Monday, April 4, 2016

Never Be Too Presumptuous With The Ocean

While reclining in my bunk reading a book called Beyond Catalina Pacific Cruising in aPre-digital Age, one of the characters in the book warned the other against being too presumptuous with the Ocean by naming the place you are going.  There are so many ways that the Ocean can mess you up… it is best to never give her an open invitation.

With the ongoing changes to our itinerary, this advice comes to me as a new truth to live by. 

We were excited about going to Samaná to get a look at the mountains that were conspicuously absent on the south coast of the island.  I had been unaware of this when planning our cruise and am not afraid to admit my prior ignorance.  Everything I had read about this mountainous country was of the lush beauty of the majestic landscape.  The coffee and tobacco farms, the hikes to visit waterfalls, the cute little towns nestled in the valleys… Nobody told me there were vast areas of arid non-mountainous terrain… on the South Coast where we would be cruising!!! 

Looking for another way to the Guardia Post
New weather reports predicted that the winds would moderate on Wednesday (tomorrow) and then rebuild through the end of the week. We had already deviated from our original plan due to the winds and waves between Boca Chica and Isla Saona… thus landing us here in the Cumayasa River.

The decision regarding the timing of our Date-With-Mona was pushed back yet again.  The weak weather window we had hoped to take had begun to deteriorate and it looked like we would be postponed for at least another week.  So here we are out here bobbing on the Cumayasa River… with nowhere to go until at least Saturday, maybe longer.

Docked at the same place the fishermen took me 
We went ashore in the dinghy and spoke to el Commandante.  He agreed to have our Despacho ready for us and would even deliver it to our boat at 6 a.m. the next day.  Our spirits were buoyed up by the small smile that cracked his  otherwise stern visage as he took the plate of brownies we presented to him.  I guess that guy on Active Captain who said the people here were corrupt and illiterate was wrong…  They have been nothing but nice to us and very understanding and gracious.  Perhaps it's a two-way-street and you receive what you project...

Anchored beneath the watchful eye of El Commandante
After visiting with the men at the Marina Guardia and receiving permission to wander freely up the river, we proceeded with our exploration.

Nice digs!
We took a long dinghy ride in the cool morning before the winds came up.  The Cruising Guide to The Dominican Republic said that this was like taking a trip back in time, and while the homes and boat docks we saw along the banks did not do that for us, perhaps the wild beauty of the lush cliffs and wildlife on the river banks we saw further up-river did.  

Lots of submerged obstructions in the river - proceed with caution

Looking upriver - could be a nice hurricane hole!

Low banks and cliffs

We puttered along enjoying the huge tropical plants and the water-and-time carved walls of rock rising straight up from the water’s edge.  The bends had typical riverside terrain with the inside curve being low and flat, but the outside of the curve was cliff.  

There were mangrove trees growing partway up the wall with their long roots straining towards the water like Rapunzel letting down her hair.

Searching mangroves

Bird nest atop a mast.  Doesn't get out much I guess...
Ruins of the marina project mentioned in the guidebook

We saw more birds on this river in one morning than we’ve seen our entire time in the Caribbean.  The sounds of their calls were unfamiliar and we wondered how many other unknown birds were hiding in the trees unseen. 

Not very smart.  They kept flying away from us and we kept following...

Go the other way bird!!!

Visiting this little-used stopover was such a positive experience for us and we agree with Frank Virgintino about the friendliness of the people here.  On our way back to the boat, we ran out of gas… As we began unsuccessfully paddling the dinghy upwind to the boat, we were relieved to see a man and his daughter coming from the shore on a small fishing boat.  With no words exchanged, he took our dinghy painter and towed us back to Dos Libras. 

Cows on the bank
He did understand that we wanted to give him some beer and a soda for his daughter… with a modest nod and more smiles, they took the cold drinks and buzzed back to the shade of the mangroves once again. 

So few people use this anchorage, maybe we should keep quiet about it... keep it all to ourselves...  The spot we chose just off the Guardia Post was far enough up the river to dampen most of the swell coming in from the open water to the south, but not all.  While the winds were up during the day, the boat pointed to the mouth of the river and into the wind and waves.  But as evening came and the winds began to die, the boat turned somewhat broadside to the waves so we had a bit of rolling motion.  Not the worst we’ve experienced but enough to mention. During the night the boat had reversed position and remained there until the winds came back up in the morning. 

