January started out rather simple, the kids continued with their routine, schoolwork in the mornings and then boat maintenance in the afternoons. The new macerator had arrived which once again meant we had to brace ourselves for the pressure release of the black tank, luckily we had gotten our heads a little more around what would happen and what needed to be done and so thankfully the outcome was not quite as disgusting as last time and to our relief it worked. We found our bilge full of water, the bilge pump worked thankfully and after some troubleshooting it turned out we needed to clean out the shower sump and unblock the through hull of a major build up of grime, after testing and finding it was working showers on board could once again commence. We received good news that the standing rigging had arrived and had made it through customs unscathed, this meant we could really get to work ensuring everything was ready to go once Gijs the rigger had installed them onto the mast. The crane returned as did the nervous excitement, this was it the last check in the box, we were about to become a sailing vessel once again and could prepare to leave the marina and start the long awaited adventures we’d been looking forward to. Remasting went smoothly for us but was a little trickier for our neighbouring boat Almazul who’s mast ended up just fractions of a millimetre off line to connect with base bolts, we don’t have the same mast however it was a valuable lesson learnt all around. Dinners – we had so many invites happening we felt spoilt, we held our first dinner party on board and were quite impressed at how comfortable we all were even with the 5 of us and 4 friends, it was however a BYOB night, we could supply the food and the beer but you had to bring your own bowl, the only spares we can make room for are spare parts. We were then invited on board the beautiful catamaran Minnehaha, with 15 of us all able to sit, eat, move around and converse easily it really did take comfort on board to a whole new level. Another of our neighbouring boats, Escape had offered to cook a traditional Philippine dish for the whole marina, I have no idea how Teresa did it but she managed to cook Pansit and 100 of the best spring rolls ever!! all within her galley, it still amazes me now.
Simon had nipped off to the chandlery for last minute spares, coming back I heard “Did you get my message?” Nope was obviously the answer along with why? Turns out the chandlery had a new dinghy in stock, a foot bigger than ours and much more practical for us than ours. My response, that may be the case but what on earth would we do with ours, we were so close to leaving and don’t have the space to be carrying what isn’t needed, whilst thinking did you seriously not think about this! I was swiftly marched down to check it out to which I agreed with him, it would have been a much better fit, we were all crammed into ours a little like a clown show and with no room for provisions etc. Simon proceeded to take on the mission, he had but a few days to sell ours in order to acquire the new one before it was snapped up by someone else. To my shock it didn’t take long, a few hours and we had a deal with someone who would view it the next day, new one quickly acquired, win win all round.
Planning our journey got under way, Monday the rigging would be tensioned and we were hoping to head out on the Wednesday, as we hadn’t yet handled Y- Knot on the water we wanted to get her out and really test her, check her nuances and see how she handled, we didn’t want to make a long ocean crossing without atleast getting to know her properly. We planned to leave the marina on Wednesday and go via an anchorage further down the island and then on to Curacao’s smaller island aptly named Klein Curacao before setting sail for the DR on Saturday. The weather window was looking quite tight to be able to leave in favourable winds on Saturday and to be able to arrive in the DR before some rather unruly weather hit. Once we had the mast set and ready to go we got to work refurling the sails and then onto provisioning while the girls filled the water tanks, we were almost there. Thanks to some spot on information from Rebecca and Magnus we even managed to squeeze in a booster shot, who wouldn’t be up for a jab to the arm.
Wednesday had arrived the day we, and 2 other boats had chosen to leave, but upon waking we all saw rain and some rather grey clouds that seemed to span in every direction, it wasn’t something we were used to in Curacao but it was short lived and an hour later we were calling the bridge to prepare them for our arrival, to which we were informed to wait 30mins for 2 freight ships to pass through. No harm done though, we got to say goodbye to some fab friends that we had made, we’d all been in Curacao for sometime but were all heading in different directions, we really hope to see all of them again at some point along our journeys.
Whoop whoop!! We were moving, it was finally happening, Simon at the helm, the girls and I on lines and fenders and we were away, Hope jiggled around and squealed “Can’t believe it’s happening, I’m actually scared”. We got such a lovely send off from everyone at the marina, horns blaring, mugs raised and loud cheers, it’s that same old saying that friends really do make places all the more enjoyable.
Once we were out of the dock, Paige took charge at the helm and got us round to the bridge that we had stood on so often and watched so many leave and enter, this time it was our turn and there was no stopping us. Sailing to Klein wasn’t such a smooth journey, we were beating into the wind and the kids faces were a sight, there was absolute zero belief when we explained that it’ll be so different on the return journey. Klein was beautiful, busy when we arrived, we even managed to wave to a friendly face who was departing as we dropped anchor. Stunning beaches and green waters we got to exploring the island, which didn’t take long as it really does match its name, it is serene though and before the sun had even set we found that we had the whole island pretty much to ourselves, with only one other boat around. As much as we would have loved to stay and bask in the beauty we were on a mission to make the most of the time we had on the water, we set off shortly after sunrise and got to playing and testing the boat, thankfully we had no dramas and felt ready for our first ocean crossing the next morning, first though we would need to spend the afternoon visiting customs and then immigration checking out of the country and ensuring we had all forms for arrival in the DR.
