Buddy Boat Boogie

For the past four weeks, we have been really movin’.  We had been in Georgetown, Exumas longer than we ever imagined, about 6 weeks, so we were ready to move on.  One of the last days there, we attended a seminar on the beach about sailing windward, and we met a couple traveling the same direction we were.  It was then, that a “buddy boat” relationship was born.  A “buddy boat” is exactly what it sounds like, a boat that travels with you for a portion, or all, of your journey.    In the cruising community, you meet new people all the time, but if the stars align, plans merge, friendships form, then - poof - buddy boats come into being.  

Beach seminar about sailing to windward
Walter and Meryl on s/v Flying Cloud, a Taswell 44, have been sailing for years near Seattle, but this is their first year to brave the great, blue waters beyond the bays and harbors near land.  I’m not sure they knew what they were in for when they decided to travel with us!  We are by no means extremely weathered sailors, but we have done multi-day sails, overnights, and lots of blue water.   Plus, Mark’s perspective of rough sailing is a bit jaded since his 15-day trek with Martin from Brazil to St. Lucia into the wind with a 2 hours on/2 hours off watch schedule 24/7!  Any sailing for him since then has been “easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy”, as Elizabeth would say.

Refer to the map below to follow our "boogie" down to the Dominican Republic (referred to as DR by most cruisers, we've found out).

We set off and hopped from Georgetown to Long Island, then over to Rum Cay.  Each of these passages required about 8-10 hours, so they made for long days.  It was helpful to have another set of eyes as we anchored in new places.  We shared information about coral heads or paths through the reefs.   And once anchored, we shared stories of our passage over a few sundowners and planned the next leg of the trip together.

Reviewing weather updates over happy hour
The wind was decent, so we decided to just stay overnight at both places and keep moving on to Mayaguana.  Once there, we took a 6 day break waiting for a weather window and did some snorkeling, spearfishing, and recuperating.  It was a very barren island with crystal clear waters.  Mark caught dinner almost every night, and gave Walter a few fishing tips.  The spearfishing was tricky, however, because once he’d spear one, it wouldn’t take long for the sharks to show up, cutting the fishing trip short!  Then, as he cleaned the fish on the back steps, sharks would come for the fishhead buffet right underneath us!  It was quite a sight! 

Scanning the ocean floor for a snack!
Flying Cloud anchored nearby in Mayaguana
Sightseeing in Mayaguana
At one point during our stay there, I looked out at the water and noticed a dinghy floating in the distance.  Hmmm… wonder whose dinghy that is?  Someone else spearfishing?   A quick glance at our stern cleat where we tie our dinghy and - gasp – “That’s ours!!  Bad dinghy, bad dinghy!”  We quickly got on the radio and called our buddy boat, “Our dinghy ran away!  Can you help?”  Walt hopped in his dinghy, zoomed over and saved the day! 

After Mayaguana, it was a longer trip down to the Dominican Republic.  Since the winds were good, we opted to skip West Caicos of the Turks and Caicos Islands and just keep going.  The waves weren’t extremely comfortable, rolling under one hull, then the other, but it was tolerable.  Unfortunately for Flying Cloud, the ride was even rougher on their monohull, rocking back and forth with each swell.  Throughout the trip, we would radio each other to check in and offer encouragement.  It wasn’t a fun trip, but it was nice to know we weren’t alone.  Plus, Mark had a great time tracking who was going fastest!!

A calmer portion of our windward passage with Flying Cloud
As we pulled into the Ocean World Marina near Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, it was a shared celebration!  One more portion of our windward journey had been completed!  The island was beautiful, lush and green with tall mountains.  It was very different from the flat, dry spits of land in the Bahamas.  The air was filled with misty rain as we tied up to the customs dock.  The dockhands greeted us with smiles, saying, “Buenos”.  We were in a whole new world, again, and I frantically searched my brain for the necessary Spanish responses.  I hadn’t used it since our time in Argentina, so I was a bit rusty!  It was hard, but good, to be immersed in a Spanish-speaking country once again.  My Spanish is not much past high school level 1, but Walter and Meryl were grateful for my limited vocabulary as we took a taxi to the grocery store.  It proved quite useful - ordering deli cheese, finding items, reading labels, and understanding the checkout clerk.   While in the marina, we also did laundry, enjoyed the pool, did boat projects, and homeschooled. 

Taking down the Bahama flag and putting up the yellow "Q" flag before entering the DR
Ocean World Marina surrounded by a huge breakwater wall
On Easter Sunday, we invited them over for “boat church”.  Meryl made delicious coffee cake and brought it over.  Elizabeth read the resurrection story from the Bible, and then we watched a video podcast of the Easter service from our home church CherryHills Community Church.  

