Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Norman Island, Day 6

Norman Island, Day 6, British Virgin Islands

Tuesday, 24-March-2020

The Bight
Green Lines are Kanilela's route, dotted lines are ferry routes, I borrowed the map....

Well isolated at the anchorage still. The Pirates Bight Restaurant has closed until further notice but they are such good people that they left the internet connection on for the cruisers who have to remain. The numbers in the anchorage are now below twenty as the last of the charter boats leave. Those who are left are typical friendly cruisers albeit from a greater distance. There are a few other anchorages we can venture to without being around people but for now The Bight is good and we have not exhausted all of the hiking trails.
A south side bay, the water clarity is incredible.
Yesterday we hiked up to the ridge and looked down into the bays on the south side of Norman Island. After I post this we will probably hike the ridge above the north shore. No people, no contact.
Mags up close to a cactus. It is a surprisingly dry island.
So what is this egret, a water wading bird doing at the top of the ridge?

We hope all family, friends and blog followers are well and handling the new constraints successfully. There will be an end to this and if we do a good job of limiting exposure it will be sooner rather than later. To any of you providing essential services, we are eternally grateful. Protect yourselves as best you can and do not be shy about insisting people maintain a safe distance.
Kanilela riding a mooring buoy.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Norman Island, BVI

Norman Island, British Virgin Islands


The Bight

Rather than sit in a marina waiting out another front coming through, we checked the anchorages on the various islands of the BVI’s. Our considerations were both wind exposure and the swell that can enter the anchorage. The Bight on Norman Island has a west facing orientation and is considered the calmest anchorage for swell in the BVI’s. The wind does come over the surrounding hills and shifts as it curls off the various irregular steep faces on the north, east and south sides of the bay. The forecast called for winds to be in the mid-twenties to thirty with squall gusts into the mid-thirties. Winds during the last two nights have registered into the low thirties as we were hit by heavy rain squalls, but being on a mooring that I had dived on to inspect, I felt confident we were secure. Because the wind had no fetch there were no wind waves and the Bight was living up to its reputation for having no swell curl in, it was just the constant swinging on the buoy and the noise of the wind to contend with.
The Bight, Norman Island, BVI

Pirates Bight
The Bight has two restaurant/bar venues and no residences, private or public. The infamous floating schooner The William Thornton, known affectionately as Willy T’s on the south side of the bay and Pirates Cove Restaurant on the beach in the northeast corner. When we were here twenty years ago Willy T’s was notorious for the patrons flashing passing boats and the passing crews returning the favour. Although not the same schooner, having been replaced a couple of times, most recently after Irma sunk the previous one, the tradition tries to live on. Unfortunately due to the dwindling numbers of boats due to the Covid 19 virus, the patrons on the Friday we stopped in were a rather subdued collection. The staff were not certain how long before they had to close but it was anticipated Saturday would be their last day.
Willy T's

We had dinner at Pirates Bight last evening and they anticipated closing after Sunday’s lunch service. For any who were here years ago this was the site of the Billy Bones Bar. The unfortunate part is that the restaurant was just rebuilt after the devastation of Irma and now, once again, the employees and owners incomes will be severely impacted.  Most of the patrons were on short term charters and the concern was whether their flights would be available. We were approached by a couple of cruisers who suspected we also were cruisers, it must be my crusty, sun-baked, bearded appearance, wanting to share information on the impacts of the virus. It was becoming apparent that the BVI’s were to be home for the foreseeable future.

When we had entered the bay a few days earlier we were amazed at the number of mooring balls placed, at least seventy, and yet there were several empty. I doubt there was 25 mooring balls twenty years ago when we were here but they were always full and many additional boats were always at anchor. The past two days have experienced an exodus as the charter fleets end their weeks and no new charters are arriving. There is a strange isolated feeling as we look out at twenty six boats in a bay that would normally have eighty to ninety this time of year.

Fortunately, we have food and although our solar controller has just quit working we have diesel to generate power. The water is crystal clear and just around our south point are some caves for snorkelling. There are trails for hiking and as the day progresses and our boat numbers dwindle further, we have no problems with social distancing. Better weather is forecast for Tuesday so we may change our anchorage but it will be here in the BVI’s as we cannot go to anywhere else. Stay safe all.
Thinking of all of you and hope you are well.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Tortola, BVI's

