Ship's Log

May 25th, 2009- Luperon, Dominican Republic:

Sorry for the delay between updates!  It's been a long couple of months, and we've traveled from the Bahamas and through the Turks and Caicos to get here, with lots of bad weather in our way to slow progress.   At one point, we spent a record-shattering 12 days twiddling our thumbs at anchor, unable to get to shore or sail anywhere as storm after storm passed over us.  It seemed like we'd never escape the clutches of the Turks and Caicos, but finally all is well, and we're officially cleared into the beautiful Dominican Republic.   For the long version of our trip from there to here, read on.

From Georgetown to Luperon - the slow road south.

We left the crowd at Georgetown at dawn and set our sights on Rum Cay as the first stepping stone out of the Bahamas.  We were just passing the tip of Long Island when something big struck our fishing line!  We took turns with the rod and fervently prayed for something edible on the other end.  After lots of hard work, we were thrilled to make out a yellow surge underwater as our fish came to the surface - mahi mahi!  We’d been wanting one of these for months!

That's a big honker right there!

We pulled the thrashing beast aboard and watched it flash a rainbow of colors as it lay dying.  It was beautiful, sad and mysterious all at once.  Who knew that fishing would be such a religious experience? We watched with gratitude, thankful for such a windfall of good food.  That night in Rum Cay, we grilled all the delicious fresh fish we could eat, gave some away to friends in the anchorage, and then froze and canned the rest.  Many, many dinners from that catch!

Brian, um, "warming up" the grill for another fish dinner.

From Rum Cay, we had a boisterous, 130 mile passage all the way to Mayaguana, sailing on the coattails of a passing cold front.  We traveled through a night and clear into the next afternoon under cloudy skies.

Lou Dog ready to get going.

We were again trailing a fishing line behind us late in the day, mainly just to pass the time, and caught a small amberjack just as we approached our anchorage.  It was the perfect size for two servings, and that tasty little guy went from ocean to plate within a half hour!  Over dinner we discussed a morning snorkel over the nearby reef, but enthusiasm waned after a couple of us-sized sharks began circling the boat, snapping up our fish scraps.  Suddenly books and card games became much more interesting....

"Sorry, I'd love to go for a dip, but we're just in the middle of something...."

We waited out some blustery, on-the-nose-winds for a few days, then positioned ourselves for an overnight run to Turks and Caicos.  When the wind finally settled down, we were treated to a gorgeous night sail, with peaceful seas and a full moon to keep us company.  As the lights of our destination loomed, we wondered how this country would compare to the Bahamas and hoped our lovely crossing into Turks and Caicos territory was a good omen.  

The sun setting at the start of our pretty sail.

Easter Sunday dawned, and we motored our way into the Sandbore Channel.  We turned on our FM radio to check out the local radio stations - they seem to be a great indicator of what life is like in a place.  Ads for upscale restaurants, clubs, sport fishing expeditions and SCUBA tours told us this place operated on a much larger budget than the out-islands we’d come from!  

We dropped anchor in Sapodilla Bay, on the south side of Provodenciales, and were happy to see two familiar boats already settled in:  Mike and Alyssa’s GAIA and Keli and Stuart’s BEANNACHT.  We’d made friends with GAIA in Georgetown and met BEANNACHT in Rum Cay, and the two boats had traveled together to arrive a day ahead of us.  Both crews are a pleasure to know.  We excitedly hailed them on the VHF to get their impressions of the place.

Here Turks and Caicos began to lose its shine.  Mike and Alyssa greeted us forlornly and reported that their dinghy had been stolen right off their stern in the night!  They’d alerted the apathetic local police, who warned them that crime was running particularly high in the islands right now.   The Turks and Caicos are a territory of Great Britain, but have their own constitution and government.  This past March, the Prime Minister of the islands resigned in disgrace after a probe exposed years of ridiculous corruption and abuse of power.  Great Britain was going to rule directly again until things got sorted out, but they hadn’t arrived yet.  Local thugs were taking advantage of the temporary confusion, and GAIA’s dinghy was one casualty.

Crapodilla Bay:  good-looking sunsets, but beware!

