few days to accomplish our missions.

Our first visit was to San Juan, for some shopping and a tour of Old San Juan.Scott and Noi had been trying to get one of their phones unlocked from AT&T for ages, without success. They went into a Sears at a all that had an electronics repair section. They paid to get the unlock taken care of, but sadly, it never happened. At a Best Buy, Scott decided to buy an unlocked LG phone with a prepaid Boost Mobile plan. He was told that the plan would work in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic – but of course, it didn’t really work in the D.R. After being thoroughly frustrated, we visited Old San Juan, where Scott was able to get a local IPA to calm his nerves.

                  The “El Greengo” Cantina has some interesting artwork … and a great atmosphere

 Noi was bullish on Old San Juan          Scott was in IPA heaven                              Narrow streets

                                                                      Scenes from Old San Juan

The following day we drove out to the western part of the island to see the radio telescope at Arecibo, and the Cueva Ventana (Window Cave). We had visited both of these places in 2015, but Scott and Noi had not been there.

                      Back at the Observatory                                   This time, we both got the Senior Discount!   
                                                You never get tired of looking at this amazing telescope
Following our Arecibo visit, we made the short drive over to Cueva Ventana.

                          A spelunking we will go!                                           Glyphs on the walls of the cave
                Stalagmite                                         More glyphs                                 Climbing out of the cave
                The entrance to the window cave                                 Stalagmites near the window
                      Noi, the cave model                                                           The million dollar view

After leaving the cave, we drove through the valley below it, where the Rio Grande de Arecibo flows. Scott was musing about buying property in the area – he figured it would not be very expensive, and there would be room for Noi’s farm. On the way back to Fajardo, we had dinner at an Olive Garden – Puerto Rico has all of the major US chain restaurants. We had not had that kind of Italian food for a very long time, and we did enjoy it.

                                                     In the valley with the Rio Grande de Arecibo

By now, Scott was on contact with a cruiser / mechanic, Michael Kneeland, who could work on Scott’s engine. He was currently living on his boat in Patillas, a bay near the southeast corner of Puerto Rico. We decided to stay in Puerto del Rey while Symbiosis moved to Patillas – there was a hope that the problem could be resolved in a week or so. On their last night in Fajardo, we drove down to Humacao to finish our Haiti supply shopping at the Walmart, followed by dinner at our favorite Puerto Rican restaurant, Tokyo.

We were given a list of items from Michael’s foundation, including powdered milk, soccer balls, drawing materials, etc. In addition, we picked up some fishing gear and children’s clothing. We made quite the haul, and the trunk was full. Soon, out front cabin would be full of all of this stuff…

                                       A sampling of the supplies we picked up at Costco and Walmart

Symbiosis departed for Patillas on Saturday morning, while we elected to stay in the marina pending the update on their engine issue. We didn’t do much, other than a final provisioning run. We did take a day to look at some boats for sale, thinking of the future in Antigua. We were mainly looking for an express cruiser that we could zip around in, with the capacity to stay in it for a week or so. Our future neighbor in Antigua had the ideal boat – a Boston Whaler 305 Conquest. It’s a 30’ boat with a decent sized cabin, and it includes a generator and air conditioning, with two berths. It reminded us of our first cruising boat, a 29’ Regal Express. One of the brokers at the marina had the larger version, a 35’ boat, at the docks, as well as a 33’ Grady-White. We also decided to look at a 35’ Tiara, the entry-level craft of the Puerto Rican Navy. We were very impressed by the Whaler, but it was an expensive boat at$269,000. The Grady-White was a newer boat, but it looked like some kids had set out to beat it to death. The Tiara really wasn’t what we were looking for.

