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Andy and Melissa are sailing around the world on their 48-foot sailboat, Spectacle.

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Archive for the ‘Dominican Republic’ Category

Another Unscheduled But Wonderful Stop – The Dominican Republic

Posted by: melissa

And so we find ourselves in the Dominican Republic and liking it to say the least!

On the northern edge of the Caribbean Sea, the Dominican Republic occupies the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola.  Haiti is to the west, and the island is basically the only thing shared by the two distinct cultures.  Haitians have French and African roots, speaking a unique Creole language, and Dominicans are of African, Amerindian, and Caucasian descent with a predominantly Hispanic culture. 

The Dominican Republic is far more developed and affluent than its Haitian neighbors, and enjoys far greater political and social stability as well.  Depending on who you ask, there are many reasons for this disparity.  Dominicans have strong opinions regarding Haitians and various stereotypes including work ethic and issues of entitlement, all evidenced by harsh border policies.  But I think the more valid reason lies with the satellite picture of the border of the Dominican Republic and Haiti.  It’s clear who has effectively utilized their natural resources, as are the repercussions of not doing just that.

El Malecón is the Ocean Side Road with Restaurants and Beautiful Views of the BayThe northern shore of the Dominican Republic is called the “Amber Coast,” home to the world’s largest amber deposits.  About 130 miles northwest of Santo Domingo, Puerto Plata lies at the base of Mount Isabel de Torres which is topped with a smaller version of Rio’s “The Redeemer.”  Near the old dock, the fort (Fuerte de San Felipe) marks the beginning of El Malecón which is an ocean side street and strand with amazing views and tons of restaurants and shops.  Puerto Plata hosted the windsurfing World Cup in 1988, and for you 80’s music buffs, Falco died in Puerto Plata in 1998 (Rock Me Amadeus!!!).

Christopher Columbus landed in, and named, Puerto Plata (“Port of Silver”).  Impressing Columbus, Puerto Plata’s silver-like appearance is attributed to many different possibilities: a) mist on Mount Isabel de Torres; b) the silver-looking leaves of the native guayaba trees; or, c) the striking color of the water at sunset often likened to the shimmering of a thousand silver coins.  Puerto Plata’s nickname is “La Novia del Atlantico” (The Bride of the Atlantic).

In a nutshell, the Dominican Republic is a very beautiful place … the mountains are lush and tropical, the ocean is Caribbean blue, and the coastline is rocky and picturesque.  The most beautiful part of the Dominican Republic is the people … not only are they physically attractive and prideful of appearance, but they are also friendly, genuine, interesting, and just generally good natured.  You would be hard-pressed to find the sourpuss Dominican.

It’s been hard work sorting out our boat problems but frankly, we’ve been having a ball here in the D.R.!  From previous Caribbean experiences, we knew that Presidente is the undisputed King of Beer – and it is absolutely delicious.  Andy sorted out our Dominican baseball alliances very quickly and provided us with good material for “water cooler” discussions with locals.  We’ve had fresh lobster and shrimp every day, and made new friends at our favorite local restaurants, Polanco and Ponderosa del Mar.

A pleasant surprise has been merengue which is the Dominican’s national music and dance style.  At the average bar, the bad dancers would be borderline fantastic by American Another Rancho Tipico (Merengue Bar) in Nearby MontellanoLa Canita -- The Best Merengue Bar Ever!standards.  Our first day here, we were taken to La Canita, which, at 3:30 on a Wednesday afternoon, was packed with a small crowd of semi-pro dancers, tearing up the dance floor to ear-splitting merengue.  We loved this place – it truly was one of our favorite bars ever.  It is, however, by no means unique – there are “La Canita”-type establishments (“Rancho Tipicos”) to be found more frequently than Starbucks in Seattle.  More Pictures

The Old Dock at Puerto Plata

Posted by: melissa

We had not planned on stopping in the Dominican Republic so when we landed at Puerto Plata, we had no idea what to expect.  As Andy mentioned, the engine had been losing revs.  We held our breath asView of Puerto Plata from the Ocean we motored slowly (with periodic engine coughs) through the reefs with breaking waves on either side, and steered past the exposed remains of a wrecked ship that failed to heed the chart’s advice regarding the narrow channel.  Furthermore, nobody ever answered our radio calls.  Usually, boats can call a harbor master, marina, another boater, somebody, on VHF channel 16 to get information on how to proceed and what to expect.

As we approached however, it became clear that dock workers were in fact waiting for our arrival.  A tug boat traversed the channel entrance and lots of guys stood on the closest point yelling instructions for us (in Espanol, but pointing and arm waving worked fine too).

