Voyage of Traveler / Blog

March 23, 2010

Traveler Postcard From Cartagena

Filed under: Year 3: July09 - July10 Greece to Newport Beach, CA, Caribbean — mrlawlerjr @ 11:26 am

Hola de Cartagena, Colombia,

We enjoyed our five-day visit to historic Cartagena.  This was our only visit to a South American port, and my first time ever to this continent.  We now have seen on this voyage six out of the seven continents of the world.

We anchored off the cruisers’ favorite marina, the Club Nautico.  The marina was nearly full and the few spaces available were in shallow water, too shallow for our 8 foot draft.  But we are quite happy at anchor, using the dinghy to get ashore.  The old restaurant and bar at Club Nautico were torn down about a year ago and a new building was under construction for several months.  But the owners got into a dispute with City Hall, and now the lawyers are involved and construction has halted, so it is a mess.

We liked to walk or bike ride around the old walled city, especially early in the morning or at night.  The midday sun is just too hot, in the upper-90s and humid.

Last night, in lieu of a Captain’s Dinner on Traveler, we had a farewell dinner for Kellie at a fun Cuban restaurant in the old town.  Kellie has been with us for the past seven weeks, joining the boat in St. Martin on February 2 for her second long tour on Traveler. This time she got to visit Anguilla, St. Barts, Saba, the British and US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and Colombia. She is flying today to Managua, Nicaragua to join her friend, Dylan, to travel around Central America for a month or so.

One of the highlights of our time here in Cartagena was a visit aboard the USS Freedom, the US Navy’s latest and fastest, high-tech, stealth ship.  It is the first of its class, a Littoral (means coastal) Combat Ship.  Its published speed is 40+ knots, but when it is lightly loaded it can reach up to 60 knots!  That is an incredible speed for a ship that is 385 feet!  Freedom is still on its maiden voyage, from Wisconsin where she was built by Lockheed Martin, to San Diego, her home port, due to arrive there on April 23.  She is powered by four Rolls Royce jet engines (no propellers) which combined can pump 12 million gallons of water per minute–the equivalent of being able to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool in just three seconds!  Anchored just 200 yards away from her, I tried to pick Freedom up on my radar, and there was nothing there!  The stealth technology is amazing!  Google “USS Freedom LCS 1″ for photos and articles about it, or check out their website at  Special thanks to LCDR Mark West for the great tour.

So now it is just Brian and me, and we set sail for Colon, Panama in a few hours.  It is a 258nm passage to the west, and it should be a comfortable down wind run.  It should take us about 40 hours, assuming we average 6.5 knots and sail a straight course.

The good news is that Barbara will re-join Traveler in Panama, although it will be a short ten-day visit while she is on her Spring Break.  But we get to do the Canal together!

Living the Dream

March 22, 2010

Traveler Postcard From Historic Cartegena

Filed under: Year 3: July09 - July10 Greece to Newport Beach, CA, Caribbean — mrlawlerjr @ 7:59 am

Hola de Cartegena, Colombia,

Did you know there was a huge, historic battle between the Spanish defending Cartegena and the invading British in 1741?  King Philip of Spain had spies in London who discovered, in 1740, that the British were planning a major assault on Cartegena.  On learning this, the viceroy of Cartegena, which was then the most important Spanish colony in South and Central America, requested Spain’s most feared and heroic military leader, Don Blas, to lead the defense of the walled city.  Spain had spent 100 years building the wall around Cartegena and several forts around the harbor to defend her.  Most of the gold shipments from the New World to Spain passed through Cartegena. The British knew it had been nine months since the last shipment, so they reasoned a massive fortune awaited them.  If they could only capture Cartegena’s mighty Fortress of San Felipe, strategically located on a hill guarding the harbor and the walled city, the rest of the city’s defenses would fall quickly.

Don Blas, born in the Basque country of noble parents, was a living legend. At age 16, already an officer, he lost his left leg in the Battle of Gibraltar.  However, he continued his distinguished military service to the king, with more battle wounds to come. In the Battle of Toulon he lost his right eye, and later in the Battle of Barcelona he lost his right arm.  Still, at age 52 (quite old for those times), he agreed to cross the Atlantic and go to Cartegena to prepare the troops for the British invasion.  He had only 500 Spanish soldiers plus about 2,000 slaves and native Americans, which he armed and trained in four months to help defend the city.

