In the Future…

Our recent U-turn brought us face-to-face with a reality that we have only taken fleeting glances at in a rear-view mirror the past few years. That reality being we have to work again.  We are not retired and our current lifestyle is one that is not self-sustaining.  While we haven’t been in denial and we are in no more urgent need to figure out our next steps than we were a month ago when we were still sailing East, as soon as our bow (not our stern) was pointed in the direction from where we started the feeling of needing a real plan for the future sort of whomped us both in the face.  If not careful, we would, by default, end up exactly where we started from.  While not a bad thing, and we even considered it a possibility, we want what we do in the next few years to be a conscious choice.

Although we’ve been unwavering in wanting to find a way to work and live in the Bahamas for years, we haven’t been able to figure it out once we remove Nassau from the equation.  And Nassau is most definitely removed from the equation. Our second long-standing desire has been to work 6 months and spend 6 months sailing.  We haven’t been able to crack the code on that one either.  What secret do the Canadians know that we can’t figure out? With those two plans not blooming any viable solutions, it was time to start considering all options and we had 13 hours of undisrupted sailing time to begin working it out. Let the conversation begin. Where did we want to live, where did we want to go, what did we want to do?  What is important? How?  When?  Is that even possible? We started throwing out every idea we’ve ever had-anything that flitted through our brains- no matter how outlandish or improbable.  We only gave each other a funny look a few times.  Sometimes the lines blurred between whether we were talking about where to travel vs. where to live.  Same between what we wanted to do for fun and potential for future incomes.  We just threw it all at the wall hoping something would stick.

A couple hours into this exercise, we were feeling out a new idea of me working with a medical travel/temp agency (think: travel nurse…except I am not a nurse).  We didn’t know much about how that worked but in one of the most rare sails ever we actually had internet between islands and a quick Google revealed that Alaska seems to have a boatload of seasonal Med Tech positions available for the summer.  Alaska? Keith’s eyebrows went up and he said “I want to go to Alaska.” Alaska is on my bucket list too. However I was thinking more of a 5-day summer cruise or something. We’ve never considered living anywhere cold. Ever. We moved along and kept up the brainstorming.  We also kept coming back to Alaska.  Each time we came back a tiny detail added to the little nugget of a plan.  By the end of the day it was clear, Alaska was the thing that stuck.

We even had it ALL figured out.  Okay…we might find a detail or two overlooked, but here it is:

Nothing changes for this Spring/Summer/Fall- we keep cruising as planned.  We are feeling good about that. Sometime next winter we will take the boat to Florida and buy a Toyota Highlander and one of those adorable teeny-tiny 13-foot travel trailers that look like an egg. Have you seen them? They even come with a shower in them! Ours will certainly have a little heater too. We then hit the road and do a road-trip from Florida to Alaska. I don’t even know how many miles that is yet. Alaska seems pretty far from Puerto Rico right now. We are assuming that there are a lot of nifty things to see between here and there. Every single one of our vacations for the last 20+ years had been a boat-based destination so this idea is really something totally new and different to us! There are so many places neither of us have seen yet so we might as well do all we can do in one fell swoop.  In Alaska we still get mountains, volcanoes, clear water, big wildlife, and lots of fishing.  And lots of space. We just wont be doing all of this in our bathing suits anymore! I will, hopefully, have arranged a 26 week long position in a medical laboratory for the summer, thus, checking the required box for “income”.  Housing will be provided or at minimum supplemented by the agency which is good because we are not planning on living in the wee travel trailer for the whole summer. Thirteen feet is not much bigger than our dinghy, we are aware of that fact. Keith is an A&P with experience with small planes and running maintenance of a small airport.  There seems to be a lot of those up there so hopefully he too will find a summer gig. The final important detail is to bolt before winter arrives, besides, I am sure we will be ready to see a palm tree or two by then.

Oh, and somewhere in there I buy a mountain of long underwear and a collection of fur-lined boots because my definition of cold is anything under 75 degrees.

See, ALL the details figured out! Wait….Did we finally figure out how to do the 6 months on/6 months off thing?!? Maybe???

Now, with that all figured out we can get back to enjoying the islands in front of us. This cruise is far from over.

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico! Finally breaking away from the congestion of St. Thomas, we retreated to Culebra and her little sister Culebrita for a little quiet time.  We stayed two nights in a flat calm anchorage looking straight out over the Caribbean Sea but protected from the swell by a shallow reef.  It felt glorious to stop rolling after so long in St. Thomas!  During the day we left our peaceful anchorages and ventured over to the rolly anchorages by Culibrita to go exploring. It was squally and since we were on a mooring that we didn’t fully trust we stayed very close to the boat but did take a walk up to the crumbling lighthouse, saying hello to lots of wild goats along the way.  We snorkeled the reef right under our boat to cool off (We did no spear fishing here-the ciguatera risk is too high for our comfort), but we passed on the bubbling pools when we saw a couple boat loads of tourist disembarking and heading that way.

