Thursday, March 24, 2016

Crossing the Mona

The crossing from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico is considered one of the more difficult crossings.  Between the Equatorial current (3/4 - 1 1/2 kts), Puerto Rican Trench (second deepest "hole in the ocean") and the shoals, it can get tricky. Fellow sailors worry about this section for years in advance. Others ship their boat to avoid it. "I did it once. I don't need to do it again."  I guess I left kind of oblivious to this section of our trip. 

Again, we're following the advice in Bruce VanSant's, "The Gentleman's Guide to Passage's South" or as sailor's refer to it, "thornless". As we left the Bahamas, I started studying the VanSant book. He made it sound easy:  wait for a weather window, use this route, take advantage of the night lee (depart Samana, Dominican Republic at night.  Arrive on the coast of Puerto Rico at night).  We're always aware of the big picture but usually focus our planning the next two to three legs. Only as it got closer and I realized it would be 32 hours, our longest yet, did it start to get serious. 

To help break up this trip, I broke it down into 7 legs in my mind:  
Bahia de Samana
Punta Macao
Hourglass shoals
Big freaking Mona
Isla Desecheo
Mayaguez/Tourmaline Reef
Puerto Real! (Anchorage & customs)

The plan:  147 miles / 4.5 kts average = 33 hours.  If we depart the marina before 7:00 pm (sunset), cross the bahia after dark when the winds should be decreasing, pass Punta Macao by 8:00 am to avoid the "shock wave", turn to clear the hourglass shoals, wear my big girl panties across the Mona, be in the lee of Puerto Rico by Isla Desecheo, and turn inside the reef at Mayaguez, we'll arrive at the anchorage at 4:00 am.  2 hours to spare.  Wait for sunrise.  Easy peasy.


Weather:  We're looking for a forecast of less than 15 kts (lessening SE trades, preferably clocking).  This should result in waves less than 4 ft, if we give the water a few days to lie down.  (Check out to see how wind affects the Mona & to see the current).  We have a Sun-Mon forecast from PocketGrib and Chris Parker that look promising. CP forecast is: "Mildest E-bound DR-MonaPsg is about a 24hr opportunity to depart Mon21 evening and arrive by about Sunset Tue22 (problem Mon21 is brisk afternoon winds mainly within 90mi of if you're elsewhere then maybe travel beginning Mon21 morning is OK)."  We stick with the original plan to depart Sunday evening before sunset (navigating marina in daylight) to clear Machao by 8:00 am. We're concerned that waiting until Monday night won't get us across before the winds start to build again.  We opt for a rough ride in the beginning (when we're rested) for better weather on our arrival (when we're tired but should be in the lee).

I wasn't going to write a separate blog on this crossing. We sleep in 3 hour shifts.  We eat "road trip" food (sugar & carbs).  We sail when we can. We mostly motor sail. It's kinda rough in open water.  There are very few pics (the ocean is blue & it's dark at night).  You've read all of that.  This was just another crossing.  But as soon as we arrived a friend said, "Your longest crossing. I can't wait to read the blog!"  I ask The Captain if he wants to write it.  "It was rough.  It was smooth.  It was rough.  It got smooth.  We're tired."  (And that's why he doesn't write the blog). Dang it. I usually write or take notes as we go. I got nothing, so using my Tweets, I reconstructed our trip:

We have our despacho at 5:00 pm. Our friends from Moorahme arrive at 5:30 pm to see us off. We clear the marina by 6:30 pm. 

Sun starting to set on the Bahia

Bahia de Samana, Sunday:  First Mate is on first shift (apparently that's what First Mate means).  The Bahia is rough because we still have 15 kts of wind on the nose!  We kind of expected this from watching other boats leave. It is a (relatively) shallow bay with the trade winds off the Atlantic funneling down the bay.  We don't discuss it.  Some things are better left unsaid, but I'm thinking, if it's going to be like this, this is going to SUUUUCKKKKK.  The Captain finally says, maybe we should consider dropping anchor at Cayo Leventado Island (or Bacardi Island to the locals, because they used to film commercials there) to let the winds die down a little.   But we only have 1 hr wiggle room to be at Punta Macao by 8:00 am.  Onward.  He heads down for a nap.  Moorahme calls on the radio to see how we're doing.

