We anchored in Ensenada Honda which offered good protection and easy access to town. After making sure the anchor was well set, we headed to town.
We had a couple of options for places to leave Puff. There is a municipal dock and then there’s the Dinghy Dock.
The Dinghy Dock is a great little restaurant/bar on the water where you can motor up, tie off and grab a drink(if you go there, order the ribs!) . Villa Veritas had arrived in Culebra before us and we met up with Jazz and Andrew at the bar. They’d just finished Christmas caroling with some locals and had secured an invite to a potluck Christmas lunch on the beach. This was exciting news as it was just a few days before Christmas and we hadn’t made any plans.
The next day, another cruising couple came up to Ddraig to introduce themselves. Patrick and Darnell are both from Louisiana, she’s from Baton Rouge and he’s from Iowa which is just about 10 minutes from where we live. Talk about a small world! They began their cruising with a five year plan similar to ours but have been out on their boat, Island Dream, for almost three times that long now and have no plan to stop any time soon.
Christmas morning found us all heading to the ferry dock in search of a bus to take us and our potluck contributions to the beach. Flamenco Beach has to be one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. It’s a naturally curved beach with powdery white sand and amazing blue water.
We had an awesome lunch, complete with turkey and all the fixings, and then just relaxed and enjoyed the view and great company. Jazz and Andrew built a giant sand man (or woman) and once our food comas had subsided, we took a long walk down the beach.
That evening we went into town for a parade. We found some seats in front of a pizza place and settled in to wait. It was a good thing we found seating because as usual, it was a little late getting started. Also, we had chosen spots near the end of the parade route and since there wasn’t enough room for the floats to turn around, they were backing them down the street in front of us! It was interesting to say the least. But there were tons of people out and about and it appeared a great time was had by all.
During the next week, we welcomed Kracken into the anchorage and said farewell to Villa Veritas, explored the island, went to the beach, checked out numerous bars and restaurants, had some great snorkeling, saw some beautiful sunsets and did our normal shopping/laundry/boat projects.
We also got to watch the most important football game of the year so far – LSU and Alabama! Geaux Tigers!!
Of course, as New Year’s day came around, we had to plan for our black-eyed peas and cabbage. We invited everyone over to Ddraig for lunch, including a couple we met who were vacationing here from Austin, Angela and Keith. After lunch, Cameron, Grace and Patrick entertained us on their ukes and guitar.
Culebra is very cruiser friendly with easy access to everything we needed. Just off the main island is another small island, Cayo Luis Pena, which is a nature reserve. This provides for some great snorkeling areas with lots of fish. Our anchorage had good holding and even though there was a lot of charter boat traffic in and out (some with naked people on board) there was still plenty of room and you could swim from the boat. All of the above, along with its amazingly beautiful beaches, made Culebra one of our favorite islands so far and we plan to come back here someday.
All in all, while we very much missed being with our families this holiday season, we feel blessed to have been able to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s with wonderful friends in this beautiful place and look forward to seeing what 2020 has to offer.
The day after Thanksgiving, Kraken, Ddraig and Villa Veritas all left Boquerón for the short hop over to Cabo Rojo. Winds were light with calm seas and we were able to actually sail instead of motor. Cabo Rojo has a beautiful lighthouse but unfortunately winds and seas had picked up making the anchorage very rough and rolly. We decided not to try to dinghy to shore in those conditions and stayed on the boat. I went down to get dinner together and ended up feeling sick so had to come back up on deck where I stayed until the waves calmed down around 3 am. Once again leaving on a Friday didn’t have the best outcome for us!
We, and the crew on Kraken, were ready to find a more protected anchorage so we left early the next morning for La Parguera.
Villa Veritas has a much shallower draft, so they had been able to anchor closer into shore where it was not as rough. Having enjoyed a calmer night, Andrew and Jazz were determined to explore the lighthouse. This turned out to be a wonderful blessing for us because they got some great drone shots of Ddraig as we sailed by. These were the first pictures we had ever been given of us under sail and they are amazing!
La Parguera is great little town with lots of bars and restaurants. The anchorage is very busy on the weekend but quiet during the week. There is also a bay with really good bioluminescence but since the moon was too bright while we were there, we missed it.
Unfortunately in La Paguera there aren’t very many places with dinghy access. We did find two spots, one on each end of town that would allow us to leave our dinghies while we went in search of the perfect mojito.
A lot of businesses are closed Monday thru Wednesday, but on the weekends La Paguera is a happening place with music, dancing in the street, food vendors and awesome mojitos. There was a Christmas parade one of the nights we were there. We found a great table in a restaurant overlooking the street and settled in to wait for the 6 pm scheduled start. A number of drinks later, at around 8:15, the parade finally kicked off. Based on the size of the town we were expecting a couple of floats and maybe a marching band, but this was a serious parade with large floats, at least three drum lines, a number of marching bands, queens of all ages, elaborate costumes, etc. It was still going strong an hour and a half later when we decided to head back to the boat. They really take their celebrations seriously in La Parguera!
