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 pounds into oncoming waves and crashes down hard with a shudder, making a terrible noise. Feel as if the whole hull is 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.

Donning our harnesses and tethering ourselves to the boat, as at these speeds and conditions if one of us falls in, by the time the other person drops the sail and turns the boat around to start looking, there’s no way in hell that you can find anyone, especially in the dark. Even when it’s calm it would be hard as Reality moves too fast. Not a comforting thought by any means!

Arriving at Cabo Rojo and dropping the pick for not even two hours, the inevitable happens…


Dog tired and unable to to sleep, walking passing the VHF, I hear a faint: “Mayday, does anybody copy this message, we’ve hit rocks and taking on water!”

I immediately try to respond to the distressed boat and although their transmission is very poor, manage to get the boat’s coordinates and details.

Checking the coordinates on CMap, we discover that the is 26NM away from us – about a 4-hour sail.

Calling a container ship on the dock to ask them how to call the Dominican Republic Coast Guard, as no one is responding, the Pilot on board advises there is no rescue boat, that we are it, and if we can attend, this would be good!

Wishing us luck and advising us 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 weigh anchor, hoist the sails, and take off again at 7 to 8 Knots. It’s still blowing out there and the seas are rough.

As we get further into the sail, conditions worsen.

I start 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? 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 make contact again.

I ask for new co-ordinates as don’t know if the boat is anchored, drifting, or worse – the initial message was sketchy, but we pinpointed the boat’s coordinates to an anchorage off a little island named Isla Beata.

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

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

Pounding the last 11 miles into rough seas and strong headwinds, eventually got to the boat’s anchorage. Discovering that it’s the boat we saw in Cuba that ran aground in the river, after wrecking a light post on the marina, we’re apprehensive.

I can’t believe it!

Speaking to the skipper and crew, who are cagey about their problem, it appears that they are not in grave danger after all.

Skipper and crew don’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.

Angry with these guys, we decide to anchor right up the other end of the island. Later in the day, I hear 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

Today we try to head out for Las Salinas (about 79NM East).

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

With quickly deteriorating conditions, we turn back, re-anchor, and wait until the wind calms in the evening. Giving it another go, this time it isn’t too bad as everything has calmed down a little, so push 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, it’s 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 here as a boat 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 drag everywhere so motored back inside for the night and changed anchors, which seems to help a little, and 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

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

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

Quiet trip and the only problem is that the boat 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 dives in and cuts the bag off. Lucky nothing is 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.

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

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

Dominican Republic: Boca Chica, Caribbean
Boca Chica

Really funny though, as we hear that we don’t have to pay these guys but can give them a little something if we want. So, asking the officials, the young guy tryes to explain to us that if we want to, we can give a tip.

I can’t understand the word in Spanish and a little embarrassed, he can’t explain it either. Becoming frustrated, he blurts out: “F*ck”.

Advising the officer that this word is universal language, we all burst out laughing. Funny!

The official then looks the word for tip up in my dictionary and all is well. Both are really nice officials and so different to Cuba.

Completing Immigration the following day, we part with more money. I think the stay here will be a week 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

Opened only a year, the marina is quite flashy but also expensive at USD$60/night.

Deciding to stay for a few nights then move to a mooring, as it’s 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 as we ask for a quote on some boat work, which is horrendously expensive, so give it a miss.

Loads of flash expensive boats in the marina – it is the Caribbean.

Reality sits 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', Caribbean
Reality at Marina Zar Par

It is really beautiful here with the colour of the water a fresh turquoise blue, just like the Whitsundays in 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, but he is there all day and night. Of course I later realised that it is 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 are taken to a local bar one night by one of the marina guys to see the local dancing – 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, Caribbean

The Town

Taking a local bus, we arrive at 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.

Tourist shops, people selling local art, cafes, and bars line the streets and reminds me a lot of Phuket.

Gracing the beachfront are sun lounges, thatched umbrellas, and open air cafes, giving the area a real island feel.