Tortuga, British Virgin Islands


Soper’s Hole, the West End
Our track is the green line.
After a short uneventful 12 nm crossing from The Lagoon on St. Thomas to Soper’s Hole on Tortola, British Virgin Islands we took a buoy and headed to Immigration and Customs. We had an additional form to complete with our usual Immigration form and Customs declaration, it was a short medical questionnaire regarding Covid 19 virus and flu symptoms. We had not been unaware of the impact the virus was having in China, Iran and Italy but with our limited internet we had not come to terms with how it was to impact us. We completed the form and were admitted to the BVI’s.
Pusser's at Soper' Hole, West End, Tortola

One of our first stops was to get wifi at the Pusser’s Restaurant and Bar where we were told that St Martin’s had closed its ports for cruising sailboats. Then as we opened our emails and texts we found out that our visitors were probably not coming. After Cathay Pacific flight cancelations from Vancouver to New York, Dusty and the girls were scrambling to make alternate arrangements. As the hours ticked away so too did the opportunity for their visit. Possibly no return flights with potentially long delays in airports and probable quarantine requirements when they finally returned to Canada spelled an end to a long talked about visit. 
A few of the rums I was going to share. 
With Bree working in the medical profession in New York, her employers urged all staff to cancel any leave in anticipation of an overwhelming need and if they did go away then they would have to self-isolate for two weeks on their return. The new masks and snorkels in little girl’s sizes, the new SUP and the boat fully provisioned complete with a few rums from the countries we have visited suddenly were preparations for the dance that was not happening.

The Beach at Nanny Cay Marina and resort

We sailed over to Nanny Cay Marina and Resort where we had booked moorage for three days and a triple room for the family for two days. We checked into the hotel room, swam in the pool, ate dinner by the beach and lamented the twist of fate, knowing full well that others were having a devastating time with this damn virus and our misfortune was quite minor by comparison. Our thoughts are with everyone impacted by Corvid 19. Isolate and stay healthy.
Kanilela just into Nanny Cay Marina.
This stack of twisted stainless from the hurricanes is almost symbolic of the twisted fate that has 
now been dealt to this devastated economy with the Corvid 19 virus. Everywhere is shutting 
down, unemployment is rampant but let's hope it stops the spread of the virus.

ST Thomas USVI

St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands


Charlotte Amalie and Benner Bay, (The Lagoon)

After a short 23 nm motor sail, yes the wind was again on the nose, we passed the anchorage on Water Island and saw several dismasted boats and a few sail and power boats high on the rocks. We yielded to a small container ship crossing our bow on his way to the commercial docks and we passed through the narrow and shallow Haulover Cut arriving on the western end of St Thomas Harbour. The Customs and Immigration officers are located at the ferry terminal on the concrete quay side. It is a lee shore and the harbour traffic sets up a choppy set of wakes with ferries arriving constantly from St. John and the BVI’s. Our first surprise was the speed of the traffic on the road beside the quay and the horns blowing were quite unnerving. Our 26 days on the anchor in quiet anchorages had not prepared us for city life. With six bumpers out and doubled bow, stern and spring lines set we left Kanilela to quite literally fend for herself as were headed off to find the immigration and customs. We arrived and received a form to fill out which I dutifully did and waited to be interviewed. Another officer who acknowledged he was not the guy to take the form but did not want to see us standing waiting took the form and stamped our passports. We were feeling good as we started to leave only to be called back by our original officer who had given us the form. “Where had we come from?” “Culebra” “Oh, give me your passports, you don’t need to clear in here.” Whereupon he proceeded to cross out our not yet dry stamps and sent us on our way. So, we had tried to clear out of Culebra and were not required to do so and we had tried to clear into the USVI and again were not required to do so. We do not know if the rules have officially changed or just a whim of the moment. People often ask us about the difficulties of clearing in and out of foreign countries with language differences and varying policy issues but our neighbours to the south of us are often the most problematic.
Our neighbour in the anchorage. His main mast half gone and several mast parts on deck,
the 21' sailboat behind was tied to him. It looked like a scene from a Patrick O'Brien 
novel. The ship returns with battle scars and a "prize" in tow.
Back at Kanilela all was fine but without a bow thruster moving off a wind driven concrete quay is always a challenge. With some bumpers moved to the aft and getting the bow well off the concrete before going into gear forward all went well as we slipped the final stern line and headed out to the anchorage close by.
The old Prison and the hills behind Charlotte Amalie.

It was an entertaining slow trip through the anchorage seeing mock pirate ships, large day tripper catamarans and mega yachts, both power and sail. There were a few international flags on some typical cruising boats but definitely in the minority. Also, we were again reminded of the 2018 hurricanes Irma and Maria with the number of dismasted boat in the main anchorage. We found a spot out on the western edge of the anchorage and had a quiet night surrounded by the lights climbing the hills around Charlotte.
The only cruise ship in Charlotte Amalie, we knew cruises were being cancelled but this
was a surprise. In the past there would have been several.

