Saturday, February 28, 2015

Pinned by the Weather

Now that we're back in Puerto Rico and looking forward to moving eastward, the tradewinds have us stuck; they are blowing persistently from the east at 25 knots. There is a practice that you can use the cool night time air flowing down from the heights of the island that stall the tradewinds up to a mile offshore, and use the time at night to move up the coast, but so far this has not been a successful endeavor for us.

Wednesday morning we set out from Puerto Real at 4 am, rounded the point and hit the winds that weren't supposed to be there. In cruiser parlance, I think we had our asses handed to us. The winds were hitting 25 knots by ten o'clock when we looked at the chart and decided that we weren't going to make our intended landfall. As happenstance would have it however, we checked again and found an anchorage at hand with one other cruising boat in it, and we turned the disappointment in not being able to move forward with a meeting of new friends: Robert, Shena and Kinsley aboard Almost There.

Early morning squalls just off the south coast of Puerto Rico.
Following Almost There into the sunrise.
We stopped and spent a windy, rolly night at Caleta Salenas (just east of La Parguera) and then testing the light wind theory once more we were up again at 4am. This time we considered the forecast for the next week and the fact the wind was already blowing through the anchorage and promptly went back to bed until 6am. Sunrise saw us up and moving just 5 miles up the coast to tuck in behind Punta Ballena protected from the swell by mangrove keys and some big reefs. The wind whistles through ensuring lots of fresh air and no bugs but the waters remain flat so we will make ourselves comfortable here for the next few days as we wait for the winds to blow themselves out a bit.

Funny thing is that here the anchorage is known as Gilligan's Island and I find myself humming to the tune and thinking of the seas tossing the tiny boat. Gotta love the irony. On the weekends here a little ferry runs from the mainland out to the island and loads of people come and sit on the little beaches among the mangroves, enjoying getting away from all the hustle and bustle.

The windy flat conditions don't go to waste with the wind surfers.
Nestled in behind the reefs with Almost There
Well protected from the swells and crazy conditions beyond the reef.
We turned yesterday into a boat work day: I cleaned the stainless to a gleam and Henry has hopefully solved our engine overheating problems with a bit of help from Robert. I also decided to learn some new techniques with the pressure cooker and managed to boil eggs and make fudge brownies which we took for desert as we joined the "Almost There's" for dinner.

Gleaming once again.
Perfectly hard boiled in just 5 minutes, plus sit time.
It's a wrap for the night aboard Almost There.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Return to Puerto Rico

We carefully studied the weather reports and timed our crossing back to Puerto Rico to coincide with a couple of days of light winds. We knew we were going to be heading straight into the prevailing winds so getting them as light as possible was key. The weather reports conflicted, we discussed with others on the dock and we all felt that Monday night/Tuesday was going to be the best time to go.

Farewell to Casa de Campo marina.
A happy goodbye to the smoke of La Romana. When we took down our DR flag, it was black along the edges with grime.
110 miles across the south end of the Mona Passage and the forecast winds of 5-10 knots never came down below 15, more often in the 20-knot range. The first 15 miles were a beautiful sail with the winds on the beam and then we turned the corner at the southeastern corner of the DR and from there we had the winds directly on the nose. We have also found some gremlins onboard and if we run our engines over 1800 rpm we get overheating warnings, so motoring into the strong winds, current and waves made for progress of about 4 knots. Hmmm, tacking all the way under sail which would about double our distance, or a slow motor directly across? We tried the sail option but with the swell now on our beam, we were being pushed so far back we were making very little progress towards our destination so we opted for the slow direct route. Long story short, we arrived (in the middle of a salt-cleansing downpour) at Puerto Real on the west coast of Puerto Rico 27 hours after our departure.

It took us until Wednesday morning to be able to complete our U.S. Customs checkin at Mayaguez - the customs office was closed and the patrol boat was out looking for a small plane that may or may not have gone down.

We combined our visit to Mayaguez with a huge re-provisioning, knowing the prices here are the best we will see - ever!

