Friday, 6 March 2015

Running away from Luperon, with neither engines nor wind.

Luperon is a very well sheltered harbour, with excellent holding. The town is nice, and the countryside and the shores warrant much more exploration than we managed.

We've been too busy with engines. I gave the old ones the heave-ho - I found a man in the town willing to take them off my hands. And I ordered a new Tohatsu 6hp long shaft online to be sent from the US to Turks and Caicos. (Getting online in DR has been easy - I bought a local sim that fits into the laptop - £5 or so for a week, and it is fast, and didn't fade away till we were 14 miles offshore). I have had advice from a blogger in TCI who has a catamaran there, and have had dealings with the customs people who have assured me that the engine will be treated as a part for a 'yacht in transit', and there won't be much duty to pay on it.

Winds have been fickle, and frequently from the west, which is very odd in the trade wind belt. But at last a weather opportunity opened for our departure for TCI. But how were we to sail out of the port, with such a narrow exit? And then another problem cropped up. The port officials. They'd already screwed some money out of us, for some 'tourist permits' that were simply and obviously a con. We had resisted that payment until finally we were confined to port. The only way out was to accept a lift to the ATM and pay up, which we duly did, having unfinished business in town. Anyone who knows me might consider this run-in with officialdom to be rather typical of me, but the yacht that towed us into Luperon had similar problems. They weren't allowed to leave for 2 days, and all of the crew missed flights.

When we went to the port authorities for clearance, we were told we'd have to return the following day with photocopies of all our passports (which they'd already seen) and 1500 pesos. I'm sure if we'd done that, we wouldn't have been free to go until at least midday, by which time the wind would have made an exit (without engines) unfeasible. We'd miss our little weather window altogether.

So we did a runner. We left without our clearance papers. We had to do it at daybreak, when the wind is always dead in Luperon, and before the port officials were out and about (not that we ever saw them in the harbour). Another yachtie helped us out, with an offer of a tow out of the harbour. That was very generous, to get up so early to tow us out to sea. We paid him for his services (though he asked for nothing - he considered it a good lark) with our 5 gallons of petrol (it would have gone too stale to use before we had a new engine installed) and our Dominican flag.

The tow was easy. He had a new 9.8hp engine on his dinghy, which he ran only at half speed because he was still running it in. But with no wind at all, we left the harbour at 4 knots, and hoisted the genoa and mainsail when we reached the sea.

The wind was very light, and the swell large and confused, so that the sails were flapped about a great deal. In any other circumstances, I would have saved the wear and tear on the sails, and dropped them to await wind. But we were running away! So I left them up, and we crept away from the shore at 1 knot. Wind very gradually increased as we left the shore and we finally hit the trade winds proper, and after a couple of hours, we were picking our way through the trade wind swell.

The swell being on the beam made for an uncomfortable and unpleasant passage, so I kept the speed down to 5 knots or so. Turks was 100 miles away, and we didn't want to arrive at night, so we had plenty of time. Sometimes, there's no point in making the boat go as fast as it can.

We anchored for the following night off South Caicos. We didn't clear in - clearing in to Turks and Caicos costs $50, and $50 to clear out. If we stay for more than a week, we'll need to buy a $300 cruising permit, and I was keen to avoid that expense - funds being greatly depreciated by the expense of a new engine and shipping charges. In the morning, we planned a route across the Caicos bank - 44 miles of pristine shallow water over sand and reef. The best charts we have are the Navionics ones on my phone, and on that I plotted a route. Going out to sea outside of Long Cay would have been a little tricky. We'd have had to tack, which would require a daggerboard lowered, which requires us to seek deeper water than much of the water that was around us. Daggerboards are great, in that you can lift them to reduce draught, but if you need to sail upwind in shallow water - not so good. So I plotted a route downwind inside of Long Cay, where much of the water was only a metre deep. I then transfered the route on the phone to OpenCpn so that I could navigate on the laptop - this would allow me to most closely stick to the planned route. Transferring the route had to be done manually, typing in waypoints. I checked my typing, and then had a crew member check it again. The whole thing was a risky strategy - a typo would almost certainly have had us sailing onto a reef.

You can see from the screenshot that the charts I have on the laptop don't have the necessary detail - the route goes through what looks like uncharted territory. We pulled up the anchor and raised the small jib. If we were going to hit a reef, it would be best to do so slowly. And we crept along the track, with me watching the laptop

and calling out course changes to someone in charge of the autopilot (making course changes of 2-3 degrees is far more accurate under autopilot than having someone hand steer) and looking through the cabin window.

 This boat has exceptional piloting accommodation! We had crew on the bows too, but whenever they saw something ominous looking in the water ahead, it was usually too late to change course, and we sailed over it, putting all our faith in the soundings and our typing!

We made it to the deeper channel (2-4 metres deep) and relaxed. We then realised that the pleasant slow sailing had to end if we were to cross the bank and arrive at Sapodilla Bay before dark, so the wind being dead astern, we raised the genoa and jib together and hit nearly 12 knots, with no surfing in the nearly flat water. How nice to sail so fast, with no swell and no waves to speak of, and over such brilliantly clear water.

And that, after the relief of sailing through the really shallow water had everyone out taking pictures, which was a phenomenon in itself, and we ended up laughing and taking pictures of each other taking pictures.

We arrived well before dusk,

and dropped anchor in Sapodilla Bay and here we hope to stay until our engine arrives - hopefully,

in less than a week!

1 comment:

  1. Hope you get snorkelling in that gorgeous water soon!