With plans in place to depart Matthew Town in the late evening, I popped down to the general store with Cara and Eddie to grab a can of black beans and proceeded to make hummus for the group. We appreciated a bug-free lunch on the boat with our original buddy boat crew; burgers and chicken on the grill, hummus and coleslaw from the fridge. Paperwork and the last of our Bahamian money in hand, we all walked back to the Customs office to check out of the country and buy however many beers our bits change could pay for at the next-door liquor store. All five boats (Lady Sun Dream, Music, Aqua Trek, Tiger Bay, and Sarabi) prepped our vessels for departure and left the marina in search of relief from the heat and bugs. We all anchored just outside the marine for the evening, had dinner and attempted to take a nap in anticipation for our nighttime departure. Nate and I reflected on how grateful we were to be in such a better place, mentally and emotionally, than the last time we left Matthew Town. We weighed anchor around 20:00 and set a course for the Dominican Republic.
Our overnight motorsail was uneventful (as desired) and the daylight brought time to read, bake cookies, and report a partially submerged vessel to the Coast Guard Cutter patrolling nearby. No persons in the water, so we’ll have to earn our Gold Life Saving Medals another day. By the early afternoon, the winds allowed us to fully sail and we reveled in the cessation from the constant engine hum. We anchored in Manzanillo Bay around 21:00 and settled in for a much needed night of sleep.
Continuing our tradition, we started our Thursday morning with a delicious breakfast and celebratory champagne in honor of reaching another country. We shifted anchorage areas to be closer to the shipping port and government pier to shorten the dinghy ride. As we settled the anchor, we saw several officials boarding a small boat on the beach. They brought the boat over, came aboard, and proceeded to check our paperwork and snoop around the boat. They were all quite friendly, although it is always overwhelming to have six government officials speaking to you all at once in a foreign language while handing around your passports and official paperwork. Thank goodness for Google Translate! They let us know they would take us to shore to the Immigration office once they checked our buddy boats’ documentation. Nate popped over to the other boats with the officials, hoping to assist with the translation on his phone and now understanding what documents they required. No sooner had Nate boarded Music with the officials that I heard and felt a resounding crunch on the hull. Ai dios mio! Lady had swung on her anchor and was bouncing and scraping on the coral and rocky bottom. I swiftly started the engine and radioed to tell Nate our predicament. The Dominican driving the small boat was kind enough to return Nate quickly to the boat and we proceeded to weigh anchor and scoot out another several hundred feet from shore, hoping the rocks only caused slight cosmetic damage under the keel. Confident that we were anchored in plenty of water for the boat to swing safely, we joined the officials and headed ashore to the Immigration office. Overall, the check-in process was quite easy; it was just a matter of translating the questions they needed answered and paying the fee. Pleased with the system, we met Jay and Eddie at the beach and walked them through the same process. Just as they completed their paperwork process, Willow radioed with the bad news that Aqua Trek was now scraping on rocks. The four of us rushed back to Eddie’s dinghy and returned Jay swiftly to his boat. They proceeded to re-anchor in deeper water and Nate and I finished our champagne celebration. Aqua Trek and us readied our dinks and the crew headed ashore to the public beach, just next to the government beach. We secured the three dinks to a tree with a series of cables and bicycle locks and beelined to the beach bar ahead of us. Working on our Spanish, we inquired the price of a beer. The bartender responded “three US dollars.” We were a bit disappointed, having heard beer was dirt cheap in the DR, but as thirsty as we were, we opened our wallets. Much to our surprise, the bartender pulled 22 ounce, ice cold Presidente bottles out of the refrigerator. Now, THAT makes it a deal! Cold brews in hand and a pep in our step, we bopped our way into town, discussing everything we saw and even stopping to take photos and play with a herd of goats near the baseball field. Unfortunately, we’d arrive in town during siesta hours, so most stores were closed. Fortunately, the grocery store was open and we spent much longer than necessary calculating currency exchange to determine exactly how cheap the goods cost. Nate and I walked out with a large bottle of rum and two bags of groceries for $40! Pleased with our purchases, we wandered until we found a restaurant to enjoy a late lunch. Shocked by the inexpensive menu ($3-4 a meal) and even more satisfied with the taste, we headed back to the dinghies with full bellies and still relatively full wallets. We weighed anchor and moved back across the bay to a leeward shore anchorage, hoping for a more comfortable sea state than the current anchorage.
