Monthly Archives: June 2017

Lions and Tigers and Mona. Oh My!

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Map taken from the internet


Like the childhood fears in the Wizard of Oz, The Mona Passage looms large in the minds of sailors who are moving east, and we had heard enough stories that we approached it with slight trepidation.

As soon as Frank returned from his crossing of the Atlantic Ocean on an Outremer 5X catamaran, we began looking for a weather window to move from Marina Puerto Bahia, on the Samana Peninsula, DR to Puerto Rico.  The trade winds are easterly and we would be moving directly into them across a passage that is well known for its’ consistent winds and waves, The Mona Passage.  But the move had to be made and we were anxious to go.  Not because we were tired of the Dominican Republic, but because we needed to move on in preparation of hurricane season.

Fortunately, just days after Frank’s return, a window appeared and we decided to sail.  Now, understand, this window was by no means perfect but there is rarely a perfect weather window for the Mona Passage, especially during this time of year.

Let It Be is usually in great shape, but we had a few glitches arise before departing that we decided to live with until we arrived in PR.  The biggest issue is that our anemometer is not working so we do not have any readings of the wind speed or wind direction from the top of our mast.

But hey, we have some experience with estimating wind speeds (thank you kiteboarding) so we were willing to go without that instrument.

Next up is our IridiumGo!  For some reason it is showing our position, but it is not delivering internet so we would not have updated weather reports.  Still, the Mona is only about a day and a half passage.  We would make do and get the Iridium repaired in PR.

Per the recommendation of Van Sant’s book, “Passages South, The Thornless Path,” we chose to leave in the late afternoon Sunday and make this a night, day, night passage.

Well the Mona lived up to her reputaion of sloppy seas and strong easterly winds.  We departed from Puerto Bahia around 5 pm and all was well until darkness fell and I began feeling less than chipper.  I took the first watch.  Unfortunately mine was a short watch since I didn’t feel great. But, as usual, Frank stepped up and took the helm until I could get some rest and find my rhythm.

We had a couple of surprises during our trip.  One was that our navigation lights were not working!?  But we have a tri-colored light at the top of the mast and allowed that to be our beacon.

I took over the watch around 5 am after we had turned away from the Dominican Republic shore and took a northeastern tack to have a better wind angle.  We raised the main and jib as the sun rose and Frank headed below for some much needed rest.

We were happily moving along our predicted route; Frank was asleep and I was just settling in to listen to an audio book when BOOM…. EVERYTHING started flapping.  The attachment ring of the jib clew pulled completely out of our sail!  That was quite a wake up call! (This attachment holds the bottom rear corner of the front sail down to the deck.)

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The clew of our jib without an attachment point.

I pulled in the jib as quickly as I could and made sure the sheets were well secured, then alerted Frank to the problem.  We decided to continue our predetermined path and leave the main sail up.  Unfortunately our speed over ground immediately dropped from about 7.5 knots to about 5.5 knots…. Our trip just became much longer!

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A ring without a function

Still, this was not a life threatening issue but it does change the motion of the boat to something a little less pleasant.   We work very hard to make sure LIB is in excellent condition and it is unusual for us to feel like we are “limping along.”

Thankfully, that was the last mishap we had during our crossing.  The seas were not friendly but we would estimate that the winds were not more than 20 knots, so actually we were pretty fortunate.

Because of our slower than expected progress, we did not reach our intended first harbor of Boqueron but instead slowly entered Puerto Rico at Mayaguez around 9 pm on Monday evening.  Mayaguez is a wide open anchorage and we felt comfortable entering after dark, a practice we avoid 99.5 percent of the time.

We have been exceedingly happy with our North 3Di sails and we had excellent service and help from Andrew Dove, Antigua North Sails, during our purchase process.  So after we had a good night of sleep, Frank contacted Andrew about our jib issue.

