Crossing the Mona

Having moved out of Casita Blanquita, and had our last hurrah in Last Terrenas, we said a tearful goodbye to Sombra, the car that had served us so well over the last five months. With that, we were pure seafarers once more, and all that remained was to get unpacked and find a weather window. The former proved to be an Undertaking, as we’d moved most of our things onto land with us, and we let our first window pass us by. We are Done Rushing. We will Take our Time. So Captain waited patiently as disorder slowly resolved into stick-on labels and neatly organized boxes.

After a few days, the weather reports offered a three day window of calm, and we judged ourselves ready enough to take it. Calm meant that we would have to motor, which is nobody’s favorite, but we are still in the upwind section of the trip, and in a season where sailing windows are not yet frequent, and most importantly, we were ready to be out of Luperon. So, as the sun set on the sixteenth of November, we fought our growth-encrusted lines free of our mooring ball and motored out of the bay.

We immediately discovered, to our chagrin, that our autopilot was not working: the compass readings making it to the helm were meaningless, giving the computer no reference by which to steer. I’d taken apart the compass to “service” it after it started acting funny on the way into Luperon, and finding nothing obviously wrong, I’d put it back together, hoping that (as often happens) simply fiddling with it might produce an improvement. But we’d had no way to test it without leaving the bay, and so we hadn’t, and thus we resigned ourselves to spending the passage hand steering. (And immediately ordering a replacement part, which would be there waiting for us at our destination.)

The evening section is, of course, difficult to photograph. We left the harbor mouth into the roughest seas we would encounter in this trip, quickly reminding ourselves why windward travel is uncomfortable. But things calmed down within a couple of hours, and the night passed mostly without incident. We did see a cruise ship, lit up like a forest of Christmas trees. One of the many larger vessels that could hit us, sinking us, and not even notice, but definitely the easiest to spot. This was roughly our closest approach, at about three miles away.

Then the morning came, and Jazz decreed that our tan lines were unacceptable, and that we were far enough off shore, and instituted “butt-browning time”. This tradition will continue until the tan lines improve.

In the evening, we pulled into El Valle to anchor for the night. It’s a beautiful location, a little cutaway in the mountains like a miniature fjord, with a nice-looking beach at the end. It was at this point, as we started to drop anchor, that our electric windlass ground to a halt. We fell back to our backup anchor and manual windlass, which caught just fine, and I climbed into the anchor locker to poke at it and found stuck brushings. I’d fixed this problem once before, in Alice Town, but this time, one of them wouldn’t budge, and another’s fixture wouldn’t open at all. (I would later poke harder, and discover that the two $10 parts that would fix the motor could no longer be obtained, and that we would need a whole motor instead. Boats.) So for now, it was manual windlass season.

In the morning we rounded Cabo Cabron, which we thought was very pretty. I tried to take panoramas, and discovered that water totally throws off Google’s stitching algorithms, so I will spare you those shots and post only this normal one.

We ducked into the bay of Samaná to buy more diesel, which is definitely allowed without having to re-clear immigration, and then dropped our backup anchor next to Cayo Levantado to kill some time to try to make a daylight arrival. As we left, we passed by an empty beach with a couple taking wedding photos, and we like to think that Villa added a little flair to their backdrop.

And we caught a lovely sunset as we exited the bay, picking our way between all the crab pots and fish traps.

Then, right as the light started to fail, we heard the telltale pop and subsequent temperature alarm of a snapped alternator belt. (The alarm sounds because the same belt drives the fresh water coolant pump, and with that stopped, heat builds up rapidly. Reader, this is what happens when you leave your boat to its own devices for six months!) Fortunately, we carry spares, and we were able to wipe away most of the rubber debris and slip a new belt in place without even having to take the pulley off the water pump. Easy-peasy! Of course, even with the new belt in place, our alternator wasn’t giving us power, but with all our solar that problem could wait until civilization.

The rest of the night passed uneventfully, a little rough in the beginning but gradually calming. In the morning, we were treated to a beautiful sunrise.

And right as we were about to change shifts, as if by clockwork, one of the dinghy davits’ cables snapped. So we grabbed a stout piece of spare line, and hauled it back up into place. Ah well – we’d been meaning to replace those rusty cables, now we have an excuse.

With that snag resolved, we turned back to the sunrise. Glorious! This is why we sail!

The day passed, shift to shift, in smooth light waves, though the light wind continued to blow the exact wrong way. We were frequently surprised at just how far out from the island the fish traps extended, with their huge makeshift buoys. These are surprisingly hard to see coming, and they’re everywhere!

And as the day wound on, the water grew glassier, and as the sun set, we were treated to some absolutely glorious colors.

We came into Mayaguez in the early morning, and anchored in twelve feet of water to get some sleep. When we woke up, we hauled anchor and headed south to Puerto Real. The wind, starting to finally pick up, was still from the east, and therefore perfect for us to finally turn off the engine. With the wind right off the land, we had nice calm water and a lovely morning sail. Captain was most pleased with the change.