The sail from Culebra to Salinas, Puerto Rico was a long, but very productive one. Keith set the poles as soon as we came up to the drop off and almost immediately we spotted a boil that we altered course for. TUNA!!! And we got one! As Keith was bleeding it we got another hit, at first we thought a shark because of the blood but it was just a pesky barracuda.  Boo. Before we could get it all the way in to release it the other line went zzzzziinngggggg! Now we have one slippery, bloody tuna, a fillet knife, and a half reeled in pest all going on on the aft deck at the same time all while lumping around in the waves. I keep saying I should mount the GOPRo to capture the chaos as we try to fish (but if I did that we, of course, would not catch anything).  We thought the next fish was another bigger barracuda…until we saw the stripes.  Our first Wahoo!!! Fish tacos for dinner-yum! It feels SO good to have fresh fish on our boat again.

With more than enough fillets onboard we pulled in the lines and the rest of the sail we spent trying to figure out just what we wanted to do with our lives, where we wanted to go, live, work, all that stuff……the outcome of that looooonng daylong discussion will have to be another post. (Spoiler: we’ve got a plan!)

Salinas reminds us of Florida with its mangroves, river-ish water, and even manatees.  Except they are very friendly towards cruisers and have mountains in the background so we settled in for a couple days.  Unfortunately the water had a distinct port-a-potty smell and we were happy to escape it by renting a car for two days and checking out the rest of the island. 

Puerto Rico cannot be seen in two days.  Add in the fact that we also needed to do all of our provisioning for the summer in the Bahamas plus hit up a list of stores like Wal-Mart, West Marine and Home Depot we had to do some major prioritizing!  The rental car  situation was a weird mess.  The marina by the harbor can arrange a car but we learned it was just a private guy with his personal car so we passed and arranged with a major provider.  They couldn’t pick us up (after saying they could) and we couldn’t find anyone who would so we were delayed a day. In the end we wound up using the marina’s guy.  He said he would bring all the paperwork and it was fully insured blah, blah, blah….  The morning of he handed us a brand-new car-only 121 miles on it- and we handed him $120.00 cash.  No paperwork.  I don’t even think he knew our names.  But, he promised over and over full coverage. No worries!  It’s not like they drive insane here or anything. Yikes. Hope so.

First priority and first stop was a small winding road in the town of Guavate. It is known for the Lechonerias that line the road all selling spit-roasted pigs.  Both Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmerman have featured this drive on their shows so I was worried it might have turned touristy, while there are several food trucks and souvineer vendors when you first turn onto the road they quickly disappear after the first few yards.  It is advised to go on a weekend at lunchtime when it is lined up and traffic slowed to a crawl with locals.  We had the car on a Wednesday and it was closer to breakfast time than lunch but it would just have to do.  No traffic jams and a few of the places were not open, but we had no problems finding a juicy pig!  Best. Lunch. Ever.  Including that crispy slice of skin.  Oh boy, so good.  In fact, we re-arranged our schedule just to eat here both days. Plus we had enough leftovers for a dinner too on the second day.

Next touristy stop was Old San Juan.  We wandered through the colorful streets and down the brick roads but didn’t need lunch and it wasn’t the kind of shopping we needed to get done that day so we spent most of the time checking out the fort.  It’s a pretty impressive fort. We hit Walmart and the other stores on the drive home.  I was way too tired to pull off a major provisioning run properly so meals might get interesting in a few weeks. Our last stop of the night was Keith’s choice.  We didn’t want to eat out because we wanted to get back to Kai, but having only eaten our very early pork lunch we were starved.  He pulled into a boat storage yard by the harbor.  I had no idea why.  In the back there was a bar with blinking disco lights, loud music and some guys playing pool under a canopy. We got ice-cold drinks and he ordered some chicken empanadillas to tide us over till we cooked dinner. They were pretty damn delishious!  Just as I was wondering why one of the tough-looking guys kept looking over at us he approached and introduced himself.  He asked where we were from and and welcomed us to the neighborhood-let him know if there was anything we needed while we were in the area and we talked with him for a while. It was a perfect ending to our long day! So how did Keith know about this place?  He found it walking to the grocery store earlier in the week.  (No wonder he didn’t mind going to the store each day even though it was a couple miles walk)  He hadn’t told me about it because even though he had bought an empanadilla to bring home for me, each time he had eaten them himself before he arrived!  After having one-I can’t even blame him.

