Monday, December 14, 2015

A Minor Mishap on the Way to Vieques

Our destination after leaving Salinas, Puerto Rico was Culebra, and it took us four days since we did short day sails. During the passage from Puerto Patillas to Vieques in the Spanish Virgin Islands, we had a few tense minutes that could have ended our sailing adventure.
We had left early that morning, and immediately after leaving the anchorage, we saw several fishing buoys that local fisherman had set out. They are made up of rope with fishing line attached and a small plastic container (like motor oil is sold in or a 20 oz soda bottle). We always groan when we see them because it means we have to be extra watchful since hitting one could foul the prop and cause engine trouble. They can be really hard to see, especially if there is some wave action.
Since the wind was light and a strong current was running against us, we were motoring directly into the wind for the first ten miles of the trip to get it over with as quickly as possible.  David was driving at the time and all of a sudden we heard this loud THUNK. He put the engine in neutral, and when I looked back, I saw a yellow container bobbing in the water so I knew we had hit it. He went down below to open the engine compartment to check things out and told me to put the engine in reverse. A couple seconds later, the engine died, and I couldn't put the gear shift level back in neutral. We both looked at each other with this blank look on our faces because we knew this could mean something really bad.
David put on his snorkel gear to see if fishing line was wrapped around the prop and jumped into the 60 foot water. The situation definitely wasn't ideal for him being in the water because the boat was bobbing up and down due to two to three foot seas, and we were being moved along half a knot to a knot by the current. And I should remind you that there was no way for me to control the boat because the engine was dead and no sails were up. David could easily have been swept away and not been able to swim fast enough to reach the boat. I held my breath every time he had to let go of the line I had put out to swim under the boat and cut away the fishing line from the prop. He went under five or six times before he freed it, got back on the boat, and asked me to turn the engine on. The next few seconds were suspenseful because if the engine didn't start, it would mean remaining in Puerto Rico to get it fixed and depending on how much it cost and how long it took, could mean the end of the trip. Luckily, it started with no hesitation and sounded perfectly fine. Whew...disaster averted!!
Once it was all over, we wished we would have taken pictures of the cheap, homemade fishing buoy that almost wrecked our several thousand dollar Westerbeke, but we were a little freaked out at the time.
After that it was smooth sailing to Vieques, where we jumped in once we anchored to cool off and snorkel a bit.
Best rainbow ever! Look close to see the double rainbow.

Exploring Culebra and Swimming with Turtles

I fell in love with Culebra, just like I did with Key West! Culebra, which is part of the Spanish Virgin Islands, is twenty-three miles of the east coast of Puerto Rico, and it is know for Flamenco beach, which has been rated one of the world's most beautiful, exotic beaches. I completely agree! It ranks #2 for best beach I've been to after the beach on Conception Island in the Bahamas. There are no big hotels here, and the island retains a small town, low-key vibe that I really enjoyed.
We anchored in the bay by Dewey, which is the island's only town. The first afternoon we ate at Zaco's Taco, which has delicious tacos, burritos, and signature drinks. My carne asada burrito was sooo good, and David really enjoyed his fish and carne asada tacos. The crowd was a combination of locals, expats, tourists, and young couples who seemed to have escaped to island life for a year or two. It was a great start to our short stay there.

 The following day we rented a golf cart for $40 and toured the island. We started our tour with Zoni beach, which is on the northeast coast and provides views of Culebrita and St. Thomas. Next we drove back to town and snorkeled at the rocks a short swim from Melones Beach. It was one of the best snorkeling spots we have been to in a while. The water visibility was great, and there was lots of brightly colored fish, colorful sea fans, and nice coral. Unfortunately, the phone went snorkeling with us so it is not currently working, but we do have a backup phone so it wasn't that big of a deal.

Zoni Beach

Zoni Beach

View of Culebrita and St. Thomas

Snorkeling at Melones Beach

Lunchtime view of Melones Beach

After a quick a ham, cheese, and egg sandwich that we bought earlier from Pan Deli, we hightailed it to Tamarindo Beach to hopefully find some green sea turtles to swim with. As luck would have it, there was a snorkel company that was leading a bunch of people into the water so we tagged along with them since they know where the good spots are. And we found some! We were in water about 15 feet deep, and we saw one munching on some grass at the bottom of the ocean floor. After a few minutes,  David and I took off on our own, and we found a couple more. They were so graceful, and I could have stayed all day just watching them swim.  Click here to see a video (the ending has the best view of the turtle).

The last destination of the day was Flamenco Beach where we stayed for a couple hours to relax under our umbrella and swim in the cool, crystal clear water. I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves. It was an awesome, fun-filled day, and if we don't move here like I would love to do, this will be my forever vacation spot!

Not sure how this tank got here.