On March 15, 1941 the first three of Adm. Edward Vernon’s fleet anchored off Cartegena, waiting for the other ships to arrive.  Over the next few days, a terrifying sight developed as 186 ships gathered for the invasion. Not counting the sailors (who stayed on the ships), Vernon had 23,600 men and 2,070 cannons ready for battle.  One of his officers was Lawrence Washington, George’s half brother.  The Washington family admired Adm. Vernon so much they named their farm Mount Vernon in his honor.

The battle began on April 1.  Adm. Vernon sent two of his largest warships into the harbor to bombard Fort San Felipe.  Lucky shots from gunners at San Felipe, aided by a chain stretched tight across the channel to stop the British ships, hit and sank both ships right in the narrowest part of the harbor, blocking the channel so the other ships could not follow.  Adm. Vernon then decided to off-load his cannon and mount an assault by land.  This took about a week, and resulted in one of the bloodiest battles in British history.  In addition to the casualties of war, during that week, many of the British troops became ill, mostly dysentery, malaria and yellow fever.  The epidemic spread quickly through the officers and soldiers to the point where the vast majority where unfit for duty and a retreat was ordered.  It took a month for the British to tend to their wounded and get ready for sea.  In their retreat, they destroy the minor forts that were taken.  Finally, on May 12 the siege of Cartegena was over.

But during the battle, while leading his soldiers, Don Blas took a cannon shot to his good leg, and died of his injuries shortly after the last British ship returned for England.

Two interesting footnotes.
1.  The British were so sure the would prevail that they struck a victory medal as soon as the siege was underway.  It depicted Don Blas kneeling before the British commander with the inscription, “The pride of Spain humbled by Ad. Vernon.”  The Brits apparently thought it was ungallant to conquer half a man (Don Blas’ amputations were well known), so the artist put his arm and leg back on for the medal, for the surrender that never occurred.
2.  Had the British won the Battle of Cartegena, historians believe that not only Colombia but all of the Spanish colonies throughout South and Central America would have fallen like dominoes and become British colonies.  And consequently they would be speaking English, rather than Spanish, throughout North and South America today.

Enough of the history lesson.  In my next Postcard I’ll share with you our visit to this historic city.

Living the Dream,
with Kellie and Brian

March 18, 2010

Traveler Postcard–”No more bad luck!”

Filed under: Year 3: July09 - July10 Greece to Newport Beach, CA, Caribbean — mrlawlerjr @ 8:22 am

“I’ve had enough bad luck.  No more bad luck!”  I was just listening to Eric Clapton crying the blues on my iPod, and I can really relate.

I was reading in one of the two dozen sailing magazines I keep on Traveler about another full time cruiser spending so much time fixing things on his boat.  He said, half jokingly, “Every part, every system, everything on a boat is either (a) broken, (b) just about to break, or (c) will break eventually.”  I’m beginning to think he speaks the truth.

So far this voyage, the list of mechanical, electrical, rigging, plumbing, and other things that have broken or somehow managed to go wrong is long, and never ending.

The current “To Do List” when I arrive in Cartegena includes (and I’m only half way there):

1.  The radar screen freezes.  Good thing the visibility is good at night and I haven’t really needed it.  We’ve seen only six ships in two days at sea.  I’ll have a Raymarine technician check it out, if and when I can find one.  With the past as a guide, it will probably be a part that will have to be ordered, will take a week to get here and will cost about a grand (also known as one boat buck.)

2.  The cotter pin (probably only a $1 part) on the starboard side jib car failed.  No idea how. Without it, the boat cannot be sailed, at least the jib cannot be used on a port tack.  I have two dozen spare pins, all the wrong size.  Maybe I can jury-rig something.

