Sunday, April 16, 2006

Mona Passage April 2006

Return to RAFT and Mona Passage March 30/2006

We enjoyed our family time in Florida and Canada, despite the cold weather, but we happy to return to Santa Domingo to continue our Dominican adventure. We had a great return flight (we flew Spirit Airlines from Fort Lauderdale, very affordable), one more evening at Betty's and caught the 830 bus back to Luperon. We were anxious to see how RAFT had survived four weeks without us.
Upon arrival at the dinghy dock, we called Derek and Ester on our new hand held VHF radio, and they willingly came to give us and our luggage (one more bag than we had left with) back to RAFT. RAFT was fine, no water or mold/mildew issues, and exactly where we had left her. We spend the afternoon putting away everything away and RAFT back to order, and then we were off to Puerto Blanco Marina for Friday night BBQ. The filet mignon was excellent!!
The boat population had rotated while we were away. Only 3 boats that had arrived with us in February were still in the harbour, but there were many others who had come to take the missing boats places. Some of these new boats were travelling southeast, having spent March in Georgetown at the regatta, and others were heading north, home to USA and Canada. Of course the harbour full time residents, like Unity, Off Call, Presque Isle, Smigeon, Rhat Cat, ….were still there and welcomed us back.
The Mona passage is one of the "rights of passage" this journey south has in store for us. Like the first crossing the Gulf Stream in Florida, this passage strikes fear in the hearts of sailors!! this is only because its the first time and it is a unknown. Like the Gulf Stream crossing, you must wait for the right weather and sea condition to go. Unlike the Florida crossing it is much longer so the opportunity to go must be there for a 3-5 days. These opportunities seem to happen about every two weeks and seem to be there for a longer time..
There appeared to be a good weather window opening up early in the week, to head east. We really didn't know if we could be ready for it, but were going to try. We had an empty fridge, which had lost its gas while we were away, fuel and water tanks to be filled, anchor chain and bottom to be cleaned and Ross needed to give RAFT a good going over to make sure she was seaworthy having sat in Luperon Harbour for two months. So we made the boat chore list and set about to see if it could be accomplished, should this weather window materialize.
By Tuesday, Ross had changed the oil and fluid in the engine and transmission, topped up the water and fuel tanks, recharged the refridgeration system and given RAFT a good check up. Bev cleaned the anchor chain which was full of barnacles after 4 weeks, and Doug from Presque Isle did RAFT's bottom. We had loaded the freezer with Ana Lopez's chickens, packed away a case of Presidente beer, made our final trip to the bakery and the fruit/veg truck. Last on the list: despacho (check out)
We headed in, with quite a few other boaters to the blue trailer. We had to pay $50 to immigration because we had left and returned to the DR which they call a "crew change". We had been forewarned about this by the other cruisers. Harbour fees were $15 per month and $20 paid to the commadante for the despacho. All together we paid $85 when we arrived, $20 when we flew out, $20 when we arrived and $100 to check out..$225 US for our two month stay in the DR ($90 more than most because we flew home) But we have thoroughly enjoyed the DR, its people and scenery, the inexpensive cost of living, and we really hope to return.
The weather window continued to hold, and so about 5 pm on Tuesday, RAFT and about fifteen other boats left Luperon. The first 3 hours were tough going. The winds were NE about 10 knots, but the seas were 6-8', we had about a knot of current against us, so we were motor sailing, doing 1 mile tacks out from the rhumb line, averaging 3 - 4 knots, speed over ground. The seas were definitely calmer close to shore. We were concerned that if things didn't settle down, we couldn't continue this way for entire trip. We knew we had left before the evening island lee had kicked in, (as per Bruce Van Sant's instructions) but we wanted to leave the harbour in the daylight to be able to see the reefs and the fish pots. Previous departures by other boats were marred with crab/lobster trap floats wrapped around propeller shafts while exiting the harbour at night. Not something we wanted to chance.
At 8 pm, we heard a loud bang, and found that one of the brackets that holds the main sheet in the boom track had broken. It was dark, and RAFT was bouncing around, when Ross tethered to the jack line, had to sit on the cabin top, and figure out what had broken and how to fix it. In the end he decided to leave it, since it was still attached by one bracket. Bev's only thought: Why couldn't this had happened on our sail to Luperon, then we would have had 2 months to get it fixed? Or why do things like this always happen in the dark?
By 9pm the seas were settling down, but we still were only averaging 3 - 4 knots, and this rate it was going to be a long trip. It seemed to take forever to pass the bright lights of Puerto Plata. Finally about 1 am we rounded Cabo Macoris, having fought a 1 knot current all the way. The winds were light, and the little there was on the nose. Our speed did pick up and we were heading for Cabo Frances Viejo. By dawn, we were in light winds and waves, motoring north of the cape. Chris's weather indicated that the winds and seas were going to continue to be light right through to Friday so we kept on going. Since the conditions were so light, we decided to run the rhumb line between Cabo Frances Viejo and Cabo Cabron, just north of Cabo Samana..
Winds and seas remained light all night and all day, as we crossed the Mona Passage. However just before we reached Isla Desecheo the winds picked up enough that we actually we able to turn the engine off for a couple of hours and sail. But then they shifted more to the south east and lightened up and we put the engine back on. It was dark, about 11 pm when we arrived at the Mayaguez harbour entrance and it was difficult to differentiate the navigation and range lights from the city lights. The buoys did show up when on radar, and we slowly proceeded until we had sorted it out, and made our way to the anchorage. Hook down and a quiet night, a successful 55 hour passage from Luperon to Puerto Rico and we were glad to be in.
The next morning, being Friday, we had read in the guide books to expect the ferry in from the Dominican Republic. Sure enough, the ferry was on the horizon by 730 am, and we wanted to get into immigration before it arrived. Clearing in was easy, but because our US cruising license had expired we had to get an new one. And for that we had to wait until the customs officer was through with the ferry. We went back to RAFT, tidied up, and returned before noon to get the paperwork. ($19 for a year)
The winds we up, and rain was threatening, so we decided to stay another day in the anchorage and leave early Saturday morning when we were fully rested.