Beating into fresh trade-winds for over 36 hours is some form of masochism. But we really didn’t have the choice. Since my last post I have been rather busy trying to get some work done (therefore the silence). I could only schedule 7 days to sail Antares from Turks and Caicos to Dominican Republic. Richard and I landed in Providenciales on October 28th and flew back to DC, from Puerto Plata, on November 4th. We took two days to prepare Antares after she was back on the water. On Wednesday, mid morning, we cleared our departure with two migration and customs officials who had come to the shipyard for the occasion (very efficient), and set sail in a 20 Knots breeze from the East. I set course to the Long Cay and Constancia, the wind vane, started steering the boat with one reef in the main and genoa.
Soon the wind increased to 25 Kts and I had to go forward to add another reef. Reefing and un-reefing is probably the most unnerving activity when the boat is charging along on a close reach with the rail under water. The waves were not high, not enough fetch, but they were sharp like razors and made the motion quite uncomfortable and unpredictable. There are many text-book accounts about the reefing technique but these are simplified models of the complex set of coordinated actions and movements that need to take place in reality. In the case of slab-reefing, there is much more to it than: ease the main sheet and boom-vang, release the main halyard, connect the reef cringle to the gooseneck hook , tension the halyard, and tension the clew reefing line. Ok, sure, but how do you do that when you are alone (there is little Richard can do to help), the boat is running mad, and you need to hold to something to avoid falling overboard. Much depends on the setup of lines and winches which in my case I prefer to keep at the mast. I do the maneuvers forward of the mast while attached to the jackline on the windward, “high”, side. The point at which the harness is attached to the jackline is important; I keep it aft of the mast so that when I am working with the clue line my harness strap goes around the mast and helps me stay in equilibrium. I guess my main challenge at this stage is tightening the reefing clew line to get the right tension on the foot and luff of the sail. If the main halyard has been fully tensioned, tensioning the clew line becomes very difficult and the foot of the sail stays too high above the boom; the sail has too much draft. Tensioning first the clew line also doesn’t work; you then can’t tension well the main halyard and there are wrinkles around the luff of the sail. What seems to work for me is pulling, by hand, as much of the clew line as possible and make it fast. Only then I tension the halyard and then go back to tension the clew line. But reefing remains an activity I don’t look forward to.
We never made it to Long Cay. The wind veered slowly during the day and we ended up, south west, in the Ambergris cays. After negotiating a couple of coral heads we anchored for the night in front of a small break water on the north side of Big Ambergris Cay. As is his custom, Richard had brought home-made food frozen and packaged in void. The first night in the boat we had a perfectly grilled beef filet and, while at anchor, “chili con carne” — each with a bottle of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon that I purchased at the wine cellar in Providenciales.
The next day I got up at 7am to boil water for coffee and download weather files. Richard prepared breakfast of eggs, bacon, and potatoes. By 10:30am we were underway, motoring around coral heads. I didn’t want to go north up to Whale Channel; the more orthodox way to leave the banks. We went for Middle Cut instead, just half a mile north of the anchorage. Bad idea. The cut is quite narrow and with the trades blowing in the high teens we had big and high-frequency swells. Plus, we were not carrying any sail yet; another mistake. Antares was pushed around and could not hold a course. I had to go forward to quickly hoist the main in a very unstable and wet deck. The wind was increasing so I set two reefs from the beginning. I unrolled the genoa, set Constancia on a course of 140 degrees to Puerto Plata (perfect) and shutdown the engine.
From then on we didn’t touch the sheets until much later, at night, when a cruising ship sailing along the north coast of DR refused to change course. The wind was in the low-mid 20s for most of the passage and, in the open ocean, we had 6+ foot swells. Richard became seasick for the first time and this affected the production of coffee and meals. Though we had a day with almost no clouds and the sea looked splendid dressed in dark blue, the passage was rough and not very enjoyable. As we approached DR the wind decreased and veered putting as on a heading towards Luperon instead of Puerto plata. By 4am we could see lights in the island, the stars that accompanied us all night started to faint, and a lazy moon began to raise. With the first daylight, the roughed contours of Hispaniola began to appear behind a grim mist. Soon we could see the hills and cliffs trapped between exuberant, depth green, vegetation and an unrestrained sea.
We motor-sailed along the coast past Luperon towards Puerto Plata. Wind was less than 10 Knots but swells and current made our progress painfully slow; in relation to the island we appeared to be standing still. By 9:30am we were only at the edge of La Patilla and the wind had increased to the high teens. In retrospect, the suggestion made by Van Sant in his book “Passages South” to motor-sail along the north coast in the early morning doesn’t seem very sustainable. At the end, I took off a reef in the main and genoa and tacked off-shore. After some 45 minutes sailing north-east, we tacked south east towards Ocean World Marina, north-west of Bahia de Puerto Plata. By 11:30am Antares was safely docked in her slip (after some drama because the engine died when trying to enter the slip and by then it was blowing 20Kt+).