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The Mona Passage: One for the record books.

(Puerto Real, Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico)

302 miles.

65 hours.

Zero stops.

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Making ^^that^^ trek with less than 50 gallons of diesel (while burning about 1 gallon per hour) meant that we couldn’t rely on our trusty perkins engine to get us all the way from Luperón, Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico. We would need to rely on our sails…and, hello, I guess that’s why we have a sailboat! Makes perfect sense. Lol. But knowing that we were taking on the dreaded Mona Passage as we made our way to Puerto Rico was still a wee bit intimidating, to say the least.

But we did it!!! Without running out of diesel. Phew!

And with no ‘major’ issues to report.

Well, okay fine, there was an initial bucket hugging sesh from yours truly, a few scary storm systems brewing in the Mona Passage, a close call with a huge cargo ship in the middle of the night, a certain cute poodle pants that ‘held it’ for 60 hours, a propane tank swap out while under full sail, a bilge pump scare, and a U.S. Coast Guard plane that circled us repeatedly off the coast of PR. But otherwise, nothing major to report. ;))

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It was a super long (for us) sail. By far, our longest yet. The only passage that even comes close (but really doesn’t) was our >>overnight trip from Turks + Caicos to the DR.<<

All along, we had planned to make it to Puerto Rico by the dirty part of hurricane season, so we could hunker down in the mangrove bays of Salinas if any major storms pop up during the next few months. However, when we told other cruisers of our plans to cross the Mona Passage in July, many thought we were nuts! And they weren’t afraid to tell us. Lol.

I get that this particular sail can be pretty intimidating and quite difficult without the right conditions in play, which is why we Jereme thoroughly did his homework and waited for the absolute perfect weather window to make the crossing and plotted the very best route for us to take. Hello, we waited three long weeks in the DR for the right weather to leave. We might still be newbie sailors, but we’re no dummies. ;))

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^^the red line was the track Jereme plotted and the green line is our actual route.^^

Jereme studied the offshore weather report, windfinder, and passageweather.com regularly while stationed in the Dominican to scope out a good 6-day window for our passage. We were looking for one with consistently <15 knot winds (and therefore very normal <5 ft. seas). Although we managed to make the trek in 3 days, the passage could have easily taken us 6 days (or longer) depending on the number of stops we made along the way. We weren’t all too interested in jumping through more customs+immigration hoops at another DR port, nor were we willing to potentially lose our awesome weather window, so we opted to book it over to Puerto Rico in a speedy 65 hours.

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^^exactly what we had been waiting for! sunday was downright amazing.^^

We picked up our official despacho (check-out document) from the Navy on Saturday afternoon (July 12) and were firmly told we had to leave the harbor no later than 6PM…which was a bit earlier than we requested. So we very casually (read slowly) got the boat ready to leave and eventually motored out of the anchorage around 7:30PM. Still probably a bit earlier than recommended to take advantage of the night lees and a calmer sail along the coast of the DR.

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We put out a double reefed main as we left the harbor, but as soon as we were out in the ocean, it was clear that we were in fact too early.

We were bashing into 5-foot waves coming from every direction. If I knew what it felt like to be stuck in a washing machine, I’m guessing this would be very very similar. And definitely NOT fun. Jereme kept reassuring me that it would positively get better in a few hours as the seas calmed, so I held onto my trusty puke bucket and sucked it up while we hammered east.

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And he was right. As usual.

It got calm. Insanely calm. By midnight, we were very comfortably motor-sailing a few miles off the coast in pure glass. If there were any “waves,” well then they were definitely no more than 6-inches tall. But in reality it was more like super minor ocean swell with very long periods in between swells. In other words, it felt like we were sailing in a swimming pool…aka my favorite kind of sailing. ;))

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We were able to motor-sail with the main raised from Saturday night until Monday morning covering a huge chunk of the Dominican coastline. Our time at sea was spent in shifts. Three hours on, three hours off. Jereme and I took turns at the helm while the other one napped (sometimes below deck and other times right in the cockpit). We listened to a ton of music…I read a book on my kindle…we tried and tried and tried to get Oliver to ‘go’…took tons of photos…and even prepared a few meals (two gourmet mac-n-cheese dinners, rice/beans and enchiladas another night, about a million granola bars, a couple peanut butter sammies, and a few pop tarts along the way too!).

