4.28.2010

Boca Chica, Dominican Republic

We arrived safely in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic. More later

4.26.2010

Casa de Campo Marina | La Romana | Dominican Republic

Experience in La Romana, Dominican Republic (DR) has been an encounter that deserves a blog all to it’s self. I must confess I had concerns develop during our passage to La Romana regarding Casa de Campo Marina. Few of the cruising guides that we have on board as references mention the south side of the DR and the ones that do only write a paragraph. The main focal point is the north side of the DR since the mass of cruisers usually stops at Luperon and then head to Puerto Rico without stopping over on the south side. Due to this there is not enough information available regarding approaches and marinas. This was the grounds of my concern since we could not get a good visual on the marina and how to best approach. Unfortunately, I had injured my right hand on the passage and was not able to sufficiently assist the captain. We hailed the marina several times without success to obtain assistance. As we approached closer to the area that we believed to be the marina we ultimately received a weak response from the marina staff. At which point they gave us the lat/long for the approach. The captain entered the numbers into the GPS and relief was found when we noted that yes we were heading in the correct position. As we approached closer the radio strength improved and we were instructed to hail the staff when we were 3 miles out and they would send a staff member in a dinghy to assist us with our approach and dock lines. The Captain and I glanced at each other in amazement at what we just heard. They are sending a Dinghy to meet us?? Did we hear them correctly?? What the??!! This was a concept that we had never heard of from a marina. As we approached closer to the entrance we noticed a sailboat race to our port side, spinnakers were flying as the sun was setting! Beautiful!! The sight flooded us both with memories of our racing days. At 2 miles out sure enough we observed a dingy patiently awaiting our arrival. As we approached closer a second dinghy arrived to join the first. They pulled up next to us, introduced themselves and personally guided us in. Once we were safely in the marina entrance both boats disappeared. What the?? The Captain and I once again glanced at each other in amazement, “where did they go??!!” Within a couple of minutes they reappeared this time both young men in one dinghy. They pulled up next to Mary Rose and with grace and proficiency one of the young men jumped aboard. “I am here to assist you with docking since you have an injured crew.” Just like a super hero. “I’m here to save the day!” The captain and I were in wonderment at the service they were providing us! When we were safely docked we were then greeted by the “officials”. Immigration, Customs, Navy and Agriculture. They all arrived on the dock to take care of their officially authorized business. What the?? Once again the Captain and I glanced at each other in amazement. Our thoughts were “You mean we don’t have to hunt them all down??” Nope… now we have experienced personal escorts, dock handlers and an uncomplicated clearance! WOW this was amazing! Soon after we had completed the entrance paperwork and paying the fees we were greeted by the Harbor Master, Frank Castillo. He introduced himself and sincerely apologized for no being there when we docked as he had been tied up with the Farr 40 World Championship race. The sailboat race that we sailed past was the Farr 40 World Championship race??!! Too cool!! Frank inquired about my hand and offered to drive us to town the next morning to have it X-rayed. He told us about the marina facilities, local areas to be sure to visit, and then invited us to join the Farr 40 after race party. Be sure to visit the FARR40 web site for exciting photos and more. http://www.farr40.org/ At this point we have experienced personal escorts, dock handlers, an uncomplicated clearance and now FREE food and beer! Can life get better than this??!! Well let me say…Yes it can!! As Frank gave us his best wishes he informed us that he was going to bring us fresh coffee and pastries in the morning. Sure enough that is precisely what occurred, on Mary’s deck the next morning was a box of gourmet pastries that were fresh and delicious and 2 coffees! By 8 am we were in Frank’s personal vehicle in route to town to have my swollen hand X-rayed. The hospital wasn’t as high tech as what I am used but in my perspective it was more proficient and efficient than what we have available in the USA. I had 2 x-rays and saw the physician in less than 30 minutes for the cost of… are you ready for this?? Less than $100!!! One wonders what is wrong with the healthcare system in the USA? Luckily, my hand was only bruised with tissue injuries, no fractures or broken bones! Frank proceeded to drive us to the pharmacy to have my prescription filled and off we went back to the marina. Frank insisted on paying for the prescription! What the????? We have had many encounters with marinas but this has been by far the best. Frank and his staff went above and beyond in many ways that are not mentioned due to time but no less important. Now you may be thinking to yourself, I bet you had to pay the price for above expectations customer service?? No, the cost of our slip here was less than anyplace else that we have stayed. Amazing huh?!!
Frank manages this marina with the philosophy of customer service as the main principle. It doesn’t matter if you are on a multi million dollar yacht or a 32 foot sailboat everyone deserves equal treatment with the same great service. The staff is equally satisfied with his leadership. Frank is retired from the US Navy and brings a strong ability to lead and guide these young men and women who are employed by Casa de Campo. He is fair and promotes integrity amongst the staff. We spent some time chatting with a couple of the employees as they drove us all over the complex in golf carts and they referred to Frank as their “hero” and it shows in the attitudes and the service. Frank will bend over backwards to make sure each of his guests are delighted and satisfied with the service provided at not only the marina but the entire stay in the DR.
We would encourage everyone to visit Casa de Campo, to cruise the south side of the DR and enjoy the treasures that await you here. You will experience miles and miles of snow white sand beaches, friendly people and Casa de Campo Marina. I really can’t say enough positive things regarding the marina and the service.

