Saturday, April 23, 2016

Off to the Spanish Virgin Islands

Dinghy Dock Restaurant, Culebra.  Underwear as an outboard cover.  Let the quirkiness begin...

Puerto Rico is growing on us.  It's one of the bigger islands in the Caribbean with a mountainous interior (and a beautiful coastline with wonderful views of the ocean), much like the Dominican Republic.  I've been surprised by the number of resorts on the south side of the island including Cabo Rojo, Gilligan's and Punta Tuna.  Too bad we didn't plan on more friends and family visiting.  Of course, we never know until we arrive.  We hadn't planned on being here this long!

The strong easterly trade winds makes slow going.  When a weather window of calm winds arrives, we decide to move quickly.  (Next time we'll stop in Salinas then take a car back to Ponce, spend more time at Muertos, visit the east coast and stop at the island of Vieques.  Perhaps we could haul out here one hurricane season, just for fun.  Just throwing it out there, Captain!). We've been told and I now understand why, many cruise the area from PR, through the Virgins and back.  Why not?

Caja de Muertos with a view of mainland PR
Caja de Muertos:  With only 8 miles to cover, we casually check out of the marina, wave to our friends on sv Moorhame and motor over to Caja de Muertos at 8:30 am.  It's a nice day on the water and we wonder why we didn't get up earlier to cover some miles.  However, we're rewarded with shallow clear waters and a mooring ball when we arrive.  A single powerboat is anchored just off the beach.  After a short nap, I'm in the water to scrape off the 1/4" of growth since Samana.  (The circular rust colored discs are new.  Must be from PR).  The Captain hates taking the dinghy off the davits when we're only staying one night, so we didn't get to explore the lighthouse or the snorkel park on the other side of the island.  The only other people we see is a park ranger walking back up the dock after an evening swim.  We're in bed early and up by 3:00 am.

This has to be a typo in the Offshore Forecast, Caribbean AMZ023:  "WED...E WINDS 5 TO 10 KT. SEAS 3 TO 4 FT."

Nope!  "E bound Mona-PR:  Optimum motor travel Tue12-Wed13 under very light wind."

I feel a run to Culebra coming on...

Stats:  Total time 1:35, avg speed 4.9 kts, total mileage 7.8 nm.  2-engine motor.

Passing Cayo Barco, Salinas & the wetlands national park. Sunrise through the rain showers over the VI's, 100 miles ahead.

Anchored at the base of the mountains with Moorahme in Patillas
Patillas:  As we slide off the mooring ball at 3:00 am, Moorahme hails us on the radio to say good morning then drops in behind us.  It turns out the lights I see on the horizon will be just before Patillas at the refinery.  Moorahme passes us about 7:00 am and drops anchor just ahead of us.  Our first drop drags, so we head over towards a known sandy area.  It's mostly occupied so we wiggle our way into the line.  ("Is that sv Encore?")  Without a dinghy or kayak in the water to explore, I head in for a nap.

Stats:  Total time 6:36, avg speed 5.0 kts, total mileage 32.7 nm.  2-engine motor.

Looks line rain.
Enjoyed the radar while we had it :-(
We contemplated an overnight from Patillas to Culebra but threatening storms and the question of "why?", when it is forecast to be 5-10 kts & 3-4 ft seas the next day.  The skies over the island get blacker and the San Juan radar is out.  Contrary to the weather systems in Ponce, this one may hop offshore.  The Captain jumps in to dive the anchor and finds that instead of the reported mud, we are surrounded by sea grass so thick, he had trouble finding the anchor.  Moorahme has moved closer and 3 more catamarans have shown up, anchoring closer than we like with a half buried anchor and a storm brewing.  The temperature drops as I close hatches and commence some pasta marinara with bell pepper & sausage.  

