Caicos to Puerto Rico

Friday, October 27, 2006

May- June 2006

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We were shedding latitudes and definitely closing in on the Caribbean. But we still had a long ways to go to reach our final destination Puerto la Cruz in Venezuela. May 12. 2006, after a few fun days exploring Providenciales, we left Caicos at 7 am and had to cross 50 miles through the very shallow waters of the Caicos banks. 50 long miles keeping a sharp lookout for coral heads at all times and at some places had to wind ourselves through a jungle of them. The depth was mainly 12 feet but we did find a 4 foot hump in the middle, not literally but we came close of getting stuck. It is always a highlight to watch dolphins riding the wave of the bow, a manta jumped out of the water right next to the boat as well. Not having "Max" the autopilot working was pretty tiring, Max is like a third person and unfortunately Sid tried to fix it in Providenciales to no avail and also wasn’t able to repair the outboard. If that wasn’t enough the water maker decided to give up the ghost as well, what else can go wrong?! As Sid always says: "Cruising is finding exotic places to work on your boat!" As we came to the outer islands of the Caicos banks if we kept going with the good weather we could reach Luperon, Dominican Republic the next day and so we kept going. By doing so we missed getting stuck for several days by oncoming bad weather. As soon as we came off the banks we could set sails we now had a better angle on the wind and had a wonderful sail for most of the night with a beam reach and 8 to 12 knots, sailing anywhere from 4 to 5.6 knots. Unfortunately those great sails never last and the iron jib pushed us the rest of the 50 miles to Luperon. I have to add that when we crossed the Caicos Banks we put 10,000 miles under the keel since we left Los Angeles, but wiped them right off as we ran aground in 3.2 feet of water coming into the Luperon channel (does that mean we have to start all over again?). Guess our chart is old as it shows to stay on the left side of the channel, the right side shallows. Now its stay on the right as the left shallows and you can't see a thing as the water is very murky. We found out that this is a daily occurrence, so we were not the only ones being embarrassed. Since our dinghy engine was broken we couldn't push the boat out off the mud, but Sid was so good in maneuvering the boat back and fourth, in about 5 minutes we were freed and floating in deeper water again. Just then a skiff with Raphael on board approached and lead us the rest of the way.

The anchorage looked absolutely inviting and was completely protected by mangroves all around. Somewhat it reminded me of being on a lake in Switzerland. We were impressed with our new anchorage. The view was soothing, with green hills and mountains in the background a welcomed change from the flat and barren Islands of the Bahamas.

Not even five minutes after setting the hook Raphael came back with the Comandante to check us in. He filled out some paper work then ordered us to go into town at 2 pm to clear with customs. The customs office is in a small trailer and as we entered the secretary lay across the chair, her pants unzipped, belly sticking out and snoring away. We woke her up, she waved her hand out of the door and the customs guy who already saw us came in and took us in his office, a box of 8’ by 8’. Checking in was easy and he “granted” us a stay of 3 months for 45 bucks. Then he sent us back to the now fully dressed girl to purchase a tourist visa, each 10 bucks, return it then to him, who then put a check in the corner of the ticket and stamped the back and WE had to drop it into a locked box, which was within arms reach of him. Then another guy wrote down our boat name, registration, our names and our passports which took 20 minutes it took him 10 seconds to write every letter. Luckily he didn’t charge anything for that as we probably would have had to pay overtime on his slow writing skills. Then we were told that the agriculture guy would visit us on the boat around 4 pm. We had some time to kill and decided to explore this little town and were very disappointed as it is down right filthy, the stores pitiful and the smell was not very pleasant either. At 5 the agriculture guy still hadn’t shown up, so we figured he wouldn't show up at all and took a quick shower. We take showers in the cockpit and wouldn't you know we were barley done Raphael showed up with him. I was OK but Sid wasn't dressed yet; better him than me LOL. He also brought the agriculture’s wife along. He wanted to know if we had vegetables and wanted to look at them, and charged us 10 bucks. Then his wife asked me if I had beef. I told her I had two "Frozen Steaks" (of course not frozen anymore, but that's what the label said). She wrote NO in her report, charged us 10 bucks as well (found out later that this was her husbands job and the extra 10 bucks went right into their pockets). The good hosts we are we offered them a beverage. They all wanted a coke as they were not allowed to drink alcohol on the job. But as soon as they were done they asked for a shot of rum in the coke as they were off work now. We had a wonderful time chatting with them, especially for me to practice my Spanish. Every time after that going into town we ran into them and it was like running into good old friends.

During the day a nice breeze was blowing but completely shuts down at night. At sundown and sunrise mosquitoes and no-see-ums come out, which we don't really like much but they were well trained and disappear after an hour or so. We had a huge 12 volt fan blowing on our bed, just in case one decided to stay up a little longer.

The following day going ashore we talked to a friendly couple at the dock and Manuela ran into her again the next day and after talking about two minutes we both realized that we knew each other. Terry and Sandy on Von Voyage are from our Yacht Club. We had lost contact with them years ago and had no idea they were cruising as well. The best yet, Von Voyage was anchored right next to Paradise, small world. We had lots to catch up and invited them over for cocktail. After about 10 minutes into it, I heard this weird squealing next to the boat and thought it was their dinghy rubbing against the hull. About 5 minutes later the squealing was still there but now more frantic. Wait a minute, their dinghy is rubber and can't make that noise on the hull. Now paying more attention to the noise I finally realized that it sounded more like a puppy and immediately looked over the side. Marina their cocker spaniel heard them on our boat, jumped into the water, swam over and by now was completely tangled up in the dinghy lines, one around her neck almost strangling her. Poor puppy, good I heard her. The next day we said goodbye to Von Voyage as they headed back to Florida to sell the boat and move on land. (We heard from them when they were in Cape Canaveral and unfortunately got hit by lightning).

