Oct 09

Sailing the Mona Passage

by in Photo Gallery, Puerto Rico

A few hours after leaving La Romana in the Dominican Republic on a 70 foot catamaran appropriately name Tetu (meaning “Stubborn” in French), I was enjoying the crystal clear waters and white sandy beaches of Isla Saona, a tropical paradise off the South West coast of the Dominican Republic. It was a beautiful day, and the weather was on our side. Isla Saona was magnificent and we dropped anchor to relax and prepare for dinner. Our plan was to spend the night anchored off of Isla Saona and head out early the next morning.

I decided to go diving under the boat to see if the river we were staying in prior, fouled our props along the anyway. Good thing I checked, as there was tons of debris on the prop. Fishing line, fishing nets, rope, and a coat hanger all had to be removed.


Isla Saona
I have to admit, there is nothing like being anchored in the Caribbean during sunset. The gentle sounds of the ocean slapping against the hull, the warm breeze of the tropicals blowing against your face, the taste of salt on your lips, and the constant smell of the ocean all around you. And sunsets that would make postcards jealous! It’s a truly magical time that’s hard to describe unless you’ve actually experienced it.

After a great dinner, the captain and I both looked at each other and said, “Wanna Go? Let’s just set sail right now”. The seas were calm and we we had perfect weather, everything was on our side. So we headed out, leaving Isla Saona behind us, sailing into the Mona Passage on our way to Puerto Rico. It was still a beautiful evening as we passed Mona island, the halfway point between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

Mona Island
Most people are unaware of this, but Mona Island is very significant because it is owned by the USA. It’s a great point of entry into the United States for undocumented aliens wanted to gain access to the USA. For approximately $1000 USD per person, boaters regularly drop off Haitians and Dominicans alike on Mona Island. The Dominican Republic has historically been a major source for undocumented migrants attempting to enter the United States by way of Puerto Rico. Thousands of people have taken to sea in a variety of vessels, the most common is a homemade fishing vessel known as a Yola. Most of these migrants are smuggled by highly organized gangs. As a side note, not one day went by during this trip, that we did not hear a report from the US Coast Guard that a boat with “x” number of people had been lost at sea, and a search and rescue was underway. Never once, did we hear of anyone ever being rescued.

Black-Ops Boat
After passing Mona Island, we could see the lights of Puerto Rico in the distance. A few hours later, around 3am, we arrived within Puerto Rican waters. With the captain fast asleep, I was at the helm. When all of a sudden, out of nowhere, a bright light appeared about 200 yards off our starboard side. My eyes, still accustomed to the dark, were frantically trying to adjust to this bright light. I kept looking for an additional red or green light, so I could discern whether this ship was crossing in front of us, or passing beside us. At night, the port side of a vessel is indicated with a red navigation light and the starboard side with a green one. But as much as I tried to focus my eyes and adjust to the bright light, there were no other lights other than one bright white spotlight.

I woke the captain and we quickly got on the radio. Attempts to radio the boat went unanswered and the boat continued to followed us. With it’s blinding spotlight, it would circle us from port to starboard and from bow to stern for the next 30 minutes. We had no idea if they were some drug cartels mistaking us for their delivery boat, or a Coast Guard vessel doing clandestine patrols.

Eventually, a boat appeared with “Policia” written on it’s side. That put us “a little” at ease, since we were pretty sure it wasn’t pirates or a drug cartel at this time. But they still wouldn’t answer their radio. I could even hear my own voice over their PA system when I called identifying myself to them. Eventually, they stopped us and boarded our boat. After searching the boat and not finding any drugs or illegal aliens, they let me take a few pictures before they left and went on their way.

We continued sailing as the sun came up, heading East with Puerto Rico to our port side the entire way. Finally, we arrived at Marina de Salinas (Salinas Marina) in Puerto Rico that evening. Despite our run-in with the black-ops unit of the US Coast Guard, Salinas was a beautiful port and it was a great relief to have made that passage safe and sound.


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