Day two of touristy things was all about the rainforest (and more chores).  The El Yunque park is a legit rainforest and since going to a rainforest is on my bucket list it was non-negotiable.  I absolutely loved it.  Since we did the full-immersion waterfall experience in DomRep we stuck to the just looking experience.  Because of time restraints we didn’t take any of the long hikes or even see the big, big waterfalls but completely enjoyed the experience we did have. I loved the huge, lush, dripping-wet leaves everywhere.  I’d go back in a heartbeat! By far, this was my favorite part of Puerto Rico.

Goodbye Puerto Rico.  You were tasty and gorgeous!  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

U-Turn

It is official, we’ve made a U-turn.  While just days ago we were on a path floating down the string of Caribbean Islands and planning to spend the Hurricane season in Grenada before working our way across the South and Central American coast towards the jeweled and remote islands of the San Blas (Panama) from which we would slowly work our way back to the start, today we have our bow pointed West.

What happened in the past few weeks to totally derail decades worth of planning and dreaming?!?  I don’t know for sure.  Maybe it started when we left the Dominican Republic and knew we hadn’t even begun to see all it had to offer.  We were only in one harbor after all.  Or, on that logic, maybe it started when we sailed right past Rum and Conception in the Bahamas- they were both on my wanna-go-there list.  It’s like we built up so much momentum then crashed and burned.  Really, it probably started with the comparison of what we had read and seen about the San Blas islands in our preparation phase (years and years ago) to what we heard from people who have been there recently. Seems we did our research once and didn’t revisit it again. To shorten it down to a sentence or two: It is no longer a place that is only reached by the rare cruising boat, it is a place now easily reachable by plane, charter boat, cruise ship excursion tours and probably even jet skis too. We are listening to reports of overcrowded anchorages with fees to anchor and even come ashore.  This is a far cry from what we are in search of.  Not all the islands have been corrupted by the taste of tourism, but it seems many have.  Some cruisers loved the San Blas, some hated it, some people said it is now a lost destination- the window to truly experience it unmolested has already closed.  However, everyone does seem to be in agreement that if what you are looking for is free diving, spearfishing,  clear water, unlimited white beautiful beaches, and the freedom to travel among them we won’t find any better than the Ragged and Jumento Islands of the Bahamas. In all of our time in the Bahamas we never made it there. Normally we take it all in and just go see for our selves but all of a sudden 1600 miles (plus the return trip) seemed like a really, really long way to sail for a destination that we now had some doubts about how much we would like. From this doubt it snowballed and we’ve been a lost, spinning mess since.  If time (money) were not the limiting factor we would still just go and see for our selves then come back and hit the parts of the Bahamas we missed and/or loved again.  We don’t have that many seasons left.  It is an either or situation. Decisions had to be made, priorities sorted.

Once San Blas was in question the entire Eastern Caribbean quickly came under review.  Did we want to still go to Grenada for the summer?  The Eastern Caribbean was never our interest, they were just islands along our path we hoped to enjoy on our way to our primary destination.  We’ve been in the USVI for almost three weeks now for weather, and while we know we can’t compare these charter clogged islands to the entire chain, we think we have seen enough to make a decision. Though the process has been a doozey!! We’ve flip-flopped on an almost hourly basis for days now!  I even made a color-coded spreadsheet with our possible routes to help sort out all our options.  It just added to the mess.  Anyone who has come in contact with us as we were working out this whole morphing-of-a-dream thing has probably felt our sting. Sorry. We never forgot that we are in a the most privileged  of positions, but, still, transitions can be exhausting.

We finally were able to work it through to this:  With our remaining cruising seasons, was it more important WHERE and how FAR we went (and completing what we set out to do)-or-HOW we experienced these remaining seasons.  Until now the where and the how meshed.  We were someplace we thought was terrific and doing all the things we love. So Simple.  We don’t feel that way now.  Where do I begin without sounding sour and bratty? I suppose I can’t, but we are not enjoying the crowded harbors, we don’t like being told we have to use a mooring ball, and we really don’t like having to pay $26.00 a night to use it.  We don’t like the hunt to find the exclusions to these rules. The beaches are beautiful, sure, but are littered with bars, and beach-floaty rental shacks, and, the kicker for me, they come with roped-off swimming areas that I am supposed to stay in.  I, apparently, do not like being told where I can swim! Throw on top that you have to pay just to access many of the beaches and we are done.  Done, done. What all of that boils down to is that we feel we are someplace we could just as easily visit and experience just as wholly by plane and we are worried it will likely be the same for the majority of the way down the islands.  The freedoms we have by traveling on our own little boat are all gone here.  Are our concerns for the remaining islands valid? I think so. Would we see beautiful things, have amazing experiences, and meet wonderful people if we kept going?  Absolutely. Will we regret not venturing on? That is the real question. We hope not. We won’t have this opportunity again.