While here Sid managed to fix the water maker, it was a burned out switch which he now bypassed. The autopilot all of a sudden seemed to work as well, so Sid guessed it was the wiring and went through the whole system and fixed some corroded cables. The dinghy engine was the only thing left to fix and one cruiser had spare parts for our dinghy and so everything on the boat was up and running again.

Our first impression of the town stood its place as shopping was a challenge nothing could be found. Meat just hung in overheated shacks completely covered with flies, Vegetables were already wilted and there was only one brand of coffee to find. The first thing you see in every store is rum, rum and rum, but it’s dirt cheap. The stores in the San Blas islands offer more. Sid and Terry agreed that this is Mexico in the 60s.

We got talked into taking a tour to the Damasjaguas Waterfalls which was just and incredible experience. We had to hike about 20 minutes up a canyon, crossing the stream over and over again until we got to a grotto with high walls all around, except from the direction we came from. A waterfall plunged into a crystal clear pool. We all had to put helmets and life jackets on before we started this adventure. The first waterfall we had to climb was about twenty feet high. We had two guides showing us how to climb and helped us. Another pool awaited us with an even taller waterfall. This time we had to climb a steep ladder up to the pool atop. This pool was narrower and wound around the canyon wall where another waterfall awaited us. This one was a bit trickier to climb as the stream had a pretty strong current. Actually on this one they just hoisted me up by my life jacket and in a split second I was in the pool above. Every waterfall we climbed got narrower and narrower, at one point it was about five feet wide with the canyon wall at least 100 feet high and often overhanging the stream. The water was crisp and deep and we had to constantly swim up the current, which was not all too easy wearing the very buoyant life jacket. There are a total of 27 levels of which we climbed 7. Sure glad we only climbed 7 as the 8 was very high and we would have to climb a steep wall, pulling us up on a rope. Coming down was fun as we had to slide down the water falls or jump. By the way they all ranged between 4 to 25 feet. It was fun sliding down, although the biggest ones I only slid down half way and the last one I used the ladder instead as you had to jump this one. Of course Sid had a blast and feared none of them. Later the guide drove us to Imberto where we visited a farm with Brama bulls, the botanical garden and stopped by the stone carvers who are incredibly talented and make the most incredible statues out of the soft soap stone and also out of lava rocks. Don't know where I will keep the two statues I bought but just could not pass up on them. Cockfights are really in in the DR and so they showed us how it worked, although the two roosters didn't have spurs on their feet, but rubber balls instead. Amazing how they get at each other, pretty brutal.

The following day we rented a car with Stacey and Tony on Welsh Rover, a very nice couple we met here, and left for a sight seeing trip. Luperon definitely is not a place to provision, can barley find anything here, so we decided to drive to Santiago and since they practice siesta time between noon and 3 we decided to get the shopping done right away, before everything closed. The grocery store was of the quality in the US and we spend a good couple of hours loading up on goodies. Tony needed fuel filters for his generator and Sid spark plugs for the dinghy engine, so we drove to the hardware store, planning to have lunch afterwards and then go sightseeing. After some 30 different stores and bumper to bumper traffic we ran out of time and we were too pooped to deal with the stress of driving. We have never seen any more chaos like here. A two lane road is used as three, the third lane in any direction who ever gets there first wins and the hundreds of motorcycle riders add more to the confusion. Red lights are greatly ignored and nobody uses turn signals. Well, they have none; they are all so banged up. Wonder why?!!! Actually this is not traffic here rather a mob. We're still amazed we made it out of there with no dents or scratches on the car, other than some lost nerves. Tony did a great job driving, although he had some problems finding the turn signals. He is from England and of course used to driving on the other side so he would turn the windshield wipers on and on and on instead of the turn signals. The funniest was, at one point he wanted to flip someone off with the high beams but instead the water spray from the windshield washer came on. From here we drove straight home, just in time to cook dinner.

One thing we noticed too was there were so many motorcycles in town, called motor conchos and are actually used like taxis just flag one down and for a small fee he'll drive you anywhere you want. The way they drive scared us a bit though, so we never used them.

Sid and I also took the dinghy out of the anchorage to do some snorkeling between the reef and the shore and found some pretty amazing elk horn coral.

On May 22. All the weather reports showed a good weather window for the next 4 days, the perfect time to cross the Mona Pass to Puerto Rico and of course we jumped on it. Even Chris Parker told us it was a go but that it was closing in a couple of days. We had enough of Luperon and its politics and the very next day we checked out with the authorities. They then sent us to see the Comandante up on the hill. He runs his illegal business out of his bedroom. There we were sitting on his cot waiting for him to fill out some paper work and then he wanted 20 bucks from us each and of course had no receipt for us, which showed me that it was not a legal fee but instead was going directly into his pocket. I requested a receipt, which he could not present us, but I insisted, then he started to write one by hand. If it wasn't for my companion I would have told him that it was an illegal fee. The problem with this kind of mortida stuff is that we cruisers NEED to speak up and tell them that we will not pay the illegal fee. Unfortunately most cruisers are afraid to do just that, afraid of loosing the boat, going to jail etc. Instead they are opening it up for every body to charge a bogus fee and get away with it. By refusing to pay will not get us in trouble but the official usually backs up as he knows he will get in trouble and face jail for it. As a matter of fact that is just what happened to the last Comandante here in Luperon.

