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Monday, 21 December 2009

Snow brrrrrrr.

The snow came down at the weekend and with Christmas just a few days away we're being distracted from the dream at the moment. Anyway, this reminds me why we want to sail in the Caribbean and not the Irish sea. It seems ages now since Luperon although it was only 10 days ago. We're going to do our Day skipper course in the new year, and we're thinking of doing the London boat show, just to feed our addiction, in January, that'll be something to look forward to.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Goosewinged and guitarless in Luperon

Tom runs the marine outfitters store at Puerta Blanca "marina", although I think you can only buy Snickers bars there. He's a sort of friend of Rays and he has a solid dingy that doesn't need pumping up at all. He will be our agua gua gua this morning, and with seven us in what should be a four man dingy, we're a little low in the water. There's just a hint of chop on the surface this morning, but as Tom takes it slowly we make Odyessy completely dry (not quite but I'm not complaining) and climb aboard.
It's a perfect morning for sailing, the sun shines in a cloudless sky and in Luperon bay there's a slight breeze. We take off the sail cover and attach the shackle of the main halyard to the peak of the mainsail, start the engine and cast off from the mooring. I take the helm and steer our now familiar course pass the boats at anchor on the far side of the bay heading for the tricky entrance where we've run aground twice already. Ray tells me to pass close to the anchored boats keeping them to starboard, although watching the depth gauge slip quickly from 13ft to 10 then suddenly to 6ft we bump to a halt. Grounded yet again, we should have kept the boats to port, as we're leaving at low water. Whoops, we may need our Irishman again, but Ray throws her into reverse and we slide free.
At the bay entrance we spot two new marker posts that have appeared, mysteriously, but not trusting them we pick our own course gingerly out to sea. This time we get through without incident.
Even out on the Ocean the seas are fairly flat but theres enough breeze to sail and soon the sails are set and we head towards El Castillo. Martin wants to find a bay where we can swim but we will have to sail down wind to get there. We unfurl the jib and set the sails in a goosewing, that is when you have the main sail on one side of the boat and the jib furled on the other. This turns out to be a difficult sail as the wind is behind us but the swell is coming on the starboard beam, or right hand side. The Jib fills with wind and loses the wind constantly causing it to flap furiously and then snap full. We sail like this for at least a couple of hours making very slow progress. Me and Jackie take turns at the helm, but progress is slow. Funny I thought with the wind behind us we would be going fast but it's not the case. Ray checks the chart against the GPS and reckons we're not going to have enough time to do this trip so we all agree to return to Luperon instead. By this time the wind has picked up considerably and so have the seas. We spend the next three hours making long tacks against the wind to get back to base. All this tacking involves lots of resetting of sails which is great practice, and I start to get a real feel for helming the boat and getting the best speed whilst sailing as close to the wind as I can. By the end of today I'm feeling that I'm starting to really understand how to sail. By the time we get close to Luperon the seas are quite big, no breaking waves but never the less quite challenging, Windermere and Morecambe bay will seem tame to this. Having this experience should be excellent grounding when we get back to England and start our Day skipper course.
Ray takes over for the entrance into the bay, and with the tide now high we have an incident free end to our day. We flake the sails put on the cover and Tom comes out to pick us all up and take us back to the marina.
Of course there had to be an incident, this is sailing with Ray after all. Ray had come down to the marina in his car, and in the back he had my guitar and his dog. When we arrived back at puerta blanca there is no car to be seen. It seemed that his sail boat buddy Jerome, had borrowed it to take his wife to Puerta Plata airport for a 5.30pm flight. He won't be back till at least 7pm and Martin and Suzy want to be back before dark. The easy solution would be for us to meet Jerome on the way but as is always the case with Ray, bless his soul, nothings that easy. Jerome doesn't have a mobile phone, everybody on this island has a mobile phone, but not Jerome. The only solution is for Ray to come and pay us a visit tomorrow and return my guitar. He has to go into Puerta Plata for a, lets just say, a delicate medical test, tomorrow and it will give him a chance to show Barry another side to Dom Rep.
Sure enough they arrive next day with my guitar, but they've had trouble with the radiator over heating and have had a precarious journey having to constantly stop to top up the radiator. He'll get back OK he reckons if they take it easy. Oh well what more could we expect, only to say that sailing with Ray has been an incident filled adventure and one that we will remember with much affection, for him, Barry man, and the sailboat Odyssey. Tomorrow we fly back to the UK with a wealth of experience and a thirst for the next chapter in our sailing story.