Coming around the bend, we noticed that all of the smaller boats were med-moored, just as our onboard copy of Reed’s Caribbean Almanac indicated.  We were a bit nervous, having never performed this procedure before, but we read up on it and made a plan of attack.  Luckily, the dock workers gestured that we should land any way we possibly could … which we did.

Almost exclusively for commercial use, the old dock is basically a concrete slab — no marina, no mooring balls, no floating docks, no finger piers, no pilings, no nothing.  Way too high and only sporadically brandishing some old tires for protection, this dock is not well suited for a boat like ours.  Spectacle stuck out conspicuously among the fishing boats, tugs, and freighters.  Plus, we quickly realized why most boats were med-moored … a significant surge in several directions depending on tide and time and day.

Nonetheless, the dock workers helped tie us up with multiple lines, including spring lines which are docking lines that help stabilize the boat’s movement.  For instance, an “after bow spring line” attaches near the bow, runs aft, and attaches to the dock preventing the boat from surging forward.  Another example: a “forward quarter spring line” attaches to the quarter of the boat, runs forward, and attaches to the dock near the bow of the boat preventing the boat from surging backwards.

About this time, we met our all-purpose “fixer,” Roberto, who will be described in more detail later.  Roberto promptly hired a night time boat-sitter for security purposes (the boat-sitter frequently had a humongous gun) and to watch the lines.

The next morning, we awoke to a loud crash towards the bow that sounded like another boat had hit us.  We jumped out of bed to find that the surge had pounded us into the dock.  Luckily, it was the bow anchors that were hitting, causing the sound to be worse than the pound, but still, we were a little confused as to how we could be hitting the dock even with the huge surge.

In any event, we sprang into action to tighten several lines and lessen the swing towards the dock.  It was a difficult task because of the tremendous load on the lines, so coordination and finesse were required as the swell periodically, but only briefly, slackened the lines.  In the mean time, we attracted an audience of French Canadian tourists waiting for their deep-sea fishing expedition to begin.  Several were actually videotaping our little drama unfold, and since we had just jumped out of bed, we were both in our underwear (be watching for us on “Montreal’s Funniest Home Videos”).

After the significant effort to tighten the lines, we realized that the night time boat-sitter had rearranged a strategically placed and vitally important spring line.  This error is what caused us to surge forward (incorrectly slackening the other spring and dock lines) and consequently, bash into the dock.  To add insult to injury, the just completed fixes rendered the replacement of the incorrect, but still necessary, spring line impossible.  The surge kept growing stronger and stronger.  Finally, it caught us just right, smashed us fairly hard into the dock, and damaged the rub rail.  At this point, Roberto the “fixer” suggested a med-moor situation, which he seemed confident to be able to achieve even with our flaky engine and shaky electrical system.

Because picking up the anchor and the anchor chain would be extremely difficult without the electric windlass, Roberto and Andy headed to the hardware store to pick up some lighter weight anchor rode.  They were only gone for about 30 minutes, and in that time, a spring line snapped like a piece of thread under the massive load.  Luckily, I was able to replace it without another crash into the dock.

With the confidence and leadership of a true Captain, Andy put on his negotiator hat telling Roberto Spectacle Med-Moored at the Old Dock, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republicexactly what needed to be accomplished, how much it would cost, and who would be ultimately responsible for the result.  When all parties were satisfied with the agreement, Roberto and his team went to work to med-moor Spectacle, and Andy and I went to lunch.  Upon our return, Spectacle was in a much safer situation – stern perpendicular to the dock, two anchors off the bow keeping us off the dock, two stern lines keeping us close enough to the dock, and two stern spring lines to keep us from swinging too far laterally.  Disaster averted.  Or so we thought …

Being at anchor, med-moored, in a significant surge, against a concrete slab, is not exactly conducive to a good night’s rest.  After awhile though, we relaxed and realized that Spectacle was pretty stable.  The likelihood of both anchors dragging was low especially since the sea floor sloped sharply and a loose anchor would simply drag uphill and easily re-bite.  Furthermore, Roberto admonished the night time boat-sitter and checked the lines personally.

Several days later, I woke up early, started some coffee, and began to enjoy another beautiful sunny morning in the Dominican Republic when I heard the unmistakable sound of an anchor dragging across the ocean floor.  I ran up on deck to find an approximately 60-foot-long, beat-up, third world, commercial cargo boat attempting to slip in to the dock beside us and dragging our anchor with it.  I yelled and gesticulated frantically, confirmed that the other anchor was still intact, and grabbed Andy out of bed.

The First Boat to Run Over Our Anchor Line:  The Diver, the Guy in the Red Shirt (Splicing our Line Back Together), and the Typical Crowd of Random LoiterersAt first, the crew on the cargo boat stared at me blankly wondering why I was acting like such a crazy person.  Then, a guy emerged from the cabin wearing a speedo (that was threadbare and white, yikes) and donning a mask.  The swimmer dove several times, coming back up for air and providing updates in Spanish.  Another guy came from the cabin and handed the swimmer a butcher’s knife.  The next thing we saw was a different guy splicing our anchor line back together.