Have I mentioned that ^^said meals^^ required an impromptu swap out of our propane tanks while under sail? Yup, that’s right! About 2 minutes into cooking a pot of black beans and rice for dinner, our propane tank ran out of gas. Seriously? Why couldn’t it have run out during the three long weeks we were anchored in the Dominican? What are the odds? And since we were pretty hungry and not really all that excited about the possibility of having a granola bar dinner, Jereme actually went ahead and swapped tanks while sailing…which (for those of you who may not know) requires accessing the propane lockers in the cockpit comings while moving (they flank the ‘outside’ of the cockpit), using multiple tools to unattach/reattach the tanks, and finagling both tanks in and out of their hatches. He’s pretty awesome.

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And a little note on Oliver…that little poodle pants straight up refused to ‘go’ on the boat. He is SO darn stubborn. We have tried just about everything…astroturf, the pee spray, matching (don’t even ask), etc. We figured for sure nature would simply take over and he would give in. Well, turns out he can hold it for 60 hours. SIXTY!!! Should I call the Guinness Book of World Records? I mean, that just can’t be normal. He finally gave in as we sailed past Isla Desecheo (off the coast of Puerto Rico). I think we got so close to land and then kept on going that he was absolutely crushed. He probably figured we were never ever going to get to land. Poor guy. In any case, once he ‘finally’ went, we rewarded him like he had found the cure for cancer. He probably just needs a little more training repetition on the boat, but right now he’s just happy to be docked at a marina with easy access to land for awhile.

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Back to the passage.

All along, we knew that we wouldn’t be able to motor the entire 300 miles, but thought if the opportunity presented itself, then we might try to stop and refuel. On Monday morning, following the notes in Van Sant’s book, we attempted to stop in Cabeza de Toro (DR) at what we read was a fuel dock at a major resort on the coast. We motored down the channel around 10am towards a beach packed with vacationers. There were people everywhere…snorkeling, sailing on small hobie cats, lounging in beach chairs, but we couldn’t seem to get anyone to answer our radio calls. No one. :(( We unsuccessfully tried to locate the fuel dock ourselves, but from what we could tell, it no longer exists. So we turned around without ever stopping and sailed away from the coast of the Dominican Republic with very.little.fuel.left.

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As we waved goodbye to the DR and sailed into the Mona Passage, we quickly noticed the line of storms a brewin’ off the coast of Puerto Rico.  Just as Bruce indicated in his book, there was literally one storm popping up after the next in a super scary line forming along the Puerto Rican coastline. A few of the systems looked pretty massive with multiple funnel clouds within. Not exactly your first choice of sailing weather, if you ask me.

We followed Van Sant’s recommendations and headed north/northwest at a 30 degree heading…which seems all sorts of silly to be sailing 20 miles in the total total wrong direction from where we wanted to go. But it worked like a charm! We were able to skirt the crazy track of storms, and by midnight we turned back south and began the 60 mile sail towards Puerto Real.

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^^our crazy tack job to outsmart the scary thunderstorms that line the Puerto Rican coastline every afternoon.^^

For the next 10 or so hours, the sailing was downright awesome! We turned the motor off and very comfortably sailed at a speedy (for us) 6 to 7 knots (or more!). It was just what we needed at the end of a long three day passage. And not to mention even better because we were saving gas!

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During the early morning darkness, we had a fake scare with our bilge pump. We had just tacked south and, while napping below deck, I began to notice our bilge pump turning on quite repetitively. Which typically does not happen. For a spilt second, I think our hearts probably skipped a beat as we thought “are we taking on water?” We immediately lifted the floor boards and checked out the situation, and saw that the bilge was full of water only to the level of the float switch, no more (this is normal). We pumped it down with our backup bilge and didn’t have any further issues. We think the bilge pump may have actually turned on simply due to the fact that Jereme had ‘just’ pulled out the headsail, causing us to heel over more to port…where the float switch is located…and causing water to stack up on that side of the boat. At least that’s our guess for now.

