April/May 2018 –
Two days ago, we completed our 36-hour crossing of the infamous Mona Passage – that’s more than famous – and motor-sailed along the South Coast of Puerto Rico, making use of the island’s small night lee. We timed our arrival in Ponce for daybreak, but found ourselves at the harbor entrance a good hour before sunrise. Fear not, a full moon and well-marked channel permitted easy entry into port and tie-up alongside the Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club’s fuel dock, where we made our customary celebratory arepitas and took hot showers on board while we waited for day to break and US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents to arrive.
The fuel dock attendant sauntered in just after 7AM, and lamented to Karl in Spanish that since Maria wrought havoc on the South Coast of Puerto Rico last September – and destroyed the customs dock – CBP agents have essentially appropriated the club’s fuel dock to perform their inspections. We haven’t been on the island long, so our assessment of things is premature, but it seems that while hurricane damage reconstruction appears under way, comments like these belie a sense that things are really back to normal. We plan to be in Puerto Rico for the month of May (mostly in the Spanish Virgin Islands of Culebra and Culebrita), so time will tell if first glances proved right or wrong.
Luperón, on the North Western Coast of DR, ranks high on our list of cruising destinations thus far. As one cruiser told us in George Town, it’s rough around the edges, and not for everyone, but a great place all around. We happily fell into a routine of lounging/reading (or in Conner’s case, studying Spanish) at the Puerto Blanco Marina dockside-restaurant, followed by an afternoon run to town to buy our daily vegetables and fruit from a sweet older woman with a big smile, who would stop whatever she was doing at home in order to open her little store for us. Luperón was also a wonderfully safe place to leave the boat (often unlocked) to explore DR on land.
Our first road trip took us to the capital Santo Domingo, with a stop in Jarabacoa, a mountain area known for its eco-tourism, and which bore resemblance to the rainforests of Karl’s native Costa Rica. One morning we woke up at 4AM to start a hike up El Mogote, which delivered beautiful 360-degree views. The final stretch included climbing a rusty 50-foot viewing platform that is no longer open for public use, but the caretaker/park ranger waved us over and told us to tread up carefully since we both looked light enough.
Continuing south, Santo Domingo gave us our first taste of big city life since leaving the United States nearly six months ago (since we skipped Nassau in the Bahamas). What would have seemed like a quaint colonial town to our former New York selves instead felt like bright lights, big city!
We walked around the colonial town and did heavy provisioning, pillaging an enormous Carrefour and stopping by three separate pharmacies to fill Contigo’s Medicine Chest with a dazzling array of antibiotics, painkillers, and anti-nausea medications that would have cost a small fortune (and required endless prescriptions) back in the U.S. Rest assured, we aren’t particularly keen on taking medications of any kind, so this is last-resort stuff!
While at El Alcázar, we requested and were granted an audience with Contigo’s generous benefactors, who reluctantly agreed to continue funding our loss-making expedition.
We took a second road trip to Cabarete, a town east of Luperón along the North Coast renown for its kite-surfing. On our way, we stopped through Puerto Plata, where big cruise ships disembark and fanny-packs abound. We also made like 15 other stops, as we found that we couldn’t go 20 minutes in the car without stopping along the road to pick up delicious treats such as ice-cold coconuts, fire-roasted cashews, (gigantic) smoked sweet potatoes, and of course, fresh fruit!
Chao Luperon, Camino a Samaná!
The day before Conner’s 34th Birthday, we prepared Contigo to leave dear-to-our-hearts Luperón. In the waning daylight, we hired our friend Domingo to give Contigo’s bottom a good scrub and help untangle our mooring lines from the barnacled mess that was our mooring’s shackle and pennant.
By law, cruisers aren’t allowed to leave Dominican ports after 6PM, which is a questionable policy given the diurnal winds outside of the Luperón harbor don’t die down until well after dark. Given we were headed east, and into the trade winds, we talked to the local Comandante, who did us a “favor” in letting us leave closer to midnight, and in turn of course, we did him a “favor.” So we celebrated Conner’s birthday on the high seas, starting with a resounding “Happy Birthday!” yell from Karl.
We completed our trip to Samaná with a stop in Rio San Juan during daylight hours. After some birthday arepitas, we spent the day resting up for the next leg of our journey, which we started at 10:30PM that night. All the night sailing was required to take advantage of DR’s night lee, a bubble of dissipating heat that moderates the trade winds at night and makes “easting” a little easier (provided you hug that coast!). We arrived in Samaná at noon the following day, and were treated to all the wonderful amenities (pool, hot showers, gym) of the classy Puerto Bahia Marina outfit!
While in Samaná, we took a quick two-day trip on Contigo across the bay to Los Haitises to explore the national park and check out seascapes that some argue resemble Thailand or Vietnam. The formations weren’t quite as vertical as what you would see in Ha Long Bay but they were still stunning.
Mona Passage and PR
We followed Bruce Van Sant’s instructions on crossing the Mona, and had an uneventful (sometimes calm, sometimes bashy) motorsail across this body of water that separates Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. Incidentally, we met the man in the flesh in Luperón, now well into his 80’s, and he is as insightful (and crabby) as he comes across in his writing!
We dutifully skirted the afternoon thunderstorms that roll off the coast of Puerto Rico every afternoon, leaving them to our South and then West.
We arrived in Ponce, PR tired but excited to explore new horizons. Next stop – after a few hops along the Southern Coast of PR – is the Spanish Virgin Islands, which we have heard wonderful things about!
Lots of love,
Conner & Karl