May 13th – 20th, 2014 (-4 on UTC)

Dear F&F, We had a fabulous time in the Turks and Caicos and if it works out, we’d come back next season. It was one of our favorite stops in the entire Eastern Caribbean.

All good things must move on and we were looking forward to arriving in the world famous Bahamas! We departed the convoluted pass at Turtle Cove Marina and had much better weather than the day we first arrived. The sail would be about 60 miles and we didn’t want to arrive too late as there was a long shallow passage into Mayaguana’s – Abraham’s Bay.

Nikki hoists the colors, Mayaguana, The Bahamas

Nikki hoists the colors, Mayaguana, The Bahamas

We arrived in a bit of a squall with two other boats at anchor in water that was an entire 1.7 to 2 meters (4 1/2 to 6 feet) deep. The anchorage was a bit exposed and as such, though we could have checked in at this very sparsely populated island – we decided to move on the next morning. We’d check in somewhere else along the trip.

The 37 foot, Prout Snowgoose Catamaran, “Snowball” left about an hour and half ahead of us and would be the boat we’d be chasing all day. The trip was about 65 miles and the wind was up! We had to make the decision on which side to pass the Plana Cays by and the winds made the choice for us….it would be north of them.

About 8 miles before we arrived at Attwood Harbour on Acklin’s Island, we passed “Snowball” who was flying no main and a spinnaker. Our spinnaker pole out to the windward side of the boat, really allows us to sail very downwind in blowy conditions. This saves wear and tear on the boat and crew as well as making the passage much more comfortable, faster and fun.

"Snowball" under Spinnaker en-route to Acklin's Island, The Bahamas

“Snowball” under Spinnaker en-route to Acklin’s Island, The Bahamas

When we arrived in Attwood Harbour, we were very cautious as the guide book made it sound like a difficult entry. Frankly, it was about as easy as they get in this part of the “reefy” world. No problem with me! The bay was almost a complete circle and not only extremely off the beaten path, but a VERY comfortable anchorage. Again, in about 6 feet of water.

About a half an hour after we were settled, “Snowball” anchored next to us and invited us over for a G&T! Paul and Tony were British chaps and Nikki loved the conversation. So did I, but as she says….”It’s cultural”…..:-)

Paul & Tony - Crooked Island Anchorage, The Bahamas

Paul & Tony – Crooked Island Anchorage, The Bahamas

We made fast friends, shared life stories and we’d both be sailing to Pitt’s Town Anchorage the next morning on the northeast corner of Crooked Island. We again had a really nice sail and some lovely views of the Little Bird Island Lighthouse. It has been abandoned for many years and we read of plans to make it a private “honeymoon” resort experience. Alas, like many of these projects, it has not yet come to pass!

Remote Bird Island Lighthouse - Disused and planned for a Honeymoon Retreat Now that's unique.

Remote Bird Island Lighthouse – Disused and planned for a Honeymoon Retreat
Now that’s unique.

After we anchored at a relatively comfortable but open roadstead off Pitt’s Town, we had Paul and Tony over to “Beach House”. Nikki whipped up some pupu’s and drinks, we had conversation about the day’s sail and future plans. We said our farewells as they’d be off toward Cat Island the next day while we’d be headed to Long Island Cay. We hope to meet up again with them “somewhere out there”.

The next morning we started the engines as usual after I done my checks and upon accelerating the port engine, it made an awful squeak. I went below to have a look and guessed that the bearings on one of the two alternators must be bad? As such, we motored in light winds to our next destination with just the starboard engine. Yet another advantage of a twin screw catamaran!

When we arrived in Clarence Town Bay, Long Island, we went ashore to inquire about a mechanic to come have a look. Long Island is 80 miles long, but never more than a half mile wide!

Long Island, The Bahamas:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_Island,_Bahamas

The next morning, Andrew Cartwright arrived at Flying Fish Marina and I dinghy-ied him out to the boat. Andrew’s family has been here forever and there are Cartwright’s scattered over the whole island.

Andrew had a look at the engine and at first thought it was just a loose belt. Upon further inspection, it turned out that our 24 volt alternator bracket had developed a crack in the weld where it attached to the side of the engine. He removed it, but told us there were only two welders on the island capable of fixing it. One of them was off island working on a British Telecom site; the other was off until Monday. We settled in for the weekend and took advantage of the time to rent a car and check in with customs up at the north end of the island.

The chap at customs was quite a character and tried to convince us he couldn’t check us in despite our having called ahead to one of his co-workers who said we could. He spent the better half of an hour trying to figure out who told us this and finally gave up and just checked us in. We drove back in intermittent driving rain storms, but had a great time exploring the island. We also stopped for a drink at the Santa Maria Resort where we’d next stop with the boat – about 50 miles up the coast. The resort was nice and we thought we might try dinner there when we moved up coast.

