Thursday, 26 April 2012

Vieques and South Coast Puerto Rico

Hi from Clare,                         Wednesday 25th April 2012

We left Culebra last Thursday and sailed to the small island of Vieques and then to the town of Salinas on the south coast of Puerto Rico. It has been a pretty quiet week traveling only 60 miles. The sailing we have done has been perfect; sun baking on deck or reading and snoozing in the cockpit. 

On Vieques Island we enjoyed flat calm anchorages, peaceful days and fun nights with friends from ‘Tuatara’ and ‘Tactical Directions’ sharing drinks, dinners and few rowdy hands of Rummy. It seems that everybody plays to a different set of rules and we all believe our rules are right; anyhow it all adds to the fun.

 Esenda Honda, Vieques and some of the mangrove alleyways

When in Vieques we had the large anchorage to ourselves. It is quite noticeable how the cruising community has reduced as the GFC drags on. Even in the more popular places like the BVIs the anchorages were not crowded and many a mooring buoy sat untouched. 

On our sail over to Salinas, Andrew caught a wonderful Mahi Mahi. Thank goodness as before that our two previous catches have been Barracuda. We threw one back but the other one died while we were retrieving our three pronged hook from its jaw. We felt a bit sickened by the whole experience and couldn’t return to fishing for the rest of the day. However the Mahi Mahi made up for that and we thoroughly enjoyed the eating – yum yum.

Salinas Anchorage and the boys at the local Beach Bar 

We have been in Salinas for a few days waiting for delivery of a Cruising Guide for the Bahamas and a Chart Chip for the Northern Bahamas. Much to our surprise we couldn’t purchase these here from West Marine in Puerto Rico even though they are in their catalogue and had to mail order them from Bluewater Books & Charts, Fort Lauderdale. They have arrived today after 3 days and so once the wind cooperates we will be off to the Bahamas.

In the meantime Salinas is a lovely spot. It too has a large calm anchorage surrounded by hills on one side and mangroves on the other. We are anchored off the small marina and the most noticeable thing is that there is no speeding in the anchorage, the No Wake policy actually works. We sat watching late Sunday as many power boats returned to the marina and no one was doing more than a few miles per hour.  Apparently the Coast Guard is very vigilant and the fines are hefty.  This is in total contrast to Trinidad where earlier this year a cruiser in his dinghy was run over by a speeding power boat just off the marina.  There are Dolphins and Manatees in the anchorage and the no wake policy may be as much to protect the Manatees.  I even saw one off the stern a couple of days ago – a strange looking creature shaped like an aquatic wombat.  

The people here are genuinely friendly. They look you in the eye and say hello and if they are in their car, they wave.  It is a small town with no tourist shops but the essentials are here. A local chap struck up a conversation with me outside the marina laundry. He was sitting on the bench sorting through an armful of novels he had retrieved from the cruisers swap library. He is a history professor and he comes down to the marina to exchange books as there is no community library in town. He said he knows how many boats come through here by how fast the books turn over. He was pretty interested in my Kindle and so I downloaded a sample book from Amazon to show him how quickly it arrives on the Kindle; he was amazed. He asked me all about our travels and said, with a far away look in his eye, that when he retires next year he is going to buy a 20-24ft yacht, and then he is off to do the same – I wondered how far he thought he was going!

Today Andrew has gone touring with Tony ‘Tactical’ and Carol and Steve from ‘Innamorata ‘. I opted to stay at home as I have a dose of Neuralgia and didn’t feel up to it.  They are heading up to the mountains and so Andrew has the camera to take some photos for us all.

We will probably leave tomorrow and continue along south coast and then up the west coast. With a bit of luck by the weekend the wind should be right for a four day sail to the Bahamas.

Love Candy xx

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Spanish Virgin Islands - Culebra

Hi from Clare,                                                                     Wednesday 18th April 2012

We have now been anchored in the main bay of Culebra for a week.  This was not out original intention but we have been sheltering from a tropical low crossing the Caribbean.  Fortunately we have had the company of ‘Tuatara’ and ‘Tactical Directions’ and entertained ourselves with board games, happy hours at the local Dingy Dock Bar, drinks and dinners together, a walk across the island to the surf beach, a couple of ferry trips to Puerto Rico and a day trip to it’s capital city San Juan.

