Wednesday, March 18, 2020

 Bayahibe, Dominican Republic to Puerto Real, Puerto Rico


A Smooth Crossing and a Delightful Welcome to US Waters
All quiet in the often notorious Mona Passage

We left Bayahibe about 1130 hours and were rounding the outside of Isla Saona by about 1400 hours. We draw too much water to make the passage between Punta Cana and Isla Saona. There were several day-tripper catamarans along the west and south shore of the island. Although we could see the bottom at 30 to 40 feet, with the passage ahead of us, we did not stop. The winds were light and on the nose with seas still 2.5 meters from the previous blow. Motor sailing again.
The crystal clear waters off Isla Saona

By 1600 hours I was again cleaning fuel filters but at least we had several new ones. At 1835 we were visited by a pod of small bottle nosed dolphins. It was fabulous seeing them again, the first we had seen since Providencia, Columbia. They played in our bow wave while we motor sailed until our filters blocked again. Happily the dolphins played around the boat while I installed new filters.  The pod had lots of babies and looked healthy, they were just a lot smaller than our Pacific Whiteside Dolphins.

As we were nearing Mona Island in the middle of the Mona Pass at about 2000 hours we noticed a light in the distance. The AIS showed nothing so we assumed a probable fish boat and turned on the radar. Surprisingly the boat showed much closer, about one mile away and a bigger image than we had expected from the single visible light we had spotted. Knowing the US military routinely do not transmit an AIS signal we assumed it was probably the navy or Coast Guard. Shortly more lights appeared on the ship and we could see a green starboard light off out port bow indicating the ship would be passing in front of us. Suddenly the radio crackled to life, a female voice said, “Vessel travelling north east under running lights, we are off your starboard bow, please identify yourself.” My response was “We see a vessel on radar off our port bow with no AIS signal. Please indicate your intentions for passing and who are you?” The response was “We are the United States Coast Guard, Please identify yourself.” Me “We are the Canadian sailing vessel Kanilela en route from Casa de Campo, Dominican Republic bound for Marina Pescaderia, Puerto Real, Puerto Rico to complete entry requirements.” Her response, “Please repeat the name of your vessel and how many people are on board?” Me, Canadian sailing vessel Kanilela with two people on board, my wife and I.” After a long pause during which I was racking my brain trying to remember the date we left San Diego because “when did you last leave US waters?” is the usual follow-up question we have heard them ask other boats. To my surprise she responded cheerily “Welcome to the United States of America, please continue. Coast Guard vessel standing by on channel 16.” We felt quite welcome. Shortly after the lights disappeared although the radar blip followed gradually in our general direction until it was about 10 miles off our stern.

We continued uneventfully through the night until close to dawn when two lights appeared far to the stern. We were probably too far away for AIS signals but the radar showed small targets about 13 miles away travelling at the same speed as us. We wondered if they might be m/v’s Blessed and Figment who travel together and who we had last seen several days earlier in Boca Chica but knew they would pursue the same weather window that we chose and their destination was also Marina Pescaderia.

Because we were arriving so early in the morning and knew the marina would not be open we decided to do a slow circuit of Boqueron, the bay to the south of Puerto Real. It is a very shallow bay so we did not go all the way to the Boqueron Yacht Club marina but slowly retraced our track back out of the bay. As we rounded the point Blessed and Figment were there preparing to enter Puerto Real. Always fun seeing boats you know.

Arriving at our assigned berth after a cell phone call with Jose in the marina office, we handed our lines to and received assistance from our new neighbours, Sam and Adrian on the British boat s/v Neva. Jose had arranged for the clearance officials and everything went smoothly. Interestingly, when we did talk to John and Don on Blessed and Figment, they had received no communication from the Coast Guard. We speculated that it may be that we do not transmit on AIS and they do or possibly it was our curious behaviour of stopping to clean fuel filters in the middle of the night that made someone curious.

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