Wednesday, May 16, 2007

On to Luperon!

We checked out of Provo on Wednesday 5/9 (another $15) intending to sail out across the Caicos Banks early the next morning. Well, the wind wouldn’t allow that so we stayed put another day. Light winds on Friday allowed us to motor/main all the way to a little anchorage called 6 hills at (21 27.7 N 71 38.1 W)

Now then, along the way we let out a hand line for fishing. This is simply fish line (~100 pound test) with a leader and cedar plug. At the end I wound the line around a bungy for some give and tied it to a cleat. At some point I realized that the bungy looked more stretched out and looking back there was something back there on my line! Holy crap! I didn’t expect this to work. Now what? We slowed down and I hauled in the line with gloves and what do I find at the end but a very toothy looking Barracuda! Luckily he jumped off the hook before I had to ask Sue to do something! Funny. I put the line back out and we continued on and sure enough. . . yes, I caught the very same stupid fish about 5 minutes later. This time I hauled him on board and held him down while removing the hook. That’s enough fishing for today!

This is my favorite kind of anchorage. Just a nice windward shore and nothing to run into behind me. Deep sand bottom. Nothing on these little islands except hundreds of chatty birds. They’re black with little white caps on their heads. The seem to nest among the many rocky crevices on the island. The 4 boat fleet of Bellagio, Puddle Jumper, GeWill and Enee Marie are still together. Tomorrow we will just make a little jump to Big Sand Cay which is about 25 miles to the south east. Wind is supposed to be less than 10 knots so no matter which direction we should be able to sail or motor that little hop.


WRONG. After going beyond the point of no return we were stuck with more like 17-20 knots and right out of the south east. I could motor sail 90 degrees and 180 degrees but nothing in between, Rough seas and a lot of pounding with speed being scrubbed down to less than 3 knots at times. Exactly the conditions where I typically stay put. Well, you go with the information you have at the time. What was going to be a pleasant 4-5 hour day turned into a 9 hour battaan death march! Our fleet mostly motored straight into it with bare poles. Not us! We had full main and reefed jib pulled in tight to get more speed and had the motor cranking as we tacked a mile or so on either side of our rumb line. Late in the afternoon we realized that the day was shot no matter what and we might as well conserve diesel. We turned off the iron beast, let out the jib full and had a pleasant final 2-3 hours slowly tacking back and forth to
Big Sandy Cay (21 11.6 N 71 15.1 W)

Again we had our hand line out all day but no hits. This time I hung the middle of the bungy on the lifeline with a close pin so that if I got a strike I’d see and maybe hear the close pin snap. Nothing. As we approached the shallower water near Big Sandy Sue said maybe we’ll get a fish as the depths decrease. Upon saying this the depth sounder finally started showing the bottom. I said, OK, come on fish! Swear to Newton, right then the close pin snapped! I hauled in the line but there was nothing there except some rather large bite marks on my cedar plug. Maybe best I didn’t hook what ever that was!

From Big Sandy the idea is to get a decent weather window to allow you to leave around late afternoon to arrive in Luperon in the Dominican Republic early the next morning. It is about 80 miles point to point. On Sunday the wind was still mostly south. We weren’t in for another 15 hour slog straight up wind so us, Bellagio, and GeWill decide to wait one more day while Puddle Jumper headed out. We’ll meet up with them in Luperon. The Off Shore Report is predicting some north east winds for Monday night into Tuesday and that would be perfect for the run to Luperon which bears about 170 degrees from Big Sandy.

So, we have a day to explore Big Sand Cay. Again, there is nothing here except lots of birds and one of the oh so common non-working navigation lights. Beautiful long sand beach on the west side. On the east side, facing the ocean, you find all sorts of debris having washed up on shore. It’s kind of sad. It’s nearly all plastic stuff having either been tossed or fallen off of boats in the Atlantic. Plastic floats FOREVER. Plastic lasts FOREVER. This

side of the island looks like a junk yard. I found tires, a plastic
bumper off a car, nets, buckets, dish strainers, you name it. I suppose Miami beach would look just like this if there wasn’t somebody coming around and cleaning it up. We walked along for awhile and picked up a few shells. Some people collect sea glass. This is broken hunks of glass that has been constantly tumbled about in the shallows until the edges are nice and rounded. Apparently there is a market for this stuff for making jewelry and such. To me it looks like what it is. . . broken glass.

OK, tomorrow we hope for the north-east winds and a pleasant night run to Luperon.

The Night we Never Expected

One of the most common questions we get about our adventuring lifestyle is, “What sorts of horrible storms and seas have you been in”? We pride ourselves in not having any of these stories as we try very hard to just not be out there when the weather goes to hell. We are very conservative sailors. We can be because we have no particular time constraints on us. If we have to wait in a place for a week for a weather window, so be it. Yes, even Captain Snappy can wait!