As luck would have it, seconds after we determined that we were NOT taking on water and that the bilge pump was fine, a U.S. Coast Guard plane circled directly above us, about 1,000 feet up.  Not once, but two times. This was hilariously reassuring knowing that if we did have a major issue on the boat and needed rescuing, then at least the Coast Guard would be right there to save us. About two hours later, they flew back over our boat and circled once more before carrying on with their business.

The late night/early morning hours continued to be filled with excitement as Jereme came face to face with a massive container ship during his shift. He misjudged the direction of the ship and tried tacking away from it. Much to his dismay, he actually tacked closer to the ship! A crew member on the container ship immediately began flashing white lights at us from their control tower, so Jereme quickly tacked back. Luckily, this little bout of excitement took place while Oliver and I were obliviously unaware and napping below deck. ;))

Aside from a few minor scares, the good news is, we were graced with not only a perfect weather window, but also with a full or close-to-full super moon! What are the odds? And it rose early on in the evening every night (8:30ish), lighting up the night sky from sunset to sunrise. Having a full moon in play makes it so much easier (in my opinion) to sail at night. You can see everything!

We detoured a bit on our intended Puerto Rican destination (we thought we’d go straight to Boqueron), and instead pulled into the Marina Pescaderia in Puerto Real, Cabo Rojo. We decided it made the most sense to head straight to a marina to refuel and rest. And what a great move that was! Marina Pescaderia is a very new marina with super nice facilities and cheap docking fees. We’re anticipating hanging here for a bit while we plan our route around the south coast of PR towards Salinas.

All in all, our passage from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico was pretty darn great!

>>Thanks for visiting LAHOWIND sailing blog! We’d love for you to get to know us and follow our story as we attempt to navigate a whole new world of sailing, as we cruise the Caribbean.

Shades of amber.

(Puerta Plata, Dominican Republic)

A week or two ago, we spent one full day sight-seeing on the “Amber Coast” of the Dominican Republic. Puerta Plata, as it’s more commonly known, is home to the Brugal Company Rum Factory and the Museo del Ambar.

Our second stop of the day (after first checking out the >>Christ statue<< at the top of Mount Isabel de Torres) was at the Brugal Company for a factory tour and rum sampling…at 10:00AM. Lol. It’s always 5 o’clock somewhere, right? ;))

Nothing is more Dominican than street dogs, baseball, and sugar cane. Except maybe rum! So we of course wanted to check out the local rum while in the DR.

Unfortunately for us, Brugal does not allow any photography whatsoever inside the factory. That was like a massive slap in the face for me. No photos? Seriously? Talk about a major bummer. (I would’ve maybe tried to sneak a few anyway if the tour guide hadn’t told us he’d get fired if I took photos. And I do not need that on my conscience!)

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You’ll have to take our word for the factory tour, since there are no photos to prove it.  Turns out, this location is really just a bottling location and the actual distillery is at a different spot. The tour was free and somewhat brief since you’re only really viewing the factory floor from a mezzanine above as workers bottle and label the rum.

Regardless, it was definitely still neat to see, but again, no photos to show how cool the factory was. And clean! Spotless in fact.

The good news is that we were able to snap as many photos as my little heart desired in the Brugal rum shop and taste testing area, where we may or may not have purchased several bottles of the local favorite! We spent some quality time in the shop checking out all the different kinds of rum available for sale and tasting each one! To be honest, I can’t really tell the difference between the different ages/types of rum. Can you?

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After our little morning of rum tasting, we headed further into the city to check out the Museo del Ambar, or Amber Museum.

The historic museum is located in an old Victorian house in the middle of the city. Once we entered the main building and paid our 25 pesos a piece, an English-speaking guide led us through the museum exhibits.

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^^”A”mber “G”allery^^

And it was all very Jurassic Park esc. ;))

Little did we know, the Dominican Republic is somewhat unique in that amber can actually be found here. And not only that, there are as many as 10 different colors of amber to be found here in the DR, including the very rare blue amber. The quality of the Dominican amber is very well known around the world, but especially the pieces originating from the Puerto Plata area, which is considered to be some of the most valued, due to its transparency.