3.  The connector for the blue wire on the alternator broke off.  Again, no idea how, but at least I’ve become enough of an amateur marine electrician to diagnose the problem myself.  This means (a) the tachometer won’t work (no big deal), and (b) the alternator can’t charge the batteries (hum, this is a big problem). In addition to the engine-powered alternator to charge the batteries, I have solar panels (which work well, but not nearly enough to provide all my power needs), a wind generator (which works well when the wind is over 15 knots, and it has been under 12 this passage), and a gas-powered Honda portable generator.  The generator works great, but it’s noisy and I have to keep refilling its small gas tank–a bit of a challenge in rolling seas.  And it seems odd to be motoring in light air and have to run the generator at the same time to charge the batteries.  This loose wire thing can be fixed, but by a qualified marine electrician in Cartegena.

4.  And, more importantly to Brian and Kellie, the stereo has a power short.  It keeps going dead then restarting.  Very annoying when you are trying to listen to the Flaming Lips, for example.

But my worse luck this passage happened off the boat.  Yansen missed his flight back to Indonesia.  It wasn’t his fault.  He arrived at the Kingston Airport, ticket and passport in hand, several hours before the departure time.  It was the ticket I bought for him on line with Expedia.  I typed in “Kingston” as the departure airport, meaning Kingston, Jamaica.  But the box just said Kingston (not Jamaica).  Somehow, the ticket ended up departing from Kingston, Canada!  (No where on the ticket did it say “Kingston, Canada” as the departure city, just “Kingston” plus the three-letter code, which we know now is the code for Kingston, Canada.  The first leg of Yansen’s flight was form Kingston to Toronto, and Air Canada flies to Toronto from both Kingston, Jamaica and Kingston, Canada.  Not until Yansen arrived at the Kingston, Jamaica airport, after a two-hour bus ride and after we had departed for Cartegena, did he discover the mix up.  The $1,200 ticket was non-refundable.  I learned of the problem via an email from the manager of the marina where we stayed–Yansen returned there to try to sort things out.  After a few sat phone calls and several more emails and reviewing my options (which weren’t many), I had to buy a new ticket for Yansen, for another $1,200.  Ouch!

As the country Western song goes, “If I didn’t have bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.”  Time to change that. Wish me luck.

Living the Dream,

March 16, 2010

Traveler Postcard From Jamaica, Mon!

Filed under: Year 3: July09 - July10 Greece to Newport Beach, CA, Caribbean — mrlawlerjr @ 1:03 pm

March 16, 2010
Port Antonio, Jamaica
18-10.8N, 076-27.2W

Day-O!  Port Antonio was the inspiration for the Harry Bellafonte’s “Banana Boat Song.” (”Work all night for a drink of rum!  Daylight come and me wanna go home.”)

We just departed the Errol Flynn Marina in Port Antonio, where we stayed for three nights.  The marina is named after the actor who had a vacation home here.  Did you know he made 60 films back in Hollywood’s golden years?

A few days before our arrival Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz were wrapping up “Knight and Day,” expected to be released this summer.  We met some of the locals who assisted with the production, and they said the celebrities were nice and fun to work with.  TC also filmed “Cocktail” here.

We rented a car and had a local show us around–really the best way to see a new country.  Highlights included swimming under a waterfall, seeing the Palace Hotel, and having some good, local Jamaican food at a locals’ favorite beachfront restaurant outside of town. Brian had ox tail, Kellie had curry goat, and I had jerk chicken.

We feel like we could have stayed another week or two, as there was so much we didn’t get to see: the beaches and nightlife of Montego Bay, watching the sunset at Rick’s Cafe in Negril, Dunn’s River Falls near Ocho Rios, touring the Bob Marley Museum, seeing Goldeneye, the estate where Ian Fleming wrote most of his novels (hey, I’m a big James Bond fan.)  Oh, well.  Next time.

Jamaica is a great place to visit, but not so much to cruise around.  Officialdom is the problem.  It takes a half a day to check in and then another half day to check out, and you must check in and check out each time you move the boat, even if it is to the next harbor a short distance away.

Jamaica is a huge island, the third largest in the Caribbean (behind Cuba and Hispanola).  It has a population of 2.5 million, about of third of whom live in the capital of Kingston, and boasts the world’s greatest coffee (from the Blue Mountains) and the world’s fastest human being (from last summer’s Olympics.)