http://www.marinacasadecampo.com.do/

During our stay here Frank recommended that we visit Altos de Chavon. He stated it was one of those places you just don’t want to miss. So a few days later off we went walking up the hill to find this magnificent place. We only had to walk a little while when we were picked up by a security officer and given a ride to Altos de Chavon. Altos de Chavon is a 16th century replica of a Mediterranean village perched high above the Chav√≥n River. The village was designed by Dominican architect Jose Antonio Caro, and created by Italian master designer Roberto Coppa. The stone and iron work was done all by hand by Dominican artists. Each stone was hand cut, each wooden door frame was handcrafted and each wrought-iron detail hand-forged. Construction of the village began in 1976 and the village was inaugurated in 1982 with the concert of Frank Sinatra at the amphitheater. The amphitheater is Grecian-style and seats 5000. It is an amazing site. This place is amongst one of the most romantic places I have ever seen. It is like taking a step back in time. At the heart of the Altos de Chavon village is the Church of St. Stanislaus.




Please take time to view the Casa de Campo web site for more details of this wonderful complex.



Our plan is to leave here tomorrow and sail west along the south coast of the Domonican Republic and visit a couple of more ports and then head to Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Mexico.


We will update as we are able.

4.25.2010

Brief Update

It is now Sunday April 24, 2010 and this is a very brief update.
Our very dear friend, Dr. Bill Smith arrived in Tortolla on April 11th to sail with us for a week and he returned to Kansas City on April 17th. We sailed to Anegada and had a great time! Bill is writing a blog that will detail the visit and activities; we will post it as soon as we are able.

Lana and I departed the British Virgin Island on 4/17/2010 and sailed to Great Lampshire Bay on the East end of St John. The following day we sailed to Culebra in the Spanish Virgin Islands and stayed two nights before sailing to Puerto Rico. Our first stop was in Puerto Rico where we anchorage at Puerto Patilla on the southeast corner of the island. We departed the next morning for Ponce but decided to anchor at a lovely island off the southern Puerto Rican coast called Caja de Muerto. The water was gin clear and the beach was beautiful. The next morning we went to the Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club where we topped off the fuel tank and water tanks in preparation for another crossing of the Mona Passage. We departed Ponce about 10 AM for the Dominican Republic. We expected this passage to take about two days as the winds were light and the seas were calm. However we received a gift of fresh trade winds about 3 AM and we gained good speed and arrived in La Romana, Dominican Republic about 4:30 PM the next day. The Mona crossing was wonderful and it was like a sleigh ride with speeds in excess of 6 knots to the starboard beam. We never changed tacks all the way to La Romana. We will continue on from here to Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Mexico and then to St Petersburg by June 1, 2010. We will write an extensive blog on the Marina Casa de Campo as this is the very best Marina experience we have had to date.

4.03.2010

Cruising Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico, Spanish Virgin Islands, US Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands

