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Her Vital Statistics
September 2016 -- Website Update: DoodleBug has been "reloaded" and has made the transition from rental boat to cruising boat. I have moved all of the 2015 "blog" to "trip logs" which you can accessing by clicking the catamaran picture to the right. I finally ADDED PICTURES to the trip logs. I also just completed updating all of the e-Books so that the pictures display properly when using Apple's iBook app. I have tested these on an iPad3.
January 2016 -- Website Update: We have bid Australia a sad farewell for a while and our Toyota Coaster RV HAS BEEN SOLD!!! Thank You Ray at Koolah Kampers!! (see www.koolahkampers.com.au). I have re-ordered the daily entries into time order, moved the trip-logs to a new page and ADDED PICTURES!!. You will find the link to the right (click on the white bus picture).
The logs of our sailing circumnavigation were moved down a level and you will find the link to the right (click on the S/V DoodleBug picture to get to the "old" web-site).
We have also "cleaned up" the sailing logs and reformatted them into .epub files, so that they may be downloaded and read at your convenience on an iPad or Kindle reader as "e-books". Because there are about 6,000 embedded photos in the original website, I needed to split the log of the cruise into 18 "volumes". To date, I have tested these eBook files on both a "Kindle Fire" and an "iPad3". Click right on the "books" icon to access the files for download.
I have also finished the task of converting the Australia "Walkabout" blog to 11 volumes of "e-books", also accessible here.
April 9, 2017
At 0700 hours it was just becoming light when we raised the anchor and set sail for Puerto Rico. The cloud cover was about 2/8 ths with sunny skies as we motored east, the waves in the 3 to 4 foot range until we passed Isla Mona and both wind and waves began to decline. Behind us was the outline of Mona and ahead we could see the mountains of Puerto Rico plus a lone white blimp that was scanning us electronically to see if we were good people or not. They obviously weren't sure because a police launch shot out from the direction of Boqueron and circled us. Our yellow "Q" for quarantine flag was prominent on our bow (meaning that we were either requesting clearance or had "Yellow Jack" on board) and they waved and took a picture of us whilst we waved back. They left.
About 12 miles out, our US cell phones had found signal and we arranged for a slip at the Marina Pescaderia, Puerto Real, tying up at 1630 hours at 18 04.473 N 067 11.352 W. We are back in Puerto Rico.
April 8, 2017
Today is the day we start moving again! We raised our anchor at 0700 hours and arrived at the fuel dock at Casa de Campos marina at precisely 0800 hours. We had called ahead on the radio to announce our intentions but there was nobody at the dock to take our lines. Annette easily lassoed the cleat for the bow line but as I backed down, she leaned a little too far when she threw the stern line and toppled over the rail. I rushed down from the steering position to grab her, as an upside down Annette was sliding down the angled stern rail. Fortunately I made it in time and she was hauled back on board with a cut and bruised left hand. Not a good beginning. The 0800 hours committee was still nowhere to be seen so I telephoned the office. Around 0830 hours a lone, uniformed Navy man walked up and I handed him our despacho documents. He indicated that I should walk with him, the half mile or so to the Capitanaria. Upon arrival, he indicated that I should enter and ask for immigration clearance. This provoked a call to the nearby town of Romana for officials. I was able to borrow a cell phone and call Annette to warn her that it would be an hour or more and she in turn was able to get the marina WiFi password from the fuel dock guy. At 1010 hours, the 6 officials had stamped passports, inspected the boat for stowaways, Annette had checked her e-mails and we had dumped all of our bio-hazard trash and dropped our lines. Farewell Dominican Republic! The land is beautiful, the people friendly, the anchorages intoxicating and the bureaucracy diabolical.
We motored down the coast with waves in the 2 to 3 foot range, slowly overhauling a veritable fleet of sailing catamarans. These were the daily “eco-tour” armada heading for Isla Saona. Despite the fact that all had sails deployed, all like us were motoring. At 1300 hours we anchored at 18 09.390 N 068 46.208 W, between two groups of tourist catamarans. Since we have legally checked out of the Dominican Republic, we are not permitted to stop but felt (correctly) that nobody would notice us here. At 1600 hours, the armada loaded their troops and set course back to Bayahibe, leaving us alone, anchored in ten feet of crystal clear water off a white sand beach. The wind died away and a near full moon illuminated the scene as we fired up the barbeque and opened the wine. A memorable anchorage.
April 7, 2017
We beachcombed along the empty shore on this beautiful deserted island. On our return to the dinghy, we saw that our previously empty landing spot behind a small reef was now filled with swimmers and the boats that had brought them. At around 1600 hours, the last tour boat departed, the beach had been raked clear of footprints, the lounge chairs stacked and again we were left with just the clear waters and white sands.
April 6, 2017
The first glimmerings of dawn and we no longer had to pretend to sleep. At around 0800 hours we dinghied over to the Navy office and I asked for a “despacho” to Casa de Campos, overnighting at Isla Catalina. The officer looked confused so I showed him a copy of the “despacho” we had turned over yesterday morning as a “go by” and gave him copies of our passports. While he painstakingly transcribed the information, he was interrupted by a constant stream of men taking similar pieces of paper from him. I asked one if it was necessary to obtain a “despacho” for a boatload of tourists for a daytrip to Isla Saona, returning the same day and he nodded and said heavily, “claro” (of course).
At 0850 hours we retrieved our anchor and set sail for Isla Catalina, running downwind for the next hour and anchoring at 1015 hours at 18 21.448 N 069 01.425 W. Within minutes of our arrival, Annette had set barbequed steaks, barbequed green beans, barbequed pineapple and rice pilaf on the table for “brunch”. I don’t see how she does that so quickly. If it were up to me, I would still be looking for the can-opener for the baked beans.
Isla Catalina island is described as “semi-private” and is allegedly populated by 5 marines to fend off whoever, although we only saw one man in uniform. The western beach is white sand and while the northern end of the beach is sparsely used by local tour operators to bring people for beach picnics, the southern end is set up for large groups, such as the occasional cruise ship. We went ashore and wandered through the near empty souvenir shops, declined hair braiding and massage and finally bought a couple of beers at US$5 each. What a price difference a couple of miles of water makes!
By nightfall we were alone and there was not a spark of light to be seen amongst the buildings ashore.
April 5, 2017
Our goal was to buy diesel from Marina Casa de Campos this morning, see if they were really full and if so, head over south to the nearby town of Bayahibe (sounds like “buy on eBay”) to check in with the Navy. We would also determine if could perform the international check out of the country from here on Saturday, to leave for Puerto Rico. The back up plan would be to take a taxi to the town of La Romana, on the north side of Casa de Campos to get our international clearance. At least that was the plan. We slid into the fuel dock at Casa de Campos after an irritating radio exchange that went, “We have no room” and “I just want to buy diesel” repeated about a half dozen times.
We were first met by the dockmaster who wanted to see our “despacho”. He then escorted Annette to the grocery store to buy three cases of beer (we were down to single can aboard – a real marine emergency!) whilst I filled up the diesel tanks. Just as we were to depart, the dockmaster reappeared, said the Navy people needed to see me in their office next door to the Marina office and had a man drive me over there in a golf cart. At the Navy office was a soldier who scowled at me and snapped a word in Spanish that I did not comprehend. All three officers denied being able to speak English. I motioned the first to follow me to the adjacent marina office and asked the girl to translate. I explained our plans and asked if we could check out of Bayahibe. His response was that we could not, we would have to go to La Romana. He further insisted we could not go there by taxi, we would have to take our boat as the authorities needed to “see” it. I then explained that our guidebook said there was but one place to anchor in La Romana, up the river, just below the bridge and that the river current was sufficiently strong we would need to leave someone on board to re-anchor the vessel if we should drag. Since this is a two person operation aboard DoodleBug, we would not be able to get off the boat. I pointed out that it would all be very simple if we could check out from Casa de Campos from the fuel dock or a nearby empty dock. The marina receptionist insisted that this was not possible since it was a private facility. I pointed out that the Navy had an office on this “private facility” and further, they had no problem selling me diesel this morning. The navy man said we had to go to La Romana. I said we can’t anchor there. The receptionist asked him if this was true and he said he didn’t know. The circular argument continued for the next hour until the Casa de Campos folks came up with an amazing solution. We could return on Saturday morning at 0800 hours and the authorities would check us out from here. Why didn’t I think of that?
They would have thrown us out on the spot until I pointed out that we no longer had a “despacho”, the officer had taken it and we needed another one to say we could go the three and a half miles to Bayahibe.
Despacho in hand we arrived at Bayahibe and finally anchored at 1100 hours at 18 22.226 N 068 50.650 W after an exhaustive search for a clear spot between the fixed mooring markers. There are two bays here but both were densely covered with private moorings and the spot we finally picked provided only marginal relief from the wind and waves. To make matters worse, the prevailing wind put us at right angles to the swell, producing an uncomfortable rocking motion on our catamaran (would have been really exciting aboard a monohull!). There wasn’t even room to put out a stern anchor to provide some relief from the motion.
We dinghied ashore, handed in our “despacho” to the regulation “surly” Navy guy and wandered through what the guide book describes as a “quaint fishing village”. The parking lot near the shore was crammed with buses, large and small, certainly on the north side of fifty vehicles. The streets however were near empty, the gift shop, bars and restaurants deserted. We wandered the beach towards the large hotel we had cruised by on the way in and were met by a very large and friendly man who pointed out that we had crossed a boundary that separated the “public” side of the beach from the “private” hotel side. No, we couldn’t use the hotel bar or restaurant.
That afternoon, boats of all shapes and sizes began to arrive and disgorge passengers. Bayahibe is the terminus for a business that gathers tourists from the hotels of La Romana, Casa de Campos and of course Bayahibe itself and takes them on a daytrip to the island of Saona on the southeasternmost tip of The Dominican Republic. The purpose of all the buses was now abundantly clear and some of the arriving boats backed up to the already crowded beach, whilst the bigger catamarans used smaller vessels to ferry their passengers to a landing stage. It was incredibly chaotic and as the larger boats were emptied of human cargo, they would take up a mooring just offshore of the village or within the bay itself. The smaller vessels filled in all the possible gaps until just before sunset, peace again returned to Bayahibe and we found ourselves anchored in the middle of 60 or 70 moored vessels. Thus we headed into a very uncomfortable night, not the worst that we have ever experienced at sea but well up there on the list. Ours was the only vessel showing an anchor light.
April 4, 2017
Our departure documents were promised for 0800 hours, thus I walked to the marina office at 0810 hours to be told “five minutes”. At 0830 hours, the officer showed up, made the excuse that he had to walk from the Navy office (a mile or so away) and handed over the “despacho” so we could leave. While we were waiting for him to show, we had passed the witching hour of 0800 hours and I called the Casa de Campos marina to see if they had received my reservation request. The girl on the end of the phone insisted that they had no room, all 314 slips were fully booked but did allow that they would sell us some diesel.
We dropped our lines and headed to sea, the wind on the nose and with 6 foot waves and lots of bashing. The dinghy was not enjoying the violent pitching motion at a cruising speed of 10 knots and the prospect of recovering it if a suspension line broke was positively daunting. Thus we slowed down to around 7 knots and the motion became more tolerable. Even at this speed, we were taking a lot of water over the bows with sheets of spray reaching the flybridge steering position. By mid morning the waves had dropped to around 4 feet and in the distance we could see the faint outlines of our destination for the day, Isla Catalina. At 1323 hours we dropped anchor at 18 21. 459 N 069 01.413 W, tucked into the hook of Punta Perez. We then called the marina at Casa de Campos and told them we were “delayed” and would see them for fuel tomorrow to which they concurred.
April 3, 2017
Jan and Trevor from S/V Kefi joined us in a taxi ride to Santo Domingo this morning with an initial destination of the “Colonial Zone” branch of the Scotia Bank. We had selected the branch from the internet for its proximity to the various museums and upon arrival, found the building empty and abandoned. Not a good start. The branch looks great with its internet listing and yesterday evening, even showed that it was “closed – after hours”. We were swarmed with “tourist guides” and to brush off a particularly persistent tout, we entered the Cathedral Primada de America, as its name indicates, the oldest standing cathedral in the western hemisphere, with construction commencing in 1514. As we entered, we needed to buy a ticket and in addition we were each handed a woolen wrap-around skirt to cover our exposed legs. I didn’t realize that God was so picky about knees - objections to uncovered female heads are perfectly understandable but knees?
The architecture of the church was interesting in that it was Gothic, the decorations and carvings elaborate but the stained glass windows rather small and plain. As I pondered this it occurred to me that we had seen no white sand in the Dominican Republic – and trust me, we have been monitoring the sand situation closely – therefore no raw materials to manufacture glass. I thought it likely that many of the more elaborate windows had been prefabricated and shipped in from Spain.
We perambulated over to the World Amber Museum and whilst my shipmates toured the exhibits, I walked over to the nearest ATM, another branch of Banco Popular and tried again to extract some cash from the ATM. Another bust.
We found a pleasant restaurant to feed us lunch and wandered through town looking for art galleries and the like. Around 1530 hours we grabbed a taxi back to the marina in order to make a 1600 hour “checkout” meeting at the marina office. As it turned out, we needn’t have rushed back in that our “despacho” expediter never even showed up. Nevertheless we have paid our marina bill and also paid for a service which promises delivery of our “despacho” to our boat tomorrow morning at 0800 hours.
This morning I had sent an e-mail to the marina at Casa de Campo but when I checked for a reply this evening, discovered that the internet had crashed and the all important request for a marina reservation had not been sent.
April 2, 2017
A new dawn in Boca Chica and there was a loud thump on the hull. I heard Annette outside talking to someone and upon investigation, discovered a marina security guard in a boat, asking Annette for a cup coffee. We were not in a particularly generous mood but nevertheless made him a cup of coffee. An hour later, Mike from S/V Kefi told us that they had heard someone board their yacht in the wee hours of the morning and following a splash, found a man covering his face and trying to hide in the water below their boat. The marina people were roused, the surrounding waters searched but the interloper had made good his escape. We now feel some remorse that we were not more gracious about the coffee this morning.
Annette then attacked our accumulated laundry. I personally never get too concerned as long as I have one pair of clean undies but Annette gets antsy when the laundry bin growls as she walks by. My chore for the day would be to attempt to locate a ceiling leak that has been plaguing us since we purchased DoodleBug. The leak occurs during heavy rains in the form of a drip in the starboard stern cabin, above the book-shelf. We had replaced the window seals and tried all sorts of tests such as taping plastic garbage sacks over the roof hatch, all to no avail. I decided that however unlikely, the water had to be coming from the flybridge deck and the water was somehow running down the inside of the flybridge supports. The flybridge floor is like a huge plastic tub but is penetrated by some number of drains. To gain access to the rearmost drain, I had to remove the stereo speaker from the ceiling of the rear deck. When I did this, I found the drain pipe connected to the drain was loose and its hose clamp dangling free. Whoever had worked on this last just couldn’t be bothered to complete the job and I cursed his miserable hide. It has now been thoroughly tightened and we will await the next heavy rain to see if we were successful.
Our chores completed, we walked the beach a mile or so into the town of Boca Chica, past all of the beachgoers, bars, restaurants and vendors. The folks here really seem to love the water and there was a mass of cars, buses and motorcycles with a corresponding mass of people playing in the shallow waters. Competing stereos hammered out Latin music at ear-shattering volume. The restaurants with the loudest music were also the emptiest and unless you were stone deaf, I don’t see how anyone could survive in that environment. Even the mosquitos would suffer tissue damage.
We found the Banco Popular ATM in Boca Chica but would not give us any cash. Annette had the armed security guard pose with her for a photograph and he then told us that there was no Scotia Bank in Boca Chica, we would have to go to the capital, Santo Domingo for this flavor of bank.
April 1, 2017
We set our alarm for 0430 hours and while drinking that first cup of coffee, saw no sign of similar life activity aboard nearby S/V Kefi. At 0520 hours, I prepared to take off in our dinghy over to Kefi and stir them up, when Annette called out in horror, “The cell phone shows 0420 hours!”.
Oops! The boarding crew from our arrival had given us the wrong time. Without a working internet, we had no means to verify the actual time but determined to wait at least for another hour to raise Kefi’s crew.
An hour later Mark and I were in his dinghy, heading for the beach in total darkness. By now the wind had died down as forecast and the waves on the beach had similarly died away making for an easy landing. The Navy building was blackened and lifeless but we had no qualms about hammering on the door and demanding our despaco’s from the sleepy, tousled and disgruntled occupants. It took three officers and thirty minutes to fill out the simple form, sign it and stamp it. We cheerily thanked them and did not offer a tip.
At 0620 hours we raised anchor and although it was still dark enough to require us to show navigation lights, we could see Kefi as she motored away just minutes ahead of us.
Once in open water, we enjoyed clears skies with light winds and waves in the 2 foot range.
At 1400 hours Annette lassoed a mooring ball outside the Boca Chica marina and by yelling at a nearby vessel, we learned the VHF channel that might be monitored by the authorities here. We were told to come alongside their dock and they would then move us to where they needed. The wind was blowing from the beam when we drifted into the dock we had selected. We scoffed at their alternate suggestions as to where to move and they agreed we could stay where we already were roosting. Kefi had been sailing versus motoring and arrived a few hours later, also tying up to our selected dock. Kefi similarly rejected the ludicrous alternate dock suggestions. We are here in Boca Chica with working internet, dock power, water and marina restaurant. Back in boater civilization!
March 31, 2017
This morning’s pilgrimage to the hotel bar for internet use was followed by a hike to the nearby sand dunes national park. Annette had already collected sand from the dunes but had failed to collect sand from the beach on the Caribbean side of the peninsula. This was our goal this morning and we enjoyed the entire park to ourselves, that is until a large motor coach discharged its cargo of schoolkids. They should really ban kids from having fun!
