Nigel North
Tue 3 Feb 2015 04:43

19:54.00N 070:57.00W


The forecast was giving NE’ly 10-15 next day, light enough to cross the Caicos Bank eastwards hopefully  another trip requiring vigilance.  Dawn saw Pinball under sail again heading SE now, briefly back in deep water just for ten miles before turning East onto the shallow Bank once more at WEST SAND PIT.  But the hoisting of the mainsail was a right mess;  first the halyard got caught the wrong side of a mast winch, then a reefing line caught under the boom…twice.   For this very reason there is a rule: never force, always investigate (if unusual resistance), as the power of a winch can easily break things. After three trips  up to the mast to sort it out, the main went up a beaut.  

By 0930 Pinball was back in shallow water, hard on the wind, which was stronger than forecast at nearly 20kts.  Resuming the observation position up forward I was not happy…couldn’t see anything ahead with a 2-3’ chop running in this brisk NE’ly.  The technique for safely traversing the Bank requires wind speeds of less than 15kts to allow vision ahead – visual piloting it’s called.  

I turned back. 

In the Navy there is a much vaunted, if jokily delivered saying: ‘flexibility is the key to modern warfare’.  Same with cruising.  Sometime you’ve just got to change the plan.  It helps to have thought it through earlier of course. But if you can’t go over it, go round it. 

Actually, with decision made, I was much happier anyway out in deep water, not having to be on the lookout for keel breaking coral every second, and continuing SE around the southern edge of the Bank was a longer but easier sail with this wind.  But…to where?

I was  heading for an anchorage on the east side of the Bank, at AMBERGRIS CAY.  A bit daunting, as the exit next day would have been through shoals of Elkhorn coral, requiring spot on visual piloting.  Now out of the question.  So, that  left BIG SAND CAY further east across Turks Passage - a deep water channel on the east side of TCI with strong North setting Equatorial Current. BIG SAND CAY was a good anchorage and jumping off point for the Dominican Republic (DR) in Trade winds, but could we get there?  

I figured it was worth a try.  For a start, I might get some sleep, although ETA would be around 2am, but more importantly, to continue on to the DR – the next proper stop - our timing was now all wrong.  The very strong recommendation by Bruce van Sant, a veteran of over 100 voyages through these islands, was always aim to arrive in DR at first light, when winds and sea are calm due to the overnight lee effect of the landmass.  We would, at best, be arriving at dusk!  BIG SAND CAY then. 

Rounding the southern end of CAICOS BANK in the dark meant a hard tack into wind, steering by hand now for efficiency,  some twenty miles downwind of the Cay.  With the wind running against current, the seas steadily built to a good 2m, but I was hoping for some help from the current to push us northwards.  If it did, it wasn’t noticeable!  It was a hard tack against the sea, but getting tired on the wheel I set up the windvane steering, which actually did just as good a job as I, maybe better.  But by midnight it was clear we were not going to make it as winds and sea were now Force 5-6 – too strong for effective tacking. OK, I can take a hint. DR then!   Some decisions make themselves.. 

Laying off the wind a couple of points was a big relief, but only after reefing the genoa and main.  Peace!  The Plan now was to make as much easting as possible whilst winds were NE’ly, before turning almost south for DR.  Forecast gave Easterlies next day, so this would work as long as I could get far enough east tonight. It wasn’t just the wind, but also the Equatorial Current setting NW against us so, get east Skipper.  By 0400 it was possible to ease a bit more off the wind onto a pleasant reach and still make good easting.

There then started some pretty unprofessional chatter on VHF #16 by two US boats clearly in company, talking about another boat.  With lights behind me, I guessed it was me they were going on about, but neither were giving AIS positions, whereas I was.  They slowly angled off south on a direct rhumb line to DR, yapping as they went.  Strangely, I couldn’t pick them up on radar either.  No radar reflectors? 