Instead of continuing on we have chosen to spend our precious remaining seasons living a life that cannot be reached by plane.  We are going back to where we eat from the water more meals than not, have the freedom to chose where to drop the anchor and make home for the night- perhaps a beautiful beach with not another soul in sight, and live a more self-sufficient and free life in a part of the world that is still unblemished by crowds (before it is).  Where we want to do that happens to be in the direction we just came from. The current plan (it has been unwavering for a whole 30 hours- a record for the past few weeks) is to finish waiting on some mail here in St. Thomas, then slowly work our way back through Puerto Rico seeing what we missed on our speedy sail East, revisit Dominican Republic, and then head back to our beloved Bahamas. We won’t miss the Raggeds this time! Plans for Cuba are actively being researched to help satisfy the “see new places” desire. Yesterday we committed and made arrangement for hurricane storage if needed on Stocking Island. It is not the plan of world-travelers or of adventurous sailors.  It is just our little happy-happy plan.

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^^ Despite our overall feelings, our introduction to St. Thomas could not have been sweeter.  A few miles out we hailed our friends on Smitty– we haven’t seen them since sailing with them in the Bahamas about a year ago and were excited to see them again.  We didn’t really expect an answer on the radio, they were not expecting us for a few more weeks, but we got one!  Before we even made it all the way in the harbor they had a mooring ball arranged for us and a plan to get us in the water immediately!  Best. Welcome. Ever.  They gave us the tours and the lowdown’s on where to get stuff like groceries and laundry, and more, it has been fun catching back up.

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^^We moved out of the mooring field and into Brewers Bay anchorage to give ourselves some more room and hang on our own equipment for the days and days of weather we got.  We knew it was coming, that is why we had been traveling so fast.

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^^ We participated in a community clean-up day with the crew on Blabber. The ladies liked Keith’s dreadlock painting skills!!!

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^^ We sailed over to St. John to get away from the city for a night.  It was pretty.  We enjoyed seeing the mountains green and not covered with square buildings. We tied the boat off to the required mooring, secured the dinghy off to the designated dinghy area and swam in the buoyed swim zone.  Everything was nice. The experience did little to sway us from turning around.

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^^While at St. Johns we went in search of a beach that Kai was allowed on.  The main one was off limits and the one behind us was to rocky to land on so we went to the next little one we saw.  It was perfect and no one was around. Kai ran from one end to the other over and over.  When we got back to the boat we realized that that cute little beach had been in the BVI’s. Ooopppps!!  We were not allowed there and Kai REALLY wasn’t allowed there.  (So, technically the farthest East we got was the BVI’s!)

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^^ Our favorite little spot on St. Thomas ended up being Brewers Bay. (The previous three photos) It sets under the pretty little University of the Virgin Islands Campus.  The University has opened the beach to the public for free and many locals come and enjoy it daily.  Two food trucks park up on the road.  The other side of the anchorage is the airport runway so it provided us entertainment to watch the little planes landing and taking off when we were getting gusts in the 30’s and 40’s!  It is filled with sea turtles, so that is nice too.

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^^We took a walk on Megan’s Bay Beach just because it was listed as one of the top 10 beaches in the world.  Of course we went after 5pm because we just don’t pay to walk on a beach.  It was pretty, and long.  We left feeling very lucky….we could list a bunch of beaches that we enjoyed more.  I think our judging criteria was just different.

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^^ Lost in thought….

Puerto Rico in a Blink

Okay, so the last post left off with us waiting for the Department of Homeland Security to come out and give our little boat a peek over.   They never came.  We called again the next morning got transferred all over the island and finally were given our magical little combination of numbers that said we were allowed to set foot in our country.  Not sure why they didn’t just do that from the beginning –but whatever.

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I had planned on sewing us our Puerto Rico courtesy flag on the sail from DR.  Keith, being the most thoughtful husband ever, knew I wasn’t up to it and stopped in the sail shop in Luperon the morning we left and bought us one.  I include a photo…..just in case you were thinking of getting some sail or canvas repair done while in Luperon.  Hems? Stitching?  Not so straight.  But ever so appreciated!!!  I didn’t have to sew it and it was only $4.00.

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Boquerón is a University and local family vacation spot and with it being a holiday weekend we got to see it in full action.  Coming back to the boat from calling Customs we found ourselves swarmed with jet skies.  Hundreds!  It was like kicking a hornets nest of them. There was some sort of club or something and they zoomed into the anchorage all afternoon.  Normally we hate jet skies, but at this point we just had to be entertained by the whole circus.  There was a police boat and three police jet skies near us.  They constantly had people pulled over.  It looked like they had a profitable weekend. We did escape the craziness for a bit by going ashore and doing some touristy people-watching for the afternoon.