Andrew was amazingly quick in responding to Frank’s email and he was very apologetic about our jib issue.  Andrew has assured us that North Sails will repair our sail at their cost including having the sail shipped to and from a nearby loft to make sure the repairs are performed perfectly.

Based on our buying experience and the excellent service we received, we are not at all surprise that North Sails is stepping up to help us.  But it is very nice to have it happen so quickly and easily.

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Anchored off the beach at Boqueron, Puerto Rico

So now we are back in Puerto Rico and exploring the southern shore as we work our way eastward toward Palmas del Mar.  It feels good to be in a U.S. Territory as we approach the July 4th Holiday.

And it feels really good to have the Mona Passage behind us.

Sailing ~ My Beginnings

Since we aren’t moving around much right now, I thought I would share a story I wrote as an assignment a few years ago about how this whole “living on a boat” thing started for me.  Originally, this was a three part story, per the parameters of the instructions, and it focuses on my experience. Sorry to be so egocentric today.  I hope you enjoy reading it… 

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Deshaies, Guadeloupe river hike.

Water and sound.  Two things that invigorate me.  From the time I was very young, think three or four, I loved to swim.  I was a fish! In fact, during the summer, missing a trip to the pool might have caused my gills to dry out and I could have died! Thank goodness my mom was pretty dedicated to making sure I had plenty of time for swim team and spring board diving!

Sound is also essential to me.  But sound goes two ways for me.  I love all sorts of music, but there are times when noise overwhelms me and I need silence or the simple sounds of nature.  Take jet skis. Man those things are great! They fuel my desire for speed and do it on the water! However, I just can’t take the engine noise for long.  Pretty quickly I seek out a quiet cove, turn off the engine and allow myself to soak in the beauty of the water and the fabulous harmony of nature’s songs.

Knowing these two facets to my person, how did I manage to live for half of a century without discovering sailing? A sailboat combines water, movement and quiet!  Sailing had never really entered my radar, but once it did, I was convinced it would be perfect for me!  And since Frank had grown up sailing, he was interested in picking it up again and thought it would be the perfect sport for us to share.

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Let It Be “racing” in Georgetown, Bahamas

Not one to let opportunity pass me by,  I signed up for my first sailing class: American Sailing Association 101.  And Frank, who is like the Chinese water torture once he gets an idea in his head, decided to take sailing matters into his own hands.  He signed us both up for a 4 day, live on board, sailing class which would begin the day after I finished ASA 101.  He grew up sailing and was determined I should catch the sailing bug.

I thought for sure sailing would be an easy and natural fit for me, but…

Have you ever heard a sailor talk? It’s a whole new language on a boat! Why can’t a rope be a rope? Because on a sailboat it’s a halyard or a sheet depending on its function!

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I tried so hard to learn all the terms and jargon before my first sailing class, but I was lost.  Words and I are friends, but wow did the sailing terms throw me for a loop!  I finally managed to learn all the parts of a monohull sailboat once I actually stepped on board for my sailing classes.

Have you ever been on a monohull on a windy day, when you aren’t very sure of what you are doing or which “line” goes to what sail?  Well add in the experience of heeling and I was in a whole new world! For those of you who don’t know, heeling is when the boat tilts to one side because of the pressure of the wind on the sail.  Holy wind force, Batman! That was a seriously unexpected and upsetting experience for me.

Here I was trying to put my new sailing terminology to use only to be thrown about by the inanimate boat from hell that arched up on one side and left me clinging to anything stable to remain on board!

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Photo from internet

Needless to say, learning to sail was not the seamless, docile experience I had expected. Do you remember that song, “Sailing” by Christopher Cross?  Yeah, well, that song is misleading! My first sailing experience was anything but relaxed and lackadaisical!  Mostly what I remember from my very first sailing experience was having strange terms thrown at me, “come about!” and ducking for dear life as the sail swung from one side of the boat to the other, barely missing my head!

Still, I was not willing to give up on sailing and I soon managed to become proficient enough to stay on board, understand the language and adjust to life on a tilt.

