Thursday, July 17, 2014

Boqueron to Ponce

Boqueron, Puerto Rico is like a little Key West. It's a ghost town on Monday, and Tuesday, or on any given day before noon for that mater. All other times, watch out! The potpourri of bar music carries across the bay until 1 or 2 am. They sell canned Medalla beer, the national brand, for a dollar, and you're allowed to walk around the streets with alcohol...or drive a car for that matter. Aside from the many bars / restaurants, there are about a dozen food kiosks selling an assortment of kabobs, fritters, clams, and oysters. The most popular local dish is called mofongo. It's fried green plantains that are mashed up into a ball, a lot like mashed potatoes only firmer, and like mashed potatoes they make a big dent in the middle to hold the gravy. Only in this case it's a bit more spectacular than just gravy, it's shrimp, conch, or one of a half dozen other toppings. Much like pizza, even when it's bad, it's good, but when it's really good, oh man!
The typical street scene in Boqueron.

You can buy beer and cocktails right off the street.
When we were done horsing around, a few days later, we decide to do a little restocking of the pantry. Not knowing the area, we just started walking up the main road. We had gone a couple of miles with the kids fussing away behind us, "I hate my life, blah blah blah", when we noticed a fenced in fruit stand with an office towards the back that also read travel agent. Let me just say that you are never in the same state of mind after 2 miles of walking in the hot tropical sun as when you first started to walk. We were now quite ready for a car. Shelly Vargas was really pleasant, and she quickly made reasonable arrangements to rent us a car. The problem was getting to the rental agency, it was in the next town. Shelly bargained with the rental agency to meet us half way, and Shelly's mom drove us to the pickup point. We have met so many benevolent people throughout our travels. Who says mankind is evil?
I have to admit that we all went a bit crazy as we drove down the street and began seeing all of the familiar fast food restaurants. We had been deprived of this for almost a year now. There was KFC, Wendy's, Popeye's, and on and on. MacDonald's and Burger King, like graffiti are everywhere. Yeah, we had greasy lips, and a dark conscience after that first day. Eva even made us all wait at Krispy Kreme for 2 hours while they made fresh doughnuts.
We rambled about the western half of Puerto Rico for a week. Every evening we would return to the boat. After our fast-food fix that first day, we were really enjoying all of the local creations. In the college town of San German we found a restaurant called "De Lirios". Their signature dish was called the Volcano. It was mofongo with a tender rolled skirt steak in the middle that formed a cone. The cone was then filled with jumbo shrimp and everything was drizzled with hollandaise sauce. It was sensory overload. You can't just jump into a dish this rich, you have to work your way up to it.
Arecibo Observatory has the largest radio telescope in the world. It was in the movie "Contact".

Vanilla is a real party animal!

In Cabo Rojo there are salt ponds.

The salt is very coarse.

Sometimes I just have to induce a smile.

We may not look alike, but we sure act the same.
This is Eva's birth-week kick-off party.

Nine candles, and then some for good luck...Eva style!
We needed to start working our way towards the east. There are plenty of anchoring options along the southern coast of Puerto Rico. We were torn between stopping at the town of La Parguera at 4 hours travel or Ponce at about 10 hours. La Parguera was surrounded by mangroves, I felt we would probably have an issue with mosquitoes so baring heavy seas, Ponce was our choice. We lifted our anchor just before 7 pm. We had been in Boqueron Bay for 10 days, and the anchor chain was already growing barnacles. The wind was right on the nose so we had to motor the whole way. Tacking the boat doesn't seem to payoff, especially not at night when I have to muster the crew, talk about being unpopular! Any gains in speed are offset by our deviation from the course, and so we motor.  The Caribbean Sea was fair that night, not calm , but fair. I gave Marie the helm at 2 am. At 7 am I took over, we were approaching Ponce. The anchorage at Ponce is really crowded. Mainly because the locals have installed moorings all over the place, and there is little room remaining. We choose to take a slip at the Ponce Yacht Club. We'll be here for a week or two while we explore the local curiosities.
Our anchor chain was growing barnacles in just 10 days.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Crossing the Mona Passage

