28 February 2012

... from bad to worse

We left Cabo Rojo a day later as planned for Las Salinas (see the Despacho Story) as we knew the weather would get worse. Being careful (as I had to promise to my father- in-law) we checked the forecast in detail - asked for particular route advice. The paid forecaster (or in this case his stand-in) said something about 15 knots. OK for us so we left with another boat.

Till the Isla Beata Channel it was fine – a bit more wind (up to 20 knots) but we had an amazing sail. Just under Stay (a very small headsail) and a highly reefed main we made continuously over 6 knots. Heading into the channel we had to use the engine for a few hours. It went a bit worse as we had the wind straight into the face but manageable. The channel itself was even calmer. Until we crossed it...

That was probably the time when our weather forecaster sent us a personal Email (he never did that before!!) to warn us about the conditions - contrary to his stand-in we talked to before we left. But since we have no Email underway we never saw it until a day later. And if we had Email we would never have been able to read it. I spare you the full forecast, just some lines (and I quote): "Goes from bad to much worse" and "to make matters worse… a nasty tropical wave may move along SE" and so on...This time the forecast was correct: At 19:00h the wind gushed up to steady 25 knots gusting 30 knots against us. This alone would be OK. The waves were the real killing factor. Instead of 6 feet (2m) we had continuously higher waves than 12 feet (3m) - against us or from the side. To express this in the most polite words possible: It really sucks on a sailboat!

During the night things went worse: The other sailboat changed plans - we could not really understand them over the radio where they seeked shelter as it was simply too windy. We changed our plans as well and headed to Barahona - a harbor much closer, around 40 miles. Normally we would do that in 6 - 8 hours. But even with full throttle and the reefed main up we hardly did more than 2 knots. 20 hours or more to go in this boiling sea! Even most of our stuff was secured, it was so bouncy that the cabin turned into a mess within minutes, several items were flying around (but nothing broke). To give you an impression of the wave height: you could not see the moon all the time - sometimes it despaired behind mountains of water. Within one hour all three of us (Rahel, Habibi and myself) have been completely encrusted with a thick layer of salt from the sea spray. Not nice either.

To shorten the story up: We made it safely to Barahona by the next afternoon as we could speed up a bit in the early morning. Funny wise no one of us was scared at any time. You could feel that Habibi with her traditional full keel was very stable and safe. Having a staysail has proofed to be a valuable asset in heavy winds as well. But it’s not comfortable at all - and that’s probably the biggest understatement ever: At nights like this you ask yourself "why am I doing this shit?"

At the end, as fast it comes as fast it goes. We already laughed and joked by the time we were in the harbor entrance: I guess it’s some Caribbean thinking: Don't bother about the past: Look the sun is shining and the people are amazing - what was it again I was swearing about yesterday...?


The Immigration rules for the Dominican Republic are clearly stated in several guides. You can only immigrate at a port of Entry and AFTER you immigrated you need a despacho (a kind of permit) with the name of the next port you intend to sail to. So far, so good. But as usual sometimes things are different as there are different people working in the system. When we left Cabo Rojo, the first anchorage in DR where we got one night of rest after the passage from Haiti, we have been stopped after one hour of sailing by the marine. They would like to see the despacho for our next port. We didn’t have one as we couldn’t immigrate - no port close by for that senior commandante! He disagreed, and said we should come back to the small marine outpost in Cabo Rojo to get this damn despacho. Normally I would argue, but they have been six guys, heavily armed - don't call me a wimpy but I decided to smile and turn around.

We dropped the anchor as advised, same anchorage but noisier as we were now closer to the big ships and less wind protected of course. Never ever let a guy in a motor boat dictate you an anchorage! As soon the hook was set they came along to search the boat for drugs and check our papers. When the officer found a box with unpacked Gottlieber Hüppen (http://gottlieber.ch/en/)

he got a bit suspicious: But this was easely solved, I told him to try one and he agreed that this was real great stuff! As a matter of fact, the whole boarding was very friendly and professional even so. But I still did not have this paper!! I told him (in my Spanish...imagine...) that it was too windy and too much work to pull the dinghy and go ashore just for a piece of paper - which I basically would not need. So the capitano decided to give me a lift together with his team to the marine post. That’s when the fun really started....

