The Dreaded Mona Passage

The Mona passage lies between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, maybe 70 miles of open sea, with a bad reputation. It is interesting because the Atlantic Ocean is 8 Km (8000m) deep at this point, the Puerto Rican Trench, but shallows rapidly to about 100 metres in the passage, which means that some humongous waves can occur. It causes a lot of anxiety among the cruisers, and endless conversations at the bar about when to try it. We met people who had been waiting for weeks for a ‘window’. Their weather guru is Chris Parker – an American weather router, very famous, very accurate, and very conservative – so some people spend months stuck in one place on his advice. i missed one weather window due to the US embassy and the visa process, but we were fortunate to see a shorter one appear only a few days later.

I dropped off Janine and the kids in Santo Domingo on Friday morning at a shopping centre to enjoy the air conditioning and shopping, and then drove back to the Samana peninsula, getting hit by dodgy policemen all the way back. I had to nip into Samana town to collect our new back cushions, and buy some rum-half bottles for presents and bribes. This meant i only just managed to catch the Navy man (who gives permission for movements about the coast of the DR), who was kind enough to keep the Immigration and customs waiting. The fact that i had not told them that the rest of the family were not on the boat meant another few dollars and delay. Unfortunately my Navy friend was a Mormon and wasn’t interested in the rum, and we spent a good 30 minutes chatting about how good a man he was, and how much he liked helping people, while i worried about whether it meant i should try a cash present or not tempt him. In the end i decided that he was truly a nice guy and gave a non-caffeine soft drink, and just chatted while the fuel dock started to close.

(The east end of the DR is interesting because it was settled by ex-slaves from the emancipation after the US civil war, while the west has many africans from French colonial plantations, the rest is Spanish colonialists, and possibly some original Tainu indians. Where the Mormon locals came from i would love to know!)

In a rush i got fueled up, by rafting alongside a guy on an old steel boat that had a dud engine. He was a yacht delivery guy we’d met in Luperon, who’s own boat always seemed to be suffering, and was taking longer than us to move along the coast.
I finally sailed off at sunset, heading for a little island to shade me from the strong SE breeze and swell. At 8pm i put up both sails and tacked across Samana Bay to the lower peninsula where i hoped to feel some of the ‘lee effect’ of Katabatic offshore winds calming the sea, but also had to make sure i stayed well off due to reefs. By about 11 pm i was noticing the lee calm, and was able to turn eastwards along the coast to the tip of the DR where i could jump off. My instructions from the bible of windward passages (The Gentlemans Guide) told me i had to be tacking off shore to PR by 8 am the next morning.
It was pretty windy and rainy overnight, and my running lights were failing intermittently, but due to the proximity of the land, less than a mile off, i stayed well awake all night.
When i tacked off the coast, the wind was not as SE as i hoped, and there seemed to be a current, as i made only 2 knots way to the NE, and it seemed to take forever to clear the Hourglass Shoals. This was where the scary 50 foot waves were supposed to be. I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.
At about 9 am i lost speed totally, and noticed a lot of noise. the foot of the main sail had come apart, and i had lost a lot of propulsion and steadying force. The webbing connecting the pulleys at the corner of the sail had rotten sun-damaged stitching. I rolled it into the mast, and then tried to figure out how to create a bullet-proof attachment.
I first tried the sailmakers palm and a needle to stitch the webbing back on, but even with a hammer and pliers could not get a needle through. So I got the trusty Ryobi drill and drilled a dozen holes through the reinforced part of the sail, and pushed three pieces of webbing from a car ratchet strap through and tied it to the pulley. This rough and ready repair held for a month till i got to a place that would fix sails.
During that day i slept only for fifteen minute cat-naps, until i finally remembered that i had some real tea which helped me a lot. I hallucinated a little bit, imaging that the family was down below and shouting at me to do things.

Going over the ‘shoals’ I saw the depth sounder go from too deep to even think about to 100m. The dreaded waves and swells never appeared. It was at that point i got a hit on my fishing lines. The rod was screaming loudly and it took me time to figure out how to get enough friction to pull it in. It was a Blackfin tun – possibly edible !! I doused it in alcohol which was supposed to anaesthetise it, pithed it through the brain and bled it as much as i could. Only then did i notice the other hand line was taught, and belatedly pulled in half of a much bigger Yellow Fin Tuna. The sharks or Barrys had got me again. I was pretty tired and smelly so didn’t feel like a fish lunch.

Now that i had turned SE I had a good long 6 hour SE tack where i was getting 7.5 knots with a reefed main, I was starting to enjoy solo sailing. Then it got dark again, as i hit the lee of Puerto Rico and I was forced to use the engine. This night was a bit boring, only a couple of fishing fleets to keep me company, some lightning flashes to worry me, and the auditory hallucinations of the family shouting at me to get things for them.
I got into Mayaguez at 10 am, and anchored in a dirty brown bay, on a very quiet Sunday. I couldn’t raise the customs agent sadly so i couldn’t scoot down to the more picturesque Boqueron to meet the family. They had left Santo Domingo by plane on Sunday morning and caught the bus direct to Mayaguez, whereas I had left Friday evening. I’m not sure who was more frazzled.

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