Unfortunately the north coast of the DR is dangerous as the trade winds blow 20 to 30 knots during the days, but completely give up at night. Due to that it's safest to travel these waters at night, to use the lee of the island and miss the horrendous currents and high waves during the day. The Mona Passage is another tuff one to cross, where the weather plays a big roll, so we kept our fingers crossed. We already had the first tropical wave passing through and the Bahamas got beat up big time over the last few days, even had tornadoes and winds of 60 knots. We really needed to head south as fast as we could. After doing all last minute stuff we pulled anchor at 6 pm and left for Puerto Rico. Welsh Rover was buddy boating with us. With her 52 feet she's of course much, much faster than Paradise and so we followed them. As soon as they got out into the open sea they were tossed around. The wind wasn't blowing but the sea was very unsettled, so we all pounded into the weather toward Puerto Rico. We had a pretty uncomfortable ride all night long, hoping that it would calm down, which never happened until noon time the next day. The wind was still very weak and of course right on the nose. How do we do this, no matter which direction we sail, if north, south, east or west, we always get a noserly? At least at this point the sea was calm again and we just motored along. After sunset the sea started to build again, still no change in the wind and within an hour it got really lumpy. We still pounded into it and it got worse and worse. We finally had only 40 miles to go to reach the Hourglass Reef which marks the entrance to the Mona Pass, but it got rougher and rougher. The wind now started to pick up too and was blowing 15 plus. At one point the engine was running with 2200 RPM which we should have done 6 knots through the water, but we were slugging through it with 2.3 knots. First we thought that the engine was giving up as Welch Rover called and reported the same thing. We now had a big swell with a cross swell running amongst wicked currents. Neither one of us got any sleep which added to the tiredness from last nights lack of sleep. After midnight Stacey downloaded a new weather report from the internet (have to love those satellite phones) and what showed up was not what we wanted to sea or hear. It looked like that the good weather window had slammed shut. You have to know that the Mona Pass is a very difficult channel to cross as wicked currents can turn it into an unpredictable and unsettled sea, making it dangerous for us to cross. We had two choices, to keep pounding into it, causing wear and tear on the boat and crew not imagining adding many more hours, or give up and head back to a sheltered anchorage. The later sounded better and so we turned around, which was not the easiest thing to do, as we now had to take down our mainsail. Poor Sid had his hands full crawling around on deck getting the main down. It took a while to get settled into the new direction of sail. We had the jib up but the roll was so bad that Sid once more had to crawl on foredeck and attached the whisker pool to the jib, preventing it from collapsing and filling up again with a noisy bang that the person trying to sleep would jump up every 10 seconds. From then on we had a more comfortable ride. We had 48 miles to sail back to Samana which makes 96 miles for nothing (which is 20 to 24 hours if we sailed it with 4 to 5 knots, a long time). Not what I had in mind spending my Birthday on. Now the problem was the closer we reached the island again, the more fishing boats we encountered and non have motors or running lights and they cannot be seen on the radar until they are just in front of the boat. So we just sailed as slow as a snail would move to prevent of hitting them. As daylight broke we finally turned the engine on and motored the last 15 miles to Samana. The entire crew of Paradise and Welsh Rover were exhausted and we decided to get a couple of hours of good sleep then get together and make a new war plan. That didn't happen as the local officials came to board us, Welsh Rover first. Jose is not really an official but acts as one and his three buddies were nothing but that. He filled out one small form and charged us 15 bucks, when I asked him what it was for and that we had paid our fees already, he came up with “harbor fee”, yeah right. (Before they came over Welsh Rover gave us a heads up on them and said that they paid him the 15 bucks and 5 bucks each). So we pay too, then he asked for a donation for his three buddies that came "extra" out here with him, you have to know that none of them did anything other than sitting in our cockpit. Since Welsh Rover paid them already we felt like we had to pay too not to get in trouble, shish (that's what I mean with cruisers opening doors, we’re doing the same). Then Jose, who by the way speaks very good English, asked us why we came here. He knows that every cruising boat has Bruce Van Sant’s "Passage South" on board, the bible for southbound boaters. He does not write nice about Samana and is actually saying it is a dangerous place. Jose said that they had some dinghy theft here but that the place otherwise was safe, but to lock the dinghy engine, even onboard. He then said that Van Sant tried to finagle a business deal with the locals to get cruisers here, the locals turned him down and in return he wrote them up as a dangerous place not to visit. We can see that this is just a political move on Van Sant as Luperon is run by a whole bunch of live-aboards, ex patriots, all buddies of Van Sant's who take business away from the locals, even himself. One even claimed he was the port captain and used to charge money to guide boats into the anchorage. Actually there is a photo of him sitting next to the Comandante on Van Sant website stating he was the port captain. We found out later one week prior to our arrival the Immigration caught on to him and told him he had to leave the country, also that he has several warrants for his arrest in the US. Not just that, every time we called a local on VHF his wife interfered claiming that we had to go through her. Of course then the poor local has to give her a cut of the money he makes. That was one more reason we did not like Luperon it was run by a whole bunch of corrupt ex-patriots not just ripping us of but the poor locals as well.

While enjoying lunch at a restaurant in Samana an American living here for 15 years, asked us the same question why we came despite Van Sant’s warning. Once more we heard the fact that Van Sant is not a nice man and just out for himself. Nobody here seams to like him and further down the trip in Puerto Rico we heard the same. Actually it's kind of funny, he writes that Samana is THE place to do sightseeing and is the prettiest part of the country, but then he writes not to leave the boat alone at any time and that dinghy engines are at risk. So what are you supposed to do, go sightseeing while not leaving the boat??? Sounds a little oxymoronic to us. So here we were deciding whether to leave the boat or not waiting once more for another weather window. Cruising the Caribbean seems to be a waiting game.

