Friday, February 26, 2016

We’re Learning

Dedicated fishermen
CRAZY!!!  The winds pounded us all night long.  Jezabelle was sick this morning after making it all day yesterday and the long night just past.  It’s been blowing twenty something gusting into the thirties.  I don’t know exactly how much because our anemometer died after the Derecho.  I didn’t get a lot of sleep… mostly I watched our track at on the iPad and dozed.  We might as well have been offshore. 

I spoke to Chris Parker again this morning and he keeps saying the wind is going to moderate.  We have our doubts but it only makes sense that if the wind is blowing from the north, we should be able to get closer to the mainland and find shelter with kinder seas. 

So we decided to go with Chris’s advice and leave Ile á Vache.  Our destination is 24 hours away.  The dinghy needed to be flipped over on the deck.  It was repaired yesterday and left upright but it can’t ride like that.  Figuring out how to flip it in this gale wind was fun.  We tied the front forward and raised the transom on a halyard.  Then with the wind as a hostile participant, we wrestled it around – almost losing Bruce overboard.  But we triumphed in the end and got it tied onto the foredeck properly. 

While all of this was going on, I glanced up and something caught my eye… Doux Doux.  He was struggling upwind in his little boat paddling frantically on one side and then the other with his meager stick.  Poor guy, what’s he thinking coming back here in this wind???  He eventually reached us and clung to the rails, breathing heavily.  It’s funny that with almost no common language we seem to do all right.  He handed up a bag and said (almost unintelligibly) Laundry.  They hadn’t brought all of our clothes back yesterday so he had to come out before we left this morning. 

It’s a good thing too as it was most of Bruce’s shorts that got left behind.  He had given his best shorts to Kiki to distribute to the boys.  We would have left here with only the shorts on Bruce’s butt!!! 

Our still-suspicious-American-hearts couldn’t help but think that they kept them on purpose but then felt bad juju when we paid them for not doing the laundry.  That or they tried them on and they were too big.  Haitians are skinny!  That rumor is no lie… So anyway we said our goodbyes and watched Doux Doux literally blow away…

Next up – another visit from Odelim and David.  They wanted to make sure we would tell people their names so that they could get work from other cruisers.  They were very sweet.  I think we’re going to keep in touch on Facebook!!

This shows our wobbly track leaving to the north
Well – with social hour done and the dinghy tied down, it was time to go.  I had a fair amount of anxiety about pounding across the Bay in 25 knots on the nose, but it had to be endured before it was to get better… and staying isn’t a good option.

If only I had known how much worse it would get.  Bruce had trouble getting the anchor onboard and fought with it for too long.  This involved some yelling, which had me frantically worrying that he had lost a leg.  I was literally straining my eyes expecting to see arterial blood spatters!

I couldn’t leave the helm because even at full throttle we were barely making 2-3 knots and the boat kept getting knocked sideways where we could not afford to be… Just at the point where I realized Bruce wasn’t bleeding, we got hailed on the VHF.  Bruce was still getting a douche as the bow rose and fell taking on water in the big waves.  But he did not seem to be in mortal peril… so it was OK for me to talk on the radio.

I answered and chatted a bit.  The guy wanted to know where we were from and apologized for not coming around to visit.  Having a normal conversation provided me with a lifeline to still the shaking in my knees.  The effort of keeping my voice from sounding shrill snapped me out of it.  I signed off after being invited to join the Ile à Vache Facebook group

Bruce came back to the cockpit, soaking wet saying “Nothin’ to it”.

Danger over – we were still barely making way – less than 3 knots.  Gotta get some sail up...We raised the double-reefed main and sheeted it in tightly then fell off just enough to gain some speed and with speed… some control.

Things were starting to feel better.  We were past the point of wanting to turn back and now if we snagged a fish trap, at least we had mobility of a non-mechanical nature.  Very soon the waves became a bit more kindly.  The ride got better and even the cat relaxed.

We rolled out the jib and shook one reef out of the main.  Our speed increased.  We melted into the motion of the boat and life was good again. Funny how within minutes we go from doubting the wisdom of being here… to feeling on top-of-the-world… like accomplished Cruisers.  Well, we had survived the shit!!! That must count for something!

