On this journey I have shared a lot about sunsets, beaches, meeting great people and the joy of exploring new places. Certainly, these are the highlights that keep us going. What I haven’t talked much about is the sometimes tough mental aspect of living and cruising on your boat. We have had small pockets of very stressful times (like our alternator alignment issues and our leaking bow thruster) but our more common angst is usually over weather. More correctly, about the weather we need to move further south safely and comfortably. Not everyone reads weather the same way and we are not always in sync with our boat buddies. This can be tough on us mentally, for sure. Being left behind is never fun. But Mike and I have always said that we don’t want to choose to be uncomfortable or unsafe, even if it means saying “see you later” to boating friends.
Most of the time we are just looking for great wind to be able to sail from place to place. These days, though, it is more about getting through some dicey passages with maximum safety, a little bit of comfort and with zero fear or seasickness. Yeah, it can get that bad. For us, we try to study the weather with no hidden agendas. We remove any inkling of a schedule or emotion. When the weather is great and we are well-rested, this is a super easy exercise. Let’s go! When the weather is really not great and is sprinkled with several bits of “maybe” and a few short hours of “pretty good”, but you have already been here for two weeks and all your other boat buddies have already left? Well, that’s when things get a little challenging. Being patient while waiting for the weather gods to cooperate is tough.
All of this is top of mind these days as we sit in Luperon, Dominican Republic. Our next passage is to go all the way east of the country to the town of Samana. From there, we will cross the Mona Passage to Puerto Rico. Both passages need a good long (24 hour) dose of mild weather. Unfortunately, the prevailing weather at this time of year is a strong E-NE wind that whips up every afternoon. Since we are travelling east, we would be travelling directly into it and the high waves and ocean swell that it generates. Yuck. One option is to just grin, bear it and get through. Our two boat buddies went with this option. Without going into details, lots of rocking, rolling and seasickness was part of both of their passages. The other option is to wait and wait and wait for a proper weather window where the wind is mild. These windows come around, only not often. We just need to be patient.
In the meantime, we are here in Luperon and very content actually. We have lots to do tinkering about town or on the boat. The food is delicious and cheap. Ocean has lots of access to shore, ocean swimming and attention from people and other dogs. And we have quite a few boating friends in the anchorage to share our stories, meals and even a beer or two. 😊
Click the link below to see where we are now!
We Are In The Dominican Republic!
Our last day in the Bahamas was an interesting one. We had staged our departure at a remote anchorage on the south shore of Great Inagua in order to shorten the distance we would have to travel to Luperon, Dominican Republic. Instead of 160 nautical miles, we were now looking at 147 nautical miles. This would shave 3 hours off our trip and allow us to leave at daybreak, instead of in the middle of the night. We were thankful for our decision the next morning as we started weighing anchor. Our anchor chain had wrapped itself around a coral head and refused to budge. The only thing we could do was to try to unwrap the chain by moving the boat back and forth and sideways, all while trying not to hit the coral head. Half an hour later...success! This was stressful enough in the daylight - I couldn't imagine the stress if we were trying these maneuvers in complete darkness.
Thankfully, our passage was a very easy one. This wasn't luck though. We spent many hours reviewing weather by ourselves, with our buddy boats and also via a phone call to expert weather forecaster Chris Parker at the Marine Weather Center.
We were able to sail for several hours before the wind turned directly at our bow, where it stayed for 20 hours of our 27 hour trip. To continue to sail would mean tacking the boat across the wind several times, adding many, many hours to an already long passage. So, on went the motor! The sea state was relatively calm for most if the passage, making us far more comfortable than on our last overnight run. This time we got to play some Backgammon and watch a few downloaded shows to pass the time. Fabulous! We did a two hour on and off watch cycle and it worked great since neither of us can naturally nap for more than an hour at a time while on passage. Oh, and we still had an almost full moon to light our way!
We saw the first signs of the Dominican Republic at daybreak. The beautiful trees and mountains are such a contrast to the flat terrain of the Bahamas! Winding our way into the harbour, we were immediately hailed on the VHF radio by a few boaters anchored in the harbour. They gave us the lay of the land and confirmed that they had already contacted the Armada (Dominican Navy) to come check us in. Another big difference between the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic! No computer apps here! In the Dominican you are boarded by the Armada who check your papers, take pictures of you and your boat and then give you clearance to go into Port to finish the check in process with Immigration, Customs, the Port Authority and the Department of Agriculture. Lots of steps but the offices are housed together, air conditioned and the friendly and smiling authorities were quite fine with Ocean being in their tiny 8 x 8 rooms. Easy and very welcoming!
