S/V Delilah

A Blog to track the wanderings of the S/V Delilah, a 37-foot Tayana sailboat.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Salinas, PR

Sunday, 26 March 2006
Salinas, Puerto Rico
N 17 degrees 57.385 minutes
W 066 degrees 17.584 minutes

Well, it's been a while. Here' what's been happening...

First, I have to tell you about checking in to PR. We went ashore in Boqueron last Sunday, as required, to phone Customs and Immigration to tell them that we had entered the country. Of course, nothing is simple with U.S. Customs and Immigration--and Homeland Security. Even using the phone number for "weekends and after hours," we were unable to reach a human. I was, of course, convinced that we would be beaten with rubber hoses for not checking in promptly, even if it wasn't our fault.

Early Monday, then, we went ashore with David and Kim from Amanzi and phoned Customs. They told us to report to Mayaguez, a town about 40 minutes by car from Boqueron. A local taxi driver had actually followed us from the pier to the phone. Enough cruisers come through here that he knew exactly what we were trying to do, and he told us he'd take us. Cheapskates that we are, we asked about the bus system. He claimed that we could not get to Mayaguez from Boqueron by bus. "It's too far." And he claimed he personally knew people in Customs and would smooth the way for us. We protested that Customs had told us not to arrive before noon, as they were processing ferries. He suggested that he could get us through. "There's about 8 guys just standing around."

What else could we do? We decided to believe him.

The guy was a laugh a minute. First, he has 13 children. 13. Yikes. He likes to dance, you see. But, in his youth, he had trouble stopping at the dancing. Six wives. No more, he lives on his own. My favorite quote, though, when asked if he went fishing: "Nah. Them sharks is going to have to come out of my shower head if they want to eat me."

We get to Customs in Mayaguez and, sure enough, they are busy processing the ferries. We wait for a couple hours, then check in. They never even mention that we failed to contact them when we arrived on Sunday. But they did ask about Mexico...

Why Mexico, when we are in Puerto Rico? Jill did drive with some friends to Tijuana for about five hours back in the early nineties, and Jill's memory of the event is rather hazy. But when she tells the Customs officer that, yes, she was there once, he asks, "Did you get in any trouble while you were there?" This was a bit of a surprising question, and the officer didn't like the answer: "Well, I might have lost my passport around that time."

"You MIGHT have lost it??!!!" He wasn't pleased.

After a few explanations and a bit of prying, we found out enough information from the officer to figure out that Jill's passport was indeed stolen in Mexico twelve years ago, and must have been in use until recently. Somebody got caught using it! For what, we don't know.

That night, several of the boats in the harbor got together for a BBQ on the beach, and we watched a beautiful sunset over the dreaded Mona Passage.

The winds have been light enough all week that we have been able to hop along the notorious southern coast of Puerto Rico without any of the big swells or headwinds that one normally finds. We stayed one night off an island known as Gilligan's Island, after the TV show, but we failed to see the similarity, aside from a lovely lagoon between islands.

Then we spent a few days in Ponce, the second largest city in Puerto Rico, and in the course of 48 hours we spent down the thousand-dollar surplus we had been coaxing into the budget for the past two months. We split a car rental with other cruisers, bought tons of groceries and other provisions (they have Wal-Mart in PR), bought new glasses for Dean, new batteries for the boat, and several other outrageously-priced boat items at West Marine. Fortunately, we found another marine store for the batteries, so we managed to avoid West Marine's absurd 30 percent markup on those. There is even a cash and carry like Costco in Ponce, but you don't need a membership, so we now have a surplus of canned goods to last us until we get to Trinidad, including about ten cans of pineapple juice to go with the cheap half-gallon jug of rum we bought in the DR.

While we had the car, we took a quick trip over the mountains to San Juan to drop Kim at the airport. We didn't have much time to see the city, as finding West Marine took priority, but the view was we reached the top of the mountains that rise up steeply from the coast was well worth it. Looking west one could see a series of ranges fading into the distance, and down into the deep valleys you could see houses built along the slopes, one side of them angled out over thin air.