All the way through Florida and the Bahamas I was on the lookout for Manatees. We were even told they came up into the bay at Luperon, but I never saw one. When we arrived in Puerto Rico, I notice “Manatee area” signs, but I didn’t get my first glimpse of one until La Parguera. It will always be one of my best memories from there. We also found some decent snorkeling around the mangroves.
Our next stop was Ponce which is the second largest city in Puerto Rico. We anchored near the yacht club and just off the boardwalk. The boardwalk is a line of restaurants and bars along the water and seems to be a popular hangout. It is also where we really started noticing a lot hurricane damage. The parts of the boardwalk directly over the water were still damaged and access to that area was blocked off.
Ponce was also the first stop since Key West that had Uber available! We took full advantage of this and made multiple trips to Walmart and Home Depot. We were also able to celebrate Russell’s birthday at a Longhorn Steakhouse.
Salinas was great and easily accessible to cruisers. The people are friendly, Russell and I walked all over town and never felt the least bit uncomfortable. We were able to fill one of his prescriptions simply by showing the pharmacist a picture of the bottle. Cost of these pills (without using insurance) would have been around $200 in the states but we only paid $20 for the same pills here. It’s rather mind boggling!
Puerto Ricans seem to start celebrating the holiday season before Thanksgiving and, we’re told, will continue all the way through Three Kings Day which is January 6th. Salinas was no exception. We were there just in time for the Christmas boat parade. There was an official parade route posted at the marina but as we watched from Ddraig, boats seemed to be going every which way through the anchorage! After a bit they did sort of get it together with most of them going the same direction. They were making smaller and smaller circles with each boat stopping to make a turn in front of the grandstand to show off their lights and music. All of them had music which was turned up to maximum volume. It was crazy and fun to watch. And as far as I could tell, no damage was done.
Since we didn’t want to miss out on seeing Old San Juan, we rented a car in Salinas and drove over for the day. We got the car for $50 per day from a guy named Sidney who provided us with a nice, clean Kia. No paperwork was involved. Sidney told us the cost of insurance and tolls were included in the price but, although there was a toll sticker on the car, we did notice the lights never turned green as we drove through the toll stations. Thankfully we never needed to confirm the insurance viability.
Russell’s phone had decided to take a swim the day before we went to San Juan so a trip to Best Buy was first thing on the agenda. The rest of the day was spent walking the fort and shops of Old San Juan. We certainly got our exercise in that day, but it was well worth it and highly recommended!
The forecast showed promising conditions for an overnight sail on December 19. We left at 6 pm expecting to have winds of 12 to 15 knots and fairly calm seas. What we actually got were 4 to 6-foot swells and winds between 15 and 20 on the nose. I had not prepared (Bonine, crackers and bucket at the ready) and was seasick. Russell ended up at the helm almost the entire night. We finally dropped anchor in Sun Bay off Vieques at 11 am. The anchorage was rolly, but we were just glad to be able to rest for a while.
We had read a lot of negative things about Vieques, seems there is a lot of theft, so even though it looked beautiful, we didn’t go ashore. The next morning, we sailed over to Culebra. Yes, we actually sailed!! Coming around the bottom of Vieques the winds were behind us, so we had a great downwind sail for a short time.
After we made the turn toward Culebra with the wind on our beam, we were sailing along at 7 ½ knots when the fishing line went off. We caught the first fish of the day, a smallish barracuda. We are very careful about eating larger reef fish due to the toxins they can have built up in their systems which will make you sick. This one looked small enough to be safe so he was filleted. Later we caught a larger barracuda and two bar jacks which were thrown back.
This is our first holiday season since we cut the dock lines and while we are missing family back home, it’s also going to be exciting to see what a “Cruiser Christmas” in Culebra will look like. Stay tuned…
As the calendar rolls toward November, cruisers in Luperon start to think about what adventures the upcoming sailing season will bring. We started to focus on getting Ddraig and ourselves ready to go. One of the hardest parts about this lifestyle is knowing you have to say goodbye to people you’ve grown close to. Some of them you will see again in different ports down the line while others are sailing in the complete opposite direction or staying where they are. We watched a few boats leave before us and before long, the weather looked right for us to go.
Fortunately, we weren’t leaving all of our friends behind because we had decided to buddy boat with Don and Lisa who cruise with their kids Cam and Grace, and Honey Badger the cat, on SV Kraken. They happened to follow us into Luperon on the morning we arrived and almost exactly five months later, on November 12, they would be following us out again.
