Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Bail Out

Monday late. Well,actually, Tuesday early. One thirty in the morning. We have spent the last 24 hours pounding into the east winds mixed with a north swell. Not big waves or the large, gentle swell we had a few days ago. This is just snotty. We were supposed to be seeing north winds, becoming north-north-east. It should have been a close, but pleasant, reach sailing towards Puerto Rico. Granted, it was an unusual weather window but it seemed to be there for us. But, the forecast never unfolded as predicted. What we got was a fast shift from north winds on Saturday and Sunday, quickly through north-east and, then, directly east. Just what we didn’t want.

So, here we were, in the 31st hour of bashing into the waves. Two and a half days into a four day trip. We had finally abandoned any hope of sailing because the wind was right on our nose. SeaClearly handles all sorts of crappy weather but this is, by far, her least favorite. You could almost hear her saying, ‘You know you can change direction, right?’ The cabin down below was a wreck. Stuff you thought was tied down and locked into place was now out on the floor. Dishes were sliding back and forth inside the cabinets. The waves from the east slapped at the hull. The swell from the north rolled us back and forth. Sometimes, we would get into a building harmonic – roll, roll,rolllll, dip a rail into the water and pick up a zillion gallons of seawater and send it cascading down the deck towards the stern. In the daytime, you laugh and hold on. At night, it is less fun.

The trip started out pretty good. We left Southside Marina at noon on Saturday when the tide was almost full. Even at that, we bounced on the soft sand in mid-channel just after clearing the inside marker. No big deal. Except that waiting for the tide had delayed our departure until noon. We had already cleared out with customs and immigration the day before. We could have left early in the morning if we had deeper water. Still OK though. Our plan was to get out onto the Caicos Bank and sail east until dark and drop anchor somewhere.

That part worked great. As soon as we cleared the marina approach and got to better water, we got the sails up, shut down the motor and sailed at good speed across the beautiful, clear water of the Banks. The water on this day was the best we had seen it there in the Turks and Caicos. We really hated to stop when conditions were so ideal but the thought of crashing into a coral head (and then having to explain why you were stupidly sailing across the Banks in the dark) overcame our enthusiasm. About an hour after sunset, we moved slightly off of the charted routes and dropped the anchor in 16 – 18 feet of water.

We were up very early on Sunday. We cranked up the engine, hauled the anchor and made the last 12 miles to the east, past Six Hill Cay and out into the ocean. Junie already had a fishing line out as we cruised over the drop-off. Before we even got the sails out, she had hooked into a fish. A Wahoo! About 36 inches. The cedar plug was performing as advertised. We hauled it in and I got the job of whacking it, dragging it over to the side deck (where the drains are) and fileting it. We got plenty of fish out of it. 

Then we settled in to sail. That went very well until late in the afternoon when the wind did its first clocking from north to north-east. But, we were encouraged – thinking that we would soon make an eastward turn and this would be a great wind direction. But later, by the time we made that turn below Mouchoir Banks, the wind had started moving around more to the east. It seemed to follow our turn in order to keep blowing directly from where we were trying to go. 

Junie was having better luck at fishing than we were having with sailing. As we came off the edge of the aforementioned Mouchoir Bank, over another drop-off, she caught another, almost identical Wahoo! This one, we let go.

By Sunday night, the squalls started. Each one gave us a small burst of hope because the wind would switch back to the north for a little while. Sure, it was pouring down rain and blowing 25 knots but at least we picked up some speed. We had the full mainsail and genoa out at about midnight when some bigger squalls showed up. I was scrambling to lose some sails and touched 7.8 knots Speed-Over-Ground, with a serious angle of healing. Junie heard the racket from down below and came out to help me drop some sail. And that was the beginning of the end of our dream of sailing all the way to San Juan.

The wind continued to blow from due east - the typical Trade Winds, just not what we expected or needed. All day Monday, we bashed along. We kept the staysail up for some stability and motored. But the wind conspired to keep the sail flapping uselessly and was tough on the sail. So we rolled it in. We were also using diesel at a much faster rate due to the endless crashing into waves.

We had not seen any other boats all day. When a large pleasure boat came over the horizon, it showed up on AIS. Not on radar. Well, it was bumpy and rolly and they were pretty far off. Just before dark, a cruise ship popped up. Not on radar. Great. We are miles from anywhere, bashing into waves, it is getting dark and we can’t see a cruise ship on radar.

Now we are into Monday night. We burn, roughly, one gallon of diesel per hour. Our tank holds 67 gallons (more or less). We had 4 five gallon jerry cans on deck. We conservatively plan to make about 5 nautical miles per gallon. Theoretically, we had enough fuel to motor the entire trip. Although, we were probably not getting great mileage. We began to question whether we had enough fuel. Would we need to dump the cans into the tank? And, how well was that going to work given the pounding, the waves and the squalls? But, we kept going. The squalls kept coming and the ride was no fun. Neither of us could sleep in the cabin because of the noise and the motion so we slept in the cockpit. We were getting tired.