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Having seen all we needed to see at Boquerón, we had a great little sail around the corner to the quiet water-side town of La Parguera. The town was cute and colorful, but we anchored off in a secluded little spot behind some reefs and snuggled up next to some mangrove islands.  For the first time in a LONG time we got to go for a dive and catch dinner. We caught lobster, Keith saw a baby hogfish.  It was too small to go for, but was still exciting to see! The water felt great.

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Our anchorage was right next to this blimp station.  It was pretty neat watching it be brought down and float back up. It did crazy things to our radio reception and Kai wasn’t quite sure what he was supposed to do about it.  It tested his little watch-dogging skills.

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The main attraction, though, was searching for monkeys!  We heard that the little island we were anchored in front of was home to 400 monkeys.  Monkeys are on my bucket list so we went in search.  There is a mangrove lined creek that runs through the islands.  We turned off the motor and quietly paddled through the entire creek.  We didn’t hear, or see, or smell any monkeys. It was a neat trip though and saw lots of other wildlife- just no monkeys.

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^^Even Kai helped look for monkeys.

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The weather has been perfect for sailing along the coast.  Technically this is still all part of the Thorny Path, but our luck has been holding out and it has been easy sailing so we’ve kept moving. Next stop was Ponce.  We figured we would basically set up camp in Ponce as it had wonders such as malls, Wal-Marts, Sam’s Clubs, marine stores, US Post Offices and is in the land of Amazon delivery.   We’ve acquired quite a list of items that we needed to take care of.  We also expected to do some sight-seeing of Puerto Rico from there too.

We were at Ponce exactly 55 minutes.  That was long enough to discover that the anchorage is too crowded with moored boats to get into it, the Yacht Club no longer allows dinghies to access their dinghy dock-even for a fee, there was no WiFi access, and we would need a taxi everyday to get to all the shops if we did find a safe place to tie the dinghy (we didn’t consider the boat ramp a safe spot).  In an unusually decisive moment we turned around and kept sailing down the coast (after filling up on cheap diesel). Ponce would just have to be visited by rental car from somewhere else.

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^^Ponce, not so much our scene.

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That evening we slid into the Salinas anchorage just as the sun was getting low.  It was a much better spot than Ponce!  Pretty, cruiser friendly, calm anchorage, and manatees swimming by the boat.  We went to bed thinking it would be home for the next week.

That plan was thrown out the window before breakfast the next morning.  The weather report was that the glorious good weather we have been enjoying was going to be coming to a screeching halt soon.  And when it did, it was going to be ugly for a really long time.  Like weeks.  So basically the take away was get to where you wanted to be stuck.  While we had planned on staying in Salinas for a while, it sounded like we were going to be there for a LONG while.  The decision became Wal-marts and projects or beaches and swimming.  Hmmmm.  Beaches won.  I heard they have beautiful ones in the Spanish Virgin Islands!

We did a mad scramble of completing as much stuff as we could in one day.  Luckily everything just seemed to line up for us all day long.  We even ran across a cruiser with a car headed to the grocery store with extra room in their back seat for us.  We had planned on doing some major reprovisioning while in Puerto Rico.  Instead we just ran a cart as fast as we could down each isle and dumped stuff in so we could catch the same ride back.  I didn’t even have my list with me. Beans, tuna, toilet paper and off we go!  We actually did pretty good I think.  Auto-pilot and freezer parts, we decided, would have to wait for a while longer. As well as mail from the US.

And that concluded our speedy tour of Puerto Rico, we headed out at first light the next morning.  We will definitely have to come back and give this island some more time.  But, if we have learned anything, take the good weather when you have it!

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^^Did I mention the sailing has been glorious?!?

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So, our tour of the Spanish Virgin Islands is almost identical as Puerto Rico’s. I can’t even give it its own post. Instead of a week we blew through in 24 hours. We stopped in Vieques as we wanted to sneak in a quick dive. We tried three different anchorages but they were all too rolly so sailed straight to Culebra for the night.  This is where we were going to camp for the next few weeks.  Once we got there we realized that the only beach we would be able to access in the high winds was a preserve.  Which is great, but Culebra and the rest of the Spanish Virgin Islands have so many great diving spots and cove-y beaches. We knew we had to see them but it would be probably be best when the weather would be more conducive to enjoying them-or even getting to them!  Maybe we should have thought that out better before we left Salinas?  Anyway……off to St. Thomas! We will back-track when the weather clears. We are not skipping these islands.

Besides, St. Thomas has K-marts and US Post Offices.  Even better than that—friends!!!!