Dawn brought less wind veering easterly as forecast, but now we had to start heading more to the south  with just 40 miles to go, and by mid morning the mountains of DR were clearly, impressively visible.  Wow! 

Breakfast porridge.  Brunch, bacon, egg and plantain banana wrap.  I’m really into tortillas.  Haven’t touched bread since UK, except for Christa’s gifts. 


The entrance to the mile deep inlet at Luperόn is narrow, with shoals either side.   Do I want to be negotiating this at dusk?! 

As the wind gently veered east and eased, Pinball followed dutifully in a curve, and I wondered if we’d  ever make it on one tack.  But later as we neared this substantial landmass it backed off again such that we were downwind on final approach, and earlier than feared.  Decision:  go in now before dark. 

Bruce van Sant’s recommended route in through the entrance was followed meticulously, so when we ran aground in mud I was delighted.  Months of inland waterway cruising on Florida’s ICW had long taught how to get Pinball off again, but enough was enough.  I dropped anchor just off route at the mouth of another inlet outside, in 4m, despite the urgings of a couple of local fishermen in a rowboat to go on through.  Mañana! 

Now had two problems:  where exactly was the channel through, left or right of my failed attempt? Secondly, I had no courtesy flag for the DR – but figured I could make one out of a spare TCI flag, as half of it was right, just needed some blue squares for the other. 

As often happens, both problems vapourised with the appearance of ‘PAPO’ next morning in his long white  workboat.  ‘You haff Dominican flag?’   Ten dollars. Bargain.   ‘Ok, follow me.’

He seemed to be heading straight for where I had grounded, but actually was a bit further right – where on my chart it showed shallow!   No problemo… 5m all the way!  (I need to see more than 1.2m on the depth guage, with a 6’ draft)  Inside were dozens of boats, around sixty I’d say.  This is very popular with cruisers.  Papo put PW on a mooring, fair enough for now I thought, but at the very reasonable rate of $2 per day.   $15 in Florida!

Bienvenidos a Republica Dominicana!



Papo brought Customs out in his longboat.  All five of them, led by the Port Captain in full dress uniform looking rather like an Italian Naval Officer.  The cabin was full!  Papo, unofficial Master of Ceremonies, sat in the companionway, acting as interpreter.  He’d taught himself English, working here with the cruisers.  Slowly, we went through the questions, and at each answer four heads would bow to the task of writing their own version onto blank paper.  The Port Captain, aloof and unsmiling, watched.  The others, by contrast,  were friendly and welcoming and one fresh-faced young official, on hearing I was ex Navy, happily informed me that he was too, as was the Port Captain.  Clearly the latter spoke not a word of English.  Tea was refused.  After half an hour, the Port Captain suddenly arose from his uncomfortable position hard up against my bedding and toolbag, a signal to depart, and they all clattered out up the companionway, whilst I greased the palm of one of them, as was the custom.  I have no idea what or who they represented. 

‘You go in now, Immigration waiting for you’  Papo instructed, before motoring off with them.  

I was met by a smiling young man speaking very good English outside the Immigration portacabin, and taken through the necessaries.  As he was dressed in ordinary clothes I thought for a moment he was just being pleasant, but twigged as we made for the office,  after which he took me next door to see the next in line, an older man, pleasant but limited English, who enscribed my details once more.  I  was told to return on Tuesday to visit someone else who was ‘working’ until then.  

As I came out a chap across the road reacted and came towards me. 

‘I check your boat’ he said. 

‘No its ok, I don’t need it checked’ I countered warily.  He smiled graciously but was not deterred.  I am used to offers of work on my boat, fair enough, but really didn’t need anyone checking it for me.  He repeated his offer.

‘No’, I said firmly. ‘I don’t want my boat checked. I check my boat, no one else!’

Still he persisted.  It was only when he mentioned vegetables that it dawned on me that he was not some guy looking for easy dollars but the Agriculture Inspector pursuing his rightful business.  Whoops!

Through his broken English we arranged to meet at 2pm so that I could have a look round town first. 