Now the fun begins to get all this food into the dinghy and back to the boat.
Sitting in the peace and calm of the anchorage at Puerto Real, listening to the dogs and roosters on shore and watching the pelicans dive for fish, all the anxiety of the crossing and rough seas was washed away. We watched the fishing boats return to the docks, bringing more birds with them catching scraps.

And finally a little note about "arrival beers". This is definitely a tradition we often embrace and I'm sure many others do as well. In Canada we're all pretty used to the standard 12 oz. can and will occasionally buy a bigger can to share. Down here, in PR the standard Medalla is 8 oz. but other beers are available in other sizes. We like to try a varied selection for our arrival tradition.

The Medalla Light had a stronger flavour than the Fosters which makes me wonder if the Aussies are just making sure they get their water consumption in as well, or is this telling us that Puerto Ricans are light-weights in their consumption. Either way, we enjoy each national beer as we find it :-)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Morning Walkabout

We're camped out at Casa de Campo as we wait for a rainy, windy weather system to move through, so we're taking advantage of being at the dock for a couple of days.

First advantage - being on the dock with easy access to the surrounding resort means no excuses, we're going to stretch out those unused muscles and go for a walk. It's been way too long!

Second advantage - shore power. So I'm getting out the sewing machine and getting on with one of the sewing projects on the list.

We set out early to do a little exploring and with intermittent showers and cloud-cover the heat was kept at bay long enough for us to enjoy a two-hour walk. The enclave of Casa de Campo is a gated area of about 7000 acres including four golf courses. The area directly above the marina is all private homes and just at the eastern edge is a large river, the Rio Chavon. The river has cut a wide gorge and flood plain down to the ocean but the land beside the river still rises some 300' above it, providing some pretty amazing views. The strangest thing though is how they have decided to capitalize on it here. Altos de Chavon is situated at the highest point above the river and if you were to have been dropped there, not knowing your location, you would presume you were in an old Tuscan village, only this one has shops selling DR souvenirs. I kid you not, the attraction here is a medieval-styled village complete with weaver's cottage, church and amphitheater, and a multitude of cafés, restaurants and shops. I'm not sure what the amphitheater has to do with mediaval times since it seems more Roman in design, but it appears that they use it for local productions and entertainment. The whole thing was designed by some ex-Hollywood set designer and has been quite artfully put together, and they have certainly incorporated the location into the design with a multitude of good lookouts across the river.

One of the golf course views down to the ocean. The marina is nestled in the right-hand corner.
Brilliant bougainvillea and other flowers abound.
The Rio Chavon with rain approaching from the distant interior mountains.
Fountains and old-world architecture.
The central square with a little "church". Not sure that it's actually consecrated...
Enticing walkways through little walled gardens.
More tropical flowers showing brilliantly with the recent rain-spritz.
And look who we found sheltering underneath the bushes.
The walk through the rest of the community is rather like browsing the pages of Architectural Digest.

In a community of grand entrances, this one was grander than most. It was still early and the gardener were out in droves.
This is a gated, super secure community so not sure why this place warranted a separate guard and dog. Made us wonder who is in residence.
Another grand front entrance, and check the curb-side appeal in the next picture.
They certainly didn't skimp on their "tree budget".
More curb appeal, since this pool and step stones are not at all visible from the house.
Ok, now we're getting down to a more reasonable size.
Most of the properties had a Mediterranean feel, but some were more modern...
And some a tad more rustic.
Back at the boat, I set to work on a sewing project: making dinghy chaps for our dinghy. These will help protect the dinghy from sun damage and hopefully from getting too many bumps and bruises on rough docks. I'll post pictures later once they are done. Meanwhile. Henry is working through some of our maintenance items such as oiling our tools to try to keep rust at bay and back washing our watermaker to keep the membranes happy, and doing a final engine check before we head off back to Puerto Rico.

Thursday, February 19, 2015


Following yesterday's exploration of the old part of town, we decided to head down to the waterfront and see how Santo Domingo has incorporated the Caribbean into city life.

The Malecon is a broad walkway sandwiched between the ocean and a main road that roars with noisy traffic. There are a few token palms and other shade trees but for the most part it is a bricked & concreted corridor. Most of the buildings and definitely the seaside architecture dates from the 70s when there was obviously a building boom here (I need to study up on my history to know who was in power then.) The eastern end is marked by this notable statue, donated by Mexico, and representing one of the very first human rights activists all the way back in the early 1500s when this man spoke out for the rights of the native Taino Indians.

