(Luperón, Dominican Republic)
For the past few months, island hopping through the Bahamas has been a breeze!
No 24-hour passages. No crazy tacking jaunts to get us from point A to point B. No waking up mildly concerned that forecasted conditions may not hold.
But lately, life afloat has begun to grow by leaps and bounds. Longer distances to cover = longer hours at sea. Which ultimately equals overnight passages and real shift work.
Any day before we are about to weigh anchor and set sail for a new destination, Jereme would probably admit to the fact that I can get a little grouchy. What can I say, I guess I just like routine? I like getting somewhere, settling in, and soaking up everything that new town has to offer, and not leaving (unless of course the anchorage sucks…then I’m ready to leave the second we get there). I suppose I can’t complain too much because each time we leave somewhere we love, we end up arriving in a new town or country only to be instantly energized and eager to explore that new area!
And the passage from Providenciales, Turks + Caicos to Luperón, Dominican Republic was no different. Okay maybe a little different because we were leaving the cushy comfort of a marina and having to disconnect from shore power and turn off our glorious a/c. That was in fact a major bummer. But we got our spirits up and ready, and it was time to move on!
Now, weather forecasts are another ballgame altogether when planning a passage.
We (mostly Jereme) check multiple weather sources multiple times a day for several days before we plan to set sail. We’re most fond of passageweather.com, windfinder, and the National Weather Service’s Offshore Weather Report. In this case, our 3-day planned weather window would allow us to leave Provo first thing in the morning on Day 1 with enough time to anchor once at Six Hills Cay (at the end of Day 1) and then again at Big Sand Cay (on Day 2), before making the 80-mile leap to the DR on Day 3. Forecasts called for 2 to 3 foot seas with 10-15 knot winds across the board. However, by the afternoon of Day 3 wave height and wind speed were forecasted to increase a tad.
In anticipation of semi decent winds (which usually turn out to be a little stronger than forecasted), we got underway first thing in the morning with a double reef in the main and the jib out full as we sailed our way out of Provo. We weren’t anticipating much excitement from our first day since we were only crossing the shallow Caicos Banks for a 40-mile sail to Six Hills Cay. However, after an unexpected visit from the rather large and super official looking Turks + Caicos police boat that came flying full speed at us (loaded with police guys) about 10 miles offshore, we knew we were in for a more exciting day than planned. Luckily, the police boat just interrogated us via radio for about 10 minutes before deciding we were legit (i.e. not smuggling drugs or haitians) and had legally checked in and back out of the T&C. Phew. (Side note: we must look super sketchy or something because we also heard the officials in T&C call over VHF for a visual on our boat the morning we were entering the country. Who knows…)
We spent the next 24 hours tacking our little hearts out to get across the Caicos Banks. We were up against 3-foot seas and 15-knot winds coming from exactly where we wanted to go. So we tacked. And tacked. And tacked some more. Have I mentioned how much I despise tacking? And that I’m the one typically man handling the sails and doing all the trimming while Jer keeps us on course at the helm? We only tack out of necessity of course. To get 40 nautical miles by sailing 70 miles. Fun times.
After painfully covering about 70+ miles and zig-zagging our way across the Banks, we were way behind schedule.
So we said “screw it” to our pitstop in Six Hills Cay and opted to press on for Big Sand Cay by sailing through the night.
We couldn’t risk having the second leg of our passage take double or triple the amount of time, so we put away the jib, turned on the engine, and motor-sailed our way to Big Sand Cay, arriving about 26 hours after leaving Provo.
Even though we were exhausted, we immediately hoisted the dinghy and outboard so we could get Oliver to shore. I really wish we would have had more than a few hours to enjoy that little island. The beach was gorgeous and the beach combing on the ocean side of the island looked awesome!
Instead of sticking around for a night, we decided it would be wise to leave Big Sand Cay earlier than expected so we would have more than enough time to sail the 80 or so miles to Luperón amidst the night lees while still arriving first thing in the morning before the tradewinds kicked up on the north end of the coast. And simultaneously ensuring our good weather window didn’t change (for the worse) without us knowing.
Leaving Big Sand Cay that early meant we only had about 4 hours to nap, eat some food, and get the boat ready to sail again (i.e. engine checks and tidying up the cockpit, that sort of thing).
We pulled anchor at 4PM and had our sails up and motor off before we even left the Big Sand Cay anchorage. There was no way we weren’t going to take full advantage of our first sail in a southerly direction. Can you say “no tacking needed!”
^^Here’s a short clip of what the sailing conditions looked like from Big Sand Cay to Luperon.^^
Oliver and I took the first shift (4PM to 8PM). The hours flew by as we cruised a perfect course at a speedy (for us) 6 to 7 knots. By 8 o’clock, Jereme took over at the helm while Oliver and I went below deck for a cat nap. As the sun went down, winds must have picked up a bit because we were forced to reef the jib sail. The feeling of being overpowered in the boat is not one we typically care for, so we oftentimes opt to reef the jib (if we already have a reefed main) or put the head sail away altogether. We always keep the main up for stability.
By nightfall, you could no longer see the direction or size of the waves, but boy could you feel them. I’m pretty sure Jer took a full wave to the face during his first shift that night. And later on in the early morning hours during my 1 to 4AM shift, I’m pretty positive I got smacked in the face by a fish! We found the little guy sitting right next to the captain’s chair the next morning.
After hours of trying (and semi successfully) keeping our course, we eventually opted to put away the head sail and motor sail the last 15 to 20 miles into Luperón. We had once again taken Bruce Van Sant’s advice…instead of beating into the seas, we reached across them and eventually motored up the coast in the early morning hours.
You can almost taste the approach to land after an 80-mile sail. Especially as you are greeted by the very lush green mountainous island. Such a nice departure from the miles upon miles of white sand shores and turquoise waters in the Bahamas.
After successfully carving out a little spot to anchor in an already packed anchorage and navigating the crazy red tape required to check in here in Luperón (more on that later), Jer and I immediately grabbed Oliver and dinghied to shore to explore this wonderful new country.
It was sensory overload as we walked off the government dinghy dock and into a town bursting at the seams with energy. The smell of dominican food cooking, the sound of spanish music blasting all around us, and the sight of friendly locals on motoconchos and street dogs running through the town center was all we needed to overcome our long passage here. We were ready to plop ourselves down with a Presidente Grande in hand at the first open air bar we found and take in this awesome little city.
And that’s just what we did!
Lots more on our time in the DR coming soon!
>>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 Bahamas + Caribbean. …Learn more about us and our sailing + cruising adventures.