After check in, we needed to go find SIM cards for our cell phones, which was perfect because it also gave us a chance to explore a bit of the town of Luperon. Only we didn't get very far. It was now almost noon and our tummies needed sustenance! We popped into a local eatery for lunch and a giant cerveza (beer) to celebrate our successful passage. It was a wonderful moment to share with our three buddy boats. We had traveled very successfully together throughout the passage, sailing almost in formation. We also took care of one another, checking in overnight and whenever anything notable occurred underway, like cruise ships passing by, moving into the Atlantic time zone, and when our buddy boat "That's It" caught a Mahi-Mahi fish. Oh, and also when they caught their second Mahi-Mahi! Yummy fish dinner coming up!
Luperon has held lots of surprises for us. Everything is super inexpensive (after the very pricey Bahamas, this was a huge delight). And, the locals do not speak any English. No worries, my basic Spanish plus lots of hand movements is getting us through! For Ocean, she has had to do her own acclimatization. Her two triggers in life are motorcycles and other dogs. With both, she must be reminded to stay calm. Well, in Luperon almost everyone gets around by motorcycle and there are stray dogs everywhere. Yikes! Strangely enough, Ocean is finding a nice balance through it all. There are so many motorcycles, she just learned to ignore them. And the stray dogs? They no longer find her interesting. After several days of walking around town, she has become "just another Luperon dog" to them. This isn't true for the locals though. Everyone is impressed with our perro muy grande (very big dog) and that she is a Pastor Aleman (German Shepherd). So much attention!
The next leg of our journey will be to sail to Semana on the east coast of the Dominican Republic. From there, we will await a weather window for crossing the Mona Passage to Puerto Rico. With the weather being wet and windy with high waves and swell for the next week, we will be staying put in Luperon. We are happy though! It will give us a chance to explore the country from our safe and comfortable home base in Luperon.
Click the link below to see where we are right now!
Clarence Town, at the southeast end of Long Island, Bahamas, is a quiet and almost empty little town. It has a small general store where we could get bread and a few shelf-stable groceries but no fresh produce or dairy. There are also a few restaurants on the island and a fairly large marina/resort. Besides the marina, the most active area in town was the government dock. Every Monday, the mail boat arrives at the dock but by Wednesday all of the fresh items not snapped up by locals and cruisers are shipped off to other parts of Long Island. We arrived on Wednesday, sigh.
Our time in Clarence Town was mostly preoccupied with passage planning. The wind, waves and ocean swell were too lively for us to travel before the weekend but the forecast showed that on Sunday or Monday a possible window was opening up to go from Clarence Town to the northwest side of Crooked Island, south to the tip of Acklins (both 7 hour day hops) and then to make the big jump over to Great Inagua. This last bit is about 85 nautical miles so it would mean doing our first overnight sail. We wanted to get our weather window right to make it as safe and comfortable as possible.
We spent many hours studying the weather and discussing options with our boat buddies, Kemana and Kesh. Our weather window for the last two legs of our journey looked great but the wind direction for travelling to Crooked Island, our first leg, wasn’t good at all. Our solution? We decided to cut out those first two legs. The wind was perfect for going straight from Clarence Town to Great Inagua in one big 27-hour sail. This option looked so good, we even picked up a fourth boat for our pod. “That’s It!” a 47-foot Catalina from Canada (also going to Grenada) would be travelling with us.
Monday morning, we weighed anchor at 0700 and set sail. We were excited. Our first passage that included an overnight sail was underway.
We had a beautiful sail from Clarence Town and up to the southwest tip of Acklins. It was one tack and we hit speeds of 8.7 knots. So far, the trip was fun and easy 😊.
But, once we cleared past Acklins Island, we were in the open Atlantic. The wind speed kept its steady 18 to 20 knots but the waves and swell increased significantly. We were rocked and rolled over and over. It was now 1900 hours. Nighttime had arrived. Thankfully, we had an almost full moon illuminating the ocean. Both Mike and I stayed in the cockpit all night, trading off shifts at the helm. Every two hours, one of us would monitor the dashboard and the other would sleep. Our automatic pilot did all the steering. Our pup Ocean stayed in the cockpit with us all night, sleeping the whole time. What a great sailing pup!
During the night, the rocking from the swells was uncomfortable, for sure, but we got used to the motion. Well, except for the really big swells that would hit the boat broadside every minute or so. Yeesh. Movement during those times was impossible without getting launched sideways. We were safely tethered though so no midnight swims!
When the sun peaked out at 0600, we could see Matthew Town and all was right with the world. We had done it! Our first overnight sail in the open ocean. We were anchored at Matthew Town at 0700 on Tuesday morning, a full three hours earlier than planned. A sweet treat was a solo dolphin that greeted our arrival and hung around while we finished anchoring. Ocean loved the little guy! Our three other buddy boats arrived at the anchorage shortly thereafter.
