In this video, we sit down with Bruce Van Sant, the author of the Book: “The Gentleman’s Guide to Passages South, The Thornless Path to Windward” We get to see a personal side of Bruce as we discuss his early days of cruising, falling in love with his wife Rosa, all things weather, and his favorite hurricane holes.
In this video, we talk to Bruce about:
- How did Bruce start cruising?
- Falling in love with his wife and the Dominican Republic
- Bruces take on the new generation of cruisers
- The early days of the weather reports
- The use of software and weather apps while cruising
- The state of Luperon in the Dominican Republic for cruisers
- What are the best Hurricane Holes in the Caribbean?
- Bruce rates Luperon as a Hurricane Hole 1 to 10
Chance Meeting – How We Met Bruce Van Sant
Nick and I talk about Bruce Van Sant’s book “A Gentleman’s Guide to Passages South” all the time. It’s the first thing we tell people to buy who are thinking about making their way through the “Thorny Path.” When we found out Bruce was coming for a visit to Puerto Blanco Marina, we were disappointed that we couldn’t stay and chat with him. We had already committed to a motorcycle trip with a group of friends.
As we waited for the bike group to assemble at the marina, we were hoping to see Bruce arriving. Right before we hopped on the bike, he pulled up with his wife, Rosa. Nick was able to catch him, and we introduced ourselves. I told Bruce that we would love to sit down with him and Rosa and ask him a few questions, as we were fascinated with his story and book. To our delight, Bruce was very open to an interview and invited us to lunch in Puerto Plata. We exchanged information and said we would figure out a good day to meet up.
As soon as we got back from our bike ride, I sent Bruce an email. He responded the next morning. We decided to meet up in a couple of days. He explained in the email how to get to Puerto Plata.
Dinghy – Taxi – Bus – Bruce Van Sant
We were to walk to town, catch a “Guagua” for 60 pesos (approximately $1.20) per person. The Guagua is a four-door car that packs in 6-8 people. It would take us to the town of Imbert. From there we were to take the bus that goes to Puerto Plata. Bruce told us once we passed “Amber Cove” (the Cruise ship port) to give him a call and he would pick us up. We followed Bruce’s directions, and it was as easy as he described and inexpensive. The cost for the Guagua and bus roundtrip was around $12. If we were to hire a taxi, it would have been approximately $40.
As we got in Bruce’s car, it was like sitting with an old friend. He drove us to the beach for lunch and a beer. The conversation flowed and was natural. There was nothing forced about it. We sat and chatted for about an hour; then Rosa met us for lunch. We all had the “Plata del dia” (Plate of the day) and some conch ceviche for an appetizer. Delicious! After lunch (we sat on the beach for hours), Bruce took us back to his house.
Kickin it in Bruce Van Sant’s Crib
They live in a gated community and have a gorgeous property that runs off solar and batteries. Bruce is a real sailor! Rosa has a beautiful garden with flowers and fruit and vegetable plants/trees. They also have a nice pool where I could see myself spending an afternoon with a good book. Bruce played classical music for me because he knew my love for ballet.
As we sat down for the interview, we set up two cameras. With this being our first official interview, we failed at getting a good camera angle. The audio failed on the second camera. However, we got enough to share with our audience. Enjoy!