One of the benefits to arriving into a larger town is the opportunity to buy specialty marine items. We have a pump in the galley that brings in sea water we use for rinsing dirty dishes, always looking for ways to save good potable water. This particular pump is operated by a foot plunger therefore requiring no electricity, another plus in our battery challenged world. Unfortunately ours was leaking and even after stripping it down and silicon greasing all the rubber seals it was still trying to sink Kanilela in slow motion, one drip at a time. I had found Budget Marine on line and their web site said they had the same model new pump in stock. My email from Culebra to confirm stock went unanswered but we are pretty laid back down here and I am the eternal optimist so we headed to The Lagoon further east along the coast where Budget Marine is located.

The Lagoon, as its name implies is a small very shallow mangrove lagoon with numerous marinas of varying sizes from medium to minute. They were all devastated by hurricanes Irma and Maria 2018. We were arriving on Sunday and there were no berths available at Compass Point Marina until Tuesday. There is an area in the entrance bay where you can anchor in a maximum of ten feet and if particularly brave you can venture over some six foot shoals to a more protected area in front of False Channel. We draw six feet and with the recent hurricanes possibly silting in some of the shallows I favored discretion. Also, our newly painted bottom had not been dragged over any sand bars since painting in Jamaica. If it had been before the repaint we may have gone for it as we had dragged through numerous sand bars in the Bocas Archipelago in Panama, shallow North Bay in the Caymans and in the shallows throughout the Jardinas de la Reina in Cuba. As it turned out I should have tried to go further in as we had two very rolly nights with the swell wrapping around the corner and in to the Bay.
This was a scene repeated too often. The boat in the mangroves was Kanilela's size.

From the anchorage we could see a few large sailboats washed high into the mangroves. It is always sad seeing a boat sunk but as we dinghied in and saw the number of large sailboats on the shallow bottom and many more afloat but without masts we were dumbfounded. Conjecturing the size of sunken power boats by the size of the flying bridge projecting out of the water was staggering. But the resilience of the people was evident everywhere. Docks being rebuilt, boat reconstruction taking place and the ubiquitous collections of salvaged materials stacked on hulls requiring monumental efforts to return them to their former glory.
Our "Local"

We met some wonderful people at Compass Point Marina, from my first visit with Lindy the office manager to many of the owners and crews of boats moored in the marina, they were nice neighbours. Jennifer and Michael from the Columbia Valley in Oregon were an amazing young couple who insisted we use their car to go to the laundromat about four miles away. We had a great visit hearing about the catamaran and home project on an island in the Columbia River. Lots of hard work and innovative ideas. They also shared some great stories of the life of a charter captain and a gourmet chef.
Those are 2x6's that he/she is on. Well fed and not afraid.

But, cruising tales often have “buts”, when we went to Budget Marine the question regarding the pump was met with blank stares. We did pickup numerous other items as it was the best stocked marine store that we have seen in a long time.

A night heron

The front that drove us into the marina had started to recede so we decided it was time to take the last leg of our trip to the British Virgin Islands for our long anticipated Spring Break visitors. We would be arriving with a few days to spare.

A Sailor's Delight

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Isla Culebra

Isla Culebra, Puerto Rico


Ensenada Honda, Culebra

After a nice quiet sail up from Vieques we passed through the narrow entrance to another Ensenada Honda. This is doubly confusing because the two adjacent islands both have large enclosed bays called Ensenada Honda and the Spanish word honda means waves and both bays are well protected from the winds and therefore have little or no waves. The one on Culebra is also quite shallow and extends more than a mile but has houses on all sides and the town of Dewey, known locally simply as Culebra, is located in the northwest corner. 
Looking across Ensenada Honda at Dewey, the canal is in the center of the photo.
The town is set on a narrow strip of land beside a shallow small mangrove lagoon that has been dredged to form canals at both ends joining Ensenada Honda to the west coast of Culebra where the foot passenger ferry from Puerto Rico docks. On the Ensenada Honda end a draw bridge was erected that looks quite impressive but actually has only been raised once since it was built many years ago. The town has two grocery stores with a third on the north edge of town near the small airport. There are a number of bars and restaurants but the two we frequented were 
Our view of the Dinghy Dock Pub from the anchoage

The Dinghy Dock that fronts on Ensenada Honda and Momacita’s that is on the canal. Both had some good menu items but more importantly both had wifi.

The anchorage was busy with a regular turnover of boats heading east and west. Most are cruisers on their own boats but Fajardo, on the east end of Puerto Rico, is developing a charter fleet so we did see several of them anchoring close. They were generally very friendly and full of questions about Culebra and the cruising life in general.
Mamacita's with the canal and bridge into the anchorage.