Back on the boat, 2pm came and went.  Well, this is the DR.  Mañana! 

By nearly 3pm it occurred to me that he might be expecting me to ferry him out here. So why didn’t he come out with the other five then?!   I got in Perky and motored in; sure enough, there he was by Immigration.

‘I not see you’ he said mildly. 

I explained how I couldn’t start the outboard and apologised.  The lies, the lies…! 

He brought with him his wife or so I thought he said, and we all climbed into Perky with some difficulty as neither of them were what you might call athletic.  Nor were they wildly impressed to be climbing into a soggy dinghy, and Gladys wisely removed her dainty sandals.  Mr Ag didn’t.   

It is quite a long haul to Pinball, as he is moored at the other end of the inlet, more than half a mile distant.  It was now mid afternoon, and as usual the prevailing east wind was at its maximum, blowing briskly against us, which in a dinghy means spray. Lots of it.  I was going about as slowly as you can without stalling the engine to minimise it, but even so, they were getting regularly doused!  I, of course, was alright! 

Finally reaching the boat after some encouraging words from me  on the way, I instructed them on what to hold to climb up Pinballs hull, and watched as Gladys went up on her knees – not recommended.  On board I had my fruit and veg out on display like it was a summer fete, and they were duly inspected, looking for I know not what. 

‘This is all?’ 

‘Umm… oh yes, there is a lettuce!’ I said lifting the fridge hatch.  ‘and broccoli’. 

In fear of imminent  removal, I had porked out at lunchtime on TWO lettuce and tomato wraps, with corned beef.  I needn’t have feared. 

‘You keep this on the boat?’  Therein lay the hint..

On the way back in it transpired that Gladys – the in-tow interpreter – was not his wife, and offered to do my laundry.  Deal! 


Of the 60 odd boats on moorings or at anchor here, at least half are empty and deserted by their owners.   A steady trickle come and go, mainly heading for Puerto Rico and the Virgins – both USofA territory.   Some are heading back to Florida, like the hilarious Tom in HORNBLOWER TOO next door. 

The dinghy dock, off a long jetty, is a wooden affair that has semi collapsed on one side.  People don’t lock their dinghies here, which is unusual.  The jetty is guarded, loosely. 

I went up to the only bank in town, jammed full of people waiting half an hour each, and tried the ATM machine. 

Transaction cancelled’.  Tried again, for less dosh. 

Transaction cancelled’  Nothing worked, wasn’t the pin number either, it just cancelled me out right at the end. 

A well rounded Dutch guy was behind me, so moved aside for him.  In good English he explained how he had had the same problem when he arrived here years ago.  ‘I checked it out’ he explained.  ‘I found out that they block foreign cards, but if you ask the bank they say it will work.  It won’t!’  I asked him how to get money, and he told of an internet shop down the road which changes money, and accepts cheques.   I wasn’t desperate as in a moment of prescience,  I’d drawn out a load of USD in TCI..just in case. 

Luperόn consists of two or three rough roads running parallel a couple of house- widths apart, with small shops and businesses amongst the small houses either side.  Everyone I met was helpful.  Stop anyone, and if they can understand you, they help you.   90% of the traffic – and noise – is down to all the small motorbikes - motoconchos - in various states of disrepair from newish to semi-dismantled, roaring up and down the high street, just like I used to.  The best bikes got the best looking girls on the back if seemed, same the world over eh.  Every now and then a noisy hullaballoo emanating from a car mounted loudspeaker would herald not a prospective candidate for some election as I first thought, but a half truck with vegetables for sale in the back, fresh from the farms I guess.  Ferrell dogs roamed at will, reminding me of Los Palmas in the Canaries.   Out on the jetty, sun-blackened fishermen came and went in their rough hand-built fibreglass boats daily, though I have yet to see where they sell their catches. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015      THEN AN AMAZING THING…