Bruce’s Website: http://www.thornlesspath.com
Guide: Checking into Luperon
Guide: Rigging a Swell Bridle
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Intro Song – Carribean Cuisine 4 – Magnus Ringblom
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Intro to Part 1
Hey guys! While in the DR, we had the pleasure of spending the day with Bruce Van Sant and his wife Rosa. Bruce is the author of the book “Gentleman’s Guide to Passages South, the Thornless Path.” As well as “Margarita Cat” which is the memoir of his cruising life. His book has been such an asset to our trip. We were seriously honored being able to interview Bruce and Rosa. Unfortunately we had some technical difficulties with our mic and camera. Please excuse the background noise and poor framing and enjoy the first half of the interview. Visit our website to see the full interview and blog post to get a behind-the-scenes look. Don’t forget to subscribe! (Bruce Van Sant)
Kelly talking about the upcoming interview
I am finishing coffee and answering comments. You Know! What’s the plan for today? We’re going to go interview Bruce Van Sant! We are going to his house near Puerto Plata, which is about a 45-minute ride from Luperon. Although it’ll probably take us longer because we’re taking like three busses. We’re having lunch and a beer on the beach. That is the plan. Mm-hmm and interviews! Yeah, with Bruce and his wife Rosa. That’s right! (Bruce Van Sant)
Going to Puerto Plata
Got in there! It’s basically like a trailer bus. They just wait until it fills up. It’s pretty much just like a shared taxi. Either another car like this or there is a bus. (Bruce Van Sant)
Chatting with Bruce on the Beach
Yeah yeah. Hello! Yeah how are you? It’s one of the biggest. It goes all the way from Puerto Plata. I walked right across the airstrip up into the control tower and I said, “where’s your weather?” I’m going to go up. He’s up there. I’d open the door there it was! All he’s doing something you can do. Like a Disney cartoon. (Bruce Van Sant)
Interview with Bruce and Rosa Van Sant in their home
First off, I just want to say thank you! Not only for entertaining us today, but you’ve got us here safely with this book. I tell people that watch us all the time, this is like the Bible for people traveling through the Caribbean. I’m sure you’ve heard that before. We won’t go too far into this, just know that this is what you should have with you and ready at hand. I think we probably look at this every day. (Bruce Van Sant)
All right, now we’re here. First question. This is a question that we get all the time. How did you start cruising and why? Sailing or Cruising? I want to focus on cruising. I think because cruising to us is we are traveling by sailboat. It’s less of a love of sailing and more of a love of travel. We want to communicate that to other people.
Bruce Van Sant Start Cruising Part Time
I had woken up from a coma in Indonesia and I had great difficulty controlling my muscles. Somehow it appeared to me that it was a way to rescue my life. I was no longer able in my estimation at the time, honestly carry on the career I’ve had and give a good return to the people that were paying me money to do the jobs I was doing. I was dead.
Bruce Van Sant’s Starts Cruising Full Time
The boats I’ve bought and the selling I did changed into longer trips. I had jobs that took me from one country to another. So I bought books which would enable me to quit one job and start another and spend weeks in between. That became weeks or months in between, finally a year of a year year-and-a-half in between. A couple of times that was the kind of thing crazy people do today. The lawyer in New York takes his girlfriend and they go to the Caribbean. Okay but he’s got to get back to work eventually.
To me, I understand that because I in that first week, then in a year, then a year and a half and all that connected to the ultimate goal. So I started cruising at age 40. I just bit the bullet.
That’s interesting because I just turned 40! People and I feel like that’s especially early. Today in this day and age, that’s an early age to start to go cruising. Because of the box that we’re trained to think inside. As you work for your entire life, retire and then you go do what you want. A lot of people that means cruising. (Bruce Van Sant)
Question to Bruce Van Sant:
So it’s obvious that you have a strong connection to the Dominican Republic. As well as a beautiful Dominican wife. Would you say that Rosa had a lot to do with your multiple trips here to the Dominican?
How Bruce Van Sant Ended up in the Dominican Republic
You know, a hundred percent! I was on this island the second time, came from Europe. It so happened I was here for the plot. I loved it and then off to America, changed boats, got the boat I wanted, then to return to Indonesia. That took a lot of refits and you have to make money. Finally when I was done with that, and that took a couple of years. I set off, but in order to cross through the canal, when you get to the other side, it was the typhoon season. I thought that I can’t even get to the Marquesas. It wasn’t going to work. Not for me to make the hops I wanted to do. So I said okay I have enough time. I will circumnavigate Hispaniola.
