On Christopher Columbus first voyage his flagship the Santa Maria struck a
rock off Haiti and sank, but not before Columbus had extracted everything
and used it to found the first settlement. However he left mainly his
misfits and the worst elements of his crew, (probably me if it had been
Intrepid) and on his return he found that the native Tainos had wiped them out. His 2nd settlement at La Isabella on the north coast of Dominican Republic was not much better - it survived for
a while and its ruins can still be visited, but there was much sickness
amongst the Europeans, and Bartholeme Columbus (his brother whom he
had left in charge) saw no reason to stay, and trekked about 150 miles south
east across the relatively level and probably fertile plains of east/central
Hispaniola (the island now shared by Haiti in the west and Dominican
Republic in the east - the highest mountains are 3100metres), until he
reached a slow flowing river emptying into the south. Ships could anchor
here behind the bar formed by the river, and the banks on either side were
gently sloping up to provide a dry secure place for a settlement, called
initially New Isabella, later Santo Domingo, capital of Dominican Republic.
This became the first city in America where all Spaniards went on their way
to conquor the new world. I find the rate of development astonishing, by 1502 (ie just 10 years after the first voyage) there was a fair sized settlement on the east bank which was destroyed by a hurricane,
but rebuilding on the west bank was fast enough to provide forts along the
west river bank, and a 2 storey Governor's mansion used by Diego Columbus the son of Christopher, plus other 2 storey houses used by ia Cortez and most of the other 10 or so Spanish leaders who
conquored Latin America. The first court was held in the Governors house in
1510 (so American lawyers have a long history) and by 1530 there was a
perimeter wall extending for about 2 miles round the town.

Not high enough though, Sir Francis Drake and 23 ships containing 'pirates'
(Spanish version) 'explorer/traders' (English version) resenting the
unilateral monopoly on American trade declared by Spain, sacked Santo
Domingo in 1586. The city survived however, (Drake was not by nature a
settler and he had business with the Armada 2 years later). Overall, I
reckon that Spain's attempts to maintain a monopoly of American trade
benefitted her less than allowing free trade would have - the cost of all
the fortifications we have seen along the Caribbean chain must have been
crippling even given the treasure flowing in.

We left Intrepid in the care of Richard, our guide. Samana Bay is not
reckoned to be a very good place to leave a boat especially unattended as there is a
significant people smuggling operation east from DR to Puerto Rico across
the Mona passage - Puerto Rico is a relatively easy entry for anyone wanting to enter
the USA - not generally people from DR most of whom enter the US directly by
visa, but more dubious characters. We caught the airconditioned coach to
Santo Domingo - 4.5 hours, 210 Pesos one way (about $4.50), and stayed in
the Hostal Nader ($75/room inc bkfst after negotiation) in the Zona Colonial
(original city), which was the Headquarters for the Spanish conquorers
Cortez, Ponce de Leon, and Pizarro in 1500's. Its a classic Parador, 2
stories, only 10 rooms, open courtyard for breakfast, very high ceilings,
and of course right in the centre of town. We visited most of the early
1500's houses, 2 stories mostly renovated, and the 2 main forts as well as
Independenzia Square and the Mercado Modelo which used to be the fruit and
veg market and is now a full T shirts and amber jewellry and paintings
market in quite a rough area of town - although I have to say that we didn't
feel threatened at all in any way.

We returned by coach to find Intrepid .....well, but Richard very worried
because he had turned the fuel cutoff on the outboard - luckily easily
remedied. We filled with water next day ($10) and set off into a stiff 30
knot wind for an overnight passage 140 miles north then west along the
north coast of Dominican Republic to Luperon (which is about the next/only
viable port). Initially it was wavy and wet, but after we turned west, the
wind behind us made for a pleasant if fast night sailing with a full moon.
Janet did her first real night watch in ideal conditions. But as we
approached Luperon next morning the depth rose from 6000 metres to 1000
metres and the waves got bigger to about 4-5 metres and we had nasty visions
of being the first Westerly to surf into an entrance and over the bar. But
this turned out to be the worst of the waves, and we passed our only
navigational mark (there is no pilot guide for DR) in 2 metre waves and
motored into the enclosed bay of Luperon and .......got stuck on a sandbank
in 30 knots of wind. (The banks change all the time). But we got off and
Islander (a nearby boat) helped us on the radio to a good anchoring point.

