Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Trip to the Mountains

We took a road trip with friends that we met here in Luperon.  Cade and Lisa, who live on their boat, s/v Sandollar took their SUV and we met up with Derrick and Ester at their property up in the mountains.  It was a great road trip and we had a wonderful day touring their new property that has been planted with coffee, bananas and avacados.  The air was cooler up in the mountains and the views were spectacular.  Derrick and Etster will eventually build there.  They are currently renting a small house next to their property.  We were very impressed with the view and with the fertile soil growing everything from ferns to mangos.  The trees even had bromiliads and native orchids on them! We had a great day with wonderful hosts.

Flat tire - just a usual day in Dominican Republic
Tunnel on the way up the mountain
Yes - those are avacodos, just dripping from the trees! Can you tell that I'm excited about that?
Beautiful fern grown on the mountainside
More Bananas
Coffee Beans
Rene and Stacy - Check out the view!
These are grafts on native avacado trees.  Making better avacados!
View from the mountain ridge
Derrick and Ester's sign

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Republica Dominica

A view of Storyville - I love our backyard!
We arrived in Luperon, Dominican Republic on May 27th. Our trip from South Caicos was a little less than 24 hours of smooth sailing / motor sailing. We had timed our crossing in order to arrive at the Luperon harbor in the early morning hours. What a thrill it was to watch the sun rise and see the mountains growing in the distance. We could smell the land as well as see it. It took a couple of hours of sailing before we could really comprehend the perspective of what we were seeing and just how big the mountains really are. The Dominican Republic is beautiful, mountainous, green and lush. It is absolutely gorgeous!

I was a little nervous about getting into the harbor since everything that we had read told us that it could be tricky, with a dangerous reef on one side and shallow sand and coral on the other. Troy wasn’t worried though, he figured that if we could navigate Double Bayou, then we could get into Luperon! All those sails to Double Bayou were definitely good practice. Especially learning to navigate without the aid of channel markers, which, not surprisingly, are missing here, just like back home at Double Bayou!

We made it into the harbor without any problems and were guided in further by a friendly cruiser that was showering on his deck that morning. He shouted directions to us so that we were able to avoid some of the shallow areas in the harbor. As we were slowly making our way around the boats that are moored here, we heard another shout, two locals in a panga (a small local boat) asking what we needed. We yelled back that we were looking for a mooring ball. We were happy to hear their reply “follow us”! That’s how we met Papo and Handy Andy. They are well known in the harbor and own several mooring balls. They deliver diesel, gas, town water, drinking water, whatever else the cruisers need. Within 30 minutes of our arrival, they had our diesel refilled and we paid for our mooring for the next 5 months. The cost was $50.00 per month for the mooring. Less than $2.00 per day, when all through the Bahamas and the rest of the Caribbean the cost is $20.00 to $25.00 per day!
Department of Agriculture in Luperon

After a short rest we were ready to check into the country. We dinghied over to the dock and took a short walk to the edge of town where the check in process began. It has been quite a while since we have used any Spanish and we were feeling a little lost throughout the check in process. It didn’t help that we had to go through several different government agencies and fill out forms at each one. Let’s see, first there was customs, then immigration, then agriculture and finally the Navy. We progressed through each agency, filled out the required forms in carbon copy triplicate. At least all of the agencies are close to each other and everyone was really friendly. The man in the immigration office asked us for $63.00 to cover our entry fees. When we handed over a $100.00 bill (that’s all we had). A worried and confused look came over his face. Then, through his bad English and our, even worse, Spanish, he communicated that we would need to pay $10.00 to immigration, agriculture and the navy. He would let them all know that we had paid him and he would get our change later. Needless to say, we made a $7.00 donation, as the change was conveniently forgotten!

This way to the Navy!
Our last stop was the navy, where, once again we filled out forms and tried in broken Spanish to explain that we had already paid our $10.00 to the immigration office. Somehow we managed to get it all worked out and two of the navy officers then announced that there were ready to inspect our boat. We took them out to Storyville in our dinghy and they asked if we had firearms and made a cursory inspection of the boat. They did ask Troy for a “little something” but Troy fell back on the story about how we paid everything at the immigration office. Once they knew we had refused, them just said OK, OK, no problema.

