Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico! Finally breaking away from the congestion of St. Thomas, we retreated to Culebra and her little sister Culebrita for a little quiet time.  We stayed two nights in a flat calm anchorage looking straight out over the Caribbean Sea but protected from the swell by a shallow reef.  It felt glorious to stop rolling after so long in St. Thomas!  During the day we left our peaceful anchorages and ventured over to the rolly anchorages by Culibrita to go exploring. It was squally and since we were on a mooring that we didn’t fully trust we stayed very close to the boat but did take a walk up to the crumbling lighthouse, saying hello to lots of wild goats along the way.  We snorkeled the reef right under our boat to cool off (We did no spear fishing here-the ciguatera risk is too high for our comfort), but we passed on the bubbling pools when we saw a couple boat loads of tourist disembarking and heading that way.

The sail from Culebra to Salinas, Puerto Rico was a long, but very productive one. Keith set the poles as soon as we came up to the drop off and almost immediately we spotted a boil that we altered course for. TUNA!!! And we got one! As Keith was bleeding it we got another hit, at first we thought a shark because of the blood but it was just a pesky barracuda.  Boo. Before we could get it all the way in to release it the other line went zzzzziinngggggg! Now we have one slippery, bloody tuna, a fillet knife, and a half reeled in pest all going on on the aft deck at the same time all while lumping around in the waves. I keep saying I should mount the GOPRo to capture the chaos as we try to fish (but if I did that we, of course, would not catch anything).  We thought the next fish was another bigger barracuda…until we saw the stripes.  Our first Wahoo!!! Fish tacos for dinner-yum! It feels SO good to have fresh fish on our boat again.

With more than enough fillets onboard we pulled in the lines and the rest of the sail we spent trying to figure out just what we wanted to do with our lives, where we wanted to go, live, work, all that stuff……the outcome of that looooonng daylong discussion will have to be another post. (Spoiler: we’ve got a plan!)

Salinas reminds us of Florida with its mangroves, river-ish water, and even manatees.  Except they are very friendly towards cruisers and have mountains in the background so we settled in for a couple days.  Unfortunately the water had a distinct port-a-potty smell and we were happy to escape it by renting a car for two days and checking out the rest of the island. 

Puerto Rico cannot be seen in two days.  Add in the fact that we also needed to do all of our provisioning for the summer in the Bahamas plus hit up a list of stores like Wal-Mart, West Marine and Home Depot we had to do some major prioritizing!  The rental car  situation was a weird mess.  The marina by the harbor can arrange a car but we learned it was just a private guy with his personal car so we passed and arranged with a major provider.  They couldn’t pick us up (after saying they could) and we couldn’t find anyone who would so we were delayed a day. In the end we wound up using the marina’s guy.  He said he would bring all the paperwork and it was fully insured blah, blah, blah….  The morning of he handed us a brand-new car-only 121 miles on it- and we handed him $120.00 cash.  No paperwork.  I don’t even think he knew our names.  But, he promised over and over full coverage. No worries!  It’s not like they drive insane here or anything. Yikes. Hope so.

First priority and first stop was a small winding road in the town of Guavate. It is known for the Lechonerias that line the road all selling spit-roasted pigs.  Both Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmerman have featured this drive on their shows so I was worried it might have turned touristy, while there are several food trucks and souvineer vendors when you first turn onto the road they quickly disappear after the first few yards.  It is advised to go on a weekend at lunchtime when it is lined up and traffic slowed to a crawl with locals.  We had the car on a Wednesday and it was closer to breakfast time than lunch but it would just have to do.  No traffic jams and a few of the places were not open, but we had no problems finding a juicy pig!  Best. Lunch. Ever.  Including that crispy slice of skin.  Oh boy, so good.  In fact, we re-arranged our schedule just to eat here both days. Plus we had enough leftovers for a dinner too on the second day.