Last pic of the day

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Caja De Muertos a.k.a Coffin Island

We decided not to dawdle in Ponce since we were advised by an owner of a marina not to have the dinghy fixed there. He suggested getting it fixed in St. Thomas since he knew there would be reputable repairmen. Plus, the price of going to town was quickly adding up since we had to take taxis everywhere, and there wasn't anything nearby for us to do, except the boardwalk. The food wasn't very good at the boardwalk, and loud music was blasted until the early morning hours, which wasn't fun listening to while trying to go to sleep.

So we pulled up the hook and went to Caja De Muertos, which is an uninhabited island eight miles from Ponce. It is a gorgeous island with a hiking trail up to the very top where the lighthouse is and an underground snorkeling trail on the east side of the island.

The area around the trail seemed like a very inhospitable environment - there was cactus everywhere and clouds of mosquitoes trailing behind us. Good thing we brought the OFF! There were also lots of hermit crabs, bees, wasps, and lizards along the way. We even saw a snake when we got back to the bottom of the trail! I have seen two snakes on this trip, which is two more than I ever saw in Texas and two more than I ever care to see!! Once you get to the top, there is a platform to the right of the lighthouse (which is boarded up so you can't go inside) where you can see a 180 degree view of the island and Caribbean Sea. It was simply beautiful.


The next day we snorkeled the underwater trail. There are plaques attached to the bottom of the ocean floor that describe different sea life, and there are buoys showing you where to go. The snorkeling wasn't anything to write home about - the coral had little color and the fish were not abundant. But I did like the dolphin statue, and David saw a big barracuda.

On the way back to the boat, we went to saw hi to the other sailboat that was anchored by the island. We saw them on the beach between our boat and theirs and stopped to chat and to cool off in the crystal clear turquoise water. The first thing I noticed was their Yorkie in the bright yellow life jacket. She looked just like Trixie, my nine year Yorkie! She was so cute, and I just had to pick her up. Her owner's Sissy and Fred were also from Texas and very friendly. They showed us a turtles nest that they had rescued, which I thought was pretty cool. They found the eggs because the sand had washed away from the nest, and after consulting the marine biologist on the island, covered them back up and set a few rocks on top to prevent the sand from washing away again. During their stay, they came back each day to check on the eggs to make sure they were ok.

Trixie, our adorable Yorkie

One more pic
 It is a great little island, worth staying for a few days to lounge on the small, secluded beaches on the north side, but we only stayed for two nights. We are currently in Salinas and are anchored by the marina. We will stay here until the weather improves, and we can continue our way to Culebra in the Spanish Virgin Islands.

Back in the US!

After spending three months and 1 week in the Dominican Republic, we are now in Puerto Rico! I had been itching to leave since mid-October, but things kept get getting in the way, like boat projects and weather. I am sure my insistent questioning of when we could leave drove David up the wall! It feels so good to be on the move again and on our way to the Virgin Islands, which are some of the best cruising grounds in the world.

Our 215 nautical mile non-stop passage from Samaná, DR to Ponce, PR was quite uneventful, except for a couple of water spouts that popped up out of the blue. We had been motor sailing for a lot of the time since there wasn’t much wind, and we had clear skies with a few clouds. On the second day, I was in the galley preparing lunch, and David said, “Hey Babe, can you come up and take look at this?” I said of course, and when I went out to look, I confirmed what he already knew. “Holy crap, that’s a water spout!” Some water spouts have the same characteristics of land tornadoes so we definitely wanted to avoid it. We veered off course a little to head away from it and then saw another one forming in the near distance. Luckily they both dissipated, and we only encountered a little rainstorm.

Our little visitor
Since we had an exceptional weather window, we decided to bypass Boquerón and go directly to Ponce, which is Puerto Rico’s second largest city. I am a little disappointed that we missed the touristy beach village, but we were hoping that we would find a place in Ponce that could repair the dinghy. David tried patching it with no luck but did manage to slow the leak by using some rope. It still will only hold air for about 20 minutes before it needs to be aired up again so we will need a professional to fix it for good.

After 48 hours, we arrived in Ponce on Wednesday, November 25th. While in Marathon, FL, we both signed up for a Local Boater’s Card, which would allow us to check in via phone when arriving in the U.S. and U.S. territories instead of having Customs come out to the boat. (Side note: even with the card, customs can choose to board your boat if they want to.) However, when I called, the customs official told me that the type of card we registered for only works if you create and file a float plan before leaving for your destination. I am pretty sure that when we signed up months ago in Key West, the Customs officer didn’t tell us this or give us any options, but that was seven months ago so I could be wrong. At least now we know.