                Boston Whaler 345 Conquest                                              Grady-White 330 Express

Late in the week we heard from Scott, and the news was not good. After tearing down his engine, there was water in three of the four cylinders. It was going to require a full rebuild. The mechanic could do the job with the boat in the water, but he would need to use an inland machine job. He estimated the job would take one to two weeks. With this schedule, there was no way that we would make it back to Florida in time to fly to Roatan. We decided to book flights out of the Cayman Islands, based on Symbiosis being ready in two weeks’ time. That estimate turned out to be wildly optimistic…

March 12th: Puerto del Rey – Patillas

We left on a Sunday morning for the trip to Patillas. The sea conditions worsened throughput the day, as the east swell picked up on our beam to about five feet – enough to keep the stabilizers from working optimally. We spent about four hours rolling as we transited southwards. Once we turned to the west, we got a nice sleigh ride on the following sea, and we found our way into Patillas. There was just enough protection to ensure a flat anchorage, which was a welcome relief. The waves around the southern side of Puerto Rico can be awfully obnoxious.

Position at destination: 17º58.581’N, 65º59.663’W
Air temp: 83, Humidity: 66%, Water temp: 77.5
Nautical miles for this leg: 38.02  Total: 11,093
Departed at 9:15am, arrived at 3:15pm

The progress on Symbiosis was not so fast – Scott was hoping to get to the machine shop early in the week, but Michael said that the shop worked on a first-come, first served basis, so it was hard to say how long it would take. We got the impression that Michael was enjoying to company, and was not in any hurry. We only stayed for two nights, and we had dinner on board Michael’s boat while we were there. We asked him about the water incursion we were having with the new dripless shaft seal on the wing engine. The vent hose for it was as high as it could be in the engine room, but when we were rolling, it would be below the water line, and salt water would come spurting into the engine room. I discovered this when we were in Puerto Rico, when I noticed salt on the throttle linkage. To alleviate the problem, I placed a wastebasket under the vent, but in bad seas (like we had on the cruise to Patillas), it would fill up within an hour or so, requiring us to pour the water into the bilge. The manual for the shaft seal said the vent hose was a requirement for speeds about 12 knots, but it did not say much about slower speeds. I wanted to simply plug the hole up, but Michael said that could damage the shaft, as it needed water for cooling. Hmmmm….

                                                               Sunset at the Patillas anchorage

After discussions with Scott, we agreed that we would move on while he finished his engine work, and he would catch up with us in Cap Cana in the D.R. Worst case, we would cut out some of the interim stops we had planned along the southern shore of the D.R., and reduce our time in Haiti and Jamaica, so we could make our flight out of the Caymans on April 21st. This would give us five weeks to get to the Caymans. Easy peasy … not so much.

March 14th: Patillas – Gilligan’s Isle

We decided to spend a couple of nights at “Gilligan’s Isle”, which is actually Cayo Aurora. Sometime in the past, visitors decided that the lagoon looked like the set from Gilligan’s Isle, and the name stuck.  It’s a very popular weekend destination, but during the week it is pretty quiet. Ferries bring people over from the resorts located a mile away on the mainland. We were the only cruising boat anchored at that time. The cruise over was pleasant enough with the following sea, but the radio was chirping with some emergency calls from the north side – we guessed that the seas were pretty high there.

Position at destination: 17º56.853’N, 65º52.348’W
Air temp: 82, Humidity: 66%, Water temp: 78
Nautical miles for this leg: 53.43  Total: 11,147
Departed at 6:45am, arrived at 3:15pm

                    “Isla Guilligan”                                                 The lagoon – donde esta Ginger y Mary Ann?
                   View across the bay                                                   Is the skipper brave and sure?
                                                         The grounds at the Copamarina Resort

We dropped Little Blend and went off to explore Gilligan’s Isle. There were only around twenty people visiting that day. As we were walking around, I somehow walked into a tree branch straight on that cut me through my hat. There was a lot of blood, and I was a little stunned, but the verdict was that it was a superficial cut – it was on the top of my head, of all places. After walking around the island, we rode over to the mainland to the pier and resorts. The main resort was the Copamarina, which had beautiful grounds, and a very nice restaurant for lunch. Tucked in to the east of the resort was the ferry dock, which is kind of a stretch. If I were on one of those boats, I would be thankful that the bay was completely protected – they didn’t look very seaworthy. We returned to the boat, raised the tender, and prepared for our overnight passage to Cap Cana in the Dominican Republic.

