Samana’, Dominican Republic (DR) to Grenada, West Indies (WI)
Marina Puerto Bahia Samana’ DR
We decided that our initial destination after leaving Marina Puerto Bahia on the northeast side of the Dominican Republic would be St. Croix in the USVI. After Tropical Storm Bret passed (there were no effects felt in Samana’) we would have a 289nm trip to St. Croix. We left on Sunday, June 25th at 7:00am. The trip would be a continuation of “The Thorny Path”. The area between the DR and Puerto Rico is known as the Mona Passage and there are frightening stories of how rough the conditions can be as wind, waves, swell, and current are all heading west while poor souls are trying to go east. As things turned out, the Mona Passage was the easy part of the trip. We timed our crossing well, took Van Sant’s advice to sail north past Hourglass Shoals before heading southeast toward the southwest corner of Puerto Rico. We were there the next morning around 10:30am with approximately ½ of the passage behind us.
To our slight surprise the southern coast of Puerto Rico was not friendly. We experienced a surprisingly stiff current of between 1.5 – 2.1 knots the entire way to St. Croix. The seas were consistently 6+ feet or more and we had a breeze of 12 -17 knots only 25 degrees off our bow. The ride was uncomfortable and slow! Even at higher RPMs than we usually motor, we were going very slow. We also noted our rudders seemed sluggish. Since we were motor sailing, we checked our fuel consumption a couple of times and were surprised at how much diesel we were burning. The final 139nm of our passage took more than 30 hours, a distance we would normally cover in 20 hours or slightly more. We anchored at Frederiksted around 2:00pm on Tuesday, the 27th. When we checked our fuel levels, we were shocked to find we had less than ¼ of a tank in each diesel tank. Our starboard tank was the lowest at 1/8 tank, which was odd as our generator feeds off the port tank, so our starboard tank “always” had more fuel than the port side. (We also carried 40 gallons in jerry cans on deck, which we had not used.) We had never gone under ¼ tank before. After anchoring we dove in the water to make sure the anchor was well set. Linda immediately discovered that we had a line wrapped in our starboard prop and wrapped tightly in the rudder on that side.
Line discovered tangled in starboard rudder and prop.
The line wrapped around the starboard prop and rudder explained two things, 1) the higher fuel consumption by the starboard engine as it had to work harder, and 2) the line jammed in the rudder explained the sluggish steering. Our best guess on the reason our overall fuel consumption was so much higher than usual was not just the fouled prop and rudder but the conditions we had pushed through for over two days. We had run at higher RPMs than usual and achieved lower speeds than usual virtually the entire trip.
At anchor in Frederiksted USVI
There was no place to refuel in Frederiksted, so a couple of days later we moved 17.5nm to Christiansted on the north coast. We were there for only two days but found a couple of good restaurants. Christiansted is “Dutch Caribbean”, very much like St. Thomas 41nm to the north. We contemplated a stop at Buck Island, but we had a decent weather window to make more easting, and on Saturday, July 1, we headed out for Grenada.
The leg to Grenada would be approximately 450nm. One of our goals was to make as much easting as we could early in the passage so that we could take advantage of the easterly trade winds later. From St. Croix that really means doing some south easting. The forecast was for winds out of the southeast. Yes, that’s right, the wind was coming from the direction we wanted to go! We knew it was going to be a bumpy ride, but there were no better conditions in the foreseeable future, so we bit the bullet and pointed Ocean Song toward Grenada. It was a motor sail, and at times the conditions were fair, and we made good time. Early the second day the swell and waves built to 10+ feet and we started to encounter occasional breaking waves. The forecast had conditions deteriorating over the next 24 – 48 hours. We checked our charts and decided to head for Dominica, about 16 hours away. By 4:00pm on July 3rd, we were moored off Roseau, the capital city of Dominica. Around 6:00pm there were wind gusts more than 40 knots buffeting us. All was good as we were on a strong mooring and happy to be there!
Although a very pretty Caribbean town, we would not recommend Roseau as a sailing destination. The town is not well set up for cruisers. There are lots of well-maintained mooring balls and the people were very friendly, but there were no proper dinghy docks, and the beaches were rocky. It was very hard to get ashore. Linda dropped me off at a dock that was very high off the water and combined with the swell it made for a hard climb. I walked a few blocks to the Customs and Immigration Office and had a smooth check-in process. I told the officer we would be leaving on Thursday (2 days later) so he checked me out at the same time so I wouldn’t have to make a return trip. A young local guy, Greg, showed me how to get to C&I, so I gave him $10. He thanked me and said his daughter was graduating from kindergarten and it would help with her gift. Linda and I ran into Greg the next day at lunch. Greg begged me for more money because he still didn’t have enough for a gift. We’ve traveled all over the world and lots of folks have tried to beg money off me, but I seldom give in. I liked Greg so I gave him a few more bucks. I have a feeling Greg’s daughter graduates from kindergarten a lot.