I had a good chuckle over this photo below. For those that know the BVI, we are definitely not on Jost! For those that don't, when we say we went to Foxy's, please don't put this image in mind!

Despite the Malecon running along the ocean, this stretch of coastline is rather like what we saw in Bayahibe, inhospitable, rocky ledges with the ocean swells crashing down on them. There are occasional little beachy areas but unfortunately they only serve as refuse collection points. I don't think I've ever seen so much garbage washed up on the shore, and when we looked carefully out over the ocean we could see a myriad of floating plastic bottles and other trash making their way back to shore.
Dominicans are the most patriotic bunch of people we've encountered so far. Everywhere the red, white and blue flags flutter and offices abound that have something to do with national fervour. In support of this mood, they build monuments and buildings to proclaim it. At the large roundabout where the road from the presidential palace meets the Malecon, there is this large painted obelisk. I didn't get to see the fourth side since the traffic was just to crazy to risk it, but I certainly would like to know more about the representation of these women on this one. I have some research to do!

Dominicans also love their sweets, and there are candy stores on most streets and candy vendors wandering between them. While I didn't get the sweet lady to pose for me, since I didn't really want to buy her wares, these carousel horses rather reminded me of the sweet, sugary concoctions.

We finally found a seaside cafe that served up the most delicious Frios, or fruit smoothies. I don't know how they manage to blend the fruit and ice together so smoothly so that there is absolutely no grittiness from the ice and the drink never separates no matter how long you linger over it. This is definitely a national skill that could be exported!

Refreshed with our Frios, we headed inland to see the Presidential Palace. The President doesn't actually live here, it is rather like our Parliament Hill in that this building houses the legislature and administrative offices. No access beyond the gates though, as they are solidly guarded by machine-gun toting young soldiers.

With the heat building and tired of the concrete and hustle and bustle of the streets we returned to our quiet little Casa with its private balcony. A nice little respite in the city.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Old Capital - Santo Domingo

Before we headed off to Santo Domingo (SD from here on in) we had to get back to Casa de Campo where we had made arrangements with the boat yard to haul out Mowzer to clean her up and give her a nice new bottom paint job.

