Friday, April 29, 2011

Weather…. or not?

Our plan was to hang around Salinas for a few days, rent a car and travel around Puerto Rico a bit… hike and swim under the waterfalls in El Yunque, go see a coffee plantation, check out the big telescope in Arecibo and whatever else turned up along the way. 
Looking north over Puerto Rico's velvet hills
The weather had other plans for us and again it was either GO when the wind was right or be locked in for ten days or so. We’re still trying to make tracks to St. Croix to visit with Skip’s parents so we put Salinas, El Yunque and the rest on our ‘go back to’ list and picked up the anchor. Not before giving a few haircuts though....

Martin goes first....
...then Johanna
The shorthaired crew of Snowbird

Early morning departure from Salinas

Early morning calm seas with half moon 
We headed for Cayo Santiago to see if we could spot the monkeys that run wild on the island – but the wind and seas picked up much more than forecast and more than we wanted to fight so we ducked into Palmas del Mar. The current charts show this harbor as a big comfy anchorage, but we arrived to find it full of new concrete docks and hardly room enough to turn the boat around to slip over to the fuel dock. Go figure. We spent the night rafted up with Snowbird alongside the deserted fuel dock inside the harbor. 

We’d put out our fishing lines as soon as we got into deep water away from Salinas; we caught two barracuda and lost two lures. One lure was taken by a barracuda, the other one I accidentally let go when trying to untangle the spaghetti mess our lines made in the water when we tacked and they crossed. Oops. But… I got a photo of them both before they went in the water so we can remember them! (Miles... this is the 'business end of the rig' photo you'd asked for!)

Gone but not forgotten....
These two are on the injured reserve list.
The trade winds have been blowing hard east at 15 to 20 knots, the ocean swells have been hovering around 10 feet and the wind driven waves have been a pretty constant 5 to 6 feet. We’re still sailing right into all this motion so we take advantage of any slight southerly or northerly component to the wind – and just deal with the big seas. It’s a bit calmer in the early morning and early evening so we sail very early or at the end of the day. 

Someone's party decorations = Ocean junk
We left Palmas del Mar before dawn and had a great sail over to Green Beach at the west end of Vieques. We spent the day soaking up the view, swimming, snorkeling, collecting coconuts and cooking up octopus. 

Green Beach, Vieques
Now what?
OK.... now what!?
We’d been here on land years ago and loved it so we were looking forward to coming back by boat and spending some time. The weather gods said “Ha ha ha ha ha! I don’t think so.” and so sadly, Vieques too is on our ‘go back to’ list. This weather thing is getting old… but after the beating we took offshore I’m not tempted to argue with Mother Nature. We left Green Beach behind and sailed to Isla Pineros, a tiny island off the east coast of Puerto Rico. Our charts, which continue to surprise us, note this anchorage as “well protected”. Perhaps in some alternate universe… but not the night we were there. We pitched and rolled all night and got up before dawn cursing the rolling seas and went back out into the wind and swells to make our way to Culebra. We travel at about 5 knots in these conditions, which is comparable to a good jogging pace. This twenty mile trip took us five and a half hours. Think about that the next time you drive twenty miles.

 The best part of leaving Isla Pineros.... (I want to live in THAT building)
So, we’ve put a lot of places on the ‘revisit’ list and we’re now in Culebra… it’s beautiful. We’ve been walking around the island checking out the beaches and the town and meeting new people and their animals. 

I can't get enough of the flowers either....

This guy doesn't quite have his landing gear up yet....
We trekked out to Flamenco Beach on the north side of the island and watched the waves pounding the beach. Yellow caution flags kept most swimmers out of the water, but there were still people enjoying the place. 

We've been making use of the coconuts we collected on Vieques... but I'll leave that for another post. The octopus was probably enough of a culinary adventure for this post.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Halfway Across Connecticut

The comparison made over and over is that Puerto Rico is about the same size as Connecticut. We’re now in Salinas, about half way across the southern coast of Puerto Rico, or about exit 45 on I95 in Connecticut – say around New Haven.

Early morning at Cabo Rojo
Backing up to where I left off at the last post, here’s the lighthouse at Cabo Rojo the morning we left. I’m still working on becoming a morning person; I’m making some progress.

We had intended to go to Ponce, but decided to stop part way and check out a little town called Guanica. It lies in a protected bay across the harbor from an even littler town called Ensenada. We anchored by the mangroves near Ensenada under the rusty remnants of the old sugar processing plan – we were the only boat.

Storm passing over Ensenada
Until the early 1980’s Ensenada had a booming sugar production industry (reportedly the 10th largest plant in the world), but when the processing plant closed, the town began to slide into decline. Many businesses closed, the AAA baseball team left, the hospital and golf course shut down and the young people moved away. Guanica became the bigger of the two towns and now has the grocery store, the banks the malecon and unfortunately the fast food places.