I coax The Captain into raising the genoa for awhile, even if it's just as a sunshade

The possibility of squalls later in the day has us pulling up anchor for a tentative destination of Cayo Santiago at 5:30 am.  As we round the SE corner of PR, we decide to continue on for Culebra.  It's a beautiful day.  It's the nicest day we've had on the water since, since Rum to Mayaguana?  We had following seas then.  Sailing would be nice, but not bashing into a head wind & short period waves is nice.  (The Captain is already contemplating moving on to St. Thomas before this winds kick up again.)  I get a nap in our berth while underway and heat up some leftover pasta.  There are lots of masts in sight.  Everyone is on the move.  The fisherman's floats made out of plastic jugs turn into the small clear plastic water bottles, a little hard to spot.

We don't eat the reef Barracuda
Hey, that was one of my good lure's from WalMart!

As we cross the Vieques Sound, FISH ON!  He isn't really fighting, more like we're dragging him behind us.  As we reel him in, we realize a) it's a barracuda, so we'll throw him back and b) he has teeth marks on him.  The Captain briefly reels him back out, hoping for some entertainment, I guess.  Then releases the poor guy back to the sea.  The line & lure is set up again and upon reeling it in before entering Culebra's waters, The Captain finds something took the hook and most of the skirt from his heavy duty lure.  There's something big out there, and we're simply helping him catch his lunch!

Just after 1:00 pm the wind becomes a steady 7 kts off our beam from the north, so The Captain reluctantly unfurls the genoa.  We're SAAAAILING!  (Kelly Nicole's texts that they are waving from the Culebrita lighthouse.  LOL)

A Culebra, PR sunrise

Culebra, baby!  We've broken free of mainland Puerto Rico.  We're also at the part of our journey where we can see the next island from our departure point.  Hello, Saint Thomas USVI!  I see you over there :-) After making the required stops at recommended eating establishments, we're hoping to cross before our weather window goes away.  If not, this isn't a bad place to hang out.

Stats:  Total time 9:07, avg speed 5.5 kts, total mileage 50.0 nm.  Motor 2-engine, ocassional genoa.  Calm winds 0-8 kts, & 1-2 ft seas.

Zaco's Tacos.  Pulled pork nachos.  YUM!  It's been a long time since I got some decent nachos.  I suspect the Chef is from TX

Traveling is not for everyone.  I'm still a child of the US.  Should there be a chicken wandering around the restaurant?  Do I care?  Is there a USDA inspector who gets paid a nice salary and isn't concerned?  Too many questions.

Culebra airport, facing out into the bay where we're anchored

s/v Encore

After hanging out laundry to dry, we walked 2 miles to Flamenco Beach (named one of the most beautiful in the world).  We caught up with sv Encore on the way, then stopped for refreshments (frappucino for me, Encore two-fisting beef empanadas above!), before The Captain and I did a quick snorkel to cool off.  Sadly, the reef here doesn't look great.  A hot walk back into town was rewarded with a/c and lunch at Heather's Pizza.  Good day!

I had my first Bushwhacker at Heather's.  It was a creamy, chocolatey milkshake full of booze.  It originated in St. Thomas, but I have the best one in Culebra.  Recipe from the Drinking Man's Guide to the BVI, in a blender:
      • 1 part Kahlua
      • 1 part Bailey's Irish Cream
      • 1 part Amaretto
      • 1 part white rum
      • 1 part coconut rum
      • 1 part vodka
      • 1 generous squirt of Hershey's chocolate syrup
      • Ice
      • Freshly grated nutmeg

The anchorage is crowded with boats stopping over on the way north and south.  Time to go.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Puerto Rico, Part Dos (Ponce)

Ponce Yacht & Fishing Club

Ponce:  We pull in to the Ponce marina for a week.  We need to get a few packages, do taxes, do some provisioning and take the cat to the vet.  The Captain would like to top batteries, wash the boat, flush & top the water tanks, and do some chores.  Besides, their weekly rate is $4.50/ft or $23/day.  Can't beat that.

Stats:  Total time 3:41, avg speed 4.7 kts, total mileage 17.2 miles.  2-engine motor.  Total mileage to date:  2682 nm.  Straight line distance from Annapolis:  1360 nm

Beautiful sunrises and sunsets all week
I had been chatting with the crew of sv Orion about meeting-up while they were at the same marina for some maintenance.  When she saw our FB "check in" at the marina, she and her husband found our boat (in their old slip), tracked me back to the laundry, then went back to retrieve The Captain and whisked him off to Walgreens to get the passport photo he needed.  Her husband even swapped shirts with The Captain when they told him he couldn't wear stripes.  LOL.  We finally get to sit down, have some drinks and food, and pick their brains about our route to Culebra, their home port.  It's wonderful when your "virtual friends" become real people!

