Tuesday 23 Apr, Puerto Rico day 19: Starting passage to Dominican Republic. We depart… but don’t get too far! Still in Puerto Rico territory.
Early alarm and all action. We need to top up on diesel before we depart this US island with its cheap fuel. Trouble is, a 44ft cat is moored on the fuel dock, taking up more than 1/2 the available dock length. So we can only just fit the stern section of Cloudy on the dock with her bow sticking out and no way to have a bow line. This is doable in the light winds of early morning, but impossible if the strong SE wind comes in at 9:30am as usual.
After some tricky maneuvers, in water depth that is only 10cm (4”) below our keel, we manage to dock successfully with, as predicted, our bow sticking out and blocking the entrance to one line of marina slips. We take on 100 gallons (about 400ltrs) to fill the tanks. Not bad, we have not taken on diesel since Antigua, 4 months ago, and we were still 60% full.
While we are docked we take the opportunity to carry the asymmetric spinnaker to the office. Now that José sees it, he doesn’t seem quite so happy. But he is still very accommodating and helps me pack it onto a shelf in the office mail section. There it will live for about 1 month till the new owner picks it up.
Then we set off. This morning is clear blue sky again. The cloudy dank weather of yesterday seems to have passed through. But the wind is only 2-4kts. So we motor out the bay and continue to motor westwards till we are safely through the reef complex that exists up to 6nm offshore.
Once safely into deep water we decide, with this light wind, that we will indeed aim directly west to stop at, or at least pass, Isla de Mona. Not long after that decision, the wind comes in nicely at 10-12knts from the SE. So it’s sails out on a gentle broad reach (port tack) to Mona. It’s tempting to change plans again and avoid Mona, and instead sail dead down wind with the Parasailor. But we stick to the plan. This works nicely for the next two hours getting us within 12 miles of the island. But then the wind dies and the sails start banging around, so we end up motoring the last 8 miles.
Lying between the big islands of Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic, Isla de Mona looks small on the chart. But it’s actually about 5×4 miles of flat plateau land about 100m high with steep limestone cliffs on all sides. As we pass along the southern shore there are white beaches below the cliffs, some backed with palm trees. As we understood, there is no sign of habitation except the old lighthouse in the middle of the island.
All day I have been putting out the fishing line and reeling it in 15 minutes later to clear it of weed. I gave up this fishing exploit about two hours ago. But as we now pass a local fishing boat and realize we are now in 30m of clear water over reef, I put the line out one last time. And within a minute … bzzzzzzz! as it spools out rapidly. We slow the engine to idle and gradually reel in our catch. It feels like the biggest fish we have ever caught. The rod is almost bent double! But no sign of a fighting fish at the surface, it’s gone deep down.
We only get our first glimpse when it’s 15m behind the boat, flashes of silver in the water. Then it’s in sight. Oh! It looks like not just one fish but 3 of them, how is that? As we reel in closer we see one fish (with the bait) and 2 other similar fish chasing it. Whether they are trying to eat it or trying to help it we cannot fathom. But as we try to pull our catch out the water, the line breaks at the swivel and all is lost. We couldn’t quite make out what it was. Certainly not Mahi Mahi, but possibly a Bonito. Long, thin and with those tuna-like multiple spiky dorsal fins all the way to its tail. That was both exciting and disappointing. We were looking forward to fish for lunch 🙁
Next item of interest is a Lagoon catamaran up in the rocks ashore. It’s mast and rig fallen on the rocks. Clearly not a nice story there. And again we wonder if anyone ever takes the responsibility to remove such wrecks. Probably not, sadly for the environment.
Excitement over we see what it’s like to anchor in beautiful blue water to the south of Punta Arenas. But this is windward shore so not comfy. So we motor around the corner to Sardinera Bay where shallow draft boats can get behind the reef. Not us though. And outside the reef, while protected from the prevailing wind swell, it’s very much exposed to the big rolling Atlantic swell. So we go back south of Arenas to anchor in 7m of turquoise-blue water. It’s a bit rolly but OK for a lunch stop. I go for a snorkel and the water is absolutely crystal clear, with visibility from the stern all the way to the anchor.
After lunch we launch the dinghy to have a walk on the beach. Cloudy Bay is rolling around too much to put the outboard on, plus there is a reasonable chance the dinghy (and outboard) may get swamped as we land on the beach. We can see the surf going high up the beach. As we approach, rowing, we can see some waves breaking heavily on the beach and we wonder if a beach landing is such a bright idea. But we find a calm period and go for it. It’s a bit rough but we manage to get it up the beach without getting any water in.
We walk towards the other bay, on a narrow quad-bike track just behind the beach. Oana is not apparently seeing the excitement of this adventure, as small no-see-ems are biting her and prickly grass balls are jamming in her feet. I think of telling her “well this is how a deserted Pacific island may be after several weeks at sea”… but then I think better of it! Instead we head back to the beach that is easier walking.
About 100m behind the beach are the tall cliffs, riddled with cave structures. And in the sand we see foot and tail prints made by large iguana’s. I’d love to have a day trekking this pristine, unspoiled island. But Dominican Rep is calling, plus neither of us fancy rolling the night away in this anchorage.
We manage to get the dinghy back out through the surf and eventually back on the davits, not easy in these conditions, and certainly not good for the davits as the dinghy snatched at them badly as it lifts slowly out the swell. We could really do with a turbo button on the davit winches. At times like this, they are just too slow to pick the dinghy off the water.
We debate if we get going now, or wait till 1am which would have us arrive on the Punta Cana coast at daybreak. This would allow us to view that popular coastline and its all-inclusive resorts. But we opt to just get going after our cups tea and head directly for Samana Bay.
And we are glad we did. As we leave Mona, the wind comes in at 10-14 knots on the beam and soon we are romping along at a steady 9 knts.
But not before we have a little drama with the mainsail. Visually (in the near darkness) the mainsail seems to have come out the mast OK. At least, the foot has. But we notice a huge crease diagonally across the sail and realize the top section is still in the mast, jammed. Why do these things never happen in broad daylight? With our most powerful torch and some coordination between me with the torch calling the shots and Oana operating the buttons and mainsheet, the sail finally pops out and all is well again. Phew, one of those rare moments when you think maybe a standard slab-reefed sail would be better than in-mast furling!
We have a great sail all the way up to midnight. Most of the literature tells us to stay well clear of the HourGlass shoals that protrude 20nm to the east of Punta Cana. They are 40-50m deep but apparently fraught with currents that can pick up a nasty steep sea. But as the wind has been, and is, reasonably light, I take the risk and pass directly through the middle deeper section of the shoal.
We arrive there at midnight and pass with ease. The sea was a bit lumpy but nothing like the horrors described in the pilots. We then head NW along the mountainous Bavaria coast of Dominican Republic towards Samana.