Ocean Trader Wharf

The Wharf brings you ISLANDERS, Caribbean people that we know and like. We are betting that if you met them you would like them too.  5 CORNERS is a wild card Blog that we will leave up to our visitors to categorize.  Anything goes here Mate!  We get email from some very interesting characters. This Blog could be from New York, South Africa, Chile, Venezuela, Guatemala or the wickedest slums of Jamaica.  You get the idea. And CARIBLOG is a continous flow of blogs that are more Caribbean focused .  Please email OceanTrader.Co with your comments and photos. We will publish them of course!

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The Bay House

Years ago the house by the wharf was home to a proud family of fishermen.  The family shared and enjoyed many a good day on the bay.  The early risers could hear the small fleet of boats heading out to tend traps or work seine nets.  By the time the roosters made noise all the boats had already been launched, or were off their moorings. The fisherman is often glorified, but this is hard work now as it was then.  When the weather bowed-up on you there was little recourse if your boat was ten miles out to sea.  Traps had to be pulled, emptied and fresh bait set.  If your crew was working a siene net with men in the water swimming a close, then everybody worked as fast as possible keeping an eye on the man next to you while maneuvering the haul.  Some times the sharks would come round, but if there were dolphins in there area they would usually make wider passes.  Naturally the men did not like being in the water with a net full fish when these predators would glide by.   The level of concern would rise if a hammerhead, or a big bull shark was spotted. Things usually worked themselves out, but some days required quicker hands and well placed prayers.

When the boats sailed for home, the crews could smell pots of stew meat, grilled fish and charcoal fires wafting out to greet them even at a distance.  It was usually a windward course to shore.  The unofficial race to shore was further embellished by the commotion on the beach as every available body rushed to help beach the boats, or to lend a hand  off-loading the bigger craft.  The bigger boats required cleaning before being set on their moorings.  The catch of the day could be anything.  Red Snapper, Yellow Tail, Jacks, Doctor Fish, Red Hind, Deep water Crabs, Parrot Fish and others.  The children would be back home from school by the time the fishermen touched shore.  The smaller children would keep their distance while marveling at the wreathing catch, and the bigger children would out do each other climbing onto the boats if only for a few seconds.  Returning safe from the sea was a blessing appreciated by every fisherman.  Walking into your back yard with bouys and line to repair was a milestone that brought each man closer to washing up and enjoying a good plate with the wife.

The Conch Divers

When the weather settles down, after a few days the swell from the North dissipates.  The wave heights get back to normal and the conch divers can harvest.  The conch grounds are North off the out-laying cays.  The divers will load-up their  boat with extra gas and oil, two extra tanks of air, extra ground tackle, and basic gear like a VHF radio, extra line, water and a Bimini shade.  The Elders are quick to remind us that in years past conch and lobster could be harvested a few yards off the beach.  This is no longer the case; especially with lobster.  Lobster traps are now baited and set in very deep water.

The conch move in closer to shore to feed on seagrass algae.  Diving the mollusk is less of a challenge in shallow water when they migrate closer to the seagrass beds.  The conchers plan on being in the water early.  By noon the conch are slowly crawling back into deeper water.  The  dive can be carried out with as few as two people.  Once the vessel arrives in a suitable harvest area a light anchor is deployed with a short scope hanging at a steep angle.  This way the anchor will only dig-in for a few minutes at a time allowing the boat to drift down wind while the diver scoops up as many conch as he can following the bouncing anchor.  The man (some times a woman) onboard the boat operates the power winch and basket for hauling up the conch.  When the diver has a full basket he gives several strong tugs on the up-haul line.  While the basket full of conch is being hauled out of the ocean, the diver is still amassing piles of conch in anticipation of loading the next basket.  A good conch diver is fearless and efficient.  He is usually not the only predator in the area, but the sight of this bubble blowing intruder whisking about with conch and a tethered basket probably keeps any likely marine threat off in the distance.

Conch is a managed fishery in some parts of the Caribbean.  There are even conch farms where this mullusk is farmed as a viable form of aguaculture.  One conch diver can harvest an impressive haul of conch without sacrificing the baby Rollers.  He is a skilled and knowledgeable fisherman.  He has to be to survive his craft.  Doing several dives before calling it a day requires expert analysis of water depth and time totals breathing compressed air.  DCS (Decompression Sickness), some times referred to as the Bends, is a prevalent  risk.  While it is amusing to witness the unschooled hacking and banging away at a conch shell trying to get the conch out, an experienced concher can remove the meat with a short metal spike and a twist of the wrist.  An amazing thing to watch.  It is also rumored that the long gelatin-looking crystal that is extracted with the conch is a powerful aphrodisiac if swallowed immediately after extraction.   Conch fritters, civiche,  conch salads or a succulent plate of pressure cooked conch smothered in onions and a butter sauce will make even the conchers forget their hard work momentarily.

The Road

This Dominicano road will take you to the Eastern shores of Hispaniola.  And what a road it is!  The Northern Coast of La Republica Dominicana is still largely unspoiled and populated with down to earth Domincanos that are not Italian, Castilian,or any other European wannabe.  Here you can still find country roads and a slower pace of life compared to the Capitol and other large cities.  Here you can find dark skinned Dominicanos that are attractive, and proud of their Caribbean-African roots.  This road snakes along the North Coast for miles with a surfeit of lush tropical scenery.  And where the heck will this road take us?  Well, for starters it will take you through towns like Puerto Plata, Sosua, Rio San Juan, Nagua, Sanchez and others.  This is not a boring route.  Fly into Puerta Plata on Friday afternoon.  Rent the best 4 X 4 you can afford, get your free Rental Maps, but keep your iPad GPS handy.  Embrace the opportunity to enjoy a good dinner and a night’s rest at any one of the many boutique hotels in Puerta Plata or Sosua.  In the morning, after a delicious Dominican breakfast, head for the open roads that will eventually take you to some of the most exotic tropical locations in the Caribbean.  By the way, do not plan too far into your itinerary.  Your major milestones will be your arrival date and your departure date.  Leave everything in between entirely up to your inner Zen.  If you do not have an inner Zen, then by all means travel with a partner that does!

Here are some of the North Coast delights you may want to consider.  Once you arrive in the Samana peninsula you can head up the mountain to Las Terrenas.  Ask the locals for directions to Playa Popy, El Portillo or Playa Bonita.  Further along this route you can also trek out to Playa Rincon.  The mountain approaches to the beach and the beach itself are not to be missed.  These areas are not densely populated, and you will have many opportunities for privacy.  Other locations that are worth finding include the town of Samana (a unique area settled around 1824 by freed American Slaves) and Cayo Levantado.  Further afield from here keep heading East to Las Galeras.  On the beach in Las Galeras you can enjoy freshly caught seafood prepared to suit your preferences, very cold Dominicano beer, and endless Merengue and Bachata music.  You can also take a small outboard boat to other out-laying beaches nearby.  A very invigorating experience.  Bring plenty of water.  As to hotel accommodations, just flip a coin.  There are too many choices, but the hotel right on the Beach in Las Galeras is very popular.  If you have the time you can back track and sample one of the nicer hotels in Las Terrenas, or even Samana. Flip another coin.  Road rules are simple.  Watch out for motorconches (motorcycles), pedestrians and livestock on the road.  Most Dominicano Drivers operate their vehicles in a predictable manner.  Some do not.  Justo al final del camino!