Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Windward Passage

Island hopping to the Caribbean has been a great experience. We could have left the US coast and sailed directly south east, arriving in the Virgin Islands in 10-12 days. We chose the longer, more scenic route.

This first map of the Bahamas shows our island hopping adventure from 12/19/2007 to 2/29/2008.

The next leg included the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Unless you have experience with sailing into the wind it might be hard to understand why these two islands are on the cruising path. The following map shows the logistics of the sailing route but more than that, these two uniquely different islands offer much to explore and enjoy.

The red lines show our completed travels since the Bahamas and the black line shows our intended course for the spring/summer. Arrival in the Dominican Republic means a visit from various officials: The Navy, Customs, Immigration and Port Authority. They all fill out documents in duplicate using carbon paper, remember what that is?? There are fees to pay and always a hand out for a tip. You will not get any change so it is good to have small bills, US dollars is fine even though the currency here is Pesos.

The north coast of the Dominican Republic (DR) is not hospitable to boats or boaters. Unfortunately this is the most proximal coast when arriving from the Bahamas. The trade winds here begin howling sometime around 11am. The seas build a gruesome windchop and God help the unfortunate boat caught out in the big washing machine. We barricaded ourselves in Ocean World Marina behind a 15-20 ft. breakwater. The slapping waves still sent tons of salt spray onto our boat and it was a daily event "desalting" Fine Line. We watched the weather forecast closely for a window to head further east towards Puerto Rico. It was not to be for 10 days.

No worries, the marina was great. They had a casino, great pool and good restaurants. They also had car rentals. Have car will travel!

It was a bit wild driving in this country. There are not only cars to dodge, there are motor scooters and ......
livestock. Guess who has the right of way?We paid for extra car insurance and headed out with friends to see the countryside. Our first stop was Luperon. Some of our cruising friends had opted to anchor in the mangroves here. It is a pretty place but the local town use this area for a sewage outlet. Sewage treatment is a problem in this country. We managed to find friends Jim and Roxanne. They took us to the local hot spot, Steve's place. Steve is an ex pat and offers great advice to new arrivals. Watch your stuff is rule #1. Your camera may disappear and you will be given an opportunity to buy it back for a modest sum.

Steve also serves up a fine meal for a modest price. Delicious.
There are no child labor laws here and we thought our waitress was kind of young? She sure was cute.

Luperon, like so many other towns here, have their share of poverty.

The goats are the street cleaners in town. It works!

Lots of small houses with large families. Our boat is probably bigger!

Cute locals out for a stroll.
Still waiting on the weather to improve we decided to go visit the 27 Waterfalls at Damajaqua. The Waterfalls are a National Park and so you must hike in and up the falls with a guide. It is a good thing the guide is male and very strong. The joy of this trip is jumping and sliding down the falls but you must get up there first. There are no trails to hike up instead the guide pulls and tugs each person up the falls. At first we felt humiliation to see the strain on his face as he pulled our big bodies up and up and up. Is there a big enough tip for someone who hauls you around like a sack of potatoes? Oh well, we got over our humiliation quickly and had alot of fun.

Safety gear was required.

Fortunately we all looked goofy together. It was very scenic.Beautiful water We wanted to see Santo Domingo, the capital city of the DR. We were warned that driving in the City would be down right treacherous. It was.

The City is beautiful. There is much history dating back to Christopher Columbus and his son Diego. It is told Diego set the first stone of the Catedral Primada de America in 1514.

The church is magnificent. Woman cannot enter if wearing shorts...ooops.
Colorful buildings on narrow streets provide a European feel.
Christopher Columbus in the Parque ColonHandsome soldier guarding the plaza.
How about a haircut while we are in town? She spoke no English but gave a nice haircut.

We found a great bed and breakfast. The Atarazana Hotel was a great respite from the hustle and bustle on the street.

The enclosed patio was quiet and peaceful and they served a great Cuba Libre (rum and coke).The next morning we visited the Museo de las Casas Reales.
The museum showcases colonial period objects including a very complete medicinal herbal collection.

