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.

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