This afternoon we followed the instructions we had been given to track down the Dominican Republic Navy for a “despacho” or departure document. This is for a “domestic” movement between ports, not for an international departure. The landing onto the Navy’s sand beach was not too bad, although the waves promised excitement when would try to leave. The Navy office had a rope across where the gate might be if they had one and we ducked under this and called out at the entrance to their building. A lone soldier gazed at us in dismay. He did not speak English. We explained that we needed a despacho for the morning and would leave at 0600 hours. He said that we could leave today or we could return tomorrow morning at 0500 hours for the despacho. We thought he was just stalling because he didn’t want to fill out the paperwork, so we attempted to explain that 0500 hours was dark; the waves were beating onto the beach and it would be dangerous, “muy peligrosa” for old people like us to attempt a dinghy landing at night. He called someone on his cell phone and handed me the phone. For the next twenty minutes, I found myself talking to a female person, “somewhere” and explained that we needed a “despacho” to go to Boca Chica, dinghy landing in dark etc. She asked me when we would return to Las Salinas. I painfully detailed about our continuing voyage to Casa de Campos and subsequently onwards to Puerto Rico. She again asked when we would return to Las Salinas and I said maybe next year. After the sixth time she had asked the same question about when we would return to Las Salinas, she suggested that we instead take the bus to Boca Chica tomorrow. We gave up.
Annette had scoured the nearby buildings and found a totally innocent individual having lunch with his family at the restaurant next door. She dragged him over to the Navy office and he translated for us. We called the Navy Comandante to explain the situation but he would not budge - we could leave today before 1730 hours, or after 0530 hours tomorrow and they would not issue the despacho until the moment before we left. If there had been any nearby shelter we would have taken the former option and then anchored out for the night but unfortunately the coast here is exposed and lacks convenient anchorages.
We struggled mightily to launch our dinghy into the waves and it was only after our third or fourth attempt that we got off the beach, with Annette thoroughly soaked having been standing in waist deep water while I got the engine started. We were not about to attempt this in darkness. Tomorrow morning I would dinghy to the nearby hotel and then hike the road about a mile and a half each direction, around the bay to the Naval building. Then we would have to lift and stow the dinghy, making for a much later departure than originally planned.
Late that evening, after Annette had retired and I was just closing down the boat, when I heard yelling from outside. It was the crew of Kefi returning from dinner ashore. They told us that the Navy had retuned to their boat that evening and repossessed their “despacho” for the morrow. They too would have to make the 0500 hours pilgrimage back to the Navy building. Mark, the captain of Kefi offered to pick me up in his lighter dinghy and we would share a ride for the nighttime beach assault.
March 30, 2017
Today we needed to take care of some real estate matters, as well as a few minor family issues, all of which required internet access. We have become thoroughly spoiled and fumed over our lack of usable internet connection from aboard DoodleBug. The only way we could reliably connect to the world was to dinghy our laptops over to the nearby hotel, order some drinks in the bar and connect to their internet. We had vaguely intended to take the local bus to the nearby town of Bani but the actual reason for doing this was eluding us as the wind blew harder, producing a steep chop in the anchorage, thereby guaranteeing we would get wet riding around in dinghies. Instead we made popcorn and watched movies, punctuated by a couple more onshore runs for internet exchanges requiring signed documents. The weather forecast showed the strong winds we have been experiencing, continuing through tomorrow and then we will have a weather window for proceeding east.
March 29, 2017
The sun was above the horizon when we awoke but what time is it? Our longitude (70 west) gives us 5 hours west of Greenwich time but do they adjust for “daylight savings” here? The reason this is significant is that we have been ignored by authorities since we arrived last night and were trying to work out when their respective offices might open. We decided that by 0830 hours Jamaica time, we would try hailing the “Marina de Guerra de Las Salinas” on our VHF radio and also try hailing the local hotel / marina. This was unlikely to produce results since we had already tried this when we were here a month ago and were pretty certain that neither party has a working radio, or if they do, would not answer because they don’t speak English. Sure enough there was no response. The instruction letter we had received from the marina at Casa de Campo a month ago stressed in large capital letters, “DO NOT DISEMBARK” without the authorities permission.
We then spotted a man swimming towards us snorkeling as he went. We waved a greeting and wished him good morning. He waved back and showed us the large slimy octopus he had just caught. Interesting but not particularly useful, since I am pretty sure I would die of hunger before I ate something that looked like that.
About thirty minutes later, a small fishing boat came by and one of the occupants was in uniform. He asked where we had come from and we said, “Jamaica”. Once we had confirmed that this was our first stop, he indicated that we would need to clear Immigration and Customs and should stay on the boat. OK then. We had connected with the authorities and could wait upon their eventual arrival.
At around 1100 hours Jamaica time (our ship’s clock is still set to this), another fishing boat approached that was crammed with humanity. We had the Harbor master, the Navy, Customs, Immigration and Drugs, about seven in all plus the boat driver (“El Lobo”). I had printed out a “crew list”, signed, dated and stamped it with our boat seal and had two copies available. This was pored over in great detail but today’s authorities, even in the remotest parts of the world, just photograph everything with their cell phones. The Customs, Navy and “Drugs” guy wandered off with Annette to tour the boat but as usual, seemed just curious as to how we live. Finally the process was drawing to a close. They had consumed all of the candy that Annette had set out, the Immigration man had stamped our passports and he then ponderously asked for 4,000 pesos, which is the correct amount. This we paid from our stash of DR cash. Then a debate started amongst the rest of the crew. It was obvious they were discussing how much to charge us for their “services” and this went on for a minute or so before they came up with the final number of US$65. An amount close to what we paid when we left, so we handed over the cash and everyone departed smiling. We are now legally here and took down the yellow quarantine flag.
The checking in process had also educated us to the fact that it is two hours later here than our ship’s time (he was wrong, it was actually only one hour difference). We were somehow at UTM/GMT minus 3 hours, the same time zone as Puerto Rico and it was now early afternoon. The owner of the nearby hotel, in a most unfriendly act had changed the password of his $5 per day internet connection from what it was a month ago, so our immediate task was to dinghy ashore and re-connect to the world.
While we were solving the world’s problems on the internet, another catamaran arrived, S/V Kefi, a 48 foot Leopard last seen in Cuba. We stopped by to visit and chatted for a while before heading back ashore to wander the village of Las Salinas and find a restaurant for supper. At the “far end of town”, where the local fishermen draw up their boats and unload their catch and right opposite the spot where we are anchored, was a restaurant with an upstairs balcony overlooking the bay. We decided that even if the food sucked, we would have a great view. While we sipped our cervezas and waited for the food to arrive, the crew of Kefi showed up. Of all the bars and gin-joints in Las Salinas..........
March 28, 2017
Our second dawn at sea and we were alone, with light winds and seas of less than 2 feet. Not quite a dead calm but not far from it. Last night’s pollution haze to the north was still there and we could still smell the woodsmoke of Haiti but of the land itself, no sign.
The day was clear and sunny and we continued east at around 9 knots, sometimes hitting 10 to 11 knots when the tidal current was in our favor. Our plan was to anchor (illegally of course) at Isla Beata, Dominican Republic and in early afternoon we were fast approaching this point. Conditions were favorable for anchoring but a revised satellite weather forecast predicted stronger headwinds and bigger seas for our run to the northeast tomorrow, to our destination of Las Salinas, on the eastern side of Cape Beata.
We decided that with the present conditions we could continue on without stopping and be at Las Salinas anchorage an hour or so after sunset.
The passage through “Canal Beata” separating the island from the cape of the same name was more exciting than last time. Although I tried to follow the exact course as before, we found heart stopping water depth of 6 feet at the west end of the channel and the channel itself was near choked with fishing buoys that we had to weave between. Upon our exit into the Caribbean Sea once more, a fishing dory paralleled our course as though to ensure that we didn’t hit any of their equipment or steal their catch. We headed out offshore and saw several lines of buoys ahead of us. We changed course to go between them and when not more than a boat length from the line, spotted that they were roped together with a line just at the surface of the water. We went to full reverse on the engines, the only time I have ever done such a “crash stop” and DoodleBug came to a dead halt with the bow extending over the line. We backed away from this obstacle, turned and went around the end. How unfriendly! Our first DoodleBug had a line cutter built into the propeller shaft but we lack such useful devices.
The balance of the passage was uneventful until we approached the entrance to Punta Calderas at Las Salinas. We had been warned of fishing operations in Canal Beata and were especially watchful as we came into shallow water in the darkness of a still moonless night, after a tropical sunset. Our radar was on a 3/4 mile setting when we spotted two obstacles directly in our path. We changed course to leave them to starboard and the previously unlit obstacles began to show the lights of small fishing dories. There was some glimmer on the water from the sodium arc lights of the salt mining operation and at the entrance to the bay, we found an unlit buoy next to a large unlit navigation marker that the radar had spotted. We were close enough to both that Annette was able to put a light on them and declare the navigation marker “green”, thus we backed down for the second time and turned into the enclosed water beyond, using the radar to find the other unlit navigation markers and weave between the several reefs near the harbor entrance. Then we were clear and set a slow course for the Hotel Las Salinas and anchored near the several unlit vessels, whose presence was announced by our radar.
We are here! Arriving at 2009 hours at 18 12.93 N 070 32.77 W, Las Salinas, Dominican Republic after a passage of 355 miles in 39 hours.
March 27, 2017
At 0520 hours we dropped our mooring and carefully eased out into the darkness. This was a high adrenalin moment, it is so easy to become disoriented at night. We needed to miss the mooring we are dropping, miss the mooring behind us, plus as an aside, any moored boats. Then there were multiple unlit buoys and moorings in the harbor, fishing buoys in the exit channel and finally, it is a good idea not to run aground. It is always a relief to have deep water ahead and the radar showing no obstacles when we set our course and increased the engine RPM’s to cruising speed.
This morning’s cruising speed was set slightly faster than usual as there is a major depression just north of Haiti and this is disrupting the regular flow of trade winds in our latitude, giving us a 48 hour weather window of light winds and low seas.
The sun rose over an empty sea. Haiti lay somewhere over the horizon, while Jamaica brooded in the dusk behind us. The waves were in the 3 foot range, choppy and off the port beam, producing a short, jerky motion as were moved closer to the middle of the Jamaica Channel. By mid afternoon, we were beginning to feel the effects of Cap Tiburon, Haiti blocking the waves coming from the storm to the northeast.
As seems to happen at sea, three freighters approached us from three different directions, converging on our position within minutes. As it was, we had “right of way” over all three and they in turn changed course to pass us by a margin of at least a mile – the wonders of AIS (the ship identification transmitter we use) in action!
Shortly after the sun dipped below the horizon behind us, the tropical darkness became near complete. The “Dipper” glittered brightly off our port, pointing the way to Polaris, clear in the sky. On the starboard beam, the Southern Cross stood well above the horizon.
By 2200 hours we were off Port a Nannette, Haiti and could see a scattering of lights ashore. It was to be a moonless night, great for star gazing (Annette spotted a “double shooting star”) as we motored on to the east with light winds and waves in the 2 to 3 foot range.
March 26, 2017
The usual “rush” then “wait” procedure. We filled our tanks with drinking water, checked the engines and filled up with diesel. The marina needed to be paid of course, we collected our exit documents and made the final critical run to the supermarket to buy a couple of cases of beer in “cans”. Once the fridge was restocked, we were ready to go.
March 25, 2017
There is a weather system forming to the NE of Jamaica, forming a tropical depression and will likely disrupt the trade winds for a couple of days. This changed our travel plans, in that we had planned to spend a leisurely week here doing tourist stuff. Instead, our schedule was accelerated and we hired a taxi to take us west, along the coast to the town of St. Anne. Our intent was to visit Fitzroy Symister, a local painter www.soulartistjamaica.com who lives near the Robin’s Bay community, supposedly a favorite haunt of Bob Marley. The resort that he and the Beatles hung around at, jamming and smoking dope was “Strawberry Fields” and as we passed the freshly painted sign, Annette took a picture so that she will have it “forever”.
Fitzroy had only three pieces for sale at his studio. It was good work but Annette did not want to pay top gallery prices for essentially an unknown artist. On our return, we stopped at multiple beaches to collect sand samples and also stopped at a roadside café to collect jerk chicken and beer, much more satisfying to March, the taxi driver and me.
I asked March if there was any kind of government assistance if you become unemployed (we have seen several offices signed “Social Security”) and he explained that there is no welfare in Jamaica. If you get sick, or lose your job, you have to rely on family or perhaps a church to help out.
That evening we visited with Mark and Clovis (met at Nino’s) in their mansion overlooking the bay east of Folly Point. The evening view across the Caribbean waters was fabulous and we went out for supper to a local restaurant called “The Best Kept Secret”. This was an eccentric establishment but the food was excellent and a good send off for our Jamaican adventure.
March 24, 2017
The first priority was to get the boat washed in order to get rid of the orange stains from the Santiago de Cuba cement plant. This took most of the day with a crew using a power washer, muriatic acid etc. Ed babysat this operation while Annette went on a photographic walkabout with “Edgar”, one of the men who perpetually hovers around the marina looking for work as a “guide”. John, the pressure washer man admitted that Edgar was an OK guy, just didn’t like to work much.
When we had been in Santiago, one of the crews mentioned a tragedy that a fellow sailor had just discovered their daughter had fallen from the rigging on a schooner and had been killed. We were surprised to learn that the schooner involved was the “Germania Nova”, a replica of a 1920’s ocean racing yacht, that was moored next to us. We had watched this vessel arrive on the day we had taken on fuel for our trip to Cuba and the marina had even asked us to move mooring balls, in order to give the 200 feet of the Germania Nova more room to maneuver for docking. The girl who had died was 16 years old and had fallen whilst the boat was tied to the dock. The Jamaican police were holding the vessel at the marina whilst they completed their investigations. Annette had taken photographs of the docking operation and left a copy of her pictures, in case the young girl appeared in any of these and her family wanted such. Such a terrible event, emphasized to us by the proximity of the vessel. We don’t know what happened and can only speculate at the chance that snatches away the existence of a young life and provides crushing tragedy for the parents.
That night we were again invited to Nino’s soiree for an evening of music and conversation. Nino operates a sort of private club and they meet every two weeks or so. Tonight there were six musicians and the conversation a little difficult but again, a most enjoyable event.
March 23, 2017
I slept hard last night and the fact that it rained was largely unnoticed by the captain. In the morning I remembered that although I had thought to replace the drain plug in the dinghy, I had neglected to remove it again after our neighbors kindly used their dinghy to attach our mooring line. Today the dinghy seemed to contain about 10 inches of rainwater but I must have been mistaken, since the implied weight of water should have broken the davit lines. Nevertheless, it was a lot and took a while to drain. We called the marina by cell phone, moved back to the same slip we had departed from, 12 days ago and waited for the Quarantine, Customs and Immigration officials. The clearance procedure was much smoother this time and by 1100 hours we were all done and legally here.
The rain continued throughout the day and we took the opportunity to catch up on e-mails, pay bills and the like, assisted by a reasonably fast wireless internet connection to the marina.
March 22, 2017
An early morning rise and we made the final checks on Doodlebug. The Customs and Immigration officer had declined to check us out of the country last night and insisted that we call at his office at 0530 hours this morning. This we did and I hammered on the darkened office door without response. Back to the marina office and the marina manager walked over with me to hammer on the door of the darkened apartment adjacent. A sleepy and tousled figure finally opened the door. Then we waited for him to get dressed into his official uniform. He meticulously checked our passports against the already prepared exit document and did the same thing with the boat registration certificate. Finally he was satisfied, handed me the exit document and announced that he needed to inspect the boat. He was looking for stowaways of course and he checked the four cabins and the toilets, missing the two forward cabins, stern lockers, engine rooms and fly bridge. We did not complain about the shoddy searching and he left.
At 0615 hours we dropped our mooring lines and headed out into the darkness, using radar and GPS charting to miss the unlit navigation buoys. Once clear of the fortress of El Morro, we were in open water with Jamaica lying in a rhumb line course to the south of south east. There was 7/8 ths. cloud and seas higher than expected, in the 3 to 4 foot range. About four miles off the coast of Cuba we changed course to miss a tiny and unlit boat containing three fishermen casting lines. We thanked the heavens that they did not wave for help and we never had to face the moral dilemma of what to do next. We had discussed this before, as in what do you do if you come across a boat crammed with thirty or so refugees in dire straits? Do you allow them to board when there are only two of us and easy to overpower? What if they board and then become unhappy with the proposed destination? The sea easily hides many crimes and democracy just doesn’t work here.
This was the last vessel we were to encounter until we were close to Jamaican waters in the mid-afternoon. The seas were empty and the radar at a 12 mile radius setting showed a blank screen. In early afternoon there were a few light showers and the wind began to build from the east. This was definitely not forecast and we soon had whitecaps and 4 to 6 foot seas directly off the beam and knocking us around. By late afternoon, the wind began to die away, as did the waves and we were approaching the Jamaican coast, heavily shrouded in clouds as it was. The sun set as we maneuvered to line up with the entrance channel, compensating for a fairly strong current setting us to the west. Darkness descends quickly in the tropics and in the channel behind Navy Island, the navigation markers were invisible until they flashed their warning lights.
We slowly eased up to a mooring ball which Annette lassoed on her first throw. This did not pass unnoticed by a neighboring yacht who not only complemented us on our smooth arrival but offered to use their dinghy to help us put a line through the shackle on the top of the mooring ball so we wouldn’t have to launch our own. It was 1955 hours when I passed the order to shut down the main engines (well OK, I turned the key myself) and declared that we are in Jamaica! Our position is 18 10.8 N 076 27.3 W
March 21, 2017
The forecast for Thursday has deteriorated and the optimum window for our departure we now decided is Wednesday. We notified the marina manager that we will leave tomorrow morning and confirmed the amount of our final bill. Once we had determined that the city electricity supply was good for perhaps 6 amperes, we had managed to move the electricity meter on this dock from 000000 to 000014, a total of 14 kilowatts in ten days, mainly by boiling water for coffee and tea.
After lunch we visited our final Santiago museum, the Museo de Clandestinidad, a museum celebrating the “fifth column” activities in the Santiago area during the Castro revolution. Like the other museums, everything was documented in Spanish and without translations. The exhibits were sparse and the museum a bit of a disappointment.