Unfortunately for us, we anchored the farthest north of the group, which apparently placed us in an extremely different swell condition. We slept worse than the rolling night at Landrail Point. Luckily, our buddy boats didn’t experience the same rolls and we later blamed the difference on our proximity to the river mouth. Frustrated, but still excited to be in the DR, we carried on with our plans for the day. Not needing to move all three boats, Cara and Eddie and Jay and Willow each brought their dinghies over to our boat, tied off, and we shifted to the anchorage we’d used the previous day on Lady Sun Dream. We all dinked ashore, locked to a tree, and headed straight for the beach bar for another round of big Presidente beers for the walk into town. Outsmarting the previous day’s siesta arrival mistake, we headed straight for the Altice cellular store to get local SIM cards. Although we have Google Fi cell coverage, we couldn’t pass up on the deal to have unlimited data for five days for $5 – much better than paying $10/gig. We put the new SIM card in Nate’s old phone and turned it into a hotspot – boom! Unlimited Wi-Fi for both our phones, computers, and the tablet. I don’t think it gets much cheaper than that. The group decided on the beach bar for lunch, as we were so excited about the cheap prices, we might as well keep going out to eat. As we sat down at the table, the waiter brought six fresh beers… that we didn’t ask for. (Red Flag #1). We knew the price, so we were fine with the assumed order (although we all weren’t quite ready for another beer). The menus had no written prices, so we asked the waiter for clarification on the prices. After a little communication battle, he finally scribed “1.5” on a piece of paper. Warily, we confirmed that he was saying each meal cost $1.5 USD. Half the price of yesterday’s meal (Red Flag #2). Overly pleased with the too-good-to-be-true price, we all ordered and settled in to enjoy our beers, the view, and conversation of our next move from the Bay. Our meals were interesting: my crab was a sort of scramble of meat, smattered with bones and butter. Eddie’s fish was fried (against all request) and was a completely unidentifiable part of any fish. I won’t share the details of the part of some sort of animal it may have looked like, but let’s just say it didn’t look like fish. Luckily for him, it tasted like fish. We were decently full and decided we needed to hasten our timeline. During lunch, we’d decided our next move would be to check out of the port today and head to a northern anchorage to stage for our next jump towards Luperon. We asked for the check and were utterly shocked when we read “$102” circled at the bottom. Certain there had been a mistake, we spent the next 20-30 minutes translating and arguing with the waiter regarding the outrageous price of the subpar meals. Fifteen dollars a meal may not sound like much to you as you read this, but given none of us have jobs and we’d paid a fifth of that price the day before, this was bad. Budget-breaking for the week sort of bad. Outraged and wanting to refuse to pay, we decided that the small-town repercussions of walking out could be significantly worse than $15 a person would be. One of them might take a knife to our dinghies, someone could be related to the Commandant, whose signature we required to check out of the port that afternoon, someone’s sister could own and operate the service station where we planned to get diesel jerry cans filled. Irate and feeling quite cheated, we paid most of the bill – leaving it a few dollars short for the gratuity they added.
The other two couples walked their jerry cans to the fuel station and I headed to the grocery for some more coffee while Nate waited with the dinghies, suddenly more concerned with their wellbeing than before. Once that trip was completed, the ladies stayed with the dinks and the men headed to see the Commandant. After an initial militaristic, aggressive encounter and first few minutes during which he ordered the men to remove their hats and have a seat (there was only one chair). The Commandant lightened up throughout the process and “only” requested $10 bribe per man. Having grown quite accustomed to being asked for gratuities, coupled with knowing this one man’s signature was the legal obstacle restraining us from safely leaving the port. The men rejoined the ladies at the dinks and we all battled through seriously strong winds back to Lady Sun Dream. We tied off the dinghies and headed back to the other boats. We then all shifted to an anchorage up against mangroves with great protection from the high winds and waves.