Like yesterday, a bit cloudy, humid, hot last night and slept on top of the sleeping bag as usual.   Still, a fair bit of sun, enough to keep the fridge going.   Spent the entire morning writing up the blog which is way behind, disrupted such as it was by the loss of my bag in TCI.  PAPO came past, looking for business, said no thanks.   Tom,  next boat, a Beneteaux, was up and we had a conversation boat to boat, and he mentioned Nicaragua and a great place to go  there, so later rowed across and had a coffee with him while he talked about it, and Cuba too – how he’d been knocked down, and then very nearly run down by a steamer 30’ away.   He leant me a couple of books on Cuba and Belize/Mexico’s Caribbean coast.  Tired from the writing, had to force myself out the door at 2.30 to meet Gorgeous Gladys to recover my washing.  She was there waiting by the Immigration hut.  I teased her about the price, then paid the $10 she’d asked.  Once again, she asked if I was going to Wendy’s – wants another free drink.  This time I said no, and meant it as I had to see whoever it was I’d missed because they weren’t there in the Immigration Office on my arrival. 

 It was a lady, quite pleasant, spoke a little English, wrote details of the boat down, not of me, $10 por favor.  Let me see, that must be how many now?  Five came on the boat, then went to see a fluent English speaking guy in the first office, then nextdoor for the older bloke, then got intercepted outside by the agriculture inspector (with Gladys in tow), now this lady.  That’s nine people, at a cost of about $120 all told, plus the ‘expected gift’ of $25 I put in.  $145.  That’s more than TCI!  And I think it only lasts for 30 days.  

After that, shot out and headed up the street carrying my washing, to avoid being ‘picked up’ again by Gladys who has been stalking me since her brief visit to Pinball, and went in Wendy’s to wifi.  Wendy’s is a bar run by a pony-tailed silver haired American drop-out married to a local, who speaks fluent Spanish, just like me. Uh?

Paid my credit card bill online.   Then, bang flash wallop, there’s this email from TANIBETH saying THEY’VE GOT MY BAG!   OMG.  This is amazing.  I had been very grown up about it, didn’t cry, let it go, put it down to experience, dealt with it and moved on.  Now….I’ve got to move back again!  So I wrote a slightly gushy email back, which duly disappeared off screen, finally got it back know not how, tried to send it, not connected anymore!  Try again.  No.  Refuses to connect.  Everyone else in Wendy’s is on it just fine, no not me.  Not when I REALLY need it.  So, I copy the email, save it, shut down and try and restart.  ‘DO NOT SHUT DOWN YOUR COMPUTER WHILST 47 UPDATES ARE BEING DOWNLOADED’.  Well you couldn’t make this up.  Sat there for the best part of an hour, quietly fuming, its dark now and pouring with rain,  didn’t bring the waterproof bag for the computer did I, 37 UPDATES to go , on and on.  WHY ME?  Finally, FINALLY, its done.  No it isn’t.  Another wait whilst it counts down again!  Are AppleMacs like this?  Maybe its worth the mortgage?   

I get on the wifi again and send it.  Not sure how, but then I’m looking right at Tanibeth’s picture, on Skype.  Somehow she’s got herself accepted on my Skype.  I call her.  We talk, difficult, noisy, my earphones are rubbish, but slowly the story comes out:  her boyfriend LOST his bloody phone with MY NUMBER on it the same day this all happened, so couldn’t ring.      But good news.  Except I now have to sail all the way back again to collect it. 

Just as I’m trying to conclude this conversation, this boozed up American twat comes up and starts abusing me for being in the way of the film they want to watch, nice turn of language he uses too.  Some Yanks are real pricks.  I was coldly English of course.  ‘Enjoy your film’ I hissed on the way out.  Now, Jason Bourne would have decapitated him.   

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Dream:  I’m looking down at the floor, or ground, which is very wet as its raining hard, and these worms appear coming out of the soggy ground.  All around ‘things’ are wriggling out of the sodden ground.  A bit later I notice huge great worms now, several feet long and thick as a wrist coming out of these holes, or drains.  I feel I ought to tell someone, let them know what’s going on.  These creatures are disgusting.

