December 15 – January 4 – Kelowna – Fort Lauderdale – San Juan / Providenciales – Nassau – Fort Lauderdale – Kelowna
When Tyson gets an idea in his head he runs with it. He has wanted to take some sailing lessons for quite some time but we had just never gotten around to it. So he figured what better way to learn then to find someone to take us on as crew on their sailboat. So he made a profile on findacrew.net and found us a sailboat to join down in the Caribbean (no experience necessary). So, from December 15 to January 4, we jumped on Atraxia and explored small islands, met great people and learned how to sail. Atraxia was a 51 foot monohull owned by Captan Ron and his wife Jo. Our friends and family were quite skeptical thinking that once we got down to Puerto Rico to board the boat there we would be left stranded on the docks. Trust your gut is what we always say, and we had a great feeling about this trip. It was going to be one amazing adventure.
Everything was set up via email and once we arrived in San Juan we no longer had any means of contacting Ron and Jo if we had issues finding them. They instructed us to meet them at the Club Nautico harbor, so once off the plane we took a taxi there. Turns out this is a posh resort that you must be a member to enter. So we walked a little ways carrying our cumbersome duffle bag across a bridge to another dock and hoped we would be able to find them. Sure enough Ron and Jo pulled up in a little dingy and away we went to Atraxia. This is where we also meet the two other crew members, Eric and Pnina. Ron went over safety rules of the boat and for the next 3 weeks this was our new family. We zipped back to San Juan and explored the old town with cobblestone streets and pastel coloured buildings, had some dinner and hopped back onto the boat for the night. We are off in the morning heading west to the other side of the island, a town called Arecibo. First day sailing and Shannon was a bit rough, sea sickness was setting in. She was thinking this could be a long trip feeling this way. She was totally fine when the sailboat was not moving though, so that was a plus. We got to our destination for the night and dropped anchor, jumped in the ocean for a nice swim then dinner and drinks to celebrate the boat getting us to where we wanted to be, safely. The next morning was an explore the island day. Pnina, Eric, Jo, Shannon and I pooled together and rented a car to drive around. Our big attraction was the Arecibo Observatory, where Golden Eye was filmed. Once we arrived we soon learned that it was closed, for the year. Major renovations or something like that. We drove the country side with no real destination after that. Stopped in a small town for ice cream and Shannon found a sundress to buy for $4. Jo heard of some caves that we should visit along the coast. We spent a couple hours there exploring the tunnels and taking in the carvings.
Next day we set sail west again to Aguadilla a further 8 hours by boat. Again, Shannon was still feeling sick. December 19, one of our big sails, we headed from Puerto Rico across the open ocean to Dominican Republic, a 23 hour sail. I felt great, Shannon was ill. Eric threw in a fishing line and caught a 36″ Dorado and then just after that I caught my first ever fish, a 30″ Dorado. Lots of food for us to eat now. During the big crossings everyone took turns doing night watch. We just had make sure we were going the right direction, no boats were in our way, and that the GPS and auto pilot were still doing their job properly. Shannon was exempt from night watch as her stomach was not well. She went to bed and woke up just before we pulled into Samana Bay, Dominican Republic. Throughout the night we also managed to catch about 20 flying fish on the boat deck as they would fly on board and smash into the side. The weather was very cooperative for us as it rained off and on the last few days but temperature was very warm. We pulled into the Puerto Bahia Resort Marina, a 5-star resort, where after a couple short hours after immigration and customs made there rounds we were aloud on solid ground. We got the boat all hooked up to fresh water and power, cleaned all the saltwater off the vessel, gave the insides a wipe down then off to explore the resort. We were granted full access to all the facilities while staying in the marina. Very luxurious with hot showers, infinity pool, fitness centre and even a Christmas tree. It would rain off and on so we were constantly running back and forth to the boat to open and close the roof hatches. Shannon and I found ourselves regularly enjoying the sunset from the pool then relaxing on the boat deck gazing to the sky and watch the stars. We flagged down a rickshaw in the streets and headed into Samana to buy food and supplies for the boat, 45 pesos = $1 US. We spent 3 nights at the marina enjoying life by the pool and relaxing waiting for a sea storms to pass. Ron and I were often tinkering with odd jobs and fixing the boat. The next day we sailed 2 hours across the bay to anchor for a few nights in the National Park, Los Haitises. There was lots to explore here. Eric, Pnina, Shannon, and I jumped in the dingy and went to find a place to get on shore. We came across a small dock and there was one little shack with someone selling coconuts. We walked down some trails within the park where we came across some caves with more paintings and carvings etched on the walls. Things were a bit challenging as we were mostly stumbling around in the dark though. A flash light would have been ideal in this situation really. After a couple hours we puttered back to the sailboat where Jo and Ron made us umbrella rum drinks with the coconuts we brought back. The evening consisted of a swim, a lay in the hammock, a tasty meal and then we watched the movie Dead Calm under the stars before bed. In the morning we took the dingy for a couple hours to some different caves and brought lights this time so we could see where we were going. Once back on the boat we saw loads of tourists passing by us on catamarans and large speedboats off to see the caves etc which we had already explored by ourselves. I was having quite the trouble sleeping at night as it was super hot and humid. I was stuck in a circle of opening and closing the hatch as the heat would build with the hatch closed and the rain falling down on my face when the hatch was open.
