Tuesday, January 30, 2007

In Salinas - by Geert

This is Salinas: dunes of grey sand, beaches half a mile wide, salt ponds full of birds, a wide bay with crystal clear water, ridge after ridge of stark brown mountains in the distance. The most striking thing about the Dominican Republic is the variety of its ladnscape.

Salinas is a very lively fishhing village. The boats are small and open. Some are rowed out by five or six guys trawling a net for sardines and other small fry, others are outboard powered and fish for wahoo, dorado and tuna, with rods. The fishermen are covered from head to toe, like Arabs, against the blazing sun.

We are staying at a small and most economical marina ($3.75 per day). We had another repair to do. Sea Scout IS an old boat. Later this week we plan to sail to the uninhabited Bahia de las Aguiilas, and from there to Jacmel on the south coast of Haiti.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Moving on - by Geert

Thanks to the invaluable help of Manuel Fernandez, of Santo Domingo, we managed to get the boom and sail repaired. We even had time to explore the city, nearby Boca Chica, and the mountains in the interior. The marina in Santo Domingo is far from brilliant, but affordable ($12 a night) and the location is hard to beat. From the cockpit we have a view of the colonial city, and almost everything we need is within walking distance.

We hope to sail overnight to the fishing village of Salinas, on the Bahia de las Calderas, about 60 miles west of here.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Soccer clothes and gear for Haitian kids - by David

As a collegiate athlete I have enjoyed myriad privileges. I have been able to travel the country and world playing the game I love. A big part of my life as a soccer player has been the sponsorship by corporations like Fila, Addidas, and UnderArmour. They have provided countless supplies to our team all at no cost to the players. Maryland Soccer is one of the wealthier programs in the country and we can afford the best apparel and gear every season.

I have thus accumulated many t-shirts, shorts, socks, cleats, etc. in my five years as a Maryland athlete and much more from my time in club, odp, and high school. Seeing as I and so many of my former teammates have so many clothes I have asked our alumni and current players to donate as much as they could for me to distribute during my time in Haiti. Thankfully many people have responded and 5 large boxes of clothes and gear are currently en route to Santo Domingo for transport to Jacmel and Port-Au-Prince.

The honor of playing soccer at Maryland is nothing without the charitable donations we have provided over the years. I hope that the relatively small donation we are making to the children of Haiti can bring some joy and happiness to a people stricken by poverty and conflict. When I arrive in Haiti I will write another post on how the clothes were received and also contact information for those of you who wish to donate and help in your own way.

Seth Stammler, a former Terp and current member of the New York Red Bulls visited Haiti last month to help Wycleff Jean´s organization. He has been inspired and is taking the necessary steps to set up a foundation to provide scholarships and other much needed assets for Haitians. I hope to join Seth in his mission and possibly set up my own small channel for donating soccer clothes and gear to the children of Haiti.

Monday, January 22, 2007

More on the bamboom - by Eugene

I met Geert in early January in Fajardo, on the east cost of Puerto Rico, for what should have been a short (300 nm.) and uneventful passage to Santo Domingo. Yet, from the very beginning I realized that my time on Sea Scout would be anything but uneventful. In Fajardo the boat was tied up at a dock in Puerto del Rey, a vast, supposedly secure, marina. Of course, everything is relative, especially the security which was purely fictional. The day after I arrived, the boat was burglarized in broad daylight while Geert was having a shower, leaving his vessel unattended for just a short while. Back on board he noticed hat something was amiss and that an I-Pod and charger had been stolen. That evening three burly officers from the local Policia came to the marina to investigate the theft. In fact, all they wanted to see was the boat’s documents and our passports, and off they went, obviously puzzled by the boat’s Dutch registration, which they couldn’t decipher. No doubt, their report, assuming there is one, will be gathering dust at the police station, awaiting a far from certain follow-up.

