Category Archives: Caribbean & Bahamas

Passage to the Bahamas

Crossing from the Dominican Republic to the Bahamas…today has been an interesting day. We stopped last night to anchor at Turks and Caicos. We didn’t check in, we just “Q-flagged through.” That is, we kept up our yellow Q flag to indicate that we had not cleared, and we simply anchored without leaving the boat. “Provo Radio” contacted us as we approached, and told us to call once we were anchored to give them identifying information about the boat and crew. When we called, they said to stand by on channel 16, and then they never got back to us.

We waited until 8am to leave, so we could see the coral heads on our way out. Turks and Caicos is essentially the same geography as the Bahamas, with miles of very shallow water surrounded by extremely deep water. Navigating the shallow banks can be rather stressful, and requires good visibility to see the coral. We called Provo Radio again as we were getting underway, and told them we never connected to give them our vessel information. They said to stand by on channel 16, and…you guessed it…they never got back to us.

In any case we are now in Bahamian waters, but we have not yet stopped anywhere to clear in. Our tentative plan had been to clear in at Mayaguana, but we would have arrived there around dusk, would have had to anchor and wait for daylight to dodge the coral close to town, then clear in, and most of the day would have been gone. It feels like we’ve been heading for the Bahamas for a long time, and we are running out of time to enjoy the area, so we decided to keep going through the night and get closer to the Exuma Islands, where we hope to relax a bit.

The day has been nearly picture perfect, running under spinnaker with almost no waves, but also with not much wind. For a large portion of the day our speed was under five knots, and sometimes under four. I was getting frustrated that we were going so slow and we have so little time before the crew leaves, and I was thinking about just wanting to get home and relax and not be dealing with boat problems (like the last good burner on our stove no longer working reliably!).

Then we caught a mahi mahi, and this seemed to change everything! Believe it or not, it is the first mahi mahi we have landed on the entire voyage. Some time ago we hooked one, but we failed to bring it aboard. That really upset me, and the thought that we might not catch a single mahi mahi on an entire circumnavigation did not sit well with me. But this one was a beauty, and we now have lots of my favorite fish in the freezer as well as in our bellies.

But the interesting part is that somehow after catching the fish my outlook was entirely changed. Instead of feeling like we have time pressure to get somewhere, I felt like we are already “here.” Gliding slowly along on a perfect day, not exactly sure where we are going or when we will arrive, just feeling like we are in the perfect place, content, with everything we need for now. Including a delicious dinner shared with good company, an empty horizon, a flat sea, a pleasant spinnaker breeze, a crescent of moon, and stars already brilliant that will become even more so on my watch after the moon sets.

Ocean World Marina in the Dominican Republic
We never made it to the casino (nor do I have clothes to get in).

Here is a link to a video Nora took of our successful fishing. It’s pretty slow at first, but just wait until Steve wakes up and expresses his opinion about our catch!

Thank you, beautiful and tasty fish.

Dominican Republic

I liked Boqueron, Puerto Rico, and if we didn’t have a tight schedule I would have stayed and let the messy weather pass. But off we went, motoring. Not unpleasant, initially. But as we got offshore the swells built, squalls came and went, and at times the wind blew…dead against us even though we are “supposed” to be in favorable trade winds. There was a major depression just north of us (close enough to see the lighting over the horizon). Not conditions for a happy crew!

All the motoring was raising a question as to whether we had sufficient fuel. I “answered” that question by forgetting to turn off a fuel transfer pump, resulting in our pumping maybe 10 gallons overboard through the tank vent! Crap!

Between needing a break and needing fuel, we headed for the Dominican Republic after all. We had heard that Ocean World Marina was a good destination — a modern marina (showers), easy customs clearance with no bribes, and fuel would be readily available. Those three pluses turned out to be accurate. But this place has some major minuses, too. It is a resort and theme park. Music plays constantly, occasionally nice most mostly bad. We get to hear the overly enthusiastic announcer for their dolphin and sea lion shows thrice daily. It is a playground for the wealthy, with a casino and a cigar lounge and a Las Vegas style night club show. Not much connection to the larger community (other than providing jobs, of course). And maybe if the place were busy and thriving I would get into the spirit; but it is nearly empty. Huge docks designed for superyachts are bare. The terrace lounge has seating for a hundred or more, four seats in use.

At least we got to take a run into the nearby town of Puerto Plata. The supermarket offers pickup/delivery for us to shop there. Of course they are thinking we will be doing major provisioning, but we did that in PR since we didn’t plan to stop here. Still, we bought more food. But the highlight was our driver taking us the scenic route through the historic district, past the oldest cathedral in the DR, and allowing us to stop at the local produce market (after we had already bought all we needed at the supermarket).

Oh well…the people are friendly, and it’s fun to speak a little Spanish again.

Our fuel tanks are full. Our water tanks are full. Our freezer is full. Our counters are full of the produce and other items that won’t fit in the full lockers. In the morning we set out once again for the Bahamas. The wind will still be against us initially, but it is predicted to veer favorably by nightfall. And it should be sunny and pleasant except for some lingering swell from the distant gale.

