Sunday, November 23, 2014

Fly in the ointment

Sunrise in Ponce, Puerto Rico, Caja de Muerto Island in the distance.
Our invitation to sail the Virgin Islands was answered by our friend Francisco. He flew in to San Juan on a Thursday, and I drove over to get him. I had asked him to bring a Costco card, if possible. We did a little shopping before returning home. Nothing can spoil a good sail like bad food, but "I got this"!
We have been tucked into Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club for 4 months, all of hurricane season, I can't wait to get back out there. I feel like a caterpillar, but I want to be a butterfly.
An early morning Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club.

Dusk at the Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club.

A tranquil dawn in Ponce.

The crew of the Mirador.

A quick look at the weather report, and it looked like Monday was our day. It would be a nice "close reach" towards the Virgin Islands to the east. I calculated anywhere from 15 to 20 hours to Culebra, a cake-walk.
It was regatta weekend at the yacht club. We had hardly met a soul in 4 months, and all of a sudden we're all making friends. Dinner invitations had us booked all weekend long, which leads me to believe that I must be personable!
The darnedest thing happened to the weather, they kept moving the forecasts forward, and our sailing window went along with it. First it was Tuesday, then Wednesday, and on, and on! Francisco only had a week to spare. In the end it looked like Friday would be our day.
Finally on our way!

Marie taking the helm for a few hours.

Caja de Muertos in the distance.

Eva and Hadrian entertaining themselves on the passage.

Some people need more attention than others.

We used the extra time to tune the boat up. We cleaned the bottom. I was shocked by the amount of growth on the hull in less than 3 weeks. We secured things on deck, and fueled up. Every night was a dinner party. Ah, life in the tropics!
We squared up with the marina, painful, and pulled out at about 9 am on Friday morning. We had to have Francisco back to San Juan by the following Tuesday, so we canceled a stopover at Coffin Island, and went straight for the Virgins. At first progress was great. We were clipping along at 4 knots, and I thought, "Yeah man, it's going to be an easy one". We worked out 4 hour shifts between Marie, Francisco, and myself. That would give us each 8 hours off between shifts, a big difference to only Marie and me. Alas, the weather demons showed their face, and the wind picked up...on the nose. Between the wind, current, and waves, we managed about 1 mile per hour. There were some windmills on land that we seemed to never pass, grim ,and constant reminder of our speed. The hours passed, and I began to smell sweet anti-freeze. I inspected the engine room to find that our water pump was slowly dripping.
A long 30 hours had gone by, and we were less than half way to Culebra. With the new coolant leak in mind, we decided to pull into the closest marina for repairs.
Luckily, we had rounded the southeast corner of Puerto Rico, and now had the wind on our beam, and making good progress. The closest marina was Palmas del Mar. We looked their phone number up in a cruising guide, and gave them a call. We still had phone reception. I asked them for a slip for a couple of days, and they said they had the room. I felt better with the arrangements made. It would be easier to take care of things in Puerto Rico than anywhere else.
Palmas del Mar Marina is a very nice place. The docks are new, and everything is tidy. They have a clubhouse, a pool, a store, and a restaurant. All the boats are truly yachts. The service is excellent, there were 4 guys on the dock to help us pull-in. They won't even let me carry my own ice! I think they would cut my steak for me if would let them. I'm not so used to a lot of service, not like some of the customers around here, and our boat isn't teaming with deck hands cleaning it everyday. I can't help, but to feel a little out of place, like a fly in the ointment.
A few beers in paradise.

Mirador at the docks in Palmas del Mar.

Palmas del Mar Marina.

Roast pig at Guavate.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Coffin Island

I knew the weather conditions were just "wrong". Marie and I had talked about setting "our rules", when to sail, and when not to.  However, here we are breaking our rules again, but we are faced with extenuating circumstances. We had promised our friends a trip over to Coffin Island. A husband, wife, two kids, and a mother-in-law. They have lived in Puerto Rico 10 years, but have never been able to visit this beautiful natural resource. Now, due to a horrible turn of events we will only have one day in which to come through. Our friends have just suffered the loss of a family member, and need to fly back to the States. So here we are, beating into the wind, the current, and the waves. It's only a seven mile trip. You can see Coffin Island in the distance, a hop, skip, and a jump away. Our progress is dog slow, we had 20 knots of wind on our nose, and the waves are brutal. Everyone's face has a green hue. If I get boarded by the Coast Guard they're going to think I'm smuggling Martians. Marie wants me to just quit, turn around, and declare "we tried". I just can't do it, I can't just quit on them unless they agree to it. As sick as they all are, the husband is optimistic. Oh boy, here comes the vomit! Marie was frantic about turning back, I kept insisting, it's up to them. I apologized to the mother-in law as she sat there in the cockpit with her back turned to me, so as to hide the stomach content that now lay all over her hands and lap. I tried not to look, less I be compelled to join her.
The boat was moving at a painful 1 mph, and sometimes 0, when a wave would stop us in our tracks. Seven miles, that's 7 hours at that rate! Sorry about the obvious math. Marie was beyond insisting, and move up to a full blown nag. The day was slipping out from under us, and I started to worry. We needed daylight to approach and anchor at Coffin Island. Our friends little girl had thrown-up, and was doing some weird screaming as she sat in the cockpit. I could tell that our friend was starting to question his determination to reach the island. I knew that once we were close enough, the island itself would block the wind and waves, and things would be easier. The blocking affect was taking longer than I anticipated, however it did finally come. We sped up to 2 and a half mph, and it felt like a blessing. We were a mile away, it was 6 pm, and we were racing the sun. As we got closer we could finally see the mooring balls that were our target. It was a comfort to have our friend on deck, he had the strength to hold on to a mooring ball once we hooked it, something Marie and Hadrian didn't have. We missed the mooring balls twice, but hooked one on the third try. The water was comfortably flat with only little wavelets to break the surface. After catching our breath, I prepared dinner, and made myself a stiff drink. All that anyone could talk about was how rough the trip had been. After dinner, each found a nook to sleep in.
The morning brought with it gorgeous day. Soon after breakfast, everyone was in the crystal blue water, frolicking around the boat. I put out a few inflatable toys on lines tied back to the boat so that everyone could just grab on, and not wander too far off. I gave the Mirador a much needed hull scraping. It was a weekday, and we had the Island to ourselves. I enjoyed seeing our guests experience this wonderful place. We had the kind of day that softens all the memory of any hardships that were endured to get us here. We were having such a nice time that we decided to stay another night.
Coffin Island ferry terminal.

