Beautiful Haiti to the Dominican Republic

May, 2008
From Illé a Vache in Haiti, it’s only 130NM to reach Cabo Rojo in the Dominican Republic, so not such a long sail this time. What could possibly go wrong?

The sail

Ille a Vache, Haiti, Cabo Rojo, Dominican RepublicIllé a Vache (Haiti): 18°06.394’N 73°41.654’W
Cabo Rojo (DR): 17°55.098’N 71°39.718’W

Must be getting used to knocking off the miles as the numbers don’t seem as daunting anymore, on paper.

Started out from Illé a Vache (Haiti) without any wind, this gradually started building until reaching 25+ Knots on the nose. Inevitably, the sea became rough…as it does.

A rough sail with only the mainsail up but reefed down, and the motor chugging away.

The boat pounded into oncoming waves and came crashing down hard with a shudder, making a terrible noise. Felt as if the whole hull was de-laminating and falling apart around us, but I have great faith in Catalina – silly perhaps?

Not much to report on this sail apart from trying to stay safe, keep balance, and get some erratic kip.

Donned our harnesses and tethered ourselves to the boat. At these speeds and conditions if one of us were to fall in, by the time the other person dropped the sail and turned the boat around to start looking, there’s no way in hell that you could find anyone, especially in the dark. Even when it’s calm it would be hard as Reality goes too fast. Not a comforting thought by any means!

Arrived at Cabo Rojo and dropped the pick for not even two hours when the inevitable happened…

Mayday!

Dog tired, tried to sleep but I couldn’t, so got up and passing the VHF, I could hear a faint: “Mayday, does anybody copy this message, we’ve hit rocks and taking on water!”

I immediately tried to respond to the distressed boat and although their transmission was very poor, managed to get the boat’s coordinates and details.

Checking the coordinates on CMap, we discovered that they were about 26NM away from us, about a 4-hour sail.

I then called a container ship on the dock to ask them how to call the Dominican Republic Coast Guard (as no one was responding). He had a Pilot on board and they got back to us saying there was no rescue boat, we were it, and that if we could attend that would be good! Wished us luck and said to keep in contact…yeah right!

The rescue

Cabo Rojo, Isla Beata, Dominican RepublicCabo Rojo (DR): 17°55.098’N 71°39.718’W
Isla Beata (DR): 17°35.073’N 71°32.626’W

Dog tired, we weighed anchor, hoisted the sails, and took off at 7 to 8 Knots. It was still blowing out there and the seas were rough.

As we got further into the sail, conditions worsened. I started thinking that here we are putting ourselves in danger, as well as the boat; not a good situation to be in and taking a huge risk. But what can we do? Just sick back and do nothing? People are in trouble and possibly in a dire situation.

I’d like to think that if we were in the same scenario that someone would at least try and do something for us…would be tragic to know that no one was coming.

After a few hours (and continuously calling the vessel) we made contact again. I asked for new co-ordinates as didn’t know if they were anchored, drifting, or worse (the message was sketchy). Pinpointed the boat’s coordinates to an anchorage off a little island named Isla Beata.

The boat was no longer in grave danger but still required assistance. The right thing to do is to contact us and keep us abreast of their situation, especially if things became much better.

As we are so close, decided to help, but annoyed the skipper didn’t make contact earlier, as we could have sailed a better and more comfortable approach.

Pounded the last 11 miles into the rough seas and strong headwinds but eventually got to the boat’s anchorage. Discovered that it is the boat we saw in Cuba that had run aground in the river, and this was after wrecking a light post on the marina.

I couldn’t believe it! We spoke to the skipper and crew, which were cagey about their problem; and it appears that they weren’t in grave danger after all. Skipper and crew didn’t really know how to use (or the true meaning of) a “Mayday”! And the type of people that if in trouble in the middle of the ocean, expect to call on their cell phone to get assistance…loads around.

Angry with these guys, we decided to anchor right up the other end of the island. Later in the day, I heard this same boat calling a passing container ship with a “Mayday” again…some people should not be out there on boats!

La Salinas

Isla Beata, Salinaz, Dominican RepublicIsla Beata (DR): 17°35.073’N 71°32.626’W
La Salinas de Banis (DR): 18°12.955’N 70°32.308’W

Next morning, we tried to head out for Las Salinas (about 79NM East).

