The Mona Passage
Before we pushed off from Samana, Dominican Republic, one of the main topics in the air between us and our fellow sailors was our upcoming crossing to the south side of Puerto Rico through the infamous Mona Passage. For those not familiar with this crossing, the primary reason why it presents such a challenge to sailors is because of the nearby underwater topography. In the waters just 10 miles East of the Dominican Republic there is a shelf where the depth goes from 15,000 ft to a mere 500 ft in a very short distance. When strong winds come out of the Northeast the deep swells that would normally stay deep become the ocean equivalent of a shorebreak with large waves coming out of the depths to say hello. In order to make sure Bueller and our friends didn’t get caught in Poseidon’s washing machine, we kept our ear on the morning forecast from weather guru, Chris Parker, and discussed our route over drinks with the other salty dogs in the marina.
Initially we intended on staying a full week exploring Samana and the nearby marine park but just three days into our stay we got word from Chris Parker that the wind and swell would be dying down the next evening and that it would likely be our best weather window for the next week and a half. Not wanting to get stuck in one place for so long, we made the call to set sail with a few others from the Rat Pack. Logan volunteered to jump aboard Raven as the captain, Wright, was single-handing not counting his pup Bristol, which left Travis, Jackie, and I aboard Bueller.
Not to disappoint after all that build up, but our 160 mile sail from Samana was largely uneventful minus a few short squalls coming out of the West coast of Puerto Rico. We covered the distance in just over 30 hours and Bueller and our two buddy boats, Raven and Nancy Lou, all dropped anchor in Bahia Salinas and celebrated our safe crossing.
Puerto Rico: La Parguera, Ponce, and Salinas
When Travis and I were planning our rough itinerary a few weeks beforehand, we decided to largely skip Puerto Rico as we had limited time before we had to be in the USVIs to pick up his parents and we figured that we could easily (and cheaply) visit PR on future adventures.
Unfortunately for us, we forgot to get Mother Nature’s stamp of approval on our plan and we soon found that we would have to adjust our calendars. Although we just covered 160 miles in less than two days, our travels along the 100 mile stretch of the south side of Puerto Rico would end up taking us a full ten days to cover. Why so slow? A combination of seemingly relentless trade winds out of the East and the rectangle geography of the island which accelerated their effects created almost constant 25+ kt winds and large waves. I use the word “almost” because the only time when the winds would die down to a manageable 15kts was at night which forced us to make a number of small hops during the night motoring directly into the wind, leaving us sleepy and grumpy (aka “slumpy”) when we finally reached our destination.
Here are a few of the highlights of our time in mainland Puerto Rico:
- Row, row, row your boat – With no fruitful leads on a replacement dinghy motor in the DR, we continued our search at every port we visited in Puerto Rico but nothing suitable was found despite regular prayers to the small engine gods. Our buddy-boat, Raven, graciously lends us his backup outboard which unfortunately has plenty of unexpected problems of its own and though she barely putts along we are grateful to give our arms a rest.
- Solar solutions – Although we’re fairly energy efficient aboard Bueller, we upgrade 3 of our 5 inefficient 30W flexible solar panels with three brand new Renology 100W panels that Jackie brought with her, bumping us up from 150W of juice to a respectable 360W. Our two energy hogs of the refrigerator and laptops now sip contently while we improve our tans.
- Almost sunk by the sink – While underway to La Parguera I pop below and notice water coming out of our cutlery drawer which I note as highly unusual. Further investigation tells us that the braided steel hose connecting our kitchen sink decided to explode leaving our freshwater pump to slowly attempt to make our salon a bathtub. Many days of searching later, Travis tracks down the obscure hose fitting that allows us to replace our slowly dripping MacGyver repair job.
- Stanky leg – With our waste cap still refusing to open and no replacement caps in stock at nearby marine stores, Travis and Logan decide to follow the time-honored sailor tradition of improvisation and they dig through our spare parts bins searching for a solution for our smelly problem. They disappear with Bueller for a few hours and return with a stomach-churning story of using a utility pump and a small oil hand pump to spray the filth overboard in high winds and waves offshore.
- Ghost boat – While night motoring just outside Salinas, Jackie was scanning the far horizon for unexpected markers or vessels we should avoid. As her eyes adjust to the darkness she realizes that there is an unlit boat silently motoring beside us less than 30 feet off our starboard! While I’m trying to decide whether to light them up with our spotlight, the boat leaves as quietly as it arrived and slows down and pulls away into the darkness. Although it was likely just a US Coast Guard drug enforcement boat, we were blown away by how close, quiet, and dark the vessel was and our eyes continued to see it through the night.
- Small world – I message one friend of mine who has family on the island to see if we could meet up and he replies that his cousin and wife happen to live in the small town of Parguera where we just anchored. Rene is an incredible host and welcomes us into his home and offers up showers, internet, and pizza in trade for stories of our travels thus far.
With all that done, we pushed off for Vieques which is part of the Spanish Virgin Islands just off the East coast of Puerto Rico. More on that to come...