I should explain the geography of this area; the Greater Antilles is made up of the larger – or greater islands including Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico, with a combined population of around 36 million people, while the Lesser Antilles, you’ve guessed it now, are the smaller islands from the US Virgin Islands all the way down to the Grenadines. Further south and to the west are the Netherlands Antilles, often called the ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao. So now you know where we are.
We flew home at the end of April for grandbaby number 4, Sydnei, our first granddaughter, and we decided to drive around the DR some more on the way to the airport. We began to feel like old pros- we didn’t get lost once! On the way to Santiago, we detoured to Luperon. We couldn’t say we’d visited the country as cruisers without at least visiting the cruisers’ town. A winding, pleasant drive took us several miles from the town of Imbert northward through the countryside towards the small coastal community of Luperon. The homes and little stores along the way were pleasant and tidy, the road smooth and well maintained – until we arrived at the town line. It looked as if a bomb had gone off. All the streets were gravel and potholed; the businesses looked as if the world had abandoned them, boarded up. Everyone stared at us as we passed in our little car as if we did not belong. Joy and I looked at each other and made a quick decision to turn the car around and head back to the highway. The concierge at Ocean World had told us we might not really want to go to Luperon town, and we believe she was right. Perhaps we misjudged the town; perhaps it is undergoing major restoration, perhaps, but it didn’t look like it. We’ve learned to trust our gut instincts, so we left.
Compared to Luperon, the entire area around Ocean World was like another planet. People laughed and smiled; everything was tidy; the air itself was fresh, sweet, and clean. Sure, Ocean World is a huge fantasy, but the people of the DR make the country what it is, and it is a country we’ll miss and hope to see again on the way back home.
We flew back to the Dominican Republic on May 2nd, and as soon as we arrived at the boat, we had an incredible forecast of favorable weather for our jump to Puerto Rico. As winds lightened to less than 10 knots, we quickly readied the boat, purchased last minute provisions, cleared Customs, and within a day we were ready to move on.
The northern DR coast can be intimidating; it certainly was for me. Van Sant’s guide cautions you to sail within a mile or two of the northern coast at night because the cool air from the mountains glides down to the sea in the evening and tempers or even cancels the day’s trade winds. There are no safe, all-weather harbors on the north coast except Luperon and Ocean World, and from Ocean World to Puerto Rico it is 230 miles dead into the trade winds. It is big, deep, North Atlantic water, and a windy, contrary coast, so you must carefully choose your weather. We left Ocean World at 1600, a few hours before dark, with a five day forecast of NE wind of 10 to 12 knots and nearly flat seas, more than enough time to make the entire trip. Joy prefers not to sail at night, but my promise to her was simple – you sleep at night, and I’ll sail!. And that’s how it worked. When a leg like this one required overnight time, I let Joy sleep if she wanted, and I sailed. It worked well, and if I needed her, she was always there, fresh and ready to help.
This leg took us along the north coast of the Dominican Republic and across the infamous Mona Passage, “Moaning Mona”, we called her, but Mona treated us well. We sailed southeast a mile or two off the DR coast until we reached the eastern tip of the island, then we headed east-northeast into big rolling swells to avoid the Hourglass Shoal which extends some 30 miles to the east of Cabo Engano. If you look at the charts, you notice the hourglass shape off the eastern tip of the DR is some 200 feet deep. How could this be called a shoal? Well, the Puerto Rican Trench to the northeast is thousands of feet deep, and all that rolling water piling up against the 200 foot wall acts no differently than water piling up against a rocky shore. It heaps up and rolls over anything in its way, including you, if you happen to be there. Many boats have lost their rigs or worse attempting to cross this body of water in contrary weather. We chose to skirt it to the north following Van Sant’s advice.
Just a quick photo above – when sailing at night or offshore, our standing rule is “Wear Your Harness”. We follow that rule regardless of the conditions, because if you go overboard with your partner napping and without the harness attaching you to the boat – you’re gone for good.
The Dominican Republic fades into the distance and we look to our second night sailing across the Mona Passage, then taking a turn south when we neared Puerto Rico sometime after midnight. We had acquired a cruising buddy, an Irwin 37 with two brothers aboard who had no charts of these waters. They had copied Lat/Lon Positions as waypoints by staring at Google Earth pictures on the internet! When we first encountered Jay and Chris on Breezy, they were sailing 7 miles off the coast, well to the north of us, when we heard their hail on the VHF. After they talked to us for quite a while they chose to follow us as long as possible. The stories we could tell.