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The Mona Passage


After the strange happenings in Bahia Escocesa, we motored away from the shores of the Dominican Republic past Cabo Cabron and took turns resting throughout the night. The sun came up and the rare weather window we had been carefully monitoring held steady with 2-3′ waves and 5-10 knots of wind in the Mona, just as predicted. We trolled the fishing lines and barbequed lunch on the aft deck enjoying our most pleasant passage yet.

Van Sant’s guide recommended staying North of the Mona Passage, far away from the treacherous Hourglass Shoals and afternoon storm cells gaining strength from Puerto Rico’s coast and that’s just what we did. Of course the wind is always on the nose, no matter which direction we are going, so we motorsailed across The Mona Passage as quickly as we could before our golden window collapsed.


Peter hooked a good-sized Sierra Mackerel, but unfortunately that’s all the fish gods gave us between the DR and Puerto Rico. We still had plenty of fish in our freezer so this one was all for the dogs. We supplement their dry food whenever we can and they are always happy to get a hearty portion of raw fish in their bowls.


We approached the shores of Puerto Rico before the sun came up the morning of May 6th and had made way better time than anticipated. Still taking advantage of the weak night lees of the West Coast of Puerto Rico, we continued South by East before arriving at La Parguera around 8am. Just outside the little town, we anchored near the mangroves and fell fast asleep. After 3 months at sea, we were finally back in US Territory!!


Thanks for reading!! Stay tuned for pictures and stories of how we spent almost the entire month of May in Puerto Rico and the Spanish Virgins, then all of June in the BVI!! We are currently on our way south to Grenada for the remainder of Hurricane Season… Leave us a comment, we’d love to hear from you!!!

Salty Myths and Secret Lore: The Haunting of Bahia Escocesa

SALTY MYTHS AND SECRET LORE… stories we’ve heard, and tales galore…


The morning of May 4th I gazed in awe from inside the cockpit as the sun rose over the horizon with golden rays of light splashing across the surface of the water. Still out of the north, the Atlantic swell gently pushed against our hull as we motorsailed 55 nm east across Bahia Escocesa towards Playa El Valle (or what Van Sant calls “Puerto Escondido”). The deep fjord-like hillsides seemed to engulf our tiny boat with each turn of the propeller. The water was deep so we made our way in as close to the beach as we could get. It was overwhelmingly peaceful and secluded inside this quiet anchorage.


To our port, in the middle of the rich green hillside, small flames blazed around huge brown holes that were recently burned away. Natural or planned, we won’t know for sure. It’s hard to believe such a remote village would organize any planned burning in an area like this, however, after a little research I found a website that infers that there are lots for sale here with future development of roads and bridges. The site looks old and we all know that many development plans often fall through. It would be a shame to see this beautiful and secluded area disappear.


Suddenly, Peter noticed a small herd of cattle roaming free along the base of the valley. They strolled along what looked to be their own private beach. Our stay in Escondido was a little rolly but very relaxing and peaceful. If we weren’t on schedule to cross the Mona Passage, we would have enjoyed spending some time in this wonderfully secluded anchorage.

We expected local officials to come visit our boat, but they never did. Maybe they don’t work on Sundays…


8pm flashed on the iPhone as the alarm blared through the cabin letting us know we were finally ready to leave our last anchorage of the Dominican Republic. We were officially checked out of Luperon and still located west of Samana so our despacho still held true. Puerto Rico was the next stop and there would be no more officials chasing us down in the dark of night to inspect our papers.

Every morning that week we had tuned in to Chris Parker on the SSB for validation that the weather window for May 4th, 5th and 6th was still holding open. The forecast called for 2-3′ seas and 5-10 knot winds across the dreaded Mona Passage. A forecast like that for the Mona does not come often and we knew this was our best chance. The timing was perfect. Although we carried only 3 meager months of sailing experience, we were about to depart across a notoriously treacherous passage, known to be the most dangerous stretch in all of the Caribbean, with conditions that most sailors in this area wait weeks for.

