Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Georgetown to DR – Then to PR -I’ve Never Been So Scared!

Back down in "The Hole"
After Cap worked and worked on our generator and seemed to get it going – albeit with duct tape – we decided to by-pass the Turks and Caicos and go straight to the DR (Dominican Republic) for some help with new parts for the generator. We didn’t need the generator when travelling on engine power – so if it acted up again we wouldn’t even know it.

breakfast on the aft deck while underway!
So we left Georgetown and traveled to Mayaguana as a sort of test run to see how things would go. They went well…. Calm seas! We anchored in Abrahams Bay next to three other sailboats and couldn’t get over the extreme clarity of this beautiful anchorage. It had much more surrounding reef – we had to look closely for reef entering the anchorage – and this reef supported so much beautiful sea life – Sea plants and fish and many, many starfish.  It was a good anchorage and our hook held tight despite the many rocks and questionable bottom.
12 ft deep water so clear!

Next morning we woke and raised the anchor and started motoring to the DR. We had heard a lot of negative stories about “greasing palms” and corruption in the DR. Everyone seems to be a self-nominated authority that will help you – for a price - and they push themselves on you. There are “boat boys” that attach themselves to you and you pay them to help with all manner of things. Because this is foreign to us, we decided not to go to Luperon and anchor – but rather go to Ocean World Marina – which does things more US style and with less “greasing of the palms” for the help. Besides – we needed a mechanic and the marina had that sort of help available.

My 1/2 pie - baked while underway!

So we carried on into that deep trench of the Atlantic Ocean, where depths of 6-12,000 feet were normal and settled into our 3 hour watch schedule. It started out very calm, so I decided to make a Key Lime Pie while we were underway! But shortly after I placed it in the oven to cook, the waves and wind picked up and we started getting quite a rock and roll and pitching. Oh no! The pie was spilling all over! I wanted to just throw it out – but Cap said we should try it out – so I kept it (or at least the half pie that was left after it slopped all over!)  The wind and waves steadily kept increasing. Our Kadey Krogen burgee began madly flapping back and forth and we stopped eating and drinking and started to hang on to all the rails when moving about. The seas seemed to keep building and it wasn’t long before we were battling 10-12 foot waves – with an occasional 15 footer to really scare me! It was exhausting and we were tired and anxious to get to port …..when….all of a sudden...de-de-de-de-CLUNK! The engine sputtered and stopped! NO ENGINE – AT ALL – IN THE MIDDLE OF 12,000 FEET DEEP WATER – WITH NO LAND IN SIGHT!!!

Poor Richard – I have no idea about the systems – or how to help. He was on his own in this nightmare – he was the only one capable of trying to figure out why the engine stopped. So in all the mad rocking around, with the waves bashing our boat – Cap climbed down into the hot engine room to troubleshoot. He poked and looked and did whatever – but wasn’t sure what the problem was. So he just tried to restart the engine and it chugged and chugged – but wouldn’t turn over. Was this process taking a hundred years? I’m thinking – because it sure felt like it! Then he flipped some switches and bingo! She started up again – but she continued on this stop and go path for most of the 40 hours of our trip. I know it stopped at least six times – then we both lost count.
This is NOT our boat -but an idea of the seas

Being at sea when it’s rough is bad enough. It’s like a super Pilates class –you are constantly working your core to fight the waves and keep your body balanced. It’s how we both lost 10 pounds during this voyage and it’s probably actually good for us!  But having engine failure in “the middle of nowhere” – with no one around is a true nightmare. Actually – this has been extremely difficult to write about all this, as I have to REMEMBER the actual events again – something I prefer not to do without alcohol!
The bottom line here is that we had recurrent problems with both our generator and our engine – to the point of exhaustion for both of us and great fear and worry.
Richard actually was a brick during it all and once we reached Ocean World in the Dominican Republic, we got immediate help to fix our generator. It needed new hoses (they were leaking at the connection and also wearing through the rubber). The dock master, Eddy found a fabulous worker that he nicknamed “Monkey”. Monkey knew everything about generators and in one day got the whole deal back to working order! Relief!
Captain went down to polish the fuel and found we had water and dirt in our fuel – the most likely reason for causing the engine to stop. So he cleaned it all up and we used the Baja filter to refuel with – although the fuel was totally clean at Ocean World Marina. Sufficiently satisfied that all was in working order – we cast off for the long, non-stop trip to Boquerón, Puerto Rico via the Mona Passage. When we left, we thought it was perfect timing. The weather window was perfect and our Genny had been fixed by a terrific staff. We had a great stay and everyone was so kind and friendly! We both really loved the Dominican Republic. 

So we cast off again for the difficult Mona Passage - where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea- where winds and currents, waves and navigating are notoriously difficult. Again - we looked to all our weather indicators - including Chris Parker - the weather gribs and such - and all pointed to a good time to cross. But, as we approached Punta Cabron, the seas began to steepen dramatically and the wind increased to 25 kts. It was beginning to get dark and there was a whole lot of rocking and rolling - something I should be used to by now!  But with the banging and crashing of all our cabinet contents, my nerves were getting frayed!  Cap and I discussed it - should we chance it and continue? Since we were "newbies" to this passage, we agreed to abort our crossing to PR and change course to return to the DR - to Samana and eventually Puerto Bahia Marina .