Besides a hot shower, there was another highlight yesterday. I got an email from a student at Yale who was preparing for mock treaty negotiations in a climate law class. She is representing Tuvalu against the industrialized powers, and her web search took her to my posts from Tuvalu, especially the last one where I wax philosophical about the conundrum of climate change and climate refugees. I went back and read my own post (https://zekethesailor.net/2015/07/), and it made me cry. That time was so long ago and far away…and that post was so close to my heart…and that was when sailing the Blue Planet Odyssey included a bigger purpose…

Puerto Rico

From Lameshure Bay on St John we sailed to Culebra, an island at the east end of Puerto Rico — one of what’s often called the Spanish Virgin Islands. I liked the harbor at Culebra. It was big, with boats from all over the world, and there was a nice bar/restaurant called the Dinghy Dock — what could be more welcoming than that! Steve has vacationed in Culebra several times, so he rented a car for us and played tour guide, taking us to see the beautiful beaches.

Then to “mainland” PR. We anchored off a cayo (cay; islet) with a marina, but the marina turned out to be for condo residents, offering no services for us. So we moved to Sunbay marina right on the mainland. Dinner ashore, showers, trash disposal, water and electricity. At Nora’s suggestion we rented a Jeep for a day and drove up to the El Yunque national rainforest. The visitor center alone was very impressive — a huge structure nestled peacefully into the forest. If this is our tax dollars at work, I think it is money well spent. We hiked in to a waterfall for a high pressure shower.

Leaving the forest we decided to drive to San Juan, and explore some of the old city. El Morro fort, that guards the harbor entrance. And a walk through some of the old/chic streets to a good restaurant. Fun day!

In the morning we had to get going because it was 40 miles to the next good anchorage. A lot of motoring in light winds to Puerto Patillo. Pleasant anchorage. Then another 30 miles under spinnaker to Caja Los Muertos, an island park which could be translated as “coffin” or “dead mans chest”… Pretty place with a nice walk to an old lighthouse at the summit. We met a ranger ashore, and I tried to connect with some humor that was not well received. But Steve brought up the subject of baseball, and suddenly we were all good buddies.

In the morning another 30 mile spinnaker run to Mata La Gata, which might be translated as “kill the cat.” Nora had a recommendation for this little cayo as a quiet place. But when we arrived there were many powerboats parked there and lots of partying going on. Turns out it was a holiday (Emancipation Day). We anchored away from the crowd, which was all gone by dusk. We had a blustery but peaceful night.

Next day we had a pleasant sail around the SW corner of Puerto Rico, and up the west coast a little to Boqueron. Beautiful big calm bay, with room for hundreds of boats; not more than a dozen anchored when we arrived. We headed ashore and connected with a taxi driver (Steve made another baseball buddy), who took us to Mayaguez to the customs office to clear out. Puerto Rico doesn’t require that we clear out, but the Bahamas will want to see a clearance when we arrive. So we requested a “courtesy clearance.” The officer asked when we were leaving, wrote the date/time on an empty form, stamped it, and said, “Fill it out before you get there!”

After lunch we bought groceries and diesel, and in the evening we went back ashore in search of dinner. We met the crews of two other boats on the dinghy dock, and we all dined together. Wayne is a singlehander from Texas, who had an amazing story to tell of losing his boat in a hurricane off Key West, and being rescued by helicopter. He says a screenplay has been written about the tale, and it may turn into a movie soon.

Lyndon and Lisa are sailing an old Hinkley 42 named Moon, and I found them both to be delightful. Lyndon is an ecology scientist/mathematician, team leader and expert witness, and conducts his business from the boat. He had a lot to tell us about fish feeding behavior, and how and where to catch mahi mahi. And even though Steve bought two fancy new lures today, Lyndon has offered to supply us with a “hoochie” (lure “squid” or skirt) in the morning that WILL work! Lisa is taking a 3 year sabbatical from her nursing career. I would love to meet with them again, but we are sailing in opposite directions. Maybe Hallie and I will visit them in Seattle in a year and a half, when they plan to return there.

So we go in the morning. The weather is messy, and it will probably be a lot of motoring initially. We may stop at Isla Mona tomorrow, half way to the Dominican Republic. But we are not planning to stop in the DR because we haven’t enough time to do everything. We need to get to the Bahamas!

All in all, Puerto Rico has provided some very nice cruising, and has exceeded my expectations.

Parked at the end of the street at Culebra
One of several great beaches on Culebra
El Yunque visited center
There was a tree frog in there!
View from the rainforest
Hiking to the falls

Nora is in!
Observation tower

Approaching El Morro fort

Where to next…?
I found this monument, well, unusual!
Old San Juan

Off to Puerto Patillo, rain squalls here and there
Steve likes to capture 360 degree photo sets, to post on Google Earth
Mr Moose is a traveling companion of Steve’s, and he likes to get in the pictures.
Caja Los Muertos

View from the top
Local fauna
Reminds me of the old Arizona Sunsets magazines my family used to have.

School of fish off the dock
Even more fish off the dock