This morning we made our way to Salinas, a little resort town on the south coast, where we will relax for a couple of days before heading to the Spanish Virgin Islands (Vieques and Culebra) for snorkeling and swimming.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


March 16

If there was one good thing that came out of our turning back on Tuesday night, it was that I had another chance to get to the waterfalls near Luperon. We had been meaning to get there since we arrived in the DR, but we had been too "busy."

Dean had no real interest in sliding down a waterfall, but after a week of not swimming, I was dying to get into the water again. We had heard about trips that were organized for the falls for $35 per person, including transportation, lunch, a guide, and a helmet and life jacket. But since we decided to go at the last minute, we had to find our own way.

We rented motorcycles again--smaller ones this time--for $10 each, and drove ourselves out there. The man in town who rented us the bikes told us we should haggle with the guides at the falls for a price, so we did. Things got a little hot for a minute, but we bargained one guide down to $5 per person, including life jacket and helmet.

Now, you might wonder why one would need a guide and safety gear to go look at a waterfall, but you don't look at it, you climb up it. Rather, you swim up part of it and are dragged up the steep parts by the guides. "Put your left foot here and grab my hand with your right hand," they'd say, but before you got your foot in place to bear any weight, they would have you hauled up to the next level and would have moved on to the next person.

After an hour of climbing, we turned around and slid and jumped down natural slides into deep pools carved out of the rock by the water that has been traveling down this mountain for eons, carving out a step path through the rock. The experience was amazing. The water was a gorgeous blue color, cool but not the ice water one finds in the White Mountains, and the trail itself was gorgeous as it wound up the side of the mountain.

The best part of it all was that, just before we hopped on our bikes at the end of the trip, we found out that the big groups of tourists coming in on buses had paid ther resorts $55 per person to do what we had done for $10! I love the DR!

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Back in Our Mother Country

Alternate Title: Mona Shmona

Sunday, March 19
Boqueron, PR
N 18 degrees, 01.41 minutes
W 067 degrees, 10.69 minutes

We have a bottle of champagne saved for this anchorage. I wish we had two, as we deserve them both, though we will probably fall asleep before we finish a glass. Plus there is the minor step of our needing to check in with Customs and Immigration first. It's probably best to do that before we start drinking.

So what's so significant about Puerto Rico? Lots of things.

For one, we are in American territory again, so all the phone calls, bills, financial issues, boat needs, mail, and so on can be taken of here with less hassle and for less money.

But more significant is that PR is tough to get to from the east. Not only do you have to tack or motor straight into the prevailing winds and current, you have to cross this narrow but deep strip of ocean water that runs between the DR and the PR--the Mona Passage. The waves pile up here, and they get particularly steep around a massive shoal that extends out into the Passage from the DR. Then there are countercurrents, eddies, rips, thunderstorms, and what have you. Cruisers speak in hushed tones about this body of water, and one couple we know who made the crossing once before considered doing a five-day offshore just to avoid traveling this stretch again.

Needless to say, Dean and I were nervous, and we have been anticipating that this would be one of the most trying crossings in a series of trying crossings on what they call The Thorny Path to the Caribbean.

After our failed attempt at leaving Luperon on Tuesday, we bided our time until a great, big weather window opened up, and we ran for it. Instead of making short hops with the night lee along the coast of the DR, we took advantage of light winds and calmish seas and made a beeline for the southern Puerto Rican coast. We left Friday at two in the afternoon, and we dropped anchor at three o'clock today, 49 hours later.

We had nearly flat seas and some good wind, but even when it was not on the nose we kept the engine going, wringing every knot we could from Delilah so we would be sure to arrive before our window slammed shut. We are tired, smelly, and hungry, but we are also very, very happy to be here, and we are now wondering what all the fuss is about this Mona Passage.