After two hours of waiting and mentioning twelve times Suiza, they finally had all the data for the despacho but no ink for the printer! So the capitano swung himself on a motorbike to get to a nearby factory to print this paper. The office in the factory was currently as well out of ink. Damn you HP for filling this lousy cartridges so low!! Did I mention that I had to give all the data again to the guy in the factory office via an officer’s cell phone? So this despacho should’ve been ready by 6pm. I got a ride back to the boat by an officer - cool ride with 500 Mercury horse powers in the back of a boat!

Just before 6pm I got my dink ready - it was blowing with 26knots. But cool enough I have the same brand of engine on my dink, OK just 5 HP instead of 500 HP. Therefore my ride was a bit wet and slightly slower. After I arrived I could wait with the senior officer while the capitano was underway with his bike once more to get the paper I didn’t need. For some reason I was not surprised that there was still no ink found for the despacho (did I mention that I do not need that damn thing??). The new printing meeting was then planned for 0900h the next day. Nevertheless if gave me time to scratch some items off our project list: to do an oil change and replacing two diesel filters on the main engine. Time well spent.

The next morning I just had to wait one hour until the capitano arrived, it took them some other 20 Caribbean minutes or so to find the commandante for the last signature. Finally I was in the possession of this damn despacho. As a additional free gift I even got around 80 mosquito bites while waiting this morning. Thanks very much so far....

22 February 2012


As mentioned earlier: Most cruisers sail towards the Caribbean by passing Hispaniola on the North. I guess for two reasons: Bruce van Sant, a Cruising guide "guru" (he wrote the book "The Gentleman's guide to passages South - The thornless path to windward") recommends to take this route. And we learned that a lot of boats have no insurance coverage for Cuba and Haiti. No doubt, Bruce is a brilliant sailor and author. But we find him a bit difficult to understand and too much depending on weather windows. So we choose to follow another well known path: Frank Virgintinos "A thinking man's guide to voyages South - The many facets of Caribbean Cruising". Frank is publishing his books free on the web - www.freecruisingguides.com (man, I love open source!). He recommends the Windward Passage and a stop at Ile a vache in Haiti before heading to DR.

Most guys avoid Haiti for good reasons. It's the poorest country in the Western hemisphere and well known for several tragic events in the past. But Ile a Vache is different. It's situated away from the mainland and contains only a small village and has a hotel run by a French guy who once stranded here as a cruiser. And of course the most beautiful anchorage in the world: Port Morgan, it's the Caribbean as it was 50 or 80 years ago! When you enter you're immediately surrounded by kids in wooden canoes who try to sell you lobster, fish and coconuts. Fishermen still use small sailboats (no motor!) to catch their food. The water in this tiny, well protected anchorage is like a mirror at night. There are no cars, no electricity (except for the hotel) on the Island. So if you stay up at night you hear nothing than nature at its best. I'm not a very emotional guy - but when later that night the saxophone player from the hotel laid his soft jazzy background music over the anchorage I was gone! I will come back - and if not by boat I will check out the beautiful hotel from the French guy where we had an amazing breakfast with a breath taking view: http://www.port-morgan.com/

A comment for fellow cruisers: We had no safety concerns at all. The police boat checked twice a day and even a UN vessel came by - but not more than an nice hand wave. Amazingly no immigration hassle at all: Fly the Q and nobody seems to care. At least they told us it's carneval and immigration had therefore no time. According to the hotel manager the last theft from a yacht was more than 10 years ago.

And when you think it's not getting any better - there is always a surprise waiting: The next morning the guy from one of the other three boats there came over for a chit chat. If we had the right guides, maps and so on. Usual cruisers talk. After a while it turned out it was Frank Virgintino himself - the author of the guides we follow. What a tremendous surprise - you can imagine that we got an amazing package of extra information! Thanks Frank!

PS: For those who are following our spot tracker: You may ask why we sail such a strange course close to the shore and this at night? Well, we sail currently against the trade winds, means 15 - 25 knots of wind right into our face. And sadly, the sailboat which can sail against the wind is not invented yet. So normally you would tack from one side to the other, but this makes the way much longer. There is an amazing phenomena which you can use as well: During the night, the mountains cool down and produce a falling wind: a so called Catabatic wind. This wind can either calm down the trade or even turn the direction to our favor, but just around three to five miles within shore. How do we know?
A thinking man's guide to voyages South...