Culebra main harbour and Flamenco Beach

So we have survived our first experience of checking into the USA. On our arrival into Culebra we phoned Puerto Rico Customs and Border Protection and were put on hold for half an hour.  Alan from ‘Tuatara’ and Tony from ‘Tactical’ couldn’t check in on the same phone call and ended up waiting hours for return calls from CBP.  After this was done, the Skippers and Crews presented themselves to Culebra Customs and Border Protection at the airport with Passports and Ship’s Papers to answer questions and complete numerous forms. The process took the best part of the afternoon which is quite astonishing.  Only a week ago Andrew checked us both into the French Island of Les Saintes using an online computer in a coffee shop and after printing the form the girl who made the coffee stamped us into the country.

So just to complete the picture, this morning our English friends Carol and Steve (from London) on their yacht ‘Innamorata’ arrived into Culebra harbour. They came over to our boat and phoned the CBP to check in.  Steve was equally astounded by them, especially when they couldn’t understand him and asked if anyone on the boat spoke English – the poor guy was lost for words.

Approach to Fajardo and cannonballs at Fort El Morro

Before the wind picked up we spent two days and a night anchored out.  We firstly went up to Turtle Beach on a tiny island on the N/E corner of Culebra. This is a gorgeous horse shoe bay with soft white sand and brilliant aqua water.  We swam and played in the warm shallows and sat in the shade of palm trees.  In season Turtles lay their eggs here and so the beach is off limits between dusk and dawn. We arranged to have drinks on the beach with Alan and Jean at 5.30 before sunset.  We stayed all of five minutes before being driven off by thousands of midges; no amount of repellent would suffice.
The following morning, to avoid the north easterly swell which had robbed us of sleep for most of the night, we moved into a large bay on the east side of Culebra.  Around 2pm the rain started, heralding the arrival of the front so we came back to the main harbour which is big enough to cater for hundreds of boats at anchor.  We anchored as close as possible to town so we could come and go in the dinghy without getting drenched with every trip.

El Morro fortress, San Juan

There are a few ferries daily traveling between Puerto Rico and Culebra.  Andrew is on the ferry as I type as he is retrieving our headsail from a Sail Loft in Fajardo, Puerto Rico after some repair work.  After seven seasons of sunshine some areas are weakening. He, Tony and Alan took the sail into Puerto Rico last Friday to ensure it would be added to this week’s repair jobs.

Smallest House (in yellow) and an MGB of all things!

Yesterday Tony, Alan, Jean, Andrew and I caught the 6.30am ferry and then hired a car and drove to the capital San Juan. We visited the Spanish El Morro Fortress built 1530-1790; we saw the smallest house in the old town plus many lovely shops, parks and monuments. The city is very progressive with beautifully restored old buildings, spotless streets and ample parking.  The patrolling police in many areas are helpful with directions and sight seeing information. We had a great day in this busy city with its relaxed and welcoming approach.

Ben & Jerry ice creamery and Government House, San Juan

Our ferry back to Culebra was due to leave at 7pm. With Tony behind the wheel we were under a bit of pressure to get back in time to refuel and return the car. The pressure wasn’t helped by an unknown warning light flashing on the dashboard, a non functioning rear blinker, a sticking accelerator and a useless map.  However Tony did a fabulous job driving and with Andrew navigating we arrived back at the ferry by 6.20pm for the 7pm departure.
No need to panic, the ferry didn’t leave till 8.20pm. None of the locals seamed to mind, lateness must be a regular occurrence.  It was a very slow trip home and although we were starving we didn’t get back to the boat to enjoy a light dinner until 10.40pm.

Tomorrow after rehoisting the headsail we will sail to the Island of Vieques and then slowly make our way along the southern coast.  ‘Tuatara’ will head south and east from Vieques as they are heading to Trinidad for the hurricane season.  

