Thursday, April 07, 2011

DR to Curacao or The Rubber Ducky Route

On February 8th we waved goodbye to Samana, DR and headed out for a 490 nautical mile passage to Curacao.  This route would take us 80 nautical miles straight into the 20 knot trade winds (unpleasant), through the Mona Passage (scary) and south in the Caribbean sea (windy and wavy).  

Seb and I still argue about the intensity level of this particular trip.  I think it was the harshest to date but he holds that our trip from Vila Real de San Antonio, Portugal to Rabat, Morocco still tops the list.  Either way, this one was a doozy.   Fortunately, we had the company of s/v R Sea Kat with Mike, Deana and Keiko (their cat) on board to commiserate over the radio along the way.  Keiko, in particular, had a very difficult voyage.  

Our departure from Puerto Bahia, Samana in the early evening forced us to head immediately out into the trade winds.  Uncomfortable and slow, 3,5 knot speed over ground with the motor at 2000 revs.  And we were worried that we wouldn’t make it through the Mona Passage by 0800 to take advantage of the relatively lighter night winds.  Tedious and stressful.  

The Mona Passage has the reputation for being one of the most treacherous routes in the Caribbean, especially for small watercraft. The eighty mile section of sea separating the Dominican Republic from Puerto Rico is prone to unusual and unpredictable currents created by sandbanks stretching out from both islands.  In this short stretch the water depth changes rapidly from >100 meters to over 5000 meters and the water pushing between the islands is put under incredible pressure.  These effects contribute notoriously dangerous waves and the coastline of Puerto Rico is known for sudden and heavy thunderstorms.  We only needed to cross halfway into the Mona and then head south but we still approached her with some trepidation and several double checks of our weather window.  

We held our breath (figuratively of course) as we turned southwards into the notorious Mona.  The waves were slightly higher than in the Bahia Samana but our wind angle was much better so we picked up speed and rather enjoyed this bit of the trip.  Mona spit us out into the Caribbean sea with slightly less sympathy however.   Winds banged us straight on our beam and kept the boat at an angle that made even the smallest tasks a huge challenge.   And so we spent the next three days crossing the Caribbean sea with many squalls, sustained 30+ knot winds and average 4 meter seas (meaning that there were several even bigger waves that looked liked walls of water).   In short, we felt like a rubber ducky bobbing about  in the bath with a particularly rambunctious child.  What a relief to round  the Eastern tip of Curacao at dawn on the 12th and coast along the lee of the island. 

Technology is unfortunately not always foolproof and more fool we for thinking that with three communication systems we should always be able to stay in touch.   Spot stopped working just above Curacao, our modem from the SSB refused to connect and the satellite telephone kept losing connection and refused to pick up a connection when it rang.  The result of this was that on the home front it appeared on Spot as though we had stopped suddenly about 50 miles north of Curacao and our usual email and phone connection gave no answer.   From the  perspective of anyone not with us onboard, we had temporarily disappeared.  Not difficult to imagine that this caused panic on the home front, fortunately relatively short lived. 

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