After a much needed night of good rest, we weighed anchor at 05:00 and headed north around Monte Cristi towards Luperon. The North Atlantic was relatively calm in the early morning, but slowly started picking up late morning. We all struggled to motor into the high winds and large swells, barely making 4 knots, at best. We all agreed to tuck in at the next anchorage, knowing Luperon could wait. We adjusted course slightly south to Punta Rucia and carried on, hoping for some relief from the conditions. Not long after adjusting course, but still over an hour from the anchorage, Aqua Trek relayed a slightly frantic radio call that they lost their engine abilities. Music scooted over towards them and we turned our vessel around, heading back, ready to assist. We relayed to them that they had 45 minutes at their drifting rate before they would hit the coral. Fortunately, the culprit was a clogged fuel filter and Jay was able to change it out without losing much ground or his cool. We all shared cheers on the radio when we heard the engine fire up and continue to run. Nate and I turned Lady Sun Dream back towards the anchorage and continued to push into the swell and wind towards safe harbor. Upon dropping anchor, we were greeted alongside by government officials. We invited them aboard and they quickly checked our paperwork and were on their way. Eddie and Cara picked up Jay and Willow in their dink and then came over to us. We all shared a cheers of celebratory “your engine works and you’re safe!” shots of rum and headed ashore. We quickly found large beers and walked towards the rumored “best pizza in the Dominican Republic.” We finally arrived at the establishment and were incredibly pleased to meet Dino, the owner, operator, cook, etc. He spoke better Italian than English and let us know, hands full of dough, that he wouldn’t be able to make pizza for another hour. The dough needed to rise and he was hoping for a siesta. Seeing the fresh dough, we did not complain about the hour wait, taking the opportunity to walk back in to town to explore. We shared the company of several adorable puppies and meandered down the main street until we felt we’d walked far enough. We returned to the outdoor pizzeria and were not disappointed. The pies were almost assuredly the best any of us had tasted in months. We made it back to the boats before dusk and hit the hay early, hoping to sleep well for another early morning departure.
The buddy boat flotilla weighed anchors at 05:00 on Sunday and were confident we could make it the 30 nautical miles to Luperon. Not only did we have a decent motor sail, but we made it to the entrance an hour earlier than expected. The harbormaster, Papo, met us on a small boat while we were passing through the buoys into the harbor. He introduced himself and asked if we wanted a mooring ball. For $2 a day, we happily accepted and he said he’d lead us to the mooring. We got settled, had a celebratory beer, and waited for our crew to do the same. Quite hungry, having had breakfast 6 hours earlier, we headed ashore to the marina restaurant for second breakfast, early lunch. Pleased with our tasty meals, Bloody Marys, and purchase prices, we headed towards the dink to go to the town dock. We bumped in to Eddie, Jay, and Willow before the dinghies and convinced them to join us in town. We tied up on the dinghy dock at the ferry terminal and headed to the cruiser-famed Wendy’s Bar for big beers. Within moments of enjoying our first refreshing swallows of ice cold Presidente Light, I noticed my FitBit watch was buzzing frantically, indicating a call or text message. I glance down through dirty sunglasses to read a text message from Cara that read: “WE HIT ANOTHER BOAT!” I promptly stopped the parading group, removed my sunglasses, and relayed the message to our friends. Uh oh… this is bad. I grabbed my phone and ready the previous messages: “Are more in line broke please get back”… “Our boat is drifting. Realizing quickly that the situation was far worse than hoped, we all hustled back to the dinghy dock to assist Cara. Along the way, Nate and I hung back slightly, not wanting to be a burden or add too many cooks to the kitchen. We gave Eddie our radio to contact Cara and suddenly heard her scream “WE HIT LADY SUN DREAM!” Needless to say, Nate and I were no longer lingering behind. We booked it back to the dinghy and headed towards the vessels. We both kept our calm, talking through the situation to each other, knowing we needed to stay cool to avoid further escalating the already hysterical moment. By the time we arrived on scene (Lil’ Willy being significantly slower than Eddie’s dink), Eddie was aboard with Cara, assisting in dropping the anchor in an area where the boat would be safe. Jay and Willow and Nate and I circled in the dinghies, trying to offer suggestions and comforting words. After a quick loop around our vessel, we determined that if Music did hit us, it did more damage to her than Lady Sun Dream – we couldn’t see any new scratches at all. After a blurry 30 minutes or so of re-anchoring attempts, tying new mooring