Getting to Puerto Rico

In general, it is hard to get to Puerto Rico from the west. The trade winds blow from the east, and can be greater than 15 knots, sometimes a lot greater. As luck would have it, the first part of May had greater than normal wind which made it hard to get to the east.  There is a book called Passages South by Bruce VanSant, and he gives a series of formulas to make the journey easier. The simplified version is you wait for the forecast wind to be below 15 knots from the SE, and make your passages during the night when the land blocks the wind in various ways. The down side of this method is that we sailed past the beautiful coast of the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico when it was dark and we didn’t get to see much of it. Additionally, on several occasions, our weather sources indicated high winds for an extended period. We got tired of waiting, and went anyway. Our impatience caused us some discomfort but little danger.

Luperon to Rio San Juan
Wednesday April 25 6:55PM to 7:00 AM: This was an odd leg, since we saw three small fishing boats. They seemed to be open boats with an outboard motor and two or three men. They had no running lights, but alerted us of their position using a flashlight. Normally cruisers ponder the mysteries of getting run over in the middle of the night by some larger vessel. It was odd to be on the other side of this dilemma. 56.8 nm

Rio San Juan was a nice quiet anchorage. We slept several hours during the day and waited for nighttime to start on the next leg. We saw some small fishing boats. At one point there were three men dressed solid color t-shirts, one red, one blue and one yellow, possibly vacationers, paddling a medium size row boat. It seemed to have a bad oarlock, since one of the men was rowing, and one of the others was using the other oar like a paddle. They were making progress, but had trouble keeping a constant heading.

Rio San Juan to Samana.
Thursday April 26: This trip started with rounding Cabo Viejo Frances, which looked easy on the chart, but took hours. The seas were rough, the wind was strong, and the Cape had a rounded shape which meant that going a 1/2 mile offshore to find smoother seas, would cause us to sail an additionally 1.5 miles distance. We “sucked it up” and and took the beating on the shorter route. Our original plan was to stop at Puerto Escondido, a protected anchorage much like Rio San Juan, but when we got close, we decided to try to make it all the way to Samana, figuring that if it got rough,we could do a u-turn and go back to Escondido. The sun rose, and we continued on to Samana, passing a series of interesting rocky bluffs that we were able to see since it was daylight. Passing the last of these points, we were able to shut the engine off, and sail the last 8 miles. Arrived 2:00 PM, 86.8 nm

A note about motorsailing:  We motored most of this leg, and most of several of the legs to follow. When you motor in these conditions, you are powering into wind and waves, and there are two things you can do to make conditions more bearable. First, you can raise some mainsail. This helps stabilize the boat and suppresses the side to side motion. Second, you can make sure the boat is not headed directly into the wind, so there is some small addition to the speed provided by the sail. Practically, this means making sure the boat is going 20- 30 degrees to the right or left of the wind. If the route is directly into the wind, then it helps to tack from side to side every now and then, making a zig zag course, confusing all non-sailboaters who see you doing it.

Samana, Marina Puerto Bahia.
We stayed here two nights. We were advised to go here and pay for a slip rather that to anchor in Samana Harbor. Immigration (Comendante) is easier to deal with here, and there have been some theft problems at the harbor. Marina Puerto Bahia is a very nice and new facility. For $30 per night, we had a slip, showers, three pools, exercise equipment and access to several restaurant.  It was here that we met Steven and Carina of North Star, a 42 foot Catalina. North Star became a “buddy boat” for a week or so. We shared weather information with them, and they, being more conservative about using fuel, encouraged us to do more sailing and less motoring. An exercise that would become very useful to us in a few days.

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