The Dreaded Mona Passage – Attempt # 1

When you are cruising the world’s waters, which I suppose we are doing….we have been on the boat for about a year and a  half now with breaks to see family, you become very, very weather conscious.  Searching the net for weather updates, marine weather sites, sites with tides, currents, weather buoys, local, regional, historic….anything to do with weather is a good thing.

Weather sites

Weather sites

Talking to the locals, even in sign language and big smiles, also helps.  When we meet other cruisers, weather, weather sites, weather apps, they all quickly come up in conversation.  We have to be very aware of the weather conditions, cloud formations…it will make all the difference in making a choice on weather or not to go on a particular day, in particular conditions……and will dictate how smooth or rough a passage will be.


We decided, after studying numerous weather sites, listening to our paid weather guru Chris Parker, and in talking with other cruisers, that it was indeed time to depart Samana and head to Puerto Rico…across the infamous Mona Passage.  Look up the Mona Passage if you have time, it can be one of the passages that will be forever stamped in one’s mind…for a variety of reasons.  The deep ocean troughs that quickly rise to shallow areas, reefs, the weather coming off of both Puerto Rico and the Dominican, and a ton of other factors which all make this passage one to be very respected.

Two other boats were also going to make the passage, but they had decided to leave at about 5 p.m., we had chose to depart from Samana at 10 a.m.  We gained our despatcho…and this time there were a ton of visitors before we were finally given clearance to leave.  The Navy representative, the DEA representative, the customs representative, and some other fellows whom I have no idea what they did, but they were there also.  You see, a little “greasing of the palm” is expected when leaving port…handing out the dollarohs…the pesos….$$$$$.  Geesh!  What a pain in the ass.  Period.

Again - on the nose!!

Again – on the nose!!

So, we finally took care of that, and off we left…10:10 a.m., no winds, no clouds…aaaah, perfect!!  Cruising along at 7.5 knots, 2400 rpms on the yanmar engine purring along very nicely…but all that was about to change.  Hour by hour, the winds…and then the waves increased… 2 p.m. we were down to a little over 5.8 knots, and we were heading pretty much nose on into 22+ knot winds and at least 6 foot waves…or better in Beth’s opinion.  Nice.  Freakin’ nice.  Roll out part of the headsail to help calm the boat down, and start motor-sailing, or having both the motor and sail up…and tacking back and forth across the wind to try and get some miles under the hull.

Good bye Samana - calm seas

Good bye Samana – calm seas

We were travelling along, and I see one of the local fishing boats…these are just plain old open boats with a single engine…and two fellas in it.  They are waving at us…and I waved back and kept going….no time and no inclination for friendly visits out here……These two guys catch up with us…Beth and I are both a little uncomfortable…and then one of the locals holds up a string of fish for us to see….wow!  Nice catch!  Sorry guys, not today!  We wave them off, and make another tack to starboard….and that is when the engine died.  I figured no problem, time to switch fuel tanks, and go down below to do so.  The engine fires back up, runs for about a minute, and dies again.  That’s strange..maybe I didn’t do the valve change properly…go back down, check, yup, all valves where they should be….start the engine back up…and it dies.  Oh oh.  We are about  6 hours from the marina….some big waves…crap.  Beth and I agree to head back to Samana, and I go back down below to try and figure out what the issue is.   And then the generator also died.  Oh boy.  Not good.

It is hot in the boat…it is about 85 degrees F outside, and in the engine compartment, I have no idea what the temp is.  It’s hot, really hot!  Have I told you hot it is in that engine area?  I check the Racor filters….these filters take the crap out of your fuel if there is any…and man, the Racor was plugged solid with a jelly like slime.  Oh oh.  Let’s try changing to the other Racor….start the engine…no go.  Geesh!   I then change out the Racor filters themselves, and install new paper filters.  Try the engine…no go.  Great…freakin’ dieing of the heat, the boat is doing some pretty good jumping around…what the hell!  Gotta figure this out, but I have to get away from the heat for awhile.  Beth had plotted our course back to the marina in Samana….our eta to arrive back there being around 11:30 p.m……gives me some time to try and figure this one out.  We meet the other two boats that had departed the marina at 5 p.m., told them we were ok, but having to turn around due to fuel issues.  We reassured them that conditions were settling down…and they were quite pleased at their decision to delay departure as they did.

Sludge - from filter

Sludge – from filter

I took in some fluids, and headed back down below and tried everything I could think of to get our engine back up and running.   And this time when we tried the engine, it ran…and kept running!  No idea why or what I did…but away we went!  What a relief!  When in range I radioed ahead to the marina to let them know that we were on our way back, and that we would like to tie up at the fuel dock so that we could get fuel first thing in the marina, and that we would arrive between 9:30 and 10:00 p.m.  No problemo!  Great…engine back in run, we now have power to run our lights, and get to a dock, and our journey back would be very much shorter…and so much easier to get back into the marina under power and not have to go in at night, under sail.  Whew!

Back up with Beth, more fluids…and even time to relax just a wee bit.

