(Puerto Real, Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico)
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. ;))
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. ;))
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.
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.
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.
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. ;))
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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