From Lameshure Bay on St John we sailed to Culebra, an island at the east end of Puerto Rico — one of what’s often called the Spanish Virgin Islands. I liked the harbor at Culebra. It was big, with boats from all over the world, and there was a nice bar/restaurant called the Dinghy Dock — what could be more welcoming than that! Steve has vacationed in Culebra several times, so he rented a car for us and played tour guide, taking us to see the beautiful beaches.
Then to “mainland” PR. We anchored off a cayo (cay; islet) with a marina, but the marina turned out to be for condo residents, offering no services for us. So we moved to Sunbay marina right on the mainland. Dinner ashore, showers, trash disposal, water and electricity. At Nora’s suggestion we rented a Jeep for a day and drove up to the El Yunque national rainforest. The visitor center alone was very impressive — a huge structure nestled peacefully into the forest. If this is our tax dollars at work, I think it is money well spent. We hiked in to a waterfall for a high pressure shower.
Leaving the forest we decided to drive to San Juan, and explore some of the old city. El Morro fort, that guards the harbor entrance. And a walk through some of the old/chic streets to a good restaurant. Fun day!
In the morning we had to get going because it was 40 miles to the next good anchorage. A lot of motoring in light winds to Puerto Patillo. Pleasant anchorage. Then another 30 miles under spinnaker to Caja Los Muertos, an island park which could be translated as “coffin” or “dead mans chest”… Pretty place with a nice walk to an old lighthouse at the summit. We met a ranger ashore, and I tried to connect with some humor that was not well received. But Steve brought up the subject of baseball, and suddenly we were all good buddies.
In the morning another 30 mile spinnaker run to Mata La Gata, which might be translated as “kill the cat.” Nora had a recommendation for this little cayo as a quiet place. But when we arrived there were many powerboats parked there and lots of partying going on. Turns out it was a holiday (Emancipation Day). We anchored away from the crowd, which was all gone by dusk. We had a blustery but peaceful night.
Next day we had a pleasant sail around the SW corner of Puerto Rico, and up the west coast a little to Boqueron. Beautiful big calm bay, with room for hundreds of boats; not more than a dozen anchored when we arrived. We headed ashore and connected with a taxi driver (Steve made another baseball buddy), who took us to Mayaguez to the customs office to clear out. Puerto Rico doesn’t require that we clear out, but the Bahamas will want to see a clearance when we arrive. So we requested a “courtesy clearance.” The officer asked when we were leaving, wrote the date/time on an empty form, stamped it, and said, “Fill it out before you get there!”
After lunch we bought groceries and diesel, and in the evening we went back ashore in search of dinner. We met the crews of two other boats on the dinghy dock, and we all dined together. Wayne is a singlehander from Texas, who had an amazing story to tell of losing his boat in a hurricane off Key West, and being rescued by helicopter. He says a screenplay has been written about the tale, and it may turn into a movie soon.
Lyndon and Lisa are sailing an old Hinkley 42 named Moon, and I found them both to be delightful. Lyndon is an ecology scientist/mathematician, team leader and expert witness, and conducts his business from the boat. He had a lot to tell us about fish feeding behavior, and how and where to catch mahi mahi. And even though Steve bought two fancy new lures today, Lyndon has offered to supply us with a “hoochie” (lure “squid” or skirt) in the morning that WILL work! Lisa is taking a 3 year sabbatical from her nursing career. I would love to meet with them again, but we are sailing in opposite directions. Maybe Hallie and I will visit them in Seattle in a year and a half, when they plan to return there.
So we go in the morning. The weather is messy, and it will probably be a lot of motoring initially. We may stop at Isla Mona tomorrow, half way to the Dominican Republic. But we are not planning to stop in the DR because we haven’t enough time to do everything. We need to get to the Bahamas!
All in all, Puerto Rico has provided some very nice cruising, and has exceeded my expectations.
We left St Maarten rather quickly, before Mardi Gras, because we discovered that Bill’s flight out from St Thomas left two days earlier than what we had remembered. Good thing he double-checked! We exited the lagoon at the last scheduled afternoon opening of the bridge. (You can arrange an unscheduled opening, for $1,000.) We anchored outside and went ashore for dinner, and got underway just as it got dark.
At daylight we were approaching Virgin Gorda (British Virgin Islands). We cleared in near Leverick Bay and then crossed Gorda Sound to the Bitter End marina/resort. Expensive, but very nice. Hot showers @ $4 for five minutes. Delicious “painkiller” drinks. Kite boarders showing off their amazing stuff nearby.
Bill had one more full day aboard, so he got to choose what was next. We sailed to Monkey Point for some good snorkeling, and then moored in Trellis Bay, where he could arrange a morning taxi to his ferry. Farewell to Bill. I’m glad that it worked out for him to sail with one of his daughters in the Caribbean. That was one of his dreams/goals at the outset of this adventure.
