Sunday, May 18, 2014

Been There, Done That!

one martini too many - but whose counting.

Arrived in Puerto del Ray Marina on the Eastern coast of Puerto Rico this morning. Over 1700 Miles and 7 countries from late February to mid - May. Can hardly believe it!

You'll see no pictures of Puerto Rico as all we did since arriving late Monday May 12th was get up each morning between 3 & 4 sail 20 miles, get errands done, crash and do it again until we arrived here in Fajarado at the Marina.

The only way to cross the Southern coast of Puerto Rico is to use Bruce Van Sant's method
(The Gentleman's Guide to Passages South - the Thornless Path to Windward). The Trade Winds are brutal on the South coast of both Hispaniola and Puerto Rico but they were especially so this last week. Each day was the same; the night lees started about 9pm and all night the boat could rest in calm waters. The Katabatic Winds came down off the mountains during the early morning hours giving a land breeze from the North of 10 - 12 kts until the trades kicked in and the wind switched to East against us. It started building often before 9am and we would be in gusts of 25kts which either continued or got worst as the day progressed. So by sailing about 4 - 5kts an hour we could make 20 - 25 miles between 4 & 9am. That's how we did it.

There is a rather funny story about clearing back in to the US. Seems the most important thing is...
wait for it...
Your Garbage!
Do Not dispose of any foreign garbage except in designated "Foreign Garbage" bins. Of course, there are No, None, Nil, Zero, Zilch  foreign garbage bins anywhere. 

Our goal was to reach Puerto del Ray today, Sunday May 18. We need to add more chain to our secondary anchor (remember the story of us dragging during a 4 day blow while in Cuba?). Plus lots of laundry, provisioning, cleaning the boat and performing the odd chore or two (or ten).

All this before Austin and Amanda arrive Tuesday evening. We set sail for the Virgins on Wednesday. Their friends Will and Natalie join us in St Thomas on May 24th. We'll have both college graduates and college seniors on board.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Hispaniola, Saint Domingue, Santo Domingo (What's in a Name)

I've never understood the naming of this island! AND its important if you're from New Orleans because starting in 1804, after the revolution that created Haiti, New Orleans' population doubled. 90% of all Haitian refugees eventually settled in the Crescent City. Immigrants of all colors (2,731 whites, 3,102 free people of colour and 3,226 slaves) brought their architecture and culture with them. Their culture became the dominant creole culture in New Orleans and exists to this day.

Harbor - Ile å Våche
Haitians played a major role in developing New Orleans cuisine and preserving the city's French character. Jean Lafitte came from Port au Prince and Marie Laveau was born in Santo Domingo. Maybe most important for those of us who love Greg's sazeracs is Antoine Amadee Peychaud who eventually called New Orleans home and went on to invent Peychaud Bitters.

When Columbus stumbled upon it  in 1492 losing his flagship, Santa Maria, in the process he named the island La Esla Española, Hispaniola for short. The following year Spain started colonisation in earnest and by 1496 had founded a town they named Santo Domingo. It's the oldest permanent European settlement in the New World. Some charts started calling the island Santo Domingo.

Pack Horses bring supplies to market
By 1503, with gold pouring in from its other colonies, Spain lost interest in Hispaniola and pirates overtook the island eventually establishing permanent bases on its flanking islands of Tortuga and Ile å Våche. In 1606 the Spanish governor abandoned the island except for the area around Santo Domingo leaving the rest to pirates. By the middle of the 17th Century French colonists started establishing themselves on the Western 3/8s of the island and in 1665 this was sanctioned by a treaty between France and Spain and Saint Domingue became the French name. Saint Domingue became wealthy on coffee and sugar profits and eventually was considered the "Pearl of the Antilles" due to its wealth and population.

The wealth was built on the back of one of the cruelest slave systems ever to exist. Reports abound about unbelievably horrible methods of punishment. The treatment was so harsh that Hispaniola was importing a record 40,000 slaves a year and was never able to "grow their own". Whether on a Spanish or a French plantation more slaves died every year than any where else in the Caribbean.

In 1789 the French Revolution touched off slave revolutions throughout the Caribbean. In Saint Domingue it pitted free people of colour against French planters who would not grant them citizenship accorded in the "Declaration of the Rights of Man". Thirteen years of revolution ensued with Toussaint L'Ouverture leader of the Saint Domingue rebellion joining forces with Spain then jumping back into the French camp when France abolished slavery in its colonies in 1794. The Spanish fled and in 1797 Toussaint was made Governor for Life of the whole island named by its French name of Saint Domingue. But in 1802 with Bonaparte now leading France and re-establishing slavery Toussaint rebelled again. He was captured, exiled and killed; but the revolution continued under Jean Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe. In January, 1804 a new nation was born that called itself Haiti. The first free black republic in the world, the first independent country in the Caribbean.

