Landfall in Luperón

Whether heading north or south, plenty of cruisers drop the hook in this warm and welcoming Caribbean hurricane hole. "Passage Notes" from our June 2008 issue

McMillan 368

The McMillan family left Portland, Maine, to cruise aboard Grace before they head to a new land-based life in Switzerland.Rick Caroselli

The town of Luperon, on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, is a quintessential crossroad for cruisers heading north from the Caribbean or south from the Bahamas to skirt an upcoming hurricane season. The mangrove-lined natural harbor is also a perfect hurricane hole in itself, which is why many cruisers choose to remain year-round. Luperon is also a port of entry. The lagoon area boasts two small marinas, Puerto Blanco Marina and Marina Luperon Yacht Club, and each offers basic services as well as a fine restaurant. Puerto Blanco Marina provides wireless Internet that, depending on where you anchor, can be accessed from your boat, while Marina Luperon Yacht Club has a wonderful hillside view overlooking the harbor as well as showers and a swimming pool that cruisers can enjoy. The yacht club organizes Saturday-night charity-event dinners on site, and the proceeds are used to help children in Luperon. The week we were there, cruisers were asked to bring needed items, such as disposable diapers, or to make a donation.

Locals assist cruisers' shoreside needs by providing laundry services, delivering fuel and water, and organizing island tours. A net is broadcast on Wednesday and Sunday mornings, and a swap meet for cruisers is held on Sundays. You can find minor provisions and good, inexpensive restaurants in Luperon, but major provisioning requires a taxi trip to Santiago or Puerto Plata.

After our 400-mile passage from St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, to Luperon aboard Makana, our Admiral 38 catamaran, my wife, Katie, and I dropped anchor next to Grace, a Moody 376. Our daughter, Hoku, immediately spotted two children on board that boat. The next morning, we met brothers Finn and Teague and their parents, Megan and Brett McMillan. They hail from Portland, Maine, where they purchased Grace after relinquishing their shoreside possessions and professions: Brett worked as a general manager for an electrical-engineering company and Megan as a veterinarian. "A friend called me at work and said he found the perfect boat for us," Brett says. "But he's well over six feet tall, and he felt the boat wouldn't be comfortable for him. So we bought Grace shortly thereafter and immediately began planning for our life of cruising."

After a month of living aboard, they proceeded to Mystic, Connecticut, where Brett installed an S.S.B. and modified the boat to suit their needs. "The center cockpit is great. It divides the boat's interior so we have an area separate from the kids," he says.

They made their way south from Connecticut, making memorable stops in New York City and Washington, D.C. "We spent a few nights docked in Manhattan, where we had friends visit us," Brett says. "We walked to Central Park, saw the sights of the city, then returned to the comforts of our boat each evening. D.C. was great as well. We were at a marina within walking distance of the National Mall, where we visited the museums." Then they did the I.C.W.

Luperon is as far south as the McMillans will sail this season. After spending two weeks exploring the Dominican Republic, they plan to return north, retracing their way to the Chesapeake, where Grace will be hauled out. Then they'll travel to Switzerland, where Brett has secured a two-year position with a micro-tech firm. After that, they plan on reuniting with Grace or possibly trading up for a larger boat to resume cruising.

Heading west from Luperon aboard Amanzi, an S&S Classic 37, were Kim Saunders and her husband, David Hartman. They were heading home to Toronto on the final leg of a two-year Caribbean voyage. Kim, a wildlife biologist and elementary-school teacher, and David, a photojournalist and web producer, have run a floating classroom during their two years on Amanzi. Their curriculum is geared for students in grades 4 to 8, and the virtual classroom highlights science and technology from a real-life, hands-on perspective. "We've had tremendous response to our site each month," says David. "We've visited Montserrat with a volcano expert, traced the slave trade from the Chesapeake to Grenada, and saw a leatherback turtle lay its eggs."

Kim put together lesson plans for teachers to access, and she answered students' questions along the way. Kim and David's virtual classroom can be found at their website (www.floatingclassroom.com). After a cruise along the northern shore of Cuba, they plan to head home via the I.C.W.; they'll also stop in Maine and Nova Scotia. Then they'll head up the St. Lawrence River to home base in Toronto.

I made a radio call to ask if anyone had charts of the Bahamas they wished to sell, and Childs-play responded. The next evening, I met Kim and Mike Buller aboard the center-cockpit Endeavor 42 that they'd purchased in Florida. Mike, a general contractor, and Kim, a project engineer, hail from Park City, Utah. They were planning to leave Luperon and head southeast to explore the Windward and Leeward islands. "We left Florida and spent the winter cruising in the Bahamas, and we plan on visiting all the major islands from Puerto Rico to Grenada this summer," says Kim, as she traced their intended Caribbean route on the South Atlantic map mounted above their settee.

"Then we'll head through the Panama Canal to California to cruise the sloughs and channels around Napa, where we have family," Mike says, as he watched the setting sun from the cockpit of Childsplay. After California, they plan on continuing westward to complete a possible circumnavigation.

On Luperon's dinghy dock I met Steve Kidd and Solita Garcia, who'd just arrived from Puerto Rico aboard Sundance, a Valiant 42. They sailed to San Juan after a 12-day passage from their home waters of Beaufort, North Carolina. "The passage to Puerto Rico was great, and we had good sailing and pleasant weather the entire time," Steve says. Steve, retired from the cable-TV industry, and Solita, a dietician, purchased Sundance three years ago. They spend winters cruising in the Bahamas and summers in the Beaufort area.

"We love Luperon, and we'll be coming back next year," Solita says from the galley. "The people are very friendly here," Steve says.

On the morning we left Luperon, a dozen other cruisers were leaving, too, heading off to explore distant shores or returning home. Many plan on a return visit to Luperon because its protected anchorage, friendly people, and convenient marinas and services make it an ideal cruising destination.

After a yearlong cruise from South Africa to Georgetown, Maryland, via the Caribbean and the Intracoastal Waterway, Rick and Katie Caroselli spent the winter in Camden, Maine, remodeling a house. This summer, they plan on cruising from the Chesapeake to Maine.