Sailing Milebuilder from BVI to Jamaica – January 2013

Milebuilder Sailing BVI to Jamaica
Our 750 mile trip from the British Virgin Islands to Jamaica was plagued with little wind and some grey skies, but it made for some amazing sunsets and we had fun exploring, especially in Haiti…

A Virgin Islands Start

[dropcap]R[/dropcap]ob, Dave, Jane, Justen and returning guest Dwayne arrived into Road Town, Tortola and settled aboard, we did some last minute provisioning and then headed over to Norman Island for an afternoon of snorkelling and some dinner ashore in advance of our evening departure. The boys were a little disappointed that we didn’t have time for drinks and debauchery aboard the famous, Willy T, but we were anticipating a 3 day trip beginning with a night sail, and there’d be time for partying later in the trip.

We headed out into a beautiful sunset, the wind was on the starboard quarter and we made good speed sailing along the south of Puerto Rico. There were a few rain showers along the way but we soon got into our watch pattern and started to settle into life on board. Dave and Rob became fishing appointees, Jane & Dwayne the navigators, assisted by Justen on the Ipad, and Sam the cook.

Boca Chica in the Dominican Republic

As we approached the South East corner of Dominican Republic, the wind started to die away on us, and we switched the engine on for the first time, electing to continue on to our planned stop at Boca Chica for the night rather than stop for lunch and a swim at Isla Saona, one of the islands along the coast, as this would have made for a very late arrival. As it was, the sun was setting as we approached the tricky entrance and we inched our way into the channel in pitch blackness with no moon and waves [pullquote_right]”in pitch blackness with no moon and waves breaking on the reefs on either side”[/pullquote_right]breaking on the reefs on either side! The depths were scarily shallow as we approached the Marina Zarpar and although I’m sure we scraped mud as we went in, we successfully picked up the first bouy we came to and heaved a satisfied sigh that the first leg, and 3 hour watches, were over for the time being. Our relief was short lived as a boat came alongside from the Marina and insisted that we complete all the Customs & Immigration forms that night. I returned, a couple of hundred dollars lighter in my purse and not a little annoyed that they couldn’t have waited til morning, but I suppose they wanted some extra beer money for the evening! Jane & Dwayne had knocked up a great Thai Curry, though, and we cracked open some celebratory beers.

Santo Domingo Tourists

The following day we did the tourist thing and headed into the Capital of Santo Domingo on the bus; time to practice our Spanish and soak up some culture. It was a fun day of sightseeing and lunch and later, we enjoyed an evening out in the beach ‘resort’ of Boca Chica, playing some pool and knocking back the rum punch. By the time we were ready to leave, there wasn’t a taxi in sight so we started to walk in the hopes of flagging something down. The locals quickly dissuaded us of this idea, saying that someone had been attacked on the road just a few weeks before. Eventually we got a taxi and made it back to the boat safely.

The next day was one of provisioning and preparing for the next planned leg to Isle a Vache on Haiti, with a short stop enroute at Isla Beata, part of the Dominican Republic and a National Park. After a lot of walking and false directions we eventually stocked up at the supermarket and waited for the Customs & Immigration to arrive to clear our departure. We waited…..and we waited, and despite some to-ing and fro-ing with the Marina representative by 7pm it was clear that the officials weren’t going to clear us out that night. Frustrated, we settled into a night on board and they eventually turned up at 8am the next day. Our late departure meant there wasn’t time in the schedule to visit Isla Beata and we sailed directly for Isla a Vache.

Adventures in Isle a Vache, Haiti

It was another night-time entrance as we sailed into the bay in the early hours of the morning, navigating by GPS and depth sounder, but as the dawn came up it was clear that we weren’t in Kansas any more! The bay was surrounded by lush palm trees, and numerous small boys rowed out in dugout canoes or discarded surfboards to try and sell us souvenirs or beg for money for school books. Although mainland Haiti is reputed to be dangerous to visit in a cruising boat, Isle a Vache has a reputation as a separate stop off where cruisers are welcomed. We certainly felt welcomed, although the attention was a [pullquote_left]”we dropped the anchor in 7m of water and sent diver Justen over the side with a knife”[/pullquote_left]little overwhelming. That same afternoon we recruited one of the boys, Ashley, to show us the sights on the island and organize us lunch. We hiked over the island to their only beach resort for a beer, bought xx% rum from the street vendors, and ate our lobster & fish lunch in Ashley’s Mum’s back garden, surrounded by washing and cows!

Eventually it was time to leave, and we set out towards the end of the afternoon into a veritable minefield of fishing net markers. Despite our best efforts we snagged one around the propellor, and dropping the anchor in 7 metres of water sent diver Justen over the side with a knife. How we managed a night-time entrance through all of the bouys without getting caught up is anyone’s guess! The gods must have been smiling on us that night.

Port Antonio, Jamaica

So on we went to Jamaica on the last leg of our trip, and after 20 hours of motoring with no wind, it finally picked up and we had a lovely sail along the Northeast coast of Jamaica, arriving at our destination just before dawn and killing time til the sun came up. Justen celebrated a birthday along the way and I managed to knock up a not too terrible cake, complete with candles and a rum snifter!

Tired but happy, we edged our way into Port Antonio with some big rollers behind us, the rainforest covered hills of the Blue Mountains towering in the background, dropped the anchor and headed down for a kip! It was nice that we all had a final day together to explore this end of Jamaica, and we took a taxi tour down to see the Blue Lagoon – of the film of the same name – and what would be Dave’s hotel for the next couple of nights, a lovely treehouse resort down by Boston Beach. A jerk chicken and pork lunch brought home the fact that we’d made it to Jamaica!

Phew….what a trip!


Long distance trips are a totally different sailing experience from island hopping – you’re at sea for long stretches and often there’s not much to do except read, cook, eat, sleep, fish, soak up the rays, trim the sails and make sure you’re on course! The best you can hope for is a nice steady wind, somewhere aft of the beam, clear skies and a flat sea; the worst is a strong headwind, big waves and rain squalls. We started out with a nice wind and calm seas, but this gave way to very little wind by the time we reached the Dominican Republic and we motored for long stretches on the latter parts of our voyage with barely a ripple on the sea. From a passage making perspective, it was an easy trip, but the constant drone of the engine is frustrating, and with no sails to trim we were all twiddling our thumbs from time to time! But hey, that’s sailing, and with flights to catch in Jamaica, hanging about for the right wind wasn’t an option for our milebuilding trip on Ibis this time around.

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