Saturday, March 25, 2023

Dominican Republic and the Mona Passage

The Dominican Republic is beautiful. Mountains, jungles, exotic birdcalls. What's not to love?

Mangroves at the entrance to the Line Caves, in Haitises National Park

Well, they do love to burn things. Lance thinks it's trash, I think it's agricultural burns, could be both or neither. The point is that there's always smoke coming from somewhere. Fortunately there's a lot to do, so we just pick our daily activity upwind of the smoke of the day.

The Line Caves in Haitises National Park were once the home to indigenous peoples. They hid their princess there among the caves from the marauding Spaniards in the late 1400s. There remain quite a few pictographs on the walls today, mostly depicting long-legged birds and the occasional whale.

We are still in the trade winds on the thorny path, which means we are picking our weather windows very carefully so as to fight nature as minimally as possible on our route East and South. From Ocean World near Puerto Plata to Marina Bahia Puerto in Samana meant going East, South and then West for a 20-hour slog. The window we picked should have been mostly sailable, and in fact after turning South we should have had a 16knot tailwind to drive us past the shockingly tall mountains of Samana and West into the Bay, although the weather didn't actually work out that way. We timed our arrival to round the corner and pass over the resident whale population at daybreak, and at first light we found ourselves surrounded by little fishing boats wearing no lights whatsoever. Perhaps they don't want to give away their favorite fishing grounds. Anyways, with the skinny moon and overcast skies, we were sailing in near pitch blackness and it was a surprise to blink in the half-light and find so many surrounding us. Hope we didn't disturb any in the dark. Fortunately we did not meet any whales in the dark, either.

Dominican Treehouse Village near Samana

The Marina Puerto Bahia in Samana is a high-end marina and resort with a couple of pools, laundry facilities, an ATM, a few restaurants, lots of wi-fi and lounging space, and customs officials onsite. One night they even threw a party for the cruisers, something I'm told they do a couple of times a month. Everyone was friendly and we felt quite pampered. All of this was surprisingly affordable. I can see how some folks just decide to stay here forever.

The upstairs pool offered some of the best views. Whales regularly spouted as they passed by at sunset.

An ideal place to tackle the Mona Passage plan.

The Mona Passage is the narrow body of water between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The Caribbean Sea meets the North Atlantic there, the deep trench on the North meets the relatively shallow shoals between the two, both are very mountainous islands. The weather patterns spinning off Puerto Rico regularly cause epic thunderstorms. All of this combines into some potentially hazardous conditions, and the stories the sailors tell around the campfire strike terror into the soul.

You don't have to get far up the hill to find a significantly different way of life; jungles and agriculture replace beaches and bustling villages.

We have been hearing horror stories about this stretch of water for quite some time. Our plan to mitigate the danger is to study carefully the book by the local expert Van Sant, monitor the weather patterns, and to talk with everyone we meet who's done it and lived to tell the tale.

We think we have a strategy mapped out, and it looks like Wednesday afternoon is the weather window to go.

The idea is to sail along the 600' contour to avoid the fishing nets and take advantage of the near-shore night winds, kick away from the land by 8am to avoid the Cape Effect, motor directly into the (hopefully light) winds and seas out past the hourglass shoal, then head South and sail between the little islands into Boca or Puerto Real, arriving anytime outside of afternoon thunderstorm hours.

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