We bought giant stone crabs from  Haitian fisherman

Control of the entire island was lost in 1808 when, with the aid of Great Britain, the Eastern portion of the island was returned to Spanish control laying the foundation for centuries of dispute between the two sides of the island. It wasn't until 1844, after years of wars, that the Dominican Republic was finally a free and independent country. However, Haiti continued its attempt to retake the whole island. In the DR it was near chaos. A series of inept and corrupt governments with near constant internal political instability led, in 1861, to the Dominican government reverting to colonial status with Spain. Spain abandoned the island in 1866. After much political fighting and an attempt to have the US annex the Dominican Republic a tenuous political peace was accomplished in 1880.

The US has continued its "interference/support" in both of the island's nations and while much progress can be seen in the Dominican Republic, Haiti continues to struggle especially after the earthquake of 2010.

We left Jamaica to travel the South Coast of Hispaniola, the 2nd largest island in the Greater Antilles. Motor-sailing out with the remains of a cold front stalling the trades. We had an easy reach for the 165NM passage from Jamaica across the Windward Passage to the anchorage at Ile å Våche on the SW coast of Haiti. Ile å Våche has been a stop for sailors since the 17th century when pirates used it as a stronghold. Today's cruisers use it as we did, a stopping point as they cross from one side of the Caribbean to the other. It has a wonderful harbour, as long as the wind is not out of the North.

As we arrived the "boat boys" surrounded Wahoo offering services and help. Even though we'd been warned, it was a bit daunting, as there had to be at least 25 of them. We had advice on who to use and who not to use from many of our cruising friends. But we were tired after our 30 hours at sea and didn't want to deal with this. Roy was referring everyone to me! I was trying to remember names! Yikes! Finally thinking I remembered the name Justin coupled with the fact that he was one of the quiet, polite boys, I chose him. Next I arranged to meet with Jean Villem about getting internet. Little did I know that of the two guys I chose they were the ones whose families were at war. A little Hatfield and McCoy right here on Ile a Vache.
Bringing their catch to market

There's an orphanage on the island as there are many orphaned children in Haiti both as a result of the AIDs epidemic and the earthquake. So next morning the first use of our "boat boy" was to get us to the orphanage to deliver supplies we'd been gathering for a year in anticipation of this trip. We went by dingy around the island and landed where the market takes place. We've been in many markets but never anything like this! The colours, the smells (good and bad) the amount of people milling about. Thankfully we had Justin guiding our way.

To get to the orphanage we walked up the hill to deliver our supplies and ran into a group of AID workers. They were pouring concrete for sidewalks, building and painting classroom furniture, doing any number of projects. Its was a Catholic group from Ireland. After a walk through the compound, an argument ensued between Justin and another Haitian who seemed to want to take our supplies for himself and our inability to find Sister Fleur - she was down in the market. We left our things with one of the Irish workers feeling they would get to the right place.

crowded market scene
French Hotel is a different world yet right up the hill
Walking back to the dingy we could see how difficult life is in Haiti even on this island where things "aren't so bad". Amazingly there are three hotels on the island. Not that it isn't beautiful with white beaches and palm trees just like other Caribbean islands; we just couldn't understand wanting to vacation where life is so hard for the locals. The little shoreside village has no electricity. The market is the only way to get supplies. Fishing from small sailing sloops, a little farming, working in the hotels and helping the visiting cruisers is how they eke out a living.

There's a beautiful French hotel that overlooks the harbour. We made arrangements for dinner wanting to see that side of things also. It was beautifully landscaped with a lovely open air dining room. Not much choice; fish or cow (honestly that's what they asked), but beautifully served.

It was a short stay as we needed to move on to the Dominican Republic. We left the next day for an anchorage at Isla Beata, DR. The weather was no longer so benign and Chris Parker was advising us to wait. But as he couldn't give us a better date for the next week and things were to get worse every day, we knew we had to go. It was a beautiful night sail to Isla Beata with phosphorescence in the water, a starry, starry night above and the Southern Cross hanging low on the horizon. But the winds were strong from the direction we needed to go and even though we were motoring we ended up tacking the next afternoon wondering if we would ever make the anchorage that was right in front of us at Isla Beata.

Dramatic coastline of the DR
Two days later we left Isla Beata for Barahona, where we would clear in. We motored through the pass between the island and the mainland constantly scanning the waters as our depth sounder continued to give trouble. Once out of the pass we rounded Cabo Beata  and once again were in winds gusting to 35kts with high seas. This time we knew to just grit our teeth and get on with it. Well we knew that until the dingy started to come undone! Now Roy had to manoeuvre to the stern and retie lines that had separated. On went the life jacket and he clipped into the webbing that runs stem to stern for just such an occasion. Inching his way back he secured first one side then the other before returning to the safety of the cockpit. Whew! We motored up the peninsular and finally started seeing winds and seas begin to abate as we approached Barahona 8 hours later.