After Troy took them back to the dock, we were ready to take down the quarantine flag, hoist the DR courtesy flag and begin our exploration.

So far, we love it here. The cruisers and locals are all very helpful and friendly. We are taking Spanish lessons along with Rene and Stacy and Gary and Barbara. We are all determined that we will use our time here to learn as much Spanish as possible. We are also doing Yoga and water aerobics three days a week. That is pretty much required because the beer is so cheap and so cold here that it is almost irresistible! In fact, everything is so affordable here. Since we will be spending the rest of the summer here, in order to wait out the hurricane season, I am looking forward to exploring this beautiful island and making many blog posts along the way.


Stairway to the Yacht Club

Rene and Stacy enjoying a grande Bohemia (cost is about 70 pesos or around $2.00)

Storyville's Quarantine Flag
Dominican Republic Courtesy Flag
A view of the coastline
Farming in the hills

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Turks and Caicos

The Turks and Caicos are beautiful Islands that are a British Overseas Territory. They have a governor that is appointed by the Queen. Interestingly, the island natives or their descendants hold the nationality of British Overseas Territory Citizens and are called “Belongers”. Others that have immigrated there have a “resident status”. We checked in at Providenciales (also known as Provo) and anchored Storyville in Sapodilla Bay. The crescent shaped bay is a beautiful beach that is lined with villas that are mostly vacation rentals.

On our first afternoon there, we decided to head over to the beach with Rene and Stacy for a little beach and sun time. While enjoying ourselves there, Troy and Rene met Frank. Frank and his family were vacationing at one of the villas. You know, it’s really interesting to me how you can meet some people and just hit it off, kind of like you have been friends for years. Frank and his wife Angela were just those kind of people. Of course, they are Texans (from New Braunfels) so that may have something to do with it. Aren’t all Texans known for their hospitality? They invited us up to the beautiful villa to meet their family. It was truly a treat to see such a beautiful house and to meet them all. We are planning to stay in touch and even have plans to meet up in the Virgin Islands for New Years!

Frank and Angela invited the six of us to dinner the next evening. We had one of the most memorable evenings that we have had since we started cruising. Great food, wonderful company, plenty of wine flowing, all in the perfect atmosphere of a beautiful tropical island. Troy and Frank even entertained us with some singing and guitar picking. The next morning Frank and Angela, and their kids A.J., Ryan, Brianna all came out to take tours of Storville and Pipe Muh Bligh. I think we may have sparked a cruising dream with Frank! What a fun and interesting family. Anyway, I hope we can meet them again in the Virgin Islands. We are all looking forward to it.

It was great to meet you all, shout out to - Frank and Angela, A.J. (Frank's daughter), Ryan (future son in law), Cara (Frank's daughter), Dave (Cara's boyfriend), Brianna (Angela's daughter) and Brett (Angela's son)

We happened to be in the Turks and Caicos during the full moon and we had heard that the glow worms that live on the shallow banks mate at an hour after sunset three days after the full moon. Imagine, calendar reading, time telling, sea worms, that glow! This we had to see. There are even paid tours that take boats full of vacationers out to see the phenomenon. Sure enough, we set our alarms as reminders and at exactly an hour after the sunset we began to see glowing shapes in the water. You couldn’t see the worm because they are small, but you would see a glowing shape puff out a small glowing cloud (the female releasing eggs) and then a quick zigzagging glowing shape would zoom toward the glowing cloud (the male fertilizing the eggs). They were all around the boat and out into the bay as far as we could see, like glowing green stars in the water.

Meeting new friends and seeing the wonders of nature at work. Two of the reasons that we are out here cruising!
We spent about a week in Provo then we took a day trip across the shallow Turks and Caicos Banks to start waiting for a weather window to cross to Luperon. About 110 miles from South Caicos. The water was crystal clear and the snorkeling would have been fantastic, but we had another conversation with Chris Parker the day after we arrived in South Caicos and he had us on the move again with a three day window to cross to Luperon. That darn Chris, always has us on the go before we are ready to leave. Never the less, we were excited to make the crossing to Luperon where we will make our home for the next five or six months.

