Our first view of the Dominican Republic


So much forthe best laid plans. Yesterday, about 2:00pm we were getting ready to pull upthe anchor to head to Luperon, the final run to the Dominican Republic. I don’t think any of us had a great feeling about this leg, not that we thought it would be hard or scary, just a feeling that it was going to be long and uncomfortable. In fact I had the kids mentally creating a smooth passage. It didn’t work. At 2:00pm I went forward to pull up the anchor. Of course I don’t pull it up by hand, we have a windlass, an electric motor that pulls the anchor and all the chain, (I had about 130 feet of chain out) up from the ocean bed. Our windlass has normally been flawless, but twice before when I pressed the button, the motor stayed on even after I released pressure. This caused the chain to tangle and even with the anchor up and locked so it couldn’t come upany more, the motor kept running. Dan had to manually shut off the power on the control panel. It happened again another time and luckily after about 10 seconds of running on its own, it shut down by itself. This time was worse.


I almost had all the chain up and I released pressure on the button, but the motor kept running. The chain was mashing against the other chain, the motor was straining, and I couldn’t make it stop. I yelled to Dan to turn it off. He turned the power off at the control panel but the motor kept running. In a very quick, smart move, he disconnected it from the fuse and it stopped. Now I had about 20 feet of chain balled up under the windlass that should have gone down the hole with the other chain, the anchor was just barely holding and of course the wind was starting to move us
around. We all sprang into action.


From the front of the bow where the chain and anchor come up, the chain then goes into a closed tube like structure for about 12 feet and then emerges inside the anchor locker where the chain wraps around the windlass. The chain is inaccessible while it is in this tube. Where the chain comes up onto the boat to where this tube starts is about a foot and a half. Not much room. Dan and I pulled up the anchor together, then he held it while I fed the chain into the tube. Tristan and Tessa were at the anchor locker. When I fed the chain into the tube, Tristan pulled the slack into the anchor locker and Tessa fed it down the hole to join the other chain. We had the whole thing done in about 5 minutes! The kids did great with a minimal amount of instruction. I was very proud of them. So now we had the anchor up, but no
windlass. Since we knew we would be anchoring in Luperon for a long time, and we could put the anchor down without the windlass, we decided to go on. Not a
great start.


The passagessouth book tells you to not be fooled by strong winds when you leave Big Sand Cay. You should get out about 5 miles before you make up your mind to continue. Five miles out, the wind was about 16 knots, on the nose of course, and the waves were short and choppy, about 3 to 4 feet high. No big deal, so we decided to keep going. At this point the biggest concern was the bathroom. We were running on a lean supply of toilet paper, and this crossing would take a
minimum of 15 hours. God be with us.


Dan took thefirst watch and about 5 pm I took over. I was prepared for this overnight passage. I had all the snacks laid out in the kitchen, in ziplocks to keep them
together. Everyone’s favorite can of soup was out also, along with the pans for cooking. Everything was secured and within easy reach. I again suggested going
to Ocean World instead of Luperon but Dan wasn’t hearing it. I told him it was a joint decision and we needed to at least discuss it, but he was adamant. I
let the subject drop for that moment. We had a long night ahead of us.


Just as it got dark, I saw the lights of a ship directly in front of us. It seemed as if he was coming straight at us, and Dan eventually made radio contact with him.
He was aware of us so we were able to relax. As usual, there was lightning in the distance. The winds picked up to about 20 knots and the waves started to
increase. There was no moon, only the sporadic lightning that gave me a glimpse of the building waves in front of me.


We were motoring of course, and Dan was trying to be very conscious of the wear on the engines. The plan again was to run both engines for a time, shut one off to
rest it and check the oil, then restart and go again on both engines. Dan wasn’t feeling too well. I was fine so I told him I would stay on watch longer. The waves were really confused and were slamming against the boat; whitecaps were all around us. The wind crept up to 26 knots. Every once in awhile I would hear this loud WHOOSH! as a wave broke beside the boat. The wind slowly crept up all night until it peaked right at 30 knots.  I was really thankful for the darkness as Ididn’t want to see the waves. I wasn’t scared, not that I am that brave, but I was in the middle of nowhere and there was no one to help us,
and there was nothing I could do to make the trip any better.  I didn’t know how to sail in these conditions but I had confidence that Alegria knew how to handle the waves, so I just kept my faith in the motors, the radar, the autopilot, and Alegria.  I was really thankful for my harness. I attached the safety line to the bar inside the cockpit, turned sideways in my seat so I was facing the open ocean, and resigned myself to a long night.


