When we were deciding whether to return home this summer or continue for a third year, our desire to see the San Blas Islands in Panama was a major factor. While we all would have been happy to return to life ashore, without the constant repairs, lugging laundry in 90 degree heat, and shopping for food when and where we could get it, we were acutely aware that soon after settling back into our lives in Manor Park, we would long for the open sea.
Once the decision was made to head west, we decided to travel via the Dominica Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, and Isla de Providencia before heading SW to Panama. Because of the distances and the potential security threat in Central America, we elected not to poke along the coastline and consequently, we will do a series of 150 to 300 nm legs which can take anywhere from 24 to 60 hours each. These crossings are longer than the ones we have experienced to date and we approached them with a certain trepidation.
After provisioning in Puerto Rico we had intended to break up the south coast of that country before heading across the Mona Passage, a significant stretch of water at the best of times. US customs corrected me to the error of my thinking so we decided to do the 155 nm in one go. In formation with the Marsdens on 4 Coconuts, we had a surprisingly smooth and uneventful sail across the Mona Passage and arrived in Casa de Campo marina tired, but otherwise in good shape.
Then came Customs. We were met by six officials with various uniforms and badges who represented everyone from customs and immigration, to sanitation and tourism. When all was said and done they charged us $260USD to come into the country. It was nothing more than state-sponsored extortion and we were fit to be tied. One gentleman said that he represented three agencies and since it was $10 per representative, we owed him $30 even though he came by himself! The marina was very helpful and the staff were great but it left a lingering bad taste in our mouths and, after 24 hours with no sleep, I had lost my sense of humour.
The community was initially the brainchild of the owner of Paramount Pictures and in 1970 he hired a set designer to create Altos de Chavon, a typical old Italian village which is the jewel of the entire resort. We rented a golf cart and Kathryn chauffeured us around for the day.
The compound itself was very interesting and is essentially an uber expensive, gated community for the financial elite of the Dominica Republic, complete with world-class golf courses, equestrian centre, heliports, and 30,000ft villas. I reflected that many Canadians wring their hands about the disparity of wealth at home, but the Caribbean is a whole different story.
We set out the following morning after the entire dog and pony show returned to clear us out and the drug enforcement officer squeezed me for a “tip” for his hard work “so we don’t need to go through the entire boat…”
The next leg was a 170nm run to Isla Beata which is an island on the border of the DR and Haiti, and is home to 60 fishermen who build ramshackle huts on the beach and fish during the winter months. We ran this in 20-30 knots on the stern, touching 12.5 knots which, while exhilarating, was more wind than we counted on and was a lot of work throughout the night.
At Isla Beata we were again met by a boatload of fishermen and Customs officials and I was in no mood to be civil. With the exception of one official, they arrived without uniforms, shoes, or identification and I was expecting the worst. They actually were legit and were reasonably friendly, taking information and requesting no tip, fee etc. We sent them on their way with apologies for the initial reception and a bottle of rum, which seemed to please them greatly.
We left Isla Beata for the 300 nm run to Jamaica which would take approximately three days and nights. Routine on the boat is pretty relaxed and you both stand one-hour watches during the day so that Mommy and I can get some sleep. Night brings the added stress of relying on the instruments and every contact is seen as a potential security threat. You two often watch movies and then go to bed around 11pm, Kathryn on top of the engine, and Alex always curled up in the cockpit. I know we should send you to your cabin, but in a strange way, I enjoy the company.
Underway, meals are whatever and whenever although we do try to feed you at least one hot meal in the afternoon. Showers are difficult in a moving hull and washing your hair often ends up feeling like a tennis ball in a washing machine, but we all try to get a shower and change our clothes daily. Taking night watches means both Mommy and Daddy are running on about 4hrs of sleep. We take naps throughout the day and turn the helm over to you two which seems to work well.
This afternoon we were treated to a pod of dolphins who accompanied us for several miles, cavorting in our wake and putting on a show. I don’t think one ever tires of seeing these truly amazing mammals at play in their natural environment.
The nights have been black as a suffocating blanket and, with the exception of a dazzling array of stars, there is no moon to navigate by. We maintain position with 4 Coconuts and, when faced with an unidentified contact, we close to several hundred yards and stay glued to the glasses and the radar. Luckily off the coast of Haiti, we have not seen much traffic.
The wind is settling down and we are forced to run an engine through the night if we hope to make Jamaica in daylight. It’s a big patch of water out here and there is great comfort having another boat with us if only to have someone on the other end of the radio at 3 am. ETA for Errol Flynn Marina in Jamaica is late afternoon and we will be ready for a stiff G&T and a good night’s rest.