Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Cruising Vieques

The wind stayed light and we took advantage of it to motor-sail to the island of Vieques.  The island is considered part of Puerto Rico but also otherwise known as the Spanish Virgin Islands.  Vieques was used by the military to test explosives prior to 2006 therefore it has not been visited by many cruisers.  

We started our visit anchoring off of Green Beach.  It rained the first two days so we didn't do much except catch leaks on the boat.  One bit of excitement was the exploding of our pump for the back head.  (Manual oporator induced). That required an afternoon of stinky mess and cleaning in a closed up boat.  Tough on the crew and the captain/maintenance guy.

The sun came out enough for us to attempt snorkeling on the reef near where we anchored.  The water was cloudy with visability of 10-15 feet.  The reef was mostly boulders and slabs of rock covered with a lot of soft corals.  There were some small fish but nothing worth getting the spear out for.  We visited the beach with brown sand and promptly were getting bitten by bugs so we didn't stay long.  

Next stop was the town of Esparanza.  It has one small grocery store where you can buy a few items, it was reasonably stocked.  Along our walk to the store we saw a lot of little cottages and restaurants, free range chickens and horses.  It makes me giggle when I say that, hee hee.  We came upon a big play park that the kids loved!  It had three different parks all in a different theme of colors surrounded by a small track and exercise equipment.  It was us and one other crushing couple taking advantage of the equipment.  

We left the island to cruise back to Puerto Rico to get Nicholas to the dentista for a lost filling that needs to be repaired.  That will be a whole new post with the comedy and errors of me attempting speak Spanish enough to get a filling replaced.  


Friday, May 15, 2015

Salinas

After being trapped by Gilligan's Island the wind finally died down enough for us to venture out again to travel east.  We left around 3 AM to take advantage of the nightly calm winds and had a pleasant trip all the way to Salinas.  
When we arrived near 10 AM the harbor was packed with other sailboats.  We felt like we finally were catching up with the crowd.  When we woke this morning, though, most of the sailboats were gone, also taking advantage of the dying wind.  
We walked through the small town and found one of my new favorite places to go, the panaderia/bakery.  Yummy doughnuts again!

Gillian's Island

Here's the problem with going east along the coast of Puerto Rico.  We need to go east if we want to make it to see the rest of the Caribbean.  The trade winds always blow from the east making it very difficult to travel straight into the wind.  At night there is supposed to be a backing of the wind due the cooling of the land.  We have yet to experience this.  
Ugh!
After leaving the safe harbor of La Paraguera we were thinking we would just try and go around to Gilligan's island.  The first 6-7 miles were 2-4 foot seas with the wind blowing 15-20 knots but with the reefed main we sailed along and thought, this isn't bad.
Then we came out from behind the reef and bashed into waves for the next 2 miles.  That doesn't sound like a lot but was rough on all of us all over again.  You would think we learned our lesson the first time.  To top it all off, the scariest part was when the seas were crashing around us, just off a rocky lee shore, with a lone fisherman in a small boat anchored near us, the motor died.  Paul quickly diagnosed it as air in the system and Nicholas and he fixed the problem within minutes.  

We safely anchored near Gilligan's Island and the Copamarina Beach Resort & Spa.  There is a ferry that brings guests from the resort over to Gilligan's Island so we decided to check it out.  It's a small place with lots of picnic benches and places to grill.  It is mostly mangroves and has nice white sand and clear water to swim in.  We all had fun swimming. 

We also visited the resort for Mother's Day.  The food was good and the atmosphere was pleasant.  I couldn't have asked for a better treat.  

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Cabo Rojo

We anchored in Bahia Salinas the next night, made water and chilled out.  We sprang the anchor so the boat would face into the swell although the wind was hitting us on the side.  Neither Paul or I slept well thinking about our early morning departure around Cabo Rojo.  
The wind was as predicted 20 knots sustained with 4-6 foot seas.  As we came around the east we were facing straight into it.  We both agreed that this is probably one of the roughest passages we have had yet.  Not only was it rough on the boat and all the contents inside the boat, but rough on the crew.  
We tacked back and forth with the reefed main until we were safely inside the reefs where it turned flat calm.  Unbelievable!
We stayed the next two nights anchored near La Paraguera. We found a nice lady named Carmen who let us tie up our dinghy at her shell shop and took the short walk through town.  
We took a dinghy ride as the sun set to Bahia Fosforecente which is a bioluminescent bay and  very cool!
We decided that the wind was calming down some and we should head out again into the ocean blue.  

Puerto Real, Puerto Rico

This is the place for quiet and calm.  The small harbor was so flat and calm, we almost thought we were back in Marathon.  We quickly met Jose who was volunteering his time to help out at the marina there.  We re-fueled for less that half the price we paid in The Bahamas and anchored out.  Later we met Jose again and he told us his story, born in New York but living with his mother now for the last four months he said he likes just hanging out at the marina and helping.  We were very grateful for the help translating.  Not many people speak English here. 
We took the short walk through town and found a doughnut shop/bakery/sandwich shop/small grocery store.  Everything was sooooo tasty!