Needless to say, we were absolutely livid.  If both anchors had dragged, we probably would have been up against the dock with few good options and precious little time.  Roberto talked to the Captain who said that they “didn’t see the line.”  We found that pretty hard to believe for a number of different reasons: a) both anchor lines are conspicuously colored bright red; b) every boat at the dock is med-moored so obviously there’s gonna be anchor lines off the bow; and, c) they landed at the only available dock space without a rafting situation (so they wanted to be directly on the dock to unload their cargo and they didn’t really care who or what was in their way).

Now some of you might be saying to yourselves, oh Melissa and Andy . . . don’t be so crotchety . . . accidents are bound to happen and I’m sure they didn’t do it on purpose!  I thought that too for about one hour when the next cargo boat to come in did the exact same thing … ran over the anchor line, dragged the anchor under their boat, cut the line without asking, spliced the line back together, haphazardly reset the anchor, and called it all a huge accident.

 It was then that we decided to move to the closest proper marina as soon as possible.  As much as we were enjoying Puerto Plata, the safety of the boat needs to be the first concern and Checking Out of Old Dock -- (Left to Right) Random Loiterer, Andy, Representative from the DR Navy, Random Loiterer, Santiago (Driver Extraordinaire), Adolpho (Dock Hand), Francisco (Dock Hand and Frequent Night Time Boat-Sitterwe worried about the surge and the next round of cargo ships to land.  Plus, we knew that after the two incidents, it was back to sleeping with one eye open and being exhausted all of the time when there was still much work to be done.  So we informed Roberto of our impending departure and said goodbye to our new friends as we researched other places to park our floating condo.

We originally thought that Luperon was our closest option.  Famous among cruising types, Luperon is one of the best naturally protected harbors in the entire Caribbean and many cruisers spend all of hurricane season anchored and well sheltered there.  Unfortunately for us and the inconsistency of our electric windlass, Luperon is mostly an anchorage area.  One marina has only about ten slips (and I never was able to find a working phone number for them anyhow), and another marina is still under construction.  That’s when we learned about Ocean World – the two-month-old marina, casino, and marine adventure park only about 10 miles away.  And Ocean World could not be more different than the old dock.  More Pictures

Dominican Baseball

Posted by: andy

Our original plan, made some 12 months ago, called for a stop in the Dominican Republic around now.  Although this stop was later revised out of existence (until, of course, we ended up halfway needing to stop), I still remembered that baseball season was in full swing in late January.

Upon our arrival in Puerto Plata, I immediately checked the internet to see what the beisbol happenings were, and I was pleased to see that we were just a two days away from the beginning of the Dominican championship series between Licey and Aguilas Cibaenas, the two most storied teams in the Dominican Republic.  This is a major rivalry – trust me and this two-year-old article from the S.F. Chronicle (although they are dead-ass wrong about who the “Yankees” are).

The Two Teams Playing for the Dominican Championship -- Licey Versus AguilasAguilas is the “new money” club.  Although they have been around for 70 years, eight of their 19 titles have come in the last 12 years.  Of the two, they have a richer owner and a more mercenary attitude – a bit like the Yankees. 

Licey is the more “old-school” of the two clubs.  In existence since 1907, Licey also has 19 titles, but most of theirs came back when the Celtics were good at basketball.  Licey also has a reputation of being much more community friendly and having a stronger interest in developing young talent.

The winner of this series goes on to play in the Caribbean World Series, an annual tournament between the D.R., Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.  The Dominican champion has won six of the last 10 Caribbean World Series titles, so one could make the argument that the Dominican championship series is the “real” Caribbean World Series.

It would be hard to find something more “up our alley” than this.  Obviously, we had to go.

Roberto, our Rental Car, and the Mule that Lives in the Lot Next to AvisThis is a best-of-nine series, and Game One was played at the 18,077-seat Estadio Cibao in Santiago, about a one-hour drive from Puerto Plata.  Given the insane nature of automotive transportation here, we opted to pay to have Roberto (our “fixer” – more on him and his family later) rent a car, and he came with us to Santiago.

Roberto is a Licey fan.  Given their (1) underdog nature, (2) general “good-guy” role, and, most importantly, (3) lovely blue uniforms, Melissa also became a “Liceyita” after stating “I like blue.”  I, on the other hand, decided to try to experience what it’s like to be a Yankee fan.  I became an “Aguilucho.”