lines to the buoy, bodies shuffling between boats, commands being yelled, et cetera… we finally felt confident that Music was reattached with a trustworthy knot to the mildly trustworthy mooring ball. After a full assessment of the damage (of which we found none) Nate and I headed back to town to try to check in with Immigration, post-siesta. We apparently needed more paperwork than we had, so we promised to return the next day with the appropriate documentation. We then joined the crew for dinner at a French restaurant known for fantastic lasagna… only to find out they were out of lasagna… womp womp. The meal was stilly tasty and satisfying, so we headed back to the boat to wind down and get some rest after such a whirlwind of a day. Just as we boarded our boat, a small skiff pulled up behind the boat, carrying one young man in a partial military uniform and one in plain clothes. They asked to come aboard and see our paperwork. We assumed this was due to the fact that we didn’t have all of our paperwork with us earlier in the offices. No problem. We let them take photos of our paperwork and sent them on their merry way. As we started the process to pull the dinghy motor off for the night, due to safety concerns, we noticed their boat was floating with one of the young men aggressively pulling the engine starting cord repeatedly. Feeling bad, Nate got back in Lil’ Willy, cruised over and offered to help. We figured nothing horrible could come from offering to assist government officials in a time of need… maybe we’d even have an easier time with paperwork later! Also, it was dusk and seemed like the right thing to do. They informed Nate that they’d already radioed another boat to come tow them in, so he returned to our boat and we lifted the dinghy and motor aboard and began our bedtime routine. Normally, I don’t offer so much detail in these posts, but hear me out: I was crawling in to bed after brushing my teeth, wearing normal sleeping clothes, which for me consists of a t-shirt and underwear. Nate was simultaneously drying off from a fresh shower. Well past dark at this point, we were quite surprised to hear a puttering outboard motor nearby. Confused, but also cautious, we looked out our side windows to see a skiff approaching, carrying two men. We instantly transitioned to fight mode (as we had nowhere to flight to). Nathan grabbed an oar as he exited the cabin, concurrently picking up the VHF radio with his other hand. Our buddy boats and the majority of the harbor monitor channel 68, so Nate quickly relayed that a boat was approaching and we feared we were going to be boarded. Our friends responded hastily, coming on deck of their vessels, shining flashlights towards us to aid in our safety. We realized once the vessel came alongside that it was the same vessel from a few hours previous, containing the same two young men. Slightly relieved, but still extremely peeved, Nate continued to shout at them that they were not to board our boat at night for safety reasons. Mind you, he was only halfway out of the cabin at this point, only sporting a towel. I heard the men say they needed our dispatch paperwork from the previous port (which they’d neglected to ask for on their earlier visit). I hurriedly grabbed the paper, happy to give it to them before they came aboard. In my hast and stress, I unwisely entered the cockpit… only to remember I was not wearing any pants. Adding to the stress of the already escalated situation, I exclaimed “UNO MOMENTO! YO NECISSITO PANTALONES!” (One moment, I need pants!). I returned below, red-faced with embarrassment and anger, donned pants and headed back up the stairs to the cockpit to hand the paperwork to the officials, who at that point, were more embarrassed than we were. We continued to berate them on how inappropriate and unsafe it was to come to our boat at night. Many apologies were thrown at us and we felt slightly satisfied that we pushed our point across. Shaken, but safe, we relayed to our concerned friends what happened. Annoyed, but pleased that we weren’t robbed; we finally settled in to bed, giggling a little on how much we embarrassed the officials.
After a productive morning of filling water tanks, changing oil, and other boat chores, we headed ashore with our crew to seek lunch. Nate and I took the rest of the paperwork to the government offices and relayed our disappointment and dismay at being boarded at night. The officials seemed shocked and appalled and promised they would open an investigation (likely scared we would post about it on sailing forums and deter visitors… as has happened in the past). We had a tasty lunch at a restaurant with a view of the local baseball field and proceeded to window shop through the fun stalls, variety stores, and groceries. We finally motivated to purchase groceries, get the paperwork required to leave the port the next morning, and headed back to the boat. Our normal crew plus our additional buddy boat, Cheryl and Kevin on S/V Leef Nu, came over for sundowners and discussions of the next morning’s sail plan of a 06:30 departure for Sosau anchorage.