We departed Luperon Dominican Republic on March 13, 2010 at 0650 in the early predawn light with very mild winds. Our dispatch from the Luperon officials cleared us for Samana on the east coast of the Dominican Republic but our intentions were to sail direct, non stop to Bouqeron, Puerto Rico. We had been waiting for several days in Luperon for the north swells to stop so that the northern ports would be safe in the event that we needed a safe haven on our easterly route along the north coast of the Dominican Republic. Mary Rose V was the first boat out of the harbor this morning and as expected we saw boats exiting en mass after we were several miles east of the Luperon Harbor entrance. We expected this passage to take at least two days and maybe three so we sat back into a comfortable pace and made the most of the winds and sea conditions. We stayed close to shore to take advantage of the wind shadow the island affords and it also has a calming effect on the seas. We chatted with several other cruisers along the way as we made slow progress in light winds. We did our best to use the cape effects of each land point to our advantage and to look for the benefit of currents to help move us along. We motor sailed when we unable to maintain speeds above 3 kts under only sail. We passed Cabo Samama way point at 130 PM on 3/14/10 and continued south across the Bay of Samana where we took an easterly course to avoid the hourglass shoals as we began our voyage across the Mona Passage. The Mona Passage can be hazardous in the wrong conditions. The reason we stayed in Luperon longer than intended was to wait for the conditions to give us safe passage across the Mona Passage. Winds were light and seas were calm as we began the crossing with all sails up and low RPM’s on the engine. As we approached the coast of Puerto Rico on the evening of 3/15/10 we were faced with making the decision to go North or South of Isla Desecheo. As it turns out the decision was made for us by the strong fast moving current of the Mona Passage. We tried to tack to the Southwest to leave the Island to windward and the current pushed us back on the exact same tack and track we had been on before tacking. Yes we were essentially going backwards. At 0130 we tacked again and headed for the land shadow that we hoped would be produced by the island of Puerto Rico. It worked and soon we could smell the scents of land, food, smoke, people and animals. There is something wonderful about making a landfall after several days at sea. There is very little at sea to inspire your sense of smell, the options are limited and sometimes even unpleasant. But approaching land your olfactory systems gets a huge infusion and is a pleasant experience. The light land breeze off of the western shore of Puerto Rico gave us a port beam reach down the coast to our destination of Bouqueron. We took our time and exchanged watches after adjusting the course on the chart plotter to keep us in safe waters and avoid the surrounding reefs. We made landfall at Bouqueron, Puerto Rico on 3/16/10, just as the sun tipped above the horizon. We anchored at 0700 and went to bed for a much needed rest. After a few hours of sleep we called the customs and immigration authorities and checked in over the phone. It is important that you have the US cruising permit and all passengers have valid local boater numbers as this prevents having to arrive in person to check in when making landfall in the United States and its possessions. We pulled anchor in the afternoon and moved a few miles to Cabo Rojo under the lighthouse on the most Southeastern tip of Puerto Rico so we could depart in the night lee of the island for Ponce. We departed Cabo Rojo about 2300 and arrived at Ponce Yacht Club at 0800 the next day.

We enjoyed our stay at Ponce and and used this as an opportunity to rent a car and visit some land based destination on the beautiful Island of Puerto Rico. Be sure to fill your tanks with diesel at the Ponce Yacht Club. It is clean and the best price we found since leaving the United States several months ago. The reason it is such a good price is that the members insist on low cost fuel, what a bonus for the occasional visitor! We rented a car from PayLess that was recommended by the front desk at the Ponce Yacht Club. The car was reasonably priced in good condition and they were very helpful. We filled up the gas tank and the fuel prices were about the same as in the US but it is priced in liters.First we drove to Salinas in search of a spear gun so I could continue my quest for giant lobster. We finally found a marine store and they were out of spear guns but they did have the boat parts that we needed for minor repairs that we intended to do while at the Ponce Yacht Club. We then drove back to Ponce and made sure that Mary Rose was secure and all the sea cocks were closed before heading up the mountains on Highway 123 to the small mountain town of Adjuntas, Puerto Rico. It was a lovely drive on a narrow winding highway with typical mountain road switchbacks that were lined with charming compact homes that hung off of the mountain side like colorful adornment on the edge of huge Christmas tree. There were a few cars along the way that obviously did not make the trip. They seemed to be abandoned where they died. The views were spectacular and except for the occasional meeting of a large truck on a curve the drive was enjoyable. The people were friendly and waved as we made our way up the mountain to Adjuntas and it seems as though everyone has their own live colorful rooster decorating their yard. Our first order of business upon arrival at Adjuntas was to find some genuine local Puerto Rican cuisine in this charming mountain village. We drove into town passing several roadside restaurants and made a few trips around the square before heading back out of town to one of the places we passed on the way into town. Fortunately we decided to stop at The Original Gui Gui (wee wee) Restaurant that was formally know as the Star Light but lost the name due to some sort of legal anglings with a competitor down the road. The “Gui Gui” is famous for their Chueleton A Lo “GuiGui”. It is a pork chop as big as your head that is cut into double bite sized pieces and deep fried as most food is in Puerto Rico. We ordered a side of Mofongo which is a special preparation of plantain that is popular in Puerto Rico along with freshly peeled French fries. The single order was enough for both of us and we were then treated to a special visit by the owner ”Gui Gui.” He was careful to explain that his name sounded like Wee Wee but was not to be confused with the male anatomy which sometimes goes by the same name. Gui Gui was very entertaining and we highly recommend his restaurant for authentic Puerto Rican cuisine. The service was exceptional and there were several customers there that had driven from Ponce just for an evening meal.

