Samaná, DR: Magical Paradise
Updated: Feb 16, 2020
Ocean World Marina, Puerto Plata, DR to Puerto Bahia Marina, Samaná, PR //
The day after arriving Ocean World Marina we were committed to an afternoon departure for yet another overnight toward Samaná. We were hoping to continue cruising on a weather window that was reasonable enough for traversing the northern coast of the Dominican Republic. The trades were forecasted to build in the following days, so it was a “now or who-knows-when” moment to make the move to Windward. Our friend, and Tom’s colleague, Sky, was able to plan a mini-vacation to come sail with us wherever we might be (flexibility was key!) around a trip he had to the British Virgin Islands. From BVI he flew back to San Juan, PR to catch a flight straight to Santo Domingo, DR and a 4-hour bus ride to Ocean World Marina. He arrived just in time to enjoy a late lunch and our imminent departure. How did all that work out so perfectly along with a good weather window? The sea gods must have been in our favor... We said goodbye to the crew aboard Calypso, a catamaran we had met back in the Turks and Caicos, and departed promptly around 4pm. We prepared dinner early and went over the timing of our shifts for the overnight crossing. We were so excited have an extra set of hands onboard — we could each sleep more than 3 hours this time around!
Even though we were expecting relatively good conditions, ‘easting’ will always be a bitch. Sorry moms and dads, there’s just no other way to put it. Following Bruce Van Sant’s book "The Gentleman's Guide to Passages South", we followed our plotted course and hugged the coast as close and safely as possible in order to try and get advantage from the katabatic winds that typically develop overnight. Since we were traveling against the trade winds, we motored the entire evening. Just as described in Van Sant's guide the winds started getting pretty gusty, particularly around Cabo Frances Viejo. Once past it, we tried to come in closer to land in order to get under the shadow of Cabo Cabrón (it translates to Cape Asshole and not without reason), but conditions remained very windy, the swell kept building, and we experienced the heaviest showers from multiple squalls during the course of the evening. Luckily, we were able to keep ‘robo-sailor’ on for most of the time, which allowed us to remain generally, underneath the dodger, monitoring conditions. Sadly, the sea and wind state did made our new deckhand, Sky, pretty sea sick and knocked him off for the entire overnight. Tom and I resumed our shifts as per usual, and with relatively challenging conditions, we both pulled an all-nighter that evening.
The following morning, we were happy to see the light of day and see conditions calm down once past Cabo Cabrón. We ended up enjoying a gorgeous sail around Cabo Samaná all the way into Samaná Bay. The winds hit us at the right speeds and the right angles for a perfect beam reach sail. “We lucked out” — we thought. It was the perfect way to relax after a challenging evening. It also helped that the views rounding the northeast corner of the island were absolutely incredible and mesmerizing. This time around, it paid off not to wait too long at the marina in Puerto Plata. We were definitely looking forward to exploring the area and its beautiful virgin territory.
The Samaná Peninsula surprised us in more ways than one. We came in to Puerto Bahía Marina and experienced great service from Gaby, the dockmaster, and his staff. On Monday, we figured out a car rental and drove along the coast, (same one we had just sailed by) all the way to Las Galeras for some beach time. By Tuesday we were exploring El Valle, an amazing respite where the beach meets the mountains and local fishermen are constantly on the move bringing their daily catch. That same day we also paid a visit to an incredible private resort built in the hills that we were probably not supposed to come into unless we had a reservation... We played our “we are architects” card and even got to enjoy free drinks at the bar! By Wednesday we were finally ready to explore Samaná Bay by boat, so we squared out our plans with El Comandante (aka "the Navy guy") at the marina and got a 'despacho' to head to Los Haitises National Park.
Over the course of those days, we had met up with other fellow cruisers, Tom's high school friend's parents, who just so happened to have kept their boat at the same mariña for the past several months. They had just landed back in the DR to continue cruising north to the Turks and Caicos. Such a small world! We told them about our plans to go to Los Haitises and planned for a get together across the bay two days later.
We left the marina on Wednesday morning and enjoyed a pleasant sail across the bay. As we approached Los Haitises we realized we had just stumbled into another amazing slice of paradise. Los Haitises consists of a large area of mangrove forests and caves with conic hills that jut out of the water. We charted our way to a recommended anchorage on Navionics and found ourselves one the most remote and secluded anchorages we had experienced in this entire trip. We were fully immersed in nature. As soon as we anchored, Tom and Sky took some time to dinghy around and check out the various caves arounds the outcroppings. Meanwhile, I relaxed on the cockpit as I listened and watch the many species of birds around us. It didn't feel like Earth anymore, honestly. It felt like we were transported to a magical paradise of sorts. Until the tour boats came in... that is.
They weren't terrible, really, but either we seemed to be in their way, or they were just curious as to what might we be doing there. Nevertheless, they zoomed by really fast creating a bunch of wake. We ended up relocating slightly further in for the evening, cooked up dinner and continued soaking in our environs until bed time. The next morning we headed over to San Lorenzo Bay to do some more inland explorations and meet up with the crew from S/V Calypso (different to catamaran Calypso). From our new anchorage we dinghied right through the mangrove forest up to a dock and hiked to Cueva de la Linea, a cave filled with pictographs dating all the way back to when the Taínos inhabited the island. Afterwards, we dinghied the other way around past the Dock Ruins, and explored Cueva de la Arena, an area with caves sit right along the water's edge. We got back to prep for an early dinner and eventually joined the crew of S/V Calypso aboard their vessel for cocktails. We chatted all things cruising and everyone was eager to hear our sailing adventures since leaving Boston.
We had hoped for Sky to help us with the Mona Passage crossing but, alas, there wasn’t a good weather window available during his time with us. Eventually, it became time for Sky to head back to the states. We decided to join him on the road trip back to Santo Domingo where he would be flying out of. We booked a quaint AirBnB near Zona Colonial and explored the city the first evening. After parting ways with Sky the following morning, Tom and I moved a little closer to town and explored the district's magnificent history: we jogged around the city's fortifications, visited Palacios Reales, the seat of the Spanish Empire in the "New World," the Catredal de Santo Domingo and the Fortaleza. We were in awe of the architecture some of which dated back to the 16th century.
On our third and last day in the city, we decided to grab a quick local lunch before departing back on the bus to Samaná. Tom had been seeking out these “daily specials” for dinner or lunch since reading about it in a guide. He was way too excited about spending less than $3 US dollars on a full and filling meal... We eventually found a local joint and grabbed lunch to go. We pleasantly ate it at a plaza nearby, checked out a local bookstore and headed back to the terminal to catch our bus back to Samaná. Unfortunately, by 9pm that evening we were back on Sparidae throwing our guts out in the head (lingo for sailboat's bathroom). We had both caught a stomach bug from Tom’s much sought-after $3 meal just in time to celebrate our 2nd wedding anniversary (insert sarcastic “yay”!). We of course were super slow and could barely get out of bed for the next couple of days. Thank goodness there wasn’t a weather window to catch! It would have been pretty disappointing. But resting up and recovering by the marina pool was absolutely necessary and wonderful at the same time. We watched the sunset and celebrated our first two years of marriage with two glasses of cold Sprite instead. #insicknessandinhealth.
Sailing around Cabo Samaná
Exploring Samaná Peninsula
Zona Colonial, Santo Domingo
Los Haitises National Park