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Monday, 23 November 2009

Sailing with Captain Ray.

19 53.60N 70 57.0W
We're in Luperon at the Puerta Blanca so called "Marina", it's 9.30am and we're half an hour early, so we've ordered breakfast and are waiting for Ray to arrive to take us on a weekend sail down to El Castillo. Ray arrives with his friend Barry at about 10, and over coffee we get the low down on our itinary. Plans have changed, since we spoke a few days ago, because Ray tells us, that to leave Luperon he would need a despachio, which basically is a piece of paper from the harbour master to say we are not new arrivals to the country. Without this we can't dock in El Castillo so Ray suggests we go for a day sail and return to Luperon Bay for the night.
Ray then tells us that although he bought his boat, a 36ft contessa, three years ago he has only sailed it for one day and that was yesterday when he and Barry took it out to see if everything still worked. Still he seems confident that every things fine and so we head off to the jetty to climb aboard the dingy, although first Ray has to blow up the dingy as it's got a slow leak that he's tried to fix but so far he's failed to find it. Well I know what he means little leaks can be a bother, so we brush this off as an everyday hazard with dingies. Hold on, says Ray as he goes to start the out board it may shoot off at high speed as he has to start it at full throttle.The engine kicks into life and in a cloud of smoke we leave the jetty and skip across the calm waters of Luperon bay to find "The Odyssey" waiting serenely at anchor for us. On board we find ourselves on a blokes boat, it's a bit of a mess to tell the truth and badly needs a womans touch, and a good bit of spit and polish. Anyway we're hardly going to be below so what the heck, we're here to learn to sail, and what we can see, and understand the bits that make the boat go are all there and Ray exudes an air of confidence that make us relaxed and ready to and learn to sail.
Ray shows us where the life jackets are, although we never put them on I'm reminded now, and showed us the toilet, which for some bizarre reason they call Head, and the rest of the downstairs stuff.
Once underway, Ray turns on his hand held GPS and gets out the chart. His chart for Luperon bay is an A4 copy given to him by a friend in Luperon which, although the course is clearly marked, it's relation to the shore is a little unclear to me. However there are, what they call waypoints, which are marked on a map of the sea and correspond to degrees of longitude and latitude. North to south lines go one way and the others go around the circumference, listen to me with me long words, they both represent 360 degees of a circle, and I remember being taught about that in school 50 years ago, and now I get to use it. A GPS can pinpoint where you are at sea to within a yard. So looking at the readout on his GPS Ray is confident that we're on course and we putter out towards the mouth of the Bay, and out to sea. The waypoints, scribbled in biro on the "chart" proved to be fine. In my RYA dayskipper manual Ive read up on the international rules of the bouying systems,for harbors, and expected the same, or if not a little like it here. But when you leave Luperon there are no bouys. So these waypoints are crucial to the sailors, especially leaving and entering harbour. Ray has put Barry on the tiller, and Barry is not the quickest of wits, and once or twice on the way out we had Ray chastising Barry for his heading skills, and his confusion in picking out transits, or landmarks as your landlubber would call them. Besides the GPS Ray has a bit of kit made by "Garmin" which I recognize from our Largs start yachting course. It tells you your depth and speed, unfortunately, this one is displaying no digits where it says speed, Ray has still to figure out how make that work, but he can get that from the GPS if he needs to. Cool, and those other three instruments that don't seem to be moving, oh that's the wind speed, but it's broken, the wind direction, is also not working plus another dial that stayed static. This made up the electronics of the Odyssey, although we did have a VHF radio that now and then would crackle into life, but only when someone in Luperon bay was organizing another sailors party so we paid it no attention. The seas off the North coast of DR are often rough but today is just a pleasent 3 to 4ft swell and a good stiff inshore breeze. Lets go sailing.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Encounters of the Luperon kind