The familiar darkness surrounded us. Peter called out that the anchor was free and I slowly steered toward our course using only the compass and radar. I had gotten a good look at our surroundings in the daylight and felt confident I could get us moving in the right direction with the absence of the light of the moon. Our GPS is useless until there is enough forward momentum to figure out which direction the boat is moving.

After only a few hundred feet I noticed a small blip on the radar overlay directly in the path of our recommended route. I shouted out to Peter on the stern where he was washing his hands after guiding in our rusty anchor chain, “I think there’s a boat in front of us!” I turned 30-degrees to port as Peter joined me in the cockpit to take a look at what I saw. The blip appeared on the screen again, directly off our bow. I turned back to starboard 30-degrees. Still there.

“Maybe it’s a fishing boat,” Peter whispered. We’ve seen local fishermen row around setting nets in the late evening hours close to shore. Their old wooden boats bear no navigation lights and often no motors.

We eased off the engine and coasted for a minute or two. Repeated taps on the chartplotter screen indicated the blip was ALWAYS .32 or .33 nm in front of us, dead center off the bow. We sped back up to cruising speed only to find the blip sped up too.

Those that know Peter know he has impeccable vision. His eagle eyes can spot birds working over the ocean miles away. His fish eyes can spot and identify anything that moves within 100′ while swimming underwater. His night-vision is unreal. If anyone could see what was in front of us, it was Peter. He quickly grabbed the spotlight and made his way up to the bow. He hoped to see a glow, splash, reflection or something… instead he saw nothing but blackness.

With each rotation of the radar, the blip kept changing shapes, like a cloud in the sky on a sunny day. It definitely wasn’t waves. Waves have a distinct way of scattering around the boat on the screen and never reappear in the exact same place again. It wasn’t a water spout. The skies were clear and littered with stars. It wasn’t the shore. The radar signature showed features of the coastline to our starboard that were consistent with the graphics on the chartplotter. We wracked our brains trying to think of what else would cause a signature like that.

Before leaving the dock back in Florida we installed a High Definition Garmin Radar system with an 18″ dome mounted on our mizzen mast. It can pick up the smallest of objects including birds, navigational markers, mooring balls, waves and squalls. It shows other boats so accurately we can make out the stern and bow. The gain can be adjusted to filter out sensitivity as well.

What we saw on the radar that night was beyond eerie, bordering supernatural.

Following Van Sant’s guide, we “motored tight against the cliffs in the flat calm” exiting the anchorage and heading East. Is it a coincidence that it’s at this exact part of the guide that he tells how this bay is also named “the Scots Woman” and a woman supposedly haunts the bay? He goes on to say, “on different occasions I’ve talked with sober and mature merchant seamen who told me they have heard the crying of a woman while crossing the bay at night.” He then reports that he logged a peculiar melancholy during his first trip across the bay, years before learning of the haunting.

There is no other way to explain the feeling that Peter and I had that night, other than we felt as if the tiny blip on our radar screen was leading us out of Bahia Escocesa. It stayed with us for the entire length of the Eastern headland until we rounded Cabo Cabron, then vanishing from our screen as quickly as it had appeared.


For ages, salty sailors have told stories of strange happenings out at sea. Though intrigued by the mysteries of those that have gone before us, the stories we tell here are our own. What do you think might have caused the eerie radar signature we saw? Please leave a comment your thoughts about our experience!!

The Thorny Path to Windward

Year after year, cruisers like ourselves sail south from the East Coast of the U.S. and make our way toward the Caribbean. We brave the swells, storms, currents and Trade Winds planning our every move around weather windows. The North Coast of the Dominican Republic is by far the roughest leg of the journey and many often sail right past it jumping off from Turks and Caicos and arriving in Puerto Rico.

