Dominican Republic has been a blast, but it is time to move along. After monitoring all our normal weather sites for a few days and even getting a personalized weather forecast/routing report from Chris Parker (the professional marine weather forecaster/router) we were all a GO for leaving Luperon and headed to Samana, our next port in the DR and about 130 miles away. Normally we would just up anchor and be underway within ten minutes but here in the DR you not only have to clear in and out of the country, you also have to clear in and out of each port. You have to do this within an hour of leaving. This is really, really difficult to do when the officials only keep office hours and most of the sailing around here is done at night or very early morning when the trade winds die down. Lucky for us we found another great weather window with the winds so light we were afforded the opportunity to sail all the way to Samana without having to make stops along the coast or trying to leave at midnight.
Ready to go, we went to visit the officials. We waited on the stoop about 20 min for the first of them to show up and unlock the offices, then we made our way through each department filling out papers, checking passports, and, of course, paying money. It went smoothly though. Once the paperwork was all done we had to go to their Navy and have the Comandante (the big guy in charge) give us our despacho. The despacho is the piece of paper that allows you to leave the harbor and clear into the next harbor. Before you leave they will also come out to the boat and check things out (or collect gifts- however you might want to look at it). We walked up to the offices at the top of the hill and showed them our completed paperwork and receipts and asked for our despacho. No despacho. We asked as many different ways as we could think of but still only got “no despacho”. After a while of working out the language differences we figured out that they were not going to give us permission to leave the country because they thought the weather was bad. We were very confused. The weather was good-not bad. Even though we had spent hours checking the weather the last two days and were confident that we had a good and safe window to travel, we thought maybe they had some valuable local knowledge about something we missed. Another boater who was also trying to get permission to leave asked what was the concern with the weather. The officers couldn’t tell us exactly because they have no internet to see for themselves. It seems like some guy in the city told them the weather was bad. Awesome.
We were not the only boat trying to leave, at least seven boats that we knew of were asking for permission to leave but no one was allowed to go. Confusion and frustration was certainly palpable. We tried to convince ourselves that perhaps they were acting in our best interests and maybe saving us from some unknown dangerous conditions offshore that we couldn’t see despite all of our data, but this was coming from the same people who can not understand why you need to leave the harbor at certain times of the day (or night) in order to either avoid bad weather or to get into the next harbor by a certain time for safety reasons. I won’t even go into the aspect that we all captain our own boats and they are our homes and our decisions on when and where to travel and in what conditions are ones we take seriously and full responsibility for- nor do we leave those decisions for others who do not know our boats or how they travel! To add to our doubts we started hearing from a few locals that perhaps the restaurants did not want the cruisers to leave-they would miss the business. As we were watching our good and safe weather window slip away in front of us, I found this suggestion unsettling. However, we did not get even the slightest impression from the officials that money would have changed the situation. We gathered with the crews from Antares and Blabber in the local plaza and used the Wi-Fi to try to find the source of this mysterious bad weather. While the group was convening I wandered off to find the ever elusive Dominican Republic toilet. After a few strikes I found a café that looked promising. The old man at the counter asked me “just pee-pee?”. “Si, Senor.” Like most bathrooms here-no water so no flush. Just a little more weirdness thrown into an already bizarre morning. We never found why they thought the weather was no good. Wind was under 10k and seas 2-4. Long period swell. No squalls.
Defeated, we tried to regroup and make a new plan. We decided to wait for two more days because we think the weather should be decent enough to sail all the way across the Mona Passage and to Puerto Rico without making any more stops in the DR. We had already heard there are a lot of problems in Samana with corruption. Like here, we had thought we would just go with an open mind but I am not sure I really want to check in and check back out through one more harbor anymore. Especially if it is supposed to be much more difficult than here! I certainly don’t want to deal with another “Hotel California” scenario. We also learned by asking around to the long-timers that refusing despachos citing weather (which, again, was in fact good) is not the norm and we were not the only ones befuddled by the denial. Oh yay- we were the exception. Grrrrrrrrrrr. On top of the up-heaved plans for the day we were not sure what to do about all the paperwork we had that was stamped for us leaving the harbor within the hour. We were assured it would be OK. I will be interested to see if we have to pay again in two days though- if we even get clearance to leave that is!
Update: At least three maybe four of the boats left the harbor after being denied permission today. I can’t say the thought didn’t cross my mind in frustration a time or two today but was quickly dismissed as we still have to sail along the coast of the country for over 150 miles before you even start to make the jump to Puerto Rico. (that takes more than 24 hours by sailboat) The local military boat doesn’t seem to be in commission at the moment as it has derelict boats tied up to it and it is growing a pretty good reef on its bottom, but it is not like you can out-sail a phone call. There are other military boats in the fleet. This evening we saw a disgruntled looking Comandante commandeer a go-fast Panga fishing boat with a large outboard motor. He had a list of all the boats in the harbor and was going around carefully doing a roll-call. We also heard calls on the VHF to at least two of the escaped boats. The go-fast boat did not leave the harbor to go after the missing boats after the attendance was taken so I’m not sure what, if any, the repercussions might be. Should be interesting to see what the next few days bring.