Bruce went down to shower off the salt water and changed into dry clothes.  While he was down below our speed went from a lovely 6.5 with occasional 7 knots to a dismal 4 knots and dropping.

More calm in the lee of the island
We had sailed out of the mêlée and into the shadow of the mountains.  It is hard to believe the difference that few minutes made.  I called Bruce on deck for a powwow about sail trim.  We had to go back out and find the wind.

For about half an hour we motored off course with sails hanging limp.  Where is it!?  It has to be here!!!  Strangely we began to get a little breeze coming TOWARDS the island instead of from the North.  A sea breeze I guess…

But it was enough to allow us to get back on course and keep wind in the sails…even if we did have to motorsail… again.

With large, well-spaced swells on the nose, we all settled into the shade and watched Haiti go by.  It seems endless and the mountains are a welcome change from the flat Bahamas.  It was just after noon and only 18 hours to go…

Soon we began to see whitecaps up ahead.  Wind driven waves appeared to port.  The boat – full main and jib formerly languishing – leapt forward to more than seven knots and a ferocious heel.

Here and gone.  They are camera-shy!
A dolphin torpedoed out of the blue depths and swam with us until I got the camera out… then he took off like a rocket from whence he had come.  I guess Haitian dolphins are camera shy too.

We got busy reefing the main again.  We had found the wind!

1:10 Have I mentioned that we had a toilet malfunction yesterday?  The piston that holds the internal plunger let go and we can’t flush it any more.  Fixing it has been put off for a couple of days until we can get to someplace calm.  Unfortunately we are dummies and left the thru-hull valves open.  We (read: Bruce) had removed the waste from the bowl and we thought we were good.  We have now learned otherwise…  The bowl filled again and the smell of sewage was wafting up from down below.  We’ve had to apologize to the cat for initially blaming the smell on her…  Guess we won’t be making THAT mistake again…

1:50 We just finished rolling in the jib to reef it and put both reefs back in the mainsail.  We were careening out of control – spray everywhere – wind beating me to death.  Now things are better with speeds still in the 7’s and a nice ride.  We are turning back toward land again looking for a happy medium.

3:17 Bruce is napping.  We had to reef more jib – more careening.  I don’t like careening.  It makes the boat feel very big and the sea feel even bigger.  And those things make me feel very small.  It’s just so nice when we can get everything trimmed right to give us an easy sail… and if it’s fast as well… even better!

Night fell.  We were far enough off the coast that there were no fish traps to contend with.  The seas were small with long gentle swells and hardly any wind driven chop.  When I went down to sleep we had full jib and a reefed mainsail.  When I awoke I found that Bruce had rolled the jib. 

The winds had all but shut down with the setting sun and the main was rigged with a preventer to the starboard rail keeping it from slamming in the waves.  I happily took my watch in these conditions.  Although it is annoying that the main couldn’t be kept full… it gave me purpose.   I cranked up the iTunes on the iPad and proceeded to hunt for the perfect heading that would keep the main quiet.  It made the time go much faster.

The moon was full and we had intermittent clouds.  I could see the mountains sliding silently by.  Dolphin came and went.  Time passed quickly through two more watches just like that one.

Dawn.  Finally!
Finally it was morning. Checking our position I realized that the Southern Coastal boarder between Haiti and the DR is the Pedernales River.  We have one of those in Texas!

We were looking for wind once more as the seas moderated further with only a swell now coming from forward of starboard.  We needed to turn south so we doused all sails and cranked up the engine.  We would end this on our last few gallons of Bahamian diesel. 

Our good girl.

Dramatic view of the mountains in the rising sun

Sunrise over Cabo Falso
We were closing in on the Dominican Republic… very soon we would be back in insurance-approved waters.  Luck don’t fail us now!  There were maybe a dozen Haitian fishermen out working the waters close to the border.  I wonder if the DR’s Coast Guard has to keep running them off. 

Haitians fishing the border
We altered course when I realized that we were headed for one of their long nets.  They smiled and raised their hands in a big wave.  We are no longer afraid of these gentle people, but we were runnin’ for the border and about to enter our third foreign country!  Hold your applause please until after the show!  Oh forget it… go on and applaud!