It turned out that Samana had no problems for us and our dinghies were safe here as Jose had people organized to watch them whenever we were ashore. I also saw him every night, twice, driving his boat around our two boats to check that everything was OK. The village was absolutely beautiful and clean, the whole area reminded us more of the coast of Monaco. The stores were still not the best but had a whole bunch more to offer than Luperon. Tony had a mechanic on board changing the oil on his engine and generator and he was very impressed in how clean the guy worked.

Stacey and I found some nice Larimar pendants in the two only tourist stores. Larimar is an extremely rare semi precious stone of volcanic origin. It is a rare form of pectolite with the exception, that this is the only blue pectolite found until now. It was discovered in 1974 (although the inhabitants of the region and their ancestors have long been aware of the stone). It is only found in the Bahoruco area in the Dominican Republic and the available quantity in the mines is unknown, which makes the supply of it uncertain in the long run. Like the Caribbean Sea Larimar reflects the different blue colors of deep to light shades and jade green often sparkled with the white and gray colors of clouds in the sky. Mr. Mendez’s named the stone after his daughter “Larissa” (Lari) and the Spanish word for sea “Mar”. It often is called the Dominican Turquoise, although has nothing to do with it. The stone is also called the “Atlantis Stone”, since a wise prophet once claimed that the Dominican Republic was part of the lost continent of Atlantis. It’s quite a mesmerizing stone.

We had checked out of the country already in Luperon so we didn’t need to check out here. Jose insisted we had to check, I had a feeling that someone wanted to extort some money out of us. I told our buddy boat we were not going to check out but they were so scared that we had to go check out with them. The Comandante was not in the office yet so I had a chance to talk to the officers and let them know that I didn’t understand why we had to check out again as we did so in Luperon and that the Comandante there gave us the OK to anchor anywhere before leaving the country, also that we had paid a corrupt fee already and that we were not going to pay another one. The Comandante finally arrived they told him what I had said, then there was a long debate what they now should do with us, which proved once more that they wanted some money. Then we were told to come back later. Well that was a problem for us, because later we wanted to be underway as we had a great weather window which again was closing on us, so the later turned then into 20 minutes. We received the same papers back except it now said Samana instead of Luperon it was typed with a typewriter and instead of charging money from us they wished us a good trip and to please return to their country and never asked for a fee. Once more it proved that if we confront them they will not ask you for the corrupt money, I just wish that cruisers will understand that and put a stop to the corruption instead of opening the doors more and more. We really enjoyed Samana a whole bunch better than Luperon, the more we think about it the less we like Luperon and would no stop there again, although it is a good place to just stop and rest. Samana should not be missed.

So we had another weather window and since there was no trade wind blowing we decided to leave Samana at noon already instead of evening. There was a slight breeze out of the south, barley noticeable. As soon as we got out of the Samana Bay the wind turned around and out of the north. The water was calm and so we went for it. Due to the daily trade winds this coast is too rough during the day and is usually only traveled at night. Guess we had a lucky day, so we thought. About an hour out, the wind started popping up again and the water turned into the washing machine we had the other day when we had to return. Knowing that this was the only day to leave before the window closed again, we pounded into the weather. We had 15 miles to go before we could head a bit further south, which was a more comfortable point of sail, or motor, as the wind of course as usual was on the nose. Staying close to shore helped also. Then we had 40 miles on this tack which we actually tacked back and fourth to be more comfortable. As we reached the end of the island we now had to sail 20 miles north east to avoid the Hourglass Banks, which can be very dangerous and are always very unpredictable and should be avoided. This leg was pretty choppy and uncomfortable and of course we had to pound into the weather again. Then finally we could take the almost 60 miles course towards Puerto Rico and about 20 miles into it, as we passed above the Hourglass Banks it relaxed and we motor sailed 5 to 6 knots across the Mona Pass which by now we call Moaning Pass. On my watch I happen to check the gages, the lights weren't on and with the flash light I saw that all the gages were on high. Sid of course woke up by the light and immediately jumped up to check on the engine why it was overheating. The bolt of the alternator came loose and the ground wire came off the alternator. No problem for Sid, within 10 minutes all was fixed and we're underway again. Luckily the engine never overheated, it was the loose ground wire that caused the gages to show high. Sid continued his sleep and I made sure that we stayed on course through the Mona Pass. Of course we alternate every 3 hours or as long as we can stay awake. As the night went on it became calmer and calmer and by dawn it was so calm there was almost no ripple on the water. Our buddy boat Welsh Rider is a much larger boat and can outrun us big time, but they are such a considered buddy boat, they stayed within a couple of miles of us all of the 160 miles. About 5 miles out of Mayagüez, I went down below I noticed steam coming out of the engine box. This time it was more serious. Sid found the thermostat gasket had blown out and all the water came out of the engine. Luckily again we found it in time before harm was done. Sid had all the spare parts and within 40 minutes the problem was fixed, well not quite, the radiator cap was leaking big time and we have no spare. Sid temporarily fixed that one. In the mean time we were sailing with staysail and main up at 3 to 4 knots towards our destination. Our buddy boat again was just incredibly considered and turned around and headed 4 miles back to us to make sure that we would get in. Tony and Stacey are really super people. We decided to sail the rest and turn the engine on just before we anchor. Of course by now the thunderclouds have well built and just as we started to enter the anchorage it started raining. We were exhausted but happy to have the Moaning Pass behind us and deiced to rest and check in the following day.