Health & Safety at work

I can't leave this blog today without a note about Ray's life-raft. He had us in stitches as he described how he tried to test it after discovering that it was not secured to the deck. Before drilling holes in his deck and ever-mindful of Health & Safety, Ray thought he would bring the life-raft ashore to check it out. He wrestled it on board the dingyand brought it up to the Marina in full view of the bar and all it's occupants. Under the cover the canister looked a little corroded so he pulled the cord and the six-man lift-raft started to inflate and the dome raised nearly full height - when 'BANG' it exploded and deflated like a popped balloon much to the mirth of the many onlookers. The water sachets in the life-raft said 'use by 1986' - just a little out of date. Ray rescued a little coit (spelling? anyway a little rubber ring thing that we used to play with as kids) with a thin orange rope which he now has proudly attached to the back of the boat in case of man-overboard. Ever the optimist, Ray said 'Oh well it saves me drilling holes in the deck then, and I've plenty life-vests on board'. Very reassuring.

Blessings in disguise

Continued by the First Mate...
I was soaked through and had to sit on a towel whilst we waited for Ray to arrive. After another round of G&Ts, Ray reasoned that it was probably the guy who had borrowed his dingy and who must have turned the pump valve the wrong way letting the air out. We agree that it was probably a good thing that the engine cut out or we may have sunk half way across Luperon Bay so that's good then. But we're still up for Shaggies Bar and Ray says he'll drop us off at a hotel in the centre of town so we can walk along to Shaggies later and we leave Colin's guitar in his car. The hotel looks a bit typico but anything will do as I need to get out of my wet shorts. A smiling Dominican opens a gate and we climb the stairs to our room and its going to be OK - very clean and amazingly hot and cold water and at the same time! Can't help feeling a little sorry for Martin and Susy although they will have the pleasure of a wonderful dawn at the Yacht Club. We shower and change and head off to Shaggies for a night of music and meatloaf (not the musician just some food) but there are only two german guys there. Shaggie is leaning back in a chair and the bar seems to be shut. Shaggie opens the bar as Ray, Barry, two Carmens and a Jessica arrive. The girls are young and Ray's Carmen is very beautiful but the language barrier prevents much conversation between us. Colin gets out his guitar and Shaggies Dominican girlfriend joins him in a rendition of a Beatles song. Later Colin sings the Luperon song again to much applause from Ray and Barry. 'James Bond meets Dr No' goes down particularly well as Jessica joins in with the chorus of 'Eye Eye Eye'. Now we're really hungry and Shaggie has no food so we head off to look for some pico pollo. Luperon is in darkness as we have the usual 'outage', there are oil lamps here and there and we eventually find ourselves outside a typico comida place but they have nothing left. A few steps away and we are in a little painted wooden shack with a tin roof. It's spotless and in the corner a fire burns under a caldron. The master of the house finds plastic chairs from somewhere and soon we have a huge spread of plantains, meat of unspecified kind but very delicious and some ensalada. We all tuck in and then Colin and I head back to our deserted hotel and sink a few rums as we play a game or two of backgammon on the balcony over-looking the streets of Luperon and we look forward to another day of sailing with Captain Ray.
In the morning we awake at dawn and after a refreshing shower we sit on the balcony and watch Luperon come alive as we eat chunks of fresh pineapple and papaya. A stray dog tips a metal drum over, spilling litter onto the street and one or two moto-conchos drive by. After a while the traffic starts to increase and a trickle, then a stream of children, neat in their school-uniforms pass by. Shops start to open and I watch a large Dominican guy clear his nose as he raises the shutters on his Gift Shop, named Jumbo's rather aptly. OK so we had the beautiful dawn at the Yacht Club last week but this is fun and we feel we are experiencing Dominican life in the raw. As the sun hits the balcony the town is buzzing with moto-conchos darting about in the usual chaotic way. We stroll out to find an Orange shop which is only a few yards away and is open. Colin tops up his phone so we can ring Susy and Martin and we wander down to the Upper Deck for breakfast and to rendevous with our sailing companions.

