Nigel North
Sat 28 Mar 2015 18:50




A lot of folk don’t go a wow on Luperon,  especially Americans.  Tom of HORNBLOWER TOO for instance,  would get very hot under the collar about either CUSTOMS, or else lack of a sewage system.  Craig on SIMUNYE wasn’t too enamoured either.  Admittedly, the ridiculously long winded and complex ‘clearing in and out’ procedures, mixed with expected ‘gifts’ and an eye-watering number of people piling onto your boat, does not leave a favourable impression as it really is preposterous.  But that’s the Dominican Republic.  Luperon itself is just a shanty town attached to the pulsing artery of the jetty and dinghy dock, just poor people trying to make a living without pushing it, as so many places do when faced with people in boats.  But they are a happy lot generally, and very friendly to us foreigners, you only have to ask for something and someone somewhere will probably find it for you.   And unlike the Turks and Caicos Islands, they grow their own food.

 You can be sitting having a cool drink in Wendy’s, or JR’s, when a cacophony of noise will erupt from a loud hailer strapped to the top of a pick-up driving slowly past in the manner of local politicians at election time, except its just a couple of guys with veg to sell off the back, and good stuff it is too, and cheap.  What shops there are, are small and limited, but not expensive.  And if there’s a young helper there, you will be escorted around and given every attention whilst they practise their English on you, in the most pleasant and non pushy way.   Most will accept US $ and make a bit on the deal of course. 

We are not the only boats here.   Many of the local men are fishermen, working out of crudely crafted open boats not much bigger than a canoe, a few with noisy outboards but most rowing  the mile or more out to the inlet daily, and if its the afternoon against a very stiff sea breeze, so taking them ages and hugging the mangroves.  You can’t help but admire their tenacity and sense of independence as they bend to the oars.   Surprisingly they don’t seem to resent the presence of three dozen shiny boats in their waters, there is an acceptance, a symbiotic acceptance that brings in much needed money to the township. But not a lot of it.  For Cruisers don’t like spending money. 

I like Luperon, and will go back. 

Monday 16 March 2015


In Bruce van Sant’s guide to heading South, he makes a clear statement about leaving Luperon  and heading east towards Puerto Rico. ‘GO IN LESS THAN FIFTEEN KNOTS, WITH NO NORTHERLY SWELL, WITH A FORECAST WINDOW LASTING THREE DAYS FOR SAMANA, OR SIX DAYS FOR PUERTO RICO.   

After an entire month of strong easterlies making  progress east a feat of endurance,  at last we had lighter winds lasting more than a few hours.  But there was a Northerly swell of 1-2m.    “No northerly swell.  Zilch”  his exact words. 

I agonised over this.

I really wanted to go.  Yesterday I had cleared out, stowed the dinghy, lashed everything down, and prepared for a night departure in the early hours.  But there WAS a Northerly swell!  If I went I would be ignoring the advice of The Master.   If you ignore good advice then you are a fool, I was thinking to myself.   By bed time I had persuaded myself to be prudent and stay a few more days. 

But then, waking at 0300, I looked out at the inky black still night, said ‘Ah ********, I’m going’ and set to it.  It was not as if this was  a hasty decision, quite the opposite, I was sick to death of thinking about it.  And the thought of having to clear back IN, with all that entails, and explaining to the pugnacious Commandante that I hadn’t gone because there was a bit of swell out there, was just too much.  Sod it.

Motoring out of a crowded anchorage on a dark moonless night is not exactly easy.  At first I had the Deck Light and Steaming light on, both illuminating the foredeck nicely but blinding me to everything beyond, so they went off. But even the navigation lights on the bow made seeing parked yachts ahead really difficult, and avoiding spare mooring buoys impossible, I would just have to trust to luck!  But we made it out, and didn’t run aground in the narrow bit.  

Then just as Pinball was emerging from the narrow entrance and coming out into the inlet proper, I noticed a small fishing canoe slide past our side just 12’ away – no light and I had not seen him.   The occupant said not a word..    I did though, to myself that is. 

The point about leaving at this ungodly hour – 4am – is that the heat being given off by the Dominican Republic landmass supresses the gradient winds at night - which would normally be on the nose - allowing progress under engine in reasonably flat seas.   You can look at forecasts til you’re blue in the face but its not until you’re out there that you find out what its really like.

Motoring out to seaward the swell wasn’t at all bad, a bit rolly but heh.  Pinball can handle that.    This was going to work! 

