Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Hola from Puerto Rico!

Puerto Plata, DR
Leaving Bahamas after a prolonged weather related stay in Mayaguana, we pushed on to the Dominican Republic.  Our intention was to stop in Turks and Caicos to enjoy their remote and pristine cays.  With some engine difficulties and strong prevailing winds, we decided to make a three-day passage to Luperon, DR.  As we approached Luperon, we realized that we would need yacht services not available there including a mechanic, welder and fuel so we altered course for Puerto Plata.  Ocean
Puerto Plata, DR
 World is both a marina and a resort complete with a casino, swimming pools, and opportunities to swim with dolphins or even tigers. We took a cab ride to the grocery store in downtown Puerto Plata for provisions. The energy here was amazing.  Cars and motorbikes buzzing in and out of traffic like we have never seen with three or four people crowded on one scooter. Kids hanging to handlebars and one person we talked to even reported seeing a live calf strapped to the side of a motorcycle.  Driving in Manhattan is easier but we witnessed no accidents.  The city of Puerto Plata is the second oldest in the DR and was a resting stop for Columbus when he first came to the “new world.”
The poverty and limited resources of the DR are starkly apparent in Puerto Plata.

The DR is a beautiful country that occupies 66% of the island of Hispaniola and is part of the Antilles.  The other 1/3 of the island is Haiti, the poorest country in the hemisphere.  While the two countries share the island, they are different in most ways including language, religion, and standard of living.  Dominican people, if one can generalize, are positive and have great pride in their country. 

While in Puerto Plata, we were able to have some work done on the engine as well as have a damaged rail welded.  The marina’s assistant harbor-master, Eddie, was a great help in facilitating all that we needed.  After three days, we pushed off around 11:00 AM and sailed east to Samana on the eastern coast of the DR.  The Navy immediately appeared along Atalanta for our “check in.”  After boarding our boat they indicated that they expected a gratuity (read bribe).  The DR has passed legislation outlawing these “shakedowns”.  Upon refusing to pay, we were told that would need to inspect our boat. The check in process was intimidating and set a very negative tone for our time in what turned our to be a charming village. We left Samana the next day and again had negative encounters with the military upon trying to complete the check out process. 

Samana, DR
Samana was our launching off point to cross the Mona Passage.  This 120-mile crossing is difficult and can present real challenges to the passagemaking sailboat.  Using Bruce Van Sant’s “The Gentleman’s Guide to Passages South” we employed his 
Thanks Lawrence for being our Guide
recommendation to leave in the early evening and benefit from the calming winds and seas, using the night lee on both sides of the channel.  Once across and in Puerto Rico, we completed the most difficult portion of the journey.  From this point on we will move at a more leisurely pace, spend more time at each destination, and travel during early morning hours for short hops to discover the next beautiful cove, beach or community. 

Richard and Kay
Checking in at customs in
Mayaguaz, Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is the first time in months to experience “American-like” conveniences.  Our cell phones work, there is internet access, well stocked grocery stores and the ability to acquire most of what we need.  We are currently in Boqueron on the SW shore.  It is a lovely place that is quiet and peaceful Monday-Thursday and crazy Friday-Saturday.  We are meeting new friends and rejoining others we met along the way.  Our next stops will be along the southern coast of PR as we inch our way toward the east coast.  We will probably leave Atalanta and Murray for 10 days while celebrating Pat and Rachel’s wedding in Vermont. 

Thanks for following

Richard & Kay

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Mayaguana… Mayaguana… Mayaguana…. Mayaguana and more Mayaguana

Once again, limited internet access keeps us from posting as frequently as we would like to.  Nevertheless, we are in Mayaguana, having arrived after a difficult slug into the Trade-winds (prevailing easterlies/south-easterlies) from George Town.

Checkers on Volleyball Beach, George Town
When we began this trip, we had to make a decision regarding which route to follow to the Caribbean.  We considered two.  One would be offshore, heading to Bermuda and then south with the offshore legs totaling over 15 days of travel. The other option was to head south into the Bahamas and work our way east through this island country.  We opted for the latter for a number of reasons including a desire to see the Exumas and to avoid an extended offshore passage at the beginning of our trip.  The reason many choose not to transit this route is because of the prevailing winds.  They are strong, from the east and relentless.  If you are lucky you may see a front push through providing 1-3 days of northerly winds - riding the northerlies is the best way to get east. 

Richard Navigating
We sailed from Black Point to George Town in a day and anchored for the night at Sandy Beach.  Due to wave action and wind direction, we decided to move to the next anchorage, Volleyball Beach, still in George Town.  Here we found the Chat ‘n Chill Bar on the beach and enjoyed a Kalik (local Bahamian beer)  or two.  With a need to find a notary public, a post office and provisions, we stayed until Monday.  George Town is the largest settlement in the Bahamas after Nassau and Freeport and the center of government for the region.  We set sail at noon for points east expecting (according to the “trusty” weather reports) a front to come through providing three days of northerly winds.
George Town
After sailing for two and a half days (two nights out), the front stalled over Florida and the easterly winds blew hard.  George Townover 10’.  This is the equivalent of going nowhere fast and was not a pleasant experience; Kay and Murray were tempted to mutiny. Atalanta was strong and competent in these conditions, but this type of sailing is exhausting.  Running low on energy and patience, we headed for the “out-island” of Mayaguana (its Lucayan name) that is sparsely settled and offers basically no services for tourists.  We sailed in after dark tucking behind an extensive coral reef for protection from the high waves and wind to wait for the next front to head to the Turks and Caicos . . . a mere 300 miles away from Puerto Rico.   We are below the Tropic of Cancer and exploring postcard perfect turquoise waters and sandy beaches.

