Friday, January 1, 2010

December 28-31 - A White-knuckle Ride into Ocean World Marina

After we left South Side Marina we sailed for about six hours and anchored off of Long Cay in the early afternoon. We took the opportunity to snorkel around and found enough conch for dinner along with an inquisitive five foot long reef shark, who came by to check us out. That size fish kind of gets your attention!!! Good thing we weren't spearing fish because they really come around when they have a scent of blood.

The young fellows from Lady Euphoria, who we'd talked to at South Side Marina, came in a couple of hours later and anchored near us. The following day we left with gentle northerlies for all day and most of the night. Lady Euphoria were near us for part of the time, but they ended up going to Luperon because of a fuel shortage. At around 2am the wind freshened and Diane woke me up to let me know things were getting a little more lively. We had to reef and cut some sail because even the auto-pilot wasn't able to control the boat. I woke up Dave to tell him that we needed to reef. With me steering and Dave doing the deck work, we got things under control. It was a rough and tumble sail change - the main wouldn't reef, so eventually we just brought it down and only flew the jib. Not a bad choice since by the time we go to the DR it was blowing from the north at over 22 knots.

As we approached Puerto Plata, it struck us that it was a commercial port as opposed to a port that also accommodates yachts. We made an instant decision to go to Ocean World Marina, just a few miles west of Puerto Plata. We called them up on the radio to make sure they had room for us and where exactly they were. They responded with what we wanted to hear. They had room for us and they would have the Customs & Immigration people ready for us when we got there.

Getting into the Ocean World Marina was not a piece of cake. The marina had told us to follow a high red light that was ashore. The problem was that there were two red lights. Initially, we headed for the wrong light until we noticed that it didn't coincide with the GPS readings. We shifted and headed for the other red light. After a few minutes the sight of the casino/marina building became clear. Then we saw the buoys leading to the entrance. We headed towards the buoys and proceeded. The marina fellow called us back and told us to stay close to the buoys and make a sharp left at the entrance. As we proceeded inward, we were surrounded on both sides, by breaking waves. A little more excitement than we had bargained for that early in the morning after not much sleep, but hey, that's the cruising life.

We got the boat secured in the Ocean World marina with the help of the marina staff. There was a some surge to deal with, as waves broke high just outside the marina break wall. But it felt good to be peacefully docked.

During the next couple of days we went into Puerto Plata for supplies. We were happy to be in the marina. Puerto Plata was more of a commercial harbor, not convenient for yachts. Also, the harbor is open to the north, making it a poor anchorage for northerly winds we were experiencing. It's pretty difficult to walk around town without getting offerings from tour guides who want to show you around for 100 pesos. We ended up with Pepe, who escorted us to various stores and a restaurant. Later on we acquired the services of another guide, who wanted to take us to a marine store. With him we walked through some of the barrios on the outskirts of town. All-in-all an interesting escapade.

New Year's at Ocean World Marina

The night started calmly enough with drinks and dinner on the boat. But after all, it was New Year's eve. We put on our finest pairs of shorts and t-shirts and walked over to the Casino. Initially, it was an odd and surreal feeling because as we walked in, we appeared to be at a small Las Vegas casino where we were the only customers (actually, there were a few more customers there). After checking out the slot machines, we were almost ready to leave, when Dave suggested we all sit down at a black jack table and play with 500 pesos (about $15). The first few rounds we lost. But then our luck changed, particularly for Kristi. We continued to play, ordered drinks and after a while ended up with more money than we had come with - a sure sign of a good evening ahead.

Upstairs from the casino was the disco. We went to have a look, but like the casino, it was eerily absent of New Year's revelers. We were it! And we were out of there. We then went for a walk towards the beach side bars and restaurants. Indeed there were some low level parties going on. Nothing tempting, though. But in the distance, we saw spotlights and heard what sounded like live music. We walked towards the sounds, along the moonlit beach. As we approached the venue we could see it was a huge New Year's party with lots of white linen tables, bars and food areas. The band that was playing sounded just like U2 and upon closer inspection, we could noticed Bono belting out the words to "Without You". Could it be that we had just crashed in on a private New Year's party starring U2? It took a while (and a few drinks) before we realized that the band playing was a U2 tribute band. They sounded and looked so much like the real thing.

After feeling at ease (and assured that we weren't going to get thrown out), we ordered a bottle of champagne, found some party hats and walked up to the front where people were milling around and dancing to Hollywood U2. Definitely surreal - here we were, a few minutes until 2010, in the Dominican Republic, dancing to the pulsating beat of U2 (well it sounded like them). At midnight, the band finished their last song and gave a toast. We danced a little longer but then headed home.

Getting back was not as easy as getting in. There appeared to be more security guards, all armed with shotguns. But eventually, after jumping over a fence and finding the beach, we got a couple of the gun-toting security guards to escort us towards the marina. In fact, they insisted with the escort because they were worried for our safety. "Muy peligroso!" they said. Exhausted, we got back to the boat around 2am. What a wild way to start a new decade.

