This is the first blog post that I have written while we are underway to a new port. Normally, the seas have lots of swell (creating an uncomfortable washing machine-like experience), or I am busy assisting with the sails or it is nighttime. With those conditions, writing is just not tenable so I always wait until we are settled in our new anchorage. Today, however, the sea conditions are almost flat and the wind is non-existent. The sails are all tucked away while we motor from the port of Samana to the port of Luperon, both in the Dominican Republic.
Even though we are moving within the same country, “clearing in” and “clearing out” is required. This is one of the unique aspects of the Dominican Republic that makes it both very interesting and extremely annoying.
Every country requires that you “clear in” when you arrive in its territorial waters and “clear out” when you leave. It is sometimes an easy process (like in the French Caribbean countries) and sometimes long and tedious (like it is in Antigua). Sometimes you require on-line pre-clearance, sometimes you only clear in on-line but, most times, we have to get into our dinghy with our big bundle of boat and pet documents and present ourselves in person in front of Customs & Immigration. How do we know which process to use for each country? We usually google it. Noonsite, which houses a lot of cruiser information, is a good source as is the country’s government site. The vessel documents are nothing special. All countries, as a minimum, need to see the passport for all crew and passengers as well as our boat registration. The documents and the process for our pet dog Ocean are another beast. Check here for those requirements.
And then there is the Dominican Republic. There is one extra step in this country, and it’s a big one. It is the Armada (aka The Navy). When we arrive in the Dominican Republic, it is the Armada we see first. They board the vessel and provide the okay to proceed with Customs, Immigration and Agriculture. And when you want to leave the country? You must get a Despacho (clearance paper) from the Armada. Actually, Despachos are required for all movements of your vessel, even if you are just going to another port.
These Despachos and the rules around them are serious business. The Armada must be notified 24 hours before your departure. Once you receive your Despacho, you are required to leave the port within a few hours (every other country gives you 24 hours to leave). Despachos must be presented to any agent of the Armada who requests it. Oh, and being given a Despacho is not a right. The Armada decides if they will allow you to leave. You decide Tuesday looks like a good day to go sailing and you want to leave at 5am? The Armada can and do say “no”. Certainly, all departures from a port and all arrivals into a port must be done between 6am and 6pm, as per Dominican Law. But even if you change your departure time to 7am, they can still say “no”.
It all sounds very authoritarian but, actually, it is a safety measure to protect vessels and their crew. They want vessels to arrive and depart from ports only in the daylight, where all obstacles can be easily seen by the Captain. They also want you only to travel when the weather is good. Yes, the vessel Captain should be able to make this call, and not the Armada, but I guess when your Coast Guard keeps having to save vessels in distress off your rough northern and eastern coasts, you pretty much want to stop mariners who think they can better the weather and the sea. The issuance of the Despacho also gives the Armada a chance to prevent piracy. They want to know where you are going so that they can counsel you about dangerous anchorages or known piracy issues.
At 9am this morning, Wild Horses was granted its Despacho from the Armada to move from Samana to Luperon, as did our boat buddies on Rode Trip, Caretta and That’s It. The process took a good hour but with Despachos in hand, we headed out of the Puerto Bahia marina harbour at 10am. This was our second marina this week, as we had first cleared into the Dominican Republic at the Cap Cana marina further south on the Dominican Republic’s eastern coastline. There are very few anchorages on the east coast and all have reputations for minor theft. It was an easy decision to stay at marinas.
While staying at the Puerto Bahia marina, we rented a car for a day with our boat buddies on Rode Trip and Caretta and took a drive into the towns of Samana and Las Terrenas. The towns were beautiful but the traffic was a bit crazy. We thanked our lucky stars that our boat buddy Steve from Rode Trip offered to be the driver for the day. Even with motorcycles and scooters and cars (and horses!) darting about from all directions, he managed to get us safely to and from the marina. Thank you Steve!
Our trip to Luperon will take us around the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic and then west along its northern coast. When all is said and done, the passage should be about 24 hours. It is a long trip but the weather so far has been lovely, despite not having enough wind to sail. Even better, we have already had a pod of dolphins playing off our bow and a few humpback whales swam in front of our boat buddy Caretta for about 15 minutes. Saying it was mesmerizing would be an understatement.
On Monday morning, February 5, we will arrive in Luperon harbour after several weeks of almost constant travel, mostly overnight. We are tired, for sure, and Luperon will be a great place to rest for a bit before we start our passage north to the Bahamas.
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Victoria is a hiker, dog-lover, blog writer and planner extraordinaire. Oh, yeah and she is kind of fond of living on a boat.