We shopped for souvenir tee-shirts and the like but these were surprisingly hard to find and had to make do with “ Yo (red heart) Cuba” baseball caps. We finished up our shopping at the fifth floor bar of the hotel on Cespedes square. We had waited patiently in the downstairs bar watching waiters ignore us and before walking out to ride the elevator. The top floor bar has a breeze, live music and equally worthless waiters. Annette walked over to the bar to place our order and then, when the waiter failed to deliver the tray of drinks sitting on the bar, Annette grabbed it and delivered it to our table herself, pursued by the embarrassed waiter. Pretty funny from my perspective. I tipped the musicians.
We had arranged to meet some Cuban friends for supper in town and this event wrapped up a truly enjoyable visit. Cuba will surely change dramatically over the next few years as the last few leaders of their revolution succumb to old age. Everyone expects a huge influx of tourists from Cuba’s giant neighbor to the west and the subsequent loss of innocence and charm. We will remember the frustrations of living temporarily in a society still trapped in the 1950’s but we will also remember the friendships and generosity of a proud and industrious people. Vive Cuba!
March 20, 2017
Isidro was waiting with his 1956 Chevrolet taxi at 0700 hours this morning and we departed for Holguin, the birthplace of the Castro boys, Fidel and Raoul. The trip began with light traffic on a four lane divided highway, reasonable surface, then went to an Autopista (freeway) for a limited run before turning north west across the tail end of the Sierra Cristal mountains. From here the road was two lane, often with major, axle breaking potholes, or a patch where the the roadway had been repaired with unconsolidated rubble but not resurfaced. The traffic was still fairly light, about one third of all vehicles being horse-drawn, a third passenger carrying trucks and buses and another third commercial trucks. We saw bullock teams harnessed to a plough and working a field, as well as multiple farm carts, loaded with goods and being drawn by a pair of oxen. As we drove, we caught occasional glimpses of the railway but the only time we saw a vehicle on the rails, it was carrying a uniformed track maintenance crew that our driver said was “military”. The land all around us was planted with sugar cane and much in the process of being harvested. I noticed that there were heavy trucks hauling two or three trailers, each loaded with cane, cut into small pieces. The harvesting was being performed by huge tractors, and these were dumping the shredded cane into the waiting trucks, just as we saw in the Bundaberg region of Australia and similarly, the root remains of the harvesting were disced under the rich dirt instead of being burnt as would happen in Fiji or Panama. The cane railway spurs looked operable, in poor condition and we assume have been replaced by the heavy truck / harvester combo we witnessed.
Although this was a rural community we were travelling through, there seemed to be people everywhere, walking the empty stretches of roadway, waiting in groups, we assume for transportation and sometimes just heading for the horizon across empty fields. What do they all do for a living? There seemed to be too many for a modern agricultural industry and no sign of the chopped up small holdings of a subsistence farm economy. We passed by men trimming the weeds and roadsides with scythes but machetes were the norm. No weed-whackers. People greeted one another and we saw that some of the men seemed to be delivering milk by horse and trap to the individual homes and chatting with the housewives. In their yards, people were growing vegetables, had chickens and geese and we saw no pigs.
The road was well sign-posted with speed limit signs, “no passing” zones, “end of no passing” zones and center line stripes. We noticed that all drivers seemed to obey these signs, even when trapped behind a donkey cart on an otherwise empty road. Whenever we saw bicycles or motorcycles, we noticed that the riders were wearing helmets. In the 84 miles from Santiago to Holguin, we passed some 4 police checkpoints, at least those I observed, usually a pair of officers with motor-cycles and upon our return, our driver was again stopped to have his documents checked. I can’t quite see the percentage here, when one considers the paucity of traffic and the density and frequency of document checks. Is this simply a “rice bowl” issue? (i.e. I go through the motions to get my rice bowl).
We saw few dogs, no cats and no road kill. There were no hawks, just four or five Black vultures drifting lazily in the sky.
We arrived in downtown Holguin before 1000 hours and after the necessary beer break, hit the first museum, the Museo Provincial La Periquera . Inside the doorway were two women, sitting at a table and ignoring us. I interrupted, asked politely, “La entrada del museo, esta alli o aqui?” “Si” was the answer. (I had intended to say – is the entrance to the museum here or further inside? and the answer was “Yes”). We asked how much and were told two pesos (pretty standard). After we handed them a five peso note, they insisted that they had no change and to leave and come back with the exact money. When we didn’t budge, they grudgingly handed us a three peso note and we entered.
This museum is supposed to have a good collection of post-Columbian artifacts plus is a “shrine” to Fidel. The first room we entered was huge and dark. There were a series of massive doors on two sides and all but the one we had entered were firmly closed. I tried the various light switches to no effect. A Spanish couple, currently living in Germany, entered the gallery to share our gloom and Annette returned to the two ladies and asked them to turn the lights on. They claimed there was no electricity. By now we had opened three more of the doors but when Annette opened a door to the square outside, one of the ladies, horrified, rushed over to close it. Annette gently took her by the elbow and positioned her on guard in front of the forbidden door, while she continued to take her pictures. This act provoked the ladies to remember where the breaker was for the electricity and magically all of the lights came on and the museum was illuminated. All of the doors leading off the interior quadrangle were closed and I ignored the ones that might have been labeled “library” or “office” and found a long gallery that was locked up but seemed to contain museum artifacts. One of the doors was sealed by a string across the jamb with a glob of wax at each end like a Shakespearian document. The seal was easy to break, the door unlocked and I soon found the light-switch. Annette and I perused this gallery at length and upon exiting, a third lady came up to us and exclaimed, “Are you by yourself? You have been in there? It is not possible!”. “No”, I said, ”It is perfectly possible, we have just done it.” She expostulated that the museum was closed and under reconstruction, besides, we would have needed to pay at the entrance. “Yes, we have already paid”, we told her. She took off at a near run for the entrance and we continued our tour of the museum. When the lady returned she was obviously flustered but managed to tell us that the building that housed the museum had once been occupied by troops and the multi-colored uniforms had caused the local people to name it the “Parrot House”. She also mentioned that the building was the site of the first movie to be shown in Holguin.
By now it was lunchtime and although the hotel restaurants didn’t open until noon, we found a local place that served us a quite pleasant pizza, beer and fried chicken. Our next destination was the Casa Natal Calixto Garcia, the birthplace of General Garcia who fought against Spain when this was a Spanish colony. Holguin is hardly Mexico City so the “Casa” couldn’t have been far from the main square and the museum we visited earlier. During our sojourn, we found ourselves passing the Centro de Arte Holguin where they had an exposition of Guadalupe Palacios’ work. The exposition was titled “Vivir” and was mainly numbered monochrome prints. Guadeloupe’s work was excellent and we were surprised that the gallery was not permitted by law to sell any of the pieces; for that we would have to contact the artist directly.
We continued our search for the mystery Casa Natal Calixto Garcia and just like the ephemeral Viazul office we searched for the other day, it kept moving around the city, always just tantalizingly three to four blocks ahead. Finally we just gave up and dropped into the Union of Cuban Artists’ building to look at their art and chat to the local artists there.
Overall this was a great day and Holguin is definitely the place to come to peruse and purchase some fine art.
March 19, 2017
Sunday in Cuba. We used the hotel internet to see if the museums in Holguin would be open on a Monday but all we could determine was that the “TripAdvisor” website claimed they existed. We also found internet queries that indicated the Crystal brewery in Holguin did not provide factory tours. The weather forecast is projecting higher winds next week-end and we have begun to plan for a Thursday departure to Jamaica.
We called our favorite taxi driver, Isidro on the satellite phone to see if he would drive us tomorrow and after a thoroughly unsatisfactory call with distortion and disconnects (why does it always go so smoothly for Jason Bourne?) felt fairly confident that he would at least pick us up tomorrow. Thereafter, we would just have to wing it.
Today’s highlight was a visit to the Teatro Marti for a performance of a Folkloric Ballet. This was awesome! The audience was small but the performers, singers and musicians top notch. The dancers were very skilled and possessed of enormous energy. The choreography too was excellent, the costumes of the girls very similar to those of flamenco dancers but the dance style itself made me think of a Polynesian Salsa with some Michael Jackson thrown in. The event reminded me of a Rachmaninoff concert we had attended in Russia back in the fall of 2000 in St. Petersburg. A lightly attended, shabby theatre transcended by the highest quality of performance from the actors and musicians.
March 18, 2017
Today’s goal was to take the local ferry boat into town, allegedly faster than the taxi because the former takes a direct route by water and the latter must weave around the perimeter of the various inlets for a 20 minute and 10 CUC trip. Once in town we head over to the “Viazul” bus station and buy / book tickets for a Monday morning trip to the nearby town of Holguin, before visiting the Museo de Clandestinidad, the museum of Castro’s underground struggle.
Well that was the plan. The ferry boat was supposed to arrive at 1200 hours, adjacent to the marina but didn’t in fact show up until well after 1230 hours. The local people all piled aboard and the departure was further delayed trying to find change for the 5 CUC note we presented. Our “tourist” fare was quoted at 1 CUC each and the locals all paid in CUPs, the “Cuban’s only” currency. In Santiago we fought our way to exit through the mob of people boarding at the terminus of the ferry route – no, that’s not true. There was a huge mob of people waiting to board the local ferry boats but just as we have witnessed with the crowds at the bus stops, there was no pushing and shoving, people wait patiently in line and part ways to let you pass.
We had been told that the Viazul office was very close and asked directions from a number of people. They all seem to have different ideas as to where this office lay although none disputed its existence. We followed the directions given and walked perhaps a mile up the steep hill into the city center, stopping to visit a couple of craft markets on the way. We found ourselves back at the Tourist Information office and asked for further directions. The girl within described the pedestrian walkway we had discovered a couple of days ago. “Is that the street with the “California” store and the “PanAmerica” store?”, we asked. She looked puzzled. “Do you know this street?” “Yes.” “What is it called?” “It is the same street”. We followed her directions and returned back downhill to the road near the ferry terminus. Here we asked for more directions and by now it had begun to rain. We must have asked another three people before we found the office, which we did at 1540 hours. Nobody we asked had mentioned the little fact that the office we sought was inside the main railway station, just down from the ferry terminus. There was a line to the ticket window and as we stood there, we studied the timetable on the wall behind us. The morning bus takes 3 hours and 40 minutes to travel the 134 kilometers (84 miles) from Santiago to Holguin, arriving in the afternoon.
This was not going to work. We could not visit Holguin and return on the same day and without usable power to the dock, we were going to have to shut off the refrigerators on the boat, since they run from the house batteries. We decided that we would instead travel to Holguin by taxi.
Just like a Las Vegas casino there was no clock to be seen anywhere at the railway station. We haven’t ever seen a moving train either, although there were real enough looking empty waiting rooms, guarded by bored looking security people. The railway station provided the only bargain to be found, 60 cents to use the toilet to take a pee. Most other places in town charge a $1. We has asked at the Tourist Info Bureau about taking a train to either Holguin or Havana and the people there had recoiled in horror at the prospect. “You don’t want to do that!”, we were told, “You will never get there with the train”. The “why” remains a mystery.
By now it was too late to visit the museum and instead wandered through town absorbing the lifestyle of the city. There is very little trash on the sidewalks despite a total absence of trashcans. One of the benefits of not having a packaging industry, I suppose. Most of the stores were sparsely stocked, in fact near devoid of stock. The few shoppers were monitored closely by the salespeople. There were several pharmacies and these were large stores but again, near empty. No racks of toiletries and cosmetics as in the rest of the world. Instead there were bottles of colored liquids behind the counter that made me think of medieval apothecaries. We did not investigate to see if these were herbal remedies or pharmacological presentations of common drugs.
The craft stores all sold the same stuff, walking sticks, wood carvings, Che tee-shirts, Che hats, Che posters. Fidel not so much but then the Bolivians didn’t shoot Fidel did they? I wondered if these products were locally made or produced in Indonesia.
The bakery gave Annette a bread roll and allowed her to take pictures of their interior. If we could keep this up we wouldn’t need supper tonight.
March 17, 2017
This morning we tried the internet at the marina hotel - one hour for $1.50, using their computer. The operating system was Windows XP Professional. The keyboard did not quite match up to the computer however. There were two “alt” keys, either side of the space bar. I finally discovered that the combination to get an “@” symbol was the right “alt” plus the “2” key. The “-“ sign was produced by the “/” key, thus it took me nearly forty minutes to get to see my e-mails. I had begun the morning with a plan to check e-mails, research tourist sights in the next town, check the bus schedules and browse the international news but had to make do with just checking my e-mail. By the time I had forced the browser to report tourist information in English rather than Spanish, my one hour internet usage coupon had expired. We could have purchased another coupon but life is short and there only so many hours in a day.
We visited “El Morro” also called “El Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca”. This is the imposing fortress that guards the entrance channel to Santiago. If I read the limited information correctly, its main use over the centuries was to provide some protection to the town from the marauding English and Dutch pirates who plagued these waters. The fortress was extensively rebuilt in the 1800’s but modern weaponry had rendered its defenses obsolete by the time it was finished. It thereafter saw use as a military prison. The construction was interesting in that it looked as though it was constructed of concrete but a closer inspection showed that the inner core was local rocks, pieces of coral etc. cemented together in a loose matrix. To prevent erosion of the mortar, the surface was then sealed with a kind of stucco. This was not the Chateau d’If. Edmund Dantes could have tunneled his way out of this place in way less than 17 years.
Back at the marina they were preparing for a large wedding and reception to be held at the marina hotel. While Annette was taking pictures of the bride, I chatted with the marina manager on duty. He had worked as a Russian translator in the days of the USSR and at that time there were thousands of Russians on the island. After the fall of the Soviet Union they simply vanished, as did his job. He hastily studied English in order to obtain his current employment. His English is very good and I found him knowledgeable on many subjects. He confirmed as we suspected, they are under a severe drought here, without rain for the past two years. He works a schedule of 24 hours on and 48 hours off. I assumed that he was on “standby” like a fireman, or hospital emergency doctor but he said that the marina provides no place to sleep or doze, “just chairs”. He stays awake for 24 hours and “chats” to the security guards. Physically draining for a 58 year old man. I asked if they had a kitchen for meals but he indicated again that there was nothing provided. He brings some crackers and something to drink from his home.
When we awoke this morning there was an American flagged vessel moored on the dock across from us. They had arrived in the wee hours and anchored. At 0300 hours, they had been visited by the doctor and immigration officials, so again, our intelligence about arriving or departing outside of daylight hours has been proven incorrect.
The local Cuban people we have visited have been very curious about life in the United States. What do we do on a week-end? What is our apartment like? Do we have broken cellular phones or broken computer equipment? What do we do with our broken phones? What do we eat for breakfast? Do you have lotion? Just as when I worked in the Soviet Union in the late 80’s, we found the questions people ask, tell a lot about their lifestyle. We have observed that two children seem to the norm and haven’t met anyone with a “large” family.
March 16, 2017
This morning I spent an hour or so diagnosing a problem with the autopilot. I tracked the power supply though the main breaker box, the fuse in the distribution panel and eventually found a burned out fuse in the control unit itself. It was a 5 ampere fuse and I had on board 10, 15, 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 but no 5’s. I have temporarily used a 10 ampere fuse and everything is working again. Over the past few months I have networked together three different generations of Raymarine electronics and am a little concerned that I may have overloaded one of the buses. The fuse is a common “plug in” type used extensively in automobiles and I could probably get it at the Santiago Walmart if such existed. I asked at the marina office if there was a car parts store and was told that they don’t really have parts stores. There are individuals around who can find parts however.
In the afternoon we headed for downtown Santiago in a local “unlicensed” taxi and on the outskirts of the city, a policeman signaled our driver to pull over. What happened next was interesting. Yesterday, we were in Isidro’s air-conditioned taxi when a police officer signaled him to pull over. He stopped, rolled down his window and handed the police officer about three different documents through the window. When we asked if we should produce passports, he shook his head and said that it was just a routine document check. After four or five minutes, the officer handed the documents back to Isidro and we set off again. Today, our driver stopped, jumped smartly out of the car and went to the rear. Within seconds he was back in the car muttering that now he had to pay the policeman something when he returned to the marina.
We visited the 15th century villa of the conquistador, “Casa de Diego Velazquez”. This was a huge mansion sitting on a downtown square and had been restored and filled with period furniture from the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. French, Italian, Spanish, German and English porcelains, Mexican silver and Cuban mahogany furniture filled the rooms. Several of the doors were original, including the original hinges. The various rooms had uniformed guides who pointed out the artifacts but none spoke English and we received the barest minimum of information in Spanish. The overall effect was that Diego Velazquez lived very well in a beautiful home.
We continued walking around the town and met our first aggressive street people. I was pelted with requests to change money, buy rum, buy cigars, take a taxi, take a tour, all within seconds followed by a gruff demand to “give me a present”. Instead I provided a suggestion on a physical act that was probably impossible. Annette realized she was being stalked for about two blocks by a small woman hovering a few feet away. She whirled and stated loudly, “No, gracias!”. The woman scurried away. These have been the only incidents when a polite “no” hasn’t worked, otherwise people here have been just delightful. We met Isidro, yesterday’s driver who was waiting in a downtown taxi rank, his car being the best looking of all. The streets were lined with amazing old Buicks, Chevrolets, Oldsmobiles, Ramblers, Jeeps just parked alongside the curbs. In the USA you would be charged admission just to look at them. We did find a pedestrian mall, including a department type store with the name “California”, although we did not explore the interior since it was getting late. Instead we had supper at an Italian restaurant on the mall. The only item on the menu was lasagna, thus we ordered lasagna. Three beers, one soda and two lasagnas came to $15.50.