Checking in in Mayagüez is easy, as long as you go in early before the Ferry from the DR shows up (Mon/Wed/Fri); otherwise you're standing in line for hours. The officials were very friendly and it took maybe 5 minutes to check in. The trickier part was to get on the concrete dock; we had to climb up on tires. This was actually very funny, Sid climbed up first, then I followed him and as my hand was grabbing the concrete a little crab ran over my hand, I of course shook it wildly, the little crab was winged into the air and landed in the dinghy and ran right over Stacey's foot, that happened so fast that we simultaneously screamed. Then the funniest, Tony leaped into the air and landed on the highest part of the dinghy the seat, imagine that?!!! Sid was laughing so hard he almost fell off the dock into the water; after all he had the best view of all. It took a while for us to recover from this, it was too funny. After checking in we went into town to chase down the radiator cap. Tony decided to take us ashore, return to the boat and keep boat watch for us. Within 10 minutes we found the part and decided to take a taxi to Wal-Mart. Even thought this was not a Super Wal-Mart it was just a treat to walk from isle to isle and things started jumping from the isles right into our shopping carts. Later when Tony came to pick us up at the dock his eyes widened and he believed us now when we told him to bring a trailer. The plan now was to go back to the boats, have lunch and then the guys would take off for the Home Depot, but unfortunately the trades started to blow and picked up fairly fast and turned our anchorage into a pitching and rolling washing machine. None of us wanted to go ashore and this lasted for the rest of the afternoon. Then of course right after the trades stopped it started to rain and it rained for a couple of hours and all the hatches had to be closed. It got pretty hot and muggy for a while. Then by 9 the stars came out. Since we didn't want to relive the trades in this anchorage we pulled anchor early at 7 and headed 17 miles south to Boqueron. It was nice and calm and just as we turned the corner out of the anchorage the wind was on the beam, perfect for a spinnaker run. For the first 5 minutes we sailed at 4 knots. It was just wonderful. Always love the spinnaker up, but we should know better, as soon as we pull it up the wind will blow straight down and this was no exception. We asked Stacey to take a couple of photos with full spinnaker as all the photos we have of the spinnaker is collapsing. She managed to get a good photo just before it collapsed. Well, at least Sid keeps busy on the boat. After that it was a motor sail and half way there the trades built to 15 knots. Our way points should have brought us by red nun buoys. Now we know why they name them nun buoys, because there are none, I think they just spelled it wrong. None of the red buoys were there. Getting into the bay was just as pretty as could be, a light ripple on the turquoise water surrounded by green lush hills with taller mountains in the background. Welsh Rover was a quarter mile ahead of us and as they headed into the anchorage a police boat started heading towards them with sirens on, them and us of course wondering what they did wrong. Then we realized that the cops were after jet skiers, we just love it. As a matter of fact we watched them for hours after we had anchored writing speeding tickets left and right. For you non boaters you need to understand that jet skies, as much fun as they are, they are a nuisance for us. They are a nuisance because when people get on them they leave their brains on shore. We know of too many accidents and at least one person that was killed running into an anchored boat. So it's great to watch the police stopping them from racing through the anchorage.

From the last day in Samana, neither one of us including Tony and Stacey on Welsh Rover had been feeling well, which we picked up in Luperon (one more reason not to go there anymore). From previous experiences traveling in Latin countries Sid and I know all to well the symptoms and went to the pharmacy to buy some medication for amoeba, parasites and other critters. The treatment usually takes 3 days and we all felt better, except for Sid. He still had Montezuma’s revenge and wasn't feeling good at all. So we spend a couple extra days in Boqueron. What a cute little town, reminded us of Key West except for the many vendors along the street selling fresh oysters and clams which they shuck to order. Usually I'm the first in line to indulge on these yummy critters, but just after going through the treatment I wasn't going to take a chance of getting sick again and ignored them. It looks like the Puerto Ricans are celebrating Memorial Day as well, as everybody was out and about. The streets filled with people from grandma to kids and grand kids, beaches were packed and jet skis buzzing around. Saturday was great the police wrote tickets to the annoying jet skiers, on Sunday nothing though and so they all buzzed around us, using us as a slalom course. It felt like being swarmed by wasps, except these wasps left wakes. Memorial Day Monday was quite again, guess they don’t celebrate that one, not even one Jet Ski was on the water. Boqueron is a small little town and has only the essentials for provisioning. All we could find was frozen chicken and frozen pork chops and in the other refrigerator we found some wilted lettuce for 3 bucks each, some giant carrots, huge cabbages for way too much and apples. For good provisioning we would have to take two busses to Mayaguez, but decided to wait until we make it to Ponce, which is the second largest city in Puerto Rico. We pulled anchor on Wednesday early at 7 to avoid the daily trade winds which start to blow around 11. Although the wind was blowing already and knowing we only had 8 miles to go to Cabo Rojo, we stuck our noses out and headed for it. Not even one mile out of the anchorage the wind started to blow 15 and as we turned the corner towards Cabo Rojo it blew 20. It took no time for the sea to build to a nasty 4 by 4 chop. By that I mean they are as tall as they are wide and if you drive into them as we had to, they can bring a boat to a dead stop at which the boat is most vulnerable to be flopped around. It was a lumpy, bumpy ride to Cabo Rojo, which is somewhat protected, but the swells built by the wind still roll around the corner and make this anchorage a bit rolly. It got so rolly that I had to sit on deck not to get sick, so Sid placed the flopper-stopper out to make this anchorage more comfortable for us. The flopper-stopper is a great tool; it looks like a giant stainless steel folder, which you hang into the water to the beam via spinnaker pole. As the swell comes rolling by it pulls the flopper-stopper up and down in which it opens and closes and slows down the flopping back and fourth effect by 75%. A great tool to have and mainly what we found out only known on the west coast. As every afternoon we got together with Welsh Rover and made a new war plan for the following day. We learned that we had to leave earlier in the morning to avoid the trade winds, so we decided to get up extra early and leave at 4 am. For once the alarm clock awoke us and not the smoke we’ve experience in every anchorage ever since we left Luperon. We never figured out what they burn during the night and why, trash, sugar cane or make a fire to keep mosquitoes away, all we know it burns our eyes and nostrils.