We had heard conflicting information about the requirements for checking out of the DR so we set up a meeting with Jose, one of the Luperon city council members. He agreed to walk us through the process and with his help, on the day before we left, all of the paperwork for both the boats and crews was completed in just over an hour with no extra costs above the posted fees. He didn’t ask for any compensation for his time and effort but we were happy to make a contribution to his annual Christmas basket fund. Early the next morning, a representative from the Commandant showed up with our dispacho and we were officially cleared to leave the country.
I was feeling a little apprehensive about sailing again after being in one place for so long but we dropped the mooring and motored out of the harbor without any issues. Pretty soon we were out in blue water and man did it feel great! The weather conditions were just as we expected, with some wind and waves right on the nose so it was much more of a motor than a sail along the Dominican coast. Neither the wind or waves were very high so Russell put the mainsail up to help stabilize us and we weren’t too uncomfortable. We found ourselves easily falling back into our sailing routine and my nerves quickly settled down.
Getting to Puerto Rico meant we had to cross the Mona Passage. This crossing is notorious for being difficult due to currents, winds from the wrong direction, waves and storms. Fortunately for us, we didn’t see too much of either and had a mostly comfortable ride. At 8:30 am on November 14, we dropped anchor in Puerto Real, PR, forty-seven hours after leaving Luperon. We were able to use the CBP Roam app on my phone to check in and were quickly, legally, back in US territory.
The anchorage at Puerto Real is well protected with good holding. And I can’t say enough about the folks at Marina Pescaderia. They were super friendly and helpful. Even though we were anchored out, we were able to use the laundry at no extra charge and rented a car through them. We topped off our diesel, filled our water tanks and pumped out the holding tanks at their very easily accessed fuel dock.
One day we took the dinghy out exploring and went up into a cut in the mangroves. As we followed the cut in, we started to see things falling out of the trees into the water. At first, we thought there was something in the trees (monkeys?) throwing things but soon figured out it was iguanas jumping into the water. It was the coolest (and slightly disturbing) thing I had ever seen. Another day a very large iguana let us get to within three feet of where he was sunning himself on a branch. He just sat and watched as we took pictures of him.
A couple of days after we got to Puerto Real, we were joined in the anchorage by Andrew, Jazz and their cat, Captain aboard their boat Villa Veritas. The next few days were spent on boat chores, shopping and searching out happy hours. We found walking around town was not as easy as it had been in the DR. There seemed to be a lot of dogs roaming loose that were very aggressive. We soon figured out not to try to walk anywhere without carrying a stick. While there were a large number of street dogs in the DR, none of them had ever been threatening.
Our next stop was Boquerón just a short sail away. Boquerón is a cute little beach town that, we were told, is very busy during the tourist season. While we were there, most of the shops and restaurants were closed. We did find a couple of restaurants and, more importantly, a few bars open so life was good.
Thanksgiving was the next day so we went in search of a turkey. Thanksgiving isn’t a big holiday in Puerto Rico like it is in America (they were already well into their Christmas celebrations!) so we really weren’t sure how successful we would be. There were only a couple of mini-markets in town. The one we walked to didn’t have a turkey so we asked if there was any place in town to get one. The cashier told us her husband could have one for us in about an hour if we wanted to come back. I think he happened to be on a buying trip for the store at the time. So, an hour and a half later we had our turkey!
Thanksgiving morning, we put that baby on the grill and a few hours later it was perfect! Being a Southern girl, there are certain must haves on the Thanksgiving menu, foremost is cornbread dressing. That afternoon, we piled the food and ourselves into the dinghy and met up with the crews from Kraken and Veritas for our very first beach Thanksgiving. Thanks to everyone’s contributions we had a full traditional meal in a, for us, very non-traditional setting. We were able to introduce southern cornbread dressing to some folks who had never tried it and believe there are some converts!
Later that day we made phone calls back home to family then toasted the day with a glass of wine. Our lives now are so very different but we’re thankful every day for Ddraig and to be able to live this lifestyle.
We dropped anchor in the harbor at Luperon on June 9th. We
really didn’t know what to expect other than we had read somewhere you wait on
the boat for the officials to show up.
The way it actually works is that either Papo or Handy Andy will come by
and offer their services. They can get
you everything from water, laundry, fuel or a mooring ball. While it is possible to anchor out, we had
planned to take a mooring ball since we’ll be here for the next five to six
months. Papo showed up first so we agreed to take one of his mooring balls. The mooring fee for our boat was $60 per
month but since we paid for five months up front, we got a discount – 5 months
for $250 US. We pulled our anchor and
followed Papo’s boat through the mooring field to what will be our new home. Attaching to the mooring went smoothly and we
were set. Papo also informed us that we
had to go into town to check in. So, we
lowered the dinghy and headed into town.
There are two dinghy docks, Puerto Blanca marina and the government dock. To check in, you tie up near the government
dock then walk toward town. You have to
check in with Customs, Immigration, the Dept of Agriculture and the Comandante. Customs, Immigration and Agriculture are all
together as you get into town with the Comandante up the hill. If you don’t speak Spanish, you may want to
download Google Translate on your phone before starting this process. Everyone was very kind and helpful, and we
were soon legally in the country.
