Wednesday 1 May, Dom Rep day 8: Sail around Samana Peninsula towards north coast, and a VERY nervous entry to Las Terrenas Bay.
It’s been a bit of a restless night for me as the anchor alarm went off at 3am. I set it very tight in case the wind swung us onto the sand bank and the beach. We did swing a bit, but still in 5m of water, and sleep was light after that. Then wake up alarm goes at 7am. Not much sleep indeed.
The morning is cloudy. But nevertheless we try to fly the drone over Cayo Levantado island before we leave, as it we make a great view from above. And it was no surprise that drone’s IMU (gyro) won’t calibrate. It’s always the same when the boat is rocking. I must find a way around this issue. So no flight today.
During breakfast we are surprised to see an enormous cruise liner appear from behind Levantado island, entering Samana Bay. How can it even fit through that channel and where on earth will it go? Surely not the small town of Samana. We can’t imagine 2800 passengers descending on any of the touristy sights we have seen! We count the decks… 6 decks of at least 100 cabins on each deck, per side. And a couple more decks on top and several more below. Curious, we google the ship. Apparently it has a real grass lawn area between the funnels that you can play cricket on! Hmmm maybe we should sew some grass seed on our aft deck too!
By 8am we have raised the anchor and start another upwind sail to get the last bit out of Samana Bay. Just now the wind is lighter than yesterday, 12kts, but once passed Cayo Levantado we are fully into the Atlantic swell, 2-3m. Again the bow is dipping in and throwing white water back over the decks and occasionally even up the windscreen and over the sprayhood.
As we round Punta La Palometa (SE tip of Samaná Peninsula) we pull out 2/3 of the mainsail and pass over the shallow Canadaiqua Bank where the waves steepen even more. We had hoped to sail, hard on the wind, to Cabo Samana but we could not quite make it. It would mean just scraping passed the corner of a very rugged lee shore – not doing that! Especially now that the wind is touching 20kts and we can see enormous waves thumping the cliffs. So we keep the engine on to stay at least a mile offshore.
Finally, we reach Cabo Samana which is an impressive sight: steep limestone cliffs with thin white beaches and palm trees at their foot. As we round this NE corner of Samaná Peninsula, we head west, off wind, and turn the engine off. The mainsail gets furled away and the genoa goes out to starboard on the pole. Suddenly there is peace, no more spray, no more banging, just a gentle downwind sail. What a difference, upwind to downwind. We must stop going upwind in big waves, it’s clearly not good for neither Oana nor Cloudy … and what’s not good for them is not good for me! Hopefully this will be our last upwind leg this year!
As we pass along Samana peninsula’s north coast the swell dies down and we pass the palm backed white beaches of Valle Bay and Bahia Moron which we had previously visited by car.
During the next 2 hours we wash the salt off the cockpit, the pedestal and the windscreen. The rest will have to be de-salted when we next get rain.
As we approach Las Terrenas, we are in uncharted waters. There are no contours on our Navionics chart. When we are still half a mile off the coast the depth suddenly decreases from 50m to just 12m, and in front of us there is even lighter blue water (danger signs). So we head back out to sea, and even so the depth drops to 7m. Rather alarming considering we are still quite a way offshore.
To be safe, we furl away the genoa and use the engine for the last few miles. It’s blowing 20-23knts from behind so running aground with full genoa poled out and fully powered doesn’t bear thinking about.
As we draw level with Las Terrenas, still 1/2 mile offshore, the depths remain between 7-15m. We then turn directly inland. I decide that if it drops below 5m we will abort. Pretty quickly we are already below 5m! So a new minimum of 3.5m is set. Which was a bit crazy considering we run aground in 2.5m and there is a 23kn wind and big waves on our beam! But we can see two catamarans and a small monohull anchored in there, so we are determined to give it a go.
The chart is now useless so we guide ourselves with google earth on the iPad, using a hotspot from the phone. We can at least see where we are relative to the reefs using this app. Oana is continuously calling the depth while a very nervous captain glances between the colour of the sea in front and the google earth app, as our blue-dot GPS position creeps across the iPad screen getting ever closer to the shore. At 4.2m and still a good distance to go, Oana says, “Glen, let’s turn around”. But we carry on. The shallowest we saw was 3.6m, then surprisingly it gradually deepened back to 6-8m as we came in the narrow gap between the now visible reefs just below the surface either side of us.
Once behind the reef we crept in as slow as we could go, right into the windward corner between the beach and the reef and dropped the anchor in 4.5m of sand, right next to a small Dutch ketch. At last, we can relax! I really don’t want to do that again, in a hurry.
I dive the anchor and find it dug into the edge of a sea-grass bank. Normally I’d be OK with this, but in this wind I’d like to see the anchor in pure sand. So we re-anchor and this time I let Oana choose the spot. I dive again. She dropped it perfectly and the anchor has all but disappeared into the sand. As we sit and have lunch, we congratulate ourselves for managing to get in. Or maybe we should have been scolding ourselves for being reckless?!
By 5pm we are ready to go ashore for a swim and walk along the beach. We can see where the dinghy from the catamaran in front of us has been left on the beach. So we head to that spot. We beach just fine but notice the other dinghy has removed its outboard. That’s a bit ominous. Or are we just super cautious after having our last outboard stolen?
As we stroll down the beach we come to an area of local fishing boats all up on the beach and note that they all, without exception, have their outboards removed, we guess for safe keeping. So out of all the boats on the beach, our dinghy is the only one with an outboard on. On that note, head back to the dinghy, at double pace! And thankful it’s where we left it, untouched. We’ll have to ask around tomorrow how we can safely leave the dinghy. Otherwise visiting this lively town will not be enjoyable.
Back on Cloudy Bay the wind has died down after sunset and it’s quite peaceful for a while. But by 9pm it pipes back up to 20+Kts and we are kiting left and right on the anchor. At least there are no waves or swell, tucked in behind the shelter of this reef.
It seems to have been an exhausting day. So we are in bed early, with the cooling air flowing strongly through the boat, and the anchor alarm set!