An audio and video podcast of my trip hitchhiking around the world by sea.
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Whales on the Way

My apologies for not posting sooner. Right now, I’m sitting in a little bakery in the small surf town of Rincon, Puerto Rico. After a 5-day pass from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico, I have finally found a café with Internet and enough time to post. So here we go.

The Pass.

They say you can see the lights of Puerto Rico from the Dominican Republic. That may be true, but you definitely cannot see them from Luperon. Luperon is on the North side of the DR, relatively close to Haiti. Which means when sailing at a smoking 4 knots you’re looking at a minimal two-day sail just to get to the Mona Passage.

The Mona is the ocean passage that runs between the DR and PR, and in the cruising world it is dreaded. It’s the second deepest trench in the world and one of the most notorious passes. With currents relentless and trade winds strong, anyone hoping to sail across the Mona Passage waits for the right window. After a month in the Dominican Republic the window came.

Luperon was buzzing like a senior center on meatloaf Sunday with the cruisers who had collected over the past month, waiting for the window. Finally, after a week of talk and sailor support meetings the window arrived. One by one boats, pulled anchor and paraded to the mouth of the bay, where they would wait for the night breeze to flow from the Dominican mountains to the sea. Dan and I were the last of 15 sailing vessels to leave the bay, but with a higher tolerance to uncomfortable seas, we decided to cut to the chase.

It was about 10 pm when we left. We snugged everything down, storing any loose items away and storing all dry clothes in garbage bags. Once we had a secure 30-minute head start we radioed back to announce our departure and within moments, the ships started to leave. By morning the seas had smoothed and the winds were starting to slow. It was the onset of the window we were all anticipating. Time to motor-sail.

When sailing you don’t imagine boaters waiting for the winds to die so they can motor, but when you are crossing the Mona it seems to be the norm. Our tanks were full and our 20 horsepower engine was purring nicely until it sucked up some debris. Within moments we started to overheat. So much for our 30-minute cushion. Two hours and one fuel filter later we managed to keep the engine from overheating by running at lower RPMs… but we still had a long way to go.

There’s a certain monotony to sailing and while fighting 1.5 knot currents at 3 knots boat speed might make for an exciting entry, I’m going to pass on all that and get to the good stuff: the whales.

Our timing was perfect. From January through March, humpback whales migrate 2,000 to 4,000 miles from North of Main to the warm waters of Samana to meet and mate. It just so happens we would be passing right by Samana. Dan had just finished working on the engine and we were putting along, when as I was talking to Dan I spotted my first whale. Just off his shoulder and 60 yards out an enormous ridge emerged from the water. It cut slowly through the surface, then concluded with its tail fanning through the air. Of coarse I freak out and run down to grab my camera, but by the time I returned the show was over. Over the next several hours, the titanic creatures would remind you they were near as mysterious spouts would fire mist 40 feet in the air.

I wish I could say I saw one jump entirely out of the water, but I’m afraid only Dan can say that… twice. I am happy, however, to say at least I saw the explosion of water that followed one of those moments Dan dubbed “the most amazing natural occurrence” he’s ever seen. Still I can’t complain, just seeing a whale in its natural habitat is pretty special.

Eventually, we arrived Puerto Rico. 5 days later and 200 hundred yards in front of one other boat at 4 am. We weren’t first…but we did beat our buddy Snark, even if it was just by 200 yards. Now for Puerto Rico…


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