March 15, 2017
We had arranged for taxi to pick us up and had discovered late last night and to our horror, that Cuba follows the stupid American practice of “daylight savings”. This meant a rushed breakfast before meeting our taxi driver Isidro in his 1956 Chevrolet. The car had been purchased new by Isidro’s father and had been lovingly maintained ever since. Isidro was educated as a mechanical engineer at the University of Santiago and had worked thereafter as an engineer in systems automation, before becoming fed up with his job and quitting to become a taxi driver. This car was not only near immaculate but had working air-conditioning (heavily emphasized in his advertising), driven of course by some flavor of diesel engine. Annette was delighted with the vehicle since her first wheels had been a ‘57 Chevy and at age 18, she had cruised the Las Vegas strip with the windows down and the radio blasting.
Our destination this morning was the art community of El Oasis, located east of Santiago. We first stopped at the Granjita Siboney, the house where Fidel Castro and his fellow revolutionaries plotted their first attack on a military installation in downtown Santiago. The house was pockmarked with bullet holes around the entrance where the Batista troops had belatedly sought the attackers. Inside the original furniture had been preserved, together with displays of the home made uniforms of the revolutionaries, plus some of the arms they had used.
We found the El Oasis art community a little strange, in that they had five active artists in the community but parked out in the sticks so to speak, miles from the City of Santiago. The artists were all well advanced in years and we assume retirees. Yesterday we had learned that retirees make 8 CUCs per month. A working doctor or engineer between 20 and 30 CUCs per month. It was hard to imagine survival on such an income and now perfectly understandable why an engineer would quit his job to drive a tourist taxi. The artist’s individual workspaces were tiny but their work was excellent.
Our next stop was at the “Valle de la Prehistoria”, featuring the three periods of Triassic, Jurrasic and Cretaceous with life size models of dinosaurs, mammoths, etc. The park was huge and considerable money had been spent developing it. The central pond with its rocks and waterfall was dried up and all around us, the concrete dinosaurs were decaying, needing both paint and patching. We were the only visitors and there were dozens of employees around. This is after all mid-week in March and we assume that during the summer school holidays the place would be bursting. What was fun was that there were horses (feral or otherwise – hard to tell) that were grazing amongst the prehistoric herds of horses and between the mammoths and adding an unexpected aura of reality. We looked for Ayla of the Cave Bear Clan but she was probably back in Hollywood organizing political protests.
The art community of Verraco was far more active than the El Oasis community and we visited potters and painters. The pottery workshop was extensive, a family run affair with lots of machinery and multiple kilns for large scale production of ceramics. We watched our guide skillfully cast a large pot on a wheel and it is always a pleasure to see a true artist create something from a rude chunk of clay. We were not in the market for ceramics however and moved on to the painter’s studio. Annette particularly liked the marquettes and studies in India ink by the artist “Bayola”, painted on the reverse of cardboard seafood packaging.
Lunch was at a beach restaurant at Playa Larga. Excellent food but again outrageously overpriced. It’s a general rule that when near strangers tell you that you are like family to them, you should clutch your wallet tightly.
Miscellaneous Cuba impressions:
We were surprised at the number of people with medical issues. One man we spoke to said he had been in a car accident, he needed surgery in Havana but it was too expensive to travel there for treatment. Similarly dentistry seems to be problematic and many people have bad teeth.
Most vehicles are of 1950’s American manufacture, including lots of Willy’s Jeeps. Other sedans were Russian Lados / Fiats; Chinese buses and trucks predominated. I could not determine the manufacturer of the replacement diesel engines and when I suggested “Isuzu” engines, I got a blank look. Our taxi had no working speedometer since the speedometer cable did not match the transmission. Fuel is about $4 / gallon, the same as Jamaica but “very expensive” to people on a limited income. The traffic is light with plenty of mopeds and lots of donkey carts. We also saw donkey cart taxis. Many of the roads have large potholes and even the wildest of our various taxi drivers have been careful to negotiate these and meticulous about stopping at stop signs, even on an obviously empty highway.
Their “Safari” type buses are based upon large trucks more like military transports, rather than the pickups found in other Caribbean islands. These require a really big step up to get into and we could see that they were very crowded. Our fellow sailors on the Swedish boat rode the buses but we didn’t. Unlike St. Thomas, the trucks had solid metal sides to within about 2 feet of the roof, and this gap is then covered with heavy bars. The roof too is metal and must be like an oven inside on a sunny day. The trucks are grim looking, bare metal and no decorations. There were no visible safety exits and I wondered if these could double as paddy wagons for transporting prisoners.
We visited a grocery store, and this reminded me of the USSR. There was a list on the back wall with pricing of the bulk items for sale, rice, beans etc. There were no aisle displays, the other food items shown behind a glass counter. We could see sacks of food stacked in a warehouse in the back. People lined up to order and pay for their food.
There were no sidewalk cafes or bars downtown. The bars that we saw / entered were darkened dives with hammering music. Alcohol here is cheap and at the downtown hotel it was $2 per beer or $1.50 at a downtown restaurant. The rum is also very cheap.
People have been friendly and helpful when stopped for directions. They were similarly helpful at the currency exchange and the post office when directing us where to go, which window to stand at etc.
Many of the villages / communities have small, near identical homes. Between the villages, the land is very dry, the grass cropped short and brown. We were told this is normal. The cattle we saw were skinny with ribs showing; ditto the horses. Sheep and goats were common and looked better fed. There were few dogs to be seen and just a handful of pigeons around the downtown monuments. There were plenty of fruit trees just about everywhere.
There are just a handful of boats in this marina and no other American flags.
March 14, 2017
Early this morning, Timothy (S/Y Aela) came to sell us some unused CUC’s (convertible pesos) and with this purchase we now owned enough for the taxi ride into town to the bank. Cuba has two currencies. There is a convertible peso pegged at one per US dollar, except that when you exchange dollar bills, there is a 3% charge for the currency conversion plus a 10% penalty charge for the US currency. The bottom line is that a bank will give you only 0.87 pesos or “CUCs” per US dollar. The second currency used here are non-convertible pesos “CUPs” and they exchange for around 24 CUPs to a CUC and are only legal tender for Cubans.
Our taxi was a Chevrolet of indeterminate vintage, the headliner was long gone and instead had crumbling domestic ceiling tiles (probably asbestos) glued to the rusting metal. Our driver drove at high speed on the near empty roads, honking his horn at anything that moved and throwing us from side to side of the vehicle as he careered around the bends. When we came to a village, he hurtled through the mass of pedestrians, children with footballs, dogs, chickens and donkey carts, blasting his way with his horn. If anyone stepped the wrong way they were gonna be toast. We gratefully arrived in downtown Santiago unscathed and he was crushed to discover that we did not need his services for the balance of the day.
We were waiting in line on the sidewalk in front of at a currency exchange office when the door opened and a handful of people were allowed to enter and again we stood behind a line, closely monitored by a security guard. When motioned to a teller booth, Annette and I stepped forwards, breaking the taboo that only one person at a time might approach the booth. Annette was swiftly ushered back across “La Linea”. I exchanged all of the Euros (no 10% penalty!!) we had obtained in St. Martin last year and we were now flush with cash and could order sandwiches and ride taxis at will.
This morning’s stock racer wannabe taxi driver had airily waved his hand in the alleged direction of our first desired destination of the Museum of Carnival but he had been visibly annoyed that we were done with him, despite the fact that our plans for the day had been explained to him a half dozen times. Nevertheless our Spanish was good enough that we soon located the building in question. This Museum was unexpected, the costumes quite different from those worn in Grenada, as Carnival here is a celebration of the feast of Saint Santiago, the patron saint of the city. Unfortunately all of the documentation of the exhibits was in Spanish and I believe that I translated correctly perhaps 80%. Just as elsewhere in the Caribbean, the freed slaves used the opportunity of the feast to celebrate their emancipation and in the early days were banned from participating. Throughout the decades, the Carnival continued to have political overtones and a newspaper headline was displayed that indicated that Fidel Castro was involved in a 1950’s Carnival event that resulted in more than 50 deaths. There is no internet at the marina to research this further and correct any mis-interpretations, so this will be a “later” project. We met a local artist “Ashe” and chatted to him at length regarding the Santiago art community. From him we obtained the name and phone number of one of main organizers of the Santiago Carnival, scheduled each year in July. We would like to see the costume making process if possible but this will need a fluent Spanish speaker with a cell phone.
For lunch we stopped at a large downtown hotel that was somewhat light on menu options. My ham sandwich consisted of stale bread with slices of ham, no condiments, mustard, mayonnaise etc. Annette selected the pork roast and had a similar experience but with tougher meat. On a positive note, the beer was good, it was cheap and with a good view of the harbor from the fifth floor of the hotel.
Annette still collects stamps and our next stop was the post office to buy used postage stamps, plus new stamps to mail her post cards.
We spent much of the afternoon at the Emilio Bacardi Moreau Museum. The upper floor was fine arts and had a collection of portraits that had been sent from Spain to Cuba in the 1800’s. Interesting paintings. My favorite piece was a very large mural sized work showing people checking their lottery tickets versus the published results and this painting had been displayed at the New York Exposition in 1894. We were surprised that there were also several paintings of a political or social nature referencing the Cuban carnival and the disparity of social status in the 19th century. The lower floor of the museum had an extensive collection of artifacts ranging from the pre-Columbian Taino culture through to modern times.
As we walked back down town we stopped in to visit the rum museum and I learned that the “Ron” in Ron Bacardi is not referring to “Ronald the rum maker” but is the Cuban word for “rum”. I also learned that the Bacardi family had established a distillery here around the time of prohibition in America and it was naturally very successful.
By now we were getting tired and stopped off at a bar to get a couple of restorative beers but their music volume was set above the pain threshold, conversation impossible, thus we left and found a taxi. This taxi was a modified Willie’s Jeep. There was a red light flashing on the dashboard and the driver stopped at a gas station. I first noticed that he stopped at the diesel pump and then observed that after he had filled up, the fuel gauge which had been showing about a third full did not budge. By now the red light had stopped flashing and I concluded that this was the actual fuel indicator and the Jeep had been converted to a diesel engine. Our driver was ancient and drove calmly and sedately. We liked him.
That evening we took the advice of some local lads to eat at a “nearby” restaurant. We climbed into a Russian “Lado”, identifying it as a Fiat 124 derivative (Fiat sold the factory to the USSR). After ten minutes or so, our driver pulled over and we waited while he added gasoline to his tank from a one gallon plastic juice jug. We then continued on for another ten minutes to the local restaurant. The food was excellent, Annette ate octopus whilst I stuck with Red Snapper but there was nothing “local” about the price we were charged.
March 13, 2017
There seemed to be a fair amount of current in the channel between Cuba and Jamaica and we crabbed at near 30 degrees from the rhumb line to offset this. At midnight there were still rain cells roaming around but these died away and after about 0400 hours, we were close enough to Cuba that the rollers we had been suffering with as they hit near directly on the beam, died away leaving just a slight chop.
At 0800 hours we approached the narrow passage through the sea cliffs, dominated by the formidable fortress of El Castillo del Morro. I told Annette to let me know if she saw smoke from the Castillo, in which case we would turn and run for it. In fact as we neared land we could see that the cannons of the ancient fortress were not the true risk, instead these would be the modern camouflaged concrete bunkers just behind the beach.
At 0827 hours we dropped anchor at 19 59.0 N 075 52.184 W
By radio we had been told to wait about 30 minutes for the Immigration officer but it was around 1030 by the time he showed up. We handed him our passports, Jamaica clearance certificate, boat registration and he departed indicating that we needed to wait for “the doctor”. We had just sat down to eat our lunch when the lady doctor came aboard. She was wearing a tee-shirt bearing the legend, “Kiss Me”, bordered with a motorcycle fringe and silver studs. Her long hair was two toned, yellow and magenta and she sported inch long, intricately painted, acrylic finger nails. She had lots of useless forms to complete about de-ratification certificates, the number of deaths onboard and the like. She then asked for our yellow fever certificates and although they had expired some four years ago, didn’t seem to either notice or mind. She took our temperatures – both normal. Then she lectured us on mosquito safety, using Chlorox to sanitize drinking water and also to wash any fruits and vegetables. Finally she asked us for a “gift” of cash. We gave her a little cash. Then she asked for a beer. We were surprised by this one but popped a beer and poured it into a glass. She drank about half of the beer we gave her and as we learned from another crew, when they gave her a can of beer, she had slipped the unopened can into her bag. Annette offered her some candy, she took all of the proffered sweets plus the bowl they were in. Now we were more than ready to get rid of her! She then abruptly announced that we were to take her to the dock. I assumed that we were to launch our dinghy but no, she meant the whole boat. This precipitated a flurry of activity on our part as we deployed fenders, lines and powered up the instruments, so that we could read the rudder positions and water depths and then proceeded to raise the anchor. Annette and I were both very cognizant of the fact that the doctor was now on our boat unaccompanied by either of us and that bag of hers could hold a lot of stuff.
A little after noon found us tied up to the dock and after cramming the remains of our lunch down, (the doctor hadn’t confiscated this) we headed over to the Immigration office. Here we dictated endless pieces of useless information, duplicating just about everything the doctor has asked for, that were then meticulously typed into a computer form. Forms were printed, signed, more forms printed and more signatures. Eventually we were done and were passed onwards to the harbor master’s office to pay a cash balance of US$240 for clearance fees. By 1430 hours we were also “done” here, although we were warned that, “Agriculture might come tomorrow”.
I plugged our power umbilical into the dockside electricity pylon and began deploying our newly constructed fender boards to hold us off the rough concrete dock. Annette poked her head out of the cabin and informed me that the air-conditioner had just died. Bugger! I discovered that although the supplied voltage looked great, it crashed to nothing if you turned anything on. Back to Harbor Master’s office where he told me to “try another pylon”. This was a waste of time and although I did try two more pylons, this quest for power was doomed to be fruitless since all of the meters were reading 000000, meaning nobody had ever extracted usable electricity from them before.
The marina restaurant was open but we had no Cuban cash to pay with. “We will work something out”, said the Harbor Master. This seemed a little vague so I asked him if there was any place in the marina where we might change a small amount of cash? “Yes”, he replied. I did not press him further since I did not want his head to explode whilst I was standing close by.
Just before we were to leave on an exploratory trip to the marina restaurant, the Swedish crew aboard S/Y Aela, whom we had befriended in Port Antonio, dropped by to visit us. They reported that the marina restaurant sucks anyway, rice and beans being high on the list of haut cuisine. We ate aboard. A long and busy day.
March 12, 2017
Another rainy morning. We have “cleared out” of Jamaica but the trip to Cuba we estimate at 14 hours. The Cuban’s don’t like you arriving at night so our plan is to leave our mooring tonight at 1800 hours to arrive in Cuba at 0800 hours tomorrow morning. When it stopped raining briefly, we decided to wander back into town to buy an emergency case of beer. As we left the marina we ran into “Edgar”, a local born Jamaican who hangs around the marina hoping to find some kind of employment. When we told him we were just going to buy a case of beer, he tagged along with us, just because he has nothing better to do. The grocery store was one of the few establishments open on a Sunday and we made our purchase. On our return to the boat, we stopped to chat further to Edgar before bidding him farewell. There are few boats in the marina and even fewer of these are likely to be seeking a travel guide on a rainy Sunday morning. It seems such an act of desperation on Edgar’s part to hang around the marina all day in the hope of bringing in a few Jamaican dollars.
At 1710 hours, a whole fifty minutes ahead of schedule, I could stand the waiting no longer and we dropped our mooring and headed out to sea, bound for Santiago de Cuba, Cuba. The sky was overcast with scattered rain cells but we managed to avoid these and watched the full moon rise in the east before it plunged into the clouds. The forecast was for seas in the 3 to 4 feet range as we headed out, dropping later around midnight. The first part of the forecast was reasonably accurate but around midnight, the wind and seas began to build. The moon was hidden behind a layer of clouds but still cast enough light that you could probably read a book if such an archaic object was carried aboard.
March 11, 2017
This morning we began the day with pouring with rain and a series of loud “explosions”, much louder than mere gunfire. We had learned two days earlier that this sound is made by breakers / fuses, or whatever mechanism is used, to protect the Jamaica power supply system. Near the coast the overhead wiring, insulators and distribution systems become caked in ocean salt. When a heavy rainstorm hits, the fresh rainwater dissolves the salt and the resulting electrically conducting solution shorts out and overloads the power grid. Such a heavy downpour was heading right at the marina and we could hear the “bangs” of the electricity breakers firing as the wall of water became closer. This phenomenon meant two things for us. First, I had to stow power cords, water hoses and single up Doodlebug’s mooring lines in heavy rain and second, the diesel pumps where we had made arrangements to refuel this morning, would be without power and inoperable. Two hours later the power was back on and we took on diesel in our main tanks and also filled our 10 jerry jugs with “spare” fuel. We had arrived with less than 30 gallons remaining in the port tank and 38 gallons in the starboard tank, assuming of course that they originally held their advertised capacity of 150 gallons each. We motored about 68 hours since the last fill up, which works out to be 3.4 gallons per hour using both engines. This is 10 percent greater fuel consumption than when we first purchased Doodlebug but the hull and propeller are both fouled. Using these numbers, the extra jerry jug fuel gives us additional range of 125 miles.
We now have our exit documents, have paid up at the marina and are tied to a mooring. The wind is still blowing hard in the Windward Passage north of us but is forecast to drop tomorrow afternoon.
March 10, 2017
Two more cases of beer plus the last few groceries groceries and we are set to leave. In the evening we visited the “Fan Club”, a private facility where a local and dashing entrepreneur “Nino” hosts an eclectic gathering every two weeks, accompanied by live music and interesting conversation. Nino had invited us via Steve and it was a magical evening which at least a partially made up for last night’s disastrous attempt to celebrate Annette’s birthday (Annette had been gracious as usual but I had been pissed off).