Anyway, the officer said that Customs needed to come out to the boat, and we needed to go to the fuel dock in order for them to do so. When I told David this, he said to ask if we could put it off until the next morning since we were tired from the long passage and already anchored. They told me that would be fine and to call back in the morning to talk to the officer on duty. The next day we called, and they said to bring the boat to the fuel dock so we did. Right off the bat, I could tell the male officer was one of those “strictly by the books, will give you a hard time” type of people. His hands were on his belt, he had a frown on his face, and he was stalking towards the boat. He asked when we arrived, and I told him yesterday. I could almost see the steam rising from his head when I told him that. “Yesterday?! You know you have to check in the minute you arrive at a port.” I calmly explained the conversation I had with his office yesterday, and he kept demanding the name of the person I had talked to, which I didn’t get. He then proceeded to call his office to presumably check my story and then chew someone out. The woman officer said it wasn’t a problem and went about the normal questions of being checked in. She was really sweet and after a few minutes of conversation, gave us a little info about the town. She even told us that when she sees us back here in two years she wants to see a baby…lol.

With that done, we anchored again and spent Thanksgiving Day on the boat eating left overs since most places were closed. We are usually surrounded by family and great food for the holidays so I was a little sad not to be spending it with them. However, I am very thankful to be on this year-long extended honeymoon and experiencing so many amazing new places!! Spending Thanksgiving in a tropical paradise with 80 degree weather isn't so bad, right? I am also very thankful for David. He is such a loving, caring husband, and I can’t imagine spending my days without him.

We had a very “American” day on Black Friday since Ponce has a large shopping mall with American stores, a cinema with American movies (with subtitles in Spanish), and American restaurants. We shopped at a few of my favorite stores, watched the new Bond movie Spectre, and ate at Macaroni Grill. Sometimes it feels good to be around familiar things!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Week in Samaná

Even though our plans were altered, the stop in Samaná turned out to be a lot of fun. As I mentioned in the last post, we checked into the marina on Sunday morning and only planned on staying two nights.

The marina/resort is a great deal at only $1 per foot and allows access to their pools, restaurants, gym, spa, laundry, rec room, WiFi, and showers. I had heard good things about the place, but it was a lot better than I expected. They had an infinity pool located right by the water edge with an excellent view of the bay and a pool with a similar view by their restaurant, Le Deauville.  It was heaven for a pool girl like myself!! The grounds and lobby were beautiful, and the gym had a variety of up-to-date equipment. The not so good – showers that don’t always have hot water and one washer and two dryers that don’t always work. I’m used to cold showers and hand washing our laundry on the boat, but I expected more from such a nice place. All of the staff are exceptionally nice, especially Gavi, the marina manager, and he speaks excellent English. The place is kind of empty though, which is a shame since it is a great hotel. We heard that was here a few days ago to check it out and maybe promote it on their site so hopefully traffic will pick up some.

The first day we pulled in the marina, we met up with Robert and Virginia Scott from s/v Honeymoon Forever. We had met Robert the day before because they had brought friends out to Cayo Levantado, and he came over to introduce himself. They were going to go eat pizza on the waterfront in Samaná and invited us along. They were a fun couple to hang out with and gave us information about the town and the surrounding area. After we got back to the marina, we all relaxed by the pool and had a couple of cold bevies.

A couple of days later they invited us to go for a sail to Los Haitises National Park, and we readily accepted. It took about two hours to get there and it was raining on/off for a few hours, but it finally cleared up so we could go explore by dinghy. It was really beautiful, and we even found a bat cave to explore.

On Friday they invited us to join them again for a day trip, and we went to Cayo Levantado, which is a small tropical island. When we were anchored there the previous time, we couldn’t leave the boat because the dinghy wasn’t in working order. I was super excited to go back and swim in the clear blue water. The water and sand here were a lot better than the beaches near Luperón. Cayo Levantado is also known as Bacardi Island since the rum company shot several commercials there. There is a resort on the island, bars, a restaurant, and vendors selling snorkel equipment and souvenirs. We rented lounge chairs on the public beach for $2 a person, ate lunch, snorkeled, and soaked in the sun. It was a great day with great company, and we can’t thank Robert and Virginia enough for being so generous this week and taking us along.

We needed to stock up on veggies so we decided to head into town on Saturday and go to the open market. We hiked about a mile uphill to get to the hotel entrance and then took a 5 minute motoconcho ride to the market. The market is made up of several outdoor shops that are linked together and then a big covered indoor space where twenty or so people have tables set up for vegetables. You could buy broccoli, carrots, cabbage, lettuce, onions, pineapple, limes, peppers, celery, eggplant, coconut, tomatoes, potatoes…almost anything you could want. Outside of this area was the fish market and people selling whole chickens. I would have liked to buy a mahi mahi or tuna, but none of the fish was on ice, and we had no idea how old they were. The chickens were covered with flies so we skipped that too. I did get a new pair of sunglasses for only $3 since I lost my other pair the day before leaving Luperón.

Motoconcho ride into town

Hotel entrance

It was really nice being near facilities so we decided to stay at the marina until we leave for Puerto Rico, which should be tomorrow night. We had also read and heard a first-hand account about motor thefts on boats anchored in Samaná harbor so we didn’t want to take any chances. It looks like we will have a nice, calm sail all the way to Boquerón. So next time you hear from me, we’ll be in a new locale. See ya later!!

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