03/10/2006, Boqueron, Puetro Rico
We’ve finally crossed the Mona Passage– on our second attempt. Ever since we arrived in the Bahamas in the back of our minds we knew our next real sail challengeafter crossing the Gulf Stream from Miami was getting across the Mona Passage. This is the 70 nautical mile (nm) stretch of water between the Dominican Republic (the DR) and Puerto Rico. Added to this challenge was first we had to reach this stretch of water from Luperon, in the Dominican Republic–a distance of 180 nm.
After following the weather patterns for over a week, looking for a weather window to sail along coast of the DR, we thought we had an opportunity last Tuesday evening. Chris Parker, the weather guy, described it as “a marginal window.” In other words, not the best weather, but we might be able to get through. So, we decided to give it a go. We left Luperon at dusk with our buddy boat s/v Delilah, first staging at the entrance to Luperon Harbour. This staging gave us easy access to the ocean.
Caught in the net
Unfortunately, we had not counted on finding the entrance covered by a local fisherman’s drift net. While we were down below catching some sleep and waiting for the winds to drop, as they do every evening on the north coast of the DR, a drift net slowly made its way from the edge of the harbour onto the bows of our two anchored boats. We had to extricate our anchor rodes and our boats from the very fine mesh in the dark. We were both incredibly lucky, as we were able to free ourselves. However, another boat heading out the same time, s/v Cool Bananas, did not see the fine mesh in the dark and got several feet of this 150-foot long net wrapped around her rudder and propeller. Cool Bananas had to wait until daylight to unwrap it, but we were able to head out at night, picking our way carefully through lobster pots and more nets in the dark, only to be confronted by 20 knots of wind straight on the nose straight into the front of the boat) plus very steep waves–1.5 to 2 meters (6 to 8 feet). After spending an hour bouncing up and down in the waves and not making much headway toward our destination, we made the decision that, at the speed we were managing to make into the wind and waves, we would not get to our destination in the time that we had allowed. We turned back to Luperon and back to the nets and lobster pots at the harbour entrance. At least this time, we had a track we could follow on our GPS screen, so we carefully and slowly made our way back to where we started.
Amanzi’s fastest night sail
Three days later the weather window looked much better. This time we headed out at 2:00 in the afternoon in the company of 11 other boats who were all headed to Puerto Rico. It felt like we were part of a regatta. The first night was a bit lumpy but much better than we had had three nights previously. As dawn broke the next morning, the seas had begun to settle down, and we started making much better progress.
As the day progressed, we passed Cape Samana on the Dominican Coast. The wind slowly swung around from the southeast and by nightfall it was coming from the northeast. Now we began to fly. From Friday evening through to the next night our average speed was well over 7 knots, almost the top speed for our boat. Over the course of 6 hours, we were able to catch up to some of the boats that were 6 miles ahead of us. This is not bad for a boat that averages 5 knots usually.
One of the key skills that we as sailors need to develop is understanding of weather systems, as the winds really control where or when we can sail from A to B. The general winds in the Caribbean and Bahamas are the Trade Winds, and they blow from the southeast. The wind direction only changes when something comes by to disrupt the wind. In the Bahamas, the one weather phenomenon that comes to the rescue is cold fronts. You might think of a cold front as one wind blowing against another wind. Where we are, cold fronts cause the Trade Winds to decrease and change direction. So, on the Friday night we were sailing, when the winds changed direction from the southeast to the northeast, that was thanks to a cold front that was passing by to our north, in the Atlantic Ocean.
We arrived in Boqueron, Puerto Rico on Sunday afternoon. The sail across the Mona Passage was our longest sail to date, and we were certainly relieved to be through the Passage and of course to be in our next new country–Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is rather unique as it is a territory that is voluntarily associated with the United States, but it is not a state. Like the Dominican Republic, it is a Spanish-speaking country; however, on the whole this country seems to be much richer than the DR. As we dinghied ashore on Sunday evening, we were confronted by local Puerto Ricans who had come to the seashore town of Boqueron on hundreds of fancy motorbikes. This is such a contrast to Luperon, which is a rural area in the Dominican Republic, where cars were scarce and motorcycles were a necessity for getting around. Those motorcycles in Luperon were small and inexpensive, often dirt bikes, built for the unpaved roads. Clearly, some people have more money in Puerto Rico.
On other levels, we are clearly in a similar Spanish-influenced culture. All of the street food is the same as in the DR, with delicious, inexpensive Empanadillas (pastry with meat filling, such as chicken, beef or lobster). Puerto Rico also boasts a lively street culture, where people enjoy spending time outside, conversing with neighbours and friends or just watching the world go by. Many times you will see people sitting along the sidewalks or on their front porches. It strikes me as quite different from North American culture, where we tend to socialize behind our closed doors or in backyards., Something else I have noticed is that, especially in the DR, very few private homes have windows that have panes of glass in them. Instead the windows keep out the wind and rain and sunshine with shutters. This type of protection is definitely a factor of the weather. It’s just so hot hear year round that letting the sun in would increase the heat inside. With louvres you let the breeze inside but keep out the hot sun.