Andrew and Les fixed our port engine alternator bracket which cracked.

Andrew and Les fixed our port engine alternator bracket which cracked.

The next day we did some exploring in the bay at Clarence Town with the dinghy and walked along empty, protected white sand beaches which stretched for miles. We kept thinking that there are dozens of places that we could kite board if we really get good at it throughout the Bahama Islands. We eventually went ashore at Strachan Cay, one of the barrier islands that forms Clarence Town Bay. There was a single private home here. It seemed abandoned, but an ideal place to just “get away from it all”. We learned that the long time owner had passed away, but that his extended family comes down in the winter months. The beaches were sweet white sand, a true Robinson Crusoe get-away spot.

Miles of remote white sand beaches throughout the Bahamas.  Long Island,  Clarence Town Bay

Miles of remote white sand beaches throughout the Bahamas. Long Island, Clarence Town Bay

On Monday, we drove to Les Harding’s shop. He’s another famous and long time Long Island family scion and had him weld the bracket. Thirty dollars seemed a bargain. Back again the other way where we would have Andrew re-install the whole enchilada.

En-route, we stopped at the deepest “Blue Hole” in the world at “Dean’s Blue Hole”. This is a natural limestone sink hole which is about 150 wide but attains a depth of 202 meters (663 feet deep). Every November, there is a gathering of the world’s best free divers to try and set either personal bests or world’s records. Most of the world’s free diving records have been set here. This is a gorgeous natural setting, but has a mixed history. Several people who have tried to attain records have died including a few tourists who for unknown reasons have been lost here as well. Despite a somewhat checkered history, thousands of people swim in the warm calm waters without event every year. The setting is in a gorgeous protected cove at the edge of the sea.

WARNING!  Dean's Blue Hole.  The deepest limestone blue hole in the world.

WARNING! Dean’s Blue Hole. The deepest limestone blue hole in the world.

Dean's Blue Hole with diving platform.  Long Island, The Bahamas

Dean’s Blue Hole with diving platform. Long Island, The Bahamas

See link: http://school.verticalblue.net/deans-blue-hole/

Another very interesting site at this island is what are known as “Father Jerome Churches”. Father Jerome was an Anglican priest, trained as an architect who came to the Bahamas in 1908. He dedicated much of the rest of his life rebuilding churches in the Bahamas in a Greek Mediterranean style. Eventually converting to Catholicism, he rebuilt the Anglican and Catholic churches on Long Island as well as the famous “Hermitage” on Cat Island.

To learn more about Father Jerome Churches on Long Island: http://www.yachtingmagazine.com/article/Picnicking-with-Father-Jerome   Father Jerome Churches of Long Island. This is the St. Peter and St. Paul Church.

Father Jerome Churches of Long Island.

This is the St. Peter and St. Paul Church. See Link: http:/shanepinder.com/blog/2008/11/14/sts-peter-and-paul-catholic-church-clarence-town-long-island/

The Hermitage on Cat Island – see link: http://www.greenwoodbeachresort.com/english/churches.htm

The people on Long Island were, like the Turks and Caicos, some of the friendliest folks we’d met anywhere in the Eastern Caribbean. Andrew got us put together in a few hours after our return and we were off the next morning for Calabash Bay, the site of Santa Maria Resort. The sail was quite brisk and we took in a reef with the staysail in some wild squalls and wind shifts as we sailed the 50 miles north to the top of the island.

Along the way, we crossed the Tropic of Cancer. This is the latitude line (running East and West) that is the limit of the Sun’s northward annual trek. If you dropped a “plumb bob” from the Sun to the Earth, this is as far north as it gets on June 21st or 22nd every year. This is the Summer Solstice; the longest day of the year and marks the official beginning of Summer in the Northern Hemisphere.

Tropic of Cancer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tropic_of_Cancer

We pulled into the tricky reef entrance at Calabash Bay, anchoring yet again in very skinny water. We did a “wet landing” with the dinghy on a lovely sandy beach. I wanted to give Nikki the night off from her Galley duties and we had a nice meal at the Santa Maria Resort. The resort mostly caters to Bone fisherman.

If you’re not familiar with Bone Fishing, check this link out: http://www.patientangler.com/blog/view/9248

Calabash Bay, Santa Maria Resort.  Long Island, The Bahamas

Calabash Bay, Santa Maria Resort. Long Island, The Bahamas

Bone Fishing is quite the craze amongst the catch and release crowd. The fish are great fighters, caught on light tackle like trout, but totally un-eatible!…:-)

Needless to say, as Summer is rapidly approaching (as well as Hurricane Season!) ….it’s getting HOT, HOT, HOT here in the Northern Caribbean Sea. Our next stop would be one of the great cruising grounds of the Bahamas – Grand Exuma Island.

The water was Turquoise....most everywhere!