But the big news is that Yansen quit.  He missed home, his mother is not doing well, and he was becoming unhappy on Traveler.  We had a farewell Captain’s Dinner for him last night and remembered all the amazing experiences we have had together. I put him on a bus to the airport this morning.  It was sad saying goodbye, and we hope to see him again.  We wish him a “Happy Long Life.”

So now it is just Kellie, Brian and me, and we are underway to Cartegena, Columbia, 475 nm due south, a three-day passage.  We expect to arrive at Club Nautico the afternoon of March 19.

The next time we will see this latitude (18N) we will be approaching Manzanillo, Mexico, on the home stretch, around the first of June.

Living the Dream,
with Kellie and Brian

March 13, 2010

Traveler Postcard From Haiti

Filed under: Year 3: July09 - July10 Greece to Newport Beach, CA, Caribbean — mrlawlerjr @ 8:15 pm

Port Morgan
Ile a Vache, Haiti
Lat 18-06.24N
Long 073-41.57W

Bon jour,

The cruising guide warns yachts sailing between Puerto Rico and Jamaica to avoid Haiti altogether, especially the southwest corner of the island.  It recommends giving it a wide berth, passing at least 50 miles offshore.  There are a lot of desperate people with nothing to lose. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Piracy has been a part of their culture for hundreds of years, since the days of Capt. Henry Morgan (the port we are in is named after him and this is where his ship sank.)  And all of that was before the January 12 earthquake.

Since then you have seen the footage on CNN and read newspaper and magazine stories about the current situation.  Suddenly, there are 2 million people homeless with a huge percentage of the population injured and/or unemployed, spending all day trying to scrounge for themselves and their families, with very little food, clean drinking water or other necessities available.

This is now our third day in Port Morgan on Ile a Vache (Cow Island) at the SW corner of Haiti.  It has been an amazing experience, mostly in a good way.

On our arrival here we found it to be a very sheltered harbor with three other cruising sailboats at anchor (always a reassuring sight), two from France and one from the US.  We were immediately greeted by a dozen, friendly, polite boat boys who wanted to help us, clean the boat or sell us something.  We bought four drinking coconuts for $2, a nice way to start our visit.  A lobster fisherman paddled his dugout canoe to Traveler and sold us seven live lobster for $10, and Yansen made us a great dinner that night.

Next we gave away our care packages to four young men, each with six to eight in their families, and each had paddled out to Traveler. This included a bag of rice, a sack of potatoes, a salami, Frosted Flakes, a bag of Chips Ahoy cookies, four rolls of toilet paper, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a razor and a bar of soap.  Our donations were well received, as you can imagine.

The island has a population of 12,000, with 99% black and descendants of slaves.  It is about 7 miles long and 2 miles wide, and is situated just 6 miles off mainland Haiti.  We learned that Ile a Vache has no cars or electricity, just a dozen or so rural villages with foot trails connecting them.  About 90% of the island’s population has never even been to the mainland–so they have never seen a city, or a car, or used a telephone, or watched TV, or used a computer. Wow!

We had two guides take us on a hour-long hike to the main village for market day.  It was more of a sight-seeing field trip than provisioning, as there was very little offered for sale that we wanted.  The local bananas, however, were tree-ripened and excellent.  We saw lots of used clothing, probably donated items, offered for sale.

The fishing boats are mostly sailing vessels without engines. We rode one, with our guides, from the market in the main village back to Port Morgan.  It was a fun, memorable, downwind sail that took about a half hour.

We then rented horses to ride the island’s rolling hills, or at least we tried to do so.  The horse I was assigned to ride was pregnant, near full term, and didn’t like my weight on her back.  And the horses assigned to Kellie and Brian didn’t like each other, at all.  One violently bit the other on the neck and they both bucked, throwing Kellie and Brian off the homemade saddles.  It was a wild and memorable ride, and lasted barely five minutes.