Two interesting things to relate: First, when we left St. Croix (a U.S. territory) the C&I officials had no interest in checking us out. That’s not unusual for a U.S. port of entry/exit. Because we are a U.S. pleasure boat, as opposed to a commercial vessel, we don’t have to get clearance to leave U.S. waters. However, most countries require a “Zarpe” or “Despacho” from your vessel’s last port before you are allowed to clear into their country. Even though U.S. Homeland Security knows this they still do not have an official clearance form for U.S. pleasure boats. It makes no sense, literally every other country has an official clearance form for pleasure boats. We had been warned that all the countries in the eastern Caribbean will require an official U.S. clearance form, even though there isn’t one! Second, cruising sailors, being an ingenious lot, have found a work-around. The U.S. does have Form 1300, a clearance form for commercial vessels. Although 85% of the form has no relevance for sailboats, at least the top portion which asks for boat name, length, width, ownership etc. can be filled out. If taken to a U.S. C&I office the officers will often refuse to stamp the form to make it “official”. Occasionally an officer will give in and stamp the form, but you can’t count on it. We learned that virtually any notary public will stamp the form for $5, and other countries accept it. So, we filled out 15% of U.S.A. Form 1300, went to a lawyer’s office, and got it notarized. We also put our “official” S/V Ocean Song stamp on the form. In Dominica the official asked for my “U.S. Zarpe”, I handed him good ole’ notarized and stamped 1300, he looked it over for a minute or so, said “thank you”, and cleared us in!
We left Dominica at 5:30am on Thursday, July 6th. Our passage to Grenada would be a little more than 200nm and take about 36 hours. We were well east in Dominica, in fact, Grenada is slightly west of Dominica. That’s important, because finally – The Thorny Path was in our wake, we were in position to ride the Tradewinds not fight them! Even though the winds were now favorable, the passes between islands create acceleration zones for winds, waves, swell, and current. It means it can still get nasty when one leaves the lee of an island. If you look at a map of the eastern Caribbean, it’s easy to envision. The winds, waves, swell, and current rushing from the Atlantic into the Caribbean Sea funnel between, around, and over (the wind) the islands. Additionally, the end of each island is a cape, and capes always disrupt the existing sea state. The seas between islands can get very rough because of the acceleration that results. We thought we’d have good conditions behind the islands (20 – 30 nm out) but tough conditions in all the acceleration zones. We were wrong! We had very good conditions in the lees and better-than-expected conditions in the acceleration zones. Compared to The Thorny Path, it was a sleigh ride!
3.2 knot current against us.
We did encounter extremely strong currents in the passes, up to 3.2 knots. The currents were against us, but the sea state remained settled, and Ocean Song was comfortable. The morning of day #2 we thought about anchoring at Carriacou, which is a northern island of Grenada, but we were a few hours ahead of schedule and decided to carry on to St. George’s, Grenada’s capital, at the southwestern tip of Grenada. It would be another 6 -7 hours, but the conditions were very good, and we wanted to take advantage of them. Around 1:00pm on Friday afternoon we were sailing in waters we had sailed in 9 years ago on a charter vacation with friends. It all seemed familiar. By 5:00pm we were moored just outside the harbor at St. George’s. In fact, we picked up the very last available mooring ball in a mooring field with approximately 50 moorings.
We just hung out on the boat because we were not checked-in with Grenada C&I. Technically, the crew of a boat, pleasure or commercial, cannot leave the vessel until officially cleared in. On Saturday morning we went to Port Louis Marina and officially cleared into Grenada, where we will be through the Atlantic Storm Season (for insurance purposes November 30th, 2023). There are hundreds of cruising sailboats here in Grenada. The southern bays of the island are literally full of boats (look at Google Earth images). Most are here for the same reason we are: insurance allows us to be here during storm season because Grenada is south of the traditional hurricane belt. Also, Grenada has a reputation as being one of the most cruiser-friendly destinations in the world, so far, we agree.
Cruising down the west coast of Grenada.
We feel a great sense of accomplishment having reached Grenada. We also feel “settled”. Now we look forward to finally living a cruising lifestyle. Exploring islands. Learning about other cultures. Meeting fellow cruisers, some of whom we have communicated with for years over social media and through sailing forums. This has been quite a journey so far. But it is only the beginning.