We got up early and picked up Alejandro. We quickly (luckily!) discovered his morning coffee needs were equal to our tea requirements, so he rowed back to pick up his coffee stash.
The engine started up and we slipped off the mooring buoy.
Franzsteska waved us off and followed us in their dinghy, and Rob the mechanic stood in his cockpit and sounded his horn. I put a radio shout-out over the VHF to thank everyone that had helped us on our way, as we had a second ABC island wave-off.
This time there were no early outs if we had any troubles en-route, no nearby islands to nip into. It’s a 400nm straight sail directly to the DR (Dominican Republic) from Bonaire, sailing between 60 and 90 degrees to the wind. A strong current east to west lies just north of Bonaire which would mean that while we might be pointing our bow to Puerto Rico, we could end up in the DR regardless.
After slipping from our mooring buoy we made sure we could get the furling main out before heading off. The main came out without any problems at all. From our reading up on Hood furling systems, you just need to get to know their ins and outs 😉 so to speak. From then on people swear by them. My reaction when I first saw the furling main was:
“Well that’ll have to go when we can afford to replace it. It’ll only give us grief in the long run, and might be dangerous if it decides to jam at the wrong moment. Simple is best!”
When you read up on these systems, everyone says the same at first, and then they rave on about how much the system has transformed their lives!
It’s early days, and we have to become friends with it. When it works it’s an absolute dream. Press a button, and whoosh it’s done.
It’ll be interesting to see what we think in a year’s time.
Anyways, we furled out a conservative amount of sail and had 30 knots of wind rolling down the hillsides. HC’s so heavy the wind didn’t have much effect on the boat’s motion. Plus side of a bigger boat I guess.
We all took turns hand steering, and the time drifted on by quickly. Alejandro held a good course which meant I could relax and leave him to it. We’ve never sailed with a third crew member and boy what a difference it makes! After 3 hours I was ready for my shift, but I had another 3 hours downtime before I was back on again. It felt like cheating. Having the right third crew mate was a gamble as we’ve really only sailed double handed. I thought it might upset the balance, or perhaps we’d have a second skipper on board, but I’m really glad the dynamic worked out well. Alejandro was brilliant from start to finish.
The waves built over time as we crossed the Caribbean Sea, and HC gradually sped up. The motion again was fantastic, and so comfortable. We sometimes sat steering behind the wheel with both hands on the wheel, and other times we’d sit side on to the wheel and use small hand gestures to correct our heading. At times HC was perfectly balanced (through luck) and she steered herself.
3 days in, whilst I was half-sleeping down below, Alejandro called for me. I jumped up like a startled bunny as I was never quite relaxed, always waiting for something to happen.
“We were going at 7.5 knots, and then it went down to 2 knots. Look over the back! we’ve caught a line!”
We’d caught a bright orange, 3 strand nylon rope on the stupid external bow thruster. The line must have been floating perpendicular to the boat and we sailed straight into the middle of it. We now had two lines running back along the sides of the hull. The two ends were nowhere to be seen, disappearing into the horizon, and the rope must have been easily a mile long, no exaggeration.
I leant over the back and tried picking up the rope to cut the excess off, but it was so long it made it impossibly heavy. Even at 2 knots the rope dipped and surfaced. I timed my cutting efforts and one line pinged and disappeared. The second was out of reach. Trina climbed over the side and I lifted it up with a boat hook with all my might. Trina cut a few strands and it started to unfurl through the tension, then it pinged off and we were left with just the two rope ends trailing from the bow thruster and now ending at the stern. We checked inside to make sure the rope hadn’t pulled away the bow thruster to the extent that it was letting water in. All was fine.
We had about an hour of light left, and I didn’t want anyone going in the water to free the remainder of the rope as night approached. The last thing I wanted was a MOB in the dark and a fouled prop, so we sailed through the night with our new ropy companion.
That night Trina and Alejandro had the lion’s share of the night shift, and I awoke occasionally to hear an occasional boom and then a big whoosh as waves splashed over the cockpit soaking whoever was on shift. I’d shout out to check everything was OK and then drift off back to sleep.
In the morning I took over from Trina, who was casually steering with one hand, soaked to the bone almost lying flat in the cockpit. We’d been hitting 9 knots for some time but as I took over things calmed down somewhat for a while. We had squalls all around us. I watched as the wind picked up to 30 knots, maxing out at 36 knots. When people ask if we had any bad weather on the trip, this was the windiest we’ve had it on our entire trip, but with our conservative sail plan we were doing OK. Any more though, and we’d have had to reduce sail further.
Later on in the day the wind and waves subsided. Laid out below, I was thinking “aggh, maybe it’s calm enough out there to go free this bloody rope,” when Alejandro called down and suggested just that.
We took in all the sail but we were still plodding along at 2-2.5 knots, which doesn’t sound like much, but it’s faster than you can swim. Being the non-swimmer out of the three of us,I felt like a right useless berk. Alejandro volunteered to go in, and we felt pretty bad about the situation. Out of Trina and Alejandro he was by far the strongest. He’d also been a professional dive instructor, and now being an underwater photographer he’d sometimes hold onto a trailing line to take photos of dolphins from a moving boat, which would probably explain his superhuman fish-like abilities in the water.
