Mike came up with a new watch schedule when we were making our way from Big Sandy Cay in the Turks and Caicos to the Dominican Republic (DR). The options were 7-10 pm, 10-1 am, 1-4 am, or 4-7 am? It didn’t take me long to favor the 10-1 pm, and 4-7 am. I could still watch the sunset as long as I didn’t go to sleep, but more importantly, I could watch the sun rise. And based upon my projections, we should be about 30 miles or so from the DR. With mountains towering above 10,000 feet, I could probably begin to see the island come into visual view on my shift.
At 3:55 am, Mike informed me my shift would start in 5 minutes. I hurriedly put on my shoes, life jacket and harness, and came aboard to get my briefing. Then time seemed to drag forever until the sky began to change hues from pitch black to somewhat illuminated, into a full sunrise. It was getting close to 7 am, and still no sight of land? I didn’t wake Mike up, I wanted him to wake up and find the towering mountains staring down at him in the sunrise.
Finally, in a haze of clouds, the tops of the mountains could be seen about 30 minutes later. The wildest part was the smell of land. Smells of something burning, a cigar is what came to mind but most likely just an overall acrid smell of smoke; the earthy aroma of land; the muted scent of a combination of people and animals. Land Ho!
Wanting to sail in and not burn fuel, we had changed course several degrees such that we sailed into the DR a little bit west of Luperon, so we ducked into El Castillo, roughly 12 miles west of our intended destination. We anchored behind and took in the fact that this was the exact spot Cristobal Columbus sailed in 1492 and started the first Spanish colony in the New World. There are ruins of the first settlement, which was later moved to Santo Domingo, where Columbus is buried.
We got up the next morning at first light, to motor the 12 miles into Luperon in what was left of the nightly lee, before the trade winds started to build to hamper our progress moving east. Motoring into Luperon, we noticed the beauty of the lush, green mountains dotted with coconut and almond trees as we anchored the boat close to the Government Dock.
Checking in with Customs and Immigration was a breeze, primarily because it was election results day, and all the officials were busy celebrating the re-election of Medina. According to locals, he had many of the roads fixed in the six months leading up to the elections to ensure votes were cast his way, among other similar tactics.
As we maneuvered our way through the town of Luperon for the first time, there was jubilant celebration in the streets upon the outcome of his election. At least a hundred people on motorcycles paraded the streets, driving wildly and loudly honking their horns while revving their engines. People in Texas don’t get this excited about the Cowboys winning, much less an election! The military were there in full force of show, in full regalia including camouflage and machine guns, and helicopters landing in the ballpark were an astonishing sight.
That first day in the DR we frequented many establishments and met a wild contingent of itinerant sailors. Upon questioning, most had planned to stay here for a week or a month, but were still here after 1, 2, 5, 7, or 12 years. Luperon is a well-protected hurricane hole, it is quite inexpensive, the people are friendly and the beer is cold.
Welcome to the Dominican Republic!