Mona Passage to Mayaguez, Puerto Rico

     The wind was predicted to be 10-15 knots out of the SE with seas 4-6 ft.  We decided to go for it.  The Mona was not as rough as we expected.  We stayed along the coast of the DR until Cabo Engano then went NE.  We were able to sail some of it.  After a few hours we changed course more SE to try and get into the wind shadow of PR which worked.  The wind and waves picked up in the afternoon but quieted down in the evenings.  
It took us about 36 hours in all.  We left on a Saturday afternoon from Samaná and arrived in Mayaguez by 9:30 pm Sunday night. 
Checking in was easy by phone and we were expecting to be boarded by the Department of Agriculture the next morning.  They were concerned about the Mediterranean Fruit Fly on produce we might have brought with us from the DR.  
We consumed everything we could from the DR and called the next day to be told not to worry about it.  Whew!
We found Myaguez to be a nice place.  Although it has mostly an industrial coastline the people were extremely friendly and helpful.  We found a local cafe to access the internet because our laptop decided to die on the trip over.  Paul discovered a bad hard drive so now we wait until we get to the next big port to head out to the big American type shopping centers to find us a new hard drive.  

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Samaná, Dominican Republic

We left Great Inagua at sundown on Saturday the 25th after paying $7.40/gallon for 20 gallons of diesel. Yikes. The wind was light out of the southeast and we motor sailed to the east until Monday afternoon when the wind finally came up out of the north and we were able to shut down the motor just north of Luperon, D.R. Our original plan was to travel all the way to Puerto Rico and skip the D.R.  completely because we had a decent window to make it all the way and didn't feel like dealing with the  hassle and expense of customs and immigration. There are many stories of difficult officials looking for bribes and just being generally unwelcoming to us gringos. We continued along the north coast through the day and into the night. At 1:00 a.m. Staci came up for her watch and I went down to get some sleep. As I was just falling asleep she yelled out to me, "there's an alarm going off." The engine was overheating. About an hour earlier we had rounded Cabo Francis Viejo and the sea state changed dramatically. We were motor sailing into very rough 4' to 6' seas off a very inhospitable coast. I opened up the engine room doors and was about to open the raw water pump to check the impeller when I saw it was just a broken alternator belt. No big deal. It was swapped in 5 minutes and we were back in business. 

When we rounded Cabo Samaná in the late morning we  could have continued on another 36 hours and made it to Puerto Rico but we looked at each other and said, "Why not go check it out? It's right here and there is a cheap marina with officials that are very easy to deal with." 

This turned out to be a great decision. We had a great, although short,  visit to the D.R. The check in was pretty painless despite the language barrier. The marina was in a beautiful resort and only $1/foot which is very cheap. We stayed four nights in the marina and made the most of our time. We rented a car for two days and toured around the country. The driving was absolutely insane. There are small motorcycles everywhere with at least two people on them and most have no lights. As far as we could tell there were no traffic laws. Basically everyone just worries about not hitting someone else and it seems to work, although 99% of the cars were covered with dents. We saw no road rage whatsoever. When the traffic slows or stops, everyone just moves into the oncoming lane and goes for it. People would pass uphill around a blind curves like it was nothing. The roads are a lot like the mountain roads of Colorado but lined with palm trees and banana plants instead of conifers.  

We visited a beautiful waterfall called Salto Limon on the first day. Most people hire a guide and ride horses or burros the two kilometers to the falls but since we're on the cheap we were just going to hike in. At the trailhead there was a guy who wanted to rent us horses and would not take no for an answer. He kept saying the streams were to deep to cross and the trail is very difficult. We finally gave in and negotiated a great price for the horses. The kids were very leery of the horses and did not want to do it but we talked them into it and they had a blast. We swam in the pool beneath the falls and watched the guides climb through the falls and do some crazy jumps from very high on the wall.

After leaving the falls we decided to drive to Las Galleras and see Rincon beach which is supposed to be one of the best beaches in the world. On our way there the fuel light came on and we started to look for a gas station. There were none to be found so we stopped at a place selling propane and a guy told us to look for people on the side of the road with green beer bottles and gallon milk jugs. They are selling gasoline. Sure enough about a quarter mile down the road we pull up to an old lady sitting in a little shack with the bottles. She pulls out her homemade funnel and pours in two gallons of gas. After that we saw that many of the people selling things along the road were also selling gas.
We had some good pizza in town and then drove out to Rincon, which did not impress us after being on so many beautiful beaches over the last couple of years.

The second day with the car we drove to Santo Domingo which made the previous day's driving look tame. We decided to take some back roads and at one point found ourselves on a paved road that had potholes like bomb craters every fifty feet for about five miles. We just slowly weaved back and forth trying to avoid them. I've been on four wheel drive roads that were smoother. Then we got into Santo Domingo where the driving defies description. 
We visited the Zona Colonial which is the oldest part of the city, had lunch, walked around for a while and headed back to the marina. 

The last day we were at the marina Staci did laundry on the boat and had it all hanging out in the cockpit on lines when a dockhand came over and told her she needed to take it down because it was the weekend and there were a lot of guests at the hotel. 
Checking out went smoothly and when the customs agent realized I wasn't going to offer a bribe he just said,"The port captain charges $20 dollars for the clearance papers." That was fine since they really made the process easy.
We spent our last pesos at the little store buying lunch meat and, of course, ice cream and then set sail to cross the Mona Passage toward Puerto Rico.