Archive for March, 2010

Puerto Rico

March 26, 2010
Puerto Rico (posted from St Thomas, USVI)


Jackie, my brother Dave, and I arrived in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico the evening of Saturday, Feb. 20.  Puerto Rico is a US territory, so we had to check in with US Customs because we were arriving from the Bahamas, a foriegn country.  We called in Sunday morning and were instructed to show up at the Customs office first thing Monday morning.  The Customs people were very helpful and processed us through with no trouble.  The only hassle was that Customs was on a commercial dock and there was no ladder, so we had an interesting time getting in and out of the dinghy.

Cruising the Puerto Rico Coast

Once cleared in, we were free to begin our journey in which we would travel counterclockwise halfway around Puerto Rico and then to two of the Spanish Virgin Islands.








Once we cleared in, we headed south down the west coast of PR to Boqueron.  The trip took only a couple hours and soon we were anchored and exploring the town.  Boqueron has a very long beach on the south side of the bay and a small town center at the east end of the bay. Boqueron is a huge party town, but everybody leaves Sunday night and half the town is closed on Monday.  We spent a couple days getting supplies, doing laundry, and just hanging out in general.

La Paraguera

On Wednesday, Feb 24, we left Boqueron and motored around the southwest corner of Puerto Rico to La Parguera.  Much of La Parguera is protected by reefs and mangrove islands.  Many of the people there have built their houses on stilts over the water, giving the area the feeling of Venice.  Some of the houses are very small and plain, but some are very nice.

Houses on the water in La Parguera

More homes on the water in La Parguara

We took a dive boat out to snorkle on the reefs.  At the second stop our guide caught an octopus.  He had a thin rod with a hook on the end that he used to pick it up, then he grabbed the octopus and the octopus wrapped his legs around the guide’s arm while squirting ink into the water to try to hide.  Eventually the guide managed to peel the legs off of his arm and get the octopus into a mesh bag.

3 Hour Tour?

On Feb 26 we motored to Porta del Sol and anchored by Gilligan’s Island.  Evidently there was someone who spent a lot of time there who looked like Gilligan, and the name stuck.  The island is now a park.  People take a ferry out to the island and spend the day relaxing in the warm water of the lagoon.  You can even get food delivered by the ferry from the restaurant by the ferry dock in Porta del Sol.

Gilligan's Island

We snorkeled the reefs around the island.  They were fairly impressive in size, but there were no fish worth hunting.






On Sunday, Feb 28, we motored east from Gilligan’s Island to Ponce.  You may have noticed a pattern here in that we have had to motor almost the whole way around Puerto Rico due to light winds.  The typical trip is fighting easterly trade winds, so motoring in light winds is not a bad option.

Ponce is the second largest city in Puerto Rico and is named after Ponce de Leon. We anchored at the edge of the harbor between the Ponce Yacht Club and a boardwalk that features lots of vendors selling food and drink and some musical entertainment.  We were close enough that we could hear the music clearly. Luckily it was pretty good, because it went surprisingly late for a Sunday night.

This was the end of the line for my brother Dave.  He was running low on vacation time and had to catch a flight home to northeast Ohio.  We managed to get him a cab the next day and he had a relatively uneventful trip.

One of the attractions to Ponce was the availability of large stores.  There was a warehouse store within walking distance of the boat that had all kinds of provisions for reasonable prices.  We visited them a couple times.  There was also a Walmart and mainland US-style mall that we had to visit.  We did spend some time doing the tourist thing.  We visited the old city and wandered around for a while.  We took a tour of the local museum and our guide was very informative and entertaining.  Then we took a bus tour, but Jackie and I were the only passengers.  We sat in the front seat and had the undivided attention of the guide.  He was a hoot!  He gave a very good tour and he seemed to know everyone who was walking by on the sidewalks.

