Off Crooked Island, Bahamas, July 6? (Barbara Gail)
No July 4th celebration this year! For the last four days, we've weathered 10-16 foot waves, 20-30 knot winds. I have been around boats since the age of two but never seen waves this big. Has been utterly terrifying...also, for the first time in my life have been on the verge of seasickness. Am fine...but hanging onto " fine" by a thread. Though having a good stomach for sailing is about as praiseworthy as having brown hair, for some reason I find it humbling to feel a little queasy. Even Keith of the iron stomach admits that after four days, the rolling is getting old. After taking a single Bonine pill during the worst of the rolling (when we turned to take the waves broad on our side to sail down along a coast), we become avid Bonine fans. I feel like writing a letter to the company. Can picture them reading it, via voiceover with a video of stormy seas, on a commercial. The boat has handled the rough seas beautifully -- and amazingly (of course we have the main sheet double reefed and are only showing a sliver of genoa). Wish I could have taken pictures as we rolled until the gimballed hanging stove stood straight out horizontally from the wall. But needed both hands to hang on. Sleep has been a bit challenging. Still amazing that the boat can right itself from rolling almost all the way horizontal, but it did...several times. We have now veered off course to lay up in relative shelter off Crooked Island, but the winds are perceptible even on the lee side of this low island, and we plan to continue tomorrow.
Off the northern coast of Haiti, July 9??? (Barbara Gail)
The last several days we have ridden out seas ranging up to 18-20-foot and 30-35 knot winds. The mainsail tore in a particularly strong gust. At the same moment, our propeller quit. Several times before this, we've tried to contact land (in search of fuel and shelter), but have been unable to raise a response. Other than three massive cargo ships, we have not seen so much as another boat in seven days. I want all the more to contact someone so they will know roughly where the boat went down...how will my mom ever know what happened to me... At the moment that the prop goes, I find myself thinking about the Mayday instructions on the radio. After hauling in all the sails, expecting to be thrown off at any moment as we roll wildly about without forward momentum, we eventually realize that if wind and seas this strong are coming in the same direction (up to this point they have been almost at right angles), we cannot head directly into them or the propeller simply cannot move us forward. Try a tack slightly off the waves and feel the prop bite into the water. Back to rolling (and porpoising). Remember that Columbus had no engine, and feel better. We start to inch forward (and up and down, and side to side) again. We both collapse, exhausted and soaked, back inside the pilothouse. We still have been unable to obtain a weather report on our dreadful Grundig radio and are are thinking about diverting to St. John in the Virgin Islands simply to buy a global satellite phone to be sure of getting regular weather reports...preferably more reliable than the ones we received in the Bahamas... Keith and I are exhausted from bracing ourselves. We have spent the last two days striving to reach one island after another (Acklins Island, Great Iguana, Something else that escapes me, and Haiti), but failing because of the winds. We aren't too sorry about Haiti, but it is several hundred miles to the first possible port in the Dominican Republic. Because the wind has been mainly within 30 degrees of our hopeful course, and because the mainsail is torn past use, we've had to motorsail much of the time, and have roughly 15 gallons of fuel remaining (from the 130 gallons we took on in Rock Sound less than a week ago). There are only two ports remaining that we can reach.
Doesn't really do it justice.
Fort Libertedad, Dominican Republic -- July 10? (Barbara Gail)
What a lovely rest. A sheltered harbor and amazingly friendly people. Though people who live in what I (in my sheltered perspective) consider amazing rural poverty. Keith, having traveled in rural areas before, is less surprised by this than I am, and does not consider this poverty as everyone has enough to eat. I, on the other hand, note that most of the homes here are 1-2 room clapboard houses with large cracks between the boards (though in a tropical environment this is less of a hardship!). Some people travel 300 miles to their place of work (sleeping with local relatives during the week, returning home for two days, then back to work). But -- and this is a big "but" -- the people in this beautiful, varied country are incredibly happy, friendly, and welcoming. Many of them seem to delight in the simple act of helping a stranger to their shores -- i.e., us. On our first day here, I discover there is no fuel to be had at the port (it does seem odd to have no marine fuel at a marine port, but there it is). A man at the dock recommends a local man, Chu, as the man who can figure this out. Chu arrives and after some calculation, offers a solution involving transporting 180 gallons of diesel in multiple big drums and 6-gallon tanks from a gas station 5 miles away. He will bring these in his car to a small boat at the beach. Local labor will load the boat for as many trips as it takes to bring the diesel to Solace (it is too shallow to bring the boat all the way in).
