Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Luperon: Settling in

On August 7th, David wakes me up in the twilight hours so I can take my turn at the helm while he gets some sleep. As I stand behind the wheel, I am rubbing my eyes and trying to get my bearings straight after a few fitful hours of rest. I look around in the dark and see stars, a sickle shaped moon, dark water all around me, and distant lights on land. It’s quiet except for the sound of the waves slapping the boat and the hiss of foam forming in our wake. There is also this earthy smell of smoke and trees carried from land by the wind. All of these sensations create a unique experience for me – one that I hope I remember years from now. As the sun starts to rise, I slowly start to make out the outlines of the mountains. It’s a stark contrast from the flat, sandy islands we experienced in the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos. David wakes up around seven, climbs up from the cabin, and says, “This is pretty awesome.” I look at him, smile, and wholeheartedly agree with him. As we get close to Luperon harbor, we see two small boats with fishermen trying to get their daily catch. From the harbor entrance, we turn right and see forty or fifty sailboats anchored or tied to mooring balls, and we start trying to find our own spot to anchor. As we find one, we pass a boat with a couple on it, and they give us a very friendly greeting and welcome us to Luperon. At that moment I was thinking to myself that we are going to love it here.

The passage from Provo to Luperon took three days. We weighed anchor at 7 a.m. on August 7th and made our way to Ambergis Cay. We originally planned to go to Long Cay to anchor for the night, but we were running out of daylight. The Exuma banks are shallow, 6 to 12 feet, and there are a lot of uncharted coral heads, which means you do not want to be out there during the night. The next day we sailed to Big Sand Cay, which was 25 miles as the crow files. If we had been able to go straight there, it would only have taken us about five hours. However, we had to go north several miles to avoid large fields of coral and tack our way up wind and up current to get to our destination.  It ended up taking us twelve hours, and we anchored in the dark. Usually it’s quiet in the places that we anchor, but about a ½ mile out, we heard a lot of commotion and loud squawking. It sounded like there were hundreds of birds on shore, and in the morning, we had a few curious birds flying circles around the boat.

The last leg of our journey was 80 miles, and it took us twenty-four hours. It was uneventful except for an incident where the sheets somehow ended up on the wrong side of the sail. I thought I had turned on the autopilot and went to turn off the depth sounder since it was beeping (it does this when we are in deep water and it can’t read the depth). Long story short the boat turned, and the sheets somehow got twisted. It took David 45 minutes to sort everything out, and we were back on our way.

For the record, I do not like long passages, and for this particular trip I was cranky and in a bad mood a lot of the time. I just don’t like being at the helm for more than a few hours, especially when the autopilot won’t keep a good course and I have to steer. In strong wind, it puts a lot of strain on my neck and back, and they start to hurt. If you add in the stress of being on the constant look out for coral that could sink your boat if you hit it and the constant heeling that makes doing anything below 10 times harder than normal and makes me seasick, you might understand why I don’t like it. I do, however, absolutely love getting to new destinations, getting off the boat, and exploring. I always forget why I don’t like long sails….at least until the next one starts.

So why did we chose Luperon as our hurricane hole? Well its harbor is protected on all sides, and since it is situated on the north coast, it has never been taken a direct hit by a full strength hurricane. Plus things like food and supplies are cheap here, it has a good cruisers community, it’s a big island and there are tons of things to do here, it’s a short easy walk to town, and there is cheap public transportation. And it will give us a chance to learn Spanish. As we were checking in yesterday, we sorely wished we already had a working knowledge of it.

Checking in wasn’t as easy as it has been in the previous two countries. Before we even anchored yesterday, a boat pulled up next us, and the man in the boat, Papo, told us to come to him if we needed anything….gas, water, laundry, someone to watch the boat,etc. After we anchored and got things squared away, Papo came back with two other guys, the Comandante and another guy who took down our passport and boat registration details. Only Papo knew English so he translated for us. It took about fifteen minutes, and they left with a two liter of Diet Coke and a “donation” of $10 each. We were told by Papo that isn’t obligatory to make the donation, but we told by other cruisers that we should.

Next David had to go to town and jump thru several hoops with different government agencies to get us checked in. First, he walked to the end of the pier where a couple of small buildings stood with officials sitting around in various uniforms. He went to Immigration first. The guy there spoke a little English, and David managed to get the necessary forms filled out and paid $93. They wanted copies of our passports and tried telling David in Spanish where he could to get some made, which of course David didn’t understand. Then he went next door to the Port Authority and was told to pay $10. He didn’t have change at this point so he was told to come back later. Next up was the Agriculture department, and he paid them $20.  Lastly he paid a guy $20 for tourist cards. This guy spoke the best English so far, and David asked where he could get copies of the passports made. With his direction, David set off to find the place and also get change. The guy that gave the directions ended up pulling up on a motorcycle and told David to hop on.  So David hopped on with no helmet and nowhere to hang onto hoping he doesn’t go flying headfirst onto the pavement. After stopping at a couple of places, he accomplished his tasks, and they headed back to the pier. Then the agriculture guy said he needed to come inspect boat, and David gets another bike ride back to the dinghy dock. Once they get to our boat, the agri guy says to show him our veggies and fruit. I go below with him and start to pull them out of the storage cabinet, but he shakes his head like he doesn’t want to see them. We go back up, muddle our way through some questions, and then they leave the boat. That was definitely an interesting check-in process, and I’m glad I didn’t have to do it! We did learn a lesson though...we need to learn Spanish ASAP.

After being checked in, I was able to leave the boat so we decided to go explore the town and get some food. At the dinghy dock we met Elise on s/v Tulum, and she gave us some recommendations for food. She said there probably wouldn’t be any Dominican type food left since they sell out around lunch so we opted for a pizza joint. Next we stopped by Wendy’s to get a drink and mingle. Wendy’s is the IT place for cruisers. We saw Elise again with a group of her friends. Two of the ladies are part of a nonprofit organization called Dogs and Cats of the Dominican Republic and had brought two adorable puppies that they are trying to find homes for. I couldn’t resist holding them. I offered my help to them if they needed anything, and they readily accepted. I can’t think of a better way to spend my time here than volunteering to help take care of animals. We also got the low down on all of the activities that go on during the week. There are movie nights, baseball games (cruisers vs. the Dominicans), yoga, poker games, and karaoke nights. I’m excited to get know everyone here and can’t wait to venture out past Luperon to see what this island has to offer.

Who can resist a face like his

Walking into town from the pier
The not so safe looking dinghy dock


  1. Re learning Spanish: Check out the phone app, duolingo. Pretty simple and it works amazingly well!

  2. Re learning Spanish: Check out the phone app, duolingo. Pretty simple and it works amazingly well!

    1. Thanks for the suggestion. We downloaded it a while back and just need to be more committed to using it.