Roberto has been absolutely fantastic, and one reason for this is that he really knows Parking Lot at Jhony Restaurantwhere the good restaurants are.  About 15 minutes outside of Puerto Plata, he pulled off the road and down a dirt driveway.  At the bottom of the driveway was a pile of burning trash and about 25 cars parked in a disorganized jumble.  This is where we’re having lunch, eh?

We walked up the hill to the jam-packed Restaurant Jhony, which was tremendous.  Delicious grilled lobsters all around, cold Presidentes, cheap bill.  Perfect.  Roberto is a wise man.

Eventually, we made it to Santiago, the Dominican  Republic’s second-largest city.  I can’t say I’d recommend Santiago to you.  Puerto Plata has poverty and garbage (we’re not staying at the surrounding Potemkin tourist villages, but its character more than compensates).  Not much character in Santiago.

As we tried to park the car and scalp some tickets, we were absolutely mobbed – and this was four hours before game time.  After we picked up some hats (Licey for Melissa and Roberto, Aguilas for me), it only got worse.  Random men on the street would (good naturedly and always with a smile) make all sorts of throat-slashing gestures at Melissa and offer concomitant comments regarding Licey’s chances.  Trying to scalp tickets in a foreign language is tough enough if you have a seating chart of the stadium; without one, you’re just asking to be ripped off.

Eventually, we convinced some Aguilas officials to let us in to see the stadium so we could figure out the section in which we should buy tickets.  They were very nice, and it was cool to see a bit of batting practice with essentially no one else inside.

We headed back outside, negotiated with about eight different scalpers, and secured three tickets aboutSantiago, Dominican Republic 20 rows behind the first base dugout for $40 each.  Tickets in hand, we decided to walk through Santiago in search of a pre-game libation.  This proved surprisingly taxing.  In our quest for a beer, we walked over a bridge, looked to the right, were startled, and had to take a picture.  I’ll let it speak for itself.  We ended up at a surprisingly charming car-wash-by-day, roadhouse-by-night establishment, had a few Presidentes, and made it back to the stadium.

Inside, the atmosphere was great.  Melissa took extensive video, and eventually we’ll get some of it up on the site.  Santiago native Jose Lima (yes, that Jose Lima) was on the hill for Aguilas, clearly “representing” for his people, and soft-throwing journeyman (to say the least) left-handed gringo sacrifice Lindsay Gulin was pitching for Licey.

In the top of the first, Lima took his usual histrionics completely over the top, nearly being ejected for arguing balls and strikes.  He then proceeded to set down Licey in order and mostly shut them down for nearly seven innings. 

Señor Gulin didn’t have such a nice time.  Before leaving the game, he faced four batters. Two of them hit home runs and all of them scored.  Aguilas ended up with a 6-0 lead by the end of the first.  Given that (a) Estadio Cibao has 18,077 seats and only one gate, and (b) everyone here is on “Island Time,” the game was essentially over when the stadium was no more than 1/3 full.  These people make Dodgers fans look prompt.  This wasn’t a problem for us.  Roberto had clearly never seen either of these teams play in person.  He was thrilled just to be there, even if his team was getting killed.  Melissa and I were able to enjoy the Aguilas mascot (easily the greatest, most arrogant and aggressive sports mascot I’ve ever seen).  This guy is awesome enough that he has a real chance of being killed in the line of duty.  He taunted Licey batters in a manner that would get him fined/expelled in any American major league sport and placed him well within blast radius of a late-fouled pitch from a right-handed batter.

We also were able to enjoy the Aguilas Cheerleaders.  I will not in any way be in trouble with Melissa for telling you that the women in the Dominican Republic are beyond beautiful.  The Dominican is also a highly machismo culture in which female beauty is overly exalted (not quite like Venezuela, but you get the idea) and other female contributions are mostly ignored.  Given these circumstances, let’s just say that jobs with the top-of-the-dugout-dancing Aguilas cheerleaders are certainly hard to get, and the talent on display reflects this.  If any American Major League Baseball team instituted dugout-top dance teams, you’d think it was stupid, even if the dancers were this caliente.  And, yet, this certainly was not stupid – along with the mascot, it helped create a home-field advantage that you otherwise simply can’t get in an 18,077-seat stadium.  It was intimidating.  Licey was in big trouble.

After a few innings, the only Aguilas player not to have a hit was Miguel Tejada.  Yes, THAT Miguel Tejada – 2002 American League MVP Miguel Tejada.  This was Major-League caliber baseball (with at least 8 Major Leaguers on the field), and these fans know what they are expecting to see.  By the 8th inning, Tejada rectified the situation, golfing an ankle-high fastball over the left-field wall for a two-run homer that put the game out of reach.  Aguilas ended up winning the game 9-3 and winning the series five games to two.  Damn Yankees.  More Pictures