Bruce Van Sant talks about Rosa
One thing led to another. I met Rosa. “Margherita Cat” has a whole chapter on exactly how that happens if you want to know how I met her. She had a rent-a-car company at the time. She was the solution to basically a dream that I had conceived in Indonesia. Looks just like the dream and I said well this is pretty good. I realized wow, Rosa is a very special person. A very special a businesswoman. I fell in love! I said to myself, give it another week. It will burn out, haha! It took a month of campaigning to get to the resolution. She was practical and pragmatic and a great businesswoman.
Bruce Van Sant’s Focus
This is what I conceived at the time. I had a diagnosis and so I needed to go to the Philippines, get myself a Filipino nurse and proceed to Indonesia. This is where I saw things would end up selling the boat. I would have enough money to live there and build a shack. That was the plan. It’s all documented in a letter. I discovered it was here, everything I knew and loved in Indonesia was here in the DR. (Bruce Van Sant)
New Generation of Cruisers?
I started obviously cruising the thorny path. All those trips to Georgetown. Ever since then, you’ve gotten to know cruisers very well. Right? There seems to be this new breed of young Cruisers. And you know that’s us included. It’s almost like this new influx. Sailing is cool again. Cruising is cool again and we start to see a lot more young couples. More than we ever expected. I know we talked about this, the age of YouTube sailing channels. What is your opinion of this new generation?
Bruce Van Sant’s Response
I’ve seen the new generations of Americans, forget that! But in cruisers and first of all they have to have money to buy the Boat. They need money to put in a kitty. And the basic ambition or intelligence or both to want to opt out for a while and live a natural life. If you can call it that. And that’s different. That’s a selection that happens with the new generation in North America. Being an old guy, looking back I realize you can connect dots. You can see a trajectory. It isn’t the trajectory, it’s a sinus wave. It goes down and up and down. It’s the same thing that happens again and again.
Culture Drives Economy
I believe it’s connected to culture and economy. When the culture is really lousy, that’s when the economy and the culture turns south. You will see fewer boats. You begin to see boats where people are fed up, they lost their business and that’s all they’ve got. They say, come on let’s go! That happens on a downturn of the economy. Now when the economy goes up, as it starts to turn the course, we have people that think that’s a new way. They take the boat and they go because they’ve got investments.
They think the stock market will never die and their regeneration or Mami or Papi died and the house was sold and they’ve got all this inheritance. Things like that. It isn’t that much money they’ve got but it’s enough to make them break the chains. Okay, so there’s a lot of that on the way up and on the way down. But when it’s at the bottom you don’t see many people coming down. The boats have all been sold. They’re all in the auction blocks and so on. It’s on the top that boats become valuable again. So I think its that culture is connected. Culture drives the economy and vice versa. (Bruce Van Sant)
Old School Weather Reports
When you started cruising, reliable weather data was let’s say difficult to come by? No, it was by radio and it was basically the same as you have today. The offshore reports in Europe are the shipping reports. English and French are the same things. In this area, southeast 10 to 15 knots, 10-foot seas. Standard meteorological parlance. If you understand it and you’ve been listening to it for years and years. You will understand that it is really the true stuff that’s coming. The French do an excellent job. Excellent!
Are you talking about on the internet or something? When you start tracking hurricanes they start to get into different parts of wind. You must ask yourself how many satellites that source has? They’re taking the data from someone else because the satellite data comes from the satellites. Oh no, it’s the buoys. Buoys are absolutely corruptible. Those buoys are so unreliable.
They drop them like from a plane. They fly over and drop them everywhere. They’re little bitty things. You see them all over, the PVC tubes and then they sit there with a weight in the bottom. They’re supposed to be going up and down with weight there like a cuckoo clock, telling you the wave height. What happens is they’re out there even just in a little while, they get all kinds of crustaceans and crap. They’re all in a little cork thing that’s in there. The people that are making them, come on they’re jerks!
Unreliable weather Buoys
Oh, this is not the government guys up here with good ideas designing something over here with other people. The design is put over to production people that lay it out to contractors that are cousins to somebody in Congress. It’s crap! Hey, that buoy data is useful but you yourself when you look at it you have to calibrate and code, reconstitute the data with the fact that this is crap data.