We decided to take what old salts like to call the “Thorny Path to Windward” fighting the cape effects and coastal acceleration sailing dead into the wind as we make our way East. We followed Van Sant’s guide, or what he likes to call the “Thornless Path to Windward,” all the way across the North Coast of the DR and we are forever grateful for his wealth of knowledge. Most helpful was his suggested itinerary for departure and arrival times at various points along the coast. With a few minor tweaks on the departure times, Van Sant’s itinerary saved us from getting beat up on the near 300nm journey from Luperón to Puerto Rico.


Ready to say good bye to Luperón, Peter and I went into town one last time to get our despacho before the Navy building closed at 5pm. The DR is very strict about being cleared in and out of each port of call, inspecting yachts in transit for any illegal stowaways. We made sure to ask the officials to document that our next stop would be the next major port of call, Samana. It’s okay to stop along the way for weather and resting, but any officials we might have encountered would need to see that we were properly cleared out of Luperón and our next destination is recorded as still within the country. If we had declared that our next stop would be Puerto Rico, but we had stopped again along the DR coast, we would have been checked out of the country already and in a heap of trouble with the local authorities. If we don’t stop at Samana, it’s no big deal. Puerto Rico doesn’t care to see the despacho at all.

The Navy officials were willing to process our paperwork at 4:30pm since we told them we were leaving within the hour. If we were not going to leave right away, they wanted us to wait until the next day and come back to get our despacho then. Conveniently, the officer was not able to get ahold of anyone that could come out to inspect our boat since everyone had gone home already. He processed our despacho, shook our hands and sent us on our merry way.

Peter and I had no intention of leaving at 6:00 in the evening, knowing the Trade Winds were surely still piping outside the harbor with less than friendly seas pummeling across the entrance. Didn’t they know who Bruce Van Sant was? He lives in Luperón for crying out loud!! Hadn’t they dealt with thousands of other cruisers following Mr. Van Sant’s recommendation to leave at 4am? Apparently not.

Around 2:00 am I untied the lines and made my way out to the bow with a spot light. Peter carefully motored through the mooring field navigating around the mud shoals as I shined the light on approaching boats and vacant mooring balls. The twinkling of anchor lights in the harbor pierced the thick darkness of the night blending in with the stars up above. The flat calm waters quickly disappeared as we followed our tracks back out through the channel. The waves grew bigger and bigger.

Just then, in the darkness behind us, I saw a light. It was a small boat with several men in it and they were headed right for us. Their outboard motor was at full speed and they were going over the waves almost vertically. Not a single one of them spoke English. They were screaming at us and telling us to turn around. It was 2am in the darkest of nights with huge waves coming straight toward us and we happened to be in the narrowest part of the channel. With a cliff to our starboard and a dangerous shoal to our port, they insisted that we turn around that instant, not even a little bit further.

I quickly scrambled down below and grabbed our despacho and held it with two hands out the side of our cockpit trying to show the men that we had clearance to leave that day. They were very suspicious and tried to board our boat. I waved the despacho at them again, reaching my arms as far as they could go without falling out of the boat. I was trying to block their entrance to board us while showing them we had valid documentation. Thank God I had it in a clear plastic sleeve (like the kind we used to use for book reports in elementary school). The waves were slamming up against the boat spraying saltwater everywhere. They took it from my hands to examine it closer. The men were on radios trying to reach someone. Peter was busy trying to navigate the boat so he couldn’t pay attention to what they were saying. The dogs were barking, the wind was howling, the waves were crashing against the cliffs and we were relying solely on our chartplotter and radar. It was quite possibly the scariest moment we’ve had so far.

After Peter got the boat turned around he attempted to idle in the tiny area the current had pushed us towards. Anyone that has a Whitby knows these boats DO NOT turn or back up, especially in tight places, and with 3-4′ waves pummeling the beam. What seemed like 20 minutes later, they let go of the side of our boat and in a confusion of broken Spanish, they finally told us it was okay. “Adios?” I screamed. “Si, Si, Adios!” they chuckled back.

Were they absolutely insane??? That was the worst possible moment to approach and tell us to turn around. Peter’s excellent Captain skills got us out of that mess safely, but it sure was scary.