March 9, 2017
This morning we visited the Alligator Head Foundation property. We visited with Denise but Annette’s true interest was to find a parrot fish “slime sac” on the sea shore. A single Parrot fish allegedly produces or rather excretes, about 800 pounds of coral sand during its lifetime, producing many of the wonderful “white coral sand” beaches that we associate with the tropics. What we learned from Denise is that Parrot fish “sleep” at night and to mask themselves from predators, they generate a surrounding slime sac like a bubble, that I presume hides their electrical field, or “scent” as others claim. In the morning, the fish “wriggles” out of its cocoon and continues nibbling on coral. Denise indicated that the discarded sacs often wash up on shore at their facility. Although Annette diligently combed the seashore, she found no Parrot fish sleeping bags and was mildly disappointed.
That evening we had reservations at the “Mille Fleur” restaurant associated with the Hotel Mockingbird Hill. The restaurant had rave internet reviews but there was only one other couple besides ourselves dining. The locals apparently rightly know that you never trust the internet.
March 8, 2017
Annette has been researching sand, land snails and bauxite (aluminum ore) and today Doodlebug had a visit from Denise, a marine biologist with the Alligator Head, Marine Biology research group. Annette had mentioned this interest when chatting with local dive operator Steve Wideneur, who originally hails from near Roswell, New Mexico (home of flying saucers and little green men – Steve is not green though) and Steve had kindly followed up by contacting Denise.
The Alligator Head Foundation (from their website) was set up to support the East Portland Fish Sanctuary, the Alligator Head Marine Lab and to assist the communities dependent upon marine resources for their livelihood......the foundation also works with contemporary art, digital media, food, culture and music production.......”
Wow! Did they leave anything out? The collaboration with the art community is through the Thyssen Bornemisza Art Contemporary Academy of Austria. Which leads naturally to 57 year old Francesca von Habsburg, an art collector and owner of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary Museum. Francesca became an Archduchess after marrying the grandson of Austria’s last reigning emperor, Karl Habsburg-Lothringen. She was born in Switzerland to Hans Heinrich Agost Gabor, Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza de Kaszon et Imperfalva (he doesn’t receive many post-cards) and his third wife, fashion model Fiona Frances Elaine Campbell-Walter. Wikipedia reports that Francesca had a reputation for London partying in the 1980’s as an “It” girl. I had to look this up since I have never dared to call a girl “It”, at least not to her face. Paris Hilton might fit the description of an “It” girl and the Kardashian girls too, if they had any “real” money.
Anyway, Francesca has a place here in Port Antonio, Jamaica, donated the property the Alligator Head foundation currently occupies, kicked in $25 million to get things rolling and The University of the West Indies committed another $30 million to cover the salaries of the first three researchers for some number of years. A rough calculation indicates that these are US dollars values not Jamaican dollars. Not a bad start to a fledgling operation.
We had a wonderful visit with Denise as she is knowledgeable on many facets of Jamaican ecology.
March 7, 2017
A rainy, windy day spent on such delightful chores as servicing the shower pan filters, as well as conducting internet research for our scheduled trip to Cuba.
March 6, 2017
An early morning start as we had hired a taxi to drive us to Kingston for the day. The weather forecast was for worse offshore conditions today and we had added extra lines to Doodlebug before leaving her lashed down in her slip. The rain poured down and the wind howled as we headed west along the coast road. As we passed by the bays, the angry waves swept down on the beaches in a tumble of brown, muddy foam. At one point there were large rocks across the roadway, thrown up by the breakers. The edge of the road looked as though it was beginning to erode and the spray beat against the side of the vehicle as we edged carefully by. I wondered if the highway would still be here for our return.
The coast road was generally well surfaced but as we turned south to transit the mountain range, the road narrowed, became pothole filled and the heavy rain had waterfalls tumbling down the cliff faces and occasionally running across the road way. In places there were washed out sections where the holes had been filled with rubble but not yet resurfaced. The traffic on this section of road was light but our driver insisted on passing other vehicles in the most amazing places. Eventually the road plunged downhill into the early morning commuter traffic of Kingston, the capital of Jamaica, population around 700,000. Our driver continued to drive very aggressively but I relaxed knowing that any wreck would likely be at sub-lethal velocities.
Our first stop of the day was the Bob Marley Museum, located in Bob’s former residence in Kingston. This was an excellent tour and we joined an Argentinian girl, a couple from Holland and a German girl with our guide Ricky. Our fellow tourists were almost as interesting as the tour itself. The Dutch lady was wearing a very slinky, black evening gown with a thigh length slit and her partner had a very dark skin as well as large ear lobe inserts as worn by African tribesman. His features did not match his skin color however and Annette pointed out to me that his skin color was much lighter behind his ears and in the fold of his neck. Bob Marley might have related in that I learned that his father was alleged to have been Captain Norval St. Claire Marley, a white man, although the documentary “Marley” indicates that he was in fact a 60 year old private in the British army who impregnated Bob’s mother Cedella Booker when she was 16. The tour was well done and Ricky added a lot of interesting background information. Bob’s music success led to him becoming involved with politicians and politics, although I am unsure as to whether the former were simply exploiting Bob’s fame and popularity. One result however was an assassination attempt in 1976 when three gunman broke into his home, shooting Bob, his manager and his wife. The manager and Bob’s wife sustained major injuries but recovered. Marley however sustained minor injuries to his arm and chest. The bullet holes still pockmark the kitchen wall where this happened.
Bob Marley left behind an impressive collection of music and awards when he died at 36 years old of a melanoma diagnosed some 4 years earlier.
Our next stop was to tour Devon House, the residence built by George Stiebel, Jamaica’s first black millionaire. George was born in the 1820’s, son of a German Jew and his Jamaican housekeeper. This was not a time when mixed races were accepted by Jamaican society and George dropped out of school when he was 14 to apprentice as a carpenter. When he was around 20 years old, his father funded his start up shipping business and he began moving cargo between North and South America. He owned three ships and supposedly was involved in gun-running during the Cuban revolution. Around 1856 his ships were caught in a storm off the Venezuelan coast and destroyed, although George managed to swim to safety bearing some quantity of cash. This he used to purchase a mule and begin a new career as a peddler in Venezuela. He began trading gold and by 1873 he had built a large and profitable business. His wife Magdalene had remained in Jamaica but upon the death of his son, he returned to Jamaica to live. Magdalene and George enjoyed the house together, throwing elaborate parties until Magdalene’s death in 1892. After George’s death in 1896, George’s daughter and descendant’s lived in the house until 1922 and then the property was purchased by the Lindo family, who brought elaborate dinner parties back to this wonderful property. The house briefly housed the Jamaica National Museum and the home has since been restored with both original and replica period furniture and artifacts. After a great lunch, we toured this magnificent house in company of an elegant and knowledgeable lady guide. We noted that several members of the British Royal Family (including Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip) have toured this property and wondered if they also wrapped up their tour with a scoop of rum raisin ice cream from the Devon House ice cream store as did we.
The return drive to Port Antonio was equally exciting as the drive out. We had to detour around the section of the coast road which had been partially blocked this morning and was now impassible. Doodlebug was still afloat and waiting for us upon our arrival.
March 5, 2017
I was feeling somewhat better today so joined Annette in kayaking over to the nearby Navy Island. The weather had deteriorated with a near gale blowing offshore and although we were sheltered from the wind in the lee of the island, we had to cross the waves that had entered the narrow channel separating the island from the main island of Jamaica. The waves were not breaking, otherwise we would not have attempted this but still provided some adrenalin to paddlers sitting atop kayaks. We landed at a beach behind a decaying dock and lifted the kayaks onto the bulkhead and clear of the waves. The dock led directly to the remains of a large hotel the jungle was in the process of reclaiming. The concrete walls and intermediate floors were intact but the roof was missing in places and about to collapse entirely in others. The lobby walls of the hotel bore painted names referring to Errol Flynn and the Bounty. I did not know that Flynn had acted in the Mutiny on the Bounty and Wikipedia indicates he didn’t. Flynn made his screen debut playing the part of Fletcher Christian in a 1933 movie called “In the Wake of the Bounty” that was more in the style of a documentary with some acted out vignettes inserted.
Errol Flynn had owned the island but never lived here, although he moored his yacht “Zaca” in its lee. He had constructed a thatch roofed structure around an existing tree and this was the alleged scene of “wild Hollywood parties”. Why are all Hollywood parties described as “wild”? Why do you never hear about quiet parties where they discussed neo-colonial architecture or knitting patterns? I presume that such “wild Hollywood parties” means that there was a considerable amount of alcohol consumed followed by or accompanied with, some degree of sexual coupling - pretty much standard fare for college campuses.
After Errol Flynn moved on, a California developer purchased the island to build a high end hotel plus rental villas but this was never completed as he ran out of money. The project was taken over by the Eiler’s, the first family of home builders here. The hotel was completed and operated as the only private island resort in Jamaica. After five years of operation, Eiler’s fired a local employee for stealing funds and he and the entire staff then took over the island, commandeered the two ferry boats and held the Eiler’s and guests for ransom until they received their termination pay. The Eiler’s left within a week and the project faded into extinction.
Despite other claims, Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond thrillers, never set foot on the island however Captain Bligh used the shallows facing the current marina as a “careening station” but I haven’t read anywhere that the Bounty itself was ever careened here.
There was an overgrown trail that led east from the hotel complex and we followed this through the jungle and past ghostly, jungle draped buildings, drainage culverts and leaning retaining walls that spoke of past homes, past dreams and past lives. We were alone on the island as we wended our way to the easternmost point that had an ancient gun platform for the battery that commanded the entrance to Port Antonio harbor. As we approached the cliff’s edge, we were exposed to the force of the offshore wind, plus blown spray from the crashing waves that were hurling white foam over 40 feet into air. We gazed across the narrow channel where we had made our nighttime entrance and whose navigation markers were now pitching in a maelstrom of waves. Awesome!
March 4, 2017
Slow day. Took my antibiotics and chilled.
March 3, 2017
Annette was washing bedding today, off using the marina laundry facilities and the stripped beds promised clear access to the machinery beneath. The job of changing transmission oil isn’t particularly hard and an hour or so later it was done. Our engines should be good for another 250 hours, equivalent to 2,000 miles of passage.
This marina has been the first place we have stayed since Grenada, where there has been a good international mixture of cruisers. These cruisers are also “serious” passage-makers and many are headed from here to Panama, through the canal and beyond. Jamaica lies on the traditional path of circumnavigators and the month of March is the traditional time to pass through the Panama canal, in order to be in the southeastern Pacific Ocean around May, say in the Marquesas islands, signaling the end of the southern hemisphere hurricane (cyclone) season.
Several of these cruisers had recently returned from Santiago de Cuba, our next destination. When I queried them as to marina conditions there, they confirmed that the dock we need to come up to, has rough concrete sides. This intelligence was the reason Annette and I were over at the lumber yard in the afternoon, looking for a length of 2 by 8 timber. The yard manager was very pleasant to chat with and insisted that his worker find us a “knot free” piece of lumber. We now have two five foot long “fender” boards that are hung over the side of the boat, on the outside of our inflatable fenders and provide a sacrificial surface between our hull and whatever we are laid alongside.
Annette kayaked over to Navy Island, formerly owned by Errol Flynn, in her non-stop quest for sand samples, whilst I was mentoring the young crewman off the next boat who was seeking advice on circumnavigating. “First you need a boat.....”
March 2, 2017
This morning I decided (BTW Annette really decides these things!) that I needed to go to the doctor and get something for my cough that had been getting worse over the past couple of days. I Googled “health clinics” and found one nearby within walking distance. We soon found the place but were told that only the gynecologist worked today. I’m pretty sure that at I’m too old to be pregnant and after being informed that the doctor isn’t in until tomorrow afternoon, asked if there was another nearby. The receptionist reluctantly gave us the information that there was indeed another doctor, officed on the opposite side of the street. We found the office, signed in and waited perhaps 40 minutes to see the doctor. He checked my blood pressure – good; stabbed my finger with a pin and tested my blood sugar – good; listened to my chest and then wrote me out a prescription for antibiotics and expectorant. I paid cash for the visit, equivalent to 21 US dollars. Back across the street was the pharmacy and after dropping off my prescription, I paid the equivalent of another US $20 to the cashier, walked back to the drop off window and picked up my drugs. No waiting, no copays, no paperwork, forty one bucks total. What a system! We should get a Congressional task force to fix this.
On the way back to the marina we found the auto parts store and bought ATF fluid for the transmissions, the last engine related items to be serviced.
Back at Doodlebug, I decided that I was going to call in sick today and spent the balance of the morning and afternoon reading and lazing around.
March 1, 2017
Today is Ash Wednesday, a public holiday in Jamaica and the streets across from the marina looked deserted. I began the day by changing the engine oil in the second engine, a process that I expected to go much smoother in that yesterday’s oil canister dance didn’t have to be repeated. It would have been smoother too, except that I dropped a full gallon jug of dirty oil in the cockpit, splashing some (but not all, thank goodness!) dirty oil over the white fiberglass decks and white bench upholstery. Then the “on engine” oil filter decided to vomit black oil all over the engine compartment. Fortunately, it all stayed in the engine room as this lies beneath our bed and bedding.
One of the dock workers had wandered up to our boat and yelled, “Good morning Captain, how’s it going?”. I said, “I’m working! Work, work, work. I don’t get the day off for a holiday like you guys!” Jamaican’s do have a sense of humor however and he offered to haul off the five gallons of dirty oil and dispose of it. That was an easy decision.
I next walked walked into town to the gas station, one of the few businesses open and purchased 6 liters of diesel fuel. Back aboard Doodlebug the on-engine fuel filters were replaced (you have to fill the new filter with clean fuel before installation otherwise your engine won’t run) and the on-line Racor fuel filters serviced. These filters separate contaminating water from the diesel fuel and have a clear plastic bowl that is supposed to be inspected daily and drained of water if necessary. From our first purchase of Doodlebug, our filters had contained a thick black sludge of anaerobic bacterial growth that made this inspection impossible. I had purchased the necessary gaskets in order to service the filter bowls a year ago and the day had finally arrived! By evening we were done. Annette had completed her sand project and I had all of the engine servicing completed, ready to rumble. I still need to service the transmissions (the gas station didn’t stock automatic transmission fluid) but that can wait for another day.
February 28, 2017
The marina here sits almost in downtown but is walled off by electronic gates and security guard patrols. We had walked through town yesterday, seeking ATM machines, post office and the like and today repeated the procedure to check out the various grocery stores and purchase an emergency case of beer. Everyone we have met has been friendly, helpful and outgoing but we cannot help but note the level of security in the various stores.
Annette dove into a frenzy of bread making, laundry, sand collection processing and organizing, while my major task was to service the two engines and associated fuel systems. The process was made more tedious and complicated than it should have been, after we had earned a credit for unused and returned bottom paint in Nanny Cay, Tortola last year. The vendor could not provide a cash refund, thus one of the purchase items we had made to use the credit was a five gallon drum of engine oil. This stores well but is not exactly convenient to use as it weighs fifty pounds or so. I won’t do this again. The logistics are that each engine contains 2 and 1/2 gallons of oil. The dirty oil has to be extracted from the engine and replaced with clean oil that comes from the single five gallon drum. I searched Doodlebug for empty one gallon plastic jugs, decanted clean oil into some whilst filling others with dirty oil. The deck was soon scattered with oil cans everywhere with me trying to remember which was which. By late afternoon I had managed to change oil and filter on one engine and had shuttled the 2 and 1/2 gallons of dirty oil into the emptied five gallon drum. The next step was to obtain a couple of pints of “clean” diesel fuel to service the two fuel filters on that engine. The last time I did this, I had several jerry jugs of fuel stored for “emergencies”. I had then become concerned that this fuel was getting “old” and had poured it into the main tanks. Today I had planned on using a manual pump to extract a little diesel from the main tank into a small container. The manual pumps in question are already permanently installed on the two fuel tanks but I had never before tried to use them. Needless to say, neither worked. Try again tomorrow.
February 27, 2017
Our rhumb-line route took us almost parallel to the northeast coast of Jamaica and the lights ashore began to separate into individual buildings or streets. It also began to rain, reducing both our visual ability and clouding the radar picture. We were again looking for fishing floats and unlit skiffs and both would be nigh impossible to spot in these conditions. As we passed near Folly Point, it was raining hard and we were surprised by a bright blue / green flash of light from ashore. This was repeated twice more and we identified this as a laser. The radio remained silent however and we ignored the possible signal. It could only be something like a bored Coastguard officer at 0230 hours and in weather like this.
At 0300 hours we began our turn into Port Antonio. It was raining even harder and we had dropped and zippered the forward “window” on the flybridge. This was to be a full instrument landing. We slowed down to around 5 knots and with the radar at a 1/4 mile range to pick out the navigation markers, we edged landwards, turning into the narrow channel behind Navy Island. We then turned again to head deeper into West Bay and Annette rolled up the forward vinyl window. Despite the rain we needed better vision for what lay next. There were two darkened yachts ahead of us and Annette spotted mooring balls. We edged up to the first but there was no pigtail to grab with the boathook. The same was true of the second we tried and then the third. These were obviously to be attached by someone in a dinghy. Annette lassoed the third ball, we tied on and turned off the engines. We soon had our dinghy launched (even remembered to reinstall the hull drain plug – useful to prevent sinking!) and attached a line through the shackle at the top of the mooring ball. We had arrived! 0335 hours (actually 0235 local time, we are in the next time zone) at 18 10.8 N 076 27.3 W, Jamaica mon!
February 27, 2017 later........
