We got an early start on Wednesday since our buddy boat, an Antares 44i catamaran, can smoke us on a reach in strong winds. We had some trepidation about this passage; it's 200 miles from Mayaguana across the trade wind belt to the mountainous island of the Dominican Republic. Typical weather conditions are 20 - 25 knot easterly winds and 8 - 10-foot-seas on your nose. Books have been written about how to do this passage, such as The Gentleman's Guide to Passages South - sounds so urbane, and we were following the author's advice to do the rough part of the passage at night when the winds (in theory) are lighter. If all goes well, we should get to our destination, Ocean World, about 29 hours later.
|When you see waves like this off your bow you know you are in for a rough ride.|
|Our worse nightmare, water entering the aft cabin. A bit of butyl caulk stemmed the flow for now.|
It was now around 6 pm and we were off West Caicos Island. This is where we had agreed with our buddy boat to make the decision to stay for the night or keep going. It was a tough call. The anchorage was very rough and exposed. I also knew there wasn't much I could do to solve the problem since we were in a very remote area with no facilities. We were also concerned that the marina we were headed to was exposed to the northerly winds and over next several days those winds would create larger swells that would make the entrance dangerous. We decided to continue on with some reservations about our choice.
As it got dark the wind increased to a steady 20- to 22-knots and the seas up to 8 ft. We were doing 7.5 to 8 knots under these conditions. We put a reef in the main (not easy in the big waves) and reefed the genoa down which made the boat more stable and with less dramatic swings as she surfed down the larger waves. We were now leaving the protection of the huge Turks and Caicos reef and venturing out into the 80-mile channel between The Bahamas and the Dominican Republic/Haiti. We had to sail as high to the wind as we could otherwise we'd be pushed down into Haitian waters, where our boat was not insured and also not a great place to hang out. Sailing closer to the wind was tough because it meant sailing into the larger waves (especially at night when you can't see them). We had a tense evening as we traded off on the helm every three hours while the other went down below to sleep (I didn't sleep, I just laid there and worried). I was confident the water situation was mostly contained so we just worried about sailing the boat in the rough and windy conditions (actually considered good conditions by those who have done this dangerous passage before).
The next morning both of us were a tad bit irritable from lack of sleep and stress, but the boat was sailing well and averaging about 7.5 knots. About 10 am, through the misty rain / squalls, we could see the mountains of the Dominican Republic. We were still trying to sail as far south on the island (up wind) as possible since 1) we didn't want to land in Haiti and 2) the first DR port was Luperon, which we'd heard was a tough port to enter with dirty water, nefarious characters, and greedy customs officials.
|The breakwater off of Ocean World, Dominican Republic.|
|Flying Cloud and Field Trip taking a well deserved rest at Ocean World.|
We moved to our slip and once we were tied up I went back and opened the flooded compartment to see my worse nightmare -- the entire compartment was flooded and a 2 ½ gallon oil container had opened and everything was covered with a thick coating of oil (at least it was fresh oil). Trying to deal with something like that on a boat is tough since the oil gets everywhere. Luckily none of it had made its way into our bedroom area. With me balancing on the very slippery transom steps, Meryl got out the oil spill pads and we began soaking up as much oil as we could. Naturally this was all making a huge oil spill in the luxury marina area. Looked like the Exxon Valdez had gone down. Once once we got the twenty remaining bottles of oil (for engine, genset, & outboard) out I could start soaking up the oil in the compartment with additional oil spill pads. Luckily there is no EPA in the DR although I felt terrible about the oil in the water. Luckily we had two quarts of liquid Joy dishwashing detergent that helped clean up and disperse the oil.
As physically and mentally tired as we were, I can't tell you how tough a job this was. The boat was bobbing up and down as the large waves hit the breakwater just behind us. My hands were coated with oil and just trying to hold on and not fall off the back of the boat was a challenge. My shoes felt like ice skates. Meryl had injured a rib several days earlier and bending over was tough for her. To add insult to injury (that was a nice segue way using a metaphor) the first thing we pulled out of the oily mess was our two wet suits. They were covered from head to toe with fresh oil like big, black sponges. Since oil floats on water, we first had to get the oil removed before we could pump out the remaining sea water and begin to clean the inside of the compartment with Joy. We got large black plastic bags to put the oil spill pads into, along with wads of paper towels dripping in the frothy oily mix. We then got a bucket full of hot water and Joy and washed off the 20-something plastic bottles of outboard oil, etc. and put them on the deck on an oil spill pad.
After three hours (remember we had been up all night sailing in heavy weather) we had the mess somewhat under control (did I mention it was raining hard the whole time) and we finally went down below to have a quick dinner and crash in our bed. Oh, wait, our bedroom was all taken apart since the water got onto our mattress, mattress pad, and sheets. Oh, well. We went forward, cleaned all our junk off the guest berth, made the bed, and collapsed. Thank God we had sold the bikes in George Town and didn't have to hassle with moving those off the guest berth and up on deck.
As you can imagine, this is one of those times you really question whether living on a boat is the right thing. Meryl is not a happy camper right now. Tomorrow I will try and figure out how water got into the transom storage locker and work on a plan to prevent this from happening in the future. Meryl has got a huge pile of laundry (some of it very oily) to do and we've got to replenish our stocks of paper towels and liquid Joy. We'll probably stay here for a week to sort all of this out (they do have a casino here).
To continue our voyage we have to move south along the DR's northern shore, which is a dangerous lee shore in the prevailing easterly trade winds. This means we'll be leaving port at night and sailing along the coast in the lighter night winds and then anchoring in little coves during the day. We then have one more hairy crossing, the Mono Passage, which lies between the DR and Puerto Rico. The Mono Passage has a reputation for getting really nasty so we'll have to plan our weather just right. Then we'll clear into Puerto Rico (where they have Wal-Mart's, McDonalds, etc.), to provision the boat, ship our kayaks back to the States, and slow down and begin enjoying the cruising lifestyle a little more. We'll also have to start learning to speak Spanish if we ever want to eat anything in a restaurant, which should be interesting.
Sorry for the long post, just wanted everyone to understand the realities of cruising and that sometimes you have great days laying under palm trees and other days can present challenges like this. We are looking forward to being once again at anchor at some lovely isle, sipping Pina Colada's as the sun slowly sets in the west, and contemplating our navels. I have to add that through this whole disaster it was very reassuring to know that our buddy boat, Field Trip was close by and watching our back.