Next touristy stop was Old San Juan.  We wandered through the colorful streets and down the brick roads but didn’t need lunch and it wasn’t the kind of shopping we needed to get done that day so we spent most of the time checking out the fort.  It’s a pretty impressive fort. We hit Walmart and the other stores on the drive home.  I was way too tired to pull off a major provisioning run properly so meals might get interesting in a few weeks. Our last stop of the night was Keith’s choice.  We didn’t want to eat out because we wanted to get back to Kai, but having only eaten our very early pork lunch we were starved.  He pulled into a boat storage yard by the harbor.  I had no idea why.  In the back there was a bar with blinking disco lights, loud music and some guys playing pool under a canopy. We got ice-cold drinks and he ordered some chicken empanadillas to tide us over till we cooked dinner. They were pretty damn delishious!  Just as I was wondering why one of the tough-looking guys kept looking over at us he approached and introduced himself.  He asked where we were from and and welcomed us to the neighborhood-let him know if there was anything we needed while we were in the area and we talked with him for a while. It was a perfect ending to our long day! So how did Keith know about this place?  He found it walking to the grocery store earlier in the week.  (No wonder he didn’t mind going to the store each day even though it was a couple miles walk)  He hadn’t told me about it because even though he had bought an empanadilla to bring home for me, each time he had eaten them himself before he arrived!  After having one-I can’t even blame him.

Day two of touristy things was all about the rainforest (and more chores).  The El Yunque park is a legit rainforest and since going to a rainforest is on my bucket list it was non-negotiable.  I absolutely loved it.  Since we did the full-immersion waterfall experience in DomRep we stuck to the just looking experience.  Because of time restraints we didn’t take any of the long hikes or even see the big, big waterfalls but completely enjoyed the experience we did have. I loved the huge, lush, dripping-wet leaves everywhere.  I’d go back in a heartbeat! By far, this was my favorite part of Puerto Rico.

Goodbye Puerto Rico.  You were tasty and gorgeous!  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Puerto Rico in a Blink

Okay, so the last post left off with us waiting for the Department of Homeland Security to come out and give our little boat a peek over.   They never came.  We called again the next morning got transferred all over the island and finally were given our magical little combination of numbers that said we were allowed to set foot in our country.  Not sure why they didn’t just do that from the beginning –but whatever.

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I had planned on sewing us our Puerto Rico courtesy flag on the sail from DR.  Keith, being the most thoughtful husband ever, knew I wasn’t up to it and stopped in the sail shop in Luperon the morning we left and bought us one.  I include a photo…..just in case you were thinking of getting some sail or canvas repair done while in Luperon.  Hems? Stitching?  Not so straight.  But ever so appreciated!!!  I didn’t have to sew it and it was only $4.00.

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Boquerón is a University and local family vacation spot and with it being a holiday weekend we got to see it in full action.  Coming back to the boat from calling Customs we found ourselves swarmed with jet skies.  Hundreds!  It was like kicking a hornets nest of them. There was some sort of club or something and they zoomed into the anchorage all afternoon.  Normally we hate jet skies, but at this point we just had to be entertained by the whole circus.  There was a police boat and three police jet skies near us.  They constantly had people pulled over.  It looked like they had a profitable weekend. We did escape the craziness for a bit by going ashore and doing some touristy people-watching for the afternoon.

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Having seen all we needed to see at Boquerón, we had a great little sail around the corner to the quiet water-side town of La Parguera. The town was cute and colorful, but we anchored off in a secluded little spot behind some reefs and snuggled up next to some mangrove islands.  For the first time in a LONG time we got to go for a dive and catch dinner. We caught lobster, Keith saw a baby hogfish.  It was too small to go for, but was still exciting to see! The water felt great.

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Our anchorage was right next to this blimp station.  It was pretty neat watching it be brought down and float back up. It did crazy things to our radio reception and Kai wasn’t quite sure what he was supposed to do about it.  It tested his little watch-dogging skills.

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The main attraction, though, was searching for monkeys!  We heard that the little island we were anchored in front of was home to 400 monkeys.  Monkeys are on my bucket list so we went in search.  There is a mangrove lined creek that runs through the islands.  We turned off the motor and quietly paddled through the entire creek.  We didn’t hear, or see, or smell any monkeys. It was a neat trip though and saw lots of other wildlife- just no monkeys.

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^^Even Kai helped look for monkeys.