Looking at Bahia de las Aguilas
Our chosen anchorage, Bahia de las Aguilas, was just ahead.  The charts we have don’t really show much detail, and what they do show not completely inaccurate.  We are in new territory now folks.  Gone are the dotted lines of our beloved Explorer Charts.  We’re on our own now. 

The Marina Guardia seem to operate out of this small resort
As we started to motor towards our anchorage, feeling our way and reading the water like we learned to do in the Bahamas… we heard someone on the VHF.  It was in Spanish and I didn’t really pay it any attention.  After two tries in Español, the speaker tried again to hail the “boat Americana”.  I figured that must be us.

I somehow figured out that they wanted us to change course and come into the next Bay to the north of ours, so we made a sharp left and found a spot to drop anchor in about 15 ft. of water over clear white sand.  We began getting the dinghy ready, pumping it with air because it had been repaired recently… when the Officials came out to us in their boat. 

It was all very civilized and quite fun for me.  Between us we couldn’t make a sentence in the other’s language, but somehow we got what we needed across.  I’ve got my Spanish for Cruisers phrase book and a little bit of Spanish learned from growing up in South Texas.  We told Senior Ferrera that we planned on staying here until Thursday and would then move to Isla Beata, weather dependent.  After that our plan was to continue around the cape and head for Baharona to officially clear into the DR.  He seemed OK with that. 

One of the most beautiful beaches in the DR
They left our boat and we pulled up the anchor to continue on to our anchorage.

That was on Sunday.  For the next three days we stayed on the boat.  We technically weren’t supposed to go ashore without clearing in first but we had forgotten to ask if it was OK.  So, not wanting to incur the wrath of our host country and being the by-the-books kind of girl I am… we followed the rules. 

Maybe if our dinghy was holding air a bit better and it wasn’t such a pain to get it up and down from the davits, we might have bent the rules a little bit…  But we had plenty to do on the boat. 

It was a mess and we spent some time cleaning.  Once the boat was looking better and I felt more “in-control-of-my-fate”… the high of arriving safely here from Haiti wore off, we kind of crashed.   We slept a lot.  We cooked.  We ate.  We read.  We studied our upcoming anchorages and routes.  Somehow the days disappeared.

Just sitting in the cockpit reading and gazing out at this stunning landscape is pretty darn nice.  Our minds are still processing our time in Haiti and we talked about that a lot. 

The beach runs a crescent from left to right.  The waters are a teal color instead of the aqua we’re used to from our time in the Bahamas.  We fell into a pattern… windy afternoons and evenings with the air flowing through the boat and cooling things off.  The water was flat this close to the beach.  There are no mountains between the east wind and us. 

In the evening we watched the sun fall uninterrupted into the Caribbean Sea.  I’m looking for the Green Flash and think I’ve seen it.  The wind shuts off with the setting sun and we settle into deeply restful nights.  I haven’t slept this good in recent memory. 

Morning comes gently with the water still and deep.  I can see the details of the bottom beneath our boat as if it was three feet deep… but it’s twenty.  The sun rises over the land and we decide what we want to tick off our list today.
Enjoying the still waters
The big project was fixing the aft head.  We took it apart, well, Bruce did.  I was making bread.  We don’t have access to a store and our fresh goods are gone.  So I produced my first perfect loaf of home made white bread while Bruce replaced a few parts from our store of toilet spares…

The piston had fouled the threads of the plunger that moves waste out of the bowl.  We did not have a spare for that, although we had just about every OTHER part of the toilet assembly on hand… so Bruce glued the piston into the plunger piece and we hope that holds until we can source a replacement.  It seems to be working for now…

Grilling that fish!
One day a couple of fishermen pulled up in their open boat and asked if we wanted to buy fish.  We DID!!!  The young man held up what looked like a nice sized snapper.  We would like two of those please.  No Español and no Englés… It was comical as they asked for $20 and we said no.  Back and forth we went. 

They didn’t have two of the Snapper… In fact, when they dumped out their buckets into the bottom of the boat, their catch looked like what we were used to seeing in a saltwater aquarium.  I’m sure we don’t eat any of THOSE!!! 