Dean here. 48 hours really takes it out of you. I got no more than 1 consecutive hour of sleep at any time over the past two days. That makes me cranky. Jill sure is swell to put up with it all!

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Thursday, March 16, 2006


Thursday 16 March, 2006

On Tuesday night, we moved to Luperon's outer anchorage, in preparation for a 9 PM departure. On a historical note, Columbus anchored here way back when. The night departure is necessary because the southeast trade winds often die down at night, making travel to the southeast possible. Amanzi was travelling with us, and was leading the way. They stopped suddenly, and radioed us to do the same, as they were about to run into fishing nets. We anchored near the middle of the outer bay, and settled down to wait for a few hours. A catamaran we know came out around 9 PM. Trying to navigate around the shoal spots, the cat found itself over the fishing net. It tried to back off, but ended up winding the net around the prop. They lost both steering and power.

At this time, I went to the bow to see where the net was in relation to us. It was draped across our anchor chain - a drift net. It was slowly encircling the boat. After some polite discussion, we decided to up anchor and drift out of the net, then start the motor and head out to sea. We needed to ensure that we did not drift too far, as a shoal was close by. This worked OK, but an added stress was the fishing buoys we passed on our way out.

We got out OK, then proceeded to bounce around in the 6 foot seas. The wind was more than expected, and on the nose. We were doing no more than 2 knots, which wasn't enough to make our next port in time. We decided to turn back, and ended up anchoring in the exact spot we had left that afternoon.

We think we'll try again Friday, when the forecast is a little better. We expect to end up on the SW coast of Puerto Rico, in either Mayaguez or Boqueron, possibly on Sunday night.

The cat, BTW, was able to dive and remove the net from their prop in the morning. They left that afternoon.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

On the move

We will likely leave Luperon this evening, working our
way down the coast until we come to Samana, then
crossing the Mona Passage to Puerto Rico. We do not
know when we will have email again, so you all will
have to hold tight.

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Saturday, March 11, 2006


A local laundry
Cheap beer
Bike Ferry

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Clearing In

Thursday, 9 March
N 19 degrees 54.01 minutes
W 070 degrees 56.99 minutes
Luperon Harbor

We arrived in Luperon on the 5th. We hit the coast just at sunrise. Local fishermen were already out, rowing engineless boats around the reefs outside the harbor. The land is so different from the Bahamas: lush greenery, birds everywhere, and tall mountains surrounding us. Unfortunately, the harbor here is too dirty for swimming, but the town is fascinating. A lot of cruisers have made it here and no further, choosing to settle where their money goes a long way and the harbor is surrounded by mountains--good protection from hurricanes.

We were approached within a few minutes of anchoring by two locals in a rough boat. Handy Andy had come by to sell his wares. He is the local go-to guy for diesel, water, oil, etc., and he will wash your boat, watch over your boat, or fetch anything you need...for a small fee. He sold us a DR courtesy flag, which we must fly from our starboard spreader while in country. We then sat back to wait for the Commandante to come out. We had the yellow "Q" flag flying, which lets the port authorities know that we wish to clear in. We waited for a few hours, then decided to go in to find him.

Our first clue that this was not Kansas anymore was the guard sitting at the top of the road leading to the dinghy dock. The shotgun on his knee was old, and obviously his personal possession. The shoulder strap was a length of clothesline. He did smile at us, though. And later he was seen dancing the merengue at his post with his gun.

We happened to arrive at the blue customs and immigration trailer at the same time as a few other boats. Officials soon materialized from nowhere.

It seemed to me that they were making the process up as they went along, or that it was the first time they had ever cleared anybody in (though the presence in the harbor of fifty other sailboats suggests otherwise). Certainly, they felt it necessary to discuss the procedures among themselves. To us, not much was said. After a while, one guy told us in English that the Commandante was not available just then, and that nothing could happen without his seeing us first. A few minutes later, they apparently reversed that decision and began processing us.