Our friends warned us that the neighborhoods surrounding the anchorage weren’t very safe, which ruled out the long walks we’d been craving (sorry, Louie).  This Turks and Caicos was a big let down so far!  We hoped that things on the north side, where we were meeting Alicia’s brother and sister-in-law, were more peaceful and safe. 

In the meantime, the rolly surge motivated us and the other two boats to move from Sapodilla Bay over to a curious spot a few miles east known as “The Annex” - probably our strangest anchoring spot to date.  Apparently it was once destined to become a marina, but after the excavation and concrete bulkheads were completed, the project was abandoned.  The water inside was glassy and still, and we slept like wee babies.  It was like being anchored in a big swimming pool full of turquoise Jell-O!  

GAIA tied up in the pool.

We had a few days to go before our visitors arrived, and we wanted to the boat to look her best for them.  We got busy varnishing, scrubbing and polishing and watched in awe as Mike of GAIA set about building a new dinghy from scratch to replace the one that had been stolen.  What a brave way to remedy their situation!  Finally, SARABANDE was company ready inside and out.  BEANNACHT took off for Haiti, Mike began cutting plywood, and we left to make our way over to Provo’s fancy side, land of resorts and casinos. 

The day before Tom and Angie arrived was truly gorgeous - we motored through the 35 miles or so of flat calm, dropped anchor right smack in front of their beachside hotel, and had a swim off the boat in warm, velvety water.  Angie and Tom landed the next afternoon, and we hosted them on the boat for dinner that night.  Angie had that beautiful glow some lucky pregnant ladies acquire, and Tom put on a pre-dinner show doing flips off the boat.  It was a pleasure to realize we were also feeding our new nephew, even if he does have a few months to go before he’s out and about in the world!  

Later that evening, the weather deteriorated and stayed crappy for the rest of the visit.  But Angie and Tom were great sports about it, and we all made the best of things.  With every little snatch of sunshine, we rushed to the beach for sunning and swimming, and retreated back to the resort when the rain started again.  We found a grocery store near the strip and used the hotel’s huge poolside grills to the fullest. Regardless of the weather, it was a joy to see Tom and Angie and so nice to catch up on all their news and future plans.   The yucky weather gave us lots of time to chat, so maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing after all.   

We reluctantly said goodbye to our visitors, and then waited out several more days of bad weather.  Finally things improved, and we lucked out with a wind direction that was great for sailing back over to Provo's south side.  We hoisted full sail, rigged two fishing lines and set off in a great mood.  It was the first clear sunny sky we’d seen in days! 

Contentedly sipping tea, we stretched out in the sun and sang goofy songs.   We marveled at what a clever invention a sailboat is, and praised aloud SARABANDE’s progress as she bobbed and glided along.

Here's a tourists' map of Provodenciales.  We were having a fantastic sail right about where the Directory is!

After a couple of hours, the sky was marred by a low, grey stretch of clouds in our path up ahead, but nothing too vicious looking.  As we sailed under their shadow, we watched the water turn from turquoise to blue-grey and presently found ourselves in the middle of a natural riot!  Hordes of flying fish popped across the water and a noisy crowd of sea birds spiraled and dove after them. The surface of the water boiled with activity from below as predators snatched and gorged on the smaller school fish.  The birds screamed and wheeled, flying fish darted through the air to escape, and torpedo-shaped tuna jumped to lunge after them.  

The mayhem surrounded us on all sides, and we hopefully eyed our fishing rods.  Maybe some unlucky tuna would mistake our trolling spoons for flying fish so we too could play a part in this feeding frenzy.  Sure enough, our port rod came screaming to life!

We’d heard the reputation tuna have for being strong, fast fighters, and ours was quite the athlete.  With Brian hand-steering, Alicia struggled to keep the upper hand as the fish dove deep, sprinted away, and leapt out of the water before finally surrendering.  It was with much respect (and sweat) that we finally pulled the fish into our cockpit. 

Cancel the parade....

We flopped the tuna to the floor and celebrated our good luck.  The war of birds and fish continued on around us, and it started to rain.  And then pour.  And then the clouds were flat-out unloading on us!  We furled the jib, turned on the autopilot and left our catch in the cockpit as we retreated to the cabin.  Rain like this usually passes quickly, and we could even see the sun shining past the clouds up ahead.