Isla Caja de Muertos

On March 3 we left Ponce and motorsailed to Isla Caja de Muertos, a quiet little island off the south coast that is all national park.  For those of you who are Spanish-challenged, “Caja” is “box” and “muertos is “dead”, so it’s Box of the Dead Island, a.k.a., Coffin Island.  Someone thought the island looked like a coffin, but no one I know sees the resemblence.

Coffin Island, looking south

We visited park headquarters, but the two rangers only spoke Spanish.  We did some swimming off the boat.  Later Sititonka arrived in the anchorage.  We had met them on the bus trip back from Barreterre, Long Island.

Lighthouse, Coffin Island

The next morning we got up early and climbed the long hill up to the lighthouse.  It was built by the Spanish in 1887.  It looks a bit rough, but is still in use today.  It affords a great view of the entire island.

Playa Salinas

Once we recovered from our climb up to the lighthouse, we set out motoring for Playa Salinas, farther east on the mainland.  We started out motoring, but the wind started to cooperate, so we raised the sails and shut off the motor.  We knew there would be a lot of boats in the bay, so we were running the watermaker to try to fill the tanks before we got there.  When we shut the engine off we heard the watermaker pump making strange noises.  I spent a lot of time checking it out and found that we had sucked a plastic bag into the water intake.  It looked like we had damaged the water pump, so I stopped working on it.  We found out a few days later that it was OK.

Playa Salinas

The anchorage was crowded and it took us three tries before we anchored in a spot that was reasonably close to town, but not too close to any other boats.  The marina is pretty cruiser friendly.  The staff is very helpful and they let you use their dinghy dock and fill your water jugs for free.  They also have a small laundry, an open-air bar, and a regular restaurant.  There are a few restaurants and a sailmaker just outside the marina.  La Barkita provides internet service if you make a purchase.

La Barkita - food, internet, and beer

The town of Salinas is about a mile away and has a regular town square and a variety of shops.  It can be a long walk in the hot sun.

Typical narrow street in Old San Juan

While in Salinas we took a short tourist break and did an overnight trip to San Juan, about an hour away on the north coast.  We stayed in a nice little hotel/B&B just off the beach in the resort area.  We spent most of a day walking around Old San Juan and El Morro, the fort that protects San Juan harbor.  The fort started as a tower built by the Spanish in 1539 and was expanded many times.

El Morro and graveyard. San Juan

Of course, no trip to a big city is complete without visiting stores in search of the things you can’t find in the little towns and villages where we usually anchor.  We found a Marshalls, a West Marine, and a nice fabric store where we got some inexpensive sunbrella fabric for boat projects.


Puerto Patillas

March 14, we motored to Puerto Patillas.  It is just a little bay near the east end of Puerto Rico that would be our jump off point for Vieques, one of the Spanis Virgin Islands.  We anchored behind a little reef with Reach.  We were the only cruising boats in the bay, but there were swarms of jet skis blasting around.  Mark and I explored the reef, which was interesting, but the water was cloudy and not many fish of note.  A little later the catamaran Pukeri sailed in. We first saw them in Ponce, then we anchored by them in Salinas.  We’ve never actually met them, but we wave to each other all the time.

Next, Spanish Virgin Islands

Going For It!

March 13, 2010

 Thompson Bay, Long Island, Bahamas to Mayaguez, PR

(posted from Playa Salinas, PR)

Up until now we have spent all our time on the east coast and in the Bahamas, but our goal is to get south of the hurricane zone before June 1.  That requires sailing a considerable distance eastward against the tradewinds to St. Martin or Anguilla and then south through the Leeward and Windward Islands to Grenada.  Because of its difficulty, the trip from the Bahamas to St. Martin is commonly referred to among cruisers as “The Thorny Path”.  There is even a book written about tactics for making this trip.