Swim'n in the Caribbean.

Li'l Jacob was a real sport.

A mooring ball in the distance.

We travel with our own jester!

Hadrian hanging on to the mooring line.

I set up a hammock for extra room. 

Now that's a happy crew.

When it's good, it's great!

Li'l Jacob has it made.

The morning brought with it another gorgeous day, flat seas, and the wind on our back! We made our way back to the marina in the lap of luxury. "This is how it is supposed to be." I told our guests. I was relieved that, at least, they were able to see both sides of the coin, a rough day and a calm one. "Now I know what you mean by, not a good day", my friend told me as they all walked away.
Marie parents were coming to visit us. We tried to encourage them to enjoy some time on the boat, but they pointed out that they had more luggage than would fit on-board. They have planned a 2 week stay, and wanted everyone to stay with them. Marie gets so nervous about everything being perfect for her parents that you would think she was auditioning for "American Idol" in front of Simon Cowell himself. Not wanting to be on the receiving end of any of her swelling stress, I just make myself scarce, and blend into background like a chameleon.
The first week we would be staying a 3 bedroom condo at Luquillo Beach, a beautiful area on the northeast coast of Puerto Rico. Ah, life is always good around my in-laws, soft beds, good food, and loving family. The kids are the center of attention, and they are masterful at milking their grandparents. Sometimes I can hardly bare the shame of being their parent.
In the days that followed we visited mountainous El Yunque rain forest, and hiked down a lush trail to a waterfall. The water was surprisingly cold. We also went horseback riding through the countryside. The horses were well cared for, and our guides insisted that we be gentle with them, no yanking the reins or using a twill like a crop. We kayaked to a bio-luminescent bay at night, and visited Old San Juan, all in the first week.
Vanilla dog won't be left behind.

Roland and Mary at El Yunque.

A view towards the ocean from atop El Yunque.

Windmills in the distance.

A lush trail in El Yunque.

A waterfall punctuated the end of the trail.

This is a view inside of one of the forts in Old San Juan.

Here's a view from the fort, towards the city.

My father prayed at this little chapel back in 1963.

Eva and Aunt Sara tried feeding the pigeons.

This is the beach at Rincon, at the northwest of the island.

It's Hadrian's birthday. No, he's not 73, they messed up buying the numbers.

We had a nice horse ride through El Yunque.

The Rough Riders!

Now that's a fish!

This is a restored plantation house.

These are the ruins of an old lighthouse.

Another picture perfect view, it's hard to keep track.

A seafood restaurant, and below...

The seafood!

For the second week we moved over to Rincon on the other side of the island. From there we visited local caves, an old plantation house, a lighthouse, and some great surfing beaches. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Time to Move On

Well it seems like the prayers worked, and we have made it through hurricane season with only two scares and no scratches. Puerto Rico has been an amazing host. Its beauty and diversity are a natural wonder. If you haven't been out here you are missing out.
Now, it's time to move on. We are so excited about the landscape that lays ahead. We will be in the famous Virgin Islands. Debatably, the best cruising grounds in the world. There are 9 major islands, and hundreds of smaller ones. Every island is a short sail from the next. No more long, strenuous passages, you can always see the next destination from wherever you are, and the waters are deep enough to sail. I can almost hear the steel drums playing in the distance, the beach parties, and festivals, like "Jump Up", rum punch, and calypso sauce! Can you do the Limbo...with a drink in your hand? This is the best season of the year.

I've also noticed that a ferry boat back to Puerto Rico from Vieques or Culebra is only 2 dollars. This makes visiting us very affordable. Just fly into San Juan (super affordable), take a shuttle to the Fajardo ferry terminal, and we'll pick you up at either Vieques, or Culebra. Yeah, this is an invitation! We'll be in the Virgins through the end of February, if not longer.
Here are a few images right off the web;
St. Thomas
The BVI's

Snorkel in crystal clear water!
Romance?? Hey, this is a family establishment!

Everything is better when you're in good company, so give us a shout, and let us know when you'd like to come out.