We've decided to stick to the shipping channel instead of heading across the bay and even it is poorly marked.  I notice a white light up ahead that doesn't appear to be moving.  I point it out to the Captain.  He thinks it's a fishermen and we turn slightly to starboard (and off the channel).  It looks like the light is underwater?  Is it a boat?  Is someone in trouble?  The Captain decides he doesn't want to get any closer, just in case.  We don't hear any voices but he's sure he sees the hull of a fishing boat.  If they needed assistance they would wave the light.  Or it could be Nemo's submarine.  Weird.  (Shining a flashlight in the water attracts fish, we're told.  It hasn't worked for us, but we're impatient.)   Did I mention it's rough for the first 3 hours?  This is a big ass bay.  We were sleep deprived when we arrived, so I guess I don't remember that.

We pass Miches with The Captain at the helm. The genoa is unfurled.  It smooths out along the southern coast of the bay.  Motorsailing with two engines.

Tweet, Sun 23:57:  "Wooh!  Nice nap.  Winds were 20 on the nose with decent sized waves.  Down to 5 kts, decent ride, big moon.  Just past Miches.  Genoa up!"  About 2:00 am, I hear a clunk, clunk, clunk and we suddenly slow from 5 kts to 2.5 kts!  We've hit something.  I wake up the Captain, who actually had fallen asleep and didn't hear it.  We slow to idle and he can see the fishing line around the starboard engine.  Luckily, on our boat, he can reach down into the engine well and cut it off, but an attached float makes it a little more difficult.  The engine is powered back up but we're still slow.  There's more.  I can smell the fish.  A flashlight off the stern shows we are still trailing a line with floats.  It's on the rudder.  The Captain heads down the back step with a boat hook and the "extra sharp" cockpit knife that is saved for such occasions.  "Can we talk about this?"  "I have on a PFD and tether.  Here, hold the flashlight."  He cuts it loose.  We're back to 5 kts.  The Captain heads back down below.  I think about how that could have been so much worse.  And the fishermen (and his family) who's day (or week) will be ruined when he discovered his net full of fish isn't were he left it.

Punta Macao, Monday:  Tweet 5:58 am:  "Shift change!  Sunrise.  Passing Punta Macao (#thornless anchorage).  Turning for PR.  Here we go!"  I pop up from my shift as we're passing Punta Macao, a possible anchorage and the jumping off point for the hourglass shoals. As the Captain disappears below, I make the 30 degree turn.

Hourglass shoals:  The turn out puts us straight into the wind and waves.  We tack out for a better ride and more speed.  We end up making 3-4 tacks before the wind clocked around enough to turn direct for Isla Desecheo.  It's deceiving on the charts.  At 35 miles, it takes us take a couple shift changes to clear it. "We're still at the hourglass?!"

In the Mona:  We're in the middle of the Mona during the day, when the winds can be their strongest.  Sometimes it's nice to see what's around you. Sometimes it's not.  We've decided night sailing isn't so bad.  We'd rather not watch the big waves crash around us.  (Although the waves averaged 3-4 ft with the ocassional 6, but even a few small ones dumped us off the back, throwing spray as far as the top hatches.  Unusual for us.)  At some point, we shut down one engine and we're motor sailing on one.  The Captain is concerned with our fuel consumption. If we run both engines, which average 1 gal/hr/engine and we motor for 33 hours, then we'll use 66 gallons.  (It's rare that we have to motor on both engines.  Luperon to Samana comes to mind.). We have an 55 gallon tank plus 12 gallons in jerry cans.  He keeps trying to squeeze the fuel from the jerry cans into the fuel tank while I'm sitting at the helm.  The smell bothers me, so at one point, I hop up and retreat into the cabin.  As I turn around to close the door, he steps backward, trips on the jack line (a safety feature to keep us on the boat!) with the 6 gallon jerry can of fuel in his hand and at one point seems horizontal, similar to a Wile E. Coyote.  I picture all the ways this can go wrong.  Hit his head.  Break a bone.  SPILL THE FUEL!  Somehow he recovers, and smiles.  No comment.  (See Stats below for actual fuel consumption).