However, after the first four day trip Frank and I took on a sailboat, I was really sad.  There I was, on a boat in the British Virgin Island, sailing on the clearest water you can imagine and I was not loving it.  My little, sprouting dream of adventurous sailing with sea spray bursting around the boat and me smiling at the helm was dying as I tried to adjust to my new hobby.

I wasn’t sure what to do.  I now possessed certifications for Sailing 101 and 103, but somehow my sea legs had not developed and Frank had become more and more enamored with the idea of LIVING on a sailboat!…

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Green Beach, Vieques

Swell.  My husband is now convinced that our future should include LIVING on a sailboat and all I can think is, “There is no way in hell I can live out my life on a boat, looking out a tiny window just above the water line, hanging on as the boat tilts to 45 degrees and I try to make some sort of dinner in the galley!”

By the end of our four days on the monohull, I didn’t care how beautiful the surroundings were or how “cool” it was to move from place to place using only the forces of nature.  I was not going to live on a boat.  I love Frank but this was not the life for me.

To make matters worse, we had already paid for another four more days of sailing, this time just the two of us.  No instructors, just us!  I was ready to forfeit my money and head back home. However, my resourceful husband had a plan.  He is a tenacious person and was not willing to give up on this whole idea of living on a boat.

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No need to hold on when we don’t heel.

So, he leased a catamaran instead! For those who don’t know, a catamaran has two hulls and much of the living area is above the waterline, and there is NO HEALING!  Have I told you that I love my husband?

Some people refer to catamarans as “condo-marans” because of the extra space they have.  Sailing purists don’t appreciate cats much, but for me, this was a whole new and fabulous experience!  No longer was I stuck “down” in the galley (kitchen).  Instead I could cook above the water line and have a 360 view.  I could set down my coffee and the cup would not slide off the counter and throw the contents all over the boat.  Life could be lived the way it was supposed to be – upright, not at an angle!

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No heeling, no sliding.

Five years ago Frank leased that catamaran.  Today, I am a fairly accomplished catamaran sailor.  I have taken two girls only trips where I am the captain and even my non-water, non-sailing friends have a great time swishing through the water, propelled by wind, without the sound of an engine. And all of them know a good bit about how to handle a sailboat.

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While a monohull is a beautiful, graceful sailboat, give me a cat any day!  Let those sailing purists live at a tilt.  Me, I’ll take the grief for my “condo-maran” and enjoy my coffee while sitting or standing perpendicularly, just as God intended!

Regular readers know that we have realized our dream and have lived on board s/v Let It Be for almost two years.  My sailing experiences have taught me to better appreciate the beauty and benefits of monohulls too, but I’m still partial to catamarans.

As always, thank you for visiting our blog. If you are interested in seeing more of our everyday activities, please visit our FB page: Let It Be, Helia 44

 

Los Haitises National Park, DR

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Lush growth and conical hills of Los Haitises.

From our slip in Puerto Bahia Marina, I can see the other side of Samana Bay where the Haitises National Park resides.  The park, established in 1976, was originally 80 square miles but was expanded to 319 square miles in 1996.  Los Haitises has very little road access and includes a protected virgin forest and home to a variety of birds.  The park is a fairly popular spot for ecotourism and the number of visitor each year is supposedly limited, although we did not have any trouble getting permission to take LIB across the bay for a visit.

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Birds in the air and in the trees.

Laurie and Ken of s/v Mauna Kea and Laura and Chris of s/v Temerity agreed to join us on LIB and head across the bay for an overnight visit to Los Haitises.  Ken and Laurie had already visited once so they were our resident experts for the trip.

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Laura and Laurie relaxing on the trampoline.

After a relaxing sail across Samana Bay, we anchored near an inlet that Ken told us led to a large ecolodge with beautiful surroundings and fair vittles.  Once anchored, we hopped into the dinghy and motored through one of the most beautiful creeks we have explored to date. 