Sailed out of the lee of the island but the wind was gusting to 30 Knots on the nose (as usual) with huge seas.

With quickly deteriorating conditions, we turned back, re-anchored, and waited until the wind calmed in the evening. Giving it another go, this time it isn’t too bad as everything has calmed down a little, so pushed on in headwinds and seas one more.

Arriving in La Salinas de Banis entering a lovely bay about 2 miles by 1-mile wide with 360°-protection; very picturesque, and wonderfully calm. Shame that the holding is really poor and the boat dragged around the bay a few times.

An underdeveloped part of this coast, this area is known for mangroves, sand dunes, salt mines, and thorn scrub.

Needing fuel and as this is the only place around to get some, decided to try. We’re not supposed to go ashore as not officially checked into the country yet, actually, not really supposed to be there as should only enter a country via designated ports.

Spent 2 hours waiting for the marina guy to give us fuel in jerry cans and ripping us off severely (USD$100 for less than 70 litres) in the process; welcome to the Dominican Republic!

Trying to re-anchor outside the bay, we dragged everywhere so motored back inside for the night and changed anchors, which seemed to help a little, so got some sleep at last.

La Salinas to Boca Chica

Boca Chica, Dominican Republic, SalinasLa Salinas de Banis (DR): 18°12.955’N 70°32.308’W
Boca Chica (DR): 18°26.680’N 69°37.467’W

Headed back out at 6am as only a short sail of 66NM on this trip.

Not much wind around so again, the motor is going, but managed to shut it down and have a pleasant sail for a few hours.

Quiet trip and the only pain was that we picked up a heavy plastic bag on the prop whilst sailing along. Dropping all the sails and stopping the boat almost dead in the sea, skipper dove in and cut the bag off. Lucky nothing was damaged. There seems to be a lot of rubbish in these waters, which is such a shame. Loads of plastic, polystyrene, flip-flops, shoe soles, and other flotsam and jetsam.

Arrived at Boca Chica, which is about half an hour’s drive from Santo Dominigo…passed this on our sail and from the water, the city looked larger than Miami (USA) – quite massive.

Officials were waiting for us at the marina, no sniffer dogs and only 3 people this time of which none could speak English, and of course our Spanish is almost non-existent.

Dominican Republic: Boca Chica

Boca Chica

Really funny though, as we heard that we didn’t have to pay these guys but could give them a little something if we wanted. So, asked the officials, the young guy was trying to explain to us that if we wanted to, we could give a tip. I couldn’t understand the word in Spanish and a little embarrassed, he couldn’t explain it either. Getting a little frustrated, he blurted out: “F*ck”.

Advising the officer that this word is universal language, we all burst out laughing. Very funny! The official then looked the word up in my dictionary and all was well. Both were really nice officials and so different to Cuba.

Completed Immigration the next day, parting with more money. I think the stay here will be a week as have to wait for a good patch of weather as the next sail is 400+NM (3 to 4 days depending on winds).

Marina Zar Par

The marina has only been opened a year and is quite flashy but also expensive at USD$60/night. Decided to stay for a few nights then move to a mooring, which is only USD$18/night. I’m not big on marinas anyway and much prefer a mooring.

When the Manager sees us coming he must just see dollar signs walking towards him. We had him quote on some boat work and the quote was horrendously expensive, so gave it a miss. Loads of flash expensive boats in the marina, expected as it is the Caribbean; feel right out of our league here.

Reality is on a mooring between 2 little islands, which are joined by a natural reef and offers loads of lovely protection.

Dominican Republic: Boca Chica Catalina 47'

Reality at Marina Zar Par

It is really beautiful here with the colour of the water a fresh turquoise blue, just like the Whitsundays (Australia). So clean and clear.

The waves crash and rush over the reef constantly in the distance…a lovely sound.

When I first looked out there I thought I saw a man sitting on the reef, with his back towards us, and just looking out to sea…he was there all day and night. Of course I later realised that it was part of the reef formation and not a man at all; very eerie.

The Dominicans

Such a gorgeous place here and the people are always happy and friendly…everyone says “Hola” when greeting you in the street.