Love Candy xx

Friday, 13 April 2012

The BVIs

Hi from Clare,                                        Thursday 12th April 2012

Well I have had a few enquiries this week, “where is the latest Blog?”
Sorry for neglecting you but I have been indulging myself lazing around reading in the shade and sometimes snoozing in total peace as the warm tropical breeze washes over me. Then there was swimming in 28 degree turquoise water and snorkeling amongst the coloured tropical fish, or just strolling along white sandy beaches fringed with swaying palm trees. Sounds pretty idyllic?  Well that has been our week along with perfect sailing conditions and great company.

At right, Liam and Annie and the gang on GWTW.....Saba Rock Bar
We left St Martins and headed for Virgin Gorda in the BVIs. We arranged to meet up with Aussie friends Liam and Annie from “Gone with the Wind”.  They sailed up the east coast of America last year and so we were looking forward to hearing about their experience and benefiting from their knowledge. We met in North Sound at Saba Rocks for drinks in the bar at sunset and then progressed to GWTW for a BYO BBQ in true Aussie style. We had a great night and Andrew’s head was spinning with information overload. Fortunately Annie has put a lot of info on email so we can look it up when needed.

The Windies left the following morning heading south. We spent the next few days sailing around Virgin Gorda, and the islands of Peter Is, Norman Is. Tortola and Jost Van Dyke in company with our Aussie mate Tony from “Tactical Directions” and Kiwi friends Jean and Alan from “Tuatara” and new English friends Carol and Steve from “Innamorata”.

Tony played the role of “Mother Ship” as he has a dive compressor. So we all clamored onto “Tactical” and headed across to Peter Island to dive on the wreck of RMS Rhone and later “the Indians”. The guys had a dive but due to a shortage of tanks, I didn’t join them.  Anyhow I was happy snorkeling; I could see the wreck from the surface and frankly when it comes to wrecks I think “big deal”. I enjoyed snorkeling around the rocks with the tropical fish and then swimming back to the boat with a turtle.  Most evenings we got together to share drinks and collectively plan our next destination.

Steve, A&C, Tony and Alan at the Peter Island Resort 
‘Eye Candy’ and ‘Tactical’ sailed across to Tortola for provisioning. (In hindsight, this was the end of our idyllic week).  Andrew was keen to go to a ship’s chandler but most shops were closed for Easter Monday. The fresh produce at the supermarket was a bit sad also so after purchasing a few essentials we sailed to the N/E corner of Jost Van Dyke Island and joined the others. We anchored off a gorgeous reef but unfortunately the wind picked up and so we spent a fairly uncomfortable night trying to sleep in bouncy conditions. We got out of there the following morning and went around to a more protected south side and took up a mooring buoy in Great Harbour.  We had drinks that evening in Foxy’s Bar which is well known for having the liveliest parties around.  Well I can’t vouch for that but I can say for the hour I was there on Skype I didn’t sit still for a minute. I was attacked by tiny black bugs that left me with about fifty very itchy bites on my legs and arms. One of the locals watching me swatting myself took pity on me and came over with some repellent; God bless him.

Anchorage at Jost van Dyke
‘Eye Candy’ ‘Tactical’ and ‘Tuatara’ are now on the Spanish Virgin Island of Culebra. This island and Puerto Rico which is situated only fourteen miles west are part of the USA, so we have now officially entered the United States.  Fortunately Annie and Liam (with their America experience) very kindly purchased an American phone for us.  We are required to check in to the country by phone before we arrive. In addition every time we move our boat in American waters we have to notify Customs and Border Protection by phone. As Annie said “CBP are your friends, and like good friends they want to know where you are at all times”.