That having been said we waited an extra day at Big Sand Cay to make the over night, 80 mile trip to Luperon in the Domincan Republic. The wind was to be easterly maybe switching to a little north easterly overnight. Seas 2-4 feet. This was according to Chris Parker Weather Net, NOAA off shore report, and Virtual Buoy. We are good to go and so around 4:00 pm Enee Marie, Bellagio, and GeWill weighed anchor and headed south. As night fell we could see lightning around the horizon but we had been seeing that every night for the past two weeks. No big deal. The wind came up enough for us to pure sail and we were mighty happy sailors. Around midnight we got a call from GeWill telling us that his motor had shut down. The three boats chatted back and forth for several hours discussing possible solutions. Around 2 AM we got into a bit of a squall. We had already put the second reef in the mainsail and rolled up about half the jib. As the wind piped up to over 30 knots we were pleased with how well Enee still handled. We were sailing on a close reach and not heeled very much. When the wind went over 40 knots she became hard to handle and I realized that I had too much jib out. It was right then that GeWill announced that there was a freighter coming down on us and we better keep an eye on him. Now I’m a little squeezed. I’d like to fall off the wind and run down hill for a little or even heave-to while I wait for the wind from this squall to pass but that would take me into the path of the freighter. I could tack and pass the freighter red to red but it’s going to be a violent one! We decide to ease through a tack with the engine on so there is no chance to get in irons. We accomplish the tack but at night with no landmarks it is very disorienting. Yeah, we went all the way around and backwinded the jib. Pushed the boat back through the wind with more engine and settled in on a new course with less pressure on the jib. All this time the wind is shrieking at over 40 knots. With the freighter gone we reeled in the jib and decided to just motor sail back to our original course of about 165 degrees. Certainly the wind is going to start to back down anytime now.

Let’s cut to the end. It didn’t. It built the rest of the night and into the next day. You know what effect that has on the seas. By daybreak the seas were very confused and consistently 8 feet with the occasional 10-12 footer. Wind was steady in the 40’s gusting into the 50’s. I could look right across at the top of some waves from standing in the cockpit. I tried to steer straight up the side of a coming big wave and then turn to go not straight down the back side so as to not bury the bow. The problem was that at the bottom of that wave here comes another one and now I’m nearly sideways to that one. Yeah, the seas were high AND closely spaced. Eight foot sea swell is not that bad you just sail up and down and gentle hills. Eight foot wind chop is another story.

The whole time we are waiting for something on the boat to break. All the gerry cans on deck have tipped over though still tied on, the dishes have sailed off of their shelves. All the three ring binders on one shelf are now on the deck. I’m at the wheel hoping that the batteries are not tumbling around the engine room like bingo balls.

It rained hard at times in the morning and with the wind this was a sideways face stinging rain. Some waves would break right at the hull and then you get the bonus bucket full of sea water in the face.


The wind had driven us about 2 miles to the west off of our original course. It is up wind to make up that loss and that is right into the seas. We start thinking maybe we could find another anchorage to the west of Luperon just to hole up and make Luperon the next day. Plus I have no idea how wild the actual pass into Luperon is libel to be in these conditions. Upon talking with a marina in Luperon on the VHF we are told that conditions are not that bad near the entrance and we should just keep coming. A pilot (Handy Andy - a really nice guy!) will come out to lead us through the shoals. We pounded along at about 3 knots or less when struck by a large wave over the last 3-4 hours. You hate to even look at the gps because it seems like you are standing still and you’re cold, wet, tired (zero sleep) and you want to go FAST and you are NOT.

We finally made the waypoint just outside the entrance to Luperon around 10 AM. I had been at the wheel since about 2 AM. Andy led us in just fine and showed us where to anchor. Andy does EVERYTHING. At our request he came back with ice and beer, another trip with the customs officials, and one more trip with our DR courtesy flag. He’ll also bring water, diesel, gas, watch your boat if you leave, arrange to have the bottom cleaned, arrange motorcycles, etc, etc. A different approach to visiting boaters than you find in the Bahamas or in Florida (except for Marathon.)! Another example is that we got a call on the VHF from the marina welcoming us and telling us of their services. Sure they are trying to sell something but that’s ok. . . boaters NEED something. If any Bahamian took this approach in Georgetown they’d be rich in two months.

We filled out some papers with customs and then we drank a couple of El Presidentes and dropped dead. Now we will go around the boat and reassess how we’ve stowed things and look for anything that may have come loose (the engine?) during our rocking and rolling.

When you logically SAY you have to be able to take care of yourself, have a well found boat and know how to sail it that’s one thing. To be in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean at night with worry about a freighter, 40+ knots of wind, too much sail up and lighting around the horizon you know in a very real way that you are on your own. If you dump the boat or something breaks there is NO immediate help if any ever! We were too intense with what ever we were doing at any time to be truly scared. What did we learn? We have to even better rig the boat for heavy weather. We’ll still try our darndest to not be in it but that’s, apparently, not good enough. I also learned what a beast this boat is! We roughed her up pretty good but the rig and the oil spewing old Perkins diesel brought us through alright.

We will explore Luperon for several days and make our next plan.


LeahC said...

uh...hello....terrifying. that's all i have to say....and you are scared of roller coasters....sheeesh.

theNowEverWorriedDaughter :-)

Anonymous said...

Good to hear that you made it. Although I was choking on my coffee while reading. Take care.
Sally in Ohio

Darley said...

I worked for several years on San Salvador Island in the Bahamas at the Riding Rock Inn as a Divemaster. I always enjoyed meeting the people who would sail in and stay for a few days. I love reading your posts now that I am stuck at a desk working a "normal job". Enjoy the sea!

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