We arrived in Sosua around 7am on May 2nd after taking advantage of the calmer night lee winds. After 8am is when the winds really pick up and we took Van Sant’s advice and made sure we were securely anchored before then. We dropped the hook inside a reef with waves breaking just 200′ from the boat. That may seem like a good distance but when 8′ waves are breaking on either side of you, it’s kind of unnerving. There weren’t any options for staying out further due to a significant dropoff past the reef. Van Sant had also said to not travel or anchor here in a North swell but in order to make an amazingly calm 3-day window for crossing The Mona Passage, we had to traverse the DR coast on a schedule.

Music blared from the beach all day and vacationers zipped around on a huge inflatable banana towed by a little fishing boat. Paddleboarders were surfing the shore breaks and kids were swimming in the shallows. We tried to get a little rest during the day in preparation for the next departure later that night.

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We rounded Cabo Macoris in the middle of the night and made short tacks inside the lee of Cabo Frances Viejo stopping off at Rio San Juan the morning of May 3rd. This part of our journey was pretty uneventful, motorsailing all night and sleeping all day.

The swell wasn’t as bad in the old fishing village of Rio San Juan but we still left our mizzen sail up while were anchored behind several old fishing boats. Having the mizzen sail up keeps us pointed into the wind and significantly reduces the amount of rocking back and forth from the relentless North swell funneling in to the anchorages on the North Coast.

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We left Rio San Juan around 9pm that night knowing we would be fighting the Equatorial Current around Cabo Frances Viejo and wanted to clear the cape well before 8am the next morning. We kept with our current schedule of planning the next arrival for 8 or 9 am before the winds picked up.

The shores of Bahia Escocesa led us to what Van Sant calls Puerto Escondido, tucked inside a gorgeous hillside of mountains and cliffs. This would be our last stop before crossing The Mona Passage the following day.

Crossing the Gulf Stream


We made it to Marathon almost 26 hours after leaving Burnt Store Marina and arrived Monday 2.3.14. There were no mooring balls left so we anchored outside the channel at Boot Key Harbor. We finally decided to put his “potty training” on hold and took the dogs to shore since it had been 26 hours since Gunner peed last. We dropped the dinghy and Peter and I set off with the dogs. Gunner was super excited. Leah came with us while Josh stayed on the boat.


We found a dinghy dock behind Burdines Restaurant. We were hoping there were showers available there since I had read somewhere that they were decent there. Turns out they are for the resident liveaboards only and no one there had any other knowledge of showers near by. The dogs did their business and as we went to get them back on the dinghy, Betsy ended up going for a swim. There was floating grass that had collected around the dinghy dock and she must have thought it was grass on land :( Poor thing. We found a nearby hose and Leah cleaned her off while Peter and I got Gunner back in the dinghy.

We headed up to the city dock where we knew they had showers available. Just as we arrived they were closing so we didn’t have to pay that night for the bathroom key cards. They just said that if we were going to still be here by the next day, come back and pay then. The three of us showered and went back to the boat. Josh got to figure out how to use the solar shower on the deck of the boat.

The next day, Tuesday 2.4.14, Gunner still wouldn’t go pee on the boat. Peter and I took him to shore again and decided to scope out the West Marine to buy some fishing line and ask about our inverter that wasn’t working anymore.  Josh and Leah stayed on the boat. As we came through the channel, Gunner just couldn’t hold it anymore and started peeing in the dinghy. Oh well.

We found an area to tie up right next to West Marine, but we had to go in and talk to the local boatyard to make sure we could leave our dinghy there first. They were okay with it since we asked if they could help us with the inverter :) Inside West Marine, we got a phone call from Josh and Leah to tell us the anchor was dragging and the boat was almost crossing the channel!! Peter, Gunner and I rushed back out to the boat with the fishing line in hand. Priorities first you know! We pulled up the anchor and decided to go get fuel and top off our water tanks since we were already mobile.

