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by Dan and Jan Ahart
We left George Town on January 25, 2001. We had waited five days for favorable weather. Even at this latitude (23 degrees, 29 minutes North) the effects of the trade winds often create easterly winds that are very difficult to sail into, so like most cruisers in this modern era, we motor sailed, which means we used the sails and the engines at the same time. The further one goes south, the more one encounters the trade winds and the more difficult it is to sail to eastward. The trade winds are synonymous with the Caribbean tropics and the tropics begin at the Tropic of Cancer, or 23 degrees north latitude. Many experienced sailors sail due east from Ft. Lauderdale for some 700 miles and then turn due south to the Leeward and Windward Islands. They find this faster than slogging their way southeast against the winds. However, we wanted to see the sights along the way, so we selected slogging.
Several hours after leaving George Town, we dropped anchor on the southern shore of Rum Cay, so named because a ship with a cargo of rum ran aground there in the mid 1800s. It is a small island with a population of only a hundred or so. It boasts a nice marina, a nice little store that stocks the essentials and three restaurant/bars, the most famous of which is Kay's, which is named for the daughter of the proprietor, whose name is Dolores. Dolores won't give her exact age, but she has been around for a long time. She has even written a book about Rum Cay, a copy of which she will show you that was autographed by Sidney Poitier, who was originally from the Bahamas. She also has autographed pictures on the walls of other famous visitors including Jimmy Buffet. One could sit at her bar, with its sand floor and listen to her stories for days. It is one of those cross-road establishments, where if you wait long enough, everyone who cruises this part of the world, will eventually walk in. And just to prove what a small world it is, we met a couple who were best friends with a former employee of mine, who I hadn't seen in over 20 years. We got the feeling we were at a tropical island version of Rick's Café from the movie "Casablanca."
We reluctantly left Rum Cay on February 3rd and sailed to Crooked Island, which was the location of the first Bahamian home of Evans Cottman, the "Out Island Doctor," who sailed his own small boat throughout the Bahamas practicing medicine in the 1940s and 50s. Mr. Cottman was not an M.D., but because of the shortage of doctors, was licensed by the Bahamian government to practice medicine. He was a former high school biology teacher, who although largely self-taught, provided basic medical care to thousands of islanders and is still thought of with great respect today. He eventually moved to Marsh Harbor in the Abacos, where he died. Today, his house is a museum. Our next stop was Plana Cay, which even by Bahamian standards had the clearest water we have ever seen. We relished in an afternoon swim. Plana Cay is small and uninhabited and as far as we could tell we were the only visitors that day. The next day we went on to Mayaguana, which although larger hadn't a fraction of the charm of Rum Cay. However, because of unfavorable winds, we stayed for 11 days, finally leaving on February 6th.
After an overnight sail, we anchored at Providenciales, Turks and Caicos. The Turks and Caicos is a group of islands that lie southeast of the Bahamas, but elected to remain a colony of Great Britain, when the Bahamas became independent. "Provo" as cruisers refer to it, uses American currency and is much more like a small part of American, than is the Bahamas even though it is still a British colony. The people were friendly and the grocery stores were large, so we were able to replenish our supply of favorite American breakfast cereals and other items. anchored there we met Bruce Van Sant, who is the author of several guidebooks on Bahamian and Caribbean cruising. He no longer sails, but has a power-boat; he uses to travel among the islands gathering data to update his guidebooks. He lives in Luperon, Dominican Republic, with his wife Rosa. Also in the harbor was a large boat operated by another expatriate American named Bill, who several nights a week opened the bar on his boat and sold drinks to the cruisers anchored there and provided VCR movies and free popcorn. This was a very popular activity and the movies, most of which everyone had seen, provided a good icebreaker for conversation. Again, we met many other cruisers, some of whom we still communicate with on the radio from time to time.
On February 27th we sailed southeast to Ambergris Cay. The next day we sailed overnight to Luperon, Dominican Republic, which is located on the northern coast of Hispaniola. The D.R. comprises the eastern two thirds of the island and Haiti occupies the western one third. Hispaniola is the first real Caribbean island most cruisers visit. Unlike the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos, which have topography similar to the Florida Keys. Hispaniola is of volcanic origin and has very high mountains, one of which exceeds 10,000 feet. Landfall was quite impressive after so many months among low-lying islands. Luperon has a very well protected harbor, but the water is not clear as it is in the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos. The country is also much poorer, but the Dominicans are very friendly and go out of their way to make cruisers welcome. To provide safety and security, both the municipal pier and the private marina had armed guards, who carried sawed off shotguns with pistol grip stocks. Everyone behaved!
We were startled when we arrived in Luperon because we saw a motor launch with very large lettering on its hull that identified it as "Revolutionary Police" and there were many armed guards and lots of activity at the municipal marina. It turned out that a German film crew was making a movie and had disguised the municipal pier to look like Marina Hemingway in Cuba. To add to our surprise, D.R. officials of customs, immigration and agriculture came out and boarded Sojourner to clear us in. In the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos, we had to take our ships papers and passports ashore to clear customs and immigration. The boarding was actually quite convenient for us.
Luperon is small, with just
a few thousand inhabitants and overall clean if the street cleaners
have swept recently. Even though there are city trash receptacles,
the Dominicans have the unsavory habit of tossing all their trash
in the gutters. Some days, the streets were pretty awful. And as
one would expect at a tourist stop, there were numerous bars and restaurants.
The food was very good, but the bars played incredibly loud music
from morning until well after midnight. More to come. Stay tuned.