Our passage to the Caribbean from the Bahamas didn’t work out quite the way we expected.
Unlike most of our passages so far, where we’ve hoped for light winds to make for calm sailing, we found ourselves waiting in Little Inagua, Bahamas for the winds to increase and come from the north so we could unfurl our sails and cut through the prevailing easterlies to sail to the Dominican Republic.
Studying weather forecasts has become a major part of our lives at sea, which means we usually consult at least three online weather sources, a few books and several sailors headed in the same direction to ensure a safe and comfortable journey onwards.
And this trip was no different. Our upcoming passage to the Dominican Republic wouldn’t be nearly as long as the calm, comfortable 240 nautical miles we sailed from Long Island to Little Inagua, but we still carefully studied the weather gribs our friend Morgan downloaded using his satellite phone, while we waited for the right weather window.
And just as we hoped, the grib files showed the winds would turn to the north and give us 10-15 knots on a beam reach only two days after we’d arrived to Little Inagua. Which was lucky, because we weren’t sure at the time we’d arrived how long we’d be stuck on this uninhabited island.
Truth be told, though, it was a little sad preparing to leave the Bahamas after so many great experiences in these beautiful islands. But the time had come to say good-bye and move on to a new chapter in our adventures. You know what they say: “All good things must come to an end.”
So we made our plans to depart Little Inagua just before sunset, when the winds were calm. And once we’d rounded the headland, we’d unfurl our sails just as the winds were forecasted to pick up.
The forecasts were pretty accurate with regards to the first 8 hours of our journey, giving us the 10 knots we were expecting. But by the following morning, we no longer had calm sailing. The wind had kicked up to 25-30 knots, we were doing 7.0 knots under sail with both the main and genoa heavily reefed, and our ETA to Luperon was about 12 hours earlier than we’d planned.
We’d read in Bruce Van Sant’s Passages South that Luperon’s entrance is dotted with shoals and reefs and therefore we should avoid coming in at night, so we were trying as hard as we could to slow down and arrive in daylight, so we’d have good visual on any obstacles in the harbor.
But the winds continued to build, causing our auto-pilot to creak under the stress while our boat was permanently tilted at a 35-degree angle, and Celia, the more squeamish of our two cats, wailed loudly as she searched for a calm place to hide from the chaos.
And that’s when things started to go wrong on both Senara and Hideaway. First, Morgan’s auto-pilot belt broke, forcing him to hand-steer for the rest of the journey, then our own Raymarine auto-pilot gave up on us, flashing a message that read “drive stopped,” and then, later, “current limit,” after which it shut down completely. Even with two of us on board, Ryan and I were exhausted doing heavy-handed two-hour watches through the night, so I felt really sorry for Morgan, who was single-handing without an auto-pilot and getting very little sleep.
I guess you have to be careful what you wish for. It’s true, we wanted strong winds…and we got it.
But, then, one advantage of going so fast was that we arrived to Luperon about 5 hours early. Which meant, after 30 exhausting hours at sea, both Hideaway and Senara could heave-to outside Luperon harbor until sunrise and get some much needed sleep before our arrival.
And, boy, when the sun rose overhead, were we ecstatic! Tired, but ecstatic. It was clear we had arrived somewhere new. The barren, white-sand miniature islands of the Bahamas had been replaced by green mountains and lush forests in the distance on an island so large it would require months of overland travel to fully explore.
And it would seem, upon coming to shore to check in with immigration, that our cruising life had intersected with backpackers’ territory. Which felt altogether familiar and exciting. I was thrilled to be in a Spanish-speaking country again, and a place I could sink my teeth into. There were gritty, Dominican towns offering cheap food, excellent beer, friendly locals and the kind of rough-around-the-edges travel that I remember from my days running around South America.
We’ve arrived to the start of a brand-new adventure… and with Bachata and Reggaeton playing in the background, it seems we also had a soundtrack to this new chapter.
Bienvenido a la Republica Dominicana!