Tuesday, April 28, 2009

In Dominican Republic, on way to Airport to get Josie

Landfall in the Dominican Republic

Not where we expected to be, but once again making the best of our situation; ie. Strong winds and big seas hampering our progress. Its April 23rd and we are anchored at a beautiful island called Isla Beata, which is the first Point or Cape in the Dominican Republic after the Haitian border.

We first pulled into Bahia de las Aguila (bay of eagles) at 11.30am April 20th having spent the night motor/sailing, tacking back and forth trying to reach the shore (a very long night), during which time we used up way too much fuel.

We were fortunate to find a free cruising guide on the Dominican Republic on noon-site which was absolutely accurate about the beauty of this bay. The waters are as torquoise and clear as Grand Cayman, but the shore is much more interesting, with what looks like low sandstone rock cliffs with red mineral streaks throughout and what appears to be a small fishing village built into the caves which have been carved out of the underside of these cliffs over the centuries.

I’ll come back to describing Bahia de las Aguila and Isla Beata.

April 28th 2009

At time of writing this (4.30am) we are quite unbelievably tied up to the side of a Dominican Republic Coast Guard vessel which is itself sharing a massive bollard at the end of a conveyor belt with a Russian Freighter called the Heron. We first encountered the Heron on April 22nd when she was coming into take on cargo at this Bauxite mine at Cabo Rojo, and here we are 6 days later tied up underneath her bows.
So how did we get to be here? - Now that’s a long story, which I’ll try to cover without boring the reader to death.

We arrived in Dominican Republic on April 20th which was pretty much the beginning of a weather system which has been getting worse during our time here. Bahia Las Aguilas and Isla Beata are very lovely places which most of us would love to be stuck in for a couple of weeks or even months, this is paradise. BUT it is cut off from where we need to be to pick up Josie from the Airport in Santo Domingo tomorrow morning at 11.00am, which I think I can do by bus, which is a 6 hour trip or maybe I’ll be able to get a taxi for a whole day. I’ve yet to find that out. Plus we need diesel and water, particularly diesel in order to get out of here. The first marina is about 150 miles around the dreaded Punta Beata. ‘Dreaded’ because we have tried and failed to round this point 3 times, I don’t just mean 3 quick stabs at it, I mean one whole night of tacking back and forth off the point, sailing about 25 miles at average 2 knots covering an actual distance to the good of about 4 miles, sleep pretty much impossible, so at first light we gave up and found our way back to a fairly safe anchorage off the coast of Isla Beata. That was the first time we encountered Heron coming into Cabo Rojo calling into the Commandancier.

On the 24th we left Isla Beata and headed up a shallow channel between Isla Beata and the mainland, in winds about 15 – 20 knots still blowing north east, heading for a town called Baharona where we knew there was a commercial dock where we could get fuel. We knew we had about 16 hours motoring time left in our aft tank and a little bonus fuel in the forward tank. Unfortunately when we got out of the channel we were faced with the same problem as before – 8’ seas with a couple of seconds in between coming head on with the north east wind, and no chance of sailing north as we would be sailing straight into land, and yes we could have sailed south, but the tack back took us directly along the track we had just made going south. So again we turned back to anchor in the pitch dark against a rock cliff at Isla Beata – fortunately our chart plotter saves our previous tracks.