I threw a thick mooring line off the back, looped from one side to the other in an attempt to do a Robin Knox Johnston and slow the boat down, but it had little or no effect. The line was probably too short.
We chucked out a horseshoe with a long floating line attached to the boat, and then another long mooring line from the front of the boat. So Alejandro had a looped rope to hold onto off the back of the boat, a long line from the bow so he could make his way up to where the line was caught in the bow thruster, and a long floating line on a horse shoe as a last resort.
He donned flippers and a scuba mast and jumped in. At 2ish knots he needed a pretty strong grip. Over the course of 15 minutes we pulled him on a rope up to the bow and he managed to free the rope from the bow thruster. Then, armed with a rescue knife which we’d gaffer-taped to a pole and looking like Neptune, he managed to saw off some loose strands around the prop. That’s the quick explanation which doesn’t do it justice. I was amazed at how calm and collected he was. The most dangerous part of the task was when he worked on the strands around the prop, timing when to dive in closer before the stern came down on him.
I’m not sure how not to sound too gushing, but I couldn’t have done what he did. Trina didn’t think she’d have had the strength to do what he did either. We’re both extremely fortunate and grateful to have had Alejandro with us, who’s done things like that before.
With the line free, we served him beers, and could make our final approach to the DR where we’d be arriving at night. My favourite time to approach an unfamiliar port. Agh!
We motored slowly towards the DR waiting for the coastline to appear. We were surprised at how close we were to land before seeing anything. As night fell, lights started appearing on the shoreline. We motored into a different world.
Our final destination was La Romana. We circled around the entrance a few times and picked out a long concrete pontoon outside the main marina, which happened to be full of multi million pound 4 story mega yachts. A restaurant with a DJ belted out thumping music whilst people dressed to the nines were sat dining. Opposite was a well manicured lawn and a club house with music blaring away and the distant sound of crowds cheering. All this made it impossible to think, let alone hear Trina and Alejandro.
Tied up, we stood on the pontoon looking down on HC and gave ourselves a pat on the back. But it was a short lived pat on the back. The gentle waves coming in through the breakwater were amplifying the snatch and smashing of HC up against the pontoon in quite a violent, cringe-inducing way.
We saw a sheltered fuel pontoon around the corner in the fancy marina, but a young security guard with a gun on his hip wouldn’t allow us to move there. He didn’t speak much English, so Alejandro came to the rescue once again and spoke at length with him. We had a tense 10 minutes as the security guard would talk to Alejandro, shrug his shoulders, make a phone call, shrug his shoulders again, and tell us it was his first night and his supervisor would be angry. By this point I was ready to ignore the security kid and move the boat. We eventually got the thumbs up and we moved inside, thankful we’d only have to contend with next door’s Ministry of Sound to get some sleep.
We weren’t really sure where we’d landed. Next minute a golf buggy arrives, we’re told to jump in, and we’re whizzed along through what we discover is a holiday complex of high-end restaurants, bars, clubs and apartments. It was a stark contrast to our sail over. We were dirty and smelly, unwashed and used to just the sound of waves. Now we were in what I’d describe as a high-octane Kim Kardashian holiday complex from a millennial update of Dirty Dancing. Our golf cart chauffeur parked up and we were ushered over to the Colonel. A sharply dressed chap in khaki army captain’s attire, slouched on a chair looking up at us with disdain. He takes us into his office, and explains in Spanish to Alejandro that they’ll take our passports and we’re to be back here first thing the next morning. Alejandro explained we were very lucky, as they were nearly going to send us back out into the night, as we arrived out of official working hours. One young army chap in a flat baseball cap got assigned to us and we were whizzed back to the boat, all 4 of us squeezed tight into the little rocket cart. I call it a rocket cart as the thing was damn speedy.
When we got back we all stood around. None of us really know what’s going on. Things get translated to us, and we do our best to get a grip on what we’re being asked.
“They say do you want food? We can go to a restaurant or someone will bring us pizza.”
It sounds very simple now, but at the time it was a very difficult question, what with the language barrier and us being quite tired, and knowing that technically we should not be setting foot off the boat untill clearing in next morning, but these officials and security were standing around looking at us, staring at the boat, and the golf cart chauffeur waiting for his next instructions.
We tentatively ordered three big pizzas to be brought to us, and the golf cart sped off. We got snippets of info from Alejandro: tonight was the security guard’s first night, and he really wanted to let us move to the fuel pontoon but he didn’t want to get fired. Tomorrow there’s going to be a big party and the whole place will be jam packed.
When the pizzas come back, we gave the security guard one of the pizzas and snuck him a beer for his troubles. (We adopted the handshake sly tip technique in the DR, and watched our dollars disappear with every interaction we made.)
After pizza and beers we hit the hay. The hard house faded to nothing as we all fell into a deep sleep.