By 10 a.m. she was being hoisted into the air
This one is for our friend Dave who was introduced to Jenga over the last week. See Dave, even Mowzer likes to get in on the act, but she's making this one a bit more difficult to play!
Blocks all in place to balance the boat evenly on her keels.
We picked up our rental Kia at the marina and headed off for the 110 km journey to SD. Thankfully after we got ourselves past the first town of La Romana, we were on a main highway all the way in. La Romana may sound a little romantic, but I can tell you after driving through it last week and again today, it is a hell-hole. It is a downtrodden factory town with dirty dangerous trucks, loads of motoconchos and poverty ridden shacks lining the streets. There might be a nice side to it, but we certainly didn't see it.
However, once clear the drive into SD wove through the countryside and then down to the coast and before we knew it, we were into the old part of the city. With only one detour we found Casa del Sol, our home for the next three nights.
Our room on the second floor with the wrap around balcony, with breakfast served on the rooftop terrace.
SD is the oldest remaining European settlement in the Americas. I stress European since many of the brochures forget this little detail with which I am sure many aboriginal people might have an issue. Nonetheless, it is pretty impressive to walk down the first paved street, see the first hospital, the first palace and the first cathedral in the "new world". Christopher Colon (as Columbus is known in the Spanish world) put his brother Bartholemew in charge of Hispaniola at the end of the 1400s and after a couple of failed attempts on the north shore (including a massacre by the natives) he moved the first permanent settlement to the south coast where SD stands today. The Colonial Zone is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the 16-block area just drips with antiquity, some of it masterfully restored and some of it literally dropping from above. Keeping the tourists safe and hence, their money flowing, is the full time job of the tourist-protection police and I think that other than in the resorts, it is the only place I would feel safe carrying my camera in the daytime. Step outside the zone and you are immediately surrounded by the squalor that is typical DR. The city itself comprises some three million people and we haven't seen the commercial centre which I understand is quite modern with upscale bars and restaurants and good shopping, but this seems to be the nature of the DR: almost unbelievable luxury sitting right next to almost unbelievable poverty. Overlaying it all is what to us as Canadians feels like an oppressive military state with complicated bureaucracy and outcomes completely dependent on the man dishing it out. As you will guess, this is not my favourite country we have visited so far, but is an experience that I have learned from and will tuck away for future reference.
Enough of that, let's begin our tour.
Wandering down Calle Las Damas, the oldest paved street built in 1502.
Fortaleza Ozama is a medieval styled fort originally built in 1503, also used as a residence by Columbus' son and later as a prison up until the 1960s.
I enjoyed the views from the top of the tower. As with other Spanish structures in the Caribbean, it is a mix of stone, brick and coral
The battlements were chock-full of defensive canons. The Spaniards definitely didn't want England or France to get their hands on their new settlement.
So many canon that we were stumbling across them in the grass and the bushes.
The fort overlooks the Ozama River with docks, ferry terminal and a cruiseship dock.
Henry found the local Lion's Club.
This imposing edifice is the Panteon de la Patria, started life in the 1700s as a Jesuit convent and later became the resting place of notable figures from past military events such as the battle for independence from Haiti in 1844.
The fresco on the ceiling was stunningly beautiful.
A military guard is present whenever the Panteon is open.
The architecture was an interesting mix of stone and brick arches, creating almost a warehouse atmosphere.
These ladies worked at the Ministry of Culture offices.
School trips to the Plaza de Espana: these 14 year olds just wanted their picture taken so they could see it. They approved and chatted away with us, although we didn't understand all they told us.
Every art shop needs it's own resident cat.
Some of this is beginning to feel a bit like "Where's Waldo?"
Mid day and time for a break along the pedestrian street that runs for 11 blocks through the heart of the zone.
The mausoleum at Parque Independencia holding the remains of Duarte, Mella & Sanchez: the founders of the Republic following revolution against Haiti in 1844.
Putting the size of this place into perspective.
It was interesting that as we walked around the park we were beckoned over to the mausoleum by this soldier. Not ones to ignore a military directive, we were told to take off our hats and enter the building. He gave us an interesting tour including access to upstairs with views of the three statues. At the end he asked us for a donation but when I asked him if there was a box for said donation he just ushered us out of the building. It is difficult to imagine a soldier standing guard at the memorial in Ottawa providing a personal tour and then asking for a "donation".
The ruins of the first hospital. No tours available here for any price...
We climbed the hill where this sentinel greeted us to her portion of the sidewalk.
You definitely have to choose the right side of the sidewalk up here as you can't just cross the street half-way up.
Columbus' statue reigns over Colon Park and the Primada Cathedral in the background.
Built from 1514-1540 in a gothic style, the Primada Cathedral has 14 distinct chapels built outward in each arch of the two knaves. Each one is distinctly different and houses some pretty impressive pieces of art.
The artist went to great pains to capture the agony of the Doña Misericordia's face.
This 16th century Spanish painting of the Virgin of Anguilla was rescued from a shipwreck near the Virgin Islands and miraculously made it to Hispaniola unscathed.
The western doors of the cathedral are the most ornate in a relatively unadorned structure.
I loved these relief sculptures in the gates to the cloisters.
By this point a cold Presidente was called for which we enjoyed on our hotel roof-top terrace. We have discovered that in the DR, Presidente can be bought "grande" which is a 675ml bottle - perfect for sharing or slaking your own very big, sight-seeing exhausted thirst!

And finally, we enjoyed dinner out at a very nice restaurant overlooking the Alcazar de Colon, built by Columbus' son Diego as his primary residence. We decided that dinner was courtesy of the sale of our old anchor. It felt rather iconic that the two of us sat in the square (front yard) of a 500 year old palace in a capital city and ate a first class meal at a restaurant founded in 1505 for sailors and conquistadors, all as a result of selling a chunk of iron off a sailboat.