Culebra is famous for having Flamingo beach that is frequently on lists of the world’s best beaches and draws a lot of tourists to its many small guest houses and bungalows. We had an enjoyable walk up past the airport half way to the beach when a lovely young Spanish couple in their rented golf cart offered us a lift. After a brief but enjoyable visit they dropped us at the Flamingo Bay Guest Cottages. We immediately met another couple from Maine who were staying in one of the cottages. They have returned to the Cottages for several years and were also very interesting and well-travelled in the Caribbean.It is fun meeting happy people.

Culebra is equally famous for having very clear water and many extraordinary snorkelling locations most notably at Isla Culebrita on the east side and Tamarind Beach on the west side. We were fortunate enough to see a turtle when we took our dinghy through the canal on a snorkelling trip to Tamarind.
The 10' high wooden monkey that welcomes the ferry passengers to Culera.
He is at the west end of the canal through to the anchorage.
The weekends are busy at Culebra when the Puerto Rican sport fishing fleet, locally known as the Puerto Rican Navy, arrives from Fajardo and San Juan. The bay is really colourful on a Saturday night as many of the fleet have underwater coloured LED lights, blue the predominant colour of choice. Surprisingly, as with other Puerto Rican anchorages, Culebra’s night life ended early and by comparison to Cuba, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, very quiet.

Our Spring break visit in the British Virgin Islands from family was drawing close so we prepared to weighed anchor and set course for the US Virgin Islands. First, as instructed in the cruising guide books and by several cruising friends, we gathered our papers and walked to the airport to file our departure and to receive the zarpe to enter St Thomas. We had questioned the need for this because both locations are under the control of the US but we were assured for various reasons the beurocracy demanded it. Hmm, we do not know if it was a recent change but Puerto Rican officials did not need to see us but assured us St Thomas officials would. Just another unnecessary walk on a hot day while we were preparing to leave. Life is good and we are smiling.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Isla Vieques, Puerto Rico


West end of Vieques, Esperanza and Ensenada Honda

Rather than continue north along the east coast of Puerto Rico we decided to sail east out to Isla Vieques, the start of the Spanish Virgin Islands. Both Vieques and her sister island, Culebra, had large portions held by the US Navy which they used for target practice. The Navy quit shelling Culebra in the 70’s but Vieques was still an active bombing range in the early 2000’s when I often visited the island while I was working on San Juan’s Tren Urbano, (urban train). The shelling was often audible from Esperanza on the south coast. The Island gained some notoriety at that time when a civilian Puerto Rican guard was killed by an errant shell which missed its intended target. The Navy’s initial response, that it was the guard’s fault because if he had stayed in his guard shack instead of walking across the road to urinate he would still have been alive, was met with a predictable outcry. It was probably the final catalyst that led to Puerto Rico holding a referendum to leave the US.  The wording of the three (actually there were five but two were even less comprehensible than the other three) choices were confusing and the translations provided were somewhat contradictory regarding, status quo, statehood or independence, so the vote was not conclusive and status quo was the outcome. The ill will towards the military was palpable and the Navy ultimately quit the bombing practice and left. The positive side of this is that the beaches were off limits for so long they are incredible places to snorkel and dive. US Park Service have taken some of the lands but there are ongoing talks as to the disposition of the remaining tracts.

Our landfall was to be on the west end of the Island, formerly called Blue Beach by the military, with good holding in sand in the lee of the island. There was one cruising sailboat at anchor and two snorkel/dive charter boats close to shore as we dropped the hook off Punta Bermudas. As usual by 4:00 pm we were left with only the cruising sailboat several hundred meters away as neighbour. We dinghied to shore and walk the deserted beaches, Although the Park Service had put some trash bins along the shore the under growth and storm related coastal changes were leaving them almost hidden in the vegetation. There were very little signs of recent visits and the remnants of the navy were all but overgrown and eroded away. The water was clear with lots of small fish.
The Malecon in Esperanza, Isla Vieques, one of the 
Spanish Virgin Islands

There was a slight roll to the anchorage so we left the following morning, heading east along Vieques’ south coast to the small town of Esperanza. We picked up a free mooring ball and went to shore. It was little changed from when we had last been there twenty years earlier. 

We had lunch at Duffy’s and for nostalgia’s sake I had their burger. It was huge and excellent. We were told the famous phosphorescent bay just east of town no longer permitted night time swimming in the sparkling water because of a shark attack a few years previous. We had such good memories of diving in holding your mask and watching the light show as well as seeing the torpedo like fish darting through the water we decided to up anchor to spend the night further east on the island in Ensenada Honda.