Luperon is DR's main sailing port with perhaps 150 boats there many
Americans headed south, a few Euros heading north, and many others just
liking it too much to move anywhere. Luperon itself is pretty basic - it
could be a town in rural Malaysia, Nigeria or similar with corrugated iron
roofs, a few concrete buildings, school, police station, and many bars plus
small shops, with a variety of shared taxis. Slightly surprising were the 3
buildings housing the 3 main political parties (the election for President
is in May - Leonel (Fernandez) a former President  is the favourite with 65%
and seems to have the best posters but Estrelle seems to have more
supporters in Luperon). The current President Hipolito Meija who has
presided over an economic slump, caused in part by an overgenerous bail-out
of the 3rd largest bank which went bust because of fraud, has evidently
decided it is safer to stay President if he can, and has got round a ban on
running for a 2nd time, but seems sure to lose.

On Friday we went by shared minibus (gwa-gwa) to Imbert (30 Pesos) which is
on the main/only Duarte highway, and then caught a bus to Puerta Plata (20
Pesos) which is the main town and airport for the north coast. DR has
invested heavily in tourism and has increased from some 20,000 rooms in 1993
to some 60,000 in 2003, but 9/11 hit hard, occupancy is often low and most of the
rooms are in all-inclusive resorts where the guests have paid for everything
beforehand and often don't venture outside the hotel. So Puerta Plata is not
thriving as planned, although it does organise fiestas to try to attract
guests out. There are few black top roads apart from those I mentioned, and the country side looks
incredibly rural, with cows being driven along by cowboys on horseback with
a cowboy in front holding a red flag (yes really). The countryside is really
quite fertile and at times looks almost the way traditionalists would like
England to look - small fields with cows, horses, chickens, hedgerows..... A
few expats have frams or dwellings here.

Saturday we visited Santiago, DR's 2nd biggest town, which has all the
attraction of Birmingham but without the glamour. The central square was
relatively clean and neat, but the rest showed its history - long years of
being massacred by successive invaders (Haitians, French, Spanish) then
screwed by successive dictators (Trujillo to a significant extent) with one
brief period of prosperity from 1914 to 1926 while the world price of rubber
sugar and coffee (all produced in quantity here) soared and Santiagons built
luscious clubs houses and shops before prices slumped, Trujillo punished
them for exposing corruption, and today the shops mainly sell plastic
buckets and cheap clothes made in Asia. While crossing the road, Janet
sprained her ankle quite badly on the uneven pavement, though we were at
last able to justify buying one of the huge bags of ice on sale, and prompt
icing kept the swelling to reasonable proportions, (and our drinks cool).
The bus to Santiago from Imbert cost 50 Pesos ($1 or about 60p) for 50 kms,
so about 1.2p/km or perhaps 2p/mile. I recall that my train journey from
Tonbridge to London (a similar distance) was 13, so transport by bus or
train in UK is perhaps 2000% more expensive. (The main difference seems to
be that buses in DR only leave when they are full). We dined that night
slightly inadvertently in Bar/restaurant Dally that seemed to have more
ladies than usual (who did not seem put out that I had brought 2 of my own)
but the food was good, and on Sunday the boat community had a flea market
and BBQ at the Marina Blanco (more a bar than marina).

Many of the expats have been there for some years, they call the place the
'asylum' and there is a good blend of laid back Americans, impoverished
Brits, and earnest Swedes and Germans. A few have married Dominican girls, some have
built houses (we were told building costs varied between $15K to $60K for a
170 sq metre house plus the land at $500/acre plus perhaps $500 for building
permits etc). Average wages in DR are in the region of  $5-$10/day. Not all
expats are happy - one Brit confessed to being bored after 4 years there by the
iregularity of basic water and electricity, the minor corruption needed to
get anything done, and the appallingly low margins that most businesses have
to operate on.

However all yachties exist on information and we found Dev and Hilda who had
sailed down the east coast of the USA and who showed us good places to
cruise and anchor, even in NY harbour. They had been anchored there when
Hilda was ill in hospital .....on 11th September 2001. Dev has a photo of
the FIRST plane striking the Twin Towers, (he was just taking a holiday
snap), and they were kept in the security quarantine for 3 days before they
were 'released'.