The water was Turquoise….most everywhere!

Stand by, much more really soon!

Scott and Nikki

April 29th – May 13th, 2014 (-4 on UTC)

Dear F&F,
We departed San Juan for what would be our only multi-day sail of the season; most unusual! The weather was perfect and we had a full mainsail and reacher on a starboard tack for the expected 48 hour trip. As the day progressed, the winds picked up and just before sunset we saw a large power boat 10 miles ahead of us on a reciprocal course. It was a 210 footer going 20 knots. No worries and we spotted her a half mile to our west as she passed. Then I heard a radio call to us  (by name!) from “Lady M”. It turns out that this was to be a stunning small world story!

Friends Chris and Geoff (who Nikki and I had met in Colundra north of Brisbane two years ago) were crewing on this mega yacht and helping take the boat to Mallorca – for them a 7 day trip! They saw our boat name on the AIS and knew immediately it was us. They were heading to San Juan to fuel up and then would head across the Atlantic. We have been in email communication for several years, met once and now were literally passing ships in the (almost) night. We chatted briefly and said we’d continue to keep in touch via email. Their sailboat is on the US East Coast and they may head to Europe upon their return from the delivery. It doesn’t get any smaller world than this…

The sail was non eventful and the weather cooperative. We would have done the 385 miles a bit faster, but as Grand Turk was a low lying island and had lots of reefs, we felt this would be a better approached at first light. As such, we kept a single reef and no headsail up our last night as to slow down and arrive around 8-9 am.

Grand Turk geographically is much like Barbuda in the Leeward Islands including a large interior lagoon. A member of the Rockefeller Family tried to dredge and keep open it’s shallow and narrow entrance to make a marina, but the project has been abandoned. Like many places in the Caribbean, the global financial crisis took it’s toll. We would see lots of evidence of this throughout the Turks and Caicos Islands.

As we arrive in a new country, we hoist their national courtesy flag and our "Q Flag" which requests customs clearance. - South Dock, Grand Turk, - Turks and Caicos Islands

As we arrive in a new country, we hoist their national courtesy flag and our “Q Flag” which requests customs clearance. – South Dock, Grand Turk, – Turks and Caicos Islands

We anchored off South Dock which turned out to be a cruise ship dock. The place went from absolutely empty to South Beach (Florida) in one hour as a cruise ship arrived just after we did. They even have a Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville” restaurant here – open only on cruise ship days. We went ashore and after a bit of a hunt found customs and immigration. The two gals were in charge and a bit officious, but the guys who did the paper work were a delight.

We found the people of the Turks and Caicos to be perhaps the friendliest in the Eastern Caribbean. Just uniformly so throughout the entire group. We moved to Cockburn Town, the main town which was only a backtrack of a few miles. The anchorage was quite shallow and we could only get within 250 yards of the beach. The town dock was under repair as well so it would be a “wet landing” (one where we have to get at least a little wet to get ashore). The waters around these islands go from VERY deep to VERY shallow in the space of a less than a quarter mile. We were anchored in 8 feet of water and less than 300 yards seaward of us, it was over 2,500 feet deep.

After we cleared customs we were completely wowed by the water color. South Dock - Grand Turk

After we cleared customs we were completely wowed by the water color. The hose in the foreground is offloading diesel fuel to shoreside storage tanks from a freighter at the dock where I took this photo. South Dock – Grand Turk

Grand Turk seems an odd name for this island but it made sense once we heard the story. There is a cactus that is native to the island called the Grand Turk. It is green and shaped like a small watermelon standing up on it’s end. The interesting feature is that it has a red crown shaped hat like a Turkish “Fez”, with what appears to be a green tassel coming out of the top. Hence the name of this island given by the Spanish in the days of Columbus.

The Caicos Islands, 25 miles to the north are politically part of the group but somewhat distinct. We did a walk about town (which didn’t take very long) and found the most helpful, friendly folk anywhere. I would recommend a cruiser stop in this group just for the warm friendly smiles if for no other reason. After a recovery day and a bit of wait for the weather, we had new friends Bev and Bob aboard “Icaros” anchor nearby. We’d met them recently on Culebrita in the Spanish Virgins. Bev and Bob met in Pharmacy school in Canada, but emigrated to Australia and fly the Aussie flag aboard their Catana 43 Catamaran. We had a few drinks and puu puu’s and became acquainted sharing stories of our mutual voyages and reminiscence of Townsville which Nikki and I had been to in 2012. As it turns out, we’d meet them again in Highbourne Cays in the Exumas – Bahamas.

No Shoes, No Shirts, No... No Big Deal!...:-)  As close as we could anchor with the town dock under repair and the dinghy in the foreground. A typical "wet landing".

