South Arabia, Madagascar, and a Short Cruise from Puerto Plata to Samana DR (March – May 2019)

June 5, 2019

I m writing at a coffee shop in Moscow airport.  I left Beirut yesterday night bounded for Dominican Republic where Antares is waiting. Alas, no direct flights.  Not even with one stop somewhere in Europe.  Instead, two stops:  one in Moscow and one in NewYork.  I m going back to DR for a solo-passage to Grenada. I will write about it as things develop, but in this post I just want to give an update on the last 3 months.

After the trip to Washington DC in February to see my daughters who were on vacation, I went back to a rainy Beirut. March was a month of intense work with a couple of trips to Saudi Arabia.  It is a depressing place, particularly Ryad the capital. Part of the oil money has been used to build large business and apartment complex, and convention centers which for the most part remain empty.  They would like to become a regional financial hub.  Why would anyone go to Ryad for business when you have Dubai or Abu Dhabi ?  You cannot even close a deal over a glass of wine.  

The first two weeks of April found me in Antananarivo, Madagascar, also for work.  That is a beautiful island, which I didn’t know is larger than the United Kingdom.  It is not as green as it once was and the average annual income per capita is only USD 450; the result of years of miss management under a socialist government.  But people are free, they vote, things are slowly improving, and therefore there is hope. I stayed at Hotel Colbert which is a small boutique hotel.  Only one restaurant but with a beautiful veranda, a good menu, and a full bar. 

From Antananarivo I flew to Washington DC on April 14 and from there to Puerto Plata the next day, with my daughters who were on spring break.  The plan was to take a couple of days to prepare the boat and then cruise the north-east coast of DR in the direction of Samana. But we were delayed because of the incompetence of some of the staff working at Ocean World Marina.  We found Antares on the hard in a terrible condition.  Cockroaches had taken over the boat, several of the jobs that had to be done had not been completed, the forestay with the sail furled was dangling from the mast (it had been disconnected from the steam to fit the travel-lift). We arrived on Monday, April 15 at night and slept in one of the apartments at the marina.  The idea was to move to the boat the next day but it was unthinkable before dealing with the insects and doing a major cleaning. It also took a full day to put the boat on the water so we couldn’t really start working on her until Wednesday.  

My priority was to install a new, CP2, wheel auto-pilot that I brought with me. This took most the morning.  Then I started cleaning with the help of a great guy who manages a couple of boats at the marina. He, in fact, did most of the work, including dealing with the infestation, while I checked various systems and the engine.  They had changed the RACOR but it was leaking. They had also disconnected the hose that brings coolant to the engine and forgot to put it back.  When I turned on the engine and went aft to check if the water pump was working, I found that Antares was spitting coolant instead of water.  The coolant was flooding the bilge and the bilge pump was doing its job. In parallel, staff from the marina were struggling to reconnect the forestay.  They eventually did it. But when I went to check, I saw that the opening of the drum holding the furling line was facing forward. Impossible to leave on Thursday, they would have to come the next day to fix this.  I was lucky that next to the marina there was a Cafe del Mar with a nice swimming pool the girls liked.  They were having a good time despite of the whole ordeal. 

On Thursday we provisioned and moved to the boat but couldn’t leave until Saturday early morning. We had 15 Knots of wind blowing from the ESW.  After rounding the last buoy marking the entrance to the marina, I set the new autopilot which held course while I hoisted the main. The sea was agitated but with 80 pounds of torque, the CP2 didn’t wince.  After unfurling some genoa I put Antares on a NE course, close-hauled on starboard tack, turned off the pilot and the engine and engaged the wind vane.  I was pleased to leave behind the land and the marina.  