Janet had arranged to fly out of Providential Island (the biggest and most
developed of the Turks and Caicos, although not the capital which is on
Grand Turk). The T and C are geographically part of the Bahamas, but were
granted autonomy in mid 1800's, and are still a British Crown colony ie a
dependancy of the UK, but the currency is the US$! The largest island,
'Provo' was 'discovered' in 1970's by a group of American millionaires
inlcuding Roseveldts, Duponts and Rockefellers (there seems to be quite a
market for the newest 'get away from it all' island), and is now the centre
of tourism (and has the only international airport). But the highlight of T
and C is the Caicos Bank - imagine a 25 mile radius limestone/coral bank
20,000 feet thick, covered by just 6-10 feet of water with a few small
islands protecting it on the Atlantic (NE) side, and that's Caicos. Grand
Turk is a small island to the East of this Caicos Bank, seperated from it by
the Turk Channel - its named after a cactus that grows there with a red
'flower' on top that looks like a Turkish 'fez' (cap). Apparently Caicos is
one of the 2 best sights seen from
space, and John Glenn splashed down just off Grand Turk. We somewhat
tentatively planned to cruise right across this Caicos Bank - it can only be
done when the sun is high and behind you so you can spot and avoid the coral
heads that can sink your boat, and by taking a route that is reckoned more
benign than others - also when the weather is calm.

We sailed overnight from Luperon, in quite brilliant stars, passing north of
Fish Cay (islands are called Cays), to enter through the reef, then turning
180 degrees back 6 miles to anchor west of Big Ambergris Cay. On the exact route the 'Gentleman's
Pilot Guide' suggested I suddenly found the depth going from 5 metres to 4 metres
to 3 to 2 to 1.6 (we draw 1.6) - but by then I was already in reverse, and
we merely pirouhetted on the tip of a coral head, and diverted right. We
have a fishfinder/depth instrument which gives a graphical display which is
useful and alarming enough to stimulate prompt action. We were the only boat
in sight at the anchorage, and dinghied across to see what the reef
surrounding the Caicos Bank looked like near Ambergris. Answer - large coral
heads 20 metres across 3.5 metres high with just 0.5 metres of sea on top,
with perhaps 2-300 largish fish of every imaginable colour swimming round, with bright
purple fan shaped coral waving. So that's why the guides dont suggest
entering here.  Later 2 yachts came down from north and anchored near us.
They told us how to harvest Conch shells and we asked them round for a beer
at 6.30pm. Conch are the lovely large pink spiral shells you often see in
markets - their flesh is a bit like octopus. To open them you have to make a
hole near the 3rd spiral down, make a cut, then extract the conch through
the main opening, skin them and you end up with 3 oz of white 'meat'.
Minimum size to harvest is 7 inches and we tried the technique on 2 I found,
only inflicting one cut on my hand in the process. The Americans hadn't turned up by 7.25 pm,
so, slightly discomfited by the apparent disregard, we started our own drink
when they dinghied across - they were still on Eastern Standard Time
(6.30pm), we were still on DR time (7.30pm). Wars have started over less.
Craig and Katherine, Dewey and Nan brought lightly fried conch and we
swopped information - Craig and Katherine were thinking of doing the Trans
ARC to Europe (which we recommended) and thence to Katherine's Dock in
London. They told us about other New York and Chesapeake Bay moorings.

Wednesday 10th March the wind increased to 20 knots and given our experience
with hard coral the day before we set off across the Caicos Bank heading
West in a decidedly trepidful mind, (the charts just say 'not surveyed') but
Craig and Katherine had assured us the depth was OK and it was, starting at
6 metres, reducing in the end to 3 metres, and the sun was behind us (so you
can see coral). I caught a large and toothful Baracuda which I released, and
a Grouper (related to sea bass) which I didnt. After about 25 miles we
exited the Caicos Bank just north of West Sand Spit (at least the chart says
it was, but its so low we didnt see it), and watched in awe as the turquoise
water over the Caicos Bank changed in a matter of 50 yards to deep blue and
our graphical depth display went vertically down to 1000 metres. We anchored
to NW of French Cay which is a low hump with lots of birds and 4 ship
wrecks, and watched the sun set in a dazzling display 1000 times better than
a Turner masterpiece. Not a boat in sight.

Next day we motored north in 20 knots to 'Provo' - Providenciales Island,
the main island in Turks and Caicos that has been developed for tourism. At
least, we discovered, the north coast which is open to the Atlantic behind
its reef has been developed with a series of inclusive condos and hotels.
The rest of the island is struggling to catch up, especially roads, shops
and transport. T and C with a population of 18000 of whom a quarter are from
Haiti (!) (3% Brits, 3% Americans by comparison) makes a good living from
tourism and financial services - essentially a tax haven where you can put
your money in an offshore trust, and then its not your income as far as tax
in your residency country is concerned is it? There is no income tax in T
and C anyway, although there is 10% tax on restaurants etc.  The tourist magazines are
called things like sun sea and serenity (I thought it was a different S, but
maybe that's not for the age range T and C seeks to attract) and sell real
estate. Much of it is actually pipe dreams - one advertisment was for a
development on Ambergris Cay- well we anchored there and there
was no development, although we know one was started, I think it ran
out of money.

