We have arrived in Luperon DR! This was a major step for us the passage between TC and DR is considered one of the most difficult. It certainly wasn’t an uneventful passage, so here is the story.
After motoring across the Turks and Caicos bank, we sat in South Caicos (Cockburn Harbor) for a few days with our eyes to the weather. Originally 3 boats crossed the bank (Party of Five, Smitty and Sea Frog) but were eventually joined by 3 more (Sea Squirrel, Odoya and Notre Voyage). All the boats shared weather and opinions each day as we all contemplated the best weather window to make the jump. Unfortunately it looked like we would not be presented with an easy crossing as no “perfect” weather window was predicted in the foreseeable future. Even the professional weather router (Chris Parker) was unsure of the best window and suggested we should wait. To complicate the issue, Turks and Caicos only gives cruisers 7 days or we get “punished” by another $150 fee. So if waited over 7 days we would all have to pay another $150 each ($150 X 6 = $900, crazy). However, we all agreed that $150 wasn’t worth the price of a hellish passage and potential damage to our boats. In any case, we consulted a bunch of different sources of weather and came to the consensus that Saturday-Sunday presented the best window to make the crossing. The waves were bigger than most of us liked, but we wouldn’t have to motor straight into the wind! Since the passage was 100 miles and we plan at 5mph it was predicted to take about 20 hours to make the crossing. With that in mind, we decided a noon departure would give us the best window to arrive in the DR during daylight hours. Saturday at noon was departure time.
Departure time arrived and 5 of the 6 boats pulled anchor and headed out. Unfortunately Odoya had eaten something that didn’t agree with him on the previous day so he opted to stay (Odoya is the boat name, the Captain is Fabio). Once we exited the harbor, it was evident this was going to be a pretty unpleasant passage. The waves were 4-6 feet and very sharp with a short period and confused (meaning they were breaking and coming very often from multiple different angles). We all pointed to a Cay that was about 25 miles away that is at the absolute furthest east point in the Turks and Caicos. This would give us a ditch point if the waves proved too much and we decided to call off the run. All the boats checked in about every 2 hours to get opinions and moral support. We eventually got to the “Go, No Go” point and all decided that although it was uncomfortable we would continue. We hoped the waves would flatten once we got away from the TC bank and it would be more comfortable. After a few more hours, that turned out to be true, but the waves grew in size to a consistent 6 feet with the odd 8-9 footer.
This is when the “May Day” call happened. Although the words May Day were not actually said, it was very obvious that the situation we serious. Notre Voyage came on the radio to inform everyone that they were taking on water and may need to abandon if they couldn’t get it under control. One hull had already filled 1/2 way (it’s a catamaran) and they were having trouble discovering the leak! Now, dear reader, I want you to pause for a second and consider the situation.
You are in a boat 40 miles from the closest land taking on water. You are standing in water knee deep trying to determine where the water is entering the vessel. There are 3 other boats within visual range, but the closes is about 4 miles away (at least 1/2 hour at full speed). The waves are large and your boat is bouncing around making it even harder to locate said leak…. Sound Scary? Sure as hell does to me!
At this point, 3 boats diverted course to intercept the stricken vessel (this was not the best decision as now 4 boats were banging around in big seas not making progress). Like I said earlier, it took us 1/2 hour to arrive at the stricken vessel so we used that time to make suggestions to 1 crew member while the other searched for the leak. It was frustrating as we could only make obvious suggestions but hoped the suggestions would add some calm straight forward thinking to the situation (i.e. look for a leaking through hull, look at all the hoses for one leaking, ect). About 3/4 of the way to the boat, the captain reported that he may have found the leak but one complete hull had filled to the bridge deck. He wouldn’t know if the whole problem was solved until the hull was pumped out. Unfortunately this was WAY too much water for a small bilge pump to evacuate and it kept plugging with things that were floating around in the hull. We suggested a bucket brigade as 2 people using buckets could move 5 times as much water as the little bilge pump. The crew quickly employed the suggestion and had the hull mostly cleared in about 1/2 hour. With the hull cleared, they were able to confirm that the leak had indeed been solved. CRISIS ADVERTED! Everyone breathed a sigh of relief as we couldn’t imagine trying to get 2 people off of a boat in those seas. It would have been super dangerous.
With the crisis behind us the 4 boats set a course for Luperon. Unfortunately we were now at a very bad angle to the wind and our progress was slowed. We also tried to stay close to Notre Voyage in the event the the problem had not been fully resolved. Since we were at a bad angle to the wind and waves, the passage also become rougher. This is the point where 2 of our 3 kids succumbed to sea sickness. It was a bitter sweet moment. On one had a boat had been saved, but on the other we were making slow painful progress with 2 kids puking. Ahh the joys of cruising life!
We medicated the kids and made the best out of the situation. We put the kids to bed early and Rhonda and I sat down for a few of games of Crib before our night routine started. During night passages, we take 2 hour shifts that start at 10:00pm (Rhonda 10-12, Travis 12-2, Rhonda 2-4, Travis 4-6). Before 10pm we both ensure that someone does a lookout every 15 minutes and share the responsibility. Rhonda’s initial shift was very uneventful and we were making good progress towards Luperon. Once my shift started, the squalls started. The 4 boats were on the radio using radar to do our best to avoid the squalls and storms that were all around us. At one point during this period, a lightening bolt struck the water right between Smitty and Party of Five. I think both Jesse and myself need a break to change our shorts after that! However, we did a pretty good job of dodging as we only got smacked by rain and high winds for about 20 minutes. My whole shift was spent dodging squalls and by the time Rhonda came on, the skies were clear again.
My final shift of the night was not only uneventful but was one of my favorites. Not only do I get to see a glorious sunrise but I spotted land at the end of my shift, a glorious sight. The seas were still pretty big and our angle to the wind was still not optimal but we were making good time under motors and reefed (fully) mainsail. After my shift was over, I spent the next 3 hours making water and watching movies while Rhonda guided the boat towards the entrance to Luperon harbor. Upon arriving at the channel, I decided Rhonda should bring the boat in as it would give her great practice and build her confidence. Using Bruce Van Sant’s visual references and some GPS co-ordinates as backup, she did a great job 3/4 of the way in. Unfortunately she ran off track before the end and got flustered making it impossible to get back on track. The boat was never in danger, but I took over as we all wanted to be tied up at this point. I will caveat this by saying that the entrance to Luperon is VERY difficult and about 1 in 3 boats run aground on their first time.
We tied up at a $2/night mooring ball, opened some beers, and celebrated making it this far!
The Weather Huddle at the store where the only internet connection was available.
Enjoying the ride and tending the fishing rod!
$2/Day for a mooring ball, but they pack em in here. Smitty’s dinghy is almost touching our boat when we swing!