Well, it’s easier to follow the forecasters who in fact can be wrong. They can be bad actors. But these guys have been working a long time. The satellites are now taking wave heights themselves. Okay and good stuff, accurate stuff. Not some crap out of a piece of plastic with crustaceans growing in the little cork that’s going up and down like on your fuel measurement and your boat. (Bruce Van Sant)
End of Part 1
Hey guys, hope you enjoyed the first half of the Bruce Van Zant interview. If you want to see the second half, click on this link here. Or the link in the description below. You can also see the full interview and blog posts on our website for a behind the scenes look. The links to Bruce’s books are in the description below. Don’t forget to subscribe!
Intro to Part 2
Hey guys! This is the second half of our Bruce Van Zant interview. To see the first half, click the link in the description or visit our website for the full interview and blog posts for a behind the scenes look. Make sure you subscribe now! (Bruce Van Sant)
Interview with Bruce continued
So on Satori, we use an iPad as our primary chart plotter. It has GPS built in. It’s actually quite nice and the software is good. That along with weather apps like we had talked about earlier like windy, it’s very animated and you get different data. You can scroll through it very Easily. What is your opinion of these kinds of high tech tools we use for cruising?
I have nothing up-to-date, sold my last boat eight years ago. Everyday, I look at the weather again like I’ve always done. From the National Weather Service and the marine forecasts of the Tropical Prediction Center in Miami. There are charts and there is data for here. Even though they decrease the size of the area so that way you have better resolution on the forecast outside our coast. With each island, they’re as good as they ever were as far as I can see.
Personal Experience with weather
I’m doing something from decades of personal observation. As a person whose life depended on it, with this, among all the options not just sitting in port. So I really had honest-to-god blood and flesh invested and so forth involved in that weather. That is still with me when I’m watching and looking at it. I’m saying to myself, what would I do here? Would I leave? It still comes back to me. My mind tells me none of this in the next ten days is something I’ll go for, however, the trend is such that I know they’re going to change.
If you doubt them then you haven’t got anything
They can’t see more than a couple of days so sure enough a couple of days later it all has changed. I can see the trends. In fact, I just want to help. What you have to do is play the game of never doubting that. If you doubt them then you haven’t got anything. What do you got is like the law versus Anarchy effect out in your charts. Yeah, and it’s a matter of faith. I don’t mean that they’re always right but if you say now they’re wrong, let’s go, come on let’s go! It’s against everything you know. It may be wrong but hey that’s my experience.
They are never right as to what happens at deck level. Never! He says northeast 15 knots. Well, it’s not 15 knots, that’s actually 13 to 17. That’s at 33 meters above you. Eight hundred and seventy feet above your Boat. What’s happening with you is different. As it meets the thermals coming off the ocean which is cooling and you’re going at night or vice versa, heating up and you’re going at day (you fool!), right against the trade winds! We’re not talking about New Hampshire or someplace, no it’s stronger than you think.
More weather talk
You better look around. You didn’t expect you have a squall? Goodness, gracious! In general, they said northeast fifteen knots at 33 meters above your head and you’re sitting there and you have a headland in front of you that is totally changing everything! Come on, come on! If you can’t ahead of time, I’ll apply the English like a billiard. I mean you shoot billiards don’t you?
It means you should pull a little English up and again you hit that cue ball to this side or that side to make it spin. People do this kind of thing all their lives but now you’re going to have to do with data. Some engineers and other scientifically adapted people can do that. Do that with the people that just sit there and listen to someone stupid at the bar that says my niece walks on Mars! Wow, that’s why it is not always what they forecast and they never promised you that. (Bruce Van Sant)
Let’s talk about Luperon. The buzz around the harbor is that Luperon is on a comeback of sorts. What do you think about it coming back? During the years in which I was nine months underway with 195 anchorages to survey, every year think about that over three thousand. I didn’t have a good calibration on the trajectory at all. All I know is what cruisers said then. Cruisers always said this isn’t so wonderful, wait it is wonderful! God! It’s just back and forth and back and forth. It’s getting worse, it’s getting better.