Ensenada Honda is very shallow large bay protected by land and reefs. We slowly ventured in about a mile, first running north then east and finally southeast. There were four other boats in the anchorage space so far apart that other than their flags we really saw nothing of them, three US flags and one other Canadian flag. The entire coastline was lined with mangroves, no houses on the bay only a lighthouse set on a high head land facing out to the open water and a few houses on the distant hills. There was an osprey perched on one of the larger mangroves nearby who was visibly concerned we may have been encroaching on his fishing territory.

On a short snorkel on the anchor and then to the edge of the mangroves I was followed by one of the ubiquitously curious barracudas. The visibility was quite limited so there may have been others nearby. After a calm night’s sleep, with no ocean surge making it into the anchorage, our weather forecast said we should head north up to Isla Culebra to sit out the next blow that was coming through.

As we left the bay and headed around the corner north we were finally able to turn off the motor and sail, not motor sail. A very pretty crossing.

South Coast, Puerto Rico


Isla Caja de Muertos (Coffin Island) and Puerto Patella

We left Marina Pescaderia, Puerto Real at about 3:20 planning to round Cabo Rojo in the very early hours. Our view of the wind and waves on the Cape from the lighthouse a few days earlier was still vivid in our memory. Although our first stop was only 50 nm, about 92 km, there was a number of considerations for departure/arrival times. Cope Rojo, like so many other Capes, is generally more benign in the early hours and we would be making a land fall on the west side of Isla Caja de Muertos, literally, Box of the Dead, so we wanted the sun high overhead to give us a better view of underwater hazards. As predicted the wind at the Cape was down to about 10 knots on the nose from the east although the seas were still running in the 10 to 12 feet at about 7 to 8 seconds, typical steep square fronted Caribbean waves. After a few the seas dropped about 3 to 4 feet so our progress motor sailing improved. The south coast has a shelf extending out at about 50 to 80 feet, the perfect depth for fishermen to set lobster traps so we were looking hard into the morning sun to ensure we did not catch any in the prop.
Leaving Caja de Muertos

Caja de Muertos is about 6 miles off the coastal city of Ponce that we had already visited by car. Ponce’s harbour is windy and commercial except for a yacht basin deep in the bay. Although it is an interesting historical town, we decided to avoid the trip in and out and chose to anchor off the coast on the island.

By 1300 hours we were well up to the shore in the lee of Caja de Muertos at about the center of the island. There were several tour boats off the beach on the south west of the island but only one other cruising boat to the north. Our first attempt to anchor set the hook on a smooth rock shelf so the hook dragged quickly down the sloping shelf. We move farther north and snuck into a sand bar in about 15 feet. We watched the tour boats head north to Ponce in the afternoon and enjoyed a quiet evening. Very little swell was wrapping around the north end so it was a comfortable night.
Puerto Patilla, Restaurante Tranqlidad on waterfront at left.

We knew from both windy.com and Chris Parker’s weather on 8.137 on the SSB/Ham radio that the weather window was predicted to be short with another front coming down from the north but decided Puerto Patilla would be a good anchorage if we had to wait out another blow. It was only 32 nm east on the main island of Puerto Rico and charts showed a good reef for protection.

We again left fairly early, 0630 hours, motor sailing into seas and winds that were building with the approaching front. Patilla is a shallow anchorage will fairly mountainous terrain to the east of the bay and the reef wraps around to the south limiting the amount of swell. Unfortunately, the wind and small swell made snorkelling poor and a fairly rolly anchorage for sleeping. With 30 to 35 knot winds blowing from the east we settled in for what proved to be a five day wait.
The rains have left the pastures green, it is pretty country but the high winds are letting some swell
curl around the reef into the anchorage with rolly nights.

The small community caters primarily to Puerto Ricans getting away from San Juan and Ponce for the weekends. There are a few bars with pub food but we found Restaurant Tranquilidad that served a Camarones Mofungo to die for. The rains that fell with the front left the pastures above the town a spring time green. A great setting for some relaxing days on the boat at anchor albeit a little rolly at night. After five days the winds have abated and we are headed east again. 