It was 130nm to Samaná, and I reckoned I could do it in one, no stops so no need to use rolly anchorages as long as I kept going.  

By mid morning the swell had lengthened, ie waves further apart which is much more pleasant, and motor-sailing in tacks of 30˚ either side of the wind with just the mainsail up.  This gives some assistance to the engine, reducing fuel consumption a fair bit, but needs engine power to hold the heading.  Take the engine out, and the very best Pinball can manage is 45˚ off the wind, and that’s a struggle and barely worth it as the speed is only 3.5kts, less in any sea.     

Pinball was following the coast which curved from headland to headland, with the wind following the curves of the coast.  Most benign were the bays,  it was the headlands that were likely to give trouble with windspeeds doubled and rough water.  But we got round them all without too much of a problem, conditions really were gentle. 

Lunch was a bacon egg bap, then found there was smoke in the cabin, so checked the engine, but it was fine.  Burning bacon fat I guess.  Chill out! 

Next headland was Cabo Francés Viejo,  and likely to be the worst to round, and sure enough the winds picked up a treat on the approach but then the actual rounding was a dream.  No problem, really pleasant Force 4 stuff.  Lucky. 

Before turning west downwind into Samaná Bay – a long finger of water running east west – there were two more headlands to get round which I was now able to sail, and would be another overnight passage.  Decision was to head straight across, instead of following the land as I had been doing to take advantage of the night lee, and with the windvane steering set, went below for some kip.  On one of the frequent checks I found Pinball had disobeyed orders and turned right round heading back the way we’d come, so he went on Warning One.  Three strikes and you’re out Pinball.  Another time the wind shifted considerably which the windvane faithfully followed, taking us inshore, which then had to be corrected.  This was observed by Matt and Kirsten in the sloop KO KOI, coming down from Turks and Caicos, as it put us on a collision course, a problem to which I was blissfully unaware as KO KOI had no light working.   I only found out when we met later on at the Puerto Bahia Marina welcome drinks do. 

‘You were coming straight at me’ Matt said accusingly.  

‘Ah, I must have been asleep’ I said pacifyingly.  ‘Get your light fixed!’ 

Pinball turned the corner towards Samaná just as the first hint of dawn gave an edge to the sea,  after 26 hours at sea.  The rest would be easy downwind sailing with just some shallow water to negotiate like the Canadaiqua Bank, but by 0930 Pinball was nosing gently into Puerto Bahia Marina, a couple of miles west of Samaná town, to pick up fuel and chill out on a finger dock for a few days.  At $1 per foot the price was reasonable, and it looked a pleasant place to spend awhile.  So pleasant I spent six days there! 

I hadn’t intended to stay that long.  But the gentle, beguiling Elaina on the desk had frowned when I told her I would stay just two nights.

‘But we have the Regatta over the weekend!’ she objected.  ‘You must stay for that!’ And to seal the deal  I would get THREE FREE NIGHTS in the marina. 

Some things you just can’t fight, right? 

Overlooking the whole marina is a classy Five Star Hotel, complete with restaurants, bars, dining areas with pool, and bizarrely just one loo.  Us cruisers were allowed to use all the facilities, and everywhere was immaculate.   After free cocktails on Day 2, I ended up on board KO KOI with Matt, Kirsten and a couple of young French guys, strays. 

‘Made my money in a job I hated, ‘ said Matt, a 30+  Beneteau skipper who radiated self confidence. ‘Now I want to do something I love, so plan is to buy a 60’ catamaran and charter, crewed or bareboat, whatever’.   Kirsten had come onboard to crew a few months ago, but now they were a couple.  I saw little of them after that, as they were off every day on some excursion or other.  

Next boat to arrive was the 37’ KNOT DREAMIN (Americans love puns as boat names eg: REEL BROKE, REEL DEVOCEAN, MYTY FYNE, KNOT TIDE DOWN- all real)  with Carlton and Aggie on board, a relaxed easy going couple I was quickly to become friends with.    They too were wooed by the offer of 3 days free parking and took part in the Regatta as novices like me.  


Promised to be a cracker, sunny and not much wind!   The Race Meeting was in The Hall in the hotel.  I was first there at 3 minutes to go, so went out again as you do.  A small harassed looking chap with a bald pate was outside.

‘Looking for the Meeting, ‘ I asked helpfully?   He glared at me. ‘Its in there if you are.’ 

‘I know.  There was no one in there’ he said accusingly, looking disgusted. 