By now we are beginning to think that we might not get out of here in time to get to Santo Domingo to pick up Josie, plus nobody has heard from us since Good Friday when we posted in Grand Cayman, so I needed to get to a phone or internet to let Josie know what is happening.
Oh – and we hadn’t cleared into Dominican Republic yet so we shouldn’t go ashore.
But we did, we came back to Bahia des las Aguilas, put the dinghy in the water and motored ashore. We were met by a couple of men, Ignacio the Park Ranger and Roberto who had no official capacity but wanted us to use him and his motorcycle as a taxi service. So, my pathetic Spanish, a Spanish/English dictionary in hand we explained the situation and Ignacio was happy for me to use his phone and reverse the charges. Not enough credit – then we went through a painfully long conversation about how Ignacio doesn’t have a house, and has 4 children and God knows what else. Anyway we walked over to a vehicle which was just leaving and asked if anyone spoke English, and yes the children in the car did, and translated for us to their father what the situation was. That I needed very badly to call my daughter in Canada.
The father got his I-phone, told me not to worry about reversing charges and by standing just so on the beach I was able to speak to Josie. Thank God. Many thanks and hugs and kisses later the family left. While I was speaking to Josie the family told us that Ignacio was trying to get us to help him build his house – financially.
We are prepared for this – the Dominican Republican man’s average income is $200 per month, so they do not seem to have any embarrassment when it comes to asking for money.
Speaking of money – we don’t have any. The marina at Grand Cayman did not take credit cards, so the cash we had just got out of the bank for traveling money was gone – but we didn’t think that was a problem because we were checking in at Boca Chica, Dominican Republic where there are banks, and water and fuel and showers and – Boca Chica is looking a lot like the illusive Shangrilah right now.
On the 26th there was a change of wind – more like east south east – which we knew we could sail, even though it was still quite strong. This time we make for the point off Isla Beata as we have a good line and tacking up the shallow channel doesn’t look too safe. As we reached the point making our first tack in, the wind blew up to about 25 – 30 and turned north east. Bloody unbelievable – we came back to Bahia Aguila and slept a few hours.

There is a town on the chart right at the border of Haiti and Domnican Republic called Pedernales, which shows an anchorage on the charts. We had also heard that the town has a bank and that busses go from there to Santo Domingo. So we got up at 0730 and set off sailing to Pedernales hoping to get there in time to clear in, get to the bank do the internet stuff, fill our jerry cans with diesel, find out about transportation to Santo Domingo and basically get it all done.
By the time we reached Pedernales the wind had again blown up to over 30anchorage’ was wide open to 4 – 6 foot waves. Because we were desperate to get ashore we actually dropped the anchor against Tony’s wishes. It didn’t hold of course, not to mention we almost ripped the windlass off the deck, the bowsprit platform is now falling apart.
A fishing boat came out to see if we needed help and advised us to go back to Cabo Rojo.
BACK, through this wind and waves.
We headed back and by about 1530 things were looking pretty grim, we didn’t think we would get to Cabo Rojo before dark, so I called the Commandancier on the VHF, hoping that we could ask him to wait until we got there for us to check in.
The person who answered me was the Dominican Republic Navy Coast Guard. They asked if we needed assistance, so I told him our situation and asked if we could tie up to their boat when we arrived – whenever that might be. Yes we could and we did, and here we are ever so grateful for a safe night.
The Commander of the Coast Guard vessel is Brian who speaks perfect English, has a cell phone and had promised to help us as much as possible. So this morning we will find a way to get to Pedernales and I will get to Santo Domingo to meet Josie.Then – not sure. Brian tells us this is not typical weather and therefore we believe it must change and we’ll get to ‘Shangrilah’. And tomorrow I will see my daughter.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Leaving Grand Cayman tomorrow, Easter Saturday

Good Friday – 10th April – Still in Grand Cayman

Since our attempt to leave Grand Cayman 3 days ago the luster has certainly worn off this jewel of an island for us. Its not Grand Cayman’s fault, its just not much fun being here now. We’ve been on a roller coaster of changing emotions. It seems that whenever we think this ordeal is over it isn’t.

We got around the corner into North Sound on Wednesday, sailing most of the way but needing to be pushed in the last half mile into a very calm beautiful anchorage and marina in Governors Creek, which is a partly natural and partly man-made creek in what used to be just a mangrove swamp until it has recently been developed into very upscale homes with water front. The marina called Cayman Island Yacht Club was also very upscale until hurricane Ivan messed it up about 4 years ago.