During the processing, I noticed a Red Sox hat in the office. I made it known that we were from Boston, and the ice was broken. A listing of most of the major DR ballplayers was issued, then news that the DR national team was playing Venezuala shortly. Newspapers were proffered with pictures of the team. We were in good, now. (Two days later, walking down the street, we heard an enormous din. We were beckoned into a sports bar, where the crowd was going wild. Pujols had just made a great hit.)

We went back to the boat and waited for the Commandante. He showed up, in full camo dress, with a representative from the Agriculture Department, and another to check for animals, plus the boat driver. All went smoothly. They didn't even make me pay extra for the one animal on board--Sock Monkey.

We were now free to roam the country. It so happened that we had arrived just in time for the independence celebration. Carnivale was on. We saw the crowning of the new queen, etc. Then drank two dollar, 40 oz. El Presidente beers to wash down our $3 chicken dinners. I love this place.

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Here's how much fun we had for $55.

We rented a 160cc motorcycle, as did Amanzi and Savvy. The five of us rode (on three bikes) through the lush mountains to a beachside shack, had beer and espresso, left paved roads behind and rode through banana fields and tiny settlements to another beach, had an enormous lunch of fish, crab, octopus, squid, fried plantains, fried potatoes, and much cerveza. We paid for two ferries across the river, and made one crossing through shallow water unassisted. We returned and had a dinner at the yacht club of burgers, chicken, and more cerveza. Total cost: $55 for the two of us for the day.

Now for the details.

This is by far the best riding I've ever done. We rode on some paved roads, but most was on dirt. A few parts were pure mud. Once, when our bike became mired, a local boy stopped his bike and, without a word, helped pull me out. All I could say was "Gracias." We are getting a lot of mileage out of that word, as well as "hola" and "cerveza."

From time to time we could see all the way through the mountain range and down to the sea from our position high in the mountains. The two places we stopped were magical. The first was an open-air, thatched hut with a dirt floor. They were building an addition while we drank, using axes to hew the uprights from logs, then lashing the cross members to the uprights. Someone was sweeping the dirt floor with a bunch of branches. Stray dogs lazed in the heat. Fishermen beached their boats 100 feet away. Music was provided via a boom box hung in the ceiling. The owner kissed Jill and Kim goodbye, and handed us a few sour cherries as we left. She also took our map and pointed to a place further along the coast, Santa Ruisa, indicating that we should go there.

We rode through herds of cattle, being driven down the road by men and boys on horseback, crude but effective whips popping and cracking the herd along. Saddles were nothing more than foam rubber, folded over, or straw and burlap. Dogs slept in the street. The children we passed were so excited to see us. "Hola, Hola, Hola!" and frantic waves. The little towns were no bigger than a few shacks on either side of the dirt road.

Our second stop was at a seaside resort of some kind. Resort is probably not the correct word, as it was little more than a collection of tin-roofed, open-sided huts. But the food, cooked over a fire, was amazing. We watched the local fishermen, spearguns and fins in one hand, strings of fish in the other, sell their wares to the cooks. We must have been early, as it was almost deserted when we got there. Pickup trucks full of local families started to arrive as we were leaving. They must have been wealthy or from the city, as most people we saw traveled on the backs of burrows, horses, or small motorcycles.

Perhaps the best part of the day was this:
We met a man on motorcycle who, when we stopped and said, "Santa Ruisa," seemed to be going to our destination. He beckoned us to follow him. He pulled off to the side of the road, then led us down a muddy trail to the water. A man in a roughly-made wooden boat was ferrying motorcycles across, pulling the boat hand over hand along a rope stretched across the river. The bikes hung precariously over the side. It seemed so right, somehow. A motorized ferry would have been too much. And would most certainly have cost more than the $0.67 per bike we paid.

I love Luperon. I love the Dominican Republic.