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The weather has been perfect for sailing along the coast.  Technically this is still all part of the Thorny Path, but our luck has been holding out and it has been easy sailing so we’ve kept moving. Next stop was Ponce.  We figured we would basically set up camp in Ponce as it had wonders such as malls, Wal-Marts, Sam’s Clubs, marine stores, US Post Offices and is in the land of Amazon delivery.   We’ve acquired quite a list of items that we needed to take care of.  We also expected to do some sight-seeing of Puerto Rico from there too.

We were at Ponce exactly 55 minutes.  That was long enough to discover that the anchorage is too crowded with moored boats to get into it, the Yacht Club no longer allows dinghies to access their dinghy dock-even for a fee, there was no WiFi access, and we would need a taxi everyday to get to all the shops if we did find a safe place to tie the dinghy (we didn’t consider the boat ramp a safe spot).  In an unusually decisive moment we turned around and kept sailing down the coast (after filling up on cheap diesel). Ponce would just have to be visited by rental car from somewhere else.

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^^Ponce, not so much our scene.

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That evening we slid into the Salinas anchorage just as the sun was getting low.  It was a much better spot than Ponce!  Pretty, cruiser friendly, calm anchorage, and manatees swimming by the boat.  We went to bed thinking it would be home for the next week.

That plan was thrown out the window before breakfast the next morning.  The weather report was that the glorious good weather we have been enjoying was going to be coming to a screeching halt soon.  And when it did, it was going to be ugly for a really long time.  Like weeks.  So basically the take away was get to where you wanted to be stuck.  While we had planned on staying in Salinas for a while, it sounded like we were going to be there for a LONG while.  The decision became Wal-marts and projects or beaches and swimming.  Hmmmm.  Beaches won.  I heard they have beautiful ones in the Spanish Virgin Islands!

We did a mad scramble of completing as much stuff as we could in one day.  Luckily everything just seemed to line up for us all day long.  We even ran across a cruiser with a car headed to the grocery store with extra room in their back seat for us.  We had planned on doing some major reprovisioning while in Puerto Rico.  Instead we just ran a cart as fast as we could down each isle and dumped stuff in so we could catch the same ride back.  I didn’t even have my list with me. Beans, tuna, toilet paper and off we go!  We actually did pretty good I think.  Auto-pilot and freezer parts, we decided, would have to wait for a while longer. As well as mail from the US.

And that concluded our speedy tour of Puerto Rico, we headed out at first light the next morning.  We will definitely have to come back and give this island some more time.  But, if we have learned anything, take the good weather when you have it!

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^^Did I mention the sailing has been glorious?!?

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So, our tour of the Spanish Virgin Islands is almost identical as Puerto Rico’s. I can’t even give it its own post. Instead of a week we blew through in 24 hours. We stopped in Vieques as we wanted to sneak in a quick dive. We tried three different anchorages but they were all too rolly so sailed straight to Culebra for the night.  This is where we were going to camp for the next few weeks.  Once we got there we realized that the only beach we would be able to access in the high winds was a preserve.  Which is great, but Culebra and the rest of the Spanish Virgin Islands have so many great diving spots and cove-y beaches. We knew we had to see them but it would be probably be best when the weather would be more conducive to enjoying them-or even getting to them!  Maybe we should have thought that out better before we left Salinas?  Anyway……off to St. Thomas! We will back-track when the weather clears. We are not skipping these islands.

Besides, St. Thomas has K-marts and US Post Offices.  Even better than that—friends!!!!

The Mona

This may sound stupid, but the first thing we did after finally getting our despacho was fall asleep, but we had an hour to leave the harbor and we were the first boat out of three that was planning on taking the same window to get cleared out so we had a few minutes.  Between my climbing fever and the bureaucracy stress we just needed a moment to regroup before starting out on what ended up being a long trip.  We left that afternoon, sailed through the night, sailed all the next day, sailed through the next night, and sailed through the next day until pulling into Boquerón Puerto Rico in the early evening.  The autopilot functioned for about one hour of that whole trip before breaking.  Having to hand steer made the trip seem to take foreeeeevvvveeeerrrrr!!!  The conditions weren’t bad, actually quite good, but parts still felt something like having strapped your home onto the back of a galloping horse. Keith took the majority of the watches and we disregarded a set watch schedule.  When ever one of us naturally woke up from a nap, we took over.  Most of my watches were short, an hour or two.  It was all either of us could do feeling so crappy.  All I wanted was to climb under a mountain of blankets and not come back out.

