Dominican Republic (Part III) and on to Puerto Rico: February 6-10, 2007


Luperon to Escondido

Following guidebook author Bruce Van Sant's advice for traversing the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, we once again used the technique of cruising at night to take advantage of ocean-smoothing offshore winds.   And so in the early afternoon of February 5, we left the anchorage in Luperon and staged out nearer the harbor opening, thereby giving us a safer point from which to depart and much cleaner water in which to check and/or clean the propeller and rudder of Tusen Takk II.   After sitting in the nutrient-rich semi-polluted waters of the inner harbor, the cleaning was certainly necessary.   The paint job on the hull held the growth at bay, but the growth on the rudder and prop was initially alarming.  Fortunately, they had been protected with PropSpeed, and so the inch-thick stubble was easily swept away.   Well, kinda easily.  A brush wouldn't do it, but a putty knife easily peeled away the growth in a single stroke.  There were only a few remnants left where my putty knife had slightly missed.  When I subsequently dove the boat again, in Escondido, the prop and rudder were clean as a whistle, so it is even possible that I would not have needed to clean at all -- perhaps the motion through the water would have swept everything away.   The moral of the story, of possible interest to all cruisers, is to spend the money for PropSpeed coverage of propellers and rudders, expensive though it might be.

We left Luperon Harbor around 6:40 PM, in the company of Steve and Linda aboard the catamaran Seaman's Elixir.   They had to venture out a little further in order to find wind for their sails, but we had a nice smooth cruise along the coast, seldom getting more than a half-mile from shore.   (Closer by at least half than we would normally get, were it not for Van Sant's explicit instructions for exactly this passage.)   We arrived in Escondido at 10:50 AM the next day, and found there the kind of setting those of you suffering through winter are probably imagining.   A steep fjord -- no other word would be accurate -- with lush green vegetation along the walls, and a lovely rosy beach at the apex, backed by a flat plateau overgrown with palm trees that shelter a small ramshackle settlement.   In the distant background, and off to the side, more steep mountains.  Neither my words nor pictures can do it justice.   If that doesn't sound enchanting enough, picture this:  the community owns one large net, and a large rowboat.   The boat is used to place the net in a large "C" shaped configuration opening toward the shore.  The process of bringing in the lines is begun on shore by laborers pulling on the long attached lines.  At some point, several young men swim into the opening of the "C" and tread water while splashing their hands on the surface -- apparently to frighten the fish away from the opening and toward entrapment in the net.  Soon, the net gathering is taken over by those on the boat.   It must be hard work, all done by hand.  The absolute maximum number of bodies are in the boat now, pulling on the net.  The amount of freeboard must be measured in inches.  As the net coming aboard begins to contain fish,  and as there is some danger of losing fish if there is delay, there is much shouting of words of encouragement and screaming of exhortations (presumably; this all happens in Spanish, of course).   When the net is all aboard, it is gone through foot by foot, discarding immediately the large number of unwanted creatures that were caught up by the eterprise.  Our time there was limited, and technically we were not even supposed to go ashore, since our papers were cleared for the next landing (called a despacho) to be Samana, but I tell you now that one day I will spend a week in that glorious fjord and join them in the process and see for myself what is caught and what is retained and what is rejected.   (And of course, I will also be fluent in Spanish when this happens, as well.)

A row boat with two young men came out to TT II  and asked where we were going and where we were coming from, and asked about the despacho.   They also, I think, warned us about staying in the fjord if the wind should shift to the north, since that would create very dangerous rollers in the anchorage.   The conversation was all in Spanish and sign language, so I am not certain about each and every point made by either semi-nude man.  Only later did I learn that the fellow in the front who did most of the talking was the local coast guard representative.  Had I been aboard when they arrived, rather than in the water wearing snorkle gear, he would no doubt have asked to see the despacho, rather than just asking about it.  At least, that is what happened when he later visited Seaman's Elixir.  He also asked Steve if he had any soda, allowing as how he was thirsty.  Steve, who had prepared for just such an occasion, announced that he could do better than that:  he gave the man a small bottle of rum.  The local coasty seemed perfectly happy to forgo the immediate gratification of a cool soda in favor of a later Cuba Libre!