Tweet, Mon 11:16 am:  "The DR is a big island!  We can still see it!  (I'm grumpy because U said "sleep an extra 1/2 hr" then woke me up in 2 1/2 hrs!)"

The Mona.  It's big and blue...

Tweet:  A weather report to our friends on Moorahme, who are departing today. "Beth, Cumulus on the NE horizon @ sunrise but dissipated.  Blue skies.  Wind SE @ 10.  8-9 sec, 3 ft waves.  Bring us pizza."

Tweet, Mon 12:19 pm:  "Singing, "Hey Mona, Mona" to Billy Idol's "Monie, Monie."  This crossing is sponsored by Diet Coke & Ferrero chocolate.  (Can you tell?). 

It took me 14 hours to come up with Billy Idol.  I kept trying to sing it for The Captain so he could name the artist, but he kept saying, "That's enough of THAT."  When I finally yelled, "Billy Idol," he replied, "That's not the original artist.  He must have rerecorded it."  Dang it!  It was actually a mish-mash of two songs that I never figured out.  

Before we left, we spent the last of our peso's in the marina market which resulted in a bottle of Rum, 1 Lays Stacks, a bag of Cheetos, 4 4-packs of Ferrero Mon Cheri hazelnut chocolates and 6 bottles of Diet Coke.  "Yes, we know that is bad for us.  It's the MONA!"  

Mellow girl

Amelia the Cat:  Amelia the Cat is starting to get anxious (longer, rougher passages) so Dad gives her some medication. When I wake up, she isn't laying next to me anymore.  She is out in the cockpit with Dad!  
"It's kind of rough for her to be out here." 
"I put her back in 3 times. She keeps coming back out!"  
"Chill, Mom. It's cool."

I had hoped to listen to Justin Cronin's "The Twelve" audiobook, because the sequel is coming out soon.  However, my iphone (After several weeks, I finely got the OverDrive app to work.  OverDrive sucks, by the way) downloaded random chapters--1, 3, 6, 12.  Helpful.  So I read most of Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child's "Dance of Death".  Yes, it can be difficult to read underway, but I've found increasing the font on my Kindle AND increasing the spacing makes it easier. 

Tweet, Mon 16:37 pm:  "25 miles to Isle of Desecho & the lee of PR.  58 to Puerto Real.  Winds picked up to 10 but we're still doing good."  I got a glimpse of the island right before the sun set.  We were planning on going south of it, but in the interest of a smooth ride, I had turned a course to the north, hoping The Captain could sleep.  "You're welcome."

We get a text on the Iridium from our float plan family member.  The Iridium pings them our location every 4 hours.  "Is everything OK, this last one shows you back where you started."  Glad we pay a lot of money for that!  And that's why we don't allow more people access to this info--they would just worry needlessly when the electronics go wanky.

Tweet, Mon 19:54 pm:  "Shift change.  Full Moon.  Winds died from 16 to 8.  Ride improving.  43 miles to go."

Under the Captain's watch, the winds clocked around to the north (behind us) to 18-20 kts and we were doing 6.5+ kts after reducing the engine to idle!  THAT wasn't in the forecast.  Anxious to get to the lee past Isle of Desecheo, he lets it ride (instead of maintaining 4.5 kts that will delay our arrival at the anchorage until sunrise).