March 14th– 16th: Gilligan’s Isle – Marina Cap Cana, Dominican Republic

We left Gilligan’s Isle a little before 10PM that night to cross the Mona Passage to the marina south of Punta Cana. We were expecting pleasant weather. We cleared Cabo Rojo, the southwestern corner of Puerto Rico, around one in the morning. I was on watch, and as the light of Puerto Rico were fading, I was suddenly blinded by a spotlight from the port side. I had not noticed anything coming up on the radar, and there was nothing on AIS. The light turned off and on a few times, and I saw the boat with the light – it appeared to be a patrol boat. When it got close enough, I could see that it was a Policia boat, but they never hailed me. I stepped out of the pilothouse to show myself, but nothing happened. I was getting ready to hail them when they started dropping back, and finally moved off to the north I was guessing they were looking for smugglers or drugs, but it was very strange, and disconcerting. Later I saw lights in front of me that were unusual, not looking like running lights, and again, nothing on AIS like I would expect on a freighter I gave the lights a wide berth, but never figured out the source. These were eerie happenings, and I had no trouble staying awake that night.

In the morning, as we approached Cap Cana, the marina actually hailed us – a very rare occurrence. They gave us detailed instructions about getting into the channel, which was important since the marina was not on our charts. It was not that new, so I didn’t understand why it was not on the C-MAPS chart. It was on the Navionics chart on the tablet. The reason they hailed us was because there is a small boat harbor just to the north of the marina channel, and the entrance can be confusing. During our stay, we saw a couple of boats make that mistake. There are also significant reefs around the area, so caution was the order of the day. As we got closer, we heard the marina trying to contact another boat that was apparently close to the reef – they repeatedly hailed the boat in both Spanish and English, and finally got a response in heavily accented English after about ten hails.

We found our way into the channel, made all the much easier by following one of the many sport fishing boats operating out of Cap Cana. Once inside, we idled back to our slip, surrounded by a beautiful development of multi-story villas. Several dock hands helped us to tie up, and they said the officials would be coming to the boat. We had to wait about an hour, but finally the officials arrived: Coast Guard, drug enforcement, immigration, customs, and agriculture.  There were six of them. The process was smooth, if not a little time-consuming. The fees collected were $73 for the boat, and $18 each for a visa. We provided a “tip” of $30 for the group, although this is not required in a marina. After check-in, the dock guys took us to the marina office in a golf cart – it was a long way! When we finished at the office, he took us to the beach, which includes a small oceanfront pool and a restaurant / bar, and showed us the resort pools. He told us that we had the right to use one of the pools.

Position at destination: 18º30.123’N, 68º22.975’W
Air temp: 86, Humidity: 58%, Water temp: 81
Nautical miles for this leg: 96.69  Total: 11,244
Departed at 9:45pm, arrived at 1:30pm

March 16th – April 8th: Marina Cap Cana

We settled in for our stay at Cap Cana. Because we were well back in the marina with tall buildings between our slip and the ocean, we got very little breeze, so we would need to relay on the air conditioning a lot. There did not seem to be any showers on the property, or laundry facilities. When we asked about these, we got ambiguous answers. In theory, we could have gone to the bathrooms at the beach to use the showers, but that would entail long, hot walks. The wi-fi barely worked in the slip, so until we got a SIM card, we would need to use the marina office for anything other than reading text. The amenity score for the marina was pretty low, not nearly as convenient as the Puerto Bahia marina that we stayed in back in 2015. But, the area was stunningly beautiful, with brilliant white sand beaches and well-manicured grounds. There were few transients in the marina, as most of the boats are private or charter fishing boats. On our first day, we walked up to the beach bar, where we discovered the owner was a rum expert. He introduced me to Ron Barcelo Imperial, a single-barrel rum aged for at least ten years – it was fabulous. There was a small pool at the waterfront suitable for a freshwater dip. We talked with some American people that had a villa, and they really loved the place. We figured this was far better than hanging out in Patillas with Symbiosis. 😎 