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Turks and Caicos

Saturday, March 4, 2006
N 21 degrees 05.41 minutes
W 072 degrees 00.11 minutes

Happy Birthday, Doug.

We passed Turks and Caicos last night (and smelled its burning trash), on our way to the Dominican Republic. We are currently less than 100 miles from the town of Luperon, hoping to get there at about 7AM tomorrow. We do not have a DR flag yet (a vessel is required to fly the flag of its host country), but we do have our Red Sox flag ready to go, so that should get us some leeway. Perhaps Big Papi is there now!

The wind has been light and the seas are very calm, which makes for a comfortable passage, but we have had to motor a great deal. Fortunately, we are able to carry a lot of fuel, and we filled up in George Town.

We've been out of communication for a while, as Mayaguana had no working payphones and Conception had no phones (or people) at all.

We are traveling with two other sailboats, Amanzi and Savvy. John on Savvy is singlehanding, but he has set up his cockpit so he is very comfortable on long passages. With his autohelm steering and the other boats on watch, he is able to get some sleep without much concern for running into anything or going off course.

The Silver Banks is an area of shallower water located east of Turks and Caicos. It's the tropical version of New England's Stellwagen, and all the humpback whales one sees off Cape Cod in the summer sensibly travel south for the winter and to the Silver Banks in the spring to mate. We won't be getting very close to the banks, but we did see three humpback whales treaveling at the surface just after we left Mayaguana.

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Tropic of Cancer

Friday, February 24
Mayaguana Island
N 22 degrees, 21.65 minutes
W 072 degrees, 58.95 minutes

This week's weather has been perfect (sorry, Greg), so we have made a lot of progress south and east in light winds and calm seas.

Yesterday we woke early and pulled up our anchor at dawn for the roughly 150-mile sail from Conception to Mayaguana. Four other boats were planning the trip as well, and we left early with Amanzi, the other slow boat. The other boats would leave later and catch up with us near nightfall.

The winds were light enough that we had to motorsail during the day, but because of the persistent light winds, the surface of the Atlantic had become quite calm. We kept pace with Amanzi and watched with envy as they fought and landed a four-foot long, forty pound dolphin (again, the fish, not the mammal). In fact, ALL of the other boats caught so much fish on this crossing they ran out of room and had to pull in their lines! We didn't catch any keepers.

As expected, the other boats caught up with us at dusk, just as the wind built enough to turn off the engine. The other boats couldn't resist the temptation of making great time with both motor and sails, so we watched all but one boat pull well ahead of us while we enjoyed the peace and quiet.

The Tropic of Cancer, which begins at 23 degrees, 27 minutes north of the equator, is the northernmost point at which the sun reaches ninety degrees. Our dictionary defines it as the start of the Torrid Zone, which makes me wonder if this is where all the romance novels are written. Last night we passed south of this parallel and entered the tropics. YIPPEE! We've only come about 100 miles south, but the water is noticeably warmer, and our weather patterns are different from the rest of the Bahamas.

Two boats in our group have radar, a multi-thousand dollar luxury that we struck off our list early in the planning stages. But it was good to know on our passage that we did show up on their sceens, as well as the screens of the Caribbean Princess, an enormous cruise ship lit up like a Christmas tree and looking more like a city block than a boat, and then a tug boat pulling a barge on a long wire. Thanks to the books from Joe and Sharon (Joe, check your email), I know that you've got to stay VERY far away from those, and they have no maneuverability, so when he was still several miles away, we spoke to the tug captain over VHF radio, and assured him that we would leave him well to port.

Over the radio in response I heard the melodious and welcome tones of a man who drops his Rs. A Boston accent down here in the tropics, twenty miles from land! I couldn't resist asking, "Is that a Boston accent?"
"Well, Gloucester," the guy said. "I graduated from Peabody High, but that was a long time ago."

