Next - - Fact of life for down island cruising - the main route for the bulk of cruisers is the Bahamas
to Turks and Caicos
to Great Sand Cay (or Long Cay) in order to get the most easting you can before entering the main "Trade Winds" of the Tropical Atlantic.
- - Trying to proceed eastward from the lower Bahamas is not really possible unless you have powerful motor
yacht or motor sailor. The "I-65" route to the Virgins is viable from north of the mid Bahamas around Nassau/Eleuthera/Abacos all the way up to the Chesapeake Bay
. Below that you are slogging and dodging weather fronts and the Trade
- - The main attraction of the "Thorny Path" is the ability to stop every day and rest up before slogging on. Not to mention some rather beautiful places to "hole up" until the next break in the weather.
- - The objective is to get to the Virgin Islands
and beyond. The passages you will experience between the T&C and the Virgins will include your first really consistently nasty water
and winds with rare exceptions. In early to mid November, the trade
winds are "reversed" by weather fronts and blow from the north or even west sometimes. But these disappear in December and replaced by the Christmas
Winds of extra strong trades. February on, the trade drop back to their normal 20-25 kts from the east. However, the "Tricks of the Trades" (also the name of Bruce Van Sant's little book) can make the slog eastward less "horrible."
- - One of the tricks is to stop at the Dominican Republic and take advantage of the "night winds" off the mountains that can significantly reduce the normal daytime trade winds and subsequently the associated waves.To do this you get as far east as possible then head
south southeast from Great Sand Cay (or Long Cay) 75 nm to Luperon. As navigational markers and such things are nice but not necessary for the locals don't count on seeing any until you get to Puerto Rico
. This means entry to the Luperon Bay or elsewhere must be in daylight and preferably with 3 to 4 hours after sunrise. The average passage
from Great Sand Cay to Luperon is beam on winds of 20 to 30 kts and 8 foot seas (well spaced rollers unless the winds are higher). And being done in the dark makes it a very exciting romp.
- - DO NOT enter Luperon in the dark or before dawn. Two reasons, there are reefs
on both sides you will not see in the dark and, the local fishermen have been known to string nets across the entrance to catch fish
during the night. They take them up at dawn each day. There are plenty of boats in the harbor and a call on VHF68 will get you advice and or assistance entering. At low water there is about 6 or 7 feet before touching sand and at high water I have seen 9 foot draft
- - Disregarding the "love it/hate it" aspects - the reason to stop is to regroup and get ready for the next weather window east. As the Cold Fronts roll off North America about once a week (+/-) you will get some time "in front" of the Cold Front when the Trades are depressed. The length of time is variable with about every 5th front being strong enough to seriously suppress the trades. Depending upon how strong a motoring ability your boat is you can expect to stay a few days or a few months. Mother Nature is not known to be consistent about the weather patterns.
- - The next "normal" stop eastward is Samana Bay and Samana about 140 nm upwind. In rare occasions a really good window opens and you can go all the way to Mayaguez/Boqueron, Puerto Rico - about 250nm. Two days for Samana and 3 days to Puerto Rico. The average/normal technique is to leave just before sunset from Luperon and take advantage of the "night lee" effect hugging the D.R. coastline as far east as possible which is normally Cabo Francis Viejo. From there it is a grit your teeth and bash to Cabo Cabron/Samana or drop south to hug the huge bay of Bahia
Escocesa which will add significant hours to the trip but the winds/waves may be less. If you can maintain 6 kts over the ground in 15-20 kts of headwind you can get to Samana in about 24 hours or a little less.
- - If you have the infrequent really great weather window you make the decision at Cabo Samana to duck into Samana Bay and wait for the next window or head southeast to a wpt at N18-40.0 W067-55.0 to avoid the Hourglass Shoals then direct to Mayaguez/Boqueron. This is about 42-46 hours at 6 kts over the ground from Luperon.
- - The south coast of Puerto Rico is also a nasty place with normal Trades of 20-25 during the day and 6-8 foot seas. But there are little ports
and places to stop every 25 nm or so from Boqueron. So again, the normal technique is to leave each place at first light and duck into the next by mid to late morning. In rare weather conditions you can skip several stops and get further east. But all the stops are great places to see and explore.
- - Finally you round Punta Tuna on the southeast end of Puerto Rico and enter the "paradise" of the Virgin islands
. I joke with folks that if you make it all the way to Punta Tuna you get a mythical badge that now you are a qualified serious cruiser by having endured the worst and kept on truck'in. From there on down island it is a "piece of cake."