In some ways the Mona Passage invokes a little more apprehension than some of the other crossings. The constant trade winds on the nose, the shallow banks of the Mona relative to the deep trenches on both the north and south side of the DR and Puerto Rico and the potential for thunderstorms rolling off of Puerto Rico make weather reading and forecasting the foremost in the conversations.
We still had all nine boats in the flotilla, waiting it out in Samana when we saw our break. Exit Stage Left, Utopia, and Wandering Star were out of the marina first on April 11. The winds were coming down from the normal 20's and we were impatient to leave. The rest of us decided to wait another day to let the winds drop a little more and the seas drop off. Interestingly, a large yacht next to us had decided to wait a day after us because they felt there would not be enough wind. Fine for us! I remember our conversation with Rick and Robin (Endangered Species) while in Georgetown, the best way to cross the Mona is by motor on a flat calm day. A noon departure time was set based on a 30 hour trip and we began to prepare, little knowing the that bureaucracy of the DR would once more impact our trip.
I set off in the morning in search of the Commandante and was told that he would be back at noon, no problem!. We buttoned up the boat to prepare for the seas and I wandered over again to find the Commandante who showed up around 2pm, no problem, he checked out Vagabond and Pepper and they left then come to talk to us. His first reaction was that we had to give him 24 hour notice (Evidently Pepper and Vagabond had caught him yesterday). After some diplomatic cajoleing by the remaining 5 boats the Commandante agreed to drive back to Santa Barbara to get the appropriate permissions executed. What, we asked? You can't sign us off? So off he went around 3pm with all our paperwork. At this point I had already decided that if the Commandante was not back by 6 we were off. Puerto Rico does not require any of this nonsensical paperwork.
Around 5:30 the Commandante showed up with someone from "Naval Intelligence"? and Drug Enforcement and commenced moving from boat to boat to check each one out individually. They all finally boarded and we sat staring at each other. I asked if they wanted to check the boat, that broke the ice, the Commandante pulled out the despacio again reciting his commentary regarding gratuities for duties performed. I nodded, we stared at each other a little longer and finally he gave me the worthless piece of paper and they got up and got off the boat. Finally! Little did we know how the our delay would effect us later.
In the meantime we received an email from Exit Stage Left, they had made it to Boqueron safely if not a little uncomfortable. Our weather was beautiful and we were quickly out of the dock with the other boats close behind, about 7 hours behind our intended departure.
We reefed our main and genoa as we usually do as night approaches and had a very nice sail in winds below 15, trying to point as high as we could. The normal strategy is to sail NE about half way across the Mona against the east winds, then tack SE along the lee of Puerto Rico. We had set a waypoint for the southern point of Samana at Pt. Macao (our last bailout point before we hit the Mona) where the plan was to tack NE. The wind was on our side with a south component and we were able to sail east to the waypoint in the Mona and in a line to the northwestern point of PR. Winds pretty much stayed constant through the night and we were able to maintain our direction and good speed. The night was very clear and the stars were beautiful. We kept in touch through the night with Yarika, Symbiosis, Sailacious and could see Vagabond up ahead on AIS.
During the next day the winds actually calmed and by the afternoon we had to pull our sails down and motor for a few hours. We were thrilled for the great sail so far. As we approached Isla Desecheo about 15 miles off the PR coast the winds picked up and we put up our headsail and turned south for Boqueron. The winds built over the next 2 hours and soon we where flying in 20 kt winds off the beam under our full headsail as the sun set. Sailing at night in the open water is one thing, you at least are not worried too much about hitting anything, at night on an unknown coast looking for navigation lights that you hoped were working to get you through a reef into the bay at Boqueron is a little more stressful. Especially at the 7+ kts that we were traveling. It would have been ok if the channel was not directly on the nose with no real ability to tack through it, especially in the moonless darkness. Danielle had gone below with a bad headache and Kaylee and I were navigating closer to the channel. Winds continued to build so we decided to pull the headsail. We turned downwind and Kaylee deftly sheeted out the headsail as I pulled in the roller furling line. We cranked the engine and began the last of our navigating to the channel. In the meantime Symbiosis and Yarika were following our trail and marking our turns on their GPS's to make their entry.
Through the channel and into the bay at Boqueron was a nice relief. The bay was perfectly calm and the winds died behind the hills. Danielle came back on deck as we began to figure out where to anchor in the dark. We knew Exit Stage Left was somewhere inside so we called them and they turned on their AIS and suggested a place to anchor. At that point it was now anti-climatic.
All in all a very good crossing, we sailed in 10 to 15's with seas under 4', got some calm and only hit high winds while in the lee so the waves were very tolerable. We made the passage in 28 hours and realized that if we had gotten out when we had originally planned we would not have hit the high winds and been in Boqueron easily before dark. I don't know if the other yacht got out the next day but they had plenty to sail in with 20+ winds out of the east. We picked the right day!