During the night Sid got up several times and at 2 am the wind was blowing a steady 8 knots. At 4 we noticed to our dismay that the wind was now blowing a steady 15 with gusts up to 19 knots. After talking to Welsh Rover via VHF radio we decided that this is definitely a NO go and so we had to spend another few days here. According to Chris Parker our weather guru this was going to be the condition for the next 5 days, with maybe a small brake on Saturday. It was a bit disappointing but we enjoyed a beautiful morning as the sky was clear and filled with twinkling stars and now and then a shooting star would race towards earth, reflecting in the water, which was sparkling as well with phosphoresces. It was a twinkling above and below and we didn't mind that we got up for nothing, because it was quite something. Not having been able to do any provisioning since Luperon we had 2 carrots, 1 chayote, 1 cucumber and 3 tomatoes left on board, but not to worry as there is a variety of cans aboard Paradise.

Cabo Rojo must be one of those places that doesn’t exist or where rare things are happening: Shooting stars falling into the sparkling sea and the following day just before sundown a dolphin family swam up to Paradise. I think they went to inspect our flopper-stopper. The first dolphin passing it closely came jumping out of the water; the whole body was out of the water before he splashed back into the water. Then the second did the same. The third had his fluke way up in the air and splashed it several times into the water; another copied him and then the ultimate. One came half way out of the water, his head slightly turned towards me and swimming backwards looking at me. Then a mom with baby came by and all swam off towards Welsh Rover. This was better than at Sea World and I didn't have to pay for it either, wow. Earlier that day Stacey and I decided to go ashore to see the wild monkeys and to walk up to the pretty light house. As we approached shore and tried to get out of the dinghy, our ankles disappeared in a slimy, yucky mud. So we tried another area, but he same, plus the dinghy got stuck over and over and we had to push us off with our ankles in the yucky mud. After several attempts going ashore we both decided that it wasn't that important to see the monkeys after all and kept our feet inside the dinghy as we drove to the mangroves where we saw baby spotted eagle rays.

We had a good night sleep the wind slowed down to 8 knots at 2 am. We took the opportunity, lifted anchor at 6.30 am and left for as far as the weather permitted us to go. It was a bit rolly getting around Cabo Rojo but tolerable. The favorable condition didn't last all too long as the wind picked up again and blew 15 plus. The sea instantly turned into a washing machine again and we were just hobby horsing around. As Sid calls it the Caribbean two-step, two forward, one back. It's not the wind or waves that are the problem it's heading into it and just as soon as we picked up speed to 4.5 knots some weird combination of waves turn into a speed bump and bring us to a full stop and this over and over again. The prop would cavitate, making weird noses and of course working over time. It was pretty uncomfortable and so we decided to cut it short and head in at Playa Santa, 13 miles further east. This coast is another thorn in the Thorny Passage and the weather guru tells us that it will worsen towards Sunday, great. Later that day Stacey and I went a shore to buy provisions as we are pretty much out of fresh stuff. We found two little stores with just barley the essentials, I think we have more on board then they do. But by the dock where we tide up our dinghy was a little office we thought was the marina office selling ice. As we walked in the room we saw a scale hanging off the ceiling in the middle of the room surrounded by giant freezers. We didn't just leave with ice, but also with lobster and king crab, what a great find and enjoyed a wonderful dinner aboard Paradise with Welsh Rover, then making new war plans for the next day. One thing was for sure, we were going to leave Playa Santa the next day as it was very rolly anchorage, no problem for us using the flopper-stopper but for Welsh Rover it wasn’t fun. I’m starting to understand now, why so many cruisers new at cruising life, give up cruising after just one season. This passage know as the Thorny Passage is not a pick-nick it is rough sailing and always a waiting game for calmer winds and can take the fun out of cruising. I hope Mona was the biggest thorn and only small ones will follow. We know that after every long, tough stretch there is a beautiful anchorage waiting for us where we can relax, so this is still what we like to do and what we do best. Hey you have good days and bad days at work. We do the same.