The dinghy dock has seen better days

Something about Ensenada appealed to us so we walked around the town. We found a hardware store where we picked up a few things, a killer bakery, a pretty park and friendly people. It’s not a common stop for sailors so we were a bit of a curiosity here and everywhere we went people stopped us to ask where we were from and to see how we liked Puerto Rico. Many people here spent time living and working in the States and they told us stories about their lives there and the constant desire they felt to return home to Puerto Rico.

At the end of one long walk we were called over by some local guys who were hanging out drinking beer at the only store near the dinghy dock. Jose and Julio – brothers-in-law who spend most mornings and afternoons (with a break for lunch) socializing and drinking beer at the little store – had seen us walk by in one direction, then back again the other way. They said “You must be hot after all that walking…. come over here and have a beer with us!”  We couldn’t refuse the invitation. Julio was married to Jose’s late sister Evita, and both men had lived in the States for more than thirty years before returning home to Ensenada. Jose lives with his mother Maria and Julio lives in another house about forty feet away from them.

Skip, Jose and Julio

They offered to take us to the grocery store over in Guanica and invited us for dinner at Jose’s mother’s home that night. Julio hooked us up with some just caught octopus and promised to show us how to clean it before dinner.
Step one: Inspect the critter
Steps two through four: whap it around a bit, yank out the inside stuff, wash it off and lastly, don't forget to pull off the eyes.
Just like you see in your grocer's freezer!
Dinner was an entertaining affair dominated by a conversation about which came first – the chicken or the egg. Julio was insistent that it was the chicken… because duh, how could there be any eggs if the chicken didn’t come first? Once that was resolved we moved on to why people didn’t take karaoke seriously. Julio is quite the crooner and has no patience for people who get up on stage and need to have the words scroll in front of them in order to sing a song. These two were the odd couple incarnate and pretty darn funny to hang around with.

Julio surveys his land

We hated to say goodbye to these kind people but we’d been in Ensenada for almost a week and it was time to move on. Again we headed for Ponce and again we got sidetracked. We sailed to Isla Caja de Muertos (Coffin Island), just south of Ponce where the water was clear and blue. The water in the mangroves of Ensenada was a murky green – not so enticing for swimming after having been spoiled by the shockingly clear blue water in the Bahamas. 
 This is why they call it Isla Caja de Muertos
The tiny little white dot in the light blue water on the right side.... is Saralane!

We cleaned the bottom of the boat, which didn’t look too bad, hiked to the lighthouse on the top of the island, swam, snorkeled and watched a display of local power zip back and forth for the news cameras one day. We still don’t know what the event was, but there were police watercraft of all kinds as well as planes and helicopters buzzing around. The media was packed onto one boat filming the whole thing. This would’ve been the day to rob a bank in Ponce…. all the cops were busy over on Isla Caja de Muertos.

Sharp stuff

Skip waves hello
Having bypassed Ponce twice already we were making plans to head over there when we heard it was just the wrong time to go. An island wide college athletic competition was just wrapping up and students from all over the country were about to converge on Ponce for a weekend of partying. So, for a third time we skipped Ponce. We headed for Salinas and this time got sidetracked by some pretty little islands nearby called Cayos Ratones. Not too hard to translate… Rat Cays. No rats here, just mangroves and a teensy little beach. And for about an hour each morning and each evening there are also no see’ums. Lots of ‘um. Even though you can’t see’um, you certainly can feel’um. Nasty little bite-y things. They weren’t enough to spoil this pretty spot so we stayed for the night.
Rain in Salinas
Peaceful anchorage at Cayo Ratones. See? You can't see the no see'ums. 
In the morning we’d planned to make our way into the anchorage at Salinas, but turned out we were parked pretty well. Stuck in the muddy sand. After some fancy maneuvering by Captain Skip, we were able to get free before any other boats came in to watch us embarrass ourselves trying to get unstuck. This included Skip getting in the dinghy and pushing and pulling Saralane out of the mud tugboat fashion. It was fairly amusing... but only in retrospect and only because it worked.

That brings us more or less up to date as we sit here at anchor in Salinas. We were planning to rent a car here and explore the island but the weather may dictate that we head out tomorrow or be locked in here for another week or more. If we leave tomorrow we'll rent a car somewhere else and explore from another location. 

We’re still in mango heaven here and for the moment we’re also in tomato heaven. There’s a woman who has a small canvas shop here in who sells her homegrown tomatoes out of the shop. Yep… life is good.

Everyone loves mangoes

Green mango, red onion and fresh shaved coconut salad
One quick note about our laundress Brandy Alexandra back in Boqueron – she was better than we realized. Not only did we get our clothes back, we also got a few of someone else's!