We finally settled on $7 for the one Snapper and the fishermen left complaining loudly in Spanish… something pinché something…  I was upset by it at first but remembered reading that they love the haggling and that sometimes it sounds very heated… it’s just a part of life.  They didn’t have to take the $7 and we probably paid twice what a local would have.  I did feel badly about taking the one good fish in their entire catch. 

After three days, we began to feel the stress of our forced inactivity.  Chris Parker said that we could round the dreaded Cabo Beata on Friday or Saturday…  I began to fret about it.  My sleep was interrupted by dreams of huge waves hitting us as we round the Cape.  Double that with visions of clearing in with hostile and corrupt officials and it left me wide awake at 2:30 am on the morning of our departure from Bahia de las Aguilas.  Maybe my sleep is all messed up anyway with the offshore passages and daily naps…

But I was ready to hit the road when the sun came up.  The iPad has told us that we’ve entered another time zone, actually it was a zone that didn’t recognize daylight savings time.  We are suddenly an hour ahead of what we were.  So now we have to listen to Chris Parker at 7:30 in the morning… I guess the sun doesn’t know what time it is so it’s the same thing… but we would be well on our way by then. 

At dawn we pulled up the anchor and raised the main.  I shut down the engine.  We had about a four-hour trip.  We didn’t’ need the engine.  The sailing was calm and serene between the anchorage and Cabo Falso.  As we approached the false cape and made our rounding, the winds increased and so did the seas.

The boat began to pound to weather lifting high on the waves and then crashing into the troughs with spray flying high.  Sometimes we would hit it just right to send gallons of seawater tumbling along our decks and I was really glad we had shut all of the hatches and ports. 
False Cape

Pretty big seas after we rounded Cabo Falso
Although it was slow-going and not really pleasant… it wasn’t scary or uncomfortable either… again, just something to be endured.  Our though was that it would get better as we crossed the open water and reached the lee of Isla Beata.  Well the seas did become less choppy and the ride more comfortable, but we didn’t really see much in the way of flat water until we were within a mile of our anchorage. 
Things smoothed out somewhat near the Island

There were two boats already anchored near the fishing village when we arrived, but they were far apart leaving plenty of room for isolation.  We dropped the sails and motored up to find a nice spot in about 15 feet with a sandy patch to drop the hook.  There were only small waves rolling off of the point to port and the winds were still fairly brisk. 

The Guardia Post.  Nobody came out to visit us.
We had no plans for going ashore.  There is only a small fishing village there… a shanty-town really.  We could see meager structures, some using what looked like a tent for a roof.  We were content to watch from our beautiful watery home as night fell and fires were lit onshore.  We imagined the fishermen cooking their catch and wondered how they survived there.  Did they bring in fresh water from the mainland?  How far did they have to go to get it?  Or did they just catch rainwater and survive on that???
The fishing village on Isla Beata

I knew that tomorrow would be a challenging day for us.  I don’t know how I slept a wink with all that was on my mind… rounding the Cape, clearing into the country… but I did. 

We have learned so much about navigating the waters around this mountainous island.  We know that there are forces that control the winds and waves independently of the weather forecast of prevailing winds and frontal passages.  We feel that we are gaining invaluable experience in figuring out where the wind and waves will be… and it’s FUN!

We’re learning that the comprehensive charting that Explorer Charts provide are not equaled in other parts of the Caribbean.  We miss the comfort of having all of that information at our fingertips… where the work is done for us.  Now we have to figure things out for ourselves in a more “real” experience.  And while that isn’t as easy as we’re used to… we are feeling a bigger sense of accomplishment after each successful passage whether it was long or short. 

And so as we continue to learn every hour of every day… leaving our comfort zone is beginning to feel more and more… comfortable.   In the morning we will travel to Baharona where we will officially clear into the Dominican Republic.  We can't wait to finally set foot on shore and begin to figure out how to survive in our next foreign Country.


  1. You are very experienced and I praise your sailing abilities! You have a lot to shar with other cruisers.,

  2. What a great adventure! and great writing! But do consider a composting head. It can not break ever. Keep having fun.