PASSAGES SOUTH, Ed. 10 Copyright 2012 Bruce Van Sant
CHECKLIST FOR GOING EAST FROM LUPERÓN
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.
AFTER SPENDING A HURRICANE SEASON IN LUPERÓN
(or if you haven't done these in a while)
THE GARBAGE LINE
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.