A sailboat pulled in next to us at Cap Cana Marina. They had traveled from the Mediterranean, and had just crossed the Mona Passage. Now I too had been watching the weather, and it seemed pretty nice for a sailboat crossing, a little wind from the northeast would make a motor sail possible. The waves and swells were relatively mild. We take weather reports with a grain of salt, and frankly there's too much salt in my diet as it is. I mean they get the big stuff right, but the little stuff, well that's a whole other matter. On any given day when they talk about waves at 4 feet or wind at 12 miles per hour, well a little more here or there is the difference between a nice sail or a beating when you're on a small boat. That's where the the "perhaps and maybes" take a toll. I know that we will never know the truth, but I have a theory about their methodology when it comes to predicting the little stuff, and it involves darts.
I surprised the kids with a new addition to the family.

One last walk on beautiful Juanillo Beach, in the DR.
The guide that most sailors use when they are trying to travel from the mainland U.S. to the U.S.V.I. (against the wind) is called "A Gentleman's Guide to Passages South" by Bruce Van Sant. The techniques that Bruce describes in his book do work, for the most part. The problem is that his techniques are so intricate and fragile that if any element is out of place you promptly receive the infamous punishment that gives this route its name, "The Thorny Path". He even tells stories of other sailors that literally follow him out of the harbor, no doubt in total frustration from having gotten it wrong so many times before, and still he makes it across with a cat, and a cup of coffee on his lap while the guys right behind him throw-up their giblets. If the intricacies of his techniques aren't delicate enough, Bruce's writing style is so uniquely original that only inebriation can explain it. Okay, okay, I know I'm spit'n into the wind here, but we're not talking about me right now.
Our new neighbors however, confirmed that the Mona was really calm, just a little wind and moderate waves. It was a go, we would leave at 7 pm. We had to get clearance to leave the DR, so we called the marina office and told them we intended to depart. They told us that they would notify the necessary government officials. A few hours later there were 8 government officials at my boat. It was a social gathering. They each wanted a little money, in all about 100 bucks would set me free, and I could be on my way. The kicker is that even though they are the Dominican government they would prefer the payment in American dollars. To my own demise, I just can't find any respect to offer these guys. I taunt, and joke at their expense, but with finesse if you will. They don't like me, but it's not enough to act on. It's my way of getting something for my 100 bucks.
The Mona Passage is famous for being rough. The horror tales work at your confidence like a drunk works the loose leg of a bar stool. It is considered the worst passage in the Caribbean. As we left the marina under motor, and headed into the Mona passage I couldn't believe how smooth the water was. I had enough wind, and from a usable direction, if I kept my motor on. I raised the main sail, and Mirador sped up to 5 knots. I was scared to wish the whole passage could remain this smooth. I had scheduled a 30 hour crossing, laying over at Mona Island during the midday, it's when the water is roughest, but if the weather held I will just continue on. Well the weather held and so did our speed. The kids never knew what happened. The next time they awoke we were approaching Boqueron Bay, Puerto Rico.
Hadrian and Eva awoke to Boqueron, PR.
This is a view of Boqueron Bay at dawn.
This is view of Boqueron Bay at dusk.

We crossed the Mona Passage in about 15 painless hours. I think we are getting the hang of it, which proves that you can teach an old dog new tricks. Now, understand that moving a boat from point A to point B with a couple of buddies on board is different than doing it with your better half and 2 kids on a boat that is way too domestic. You see keeping your domestic status in "stable" is the real challenge here. Oh, I've been threatened by each member of the crew. To that effect, we have a lot of equipment meant to improve quality of life that's not usually seen on a boat...take the professional espresso maker for one, and that's just the beginning. When we are a anchor or in a marina, man do we have it made. We are not camping out here! 
This is not your typical piece of equipment!