Feel very safe here.

We were taken to a local bar the other night by one of the marina guys to see the local dancing. It was incredible! Boy can these people move. It’s very sensual and mostly an African beat but sometimes African Techno, which is a little weird.

The music blares out from morning to night. My kind of place and there seems to be loads of partying happening all the time.

Dominican Republic: Boca Chica colourful parrot

Local

The Town

Took a local bus to the main town of Boca Chica, which is totally different to our run-down area.

This end is really upmarket and obviously the tourist strip.

The streets are lined with tourist shops, people selling local art, cafes, and bars. Reminds me a lot of Phuket.

The beachfront is full of sun lounges, thatched umbrellas, and open air cafes, which gives the area a real island feel.

There are loads of people selling stuff on the beach in the heat and just trying to make a living. And like in Thailand, there are loads of really old white guys with very young local girls, guess this happens everywhere.

As long as they’re happy then what does it matter?

Bought more cigars (as you do), hope to post or get them back to Oz someday soon, as apparently, you have to keep them at a constant temperature (not too humid or too hot), otherwise they go mouldy. A boat doesn’t provide ideal conditions for cigars.

 

Dominican Republic: Santo Domingo church cloisters

Christian Church

 

Santo Domingo

Decided to take a bus to the Capital for the day and do the rubber-neck thing and act just like tourists.

It’s fairly easy and very cheap to get around in the city and most areas so far, which makes it an ideal place to explore (still haven’t got any maps).

If you’re looking for something such as a particular monument or shop, the locals are more than helpful; and go out of their way to make sure you know where to go…very cool.

Visited the first Christian church built in the DR (around 1500s), and built by Christopher Columbus’ son.

The internal architecture is pretty spectacular. Inside included loads of ornate lead light windows and small worshipping alcoves with heavily carved wooded alters.

 

Enjoyed a delicious lunch and welcomed coffee in a local café, and watched as the men played chess. Probably had been for hours. Very animated and furious!

Dominican Republic: Boca Chica old man playing chess

Local games

Dominican hairdressing experience

Decided to get hair cuts in Santo Domingo as we were now resembling scruffy hillbillies – game when you can’t speak the language!

Found a tiny local salon, which also incorporated a Tattoo shop and a clothes shop…no one spoke English.

Establishing a price for one hair cut (I was in two minds as couldn’t be bothered), sat and waited until a stylist was free.

Watched as one lady was having her hair blow dried; her whole head was enveloped in plumes of smoke and haze. I swear it looked as if her head was smouldering like the start of a bush fire or something worse!

Maybe because it was gorgeous thick African hair (not sure) but watching in awe, never having seen anything like this before, decided that maybe this was not a good place to get my hair cut and I’d wait for another time.

Watching the stylist rubbing cream (or something) into the client’s eyebrows I thought the client was getting her brows’ waxed. The stylist then whipped out a shiny new razor blade (just the blade without a handle) and scraped it across the client’s eyebrows. Her hand was so steady and precise, that it moved swiftly across the brow…incredible to watch!

Finally, with the Skipper’s wash and cut down, which took 1.5 hours (all scissor-cut and no shaver), I was nearly asleep by the end of this and as the cut was excellent, I decided to give mine a go…

I finally got to sit at the washbasin and after a very cold and drenching wash (half of my body was drenched), the hairdresser plonked me down at the cutting chair. This was under a massive air conditioner that dripped water all over my clothing for the whole time.

Deciding to select a style from a stylist book, just to be safe, the young hairdresser gingerly placed the book upright against the mirror and started following each cutting instruction step, very carefully and slowly. Stopping only occasionally to make sure she had the next bit right, the cut too some time.

All the while I was trying not to laugh hysterically and curious to see if I would resemble an eggplant, a bowl, or something similar.

Although, when she’d finished, I was pleasantly surprised. This is one of the best cuts I’ve ever had anywhere.

Leaving The Dominican Republic

Sporting new slick hair styles, skipper and crew were now ready for the next sail south through the Caribbean Sea to the Netherland Antilles, just north of Venezuela.

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more images. More posts on the Caribbean at Image Earth Travel.

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