My first impression of Luperon is that it is very poor by
American standards. This made me a
little nervous. In the States, the unfortunate
truth is that high poverty usually equals high crime. We’ve discovered this isn’t the case here in
Luperon. Don’t get me wrong, there is crime
here, but we haven’t seen it. We’re still
careful and never flash a lot of cash, we lock our dinghy when we leave it at
the dock and raise it on the davits at night.
My second impression of Luperon is how hardworking, helpful and
friendly the locals are. We’ve since
learned there isn’t a welfare system here, so everyone has to be self-supporting. Families and neighbors take care of one
another, especially their elderly. When
you walk down the street, everyone smiles and says hola (hello). As Americans, we could learn a lot from these
My third was this is the craziest bunch of drivers we’ve
ever seen!!! If there is even one stop
sign in Luperon, I’ve yet to see it.
There are cars and trucks here, but most people ride motorcycles. They carry the entire family plus belongings
on these bikes. We’ve seen four people
on one bike, people with infants, people with pets, people with boards, propane
bottles, milk cans, even a mattress!
There are motorcycle taxis (moto taxi).
We watched a guy with a baby pay the moto taxi driver then hand him the
child. The driver sat the child in front
of him and took off. I guess you can
have your kid dropped off somewhere if you want. We heard there may be a helmet law but around
here no one wears them.
As we found our way around town and meet people, we discovered
an active social life with the cruisers and ex-pats. There is something scheduled most evenings
including movie nights, karaoke, poker and happy hours as well as free yoga
three mornings a week. Some of the folks
get together and go out for day sails or group motorcycle rides.
We spend a lot of time walking around town and checking
everything out. There are lots of little
local stores that appear to be a room in someone’s house that sell just a few
items. There are also a couple of grocery
stores, a butcher, an ice cream shop, clinic and pharmacy, cell phone stores,
clothing stores and numerous variety stores.
There are nice houses and not so nice houses. Since most houses don’t have air conditioning,
as you walk down the street doors and windows are open and you see directly
into people’s homes.
The people here, for the most part, keep their houses very
clean but don’t seem to see a problem with throwing trash on the ground. Unfortunately, there is plastic
everywhere. They do sweep up in front of
their home or business once a week when the trash truck comes by but otherwise
it stays there until the wind blows it somewhere else.
The children here are absolutely beautiful. So friendly and full of life!
This area has been in a drought so feeding and watering
livestock has been a problem. We’re told
people have turned their animals loose to find food so there are cows, sheep
and horses that roam the streets. Russell
teases me about all the cow pictures I have. I’m just now beginning to get used to watching
them walk by as I sit drinking my beer.
Walking around town isn’t an issue (other than being hot and
dodging traffic and animal poo) but in order to see the country you either have
to rent a car (with or without a driver) or buy or rent a motorcycle. We decided to purchase a couple of used
bikes. We bought two Gato 200’s for a total
cost of around $1300 US including the transfer paperwork. Cost for insurance was 600 pesos ($12) per
bike per year. Not sure what this would cover
but we were told it was very important to have!
Riding our motorcycles in town or in the outlying areas hasn’t
been too bad even with the crazy traffic and the numerous speed bumps. We’ve taken a few rides to the beach, a
resort and the Columbus museum in La Isabella.
We decided for trips to the bigger towns we would get a car
and driver. Having a driver means when
there’s a car passing on the left and a motorcycle on the right as you come
into a curve with oncoming traffic you can just close your eyes and hold on! Believe me, it happens.
So far, we’ve hired a local guy, Nino, twice to take us into
Puerto Plata for things we can’t buy here in Luperon. Cost is $40 US for the day and you can
normally find another cruiser who needs to go so you can split the cost with them.
Now that we feel more settled in, we’re planning to get out into the countryside more. There are beaches, waterfalls and a boarder market to explore in our future!
The anchorage at Abraham’s Bay was a little choppy but
protected from large swells by the reef.
It is also absolutely beautiful and we were the only boat there! The water is shallow and very clear. We didn’t see a lot of sea life except for a
few rays and some large barracuda which hung out by the boat and followed us
around when we went swimming.
After a couple of days, another boat came into the
anchorage. Russell recognized the boat
Adrenaline from following their YouTube channel Tula’s Endless Summer. The
next day we stopped by to say hello and met Billy, Sierra and their dog Jetty.
We heard if you were going to Turks and Caicos, it wasn’t
necessary to check out of the Bahamas but if going directly to the DR it
was. Even though we planned to stop at
Turks and Caicos, we wanted to check out anyway just in case.
That meant going ashore, which proved to be a bit
interesting. The approach to the dock is
very shallow with a line of markers to follow in. There isn’t anything to indicate which side
of these markers you should be on, but it doesn’t really matter because at low
tide you’re probably going to bump bottom anyway.