After a little rundown from our tour guide, we spent about 20 minutes checking out all the exhibits of amber rocks covering various little critters and nature. Pretty neat to see!

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^^Both^^ tours were ultra cheap and definitely worth checking out. Jer and I spent the rest of our day in Puerta Plata chowing on some local Dominican food, doing a quick stop at Fort San Felipe, wrapping up the day with a massive grocery shop at La Sirena (the DR’s version of Walmart), and hauling our La Sirena loot back to the boat via dinghy (which is never fun).

>>Thanks for visiting LAHOWIND sailing blog! We’d love for you to get to know us and follow our story as we attempt to navigate a whole new world of sailing, as we cruise the Caribbean.

Mark and Cindy - s/v Cream PuffJuly 21, 2014 - 9:57 pm

Glad you made it to PR safe and sound.

Ever think that the reason the DR sells so much rum to sailors is because they are either facing or have just sailed the Mona Passage ~ just sayin’

Don’t feel bad about the bucket. We both get seasick when in the washing machine. That motion is horrid.

We both love sailing at night under a full moon. But Mark’s favorite time is when there is no moon. He will lay on his back and count the shooting stars. So much for him keeping watch, huh!

Mark and Cindy – s/v Cream Puff
http://www.creampuff.us

Dogs of the Dominican.

(Luperón, Dominican Republic)

Our experiences traveling (even in just small doses so far) have really been quite eye-opening. To say the least.

It turns out that a passion for travel and a love of animals can be somewhat of a recipe for heartache.

As soon as we stepped foot into the Dominican, we were overcome by an intense population of street dogs running loose in the city. They are drinking from the dirty gutters, many covered in fleas and mange, and almost all desperately seeking their next meal. The scope of the stray animal problem in parts of the developing world, like the Dominican Republic, is unimaginable by American standards. In countries often overcome by extreme poverty, people cannot always care for their pets as well as they would like. Overpopulation is rampant and the facilities to spay and neuter dogs are sparse at best. Governments struggle to pave roads or offer basic services to their citizens, much less have the resources to promote or fund spay and neuter programs.

It’s tough to witness first hand. Really tough.

Especially when you are such a huge animal lover like me and all of these sweet babies are the friendliest and most gentle souls you could imagine. If I could scoop up every street dog we’ve encountered and offer them a safe haven, I would. My sister seems to think we will definitely have at least one additional dog aboard s/v LAHO when we return. Lol. We shall see. If it were up to me, we’d literally have a boat load of animals packed up and headed back to the U.S. in search of loving forever homes.

Hell, just the other day I dumped a bag of Oliver’s treats in the street as we walked past the saddest looking dog I’ve ever seen in person. He was too scared and hungry to come close, so I literally scrambled for my ziploc of dog treats and quickly discarded the entire contents of the baggie while hurriedly walking the other direction as to not scare him even more. I was happy to turn and see him inhaling the treats I left, all the while knowing that my futile effort isn’t any sort of real solution.

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But instead of pitying ^^these^^ dogs or ones just like them in your local community, why not help them? In any way you can. Adopt. Foster. Sponsor. Volunteer. Donate. Educate. Anything.

You get the idea.

Since we unfortunately can’t pack up all the street dogs in the DR (or any of the other spots we’ve visited) and sail them back home with us, we can at least try to help in other small ways. Last week, I volunteered to do some branding work for a fledgling dog rescue group in Luperón (>>here’s a first draft of the logo I designed, revisions are still in the works<<). They currently have 40+ dogs at a farm located on the outskirts of town and are rescuing more and more each day. A vet from Santo Domingo (the big city) comes to town twice a month to treat the ill or wounded dogs, and the group is feverishly working on finding ‘real’ homes for these animals so they can rescue even more.

Groups like ^^this^^ are a step in the right direction. And for that, I am thankful.