Little did we know, the winds would only increase and continue from the east and east-south-east.  After two days at the NE point, we moved to the south side of the island to Abraham’s Bay.  Here we found the company of about a half dozen boats waiting, waiting for the next front to carry us to the Turks and Caicos.  It will a while before that happens.  In the mean while we wait, meet new friends, and exploring the last outpost of the Bahamas, Mayaguana. The people here are friendly and welcoming to those willing to sail here.  As we move south, it will become less remote and less isolated.  We are spending out time reading, snorkeling, scuba diving and letting the constant 20-25 knots of wind blow our hair dry. 
Atalanta at Anchor

While today is Sunday, we are anticipating that we will be able to leave for the Caicos Islands on Wednesday.  Our goal of being in the USVI in February is appearing to be unrealistic.  We may stay in the Turks and Caicos and fly home for Rachel and Pat’s wedding from there.  Time will tell.  It's all about the weather.

Voyaging East

Thanks for following our posts and stay in touch.  Love to hear your comments.

Richard and Kay

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Exumas

HighBourne Cay

Chad and Richard
Enjoying Cubans

While we have been somewhat delinquent getting this post out, the fact of the matter is we are in a part of the Bahamas that has not heard of cell phones or the web.  This, it is paradise.  The waters are clear as for as far as you can see, the skies are blue with temperatures consistently in the low 80’s. 
Tara and Kay

Nassau was a very interesting spot to experience but like many areas, it was poor and you needed to be careful where you travelled.  Stores buzzed you in and walking at night was not always a good choice.  In contrast, Paradise Island, home of the Atlantis Resort was a vacationland for the rich and non-Bohamian.  While an amazing structure and beautiful aquarium, it did serve to highlight the discrepancy between the life of those touring and those who were residents. 

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT!  While in Nassau, Tara (Kay's daughter) and Chad became engaged. We are both very happy for them and know they will have a wonderful life together.   

Since leaving Nassau, we have been exploring the Exuma chain.  These islands include hundreds of small islands and cays (keys) and extend south for about 100 miles of this island country.  Our first cay was Highbourne.  While basically a remote out island, there was a small marina and restaurant there.  Christmas eve, we found ourselves at Zumas, eating outside under the stars.  The blackened Mahi Mahi was great as was the entire meal.  What a treat for Christmas Eve.  After a wonderful meal, we rode back to Atalanta as the skies opened up and a tropical rain fell.  Given the temps, it was just refreshing. 

Christmas day was also spend in Highbourne.  David and Rose Ann on Pyxis sailed down and joined us for our holiday dinner.  We met David and Rose Ann in Nassau and have really enjoyed getting to know them.  Rose Ann makes a great cherry pie that was a perfect end to a fine meal.  This was our first Christmas away from our kids and we greatly missed being with them.  Perhaps they will celebrate the next one with us in the Caribbean. 
Christmas Tree on Atalanta
We sailed from Highbourne Cay to Hawkbill Cay and met Pyxis there.  We were treated to a dingy tour of the island that that was spectacular.  The waters are pristine, the coral beautiful and the sand pure and white.  This island is rich with conch and lobsters but none can be taken as it is part of a national preserve.  There is a sand found here (Uli) that is unique in its texture and qualities.  It is hard to believe that we will ever find a more beautiful spot, bluer water, or greater solitude but we will keep on going south to see. 

We are now into day 130 of living onboard.  It seems like only yesterday that we started out.  Atalanta has been a good home and provided us with all that we need to be safe, comfortable, and content.  It is not only our shelter but our means for travel, and our home.  We have now travelled over two thousand miles on her, celebrated holidays, and experienced both fine and challenging weather.  She is providing for us well and has met all of our expectations. 

We visited Staniel Cay, as we move down the Exuma chain.  This is another remote island paradise that has unfortunately been polluted with super yachts.  While here we were unfortunately hit broadside while we were at anchor.  The damage was significant but will not interfere with our progress south.  The accident was was unfortunate and will require some attention once we arrive in the USVIs. 
The Swimming Pigs of Staniel Cay
While in Staniel Cay we snorkeled the Thunderball Caves.  This is where parts of the James Bond film Thunderball were filmed.  The fish and coral were spectacular and Kay did a GREAT job of swimming the caves. This is also home to the swimming pigs of Big Major Cay.  They literally swim out to your dingy and try to get in.  

Kay, Rose Ann and David
We are now in Black Point in the Exumas waiting for the winds to favor our trip south to Georgetown.  We now have to focus on making time to the east and south so that we will be able to reach our destination of the USVI by February.  We have to say good bye to our friends on Pyxis and hope to stay in touch for years to come.

All is well and we are having the time of our lives.  Thanks for following and stay in touch.