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!!!!

George Town to Luperon

The sail from George Town to Luperon, to wrap it up in a nutshell, was absolutely splendid!

The day before we left we finished up our final errands, re-checked the checklist, reviewed the weather and charts, and tried to rest as much as possible.  In the afternoon we went to the beach and had a bonfire and cooked hotdogs with our friend Craig.  We’ve shared more harbors than not with him since we crossed to the Bahamas together.  Besides sharing anchorages, diving, hiking, and exploring the islands together he has made our cruising experience so much richer and we are going to miss him.  We’ve shared more meals together than we could ever count so realizing that this one was the last we would be sharing for at least a little while was hard to say the least.  It seemed unreal that our bows would be pointed in different directions the next day.

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The morning of departure we pulled anchor by 7am, the seas were still in the process of coming down from the past two weeks of wind but they were comfortable and mellowed quickly.  We were even able to turn off the motor and just sail for a few hours in the morning. This relieved us some of our fuel consumption concerns.  By mid day we rounded the northern tip of Long Island and sadly waived goodbye to Craig as he headed off to Conception Island.  After rounding the tip, the wind, though very light, had not shifted enough yet to give us a push.  Calculating with our current speed we were not expecting to make it to Luperon until Sunday.

By sun set we were motor sailing again.  There were several boats going the same direction and we wished each other well over the radio. By dark the seas were calm, the wind was just strong enough to keep the sails filled and sometimes even give us a push, the stars were unbelievably bright.  It was a beautiful sail.

In the morning we were still in sight of the two boats Blabber and Antares (the fun Dutch boats we met at the beach Christmas dinner at Staniel).  Another boat, Abaco, (also met them at the same time)was also sailing the same route, but they sailed much faster than us and had passed us in the night.  There were a few other boats too but they were stopping in the Turks and Caicos to wait out the approaching cold front.  We had gotten enough speed with the north wind that we were now calculating that we might be able to get in by Saturday night.

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The following day and night were simply delightful. Being out on the water, removed from everything and all distractions, brings a feeling of contentment that I have yet to find another way to achieve.

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On the third day, when I went down below to sleep and kept hearing a noise-like wind chimes- but under water. I called Keith down, but we couldn’t find the noise.  We thought it might just be some slack in the steering system, but we had never heard the noise before.  I tried to lie down again, but couldn’t put aside the new noise that was coming from seemingly below me.  Keith and I searched again, pulling up the bed and looking in the bilge.  I kept saying it’s like it is something under the boat.  Keith went outside and looked over the stern and immediately solved the mystery.  We were dragging a long line with two Styrofoam buoys-they were causing the “wind chime” sound against the hull.  We immediately cut the engine.  The line thankfully had not gotten wrapped in the prop and we wanted to keep it that way!  We couldn’t free the mess from the boat so we took down the sails and Keith put on his swimsuit.  He was able to easily untangle the lines from the rudder.  He said the water was so much warmer than the Bahamas.  We were back underway within minutes of finding the line and it caused no harm but we didn’t overlook how serious the situation could have been.  That line in the prop could have done serious damage and we were still 95 miles from the coast.  I am really glad we were not trying sail that last bit in the light winds- it might have taken longer than we had before the cold front would have caught up with us.

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Besides the mid-passage swim the rest of the trip was uneventful. For what we expected to be some of the roughest and most difficult passage making of our entire planned cruise we couldn’t believe how lucky we were.  Not only was the wind not too strong, we were not beating into it! It was out of the north almost the entire trip making it so easy.  We also never got caught by any opposing current, or at least any strong enough to note. We’ve been bracing ourselves for this passage for years, since we planned this cruise, and in the end it turned out to be some of the best sailing/motor sailing we’ve had.  We found no thorns on this thorny path. We made great time and even had to slow down a little on the third night to not arrive in the dark.

On Saturday morning we watched the sun rise over the mountains of Hispaniola.  I knew there would be mountains, but couldn’t quite imagine them after all the flat little islands of the Bahamas.  They were HUGE, and so green.  You could smell the dirt and trees miles before we got close to the shore. As we got closer and the light brighter, what was one mountain came into focus as layers of mountains.  Another one appearing behind the next. I may just remember the morning we sailed into Luperon forever. It was breathtaking and a stunning way to end an unexpectedly peaceful passage.