Remember…adopt. Don’t shop. There are so many wonderful animals in need of forever homes. :)))

>>Thanks for visiting LAHOWIND sailing blog! We’d love for you to get to know us and follow our story as we attempt to navigate a whole new world of sailing, as we cruise the Caribbean.

Highway to Heaven: Cable Car at Mount Isabel de Torres

Just last week when we were still in the DR, we ventured outside of our little Luperón comfort zone and made the 1-hour trek to Puerta Plata for a day packed with lots of touristy sight-seeing goodness. I mean, we can’t spend three weeks in the DR and not do a handful of super touristy things.

Puerta Plata is basically the nearest ‘big city’ to Luperon. It’s the second most popular port of entry for people coming to the Dominican Republic, but most tourists go straight to all inclusive resorts.

We hired Super Nino (as he’s lovingly referred to in the harbor) to drive us to Puerta Plata and spend the day toting us around from one spot to the next. Nino is AWESOME!!! He lives in the small town just outside of Luperon, speaks great English, is super friendly, and knows exactly where to go in Puerta Plata (which we of course do not). We had considered renting a car ourselves for the day, but it was well worth the extra $14 (in our opinion) to have a personal driver for the entire day (car rentals go for about 1200 pesos — Nino’s services were 1800).

After an hours drive through the beautiful Dominican countryside, we made our first stop of the day at Mount Isabel de Torres. Towering above the city, Mount Isabel de Torres is a site to see with panoramic views of the city below from its flat-topped peak. We paid 340 pesos (a piece) entry fee and took the 2,700-foot cable car ride to the top of the mountain where we got to see the famous statue of Christ similar to the iconic attraction in Río de Janeiro, and had stellar views of the city below. Let’s not lie, I was a wee bit nervous hopping in a 30+ year old cable car that is literally hanging by one cable.

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The views on the ride up were breathtaking! You could easily see the entire city. Unfortunately, those views only lasted a short while as clouds quickly rolled in once we were atop the mountain. But that’s okay. We were still able to take scope out the beautiful Christ statue and take lots of photos! :))

The place was pretty dead when we arrived (a good thing in my opinion) and we didn’t have to wait at all getting up or back down the mountain. I can imagine it gets kinda crowded on busy days and you literally have to wait in a terminal for your turn on the cable car (there is only one car going up and one car going down at any given time — I think they probably fit about 20 bodies inside at a time).

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>>Thanks for visiting LAHOWIND sailing blog! We’d love for you to get to know us and follow our story as we attempt to navigate a whole new world of sailing, as we cruise the Caribbean.

[…] second stop of the day (after first checking out the >>Christ statue<< at the top of Mount Isabel de Torres) was at the Brugal Company for a factory tour and rum […]

Puerto Rico, here we come!

Hi-ho hi-ho, off to Puerto Rico we go!!!

We’re dropping the ‘D’ in exchange for a ‘P’. So long DR…here we come PR!

We should be picking up our despacho later today so we can “officially” leave Luperon this evening amidst the night lees and head east towards Puerto Rico. It will take us a few days just to make it to the west side of PR (probably Boqueron) and then still a few more after that to get all the way to Salinas (just east of Ponce), on the south coast of Puerto Rico (or at least that’s what we are planning).

See ya on the flip side! :)))

Sailing Map DR to PR

^^I had to pull a screenshot of more than just DR and PR so I can be excited that after duddy hurricane season is over we will be on our way to some awesome little islands in the Caribbean!^^

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Mark and CIndy - s/v Cream PuffJuly 13, 2014 - 2:44 am

safe travels – say hi to Mona.

Mark and Cindy
s/v Cream Puff

Deborah wrightJuly 15, 2014 - 2:16 am

Wishing you a safe passage!!! Don’t let that Mona be a meanie.

By the way, I got a great giggle out of your fuel filter instruction clarification :)

Deborah (sv Wrightaway)

LAHOWINDJuly 16, 2014 - 1:13 am

Thanks Deborah! We made it safely to Puerto Rico and had a wonderful sail here. Who doesn’t love a good weather window? ;) -Kim

LAHOWINDJuly 16, 2014 - 1:14 am

Thanks Mark + Cindy! -Kim