Tight fit and no dock hands.  Some days we look like we know what we're doing.

The bicycles are deployed the next morning and we head toward the mall.  (After living on a boat for a year, visiting the mall is our idea of a vacation.  Fun to visit.  Don't want to stay).  A 2 mile ride became 4 as we attempt to take the back roads.  We hit Sports Authority, PF Changs, Office Max and the grocery store.

Bicycles are out!
PF Changs.  YUM!
Kelly Nicole arrives and anchors out.  They dinghy in for drinks and we head to the Malecon at the La Guancha for dinner.  There isn't much for the vegetarians and celiac to eat here.  It is mostly bar food that is fried or pastry and stuffed with meat.  There isn't just one band but four!  The crowd at each varies from young to old, dancing or clapping and singing along. They love their music.

Crank up some J Lo's "Let's Get Loud" and you're where we're at.  We can hear the music at the boat.

Not a lot for vegetarians or celiacs

San Juan:  We haven't stopped to enjoy Puerto Rico like we should.  The strong trade winds have kept us moving when possible.  The Easter holiday kept us away from the more crowded town anchorages.  It's also a bigger island than we realized and we have a lot of ground to cover on the way to the Virgin Islands.  However, our side trip to San Juan turned out to be just the ticket.  The Captain needed to renew his passport and the First Mate needed to renew her GOES.  We were dreading this errand and it started off with the rental car company saying we'd have to take a cab over instead of them picking us up.  Then the cab was late.  Then the iPhone map tried to send us the wrong direction ("I'm pretty sure San Juan is north of here...")

While driving to San Juan, I don't fully appreciate the mountain views because I'm making phone calls.  I do glance up at one point and realize I should be taking pictures.  I can't explain it, but I like San Juan.  It is a great blend of two cultures.  You have your choice between Taco Maker and Subway.  More people are willing to speak English here and my Spanglish is in full force without even thinking about it.  One cashier at a restaurant even apologizes for greeting me in Spanish.  "I was going to try!"  "Go ahead."  "Diet Coke, por favor."  She laughs.  We've expanded from ordering food to asking questions, as long as the answer is si, no, or pointing--then we're lost again!  They speak faster here than in Luperon.

A little pilgrimage to the mother ship. Purchase exceeded rewards coupons :-0
Everything goes like clockwork.  The Captain gets into the downtown passport office early, we have brunch across the street, then off to see if I can get into my appointment at the airport early (after an hour wait, I got in an hour early), then West Marine, back to pick up the Captain's passport, late lunch and back towards Ponce.  Perfect--until we almost run out of gas.  Damned if we can find a gas station between San Juan and Ponce.  "Use your iPhone to find me a gas station."  "Are you kidding?  This thing doesn't know where Ponce is?!"  (We found one.  It was a close call.)  The day went so well, that The Captain swings by Starbucks on the way back so the First Mate can buy more tea, Sears for a new battery charger, then a quick stop at Pueblo grocery to start reprovisioning (Gluten-free crackers.  Phew!  Another close call).

Starbucks.  Stocked up on tea and replaced my broken mug.  What a treat.
The next morning, we run a few more errands before returning the rental car and we get truly lost.  None of the map apps work in Ponce.  You type in WalMart, you end up at Ikea.  You type in Home Depot, you end up at WalMart.  You type in McDonalds--well, there's a McDonald's on every corner so that didn't count.  Weird.

McDonald's.  We can do this!
McDonalds.  At least the menu looks familiar but without the familiar meals number's that The Captain is used to.  I got this.  "Double cheeseburger no pan, McPapas y Cafe fria, no azucar."  She didn't understand.  She didn't speak English.  Someone stepped in to translate.  Apparently, I lost her with no bread & no sugar.  I didn't get an ice coffee but a frappe with caramel instead.  It was yummy.

