The Dominican Republic
After our pleasant overnight sail from the South Caicos, the lush smell of tropical mountainsides reached us just before sun rose. And when it did, we were treated to a dramatic welcome to our next stop, the Dominican Republic.
As we got closer, the mountains themselves came into view, shrouded in the morning mist before the easterly trade winds prevailed. After months in the low-lying Bahamas and Turks & Caicos, Hispaniola certainly demonstrated its reputation as the highest island in the Antilles.
The Dominican Republic is very welcoming to traveling boats like Scout, but has a policy of tracking their locations within the country - a process called ‘despacho’. As a result, we needed to check in and out of marinas throughout our stay - starting with our first destination: Ocean World in Puerto Plata. They made it extremely painless to get through customs and immigration!
Ocean World is on the northern coast of the country and is somewhat exposed to the Atlantic trade winds (and swell) from the east and north east, even into the marina. Though well populated, it’s a wild and rugged coast.
Since Scout was now safely in a marina, we took the opportunity to rent a car and go inland, and we headed to the mountain town of Jarabacoa, a few hours away.
We stayed in an awesome B&B, up amongst a quiet alpine woodlands, and spent some time exploring the vibrant little town:
…and the lush mountain scenery around:
We climbed down to one particular waterfall and had it all to ourselves. Local legend has it that this was where Jurassic Park was filmed.
On the way back down to sea level, we visited the country’s second city of Santiago de los Caballeros, which makes an impressive deal of celebrating the Dominican Restoration War - the TL;DR of which is that after becoming a sovereign nation, the Dominicans asked the Spanish to come back, and then they had to fight for independence a second time. The monument is impressive:
Back in Puerto Plata again, we spent a few more days waiting for a weather system to pass, and getting Scout ready for the next hop. There are always jobs to do on a boat! - but not so many that we couldn’t also enjoy some local trips, including Jayne’s to the local cigar factory to try her hand at rolling a few:
…and walks around the colorful old town:
After a few days it was time to say farewell to the friendly folks at Ocean World, register our movements with the Armada, and set off eastwards - destination Samaná - whilst dodging the squalls that seem to be frequent along this northern coast.
On the way we broke our journey at Río San Juan, a pretty little town with a deserted beach by the anchorage…
…and that does a good line in street art:
As we headed further east, the coastline became almost fjord-like, with steep cliffs and rainforest rising straight up out of the ocean:
Tucked away at the end of one of these inlets was Playa El Valle, a remote beach, and another spot for us to anchor on route.
Though beautiful, the wind swung around to the north in the evening, and the Atlantic swell started rolling up into our bay, meaning it wasn’t the calmest of nights to sleep! We made an early getaway for the final leg around to Samaná - an amazing sail with the beam wind on one side and spectacular peninsulas on the other.
This is also a popular area for whales in the Spring, and as we turned downwind towards Samaná, we saw one pass quietly underneath the boat - too quickly to photograph though of course!
Our destination was the beautifully equipped Marina Puerto Bahia to check ourselves back in for despacho. It was full! - but we were able to anchor outside the marina and still use its wonderful facilities.
This marina serves as a very convenient jumping off point to the other side of the bay, and the unique Los Haitises National Park. It’s a quick ten mile sail over, but may as well be another world.
The park comprises limestone karst features such as bulbous hills and islands, steep cliffs, and deep caverns. It’s entirely uninhabited by humans, but ruled by thousands of sea birds such as pelicans, osprey, and magnificent frigatebirds.
Adding to the arial density, we used the calm anchorage as a chance to fly the drone again…
…and kayak around the remote bays and mangrove swamps:
Some parts of the park’s fractal-like coastline allowed us to dinghy in, past towering cliffs covered in tree roots, through mazes of mangroves, and deep into the forest.
After bringing the dinghy ashore and walking inland a little, we found a selection of cool caves, including one, the ‘Line Cave’, which was adorned with pictograms by its ancient inhabitants.
One of the big advantages of sailing to destinations like this is that when the organized morning boat tours depart, we have the whole place to ourselves for the rest of the day!
But all good things must come to an end, and with an upcoming weather opportunity to cross towards Puerto Rico, we headed back to the marina for one final stop - and by chance, happened to be there for a social event put on for all the visiting boats.
The next day, we seized our chance to cross the infamous ‘Mona Passage’ in lighter than usual winds. A big weather system crossing the US and Bahamas disrupted the tough easterly winds and gave us a little bit of northerly breeze to sail along the final stretch of the northern Dominican Republic coastline. We were waved farewell by a diving humpbacked whale, and a sunset just as memorable as the sunrise that had welcomed us three weeks earlier.
And the Mona Passage? Far from living up to its so-called ‘thorny path’ reputation, we had the calmest crossing we could have hoped for. Too light to sail - so we had to motor - but as calm as a millpond, with a clear full moon to accompany it.
And so began our time in a new part of the Caribbean, and the next chapter of our journey…
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