We both have a five year Visas for the States but we can only stay for six months at a time. So we will cruise Culebra and Puerto Rico then check out and go to the Bahamas for a few weeks. Then we will head to the mainland America and check in which will start the clock ticking for our next six months.
We expect to be on the mainland in June.
Love Candy xx

Monday, 2 April 2012

Grenada to St Martin

Hi from Clare,                                                                           Saturday 31st March 2012
Housing at Isles Des Saintes

Main street sans tourists

Town Square, Des Saints

Shop, Des Saintes

Anchorage at Isles Des Saintes

Lagoon entrance at St Martin 

Crowds waiting for us? or the 100 footer behind us

Just one of the mega yachts in the lagoon, St Martin

Since leaving Granada our focus has been on taking advantage of favourable winds to go north as quickly as possible. We are now in St Martins some 450 miles north of Trinidad.

We sailed from Granada to Carriacou, then to Les Saintes, Guadeloupe and Antigua before arriving in St Martin yesterday. Both departures from Guadeloupe and Antigua were 4am starts so we could arrive at our destination before dark. The 90 miles from Guadeloupe to St Martin was the best sail for the week being fast, comfortable and averaging 6.9 knots. Tomorrow night we will sail to Virgin Gorda to catch up with our Aussie friends Annie and Liam on ‘Gone with the Wind’. They went up the east coast of the USA last year. We followed their journey on their blog site gathering valuable information on how things work in the USA – but as you can imagine, it’s still a mystery!

Our first stop was Carriacou for one night. We arranged to have drinks with Mark and Sue on ‘Makushla’ who crossed the Atlantic this year and are also traveling up to USA. Carriacou is just a small town on a lovely sandy beach with a well protected bay for anchoring. We needed to check out so off to Customs and Immigration. Unlike the Med where C&I are often housed in very salubrious surroundings, here the Immigration officer is in a shed on the wharf along with the tractor, smelly fuel drums and broken equipment. He was watching the cricket (Australia vs West Indies) on the computer which I think would have been the only highlight in an otherwise monotonous day. Things were a bit livelier in the tiny Custom’s Office housed in the Police Station. The notice on the door said “knock and enter” - a necessary warning for us to move or get hit by the opening door when standing at the counter. The ‘lock up’ was near by and an inmate supplied the entertainment with singing, drumming and kicking the wall. We were quite amused but the Customs Officers completely ignored the commotion.

Our next stop was the small French island of Les Saintes just south of Guadeloupe. This is a pretty Caribbean island with lots of French flair. It has a large natural harbour with Fort Napoleon and Fort Josephine overlooking the bay and small town. The houses and shops are mostly old, small, wooden and brightly painted. Well stocked tourist shops with all the international labels enjoy the benefit of two or three cruise ships stopping daily. If there were no cruise ships in town the tourist shops shut and the place would resume its sleepy and lay back existence. It was mostly during these periods we enjoyed exploring the town. We stayed there for three nights waiting for favourable winds. We met an English couple Stella and Keith who were anchored close by. We enjoyed their company immensely and shared afternoon tea each day with them before a sun downer. The guys of course talked boats for hours on end and Stella busied herself making shade covers for the cockpit.

Reluctantly we moved on and had a fairly horrible sail to Antigua. It was a close reach so we were tipped over making it hard to move around the boat and necessary to hang on all day. By nightfall I was exhausted and not looking forward to our 4am start the next morning to sail to St Martin. However the next day was perfect as the wind was aft of the beam making life a lot more enjoyable. We both even managed a snooze through the day. The only disappointment was that we didn’t catch a fish, only great lumps of seaweed.

We arrived into St Martin in time for the bridge opening in the afternoon giving access to the large and well protected Simpson Lagoon. This was a huge bonus as we fully expected to spend the night anchored by the beach and rolling in the swell.

St Martin is divided across the middle with the French owning the northern section and the Dutch owning the southern part. We are apparently free to travel between the two without our passports - just motor across in the dinghy. The island has an international airport and duty free shopping everywhere. There are many mega yachts and expensive power boats in the marina and hundreds of boats at anchor in the lagoon. Yesterday was spent checking in, going to the ship chandler for cruising guides, supermarket shopping, defrosting the fridge and general recovery.

This afternoon we are looking forward to exploring the town. We will leave the lagoon tomorrow afternoon and sail over night to Virgin Gorda. The forecast is for little wind and so it will be a slow trip.

Love Candy xx