D-Day, another early start for our 3 and a half day journey, the passage from Curacao to DR was a little over 400nm, quite a challenge for our first real outing on the boat. With a weather prediction of North Easterly winds 15-20 knots, gusting in the mid 20’s, we rounded the easterly point of Curacao, and pointed Y-Knot to a bearing of 010° and sat back to enjoy the ride. Not knowing how she would sail, we left a large reef in both the main sail and head sail, and was surprised that she would still maintain a 5-5.5knot SOG (Speed over Ground). It’s completely different to travelling via any other form of transport, it takes so so much longer, it’s pretty much devoid of any other traffic, there is no stress just the knowledge that certain things have to be done and some things are completely out of your control, you just have to roll with it, and the best thing is it feels like complete freedom, even if you are not looking for it.
We got the most awesome surprise when we were escorted away from Curacao by a pod of wild dolphins, it wasn’t hard to see the same happiness and excitement that you see in the kids in the dolphins, they were playing around the bow wake, jumping everywhere and as per Maisie we were running over them, they looked like a bunch of kids having the time of their life, and it made everyone’s day. Now although sailing can be exhilarating, long passages are boring, especially the first ones when everyone is trying to get their sea legs. The girls did well, there was no sickness although they did look a little grey, we provided Maisie with a bowl at one point but it was handed back shortly after and thankfully empty. We all seemed to handle it in a different way, Paige hid in her room with headphones in, Hope tried to sleep as much as possible, Maisie snuggled, slept and watched videos, I as usual ate my way through it and Simon didn’t eat except for mealtimes where its always compulsory that we eat together. Cooking wasn’t necessarily a barrel of laughs, the stove is gimballed which the girls liked seeing in action for a whole 2 seconds and to which Hope then declared “I wish I could be gimballed” It’s already so hot below deck but when you start cooking it takes it to a whole other level, all the hatches are closed so there is no air flow except for a few small fans. It’s not necessarily hard to cook while on passage what with everything randomly sliding around to add that little bit of character building, its just you find yourself poking your head out into the cockpit every few minutes trying to catch a breath of refreshing cool air. One good thing about this passage was that we were on one long starboard tack aiming for Puerto Rico and expecting to drift towards DR, this meant we were always heeling to our port side, not needing to tack meant we weren’t shifting our point of balance and made it easier for everyone in getting their sea legs, always knowing where to grab, where things would slide to if you put them down, where to lean when cooking or when your at the toilet and don’t want to fall through the door as you need two hands to…. surely I don’t need to finish that sentence.
Whilst Y-Knot is almost 18 years old, she has had plenty of upgrades over her lifetime, especially in the electronics. She is equipped with the latest Raymarine touch screen chart plotter, Quantum radar and Vesper AIS, all some would say essential for a safe passage. We needed to get our heads around the radar and AIS quickly, as these are critical tools especially during the night. Anyone that knows Simon knows his loves his gadgets and here he was in his element. Laptops, tablets and phone were all quickly connected to the sailboat system displaying various information hoping it would keep us safe.
The sunsets are absolutely stunning and you cannot help but sit and admire the serenity of it all, and to be honest there isn’t too much else to look at, sea, horizon, clouds…. The moon was out in full force every night of our journey to the DR which was super handy as it is Maisies favourite subject, night after night we got random facts and questions thrown at us. It really did light the way, it wasn’t until the early hours of the morning that the light disappeared and you’d have no way of knowing where the swells were or any idea of the heights. It’s like being in a fairground, you have the big fast rides that are exhilarating once you’ve got your head around them, then the small ones that are quite gentle and calming, then you get the bumper cars and you know there’s always that one person that is determined to bump and bang and make it as uncomfortable as possible, well in the pitch black of the morning you have no idea which one you are going to get, then when you crash through into the following one and hear the almighty bang of the hull against the wave all you can do is trust the integrity of the hull. I mean, the sea is thousands of metres deep and you are hundreds of miles from land in any direction, surely it must be normal to get the feeling of sh*t we really are truly alone if anything goes wrong. It’s also strangely comforting how this thought quickly dissipates and becomes just a little bit of knowledge in the back of your mind to be aware of but not to really worry about.
Day 2 at sea and we found our first flying fish on board, prior to setting out Maisie had claimed the job of cleaning them up if we happened to find any but Hope found it first and quite quickly did what any loving sibling would do, smack it in your sisters face, oh what love they have for each other.