Putting up Easter jellies on the window!
What a treat!  The Easter Bunny must've planned ahead and hidden those in storage!
Our crew decided to take a bus to Santo Domingo and see the sights there, and we asked Flying Cloud to keep an eye on our boat for the couple of days we were gone. The lady at the marina office said that we should rent a car and drive ourselves, but another boater at the marina told us that would be suicide!  So, we paid a minimal $10 per person (about $1500 pesos) to ride the three hours in an air-conditioned coach bus.  Since it was Easter weekend, many local people had come to Puerto Plata for the holiday and were heading back to the city.  The bus was full, but very comfortable.   As we watched the chaotic traffic outside the windows, we were relieved we hadn’t rented a car.  Small motorcycle taxis weaved in and out of traffic with multiple people on the back -  men, women, and children, even huge bags of rice or cement!  Local buses/vans, called “gua-gua’s”, seemed to rule the road, cutting everyone off and doing whatever they pleased.   Intersections seemed to allow for the bravest drivers to have the right-of-way, and all others ventured out at their own risk.  I found myself shutting my eyes a few times!

Terrifying taxi ride to bus station
Riding local style!
When we arrived to the bus station, we grabbed a taxi and found the quaint B&B Mark had booked for our stay.  It was called Dona Elvira, and was located within walking distance to the historical sites.  The only way we knew it was the place, was that the address matched that of our reservation form, otherwise, we would have passed it by.  We rang the bell next to the old, dark wooden doors, and were greeted by one of the young men who work there.  Once inside, it transformed into a sweet, old style hacienda, with a small pool in the center of the courtyard.  A raggedy old dog instantly became the kids’ pet, soaking up the belly rubs, and I wandered around soaking up the ambience.  Our room had three sections:  a room with a king bed and armoire, an adjoining room with 4 single beds, and a small outdoor alcove where we found the tiled bathtub!  For the moment, it seemed cute to walk outside to the bathroom, but soon we would realize the impracticality of it.  At dark, mosquitoes lurked nearby awaiting their chance to buzz into our room and the kids required an escort to pee at 2 in the morning!   The quaint courtyard created an echo-effect after dark, and it sounded like a slumber party was going on ‘til about midnight.

Lobby and courtyard of Dona Elvira B&B
The next morning, they served toast, fruit, scrambled eggs and coffee to the group of college students staying there during a mission trip and us. Now I understood why I heard charades and boisterous laughter all night!  We grabbed a map and headed out to learn all about the Santo Domingo, a city claimed for Spain by Christopher Columbus.

Christopher Columbus Statue
Gargoyles at oldest church in Western Hemisphere
Horse carriage in Old Town Santo Domingo
Shoeshiners in the park
Below is a video of what we saw and learned…

When we got back to the boat, we were happy to see our buddies.  They filled us in on what we’d missed, and we prepared to take off once again.  Mark called the customs office and found out that we had to officially be sent off the dock by a naval officer.  In the Dominican Republic, you must check out of each port and check in to each port along your trip, if you are going ashore.  I sent the laundry to the Laundromat at 2 p.m., they delivered it back to the boat about 2 hours later clean and folded (a welcomed luxury, for sure), and the naval officers showed up at 5:45 p.m. to see us off the dock.  Talk about quick turn around!  The winds had picked up to over 18 knots, so the departure was not a pretty one.  We got blown into our buddy boat as we untied the dock lines, and it was a scramble of fenders and lines to try to right us again.  Not one of our shining maneuvers, but we were glad to know the boat into which we were bumping!!

The next few hops had to be during the night, to make use of the land-effected winds that occur as the heat from the day gets sucked off the land and onto the water.  We’d leave in the dark, and arrive before lunchtime.  Our two chosen anchorages along the DR’s northeastern coast were some of the most beautiful I’d ever seen.  The first, El Valle, was a small bay surrounded by huge, green mountains.  At the base, was a fishing village, complete with huts and dugout fishing boats.  Six to eight men would pile into a boat, row out, drop a net along their way out, and then return to the beach and haul it up by hand.  I was mesmerized as I watched them work.  When we got too close to their intended fishing area to anchor, they enthusiastically waved us away, yelled, and pointed to the opposite side of the bay.  We understood the sign language, radioed our buddies and shared the request with them, not wanting to make any enemies!

El Valle Fishing Village
The next anchorage was Playa de la Cana in the Bay of Samana on DR’s East coast.  Here, a long white beach was lined with tall palm trees.  It was a picturesque scene.  After being on the boat for a few days without touching ground, we were excited to go for a walk.  That idea was trumped, however, by the sight of a group of uniformed officers on the beach, looking at us.  We wondered if it was a sort of military base, and decided to skip the walk – no need to cause a scene.  They began to get into one of the small boats on shore and row out to us.  I sent the kids up to play on deck, hoping to diffuse some of the interest in our vessel.  It seems that kids are a universal safeguard and deflect much trouble while traveling.  The men came about a hundred feet off shore, then turned around and went back to the beach.  I’m not sure that was why they left us alone, but we weren’t asked any questions, or even approached that night, so I think it worked.

S/V Flying Cloud in Bay of Samana, Dominican Republic
Our journey continued to Puerto Rico with our friends on Flying Cloud.  We have enjoyed traveling with them, and look forward to more voyages together!  They have been fantastic buddies and they have enriched our trip greatly.  They have become dear friends and pseudo-grandparents to Elizabeth and Michael!  There are many great reasons why boaters buddy up; companionship, cooperation, community.  But there is one important thing to consider before partnering up – each boat needs to make travel decisions that are best for their boat and crew.  Ultimately, you are the captain of your own ship and responsible for your crew’s safety.

Celebrating our crossing with Walter and Meryl!

A video of our field trip to Santo Domingo, DR.



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