New chain & rope rode

A few chores:
Look who got more new chain & rode!  The Captain added 70 ft of new chain to the 60 ft of chain we purchased in Annapolis (taking off the old section).  He also added 100 ft of 5/8 nylon rode.  Why?  Once we're past the mooring balls in the Virgin Islands, the anchorages are going to start getting deeper, like 20-30 ft!  So a 5:1 scope would be 30 x 5 = 150 ft, but we prefer 7:1 so that's 210 ft!  That's the kind of math that we usually avoid on Odin.  We're a catamaran!  Drive it up on the beach ;-) OK, we say that, but we've never done it--yet.

Changing the starboard stator

One of the orders that gets screwed up is parts for our main Yamaha engines (rectifier NOT in stock so they were holding the whole order.  Boo!).  The Captain replaces the starboard stator in hopes of fixing our charging issues.  "Not a job for amateurs."

Written directions don't help in Ponce
We rent a car for a second day to take the cat to the vet for shots.  We drive around for an hour before we finally find it, partly because they moved and neglected to mention it.  Friendly locals have us follow them to the wrong vet.  We try to call but we are the first appointment of the day.  The staff doesn't speak English and the English-speaking Vet is from out of town so she doesn't know where we are.  On the way out, they give us written directions to pick up Princess Amelia's prescription. We still got lost...  Did I mention the crazy drivers?  They swerve out of their lane a lot and pass you on the left AND right when you didn’t go through an intersection fast enough.  Four way stops are a test in who is bolder/in more of a hurry.  Next time we'll take a cab.

The Captain catches a cold (aka the The Masters is on) so we stay a few extra days aka "waiting for the forecast trade winds to abate."

The cats of Ponce Yacht & Fishing Club.

They've been fixed and a woman comes to feed them

Whoops.  That's not a cat.  This pic was for The Captain.  "Aren't you going to take a picture of THAT?!"

Friday, April 8, 2016

Puerto Rico, part 1

A south coast beach, inside the reef.
Puerto Real:  After anchoring in Puerto Real, we head in to find a hot meal we didn't have to cook. We wander around town looking for a restaurant, grocery or the bakery our friend's frequented.  All we come up with is a locked marina restaurant and some very dark bars which resulted in stares when we slowed.  Dejected, we return to the boat.  The marina employee doesn't speak English and our attempts at communicating only resulted in more rapid fire Spanish.  A phone call to Jose, the marina manager (who speaks excellent English), gets us a rental car reservation for the next day.

The next morning with our "Spanish for Cruisers" and some pantomiming, we are handed the phone and Jose explains the car is $35/day and it is $10/person/day to use the marina ($20 for use of the dinghy dock, laundry, showers).  We are more than willing to pay for marina services when we are anchored out, but after purchasing fuel and renting a car this seemed excessive for what this tiny marina has to offer.  One washer/dryer--outside.  Showers next to the fish processing building.  No "actual" dinghy dock.  (We had to scramble up a wall.)  We'll be departing as soon as we do some provisioning!

The roads in Puerto Rico are much better than the Dominican, but the drivers are still crazy (or maybe we aren't used to driving anymore).  We quickly find the WalMart, which has a FULL parking lot on a Wednesday morning.  We score several of the DVD's we were planning on ordering, replacement iphone/iPad cords and a new wireless keyboard.  I realize there is a grocery section but I've reached my overload and we decide to bolt.  As usual at WalMart, the lines couldn't be any longer, but our cashier makes me smile when he looks up holding Game of Thrones season 5, saying in English "I love this show!" 

We need a form notarized and don't have any luck at the local bank, but they give us excellent directions to a lawyer (in a strip mall sandwiched between the condom store and night club).  Surprisingly my "Hola.  Habla Ingles?" results in the gentleman standing behind his receptionist to say, "Hello, what can I help you with?"  He promptly notarizes the form, charges us $35 and gives us directions to the nearest mailbox.  Shockingly, those directions were also excellent and we're off to PetSmart.  Daddy takes over and picks out assorted food and Greenies while I grab litter pan pellets & pee pads.  We're out of there in record time for $100.  Yikes!  Anybody want a "free" cat?