On day 1 of the passage we were a little slow getting going and only covered around 90nm, by day 2 and 3 we were getting more used to her and averaged 130nm a day. The most surprising for us was how much the large waves slowed us down, it almost felt that catching a big wave just of the bow halted us for a moment, before the wind caught again….the joys of upwind sailing.
Around 20nm out of the DR we came across another pod of dolphins, the girls knew straight away what to do this time, they hooked their lifelines on and headed straight to the bow where they sat for the next 30 minutes, mesmerised by the 15 or so dolphins and we were sailing straight through the middle of their playground.
Shortly after the wind dissipated, land wasn’t too far out but we still couldn’t see it, to make sure we arrived at the marina before dusk we would need to furl the sails and start motoring, we also knew that we needed to keep our eyes open for fishing nets and pods that apparently do not get marked up so well.
Now we’d had a really smooth journey so to speak, it may have been a little bumpy but we’d all made it through, no retching involved.. and no issues along the way. All the kids still had all their limbs in tact, and thankfully so as they don’t have many of them to lose. As we started to see land the girls informed us that their cabin was wet… rather confused we went to look and were mystified to see that everything on their floor, and in the bottom of their storage bins were not just wet, but absolutely soaking. First things first check the hatches, half expecting someone to have randomly opened one but no, further investigation the guilty culprit to be the shaftdrive, once the engine was running the drive shaft had started leaking and spurting water, turning off the engine and checking it out we found there wasn’t much we could do where we were except ensure the bilge pump was working, keep an eye on it and instruct the girls to actually pick their things up from the floor.
We timed our approach to the the marina in DR to gets us there at high tide. The approach to the transit/arrival dock was along a very shallow stretch of water. At one point the depth gauge showed 0.0ft, which meant that we had less that 0.5ft between the bottom of the keel and the sea bed. We crept “VERY” slowly forward hoping to not touch the bottom. Docking an 11 tonne boat for the first time was a little nerve racking, but with Simon at the helm and me on fenders and lines all we needed was the chain of kids in between passing distances back, and it’s good to be able to say it went pretty smoothly.
We pulled in to the marina at Boca Chica, all looking forward to a nice long hot shower, we’d all decided we weren’t up for showering on passage just yet, so good old shower in a can and baby wipes had sufficed, we were all dying to go for the real thing again. We were greeted by immigration dockside and told we would need to stay on-board until all other departments had arrived. Ok no problem, we’d read up plenty about it, ensure everyone is properly attired, no washing hanging up, have the boat neat and tidy, offer cold drinks, check, check and check, we were prepared and actually quite happy that they all came to us rather than us having to figure out where to go. More and more men started turning up, customs, immigration, navy all asking for passports and paperwork, all taking pictures of them, we were just waiting on drug enforcement before they would board, when he did turn up it looked like they’d plucked a kid off the streets, latest trainers, jeans past his ass, boxers on show, gold hanging round his neck and a bad boy limp. He then proceeded to search every inch of the boat, all storage compartments, every piece of tupperware, they even pulled out the christmas tree and searched through my bags of underwear taking pictures of absolutely everything, the only thing they didn’t do was search the kids rooms – so very kind of them. We were then told to follow to the office to continue, where a dozen photocopies were taken of everything and we were informed we would have to pay the office one amount and they would disperse the amounts amongst all the others, we’d read up already and it was blatantly obvious just how corrupt everything was. We didn’t put up a fight though we were actually finding it quite funny as all of us were feeling a little unsteady and hadn’t quite got our land legs yet. It took a couple of hours of swaying around the offices but we were finally free to go back to the boat and get ready for our much anticipated showers. Much to our dismay though the girls only had one shower, it had no lock, was freezing cold and had a dozen dead cockroaches on the floor, so much for the luxury marina facilities that they’d advertised.
We couldn’t be brought down, we’d just managed to sail across the Caribbean sea, we were feeling exhilarated, we were in a new country and ready to explore, after a good nights sleep that is.
The sleep however did not come, one thing we found out was that here they liked extremely loud music, at the risk of sounding like my old man I will even dare to say it cannot be classed as music, it’s a beat and the same 5 bars over and over again. The local rich kids all fill up a motor boat and move 200 yards from the marina and party all night, no joking there are atleast 20 boats all 20ft apart from each other competing with the same type of music, they take pimp my ride to a whole other level and the relief doesn’t set in until 3am when it finally starts to quieten down.