Nighttime was beautiful. The sky was jammed with stars, and the air was warm enough that we could keep watch in just a sweatshirt and pants. No ski gloves, no hand warmers, no fleece socks and three layers of high-tech fabric, no hot water bottle, no neck warmer, no foul weather gear. This is the way to travel.

All the boats made it to the anchorage at Mayaguana by early afternoon. The last few miles in the bay, we motored in about ten feet of water. I perched myself on the bow to look for coral heads. With the sun behind me and good polarized glasses, they were easy to spot, black blobs in a field of water the color and clarity and depth of a swimming pool. Looking down from the bow I could see a scattering of starfish on the bottom, and a few larger fish that swam out of our way, including a giant ray.

For dinner we all congregated on S/V Eira to help eat the fish they had caught, to review the previous 24 hours, and to talk about the next leg of our journey, which we expect to make next week.

Turks and Caicos is only sixty miles away, but the Dominican Republic can be reached in one leg if we pass by T & C. I can hear the gasps of horror and indignation rising up from Wayland, but skipping T & C means one less landfall to time precisely for daybreak, one less day of dealing with (and paying) customs and immigration, and one less courtesy flag to buy. The Dominican Republic, I am learning, is a well-kept secret as far as American tourism goes, and it is amazing. It's also a mandatory stop along the way to Puerto Rico, as it's right in the way.

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Conception Island
Wednesday, February 22
N 23 degrees, 50.00 minutes
W 075 degrees, 08.42 minutes

We escaped from George Town on Tuesday, sailing halfway to Conception Island before we had to turn the motor on. Just north of the tip of Long Island, our patented clothespin and bungee fishing system gave its signal, and we could see a bright green and yellow fish, hooked on the spoon Greg gave us, thirty feet behind the boat. Dean brought in the line hand over hand, and landed a beautiful female dolphin (NOT the mammal, silly; it's a fish, also known as a dorado or mahi mahi). She was probably 8 or 10 pounds, and we shared her, grilled, for dinner with Kim and David from s/v Amanzi. They are also headed south, and their boat travels through the water at about the same speed as Delilah.

Dad, we also tried the roe, which I believe you used to fry up, but in the end we gave it to Kim's cats.

But the story gets better. We spent Wednesday relaxing and snorkeling at Conception, which is an uninhabited island with miles of reefs close to shore. Conception is part of the Bahamas park system, but we learned in the afternoon that fishing and spearfishing are allowed. It took Dean and David all of three seconds to get suited up and zip off in a dinghy with their spears.

Two hours later, they reappeared with two of the biggest lobsters I've ever seen. These guys were at least 8 pounds apiece.

Spiny lobsters are different from Maine lobsters in that they have no large front claws, and the tail meat extends further up into the body cavity. Dean and I split HALF of a tail for dinner! I'm looking forward to lobster salad for lunch.

The only downside, if you could call it that, is that I keep promising to make stock from the heads and bones of what we catch, and every time I look into the fridge today there are several sets of accusing eyes looking back at me.

Today we are back at sea, sailing (motoring) overnight to Mayaguana. Already Greg's spoon has produced a fish, but until we can identify what we caught, we can't fry him up.

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Shaky Light

During our passage to Mayaguana, Jill was at the helm for a spell and said, "I don't know what's wrong with me... I seem to be zig-zagging. I can't steer a straight course to save my life. And the leeway is huge - I'm steering 30 degrees off our course." I had noticed the same thing on my watch.

Back when Greg was visiting, he gave us the Shaky Light, a marvelous flashlight with no batteries. One simply shakes it to charge it. I had analyzed the construction one day and was pretty impressed. A magnet moves through a coil and charges a capacitor. Greg and I had even spent some time musing over other applications.

Hmmm. A big magnet. And where did I keep the Shaky Light? Close at hand, of course. One doesn't want to leave the helm at night to find a flashlight, does one? I hung it RIGHT BY THE COMPASS. As it swung, the compass moved through 90 degrees.

How smart am I, anyway?

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