So we came in with 2 dinghies tied along either side of us with 2 fifteen hp motors pushing us along at about 3 – 4 knots (Thanks for John of Four Aces and Andrew of Lady Slipper) and got ourselves tied up alongside a concrete wall which has been ours and 15 million mosquitos’ home for the last 3 days, but its mostly the nights when the mosquitos make themselves at home and feed – on us – no, make that me. Somehow they squeeze their nasty little bodies through gaps around the screens that cover all of the entrances to the boat.

By Wednesday evening we had been introduced to Colin Pearson, a very well known mechanic/technician who, though he was working on an urgent job closeby would drop in and have a look at our problem, which he did. That evening he and Tony pulled apart all of the burnt stuff, pulled out the starter motor and solonoid which looked like it was no good. Colin took that away at about 9.30pm and came back the next day, yesterday with a new one and a bunch of new wires, and emergency cut-out switch and he and Tony worked for the next 3 hours to put it all back together. By about 3.30pm we started the motor, which started and ran beautifully just as it always had .

What we did see was that our raw water pump was leaking and this was spraying water up and could have been the cause of the original problem – this sea water spraying up over the engine while we were being tossed about and then sitting on the old wiring harness and causing a short. We didn’t think we needed Colin’s help to change our water pump as we had put this on on a couple of years ago in Victoria. And Colin had done his part, got us running and needed to get on with other work, so he left.

We finished putting the engine back together and changed the water pump, everything looked good, started the engine checked to see that water was coming out of the exhaust as it should – BUT – no water coming out. Thinking that the new water pump might be a dud, we put the old one back on again – BUT – still no water coming out, not even leaking like it was before. So we spent the next few hours – until about 8.30pm trying to isolate the problem. We even thought that something might be covering the water intake through-hull, so Tony dove under the boat – but that wasn’t it. It should be simple of course – water comes in through the intake, goes to the water pump and gets sucked into the engine core around the fresh water radiator to keep that cool. But its not that easy – it goes through 3 cylinders that are all above the water line and seem to be creating an air block so we are currently trying to fill that block – but are not sure if that’s the problem.

We had to quit because all of our attempts were futile and we knew that the next day is Good Friday, which means that everywhere on island is closed, Colin is gone for the weekend, we are stuck in mosquitoville for another couple of nights at $100 per night, our home is pulled apart and getting very dirty, we are very dirty and cannot shower because that’s one of the entrances to the engine compartment – and basically this is all very depressing. We needed to quit for the day and sleep on the problem.

Its 2.00am and I’m up at the computer – no internet – which I’d hoped might be working so that I could look up a solution on-line. I’ve sprayed myself with something like deet because I’m sick of being dinner and as I look at this screen I can see mosquitos hovering around me but they don’t like how I smell. Neither do I – but I’m really glad they aren’t biting me right now, they’ll probably all move into the aft cabin and start feasting on Tony.

Lets hope that Good Friday will be good for us.

Saved by Pat, a wonderful Irishman who came by this morning and helped us figure out the problem. Our water pump had been reversed – so we put it back in its proper position and voila it works.
We spent the rest of the day putting everything back to normal, cleaning the boat and preparing to leave.
I’m currently sitting at the dining table of our friends Ray and Julie, who have invited to us eat Easter dinner with them and spend the night. Then they will drive us to the Port Authority in the morning when we will check out. I have also brought our laundry over to do. PLUS we have just had showers, real showers – what lucky people we are to have met such great people who have given us so much help.Thank God for this good luc

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Still on Grand Cayman

Still on Grand Cayman- Tuesday 7th April

I guess we were just having too much fun! And there’s always a price for that.
Yesterday morning after we enjoyed our lattes, which we can’t have on passages, we started our preparations for the next 10 dayer. Securing everything that isn’t needed topsides under the dinghy which we deflate and turn upside down on the cabin top, then cover and lash it down. Outboards are stowed on the back pushpit and covered. Fuel and water jerry cans are also covered and stowed – tied behind a plank on either side of the stern cabin top.