We're holed up in our apartment just east of caberete on the North coast of Dom. Republica. We arrived late Sat, and after a get over it day on Sunday we decided last night, over a couple of margaritas that today would be a good day to visit Luperon. Like I said in the previous entry, we are hoping to connect with a guy called Ray whose offered to give us some lessons whilst we're out here on holiday for the next month.
Being from the Uk were about 4 hours ahead of the time here so we're always up very early, this morning we were up at about 4.30am. We figured it would take about two hours to drive to Luperon so we watched the dawn come up over our beautiful beach and after breakfast set off at about 8am.
We had a map, courtesy of the National geographic society, that we were hoping was going to guide us there, but by the time we left Puerta Plata we were starting to realise that this map wasn't exactly helpful. The main problem is that in Dom Rep you very rarely get signs that tell you where your going so at best it's aguess that your on the right road. Number two problem is that towns that appear on the map are not on the road that we're taking, and towns that are signed are'nt on our map. Anyway we found the Luperon turning and eventually Luperon itself. A quick enquiry as to where the Marina was, and we're told straight on. But staight on takes us 20 miles out of our way. We turned round and after backtracking to Luperon we eventually pull into the Luperon yacht club only to find out that it's open everyday except Monday. Today is Monday, doh.
The yacht club sounds very grand and although it's got a couple of infinity pools the size of a saucer I think it's seen better days, maybe when it's humming it's a different vibe but today it looked a little forlorn, and abandoned. We take one of the myriad of tracks to find ourselves at a keyside bar. At least we've found some water and some boats and best of all a bar where we can buy a cold cerveza. This place is also very quiet but there's someone to serve us a beer and that's enough. We ask about Gill, but recieve blank responses, we need to find Gill, who sells the boats to find Ray whose going to maybe take us sailing.
We run into a German lady in her mid 60s' who speaks English and knows Gill, but doesn't know how we get in touch with him even though she's had her boat on his books on and off for some time. She's been here for four years after sailing from Germany. She can't live on land she says, too many problems, and prefers to stay anchored here in Luperon bay. She gives us all sorts of negatives about buying boats here or even sailing here, it's all too difficult, but we take this with a pinch of briney, it's not what we want to hear and go off looking for Gill. After abortive sorties around the myriad of tracks we're back at the bar and run into a guy who says follow me I'm going to pass by Gills house. About a mile from the "marina/bar" we finally track down Gill, Luperon yacht sales man.
Gill lives in a building that is based around a container that he put on this piece of land some years back. It's hard to spot the container now but a part of it is still his office. The other 2/3rds has been converted to bedrooms. He's a conveinial grey haired, but wirery Canadian who seems easy to talk to. He says he'll call Ray who may come around, which he does a few minutes later. Rays wearing shades and reminds me of my friend Tony, who went of to live in Thiland. He's seventy but seems full of beans and is obviously enjoying his expat, ex-deceased wife life style in the wild west type of town that is Luperon. Ray is a Newcastle man and still has the jordy lilt to his tonuge, I feel very easy in his company' but I'm not sure if he's really a proper sailor at this point or just some one with a boat eager to make a few bob.
He takes us off to meet with a man he's going to buy a telly off, the telly is on a boat in the bay and we drive off to meet Jerome. Jerome has a 38ft boat moored out in the bay, and we meet him on the ramshakle pier just on the edge of town. How we missed this bit of Luperon I don't know, but soon were in a dingy bobbing out to Geromes boat. My boats for sale, he says , what you looking for. That's exactly what the German lady said. Everybody here seems is stuck here trying to sell their boat. Anyway we get on board Jeromes boat, have a beer and he demos his TV to Ray.
Afterwards we motor back to the keyside in the punt and Jerome takes Rays car, which he's hired for a few hours to go pick somebody up from the airport. We chat to Ray about sailing and got into town to conclude our intro in a humble small cafe that Ray recommends. Here we here a little more of Rays adventures at sea, that are very entertaining, and give me more cofidence that we may just be able to learn a little more about the dark art of reefing and rigging, especially on the North coast of Dom. Rep.
He insists we come and visit his dominican domain, where lemon trees and Mango grow in his Garden. But the house is a bit of a dissapointment, a little spartan, and a lot unkempt. The garden is also a wasteland of scrub stretching for all but 10 yards. But to give the man his dues it did have mango and lemon trees in it, I think.
We've taken Rays number and have said we're up for a voyage round the headland where we'll stop for the night before coming back to Luperon. There's a nice little fish resteraunt he knows in El castillo which sounds good to me, we'll stay overnight and sailback the next day. We can't get a price out of him but it will be less than Sunsail in the BVI, he says. I thinke he's a bit embarassed about money so we don't press that one, and just agree that sometime in the next week I'll call him and we'll arrange a time and a place. It's not exactly RYA but it's sailing in the Dominican Republic, and that;s enough for me, and it's enough for Jackie. We leave at about four and head back to Orilla Del Mar, a two hour drive at prime chaos time on the road through peuta plata, but arrive before dark, infact with just enough light left for a dip in the pool, and a debrief of the day to Louise and David' who have done Luperon. They liked it, but not for the same resons we did, we we're there for the boats, we had seen these boats on the internet and now here we were, and just a jot away from building on our start yachting course, but here in the caribbean, just down the road from our apartment, this was going to be a new adventure in Dom Rep and a little off beam, shall we say, but it fits in perfectly with our plan, so all we got to do now is call Ray, arrange a date, and we'll be sailing in the Caribbean.. Woooooooooooooooooooooooooweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.