I had forgotten earlier to mention that while heading to Puerto Rico, we saw more whales.  We watched one large humpback breeching a mile or so away…maybe further.  What a sight to see!  And then…another whale pretty much running parallel to us, surfacing to breath, but not breeching, and pretty much going the opposite way to the breeching whale.  My thoughts on that?  I’m thinking the breeching whale was a male….the non breeching whale a female.  They had just finished doing the blubberback two step…nudge nudge…..and he was super elated at the encounter…and her….not so much.

Our arrival at the marina was another shit show….we entered the harbour and I headed to the fuel dock.  There were a couple of guys yelling and waving their arms over at the docks.  I should have just ignored them…..I missed the approach to the fuel dock first attempt, and then decided to follow the instructions from the guys on the dock.  We pulled into a slip, and next thing you know there is a guy on the boat tieing Moorahme to the dock, a couple of other guys helping and the security guard standing their giving us the evil eye.  We get Moorahme tied, and this guy wants me, the captain, to go up to the hotel lobby/office.  WTF?  We just left here this morning I attempted to explain to him….does he understand English?  Hell no.  He stands at the bow of the boat while I finish getting things organized, and then off we go to the office.  He explains, or at least I think he does, to the receptionist that I am a bandito from hell, I had just raped 3 whales and 14 palm trees, and she needed to deal with me.  Beautiful.  She has very limited English…I have very limited Spanish.  Around and around we go…why are you here, what are you doing…I suggest to her to phone the marina manager, Gaby, and everything would be cool.  She caught on to that, and of course Gaby was not home…so she tried the assistant marina manager, Pedro.  She talked to Pedro for a bit, all the while the security guard giving me the stink eye…yup, gonna get you a jail cell gringo…..come into my marina in the dark and try to tie up where I don’t want you to go…..oh boy.  I finally get to talk to Pedro, he laughs and says what are you doing back here, I explain it all to him and we agree to fix everything in the morning.  I hand the phone back to the young lady, and say good night, and begin my walk back to the boat….with the security guard right beside me, escorting me back.  Man, talk about feeling like a criminal.  He walked me right back to the boat and then hung around on the dock for quite awhile.  Nice guy eh, obviously serious about his job….

Next morning, I talk with Gaby and the local Navy guy…..explain the situation all over again…and calm all the frazzled nerves.  I guess once you leave…you better keep on going and not come back….what the hell is the big deal?  Anyway, all is good, I show the navy man the crap I removed from the Racor filters and he says ok, I have to write up a report for my base commander but all should be ok.  All should be ok?  I still am not getting this.  We go to the fuel dock, fuel up, and dock Moorahme.

The front fuel tank on Moorahme holds 60 U.S gallons of fuel.  I pumped in 55 gallons.  First clue.  Hmmm, all that bouncing in those waves….hardly any fuel in the tank…probably stirred up any sediment in the bottom of the tank……and plugged the filters.  I have since discovered in talking with other cruisers that you really need to add an algicide to prevent growth in diesel fuel, and it should be done on a regular basis.   Lesson learned.   Our dockmates on Layla, Mike and Martha, had some extra algicide which they gave to us and I shocked the fuel tanks.  All appears good, the generator is running again, the engine is running again….and soon we hope to be off to Puerto Rico.

I ask around to see if there is anyone who “polishes” fuel.  Polishing fuel means that you take the fuel from each tank, run it through a filtration system, clean the tank, and then replace the polished fuel, thereby eliminating any fuel related issues.  Well, there isn’t anyone who does that here in Samana…probably the DR.  So, we will look into getting that done in Puerto Rico.  There really is not a lot here in Samana…no chandleries, no marine supply stores….really not a whole lot of anything.  It is unfortunate.  Each tank of fuel will normally last about 40 hours before we switch tanks…we are going to shorten that to 24 hours in an attempt to avert any further fuel related issues until we can get the fuel polished.  I am confident that this plan will work for us.

Next update we will take you on a tour of downtown Samana….oh boy, what an eye opener that was!

Keep your stick on the ice!




7 thoughts on “The Dreaded Mona Passage – Attempt # 1

  1. Oh Randy and Beth, all I can say is that we are rolling on the floor laughing – with complete empathy. This sounds SO much like our passages in the South Pacific, truly going from port to port fixing things. And I am convinced that there is an 11th commandment that states The Wind Shall Be On Thy Nose, no matter what compass heading or forecasts. If it isn’t on the nose it will be aft, making the boat roll like a pig, not a personal seasick favorite. And while we enjoyed many islands and islanders, there were places (like Fiji) where everyone wanted ‘gifts’ or bureaucrats (like Mexico) where they worshiped papers and stamps. And fuel in some of these places? Risky! However: while it may suck at a given moment, it does make for great stories and memories 😉

    After months at home we are heading back to the boat in a couple of weeks, currently in Chesapeake. Heading north, plan to spend the entire summer/early fall in Maine, Nova Scotia, etc. Can’t wait to get back to it – over the winter we got new props, new bottom paint, upholstery, canvas, new chart plotter, etc.

    Happy Sailing!

    Terry & Jack


  2. Thanks Terry and Jack, we miss you! I kind of figured you would have first hand experience at what we have met with so far…all in a day’s sail!

    Take care, have fun up north, we’ll be thinking of you. I’ll bet that trawler looks awfully spiffy!


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