 Bayahibe, Dominican Republic to Puerto Real, Puerto Rico


A Smooth Crossing and a Delightful Welcome to US Waters
All quiet in the often notorious Mona Passage

We left Bayahibe about 1130 hours and were rounding the outside of Isla Saona by about 1400 hours. We draw too much water to make the passage between Punta Cana and Isla Saona. There were several day-tripper catamarans along the west and south shore of the island. Although we could see the bottom at 30 to 40 feet, with the passage ahead of us, we did not stop. The winds were light and on the nose with seas still 2.5 meters from the previous blow. Motor sailing again.
The crystal clear waters off Isla Saona

By 1600 hours I was again cleaning fuel filters but at least we had several new ones. At 1835 we were visited by a pod of small bottle nosed dolphins. It was fabulous seeing them again, the first we had seen since Providencia, Columbia. They played in our bow wave while we motor sailed until our filters blocked again. Happily the dolphins played around the boat while I installed new filters.  The pod had lots of babies and looked healthy, they were just a lot smaller than our Pacific Whiteside Dolphins.

As we were nearing Mona Island in the middle of the Mona Pass at about 2000 hours we noticed a light in the distance. The AIS showed nothing so we assumed a probable fish boat and turned on the radar. Surprisingly the boat showed much closer, about one mile away and a bigger image than we had expected from the single visible light we had spotted. Knowing the US military routinely do not transmit an AIS signal we assumed it was probably the navy or Coast Guard. Shortly more lights appeared on the ship and we could see a green starboard light off out port bow indicating the ship would be passing in front of us. Suddenly the radio crackled to life, a female voice said, “Vessel travelling north east under running lights, we are off your starboard bow, please identify yourself.” My response was “We see a vessel on radar off our port bow with no AIS signal. Please indicate your intentions for passing and who are you?” The response was “We are the United States Coast Guard, Please identify yourself.” Me “We are the Canadian sailing vessel Kanilela en route from Casa de Campo, Dominican Republic bound for Marina Pescaderia, Puerto Real, Puerto Rico to complete entry requirements.” Her response, “Please repeat the name of your vessel and how many people are on board?” Me, Canadian sailing vessel Kanilela with two people on board, my wife and I.” After a long pause during which I was racking my brain trying to remember the date we left San Diego because “when did you last leave US waters?” is the usual follow-up question we have heard them ask other boats. To my surprise she responded cheerily “Welcome to the United States of America, please continue. Coast Guard vessel standing by on channel 16.” We felt quite welcome. Shortly after the lights disappeared although the radar blip followed gradually in our general direction until it was about 10 miles off our stern.

We continued uneventfully through the night until close to dawn when two lights appeared far to the stern. We were probably too far away for AIS signals but the radar showed small targets about 13 miles away travelling at the same speed as us. We wondered if they might be m/v’s Blessed and Figment who travel together and who we had last seen several days earlier in Boca Chica but knew they would pursue the same weather window that we chose and their destination was also Marina Pescaderia.

Because we were arriving so early in the morning and knew the marina would not be open we decided to do a slow circuit of Boqueron, the bay to the south of Puerto Real. It is a very shallow bay so we did not go all the way to the Boqueron Yacht Club marina but slowly retraced our track back out of the bay. As we rounded the point Blessed and Figment were there preparing to enter Puerto Real. Always fun seeing boats you know.

Arriving at our assigned berth after a cell phone call with Jose in the marina office, we handed our lines to and received assistance from our new neighbours, Sam and Adrian on the British boat s/v Neva. Jose had arranged for the clearance officials and everything went smoothly. Interestingly, when we did talk to John and Don on Blessed and Figment, they had received no communication from the Coast Guard. We speculated that it may be that we do not transmit on AIS and they do or possibly it was our curious behaviour of stopping to clean fuel filters in the middle of the night that made someone curious.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Marina Pescaderia, Puerto Rico

Puerto Real, Puerto Rico


Marina Pescaderia, a great base for travelling Puerto Rico
Puerto Real and road trips in western Puerto Rico

Jose Mendez has joined George Munro, Port Antonio, Jamaica on our very short list of our favourite marina managers. Jose’s architect wife and he designed and built the marina about seven years ago. He is always smiling and offering assistance. On arrival he provided a computer with the US Homeland Security website form to be filled out and arranged our US customs and immigration officer’s visit at the marina. He provided a several page printout of all the services, both in the marina and on the street out front for any needs a cruiser may have as well as a good summary of all the sites in the vicinity to visit. He has a rental car facility on site and the cars are new and very inexpensive. There is a reasonable priced laundry and to Mags’ delight, hot water in the showers. They designed the marina with space for five independent businesses in the marina complex. First there is a sport fishing supply store, second Twin Marine Electronics Service run by Anibal and his office manager Maria, next, a scuba diving store complete with compressor to fill tanks, then West Coast Sailing where Dario has a mini store and cafe with cold beverages and chairs and space for the afternoon happy hour frequented by both long term marina residents and transient cruisers. Dario is also a West Marine outlet and can bring marine supplies in from the San Juan West Marine Store within 24 hours. Finally there is a fish store were the local fishermen bring their fresh lobsters and every type of local fish imaginable. An extremely well thought out space that is well utilized.
The Barber was on the dock