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I wish I could share the sounds with you as well!

While the water was not the gin clear color we experienced in the Bahamas, the overhanging trees and lush surroundings were breathtaking.

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Village Weaver nests.

Nestled among many branches were groups of round bird nests.  I later learned that these nests are woven from leaves by the males of the “Village Weaver” species (Ploceus cucullatus).  The males weave a nest in the hope that a female will come along, appreciate his handiwork and choose him as a mate.  Once she chooses her mate, the female lays 4-6 small blue-green eggs.  Village Weavers are not indigenous to the Dominican Republic but rather were brought from Africa on slave ships around 1796. Originally the birds were only found in Los Haitises but recently some have been seen in the capital of Santa Domingo.

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This looks more triangular than round… wonder if some female found it exciting?

A short walk past horses, cows, chickens and other livestock roaming in fields was the promised ecolodge.  I am not sure what qualifies this as an ecolodge, but I can tell you it is beautiful.  We had to pay a small fee per person to enter the grounds and this allowed us to explore the area, have lunch and get in the water.  Pictures will do far more justice than my words…

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A water feature at the entrance to the lodge.

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The sound of waterfalls added to the ambiance of lunch.

Los Haitises has an average annual rainfall of 79 inches. In contrast, Dallas, TX has an annual rainfall of 37 inches.  I believe all of the water features are fed from fresh water mountain springs and runoff.

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The stonework reminded me of WPA projects from the 1930s.

Laura speaks Spanish very well and struck up a conversation with the gentleman in charge of construction of a new hotel being completed as part of the lodge.  All number of US agencies would have slapped fines on the builder for showing us around the construction site but we were thrilled to have a first hand view and he was equally pleased to show off the hotel.

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Numerous rooms and additional water features for the lodge.

I must admit that the way these accommodations have been incorporated into the hillside and how the rooms include natural features of the land is truly remarkable.  We toured for about 40 minutes and were allowed to see every room and planned space. 

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Stairways that seem to belong within the hillside.

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Use of indigenous materials made the hotel feel more like it “belongs” here.

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The view from the upper rooms.

In the picture above, the left side shows a water feature and to the right, the bare areas are the future home of a PuttPutt course.  I’m not sure how that fits into an ecolodge but I am sure it will be well liked by visitors.

The construction tour was truly a treat made even more delicious because we knew back home laws would have prevented us from having strolling through this construction site.

Next up was a visit to the caves used by the Tiano Indians way back before Columbus landed! There are two areas for viewing caves on Los Haitises; one is very obvious and is actually a little lame compared to the cave tour we had back in Thompson Bay.  But the second option is to hire a local guide who takes you to a more remote cave.  Our guide rode in the dinghy and took us through a meandering creek where we stopped at a nicely built wooden dock.  From there a quick walk along a path through dense trees led us to a cave used more than 500 years ago by the Tiano Indians.

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I just liked the light in this picture.

I was not supposed to take pictures of the hieroglyphics painted by the Tianos and I honored that request.  The images were painted with sap from a local tree and the only color used was black.  Still, it is interesting to see the “recordings” these people left behind.

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Hard to believe all this light is in the caves.

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Somehow this makes me think of the resurrection of Jesus.

We were told that the Tianos used the caves to hide and escape from Columbus.  Legend has it that they had a few entrances to the caves and the Tianos walked backwards from various directions to confuse their trails, then they escaped through a hidden opening.  Very clever!

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Looking out from the first caves.

A special thank you to Ken and Laurie who decided to skip the second cave and held on to Captain so I could explore the cave.

Once the cave tour was completed, we motored back to Puerto Bahia as the wind was in our faces.  The trip to Los Haitises was quick but it was also interesting and fun to share with friends.

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A peaceful bend in the creek leading to the Tiano Caves.

As always, thank you for stopping by to read our blog.  If you want to see what we are up to more often, check out our FB page: Let It Be, Helia 44. We would love to hear from you. 

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