When we had arranged our medical insurance, the broker had stayed in touch with us, he lived in the Dominican and offered to show us around the next day. Today he was taking us to a local cafe where we could grab lunch, it was run by a Canadian and somewhere we probably would not have ventured by ourselves, we were told to order the the trio filet mignon which we promptly did. When it came it was not exactly what we were expecting but tasted so good. The following day we ditched our usual home schooling and went on a History and Geography field trip, exploring the history of Santa Domingo and its defence from the European forces swiftly onto where Christopher Columbus was believed to be laid to rest and then exploring Los Tres Ojos Cave – The 3 eyes. Learning of stalagmites and stalactites was far more refreshing than book work, it was truly beautiful and interesting for everyone.
We couldn’t believe how hospitable our insurance broker had been, he was Canadian and his wife was Dominican, we were invited round for a bbq and to meet the family. The kids took a little warming up but 10 mins in the pool and they were all the best of friends, followed by piranha and turtle feeding where Hope got her finger snapped, she was rather relieved it was by a turtle and not a piranha. Turns out as a salon owner his wife had connections to someone who was able to cut our type of apparently everyone in the area specialises in wigs and braids, messages were sent and partway through the bbq a hairdresser turned up. It felt surreal to have all of this help and hospitality from someone we barely knew and seemed a world away from what things were like within the marina.
The shaftdrive didn’t seem to be too much of an issue, the mechanic informed us one of the fittings had just come loose, which explained why it hadn’t been picked up in the survey, it’s constant checking on the boat as vibrations make everything come loose. When asked how much the bill was he said it was nothing, maybe just pay for his fuel, very surprised we gave him a large tip and our biggest thanks, it made us laugh though when 5 minutes later the marina office frog marched him back round and said he works for me you owe me $100 for the work – unbelievable.
Whilst we had enjoyed so much of the Dominican there was so much that had fallen by the wayside, they didn’t seem to have any respect for their island, it was reflected everywhere, the streets were not just littered with rubbish they were piled high with it everywhere, people stopped their cars and dumped bags or just threw them out of the windows, we asked the marina where to take ours as we couldn’t see bins anywhere and we swiftly pointed in the direction of the mounds across the street, we couldn’t bring ourselves to just dump it like that and so spent a while searching for bins, they were overflowing but we felt a little better. We didn’t visit the beach because you could barely see the sand, similar to the marina there were cars lined up one after the other with speakers strapped to the roof all competing to be the loudest, it was just sheer noise and trash everywhere with stray animals in the thick of it. Every morning there was a charity group that would go out and clear it up but you couldn’t help but think it was a pointless task as by lunchtime it was once again the same, non of this was caused by tourism either this was all done by the locals. You had to watch your step in the streets as there was sewage everywhere and the smell was unbearable. There was an area of street food vendors and the fish fry was highly recommended to us, not my cup of tea but it would normally be Simons and the girls, there was just no way that we could though, the smell not of fish but of the sewage and garbage in the street was too sickening. There was no feeling of safety, when going into a store you would pass someone who may or may not have been a security guard who knows, but he was brandishing a shotgun. We were warned to only stick to main roads once it became dark and were constantly hearing ourselves being referred to as gringos everywhere we went. Ladies of the night would be out during the day and would hang around outside the chapels. Originally we had thought that we would spend a few days in the marina and then move around the island on anchorages for maybe a month sadly however we were not so taken by the country and having the luxury of being able to move when we pleased we decided to cut our time in the DR short. We have heard that the island is a lot different on the north side however, we were in the Caribbean there are so many islands to see, DR had left its own mark on us and we were happy to spend the extra time checking out the many other islands, we would have liked to go to Puerto Rico and USVI but didn’t have our visas due to a slow passport arrival prior to initial departure so they weren’t an option, BVI however is and so that would be our next destination.
What did we learn from our first passage:
- The sailing part is the easy bit, fully understanding the effects of wind and waves is an art and one that we will continue to improve as time goes on.
- Upwind sailing in mid 20’s of wind is not the most pleasant. We knew this before, but needed to do this passage to gets us in a position to explore the Caribbean.
- A little more forward thinking on how to manage the boredom for the kids is needed, this being everyones first passage left us with little choice, there’s only so much nail painting, hair braiding and eye spy/20questions that can be taken, hopefully the variety will expand over time. Recommendations are absolutely more than welcome.
- How much faith our kids have in us, Paige sent her friend the tracking link with the caption ‘so you can find us if we crash and sink’ She did redeem herself by saying how proud she was of us when we made it.
- How our kids can be so unwittingly funny and more sensible than adults: on re-iterating to them that here we need to make sure that anything that goes down the toilet has to have been eaten first, their response was, ‘ Ugh!! we need to use the bin, people never cover up what they put in there and its so gross!!’ followed by ‘The toilets always stink so bad when you have to do that’
- ….…and finally that we are very quickly falling in love with sailing and this way of living…..even Paige.
Check out what happens next – DR to the British Virgin Islands – What more could go wrong…… – Y-Knot Sailing
Ships in harbour are safe, but that’s not what ships are built for. John A. Shedd