Thursday, 12 February 2015

Dominican Republic

Santa Barbara de Samana, Dominican Republic.

We left Tortola at dawn for what we hoped would be a 48 hour sail. An early departure would allow for an early morning landfall, and a whole day of leeway should we be delayed for any reason.

We were very much delayed by light and shifting winds, and little of the usual following trade wind. After 48 hours, it still looked like a long day's sail ahead of us to make land across the Mona Passage, but a strong wind from the north came up and I kept the boat moving as fast as the waves allowed for in an effort to arrive during daylight. Sometimes we were hitting 12 knots, on a reach, which is pretty good for a 9m boat, but I was always on the edge of reefing further, and the day wasn't exactly relaxing. Flying fish took off in front of the advancing boat, and far off, I saw the spouts of humpback whales, who have come to Samana Bay to give birth. In the late afternoon, we saw one closer up, but there was no breaching or tail slapping and so on. Just a glimpse of the back of a whale amongst the waves and foam.

We arrived at dusk, and found the Navionics charts I'd just installed on my phone to be more detailed than CM93 charts I have on my laptop. We sailed in and anchored near the town at the end of the bay. What a noise! We were anchored too close to a very noisy bar - half a mile away? - but too tired and shook up from the day's sail to move. We slept through it, and moved up the bay to where it is quieter in the morning.

Our Dominican Republic cruising guide describes the Samana Bay as some sort of cruiser's heaven, unspoiled, clean and authentic. The guide hardly mentions the whales, which are here for three months of the year and are a big tourist attraction. We've found this anchorage to be the most uncomfortable in all we've been in in the Caribbean. It is open to the east, the direction of the prevailing wind, so I'm not sure why we allowed ourselves to be convinced by the book that it would be anything but rough. The water is dirty enough that we don't swim in it - and this might be the first anchorage in the Caribbean that we've been put off that pleasant activity. The administration is many layered, but every layer is pedantic, extremely slow moving, and barely literate. Dollars were extracted from us, over a hundred by the hustler in immigration alone (we're used to handing over trivial sums on all the other islands we've visited).

After a week here (waiting for our latest crew member to fly in) we decided to move on, spurred on when we saw a huge cruise ship anchored outside the bay. We were anchored by the jetty where the cruise ship people land. The town is transformed. The townspeople are dressed in their best and there are bands along the pavements playing what I guess might be traditional music, but we haven't heard any of that in the previous week, so it's hard to tell. The shopkeepers have their stalls out selling all the usual tat for tourists, much of it made in Vietnam, the same stuff we've seen on sale in many countries wherever cruise ships dock. The pavements are lined with hustlers and blocked by large, slow-moving bewildered-looking mostly pink people.

We visited the Commandancia del Porto to get a 'despacho' - a permit to visit Los Haitises national park across the bay from here. We arrived at the office with enough shopping for four people to survive for a week comfortably in that wilderness, only to be told that we would not be allowed to spend a night there. We could leave the following morning, but we would have to be back by the same night. This was a great disappointment - the park was the main reason we'd come here. We fancied some time away from the incessant music and traffic noise and all. A week walking about in the forest and swimming on the reefs sounded just about right, but it's not to be. We also found that we wouldn't be allowed to anchor anywhere else in this huge bay, despite our dodgy guidebook informing us that we'd find one anchorage after another, each more perfect than the previous one. The officials were very pleasant about insisting on our limitations, and I did manage to squeeze one concession from them. I told them that out boat was so slow that it would take all morning to get to the park, and all afternoon to get back (it's 10 miles) so we'd have no time to look around. So we were allowed report back the following morning. These limitations are for our own security, though we have wandered about here for a week without feeling the slightest danger, and I pointed out on my charts on the phone the various places - between islands and mid-ocean - where we'd comfortably slept without the need for security. They understood - that I was a strong man! - but couldn't change the rules for us. They spent nearly an hour copying our names, and passport numbers onto a sheet of paper - a job anyone familiar with writing would do in a minute or so - in order that the paperwork would be ready the following morning. I've arranged to be at their office at 5am tomorrow to collect the paperwork so that we can sail off at first light. Might as well make the most of it.

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