We battled our way, into the wind, swell and equatorial current for over a month and a half in the hope to get southeast. Caribbean Islands were calling us, but going against east trade winds is not an easy task. It is call the "Thorny Path" for a reason.
At about noon on April 28th we said our goodbyes to the Bahamas and set sail to the Dominican Republic. With southeast winds in the forecast, our planned route was to go north of Providenciales in Turks and Caicos, then perhaps make a quick rest stop in Big Sand Cay and continue to Luperon in the Dominican Republic for an early morning arrival. We thought, the whole trip would take us about 48 hours.
The crossing started off as good as it gets, with the moderate winds whisking us along on a close reach at a solid 5 knots up until the evening. Of course it was too good to be true in these parts of the sailing world, so the wind eventually shifted until it was directly on our nose. On went the engine, and the sails were dropped as the sun began to set behind us. As the sun disappeared, we were joined by a tired sea bird, who found a comfortable spot on the boat's bow, as the moon rose on the horizon and brightened our way through the dark. The seas were manageable, wind was reasonable, if not in the best direction, and with everything under control Jeff went to rest as I started my first shift of the night.
An hour passed and the wind picked up substantially together with the swell. With waves that seemed impossibly close together, the bow whip up the wave so quickly the stern would smash into the water, bashing our dingy that was suspended on the davits. Wave after wave crashed on the deck and our dingy took a real beating with every steep and closely spaced wave that passed under the keel. At this time, we lost our speed and were making barely 3 knots (equivalent to a casual walking pace). Znakie boy was tethered to me for safety and was getting very uncomfortable in the rolly seas. Luckily, Jeff woke up just in time to help with the situation. At about 2 am, and halfway past the Caicos Islands, we had no choice but to change our plan and head towards Sapodilla Bay in Turks and Caicos to seek some shelter. Turning to sail with the wind, although disappointing to abort the initial passage, gave us an exhilarating and speedy ride back around the corner to Provinciales.
Unfortunately, Turks and Caicos has very difficult pet requirements, that are virtually impossible to meet if you are travelling by a sailboat. Znak had all of his required shots and titer test, but didn't had the vet certificate needed withing 7 days of arrival. As such, he was banned from going ashore but (luckily) allowed to remain on the sailboat with us. Being an active pup and only half boat trained at that time, our stress of not being able to walk him for several days was growing fast.
Having lost two days at this point but still having a weather window in the forecast to get to the DR, we started our journey across the Caicos Bank the next morning. We were slowly motoring against 15 knot winds into a rough chop, until our average speed dropped to 2.5 knots. With no way of getting to our anchorage before dark, we changed our course once again. This time we turned south towards French Cay and had a pleasant sail for about 20 nautical miles. At French Cay, we had a very rolly night and with barely any sleep we continued our journey across the Caicos Bank the next morning. The wind direction allowed us to motor sail this time, so we made it Cockburn Harbour in South Caicos.
This was an exciting milestone for us, as it meant we completed all of the easting required and reached the destination from which we could sail south with the east wind to the DR. We were overwhelmed with excitement as we pulled into our anchorage for the night. As we got some cell reception and checked the weather, we were crushed to see that the weather predictions have changed in a matter of one day, due to a somewhat unpredictable "Impulse of Energy", and there was no opportunity for crossing to the DR.
The wind continued to blow steadily east at 25 knots, gusting to 30-35 knots for the entire week. We were stranded inside the harbour. To top it off, Jeff was bit by fire ants while getting water in town and had a severe allergic reaction. As soon as we got to our boat, his body was covered with hives and he was shivering. A big storm was approaching with a long, deep rumble of thunder in the distance. The wind was howling, and even inside the harbour, the waves were building significantly.
Once Jeff took some Benadryl and applied antihistamine cream, his allergic reaction became controllable and he passed out in bed. The night however, turned out to be an adventure. The storm brought winds of over 50 knots and lightning was everywhere. Nobody slept. Our sailboat got perfectly scrubbed clean by the rain.
Over all this time Znakie boy smarted up and became fully boat trained! Huge stress relive for us. A week had passed since we arrived in Cockburn Harbour, but wind predictions continued showing east trade winds too strong for the DR crossing. We called Chris Parker (expert marine weather forecaster for the Bahamas and the Caribbean) for some weather advice. His predictions were very strong east winds indefinitely and he also mentioned that this season May turned out to be what we would normally see in June. This explains why going east seemed extra difficult for us. Our toughest decision yet, was to completely change our sailing path.
As we sat dejected inside our little floating home, it was hard to fathom that only 24 hours of sailing separated us from the DR, but the weather made this last passage impossible. On the cusp of hurricane season, it became evident that this final "weather delay" had closed the door on us getting south to Grenada (out of the hurricane belt) before hurricane season really got going. We were not keen on sailing on through the hurricane zone for the next few months, so if the weather didn't ease within one week, our timeline was closed. Luperon is a great hurricane hole, so we could have waited in the Turks in Caicos for weeks and weeks until a weather window opened to get to the DR but the thought of spending the entire hurricane season in Luperon would mean Dragon's Dance would sit at anchor with no sailing for months to ensure we all stayed safe from hurricanes. Our choice was: ease DD's sails, turn with the wind and keep sailing through the summer, so with wind on our backs, northwest was the new destination.
We sat at anchor in South Caicos for what seemed like an eternity and waited for the day with the "calmest" wind (~25 knots). With the following seas and wind we sailed back to Provo. After all this rough time, we decided it was time to treat ourselves, so we stayed at a marina for four nights. It felt luxurious to have long, warm showers, air conditioning inside the boat and an unlimited water supply! It had been over four months since we last had comforts like that.
At the South Side Marina, we met many other cruisers in similar situation to us. Virtually, everyone was waiting to cross to the DR. Some turned around to go back north, others were patiently waiting and accepted the fact that they would spend the hurricane season in the DR without much of a chance of continuing further southeast. We treated ourselves to a dive trip to West Caicos, and felt like vacationers for a day, where everything was done for us and all we had to do was to show up near the dive boat in the morning. The diving ended up being amazing and we saw a large number of reef sharks, some swam very close to us.
The next day, we checked out with customs and immigration, said good bye's to the many great sailors we met and left the marina. A day later, we anchored on the north side of Provo to take advantage of the free dive mooring balls. The first diving from our own sailboat couldn't have been any better...an amazing wall drop-off, with beautiful coral, tons of fish and sharks. In the morning, for the first time we pulled the anchor and sailed away from our anchorage without touching the engine. What was coming ahead is a story for another time, as we sailed away with over 30 knot winds.
Alena, Jeff & Znakie Boy