We met the captain and crew for “Sea Hunter,” a 220 ft. research vessel specializing in recovering ship wrecks.  A few months ago they discovered the “Port Nicholson,” a wreck that was sunk by a German U-boat in 1942 off Boston in 650 ft. of water.  It has, they say, billions in gold and plutonium in its holds.  They plan to recover the treasure in the coming months.  Check out their website at  The Sea Hunter came to Haiti on a humanitarian mission with over a hundred thousand dollars worth of aid.  Unfortunately, its distribution was a disaster.  The ship and crew were first swamped with customs officials and police, who took the best for themselves, and then hundreds of desperate Haitians started fighting for the aid.  One man punched a woman in the face and took from her what she was given.  It got so out of control that Gary Esper, the captain, fired two warning shots into the air trying to regain control and ordered everyone off his ship.  By then, there was not much left.  The police arrested one of the locals hired by the Sea Hunter to facilitate the distribution, and demanded a payment of $10,000 US in customs duties (which Sea Hunter refused to pay). The police tried to detain the Sea Hunter because the captain fired a gun into the air and refused to pay the duty.  The situation was so bad that Sea Hunter left quickly without unloading a mobile field hospital, which was the most important single item they brought with them from the US to Haiti.  All this happened a few miles away on the mainland, and we met up with them the following day here at Port Morgan, where they were trying to unwind and enjoy themselves, and clean up their ship from all the mess, before returning to the US.

The Port Morgan Hotel, run by a Frenchman, is the only hotel on Ile a Vache, and I’d give it, generously, two stars (by American standards.)  But it is one of the finest hotels in the country, and one of the few that is open for business.  The food was excellent.  We had a fabulous fish dinner here our last night. At the hotel we met a French woman who had been working for the past five weeks in Port-Au-Prince for a Swiss charity that focuses on children.  She lived in a tent with few amenities.  She was at the hotel to take a weekend off.  She said one of the many shocking things she saw in Port-Au-Prince were all the flies, millions of them.

We are now in the Eastern Time Zone and have traveled through 21 out of 24 time zones, completing 7/8ths of the circumnavigation.

In a couple of hours we set sail for Port Antonio, Jamaica, an overnight passage of 155nm.  Look for our photos from Haiti, which I’ll post when we get to an internet cafe in Jamaica.

Living the Dream,
with Kellie, Brian and Yansen

March 8, 2010

Traveler Postcard From Santo Domingo

Filed under: Year 3: July09 - July10 Greece to Newport Beach, CA, Caribbean — mrlawlerjr @ 9:18 am

March 8, 2010
Santo Domingo
The Dominican Republic


After a most unpleasant experience with the officialdom in San Pedro de Macoris, our first port of entry in the Dominican Republic, we sailed 35 nm west to the nation’s capital, Santo Domingo, the oldest colonial city in the New World. What a contrast. Here the customs and immigration went very well, one of the easiest and most pleasant I’ve experienced on the voyage.  We took a berth at the Marina Bartolome Colon (only $26 per night).

The marina has both private armed security guards (pistols and shotguns) and armed military guards (AK 47s).  I asked if the heavy security was “necesario,” and was told “si.”  When I told the guards that we (Kellie, Brian, Yansen and me) wanted to walk from the marina to old town to sight see (it was about 7:30 pm), they said it was unsafe for tourists to walk around at night, especially through the area between the marina and old town, and strongly advised against it. But one of the guards, dressed in plain clothes and packing a visible pistol holstered in his belt, volunteered to escort us.  Yansen was a bit shocked and joked with me about the VIP treatment.  Just then (emphasizing Yansen’s point) a uniformed police officer stopped heavy, fast-moving traffic on the city’s main boulevard using his flashlight and whistle so we could safely cross the street.  It felt a little weird having a bodyguard for our two-hour stroll through the city, especially with all the locals staring at us.  We did not see any other tourists.  I got the impression that it is rare for Americans to visit Santo Domingo.

The next night Brian and Kellie ventured out alone.  I was a little concerned when I got up the next morning and I found they had not returned to Traveler.  They finally returned at 10 am with stories of a really fun night out on the town, and begged me to stay a few more days.  One of the locals they met with, Andres, is the 22-year old son of one of the wealthiest men in the country, and he showed Brian and Kellie a good time.  In the wee hours, Andres took Brian and Kellie to his home.  Brian said it was the biggest and nicest home he has ever been seen, rivaling anything in Newport Beach or Beverly Hills.

