Passage-making: The Big Jump to Dominican Republic
Updated: Feb 15, 2020
On Wednesday, February 15, we departed with a little convoy of sailboats toward Six Hill Cays in the Turks and Caicos. A few of us had all come to the consensus, whether via radio or over beers the night before, that Six Hill Cays would be a good departure point for the Dominican Republic (and Puerto Rico for others) since a lull in the wind was expected over the course of the evening the next day.
It was a beautiful clear blue skies type of day. The wind forecast, however, not the best. But with a flotilla of boats moving in the same direction, we didn’t think about it twice. The feeling of knowing others would be around us gave us encouragement to fight the conditions as long as it felt safe, of course. Yet, as we left Sapodilla Bay behind, it was clear we would be beating against some strong trades for a while. We had been on this same route four days earlier and now wished we had kept going then instead of turning around...
We had about eight full hours of non-stop hobby-horsing, waves over the dodger and from every possible angle, really. It was a wet and salty ride like no other. We hated putting Sparidae through it but knew she could handle it. Us on the other hand, were mentally and physically exhausted to the point that my laugh, when discussing how the weather forecast was, yet again, so off (winds were supposed to abate as the day went on), turned into full-blown sobbing, wishing — praying, really — for the winds to either (pardon my French) calm the shit down or for the passage to just be over. Eventually, we made it to Six Hill Cays, dropped anchor and passed out. Maybe we ate dinner? Maybe.
Without really planning on it, our passage to DR ended up falling on Valentines Day. We were secretly hoping this imparted some kind of good luck upon us. We took our time in the morning to prepare for the big passage: cleaned up, stowed away loose items, cooked our lunch and dinner ahead of time, and of course, reviewed the weather. By 11am we were well on our way and en route to the DR! We experienced a bit of an ocean swell as we left Six Hill Cays behind, but otherwise had a beautiful sail into the sunset. We tried fishing but only picked up half of a barracuda, so naturally we stuck to our pre-made dinner plans.
After hours is when things started getting bumpy. We started our 3-hour shift slightly on schedule, just past 7pm. I had a friendly bird visitor fly by, which scared me at first because it kept jumping around, but then settled on the toerails and accompanied me for part of my shift. With no land in sight and getting quite windy, I’m sure it appreciated the ride. By around 10pm, with the seas building and winds getting stronger, Tom was able to set up Mr. Fleming for his shift. For a while we were on a good course, but with the winds clocking more from the Southeast, as opposed to South (per the forecast), we started getting further away from our destination, Ocean World Marina near Puerto Plata. Eventually, we decided to drop the sails and motor against the wind. Through the night, the seas became very confused, and we experienced squalls that dropped some heavy rain along with winds of up to 25 knots.
We continued pushing on into the early hours of the morning weary of a lightning storm moving right behind us until conditions (thankfully!) began to calm down around sunrise. With the sun lighting up the horizon, our eyes settled on the sight ahead which was something out of The Land Before Time. The views of the high mountainous terrain of the DR were completely mesmerizing. Equally, just as Bruce Van Sant accurately described in "The Gentleman’s Guide to Passages South", the smell that filled the air — a mix charcoal, moss, agriculture, deciduous trees and grasses, was not only striking but energizing. Quite a surreal morning that of Thursday, February 15 — we were so exhausted, but feeling so accomplished and proud, this was a major crossing for us!
We pulled into Ocean World Marina just about 10am and completed a seamless check-in process into the country with customs and immigrations being available on site. No need to tip or bribe anyone as we had been anticipating... It also might have helped that I spoke Spanish and was from nearby Puerto Rico? Before moving into our slip we decided to fill up on diesel as we were expecting to do a lot of motoring. The plan was to continue on to Samaná the next day. Probably from exhaustion, we had a mishap with the nozzle. As Tom filled the tank, the diesel ended up spraying all over the cockpit, dodger and... us. Mostly Tom, really — I was trying to hide inside the cabin. The guys helping us out said we needed to pull on the handle S-L-O-W-L-Y but that seemed to make matters worse. After a 24-hour passage, it’s funny how these little incidents, not the weather, could throw anyone over the edge... But perhaps because we didn’t need to deal with bribes or the suspicious check-in process we had heard/read so much about, we kept our cool. After a legit shower we finally relocated to our slip and headed straight to the on-site restaurant for much needed 'mofongo' and a few bottles of Presidentes.
All cleaned up and ready for dinner