THE FORGOTTEN CARIBBEAN
When the Caribbean is discussed by cruising sailors and cruising guide authors, it is generally meant to denote the Eastern Caribbean; the Lesser Antilles. The Caribbean 1500 leaves the Chesapeake Bay in late fall of each year and heads for the British Virgin Islands. Many refer to this trip as “coming south to the Caribbean.” The lure of the Virgin Islands, Antigua and points south such as Grenada have always stirred our visions of palm trees and warm weather; of white sand beaches and beautiful coves. Additionally, as most sailors coming south come from Canada and the United States, the vast majority speak English and are comfortable with those islands that use the English language. The result of our mindset has been to create the “beaten track.” It is not a bad track, just one that has been sailed so many times.
The Caribbean is actually a much larger geographic location than just the Lesser Antilles ; the leeward and windward islands. It encompasses islands that include Cuba and the Dominican Republic; the two largest in the Caribbean as well as many others including the ABC islands (Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire). It also includes Jamaica, Haiti, the Cayman Islands, Puerto Rico and the San Blas Islands. Mainland countries such as Venezuela and Columbia are also part of the Caribbean. Most sailors would agree that the Caribbean extends from Cuba in the northwest to Trinidad in the southeast and everything in between. How is it then that the Lesser Antilles so dominate the sailing spirit of the cruising community that they are the islands most visited, when in fact they are out east and thus the hardest to get to? Simply put, we accept what we are told and we have been told that the Eastern Caribbean is the place to cruise in the Caribbean. Yet if you look at the map, either Cuba or the Dominican Republic could easily encompass virtually every island in the Caribbean and have space left over. However, our perception of those islands is that they are hard to negotiate because they are Spanish speaking. Or in the case of Haiti, French speaking. Jamaica is English speaking but has had bouts of high crime that has kept sailors away. Cuba has a different problem, at least for Americans it is off limits.
The result is that the western part of the Caribbean and in particular the northwestern part has been forgotten and is not frequently cruised as a destination but used more as stopping points to go east. Luperon, on the north shore of the Dominican Republic is an excellent example. Those cruising boats that come south and do not take the offshore route, take the “thorny path.” That path is taken by island hopping through the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos and then going southeast to Luperon. From Luperon one makes ones’ easting on the north shore of the Domincan Republic, not as a cruising destination but as a means to get to the Mona Passage to transit the south shore of Puerto Rico to the Virgin Islands. The Dominican Republic is overlooked and all of its immense shoreline and many virgin and pristine harbors bypassed.
We can return from the eastern Caribbean and instead of heading north at Puerto Rico, head west. Or we could as an alternative to heading east, come through the Windward Passage on a reach and avoid all that beating to windward. The Windward Passage is usually a reach to a broad reach headed south and cuts between Haiti to port and Cuba to starboard. It is a safe passage without a need to call at any harbor in Haiti or Cuba. The US naval base is at Guantanamo at the SE corner of Cuba and the island of Navassa (US owned) is just west of the corner of Haiti. The United States uses the island from time to time to stage naval vessels that work at drug interdiction. Going through the Windward Passage is normally an enjoyable sail under prevailing conditions and a safe one as well.
Once through, to starboard is Jamaica; an easy landfall with the wind and current in your favor. To port is the Island of Isle a Vache, Haiti, which is both beautiful and very safe and then the south Coast of the Dominican Republic. Because the DR is so mountainous, after sunset the heavy cold air from the mountain top falls to sea level (Katabatic Wind) and causes a stall of the trade winds within a 3 to 5 mile shadow of the coast. Easting as a result is not difficult under such conditions. Other times, if it is early in the trade wind season, a Norther will come through and allow you to sail on a close reach while going east, but unlike the north shore you will not be on a lee shore and will not have the Atlantic swell and sea to contend with. However, you get to the Northwest Caribbean, you will not be disappointed.
Let’s take a cruise from the eastern end of the Dominican Republic to the western end of Jamaica. In such a cruise we can experience the Caribbean and its culture through three different colonial lenses, Spanish, French and English as well as experience the current contemporary cultures. The DR is filled with inland excursions, extraordinary anchorages and harbors and Latin music and culture. Isle a Vache, Haiti is the best example of Haitian culture in a setting that is both beautiful and safe. The island has no cars, no electric and is equivalent to a visit back in time. Jamaica, “the island of wood and water” as it was called is an experience that has no equal in the Caribbean. It is the center of Caribbean African culture and art and a visit will leave you with impressions that will last a lifetime. The Blue Mountains, Jamaican coffee, Jerk Pork and Chicken and Red Stripe Beer are all a unique experience. Best of all you will see Jamaican smiles and Jamaican sunsets.
How much time the entire trip (Eastern DR to Western Jamaica) would take depends on how much detail you want out of the trip, but an entire cruising season (November through June) would not be too much.
You can plan your trip, by reading the FREE CRUISING GUIDES TO THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, HAITI AND JAMAICA which can be downloaded free at their respective sites. Or you can obtain them in electronic book format from I book at the I tunes Mac bookstore or at Amazon.com
Frank Virgintino, Author
Free Cruising Guides
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