Still distressed by that episode we set sail on January 8. As luck would have it we were in the wake of a cold front and had to cope with erratic winds, confused seas, and adverse currents. We tried everything; reaching under spinnaker, wing-on-wing with two genoas, jibing back and forth under main and genoa. All to no avail. We could barely do 4 knots. Instead of reaching our intended destination on the west coast of Puerto Rico, we only covered 90 miles in 26 hours. That brought us to La Parguera, a small town close to the southwest corner of the island. Surrounded by a maze of narrow waterways that crisscross endless mangroves, La Parguera is known as the Venice of the Caribbean. There we spent a day at anchor in a tropical paradise, amid mangroves and reefs. On shore we did some provisioning, sampled the local bars and restaurants, and used the computers at the town library to check our emails. The next day we left just before sundown, headed for Isla Mona, a mostly uninhabited island, mid-way between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. That meant crossing the Mona Passage, where the North Atlantic meets the Caribbean Sea. Most boats sail south, down the passage, going with the flow. Since we were sailing westward across the passage we had waves coming at us every which way, except the right way.

Bouncing and rocking like a bronco, Sea Scout headed into the night, scooting along at over 6 knots on a broad reach. Down below, the din of clanging pots and pans made sleeping impossible. After securing the galley, Geert’s son, Nico, and I finally dozed off before going on watch at 2 a.m. Well, that didn’t quite work out. At a quarter to midnight there was sudden bedlam; a loud cracking noise and some expletives. Judging by the confusion on deck, something was wrong. What and why I wondered. It turned out that, to avoid colliding with a south-bound cruise ship, Geert and David who were on watch had done a hasty jibe. Everything would have been OK, but for the fact that the preventer was still attached to the boom. Under the stress of the jibe, the boom had snapped in half, at the point of the preventer! To make matters worse still, the mainsail was torn. Fortunately we were out of harm’s way, bobbing on the waves, watching the cruise ship disappear.

Regaining control of the situation we dropped the main, lashed to broken boom to the coach roof, and motor sailed under genoa and staysail. At daybreak we could see Isla Mona ahead, and a Coast Guard cutter astern. So we kept looking ahead. Because its waters are home to countless sea turtles Isla Mona is known as the Galapagos of the Caribbean. It also happens to be US territory, and beckons would-be boat people fleeing from Cuba and the near-by Dominican Republic. Hence the Coast Guard.

At anchor we came up with a plan; make a new boom with whatever the island would yield. Nico and David swam to shore and, ‘lo and behold, came back with a 30-foot bamboo pole, straight as an arrow and stronger than steel. Removing all the fittings from the broken boom, they set to task to make the bamboom. It worked, and the next day we left for Santo Domingo. The bamboom, rigged with the spare mainsail, worked so beautifully that we made good time—who needs a fancy boom! We arrived off Santo Domingo just after daybreak, averaging close to 6 knots over ninety miles.

Before heading into the harbor we tidied up the boat to impress the local officials. That was totally unnecessary. As in any poor country the only thing that impresses local officials is dollars, the more the better. To wit, the customs official demanded a ‘little present’ ($10), the immigration official brazenly demanded a fee of $80, the so-called drug enforcement agent also wanted cash, as did various other members of our welcoming committee. As for the local marina, its waters are strewn with flotsam, the bathrooms are dismal, and one has to pay for water. But the weather is glorious, the Colonial city delightful, and the local beer as good as any.

I am back in Washington DC where it is snowing, and Nico is back at university in Berkeley. For their part Geert and David are still in Santo Domingo, enjoying the weather and, no doubt, the beer, awaiting repairs/replacement of the boom. When that is done they will sail to Haiti where other crew will join them. As for the bamboom, it will stay on board, just in case.

Eugene Versluysen
Washington DC

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Three Stories of Santo Domingo - by David

I. Guirmo the Shoeshine Boy

¨Where you from¨?¨
¨Los Estados Unidos, I replied with a strange and awkward spanglish accent.
Ï shine your shoes,¨ and the boy began to get on his knees and grab my feet. I was wearing sandals. I don´t know what he was planning on shining. Maybe the rubber soles. It didn´t matter.

The shoeshine boys are as much a part of Santo Domingo as the cobbled street on which they chased after tourists. Their boxes are small rickety wooden pails that house an assortment of rags, polish and dirt. They run up and down Calle Conde looking for sympathizing tourists and the occasional Dominican who has the time to placate these boys´ business.
After convincing the boy that I did not need my sandals polished I asked him his name.
¨Como se llama?¨
¨Gueirmo¨, he said.
¨Me llamo David.¨

Guerimo could be no more than 10. His eyes were bright blue that seemed to have its origins in the Carribbean waters. His attire was simple, as is I guess most 10 years olds throughout the world, but characteristically ragged. Blue shorts and yellow t-shirt with a picture of the skyline of New York from the Hudson River silk-screened on the front. He was wearing a Licey baseball hat he must have found outside the stadium one night after a loss. Some agitated fan must have thrown it on the ground in his drunken anger and left it for Gueirmo to find.