Hallie, Nora and I now had a couple days before Jesse (my son) and Chelsea (his girlfriend) were to arrive. We beat upwind to Spanish Town; we visited The Baths; we moored in The Bight of Norman Island; and we parked at Soper’s Hole where we met their ferry. Soper’s Hole was kind of fun, for a developed place. Voyage Catamaran Charters is based there, and I registered for their drawing for a week’s charter aboard their new 48 footer…
Then off to the US Virgin Islands. We cleared in at Cruz Bay on St John, and then motored around to Lameshure Bay on the south side of the island, to find shelter from the extremely strong NE winds. Luckily someone in Cruz Bay told me about the senior pass for US national parks, which includes a 50% discount on moorings in national parks, which includes most of St John.
We motored into serious wind and waves, but only for an hour or so, to Coral Bay, where we found a nice anchorage. Then to Charlotte Amalie on St Thomas, where J&C could easily get to the airport. Their Caribbean experience was unfortunate, in that the wind was howling during their entire visit. I think they still had a good time, but it wasn’t the relaxed and pleasant paradise that gets advertised!
Steve, my good friend and new crew, flew in with his wife Donna, and they stayed a few days in a fancy hotel. Hallie and Donna flew home on the same flight. After they were in their taxi to the airport, Nora and I went to Steve’s vacated room and took luxurious long hot showers!
With Hallie gone, I felt like our month of “charter operation” in the Caribbean was over, and Nora, Steve and I could focus on sailing on again. First a big provisioning run, and diesel and water, and we were ready. But we wanted to rendezvous with Tahawus, as they had just arrived in St Croix. I had planned to sail to St Croix, as I haven’t been there, but Norm/Klaudia were planning to move on to St John. So we sailed to Francis Bay on St John, and then the next day moved on to Lameshure Bay (again), where we arrived about ten minutes before Tahawus.
We just had a delightful time together, drinking too much wine, enjoying conch ceviche prepared by them (conch caught by the boys), and a key lime pie we made in honor of Veronica’s 21st birthday. I think we will stay here tomorrow, and doing nothing. Then probably sail to the Puerto Rican island of Culebra…on our way to the Bahamas.
[Note to ‘subscribers’ who receive posts via email: nine photos got truncated from the email of my previous post about rushing through the Eastern Caribbean. In case you are trying to absorb every beautiful detail, go to the http://www.zekethesailor.net web site to see them. The posts look better there than in the emails anyway!]
We did slow down after our mad dash to Antigua, though maybe not enough really. Antigua, Barbuda, Nevis, St Kitts, Statia, St Barts, St Maarten…seven islands, five countries in this chapter. After our initial stay at Falmouth Harbor, we sailed up the west side of the island to Jolly Harbor. We went into the marina for fuel and water and showers and a visit to a wonderfully stocked (and extremely pricey) supermarket.
Then around to the north side of the island, inside the barrier reef. We anchored in a pretty bay off of a resort on Long Island, where we had the bonus of wifi from the resort. Next day we moved a little further in behind the reefs, anchoring in a remote spot between two islets that are unnamed on my chart. Here I hoped we would find some good snorkeling, but it was so-so. Still nice to spend some time in the water.
Next morning we retraced our steps out of the reefs, and made the 25 mile crossing to Barbuda. Hallie and I have fond memories of Barbuda from 30 years ago, when we were the only boat anchored there among the coral heads. This time we had some companions, but still it was remote…and beautiful…and the best snorkeling so far in the Caribbean. Anchoring behind the reef here has been a Caribbean highlight for me.
Next day we motored around to the west side of the island and anchored off of the long, empty beach. There was a pretty resort there, but when we dinghied ashore we found that it was closed, and for sale. This presented a problem, because we needed to check out of Antigua/Barbuda, which required that we get a water taxi across the lagoon to the town of Codrington, and it wasn’t clear how we were going to find a boat to take us. But as we wandered around the closed resort, a voice eventually hailed us, and the person maintaining the place called a water taxi for us.
Checking out was still a challenge, as it was Friday afternoon, and when we walked to the Immigrations office, it was locked. There was a phone number on a sign, but we don’t have a local phone. We decided to walk to the Customs office, hoping for better luck. It was locked up, too, again with a phone number. We went into a shop across the street, bought eggs, and convinced the proprietor to let us use her phone to call Customs. No problem, Customs was open a few minutes later, and the Customs man called Immigrations to tell them we were coming. We got back there at 5 minutes before closing, and completed our formalities.
Our water taxi man then took us up the lagoon to see the nesting ground of the frigate birds. He says it is the largest nesting area in the world, and that the birds we saw there are the same ones we saw in the Galapagos — they migrate back and forth! It was pretty cool to see the birds, though I had some sticker shock at the price of our boat ride. Everything is crazy expensive in the Caribbean…
Next stop: Nevis. A beautiful volcano (not active, although the one on the next island, Monserrat, was smoking). We took a mooring and headed ashore for dinner, even though we weren’t legally cleared into the country yet. We met a delightful family (children ages 10, 9 and 7) from the boat on the next mooring, and we drank “killer Bs” and had a tasty dinner with them. A fascinating couple…she wrote a book about traveling the country with her dog in a VW bus, following the path of John Steinbeck. I downloaded a copy of the book, which I am now enjoying.