Abraham’s Settlement is a very small community on the
island. The people were all very
friendly but conducting any kind of business there was quite different from
what we’re used to. Our first stop was the Administration building
to try to check out. We were told that
unfortunately they wouldn’t be able to help us because they were out of forms
and didn’t know when they would have any.
We were instructed to walk down to the police station and they would
write us a note. Uhhh, what??
So, the next morning we took our cruising permit down to the
police station and they very kindly stamped the back and signed off that we
were checking out. We later checked into
Turks and Caicos without any issues.
There isn’t much available in Abraham’s Settlement but we
did find a grocery store. We were
disappointed that the bar next door didn’t really open at 4 pm, even though
that’s what the sign said, so no cold beer for us.
There’s a small park near the dinghy dock with lots of palm
trees where we had a blast collecting coconuts.
The next day we saw another boat coming into the
anchorage. From a distance, it appeared
to be a motor cat but as it got closer, we could tell it was a sailing
catamaran that had been dismasted.
Russell went over and introduced himself to Florence and Philippe, a
French couple, on sailing vessel Kermotu.
He found out their mast had come down near Devil’s Point and they had to
cut away their rigging using a hacksaw to avoid additional damage to the hull
of their boat. All of their rigging was lost
They had decided to try to make it back to Saint Martin for
repairs and we agreed to stay with them as far as Providenciales (Provo) since
they had very limited radio, radar and AIS signal. We gave them ten gallons of diesel so they
would have enough fuel and they repaid us with a bottle of French wine (score
It’s best to navigate into Provo in the early morning so our
original plan had been to leave Mayaguana around 5 pm and sail overnight. Since Philippe wanted to allow extra time in
case he had any issues, we pulled anchor and headed out around 2 pm. We spent the next eleven hours following
along and behind their starboard (right) side keeping about a ½ mile distance
between us. We made it to the Sandbore
Channel Cut around 1 am. We were
approached by an official boat who radioed us asking where we were going, where
we had come from, how many aboard, etc.
Since we have a rule not to navigate into any unknown anchorage after
dark, we answered all of their questions and let them know we would stay out on
the bank until daylight. Kermotu chose
to go on into the anchorage.
At daybreak we headed for Sappadillo Bay and anchored near
Kermotu. Later that morning they passed
by to thank us again and let us know they were heading out after topping off
their fuel. I’ve since had a few emails from
them and at this time all is well and they’re still making their way down the
islands to Saint Martin.
Since we needed to check in, we started looking for the
dinghy dock that was shown on our map.
It didn’t seem to be there any longer.
Another boat had come into the anchorage, so we decided to see if they
were familiar with the area. That was
when we met Dale and his crewmember, Kris, on Sixth Girl. We had actually heard of Dale since he was
one of moderators for the cruiser’s net in George Town but we had never met
him. It was his first time to Provo as
well, so we ended up just beaching the dinghies near the government dock and
were able to find the correct building.
Once we checked in, Russell and I walked up the beach and had a drink,
or maybe two. Unfortunately, there
weren’t any grocery stores or really anything else of interest within walking
distance, so we headed back to the boat.
That evening, we had drinks on Sixth Girl with Dale and Kris who were
leaving the next day.
We spent one more day at Provo then headed to South
Caicos. Winds were light so we motored
the entire way. Coming into South Caicos
is a contrast. Crystal water with
beautiful rocky islands to one side and a resort overlooking the water on the
other. However, once you get around and
into the anchorage at Cockburn Harbor you see a sunken boats, dilapidated
buildings and poverty.
We needed to check out, so we went ashore looking for Customs
and Immigration. They were closed but a
helpful gentleman directed us to the grocery store. Seems they call the officials who bring the
forms to you there. Half of our
paperwork was completed on top of the freezer in the store and the other half
through a car window.
After we took care of our paperwork, we stopped at a local
restaurant for dinner and then walked around the town. Seems to be a very poor area but everyone was
friendly and helpful, and we felt perfectly safe.
In the category of ‘it’s a small world’, there was another
sailor doing his paperwork at the grocery store the same time as us. Turns out he grew up near where we lived and
his father worked for the same company I did.
Who would have thought we’d run into someone from our area of Louisiana
on this little island?
Weather windows to get to Luperon were getting fewer and
farther between so when it looked as though we had one the next day we had to
take it, even though we would have liked to stay longer on South Caicos.
We pulled anchor at 10 am and motored out to very little
wind and a flat calm sea. While I’m
always grateful for calm seas, this was actually getting pretty boring after a
few hours. We hadn’t seen any other
vessels, fish, turtles or anything else all day.