These pics were taken to torture out vegetarian friends who went to the "wrong" grocery store & ran out of veggies.

Seriously, veggies without having to make a second stop at the vegetable stand!

Hey Paul, two kinds of asparagus

and two kinds of cauliflower!

We attempt googling and texting friends to find best grocery store in Mayaguez (data access on my phone!  Yeah!).  With conflicting info and running out of steam, we opt for the Pueblo grocery next to the PetSmart.  Score!  They have almost everything on our list and we happily bolt back to the marina in time for showers & laundry before dark.

Trip #1 to the boat! (I even stayed on the dock.)  I keep forgetting, just because you have a car doesn't mean it magically transports itself to the boat!  That's The Captain's, "You are a crazy woman" face...

A Tu Gusto at Puerto Real marina.  Smashed plaintains with cheese & salsa while waiting on laundry.  YUM!

Our morning sail to Cabo Rojo
Anchored off the lighthouse
Cabo Rojo:  We depart Puerto Real at sunrise for a short hop to Cabo Rojo lighthouse anchorage (skipping the party cove in Boqueron).  We tow the dinghy since it is a short hop and regret it as we round Punta Aguila to tuck into Bahia Salinas.  We arrive before the trade winds are supposed to kick but realize PocketGrib and Windfinder woefully underestimate the winds on the south coast of Puerto Rico (15-20 kts on Offshore report vs 10 kts).  It turns out that not only do the trade winds kick up the waves after 9:00 am, but they are almost always short period (less than 8 sec, a more comfortable ride), so even 3-4 ft waves are choppy--another technical sailing term and more than we like to see when towing the dink. 

Quiz:  Are we dragging?!
This is also our first "shallower than charted" experience!  With a Simrad chartplotter with Navionics Gold, iPad Garmin BlueCharts combined with Active Captain and a guidebook, we're usually pretty comfortable coming into an anchorage.  However, while trying to "tuck up under the lighthouse" (VanSant) we were suddenly in 7 ft of water, where there should be 12!  Then there was the whole, "Are we dragging" thing above.  Weird.  NEXT!

Stats:  Total time 1:57, avg speed 5.2 kts, total mileage 10.1, motor sailed.

Our Garmin plotted course from

Hand drawn VanSant chart

La Parguera/Bahia Montalva:  After being pinned down for 2 nights (morning winds were 15-20 kts before sunrise!), we bolt around the point before sunrise.  We only need to cover 5 miles to be behind the reef in protected waters for the 15 nm leg, but the winds pick up to 20 gust to 30 as a small squall passed over head.  We actually consider turning back, but after consulting the weather radar app, we continue making decent head way to the short cut depicted in the VanSant book.  (Ah, weather radar, how I've missed you!)  Our friends on Kelly Nicole are texting current conditions from the far side of the bay.  As we turn behind the second reef, the winds let up and the sky turns blue.  Ahead of us, we can see the Cayo Enrique anchorage is full of sportfish on the moorings, anchored and rafted up.  Yikes!  The inner anchorage, closer to town, is supposed to be LOUD, and of course, we've shown up on a holiday weekend.  We proceed across to the quieter Bahia Montalva and drop in front of Kelly Nicole.  We neglect to notice the boat ramp off our port side.  Luckily, after departing in the morning, the local jet skis and power boats disappear for the day and reappear at sunset.  At least we made a nice slalom course for them. 

The sportfish fleet taking up the mooring field.  Supposedly, they never move.
Easter morning did not deter the jet skis
It is too windy to do much kayaking, snorkeling, etc but we make it over to Kelly Nicole for happy hour.  There was Dewar’s involved and Spyro Gyra.  That’s all I have to say about that.  We are RIGHT NEXT to the Bahia Fosforesente (phosporescent bay) and neglect to dinghy over.  Next time. 

Stats:  Total time 3:06, avg speed 5.0 kts, total mileage 15.4 nm, motored 2 engines.  

Sailing on the south coast of PR.  Into the sun & waves.  Makes my corneas hurt...