Last night was Carnival.  The DR celebrates it on the first Sunday of March, regardless of the start of Lent. The parade had nearly 200 amazing entries in colorful, fantastic costumes, and took five hours to pass.  It was an incredible sight and rich display of their culture, music and wild dancing.  They say Dominicans learn to dance before they learn to walk.

Unfortunately, the festivities were marred by some violence that I witnessed (and perhaps more that I missed.) Two rival gangs were mixing it up, and a couple of police stepped in to take control. One of the gang leaders, with all of his buddies watching, started mouthing off to the police and resisting.  Big mistake.  The police pounded him with their night sticks.  Standing just a few feet away, I caught it all on my video camera.  It was ugly. (Think LAPD and Rodney King.)

Then, about an hour later and near the end of the parade, I sensed the beer-drinking crowd was getting rowdy. Yansen got lost in the crowd hours earlier, and Kellie and Brian wanted to cruise around on their own and try to find their local friends, so I was by myself.  I decided it was time to head back to the boat when I heard Bang! Bang!–two gun shots fired in the crowd about a boat length away from me.  The crowd panicked and ran, but I remained standing next to a tree, watching and wondering what had happened, if anyone was shot.  I saw three police quickly disarm the shooter, rough him up a bit, and haul him off to jail.  Fortunately, no one was shot.  Strangely, within a minute, everything was back to normal, as if nothing had happened. Could violence be that common here, I wondered as I walked quickly back to Traveler?

We went shopping yesterday for food to donate to families in Haiti, our next stop.  I bought four each of the following, so each of us could adopt a family for the day:  a large Italian salami, a bag of rice, a sack of potatoes, Frosted Flakes cereal, a small bag of Chips Ahoy cookies, toothpaste and toothbrush, a pack of four rolls of toilet paper, a bar of soap and a disposable razor.  We also plan to do some volunteer work at a school.  I’ll let you know how it goes in my next Postcard From Haiti.  We set sail in just a few hours.

Living the Dream,
Michael and Team Traveler

March 4, 2010

Traveler: Yansen (Almost) Gets Deported…

Filed under: Year 3: July09 - July10 Greece to Newport Beach, CA, Caribbean — mrlawlerjr @ 9:12 am

First the bad news:
When we arrived in Fajardo, Puerto Rico the US Customs and Border Patrol found a technical flaw with Yansen’s visa and deported him!  I had to sign a form acknowledging his deportation and taking responsibility for removing him by departing via Traveler immediately.  If not, I too could be arrested!  I begged for a few days for us to see Puerto Rico, and the supervisor granted us a stay of five days.  But before the five days are up we must “depart foreign” which he explained as meaning we must leave Puerto Rico headed for a foreign country and must not try to enter the US with Yansen onboard at another US port of entry or risk arrest.  The supervisor also told me he created an electronic file on Yansen, on me and on the Yacht Traveler, so any US Customs and Border Patrol officer at any port of entry will see the deportation record.

I was stunned. I pleaded my case with the supervisor, told him every detail about Yansen’s visa, how I sponsored his application for a crew visa when we were in Morocco and the US State Department issued it after a lengthy interview and application review.  I told him I am an attorney and that I thoroughly researched the applicable immigration law and thought the visa was proper.  He told me that it was not proper because a crew visa is not available for a US flagged yacht if it is home-ported in the US.  The supervisor even called his supervisor in San Juan and got the same answer.

The way I left it with the supervisor was I politely asked him to do more research on the law and to review Yansen’s visa application, which he could get electronically from the State Department.  He said he has been doing this for 22 years and was sure he was right, but would look at the file and the law.

Yansen was not with me at the time, as usual.  (Typically, when a yacht arrives, the captain alone goes to immigration with the passports for all crew.) On the way back to Traveler, I worried how Yansen would react to the bad news.  He was devastated and confused.  How could the US State Department issue a visa and then the Border Patrol decide it was issued incorrectly and deny entry?  I told Yansen I need some time to think about what to do. We considered, as one option, flying him back home to Indonesia from Mexico, just before we finish the voyage.

