Monday, April 16, 2012


The Mona Passage, or simply The Mona, is an 80 mile strait that separates the islands of Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. The Mona connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean Sea, and is used by cruise ships entering the Caribbean and cargo ships between the Atlantic and the Panama Canal.

This stretch of sea between the two islands can be the most difficult passage in the Caribbean.  The tidal current can run various directions making passage timing rather difficult.  Extremely deep water from the Puerto Rico Trench(13,000 feet) meeting the shallow water (50 – 60 feet) over the Hourglass Shoal in the Mona means there is a lot of energy that needs to dissipate.  This dissipation can take the form of very large confused waves over and near the shoals.  And, to add to the fun, you are now in the Trade Winds which can mean constant winds at 20 knots on your bow.

Before we even got in the vicinity of the Hourglass Shoal, Pollie spotted what appeared to be breakers in what was charted as 60’ water.  We immediately altered course.

Turns out it was an incredible fish boil.  I guess we were a little jumpy facing The Mona.
About the time we got our courage screwed back up, we passed a small fleet of these Dominican fishing skiffs.  They probably don’t have GPS, radar, satellite locators, or the fuel burn like we have.
We knew we were not going to be alone because the sturdy looking Renaissance was making the same passage.  But, because of their boat speed they were leaving 6 hours before Motivator.  Knowing this did not make our 20 hour passage (1:30 PM – 9:30 AM) seem so long.
Another cute feature of The Mona is that almost every afternoon thunderstorms build over the land mass of Puerto Rico and then roll off into the sea with the evening offshore breeze.
Using Passage Weather, Buoy Weather, Wind Finder, and weather guru Chris Parker’s forecasts (it is kind of like wearing two belts and two pairs of suspenders) we picked a very calm weather window for the passage.  Our game plan was to use the evening offshore breeze from the Dominican Republic’s land mass to calm the wind and seas generated by the Trade Winds, then be in the lee of Puerto Rico in the morning, and anchored before the afternoon Trade Winds.
Our plan worked, except for one furious thunderstorm and a Coast Guard rescue during the night. 
At about 2:30 AM the VHF radio lit up with a Puerto Rico Coast Guard station responding to the distress calls from a 36’ sailboat, Plane To Sea.  Their radio was very weak, but after numerous calls the Coast Guard was able to get their Lat/Longs and ask for assistance from any available boat.  We put their position into our chart plotter and discovered we were about 17 miles south of their position (two hours at full throttle).  Before committing to a rescue, I queried the Coast Guard and found out they had a helicopter en route with an ETA of 10 minutes.  A second sailboat then advised they were in the vicinity and were loosely buddy boating with the stricken boat.  But, they were reasonably questioning the nature of the emergency.  A much shaken lady on Plane To Sea was finally able to reveal they thought they had been in a collision with another vessel and had be demasted.  They were taking on water, but it was manageable.  The mast and rigging was being drug along the port side of the vessel.  Before the Coast Guard helicopter got to the stricken vessel, it was surrounded by a squall.  At one point we were watching the flares fired by the boat, but the helicopter was on the other side of the storm and could not see the flares.  After about 45 minute to an hour a Coast Guard small boat was able to get on scene and remove the lady, tie off the mast, and follow the husband as he motored the boat slowly to Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. 
After the report of a collision, we were even more diligent about scanning the horizon and watching the AIS and radar for other boats.  Additionally, we were trying to stay out of the way of the rescue attempt.

We were comfortably at anchor in Bahia de Boqueron when Renaissance joined us.  Whew, what a night.


  1. Wow - that must have been scarey for everyone. We were very glad to have our AIS and Radar on and working for that passage. The part about the Coast Guard not being able to see the flares because of the squall is something I never thought about. I guess we'll have to only have an emergency on a clear night, eh?

  2. Always figured the EPIRB was for alerting the Coast Guard; flares are for shooting at bad guys.