Apr 09 2007 – Offshore Adventure to the D.R.

Our trip to the D.R. starts out mildly from Conception as a motoring trip on a lazy sunny afternoon.  The crew is in good spirits which are raised even higher as we hook our first big ocean fish, an Albacore Tuna.  Alouette is similarly engaged in landing a Mahi around the same time.

John and I have discussed a few different options for our course depending on weather and how the crew is doing.  The overall strategy for this part of this ocean is “go east to get south.”  The prevailing winds blows from the east so you want to make as much headway east as you can before turning more directly south.  If you turn south too early, you’ll lose the leeway you need and you’ll be forced to sail into the weather.  If you can tolerate multiple overnighters, we calculate the optimal route to be to sail all the way east of Grand Caicos before turning due south to Luperon in the D.R. But Grace hasn’t made multiple overnighters before and we’re not sure how feasible this is going to be for our crew.  I figure Grace will end up taking the much longer but traditional path via Provo and over the Caicos Banks.

As the sun comes up on Day 2 the wind is higher than predicted and we’re sailing but we’re pounding into the waves.  As we near Samana, I go to raise the main and learn an important lesson.  Always keep a firm grip on the halyard.  I don’t and the wind carries it up, away and wraps it several times around the SSB antenna which runs from the top of the arch to the mast head.  Without that halyard, we have no mainsail.  Idiot!

Over the next 45 minutes we watch Alouette accelerate away from us as I make several failed attempts to free the halyard using the boat hook.  I don’t dare to climb the arch while were offshore and pounding through waves.  Every time I make any progress with the boat hook, the heavy clasp of the halyard develops enough momentum to re-wrap itself even more.  As I stand precariously on the afterdeck lunging for the flying end of the halyard I’m getting rather discouraged… Megan is getting discouraged and beginning to wonder why we’re out here.  Finally I hit upon the answer.  I make a lasso out of a long piece of nylon line.  Using the boathook to maneuver the lasso, I am able to capture the halyard.  Now I have a line that I can hold while I use the boathook to slowly unwrap the halyard one turn at a time.  The process is excruciatingly slow but after half an hour I have the halyard clasp in hand and raise the main.

Now we’re really making some speed but the pounding is harsh.  I look forward and spy that the pin which holds our primary anchor in place is working loose.  Reminded of what happened to Cadana (anchor broke free while offshore), I quickly go forward to lash it in place and add extra lashings to the jerry jugs so we hopefully won’t have to contend with them breaking free either.

We’re healed over and pitching into the waves.  We’re making great time but the rest of the crew is not happy.  The boat is groaning and making strange noises.  This will be the low point of the trip… Megan wants to turn back now.  “The further we go, the further we have to come back.”  I really resist this.  Instead of turning around I promise that when we get to the Turks & Caicos (we’re halfway there) that if she doesn’t want to continue, she and the boys can fly back to Georgetown and I will find some crew and sail back to meet them.  I think it is important to press on.  If we turn back, I know this cruising experiment will be over for good. I know we can do this.

Later in the day, the wind settles.  The boys join me in the cockpit and Megan comes up from below with a nice surprise – bowls of rice and fresh tuna for dinner!  Things are looking up. 

By 10PM we’re just drifting along barely making any headway.  I call John on the radio.  “John, the way I see it we have 2 options: we can drift along all night and barely make it to Provo in the morning or we can turn on the motors and go for South Caicos by early afternoon.  Worst case we motor all the way but maybe the wind will return and we’ll be in good shape to push on to Luperon the following day.”  John is a sailor first and cruiser second.  I’m a cruiser first and sailor second.  In other words, John hates to turn on the engine whereas I see it as just another sail in the sailbag.  “Let me discuss it with the crew,” comes his reply.  His crew must be cruisers too. A few minutes later, motors are on and we’re going for South Caicos.  This decision was made while Grace’s crew was asleep and I didn’t confer with Megan.  When she comes up to relieve me, she’s not thrilled that we won’t make landfall until afternoon.  I show her the guidebook which indicates South Caicos is a place you can fly out of and that it is a place you can find crew for hire.  I really hope it doesn’t come to that.  As if things aren’t bad enough, Megan goes below to make coffee before I go off watch.  The propane alarm goes off.  We shut the stove off and I try again and again  Alarm goes off again and again.  I fear that during all the pounding the propane line has been punctured.  So until I can troubleshoot this – NO STOVE.  And that means NO COFFEE.  This is a crisis!

Before dawn I wake to the sound of the sheets in the winches.  I go up on deck and Megan is smiling with the engine off and the wind blowing nicely.  This is a good sign.  We enjoy a nice day of sailing and make landfall in the early afternoon in South Caicos.  We rally to go get checked in at customs, get fuel for the boat and to go to the store to get food that doesn’t require cooking.  The food options are nasty.  Imagine going into a 7-11 store that hasn’t had its stock changed in say 4 years.  Then try to select a meal that won’t require cooking.  We end up with spaghettios and some other nastiness which would run about $7 in the U.S.  Here it only costs $35.00! 

We also find an internet café where we can send an email to our insurance company to let them know we’ll need coverage for the D.R.  Yes, Megan is feeling a little better about our adventure and agrees we should make the next leg to Luperon.

We get a nights sleep fighting killer mosquitos so its not necessarily a good nights sleep but we wake ready to make preparations to continue on.  I go up the mast to fix a nagging problem of the spinnaker halyard interfering with the roller furler.  With that repaired I descend to do some trouble shooting on the propane stove.  I can’t find any problems.  No leaks.  Then a moment of epiphany… and embarrassment.  I look at the second burner – the one I wasn’t trying to light.  It’s on.  The “problem” was that propane was coming out of the other burner.  Turn it off and problem is solved.  Idiot!  At least we have coffee again!

By noon Alouette and Grace are underway again.  Winds are light but the seas are calm.  It’s a good day and a good night too.  We sail most of the way and are on track to arrive in Luperon at daybreak.  And what an amazing place to arrive!  We first smelled the earthy scents of the Dominican mountains from 15 miles offshore.  As we close in on Luperon the radio comes alive with voices from boats that have come from other routes.  We hear Joe on Seneca! (he has been pure sailing single-handed for days up on days)  And Cadana.  And Meggie, too!  As the day breaks we watch the lush green mountains appear out of the mist and entered the very protected mangrove harbor of Luperon

The crew is absolutely giddy!  We are all thrilled that we pressed on.  Arriving in Luperon made us feel like we had reached another level of cruising and that all doors were now open to us.  Wow!

After we get the hook down we greet the triumphant Meggie! Meggie is a 30 foot, all teak wooden boat that Mike and Kylie rebuilt themselves. Because she is small she only makes about 4.5 knots, doesn't carry much fuel and can be a wet ride. This is a real accomplishment and it is great to witness!

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