Four days later I returned to the immigration office to advise them that we were ‘departing foreign’ and requested a clearance (a routine document required by the next country–for us the Dominican Republic.) The supervisor came to the window and immediately said I was right and apologized for his error.  He revoked the deportation, told me he corrected the electronic file and said Yansen’s visa was proper and we were good to go to the US.  He said he requested the visa application file form the US State Department, which was forwarded to him via an email, and then studied the law, and again said I was right and he was wrong.  Wow!  I was stunned, again.  All I could say was “Apology accepted.  Thank you.”

Yansen was, of course, pleased with the news.  But he was still a bit baffled by the whole affair.  Me too.

Living the Dream,

Warning: Do Not Visit San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic

Filed under: Year 3: July09 - July10 Greece to Newport Beach, CA, Caribbean — mrlawlerjr @ 9:07 am

San Pedro de Macoris
Dominican Republic
18-28N, 69-53W
March 3, 2010

Unless you are a glutton for punishment, I strongly urge any fellow yachties headed to the Dominican Republic to avoid San Pedro de Macoris, one of the four Ports of Entry on the south coast.  The check in procedure took an incredible 4.5 (!) very frustrating hours.  I have visited 52 countries in the past three years on this circumnavigation and this was, by far, the worst experience.

The authorities are just not set up for yachts.  From the way the officials acted (bumbling, unsure of what to do), it is obviously rare for a yacht to visit here.  At least 20 officials had to look at our papers, all of which were in order. We bounced back and forth between the Port Authority, Immigration, Customs, the Navy and someone from the Department of Agriculture.  Even though we were the only boat in the harbor and most of them watched us arrive, we were nevertheless asked about ten times, mindlessly, “Cuando llagaron?” (When did you arrive?) No one spoke any English.

The immigration fee is $10 per person for a Tourist Card, plus a $43 tourist fee for the yacht(?), which had to be paid in US dollars in exact change. It took a bookkeeper a half an hour to calculate the Port Authority fee, which came to $93, and it had to be paid in local pesos, in exact change. While we waited patiently I noticed the bookkeeper had a 2009 calendar on her desk turned to the month of January (14 months old.) They do not take credit cards, and the nearest bank is a dangerous 15 minute walk through town. Don’t go alone, and you will have a very hard time finding it unless a local takes you there.

Then the officials insisted on inspecting the boat, and required that I bring my boat to their rough concrete wharf, which had a few widely-spaced filthy black truck tires for fenders for ships and no cleats or any way for a yacht to tie up to the wharf.  Plus the wind was about ten knots and blowing onto the wharf with some chop.  I politely refused explaining that I did not want to damage my boat.  After a half an hour or so of arguing about it, they decided to go out to my boat, which was at anchor about 100 yards off the wharf.  I don’t know if it was intentional or gross negligence, but the guy driving their shore boat rammed my boat causing a long deep scratch to the gel coat topside.  And seven (!) officials felt it was necessary to board my boat for the inspection, five of them wearing filthy black soled work boots and the other two wore tennis shoes.  I asked that they please take their shoes off to come aboard, but they refused.  I then politely insisted, but only two out of seven were willing to take their shoes off, so I firmly refused to let the others step into the cockpit or go below and told them to get back on their shore boat.  It then got ugly, lots of shouting and name calling.  I pointed to the moron who crashed into my boat and called him “stupido y peligroso,” causing the other officials to laugh.  But I was angry.

The harbor is the worst we have seen, anywhere in the world.  You must anchor directly next to a very noisy power plant that puts out a huge amount of exhaust and runs 24 hours.  The water in the harbor is way too polluted to swim in or make water.

And there is nothing, absolutely nothing, in the city worth visiting.  It is filthy, unsafe and wholly unattractive.  We did not see one bar or restaurant that we would want to try (and we are not picky.)  We were the only tourists in the entire city.  And I can see why.  You’ve been warned.