The next day we arrived in Ensenada which is a protected anchorage, by now Welsh Rover was ready for a good night sleep. Plan was to spend one night as the system with heavy wind was passed us now but was immediately followed by another system of another predicted 5 days of heavy winds. Usually there is a lee at night along the Puerto Rican coast, which means the wind will stop blowing around sunset, but will start again around 8 am. We've been waiting for that to happen. According to Chris Parker this was going to happen the previous night, although the local predictions are always about 5 knots stronger than Chris predicts and have been right so far. So we got up at 2.00 am, well the guys did, and as the wind still blew up to 16 knots and knowing we were in a protected anchorage, totally surrounded by hills, we didn't get the whole effect of the wind. So the guys crawled back to bed and continued with their dreams. The guide for Puerto Rico says that the 60 miles will take 11 days to cross; I think we will break that record. In normal conditions we would love to go sailing in 15 knots of wind and 20 would be a fast cruising day. But here with the same coastal situation as in the Dominican Republic it is another thorn in the passage and should not be taken lightly as a boat can easily get in trouble. Almost every day we hear mayday calls on VHF CH 16. Not just that it is wear and tear on both crew and boat. I just read in "An Embarrassment of Mangoes" a very good description on what is happening. The Mona Passage drops from a shallow 150 feet to the second-deepest hole in the world, the 16 000-foot-deep Puerto Rican Trench. As massive volume of water tumbles across the uneven bottom in an underwater waterfall, the surface churns, setting up wild and conflicting currents. Even in benign weather, crossing this stretch from west to east is like booking passage inside a washing machine.” I couldn't describe it better. The bottom along the north side of the Dominican Republic and the south side of Puerto Rico are the same with uneven depths, creating currents and churning water on the surface. It is said that a good weather window is when the wind blows up to 10 knots, but it still can be rough. If the wind blows at 15 plus, it's definitely a no go and we learned that so far. We also had some heavy rain, which was needed as the boat was covered with crusty salt. In the mean time 3 tropical waves had passed and a few more were underway, which told us that hurricane season was just around the corner. Knowing again that a strong hurricane year was predicted we really needed to get out of the hurricane belt as soon as we could. We truly hoped that between now and the next wave that we could put some miles towards the east behind us and leave Puerto Rico for the Virgin Islands, where the Anegada Channel will be the last thorn on the Thorny Passage, from there on we should have smooth sailing south. The only other hurdle from there was Montserrat it was very active and could blow at any time. So we were stuck once more but enjoyed our secure little anchorage with green water and hugged by mangroves and lush green hills, where turtles, dolphins and even manatees frequently swim buy to observe us intruders.

For once we didn’t mind being stuck for a few days our buddy boat needed to recoup from all the rolly anchorages and Sid needed to rest his tweaked back. In the mean time we were all out of fresh food and the girls went on a shopping adventure. We started walking toward the little town of Ensenada and were only a few steps underway when a pick-up truck stopped and offered a ride. Louis had served 17 years in the Army and was very proud of it, he said ever since the Army he knows how good it feels to get a ride anywhere and drove us all the way to the grocery store. It was Christmas for us to go through the Market and we found everything we needed. The problem then was getting back to the boat we found out that there were no Taxis or buses here. The grocery does have a service that delivers the grocery to your doorstep, but unfortunately does not deliver passengers. The cashier felt sorry for us and since her break was coming up and she offered to drive us back. We also decided to rent a car while being stuck here and while Tony watched the boats the rest of us took off to rent a car and walked to the little town to catch a Taxi. Again, there was none but a friendly guy at the gas station told us that he would drive us to the rental car place. Of course we didn't even know yet if there was one and where, but that was no problem for Junior he had his cell phone handy and called a few of his buddies. While waiting for them to call back with info, we stopped to pick up a buddy of his, then they drove us to Yauco the next city and dropped us off at a car rental place. We were just overwhelmed with the friendliness of the Puerto Ricans, no matter where we went there was always somebody trying to help us. In all our travels we’ve never seen so much friendliness. So we had a car and the first day it was Sid's day to chauffeur us around. He drove us to Ponce the second largest city in Puerto Rico with Wal-Mart, Sam's Club and oh yes the Home Depot. We shopped till we dropped all day long while Tony boat-sat. Then it was Tony's day while Sid kept an eye on the boats. The highlight of my shopping trip was Home Depot where I bought a new no-slam toilet seat. Yes, Tony and Stacey gave me a hard time too! But I have a perfectly fine explanation for it. Imagine being underway in a little boat, it's a rough day, the sea is raging and the boat is bobbing back and forth and up and down, you have to hold on for dear life. You're dressed in foul weather gear to keep dry and now and than you have to go tinkle. Well for the guys it's an easy deal, zipper down, lid up, pee, lid down, zipper up and flush. For us girls it's a bit more difficult. As we struggle to keep balance in the bathroom, which by the way is just big enough to turn around. We have to open the toilet lid which will slam shut again as soon as a wave hits, then at the same time hold on for dear life while also taking off foul weather gear then pulling pants down, panties down, one handed that is, now they are around your knees and make it even harder to keep balanced, up with the lid again which slammed shut several times already. Then you try to turn around and sit down as fast as you can while lid is still open and do now the well deserved business. Then stand up, while one arm reaches behind you holding the lid, balance with pants still wrapped around your knees, turn around to hold on for dear life. Oh yes, the darn lid just slammed shut again! Still holding on for dear life and trying to balance you now attempt to pull up panties and pants one-handed, which now is even more of a challenge as by now you worked up a sweat and you still have to flush. Get on deck and recuperate and cool off from the whole ordeal. Now with my new no-slam toilet lid it's almost as easy as lid up, zipper down ... except I still have to sit down.

After six days the weather finally cooperated and we left Ensenada at 11 pm. The sea was still 4 to 6 foot but enough apart to make it tolerable. The wind blew between 8 and 12 knots and some occasional squalls tried to pee on us. Considering what we've been dealing with in the last months, this was a piece of cake and we arrived happy in Salinas at 7 am. Playa Salinas is a beautiful anchorage which is considered a great hurricane hole. It is one of the most protected anchorages along Puerto Rico's entire 300-mile coastline. We are anchored off the Marina de Salinas, which is the only marina here. Welsh Rover and Paradise were looking forward to renting a slip for a couple of days to wash the boat down. Unfortunately the owner of the marina does not like transient boats and has no room for us. But that's OK as we prefer to anchor anyway. The anchorage is very cute, the whole bay is surrounded by mangroves; some of them are as tall as a regular tree. Even along the little town the houses built right on the water are surrounded by mangroves, which gives it a really pretty appeal. As we anchored we noticed a sister ship on a dock right behind us. Far Out is hull number 5 but was built into a ketch. We had Joe the owner over and for four hours they just talked boat and couldn’t even cover everything. They both had a wonderful time though comparing our boats and learned a lot from each other about the boat.