Isla Desecheo

Isla Desecheo:  Tweet, Mon 22:34 pm:  "Past Isle of Desecheo.  Lights of PR in the distance!  30 miles to go."  The Captain woke me up at Isla Desecheo because he couldn't keep his eyes open. I pop out. He disappears. No briefing. It's dark but with a full moon.  I glance around and see an island behind us. "Umm, did you see that island?  Hello?"  Snoring. (He called it the "Lost" island because it kept moving. "We were motoring toward it, but never got any closer!")

(The tweet that didn't get tweeted:  "Who ate all the cheezy poofs?!")

Tweet, Tuesday 1:06 am:  "Wrapping up night #2.  Capt doesn't sleep well underway.  Hour here & there.  He's finally out cold.  Poor thing!"

I wake the Captain up to cross over the genoa.  The wind has shifted and we're back winded.  "Let's just furl it."  Huh?  When the Captain goes to furl the genoa, it is sticking.  Not good.  He works it in & out and gets it mostly furled.  (Later, after messing with it some more, he got it loosely furled.)  

Facebook 1:12 am:  (INTERNET!). The lights of a city at night from a distance.  I've missed that.  I had a student who was a sim tech.  On his first night flight he said, "The twinkle!  That's what I'm missing!" Passing Rincon Beach, Puerto Rico.

Inside Tourmaline Reef

Approaching Mayaguez (landfall and possible anchorage):  I let him sleep 4 hrs then wake him up. "The chartplotter & iPad have different routing loaded. You need to be inside that reef up ahead. Good night." 
"Wait, what?  Where are we?  Hello?"  Snoring

At one point, I roll over and hear the engine power decrease.  The Captain peeks down and says we are near the anchorage so we are just crawling along.  I wake up again, an unknown amount of time later, and the boat is silent.  No engine.  No wind.  No anchor?!  "Captain?"  "CAPTAIN?!"  "I'm awake!  I was asleep, but now I'm awake!"  I bolt into the cockpit to see where we are.  He had shut everything down and we were drifting at 0.2 kts towards the reef 5 miles away.  "Lot's of time.  It would be sunrise before we made it out there."  Uh, huh.  My turn.

Facebook 6:00 am:  "Been sitting outside the harbor since 4:40 am waiting for sunrise.  Just watched the moon set.  Pretty!  I hope they let the US citizens back in without too much hassle :-/"

6:25 am Good morning, land!

Facebook, Tues 7:58 am.  Anchored. We did it. We crossed the Mona. A little rough when the wind got above 10 kts. We saw one other sailboat headed north and only two AIS targets. Lonely out there. Fishermen gave us big waves as we entered the harbor. That was nice. Coffee and brownies while we wait for Customs to return our call. We're a little punch drunk. Probably shouldn't be operating heavy machinery!  Guess we'll crash later.

Our longest and first 2-nighter. Things get interesting after 24 hrs.  Two punch drunk people driving their house.  The FAA wouldn't approve.  The whole trip is a blur, seeming like one really LONG night.  We still don't know what day it is.  We lost one in there somewhere.

After anchoring, breakfast, naps & customs, I head out on deck to see what The Captain found with the roller furler.  Our spare halyard got snagged on the top of the furler & was cut mostly through--and was still caught.  He was in the middle of a) contemplating how to get it down & b) trying to figure out how to attach a line to it, to make running the new halyard easier.  I was contemplating going up the mast (which we need to do anyway, because our anchor light is out).  While explaining all this to me, he turned away and the halyard severed, brushing by me as it landed at my feet.  "Got it!"  Huh?

Working on boats in exotic places.  PUERTO RICO!

Stats:  Total time 35.1, average speed 4.5 kts, total mileage 152.8.  1/4 of trip motored on 2 engines, 1/4 motor-sailed 2-engine & genoa, 1/2 motor-sail 1 engine & genoa.  Fuel burn 20 gallons!

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