Friday, 11 December 2009

That sinking feeling

It's our last week here in the Dominican Republic and Suzy and Martin have suggested that we have a fun day out together. They have bought a second hand, but newish 4 x 4, and we're going to Luperon for another days sailing with Ray. As with all our adventures here, this one will have it's hiccups. On the way we stop for lunch at Colfresi, at a little beachfront restaraunt but when Suzy opens the car door to leave the alarm starts up and no amount of furiously pushing buttons on the key fob seems to make any difference. The alarm just keeps cycling through it's whoop whoop, wha wha, nee naw nee naw sequence. Martin is on the phone to the guy he bought it off when a young moto concho man comes to our rescue. He finds the wire to the alarm and pulls it off. The alarm stops, but the car still won't start. A few minutes later another young man on a motor cycle pulls up and reckons he's an electrico, and out of his rucksack produces a circuit tester. This looks promising, I think, although Martins not at all sure he wants a Dominican style fix to his new car. The electrico dives beneath the steering colums and yanks at something and suddenly all is now quiet, and he turns the key and starts the engine. Muchos gracias, we're out of trouble and on our way although 400 pesoes lighter, but we don't mind cause now we can get on with our "fun" day out.
We arrive at the Luperon yacht club at about 5pm, order a cerveza, and check on rooms but they've only one available. We phone Ray who's happy for me and Jackie to stay on his boat for the night and so we arrange to meet him in an hour at the puerta blanca "marina". The plan is that we will all be going to eat at Shaggies bar later, and being Wednesday there'll be a bit of a session going on. However this plan stumbles as Suzy and Martin don't fancy taking their new car into Luperon in the dark, and would prefer to have dinner at the yacht club and a quiet night. Ok, no problem, we say, we can take Rays dingy to the boat, drop our stuff and pop over the harbour to the town jetty which is just a stones throw from Shaggies bar. Well that's the plan.
Suzy and Martin drop us at puerta blanco with one overnight bag, a rucksack, a cool bag with wine and rum plus mixers,and a guitar in a flight case.
We find Ray pumping up the dingy, which as you may remember, has a slow puncture, but that's fine as it stays pumped up for a good few hours once inflated. We load all our gear into the dingy which makes for a tight squeeze for the crew of two but we're fine and I fire up the engine. By now it's completely dark but we've done this trip before, it'll take us about five minutes to reach Rays boat. Due to a minor problem, Ray's dingy engine has no neutral, and as soon as the engine kicks in we speed away from the key and wave farewell to Ray saying we'll meet him later at Shaggies.
Jackie is perched on the front and as the night is rather windy the bay is choppy and Jackie is catching the spray so I slow down as we pass the end of the jetty and turn but just then the engine dies. As I try to start restart it we're being blown back but it just won't fire. We have a small torch and I check the fuel, it seems full, but with the wind we're in all sorts of trouble so we take to the oars and paddle back to the jetty. I try the engine again and this time it starts and we're on our way, but again we only get as far as the end of the pier when it cuts out again. Now we're drifting underneath a big catermaran and only just manage to claw our way out and start back on the one
oar we have free. We're blown back again going in circles till the engine fires but within seconds stops. The other thing that we've now noticed is that the dingy seems to be deflating a lot faster than it had in previous trips. We aren't far from the jetty but we now seem to have no engine, are trying to steer with one oar, and we will soon be sailing in a deflated dingy. Better abandon this ship, and get back to the jetty pronto. We release the other oar, although Jackie is in no position to use it. We're not exactly panicking at this point but lets say nerves are a little frayed, and when Jackie asks which way she should row and I say "the right way", lets just say this doesn't ease the situation, but some how manage to make the end of the jetty. The problem here though is that the jetty is about 4ft high and we're heading under it. Somehow Jackie manages to heave herself out of a very floppy dingy and onto the floating pontoon whilst I hastily throw her our bags and the guitar. By the time I get out the dingy is about two thirds deflated, but at least we're back on dry land. It's been half an hour since we set off and we're back at the puerta blanca "marina"bar with a couple of stiff G&Ts. Tonight we won't be sleeping on the boat.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Second lesson in running aground