We were once more stuck due to bad weather, a tropical wave was heading towards us, and we decided to just chill and eventually rent a car and tour the island. Saturday Jack came by, we met him via VHF radio in Boqueron, and he had offered his address for us cruisers to receive mail. We took him up on it and on Saturday he delivered it, three huge envelopes full of mail since February. Not knowing that he had to drive across the island as he lives on the other side. That was super nice.

Everybody we met here had told us to eat at the Cafe Restaurant, that they served breakfast all day long and how delicious the food was and also provide Internet service. For Sunday breakfast the guys decided that we ladies deserve to have lunch out and took us there. Stacey and I took our computers with us and immediately hooked them up. A friendly waiter approached us: "Hello, my name is Juan, I'm your server", -pause- “I’m blind" -pause- "I'm not kidding, I'm blind – pause again - “what would you like to drink?!" Tony ordered a pineapple and an orange juice, Sid just an orange juice and we girls unsweetened iced tea. Juan comes back with one pineapple juice and one orange juice for Tony and a grape juice for Sid. Then he starts to take our order and after we told him what we wanted, he said: "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry, but you know I'm blind, would you mind writing your order down for me?" and handed us his ordering sheet. No problem the waitress I was I wrote our order down and went to the kitchen to make sure the chef understood my short cut writing. After about 30 minutes lunch showed up. Well, Sid and Tony's breakfast showed up, that’s when we found out that the reason we didn’t receive our ice tea yet was that they had to make a fresh one, no problem. We also told him that we had no silverware, "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry..... Some 3 minutes later our Caesar salads with chicken were delivered and the waiter asked if we needed anything. "Yes", Tony said, "my toast and his biscuit with our breakfasts". "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry, it will be right up." A few minutes later he finally came back with our iced teas and we mentioned to him that we had no dressing on our salads. "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry, I will be right back with dressing and toast and biscuits!" Another few minutes later he brings us an empty bottle of Caesar dressing. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry........" Five minutes later he told us that they had no new bottle but presented us with an Asian Caesar dressing. It was the most disgusting salad we've ever eaten; besides there were a few miniature pieces of boiled chicken in there. Stacey also ordered the soup of the day, which had neither flavor nor salt, horrible, and we told Juan about it. Tony got his toast just after he had finished his breakfast and Sid got his biscuits about 5 minutes after Tony did, still frozen. And by the way we never got hooked up on the internet, that didn't work either. As Juan presented us with the bill the horrible soup was still on it, so I approached him about that, he just pointed at the chef and told me to talk to him. So I approached the chef telling him very politely how bad the soup was, he just said that he didn't make it, to which I answered that I didn't cared who made it that I was not going to pay for it. So they took that off the bill. We had a good laugh though, this was the most hideous dining experience ever and if Juan would have said I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry one more time I think Tony would have strangled him. We still laugh about it and believe it or not, Stacey and I went back the following day to attempt to do email once more, but no luck. We ordered a glass of wine instead of the tea didn’t think they could screw that one up. Actually I just figured out why they serve breakfast all day, that's the only thing they cook well, other than the toast and biscuits!

We rented another car and visited old town San Juan. What a most beautiful place to walk around and enjoy the many little stores. The girls had a ball while the guys kept checking out a place to sit down and have a drink, but not till the girls were done shopping. We enjoyed a wonderful paella lunch with the most delicious home made flan ever while it rained and rained. It rained all day long but didn’t bother us as shopping was too much fun. Then the highlight for the boys a 2 hour shopping spree at West Marine, a guy’s toy store.

The second day Sid and I took off by our self. We first drove to the El Yunque Rain Forest, where we hiked down to the Minas Waterfalls, just absolutely beautiful. The south side of Puerto Rico is rather on the dry side but once you drive across the first mountain range it gets really lush. The north side, where the rain forest lies is filled with all colors of greens and not to mention all the blooming flowers in any imaginable color. We spent a couple of hours at the park indulging on the fresh fragrances of flowers and trees and our eyes were feasting on the never ending greenery. Then we followed Autopista 3 to Fajardo and drove out to the Lighthouse. From here we had a beautiful view to the Culebra and Vieques Island, our next destination as soon as the weather settles. From there we took the Autopista 53 south past the famous Roosevelt Road Navel Base which unfortunately was closed, to Humacao and took the 30 back up to Caguas. From there we headed on the 52 back to Salinas but took exit 184 to Guavate and drove a very scenic narrow road up the very lush canyon until we reached kilometer marker 27 where several restaurants and huts are staged which offer fire roasted pigs. Oh, that was the best pork we ever had, it was so good we ordered some to go. Puerto Rico has just impressed us so much; we both put it on our list of retirement, if we ever give up cruising that is, LOL.

In the meantime the tropical wave passed us, the first tropical storm Alberto has hit the Florida coast, we were all provisioned again and just waiting once more for a good weather window to head to Isla Vieques, Isla Culebra, the Virgin Islands and finally south.

This definitely has been a very tough ride it turned our newsletter into 30 pages, so you we will send you the continuation later. Hope you enjoyed sailing with us and didn’t get seasick.

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