Around 2 pm I had just told Russell I wished we would see
some dolphins or something when we saw some dark spots in the distance. As we got closer, we could see dorsal
fins. We think they were some type of
whale. It was a pod of around a dozen
and they were just hanging out there motionless until we got closer. Then they dove and disappeared from
sight. I’m the worlds worst photographer
and was so busy looking at them I forgot to try to get any pictures. By the
time they came back to the surface we were too far away to get a shot.
We finally got some wind and were able to raise the sails
around 4:30 in the afternoon. About a
half hour later something hit the bait we had been trolling. Russell grabbed the pole and I let out the
sails to slow us down while he fought the fish.
It was a really big, beautiful mahi-mahi. I didn’t want a repeat of my earlier mistake,
so I grabbed my camera. Luckily I did
because after a long fight, and just before he gaffed it, the darn thing got
off the line. At least this time we had
Around dusk, the wind and waves picked up so Russell took
down all of the sails except the main and started the motor. We saw a barge being towed a few miles off
which we made sure to avoid. We also saw
a sailboat light in the distance in front of us and Russell mentioned that he
thought it could be Sixth Girl.
By 3 am we were near enough to the coast of Hispaniola to
notice an earthy smell. We slowed down
and tacked a couple of times to kill time until daybreak. At daylight Russell took down the main sail,
we started going into Luperon and there was Sixth Girl in front of us. They had
left South Caicos a day before us but made a stop at Big Sand Cay.
The entrance into Luperon is clearly marked but there were
fish traps in the channel that we had to avoid.
Just one more reason we never try to enter an anchorage in the
dark! Sixth Girl, Ddraig and a third
boat, Kraken, who was behind us, all made it in safely.
At 7:15 am, we dropped anchor at what will be our home for the next few months while we wait out hurricane season.
We left George Town early in the morning of May 28th
for a day sail to Conception Island.
Conception is uninhabited and protected as part of the Conception Island
National Park and is absolutely beautiful.
We dropped anchor in the afternoon with only one other boat in the
anchorage. We went for a snorkel and
walk on the beach before sunset. There
wasn’t a lot of coral where we snorkeled but we did see a number of schools of
fish. We only spent one night there
before we headed out for the next leg.
We had a few options for our next stop but were really hoping to make it
Unfortunately, the winds and waves weren’t cooperating so
after tacking back and forth a number of times we decided to overnight at San
Salvador. We anchored off Cockburn Town
for the night. There are numerous dive
sites in the area. We saw a couple of
dive boats but we were the only boat in the anchorage for the night. Unfortunately, for me the most memorable
thing about our stop there was the flies that took up residence in our boat. There were hundreds of them! It took a few days and much slapping with fly
swatters to get rid of them all.
The next afternoon, we again headed out for Mayaguana. Since there wasn’t anything around to hit, we
decided to practice sailing off the anchor and were able to carry it off without
any issues. The first part of this trip
started off with some pretty good sailing and the next morning Russell caught a
big wahoo which was definitely a highlight of the trip!!
Throughout the day, the winds died and we were motor sailing
with the main and stay sail and having to tack back and forth fighting a
current to try to make any headway in the Mayaguana Passage. Around 1 am Russell woke me up because the
winds and seas had picked up and he had decided to take down the main sail.
I was at the helm and had slowed our forward speed while he
went up on deck to take down the sail.
That’s when IT happened. I heard
a yell and he was gone. He was overboard. This has to be one of the top five concerns
for any sailor, to either go over or to lose a person overboard especially in
the dark and in eight to ten foot seas.
Thankfully, because he was clipped in, he was able to get
back onto the boat without injury.
This was such a big event we wrote about it from each of our
perspectives – see “Overboard” below.
After this, we were finally able to motor through the pass, around Devils Point and enter through the reefs to Mayaguana. We dropped anchor in the protected bay at Abrahams Settlement grateful to be alive, well and together.
11:00 PM (5/31/19)
My watch was to begin at midnight, but Janice awoke me early as we were
approaching the Plana Cays and needed to tack to starboard. I wanted to be on
watch for this maneuver and to pilot us through the pass knowing that the wind,
waves, and current would be against us and it would be a rough ride. We tacked
the boat to starboard and headed on a northeast course which would carry us
back out to sea but also give the boat a better angle through the pass. Soon
Janice was fast asleep on the aft deck on the bean bag, I didn’t awake her and
went on deck and raised the “baby sail” (Staysail) to get a bit more boat speed
from the wind. The ride was a bit more comfortable on this heading which put the wind and seas a bit behind us and about
six miles out I tacked back toward the Mayaguana Passage, but as I got closer to
the pass the wind picked up beyond 20 kts with very rough sea conditions. The
winds and current were pushing us onto the rock shoals east of the island, so I
again decide to tack back out to sea to gain even more distance and angle for
this now quite challenging pass.