Instead of anchoring again, Peter decided to charge it up to Rodriguez Key at 5pm (Tuesday 2.4.14) to be ready for the upcoming weather window to cross to Bimini in the Bahamas. The swell in the Atlantic is way different from the Gulf of Mexico! We were taking the waves hard and it was a rough ride up. Thank GOD for sea sickness medication! We all needed it. No one threw up though, not even the dogs.







We pulled into Rodriguez in the middle of the night (Wednesday 2.5.14 at 2am). Thanks to great instructions from Ellen and her husband Bob on SV Shibumi, we were able to dodge the boats that were already anchored, with and without anchor lights. I had connected with Ellen on the Women Who Sail Facebook group. What an amazing resource!

It was so nice to have a buddy boat to cross with. We all decided to leave Rodriguez Key Thursday morning at 2am(2.6.14) and set out for Bimini motorsailing part way and full sail only a little bit. It was a beautiful day. We made sure we were clear from all the cargo ships and kept charging along. We were exhausted but still spilling over with excitement just hours away from the Bahamas!


The voyage across the Gulf Stream was better than expected. Leah and I were able to catch a few rays under sail on deck.


The further we got into the Gulf Stream, the more blue the water began to turn. It was a shade of blue I’ve never seen before. We crossed depths of up to 9000 feet!!




Gunner finally went potty again on the boat. We knew he would, but he had to get to a point where he REALLY had to go! They wore their Outward Hound life jackets from Kyjen at all times during the crossing. It was just too much rolling around for them to not be wearing them. When we had the largest seas, the dogs were happy to stay put. They must not have been feeling well.


Fixing meals while underway on a large crossing is definitely a difficult task. Lunch and dinner consisted of lunch meat sandwiches and peanut butter and jelly. We had the kind of trip where it’s just easier to grab the ingredients from the galley and make it all up top in the cockpit.



We saw lots of man-o-wars floating by.






It really was a nice crossing. We must have picked the perfect time to go. The seas were relatively calm in some areas and rather uncomfortable in others. All in all, I’d say we lucked out. Some of our other blog friends just crossed to the Bahamas as well. Check out their experiences here:  Sailing Chance  / Sailing Journey / Summertime Rolls




As we neared the Bahamas (Thursday afternoon 2.6.14) the guys wanted to try anchoring just south of South Bimini at Turtle Rocks next to a wreck, Sapona. While Peter thought there would be enough shelter from the wreck, the current and waves still weren’t ideal. Peter and Josh dove the anchor only to find it was all hard bottom right there. We all went for a quick swim, strapped everything back down and made our way up to Brown’s Marina where Ellen and Bob had already arrived. Once we were within range, we hailed the marina on the VHF to let them know we were coming in. It was just minutes left before 5 and we were lucky to get them on the radio. There was ONE spot left! We had a mildly successful docking and didn’t hit anything even though we arrived at dusk.


We’re in the Bahamas!!!! Stay tuned for more posts on all the happenings since arriving in the Bahamas.

Burnt Store Marina to Marathon

Here are a couple photos from our first leg of the trip leaving Burnt Store Marina on the west coast of Florida as we headed down to Marathon…

We got up early the morning of February 2nd and left the dock. We had a great stay at Burnt Store, but we don’t plan on returning. We’re finally on our way to far off lands!!


It was real foggy when we left. Super glad we had the radar to see other boats out in Charlotte Harbor.




We cruised right toward a rainbow in the fog. It looked like we might find the end but of course we never did ;)


A few dolphins swam under our bow as we made our way out of Charlotte Harbor. Only a taste of what’ts to come!!





Instead of anchoring along the way, we kept on going all the way to Marathon for our first over-nighter. We took shifts and tried to sleep as much as we could but I think we were all too excited to get much rest. We had to dodge the crab pots as best we could but I’m sure we ran over a ton once it got dark. There was just no way around it.


It took a good 26 hours but we made it safe and sound!