Passagemaking: Puerto Rico to the Bahamas

Rob recently pointed out that for a sailing blog, I write very little about actually sailing. This is a fair point, but it is true what they say—sailing is boredom punctuated by terror. Most of the time we are just staring off at the vast seas and occasionally trimming the sails. But it doesn’t take much–a rogue wave, a squall, an engine pitch change, a pod of dolphins, a fish on the line—and things get exciting fast.

Our three biggest passages are located between Puerto Rico and the Bahamas and we must cross them back to back. When we set off on our journey north, it was these three legs that I dreaded the most. We still have a lot of sailing to do before we return to Florida, but it’s starting to feel like the home stretch with these three passages behind us.

Mona Passage

What was arguably our most terrifying passage last year, turned out to be our calmest this year as we headed West. As the sun sets, a line of thunderstorms develop off Puerto Rico’s western coast as the land releases its heat. These can transform into fierce storm cells throughout the night, which makes the Mona Passage particularly dangerous. This is exactly what we ran into last year when we sailed the entire night underneath a lightening show. Learning from our mistakes, we adjusted our timing as we sailed west. We decided to leave Puerto Real at 10:30am, which would put us out of harm’s way before the late afternoon thunderstorms could build and put us in Samana, Dominican Republic after sunrise.

Sure enough, by 2:00 pm we watched the storms build behinds us, but they never caught up. And by 9:00am we were pulling into Puerto Bahia Marina in Samana. The winds were fairly light, so we had to motor sail the majority of the way, but we made great time. At 22.5 hours, we shaved 3 hours off of the time it took us to cross the passage going East. Overall it was a very uneventful night. We spent most of our time listening to Birdbox on Audiobooks.

Passage Details:

Mileage: 143

Departure Time: 03/16/17 10:30

Arrival Time: 03/17/17 9:00

Passage Time: 22.5 hrs

Weather: Light winds in the day picking up to 12 kts out of the East at night. 4 foot seas from the East.

Dominican Republic Northern Coast

Feeling more confident after our successful Mona Passage, we set sail for Luperon three days later. We chose the best weather window and expected to motorsail the first half in light winds and then coast into Luperon under full sail. As expected, the water was calm and the skies were clear when we left the bay. After about 4 hours of motorsailing, we shut off the motor and sailed on a glorious beam reach. The seas were still calm and we were cruising over 6 knots.

Around midnight, our good luck ran out. For a brief moment, the wind stopped completely. We pulled in the jib and fired up the engine. Then, out of nowhere we were hit with a fierce North wind and swell. The waves were hitting us on our beam, causing the boat to rock violently back and forth. It once again felt like we were inside a washing machine. The seas were too much for the autopilot, so Rob manned the helmed the remainder of the night while I trimmed the main sail.

This lasted for a good 4 hours when suddenly there was another shift. The winds clocked around and were screaming in from the south. The night air was frigid and though we couldn’t see it, we could smell the nearby rain. We each layered on more clothing, but couldn’t get warm. And then large rain drops started belting down on us. I quickly ushered the dogs down below and put our cushions away. The rest of the night was going to be wet, very wet.

The one nice thing about rain is that it levels the seas. With the rain pouring down on us and the southern wind combatting the northern swell, the seas calmed down and we were able to relax a bit. The rain not only continued through the last four hours of our passage, but it also continued the next four days. We were freezing, exhausted, and water logged by the time we arrived in Luperon, but we both had one thing on our mind—fried chicken. After a quick nap, we headed to the chicken shack in town and feasted on fried chicken, salad, rice, and beans. It was good to be back.

Passage Details:

Mileage: 130

Departure Time: 03/20/17 11:45

Arrival Time:  03/21/17 8:00

Passage Time: 20.25 hrs

Weather: Light winds early in the day, turned into 12-15 kts out of the North East, turned into squalls from the North, followed by squalls from the South. 4-5 foot seas from the North.

Luperon to Mayaguana

Our last overnight passage before the Bahamas was also our longest. We waited for the right window and when the forecast called for moderate winds out of the ENE, we were ready. This may have been our best sail of our entire trip. We cleared out with the Comandante the day before and with our despahco in hand, we left our mooring ball at 7:30am. By 8:00am, our motor was off and we were cruising at 7 kts on a beam reach with a full jib and a double reefed main. We held steady just like that until about 4:00 in the afternoon, when we decided to shake out a reef in the main sail. It turned out to be a fortunate decision, because we discovered that our second reef line was badly chaffed and near failure. Just another thing to add to our boat project list.

It felt amazing. Kairos was slicing through the water in calm seas, there was a nice breeze coming across our starboard side, and the sun was shining down on us, warming our shoulders. Without a noisy engine running, we could hear the sound of the water splashing against our hull. If only every passage could be like this. I was laying down relaxing in the cockpit as the sun was starting to get low in the sky, we I saw something large splash behind our boat.

Crystal: “I just saw a big fish jump.”

Rob: “Really? How big?”

Crystal: (Holds hands out to indicate about 3 feet)

Rob: “Which way was it going?”

Crystal: “Towards our boat.”

Rob: “You mean towards our lures that we are trolling?”

Crystal: “Yeah, I guess so.”

Rob: “You’re a horrible fisherman.”

Sure enough, we had a fish on. As Rob reeled it in, we caught a glimpse of the unmistakable yellow/green color of mahi-mahi. We were all set to bring the catch on board and we were even discussing fish tacos when the mahi thrashed hard and broke free just feet from our transom. It was heartbreaking to see the mahi swim away with our new lure, but we couldn’t help but feel excited. The Bahamian waters are stocked full of fish and we were getting close.

After the sun set we took turns behind the helm in two-hour shift. We could see the white glow of lights coming from Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, but otherwise it was just us and the night sky. No other boats seemed to be on the water that night. Without solar power, we had to kick on the engine a few times to keep the batteries charged. The autopilot is an energy hog.

In the early morning hours, the wind began to die and we had to turn the engine on to maintain speed. We certainly don’t mind going a little slower if it means getting to sail. However, when traveling long distances, a knot or two in speed can add a lot of time onto a trip. We needed to get to Mayaguana while the sun was still high in the sky so we could dodge the coral heads that line the bay’s entrance. We found ourselves motorsailing the remainder of the trip in order to make time.

We finally spotted land around noon, which is always a great feeling. As we got closer, we could see the unmistakable Bahamian, turquoise water. I call this color Bimini Blue, because the first time I saw it was a little over a year ago when we pulled into Bimini after crossing the Gulf Stream. Whether it’s your first time seeing it, or your hundredth, it’s always breathtaking. We were back in the Bahamas and we couldn’t wait to get in that water. We dropped anchor in Abraham’s Bay along with two other boats. We were tired, but sleep could wait. It was time to go and enjoy the sun, surf, and sand.

Passage Details:

Mileage: 191

Departure Time: 03/29/17 07:30

Arrival Time: 03/30/17 15:00

Passage Time: 29.5 hrs

Weather: 15 kts shifting to 8-10 kts from the East North East. 3-4 foot seas from the North East.


2 thoughts on “Passagemaking: Puerto Rico to the Bahamas”

  1. I love reading your blogs, love the details and the information you give. The sad part is I often think of what I was doing at exactly the same time that you were sailing, I may have been mowing the lawn, washing the car or just watching TV,,,,,,, somehow I feel that your enjoying yourself way more than me so keep on smiling and posting those blogs.

Let Us Know Your Thoughts!