After a blissful 3 hours of sleep, my bladder hurled me out of bed in retaliation for the two celebratory beers consumed at 0400 hours. It was light. I blearily looked outside to see what everything looked like in 3D color rather than as a 2D radar image. It looked different. There was a man paddling a bamboo cane raft, termed a “bili-bili” in Fiji and called a “raft” in Jamaica (no sense of cultural connectivity) and another fishing from a skiff (referred to colloquially as “fishing”). I called the marina on both of the published hailing channels and received no response. By now Annette had similarly dragged herself upright and after restarting the respective cardiac systems with caffeine, we dinghied over to the marina. They were horrified that we had left the boat without clearing quarantine and the like and insisted that we immediately move to a slip. No worries mate. We returned to Doodlebug, motored over to the slip, backed in and tied up. The marina office girl had given me a stack of forms to fill out and as I labored over these, Annette worked at restoring a sense of order to the interior as we expected multiple inspections. The Customs, Immigration and Coast Guard guys showed up but said we had to be cleared first by Quarantine. The latter official was on another boat but would be with us in five minutes or so. Around noon, we had been waiting for almost three hours when the quarantine man showed up. We signed more forms and he left. Another hour had passed and I tried again calling the marina on the radio, still without response. One of the marina workers who had caught our lines came by and asked if we were checked in. We had tipped him generously earlier but whether this was an issue or not, he took off to search out the missing officials and returned about twenty minutes later with Immigration and Customs. More form signing, the passports were stamped and they left. We were just imagining that we were through, when the missing Coast Guard official showed up. He asked what time we had arrived and I explained that our arrival on the dock was 0920 hours but our arrival in the harbor had been around 0300 hours and in the pouring rain. He then admitted that he had watched us arrive on his radar. I asked if he had shone a laser at us and he admitted that he had. We chatted about AIS (they don’t have a receiver) and he said that they only have a VHF radio. If he had called us I would have talked to him. Anyway he was pleasant, as were all of the other officials. He left and at 1400 and something hours, we are legally here. Only took five hours.
February 26, 2017
An uneventful night. The unseen island to our north, perhaps forty miles away was Haiti. There were no fishing boats to be seen and only a couple of freighters passing to our south. There had been no moon and the stars occluded by rain clouds as dawn approached. Later that day we could see the Haitian coast and the tall mountains lying beyond. We also noticed the smell of woodsmoke on the air. Our track took us close by the Ile a Vache and Pointe Carrefour at the southern tip of Haiti. We could now see buildings and hamlets ashore and could see the dry, desert look of the hills. What we have read is that the hills have been denuded of trees, the wood used for cooking fires and the rains now cause excessive erosion of these hillsides. Hard to confirm these claims with binoculars from five or six miles away but certainly, the land looked quite different from the Dominican Republic to the east, sharing Hispaniola as they do.
We now headed into our second night at sea, clear of land and exposed to the Jamaica Channel. The winds and seas did begin to build in the late afternoon and early evening but again died away, leaving seas in the 2 to 3 foot range. This would not be a full night at sea as our speed has been slightly better than expected and we have run consistently about 100 nautical miles per twelve hours with both engines running at 1,900 RPM. By midnight we could see the lights of Jamaica ahead of us.
February 25, 2017
0700 hours and we were ready. The dinghy had been raised on the davits and lashed down, the sun shades rolled, folded and stowed or whatever was appropriate. All movable objects, stowed, navigation loaded into the chartplotter, anti-nausea pills swallowed, sandwiches made, bagged and stowed. Then we waited. At 0810 hours I called the “Marina de Guerra de Las Salinas” on the VHF radio. No response. Twenty minutes later and after multiple hails, I called the hotel across from the sand dunes and chatted awhile with the owner. I then waited whilst he searched “social media” for the phone number of the hotel we are anchored off. Next I called the owner of our hotel. No, he didn’t know how to contact the Dominican Navy, or the Immigration people. I would have to go back to the “port”. Turning the air blue with admonishments, we relaunched our dinghy, grabbed the boat documents plus rain jackets and tore down to the boat yard at the other end of the bay. We again tied up our dinghy between huge tugs and barges and again determined that the immigration office was still locked. The adjacent office was not however and the occupant within made a phone call and told us to wait five minutes. Sure enough five minutes later, a scrawny individual arrived who knew nothing about out departure plans. He could stamp our passports, yes but how do we get the departure documents for the boat? Back to the English speaker, office neighbor to the Immigration office and back on the phone he went. This time he announced that the port captain was waiting for us at the hotel next to DoodleBug. The Immigration guy demanded our passports. I handed them over. He laboriously stamped them with an exit stamp and demanded $20. I handed him a 1,000 peso bill. He smiled, we were done; we jumped in the dinghy and screamed back over to the hotel. Here there were four individuals in uniform, standing around an abandoned bar at the dock end of the marina. They filled out lots of forms, agonized over the registered depth of Doodlebug, debated fiercely over the net tonnage, all of which are clearly listed on the US registration document. Eventually everyone was satisfied and I had signed perhaps another half dozen documents that I had made no attempt to read. They needed $60 now, presumably for overtime pay. I handed over 3,000 pesos and smiles and handshakes broke out. Vowing eternal brotherhood and friendship, we jumped back in the dinghy and tore back to Doodlebug, instantly raising the dinghy on the davits and lashing it down. The anchor bridle resisted being detached from the chain but this too was overcome, the engines fired up and at 0931 hours, only 91 minutes later than planned, our anchor lifted from the seabed and we set sail for Port Antonio, Jamaica, 355 nautical miles away.
The sky was cloud covered with just occasional glimpses of blue and active rain cells all around. We enjoyed the forecast light winds and the seas were in the two to three foot range as we headed southwest towards Cape Beata. I had wanted to arrive at our waypoint at the entrance to Canal de la Beata in daylight. The canal separates Isla Beata from the cape of the same name and is about 3 1/2 miles wide. As you approach, the water depth goes from 2500 feet to 16 feet in about a half mile. I expected the hazards of fish traps and unlit fishing skiffs but when we arrived at 1700 hours, we found empty seas that had perhaps a 1 foot wave action. Empty lands lay to the north and south of us with little evidence of human presence. A single ketch lay at anchor on the northwest tip of Isla Beata where we had originally wanted to stop for the night. An hour later we were back in deep water, night was falling and Jamaica lay directly 285 miles to the west as we motored on.
February 24, 2017
This morning we caught the bus to the nearby town of Bani, the nearest source of ATM’s and a post office. “La oficina postal” does not seem to be heavily used in the Dominican Republic because we have usually found such to be empty of customers and further, nobody seems to know where they are located. As we waited on a bench outside the hotel, the bus pulled up on the opposite side of the road and the driver jerked his head to indicate we should board. This we did, even though he was traveling in the opposite to our desired direction but we knew the road had nowhere to go. The bus toured the village of Las Salinas before coming to a halt and the fare collector (conductor) informing us there would be a wait of “quince minutes”. Thirty minutes later we set off in the direction of Bani but by now the bus was nearly full as we picked people up and dropped others off, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The bus also seemed to operate as a delivery service for sandwiches, bags of groceries and the like. It would stop outside a small roadside store and the goods would be handed to the conductor who would also disappear for minutes while he delivered one of the several packages traveling at his feet. The bus was a Toyota Coaster and we travelled down memory lane since this was the same type of vehicle we had owned and driven across Australia. I had to force myself to stop coveting the upholstery buttons and paneling clips as we didn’t need them any longer.
When we arrived in Bani, we walked through the busy downtown for five or six blocks until we found the seeming deserted edifice that was the post office. We wandered the empty rooms calling out, “hello” until we found a girl in an office who indicated that we should return to near the entrance, which then separated us from her by a window and a counter! This made it official and after payment of about $4, for which we have not a clue as to the purpose, she hand franked Annette’s postcards and we were dismissed.
We stopped at a restaurant for a lunch of some unknown fish. Bad idea! We ate the tostones and drank the beer so it wasn’t a total loss. Then by a sheer quirk of fate, we passed a Scotia Bank and were able to use the ATM. Both goals achieved we then somehow caught the bus for the return journey to Salinas. A seemingly mundane couple of errands that still occupied us for four or more hours.
The afternoon was waning and this morning’s cast of the weather forecast entrails predicted heavy weather for Monday onwards, as competing cold fronts and gales battled for dominance. Saturday and Sunday alone predicted favorable conditions for our journey west. Our plan had been to spend two or three days here, then wander some 30 miles or so to the town of Barahona to check out of the country, before illegally stopping at Isla Beata, a sheltered anchorage about 50 miles further on. We could then leave Isla Beata in the wee hours of the morning for a run to Jamaica. Today’s forecast, if accurate, indicated that we should split early tomorrow and “straight shot” the 355 miles to our destination or Port Antonio, Jamaica. If we were fortunate, we would beat the onset of strong winds and big waves by an hour or two.
We drove our dinghy over to obtain departure documents to a “port” consisting of a floating dock, several rusting barges and some tugboats. The workmen who were busy welding or whatever, were puzzled by our approach but one individual indicated that he knew where the immigration office lay. We tied off to a rusty barge, crossed its debris littered deck and jumped ashore, stepping over the power cables and jetsam of a commercial boatyard. The immigration office was locked. A minute or so later, an officer in uniform showed up and said the immigration guy had gone home, come back tomorrow. This wasn’t going to work! We hung in, explained that we needed to sail by 0700 hours because of “weather” and negotiated until the soldier said he remembered our arrival. He insisted that he would arrive on our boat by 0700 hours, with the immigration guy in tow and we could leave by 0800 hours. OK then (yeah, maybe!).
We parked our boat documents back aboard, ran our dinghy back to land and then walked perhaps a mile to the entrance to the National Park, Monumento Natural Dunas de las Calderas, alleged to be the only sand dunes in the Caribbean. The park entrance booth was empty but a young girl ran across the road from the nearby hotel and gravely and laboriously wrote out a receipt for the fee of $4. The park was scheduled to close within the next twenty minutes. Finally we were free to pass within the gates and we walked over several dunes until we could see the sea and beaches on the Caribbean side of the bounding peninsula. Annette took a sample of “dune” sand and we headed back to the main gate which had been padlocked in our absence. We rattled it and a man crossed the street from the hotel to allow our exit. Impressive security but whatever there might be to steal, had already been stolen (about four ounces of sand) and was residing in Annette’s handbag.
The final quest for the day and we walked to the salt mines of Las Salitas, or rather the salt evaporation ponds. When we had taken the bus excursion this morning, enroute to its terminus, we saw a front-end loader scraping up the top layer of salt from one of the dried ponds. Evening was now approaching fast and the workmen were loading their product into hoppers, a view straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. The loaded hoppers were pushed along a narrow gauge rail track and then a steel cable was attached to pull the cars, in pairs, up a ramp. At the crest of the ramp, the cars were “caught” by three men who then manhandled them along a perpendicular track before manually dumping the hoppers to a pile of salt product near the road below. The salt cars ran on rails, all heavily corroded by the salt and the wooden ramp and trestle certainly looked as though they had seen better days, perhaps as a film location for a Zorro movie. As we watched a load of two hoppers being cabled up the ramp, the lead car derailed, toppling precariously. The three men strained to lever it back onto the tracks, whilst a small boy played unconcernedly directly below. In the event, they were successful and the child lived. A hard existence.
Annette asked the workmen for a sample of the salt which they cheerfully agreed to. Loaded down with sand and salt, we prepared Doodlebug for her dawn departure.
February 23, 2017
At 0305 hours we raised anchor and set sail for Las Salinas using radar, chartplotter and flashlights to miss the Swiss vessel who were floating just above our buried hook. As we eased out of the confines of the anchorage, we narrowly missed a mooring ball that did not show on radar but which Annette spotted with the flashlight. We gradually increased speed and within minutes had to again go to reverse engines, changing course to avoid an unlit fishing skiff that showed up on radar directly in our path. Finally we were in deeper water and the threat of unlit skiffs diminished. The moon had not yet risen and Annette counted shooting stars while the Southern Cross hung well above the horizon to port and the Big Dipper pointed the way to Polaris on the starboard side.
Annette was on watch when we hit an unlit fishing buoy with the starboard hull. These are impossible to see in darkness and starlight just enables you to see what you are about to hit, without providing the opportunity to take avoiding action. We were beginning to long for dawn, which wasn’t showing up until near 0700 hours. The radar now showed a large and heavy downpour ahead of us plus an AIS target, soon to be identified as a 105 foot power yacht on a reciprocal course and heading for the BVI’s. We looked as though we would all arrive at the same spot in the ocean at the same time and indeed we did. At 0730 hours, the chartplotter crashed and rebooted, the second time it has done this. We hope that this behavior does not become a habit.
Dawn showed us the coast of the Dominican Republic and after we passed by the capital of Santo Domingo, we began to see ranges of mountains behind the coastal plain. The shallow waters off Punta Palenque attracted fishermen and again we began seeing fishing floats ahead of us in the water, some single floats and some in a sort of drift line. We have always wondered how these “work” and assume some kind of anchored fish “trap”, based solely on the fact that we have seen these being loaded onto boats at the various ports and marinas.
At 1422 hours we dropped anchor in the Bahia de las Calderas off the village of Las Salinas at 18 12.9 N 070 32.7 W. Our anchorage lay close by a somewhat run down looking marina attached to a hotel. Just about all of the marina slips contained yachts but the streamers of torn canvas and absence of deck hardware spoke of owners long departed.
We began to prepare to launch our dinghy when a skiff appeared off our stern bearing multiple men in uniform. They asked where we had come from and after we handed them our “despacho”, they departed, telling us to come and see them at their office when we decide to leave. That seemed simple enough but I felt lost without my piece of paper with an official stamp on it.
February 22, 2017
By 0900 hours we had paid our bills, received our departure document or “despacho” and were ready to head out. When I called on the radio for assistance on dropping our bow lines, we were told that the marina crew were busy helping a “super yacht” to dock. No helicopter on deck, therefore not a “super yacht” in our book but these guys obviously hold to a lower standard. Forty minutes later a pair of dinghies zipped over to us and untied our bow lines that were knotted to some unseen undersea anchors. By 0940 hours, we were free from the dock and headed over to Isla Catalina, anchoring off Punta Perez at 1045 hours, at 18 21.4 N 069 01.4 W in a fine patch of white sand. We had obviously judged the best anchoring spot because an hour or so later, we were surrounded by charter boats, dropping off their hordes of snorkelers for their twenty minute swim.
I too donned snorkel gear in order to inspect our hull in a shark free environment. I also dove to the sea bed to gather sand for my bride, who had meanwhile kayaked to the beach on a similar mission. A Swiss flagged cruising boat with 7 people on board anchored very close to us and Annette was outraged that several of the “old people” on board were sunbathing topless and within a stone’s throw. I was similarly outraged that the pair of young, lithe, blond goddesses they had aboard were not.
February 21, 2017
Another slow day since our planned cigar tour hadn’t panned out. When we went to apply for exit documents we were told to return tomorrow. About the only successful task we managed to accomplish was to return the intact rental car.
February 20, 2017
A slow day. We had planned to take a tour of the local cigar company, a huge plant on the outskirts of La Romana and a major local employer. These tours are only available on Tuesdays and I had attempted to make an internet reservation without receiving the promised confirmation “within 24 hours”. A couple of phone calls later, I had still failed to contact an English speaking representative of the cigar tour operation. Grudgingly we dragged our weary bones to the marina concierge to see if they could make or confirm the reservation. The Tuesday tour was “all filled up”, the response.
We drove back into the town of La Romana and visited a couple of giant supermarkets. The traffic circulation was diabolical but if you made it to the parking garage entrance tunnel, you entered a different world. A multi-story car park, well lit with plenty of parking spaces, plus ramps and the like to enable the shopper to push a loaded grocery cart right up to the trunk. Pretty civilized really, you just needed to own a car.
February 19, 2017
Sunday in the Dominican Republic and it was raining. We managed to waddle over to the supermarket to buy a few groceries for a BBQ lunch but overall this was a laze around day.
February 18, 2017
We again left the coddled womb of the Casa de Campo resort complex and headed west, to visit the World Amber Museum in Santo Domingo. Greater Santo Domingo has a population of around 3 million, making it the largest city in the Caribbean. We first travelled north from the marina to pick up “Highway 3”, a major east-west, divided highway with a smooth, pot-hole free surface and well designed, modern on and off ramps, etc. Just as we began to wonder if this was to be a toll road, we arrived at the first pay booth. Would this system have an express lane for electronic payment and if so, does this rental car have a transponder, we wondered? Yes to the first question. We rolled into the cash pay lane and attempted to ask the toll booth attendant, in our broken Spanish, if our rental car had a transponder. The security guy bearing a military style, semi-automatic rifle wandered over. “You pay now!”, he growled. Annette and I both burst out laughing. He began to smile. They had understood absolutely nothing of our elaborate query! We paid the toll of $2 and headed west while Annette called the rental company. Her conversation with the representative was only marginally better but the word was, “pay cash”.
The four lane toll road had light traffic and was in much better condition than anything we had experienced in Puerto Rico. During the two hour drive, we passed lots of motorcycles and motor-scooters driving in what we would consider the “crash” lane. Sometimes these would be counter flow but most these were wisely hugging the shoulder. The speed limit was posted at 60 mph (100 kph) although a significant number of vehicles passed at well over 100 mph. weaving between cars, passing between and around the sane traffic. The internet reports that the Dominican Republic boasts the highest mortality rate by traffic accident in the entire Western Hemisphere and we can well believe it. The only country where we have experienced a higher concentration of inept drivers would be Egypt. The freeway passed through several urban areas where there were private driveways exiting directly into the roadway and where there were also pedestrians trying to cross six lanes of high speed traffic. Downtown Santo Domingo was naturally crowded and we were grateful we were making this expedition on a Saturday rather than a work day.
The amber museum was well laid out and after viewing the exhibits, I chatted with the owner and founder, Jorge Caridad while Annette browsed the various articles for sale. We wandered down to the Plaza de Espana on the banks of the Rio Ozama for an excellent lunch before braving the return trip to Casa de Campo. This is a fascinating town and one that we could spend more time exploring.
On our return journey, it was impossible to be unaware of the cane fields we were transiting, the stacks of the industrial plant nearby, belching black smoke was indubitably a cane processing operation and we passed huge trucks bearing towering stacks of the cut cane, the roadside littered with pieces that had fallen off the various loads. In general the roadsides were almost trash free, presumably a benefit of the multiple work crews we passed. They couldn’t all have been DWI offenders.
We could see the coast to the right of the freeway and noted that it was undercut limestone cliffs. The town of Boca Chica is where the Santo Domingo “chicas” go to show off their bikinis and we made a detour to visit the “Playa” to collect a beach sample, whilst a policeman watched us warily from outside his nearby police station. Annette waved gaily at him as we walked by and just before her sand sample bag burst, dumping the contents at his feet. A second plastic bag was produced, the precious sand scooped up and we escaped before he could call for reinforcements.