Tristan was asleep in the cockpit, next to Dan and Tessa was sleeping inside. I was worried about her as the waves pounding the boat were causing stuff to shift inside. But she slept fine, so did Tristan. Luckily we missed the storm, and it settled into being a long uncomfortable night. We weren’t making good time at all. When
we only went on one engine, the boat went slower and the ride was smoother. At one point we were doing less than 3 knots! We had to turn back on the other
engine or we would never make Luperon before 10 am. We didn’t have to worry about the toilet paper shortage as no one was going to go inside the boat
anymore than they had to.


About 30 miles from the island of Hispaniola, true to what the guidebooks said, you could start to smell the Dominican Republic. It was a wonderful, rich, earthy smell that wrapped you in a blanket of comfort. Wonderful! Dan took over the watch about 1:30am and I was thankful as I was very drained. You get very dehydrated on a windy night passage. I drank some Gatorade and fell asleep. When I woke up, it was only 3:30 am, and the weather and waves hadn’t gotten any better. It felt like this night would never end. Dan and the kids were fine so I laid  back down. Before I drifted back to sleep I heard the words I had been waiting for, “We may have to go to Ocean World”


YES! My night was getting better. When I woke again the sun was up. The waves had actually gotten bigger! They were huge, coming up on our side.  I was so done with this trip.  When a really big wave came, Dan and I did our best to distract the kids so they wouldn’t see it.   But what a view!  In the distance were these
huge, lush, green mountains. They were gorgeous!


The trip had taken us much longer than we had planned and we were going to miss our deadline to get into Luperon.  I got out the Ocean World flyer. Dan was of course all excited about going there now and was acting like it was his idea. I chalked it off to insanity from the long trip.


We didn’t  have a Dominican Republic flag. When you enter a country, you are supposed to raise your quarantine flag to check in. After check in you have to fly the flag of that country. When we were back in Florida buying flags for the trip, we had never planned on going to the Dominican Republic. I told Dan I would like to go there, and I was sure we had bought the flag, but apparently not. When I pulled out the flag from the captain’s table (it was out of its wrapper) I was a bit
suspicious. Luckily Tristan got out his Children’s World Atlas that thankfully shows the flags of all the countries. The flag I was about to use for the DR was actually the flag for Belize. Now what? “You can make one,” suggests Dan.


Make one, is he crazy? Am I Betsy Ross? Shall I rip up the kids T shirts and sew up a flag? He really should remember who he married. If I’m going to have to make the flags, we are going to have restrict our visits to countries with simple striped flags like Colombia, Estonia, Poland.


We finally pull into Ocean World Marina about 11:15 or so. With the wind and these waves, no way would we have made it into Luperon. As we were heading in, I tried to pick up inside as best as I could. The waves crashing on the boat had really created a mess inside. As soon as we docked, customs was right there at our
boat to check us in. They were very friendly. Only one of them spoke English. I was really embarrassed to have them see the boat that much of a mess and we tried to explain we hit bad weather, but they just smiled.  The whole process took about 15 minutes; no bribes, no having to wait for customs or try to track them down. I have read all the horror stories of checking in at Luperon and I really don’t understand why cruisers don’t come here to check in. Even if you only stay one night, it’s
worth it.


The marina was beautiful, with a casino, restaurants, a bar on the 4th floor that gives you a panoramic view of the marina and mountains. Most importantly, the water was clean. Included in our marina stay was unlimited access to Ocean World Marina. As we were talking to the guys from customs, the kids were about beside
themselves as they could see the sea lion show from our dock. Dan and I thought we would settle in for a nap, but how were we going to keep them on the boat
when they knew there was a dolphin and tiger show in their backyard?


We headed into the marine park and it really was well done. Except for the annoying salesman pitching timeshare opportunities as you go in, it really was nice. In
addition to the animal shows they have animal encounters where you can swim with the rays, sharks, and dolphins and interact with the sea lions. I have
mixed feelings about these shows. On one hand I hate wild animals kept in pens, but I also  believe if people can’t see nor touch these beautiful animals, they won’t have any interest when it comes to helping save them or their environment. I was very glad that our kids had their own “swim with the sharks” and “swim with the rays” in the wild.  But for those who can’t get out there, this park was the next best thing.


After a few hours, and remembering the toilet paper crisis, we realized we needed to get to the grocery store. The marina had a taxi service and Patrick, who works at the marina, went along to be our interpreter/guide. Luckily he spoke English as we spoke very little to no Spanish. The grocery store, Super Mercado was really nice. It was very comparable to a US grocery store and we found everything we needed. The prices were very reasonable, and they took American money. As we headed back to the boat, Patrick took us on a short tour of Puerto Plato. The city was busy, crowded with motoconchas (motorcycle taxis)everywhere, people barely making use of the lanes in the road, but we loved it! We couldn’t wait to go exploring on our own. We all had the best sleep that night. I know we are really going to like it here. As for Luperon? Missed it by that much!


Ocean  World