The Mona

This may sound stupid, but the first thing we did after finally getting our despacho was fall asleep, but we had an hour to leave the harbor and we were the first boat out of three that was planning on taking the same window to get cleared out so we had a few minutes.  Between my climbing fever and the bureaucracy stress we just needed a moment to regroup before starting out on what ended up being a long trip.  We left that afternoon, sailed through the night, sailed all the next day, sailed through the next night, and sailed through the next day until pulling into Boquerón Puerto Rico in the early evening.  The autopilot functioned for about one hour of that whole trip before breaking.  Having to hand steer made the trip seem to take foreeeeevvvveeeerrrrr!!!  The conditions weren’t bad, actually quite good, but parts still felt something like having strapped your home onto the back of a galloping horse. Keith took the majority of the watches and we disregarded a set watch schedule.  When ever one of us naturally woke up from a nap, we took over.  Most of my watches were short, an hour or two.  It was all either of us could do feeling so crappy.  All I wanted was to climb under a mountain of blankets and not come back out.

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As we passed near Samana Bay we kept a look out for whales.  This time of year humpback whales migrate and gather in the shallow waters off of the coast of DR and the mothers birth their calves here. I really didn’t want to spot any. Our boat insurance covers pretty much everything a normal policy covers except it has one very clear exclusion- damage by marine life (whales).  We figure there is good reason.  At first all we saw were fishing nets, in fact we found ourselves surrounded by a large drift net near Samana.  We had to cut the engine and float over it because we couldn’t see either edge of it. Then we heard Antares shout on the VHF- WHALES!!!!!  Off our starboard bow, probably close to a mile away, we saw them.  At first we thought we saw the whole whale breaching then realized it was only its tail.  That is when I really realized how massive they are!  We watched as the whales would lift their huge tails out and slap the surface causing a huge splash.  We also saw them spouting and even a few breaches.  My favorite was watching them roll over-and they did it over and over again.  One gigantic fin would slowly lift out of the water, arc, and splash down thunderously just as the second gigantic fin would lift out and follow.  They put on a non-stop show for about half an hour.  I hadn’t wanted to see them from our boat but it ended up being one of the most amazing experiences.  There we were sitting in our cockpit, in our pajamas, watching a few of only 15000 great humpback whales in the whole world frolic in front of us.  MAGNIFICENT!!!! I didn’t get photos, my camera doesn’t have a good zoom so all that would have come out is a lot of water and sky and a tiny splash.  Instead we just took in the moment.  We didn’t go any closer to them, they were longer and heftier than our boat and they were tossing there massive bodies about like a tantruming child, we stayed well out of their way!!!  It was an absolutely spectacular experience.

The second night of sailing was long and a little bouncy, but completely uneventful as we finally pulled away from the coast of the DR.  The morning found us at the edge of the Hourglass Shoals and the beginning of the Mona Passage.  I could write a paragraph or more on the hows and whys the Mona Passage can be one of the most treacherous passages in the Atlantic.  But we have had enough drama the past week so I will just write that it was flat calm-totally mellow.  Of course, that is specifically why we were so determined to make our weather window out of Luperon on time. The Mona did bring her own surprises though- more whales!!!  At first Keith thought he saw a big log in the water but it was too black and shiny.  When he realized it was a whale, he thought it was a baby humpback and started looking for mama!  It was a pilot whale (we think).  We passed within 20 feet!!!  I was down below and didn’t make it up in time to see it, but it wasn’t my only chance.  From there on, through the whole Mona Passage, we passed pods of them.  These ones were smaller than the boat and were just floating at the surface- not tossing their heft about like the giant humpbacks.  We still didn’t get closer on purpose.  It ended up being a great Mona Passage crossing.  We are becoming great believers in being very selective of weather windows!

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By late afternoon we had pulled into Boqueron, Puerto Rico and dropped hook in the company of our passage-making friends Antares and Blabber.  To clear in Customs we needed to make a phone call which would have entailed launching the dinghy and putting the outboard motor on it- they were both secured away for for the trip.  Instead we raised the Q-flag and were both asleep before dark.

In the morning we learned Antares and Blabber were going to take advantage of the favorable weather and keep going, they have already seen Puerto Rico. We have not and we need to take care of some details like repairing our autopilot and getting some mail shipped in from the the US so we said our “until we see you agains” over coffee aboard Blabber.  Then we went ashore and called Customs.  We had the bought the Customs sticker and signed up for the Small Vessel Reporting Program in the States so we expected to just have to make a phone call like when we cleared into Florida from the Bahamas.  That is what all the other US vessels seemed to do when they got here.  Instead we were told that someone would be out to the boat for an inspection within a few hours-just wait on the boat.  That was fine we needed some more time to relax and recover anyway.  We went back to the boat and waited.  And waited.  By 4:00 we got impatient and Keith went in and called again but there was no answer anywhere.  No one ever came out to our boat.  There was a concert going on on the beach in front of the anchorage at night.  We got to enjoy it from the cockpit but the smells of fried and sweet vendor food also floated our way.  If we had been free to, we would have gone ashore and joined in. But we were not free to go.  Again.  Seems to be our story lately!