Escondido Pictures

Pictures marked with (*) by Linda Kraskey, aboard Seaman's Elixir

Seaman's Elixir in Escondido, DR

*Tusen Takk II in the fjord

Escondido beach settlement

Escondido community fishing w/ large net

Nearly swamping boat w/ heavy net and fish and fishermen

Another view -- note how many folks are on the boat, and how low it is in the water

What did you get?

*Other views by Linda Kraskey







On to Samana

The crews of Tusen Takk II and Seaman's Elixir took their respective naps, and departed that night (2/7/07) just before 2 AM.  Down the coast we went, mostly about 3/4 of a mile off the steep mountainous shore.   Around the northeast corner, shaped like a stubby Nixonian "V", with high, essentially vertical walls at the finger tips, majestic in the moonlight.  And then back westerly around the second finger and into the Samana Bay.  We were secure in the protected Samana Bay anchorage by 7:00 AM.  Soon, the local boat boy stopped in to see if we had already checked into the Dominican Republic, and, given our affirmative response, promised to return with the appropriate officials to formalize our visit to Samana.  When he returned, he had four folks with him.  Funny, how it always takes two people to fill out one form.  Two people per form, plus the interpreter, who is usually the boat boy.  Two were from the port authority, and after laboriously filling out a form, and a receipt, announced that the fee was $32 USA.  The other two were representatives of the DR Navy, one in uniform and the other not.  They collected our despacho and also laboriously filled out a form, and, through the interpreter, informed us that it was they we should speak with when it was time to depart and secure a new despacho.   While the forms were being labored over, the boat boy quietly informed us that it would be good if we would give each of the four a small gift in appreciation of their having come to the boat.  Maybe $10 USA or $5 USA each.  I disappeared for a moment and reappeared with four small bottles of rum.  Three of the four were pleased -- maybe the money usually goes to the uniform.  The uniform was not pleased, and ignored the rum.   His compadre made certain to gather it up, however.  Much later that day, a scabby boat labeled "Harbor Security" and manned by a young man in uniform and another, older man, came to TT II and repeatedly called out, rousing me from my much-needed nap.  The older said that he was from the harbor patrol, and that there was a fee for security and the use of the harbor.   The usual fee is $15 USA, he explained, but our vessel was large, so there would be an additional charge.  I told him I had already paid $32, and he seemed stunned.  When?  How?   I told him that we had been visited by what had been described as a complete list of officials, and that we had been told there would be no additional fees.  I told him I had a receipt.  I showed it to him from afar.  He didn't seem to recognize it.   He started to depart, and then came back and asked to see it better.  He came up to the swim platform and I gave it to him.   He studied it for many many minutes, as if it were in a foreign language.   (It was in Spanish.)   Finally, he seemed to concede that he wasn't going to wheedle any more money out of this particular Yankee, and he departed.   I later learned that the same thing had already played out with Seaman's Elixir, with the same results.

As it turned out, a large cruise ship also arrived at Samana on the same day.   As a consequence, a local square had become a bazaar, complete with a band, and multiple stands featuring the by-now-familiar schlock that seems to sprout up wherever in the DR tourists can be found:  African motif painting and carvings, T-shirts, cigar stands, palm-leaf hats, jewelry stands, ad nauseum.  Barb enjoyed the the Bazaar and entertainment.  Chuck tried not to profess to be anxious to be elsewhere, away from pushy vendors unwilling to take a "no" for a "no".

Friend and ex-colleague from Armstrong Atlantic State University, Eddie Aenchbacher, when he learned we were going to be cruising to the Caribbean, told us that his wife Michele has relatives in the Dominican Republic.   Later, when monitoring our web site revealed that we were getting close, he furnished us with details and contacted them.  And so it was that we walked into the office of Moto Marina in Samana and met LeLe Gonzales, a charming, gracious and stunningly beautiful woman.  She and her husband Augusto own a fleet of 14 boats, Eddie says, and they are apparently mostly used for whale watching during the appropriate season, and for tourist tours and fishing at other times.   LeLe graciously offered us the use of their dock, and free passage on their whale watch vessel the next morning.  We were happily anchored, but extremely pleased to join the whale watch.   All in all, it was an incredible day.  The vessels are well-maintained, and professionally run.  The adherence to the requirements of international protocols for whale watching was impressive.  There are limits as to how many vessels may be near a given pod.  There are limits as to how close a vessel may be.  There are limits as to how long a vessel may stay with a particular pod, and those limits depend upon how many vessels (and what size) are with the pod.  All of this was explained by the articulate guide in understandable English, and at least as important, was adhered to by the captain.  The guide also did an excellent job of explaining various facts about the whales and their behavior.  And whale behavior we did indeed see.  One pod had a mother and a relatively large offspring.   Another had a female and a very attentive male.  There seemed to be a lot of flippers up out of the water in that pod, a sight that reminded ex-dolphin-census-taking volunteers Chuck and Barb an awful lot of marine mammal sex.  We also saw a number of instances of spectacular broaching, with the entire whale coming totally out of the water and landing with a big splash.  Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, these were not captured by our camera.  When the time for watching was exhausted, the group was taken to Cayo Levantado, a resort near Samana also known as Barcardi Island.  There, the group was given a lunch consisting of typical Dominican fare:  fried rice with peas, salad, chicken, and fruit.   Yummy.   After lunch, there was time for beach walking and/or snorkeling, but the crews of TT II and Seaman's Elixir elected to sit under the shade and drink Cuba Libres.  How cool is that?