The people however are very friendly .We had anchored in Sapradilla Bay
(good holding but shallow at 8 feet) and I dinghied round to South Dock to
clear in. Well, we had done a lot of dinghying to snorkel on the Banks, and
I knew we were a little short of gasoline for the outboard, but hoped we had
enough to get there................ but not quite. The outboard spluttered
and stopped 20 yards from the dock, and I was blown southwards away from Provo towards
Haiti at 1-2 knots. I tried rowing but the Caribe rowlock had broken, and it
looked as though I was about to become the only person to ENTER Haiti by
small boat this year when Nicky finally heard my VHF calls (I had taken a
hand held radio), she and Janet raised the anchor and Intrepid came to
rescue me. Ray on Lorna Doone kindly lent me enough fuel to get me to shore
the second time, the 2nd car I hitched gave me a ride to the Texaco station,
the 3rd lorry gave me a ride back, and I did a quick and efficient check in
at customs next day ($5 - its $25 if overtime is required). We hired a car
($55 plus $15 tax from Budget who pick you up from customs), and toured the
island - to give you an idea, the 2 main attractions are some carvings in
a stone by shipwrecked mariners in 1844, and a hole in the chalk rock. After
about 30 minutes we had done it, but we did visit the Conch Farm where they
raise conch commercially - a really good way to prevent their over
exploitation, and an illuminating tour. Our laptop serial port was playing
up, and to our slight amazement we found 'the computer guy' John from Canada
who arrived on a boat with wife and stayed, and now has a good business
fixing all things computer. On Janet's last night we dined at Aqua Bar
restaurant on the terrace under the palm trees, good food at about London
prices. (One restaurant on T and C averages $600 for dinner for 4). Helice
(Jim and Anne and daughters Elizabeth and Emilie) who were radio net
controllers with us on the ARC came in next, and we swopped information and
charts and beer and wine, then we had to say goodbye to Janet who flew home
to London in weather to make going home not seem too bad - squally heavy

Next day (Sunday) we thought we saw a weather window and Nic and I set off
across the Caicos Banks going west for 6 miles skirting isolated coral
banks, then marvelling as the bottom dropped away from 8 feet to 1000+ metres in 300
metres and the water changed from turquoise to dark blue. The forecast had
been for 15 knots, in fact as night fell we were doing 8-9 knots in 30 knot winds as we
skirted south of Mayaguana island, (first of the Bahamas), then north of
Crooked and Acklins island (more Bahamas) and finally east of Long island to
Clarence Town (about 180 miles in 26 hours) a delightful remote settlement with a small
marina and 2 incredible Father Jerome churches.

The Bahamas are the string of 100's of islands running roughly N/S about 70
miles to the east of Florida/Cuba - masses of islands and coral banks,
deriving their income from tourism, financial services and a transit route for drugs from Columbia into the USA
(there are over 60 airstrips and fast speedboats can venture almost
anywhere - very difficult to trace). Once a British dependancy they are now
independant, and are divided into about 12 island groupings. Father Jerome
was an architect turned Anglican priest who was sent to the Bahamas to build
churches on hilltops which he did in a devastatingly beautiful style, producing white and blue churches with twin
spires that look like Sacre Coeur in Paris but with a simplicity of style
and use of landscape that makes them look 10 times bigger than they actually are.
Later he converted to Catholicism and went round again building a new set of
churches. So in Clarence Town on Long Island there are 2 Jerome Churches, 1
Anglican, and a later, even better Catholic one. We used the
Catholic one to navigate in (turn right when the twin spires bear 220T) to the delightful
and well run marina with 15 berths ($1/foot plus $0.30/gallon for water). We
were the 4th boat there.

I reckon Long Island is the best of the Bahamas - 50 miles long 2 wide,
population 3000. Clarence Town is the administrative centre and the
highlight of the week is when the mailboat comes on Wednesdays, delivers
goods and takes off about 30 boxes of fresh produce to Nassau, the capital
of Bahamas. The beaches have to be seen to be believed, the pace of life is
laid back, what development there is seems to be half hearted. We wanted to
walk 3 miles to a 'blue hole' and found it very difficult. About half the
cars that passed (about a car every 5 minutes) stopped to ask if we wanted a
lift, all waved. 2 rides later we found the blue hole - imagine a white sand beach round 3 sides of a
cove, with shallow sea on the 4th side, the shallow water turquoise, then
turning abruptly to deepest blue in a 50 yard diameter circle in the middle.
We snorkelled out and as you walk out on the beach, the sand just drops away
at 45 degrees and then turns vertical - the hole in limestone is 800 feet
deep and goes via the largest underwater cave discovered through passages
out to the sea (Of course I  dived down to check this out.). There is
another blue hole to the south of the same bay the marina is in , and here
we found a few 'expat' houses but the road is just a track. I think most
Floridians dont venture beyond the northern Bahamas, within easy reach of
the US.