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Setting Sail

Butterflies in my tummy.

It looks like Wednesday might be the day we set sail to the Dominican Republic.  “Thorny Path” here we come.  This next leg of our trip has earned it’s name from the fact that it is both against the current and against the trade winds. Oh fun.

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The plan, until very recently, like hours ago, had been to follow the “bible” written by Bruce Van Sant to the tee.  He breaks this potentially difficult route down into short island hops and uses the interaction between land and water to give the best chance against the trades.  Essentially taking the thorns out. That sounded great to us.  So what changed? To our surprise, we potentially have a weather window that will almost completely squelch the trade winds all together for the entire region  and do so for several days-very much a rare event. Thus, making it possible to hopefully make the run in one big go.  As much as I would like to slowly cruise through the last few Bahamian Islands this mild weather is going to be followed by another mighty cold front and we don’t want to wait it out at one of these smaller islands along the way as most of the anchorages are not that comfortable and some would be dangerous in a strong West wind.  That, and we definitely don’t want to wait out another front here in George Town.  So……a bunch of short hops just turned into a 400 mile run from George Town to Luperon.

Without wind, this is expected to be a mild motoring trip.  At least we think there will be too little wind to sail.  I will happily take no wind over wind on the nose.  The big obstacle with this plan was fuel.  We could stop into the last tiny Bahamian Island of Mayaguana for fuel but the chance of them not having it especially after the weather we have had the last few weeks was a real concern and we don’t want to go to the Turks and Caicos just for fuel (out of the way, expensive to clear in and out, time delay, and potential difficulties with the dog clearances).  This left Keith doing all kinds of calculations today with how much diesel we carry onboard vs. how much we expect to burn.  Our tank holds 60 gallons and we carry 25 on deck in cans.  This wasn’t enough to safely count on making the entire run. He decided to use two of our gasoline cans for diesel giving us another 10 gallons.  Then another boat who had two cans that they have been carrying around for the last four years-since before they crossed the Atlantic-offered up their unused cans which gave us another 6 gallons.  Our friend Craig also gave up two unused gas cans adding another 10 gallons. People always ask us why we have so many diesel cans on deck—I never thought we’d be adding more!  We are feeling good that we have enough to get there and a days worth of spare and are feeling thankful for the generosity.

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I’d like to write that excitement and anticipation were my only emotions right now, but that would be ridiculous.  I am definitely feeling anxious too.  This is by far the longest sail we will have ever done. We are only 320 miles away from where we started from in Florida, so, yeah, 400 miles is a big jump for us. Actually it is 396- but lets just round up. Perhaps it is also the fact that it is STILL blowing stink and I am having a hard time envisioning still waters ahead.  I wouldn’t want to be out there in this weather right now.  A lot of it is that from this step on everything is new and we are quite accustomed to sailing in familiar waters.  Don’t get me wrong, we are both very ready to move along—it is time, but the butterflies in my tummy are still there.

When I am nervous I make lists and compile “facts”.  It’s just what I do. Keith just shakes his head at me and does something productive like solve our fuel problem. I have a pile of notebook sheets and a stubby pencil next to me.  I calculated exactly where we would be if we averaged 3 knots (God, please, no), 4 knots, 5 knots, and 6 knots (hey, I can dream).  I then made a chart of the forecasts for each of those areas for each of the different time frames.  Then I did it three more times using each different weather model.  I know–I can overthink things.  But no matter which scenario I look at, it should be a mellow trip. That is if the weathermen aren’t telling lies. Guess we will find out soon enough.  I also made a Spanish/English cheat-sheet of all of our boat and personal information that we need to clear customs and immigration.  It will be the first time for us in a Spanish speaking country and I am assuming, mild trip or not, we are going to be tired when we arrive.  We don’t speak Spanish (yet) and we might need a little extra help on the other end, but really looking forward to the challenge.

Waterfalls, motorcycle riding, and fresh fruit…..we  are coming for you!

**edit- since the time of writing this and posting this- I am feeling much calmer about our plans.  We head out in the morning and are feeling good!  We will see you in a couple days!