We called into Port Security to ask permission to go over to the dock to fill up our water tanks and check out. We put out our docking lines and fenders and Tony started up the engine – that’s when our bad day started. The engine turned over but wouldn’t stop turning over, so Tony ran down below to disconnect the battery terminals. That didn’t stop it from turning over either – Agh!! Now sparks and smoke and the engine finally stopped turning over because the starter battery ran dead – more sparks and smoke now coming from the engine area not just the starter battery. Tony frantically tried to disconnect whatever he could through the thick smoke and with our big flashlight found the source of the smoke – the harness of wires running from alternator to wherever the hell they go. He might know but I don’t. Anyway they all burned from the alternator back. We put on all of the fans and stayed out of the cabin until the smoke dissipated. And worried.

Once we ascertained that this was a pretty big problem we called Port Security to tell them that we had an engine problem and would not be clearing out right away. They said that was alright, but we needed to be out of the harbour by Wednesday as they’re expecting the wind to change to a north-wester and you don’t want to be in the harbour in one of those. Great. We reconnect our internet antennae and get onto skype. We call the only working marina we know of and ask if they have a marine electrician. The guy says “Oh yes we should be able to fix you up, just come on over”, - Tony says “Well that’s a bit hard to do when I’ve got no engine”, - “Oh right, do you have a cell phone?”, - “No”, - “Oh, ok stand by on 16 (VHF) and I’ll get back to you”, which he did later to tell us that he wouldn’t be able to get us any help today, but would keep trying. We asked if they have anyone to tow us around the North Sound which is where they are and he said no.

A person called Andrew from the SV Lady Slipper was listening to the conversation and hailed us on VHF and offered to help. We decided that there was enough wind for us to sail to the opening in the reef that leads into North Sound, which is mostly about 1 meter deep except for a narrow channel which Andrew would be able to help us through with his dinghy and 15hp engine. So we set off sailing. Not much wind, but doing about 3 knots shouldn’t take long – its only about 8 miles around the corner.
Andrew gave Tony some information on the radio that may help us to bypass the alternator and get the engine started, which Tony tried to do but to no avail, so we kept sailing.

By 4.00pm we realized that the .5 – 1 knot we were managing, still 5 miles away, was not going to get us in before dark, and we started looking for help with a little more urgency. Andrew had also spent quite a bit of his day trying to find us a tow, a spot to come into when we finally got around the bloody corner and gave on-air mechanical advice.
Port Security had no harbour boats working that day, so we couldn’t get a tow from them. Andrew called us about 5.00pm to tell us that he had located someone willing to tow us in for 200 Cayman dollars – about $300 Canadian. I gasped and got Tony to talk to him. We refused this very ‘kind’ offer and while sitting in what seemed to be a 3kn current going the wrong way as we were actually not moving overground, we unlashed, uncovered the dinghy lifted it over the side, pumped it up, and launched it.

Then we got our ‘big 6hp’ outboard motor off the perch it has lived on since we left Canada – we always use our little Honda 2hp, put it on the dinghy which was now tied to the side of Moondancer and Tony started it up. Actually he tried to start it up many times – until he was very frustrated and it would not start. He pulled the cover off and had a look at our 2 year old pristine Mercury, pulled on the cord many more times and finally it started to run but as it ran fuel was spurting out of the top of it somewhere around the carburetta – Oh my God, things really aren’t going very well. All this was happening with the dinghy being tugged back and forth in the small waves which were having their own little fight with the strong current we were sitting in.

