PASSAGES SOUTH, Ed. 10 Copyright 2012 Bruce Van Sant

Tips from well over 100 dispatches to always tranquil sails of the DR coast, more than
50 serene Mona crossings and 28 years watching others get hammered easting from here.

(or if you haven't done these in a while)
  1. CHANGE oil, oil filters and fuel filters, add coolant and biocide (Biobor) — polish the fuel and clean the fuel tank if necessary.
  2. INSPECT your rigging truck to keelson: sand and examine your swedges, tangs & chainplates.
      Check spreader angles, mast foot, deck tensioners, keel bolts, raw water pumps, impellers, stainless clamps and hoses. Hoses crack or loosen over the summer.
  3. PREVENT OVERHEATING, clean your thru-hulls and raw water strainers.
      Restricted intakes cause overheating at times (like when you need sustained RPMs). Run acid through your heat exchangers.
      Scrub the bottom and sand the propeller to a shine. Dirty props lose you speed and usually cause engine overheating after extended use, so you don’t know you’ve got a problem until you get beyond the point of no return.
  4. SEA TRIAL: untangle the rig, and stir up the fuel tank on a downwind sail to Punta Rocia.
      Sharpen up your night coasting skills on the pre-dawn return. Fix up and go.

  1. WX: NWS+Chris+Herb+George+Arthur+Maurice+YOU (and NOT your VHF buddies).
      Interpolate SWNA and EC Offshore Reports to get gradient, then apply island effects.
  2. Don't get caught dead on a tradewind coast in the daytime.
      You'll hug the capes in the night lee until the Virgin Islands. The night lee settles in between 1900 and midnight, the more forecast wind, the later. The night lee dissipates between 0700 and noon, the more forecast wind, the earlier. Only go on a forecast gradient wind less than 15 Kts and south of east:
        <15 KTS S OF E doesn't blow strong enough to overcome the night lee, and --------
        <15 KTS S OF E reduces the effects of coastal acceleration because it's from behind the island.
  3. USE OVERSIZE WINDOWS. 2 days more than required: 1 for seas to go down, 1 for safety.
  4. LEAVE ONLY AFTER THE WIND ceases in harbor. It will blow much stronger outside.
      Sunny days of SE'ly wind or west-going moist air masses can create Island Lows which cause strong easterly circulation late on the north coast.
      Otherwise, by 10 p.m. to midnight, night lee flattens the sea and gives you 6-8 knots landbreeze just forward of the beam.
      Raise a reefed sail before hoisting anchor, not out in the groundswells of the offing.
      You'll be motorsailing, so you will prevent sail chafe by having a reef stretch the pocket out of the main.
      Also you may have to run off or turn up into a strong squall.
  5. NAVIGATE by depth sounder in 80 to 120 feet. Glue your eyes to the depth sounder, not the compass, not the chartplotter.
      Stop during the daytime, update your weather picture and plan the next step.
      Clear any offsets on your GPS, and never, ever pull GPS waypoints from Caribbean charts, nor mix waypoints between charts and guides.
      My true waypoints have 22 years of use by many thousands of boats. (NB: typos on Haiti waypoints Eds. 8, 9 showing 20° versus 19°).
  6. AVOID THE "GARBAGE LINE": high seas flotsam along a line 1-2 miles off the capes and 3-5 miles off bays,
      and within 2 miles west-northwest of rivers on outgoing tides.
  7. KEEP DEADLINES: Storm cells can sweep off the mountains and out to sea on the lee sides of the capes as late as midnight.
      Avoid squalls by passing Puerto Plata or leaving Sosua after 10pm., and have Cabo Francés Viejo behind you by 8am.
      Stop at Escondido to evaluate: go on to Samaná? Punta Macao? Punta Cana? Mona Island?
      Leave Escondido for Samaná so you can arrive shortly afer sunup.
      Set out from either Escondido or Samaná by sailing for Cabo Rafael, then follow closely that coast’s night lee to Cabo Engaño.


High seas flotsam, whatever can fall off a ship, will wash around islands in a predictable way. It has dangers beyond the sea grass and dead fish of tide lines and dixie cups and palm fronds of river outflows. Next time you find yourself seated by a brook with nothing to do, have a fistful of pine needles with you. Pick a rock, the kind that looks like an island in the stream. Throw your pine needles way upstream of the rock and watch what happens.

You'll notice the rock has folds of ripples on its upstream side. The pine needles rush down stream and divide themselves either side of the rock, bunching up on the ripples, following them around the sides of the rock and sliding out into the troughs behind.

The "rock" of Hispaniola lies square in the Equatorial Current. More than pine needles float by it. Crossing the Equatorial Current farther down on the way to Venezuela my cruising buddy called back on the VHF, "Wow! We're looking down on a whole city of pipes!" Having more curiosity than sense, I cut the autopilot and guided the boat gingerly toward the spot he had just crossed. I soon found myself, the best way I can describe it, flying low over an oil refinery. A forest of pipes, flues and chimneys thrust out in all directions, the nearest of which jutted out within 8-10 feet of the surface.

We sailed along in a gorgeous 10-12 knot beam breeze with hardly a surface chop. But if my 6½ foot draft fell into a trough of a 6 foot sea while the jumble factory below bobbed upward at the same time, it easily could have impaled my ketch with untold tons of force.

I associate that plumber's nightmare with a ship's boiler system and all its attached tubes and capillaries. The sea floor crawls with corroded, broken wrecks whose tankage, upon breaking free, can reach neutral buoyancy and present itself just as whatever I saw.

Avoid the garbage line by hugging the shore. Normal cruising configurations — long keel, full displacement, keel-hung rudder with shoe — should have no problem with tidelines and river outflows. But bottoms with shaft struts, spade rudders and some centerboards may snag an occasional piece of plastic or net fragment in the rainy season. No big deal.

But a fleet out of Luperón one year thought it a big deal when one of the boats with a racing configuration caught a bit of what they called "drift net" in their strutted prop outside Puerto Plata. After that, they all sailed 4 miles offshore to avoid "drift nets". They sailed right down the high seas garbage line. Only one of the five boats reached Puerto Rico without incident. Two turned back spooked. All for a bit of yarn. A "drift net", by the way, has tough steel cables, floats deep and runs up to 7 miles long. Newbies in nav comms, they must have meant 'drifting nets'.

All vessels are at risk for high seas flotsam seaward of a line 1-2 miles off the capes and 3-5 miles off current-wise coastlines. Thinking to stay off a bit to avoid rare inshore hazards, you may instead encounter a semi-submerged container or, as I did one year, a full size tree from the Orinoco.