Finally, at about 1:30 am, after stressing over it for a while, I woke Junie up. She was sound asleep on the starboard cockpit cushion, tethered in place, unconsciously holding on to the combing (the side wall of the cockpit) despite the bumpy ride. Once she shook off the sleep, I said, “Look, this is becoming stupid and dangerous. We need to do something else.” We talked through it for about 15 minutes while the waves grew some more. We knew that if we kept going towards San Juan, we were looking at, at least, another 36 hours of the same thing – maybe slightly better, maybe slightly worse. The forecast was already out the window so, who knew? We might come up short on fuel and we had lost our radar. That puts us one twist of fate away from calamity in my calculation. We could turn back towards the Dominican Republic and expect a downwind ride and it was only 60 miles away. We could be there by first light. Decision made.

The next time the wind dropped below 25 knots for a few seconds, we spun SeaClearly through a 60 degree turn to starboard to bring the seas off of our stern quarter. She settled in after a couple of waves, we adjusted another 20 degrees and the world went calm. The difference between the bashing we were taking a moment before and this following sea after the turn was amazing. Instantly, we knew we had made the right call. 
Time to bail out. Our track tells the story.

Almost immediately after making the turn, our InReach buzzed with a message from son Jeffrey. Basically, 'What's going on?' Nice to have someone keeping an eye on you. He started doing some research for us and texting back information. And, since he is technically adept and works for a  satellite imagery group, he knows how to work the internet and a map and squeeze information out. Much appreciated when you are feeling sort of alone and wondering what to do next.

Sure, now we had some logistical problems. We had not counted on going to the DR. We had flight arrangements already made in San Juan (thank you, Aimee! Look forward to seeing you.) and we might not make it there in time. But, it was still the right call.

Cruising into Bahia Samana
Land Ho! DR in sight.
Morning approaching the Samana Peninsula

At sunrise on Tuesday, we were entering Bahia Samana headed for a marina up the bay. The scenery is awesome. The following seas, that had been rising high overhead behind us since we made our decision to turn, started to subside. After many weeks in the flat Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos, the hills and mountains and the green yet rugged coast of the DR is quite a sight. We laughed at ourselves because we had been so adamantly opposed to coming here. We should have known that fate would drive us here somehow. The ride up the bay got smoother and smoother until it was like glass. The pounding in the night was a fading memory.

Dropping the Turks and Caicos courtesy flag.
Raising the yellow quarantine flag that
lets everyone know that we have not cleared into
the country yet.

Approaching the town and port of Samana.
Our destination marina is about a mile to the left.

Since we were showing up unexpectedly, we called the Marina de Puerto Bahia on the phone, believe it or not, and confirmed that they had room. No es problema. Oh, S%#t. I have failed miserably at keeping up my Spanish lessons and now, here we are, arriving in a country where I really need it. Now, this marina is somewhat removed from the realities of the actual town of Samana. It is a gated resort-ish, condo, restaurant complex west of town. Never-the-less, it became immediately obvious that my lack of Spanish skills is mirrored by their lack of English. They came out in a dinghy to meet us and guide us into the fuel dock (which we did, somehow, communicate that we wanted over the radio).  Of course, they are not just doing this to be nice. Tips are the way of life here. Only one of the guys is actually associated with the marina. The other guy is just there to ’help’ – and to offer to wash and polish your boat for a reasonable fee, tie up the boat, find you a ride, whatever. OK.
Regardless, they got us fuel, they got us into a slip, they got their tip, they got a job washing the boat.

On to the next step in entering the DR. We waited for the government representatives to show up at the boat. Four of them came. Navy, Intelligence, Customs and Immigration. They were all very pleasant. We had to pay a fee of $94 to Customs. Or Immigration. Not sure. It was mentioned that we could also support ‘the program’ with a donation if we cared to. Being tired, stupid and unsure, we ‘donated’ $20 which, apparently, supported the Intelligence guy since he put it in his pocket. Funny. He was the one guy who had done nothing in the form-filling-and-stamping process. Then, they all left. And we were in another country. Welcome to the Dominican Republic!
SeaClearly - looking at home in the DR


  1. Hi Duane and Junie - saw your course change Tuesday on the position tracker, and knew that something had disturbed your plans. Glad to hear it wasn't more serious. Is your radar OK? Hope you make it to San Juan by Christmas!

  2. Randy, thanks for keeping track of us. We were never in any danger - just uncomfortable and concerned. Who needs that? San Juan is off the schedule. We changed plans to fly out of the DR. The radar is still a mystery. It is not the same problem we have seen in the past but I suspect it still may be a connection issue. Salt water sure is tough on electrical. In the mean time, we are in a beautiful marina location for cheap. More on that later.