Old handblown bottles and jars
Beautiful artwork of local heroes

Our last few days in the DR were spent provisioning and making a few souvenir purchases. While out and about in the local tourist area Steve reluctantly got a bit of his hair braided. The word "no" may be universal but it sometimes falls on deaf ears.

We visited the local market place and picked up some great produce.
And then it was time to leave.

We headed south east again and motor sailed for 24 hours. We rested up in Punta Cana, DR for 2 days and then headed for Puerto Rico. Leaving the Dominican Republic was as tricky as arriving. The Navy, Immigration and an officer from the DR DEA came aboard our boat. We had no stowaways nor drugs so we were fine once we paid our departure fee and gratuity to the navy.

Half way to Puerto Rico is a small island called Mona Island. Despite having excellent weather and sea conditions, we decided to delay and visit here for a day or so. The US Coast Guard greeted us as we made our way through the narrow reef

The island was beautiful and the water was crystal clear and warm.

There was great snorkeling. The next day we headed east for the mainland of Puerto Rico. The southern coast of Puerto Rico is fringed with reef and mangrove islands. Good anchorages are easy to find and many small towns dot the hillsides and offer great food and drink to tired sailors.

We arrived in Ponce and picked up a passenger. Meghan on spring break going for a dip.

Ponce has a great museum. It was the home of the city's volunteer firemen from 1883 to 1990. We took Meghan sailing. She has a routine for preventing seasickness:cheerios, IPOD, Bonine and lots of reclining. A short trip offshore from Ponce lies Coffin Island (Caja de Muertos). The island looks like a coffin from afar.
There was a great hike to the lighthouse.
Obviously no longer is use. Great view from the top with Fine Line in the background.
We spent Easter Sunday at Puerto Patillas. This is a small beach town that throws big parties. We anchored off the town park where numerous sound systems were cranked to max volume. Salsa and Salsa Rap all day long. The jet skiis and small boats raced up and down the beach. We were very entertained. We continued our motor sail east and found a great marina in Fajardo. Puerto Del Rey Marina claims to be the biggest marina in the Caribbean. With over 1000 slips we believe they are the biggest.

We rented a car and set out to do some exploring. Old San Juan is the place to go. Despite thousands of tourists from the cruise ships, we really enjoyed touring Fuerte San Felipe Del Morro. This six-level Fort sits dramatic on the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. It is easy to imagine Sir Francis Drake sneaking in with his warships and the Spanish soldiers firing their cannons and muskets in defense.
The Fort's architecture is impressive with numerous lookouts and defense positions.

Three flags fly over the Fort: Puerto Rico flag, US flag and the historic Spanish Military flag. A historic cemetery lies next to the fort. Strolling through the graves is a historical treat. In downtown old San Juan is the beautiful Catedral De San Juan. It dates back to 1521.
El Yunque rainforest is just 30 minutes from San Juan. The transformation from the crowded city to this lush tropical landscape is a wonderful experience.

The El Portal Visitor's Center was built and is maintained by the US Park Service. The open air design of the building and excellent displays makes this a "must see".

From the Visitors Center it is a short drive up into the rainforest. It is cool, it is damp, it is quiet and then it is noisy with bird chatter and pretty soon you hear the melodious sound of the famous Coqui Frogs.
Old lookout towers offer a panoramic view.

The hiking was strenous but worth every step. The trails were built from cement and stones.

Beautiful plants And waterfalls Puerto Rico is a beautiful island. Currently it is a commonwealth of the US and the question among the local citizens is whether Puerto Rico should become the 51st state?

Our next stop is to visit the Spanish Virgin Islands. They are located within 20 miles of the east coast of Puerto Rico. They are not visited by cruise ships and have not been affected by tourism in the manner of the other Virgin Islands. We also hear lobster season is all year. HMMM, easy decision, let's go.

See you soon,

Anne and Steve

Fine Line