The island of Hispaniola (comprising both Haiti and the Dominican Republic) and the island of Puerto Rico bear the full brunt of the trade winds coming across the Atlantic ocean and we have discovered that it is very tough to make anyway heading East. For the last month, it has felt like we were bashing our heads against a brick wall, but the mountainous Hispaniola allowed us to exploit the cooling air that descends down the mountains at night, causing a gentle offshore breeze within a mile of the coast. These katabatic winds meant that we have been traveling through the night, coasting down both the shore of DR and then again across the Mona Passage. With eyes glued to the radar, depth sounder and chart plotter, we hug the coast and get the benefit of smoother seas, an offshore breeze, and the delicious smells that float off the rich fauna ashore. For you, the benefit is late nights with distracted parents and then a very light school day the following morning when we are both too exhausted to contemplate any meaningful curriculum. The final treat for all of us is eating breakfast as the sun peeks out over the horizon. We anticipate continuing this routine until we are well into the Leeward Islands. Another critical advantage of sailing by night is that we usually arrive at our destination at dawn, much preferable to a late afternoon arrival.
Now, running at night is not something that is familiar to us and depriving one of our customary senses automatically increases the stress level. When we were coasting down the DR shoreline I was listening to the BBC at three in the morning when I noticed a contact at 11 o’clock for three miles. They did not answer my hail, so I put a radar tracking vector on them and tried to visually ID them with the spotlight, at which point they turned off their lights…!!?? I then noticed a second contact at my 2 o’clock that was not lit up either. I put a radar paint on that boat as well and kept a close eye on them as they both passed either side of us and then didn’t pay them any more attention. Suddenly the radar squawked and I noticed that one contact had turned 180 degrees and was closing on our stern at 18kts. I promptly banged on Mommy’s cabin and was trying to formulate a plan for evasive maneuvering, deploying countermeasures, opposed boardings and other defensive action. I turned on all the lights and prepared to get flares and horns ready (still no sign of sleeping beauty…). I stood on the stern and shone the spotlight into their bridge which is a very aggressive maneuver, effectively blinding anyone trying to look out, at which point they promptly turned to shore and that was the last I saw of them. I am sure that they were just curious fishermen although, sitting alone on watch in the middle of the night along the coast of a strange country, it doesn’t take much to get your paranoia ramped up. You three slept soundly through the excitement and woke to the dramatic coastline framed by a brilliant sunrise, uninterested in my tales of pirates, defensive maneuvers, repelling boarders and other products of an over-active imagination.