¨Te gusta Licey,¨ I asked.
¨Si, si you like I shine your shoes, you give me 50 pesos.¨
We had been walking and talking as I saw no sense to indulge Guirmo´s sandal-shining proposition any futher when we came upon some sort of ceremony outside of the iglesia. Gueirmo commanded be to stop.

We stood in silence as we watched the Dominican flag being taken down from the top of the iglesia and in strict military code, folded neatly and returned inside the church. Cars had stopped their honking tourists had ceased thier chatter, and for a brief moment in a city of babbling geese, there was quiet. The hustlers had gone inside their shops, the chicas bandidas sat solemnly, the cab drivers stopped hailing tourists and while I knew it would last only a moment there was a sense of respect about the whole process.

And there I stood next to Gueirmo, holding his shoeshine box with his brightly colored clothes, his crystal clear eyes that fell softly on any passerby, and I caught a glimpse of what this city is really about. Its people.

The tableaux lasted for only a moment and when the military guard had secured the flag and gone inside the iglesia the world resumed again. Cars moved on, the cabbies lobbied tourists, the tiendas hustled people inside and Geuirmo began to polish my sandals. I pulled up a chair and sat there and watched it all as Gueirmo took his dirty rags to my feet and cleaned the straps and soles of my sandals. This was Santo Domingo.

II. The Chess Game

On the Calle Conde there are many things. While the policia tries to keep them away, even the chicas bandidas manage to get a spot on Duarte. There is La Despensa, the supermarket, La Cafeteria, where the old-timers drink their cafe and talk about Licey or other matters of national importance. The tourists dominate Calle Conde and there are enough sidewalk vendors and tienda hustlers to accomate the most unwilling cruise ship passenger.

Amongst the bustle of the ped-mall there is the chess game. Run by four or five regulars and complemented by several more sporadic players the Calle Conde chess game is the most out of place event on a street where hookers hide from the rain in the internet cafe.
Ricardo is the champion. While he loses occasionally no one considers themselves better than Ricardo. This is not Ricardo´s choice, for he is certainly not the kind of man to raise is nose to anyone. It is simply what the others have decided.

The game is speed chess. You have a timer that is acts on a hinge and after each player makes a move he switches the clock to his opponent.
Click, Click, Click. Those are the sounds of the timer as Ricardo and his opponent move their pieces. Someone more romantic than I could argue that the cadence of the game is part of the art. I, however am not one to exaggerate the importance of such things but only bring it up to show how graceful the game is.

I am the lone gringo in the group and my presence, while acceptable is certainly conspicuous. I watch with eager eyes as Ricardo moves in position to check and ultimately mate his opponent.
The men (they are only men -- i think a woman´s presence would be even more conspicuous then mine) huddle around talking quietly as to not disturb the players. They have formed an exclusive circle that for them is a kind of refuge. Around them Calle Conde continues on its frenetic pace as the next round of cruisers must be corralled and convinced to by the t-shirt they don´t need or a necklace to give to their wife or mistress. But inside, Ricardo is king and the men around him have nominanted him so. He is their king and chess is their domain.

Ricardo´s opponent concedes before he is mated but there is no animosity. The game exists beyond winning and losing. The next challenger sits down and the loser assumes his position in the circle. I slip away quietly and wander down the street.
¨Taxi, taxi¨
¨Gift for your wife sir, come inside¨
¨Hand job for 200 pesos¨
I make my way back to my refuge and salvation and drift into a quiet and lovely sleep.

III. Calle Conde

The stream of tourists had not ceased since 9am. They were let off the boat and given wristbands and instructions on when to be back. Their attire was fairly standard: white shoes with white socks pulled up to the calf. Khaki shorts, a flowered tropical shirt for the men and a souviner t-shirt from the last cruise for the women. The guide book and their friends back home told them to wear a hat and lots of sunscreen. Those who heeded this advice wore a straw hat and SPF 130. Those who promised to come back with a tan and impress their girlfriends´ best friend wore nothing and had already begun to peel and look like a lobster.