Goodbye Bahamas - Welcome Caribbean

Yes, it was quite windy in the Bahamas!

When you read this we already moved on into the Caribbean Sea! We spent far too much time in the Bahamas - more than planned. Mainly for two reasons: First of all it's amazingly beautiful, people say the water will nowhere be clearer. Second, it's big, I mean real huge! It consists of over 3000 islands, covering almost 14,000km2 - be assured we just scratched the surface of the paradise even with two months there. But we're confident that we are going to explore some new ground which will surprise us with another kind of beauty.

When it's time to say goodbye you do this as always with a laughing and a crying eye. We met several extraordinary people during our journey and we will miss all of them until we meet in another port of call in the, hopefully, near future: To name a few: Marco spent some amazing days fishing with Mark and Kevin, their wifes Marlene and Velma have been the perfect entertainers for so many evenings. We will miss you and your guidance for us new wanna be cruisers! Last but not least Cristel and Levant: We met them both when we waited for the final weather window. They live aboard a beautiful 85 footer which they manage for the owners, but are dreaming as well of being soon fulltime cruisers. It's hard to describe, but how much time do you need to connect to people? Levant and Cristel made this easy, after a few days it felt as we would know each other for years. Guys, you served us with the perfect finish of an already perfect Bahamian Cruise! We will miss you and thanks again for the splendid time we spent in your company!

Our last sunset seen in Bahamian waters.

09 February 2012

The sun is high...

I learned today that the Bahamas and the United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi to be more precise) have a commonality. They are both touched by the "Tropic of Cancer", a circle of latitude that marks the most northerly position at which the sun may appear directly overhead at its zenith (thanks wikipedia). And this happens only once a year in June. The photo was taken today while we crossed this specific latitude on our trip from Rum Cay to Clarence Town, Long Island. It was a beautiful sail and we decided we could cruise around the world like this! What we may do in the future...

With love, from paradise

08 February 2012

Bye Bye Chicken Harbor

If you read this, we finally left "Chicken Harbor" towards Hispaniola. Yes, George Town is sometimes also called Chicken Harbor. A lot of cruisers there will never go further. Actually I think most of them. Some folks even leave their boat there over hurricane season and fly in and out, we met guys they've been doing this for 10 years in a row. Currently there are 300+ boats anchored and the community is well organized. Sunday is church on the beach and any other day is Yoga, Volleyball, Rock and Roll night or Trivial pursuit - you name it. All announced every morning at 0800 over the cruisers net on VHF. And don't get me wrong, the community is very helpful. They have as well free seminars for weather, SSB and so on. It's really a friendly place to be. It's actually a paradise within a paradise. Decent stores (at least after all the previous 20m2 "Supermarkets"), nice beaches and even better fishing grounds. I actually caught my first wahoo directly from the boat! The water is so clear, you can see the ground even in 20 meters of water. Almost perfect.

But leaving the boat on the hook for a few months, maybe a bit near island hopping - that's not cruising, it not even makes you a cruiser. In the normal world we would call this camping! OK, camping on a boat. No offense, but this is not our lifestyle, even though you almost caught us! This lazy days between fishing trips, burgers and beer for lunch and cocktail beach parties in the evening raises the question: What more do I want? If you talk to several long time campers, ahh cruisers, you instantly realize that most of them have what I would call "Viking Syndrome": They strongly believe the world is flat and at some point after the Bahamas it may end. If you not get crushed by storms, pirates or sea monsters you could simply drop off the planet after leaving George Town. So this kind of stationary cruisers create all sorts of problems, excuses and delays to stay: A Chicken Harbor!!

Despite all this temptations we finally freed ourself from laziness and are on our way to Hispaniola. For those who are interested in navigation: There is a big fight between two major cruising guide writers on which way to go: Should you take the rough Atlantic North coast of the Dominican Republic (DR) with almost no shelter or the Windward Passage between Cuba and Haiti and then take the more lovely South Coast of DR to head East against the Trades? We decided for the later, we think it's saver, and as we have to visit Santo Domingo for some visas anyways it's more convenient. But maybe the last ten days of camping just made us soft.....

