Change of plans: Bahamas to… (part 2)

South Caicos Island was a nice place to rest and do a few maintenance tasks before heading to the Dominican Republic.  We went into Cockburn Town to clear out.  As with many of these islands, some of the locals are always waiting around the dock to help cruisers navigate the town.  So we accepted a ride from the same friendly gentleman who helped Jim clear us in just 2 days prior.  He took us to the Customs office, then the Immigration office.  No one was at the immigration office.  Uh-oh.  It was Friday afternoon and we were set to leave the next morning.

Sunny skies leaving South Caicos Island

This when the local help is invaluable.  He said “I know where she is”.  The we proceeded to drive a few blocks over to her beauty salon.  Jim went inside and in just a few minutes he was finished.  We were all set to head out the next day.

Before departing we wanted to top-off our diesel tanks.  The fuel dock was a cement dock in pretty bad shape.   It took a couple of attempts to dock the boat.  the wind was gusting and pushing the boat around. We popped one of our fenders on an exposed piece of rebar on our first attempt.  But the fender saved the boat from getting a huge gouge!  Then we ended up scuffing the bow on the cement anyway on next approach.  One more thing on our repair “to do” list.  Adding to the equation was a local fishing boat whose captain was anxious to get going.  He couldn’t leave until we left, because our boat was longer than the fuel dock so we were blocking him in.  So when leaving the dock, we had to avoid the cement dock, and its exposed rebar, as well as this steel fishing boat that was literally 4 feet away.  As it turned out the fishing boat captain was very helpful in assisting us on our departure.  He said “Trust me. I can get you away no problem.  I’ve been doing this for years.”  And he did.  He held our aft line (at the very back of the boat) and directed us how to maneuver in the oncoming winds and away we went.

We wanted to have a look at our “ding” on the bow from the cement fuel dock, so we went back to the anchorage and put the anchor down, long enough for Jim to evaluate the damage.  It appeared to be only an eggshell type crack although it went through the gelcoat to the fiberglass.  Jim leaned over the front of the boat and cleaned the area with some alcohol, then applied some packing tape in an attempt to keep water out as much as possible.  (this actually worked quite well.)

Predictwind course view

The night before, we had plotted our course to Luperon DR using the Predict Wind Weather Routing tool.  The route itself was rather straight forward, basically, just head south.  However, there were some areas we wanted to avoid where high waves  and the leading edge of a line of strong winds that was predicted.  So we set our waypoints accordingly before leaving.

Waves had been building throughout the day, as expected.  Winds were between 9-13 knots, gusting into the high teens. The passage was going pretty well until about midnight.  We were motor sailing with just one engine on and the jib (small head sail) out about 1/2 way.





Suddenly there was a gust of wind and the auto pilot was overwhelmed by the motion of the boat.  I took over steering the boat and was having trouble maintaining my heading.  I quickly started the second engine to help get control of the boat, but was still having a lot of trouble.  Jim came up from his off watch rest when he felt the movement of the boat and heard the other engine start up.  He took over at the helm and was also having trouble getting the boat back on course.  At one point we were afraid we may have lost one of our rudders, which would make steering the boat very difficult to say the least.  We managed to roll in the jib sail which was also getting pushed around in the wind and intensifying the situation.  Once the headsail was in, Jim was able to get better control of the boat.  Jim realized that the chart plotter was zoomed in so close that it was causing us to overcorrect the steering.  By zooming out and giving a larger field, the problem seemed to be resolved.  He was able to get us back on course and get the autopilot working again.

Sunset in motion to Luperon.


We approached Luperon around 8 am very much looking forward to getting settled in the anchorage and checking the rudders.  The boat maneuvered well through the channel entering the harbour, which gave us some relief that Ocean Song still had both of her rudders. Upon entering the anchorage, we found it surprisingly full of boats.  Up until now, everywhere we’d been had been “off season”.  Few to zero other boats.  Luperon is a renowned and  very popular hurricane hole (safe haven) for boaters.  It’s surrounded by mountains, and provides all around wind protection for boats during hurricane season. We began to search for mooring ball as it was tight quarters with so many boats all around.  We elected not to anchor in here.  It took us an hour to find a mooring ball.  We ran into 4 sandbars and attempted to pick up 4 mooring balls that appeared to be incomplete or damaged in some way that meant they were unusable.  Two kind boaters even hailed us on the radio trying to help us procure a mooring.  They gave us the name and phone number of two venders who managed the moorings in the harbour. One boater even directed us to a mooring that had just been vacated by another catamaran.  So we aimed for that particular one.  Finally,  after an  hour of searching and running aground four times (in very soft mud), we were attached to a  somewhat sketchy mooring. I called the number that was written on the ball.  The VM was in Spanish, but I left a message ( in English)  that we had picked up one of their moorings.  Soon a small boat approached us and helped us properly attach to the mooring ball.  One of the many things we are learning, is that mooring balls and set ups are different everywhere!  I’m sure in hind sight the other 4 moorings we passed up were probably fine.  We just didn’t know what we were looking at!  Local knowledge is valuable.

Luperon mooring field. Open space=sandbar.

It was a Sunday when we arrived to Luperon. We hoisted our Q (quarantine)  flag, as directed by the cruising guides, and our mooring ball manager.  Then we waited for the Dominican Republic Navy official (El Commandante) to come aboard Ocean Song and give us permission to go to town and clear in with Customs and Immigration.  No one came by.

Monday morning at 10am still no one had come by.  We began to question whether we were doing the right thing by waiting on the boat.  Some countries penalize boaters for not clearing in within 24 hours.  We started trying to contact someone to help us with our dilemma.  We left several phone messages and emails.  Jim managed to speak to one person , who said.  “If no one shows up, just dinghy in and go to Customs and Immigration.” A few minutes later, a boat approached us.  It was El Commandante.  He apologized for arriving late.  He said ” I asked around and was told no boats arrived yesterday.”  Our thought was “Really.  No one saw us come in yesterday? We were sure everyone was watching us as we grounded 4 times and circled the mooring field for an hour!”.

El Commandante asked us if we had any firearms or pets.  We said “no” to both.  He took our photos and gave us clearance to go to shore to complete the paperwork for Customs and Immigration.

Oh, and as for our rudder issue, shortly after we were moored, Jim jumped in the water to check on them.  Both rudders were intact! The sandbars were soft and dotted throughout the anchorage so the bottom of our keels were simply “cleaned” a little.

After all this,  we would be clearing out the very next day to continue our journey east.  We enjoyed some good food and even met up with some cruisers on a boat that had been anchored beside us back in George Town Bahamas.  We traded passage stories before heading back to Ocean Song to get ready for an early morning departure the next day.




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