This was all too much for Tony – he always has the ability to look on the bright side of life – but right then that was very hard to do. So instead he lost his temper, swore like hell at the ‘stupid’ motor and ripped it off the back of the dinghy, threw it on the floor of the dinghy, topless and told me to get the Honda. I was busy trying to steer us out of the tide rips as soon as possible so that this would all get a lot easier to deal with, and as we still had our full main up we were actually making progress. So I carried on steering and Tony put the Honda on the dinghy, started it up and it put its poor little 2hp heart into moving its big 15 ton mama. As we were now out of the rips and waves, we moved along at 2 – 2.5knots towards a mooring ball in about 25 feet of water, tied up for the night and enjoyed the sunset and dinner.

And here we are – its 4.00am and I’ve had as much sleep as I need so I thought I’d write all this down while fresh in my mind. I wonder what today will bring, I hope a good solution to this problem so that we can get on our way.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Last Day in GRand Cayman - April 5th

Last Day in Grand Cayman April 6th

Last post before heading for Dominican Republic which may take about 10 days or so. Just wanted to add to our good days in Grand Cayman.
We started our day yesterday with the best dive I have been on yet. We dove not too far from the boat in an area where the fish are probably fed by the dive charters when they go out. The fish were all gathering around our dinghy when we were tied up to the dive site mooring ball. They were a bit disappointed when we finally got in the water as we had nothing for them. We dove on coral which has lots of little gulleys and caves and overhangs. When we went under the overhangs we were in beautiful colourful caves with light shining through various openings above and fish swimming around us, plus all sorts of life forms on the coral opening and closing. For awhile we had a few Tarpin swimming with us. These are very big fish – about 4 feet – who again are used to humans providing them with food.
It was a beautiful dive and I was sorry when our air ran out and it was time to ascend.
I’m sure we will find other equally beautiful places to dive in our future travels.
We went ashore to one of the many dive shops, filled up our tanks, hosed ourselves and our gear off and went back to the boat in preparation for the next part of our day.
Our new friends Ray and Julie who live on Grand Cayman picked us up at about noon and took us for a tour of the entire island in their car. Driving around the island takes about 3 hours and there is very different terrain all around. We understand now why the food costs a lot on Grand Cayman – because nothing is really grown here. There is volcanic rock as you’ll see in the pictures from Hell, and other type of hard rock which is not suitable for anything much so it is left to scrub land.
Ray and Julie live in a beautiful complex with many other ex-pats from different parts of the world. We went to their yacht club in the North Sound which is a huge very shallow bay which is perfect for their dinghy racing. They also took us to Rum Point, which was the most crowded but beautiful resort we have seen in some time with many smaller power boats anchored off. Many of these boats are probably kept in canals. There are many canals here with houses alongside and people dock their shallow draft boats right outside their houses.
We wound of this fabulous day at Hammerhead restaurant on the beach looking out at Moondancer X waiting for us to come home.
Thanks very much for your generosity Ray and Julie and best of luck with your boat purchase.
A few times I have said in this blog that though Tony and I have visited many beautiful places we have never found anywhere we would like to stay for a long time – Grand Cayman is the exception, this is a gorgeous place with almost everything people like us would need to have a happy home – except of course our families.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Still at Grand Cayman - April 5th

Grand Cayman – April 5th

Its 0600 Sunday morning, our second Sunday here – where does that time all go? I guess I’ll answer that then, each day since our arrival we have worked on Moondancer, and every time we go ashore we are walking to places that we don’t know the location of until we find them. To fill our propane tank we first walked about 20 minutes to the office where you pay for the propane – 20lb tank $33 Cayman ($40), then walked another 40 minutes to the place where they fill up the tank. Then back again. Well that just about does the day in, walking these distances in the hot sun lugging a propane tank really wears one out. Especially when we got back to the downtown Georgetown area where the 4 – 5 cruiseship loads of people are all milling about, weaving and dodging through those crowds pulling a propane cylinder really works up a beer appetite.