We soon met several cruisers at the dock and anchored in the bay. Our closest neighbours were Isabel and Ramesh on the US flagged s/v Yebo and Sam and Adrian on the British boat s/v Neva. Both incredibly interesting couples with Sam and Adrian regaling us with their stories of chartering and yacht deliveries while Isabel with stories of Venezuela and Ramesh with his youth in India and collectively with their extensive travels worldwide, particularly in Africa. Ted and Mo from Vancouver who were anchored in the bay were great company on an evening trip to Rincon for the night art crawl as well as shopping in Mayaguez. We also rented a car from Jose and travelled to Ponce for a Home Depot run and major provisioning at the larger stores there. Although there are several good restaurants beside the marina, the folding bike was an asset for runs to Walgreens and a local bakery. Finally, we again rented a car to visit the south western corner of Puerto Rico to see the Cabo Rojo lighthouse where the rolling surf and strong buffeting winds confirmed we were still waiting for a weather window. We travelled through Combate beach a bit farther north, and finally the old seaside town of Boqueron.

After an excellent visit and meeting many new people the weather changed with a high pressure building to the north, our window to go east along the south coast opened and we once again untied the dock lines.

Thursday, March 5, 2020


Bahia Bayahibe, Dominican Republic


Eco Tourism and Isla Saone, the South-East Corner
Zarpar to Bayahibe
Years earlier Serge Bisson and I helped a friend get his boat and wife from San Juan, Puerto Rico to La Romana, DR. Valentino, Romania’s “Yachtsman of the Year” for several years running, had done a yacht delivery and then was not allowed back into the US (Puerto Rico) so we took wife and boat to him. While sailing past now it was obvious how much the town has prospered but the anchorage is still in a fairly dirty fast flowing river so we continued on.
The catamaran day tours are out, the anchorage is peaceful.

Our final destination turned out to be the anchorage at Bahia Bayahibe. It is situated about 10 nm north of Isla Saone on the south-eastern tip of the Dominican Republic. The area is world renowned for its clear water with the bottom visible from the surface at depths up to fifty feet. When Serge and I rounded the point twenty years ago there were no boats in the area. As Mags and I wound our way through mooring buoys and vessels we were aware that Isla Saone has become an eco-tourism destination.
The town is clean and friendly

 Even in the anchorage at the small town of Bayahibe visibility is quite good so it is easy to check your anchor and visit the nearby reef. By the time late afternoon had come there were 35 large day-tripper catamarans back to their respective mooring balls and that was not counting the various powerboats. As they returned the music was really load and the hosts and hostesses were eliciting cheers from the passenger for the great day had by all and “don’t forget to tip the crew and tell your friends”. Surprisingly quickly the bay became quiet as the people boarded buses to return to their resorts. Judging by the scarlet “sun tans” there were undoubtedly some uncomfortable people at the resorts that night. When will we northerners learn that we fry in about fifteen minutes until we grow accustomed to the tropical sun?

After a couple of lazy days with some snorkelling we had a good weather window to cross the Mona Passage between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. We first had to clear out of the DR and get our zarpe to enter Puerto Rico. Four miles west was the very exclusive Casa de Campo Development and Marina where Immigration, Armada Naval, Customs, the drug police and the Port Captain all have their offices. Unfortunately the marina says its slips are completely sold out and will not rent a space or permit entry past the breakwater. The private homes and marina berths are mainly owned by the American rich and famous and although many of the berths sit empty they do not need the revenue of some paltry short term rentals so you cannot use them. There is a rough 150 foot long fixed concrete dock set about 6 feet off the water outside the marina’s breakwater subject to the constant pounding of the open ocean swell. Added to this, the numerous 40 to 70 foot powerboats leaving the marina to go fishing hit full throttle as they leave the breakwater throwing an additional wake pounding the boats at the dock. We were told the officials would be with us in 15 minutes. After two and a half hours fending of the dock, I was finally taken to the various offices leaving Mags to tend the dock line protectors and bumpers. Although some of the officials expressed concern about the conditions they said there was nothing they could do as Casa del Campo managed all the facilities for the owners. To add insult to injury while reading the January issue of the All At Sea - Caribbean publication, in an article about transient moorage available in the Caribbean, the Casa del Campo public relations officer said they have 30% of their 330 moorage spots for transient boats. Tell that to the six international boats we know personally who were willing to pay for a secure slip but were turned away. There were no transient boaters in the marina. This may be the commitment Casa del Campo made to various government entities to obtain their concession and support of the government entry officials but the situation has left many, us included, with a disappointed view of the Dominican Republic. This situation was reminiscent of the treatment by the big new marinas on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Fortunately we met so many wonderful people and saw so many amazing places and sites the DR will remain a good memory for us. Just for cruisers following us, do your entry and clearance in another location. After getting our zarpe we returned to the anchorage at Bayahibe planning to leave the following morning for the 110 nm passage to Marina Pescaderia, Puerto Real, Puerto Rico.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Santo Domingo and Andreas/Boca Chica