1:00 AM (6/1/19) I
decided to pull down the main sail and only leave up the Staysail feeling that
the main may be contributing to slowing our speed through the pass and I felt
that the Staysail is better at clawing its way to windward. This time I woke
Janice up for the sail change, she took the helm and we slowed the boat speed
down a bit, and I set the autopilot to hold the boat at an angle slightly off
the wind. I felt this would let the sail down and allow me to bundle it up and
tie it to the boom. I remember Janice asking me if I needed a light as this was
one of the darkest nights that I had seen. No moon and cloudy skies made the
sea and sky seem together as one. I told her no light, my eyes had adjusted to
the dark and I didn’t want the glare.
I clipped the lanyard to my harness and clipped the other
end to one of the jacklines that we have run along the sides of the forward
deck. This flat webbing safety line is designed to keep you tied to the boat
only, not to prevent a “Man Overboard” situation.
I went up front, climbed up onto the deck box as I have done
many times before, however this time it was really rough. I untied the halyard
from the cleat and started pulling down on the sail, it wasn’t coming so I used
my right hand to pull up on one end of the line and my left hand to pull down
the sail. The sail was now slowly coming down, but the wind was whipping the
now loose sail in all directions with a deafening loud popping and rustling
sound and the boat was bashing into the waves with water now rushing over the
Then it happened! The boat went up, I went up higher, the
boat jumped sideways, and I was in the water, no longer on the boat. The water
was a shock, it happened in an instant, I screamed something like “Help, Shit,
Janice” all in one word. I knew that I had to get her attention over all the
noise of the wind, loose popping sails, waves, and the engine.
I was still holding the loose end of the halyard when I hit
the water however it pulled the sail back up the mast the now approximately ten
feet that I fell. I knew that I only had one chance to get back on that boat,
one chance to claw, scratch, and climb up that six foot wall of a boat and over
the railing to safety or be dragged until I either drowned or the snap shackle
holding me attached popped loose and I would be lost at sea over 6,000 ft of
One chance was all
that I had in me, if I didn’t make it one the first attempt, I was sure that I
would be weaker on the second, third, and eventually my last try.
I’m not sure how it
happened, maybe the boat came down into a trough, or a wave hit us on the side,
but I was able to pull myself up just enough to get a foothold on a small ledge
(rub rail) on the side of the boat and then I was able to crawl up and over the
I did it, I knew that
I had defied the odds, I sat there for a moment then got up to head back to the
cockpit. Janice did hear me and was working towards stopping the boat and
getting the boat ladder from the coach roof to assist me.
When I got it
together and rested a bit I returned up on deck and finished getting the sail
down and lashed to the boom. We tacked back towards the Mayaguana Passage and
this time we made it through. Just as dawn was approaching, we got close enough
to Mayaguana Island to hug the coast for a smooth hour or so till we rounded
Devil’s Point on the Northeast corner of the Island and headed into our
From the viewpoint of
the person left on board
When Russell woke me up and told me he needed to take down
the main I was concerned. The seas were
really kicking up and the boat was pitching badly. I remember asking him if he could just take
down the staysail and loosen the main but he felt it really needed to come
down. I throttled back so our forward
speed was only about 3.5 knots and watched him clip in before going
It was very dark and once the main sail started coming down
it was flapping around and blocking what little view I had of him. I knew he was in trouble when I heard him
yell but I wasn’t sure if he had fallen onto the deck or had actually gone
over. I was clipped onto the captain’s
seat with our six foot tether which only allowed me to go to the side but not
forward. I remember standing there
yelling his name but realizing he was gone.
I ran back and throttled down completely to try and stop our
forward speed. My mind was running in
circles. Where is the spotlight? Is he still attached to the boat? Am I dragging him, drowning him? How the hell can I get him back aboard. Can I drop the dinghy so he can climb into
it? I’m just going to start going in
bigger and bigger circles until I find him.
I don’t think I ever allowed myself to think I wouldn’t find him.
Because we no longer had any forward speed the auto pilot
was beeping and flashing an alarm which just added one more layer to the
confusion. I chose to ignore it.
I went back to the side and was yelling his name again when
I saw his body come up over the side.
All he said was “I’m here” then “just give me a minute”. I can’t explain the helplessness I felt when
I couldn’t see him or the relief I felt when I saw he was back aboard. There are just no words but I still get
emotional just trying to write this.
Of course, the seas were still tossing us around and the
main was flapping and slapping so neither one of us really had time right then
to relax. I had to get us moving again
and back on course and he had to finish dealing with the sails. When he finally came back to the cockpit we
both just sat there side by side in a state of shock for a few minutes.
We sat down and discussed what happened, what we had done
correctly and what we could do better.
The number one main thing that saved him was the fact that
he was tethered to the boat. Secondly,
he woke me up before going forward.
Without those two factors, he would have gone into the water and the
boat would have kept going, leaving him in its wake without me realizing it
until I woke up sometime later, having no idea where he fell off.
