The passage from the Turks & Caicos to Puerto Plata, on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, is about 24 hours. It’s important to arrive in daylight when you are entering a new harbour. We typically aim to make land in the morning, which gives us the afternoon as a buffer in case the trip takes longer than anticipated. We left South Side Marina on Providenciales at about 10:00 a.m. and headed east across the Caicos Bank. This is an incredible stretch of shallow, light blue/green water that runs the entire width of the island chain. We reached the east side of the islands at dusk, turned south at Grand Turk and pointed our bows toward the DR.
At that point, we caught up with some friends from Massachusetts aboard “Scherzo”. We had previously agreed to make the passage in tandem with them - it’s nice to have someone to chat with at 3 a.m. when your crewmate is fast asleep. As darkness set in, our VHF unexpectedly crackled, “Panache, Panache, Panache”. The call was from a couple we had met when we were with Lindsay in Georgetown, Exumas. They are from Dawson Creek, BC, and are aboard the catamaran “Kiskatenaw”. They were travelling with two other boats, “New Vision” from Montreal, and “Nauticuss” from Ontario. One of them “saw” Panache on their AIS (Automatic Identification System), an electronic device that sends a signal to display your boat’s position on the chart plotters/multifunction displays (“MFDs”) of other nearby vessels. This enables two boats with AIS to see one another on their MFDs. AIS also provides speed and heading information, so your MFD is able to compute how close you will come to the other vessel and at what time. It is an incredible piece of equipment that is mandatory for larger vessels, but optional for smaller ones. Amongst the cruising fleet, I guess that less than 1/3 have AIS, so you still need to use radar and keep a good visual watch as well.
Our original plan was to travel overnight to Puerta Plata and then continue directly on, without stopping, heading east for a second over-nighter to Samana. However, once we reached Puerta Plata, the winds were in the mid-twenties, straight into us, and the seas were steep. So all 5 bosts decided to duck into Ocean World Marina, in Cofresi, just west of Puerta Plata. It was a wise choice as the winds continued to build and we ended up being stuck in the marina for TWO WEEKS! You need to have permission from the harbour master in each DR port to enter and leave. With winds blowing 25-35kts, the authorities essentially shutdown all small craft traffic. Since we weren’t keen on bashing straight into those kinds of wind, we weren’t going anywhere anyway – time to explore the DR.