Monday, March 23, 2015

Escaping the DR - Crossing the Mona Passage

This was by far one of the more challenging passages we completed. We left Luperon at 1 pm after going through the complex clearing out process. I had to first talk with immigration, then pay my fees at the port authority, track down the Commadante for his signature and finally get exit papers from an office I never heard of. After spending my last pesos on rum and beer, we rolled up Tater Tot, put him on deck and were off.   

The first leg of the trip we were able to sail from Luperon to Sosua before tacking. The wind died off due to the katabatic wind effect (the air dropping off of the high mountains of the DR) and we motorsailed the next 12 hours around Cabo Marconis and Cabo Frances Viejo. We encountered a squall in the morning and then continued motorsailing another 12 hours to Cabo Samana. Since we haven't sailed in about a month and a half, the motoring was a shock to our system and the decision was made to pull into Samana to anchor for the night and get some much needed sleep. 

We picked out an anchorage (Punta Cacao) to stop for the night. The anchor was dropped  around 8:30 pm, and while backing down on the anchor it really dug in to something. Next step was to inflate Tater Tot and row Bela into shore to find some facilities for her since she held everything for 32 hours by this point. I surfed tater tot on a wave up to shore in the dark and was immediately approached by a few men saying that it was better to pull into Bahia Samana. I told them we would be going to the Marina early in the morning and that we just needed to get some sleep for the night. They said it was a dangerous spot to anchor and were asking how many people were on the boat. I walked away, Bela did her business and just shoved off with tater tot while trying to avoid the men. It was a restless night, but we slept much better than if we were motoring all night.

The next morning, Allyson had the honors of rowing Bela to shore, she was being stared at by the fishermen as she surfed her wave up to shore sideways, almost getting swamped. No one offered a hand. After Bela's last walk in the DR, we arrived at the unanimous decision - get the hell out of the Dominican Republic! Not wanting to deal with any Commadante, Immigration, Port Authority, Ministry of Agriculture etc... we just weighed anchor and pointed towards Puerto Rico. Of course the anchor chain was wrapped around some sort of wreck at the bottom of the cove, at this point I was thinking about just ditching the anchor and 200ft of chain just to get out of there. Luckily it was only wrapped around once and motoring over the structure and pulling on the chain we were able to free ourselves. 

Motoring out of Samana we saw a breaching whale almost launching itself clear out of the water. We had quite the show. The motorsailing continued for another 8 hours. We were able to sail for a couple hours and then the motor was turned back on to get us to point just north of hourglass shoal. Not really a shoal you can run aground on since it's about 200-500ft deep, but it mind as well be a thin film of water compared to the 28,000ft deep Puerto Rican trench (the deepest hole in the Atlantic) directly next to it. The Atlantic waters are pushed up from the deep over this shoal causing waves to jump up off the surface of the ocean. Getting caught on the shoals in rough weather is not advisable. As we skirted the shoal in the 800-1200 ft section the waves were from every direction, aka the washing machine effect. It only lasted about 30 minutes and not terribly dangerous in 10-15kts of wind but uncomfortable non the less. 

Moral was dropping at this point, Bela was flopping around like a baby and only felt comfortable  sleeping wedged up against one of us. We kept on telling ourselves, "It's better than being stuck in Luperon... I think?" By dawn we were well clear of hourglass shoal and were able to sail towards Puerto Real for a whopping 5 hours. By this point we burned through 3/4 a tank of fuel. About 20 miles off of our destination the wind died completely. This time the engine starts for a couple seconds and then shuts off! Cranking it over a few times confirms it wasn't a random problem. No white smoke was coming out of the exhaust, meaning no fuel is getting to the injectors. Luckily at this point the seas were almost flat and I had my morning espresso. So it was into the engine compartment to see what the problem was. The primary fuel filter, the injector pump and injector lines were completely full of air. After bleeding the fuel system, the engine started right up (A charter fisherman did do a drive by to see if there was a problem, but by that point it was already solved). It was also comforting to hear the Coast Guard making announcements on the VHF. I put the extra diesel on hand into the tank and we are heading towards our destination, almost there! 

Then, about 10 miles off of Puerto Real the wind picks up to about 15-20kts right from the direction we want to go, this happens to us every time we make a long passage. Since our engine only has 14hp, we have now resorted to motorsailing and tacking back and forth into short chop for the next 3 hours to reach the entrance of the harbor. Due to the high angle of heel, the chop and the low amount of fuel, the engine is doing some odd revving from 1800-2000 rpm on the port side tack. Fingers crossed we get within the lee of the island and the seas die completely.  A downpour comes through just as we are entering the harbor to thoroughly drench us before we tie off in Marina Pescaderia and call in to clear customs. Back in US territory and it never felt so good! 

Our last view of the deserted Luperon Yacht Club

 Such a great location, somebody should fix this place up.

 Isabela's last waltz on her home turf

 Jennifer and Bela exchanging goodbyes

 Our last stop to visit Kyle, Alicia and Isis on Summerwind

 The trip started off well enough, sailing at a close reach past Puerto Plata

 Morning Rainbows after passing Cabo Frances Viejo. This was the brightest one we've ever seen.

 Escape from Samana - Allyson rowing back with Bela after her last trip onto DR soil

 Punta Cacao - we found it frustrating that with a country so beautiful it was made difficult to explore by boat due to all the Officials generating paperwork and asking for fees. It looks like paradise but we didn't feel comfortable going to shore here. 

Isla Cayo Levantado as we motor out from Samana at 7 in the morning

 This breaching whale gave us quite a display as we motored out. The insane amount of noise from our 2-cylinder engine kept him at a safe distance. Actually, he was likely trying to escape the noise we were generating underwater.

 Bela was not liking the movement of the boat, you can see it in her eyes.

Still moving off the coast of the DR - we actually might be sailing at this point. Following the last night of motorsailing we were too busy and tired to pick up the Camera. Who wants to see pictures of diesel soaked rags anyway?

Right now we are still in Puerto Real, at Marina Pescaderia eating great food, drinking Modella Lights, using our US cell phone plans and getting Sarah back in order. I think it's time for an oil change

It took some coaxing to get her back onto the boat the first day 

Marina Pescaderia

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