     We followed the shark boat into the channel                    View of Cap Cana from the channel
            Looking down the entry channel                                                       Marina office
           Bad Girl, a resident megayacht                                                 The view from our slip
           The beach in front of Api restaurant
                           Dipping pool

Cap Cana is a very large real estate and tourist hotel development, covering over 6,200 acres. It is about 30km south of Punta Cana, known for its high-rise hotels and crowded beaches. Cap Cana contains numerous real estate developments, golf courses, restaurants, and of course, the marina. One day we rented a car and drove around the place. Surprisingly, the rental car was quite expensive, at $70 per day for a little beater. That’s serious money in the D.R. We drove up to Punta Cana to see the place, which is very touristy. We did find a great liquor store – Licormart. At a shopping mall, I found a kiosk where I could buy a Claro SIM card, but something got lost in translation – I wanted to know if I could recharge it online, and the sales guy said no, I would have to do it in person, which didn’t make sense to me. I did have to show my passport to get the card, which also seemed strange. We visited a pharmacy to stock up on inexpensive meds, and went to an upscale mall where we had lunch at an Outback. I said this place was touristy, and we hadn’t had an Outback steak in a couple of years, so don’t judge us! Before we returned, we stopped at the Super Pola grocery store, which was a great place to provision. Most of the restaurants near the marina were closed, or too hard to get too, so we almost always made dinner on board. There were no grocery stores near the marina, either. The bad part about staying there was the isolation.

Things were not going well with Symbiosis. The parts had been delivered to the machine shop, but there was no finish date. The mechanic didn’t have any sense of urgency, so we heard about creeping delays every couple of days. We had to change our schedule again, cutting out more of the D.R. stops, cutting back time in Haiti, and cutting back time in Jamaica, all in order to get to the Caymans to make our flight. After a couple of more weeks of delay, it was clear that we just could not make it to the Caymans by April 21st with Symbiosis. We did want to go to Haiti with them, so we decided to change our flights yet again to leave from Jamaica. We felt that was possible, providing that we leave Cap Cana as soon as Symbiosis arrived, and limited our time at Île-à-Vache to a couple of days. If we had to be stuck somewhere, Cap Cana was not a bad place to be.

We spent most days at the beach. We went to the main pool one day, but we were unceremoniously tossed out. We were told that the pool was only for residents and guests of the villas, not for marina scum like us. One evening just after dinner, we got a knock on the door, and the marina staff told us we were going to have to go to the office for an interview with the drug enforcement officials. We said that we had already cleared with them, but we were told we would have to go again, without a real explanation. There was another transient boat near us with a family of Russians on board that also had to go – very strange.

So, we were all carted up to the office, where several of the drug enforcement officials met us. They wanted to see our passports and clearance papers, and then they interviewed us about our voyage. When we finished our interview, they made us wait in the office until they finished with the Russians. We ended up being there for an hour, and I have no idea why.

We frittered away over three weeks at Cap Cana, but I can’t say that we did much, other than daily trips to the beach. We dropped the dinghy and went to the opposite side of the channel, where an all-inclusive resort was located. There were a few restaurants there, and we did have lunch one day. Other than the very busy resort across from the inlet, the place was largely deserted. It reminded us of Puerto Bahia, where there were rumors that the real estate was used primarily for money laundering – we could definitely believe that of Cap Cana. A dozen or so fishing boats seemed to be busy, but the stores were empty. The only grocery store on the property had been closed, as was a pizzeria. The lousy Internet service meant that we were using the phone as a web hub, and fortunately, I found a store across the channel where I could top it up, and I eventually figured out how to do it online. We were able to keep up with the Warriors games by streaming them. On the beach, Rosé was quite interested in collecting lots of small white shells, pictured here. We enjoyed the stay, but it was boring, with not much to do, and no people to do anything with. Scott finally reported that his engine was back together, and Symbiosis would be arriving in Cap Cana the morning of April 7th. We agreed that they would just stay the one night, and we would leave the following day for the port of Barahona near the Haitian border.

             Cocktails on the beach – every day                                                Our second home

                                                                      A picture perfect beach

                                                                        Adios to Cap Cana




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