We said farewell to Punta Rocia/Ensenada around 9pm on the 25th of April. Garmin guided us back out to our course due east in the dark of the night. By then, we were so used to night passages and navigating by our instruments alone that this felt pretty routine. With plenty of time to arrive in Luperón by 8am, we passed by Cabo Isabela and motored around to the next waypoint listed in Van Sant’s guide. From this point forward in our travels along the DR coast, his book became our bible feeding us with local knowledge that proved to be priceless. We took turns reading and rereading the dog-eared pages, underlining and highlighting the parts that coincided with our course.
Who else remembers “making a range with the cliff face and a tree on the ridge in the background”? This was the fool-proof method described in the guide for avoiding the fishing floats and shoals upon entering the harbor. We had no trouble at all and the scenery coming in was stunning. We were still in awe of the beauty of the DR coast after seeing such flat and desert-like land on the islands of the Bahamas.
In the early hours of the morning the only movement in the harbor was from local fishermen. Most of the mooring balls were occupied and carefully placed around the various mud shoals. The charts showed them well, corresponding to the empty spots where no boats laid to rest. We anchored toward the back against the mangroves in a nice place that would allow us to swing without bumping anything or anyone.
Peter and I lowered the dinghy off the bow with the halyard and used our pulley to move the outboard motor from the stern to the dinghy. Each time, the process gets a little easier, a little faster and we get a little stronger. The gas can was hooked up and Peter was off to the Comandancia. We had heard they may come out to visit us, but after listening in on the VHF, that was not the case.
After tying up at the dinghy dock, Peter made his way down a small road from the harbor’s edge into town. There is a vehicle gate guarded by men sitting in the shade. Adjacent are three small structures, one each for the Ports Authority, Immigration and Agriculture. The Navy has a separate facility across a bridge and up the hill to the left. As for the dogs, they just wanted to know that we had a health certificate and rabies certificate. No extra fees or restrictions with pets. The Customs and Immigration fees were around $90-something total, cash only. The Navy then sent three men to follow him back out to the boat. They wanted to take a look around to make sure we weren’t smuggling in any people from Haiti, then they asked for a tip. It was not mandatory, but it was worth $20 to us to give the men a little cash if it meant they weren’t going to tear our boat apart on a “routine” search. We were still tired from our recent passages and didn’t feel like having every locker emptied as if we had just broached the boat.
Within a few minutes the men sped off in their little boat. They had asked a local man, Rafael, to take them in his boat since they didn’t have one of their own. Little did we know, we would soon need Rafael’s help later that day.
A few minutes later we went to town together to explore and grab some lunch. Up the road we saw the popular spots – JR’s and Wendy’s. Both have good food and free wifi. While enjoying a bite to eat at JR’s, Peter heard someone hailing our boat on the radio… “Mary Christine, Mary Christine…”
The winds had picked up and clocked around and our boat was dragging!! We thought for sure the anchor was set well to the direction the of the Trades, and the thick mangrove mud had it’s hold on us. Wrong. Peter left me at the restaurant and RAN back to the dinghy as fast as he could go (in flip-flops of course). Rafael had heard what was going on from his handheld VHF and raced over to meet Peter at the dinghy dock to see if he could help. Together they blasted over to the boat. Peter made record time from the restaurant to the boat in 3 minutes flat!!
A neighbor witnessed the whole thing and that’s who hailed us on the radio. They jumped on board our boat and threw out our second anchor in hopes of catching, but we had already hit one of the mud shoals. The boat had drug across half the mooring field, miraculously passing every boat without bumping anyone at all. We knew who was watching out for SV Mary Christine that afternoon…
Usually, Peter always dives our anchor to make sure it’s in good. The water in Luperón is filthy with zero visibility so diving the anchor wasn’t an option here. Our primary anchor is a Delta or plough-style anchor, which turns out does not hold well in the soft DR mud. Had we used the Danforth, we probably would have been fine. Most of the other boats in the harbor were on mooring balls with only a few others at anchor and we just assumed they were all there for long-term. We now know that for only $3 per night, a mooring ball in Luperón is very good insurance.
Peter called me on the radio back at JR’s to let me know Rafael would pick me up on his motorbike and bring me back to the boat. Luckily I had stashed a little cash in my bikini top. I paid the bill and finished my lunch just as Rafael pulled up. I hopped on the back of his motorbike and we rode back to his old fishing boat. He had such a kind smile and his generosity was heartwarming.