First Mate's submission...
Despite problems with mobile phones and unlikely-to-be-received messages on Facebook via a borrowed laptop in Shaggies last night, Susy phones to say they were on their way to join us for some sailing. Martin is dead keen although he worries that Susy will be seasick but she is determined to try new things and have new adventures. They join us at Puerto Blanco just after 10am and we make two trips in the dingy to get us all aboard. It's a perfect day with a good breeze and we set about taking off the sail cover and making ready as Ray starts the engine and we head off to negotiate the tricky exit of Luperon Bay. We are now pretty confident we know where the narrow deep channel is and where to squeeze between the two reefs. Ray is at the helm but is getting acquainted with Martin and loses concentration as we approach the little beach where we should turn sharply to starboard. He misses it and we go aground on a sandbank (again!). Ray puts the engine into full ahead but no progress forward, just sideways as the wind pushes us towards the beach. It's all a bit chaotic and I worry that Susy will be losing confidence as we wallow about on the sandy bottom. Suddenly a dingy approaches at full speed and a friendly Irishman pops his head over the side to offer assistance. We quickly hand him a halyard and he drags Odyssey over on her side, lifting the keel off the sandbank and we move slowly forward. Ray calls over that he owes our saviour a bottle of rum as we continue out towards the reefs. Once in open water Colin hoists the mainsail and we trim in the jib as Ray shuts down the engine and we're off out to sea. This is exhilarating sailing with breaking waves and with a strong wind we are soon a mile or so off land. As we clear the headland the swell increases strongly and we have some huge waves which Ray's boat takes in her stride. Susy is quiet but seems to be hanging on in with Martin sitting close as Colin and I take turns at the helm and lines. Barry nods off as his crewing skills don't seem to be in demand. Somthing tells me his evening didn't end at Shaggies last night. Martin and Susy are sitting on the upper deck in front of the liferaft and as they lean in response to a large wave the liferaft slips to one side. Ray admits that securing this vital item of equipment is yet another job that needs doing, the liferaft is just resting on the deck so Ray spends most of the voyage leaning against it to prevent it going overboard. Susy asks Ray innocently, 'What happens if someone does go overboard?'. 'I'll give you a demonstration' says Ray and I wonder who is going to get the short straw. But Ray pulls out a tissue, throwing it overboard he says we will pick it up before it sinks. Ray pushes the tiller hard over and Odyssey turns on a sixpence, sails flapping madly until we are suddenly heave-to, with the jib fighting the mainsail we have virtually stopped and there in the water is the tissue. Confidence restored!
On the way back Colin offers Martin the helm and he jumps at the chance. Holding a steady course we crash through the waves and Martin, now grinning from ear to ear, lets out a 'Yee Hah' as spray wets us through to the skin. Martin is clearly loving this and has sailed many times before. He takes us safely back into Luperon Bay and I know this won't be for the last time as he's already talking about buying a boat. As we approach the mooring, Barry gets the boat hook and with Colin they wrestle with it at the bow trying to pick up the lines. Somehow Barry drops the boathook and its chaos again. We are floundering about with the current and wind pushing us dangerously close to the mangroves and shallow water. Ray keeps the engine in forward as we try to maneouvre the boat close to the dingy amid much shouting and hand signals. Barry hands Colin his hearing aid in preparation for jumping in to retrieve the boathook. Quick thinking Martin jumps into the dingy and we are safe once again but the boathook, well that floats by towards the mangroves never to be seen again. Back at the Marina and after some lunch and a cold beer, we say goodbye to Captain Ray and Barry and thank them for yet another enjoyable and eventful days sailing. Let's hope we can do it again soon.
For Martin and Susy the adventure didn't end here. Their car broke down just out of the Marina and somehow we drove past them, getting close to the Puerto Plata turn off before Susy phoned to ask if we would come back to get her. We picked up Susy leaving Martin to wait for a tow truck which meant Colin had to negotiate the traffic in darkness but we arrived home safe and sound, followed by Martin a couple of hours later, none the worse for wear and still on a high.