Christmas day we headed out and checked out more of the Los Haitises. We moved the sailboat further into the bay, dropped anchor then all loaded into the dingy. We took a 20 minute tour up the river lined with mangroves which end with a dock and a farm house where we could tie up our dingy. Back on land we checked out the surroundings. The area was filled with lots of chickens and turkeys and dogs and cows. Walked in the sunshine a ways where we stumbled onto a nature resort randomly in the middle of nowhere. Enjoyed a cold beer then returned back to the dingy. The bugs were really bad here among the mangroves, kind of like no-see-ums and they wouldn’t leave us alone, Shannon especially. The mangroves create an amazing environment for all sorts of wildlife. Our eyes were forever amazed both in the water and soaring through the air. Once back to the boat we feasted on our Christmas dinner an endless about of dorado, rice, and fresh veggies from the market. December 26 we got caught in a crazy rain storm as we motored back to Puerto Bahia, very wavy but the short time period was not quite long enough for Shannon to feel under the weather again. We refueled, docked the boat and cleaned the deck. Ron, Shannon and I again went into town for groceries, took a rickshaw back. We enjoyed a further 2 nights in the marina as we waiting for the storm to pass so we could make another crossing.
December 28, the day has finally come to sail. Jo had given Shannon some sea sickness pills to take and we were hoping for the best as this was our longest sail yet (36 hours). We motored out of the marina then sails up and we were off. About 2 hours into the sail once we hit open water the swells gained in size. The swells were now about 4m high and Shannon was not feeling well at all. While she was sea sick barfing into a plastic bag we heard yelling beside the boat. We looked over and there was a local man standing in a small row boat with a fishing net line out. We had nearly smashed into him. We were very startled as we were a few miles off shore and there seemed to be a lot on the go at this moment. We then noticed there were 2 other guys swimming in the water around us. We are still not sure if they were in the boat and jumped as they saw us coming or not but needless to say, a close call for them and I don’t think that anyone got hurt. On a more positive note, Shannon felt much better after barfing. She could now eat a bit and make the most of the day sailing then headed to bed down in Ron and Jo’s bed for the night. Ron and I stayed up top through the darkness. I ventured below deck in the morning to give Shannon a snuggle and tell her we were almost to Grand Turk.
Shannon got up and headed top side to the front of the boat. Breathtaking waters and weather. We anchored right off the shore in the white sand and hopped in the dingy to check out the island. We knew of some amazing diving in this area so Shannon and I signed up for a couple of fun dives the following day. The two dives set us back $250 for both of us and the company dropped us off at the sailboat in between dives for lunch. The shore dives were about 18m deep then dropped off a edge into the darkness where Shannon spotted her first shark. Amazing colours, loads of marine life, and healthy coral was all we saw for our 2 hours under water. After returning to the boat we all jumped off the back of the boat and went for a snorkel. We swam to the beach and spent some time in the sand as we watched the sunset behind Atraxia. We did our best to celebrate New Years here on the boat but we only made it until about 12:15 then headed to bed.
The next day we sailed over to a small uninhabited island around 2 acres in size where we dropped anchor, hopped in the dingy and headed to shore. The sand was like icing sugar, the most amazing sand we have ever seen. We spent the night there rocking in the calm waves then sailed towards Providenciales in the morning.
This day of sailing was amazing, everything was perfect, weather, calm waters, no sea sickness. There was no land in sight and we were only in about 4 meters of water most of the day as we were on the Turks and Caicos bank. We spotted two dolphins in the distance then they approached us and rode the bow wave for a few minutes. We were only sailing at about 5 knots and wanted to swim, so Ron strung a rope out for us to hold onto as were now being dragged by the boat. It was truly amazing but super hard to put ourselves against the water and back onto the boat. We then anchored off a little island and swam to shore and checked out the iguana preservation area. We also brought along the snorkel gear to check out the reef and hopes of catching us some lobster for dinner. Unfortunately, we ended back on the boat empty handed for our last nights sleep. It was a beautiful evening, the stars were out and not too hot to sleep. Motored into Southside Marina where we bottomed out and bounced our way into the harbour as we were running out of high tide time. sadly, it was time to say goodbye, get off the sailboat and head for the airport as our adventure had come to an end. As sea sick as Shannon was while sailing she would go again in a heartbeat. We had such a great time and met some awesome people. Being in a situation like this it is so hard to feel nothing but free; 21 days of breathtaking amazing.