Just had porridge and ‘knock knock’!  Its Craig and Christa!  Fantastic. Hug for Christa; ‘Oh, I don’t get one then?’ says Craig.  OK he gets one too.   We chat for an hour or so, then they potter off.  Their old outboard really is the noisiest ever, you can still hear it half a mile away.   Arrange to meet for a meal later, at 5pm.  Good! 

The meal in ‘the most expensive restaurant in town’ according to Craig, was not bad, chicken and chips with some salad.  Bought a bottle of wine, which was a big mistake as I spent the whole evening with nose running like a river as it does on alcohol, and no handkerchief.   They talked I listened, and wiped away.   Cost:  Peso500 for the wine, about $11, and P200 for the meal.  Motored back, Craig overtaking me with his newish 5HP outboard.  Smartie..

Thursday 29 Jan 2015

Went ashore after porridge, Craig and Christa already on their way in, then pass them coming back again (‘to get the key’),  then meet on the dock.  ‘I had the key in my pocket anyway’ says Craig - recognizable from miles away by the shock of grey hair which stands in strict defiance of gravity. 

I spend hours and hours on wifi in Wendy’s getting weather, Skypeing family to no avail, Tanibeth to tell her of my arrival on Tuesday (which I may well now have to change), FB, and filing some of the backlogged Blog – now up to Long Island.   All on one Coke, which had the effect of making me go to the loo every ten minutes..  Uh? 

Drop in on Simunye on the way back, and are bullied into staying for a meal cooked by Craig – which was very good!  All veg of course.  Impressed. Oh, egg as well.  I liked their cabin, just needs to be made to work again.  The previous owner seems to have cut most of the wires. 

Friday, January 30, 2015     CLOUDY

Been ‘on’ the weather last two days, trying to figure when to go back up to TCI, which is NW of here.  I had Monday 2 Feb down – NE wind but its going to die pm and the Sat Sun before are very windy, gusts to 35, so can’t really go earlier.  So got a feeling if I go first thing Monday I’ll get a morning of wind then have to motor the rest.  So, maybe have to wait a bit longer..  Just need a good 24hours of East!  You can guarantee soon as I get there there’ll be nothing but east.  

Monday, February 2, 2015

Bright sunny day – at last!  A temporary end to the bad weather? 

Dream:  I’m in a sort of big cake shop, one of those posh ones outdoors under glass, lots of people shoving through, and I’m with someone.  I see something I’d like, but somehow don’t get it.  I try for another piece nearer the door and manage to upset a huge pie that someone else is interested in, and it falls.  The person is not very happy with me.  I pick up the pieces, making out that its not so bad after all and sort of put it back together on the shelf. 

Yesterday and Saturday spent mainly writing up the blog, but Craig and Christa have returned pm and knocked on the hull,  back from their unsuccessful jaunt to Puerta Plata to get US Visas, and presented me with a whole home-baked loaf, which didn’t last long. Apparently…it’s a long complex story…the code they got from their bank payment for the visas didn’t work in the online application.  They’ve got to go back.     

A guy who came on their boat said their mast was not vertical and needed sorting out before they sail.  I recommended they find a rigger to confirm this first.  On passing today I saw the same guy sorting it out for them – for a bottle of rum. 

Today I sorted all the gash out – 2 big bags plus 2 smaller, took out what was ditchable at sea, cut and crushed the rest and re-bagged it, and took half in at dusk to the concrete dump.  The wind has been strong all day, over 20 knots, so a good job we didn’t sail for TCI  I think, and with a 9' N swell running too.  Wednesday is looking better.  Tomorrow Tuesday I will go in and organise clearing out with Customs, and everyone else.  Apparently it’s a re-run of arrival, they visit the boat for goodness sake!  Have to count my potatoes again..