Shaggies bar, Luperon

Shaggies bar is in the centre of Luperon on a street littered with potholes and many dominican style shops and workshops. The street looks like it has been abandoned many years ago but in actual fact it's part of the thriving heart of Luperon. Halfway down the street is Shaggies bar, it's a yard with a cana roofed affair behind a small wall with a sort of couple of sheds nailed on the back, one of which is the banos, the other the kitchen/bar. The place is packed, that is all 30 odd chairs are filled with Ex pat faces, all yachties we suspect from the bay. I've brought my guitar, but not too sure what the crack is, we find a couple of plastic chairs and order a cerveza. Next thing we've been spotted by Jeff and Lucy from last night at the yacht club and they join us. Jeff has his own bottle of premium rum and looks determined to get drunk. He's had a bad day as he's just discovered that his yacht has been vandalised, all his lines have been cut through whilst he's been away in Las Vegas. He's in no mood to play music and in the mood for getting drunk. We move tables which proves to be a mistake as we're now in the vicinity of the loudest mouth in Luperon. Lana has her four kids here and it's her birthday, which maybe made it worse, but the frequency of this voice behind me is sharp enough to compete with lightning and the tales she's telling sound more than chilling, this a woman not to be crossed. 'You want cake' she screams at the gathering and I shudder as the decibels rattle my eardrums.
We order the special meal, which is meatloaf and mash potato and watch the PA and a drum kit being set up in the yard. Meanwhile Jeff is proving to be an unwelcome dinner guest, but we're too polite to say anything. Ray and Barry arrive and sit with us which relieves the tension but I'm now of the opinion that Jeff is not my kind of friend, he's loud and just a bit obnoxious, due no doubt to the intake of rum.
Once the drums and PA are set up the stage is set, and there's a guy called Bill whose restringing an electric guitar so it looks like this a serious style jam session, how wrong I was.
There's a guy with a saxaphone, a drummer, Bill and me. Bill noodles about on a very out of tune guitar and I decide to plug in and join them. Turns out that Bill is not at all competent but the sax player and drummer are fine and I take the mic and do a rendition of Stormy Monday. This is sounding really promising and even though Bill can't quite follow us, between me the drummer and sax player it's going well, and by the big finish we get an enthusiastic round of applause. We tackle another couple of tunes before Jeff decides to join us on Bills' out of tune guitar. From this point the session goes slowly downhill until I leave the stage for a beer and a cigarette as Jeff has now taken over playing some durgey blues.
When the drummer and sax player get sick of this and leave the stage I jump in to give a rendering of my new song "Seadogs in old Luperon". I remember 95% of it but break a D string just before the end, but it goes down well.
Now Jeff is back up with his wife Lucy on flute playing music to cut your throat to and at this point Barry says he's leaving as he can't stand anymore. Barry goes up 100 points in my estimation and I pay our bill and me and Jackie sneak out about twenty minutes later, although many of the other patrons have also left by now. I get compliments from Shaggies owner and a couple of others who ask if I'll be back even though I only did a few tunes. It seems they're starved of people who have got some semblance of talent, so it would be nice to go back but perhaps without bill and Jeff who muscled in but didn't bring anything to the table except ego.
We get back to the yacht club at about 9.30 to find the place in absolute darkness and not a soul around. We find a light switch by the bar and sit down with a bottle of rum and play a few games of backgammon before turning in for the night.
When we wake at dawn the club is still deserted, and there's no water to shower so we go for a swim in the pool and watch the sunrise. We pack and leave at 8 with still no trace of any staff and go for breakfast at the top deck in Luperon. At 10am we're back at Puerto Blanco waiting for our friends Suzy and Martin who are joining us to sail again today with captain Ray and Barry.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