Now there’s so much explaining to do….. A trip is planned with weather (wind /waves/ conditions etc.) in mind and also the timing of the end point – our arrival time. Because this is the Caribbean- there are dangerous areas of reef and rocks and shoals to manage. For this reason we usually try to arrive at an anchorage or marina in daytime hours – preferably with the sun behind us – for best visibility upon entering a new area. There are lots of aids to navigation – Charts, E-Charts, chart books with advice and waypoints for tight areas and maps of depths and obstructions. But the human eye is also important and we must never forget our instincts.
So when we turned the corner for comfort at 3 am- it was the wrong time to enter a port. Cap and I looked to
our Nobletec chart to guide us into a protected anchorage -a perfect spot-near Samana, so that we could get a few hours sleep after the exhaustion of battling the sea conditions. Then, when daylight arrived we could resume our trek to Puerto Bahia Marina. 
Immigration bringing our "Despacho"

I could have kissed the water at that anchorage – I was so happy to have made it to safety! We got 4 hours sleep and awoke to the most beautiful vision of a natural tropical area!

We were near a little fishing village – early morning fishing boats motoring about us, getting their day’s catch.  It was peaceful and idyllic and gave us the inner strength to continue on – not knowing what to expect, since we had already checked out of the DR through Customs and Immigration. We arrived at the most beautiful marina we have yet encountered - Puerto Bahia Marina! It felt like Miami – or South Beach – very swank – but in a beautiful tropical and mountainous setting.
Customs and Immigration treated us very fairly, since we had bad weather - they only charged us a partial fee for returning to the DR after "checking out" for Puerto Rico. Things went very smoothly after that and we enjoyed our marina stay very much!  

                                                               This is where we met our friends
I was embarrassed - but it tasted good!
Ann at Puerto Bahia Marina
Bill and Ann from M/V Ann Louise – another Kadey Krogen! It turns out they were also headed for Trinidad! – And just like that we struck up a friendship with this wonderful couple from Roswell, Georgia and Isle of Palms, SC! Bill invited us on the Ann Louise for a vegan dinner and I brought some wine and the now famous " Sloppy Key Lime Pie"!
So for the next few days Cap worked on our engine, and we enjoyed a beautiful Easter in an idyllic location. We shared a rental car with Bill and Ann and motored from the marina to tour the environs of Samana, and even ventured to Las Terrenas – a terrific French/ Italian expat resort area that was really fun.

Easter Sunday we went to the Catholic Church service –which was all in Spanish – but very enjoyable nevertheless, and then enjoyed a barbeque of mixed grill and lobster at the marina poolside bistro with Bill and Ann. This was a big holiday weekend and the marina actually flew in a well known singer – Laura Corazon -with her band in for an evening concert. It was all good fun!

Mona Island
So the guys watched the weather, listening to Chris Parker daily (weather guru) and when a 2 day window came up, we both decided to leave the luxury of the marina and attempt to cross the dreaded and turbulent Mona Passage to Puerto Rico.  Bill and Ann "buddy boated" with us and it gave us some peace of mind, in case we had another breakdown that might be irreparable. It would be an overnight passage -14 hours if we went straight through -and the seas were normally 6-8 feet – on a good day.  We were hoping for a good day! Everything went well – at first – but then we started having the engine cut off again. The seas were heavier that predicted – and also the winds. For the next 5 hours we kept having the engine stop - Talk about stress! Cap went into "the hole" and found we had a problem with air in the system and finally worked some magic to keep the engine going - at last! We maintained our watches and prayed the boat would not stop again. But both captains decided the passage was rough and tiring and a plan to anchor at Mona Island (in the middle of the passage to PR) was struck. Getting into the anchorage on Mona is a bit tricky. Anchorages aren’t marked like in the USA and the island was surrounded by a reef – with just a narrow opening to get through to a channel close to the beach with 8ft of depth of crystal clear water and mooring balls to tie up to. That’s because it is part of the National Park System of PR. So Cap went first and very slowly meandered up the channel to a nice spot and we picked up the mooring ball and tied off and sat back and relaxed! Perfect! “Ann Louise” was right behind and we
M/V Ann Louise "Buddy Boating"
moored side-by-side. Everyone had something to eat and took a nap! After a 4 hour respite, we carried on – back out and towards PR.

Cap wanted to go to Salinas – as he’d read it was a great anchorage, but Bill and Ann thought they had to check-in with immigration in Mayaguez. We had a CBP (Customs & Border Patrol) sticker for the boat and had obtained an LOB (Local Boaters Option) from customs and immigration back in Sarasota. This is supposed to make clearing in and out of US and it territories much faster and easier – with only a phone call. So “Ann Louise” decided to join us and go to Salinas. The anchorage was calm and quiet and mostly flat – but with those fabulous trade winds to cool off the day. We called up the immigration number and – to make a long story short – they wanted to come to Salinas and see us face-to-face. There was another sailing boat also clearing in – and customs was so kind and got all the paperwork completed and said: “Welcome Home!” to us on leaving.
It’s often difficult to get a good internet connection and take the time to write all this on paper. We want to spend our spare time having fun and touring around. After being retired for over 7 months now, I am starting to adjust my morning rising time to 6:30 am and it feels natural. I’m hoping to get some of this writing done in the early am, before all the other stuff happens that keeps us so busy!
We had fun in Salinas with our boating friends. They rented a car and we shared it with them, and we toured around – seeing San Juan and Old San Juan, Ponce and a myriad of places in between. We enjoyed meeting many other boaters in that little community of Salinas, as well as reconnecting with some old friends…….Until next time, when I tell you more about “Isla del Encanto”……

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