As the tide rose, Peter tied a stern line to an adjacent mooring ball and Rafael helped us winch over to it. With each surfacing of the buoy, he heaved the line in a little tighter. Slowly, the boat slid inch by inch off the mud shoal into deeper water. We used Rafael’s boat to carry a bowline over to our newly adopted mooring ball before releasing the stern line. We had brought in both anchors already and finished tying up to the ball properly. It was a close call and an unsettling way to experience our first four hours in Luperón. Rafael wouldn’t accept any money for his help so we offered him several huge filets of fresh caught Mahi Mahi instead. He was so appreciative and excited to bring it back to his family. The people of the Dominican Republic are very kind and just as friendly as we had been told.
Papo runs an excellent service catering to cruisers in the harbor. Pedro answers on the VHF for him and was also very kind and helpful. They own the mooring balls and come around to collect $3 per night. They have wonderful local knowledge, courtesy flags, water and fuel. Papo will bring diesel out to the boat for $5.75/gallon and pump it directly into your tanks. The diesel we got was good and actually much cleaner than the fuel we got in the Bahamas. Papo and Pedro are honest and hardworking. Another wonderful example of the kind and welcoming people of the DR.
The next day we went back into town to explore and visit a local pharmacy. We had heard medicine is cheap there and we needed a few courses of antibiotics on board to keep in our Med Kit. There were several pharmacies in town and Peter managed to speak enough Spanish to get what we needed. It helps to know the Spanish equivalent for what you need ahead of time ;)
On the way back, we ran in to Rafael again. We had mentioned to him earlier that we needed a mechanic to fix a leak in the oil pan for our generator. The previous owner knew there was a leak but hadn’t found exactly where it was coming from. After some rough seas on our passage from the Bahamas, we were tossed around so much that ALL of the oil in the generator leaked out into the bilge. It was a nasty cleanup job… let me tell you. Determined to find the leak, I wriggled my way into the engine room, contorted into some crazy yoga pretzel, and upside-down with a flashlight I told Peter I was sure that the leak was coming from the center of the oil pan where a wood block had been placed.
Rafael sent his mechanic friend Marino out to the boat the next day. He unbolted the Westerbeke, tipped it on its side and removed the oil pan. He took it into town and had a brand new piece welded onto the entire bottom of the pan. Marino and Rafael came back out the next day in Rafael’s boat and braved the hot and sweaty engine room to finish fixing the generator. $300 later, we had a fully functional 5kw generator running beautifully!! Although we don’t run it all the time, it’s nice to have if our batteries get too low.
After a few days on a ball, we checked out the two marinas in the harbor. Puerto Blanco Marina does not answer on the radio and wasn’t exactly open to receiving new boats. It’s really just a dock with a bunch of old boats tied up to it. Marina Luperón looked a little more inviting and had a spot open at the end of the rickety dock. In all its glory, Marina Luperón used to be a pretty happening place. There was a restaurant and bar overlooking the whole bay but it was shut down a few years ago. The government imposed development restrictions and took out all of the existing docks. Over the last two years, Jimmy (the current manager) has slowly rebuilt a few docks and installed power and water. He charges $10 per day and that includes unlimited water, power and internet. For an extra $7 per day, that’s a way better deal than staying on a ball! A definite plus since the water is too dirty to use the watermaker.
Water is trucked in from a well to the cistern at the marina whenever it’s available. Apparently the water company is owned by a local farmer who often hoards the water for her cattle. She cuts off the entire town water supply over bad politics when the local government gets too far behind on their bill. We even witnessed a riot during our stay where the townspeople throw bottles and light tires on fire in the streets out of frustration for their water and power outages. When power is on in town, there is power on the docks at the marina which powers the wifi router too. Jimmy also keeps cold beer and sodas in the marina fridge. It’s the honor system here so you write your name on the board and settle up later.
The streets of Luperón are dirty, the infrastructure is minimal and the standard of living is far from what we were used to in the U.S. On the other hand, everything is inexpensive and the town is full of some of the kindest people you’ll ever meet. Some absolutely love it here, so much they never leave. It’s a fantastic hurricane hole with all around protection and plenty of mangroves to tie off to. There may not be many anchorages that are both clean and protected but we wish we had more time to see everything the Dominican Republic has to offer. There’s something intriguing about the simplicity of life here in the DR and it’s worth experiencing first hand.
Next up… pictures from our visit to the Waterfalls!!