We left Samana before we were really ready, since there is so much to see and do in the Dominican Republic.   But we were faced with the most challenging passage of the entire run from Savannah to Trinidad:  the Mona passage that separates the DR from Puerto Rico.   When weather forecasts indicated a remarkable weather window, we didn't dare pass it up.  Van Sant admonishes that one wait for an appropriate window, and even then the trip with his method would normally require a number of night hops and daytime sit-tights.  He does say, however, that if you get a terrific window, then you should just jump in your boat and do the whole darn thing in one cruise.  Which is what we did, and it came out just fine.  We left Samana on 2/9/07 at 10:05 AM, and arrived at Boqueron, Puerto Rico the next morning at 7:30 AM.   The very first stretch, along the northeastern coast of the DR, was fine.  When we turned out toward Puerto Rico, the seas were larger and the winds much stronger than what had been predicted.  Seaman's Elixir was happy for the winds, but we were not, because they added a nasty short chop to what otherwise would have been long-period rollers.   But our vessel is a stablized Krogen, and we were fine.  As the night wore on, the winds subsided, and we really had, all in all, a marvelously easy passage.  Magic Moment and Solstice, two sailboats that had been with us in Luperon, left there after us, but didn't stop at Escondido and missed us at Samana because they thought we had gone on to the National Park in the area. Another sailboat from Luperon, Mi Lady, also came across, and incredibly enough they stopped at neither Samana nor Escondido, cruising non-stop from Luperon to Boqueron!   I think Jim on Mi Lady said it took them 55 hours of non-stop sailing! They were more than a little bushed when they reached Boqueron only a few hours behind us.   In any case, those marathon passages can give you some idea of the magnificence of the weather window.

And so, gentle readers, we are back in the USA, kinda.  Sorta like being in south Florida.  More Spanish than English, but many folks can speak both.  We did go into a dive shop however, and were told "No Ingles.  Nada."   (No English.  Nothing.)   End of conversation.   But for more of our adventures in Puerto Rico, you will have to await the next exciting installment of the continuing series:  "Barb and Chuck go cruising!"  See you then?

Samana Photos

*Pictures marked with (*) by Linda Kraskey

View from an observation tower on the shore of Samana

*View to the south of the anchorage

Bazaar for cruise ship tourists at Samana

Samana shows more African influence than other parts of DR

Performing for a cruise ship tourist

One of several typical styles available in all tourist areas

* "There must be something I can buy!"

Very old church w/ tin sheets on walls and roof to protect the original wood

*Missionary/doscent at Church

Local outdoor lunch stand

Lunch hut is too small to contain the dishwasher

View of bank bathroom window panes -- from inside

Decorative railings on stair of Samana home

All aboard the commodious whale watcher vessel!

Little boats also chase the pods

There is one!

And another

And another

And another

Cayo Levantado -- AKA Bacardi Island

Lunch w/ whale watchers on Cayo Levantado

Typical hillside along Samana Bay

Tusen Takk II off of Moto Marina dock -- note also the observation tower

Dock at Moto Marina

Sign outside of LeLe and Augusto Gonzales' marina office

Staff members at Moto Marina -- LeLe wasn't in when we went up to say thanks and goodbye

Seaman's Elixir leaving Samana

*Tusen Takk II leaving Samana

*Tusen Takk II passing Seaman's Elixir


Flag courtesy of ITA's Flags of All Countries used with permission.