Matthew Town was wonderful. Ocean was a hit, once again, with the locals. People love her sunglasses! Besides exploring, we picked up a few necessary grocery items for the next overnight leg. We learned that you have to have food at the ready (cooking and moving around the boat is extremely difficult on a passage) so we grabbed more granola bars, muffins and easy to make instant soups. The most interesting errand of the day, however, was getting fuel. Matthew Town doesn’t have a proper fuel dock. Instead, you call a guy and he brings fuel to the dock. So, we called “the guy” and he said he was out of fuel until at least the weekend. “No, no” we were told, “You called the wrong guy. Call this guy.” Called the “other guy” but same answer. No fuel until at least the weekend. George the Harbourmaster then came up with a third guy to call. Well, three times is the charm! This guy arrived at the dock in his car and took all of us to his place of business in town to get the pre-ordered fuel needs for all four boats. While he topped up our jerry cans, we learned that his place of business doesn’t just do fuel top ups. No, he also runs a bar, restaurant, liquor store, hair salon, ice cream parlor, contracting work and a radio station in the same building. Now that is multi-tasking!!
Although Matthew Town is an inviting little Bahamian town, our main focus was to rest, get a few necessary groceries, fuel-up and get going to the Dominican Republic. We have a beautiful weather window opening up for Friday and want to make sure we are ready to go. Wednesday was busy with preparations and also moving the boat to the south shore of Great Inagua to shorten the distance to Luperon. By staging the boats at Lantern Head, our trip becomes 147 nautical miles, almost three hours shorter. We can’t wait!!
Click the link below to see where we are right now!
On The Move Again
Our two weeks in George Town were really wonderful. It is a fun place to hang out for a bit, especially with our buddy boats also being in town. We arrived in George Town with Steve from Lola, and about a week later Ted & Evelyn (Sensai) also arrived. Fabulous!
Lucky enough, the George Town Regatta was also on during our stay in George Town. This annual festival is an event-filled, well-organized week of activities. There was always lots to do – sailboat races, a dinghy poker run, various on-shore games and this is in addition to the usual sundowner get-togethers, pig roasts and volleyball games.
We got to watch a lot of activities but we were also busy doing our own thing - exploring George Town and Stocking Island, relaxing on the numerous beaches and going into town for a late afternoon beer ($2 for a Sands beer – the cheapest we have seen!). We were also able to get a few grocery and liquor items at far better prices than we had seen in the Exumas. The only issue was availability. Both George Town supermarkets regularly ran out of fresh vegetables, bread and snacks but with over 350 boats in the harbour, it is not a surprise that they might run out of a few things!
During the second week, Steve’s daughter Val also arrived (by plane) for a one-week vacation aboard Steve’s boat Lola. What a great time! We got to take her to some of the great George Town beaches, and she got to enjoy some of those Regatta activities. We even had an amazing birthday dinner for her at the Exuma Yacht Club. Best sushi ever!
But the days went by quickly. On Tuesday, Val’s flight was set to take her back to snowy Ottawa and Wild Horses had a plan to weigh anchor and head further south. So, the day before departure, we decided to fit in one more beach day and a great walk through the Art Trail. But the best part was a farewell show put on by two playful dolphins. These lovely creatures found their way into the harbour and, from our dinghies, we watched in awe as they played around the bow of a catamaran, rubbing their noses on the anchor line and swimming with two divers who were cleaning the bottom of the boat. It was spectacular.
On Tuesday February 28th, we said our very sad farewells to Lola and Sensai and weighed anchor. We needed to get going in order to take advantage of a nice weather window to start our journey further south to the outer Bahamas. Both Lola and Sensai were going to stay in George Town a few more days, and then start to head back north. They both have lots of time left in the Bahamas but this will be their turnaround point.
From George Town, we crossed over to Long Island and then up and over the top of Long Island to make our way to Clarence Town, which is on the southeast side of Long Island. From this point, we will have easy access to the Crooked Islands, Acklins Island and then onto Great Iguana, which will be our final spot in the Bahamas. From Great Iguana, we will travel approximately 160 nautical miles (30+ hours) to the Dominican Republic. But we won’t be travelling alone. We have two new buddy boats! We met both boats in George Town and planned a route and timing to get to the Dominican Republic. Matt (from Kesh) will be joining us only to the Dominican Republic but Pam and Kim (from Kemana) will be going all the way to Grenada, just like us. It is a great group and we have enjoyed our first few days sailing together.
This sailing gig is a funny thing. Lots of adventures, beautiful vistas and great food. And you get to share it with really great people you meet along the way. Having to move on without them and saying “until next time” is always hard but, without it, you don’t get to say “well, hello again!”. Until we meet again Sensai and Lola!
Victoria is a hiker, dog-lover, blog writer and planner extraordinaire. Oh, yeah and she is kind of fond of living on a boat.