As we sit down to write this note, it is difficult to believe that another year has passed and we continue to enjoy the cruising lifestyle which keeps us on the water and in a sunny and warm climate. Last year at this time, we were in the USVIs enjoying the company of cruising friends that we have met over the years. This year finds us in Curacao – one of the ABC islands in the Southern Caribbean – with a very much smaller cruising community as most people here wait for the hurricane season to end and then move on – mostly westbound.
We spent the early part of the year in the USVIs primarily waiting for parts and visiting. It was a cold season but pleasant and the swimming in clear blue/green water was amazing. Lots of snorkeling and a bit of diving was enjoyed. Heather left for Toronto to spend time with her mother at the end of February while Don stayed in the USVIs. Early March, Don single handed the boat to get to Puerto Rico ( PR) in two hops – first the Spanish Virgin Islands and then to a marina in PR. Don had time to execute some boat chores including conditioning the batteries – similar to “equalizing” if you have lead acid batteries (Asseance’s batteries are AGMs) – while he had the boat to himself !
Our autopilot had failed on the trip from Curacao to St Croix in November 2011. We waited till PR to replace this unit as Don could get the parts from West Marine and install while at the marina. Everything except the below deck linear drive unit was replaced. This additional unit was costly and it was working properly. Or at least we thought so! This decision would come back to haunt us.
Heather returned in early March. We now had time to rent a car for a few days and explore PR and see only some of the wonderful countryside before heading to Culebra in the Spanish Virgin Islands. There, we toured this island with Chuck and Barb on Tusen Taak II and stretched it to take a day!! After enjoying their company and hospitality, we needed to move on, sailing SW to Vieques, also part of the Spanish Virgins. A large part of this island is still off limits due to unexploded military ordinance from the days of the island being a shooting range for the US Navy.
From Vieques we headed West along the South coast of PR – yup – lots of great down wind sailing often with the main alone doing hull speed! Our time was short in PR as we had commitments to be in the Dominican Republic by early April. Now, it is our windlass giving us grief! As our sailing friends know, a properly operating windlass is necessary to raise and lower the anchor. Picture HAND raising 200 feet of chain?!? We had to choose where we NOW stayed. We had heard great things about Salinas and we were not disappointed. We stopped for a few wonderful days here in this lovely and laid back community. Definitely a place to return to with more time!
We chanced one more anchoring off the SW corner of PR to stage for our passage across the bottom end of the Mona Passage to the Dominican Republic (DR). We planned to stop halfway at Monas Island and arrived there in early afternoon to the developing North swell – making it impossible to enter the anchorage. In calm water, the entrance is 7 feet deep and Asseance draws 5 ft. With a 10 foot swell, unless we could time every thing exactly, we would not have enough water under the keel to enter. So, being prudent sailors we had to continue on to the DR.
Let me tell you, this was not decided upon lightly! We had just experienced one of the worst passages – very lumpy and confused seas – but we could not go back. All this also meant arriving in unknown waters after dark!
To add to the challenge, about halfway from Monas Island to the DR, our decision not to replace the linear drive on the auto pilot came back to haunt us – the drive unit failed! Now it is only hand steering and getting dark. The good part was the seas were getting calmer!! We had recently downloaded a new guide book for sailors and Don found us a safe place to anchor on the SE area of DR off Isla Saonas, with good protection from the easterly wind. The area was reported to be easy and safe to enter in the dark with lots of water. Good thing!!
The anchorage area was wide with no obstructions and a sand bottom and a good holding. Rather than stand off all night and hand steer we dropped the anchor and collapsed for the night. It was so beautiful,westayedasecondnightjustofftheNationalParkonSaonasisland. Wethenheadedto La Romana and the Casa de Campo Marina where we made it our home for the next month. In addition, Heather’s long time friend Kathy Cseff was joining us shortly. The anchor came up with the windlass for the last time. It stopped working entirely after that??!? Luck was on our side.