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As we passed near Samana Bay we kept a look out for whales.  This time of year humpback whales migrate and gather in the shallow waters off of the coast of DR and the mothers birth their calves here. I really didn’t want to spot any. Our boat insurance covers pretty much everything a normal policy covers except it has one very clear exclusion- damage by marine life (whales).  We figure there is good reason.  At first all we saw were fishing nets, in fact we found ourselves surrounded by a large drift net near Samana.  We had to cut the engine and float over it because we couldn’t see either edge of it. Then we heard Antares shout on the VHF- WHALES!!!!!  Off our starboard bow, probably close to a mile away, we saw them.  At first we thought we saw the whole whale breaching then realized it was only its tail.  That is when I really realized how massive they are!  We watched as the whales would lift their huge tails out and slap the surface causing a huge splash.  We also saw them spouting and even a few breaches.  My favorite was watching them roll over-and they did it over and over again.  One gigantic fin would slowly lift out of the water, arc, and splash down thunderously just as the second gigantic fin would lift out and follow.  They put on a non-stop show for about half an hour.  I hadn’t wanted to see them from our boat but it ended up being one of the most amazing experiences.  There we were sitting in our cockpit, in our pajamas, watching a few of only 15000 great humpback whales in the whole world frolic in front of us.  MAGNIFICENT!!!! I didn’t get photos, my camera doesn’t have a good zoom so all that would have come out is a lot of water and sky and a tiny splash.  Instead we just took in the moment.  We didn’t go any closer to them, they were longer and heftier than our boat and they were tossing there massive bodies about like a tantruming child, we stayed well out of their way!!!  It was an absolutely spectacular experience.

The second night of sailing was long and a little bouncy, but completely uneventful as we finally pulled away from the coast of the DR.  The morning found us at the edge of the Hourglass Shoals and the beginning of the Mona Passage.  I could write a paragraph or more on the hows and whys the Mona Passage can be one of the most treacherous passages in the Atlantic.  But we have had enough drama the past week so I will just write that it was flat calm-totally mellow.  Of course, that is specifically why we were so determined to make our weather window out of Luperon on time. The Mona did bring her own surprises though- more whales!!!  At first Keith thought he saw a big log in the water but it was too black and shiny.  When he realized it was a whale, he thought it was a baby humpback and started looking for mama!  It was a pilot whale (we think).  We passed within 20 feet!!!  I was down below and didn’t make it up in time to see it, but it wasn’t my only chance.  From there on, through the whole Mona Passage, we passed pods of them.  These ones were smaller than the boat and were just floating at the surface- not tossing their heft about like the giant humpbacks.  We still didn’t get closer on purpose.  It ended up being a great Mona Passage crossing.  We are becoming great believers in being very selective of weather windows!

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By late afternoon we had pulled into Boqueron, Puerto Rico and dropped hook in the company of our passage-making friends Antares and Blabber.  To clear in Customs we needed to make a phone call which would have entailed launching the dinghy and putting the outboard motor on it- they were both secured away for for the trip.  Instead we raised the Q-flag and were both asleep before dark.

In the morning we learned Antares and Blabber were going to take advantage of the favorable weather and keep going, they have already seen Puerto Rico. We have not and we need to take care of some details like repairing our autopilot and getting some mail shipped in from the the US so we said our “until we see you agains” over coffee aboard Blabber.  Then we went ashore and called Customs.  We had the bought the Customs sticker and signed up for the Small Vessel Reporting Program in the States so we expected to just have to make a phone call like when we cleared into Florida from the Bahamas.  That is what all the other US vessels seemed to do when they got here.  Instead we were told that someone would be out to the boat for an inspection within a few hours-just wait on the boat.  That was fine we needed some more time to relax and recover anyway.  We went back to the boat and waited.  And waited.  By 4:00 we got impatient and Keith went in and called again but there was no answer anywhere.  No one ever came out to our boat.  There was a concert going on on the beach in front of the anchorage at night.  We got to enjoy it from the cockpit but the smells of fried and sweet vendor food also floated our way.  If we had been free to, we would have gone ashore and joined in. But we were not free to go.  Again.  Seems to be our story lately!

Boqueron edit