Grinding conch for fritters
We spent a pleasant 3 days in Barahona to clear in, get provisions and fuel. The anchorage is in front of Club Nautico, the name does NOT reflect the place. It's a small bar with a couple of rickety wharfs. The Marina Guerre came to the boat with our new "boat boy", Fernando. He really was a huge help. We didn't have long to stay here and he got us around, arranged for laundry, fuel and even brought me a larimar  (a local blue stone) pendant.  To avoid the winds we left at daybreak for the 30 mile motor sail across the bay to Salinas. The stop in Salinas allowed us to shorten the next hop on our Eastward trek. We anchored in front of the hotel Salinas. They have a bar and restaurant plus a dock with about 20 slips. The slips have electricity, water and WiFi all for about .50 per foot per day. We enjoyed meeting Jorge, the manager, who is such a help to visiting cruisers. He allowed us to jerry can water to Wahoo even though we were riding at anchor. The restaurant was very pretty and it overlooks the bay but do not come to Barahona or Salinas for the food!

It's windy all day but calm at night in the DR. The katabatic winds from the mountains create a calming effect overnight until about 10am in the morning so it's best to sail either overnight or have a very early morning departure, depending on what time you need to arrive at your next destination. You never want to arrive in a new port or anchorage in the dark!

In the Dominican Republic you have to get a despacho to move from port to port. We were charged $25 for a despacho in Barahona but not charged for one in Salinas. Other than that clearing-in was $43 for the boat and $10 for each crew member. This price was in Barahona, there could be other prices in other places. Marina Zarpar in Boca Chica charges $180 for clearing in and $50 for a despacho. Their excuse for this exorbitant fee is that officials have to come 12 miles from Santo Domingo!

Tomb of Christopher Columbus
Columbus and his son, Diego
Our next stop after Salinas was Marina Zarpar in Boca Chica about 65NM away. We left Salinas around 5pm and arrived at the marina around 7am. Underway the boat got a thorough fresh water rinse when we encountered a squall with heavy rain. Zarpar is a nice marina with great amenities. We took a mooring for about $20 US a night. They have a coin operated laundry, a small restaurant and decent WiFi.

While there we arranged for a trip to visit Santo Domingo. This was a great day. We felt very upclose and personal with the entire Columbus family: Christopher, his brother, Bartolome, and his son, Diego. Not to mention so many firsts - the first cathedral, first fort, and of course the first European settled city in the Americas.

The only bad thing about Marina Zarpar is Customs and Immigration. You have no choice but to use the service out of the marina and it is both ridiculously expensive and offers no consideration for the safety of the cruisers.
An impressive ceiling view of the Jesuit church in Santo Domingo

Cool seat in the home of Bartolome and Diego Columbus
Buying fish from a local fisherman at Isla Saoma
We needed to clear out of the country here, as our next stop was just an island where we would wait for a weather window to cross the Mona Passage to Puerto Rico. Here's where we first heard that they doubled the price of the despacho. Next we learned that we could not get an early departure as they MUST give you the despacho the moment you are leaving and you can only get it during their working hours of  9 - 5. This is unlike the procedure in either Barahona or Salinas where the dispacho is issued within the 24 hr period prior to your departure. Of course, they can't say when they will get to your boat with a drug sniffing dog which has to go through the boat before you can leave! (Guess they want no drugs LEAVING the country.) The best we could arrange was for them to meet us at the fuel dock sometime between 4 and 6pm then we could anchor until we were ready to leave at "safe light" the next morning. That doesn't sound too bad except that there is no good anchorages in the vicinity. But to make things worse we waited and waited, they didn't come until 7:30pm and by then it was dark and squally. I just had to "assert" myself! Finally it was agreed that we could stay the night but they would have to change the date on the depacho. They would be there by 8:30am - not so good as this now has us sailing as the winds get higher and the forecast is calling for squalls. But the next morning they made matters worse. They decided they needed to bring the dog back. We waited and waited not really able to get underway until 10am! Unfortunately for Marina Zarpar the arrogance of the officials undermines all the excellent efforts Rigo and the marina staff are trying to accomplish.

We finally arrived at Isla Saona as daylight was fading and anchored in front of this lovely island. We are anchored here as we wait to cross the Mona Passage and enter US waters for the first time since May of 2012.
Isla Saona gets over a thousand day-trippers each day. They are brought in for a beach party by sailing catamarans. Here's Wahoo anchored among some of the visiting cats