Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Cruising Puerto Rico: La Parguera to Culebrita (!!!)

Holy Mackerel! We've been in the BVI for almost a WEEK and I'm still blogging the start of Puerto Rico!? Chalk it up to lack of good internet access, great cruising with steady progress and lots of social time with friends, and what little computer time I get in being consumed by writing jobs, taxes, etc. But enough with the excuses - time to kick this into high gear!

Here's cruising the south coast of Puerto Rico in a nutshell: motorsail, motorsail, motorsail some more! Get your butt out of bed at O'Dark-30, leave your anchorage in the dark, motorsail in light northeasterlies, watch the sky ahead brighten to pink and the high rugged mountains to your left turn velvet. then golden, then green...the wind picks up and turns east just in time for you to make a left turn into your next anchorage, and you're nice and secure right about the time it's honking out of the southeast. Take the dog to shore, explore the town a bit, do a boat chore or two, check out the beach party spot all the local boaters are hanging out at, have a few beers while soaking in 86-degree saltwater and maybe exploring a bit by snorkel, grill up some dinner, then head to bed early to prepare for your next O'Dark-30 wakeup and (you guessed it) more motorsailing!

It actually wasn't as repetitive as all that because we did the south coast in only four legs thanks to unusually lax tradewinds. But it was a whole lot of motorsailing! We stopped overnight at La Parguera, Gilligan's Island (where Judy, Justin, Jo and fam joined us for snorkeling), and Ponce (for two nights) before spending a Sunday afternoon scrubbing the bottom out at Caja de Muertos (Coffin Island) and motoring flat-out in glassy water overnight the 67nm to Puerto del Rey in Fajardo. We intentionally skipped ahead a bit because that was a convenient place for me to stay while Dawn flew out of San Juan for a quick family visit, but then flight loads filled up, she didn't get out, and we suddenly had more good weather and nowhere to go. We left Puerto del Rey earlier than planned and spent two nights in the Fajardo/Isleta anchorage (reprovisioning, a welding repair, Piper's vet appointment for health certificate to the BVI), then headed east to the Spanish Virgin Islands.

And just like that, the motorsailing slog was over, replaced by glorious flat-water sailing on a variety of points of sail! We had a nice all-day beat to Flamenco Bay on the north side of Culebra our first night, which is the Spanish Virgins equivalent of skipping over dinner and going straight to the Banana Split. Fantastic! And the next day a broad reach to Tamarind Bay on the west side, which was almost as good and far less rolly. Then to millpond-still Ensenada Honda and the quiet little town of Dewey over the weekend before motoring a mile out to beautiful Ensenada Dakity, which looks like an open roadstead on the south side of Culebra but which is actually completely protected by a huge fringing reef. We were joined there by our friends Dane and Mak on S/V Sea Otter, who we'd last seen in Luperon over a month prior - they'd been roughly a week behind us ever since.

We had a great time with Dane, Mak, little Isla, and their Winnipeg friends Steph and Wes for the afternoon at Ensenada Dakity and then the next full day out at Culebrita, which we really loved. But the next morning we had to leave them again already, temporarily, to point our bow further east. We'll be going back to the Spanish Virgin Islands later this season, before putting Windbird on the hard in Puerto Rico for hurricane season, so we were ok with a six-night preview of Culebra and surrounding islands. Informed that several sets of good friends were chartering in the BVI throughout the month of April, we rejiggered our schedule to spend April there and May in the USVI/Spanish Virgins. Crazy to think that our hard-won easting for the season was almost at an end!

Highlights of Puerto Rico, for us:
1. Culebra. Geographically part of the Virgins, politically part of Puerto Rico, culturally its very own little slice of paradise. Can't wait to go back.
2. Reuniting with Sea Otter. Love buddy-boating with these guys. Looking forward to spending more time with them in the BVI and USVI over the next few months.
3. Exploring Rincón and western PR by car with Judy and family.
4. Funky little La Parguera and its outlying mangrove cays. So laid back. Phosphorescent Bay on a moonless night was absolutely magical.
5. Hanging out at Gilligan's Island with Judy & family.
6. Boqueron's great little downtown party on the weekends. 
7. Ponce's Malecon area and historical downtown with its Spanish colonial architecture. Otherwise, the anchorage is pretty industrial and was hit hard by Maria.
8. Sunrises off the south coast. Motorsailing aside, we had some great sunrises that put the south coast in a good light, though much of it is industrial.

"Meh" moments:
1. Mayaguez. Not terrible, just not nice. Lots of practical stuff at hand if you need it, though.
2. Caja de Muertos. It's ok, I was just a little underwhelmed. Probably unfair as we only spent one morning and afternoon there, further up the island from the usual anchorage due to swell & nasty roll, and I was scrubbing our bottom for about three hours of our stay.
3. Fajardo. Really picturesque setting from the sea, but by land basically just a fairly charmless, convenient place to get stuff done and get out. We'll be spending a lot more time here towards the end of this season and the beginning of next, so maybe I'll reconsider, especially as they recover more from Maria.
4. Puerto del Rey. It's a pretty decent marina, actually, albeit a huge one. Super nice docks.  Friendly folks. They've done a great job of recovering from the storm. You can get a lot of stuff done here, at a price. They have a well-thought out hurricane storage yard and system, which did admirably well considering they took an absolute direct hit from Maria - which is why we're choosing to put Windbird there this storm season. But at the end of the day, PdR *is* still a marina, and we were glad to get back out on the hook after only one night at the dock, even at the exposed and Maria-wracked Isleta anchorage. We're just not marina people!

Skipped and heard we didn't miss much: Salinas.

Skipped for now but will do later this season & start of next season: More Culebra, Vieques, El Yunque, Old San Juan, and more interior travel.

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