I sat in Parque Colon watching the delightful mix of school children, tourists and taxi drivers as they floated past. It was almost noon and the sun seared the truth of the tropics into every one it hit. This was not a paradise. The Corona commercials were bullshit. They filmed those in some studio in Malibu. You could see the looks on the faces of the overweight couple who had come from Iowa for their vacation in the tropics. It was as if they said,
¨Lets get the hell out of here and freeze our asses off in Cedar Bluff.¨

The cruise ships had an arrangement with the local tour companies to feed them their passengers. Thus, the path from the cruise ship to the tours was made very easy. The tour took them through the Ciudad Colonial around the fort and back down Calle Conde to the cruise ship. This was a very defined path and, since I had been there since 9 I had seen many groups make the loop.

In Santo Domingo as the day wears on and the sun rages, the trash on the corner piles up. The dogs and Haitians come out from under the cars and begin to rummage through the garbage looking for the days meal. As the day turns to night, the trash increases in size and dimensions. By morning, when the next cruise ship has arrived and started to unload passengers, the trash has been picked up and taken outside the city away from the wallets of the tourists.

This was the way Santo Domingo worked. However on this day, the day I was sitting in the Parque Colon, the trash had not been picked up the night before. Tourists were herded along their usual path down the Calle Conde and across Calle de Catolica. By noon the dogs and Haitians had begun to emerge and begin their daily feast of rotting trash and garbage. I sat there as Joe and Mary from Lima, Ohio listened to their tour guide talk about the Spanish architechure while just yards away a Haitian and a dog fought over the rotten head of lettuce that lay on the corner under the garbage bags. This scene continued for the next several hours as tourist and scavenger alike got a glimpse of Santo Domingo. And I sat there and watched as the sun faded, and the children went home and the taxi drivers left. But those who remained were the men and women forgotten by the Lonely Planet, unmentioned by the tours and left to fight tooth and nail to survive. I left the Parque and walked home leaving behind me a city of contrasts marked by the tableaux of poverty and indifference.

This log has been kept by crew and captain over the past several months. Pictures and wonderful essays have kept many friends and strangers informed about the adventures of Sea Scout. I have been in the islands about a month now and with Geert and Sea Scout for 3 weeks. My time aboard has been exceptionally enjoyable and the people I have met along the way have been incredibly friendly and nice.
I wrote these stories because I wanted to do something different than what had previously occupied space on this log. I hope I have not attempted something outside of my skills as an observer, writer or crewmember. Additionally I want to stress that these stories, while non-fiction, represent just a fraction of Santo Domingo. Its beauty and its people are first-class and I would not have been so moved by what I have seen if it werent so.
That said, I hope these stories offer a unique insight into Santo Domingo and more importantly into the type of adventures Sea Scout was built for. We have a long way to go and unfortunately our next destination is more destitute and poverty-stricken. I hope to find another unique way to contribute to the log of the sea scout after we have visited Haiti.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Bamboom - by Geert

Around midnight a cruise ship came down the Mona Passage, brightly lit like a big hotel, and not paying any attention to us. We were on a reach, the genoa poled out to leeward. It took a while to take in the pole and secure it on deck. So, we were in a hurry to get away from the cruiseship, and sloppy, and gybed before loosening the preventer. The night was clear, wind and sea were perfectly managable (15-20 knots; waves 5-6 feet) The preventer should have held the boom in place. Instead, the boom broke in two and crashed on the cabin top, tearing a rip in the mainsail. We secured the ravage on deck, kept the genoa and the staysail up, and motorsailed to Isla de Mona. We soon discovered the cause of the break: years of slow corrosion of the boom's aluminum around the stainless steel screws of the vang plate.

Isla de Mona lies halfway between Puerto Rico and Hispaniola. The island has long white beaches fringing very high, sheer cliffs with numerous caves. It is uninhabited and only has one anchorage on the West side. You enter through a maze of coral reefs, following a range marked by two poles on the beach. It is an incredible place. Sea turtles swam around the boat in the anchorage; iguanas and birds occupy the beach. On the high land behind the cliffs (it looks like a New Mexico mesa) live the descendents of the goats and pigs left by the Spanish explorers to supplement their food stores. These feral animals have been hunted for 400 years, and the tradition continues today. About a dozen hunters, all Puerto Rican, camped on the beach. Two rangers keep an eye on them. The only other humans nearby are the crew of a US Coast Guard cutter that patrols the Mona Passage looking for drug smugglers and Haitian and Cuban refugees.