06 February 2012

TOO young for cruising?

So far most of the time people are astonished how young cruisers we are. The main reason for that is of course our healthy lifestyle (sporty, abolishing all bad things in life like alcohol, greasy food and tobacco). Therefore we still look damn young. A second, very vague, theory indicates that we are currently in the retirement cruising grounds of whole North America: 90% of our fellow cruisers are therefore retired and have kids in our age. This may make us look a bit younger as well. 
Sadly we know this will change as soon we hit the Caribbean, we will be the old guys there! But that's not the story for now.....

We had one of the famous cocktail parties on the beach tonight. When it was time to get back to the boat there was this elderly couple on the dinghy dock with some trouble with their inflatable. They were loosing air in one tube and it looked like the dink was sinking. The old guys' hand pump could barley put enough air in to keep them afloat. And please remember, we are in Americas retirement cruising grounds, so when I say elderly I mean they could easily have babysitted Fidel Castro as Teenagers. Nevertheless, I offered help...and that's when the whole story begun....

The lady was already in the boat and asked me to pass her the glass with a drink which was still on the dock. I was amused, the boat was obviously sinking, the man was pumping like hell and the old girl was scared the ice would melt and making the drink watery. Anyway, I told them I have an electric pump on the boat which could make the job easier and that my boat was right in front of the dock. They agreed, hitting maybe 15 other boats while pulling off the dock. The lady still holding on to her precious drink while the guy fires up the engine. When the engine finally started I was really astonished: It yelled like a formula one engine, at least 15'000rpm in idle! The dinghy dock and the guys on the beach were immediately covered behind a cloud of grey, oily smoke. The lady was maybe used to that demonstration of brute power - at least she continued unaffected to sip her drink in the bow of the sinking ship. 

Obviously the ice was not melted when we reached Habibi. Rahel helped HIM to tie up while HE managed barley to keep the boat afloat: The grande dame was still holding on to her drink. God, by now I was really impressed! That's this kind of old school you just got from hearsay when the Titanic sunk; The band is playing and the guys are drinking at the bar while the boat dives into its icy grave. Nothing like this Italian "The captain leaves the boat first" from our days. Maybe she survived Titanic herself, why be scared of some 25 degrees Bahamian water? Finally me managed to pump the dink, but then they missed a part of the valve to keep the air in. So the lady was forced to help to search and therefore had to let the drink go....she convinced the husband to pour the precious liquid (still some ice cubes there) into a thermos before she finally draw her attention to the sinking boat she was in. After we fixed the leak somehow they finally disappeared again in a grey smoky cloud. Needles to say that they stay on the other end of the anchorage - which is maybe a half an hour dinghy ride at night with 20 knots of wind - I guess that was the reason for the thermos.

If they survived they may be on board their big trawler by now. And as Rahel mentioned - lets be happy we met them in their inflatable boat, far away from the big mother ship - imagine what disaster could strike if they do the same with 20 tons of steel and a few hundred horse power more. They could easily whack your boat in half while she may be mixing some dry martinis!

After that night we still believe you're never too young for cruising but now we know there may be an upper limit my friends! Maybe you should really think about going back to landlubber life when your first grand kids retire. Seriously. 

01 February 2012

Our Cruisers Dictionary Top Ten

We all know that boaters try to differentiate themselves from ordinary landlubber's by using another, more sophisticated language. Why do we say starboard if we mean right or why is the front of a boat called bow? Anyhow, that's how it is and we are used to it. Being underway we got even confronted with quite a new set of words and their meaning, normally not found in any boating dictionary. Here is our top ten of them:

1 Admiral
If you are the captain aboard a boat you are actually very close to god. You rule, no objections, no discussions. Great thing. But as usual, there is a seat even closer to real power: And that's like in real life the Admiral. He (or better she) may not interfere with daily boating decisions, but she may give advice or sees the bigger picture better than you could ever do. This shows in particular with given advice directly related to important issues as comfort, the color of the bed linen or the recommended shaving intervals for the male crew. So, in theory the captain could even overrule the Admiral as he is in charge of the boat. But the consequences of doing so could be very harsh, mostly later on. Amazingly 95% of the sailors we know have the Admiral on board, all others are sailing solo...