Marina Zarpar and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic


Marina and Colonial History Time

It had been about twenty years since Mags and I had been to the DR and it was apparent much had changed. The standard of living and the visible wealth of most people had definitely improved but the existence of a double standard of pricing is now much more apparent. Then, most tourists stayed in all-inclusive resorts and had little interaction with the communities surrounding them. At that time as we drove our rental car around the country we were greeted with curiosity and friendliness. If we were in line to buy anything it was apparent we were paying the same as the locals in front. Our only issue with corruption and treatment as a foreigner was by a policeman in Santo Domingo with whom we negotiated for twenty minutes to get an arbitrary fine reduced from $100 down to $6.

Marina Zarpar is a modern facility with lots of new powerboats and is interestingly located between the local community of Andres to the west and the tourist destination, Boca Chica slightly farther to the east. Boca Chica was one of the first areas to evolve as a tourist destination with apartments for rent in a safe community with restaurants and gift shops galore. It is definitely looking somewhat worn as newer resorts have claimed the tourist dollars but it still has its entourage of faithful northerners haunting the coffee shops and bars. Although distinctly cheaper than the resorts it is still vastly more expensive than the town of Andres.

We ate in restaurants in Andres with the locals, getting seafood or chicken both with rice and beans and salads for a fraction the price of the restaurants in Boca Chica. We prowled the local hardware stores for boat needs, often being sent to a competitor’s feriterria if whatever we wanted was not available. People were curious and engaging. It reminded us of the two sides of San Andreas, Columbia. We were always safe and the locals were attentive to our needs. The two marine supply stores opposite the marina were very well stocked and we purchased six of the 10 micron fuel filters (all they collectively had) and a few more 2 micron filters.

The party is on...
The public beach between the marina and Bocas is packed with hundreds of local families on the weekend. Although the water is not too inviting there are numerous kiosks selling beer and food and young and old wade into the water to cool down and spend family time. Innumerable seadoos screamed up and down the beach and past the marina while power boats on the water and cars and trucks on land stacked with speakers competed to out decibel one another. It is a cultural thing, you cannot change it so accept it or move on.

After a couple of days getting boat chores completed we took the local bus into Santo Domingo about twenty kilometers away. The cost was about seventy cents each, the passengers, locals who work in town. 
24 of our best friends together on a bus. 
How many can it hold? One more.
The bus ended its route on the edge of the Zona Colonial near Plaza Independencia so we were able to revisit some sites of the Christopher Columbus era. The amount of construction the Spanish engaged in during the period from 1492 to the early 1520’s is amazing, especially considering how often they were beset by earthquakes and hurricanes. 

Plaza Independencia

We rode share taxis throughout the town for a dollar a ride. The challenge is determining what the routes are and where best to catch them. It made a great excuse to engage the locals who were always willing to help with information. Older women were especially helpful. We wanted to go to the Plaza Cultural because there are three museums and an art gallery there but when we arrived two of the museums were closed for major reconstruction. We did visit the Museum of Natural History and developed a clearer understanding of the indigenous and invasive plants and animals as well as the history of man’s interaction through time on Hispaniola. We enjoyed a quiet time with air conditioning and no other tourists.

The Cathedral

We returned to the Plaza de Independencia and walked the pedestrian mall to Plaza Conde, the Duke’s Plaza, and Park Colon, site of the first Cathedral in the new world. The area is heavily touristed with repetitive shops selling the same faux DR memorabilia with buses arriving steadily from the resorts and cruise ships. The economy of the country is dependent on the influx of foreign dollars and the tourism is largely contained to a few very special areas deemed world heritage sites. To a degree the Dominicanos are victims of their own success but are generally happy with the visitors.

On returning to Zarpar we prepared to continue east as another weather window provided an opportunity. The m/v’s Blessed and Figment arrived so we had a brief visit with Amanda and Alberto, Lyn and John and Jan and Don. It is always fun meeting people you have met before and sharing cruising information.