Monday, May 02, 2011

The Thorny Path

Cape Samana at sunrise
If I am to be honest, I was dreading the passage from Luperon east...I had read enough articles, blog accounts and heard several first hand cautionary tales about just how “thorny” this route is. I wasn’t scared - no, that wasn’t it. We’ve cut our teeth, earned a few stripes and been through enough weather to learn that our boat is stellar in rough seas and we’re pretty good at guiding her through them. No...the emotion was dread. I knew it was going to be rough, I knew it was going to be unpleasant and I knew it was not going to be ‘fun’ - after all, they don’t call it the “thorny path” for nothing - and I just wanted to get it over with.

Those of you out there who wish you could be on an 'endless vacation', who long to lounge on a ‘yacht’ and sail off into the need to also know that where there is yin, there is yang. I venture to guess a large percentage of you would have said “no thanks” to a life like ours had you been aboard Rasmus from Luperon to Samana...

We left Luperon at night, in what is referred to as the ‘night lee‘, when the island of Hispaniola causes a bubble of calm around her. As we departed the harbor mouth - the seas grew from three to five to eight feet. By the time the sun set, taking all traces of light with it, our boat felt like it was in a washing machine. “Some night lee” I muttered as I saw the wind climb to 25 knots. For the first time in my life, I took a dramamine. This was going to be a long night. 

Scott took the first three hour watch as I tried to get some sleep. Tried being the operative word. Sleeping in a boat when it’s bucking and rearing like an unbroken horse is not easy. You get five minute increments here and there, and try to rest as best you can, but it does little to rejuvenate the body or mind. It can be downright maddening, in fact.

Though I had prepared two meals to be heated up - they went uneaten. The seas were so large, so unruly and so confused that even warming a dish over the stove was not only impossible, but worthless - neither of us had any appetite for anything anyway. This was going to be a grab and go “snack” passage. Oh joy!

By the next morning, despite the forecast*, we were still motor-sailing into 20+ knots of wind and pounding headfirst into ocean swell that was anywhere from six to twelve feet. Every now and then we’d get hit by a misfit wave on the beam and our boat would angrily sway from left to right, left to right - a very unkindly motion in a monohull. Both of us were tired, we were cranky and we wanted to get there. There was an anchorage called Escondido. Exhausted and worn out, we had decided we would pull in there for a few hours, eat a hot meal and get some much needed sleep. We had estimated we would arrive by about 4pm, but the wind and seas refused to subside - and our boat speed suffered. At times we were motoring at 1800 RPMS and only making 2 knots. Most of you can walk faster than that.

The sun began it’s quick descent at 7pm and we were still an hour out of Escondido - an impressive, unmarked, unlit and unfamiliar anchorage that is tucked between towering cliffs and sheer rock faces. Coming into a place like that in the pitch black (there was no moon) is incredibly unnerving (and not recommended). “If at any point this seems insane we’re going back out and we’ll just continue through the night” Scott decided. Despite longing to stop the godforsaken motion of the boat and desperate for sleep, I agreed. Scott took the helm and I manned our search light. Our radar was on to reaffirm where our charts told us where land was, but when all you see are ominous black silhouettes of cliffs rising into the dusky night sky - nothing instills confidence. 

How far away are they? Can we really trust the radar? Are those breaking waves I hear? What was that little blip on the radar? What’s the depth? What if we run onto the rocks? This is one of those moments where things can go terribly wrong... The mind quietly and silently runs through the what if’s.

There were no other boats in the anchorage, no navigational lights or buoys (in fact, we’ve pretty much forgotten all about those!), not even a single shore light to provide perspective. We were on our own as we inched our way into the dark abyss that we hoped would be our temporary haven...

We dropped our anchor in thirty feet of water about 500 feet from shore. I set about cooking and Scott set our anchor alarm - dragging in this harbor would be very bad. We made the bed and collapsed, physically and mentally exhausted. It was then we noticed the swell. Every ten seconds a gentle rolling wave would hit the beam of our boat and we would roll from side to side, side to side - making sleeping sound impossible. Was there no escape from the movement?!? Not tonight.

Our guide book told us we needed to round Cape Samana by day break (any later and the wind and seas pick up, making a two hour passage potentially much longer) so we awoke - still exhausted - at 3am. I made some toast and tea, we started the engine, raised anchor and drifted off, back into the night and the open ocean...we arrived at Samana at 9am.

While I do (typically) paint a rather rosy picture of a life at sea - it is not without it’s blemishes. Luckily for Scott and I - we knew this going into it. We had prepared to take the good with the bad. What fun would cruising be if it was all smooth sailing? How satisfying would anything be if everything went exactly how we wanted it? What if there were no surprises or challenges? Would we appreciate it? Would we learn anything? No. So we take the good with the bad. After all - there would be no rainbows if there was no rain. But that doesn’t mean you have to like it in the moment...

* We did not make this passage with the guidance of our new sponsor, Chris Parker of MWC, just FYI. This was all on our own doing.


Mid-Life Cruising! said...

Thanks for your honest post, as it gives an idea of what we're getting into. We might have to try that "Red Bull" after all!

Susan said...

Brit and Scott - that sounded just awful, so glad you are safe and sound. Cant imagine going into a harbor with no lights and dropping an anchor no less. Good job enjoy your R and R and love to Uncle Al. Hugs and kisses mummy xxx

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