2 Anchor Insomnia
Imagine, you're at anchor, 20 knots or more of wind speed and some boats are really close. The chain is rattling in competition with he whining of your rig and you swing all over the place. How could you sleep?? Your anchor may slip and you crash into another boat or worse, onto a nearby reef. Or if your anchor holds, another boat may moving towards you they accidentally move. So you stay up to check the anchor (anyway there is nothing to see as it is pitch dark) or you watch with glazing eyes the radar or the GPS just to get proof you're not moving. To keep the boat safe you stay up the whole night, usually sipping some rum or equivalent to calm your nerves. Around five o' clock in the morning you're either sure that the boat will not slip, or you're so drunk that you don't care anymore. So that's when you go to bed, late enough to ensure the Admiral is aware about your high sense of duty.

3 Boaters Midnight
Boaters get up with the sun as the Daily Weather report is at 0630h and the Cruisers Net is at 0800h as well on the radio. So days are really long..
After the sun goes down you may be "invited" to a Cocktail Party (see below) or you stay on the boat, mostly without TV and just randomly with Internet. Reading is nice, but after all that sun and no real couch potato possibility you break down around 22:00h. Most of us are ending up to  go to bed at a time we would never do in real life.

4 Cocktail Party
Held either on the beach or on a fellow cruiser's boat. Normally announced over the radio or by people coming by dinghy and inviting the whole anchorage in person. But don't get this wrong: You're invited to join, it does not mean you're invited as in real life! Bring your own stuff (usually plenty of drinks and some snacks). The only thing you share are the snacks.

5 Checking the Anchor
Blame it on the beer, but I was not suspicions at one of this boat parties even when the fifth guy in twenty minutes went up towards the bow to "check the anchor", I mean we are cruisers so safety first right? The next party was on the beach, and when this guy told me he had to check the anchor I was getting a bit nervous. Is he going back to the boat, is this such a bad anchorage at all? I started to understand what means "checking the anchor" when the guy whent behind the bushes just to be back a few minutes later.....

6 DPO = Damn Previous Owner
An acronym used for all the bad things happening to your boat. Very convenient: Whatever happens, something breaks or a fellow boater questions a particular setup: Blame it to the DPO! You will never loose your face as it's obvious that you did the best you could but the DPO gave you a difficult heritage with this boat.

7 Mail Boat Day
Islands get supplies by a mail boat which usually comes once a week. Even if nobody expects mail it's a very important day. That's when the local store has fresh fruits and vegetables. Or even better, he might even have anything else you may need. Don't miss it, the day after all the nice stuff is gone...

8 Liveabord
It's not a cruiser. Its a person who lives abord a boat in some harbor and has a normal work or is retired - he just exchanged the apartment with a boat. Most of them actually planned to go cruising but got stuck in normal life. You find liveaboards in all different places - the main thing in common is that they hardly ever move the boat. Dare you ever ask a cruiser who moves from one location to another if he is a livaboard. It's an insult....

9 Gin Tanker
Normally only seen in the Bahamas area, no more than a few hundred miles away from Miami. The term is naming big motorboats with even bigger engines, mostly sport fishing vessels. The crew has no sense for noise, wake or boating etiquette in general. Everybody assumes they start drinking gin tonics early in the morning and are just capable of doing this because they are gin addicted drunk morons...but maybe it's just jealousy as well, I mean how can you afford so much gin if your boat is using gas for 1000 US an hour??

10 Tourist Boat
Acronym for Charter boats with mostly inexperienced crew. They tend to drop the absolute undersized tiny anchor (I use the same size in my Dinghy and not at a 40 foot boat!) very close to your boat so they may slip at night; The result is obvious-> see Anchor Insomnia. Another problem is the loud music. I mean they have real holiday, they still can party after 22:00h when most of the cruisers in the anchorage are already hitting the cushions. The best would be for the sake of all of us if they would invite us! We could check how their anchor holds (for real!), enjoy the music and the best - get some booze for free (they do not know about cruisers style of cocktail partys...) So if you ever charter: Invite a cruiser - nobody is more gracefully!