We'd had a little bit of trouble getting the anchor to hold close to the west bank, but found it easy after moving closer to the eastern bank of the river.  I will also reiterate for future reference, that although the guide book says that the river is used for a hurricane hole, there are many submerged structures that we saw on our dinghy ride, and who knows how many more we did not see…

Despacho in hand we were off before sunrise
We were up early on Wednesday and ready to leave when the two guys in the fishing boat came to bring our Despacho.  I looked it over and found it in order and we thanked them profusely for the favor of bringing the paper to our boat so that we could have the dinghy lifted onto the davits the night before.  Cumayasa River anchorage gets a Two-Thumbs-Up. 

River mouth was calm
Leaving in the early morning was the way to go.  We had 1-2 ft seas with winds starting out at about 8 knots as we motorsailed along (making water) at a distance of about 3 miles from the shoreline. 

Luxury cruiser heading for La Romana
We had quite an eventful sail as we watched the traffic come and go from La Romana and Casa de Campo.  
Luxury Cruiser and a Cruise Ship TOO!
It passed within a mile of us headed for La Romana

Must be a sugar cane processing plant.  We smelled molasses
At one point we could smell a sweet smoky smell… like molasses.  As the chart showed sugar cane fields ashore, we deduced that we smelled the cane processing plant that could be seen belching out billows of smoke in our direction.

We could see dozens of sailboats all headed toward Saona
The guidebooks told of the hoards of Day-Tripper boats bringing tourists to Isla Saona from La Romana and Bayahibe and it was no lie.  By late morning we were joined by a dozen or more sailing vessels and twice that many motorboats packed with happy bikini-clad tourists. 

Trim for speed!
For some reason seeing other sailboats made me feel a sense of camaraderie.  Even if they were locals or tour boats, they were still “our kind”.  The winds curved around with the land and we watched the sails on the other boats to see what the winds were doing closer in and further out from shore.  And of course, any time there is more than one sailboat going in the same direction… it’s a race!!

I guess you can't really be racing if you're making water along the way...

We were using our hanked-on blade for high winds
We reached our anchorage seeing the highest winds of the day.  There was one other sailboat nosing around for a spot to drop the hook as we dropped our sails and motored towards the shore and more shallow water.  I chose a spot just off the beach in 15 ft. depths that was somewhat protected from the force of the wind, but with still breezy enough to keep us cool. 

We anchored just off the beach at Isla Saona

The Marina Guardia post is at the end of the pier

Our nearest neighbor - no English spoken here...
We dropped the hook and took a look around.  It is a beautiful spot with a shallow bay just begging to be explored in the dinghy.  Tour boats zoomed by us with rows of bright yellow or orange life-jackets-with-heads…  Their wake rocked us but one can’t complain… this is what they do! 

While we relaxed we watched two helicopters land on the beach and wondered who might be arriving in such style.  


Catch of the day!
Later in the afternoon, after our naps… a fishing boat stopped by and we bought a huge snapper.  It was fun!  We took the biggest fish they had but I was happy to see that many of their other fish were much bigger than that last fishing boat that stopped by with the aquarium fish for sale. 

Our fishermen leaving...  Didn't get a pic when they were here...
Bruce cleaned and filleted the fish and with the winds gusting as they were, I ushered him into the aft head to use the shower stall as a fish cleaning station.  This way I could keep the mess contained and make sure that all of the fish smell was eradicated from the boat.  It worked out pretty well and we were left with a clean bathroom and two nice dinners worth of thick white fish. 

The last tour boat leaving...
As I sat in the cockpit listening to the sounds of crickets and the gentle waves on the sand, I wondered how the crickets got to the island.  Then it struck me how quiet it really was.  We’ve been listening to loud music long into the night and engines buzzing by us for weeks.  Suddenly the lack of man-made noise is astounding.  I’ve missed this. 

This quiet.  This island…This sitting off the beach gently rocking… This canopy of stars with the Milky Way splashed across the sky right above our heads, close enough to touch.  The fish splashing around us are evidence that there is a lot going on beneath the water’s surface… but now the wind is still.  The tourists have gone and this is how it is supposed to be.  The Ocean has given us a grand gift tonight.

The weather window was slammed shut on our fingers… Saturday disappeared and turned into Monday… then Tuesday or Wednesday.  
The next morning after getting the updated weather report, we dinghied ashore and visited the Marina Guardia.  This is a very laid-back place and they approved our stay through Wednesday and didn’t even take our Despacho.  

We had lost an entire week. 