The "bar" at Puerto Libertador -- a barge that ran aground! !
On the way to the bank, a mere 25 kilometers away, we have to stop the car for a man herding his cows across the road. He has a small stick in his had, which he uses to guide them. I find this absolutely wonderful. It is a fascinating culture where cars, burros, and horses share the roads, almost equally. And mopeds -- mostly "moto-cochons" -- moped taxis for hire roughly every 10 kilometers along the roads. As we drive along, we see young women in their twenties congregating outside small roadside "refrescaterias", wearing tight miniskirts and platform shoes. But between villages we pass older women walking along the farmland carrying produce and other goods in baskets and bowls that they balance on top of their heads. This is truly the stuff of National Geographic and it is utterly fascinating. On their heads. In my halting Spanish, I discover from the deal-making Chu that these people have a verb for "to carry things on your head" (cargar). This I find totally bizarre. I tell Chu, "Creo que yo no poderia cargar" (I do not believe I would be able to carry anything on my head.). When I repeat this to Keith he says Chu was simply too nice to tell me his mental response: "What good are you?"
I have also gone walkabout here, as Keith says -- taking off for two days to see more of the country. The boat being small and Keith and my being unused to the company of others for long stretches of time places a periodic strain on both of us. The town of Monte Cristi, described as "mas turistica" (more tourist-like) than Manzanillo, appears slightly less touristy than expected. There are few cars, some solid houses mixed with the shacks, and many men gathered at bars and docks along the beach. As in Manzanillo, the people are also incredibly friendly. Several miles from Monte Cristi is Morro Mountain. I hike up the mountain until exhausted, then walk across the pass between two peaks to find a small but beautiful beach surrounded by overhanging cliffs. Immediately recall my rock-climbing friend Peter's advice to find overhanging cliffs to climb so if you fall off, at least you won't scrape yourself to death on the way down. The beach is deserted, so I set about climbing them. Naturally, several locals immediately arrive. They begin taking pictures of the crazy American on the cliffs. They use my camera to do so. They shout first to ask me for permission to use the camera and then for directions on how to do it. I shout back answers to both in my broken Spanish, while hanging with my fingertips from the rock. Cannot help help feeling that life is bizarre.
On the way to the mountains, passed an upscale hotel on the coast near the town of Monte Criste. It looked expensive for the budget and have decided to camp (the next day I discover that it is only $10 a night. My new friends must have thought I was quite the destitute soul). Toward nightfall, find a sheltered spot where no one can see me from the beach, on a large flat rock. It is somewhat hard, but I do have a sleeping bag. Have just climbed into it when who should arrive but one of the country's ubiquitous soldiers (have I mentioned these? They are so much a part of the landscape here they have ceased to be remarkable, though to be greeted on arrival by a man with a large double-barreled shotgun does strike one as unusual). He says that one cannot sleep on the beach. Am debating the matter when realize he is not saying it is against the rules. He is saying that on his morning tour, he is likely to find me dead (this with a graphic gesture of a throat being cut). Find this a much more convincing argument. When I say "No tengo dinero" for the hotel, he somewhat reluctantly says I can sleep at the park station / military barracks. When I see the room with four bunk beds, I regret the hotel, but it seems too late to hike the several miles down the mountain and along the road to town in the darkness. The three military personnel feed me on their own food (boiled bananas, broiled fish, rice, and delicious eggs & local mushrooms sauteed in olive oil, garlic, and some unidentifiable herbs) and end up setting up a tent outside the window of their joint bedroom for me (they sleep three to a room, with bunk beds shrouded in mosquito netting). This way, they say, I will have privacy but they can still hear me if I scream. The winds continue to blow strongly all night, but the three have dragged a mattress out to the tent and apart from waking up when the tent tips too far (like the boat), I sleep like a top.
Monte Cristi's Mt. Morro, seen from the ocean.
Walk three miles back to town and find a moto-cochon for the 25-kilometer trip (about six dollars). The bus would have been about 60 cents, but much less direct. By the time I arrive back at Manzanillo, I am glad to see Keith again. ;-)