We would have stayed for ever but for: 1. We had arranged for James to fly
in to Freeport, northern Bahamas on 29th March for 2 weeks R and R; and 2. Nic
was eaten alive by sandflies (mosquitoes are promised in summer). The
weather in the Bahamas seems to be either a cold front moving off the USA giving strong Northerlies
or a High in W Atlantic creating strong Easterly winds (so dont believe
everything the brochures promise). Neither are good for picking our way
through narrow and varying reef entrances, so we grabbed a brief lull and
overnight went 80 miles north then west on a brilliant starry night arriving
at 7am at Georgetown on Great Exuma which is I suppose the 'capital' of
Southern Bahamas.

Whereas we loved Clarence Town we hated Georgetown. The exposed rickety
small marina is reckoned to be so badly run that they long ago gave up hope
of attracting anyone, and there are about 100 boats at anchor about 1 mile
east from the town so they have to dinghy across in short spiky waves
arriving drenched with the prospect of worse on the return (we avoided this
by anchoring in Kid Cove in 10 feet of water only 200 yards from the dinghy
dock) . Apparently people are so appalled by the tricky quadruple dog leg
entrance through the reef to Georgetown that they can't face the thought of
the exit and stay for years - there is quite a resident live aboard
community - although quite why we can't imagine. We signed in at the
Georgetown Administration Office and were charged $300 for the Bahamas
cruising permit which we had known about but which still seems steep and
failed to see a smile anywhere. Apparently a lot of Exuma land was sold to
expats so there is no access to quite a number of their own beaches.
Whatever the reason, Georgetown seems to feel that prosperity has passed it
by and resents it.

We left early next morning after a highly complicated weather forecast
predicted a frontal ridge just over our chosen reef cut. The Exumas stretch
north from Georgetown in a series of small cays, with the 2000 metre deep
Exuma Sound to the east and the 15 feet deep Exuma Bank to the west, with
the occasional 'cut' joining them
through which the tide rips in and out - most cuts are only 50 metres wide
and despite a comparitively small tide (about 1 metre) that's enough to give
quite a rip tide especially in strong winds and varying sand bars. Everyone
seemed to recommend their own favourite cut, we were told to go through : 1.
Farmers (Pilot Book), 2. Galliots (Delivery skipper), 3. Dotham (Publisher
of Explorer Charts who we met at Clarence), 4. Cave Cay cut (Gentleman's
Pilot Guide) etc. It was just like men in a pub discussing the best route to
drive to ........ Everyone had their own stories of horror, which their
recommendation would avoid.

We ultimately chose Dotham Cut and very good it was, although if we had
followed the chart references given, we would have ended up ship-wrecked on the reef.
As it was, we ignored them when this became apparent and eyeballed our way in with a 20
knot wind behind us, then turned left into Black Point Bay, anchored in 3
metres, and dinghied ashore. Black Point (Population 300) is a bit like West
Peckham, (Population about 300) but has 2 shops more than WP, and the bar
(Scorpio) is seperate from the restaurant (De Shamons), whereas in WP they
are rolled together in the Swan. We arrived on Friday night, and the guys
hanging around Scorpio could have been round the Swan (except they were a
bit browner) discussing hunting shooting and fishing. Unlike WP there is a
Police Station (with a blue light), seperate Electricity Phone and Water
Offices, and a there is even a Village Hall - set high on a bluff
overlooking the bay. Maybe WP should twin with Black Point and send
delegations here.

I have to admit that until recently I had only a very general idea of where
the Bahamas are - we are now seeing them at first hand, and I get the
impression that with some exceptions the Bahamians have inherited paradise
and are wondering why they aren't happier. They either seem to sell their
real asset which is the islands -  in which case they have sold their
birthright; or they try to make a living from fishing, farming or similar in
which case they make a miserable living from back-breakingly hard and
dangerous work, all the time conscious that the rest of the world has it
better (at least as portrayed on TV).

We move on tomorrow up through the Exumas chain through the middle and
northern Bahamas then cross the Gulf Stream to probably Cocoa Beach in
Florida where I leave Intrepid to fly home with James on Easter Day, and Nic
probably flies west to Oregon. I can now make some really good lures but the
fish just don't appreciate them, I need some better marketing, any fishing
consultant willing to spend a week with us would be appreciated!!

Best wishes to all, and Happy Easter

Andy and Nicky

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