Loads of people sell stuff on the beach in the heat, just trying to make a living. And as 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. Apparently, you have to keep cigars at a constant temperature – not too humid or too hot – otherwise they go mouldy. A boat doesn’t provide ideal conditions for cigars.

Santo Domingo

Deciding to take a bus to the Capital for the day for some rubber-necking and to just act like tourists, it’s fairly easy and very cheap to get around in the city. And, an ideal place to explore – still don’t have 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.

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

Dominican Republic: Santo Domingo church cloisters, Caribbean
Christian Church

The spectacular internal architecture includes loads of ornate lead light windows and small worshipping alcoves, with heavily carved wooded alters.

Enjoying a delicious lunch and welcomed coffee in a local café, watched as the men play chess – and probably had been for hours – very animated and furious!

Dominican Republic: Boca Chica old man playing chess, Caribbean
Local games

Hairdressing experience

Deciding to get hair cuts in Santo Domingo as we are now resembling scruffy hillbillies, this is quite 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’m in two minds as couldn’t be bothered), sat and wait until a stylist is free.

Watching as one lady is having her hair blow-dried, her whole head is enveloped in plumes of smoke and haze. I swear it looks as if her head is smouldering like the start of a bush fire or something worse!

Maybe because it is gorgeous thick African hair (not sure) but watching in awe, never having seen anything like this before, decide that maybe this is not a good place to get my hair cut and will 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 whipps out a shiny new razor blade (just the blade without a handle) and scrapes this across the client’s eyebrows. Her hand is so steady and precise, that it moves 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’m nearly asleep by the end of this and as the cut is excellent, I decide to give mine a go…

I finally get to sit at the washbasin and after a very cold and drenching wash – half of my body is drenched – the hairdresser plonks me down at the cutting chair. This is under a massive air conditioner that drips 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 starts following each cutting instruction step, very carefully and slowly. Stopping only occasionally to make sure she has the next bit right – my cut takes some time.

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

Although, when finished, I’m pleasantly surprised – one of the best cuts I’ve ever had anywhere.

Leaving the Dominican Republic

Sporting new slick hair styles, skipper and crew are 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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12 responses to “Beautiful Haiti to the Dominican Republic”

  1. equinoxio21 Avatar

    Mayday! WTF… Plenty of adventures on that trip. 🙂

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Yeah, some people should just not be on a boat!
      Travelling is always an adventure and has a habit of throwing you out of your comfort zone. 😉

  2. Suzanne [globalhousesitterX2] Avatar

    Another great post, Nilla X PS Games and coffee I love that as seen in Portugal, Spain and Greece, though not Haiti which has changed quite a bit since 2008!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you!
      When were you last in Haiti? sadly, I didn’t get to the mainland but this island was good enough for that time. 🙂

  3. Ritu Avatar

    This looks absolutely amazing and beautiful!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you Ritu, it was and I should return one day!

      1. Ritu Avatar


  4. rachaelstray Avatar

    Gosh some people are so naive aren’t they? I wouldn’t have the first clue about sailing so wouldn’t do it without an experienced crew!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Sailing is easy to learn, it’s the other necessities like boat maintenance, navigation, clearing into/out of countries, and much more that sometimes create stumbling blocks. But everything has a solution!
      Many thanks for your comment. 🙂

      1. rachaelstray Avatar

        Thank you

  5. Robert Parker Teel Avatar

    Wow, you packed a lot of interesting experiences in a few days! The controlled-burn haircut idea sounds interesting, maybe you could introduce the concept to the Forest Service guys. I’ve never spent an hour-and-a-half getting my hair cut, but then, I’m OK with the scruffy hillbilly look! I’ve only been to Santiago de los Caballeros, and like you, found the Dominicans to be friendly and upbeat, I remember a room of guys playing tunes & dancing around while they rolled cigars.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Yes, always seem to but isn’t it the way?
      Ha, ha great idea – never thought of that! Neither have I for a haircut but it was special and one that I won’t forget in a hurry. When you’re on a boat for a while, you end up being a scruffy hillbilly anyway, so it’s good to get cleaned up once in a while. 🙂
      The DR is such a different place and I’d love to return one day.
      Many thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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