cross that one off the list

Continued by First Mate...
We pick up a scruffy guy with a bag and a pretty Dominican girl who look like they need a lift into town. What a small world, the drums turn out to be his, tricky to keep on his boat and ferry backwards and forwards. Geoff (or another Jeff) will be playing at Shaggies on Wednesday night and takes us on a tour of Luperon pointing out various places to eat which are all closed. He takes us past Shaggies before we drop him off near a herd of moto-conchos. There's a guy roasting most of a pig on a bar-be-que and later we regret not picking up a bag of this delicious looking pork. We stop to buy cigarettes and Colin points out a sheep in a shop doorway just watching the world go buy or maybe it's just waiting for the shops to open. Our search for breakfast in Luperon proves futile so we head back to the Marina to wait for the staff, a meagre toastie sandwich and much-needed coffee. Ray turns up and has a list of minor repairs he hopes Colin can help him with and, after pumping up the leaky dingy we head out to Odyssey.
The boys bond over marine electrics and auto-pilots whilst I sit on the upper deck enjoying the tranquil scene and pondering on which boat to buy. Trying to make myself useful, I haul up a bucket of sea water to wash the decks down but only manage to wipe around the hatches and clean up a little. Eventually Colin and Ray have managed to fix the light on the compass but other things need parts or modifications so we motor back to the Marina for a beer and some lunch. Later we wander around to look at a boat which had sunk. The new owner is trying to raise it from the deep, watched by other yachties who all have opinions on the best way to do it. I notice the boat is one that is on my list of possible boats to buy - cross that one off then! What a shame, it is a lovely classic yacht with a teak deck that's going to need some major refitting. We pick our way back along the rickety wooden walkway, stepping over soaked foam seating and other bits of the interior of the sunken yacht. Arrangements made to meet Ray and Barry at Shaggies later we set off in our hire car followed by our Captain and his crew on an orange scooter (which could belong to a past girlfriend of Ray's but that's another story).
I'll leave the story of Shaggies to my skipper, suffice to say it was hectic, chaotic and loud with some interesting looking folk - just what I'd expected but more so. Next day Ray thinks he may have lost his phone when Barry ditched the scooter and tipped him into a bush. Later we find it on the boat with 43 missed calls from his 26 year old girlfriend.

Luperon Yacht club

Tuesday Dec 1st, we arrive back in Luperon to go sailing again at Captain Rays' unique sailing escuela, and we're going to be here for three days so we've decided to seek out some accommodation instead of staying on Rays yacht. Jackie has googled a couple of possible small hotels in Luperon, but after a quick reccy we head for the Luperon yacht club on the off chance of getting a room there. When we arrive the car park is full and we find a full scale wedding reception underway. They have rooms at $50 a night for two, the room we can have has a toilet and shower, aircon, two single beds and a full drum kit!
We'll move the drum kit, she says and we accept the room. The yacht club is a two tier round cana roofed building that overlooks the wide expanse of Luperon bay. The party is underway downstairs where a live salsa band is setting up, whilst we opt for a cold Pesidente on the top terrace. This is when we meet with Jeff and Lucy, he's English and she's an American, they've just got back from Las Vegas where they went to get married. We and this couple are the only non party goers there so of course we fall into conversation and for the next couple of hours enjoy the overspill of the frivolities downstairs as well as tales from Jeff and Lucy of sailing exploits and other less nautical things. Over the next couple of days we'll hear more about this odd couple, she seems a gentle soul whilst Jeff is quite the opposite, perhaps to the extent of crass, but maybe it's the aftermath of their own celebrations and a little too much vitamin R.
We've come to Luperon, midweek to go to Shaggies bar where there's a sort of open mic, jam session on Wednesday and I'm going to go and play a few tunes and meet some of the "local" musos, who are all expat yachties. Jeff, it turns out is one of these, and his wife, Lucy, also plays flute, they'll be there tomorrow.
At about 10pm, with the party now running down and Jeff and Lucy gone we go off to our room. The aircon isn't working and the Luperon night air hangs heavy, the fan just about moves the heat around but doesn't cool us. The lights are out in Luperon but the yacht club has it's own generator, unfortunately the generator is situated on the roof directly over our room. Fortunately we have consumed the required amount of rum to send us both soundly off to sleep, eventually.
We wake before dawn, the yacht club is deserted and Jackie takes an early morning dip in the infinity pool as the sun inches into a clear blue sky, and a giant full moon, all shimmering silver dips below the opposite hill. The choice of a room at the yacht club may have lots of faults in the fixtures and fittings dept but we can't fault the dawn, this is worth the $50, well maybe $25. which is what it costs in the end.
Today we're meeting Ray and are going to help him fix some things on his boat, we've arranged to meet at 9am at puerto blanca marina, and as there's no breakfast at the yacht club we head on down there at about eight to try and find a coffee and a bite to eat.