We just made a 405 nautical mile sail (466 miles) from Providenciales Island in the Turks and Caicos to Puerto Real in Puerto Rico. Our passage took us around the west side of West Caicos and then southeastward along the northern coast of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. We have seen an unusual amount of fronts with north winds this year. There just seems to be one after another. We skipped one weather window soon after we arrived in Providenciales because we figured there would be another one shortly. We were right. The hard part was making sure we had perfect weather for the four days it takes to sail this far. Usually a forecast is good for about 3 days into the future. Anything beyond this is a SWAG (Scientific Wild Ass Guess). Waiting for the European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF) and Global Forecast System (GFS) forecast models to agree is typically a good sign the forecast is somewhat correct. Normally they agree for the next two days but beyond this we tend to see they can differ considerably. Since day four put us in the Mona Passage we looked for some assurance the weather would be favorable. When we saw a window we jumped on it so we could put the most difficult part of an eastern passage to the Caribbean Leeward Islands behind us.
We purposely positioned ourselves in the Turks and Caicos Islands so we could take better advantage of northeast winds and skip past The Dominican Republic. Rather than stage in the Bahamas at one of the most eastern islands like Inagua we had a better angle by laying more to the north. And, hanging out in Providenciales didn’t have much of a downside. The cost of customs in the Turks and Caicos Islands is my only complaint. We paid a total of US$430 for customs and immigration fees for our three week stay. I think this might be the reason most other cruisers tend to avoid this island chain which is really too bad since the islands are beautiful.
When the low systems move through this area of the world, the winds rotate in direction. They tend to go from the east, then south, then west and north before going back to the east. This is called clocking winds. As a front moves through with clocking winds it can take about 2-4 days. We wanted to leave as the winds were Northwest or North allowing us to sail for as much of the trip as possible toward the southeast. The downside to these winds is they can pack a bit of a punch and the sea can be a little rough. However, we got luckily with our window and had 25 knots on day one, 20 knots on day two and 10 knots on days three and four where we had to motor sail for the last 160 miles.
We both decided we wanted to skip The Dominican Republic. For most cruisers, this is a logical stop as they are traveling east against the trade winds. I am an avid reader and subscribed to many sailing blogs before departing on our own journey. A common thread amongst other sailors in Dominican Republic is getting sick, dealing with corrupt government officials and anchoring in highly polluted bays. We have also heard many instances of boats being stuck for added days due to the Government officials not issuing a departure Zarpe (for no apparent reason). For boaters traveling east, the Mona Passage is just around the corner. Like rounding Cape Hatteras as well as crossing the Gulfstream, the Mona Passage is an area of the ocean that needs to be respected. If the departing authorities do not issue the necessary paperwork on time, a cruiser can miss a window to safely transit the passage. Another added benefit to our more northerly route was we eliminated the shoals to the east of The Dominican Republic as we entered the Mona Passage on the eastern side toward Puerto Rico. One less hazard to worry about.
I planned to write this next paragraph describing a regular pattern of events aboard Cream Puff. Our regular readers will know we have yet to catch any fish. I truly stink at fishing. It’s not through lack of trying. Well, perhaps now it is a little bit. I have become pretty disheartened about fishing and often don’t bother anymore to get the gear out. On this trip I fully expected to troll a lure for 400 miles with nothing to show for my efforts. As I was on watch one night I thought about writing a blog post about receiving awards for being a cruiser catching the most amount of seaweed. I’m very good at catching seaweed. I can catch massive clumps of seaweed. I had a whole 1000 word draft in my head. I’m so glad I didn’t take the time to type it. On day three of our trip we had a miracle. I finally caught a fish!!!! We landed a nice size Mahi Mahi. We even remembered to grab the camera during the excitement.
On the way to Puerto Rico, our original plan was to check in at Mayagüez. However, this town is mostly a commercial dock and we were trying to look for a place to leave the dinghy when we took to shore for US Immigration and Customs check-in. Prior to our departure, I downloaded a free cruising guide for Puerto Rico. The guide suggested Puerto Real as an alternative to Mayagüez just 8 miles south. The guide also mentioned a nice inexpensive marina in the bay. Sold! I called the marina using our satellite phone to make sure they could accommodate us. Thankfully they had a vacant slip. We thought we would treat ourselves to air-conditioning and marina life for a few days before heading around to the south coast. I’m so glad we made this change of plans. The Marina Pescaderia turned out to be a gem. We meet several other cruisers. Some are heading the same direction as us. Others are bound for the Bahamas. We are enjoying a very social stay.
We are in Puerto Real celebrating in air-conditioning and eating fresh fish tacos. Yum! Life is good.