The varied coast of PR and a weather balloon?

The Captain exploring Gilligan's Island

Gilligan's Island/Cayo Aurora:  After 3 days in La Parguera/Montalva, we have a weather window to move the 12 miles to Gilligan's Island.  Yep, that's really what they call it.  (Actually the locals call it Guilligans.)  We depart before sunrise, pulling up anchor ahead of Kelly Nicole.  We elect to go back out and around the reef instead of cutting through.  As we turn back east, we see the lights of Kelly Nicole headed through the reef.  They lifted anchor 15 min behind us and are suddenly in front of us.  Dang it!  We follow them to the Guanaco channel markers where they peel off for Ensanada while we continue across and tuck up in a nice, shallow and sheltered spot off of Gilligan's.  

Kayak exploring--the end of the road at Punta Bella
The kayak was splashed for a reconnaissance of Punta Ballena, a shoaled in area with lots of birds in the mangroves and that ends in a half moon beach with a trail head.  A loop of the north end of the bay reveals the other creek is also shoaled in.

Lunch at the Copa

We dinghy around to Copa Resort for lunch.  It’s a busy resort with lots of families on the beach, at the pool and taking the ferry out to the island.  (A few sailboats are moored and anchored on this side and it looks pretty rolly.  Yes, that’s a technical sailing term.)  We enjoy a nice lunch on their patio.

The next day we explore Gilligan’s by dinghy.  The beach facing the anchorage doesn’t give us access to the rest of the island (unless you want to climb around in the mangroves.  That's not as easy as you would think).  The east channel around to the reef side of the island is also shoaled in.  We head down toward the moorings installed for powerboats and decide to tie off, because “how deep could it be?”  Yeah, that was me.  We didn’t have on our bathing suits but decided to wade in the 3 ft deep water to the beach, since that seemed to be where the action was.  We were surprised to find a beautiful lagoon that runs through the middle of the island with sandy, mangrove beaches full of vacationers.  We dinghy around the west end of the island and are able to get to the 4 ft of water between the reef and the island with a dive mooring.  Tomorrow.

The lagoon in the middle of Gilligan's island
We load up our snorkel gear and tie up at the ferry dock instead (because we’re in our bathing suits and don’t want to get wet?!)  We walk across the island to a spot The Captain found the day before, hoping to snorkel back to the mooring ball.  As soon as he’s in the water, he said, “Plan B.  Strong current.  We’re going this way.”  A tourist excitedly tells us about the nurse shark he just petted and points.  Yeah, I’m going the other way.  Visibility wasn’t great and there wasn’t much life until we rounded the corner near the swim beach and ended up in very shallow water at the base of the mangroves.  It was like a fish tank with 3 ft of clear water back in the mangroves with tons of fish, some who came to check us out.

The mangrove lined beach
We confirm our Friday slip at Ponce Marina, so internet shopping and scheduling appointments begins.  (As luck would have it, our packages would all arrive by Tuesday, but not without some coaxing.  Amazon Prime is 5-14 days?!  A part the Captain ordered was in stock, but now it will be 3 weeks?!  No, I want it delivered BY Tuesday, not ON Tuesday.  Don't hold it another day.  PLEASE SHIP IT NOW!)  I also have trouble making a vet appointment.  It turns out it is hard to find a vet in PR.

San Jacinto Restaurant at the ferry dock.  Cheap eats.

Kelly Nicole arrives so we headed over to San Jacinto Restaurant (at the ferry dock) for drinks. The vegetarian coaxes an excellent meal out of the pescado (fish) restaurant.  On a tiny slip of paper, they had printed, “Special.  Arroz y pigeon peas.  Papas fritas or plantanas.  $4.99.”  Score! 

The day before our anticipated departure, it rains all day.  I call it a snow day on a boat.  No going out in the dinghy.  Very little work can be done.  Curl up with a cup of tea and a book.

Again, crummy weather (winds!) delays our 17 mile trip to Ponce for another day.

Stats: Total time 2:25, avg speed 5.1 kts, total mileage 12.3 nm.  Motored 2 engines.