February 17, 2017
The marina ATM machine had puked up our card thus our first quest for the day was to find a working machine. We drove our rental car into the town of La Romana, population around 130,000. We had rented a cellular “hot spot” from the car company and Google Maps gave us confident directions on how to find the Scotia Bank. Driving in other countries is always exciting, as you don’t really know the rules. The roads within the 7,000 acre (11 square miles) complex had broad white stripes across them at intersections. Similarly they were divided by a solid yellow line. In many counties these markings mean “stop” and “don’t pass” respectively. We noticed that they were uniformly ignored by the other drivers and still don’t know what their significance is. As we approached town we saw many traffic lights that were flashing combinations of amber and red as well as amber and green. We believe these to be warnings. We stopped for the “solid” red lights although these were routinely ignored by the motorcycle and scooter drivers, who also ignored the one way street system. We never did work out the rules for “right of way” at the mostly unmarked intersections in the downtown area, we just used the “Istanbul” system of boring into the traffic until someone blinked and let us pass.
Overall the traffic flow was reasonably good and the driving not too wild. We parked at the Bank and tried their lobby ATM – still no luck, before walking across the street to a small shopping mall. We were impressed that everywhere were heavily armed guards. Even the Bank parking lot attendant carried a 12 gauge, pump action shotgun.
Fortunately we still carried US dollars so we abandoned the ATM game and headed for the village of Altos de Chavon, a replica of a 16th. century village, high on the banks of the Chavon river. This is inside the 7,000 acre Casa de Campo property and our immediate problem was getting past the front gate. Unlike Puerto Rico, few Dominican Republicans speak English, thus there was ample opportunity for misunderstandings. Eventually we convinced them that we had a boat at their marina and no, we weren’t going to pay a $25 daily entrance fee. The Altos de Chavon village was fun, with restaurants, a theatre and multiple gift shops. They also had the best museum we have seen of the Pre-Columbian Taino culture.
The Casa de Campo complex seems a little strange to us. The security is everywhere evident and we drove between multi-million dollar “second” homes with sweeping driveways, exquisitely manicured and landscaped yards, past the golf shooting range, the skeet range and the polo fields, then back to the marina where even more security checkpoints lay. We met a couple who were staying here and who had described their staffing of cook, gardeners and maids. These Eloi’s could have been describing Victorian England. The downtown areas showed us an entirely different Dominican Republic but I suppose that this is also true to a lesser extent when you compare the downtown ghettos to the suburbs of large city America.
That evening I called our bank using Skype and confirmed that they had put a “temporary” hold on our ATM cards. We should have filed “travel plans”, we were told. When the agent attempted to do this for us, she was surprised to find that this had already been done and our “plans” already included the Dominican Republic. Who’da thunk?
February 16, 2017
Yesterday afternoon we had checked in with the marina office and told them their passarelle sucked. We had then exchanged the wooden one that was discharging shards of timber for a solid alloy version that was slick like glass if it got wet. Yesterday we had also learned that the reason the lads had yelled at me to desist from using the engines to straighten up Doodlebug against the cross wind while docking, is that they had managed to get a marina line around our prop. The assistant Harbor Master arrived early this morning with a diver in tow to remove the offending line. We asked the diver how much he would charge to clean our hull and props of marine growth. He described how badly fouled the hull was (it has been in the water since mid-November – just three months!) began by asking $400 and then dropped the price to $300. We considered this but decided it was a little too rich, particularly since we carry our own dive system aboard. In fact, the reason I have been reluctant to get in the water myself is that the sports fishing boats around have been filleting their fish and dumping a bloody slurry into the water, right off the dock next to us. In 2009, we had watched a Bull shark in the Bahamas, feeding from just below such an operation.
An hour or so later, “Gilbert” the “boat boy” who last night had cleaned Doodlebug like a mad-man until well after dark, asked if we had any work for him and his buddy. He said that they had nothing to do that day and offered to clean the hull and props for $200. We agreed and told him to be careful.
February 15, 2017
Yesterday we had made it into the mooring field past the jagged rocks but could we reverse the process this morning? There was zero water visibility, with the sun not even above the horizon at 0655 hours when we dropped our mooring. We had waited until the unlit range markers were at least visible and removed the sunscreen from behind the steering position. There was almost no wind and we carefully maneuvered Doodlebug parallel to the beach until the range markers were in line, turned to put them directly over the stern and then eased out really slowly, as though we were approaching a dock. The rising sun was lighting the sky behind us in streaks of red but was still hidden behind the limestone cliffs of Mona, when the depth sounder began to indicate that we were through the reef gap and in open water. We headed out to the west with continuing light winds and waves in the 2 to 3 foot range behind the starboard beam.
By 0830 hours the waves had built to the 3 to 4 foot range, four eighths cloud and there was a long line of rain cells a few miles off to our south, as though we were just on the northern edge of a weather system. At 0900 hours the chartplotter crashed and rebooted itself. This was a new event. I restarted the navigation, turned the radar back on and waited. The plotter continued to operate normally. We have an iPad with navigation software and internal GPS for backup but we don’t need any surprises on “final approach”.
Two liquid’s carriers and a container freighter passed us close by. The Mona Passage seems to be a popular route for commercial shipping. By now we could see the east coast of the Dominican Republic near Punta Espada and the binoculars showed flat land and sea cliffs, similar to the limestone mass of Mona Island. By 1100 hours we were off Punta Cana at the east end of Isla Saona and changed course to the northwest to the Marina Casa de Campo.
We had been instructed to contact the marina on VHF channel 68 and then contact the Dominican Navy on channel 16 for clearance permission. There was no response from the marina and I “may” have been talking to the Dominican Navy on Ch 16, who kept asking for the name of the vessel. After the fourth attempt to pass on the vessel name and the second attempt to spell “Doodlebug” using the International phonetic alphabet (Delta, Oscar, Oscar, Delta, Lima, Echo etc, etc.) they went completely silent. When we were a mile off the marina entrance, the marina responded that they would contact the authorities and we should wait at the “buoys” for a dinghy to guide us. There were buoys everywhere, red, green, white, whatever. We entered the marina, turned into the wind and drifted in the calm waters, ignoring the yelling in Spanish from the nearby dock. The long awaited dinghy did arrive, the lads in the dinghy changed minds three times as to our dock location but eventually waved at us to follow them, which we did. They wanted us to back up to a long and high concrete pier. OK, not ideal but there was nothing to hit except the pier and we backed in. Annette worked feverishly with the dinghy guys to attach bow lines to hold us off the dock and I tried to hold us straight until we could get some stern lines on. The wind was blowing from the port beam and a yell from the dock indicated I should cease to use the engines. A second dinghy pushed us back into position and Annette threw stern lines (she is so tough!) and we were tied up at 1430 hours about nine feet away from the dock. What now? “Do you have a passarelle? I was asked. This is a long boarding ramp. “No, why the hell would I carry one of those?” Stalemate. Finally the marina folks left to “find a passarelle”, leaving a couple of guys behind who were looking for work, such as cleaning the boat. We agreed with “Gilbert” that he would clean the topsides for $100. After fifteen minutes of waiting, he left, to return shortly in a golf cart bearing a passarelle, which barely bridged the gap between boat and dock and was in the process of disintegrating.
Thirty minutes later, two more golf carts showed up, bulging with officials. They considered the disintegrating passarelle, plunging at a steep angle from the dock to our stern, somewhat dubiously. “You can be the first to try it”, I invited cheerfully. They did all arrive on board Doodlebug without falling into the sea, all wearing boot covers to protect our decks (!!) and I was surrounded by four or so officials, pushing forms at me (all in Spanish) and demanding my “firma”. I signed everything they had. When our passports had been returned, there was a crisp $50 bill between the pages. Whoa! I assumed that I had somehow managed to get this mixed up with the passports and hadn’t noticed. Now the Immigration lady said that it was hers and it had been a mistake. I said that I thought it had been a present for me, a statement which seemed to amuse everyone. Finally they all left. We are legally here in the Dominican Republic!
February 14, 2017
We awoke early as we had made arrangements to borrow the marina pick-up truck for a last minute run to the ATM. We will need physical cash to pay for our visit to Cuba as American ATM cards, credit cards and the like, are not usable there because of the ongoing embargo. Our bank limits the amount of cash that we can withdraw on a daily basis, thus we had to wait until after midnight, California time to make the final pass. A final run to the bakery for breakfast pastries and we were done. We slowly backed Doodlebug off the dock and tied up at the fuel dock to top up with diesel and fuel for the dinghy. At 0848 hours we dropped our lines and headed west, skirting the southern edge of the “Las Coronas” shoals. Two hours later, we passed over the shallow bank north of Bajo Gallardo where our depth sounder showed 28 feet of water and we could clearly see the sea bed below. We had perhaps one eighth cloud cover, a sunny day with light winds from the east and 1 to 2 foot of wave action. Great conditions for the Mona Passage!
By noon we had perhaps three eighths cloud cover and could see scattered rain pods in the distance. The seas had risen to the 2 to 4 foot range with a swell off the starboard beam but we could now see a long, flat topped island, protected by vertical sea-cliffs and directly ahead.
At 1306 hours we were orbited by a orange painted helicopter that then continued to overfly Mona Island and ahead, on the south side of the island, was a large white vessel with the familiar, diagonal red bow stripe of the US Coast Guard. Mona Island has been a favorite dropping off point for illegal aliens / refugees, or whatever is this morning’s PC term. I had wondered if this was still the case since outgoing President Obama had rescinded the “wet foot, dry foot” immigration policy of the United States, the week before he left office. Just behind the Coast Guard cutter was a heavy rain cloud and another over the island itself as we passed its southern point, Punta Caigo. We changed course to follow the coast around towards Punta Arenas on the western shore and the Coast Guard Cutter reversed course to parallel us, still a mile or so away. It then fired a large white flare into the air. If the flare had been red, I would have radioed and asked if they needed assistance but white could mean anything and thus we ignored it. We were automatically transmitting our position and vessel details on our AIS system and even the Coast Guard gets a couple of radio receivers.
We had been passing by the amazing cliffs of Mona Island. They were near vertical but with the bases undercut by the sea. The sea bed all around is coral and three miles off the island, the bed plunges to 2,000 feet deep. Thirty miles north of Mona Island the entrance to the passage drops from around 100 feet deep into the abyss of the Atlantic Ocean at 16,000 feet deep. Mona must therefore have been formed by continental shift, yet we don’t see vulcanism, in that the cliffs do not have the black, columnar look of cooled basalt. We have no internet here so I can’t look it up (yet!).
At around 1420 hours we turned in towards the shore as we had been told that there were range markers to guide us into a small bay. We had also been told that the entrance gap in the reef was extremely narrow, perhaps two boat widths. They were not kidding! We found the range markers and eased in carefully since they seemed to be guiding us directly over a jagged reef. When we were right on top of the reef, we saw that there was indeed a gap and its width had been correctly described. We drifted in at just over two knots, occasionally using reverse thrust on the engines to maneuver. The sky was helpfully overcast and it began to pour with rain just as we grabbed a mooring ball. Fortunately Annette had taken the precaution to wear her rain jacket as the rain bucketed down and without let up for the next three hours.
We moored at 1430 hours at 18 05.387 N 067 56.313 W in 6 feet of water, half a boat length away from a decaying concrete dock. Our arrival had been made even more exciting by the presence of a couple in a kayak, plus multiple swimmers, all helpfully and directly in our path. Once we were tied up and looked around, they had disappeared without trace, like a bad dream.
Annette fixed a fabulous Valentine’s Day lunch / supper of bacon wrapped, BBQ’d chicken, baked potato, tomato / olive salad, the repast wrapped up with cherry cobbler and when it finally stopped raining, we donned our swim gear and swam ashore. There were a couple of turtles that were swimming up to our stern and when I launched myself into the water, they swam over to take a look at this curious creature. The anchorage itself is amazing. It is small, with just five closely space mooring balls inside the reef and behind the broken dock are some faded park service signs, warning the reader of dire penalties if they introduce alien pathogens to the island’s flora and fauna. To the south of the dock, near hidden amongst the trees, were a series of buildings and we saw a couple of uniformed men emerge in late afternoon and stare at us with binoculars. They did not approach us and because it was already late, we treated them as white flares. Since we did not appear to be discharging dozens of brown bodies onto their beach, we suppose were determined to be, “mostly harmless” and thereafter ignored. If it hadn’t been raining earlier we would have wandered over to say “hello” but the sun was now setting to the west amongst the towering rain clouds. There was plenty of chicken left and we would have shared.
February 13, 2017
Our last day before departure and we had a heavy schedule as always. M/Y Texas True had arrived in the marina the previous evening and we invited its crew of Dennis and Donald to join us while we ran errands in our rental car. Donald is Canadian and Dennis, who hails from East Texas, said that in his youth, he was so tough, “he could stomp a bumble bee with his bare feet!”. Apparently this is how you impressed East Texas cheerleaders in the 60’s. Both crews needed to checkout with Customs for departure documents from the USA (we would need these for entry into the Dominican Republic - the officer just stamped and signed a blank form and told me to fill the rest out myself), the necessary beer run, plus a bank run to the ATM for cash. Sadly we turned in our bright yellow rental car and became pedestrians again. That evening we ate at a local restaurant with the crew of S/V Cloud Street, which we will always think of as Doodlebug “One”. A merry evening.
February 12, 2017
Sunday in Puerto Rico and we each had a list of necessary chores to prepare Doodlebug for a departure on Tuesday. Annette inventoried her supplies and I checked the engines and engine rooms, discovering in the process that the port engine room bilge pump was not operational. It did not take long to determine that the pump itself worked but the float switch and its associated wiring were bad. This is the second float switch to fail in a week. These are not expensive items but I have already used my spare and will have to wait until Monday to purchase a replacement. The only real problem is access, as it is mounted in front of the engine and near impossible to reach, at least for normal sized human beings.
Walmart was open on Sunday and although I did find marine bilge pumps for sale in the sporting goods section, there were no float switches. Late that afternoon, Bill and Jennifer of S/V Address Unknown stopped by with their burly crew and hauled off our “old “ liferaft, handling its 200 pounds of deadweight as if a child’s toy.
February 11, 2017
Daughter Marian went home today and we spent most of the day driving to and from the airport. In early evening we learned that she had made it safely to Houston, together with Annette’s surplus inventory of sand samples. I had wondered why her suitcase was so heavy.
February 10, 2017
The goal for today was a walkabout, or rather a “driveabout”, to visit various sites in southwestern Puerto Rico. Our first stop was at “Casa Pueblo” in the town of Adjunta, located in the mountains north of Ponce. Casa Pueblo is a non-profit, environmental group. Most “environmental groups” I find to have more in common with the Taliban than modern society. Their ludicrously exaggerated claims destroy any possible credibility, plus their proposed solutions to modern problems are usually such to make the Luddites proud and generally leave me cold.
The Casa Pueblo organization was formed around 1980 and ran a successful campaign to prevent pit mining for gold in the Adjuntas environs. We had seen pit mining in the empty desert lands of Australia and it makes perfect sense there, both economically and with the real environmental impact. However, in a relatively densely populated and mountainous island such as Puerto Rico, subject to frequent hurricanes and torrential storms, the impact of pit mining with its risks of storm runoff and the leaching of toxins into the water supply represents an entirely different ball game, particularly when we are talking about a commodity as commercially useless as gold. The Casa Pueblo folks were very pleasant people to visit with and we found them mostly sane.
We met one of the founders of the group and she recommended a lunch stop at the Tierra del Frio restaurant, just off the main square of Adjunta, a good call. The afternoon was waning when we set out once more to look for the Cascada Las Garzas waterfalls. The GPS found the spot but although we found a beautiful little stream, there was no sign of waterfalls.
We made the return drive along the scenic “Ruta Touristica”. This was not for the faint of heart. The narrow road had some impressive potholes, plunged steeply up and down ravines and ridges, ran through tunnels of towering bamboos and really had some wonderful views. On the negative, it was easy to see why many of the cars here have dented hoods and fenders since Puerto Rican drivers can be a little casual about which side of the road they drive on. We continued to be amazed at how friendly everyone remains when they halt, blocking the narrow highway, in order to chat to a friend. Overall a fun day.
February 9, 2017
A fairly slow day running a few errands. The early excitement of the morning was receiving an e-mail from the US Coast Guard granting us a permit to enter the territorial waters of Cuba for an educational visit. I forwarded this permit to our insurance company who have previously stated that they would extend coverage to Cuban waters if we obtained such a document.
That evening we had arranged to meet Joe, Tracie, Kyra and Marian, crew of the Amel Super Maramu S/V Cloud Street for drinks and supper at the marina restaurant, together with Rachel and Paul Chandler of S/Y Lynn Rival. Tracie and Bob had met the Lynn Rival’s crew at the Customs and Immigration office when they went to check in. We were amazed to hear that Rachel and Paul had been seized by Somali pirates in 2009; see:- http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2223979/Paul-Rachel-Chandler-Kidnapped-pirates-Tortured-held-hostage-desert-hell-388-days-IS-couple-setting-sail-again.html
They had been held hostage for over 400 days. After a ransom was paid, themselves and their boat S/V Lynn Rival at least somewhat rehabilitated, they had set off sailing again. In the article above, when Rachel was asked what they would expect if disaster struck again, she is quoted as saying, “Lightning doesn’t strike in the same place twice”. Here we all sat together, the crew of the former Doodlebug and the crew of the new Doodlebug. We had made the passage through the pirate country in late 2006 aboard Doodlebug “One”. Life is full of strange coincidences, usually caused by glitches in The Matrix. Doodlebug “One” had been struck by lightning 5 hours after we purchased her in March of 2003 and struck again by lightning at the repair dock 80 days later. We sincerely wish Paul and Rachel fair winds and a safe passage after their terrifying and life-changing ordeal.