Our outboard motor wouldn’t start. Unfortunately it is a Honda, which is pretty much unknown in this part of the world. No dealers or service centers anywhere in the Caribbean! But the Customs agent gave me the number of a guy who might help us. We dragged our too-heavy dinghy up the steep beach, and carried our too-heavy outboard to Sarge’s taxi. Next day we reversed the process, no easier for being $375 lighter. The engine now starts, but it frequently stalls…
The weather then got weird…the wind clocking around to the south and then the west. With a west wind the island provides no protection. Very uncomfortable on the mooring. Boats were leaving in the morning, and we prepared to do the same. I noticed two guys in a dinghy headed toward shore…one struggling to light a cigarette in the wind. It made no sense that they were headed ashore, as the waves from the west wind made it untenable to land on the beach. Only then did I notice the rest of the scenario. A boat had broken loose from its mooring…was blowing toward the beach…and these guys were about to try to rescue it. I was convinced they were too late…the boat appeared to be already broadside in the cresting waves. But they grabbed the frayed mooring line and hauled the bow around to face the waves…and then they were able to slowly tow it away from the beach. Apparently there was no one aboard. The boat bucked in the waves, violently jerking the dinghy, yet they towed it back out to a mooring. But then what? It was all they could do to pull on the mooring line to hold the boat into the wind…they couldn’t get any slack to tie the boat to the new mooring. So one of them climbed aboard (also challenging in the conditions), and opened the anchor locker, and as the wind carried them back toward shore he managed to deploy the anchor. And it held.
We signaled our congratulations to the two, as we dropped our mooring and headed for a more sheltered spot. We saw the harbor police boat arrive at this point…too late to help. Whoever/wherever the owner of the sailboat is, he owes a huge debt to the two lads in the dinghy. I’m still not sure where they even came from, or how they noticed the situation and responded in time.
We took shelter at the south end of St Kitts. Our cruising guide made the facilities ashore sound attractive, but it was just a touristy restaurant. The book said there were showers. Hallie asked our server about that. She nodded toward the beach and said: by the surfboard. Hallie indicated that she was looking for a REAL shower, not a rinse on the beach. Our server pointedly replied: this is a beach bar, not a hotel!
Next day we motored around to the west side of the island, to Basseterre. Cruise ships and a landing area catering to cruise ship people…shops and taxis. We paid $5 to land our dinghy at the marina, but that was okay because the fee entitled us to use there (real) showers. The rest of the crew toured off to see the largest old British Fort in the Caribbean; I cleared out with Customs and went for some alone time on the boat.
My alone time didn’t last long, though. A dinghy passed by and we waved at each other, and they stopped for a chat. Four Minnesotans (Pete and Kate and friends), who had been on a mooring near us in Nevis, and left about the same time we did to escape the waves. I invited them aboard, but they had groceries…so they invited me to join them instead. In fact, they invited all four of us to come for dinner. I said I didn’t know when the others would return, but I accept in any case. We did all join for a very enjoyable dinner. And we pumped Pete for local knowledge.
With the wind still weird…very light from the south…we motored to Statia (Sint Eustatius), even though Pete didn’t think highly of the island. We planned to stay just one night, but of course we had to clear in, then pay our $35 harbor fees, and then clear right back out. Then we discovered there is an additional $10 national marine park fee. Then we asked about getting a map of trails on the island. No problem…$2…but also if you actually walk on the trails you need a “trail tag” which costs $10 per person. It’s good for a full year though…
I like this island…off the beaten path…only a handful of boats here…no cruise ships…no hawkers…no pushy taxi drivers…people very friendly. But the “nickel and dimming” is a little hard to take. Too bad we weren’t staying longer — we’d get trail tags…
Next day we set out early to take advantage of some wind, still from the south. We considered St Barts or St Martin, but both would be busy harbors, and I wanted a quiet place for a swim. So we decided to go to Isle Fouchue, between the two (legally part of St Barts). Lots of turtles…pretty good snorkeling…only a handful of boats…a beautiful starry night.
And then St Martin (or, since we came to the Dutch side of this Dutch/French island, St Maarten). We are anchored inside the lagoon, very protected. We wondered if we could locate Pete and Kate here, and we found them immediately on our way in. Thirty years ago I flew home from here for a job interview, leaving Hallie and her mother aboard the Ace of Hearts. The lagoon is of course just as secure today as it was then, but now there are marinas right and left, festooned with superyachts. It doesn’t feel as classy to me as English/Falmouth Harbours of Antigua, but here the sheer number of mega boats is astounding.
We hear that the French side of the island celebrates Mardi Gras Monday and Tuesday. Maybe we will stay for the party Monday night, before setting sail for the British Virgin Islands.