Cruisers in the Bay
I came into the marina the other day, as you were going on a motorcycle trip. I was shocked to see 50 or 60 people! What the hell are all these people doing here! I met some really really nice people. Good people that want to change their lives and have a different experience. It’s great. I have been bombarded over the last couple of years. They got a bad reputation. People saying nobody’s gonna come here anymore. That’s not true.
Then other times. Oh boy, there are so many people here. It’s all Cruiser bullshit. The cruiser bullshit, you know, I know. I have to then pick and choose what I feel I know is what it really is. Just a gut feeling. That feels legitimate, that feels genuine. Like this sounds like some guy had a bone to pick and he’s being an asshole. Just like watching TV. (Bruce Van Sant)
They say that there used to be over two hundred to three hundred boats in the harbor during hurricane season. In Luperon Harbor? Six hundred! What? I can’t picture 600 boats! Oh, wait a minute, sorry I got that wrong. There was six hundred a year that arrived. I invented a sort of algorithm. I always counted the foreign flag vessels. That’s what was important. There were a few there that were Dominican. Sport fishing boats. Basically, it started out like 50- 60 and it became 80- 90 then it became 100 -120. Not all in the water as they had things ashore. People taking their boats out they counted them. It’s the same thing. I mean you’ve got farmers with money. They’re paying rent. The thing is when they come back to claim the boat, they’re gonna spend money. It doesn’t matter.
I’ll guarantee you there would be 100-125 boats
I did a study for a prospectus or whatever they called it for the tourism board. All this kind of stuff, I did it. It was good being consulted in engineering Myself. I did a qualified good study for free for these people. It turned out that the numbers that came up, I’m looking at it in great detail but the same as I was doing the levels of them. I still use them when they get there down from the marina. I modified a little bit because I can’t see so much. As far as I’m concerned today, if I went there I’ll guarantee you there would be 100-125 boats in the harbor. All with foreign flags.
Now what will happen is there will be people sitting in Wendy’s bar, yeah but some of those are abandoned! So what, the people will come back! That’s been sort of a stable number for quite some time. I just don’t take what people say to heart. I will say we were at Casablanca this week. We had a very good view of the harbor and we did count about a hundred boats, so it’s in line with what you said. (Bruce Van Sant)
If Haiti had a sensible economy and sensible people, there are harbors and that is better. The Hurricanes that come out of the Caribbean, doing the recurve and going into the south coast. When we are hit in the north coast they, can’t hit anything. The mountains just kill the storm. They start in Africa and come across. They sweep up And swipe the coast. Absolutely they can hit the island and come right down the middle. Absolutely, when they do they’re totally ravaged by the mountains. They can sweep the coast. The mountains will absolutely tear it apart. It can’t circulate. George, that’s the only one I’m familiar with.
You are safe because you tied down the mangroves
Okay you got the front side of it, George was the eye of it was like 20 miles south of here. People said they never saw more than 40 knots max for about 20 minutes. And the rest of it was just all over the map. Understand when a hurricane is doing this it has tornadoes. It has all kinds of crazy shit going on. Really crazy crap going on. Okay, it’ll be high here, low there because it’s something torn up. You need to be tied down somewhere in the mangroves. Nonetheless, you are safe because you tied down the mangroves. (Bruce Van Sant)
Rating Luperon as a Hurricane Hole
If you had to get Luperon a hurricane hole rating on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the best, what would you give it? Luperon would get a 9. Knowing that, would you give a 10 rating to any other? I would give a 10 the fort liberté in Haiti. But no one in their right mind would go there. (Bruce Van Sant)
End of Part 2
This was the second half of our Bruce Van Sant Interview. If you missed the first half, go ahead and click this link here or in the description below. There are links to Bruce’s books in the description below as well. Be sure to visit our website to get the full interview and the blog post with the behind the scenes look. Don’t forget to subscribe! Thanks for Watching! (Bruce Van Sant)