The third thing was the type of life jacket he was
wearing. When we were purchasing our
offshore life vests, we debated whether to buy the auto inflating or manual
vests. Auto inflating is just that, it
inflates when it hits water. That’s a
lifesaver if you’re unconscious but can restrict movement if you are awake and
trying to get back aboard. The manual
ones have a pull cord to activate. We ultimately decided on getting the manual
vests. If he had been wearing an auto
inflating vest, he probably would not have been able to climb back aboard
There were also a few things we felt we could have done
better. Number one was changing his
tether point so it is too short for him to go overboard but still allow him to
maneuver around the entire deck. The
answer is that now when he goes forward to raise or lower the main sail is to
add a second tether that he will clip to a point closer to the center of the
boat. Additionally, we will now keep the
spotlight in the cockpit on overnight passages so it’s within reach instead of
having to go down into the boat if it’s needed.
The cruising life is not without danger, but neither is
driving down the interstate at home. We
try to discuss and plan for situations and when things arise, we try to learn
and use what we learned to become better and safer sailors. The other option would be to go home. We choose to avoid the interstate and keep
We dropped anchor just off Monument Beach and spent the
afternoon relaxing after our eventful trip over. There’s a saying that cruising is fixing or
repairing your boat in exotic places, so that was the next order of
business. Russell determined that our
voltage regulator had gone out so he replaced it with the spare one we had on
board. This solved the problem of our
engine not charging the batteries. He
was also able to fix the lifeline.
The next few days were spent exploring the town, supporting
the local establishments, doing laundry, grocery shopping, snorkeling (me) and
spearfishing (Russell). We were a little disappointed to find the
laundry was only that and not also a bar like we found on Staniel Cay. Doing our laundry wasn’t quite as much
fun. George Town also has a couple of
well stocked grocery stores, a number of liquor stores and a very interesting
hardware/general store. Unfortunately,
we weren’t able to replace his prescription glasses so he’ll have to rely on
cheaters until the Dominican Republic.
We learned a lot about cruising being a lifestyle option by
watching videos put out by people already doing it. One such couple is Paul and Sheryl Shard on
Distant Shores. They’ve sailed all over
the world and documented their travels with a television and video series. One evening I was up on deck and see their boat,
Distant Shores III, sail by and drop anchor.
I was really excited and hoping to meet them but, in the end, decided they
probably wouldn’t appreciate me showing up to their boat uninvited. A couple of days later we ran into Paul in
town and introduced ourselves. I got to let
him know they were largely to “blame” for our new life!
Over the next couple of days the winds changed direction and
were forecast to be stronger. Since we
felt we were a little close to the shore which can be a problem if the anchor
drags, we decided to move anchorages. It’s
kind of interesting because you start to notice boats moving around based on
the weather forecast.
Since we’re always working toward getting to the Dominican
Republic for hurricane season Russell started looking at the route options for
getting there from George Town. Fortunately,
he was plotting it using our electronic plot charter and not just the paper
charts because that’s how he found that the software we had only covered the Bahamas. Now, I do understand that people have sailed
for hundreds of years without electronics but we (mainly me) are much more
comfortable using a combination of both electronic and paper charts.
In the States getting the chip we needed would have been no
big deal. A quick trip to West Marine
and it would have been done. But, as
they say, we’re not in Kansas anymore. We
went to the post office and were told that it could be mailed to us but would
have to go to Nassau first and the post office there was moving to a new
building so no telling how long it would take.
Next, we went to the hardware/general store because they advertise accepting
DHL packages. Those packages also go through
Nassau first to clear customs and would take a minimum of two weeks. I even checked the price of flights back to
Miami from George Town thinking I may have fly over to buy it. We had been told about an import/export
broker in town, so we spoke to them. Their
office in Ft Lauderdale has a plane that flies directly to George Town every
week. That sounded like a better option
than having it go through Nassau. I
called the West Marine in Ft Lauderdale to see if they had the chip we needed
in stock. They did so I purchased it by
phone, got them to UPS it across town to the broker who then flew it to George
Town. We got it in six days but it cost
us an additional $270 in customs and broker fees. I understand that if it’s a boat part it would
be duty free, but our chip was not considered a boat part. At least now we won’t sail off the edge of
the world so I guess I shouldn’t complain!
Once that was handled, we could relax and enjoy the
remaining time here. Our new friends,
Matt and Kristen (make sure you subscribe to their YouTube channel Sailing Good,
Bad, and Ugly), had arrived so we spent a few evenings hanging out at the Chat’N’Chill
having drinks, playing cornhole (yeah, yeah, I know, get your mind out of the
gutter) and meeting folks visiting the Bahamas from all over the world.
We’ve really enjoyed our time here and completely understand why it has the reputation for sucking boaters in so they never leave. The local people are friendly, there’s a tightknit boating community with a daily cruiser’s net, supplies are available (if a bit pricy) and the water is gorgeous. But as always, we realize hurricane season is fast approaching so it’s about time to move on.