Michael Lawler
Yacht “Traveler”

March 2, 2010

Traveler Postcard From Puerto Rico

Filed under: Year 3: July09 - July10 Greece to Newport Beach, CA, Caribbean — mrlawlerjr @ 9:33 pm

Buenos Dias,

We had a great week in Puerto Rico.  My sister Melissa, her husband Charlie and their 15-year old daughter Eliza were with us for the first two islands, Culebra and Vieques, then they flew home from San Juan.

These two islands, Culebra and Vieques, are located some ten miles east of the main island of Puerto Rico.  They are called the Spanish Virgin Islands, but are part of Puerto Rico.

We anchored in Dewey, the main harbor for Culebra, dinghied around to check out the place, and decided to eat dinner ashore at Mamacita’s, which is really the only restaurant on the island.  It was a lively yachty crowd, great service and fabulous food!  Thanks, Charlie! Kellie and Brian went for a walk about to work off dinner, and returned to what then thought was the dinghy dock. They weren’t sure if it was the right dock, so they walked further to investigate and just as they realized it was a private home, they heard the demonic growl of a guard dog. Startled, they turned to run away, Kellie was a few steps ahead of Brian, they heard the scratching of the dog’s claws on the cement as he was getting up to attack and before they could get away the dog was right next to Brian. Brian, knowing he didn’t have a chance of outrunning the beast, stopped and faced the dog, put his hands up and said, “It’s OK it’s OK!!” and the dog stopped its charge and decided not to tear them apart…  The next morning we went to Flamingo Playa, voted as one of the top ten beaches in the Caribbean (we agree!), for some fun body surfing.

We weighted anchor and motor-sailed south to Vieques (about the size of Catalina).  On the way we saw a pod of 6-8 humpbacks and followed them for a half hour.  Very cool.  Then we anchored for the night at Mosquito Bay, better known as Bioluminescent Bay.  It has the highest concentration of phosphorescence anywhere in the world, and we had the place to ourselves.  We all (7 of us) piled into the dinghy to ride around the lagoon and see the amazing sight of the water light up.  The bioluminescent organisms glow eerily when disturbed by a paddle, the propeller or just your hand in the water.  With the weight of seven people, the dinghy goes slowly, but it was a thrill to all be together and see this natural nocturnal phenomenon.  Then we then took turns, two at a time, for a high-speed dinghy ride around the same flat calm water of the lagoon.  Wow!  It was spectacular!

But it wasn’t all good in Mosquito Bay.  Just as the sun was setting, Kellie and Brian were snorkeling back to Traveler when they were freakishly attacked by a fish.  The fish was possibly a mora (also known as a pilot fish or a sucker fish, which attaches itself to a larger fish, usually sharks.  It was not that big, maybe only 14 inches, but it was very aggressive. It bit Brian and kept trying to bite Kellie.  I was close by in the dinghy, sped over when I saw them screaming, and hauled them out of the water.

Early the next morning we sailed to the Port of Fajardo on the NW corner of the main island.  This is a huge yachting center, one of the largest in the Caribbean, with several marinas.  We picked one, Marina Chico (showers, wifi, cafe, good security, helpful staff: $100/night) and rented a car to take Melissa, Charlie and Eliza to the airport, and then to use the car for some island sight seeing, for the next two days.

We enjoyed the Aricebo Observatory, the world’s largest radio telescope.  “Contact” and “Goldeneye” were filmed here.

Next we saw the Rio Camuy Cave Park.  Are guide took us on an hour tour of a huge, spectacular cavern.  He said the island, mostly limestone, is covered with caves, with 2,000 known caves and of those only about 800 have been explored.

We liked Old San Juan, especially the Castillo de San Felipe del Morro, a US National Historic Monument and a World Heritage Site.

But the greatest natural wonder, and biggest tourist attraction, is the rain forest: El Yunque.  We caught it on a perfect day: sunny, warm, no insects, and two days after a good rain so the waterfalls were cranking, but the hiking trails were dry, and gorgeous!

Living the Dream,
with Team Traveler (Kellie, Brian and Yansen)

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