Time to go!...

On the white board was a diagram of the race – a square of a mile by mile and a half.  I had just finished copying it with associated important details when the guy in the yachty baseball cap came in and erased it all, replacing it with a triangular course instead.   Now I know why I don’t race.Anyway, the race would start at 1200,  two laps and last one back does the dishes.  Even better, we all received a bottle of 12 year old whisky and a white towel.

Carlton asked me if I wanted someone to crew.

‘You bet!’ 

Patros has one of those faces that look like they’ve never smiled, and my heart sank a bit.   But there again, mine’s like that, and I’m alright.  So was he.  In fact, he was bloody good, and a real help.  The fact that he spoke just a little English, and me about five words of Spanish actually enhanced our relationship as we would be body-languaging  eachother and had a lot of fun doing it.   

At 15 minutes to go we left the start line and reached across the bay for 8 minutes then reached back again – I figured this would put us bang on the start line at 1200.  Just for safety I gave it an extra 2 minutes though,  didn’t want to be disqualified did we?   So at 1202 we did a smash tack to cross the line and off we went, Pinball bent to the sudden increase in wind from the East, shrouds straining.   

‘Heh Patros!’ I shouted, pointing behind us.  ‘No boats come!.....Uh?’  Gallic shrug. 

‘Craaazy’ he shouted back, the beginnings of a smile playing the corners.

We tacked up to the first buoy in two, the clear leader.  In fact, the only boat in the race.  All the others were tacking up and down on the start line. 

It hadn’t occurred to me to look for the flags.  Whats the point?  Race starts 1200 right? It wasn’t until approaching the second buoy that anything started to happen.  I heard Aggie on KNOT DREAMING make a call on VHF, so cut in.

‘KNOT DREAMING, this is PINBALL WIZARD, do you read?’ 

‘Yes, read you good’.

‘I thought this race started at 1200’.

‘Yes PINBALL WIZARD, we’ve only just heard the horn, so we are GOING!’

Ah.  I’d forgotten about the horn.  When a flag went up or down, the horn was supposed to sound.      

We were, if not last across the line, not exactly at the front.  Luckily there were quite a few boats that had managed to get themselves stuck in irons or into strange positions going nowhere who had yet to cross the line, but by then we didn’t care.  It was tea time!  

‘You want tea Patros?  Bueno!  This word was used a lot. 

He looked doubtful. I showed him a mug and pointed in it, he nodded. Out of respect he drank nearly half, but I think he liked the coconut cakes I’d bought in the Dominican Republic more. We couldn’t catch any of the bigger boats, but did catch two smaller ones. Then I wished I hadn’t.  These were the boats full of drunks.  Both were making an inordinate amount of noise, shouting out to us, waving bottles, threatening to come alongside to share their merriment.  I groaned. 

Of course, just as we were neck and neck the wind died back, losing my advantage of hull length.  Now we were stuck with the drunks,  firmly in their wind-shadow.  I looked about in desperation, seeking an escape. The solution proved to be a subtle change of heading away from the buoy in the distance, such that we gradually separated until out of immediate earshot.  

More coconut cakes for Patros.  They were very nice. We went round again, our third lap, everyone else’s second. 

‘Heh Patros.  Finis! Si!  He grinned.  ‘Craaazy’ he said. Going across the line it was noticeable that several boats were continuing for a third lap. 

I gestured to Patros.  ‘Its craaazy Patros!  Why they go uh?’  shrugging. Well we’d done 3 laps anyway so if they’d changed that as well as the start time then to hell with it. 

‘Finis Patros.  Finis!’  

‘Craaazy’ he said, enjoying himself. 

I gave him a rum and ginger beer which he took with him as he climbed onboard the drunks boat next slip, owned by Spaniard Toni, a walking tattoo whose other interest is the entertainment of local girls on his boat, with which he enjoys considerable success.  He’s been round the world twice I was told.  I had to think about that..

‘You want girl tonight?’ he asked as we walked up the dock to receive our soup. ‘Its easy’.   

At 5pm we were given chunky soup in huge bowls, then later a party at the Café de Mar, right on the water’s edge.   A Spanish gentleman did the speech and presentations to the winners, in Spanish – the winner being none other than the grumpy little guy I’d bumped into outside The Hall.  He and his wife had gone whacking past me in their little red boat, smaller than Pinball. 

‘New sails help’, he explained when I asked him how he did it.  ‘They make a big difference.  I don’t use them except for racing.’