We searched the beaches of the island for a strong, straight piece of bamboo. With some very creative cutting, metal- and ropework, Nico and David made a new boom. We tested its strength by hanging and jumping on it. Next morning we lashed on the spare mainsail (and later, when the wind picked up along the South coast of Hispaniola, the storm trysail) and sailed in record time to Santo Domingo.

Eugene and David made pictures of our bamboom, which they will post as soon as they can get to a good computer.

We arrived in Santo Domingo yesterday. Nico flies back to Berkeley today; Eugene on Tuesday (to Washington). David and I will try to get the old boom repaired. The break is fairly clean, and the rest of the aluminum seems solid. Damage to the sail is minor, and easily fixed.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

More pictures from Culebra, Fajardo and San Juan

Jana and David in San Juan on January 6
Dinner on Claude's Bohemia II on January 4 (l to r: Geert, Claude, Eugene, Olina, Isabelle, Nico, David, Jana)

Geert & the "trade winds rig" en route from Culebra to Fajardo on January 4

Olina in front of Hotel Playa in San Juan on January 8

More pictures from Vieques, Culebra and San Juan

Sea Scout at anchor and Geert on beach in Vieques

Jana, Geert and Eva in Esperanza

David in St Germain bistro in San Juan

Fishing off Vieques

Watching the sunset with Norrine Mack's family at Casa Limones in Vieques

Pictures of the crew, beaches and fish - Vieques and Culebra

Vendor kiosk with Culebra motto
Nico and David at the Dinghy Dock restaurant in Dewey, Culebra; among the people we met in the anchorage are Dick van der Waaij & Anita Idskes who are sailing Kind of Blue around the world - see
http://www.kindofblue.info/ Nico and Olina, beating to Culebra David and Nico, Tamarindo Beach, Culebra

Nico with barracuda (after pole rescue en route from Culebra to Fajardo)
David with lobster in Vieques

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Barracuda alley - by Geert

Yesterday we sailed from Fajardo, where Eugene came on board, to La Parguera on the South coast of Puerto Rico. On the way, in the Pasaje de Vieques, we caught two large barracuda's (1.2 metre and 90 cm) within half an hour of each other. Unfortunately, these very tasty fish are also poisonous, so we put them back, and stopped fishing for a while. Outside the Pasaje we tried again, and had a massive strike. David fought heroically, but the beast, whatever it was, was stronger than he, broke the wire leader, and got away.

La Parguera is a beautiful lagoon dotted with coral reefs and mangrove islands. We plan to sail on tonight, towards Isla de Mona between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. This isolated island had its very own evolutionary history, and is known as the Galapagos of the Caribbean.

Last fall, before I sailed, the editor of a sailing magazine asked me for stories about the trip. What kind, I asked. I don't care, he said, as long as they are written 'from the cockpit.' The reader must feel the experience, the tension, and the doubts.
I have not written anything for him yet. I've had plenty experience so far, but no doubt that cruising the Caribbean in a small sailboat is the right thing to do.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Beating to Culebra - by Geert

Sailing in the Virgin Islands is a delight: steady 15-20 knot easterlies, moderate seas, high islands that are easy to identify from a distance, no outlying coral reefs. We stayed a week in Vieques, snorkeling and spearfishing for lobster, sailing and trolling for bonito, and exploring the island's many remote beaches. Nico and David joined us. Last Friday we sailed along the mountainous east coast of Puerto Rico to tiny Isla Palominos, and the next day to Culebra. This was out first upwind sail, and it required some planning. The tradewinds create a more or less permanent 5-7 foot swell. Tacking into fresh winds and waves is very hard work, unless you can sail in the lee of the many small islands in the area. This we did, but it still took us eight hours to cover the 16 miles to Culebra.

The sailing has been so good that since leaving Bermuda we have burned only 2.5 gallons of diesel. We use the engine only to get in and out of harbours, and to keep the batteries charged.

Thanks to a combined effort by Olina, Eva and Nico we now have all the spare parts we need to repair our Navik self-steering vane. We'll try it out on our way to Fajardo on the main island of Puerto Rico. First we plan to enjoy Culebra. This island is even more beautiful and laid back than Vieques. One of the shops has a sign that summarizes the attitude here: Open some days - Closed others.