Our next quest was to find a room for the night and our waiter recommended the Hotel Monte Rio in downtown Adjuntas. We found a rustic three story hotel that was clean and comfortable with a great price for the night. After checking in we walked to the square just a block away and enjoyed watching the youth of the town practice their Latin dancing, surf the web on lap tops and fellowship in small groups. The square was a beautiful park with old growth banyan trees and water fountains that begged you to sit and relax as you succumbed to the sights and sounds of life in a small mountain village in Puerto Rico. Our next quest was to find some delicious fresh ice cream and we did just that. Land falls and ice cream just go hand in hand. We enjoyed our evening at the Hotel Monte Rio with a balcony overlooking the mountain behind us that had the profile of an old man sleeping. I thought it looked like Abe Lincoln.

The next morning we headed east on the scenic drive along the mountains through the National Parks and we were again treated to spectacular views of mountain vistas and long lush valleys. At times we could barely see the road as we were literally driving through the clouds. The temperature in the mountains was a refreshing 68 degrees compared to the 90+ degrees at the marina. In one of the small mountain villages we visited a cemetery that was typical of the elaborate monuments immaculately maintained to honor departed loved ones. We paused to reflect on our own mortality and remember those dear to us that have made the transition to the next realm. We drove until we found a suitable highway that would lead us down the mountain in time to provision, find a dive shop that sold spear guns and return the car on time. We found a dive shop in Ponce, they had a pole spear and the Admiral bought it for me as a birthday present. Thank You Lana! aka; Admiral Nelson! I must have been a good boy or maybe she enjoys the taste of lobster? We stocked up on a few provisions and returned the car and PayLess drove us back to the Marina.

The next day we made a few minor repairs to the boat and we were ready for departure.

We left Ponce on 3/20/10 to Culebra in the Spanish Virgin Islands. We were forced to safe anchorage due to strong east winds and tall choppy waves. We found a good safe anchorage at Boca Inferno several miles east of Ponce. We left Boca Inferno on 3/21/10 very early the next morning and sailed to Punta Viento also known as Punta Patillas, the last anchorage on the south shore of Puerto Rico that gives you protection from strong easterly trade winds and high seas. We stayed here a couple of days before conditions improved and we headed for Culebra at 7PM on 3/23/10. The winds and waves were not as favorable for Culebra as they were for Vieques so we changed our plans en route and headed for Vieques. We anchored one night at Vieques and then headed for Culebra. Vieques was a bit too much of a tourist attraction for us. We seemed to have grown quite fond of ports that are rich in local culture and lacking tourists. So we moved on in search of a more attractive port. Culebra was just that and more. It is a charming little Island in the Spanish Virgin Island chain and we will return again to enjoy the charm of this island and its local inhabitants. Yes there were tourists but the island has not lost its charm.

From Culebra we sailed past St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands and on to St John. St John is about 2/3 US National Park and is a beautiful Island. We stopped at a temporary anchorage for one night on the western tip of the island on 3/28/10. We then moved to Little Lampshire Bay in the park the following morning and stayed there for a couple of days. This bay was beautiful and allowed us to go ashore for some hiking. We hiked two miles up a mountain trail to some pools in granite stone that are the site of Pre Columbian Petroglyphs and Taino spiritual grounds. We also hiked to the ruins of a cane factory that the tropical forest was slowly taking back. We also visited the remains of an old structure that was the home to hundreds of bats that were sound asleep hanging upside down from the wooded roof slats. This was a wonderful excursion and we should have taken more water with us as the trail was quite steep and it was very warm on the return trip. The National Park Service has installed safe moorings available for $15 per night. The water was gin clear and the snorkeling was off the charts.

We arrive in the British Virgin Island (BVI) on April 1, 2010 to a welcoming committee of at least 250 boats (mostly charters) as we rounded the tip of St John. Yuckkkkkkkkkk! This is not how we remember the BVI. Then we realized this is a holiday week and there are several regattas and we are sure (we hope) that things will settle down after the holiday. We are at safe anchorage in Fat Hog Bay avoiding an unusual strong North wind. We will remain here until the conditions improve for anchorage on the south shore of the other islands we wish to visit in this chain. We urge you to enjoy the Penn's Landing Marina at Fat Hogs Bay, East End, Tortola. 284-495-1134 They have 22 moorings available for $25 per day. It includes showers, DVD usage, internet and more. Walter Garimont is very helpful and a delight to work with.