The typical trip comprises short hops that take advantage of small weather windows and breezes caused temperature differences between the sea and land at night near various islands that negate or reduce the trades.  Cruisers pick a jump off point in the SE Bahamas and sail to Mayaguana, Turks and Caicos, and down to the Dominican Republic.  Then along the north coast of the Dominican Republic, across the Mona Passage, and along the south coast of Puerto Rico.  The jumps through the Virgin Islands are still to weather, but they tend to be short. This whole process can easily take a month.

This year the weather has been different.  There have been frequent fronts that have passed down through the Bahamas and not dissipated until they have passed Puerto Rico.  These fronts replace the easterly trade winds with wind out of the West and North – just what one needs to sail to the Caribbean without any thorns. But even a favorable forecast does not garuntee a good passage. We recently met a couple who spent five days getting from Georgetown, Bahamas to Mayaguez because of weather that didn’t cooperate as expected.

Still, we realized this weather pattern was continuing, so we contacted my brother Dave and asked if he wanted to come down for a little sail.  He found some cheap airfare and flew to the Bahamas.  He arrived on Sunday, Feb. 14, just ahead of a front.

We had been watching the forecast and discussing the front with our weather router. This looked like a good one.  He had us wait until Tuesday morning, then off we went.  The sky was overcast and remained so for most of the rest of the trip, but that goes with the weather we needed. 

We left Thompson Bay, Long Island with the wind on the nose. We had to motor west through the Comer Channel to get around the shallows at the bottom end of Long Island, then we turned south to get around the island before we could turn southeast.  Once clear we set a course that would take us just north of the last of the Bahamas and north of Turks and Caicos.  We would stay on this course until we reached 21 degrees N, 86 degrees W, then we would turn south for Puerto Rico.

The winds were light once we cleared the Comer Channel, so we motored until the afternoon of Feb. 17.  After that they picked up and stayed in the mid- to upper-teens out of the northwest, which put them aft of the beam where they would push us along.  This lasted for a while, then we were able to adjust our course and play a wind shift that put the breeze more on the beam – Compass Rose’s favorite direction.  The seas varied through the trip and reached eleven feet at times.  Luckily, they were rollers and came mostly from behind the beam, so we rode with them rather than crashing into them.

We reached out turning point about the time the wind shifted from NW to NE and Compass Rose just kept rolling along.  Our weather router suggested this point because he expected the wind shift and also hoped to minimize the time we would spend passing through squalls to the south.  It also had the benefit of avoiding crossing the Mona Passage between Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico – a typically unsettled body of water.

Dave, Jackie, and I were so accustomed to the routine by now that I broke out the fishing gear and soon caught a 2 1/2 foot Wahoo.  We got him aboard despite the 10 ft swells, but cleaning him on the back deck took about 2 hours because the boat was bouncing around so much.

Big Wahoo - easier to catch than to filet on a pitching boat

We finally got the fish cleaned, the gear stowed, and settled in for the run for Mayaguez, PR.  Compass Rose rolled on like a train.  Jackie had the 3AM to 6AM watch.  She new the seas were big, but then the sun came up and she could actually see how big they were.  I think she liked it better when it was dark.

She had a bit of a surprise when she reached out of the cockpit one night to quiet a flapping line.  It turned out the “line” was a flying fish, probably a Ballyhoo, that landed on deck.

We were running about two hours behind Reach as we neared Puerto Rico.  They hit a little rain, but all we got were some sprinkles.  Evidently the squalls had dissipated.  We slid down the west coast of Puerto Rico as the sun went down. 
Reach was waiting in Mayaguez Harbor when we arrived.  We found the red and green channel markers, but the rest of the harbor was a random array of shore lights.  Looking out to sea, the only lights Mark and Michelle could see were the two channel lights and our tricolor, so they were able to guide us in their direction.

We anchored in Mayaguez Harbor having traveled over 600 miles about 4 1/2 days after leaving the Bahamas.  Except for a few hours at the beginning of the trip, we always had the wind on the beam or aft, and we never had any severe weather.  This passage was like hitting a grand slam home run in the bottom of the ninth with two outs to win the game.

Next: Cruising Puerto Rico