Now, we needed 2 NEW items sent to the DR – the linear drive for the auto pilot and a new windlass. The story about ordering and shipping to the DR, PLUS getting through the DR Customs is well beyond the scope of this note. It took much longer than anywhere else, and the extra “fees” were rather high. The courier companies step back from all delivery responsibilities upon arrival to Customs. BUT, in the end before we left the DR – with the help from the marina officials, and a friendly megaboat captain – we had a new linear drive and a new windlass installed on Asseance !
We spent a great week with Kathy and toured some of the DR including a trip to Santo Domingo and an adventure to Punta Cana! We rented a car, as this was the only way to get around from this lovely but remote marina – only to discover how bad the drivers are in the DR. It is our humble opinion that these are the worst drivers in the world with very little, if any, respect for other road users. The scary part is that in order to survive, Don learned to drive like them – much to the horror of Heather !!
We continued to enjoy the DR as we found a good car at a good rate. It was fun re-visiting many of the places that Heather had been to with her family in the early 70s . How things had changed – mostly the improved roads – and the developed tourism for the all-inclusive resorts. We were still able to find some peaceful and more remote places that were more similar to the way they were in the 1970s. A big highlight was touring and understanding the process of growing cocoa.
Early May, we left the boat at the marina and headed to Punta Cana – one of the all inclusive resorts – to join Paul and Ruth-Ann Bond at their son’s wedding. Chris and Debbie had decided to have a destination wedding and invite family and friends to join. So we decided to spend a few days at the resort being pampered. It was a wonderful wedding and spectacular off-site reception. If you know Chris, he programmed everything including how the flower girl was to throw the flowers!
Time to leave the DR. It was fun! After much discussion, we decided to head directly South from the DR to Bonaire. We planned for a 3 day passage. Conditions were ideal and we sailed much faster than we planned. Probably one of the best three days since we started cruising! The weather and seas were exactly as predicted… except we arrived 12 hours faster than planned. Another dark arrival – only this time, we had been here before and picked up a mooring without too much difficulty! We proceeded to enjoy a month in Bonaire; diving and celebrating Heather’s special birthday with good friends on Coram Deo. As we planned to leave the boat for this Summer, we needed to find a safe and reasonable spot – and Seru Boca Marina in Curacao seemed like the spot, so one more pleasant 40 mile sail west.
By the end of June, we found ourselves back in Toronto. Heather’s mother was facing some health issues and we wanted to be there to help. It was a challenging summer for Heather as it was decided by the family it was necessary to obtain more assistance for her mother and to move her into a health care residence.
We spent July and August, house sitting for Ron and Sandy Clancy while they sailed the North Channel of Georgian Bay. Lovely home, great access to the subway and well, the back deck was surely the place to be for morning coffee ! When Sandy and Ron returned at the end of August, we enjoyed a couple of weeks at Deb’s place (Don’s sister) while she explored the Magdalen Islands with her girls (Zoey and August). In September, we were spoiled for 3 weeks at Steve and Ann’s condo on the Toronto waterfront – while they went to Italy to celebrate a special birthday for Ann. Thanks everyone. We spent many hours catching up with friends at our yacht club and sailing with Paul and Ruth-Ann on their boat Zambezi on many weekends. It was a wonderful summer.
In October, we returned to the boat in Curacao with Don arriving before Heather to get the boat ready for sail. Again, we are waiting for parts to arrive which did not get shipped on the date that was expected. That is a big part of the cruising lifestyle. Must have patience! Meanwhile, we have been able to reconnect with cruising friends on Coram Deo and do a little exploring!
Our plans for the coming season were to travel West to Columbia, the San Blas islands and Panama. But, we are delayed and will likely miss the weather window to go West, especially to Columbia. Now, we are considering heading East after Christmas to Bonaire and spend a few months diving. Beyond that our plans remain written in sand at low tide. Need to be soooo flexible if we want to remain on the water in this sunny and warm climate!
We send our wishes to each and every one to have a very merry Christmas and Holiday Season and wish you fair winds, a guiding star and a following sea for 2013.
Don and Heather