Sailing Across The Mona Passage

If you fail to plan for sailing across the Mona Passage, the waterway between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, you might find yourself in some majorly harsh sea conditions. I’m talking about big swells, big waves and big winds. You can also throw in a few potential thunderstorms too!

The Mona Passage is not a waterway to take lightly.

So, most cruisers heading south to the Caribbean stop in the Dominican Republic (DR) to wait for a good time to cross the Mona Passage.

We tried to sail from Turks & Caicos to Puerto Rico directly, skipping the DR and quickly discovered it wasn’t possible. As we rounded down along the top northeast corner of DR the sea state became horrific.

It’s not too often that I can say that we had troubles keeping in our seats.

We were heading into huge waves with big swells hitting us on the side of the boat. The wind was over 30 knots and we were getting battered. It was worse than a washing machine – it was a washing machine that was being tossed in the air while on spin cycle.

Simon and I decided to divert into DR to find relief from the harsh conditions. To our absolute delight we stumbled upon one of the nicest marina’s we’ve been to for years. And not only was it nice but it was only $56/night (Only $1/foot/night). The value for money was fantastic – especially when comparing it to the worst marina we’ve ever stayed in, the Charleston Harbor Marina.

The Puerto Bahia Marina is located in Samana Bay.

This marina accommodates boats up to 150 feet length overall, handles deep draft boats, is full service offering everything and anything a cruiser would need. There’s wifi, a mini market, a few restaurants and bars in addition to access to the lovely pools and beautiful lounge areas. We highly recommend stoping at this marina to wait for a weather window to cross the Mona Passage. Check out our video on YouTube showcasing our stay in Puerto Bahia here.

Let me define ‘weather window’ – it’s the term used when a variety of elements come together to ensure a safe and comfortable passage.

As a rule, the trade winds blow in the direction that you need to sail when heading east and south along the Caribbean Islands. They’re often strong and can create quite a bit of chop and high swells.

Sailing Across The Mona Passage

The Mona Passage near Puerto Rico – it became very calm 🙂

A weather window is when a period of low activity in the trades allows for you to sail or motor.

For the most part, the only time that the trades quiet down is when the wind blows lightly from the southeast. Now, you can’t sail straight into the wind so many cruisers motor a direct route or at least the shortest route that is most sensible. Some sailors sail but this will obviously take much longer.

Regardless, the window allows for a far easier and less bumpy voyage to your next destination.

The six things that cruisers look at when determining if a weather window is opening up include the wind direction, wind speed, the height and direction of the waves and the height and direction of the swell.

The key to crossing the Mona Passage is to wait for light winds (under 15knots), no unusual swell with waves no bigger than 4 to 5 feet.

We waited for a few days feeling the pressure to get going.

Our plan was to get to Antigua to meet friends and we not on schedule. In fact, our chances of seeing our friends before they flew back to America were diminishing quickly.

Side note: I write this quite a bit but it’s worth repeating. Never, never, never sail to a schedule. We’ve done it too many times to know that it never works well. You can’t force the weather and sea state to act the way you want it too! And it seems that it’s Murphy’s law that anytime you must get somewhere you never get there OR you get there and you’re almost broken by sailing through bad weather. My advice is to get to a location and then have people fly out to visit. It’s the only way that you can guarantee to see your visitors.

Anyhoo, our weather window eventually arrived.

The plan was to leave just before dusk to take advantage of the night lee but Simon and I got anxious. We left at 3pm. That wasn’t a good decision. The sea state was quite turbulent and I know that if we waited it would have been better. How do I know? Two other boats crossed several hours after us and had a very easy passage.

That aside, we did see whales so that wouldn’t have been noticeable during the evening – silver lining?! Not sure? If you’re planning a trip, keep in mind that the Humpback whales are all around the Dominican Republic December through to March.

Sailing Across The Mona Passage

Here I am preparing myself for the Mona Passage!

Anyway, let me back up and explain ‘night lee’.

Provided the winds don’t exceed 15 knots, you can benefit from the night lee. The night lee creates calm waters following the daytime heating of land. What happens is the land cools quicker than the deep sea which deflects the tradewinds. The larger and higher the land mass the stronger the daytime heating and the calmer the waters will be near land.

So if we did it again, we’d motor along the coast after the sun set. That being said, it wasn’t too bad. Once the sun set the sea became calmer along the coast. And once we headed east into open water it was a bit rocky to start but by midnight it was very calm.

Overnight Simon and I took turns keeping a watch while alternating naps in the cockpit and our daughter Sienna slept like a log all tucked up in bad. There wasn’t much to do or see so we all played on our electronic device of choice. Not once did we see any other boats or ships. And there was very little VHF radio chatter.

Sailing Across The Mona Passage

The sun setting over the Dominican Republic

When the sun came up the sea was very calm and by the time we got to the coast of Puerto Rico, the sea was like glass.

We choose Marina Pescaderia for our first port of entry into Puerto Rico. The marina and manager came highly recommended by other cruisers. We were able to ship stuff to the marina prior to our arrival. The manager, Jose, helped us source parts and technicians and booking into Customs and Immigration was relatively easy from this location.

We stayed in Marina Pescaderia for over a week and Britican stayed there for ten days without us. We eventually realized that we couldn’t make it to Antigua to see our friends by boat so we flew there!

Sailing Across The Mona Passage Video

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