February 8, 2017
This morning we received an e-mail from Tracie and Bob aboard S/V Cloudstreet, an Amel Super Maramu that arrived yesterday. They had noticed a power cat on the dock with the name of “Doodlebug” – us of course and wondered if by some freak of coincidence, we had once owned an Amel. Tracie and Bob have owned S/V Cloudstreet for the past three or four years and she was formerly named, “Northfork”. Before she received this latter name, she had been named “DoodleBug”. We are in fact the original owners! We walked over to the dock where she was moored and introduced ourselves. It was so great to see the original Doodlebug again and such a strange feeling. We sailed her and loved her for six years before selling her in 2009 and hadn’t seen her since. Bob showed me the maintenance logbook, still on board with entries in my handwriting.
That afternoon we dropped Marian off at the local cemetery in order that she could take photographs of grave markers and whatever (I cautioned her there was to be “no digging up”). She telephoned around 4:30 hours to say that she was ready to be picked up and I drove over to discover the cemetery gates already chained and padlocked. Naturally she was inside somewhere. The bartender across the street directed me to the main gate (also locked) and provided me the phone number of the groundskeeper with the gate key. Fortunately the main gate had two side pedestrian gates, similarly padlocked but low enough that they could be climbed over fairly readily by a young lady wearing a mini-skirt. We left before the police showed up.
February 7, 2017
We rented car from the marina this morning and set out for the salt flats near Cabo Rojo. Two hours later the photographers were finally through taking pictures of salt (??!!), we were all starving and decided to leave the hike to the lighthouse for another day. We ate lunch at the shopping mall in Mayaguez, the third largest in Puerto Rico. It was home to all the usual culprits of Walmart, Sears, Office Max and the like and a sharp contrast with the laid back lifestyle of Puerto Real. When we returned to the marina we witnessed a minor miracle in that our new liferaft had been delivered. The old raft was due for its annual recertification at an estimated cost upwards of $1,000. It is rated as an ”Offshore” model, meaning that it contains supplies such as water and food and weighs in at 200 pounds. Marian and I struggled and spent perhaps twenty minutes getting it out of its locker, leaving it sitting on the deck. Annette and I could never have launched it in an emergency situation and even if we had, such a raft depends upon the weight of multiple occupants for its stability. The new replacement raft is sized for 6 persons and weighs in at around 70 pounds. It cost around $2,000 and requires recertification every three years. Hopefully, we will never see it inflated.
February 6, 2017
Monday morning and we raised anchor and moved into the nearby Marina Pescaderia, tying up at the dock and hooking into the umbilicals of city power and Wi-Fi. We plan to stay here for a week before heading across the Mona Passage to the Dominican republic. The marina sits in the middle of this small town / village and we walked from the marina parking lot into the narrow main street that was lined with small bars and stores selling fish. Lots of fish. Perhaps the name “Marina Pescaderia” - the “Fish Shop Marina”, might have provided a clue. We stopped in the nearest bar for refreshment and chatted with the proprietor. The bill was $2.50 for the two beers. Annette bought two red snappers from one of the stores while Marian took dozens of photographs of the scaling and filleting process that seemed to occupy the balance of the day. That evening we ate a fine meal of barbequed fish, reminding us of past fishing adventures when we were together in Fiji.
February 5, 2017
This morning the wind was blowing hard and it was overcast as we raised our anchor at 1300 hours. We followed our inbound GPS track in the reverse direction to exit the mangrove ringed anchorage behind Cayos de Cana Gorda. The light was poor for reef spotting but the crashing waves clearly delineated the gap of the narrow reef entrance as we exited to the Caribbean Sea. We immediately turned west, following the southern coast of Puerto Rico, putting the wind and waves on our stern. Doodlebug does not track well under these conditions and she weaves back and forth as the rollers push the stern from side to side. I typically meddle with the response setting on the autopilot to ameliorate the worst of the wannabe broaches and sometimes, motoring either faster or slower seems to help a little. The weather forecast had called for light winds and yet we were seeing whitecaps atop the steep waves. We passed near La Parguera and and saw a large white blimp tethered closely by its nose to the ground. The internet reports that this is part of the “Tethered Aerostat Radar System”, used by the US Customs and Border Protection as an effective means of spending taxpayers dollars. I am sure that balloons were the latest high-tech devices when first flown in 1782 and I further suspect the customs agents alert each other by semaphore flags when they spot a suspicious aircraft flying by.
The lighthouse we could see in the distance was growing larger when a pod of dolphins visited us and played around our bow wave for five minutes or so. This lighthouse marks the point of Cabo Rojo, the southwestern “corner” of Puerto Rico. We swept around this point to head north and the waves died away, leaving us to motor into the bay at Puerto Real in near calm conditions. We anchored at 1612 hours at 18 04.2 N 067 11.4 W.
February 4, 2017
There had been two other vessels at anchor in Cayo Puerco but we were alone the following morning. We raised anchor at 0725 hours and set sail for “Gilligan’s Island”, passing through the reef pass at Cayos de Ratones and back into the Caribbean Sea. Like yesterday, a few scattered fair weather cumulus, sunshine and following seas in the 3 to 4 foot range. At noon we turned through the reef gap at Cayos de Cana Gorda and dropped anchor at 1203 hours at 17 57.0 N 066 52.3 W inside another mangrove ringed harbor.
We dinghied over to the nearby ferry dock and then walked over to the Gilligan’s Island Resort, a large and sprawling enterprise but obviously very popular. A constant stream of boats ferried day-trippers to and from the nearby “Isla de Gilligan”, a mangrove ringed islet with warm shallow waters over white coral sand.
The resort restaurant was closed and we walked back to sample the famous empenadas served by the ferry dock restaurant. We noted that you could order food to be delivered to the island by the ferry boat crew. As we ate our empenadas, washed down by local beer of course, the ferry boat docked and the small bar was swamped by returning day trippers, singing to the loud music playing in the bar, hauling their ice chests and beach chairs and looking like they were having a really good time. Puerto Ricans really know how to enjoy life!
February 3, 2017
We arose moderately early, raised anchor at 0654 hours and set sail for Cayo Puerco, on the south coast of Puerto Rico. It was a pleasant sail, a little bumpy on the eastbound leg to clear the islet Cabeza de Perro but becoming more comfortable as we turned to the southwest. We had about one eighth cloud cover, a sunny day with 3 to 4 foot waves on top of the swells. For the first couple of hours we were transiting shallow waters, zig-zagging between fishing markers. At 1130 hours Marian was thrilled by the visit of a pod of dolphins.
An hour later, we passed through the reef gap at Boca del Infierno and the waves and swells died away almost instantly. We dropped anchor at 1249 hours at 17 55.9 N 066 14.4 W inside Cayo Puerco, a shallow and quiet bay ringed by Mangroves.
That afternoon we launched three kayaks (Annette in the “youth” kayak favored by seven year old Lincoln) and explored the mangroves. Even though the bay lay mill-pond still, Annette managed to fall out of her kayak in the eternal quest for sand samples. I assisted in her rescue with my kayak and she swears she will never again step into mangrove mud, making muttering noises about the “African Queen”.
February 2, 2017
We had ordered a replacement liferaft for Doodlebug and on Monday had called the freight company to check on the clearance procedure. They did not respond to my e-mail but when I telephoned, the lady exclaimed that they had been wondering how to get hold of me (perhaps call the contact number listed on the shipping form?). The raft had arrived on Sunday and needed to clear the “Import authorities”, even though of course it was manufactured in the USA and was shipped to Puerto Rico on a US carrier. For the tax dance we had to hire an agent and this had all been taken care of via multiple e-mails of scanned copies of passports, boat registrations etc. etc. Yesterday it had cleared the import authorities and the shipping lady had promised me that it would be delivered to the Puerto del Rey marina around noon today. We raised our anchor at 0817 hours and set sail on a reverse course back to Puerto del Rey. The waves were in the 3 to 4 foot range with added swells but daughter Marian remained unaffected by the motion. At 1047 hours we dropped anchor outside the entrance to the marina at 18 17.4 N 065 38.1 W and prepared to dinghy ashore so that we could leave an envelope with a payment check for the clearance agent, to be retrieved by the liferaft delivery driver. I had e-mailed earlier to see if they would give me a delivery time but received no response. I now telephoned and the shipping lady placed me on an extended hold before breathlessly informing me that the driver had forgotten to load the liferaft on his truck and had already left. Pretty routine really.
No point in getting mad so we negotiated that the raft would be delivered next week to our destination marina of Puerto Real at the west end of Puerto Rico. We ate lunch in the marina restaurant and tapped into their WiFi as we lay at anchor. It was too late to make the jump to our next anchorage, thus we settled in for a quiet afternoon and evening aboard Doodlebug, cheered by the thought that at least we weren’t paying the marina $100 / night for the privilege.
February 1, 2017
Marian spent most of the day taking photos but has been plagued by camera problems. Her recent pictures are often out of focus and we struggled with tests and diagnostics to locate the problem.
That evening we went on a “Bio tour”, a heavily hyped tour by kayak of the adjacent shallow bay, where the attraction is an alleged large concentration of bioluminescent creatures in the enclosed waters. When disturbed by a dipped hand, a kayak paddle or the passage of a fish, these plankton emit a burst of light. For the tour that night, we dosed ourselves liberally with insect repellant and after being handed a greasy and aged lifejacket, were instructed on how to hold a kayak paddle. So far so good. We were then assigned kayaks and although the sales pitch had emphasized that we would use, “safe and stable” two person sea kayaks, as the only party of three on the tour, we were assured that these kayaks could comfortably carry three. Not! The middle kayaker, in this case Marian, was not afforded a paddle and we were so cramped there was no room for the stern paddler (me) to use his paddle. In addition, Marian was partially sitting on my ankles and ditto my ankles were digging into her hips / butt. Either the moon was too bright or the plankton took the night off but we have seen better light shows when we have flushed the sea-water toilet on Doodlebug. After an hour and a half of cramped torture, we were more than ready for dry land. I usually avoid any enterprise that uses words such as “Eco” in its name (this is a Greek word meaning “no air-conditioning”) and have now added “Bio” to this list.
January 31, 2017
This morning we were in non-stop action, returning our rental car, settling accounts at the marina and taking on fuel. At 0950 hours, we set course for the town of Esperanza on the south side of Vieques, anchoring at 1230 hours at 18 05.6 N 065 28.4 W. The town boasts a series of beach front bars and restaurants and we wandered towards the east end of town where there are several ruined buildings. There were feral horses grazing amongst the ruins of the more modern looking buildings. I say “more modern” based upon the sophisticated graffiti that adorned the few standing walls. The older red brick building that stood nearby, looked at though it dated to the Danish colonial period and its lack of machinery spaces suggested that it had not been used for the harvesting and processing of sugar cane but more likely as a seafront warehouse serving the various plantations. Both Google and the locals we asked remained mute as to its history.
We made reservations for a “Bio tour” of the adjacent bay for tomorrow night and for supper we decamped to the “El Blok” hotel for a meal almost as memorable as that we had enjoyed here in November, 2015.
January 29 - January 30, 2017
Sunday was a slow day as Marian recovered from her travels. On Monday we were fired up and after the excitement of getting our propane tank refilled (I may write a book about the various experiences!), we headed into San Juan to tour the fortress of El Morro and San Juan “Old Town”.
January 28, 2017
Today and after an epic boat washing effort, we drove to San Juan to pick up daughter Marian.
San Juan airport is a little odd. From the parking lot you jay-walk across several lanes of traffic to the arrivals area. Here there is a ladies’ toilet accessible from the “street” but the “juan” for the caballeros is inside the terminal. The automatic doors refused to open from the street side. As we pondered this, an airport employee used a security card to open the doors and we walked inside with her, accompanied by her glowers of concern. The security exit from the terminal had some quantity of limo drivers holding up signs for their arriving clients but we bypassed these in our search for a bar and refreshment. None to be had. All food and drink is the “other side” of security. We discovered a single elevator that connected the flight check-in level with the baggage claim area and chatted with one of the flight check-in employees who was on break. Apparently we had wandered aimlessly through two security barriers against the traffic flow, without realizing such, or being stopped and there is not supposed to be exterior access to the baggage claim area.
At the proscribed time we waited patiently at the baggage carousel bearing the airline name, flight number and city of origin of Marian’s flight while she and her bags were arriving on an entirely different and unlabeled carousel, some distance away. Thank goodness for cellular telephones!
She is here and we all made it safely back to Puerto del Rey marina and Doodlebug!
January 27, 2017
Amongst today’s goals was to unbox and test the dehumidifier we purchased yesterday. We ran the unit for four hours and it produced over a gallon of condensate from its test location in the starboard hull. This makes one realize how useless the pots of moisture absorbing chemicals really are. These are sold at marine supply stores to prevent mold growing aboard your stored vessel and we had used these in Grenada after we failed to find any on-island supplier of dehumidifiers. In addition, the chemical pots and their refills cost way more than the purchase price of a commercial humidifier. The obvious problem with the latter is that it requires a supply of electricity to make it operate. We queried the folks who operate the on-the-hard hurricane storage facility at this marina if they could provide power for a dehumidifier and were told that they could not because of the “risk of fire” amongst the stored vessels.
We next made a run back to the Fajardo West Marine to buy courtesy flags but they had none in stock and didn’t offer to order them for us. The whole world has gone to internet shopping – all you need it a delivery address and the necessary time!
On our return to the marina, Annette spotted a “Super K-Mart” and a search of the furniture section produced bean bag filler! We now need a windy day so that we can feed our emaciated bean bag chairs on the front deck.
January 26, 2017
I began the day with my “final” attempt to remove a solar panel. Four of the six panels we purchased last year have stopped operating and the wiring terminal blocks are accessed from beneath the glued down panels. We had originally discarded the idea of using the recommended adhesive for the panel installation and instead chosen to use household silicone caulk on the mistaken belief it would be easy to remove if ever needed. Ever had now arrived and that stuff should have been used for the heat shield tiles on the space shuttle! Even with a hammer and broad bladed chisel I made no progress and realized that this will be a project for the next time the boat is stored on the hard.
We “Googled” the internet to find the nearest Home Depot store but I failed to notice that the store distances displayed were in fact “helicopter” distances. We set off for the town of Cagua instead of that of Carolina (they both start with “Ca”) at almost double the highway distance but were rewarded with a view of areas of Puerto Rico not previously visited.
We also made a “final” attempt to contact the real estate lady we had called a couple of days ago. It is odd that people won’t say ,“Sorry, I’m too busy”, when you ask for advice / help but instead say “Yes”, promise an immediate e-mail response and then refuse your further communication attempts in perpetuity. We have experienced this phenomenon before from businesses and have always taken it as a clear warning of the kind of service you would expect to get if you had a serious transaction to perform.
January 25, 2017
The propane fueled stove / oven aboard Doodlebug has an electronic lighter and last week the latter had refused to function. We had back-up BBQ lighters of course but the childproof locks were problematic for those of us suffering from arthritic hands. Yesterday Annette had watched Youtube videos on how to make the flames bigger but sadly, not on how to defeat the mechanical interlocks. I had performed surgery on a couple of lighters and although you cannot defeat the mechanism entirely, since the ignition sparker and the gas valve are on separate buttons, I was able to remove the return spring from the gas valve to make it easier to operate.
Today the goal was to repair the stove itself. The stove is the exact same unit that is “gimbaled” on the sailing versions but on a catamaran is screwed solidly in place. The igniter, associated batteries and wiring are all installed conveniently underneath the unit, thus the stove has to be removed, or at least raised for access. Three hours of cursing, blood loss, frustration and four cans of beans as jack stands and it was done! Annette got to clean out the accumulated centuries of “rental” grease and dropped food from beneath the unit and I eventually found a corroded spring that was preventing the sparker unit from receiving power. All back and working again just in time to visit Jay and Sandra aboard S/V Long Reach for sundowners.
January 24, 2017
We picked up a rental car this morning and despite our GPS snarling driving directions at us in Spanish, such as “Heya stupido! Mas rapido!”, we managed to find both West Marine and Walmart. Annette has been doggedly searching for bean bag filler for the past several months as we have travelled north from Grenada. When I suggested “frijoles plasticos” at the various establishments, this provoked laughter but no word in Spanish for filler was substituted. “You have to describe what it is for”, we were told. We also contacted a real estate lady for suggestions for an overview of rental / lease properties in the area. She indicated that she understood our constraints and requirements and promised to e-mail some listings to us.
January 23, 2017......continued
When we arrived at the marina we discovered that the marina uses golf carts to shuttle people and goods along the long narrow concrete dock. The golf cart drivers wear life jackets, an “OSHA” requirement we were told, but the passengers are expected to swim for it or just have to take their chances I suppose. The marina boasts a marine supply store but it did not stock the necessary “courtesy” flags, needed for our proposed route westwards. The marina restaurant was also closed for a Monday but back at DoodleBug, over our delicious peanut-butter sandwiches, we had a slow and fractious internet connection that did work occasionally, thus we began to catch up on the various projects that have been hanging around.
January 23, 2017
This morning we raised anchor at 0840 hours and headed further westwards towards Fajardo, Puerto Rico. We had reservations for the marina at Puerto del Rey and arrived there three hours later, tying up at the dock at 18 17.4 N 065 38.0 W. The marina called us when we were in mid-passage and warned us that we needed to check in with Customs and Immigration. When I responded that we had already performed this task in Culebra, they sounded surprised and demanded the 18 digit clearance confirmation number. This I provided. I hope I copied all the numbers down correctly.....
January 22, 2017
Sunday in Culebra and the place is dead. The hammering salsa music died away sometime after 3.00 a.m. and the dancers and drinkers are presumably sleeping it off. While Annette sorted out the laundry and supplies, I checked the engine fluids, condition of the anodes and the steering fluids. I tested the bilge pumps and exercised the engine room through-hulls. Everything checked out “good” and we are ready to cruise! Naturally we toured Ensenada Honda by dinghy and collected multiple sand samples. I am thinking of applying for a UNESCO grant.