We have really liked Georgetown, the anchorage is a bit rolly, and we’ve been woken a few nights at about 0300 with the boat rocking sideways so badly we couldn’t lie down any longer, but other than that everything else has been great. We really love to be anchored in this beautiful clear water, every time we jump in to snorkel the view is gorgeous and there are always fish to look at, and squid and lobsters. Which is quite remarkable in a harbour that hosts 4 – 5 cruiseships every day during their season, which must be now. Actually there were no ships yesterday and apparently for the next 2 days.

A couple of days ago we decided to find the chandlery which is at the bottom of the north sound, quite a long way from here. We did find a bus which took us part of the way then it was back to shanks’s pony (legs), so Tony and I did something I can’t remember ever doing, Tony put his thumb out (put, not pulled his thumb out) and a very nice woman in a brand new vehicle stopped and drove us all the way to the chandlery making pleasant conversation all the way. We found a couple of things we needed at the chandlery but also found that the north sound shallows up too much for us to bring our boat into the small marina there. The marina manager made some phone calls for us to find out where we would be able to take our boat and where we could fuel up etc. A very helpful man who had nothing to gain from the transaction than goodwill.

So the hitch hiking had been so successful once why not try it again – another very nice person – a young man in a newish truck picked us up and drove us all the way back into town. He is an up and coming musician – reggae/rap. He played us a CD he had made and it was good, he told us of his aspirations to make it and said that some of his music is already doing well in Europe. Then he gave us one of his CD’s and dropped us off.
So not only did we not have to pay bus fare we made a profit.
Buoyed up with all of this goodwill we stopped into a bar on the beach which advertised $3 beer all day and where we had heard a bunch of people a few days earlier calling out ‘shame on your sobriety’ in the same manner as a spiritual healer would bring down the wrath of God on a poor soul possessed by the devil.
We met a couple of newly retired gentlemen from New York who were at the tail end of a very pleasant day on the beach interspersed with lots of libations. One of them was a retired primary school teacher, he had taught Grade 6 kids and said that he never once didn’t like his job. I believed him – he had the air of Raffi about him – a musician that kids love. On the way home we dropped by a neighbouring boat – Ivory Moon and were fed a very nice curry.
That was a damned good day.

Yesterday we went for our first dive since Catalina Island and it was really nice. The water was not as crystal clear as it has been most our time here as it had been quite rough during the night but is was certainly not a disappointment. I was quite nervous to start, being a new diver I was a bit worried that I might have forgotten my newly acquired skills, but I had nowt to fear. Tony is an excellent teacher and is so comfortable in his underwater environment that he makes sure I am always OK. Initially my mask clearing was a bit difficult, but then everything was good and I loved the dive. The coral columns are full of fish, all kinds. Its amazing how nature can keep coming up with new shapes and colours and combinations of frilly and puffy and spiky or furry to make fish good to look at. And they look back with their swivelly eyes. We found a couple of huge lobsters (lobsters have no claws here) hiding in a small coral cave. When Tony touched a feeler they popped back into their cave, but then they came back out and one of them extended a feeler to touch him back. Tony the lobster whisperer.
In the late afternoon we met up with a couple who live here from the US who had seen our boat and are looking to buy a TransWorld 41 on Yachtworld. They asked if we would mind showing them our boat, as it would make it easier for them to decide where this is the type of boat for them. We remember that viewing boats on Yachtworld is quite different from actually looking over a boat in reality. So Ray and Julie showed up with cooler full of ice cold beer (Tony already loved them), a bottle of rum and a Tortuga Rum Cake, a Cayman speciality. We had a very pleasant visit with them, unfortunately the boat was rolling around enough to make Julie feel sick, but we are meeting them onshore today and they are going to show us around Cayman Island.
Another very good day.

Oh, and by the way we aren’t going to Antigua next stop, we are going to Dominican Republic, it’s about 500 miles closer, better for Josie and Lorne and Nadine to get to and looks like it could still be a good place to leave from to Bermuda. We found a really good guide on noon-site which we downloaded free. We’ll head for Boca Chica which is close to a big city called Santo Domingo.