Unfortunately, I didn't bring my camera along. So there is no photographic evidence of just how much fun we had. Probably a good thing!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

December 19-27 - Our Week Long Stay in Providencial

We have been at South Side Marina for over a week. On the 19th Chris (Kristi's son) and Ana (his fiancee) flew in from Miami to join us for a week. The following day, Diane and Kristi arrived. Knowing that six adults would be a tight fit on Lahaina Roads, I had checked into the availability of nearby hotel rooms. For the most part, Caicos caters to the "all inclusive" vacationers, making rooms very expensive. The typical room at one of these ocean front resorts starts at $400 per person per night and goes up from there. Naturally, that was out of the question.

Simon, the marina manager, came up with the solution. Unfortunately, his mother in England had passed away. He and his wife were leaving for England on the day Diane and Kristi were arriving. So when he offered me his 46' motor sailor for $50 a day, I jumped at it. With a 15'x15' aft stateroom, hot shower, full galley, TV and more, Diane and I would be very comfortable and yet remain close to Lahaina Roads.

A little about the islands. There are eight major islands in the Turks & Caicos chain. The Caicos Islands are comprised of West Caicos, Providenciales, North Caicos, Middle Caicos, East Caicos and South Caicos. The Turks Islands are Grand Turk (the capital) and Salt Cay. The marina where we're staying is on Providenciales.

Like so many Bahamian islands, also the Turks and Caicos believe that Columbus first made landfall on their islands. Generally, however, Ponce de Leon is given the credit for first sighting the islands. When listening to what language people speak, one can really understand the impact that the various powers have had on the T&C. For centuries, starting in the 1500's, the islands passed from Spanish, to French, and then to British control. The result is that you hear dialects with Spanish and French influence. But generally people speak English and we find them to be very friendly and polite people.
Also like the Bahamas, salt mining became the dominant industry in the T&C's after they were colonized in the 1600's. The reason the salt collectors were drawn here was because of the shallow waters. Good for them, but bad for sailing around the islands for us. Even with the number of islands, cays and the extensive barrier reef, they don't offer much in the way of cruising grounds and anchorages for visiting yachts. With Chris and Ana only with us for a week, and with the weather forecast including a mid-week storm, it didn't look like we could give Chris and Ana much of a taste of the island group. With that in mind, we decided to rent a car for the week. With the car we explored various areas of the island, but never got to any of the others.

On one of the days, we drove to the far north western part of the island, where we figured there would be some good snorkeling beaches and perhaps find surfing waves for Chris. The beach was rugged, with a little too much wind to snorkel. However, the barrier reef came in close to the beach with the surf breaking nearby. Chris was able to catch some waves, but the sets were confused and the area was pretty shallow. It wasn't long when he was back. But the beach combing was good. Lots of interesting looking shells and tide pools.

With Simon and Sharlyn gone, another cruising couple helped run the marina. Jack and Linda are a retired couple from Maryland and cruise with their dog, Skipper on New Attitude. Each evening at 5pm, the cruisers get together for happy hour under the marina's palapa. We've all been enjoying it so much that the happy "hour" has turned into two hours. On Christmas Eve, after an early happy hour and dinner, the eight of us headed to a beach restaurant called the Conch Shack. They had advertised it to be a night of "live" music. When we got there we found out that it was one guy with a guitar and a karaoke machine playing reggae music and other rock standards. Rum punch was the drink of the evening.

On another occasion we had lunch at the Conch Shack. The food we ordered consisted of a variety of conch dishes, including curries, soups and fried conch. It was very tasty but probably didn't help my cholesterol..

Christmas day was pretty uneventful. It's an odd feeling being in a tropical climate, walking around in shorts during Christmas. During the day we ventured out in the car and explored other local beaches. In the late afternoon, the six of us had a pot-luck dinner with Jack, Linda, Bob and Susie. It turned out wonderfully. We had turkey, ham, salad, potatoes, brownies, pie and ice cream.
There are a number of lakes in Provenciales. One near the marina is called Flamingo Lake. We had questioned some locals about flamingos, but they didn't seem to know about them. One day, as we were heading out of the marina, we spotted a group of flamingos standing near the shoreline. Fortunately, we were able to get close and observe these graceful pink birds for some time. One of them appeared to be doing a dance - it was hilarious to watch. Every so often, they would bury their heads underwater to dine on the algae, small insects and small shrimp that were probably present in the water. Apparently, these foods are rich in beta-carotene, which is what tints the flamingos' feathers pink. Seeing these wild flamingos was definitely a highlight of our stay.

Tonight is our last happy hour with our friends at South Side Marina. The time to depart is upon us. Chris and Ana are flying out today and we are making final preparations to leave early tomorrow morning. This includes calling for Customs & Immigration, topping fuel and water, last minute shopping and getting things put away on the boat. We first will sail to Long Cay and the following day sail to Big Sand Cay. There we'll await a good weather window for the ninety mile sail to the Dominican Republic.

We wish you all a happy holiday season and a very happy and healthy New Year.