Angela, Deana, Stacy, Rene, Frank, Brianna, Gary, Barbara Troy

Frank and Troy

View of our boats from the balcony

Rainbow over Sapodilla Bay

Cara, Stacy and Rene

A.J., Barbara, Gary and Dave

Brett, Frank, Deana, Troy, Ryan and Brianna

Beautiful Turks and Caicos

Conception Island, Bahamas

I know, I know, it’s been forever since our last blog post. In my defense we have been on the move a lot and haven’t had any decent internet connections. Plus, the more behind I get, the harder it is to convince myself to sit down and spend hours catching up. I just spent the last hour or so sorting through pictures and now I am determined to get the blogs written and posted before I forget where we’ve been and what we’ve done!

We left Red Shanks anchorage in George Town, Bahamas on May 12th and sailed to Conception Island. We fished on the crossing, which took around 6 or 7 hours. I caught a cero mackerel and hooked a really big mahi-mahi. Unfortunately the mahi was so big that it took my whole rig (the leader - not the entire fishing pole!). It was exciting to see the beautiful fish jumping out of the water in Storyville’s wake. Luckily for us, Gary on Pa La Ola managed to hook a big mahi. The six of us (Troy, myself, Rene, Stacy, Gary and Barbara) all feasted on grilled fish for dinner and there was so much left over that we all took some with us and had lunch the next day. It was yummy!

Conception is an uninhabited island and it is pristine and beautiful. The water is clear and the beaches are powdery and white. We snorkeled and hiked and searched the beaches for sea glass, shells and sea beans. We saw beautiful tropical birds, sharks, barracudas, sea turtles. We really enjoyed the short time that we spent there.

We only spent one full day on Conception. We (the three boats travelling together, Storyville, Pipe Muh Bligh and Pa La Ola) all get our weather from Chris Parker on Single Side Band Radio. Chris broadcasts from Florida and most cruisers traveling in the Bahamas and the Caribbean listen to his morning broadcasts for weather reports. Pa La Ola has a paid subscription and can actually call Chris and talk to him and get advice for specific crossings (i.e. – we want to leave Conception Island and make our way to Luperon over the next couple of weeks, can you tell us if and when there will be a good weather window for the crossing?). Well, Barbara called Chris and asked him that very question on our second morning on Conception Island. We were not at all thrilled with the answer. Chris told us that there was a window of good weather right then, but that window would be closing and he didn’t know if there would be another one before the end of May. Our goal has been to be in Luperon in the protected harbor around the first of June, when hurricane season officially starts. We had a quick conference between the boats and decided that we needed to go ahead and make the crossing to Luperon. That meant that we had to skip a visit to Rum Cay and a couple of other Bahamas cays, which we were all looking forward to, and instead we would be making a crossing that would take several days. The good news was that we had a good weather window, so we could look forward to a comfortable sail (actually a motor sail most of the way).

We made it to the Turks and Caicos Islands where we all decided to stop for a few days. We figured that even if the weather window was closed, at least we were much closer to Luperon and we could afford to wait for another window to open within the next few weeks. Plus, we really wanted to check out the Turks and Caicos and do some beachcombing and snorkeling, and Rene and Stacy were planning to do some diving there. We sailed for 49 hours and overall it was an enjoyable crossing. We saw lots and lots of flying fish and, even though I kept a sharp lookout, I never did spot a whale. Troy thinks that he may have seen one, but he wasn’t sure. When we entered the Sandborne Channel to the Turks and Caicos Banks, we were escorted in by a pod of dolphins that were jumping and leaping out of the water.

Cero Mackrel = Dinner

Dinghies on the beach - our boats at anchor

Toes in the sand - not sure why this one is sideways - oh well!

Man - O - War
Lots and Lots of Reefs

Troy - Taking in the View

Nightly Visitor to Storyville

Pipe Muh Bligh and Pa La Ola - Headed to Turks and Caicos

Evening Watch - The small boat is towing the barge - big cables between them = DANGER!