Even with 15 Knots of wind though, the motion was not very comfortable and soon Sofia was seasick. We went down below and I sat with her holding a bowl, waiting for the inevitable. Each time it happened she felt better for a moment, but soon after miserable again. We were bound to Rio San Juan and my plan was to tack back to land in early afternoon.  But the conditions were expected to deteriorate and I didn’t want to inflict more discomfort to the girls on our first day out. Thus, I tacked at around 11am instead and headed straight to Sosua on a beam reach.  Very nice sailing.  I wasn’t sure where to anchor at first because we had more than 70 feet of water until we were very close to the beach.  The depth fell suddenly to less than 12 feet.  I turned back, prepared the anchor, and asked Marina to go forward to press the “down” button on the windlass.  When she was ready I headed again towards the beach and anchored, just at the edge of the “wall,” surrounded by a few fishing and motor boats.  Not a single sailing boat. We were all very happy to be there even if the beach was full of humans who had come for the long weekend; they were far enough and after sunset they started to disappear until no one was left.  We swam around Antares, had dinner, and then simply sat forward of the mast, listening to music, chatting, and admiring the night.

I got up at 6 the next day, prepared coffee, and pulled the anchor.  By 6:30 were were motor-sailing towards Rio San Juan in less than 10 Kts of wind and smooth seas.  A very different experience for Marina and Sofia.  We arrived at around noon and a fisherman guided us inside the anchorage used by the fishing boats. A very beautiful place, surrounded by white beaches, palms and green vegetation. After lunch we put the dinghy on the water and went exploring.  The same fisherman guided us to a small beach on the east side of the town, hidden between mangroves and protected by the reefs.  No waves, more like a large swimming pool with turquoise, transparent, water.  The girls loved it and stayed there until sunset.

The next day we just relaxed; no sailing.  We continued to explore, played games of Sorry, and went back to the beach.  At sunset a catamaran anchored by our side but we were not planning to stay. After dinner we watched a movie and at 10pm pulled the anchor for the start of a night passage to Escondido.  The conditions were similar to those of the first day but Marina and Sofia were sleeping, and I was more relaxed.  For Sofia I setup a lee clothe in her berth.  At 3am I woke up Marina who wanted to do a watch and went to the quarter berth to get some sleep.  She committed to a two hours watch but, just in case, I set an alarm for 4am.  When I woke up and went out to the cockpit, I found Marina sleeping under her sleeping bag, and the boat a few degrees off course. I woke her up gently and, not surprisingly, she was very sorry.  I told her it was ok; it was her first time and I knew it could happen.  We both stayed in the cockpit until dawn when Sofia joined.  By 9 am we had anchored just in front of the beach on the east-side.  An even more beautiful place. 

The next morning we capsized in the dinghy.  After breakfast the girls wanted to go to the beach.  I told them that it didn’t seem we could do it because there were waves breaking. Marina thought the waves were small.  I told her they just appeared that way because of the distance.  But they convince me.  Knowing that it was a bit risky to try, I made sure we had everything in a water proof bag and the phones in protective cases.  Sure enough, as I approached the beach I saw that the waves were not as small as Marina thought, but also not huge breakers.  But in any case, it was too late. A first wave went under us and with our little 2.5 HP outboard, we didn’t have enough speed to outran the second. The dinghy turned upside down and we all disappeared under white water (I had the key attached to my wrist so the engine must but have stopped immediately).  It was quite shallow already so it didn’t take us long to reemerge and swim to the beach.  The dinghy and our bag were waiting there. Fishermen came to the rescue and I asked if I could pay them to take us back to the boat and tow the dinghy. After a couple of hours at the beach this is what we did.  We also anchored the boat further away from the beach because the swells were increasing.  A good lesson for me.  It cost me the outboard motor (still not operational), and a pair of glasses (the ones I bought after loosing another pair in the passage to Turks and Caicos).

    

I pulled the anchor up at 4am the next day and headed to our last destination; Samana Bay.  It was again a day without much wind, at least until late afternoon.  We anchored in front of Puerto Santa Barbara and stayed put. Not a very impressive anchorage.  I should have anchored west of Cayo Levantado.  But we still had a good time there and took turns taking a shower using our new  .  A great purchase.   We ended the trip the following day at Marina Puerto Bahia.  The best marina I’ve visited so far, and where I am now finishing this post.  The town doesn’t have much to offer though… 

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