The Tourist beach

Ever wonder where that Taco Bell dog went?

Our beach
Well, it wasn’t exactly lost… we spent the time splendidly relaxing, doing minor maintenance things like cleaning strainers, changing zincs and scrubbing the bottom.  I cooked: we ate.  We read a lot.  We dinghied to beaches near and far.   We swam.  I even got industrious and created a British Ensign Courtesy Flag for use when we reach the BVIs… which was now looming sooner than later.

Bruce's Catch of the day...

First time she's shown interest in a FISH!

Working on the British Ensign Courtesy Flag
Cutting the material

Stitching on the painted part


Fishermen at the end of the day
Jezabelle and I learning Spanish

If only she had THUMBS!!!

During this time of relaxation we mentally processed our time in the Dominican Republic.  We found it ironic that the two best places we had visited were our first stop (Bahia de las Aguilas) and our last.  The reason?  Because they are both pristine beaches and peaceful beauty.  We were not threatened or hassled about moving or being here.  We didn’t have the fear of a Despacho being withheld or bribes being demanded. 
Wave Signatures in Sand

Our home

My shell collection

I think this is a broken shark's tooth.  What do you think?

The shell of a Flamingo Tongue Snail
That fish was GOOD!

And it was during this time that our overall impression of the Dominican Republic was solidified.  This is a beautiful country with friendly people and a lot to offer to Cruisers.  Unfortunately it is spoiled by constant anxiety created by the Despacho process.  It is a case of something that was created for the right reasons, but in practice has gone terribly wrong. 
Lots of seagrass was washed up onto the shore

The hull of a burned boat

Add this yellow shell to my collection

Can i have this piece of driftwood?

Sure... if I can have THIS one!

Tree begging for it...

This must be how I got all that sand in my swimsuit bottom...

Our favorite way to end the day

The only picture taken on April 4th
It is too restrictive when applied to the way sailboats travel… by the whim of the weather.  We already have enough to handle with trying to time our passages between stops along the coast going east with night lees and weather windows.  Adding the rigid rules of obtaining a Despacho according to a time dictated by the working hours of the Officials that does not include pre-dawn or nighttime departures… and it is a recipe for stress! 

We came to the Dominican Republic with open minds and positive attitudes about all of this.  We wanted to see for ourselves and not just take the words of some disgruntled sailors on the Internet… And while I won’t say that our experience was as difficult as others said it would be… it was provoking enough to color our experience in an unpleasant light.  One that I am really trying hard to forget while remembering the wonderful experiences we’ve had here.
Migrating butterflies everywhere!

We have the beaches all to  ourselves after the tourists leave each day

We think this means they don't want you to take their coconuts...

Wind was blowing like crazy on the other side of the island

One lone starfish

Our idyllic days anchored off of Isla Saona have done much to give us a positive last impression of the Dominican Republic.  We will leave here in the morning with much relief to be free of the anxiety and restrictions.  We will go out into the Mona.  Where will we end up?  Well… when dealing with the Ocean, we can’t presume to know…. Can we?


  1. Two questions for you: 1) How much does the snapper cost when you buy direct-- Is there a negotiation involved? 2) Will you be posting a blog entry on the challenges you faced with the Despacho process...details, etc. Thanks!!

    1. There is negotiation involved and it is difficult for us because we don't know a lot of Spanish. They pretty much always start out with a ridiculous price to set the bar... We negotiated with them and still paid $25 for that big snapper. We got two good sized meals from it though and like to feel like our money went right to the people who need it most. The fish we bought from the first boat we dealt with were smaller and we paid $7 for a one meal fish. We paid a little more for a frozen fish off the boat in the Bahamas. As for the Despacho process, I would be happy to answer your questions privately if you send me a message on Facebook. I have touched on the process in each place we got one and overall had no real bad experience. The problem for me is the overall threat of it. We have spoken to others who paid a LOT more than we did to clear into the DR. We feel that our experience clearing into Baharona was very positive and I did write about that in the blog post, but the threat of a bad experience was ever-present.

  2. Wonderful Pictures and follow up to FB....Look forward to your postings..

  3. Tammy: Thanks for the information above. I think I have a better idea of the despacho issues after reading some on line postings at I really hadn't heard much about the ins 'n outs of this from other blogs so am glad you mentioned it as it will be something to consider for our future travels!

    1. It really is kind of different for everyone and going the northern route seems more hostile to me from reading posts of others. I would be happy to discuss it with you further.