Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Straight Shot

Sorry for the silence on the blog lately. Since leaving the Bahamas for Turks & Caicos we have had absolutely no internet and next to no cell connection. Because we're aiming to meet Cassandra's parents in the Dominican Republic (DR) soon we decided not to go into the Turks & Caicos but only to pass through, island hoping with our yellow quarantine flag up but never setting foot ashore. Weather and sailing have been going very well and we made excellent progress.

Being ahead of schedule we stayed longer at Big Sand Cay, the last staging point before the big jump to the DR. The water in the Turks & Caicos is the clearest we've seen; in 25ft of crystal water you can make out the bottom perfectly. Our anchorage there was nothing but sand bottom, no growth whatsoever. Swimming, the only occasion to leave the boat, was surreal; you could see so far into the underwater distance that colours at that focus range made for such a panorama as is hard to put into words. This neck of the woods lies on humpback whales annual migration route. We heard several reports of whale sightings from other boats on the VHF radio. We saw whales breathing as we left our anchorage at Six Hills Cay and, enjoying sundowners in our cockpit at Big Sand Cay we saw whales breaching, jumping for joy, on the horizon in the setting sun. National Geographic in our backyard. Remarkable.

Our weather forecasts from days prior in Bahamas were becoming stale and we are still unable to pick up long distance Single Side Band (SSB) radio weather broadcasts. However, if the boat was turned just so and we were outside we got one bar of cell reception and were able to send & receive text messages. Our great land support team (thanks Dad and Alison) was able to send us the Marine Weather Offshore Report 160 characters at a time.

For this 90nm passage we decided there was a weather window. At 4am we weighed anchor and set off into the great blue beyond. Based on previous experience of sailing only 3.5knots to windward we made a very conservative estimate that it would take us 25 hours to complete this leg, arriving at Puerto Plata after sunrise (always good to arrive in daylight). Things went better than planned though, much better. We had great weather and wind. Also I think we trimmed the sails pretty well, reefing and unreefing (we've been working on this). We flew! Averaging 5knots, sometimes as high as sustaining 6.5knots. We sailed the same tack the whole time! Straight rhumb line! We ultimately arrived at 1:30am. Approaching the DR is very different from the Bahamas, we saw the sparkle of city lights from far off, we made out the silhouette of high mountain tops and we could actually smell the earth within 10nm. We made the decision to enter the Ocean World Marina in darkness. What were we going to do? Go in circles outside for four and half hours until sunrise? Weather was good and the entrance actually appeared well marked with lighted channel markers! They did not respond on VHF radio. As I've said before my most stressful moments usually occur in close quarters... and now in an unfamiliar marina in the dark. A few zigs & zags and 360's with Cassandra shinning the spotlight from the bow but the entry actually went quite well and we soon had ourselves securely tied to a dock. A weird thing happened upon entering the marina though: I thought I saw something glowing in the water in the ten feet between the boat and the breakwater pile of rocks, upon further inspection it turned out to be a guy snorkeling with a flashlight... at 1am?! What the heck?! Glad I didn't run him over or chop him up with the propeller.
As always we fell exhausted into the v-berth.

The next morning bright & early a golf cart pulled up to our slip and we had marina staff, navy intelligence, customs and someone else (wasn't too clear to me) on board to sort through the requisite paperwork. This is one of the big benefits of checking in at Ocean World Marina, they really facilitate & streamline all this entry administration, avoiding having to go to separate offices and the typical “tips”. Regardless I still had to go to an office at the marina's main building for immigrations and to pay our entry fee. Still relatively easy. Once this was done we dropped our yellow quarantine flag and proudly raised our Dominican courtesy flag.

Check out this little video compilation of Topanga Under Sail. Make sure to watch to the end to see a whale jumping in the distance!

At the helm

Use your illusion


See the whale back breathing

Jumping in the distance

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