Boqueron edit

No Dispacho, No Dispacho, Si Dispacho!!!

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Ok, let me see where we left off….we had been denied exit authorization on Monday.  So Tuesday we had planned to keep a low profile and specifically NOT see any of the officials or the Comandante in hopes that over time he would get over his little power trip thing and whatever may have been stirred up by him losing control of his harbor and vessels leaving without authorization the day before.  Unfortunately in the afternoon as we were walking back to the boat from town the Comandante spotted us before we spotted him.  He approached us and after a quick greeting he told us something of which we got out of: GO NOW.  We were not sure if it was that we needed to go now or he wanted us to go now.  Either way the weather window that we wanted to use Monday was closed and gone and there was now a north wind.  Not bad weather- just not the weather we needed or we probably would have just accepted and gone- no questions asked. Instead we told him that, no, we wanted to leave tomorrow (when the wind direction was good again).  He shook his head. No, no…got a phone call….bad weather….can’t go tomorrow-no despacho.  Seriously?!? Here we go again!  I immediately walked over to the bar we’ve been going to everyday and asked for bartender to just translate for us and he did.  We explained the weather was very good tomorrow and we needed to leave then.  After a lot more talking than we asked for to be translated the bartender told us we would be OK tomorrow.  We looked over at the Comandante, said Thank You, and confirmed that we were all good for clearing out tomorrow.  He didn’t look happy and was looking at the ground but said yes.  I am not sure what this has been all about but I know it is not the weather! I also don’t know how much of where we were now standing factored into what had just happened.  Wendy’s bar, the main cruisers hang-out, is run by a local family and also an ex-pat (married into the family).  Norm, the expat, runs the morning VHF cruisers net and always asks for any reports of problems encountered with the locals and asks for new boaters to report any excessive requests  experienced while clearing in and dealing with the officials.  He has been working hard on cleaning up the reputation and improving the experience of the visitors to bring more people back into the town. As we walked back down the street the Comandante offered us a ride in his shiny, chromed-out, decaled-up personal car. Thank goodness we were stepping into one last shop and could politely decline. It was weird  even though we got an OK, we were not feeling that confident that everything was going to go smoothly on Wednesday.

Early Wednesday morning we gathered with our friends on Blabber and Antares and all together headed ashore to hopefully get our despachos. We commented to each other that we saw people working on the Navy boat and they even had the engine room hatches open. Prepping for futures escapees? We also saw the Comandante on the pier.  Together we walked up the hill to the office and once again asked for our despachos.  I know you are going to just as surprised as we were to hear the answer…. “No despacho”.  This time they cited that the Comandante was in Puerto Plata. No despachos today. BS.  He was in the harbor.  We, well our friends that speak better Spanish than us, explained that we were told no problems today by the Comandante himself yesterday-please give him a call. We sat down and waited. I think they knew we were going to stay until we had a resolution.  After a while of politely going back and forth and just smiling while we waited one of the guys had us fill out a piece of paper and they took photos of our passports with their phones (nothing is done on computers).  Then we were told we could meet them on the dock at 12.  They wouldn’t give us a copy of the papers we just filled out.  I got the feeling he had just done it so that we would leave, but since he had given us a time, we hoped we were wrong. Keith took me back to the boat since I was feeling crappy, he had shared his germies with me,  and he went back to the dock to wait just in case they were early. (We wanted no excuses)  By eleven we heard from another boater that they would come out at 2:30.  This was cutting it too tight, we needed to leave in the afternoon to make our whole trip work-besides they didn’t tell any of us that.  At noon no one showed up.