Drying off, Alicia looked out the companionway doors and spotted a peculiar column of swirling wind and water about 150 yards to our starboard quarter.  It was a funnel about 100 feet across, rapidly spinning and sucking up seawater as it barreled over the water.   A big angry cloud of spray churned and flew where the funnel made contact with the surface.  This vortex careened along, and Alicia grabbed Brian to look.   As if we’d provoked it by pointing, the funnel abruptly changed course:  it was heading right for us! 

Brian dashed outside to try and shorten the mainsail as Alicia braced herself and Louie inside and announced out loud, “this might be bad.”  We only had a few seconds before it hit us directly.  As the funnel roared over us, Brian crouched in the cockpit and held on as SARABANDE heeled over sharply.  When the wind lessened for an instant, he reached up and eased the mainsheet, releasing the incredible strain on our sail.  Our anemometer measured 50 knots of wind - Force 10 on the Beaufort scale.  A few more powerful, wet gusts, and the funnel was through with us.  The whirling dervish disappeared, and SARABANDE bobbed calmly upright again as the rain drummed on. 

We were hit by what's called a waterspout, a tornado on the water.  
This isn't our photo, but this is what it looked like!

We stood together in the cockpit in a daze, absorbing what had happened, and our fishing rod started whizzing again.  We groaned at this new fish’s bad timing and Alicia wearily started reeling the line in. 

“It feels really big, whatever it is,” she reported and we looked astern to see what we might’ve caught.  Instead we saw that the violent wind had flipped over our inflatable dinghy we were towing, and it was dragging upside-down through the water!  Brian worked hard to flip the dinghy right side up while Alicia worked away on the rod with our ill-timed second catch.  The rain had no sympathy and continued to pelt us angrily. 

We had left the gas can for the outboard motor inside the dinghy as we towed it that day, and we cursed our laziness for not stowing it properly.  It had been dumped out when the dinghy overturned, and was nowhere to be seen.  Why did we always doom ourselves to rowing?  The gas can would have to be replaced before we could use the outboard again, not to mention we’d just polluted the ocean with several gallons of gasoline and a lump of plastic.

With the dinghy right-side up again, Brian came over to help Alicia with her catch.  The fish seemed to have died, and she reeled the limp weight through the water without feeling a struggle.  Brian looked behind us again, squinted a bit, and then his face lit up.  “You caught the gas can!” he yelled incredulously through the din of the rain.  It was true - something red and familiar-looking was slowly making its way toward the boat!  The hook of our fishing lure had caught on a small lanyard tied to the handle, and our gas can was rescued from a burial at sea! 

This gas can lived to tell the tale.

We hauled in our “catch”, gathered our wits and fired up the engine to high-tail it out from under the clouds.  We could make out other waterspouts further away and wanted no part of them!   Once we were out of danger, we snapped a picture of ourselves to commemorate the crazy day.

Soaked and safe!  No doubt it's the adrenaline making Brian look so maniacal here; Alicia's face is self-explanatory.

When we were finally tucked away in the protection of The Annex, we sent out a sincere thanks to the big Whomever for letting us off easy, and made ourselves a simple dinner of tuna sashimi.  It was out-of-this-world delicious, and we passed out cold with soy sauce on our chins feeling very lucky.

Four Things We Learned in Provodenciales:

1.  Take care of that dinghy!  Lock it up to the boat at night, and for God’s sake don’t tow it when you’re going to sea, even if only for a few miles.  

2.  You never know when a stupid waterspout’s gonna show up.  Treat all low-lying rain clouds with suspicion, regardless of how innocent they look.

3.  Once you’ve had sushi made from really fresh tuna, the stuff served in restaurants will be ruined for you.

4.  It pays to trail a hook in the water.  You’ll catch all kinds of things!

Sometimes you catch a gas can, other times you catch yet another unwanted barracuda.  

So now SARABANDE is snuggled up in the Carribean's safest hurricane hole with about 100 other boats, and there's a beautiful country full of mountains, waterfalls and New World history to get to know!   We'll update again soon - apologies again on the long dry spell - and tell you all about it.

Luperon harbor.

Happy belated birthday to Alicia's grandfather John Izzi (May 10th)!

Alicia & Brian

PS - All that time at anchor gave us some time to clean up this website a little, and so check out the MISC section for our new Public Service Announcement section and the sleek, new ship's log archive.


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