Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Just in Time

It came as a surprise. A pleasant one, an unexpected one and, most of all, an important one. My plane from Belgium landed in time! And, what’s more, all my bags and important cargo made it quickly and completely into the Dominican Republic. All the beer, chocolate, waffles, mosquito rackets, and miscellaneous stuff for the boat survived the long trip and the several check points. What a relief! It was almost worth all the hassle, suffering and bad luck I experienced on other flights. Almost…

Once outside the airport of P
uerto Plata, my big smile melted in the hot sun. Mark was nowhere to be seen. My happiness turned into disappointment and I wondered what had happened. What could be so hard about being in time to see your girlfriend after five weeks? I had visions of trying to make it back to Luperon by public transportation with five heavy pieces of luggage, sweating like mad, and thought about all my precious chocolate that would most definitely melt on the long, three legged trip back. In the midst of my contemplations, a tall guy with a scruffy beard and a huge smile on his face ran towards me. I received him with open arms and lots of kisses. After one big hug, it was time to get back to reality. Mark urged me towards the car. The wind was blowing hard already and the amount of clouds increased with the minute. We had to get going. Quickly… In all my excitement, I had forgotten about hurricane Ike. My bags got stuffed in with the groceries in the trunk and onto our laps.

Mark had re
nted a car and driver (Nino) with our friends Cindy and Gray. They’d done some sightseeing and shopping before picking me up. Because it was a Saturday, the check out lines in the supermarket had been extremely long, hence their frustrating delay. On the 1.5 hour ride back to Luperon, we exchanged stories. I told my friends about my wonderful stay in Belgium and they filled me in with the details about the Luperon life and hurricane preparations. Most of the boats were tied off in the mangroves and a whole bunch of big fishing boats had arrived, taking up temporary residence in another part of the mangrove rich bay. Supposedly, Luperon Harbour was a chaotic mess, never seen before… Nino rushed us towards our destination, as safely as possible. He knew the importance of getting there before Ike did.

From the moment we arrived at Puerto Blanco Marina, Mark took all my luggage to the boat. I had no idea where Irie was located and wouldn’t find out till later that night. It took a while for my boyfriend to
get back and I worried about my valuable stuff having fallen in the water. I was still in the weird state of mind that something had to go terribly wrong. That feeling had been with me since I got up in Belgium earlier that long day. Luckily, nothing happened to my bags, which even stayed dry during the dinghy ride to Irie, because the wind came out of the west instead of its normal easterly direction. The hurricane was good for one thing!

The wind got stron
ger and the clouds darker. In a hurry, Mark brought the groceries to the boat. Within minutes, the storm was here. A torrential downpour followed. I took shelter under the thatched roof of the marina restaurant, together with a group of other sailors. Gusts of wind blew the rain “inside” and we had to move inwards. While I talked with some friends, Mark showed up, totally drenched. He’d been helping a friend secure his boat. It was just amazing how everybody had been lending hands to everybody the precious days. Mark looked exhausted. I was tired as well, for other reasons, and couldn’t wait to get to our house on hulls. We were trapped in the marina, however, until the first break in the rain. When that came, we rushed ourselves and the dogs to the boat. Kali, who was very happy when she first saw me (Darwin was ecstatic), was totally “out of it” now, because of all the thunder and lightning.

Around 10 pm, we finally settled at home. It was long dark by now, and my impression of the area would have to wait till morning. Mark kept checking our lines, while I unpacked my bags, showed all the goodies and told a few more stories. Our VHF radio stayed on through the night, a distraction, but a good precaution, in case something happened. While the rain was pounding on the decks and the wind was shrieking through the rigging, we fell asleep, knowing that we were well-secured and making lots of electricity with the newly installed wind generator.

We woke up to a quiet and calm morning. The water was very mucky, even darker than normally, and full of debris. We were surrounded by sticks, leaves, pieces of tree trunks and garbage. The air was crisp, the strength of the sun bearable. All the sailboats around us were still where they were supposed to be. I took a little dinghy ride around the harbour, to get a feel for what was going on. In two places, a whole group of colourful fishing boats was tied to the mangroves. Not much else was going on. We heard the wind had peaked to 50 knots that night, but we didn’t believe it, since our wind generator never turned off. Something it would do when the wind reaches a speed of 35 knots. We might have been a bit more protected than the other boats, but still… The fortunate thing was that we had been situated out of Ike’s path. He turned south over Cuba, next door, which got devastated. It could have been this area, if Ike would have altered course just a bit.

So, we survived hurricane Ike (which had the force of a tropical storm over the Dominican Republic) without any problems. It was a lot of hassle for Mark and friends to move our boat to the mangroves and secure her with five lines and three anchors. It also took us a couple of days to get re-anchored elsewhere in the bay and deal with all the muddy lines, anchor chain and anchors. But, with the storm came a few days of cooler weather, something we all craved. That was almost worth all the time, effort and bug bites accompanying the move to the mangroves. Almost!