Before we got to the DR I had written down the number for the US Embassy in Santo Domingo just in case we got ourselves into something scary while touring. I never envisioned requiring it from the boat.  While technically we were being held without our consent for a bogus reason- I wasn’t ready to call it that yet (nor-do I really believe it was that yet).  The whole situation evoked range of emotions including frustration, confusion, dismay, and sometimes even humor over the last three days-but we never felt fearful or scared. Not even a little.  However, now, humor was long gone and so was the just go-with-the-flow and accept it attitude and we really needed to leave within a few hours for a safe trip. The situation was starting to turn into something else if we missed this opportunity. I started playing out the phone call to the Embassy in my head.  Ben and Keith went to find the Comandante as they had not told us it was going to be later.  Finally by a little after 1:00 we had gathered the officials (we didn’t need to go to Puerto Plata to find them) and loaded them into our dinghies and brought them out to our boats.  We were first.  We filled out the same little piece of paper we filled out in the morning and as we did we handed out cold bottles of water.  The Comandante was not interested- he wanted something better.  Sorry. We had bought several bottles of rum specifically  with the intention of giving them to the officials, but after the past few days of antics I plan on drinking them myself. ( I am glad we bought them nice rum!) We don’t have a problem with giving a tip to make things smooth or show appreciation but not in this scenario. They didn’t ask us for more gifts but they did on the other boats. They, as our friend described perfectly, acted like rotten, rude children while aboard and their talk about the women on the boats in front of and to the husbands was off-the-chart unprofessional and vulgar.

FINALLY!!!! We had our despacho!!!  I was also now the proud owner of a 102.8 fever. Awesome. What a way to start off a 50+ hour sail!

If you read our blog because maybe one day you may want to travel the same path (it is why I have read so many blogs the past few years), I don’t want this one situation to be the take-away of the Dominican Republic.  Please, please don’t let this be the only story that you share when talking about this country.  Just like I don’t want to be judged because of the man that heads the US, it would not be fair to judge the DR on the perversions of their Armada.  Toss a bottle of hand-sanitizer, a roll of toilet paper, and a map in your backpack and enjoy the DR.  It is worth the “troubles”!!!  Really, don’t pass it up just because of a few child-like men.

On that note- instead of writing about our passage (I am typing this post from Boquerón, Puerto Rico), I would rather share two short stories that better wrap up our experience in DR and leave on a happier thought.

One Beer Bottle of Gasoline

One of the days that I was feeling lethargic Keith took the motorcycle out for drive by himself.  We had already learned here that you do not fill up the tank before your return your rented vehicle, you just put in what you use for the day.  (Even if you are renting two days in a row)  He was just riding aimlessly but started to head back to the town when the gas was low- he thought he had put just enough in to last the day.  Not quite.  He ran out on one of the country roads.  He switched to the reserve tank (that had been full the day before) and found it to be empty now too. Whoops! A car stopped immediately and tried to help Keith switch to the empty reserve tank, then a guy from the closest house came out to help, then his brother came out too.  The brother tried to blow through the lines and make sure they were not blocked.  Not much they can do when there was no gas!  They offered to call him a motoconcho, but Keith was just going to push the bike back to town (he had almost made it back). The guys suggested he stop a few houses down first.  Keith stopped when he saw some guys working on a bike, but that was too far.  The guys gave him a “push” back up the hill (They drove on their bike and put their foot on his making it go).  At this house more people came out to help.  One was carrying a  Presidente Grande beer bottle full of gasoline. Love it. The guy filled it up, choked it and even started it for Keith.  Keith could have done it himself but they wanted to assist. Keith made sure to pay for the gas (It is the one very expensive thing here) and give big “gracias-es” all around. Just one more way to make some new friends. He made it into town and bought a few more pesos of gas to finish off playing for the day.

Our Valentines Date

The night after we were supposed to have left was Valentines Day.  We, in general, don’t do holidays but the town was quite excited about the day and we got excited too.  Red a white balloons were getting stuck on motorcycles and in doorways.  Women were getting their hair done up in big curlers and the men were gathering slabs of meat and collecting vegetables getting ready to cook a big meal.  Wendy’s Bar was hosting a dance and Freddie was making a pot of Sancocho. They were providing lessons for Merengue and Salsa later. It didn’t matter that we both felt completely crappy, we knew this was a night we shouldn’t miss!  I guess for Valentines Day it is customary to cook a huge meal and share it.  All through the streets were large cauldrons of meaty stews over wood fires set on cinderblocks being stirred with long sticks.  We were invited to taste them as we walked by.  The one we had for dinner was green and bubbly.  It looked like a witches brew- complete with bones and everything!  It was the best thing I can remember tasting!  It was like chicken soup- but with three types of meat- and little like split pea soup as it was thick and creamy.  It had lots of vegetables and herbs in it. I’m going to Google it later, but there is no chance I could ever cook it the same.  The bar served it in huge bowls for free.  As we were laughing and enjoying the night Keith said “I’m not ready to leave here yet.”  UmmThat is good-because at the moment we can’t! We wanted to hang around to watch the dancing but didn’t make it that late. We heard the rest of the night was all fun. It was still a very enjoyable date and now we need to go back so we can get those dance lessons we missed!

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DR, you are a happy, welcoming, fantastic, fun, green, tasty country.  We can’t wait to come back!