13th –16th May 2013
Leaving Puerto Rico in our wake we headed out into the Mona Passage. This stretch of water which lies between the two islands of Puerto Rico and Hispaniola has a notorious reputation as being one of the roughest bodies of water in the Caribbean. It’s due to the fact that part of the sea bed known as the Puerto Rican trench runs just to the north with depths as great as 39,000 feet. Waters from the north Atlantic ocean flow down into the trench and then back out the other side, a bit like a huge dip in the road. Once this deeper fast flowing body of water meets the shallower waters, currents and sandbars of the Mona Passage, all hell can break loose.The Mona becomes a funnel with the Atlantic ocean trying to push it’s way to the south and the tropical waters from the Caribbean sea trying to push north. I’m sure you are getting the picture here. Not a good place to be in anything smaller than a tanker, on a bad day. Having heard from friends who had recently transited this passage and got really beat up, there was a fair amount of trepidation on board to say the least.
The forecast sounded pretty good for the 125 mile overnight sail, we had our fingers crossed that it would stay that way. As we got further out into the passage the wind picked up from the NNE and the sea became quite choppy, hitting us on the beam, it was a little uncomfortable but not too bad. Later that evening the wind started to bend around more to the east giving us a good lift, that’s a sailing term for a good wind angle. This meant that if the wind direction didn’t change we would easily miss the dangerous Hourglass shoals that stood between us and Samana in the Dominican Republic.
With clear skies all around, mother nature put on a fabulous sunset and we were privileged to witness the “green flash”, a pretty rare phenomena that occurs usually with cloudless skies. As the sun dips just below the horizon a bright green flash of light momentarily glows where the sea meets the sky. We took it as a good omen for the remaining miles we had to cover. As darkness engulfed our world, a sliver of moon and a handful of stars kept us company. By 2am the wind had died completely and we revved up our iron sail for the remaining 53 miles. The sea was dead calm as we approached the entrance to Samana bay so we stopped for a swim off the transom. We love jumping off the back when the weather is hot and sticky, it’s also a great way to wake up after an overnight passage. Mind you we never stay in long as who knows what might be lurking beneath, looking for a take=away snack. Motoring down the bay towards the marina the lush hillsides were a beautiful sight. Dotted with coconut palms, wisps of smoke from village fires made it’s way slowly skywards.
Our American friends from the catamaran “Good Trade” had visited this area a few months earlier and had given the Puerto Bahia Marina a really good wrap, so we were looking forward to spending a few days there.
On arrival we were greeted by very friendly staff who directed us to a slip right next to the pool area, way to go!. Not long after tying up, officials from customs and immigration came on board to complete our entry formalities. Five of them sat in our cockpit filling in forms. We hadn’t had this many on the boat since our arrival in Kupang, Indonesia back in 2006, and that time there was eleven! And, there was not one hint of any of them asking for a bribe, something that we’ve found to be a usual thing in some of the poorer countries that we’ve visited over the years. Once we were all legal, one of the marina staff came down and invited us to the Manager’s cocktail reception later that evening, even though there were only five visiting boats in the marina. It was a really nice touch. For the rest of the afternoon the three of us chilled out by the pool, which was to die for. The last thing we expected in this country was a beautiful marina, edge pool and a restaurant called Café del Mer, a take off of the real one the island of Ibiza in the Mediterranean.
After speaking to the marina staff about doing some land touring we hired a car and the next morning drove up to the El Limon waterfalls. The falls were about an hours drive from the marina and along the way we gleaned a snippet of what this part of the DR was like. It’s a very mountainous island with lush tropical vegetation. Most people either ride motorbikes or horses to get around. Some just walk.
There were cars but not as many as most of the other islands. Once the road ran out, access to the falls was only by horse.There were a plethora of riding outfits eager to take tourists to the falls for a fee, negotiating skills were a must.
With the business end sorted a groom selected a horse for each of us based on our equine skills, and then led each horse along steep trails and through a couple of rivers. Having had a a few downpours of late the trails were very muddy and slippery, but the horses certainly new the best route and were extremely sure footed, given that some parts of the trails had no fences, only steep drop-offs which didn’t excite Liam one bit.
After an hour there was just one more river to get across and with the horses parked, Liam and Ross started wading through the rushing waters, but I had my own human horse who, to much to my surprise, hoisted me up on his back and carried me across across. The pool at the base of the falls was wonderfully refreshing, the cool water pounding down from a couple of hundred feet above. After a good half hour of cooling off, back to our faithful nags we went ready for the thigh chaffing ride back.
For our second day out we hit the road with the intention of driving to the capital Santo Domingo on the south coast. That was until we had a good look at the map and realised that it was over 200 kilometers away. On the less than perfect roads it would take about four hours each way. So that idea got squashed pretty quick and we moved on to plan B, a drive around and lunch at the seaside town of Las Terranas on the north coast.
The drive there took us through tropical farmland where cows grazed under palm trees and wild horses ambled across the roads at their leisure.
The north coast has a reasonable number of plush looking resorts, expat homes and a beautiful stretch of classic tropical coastline.
We found a little beachside place for lunch, Le Tre Caravelle, and it was well worth the drive. The food and setting were excellent. It didn’t seem to matter where we went everyone, was friendly, smiling and happy to have a chat, especially some of the local girls.
The next day was our last in the DR, and as our next stop would be in a very remote part of the Bahamas, we needed to stock up on as much fresh produce as we could so a quick trip into Samana to the public markets took up most of the morning.
The markets were a bustling hive of activity with sellers calling out their specials of the day.
There was a great range of fruit and veg straight from the farms, no frozen or refrigerated stuff within cooee. The carrots had been plucked straight from the ground and still had dirt on them. There was also a good selection of fish and chicken, though we decided not to purchase any although I’m sure it would have been fresh, fresh, fresh . It was just the presentation in the hot sun that put me off.
Last stop on the list was the grocery store, which had pretty much only had the bare essentials. It was a good thing I stocked up while in Puerto Rico.Then it was back to the marina to pay our bill, which was very inexpensive for a boat our size, we dropped our lines and off we went . Did we enjoy our short stay in the Dominican Republic? I have to say yes, even though we didn’t see a lot of the place. We chose to stay in Samana rather than Luperon on the north coast as we had heard and read many reports of theft, corruption and a very dirty anchorage. Having said that we do know cruisers who have stopped there and like it . Each to their own I guess.
So what comes next? Another overnight sail of 200 miles that will have us making landfall on Great Inagua Island at the very bottom of the Bahamas. From there we will be cruising the remote Ragged Islands for a few weeks, so stay tuned for the next update.
Samana: Marina De Puerto Bahia,located in Bahia De Samana
Customs / Immigration: For 3 persons and boat was, $10 pp Tourist card, and $ 73 for the boat. $103 USD total.
Marina fee : $180 USD for 3 nights inc electricity.