Well… We completed another big passage for Party of Five. You see there is much debate about the best route to take from Florida to the Caribbean. Many believe the north cost of Dominican Republic should NOT be included in that route. Since the north coast of DR is completely exposed to the Atlantic ocean, there is 3200 miles of water that builds up swell before hitting the coast of DR. So even in moderate trade winds (14-17knots) the seas can build very large as the wind waves build on top of the ocean swell. Add the fact that the wind blows out of the east (on the nose) and you can see how challenging that passage can be.
There is obviously a safe way to transit the north of DR as we just completed it with 5 other boats. We used a technique that has been used for 1000s of years by boats much smaller and less sea worthy than ours. The technique involves only travelling at night and hugging the coast very closely. For anyone thinking of doing this passage I HIGHLY recommend buying the book “Passages South” by Bruce Van Sant. I’ve been told he is a true asshole in real life, but the data in his book is priceless!
Anyway.. So we left Luperon Friday night at about 6pm. Usually people following the “Night Lee” route will depart much later at around 11:00pm, but due to Dominican Republic bureaucracy the latest we could depart was 6pm. This meant that we would face some big(ish) seas and higher winds on the nose initially. This was absolutely true once we left the shelter of the bay. We started out quite far offshore as I still wasn’t comfortable running so close to shore, especially at night. It only took 2 10ft waves before I rapidly turned inland and began hugging the shore much closer. Even then, it was not a smooth passage. About 5 hours in, we all got on the VHF and began talking about our options. We originally planned to go to Puerto Rico or Samana (pronounced sa-MA-nah)non-stop, but that was looking insane with the wind and sea state. So we talked it over and decided our best bet would be to tuck into a small anchorage at Rio San Juan for the daylight hours and try to continue in the night to Samana. This meant we would need to seriously slow down as we didn’t want to reach the anchorage in the dark since our only charts were handwritten ones from Bruce Van Sant’s book. So slow down we did, sometimes only making 2.5 knots. We arrived in Rio San Juan with the sunrise and each took turns navigating the pass through the reef to the anchorage. It wasn’t a great anchorage as all of us had to try setting our anchor at least twice before finding good holding. However, by 8:30am all the boats were set and everyone had gone to sleep. Around 10:00am we were visited by the commedante who inspected our papers and shook our hands. For the first time in the DR, I was asked for a “gift”. The commedante asked for a gift for the fisherman that brought him out to our boat as he does not pay that fisherman. I gave them a bag of chocolate MMs I have been hiding from the kids and they seemed happy.
Later in the afternoon, after everyone had woke, we all got back on the VHF to discuss the weather and our planned route. We were having some concern as Chris Parker was saying we would be facing tough conditions (15-17knots gusting to 25) with big seas. Yet the other weather resources we consulted were saying we would have a much more settled trip (8-12knots gusting to 14), 3 foot seas. In the end, we decided to trust the other weather resources and head out at around 7:30pm to leave the reef cut in the last of the light.
We all headed out at 7:30pm and made our way slowly around the cape (Cape Francis Viejo) and into the open ocean. We took our time and stayed close to the shore hoping the wind would slow as the night progressed. Proceeding slowly allowed us to stay in the lee of the cape for the longest amount of time. Around midnight, we started a rhumb line to the final cape (if you look at a map, the final cape looks like a hand on the end of an arm). Around this time, the winds clocked out of the south and began to subside to about 8-10knots/hour. They stayed that way for the ENTIRE rest of the trip and we had a wonderful motor sail all the way into Samana. Unfortunately Chris Parker’s forecast sat in the back of my mind and kept me from putting up full sail. This meant I burnt much more diesel than I actually needed to. Oh well, we exercise extreme levels of caution with kids aboard.
Upon arriving at Samana, Rhonda and I discussed our options for staying. We could anchor for free, catch a mooring ball for cheap, or stay at a beautiful marina for a reasonable price. Once we found out the marina had 3 pools, unlimited hot water showers and full laundry services, the decision was easy. So now we are sitting at a marina at a 5 star resort ($300/night to stay in the resort) taking a vacation from our cruising lifestyle. Since its off season, they have pretty much given us free use privileges for everything, life’s rough. Check out the hotel here.
Rio San Juan from the water
The north coast of DR. As I said before the beauty can’t be captured in pictures.
Sunrises are magical times!
Living in the Ghetto now!