No Shoes, No Shirts, No Shorts – No Problem…:-) As close as we could anchor  “Beach House” (in the background) with the town dock under repair and the dinghy in the foreground. A typical “wet landing”.

Bev and Bob went off to Salt Cay, a nearby island for a night and we headed for South Caicos which was a nice 3 hour sail to yet another “Cockburn”; this time Cockburn Harbour. We wanted to try a trip across the Caicos Bank, which would be a unique experience to us. First, you want to do it when the weather is calm, so the water is clearest and get the view of one of the world’s largest natural swimming pools. The Caicos Bank is approximately 50 miles long, by 30 miles wide! The water is rarely deeper than 20 feet and if you take the right path, it’s mostly 7-12 feet and a flat white sandy bottom. This would be a delightful trip if it worked out.

We were contacted upon our arrival at South Caicos by James who is the dive safety officer from the SFS Marine Research Center. He was most helpful in getting us anchored in a good spot. The harbor was open to the prevailing winds with depths of only 12 feet at most. It was also very small and had lots of current. We ended up anchoring in the lee of Long Cay, a few hundred yards opposite the main port. Main port is relative term as there are only a few hundred people that live in the area.

At Long Cay, the depths were only 4+ feet under the hulls, but the conditions were nice. The sand reflecting off the bottom was an amazing visual and the water so clear that it looked like we were floating above the bottom. We took the dinghy across the way and the marine institute which was a mostly college aged group, explained to us what their duties were. The students come from about 20 different countries and participate in various marine biology groups which involve doing underwater measurements, fish counts and reef assessments. As such, they do a lot of diving. They all looked pretty relaxed and seemed to be having a great academic experience….:-)

In our brief time here, Nikki and I went for a walk about the outlying areas of town. We saw the Boiling Hole at the salt ponds and the Pink Flamingos which migrate between Florida and South America. For whatever reason, the birds were attracted to the old commercial salt ponds where lots of precipitated sea salt is still in some abundance.

Pink Flamingos - South Caicos Island Salt Ponds. Many of the buildings here including the ones in the background were abandoned during the GFC in 2008.

Pink Flamingos – South Caicos Island Salt Ponds. Many of the buildings here including the ones in the background were abandoned during the GFC in 2008.

 

Sand reflecting off the "Gin Clear" water of the Caicos Bank - Long Cay, Cockburn Harbour - South Caicos Island

Sand reflecting off the “Gin Clear” water of the Caicos Bank – Long Cay, Cockburn Harbour – South Caicos Island

The next morning, we upped anchor early and headed to the first way point to cross the Caicos Bank. It was a perfect day for the trip; the seas calm and very little wind. As it was a long way, we’d have to motor it to get across on the same day. However, the marine guidebook said, that if it was calm, you could anchor anywhere on the bank in great holding sand – even for an overnight. A unique experience would be had, completely out of sight of land; anchored in shallow water – effectively in the middle of the ocean. As it was, we’d planned on a lunch stop somewhere out in the middle where we anchored for an hour and had a lovely snorkel. Nikki enjoyed the many starfish and shells we could easily find in the less than 10 foot depths.

Amongst the many things that Astronauts remark on from space are man made and natural features of the Earth as seen from outer space. The Caicos Banks ranks third on their list of most impressive natural sites. If memory serves, the Grand Canyon was first. The white sand is highly reflective and surrounded by only a few low lying islands and deep cobalt blue water with depths to over 5000 feet! We really enjoyed this trip and remarked about it in our daily position report that we issued from the center of the bank.

Were 20 miles from the nearest land. The water is 10 feet deep. It's like world's largest swimming pool.  Caicos Bank, Caicos Islands

Were 20 miles from the nearest land. The water is 10 feet deep. It’s like world’s largest swimming pool. Caicos Bank, Caicos Islands

Some of our followers are with us almost daily and receive our position reports live as we move from place to place. Most of you are content to wait for the ship’s blog, which is not often published “in real time” as the position reports always are.

We arrived at the small port of Sapodilla on the south side of “Provo” (nickname for the main island of Providenciales) in the north of the Caicos Islands. We took a quick trip ashore there the next morning to see an area of rocks inscribed with the names of shipwrecked sailors. Some of these went back into the 1600’s!

Our planned destination for the day was Turtle Cove Marina in the main town of “Provo” and it was less than 4 miles away as the crow flies, but alas – we aren’t crows. It would be 30 mile trip around the island and it’s reefs. The entrance to Turtle Cove is quite daunting. Just as we arrived, we had a 30 knot squall rain hard on us and completely, but briefly, obscured our sight of the reef. Next, there is the shallow reefs which are narrow and winding with so so marked navigational buoys. Finally, there is the turn into the marina’s entrance which has sand banks on either side. The banks were both visually blocking my seeing the water to either side of the boat as we entered. That gives you an idea of how narrow it is. The channel perhaps 80 feet wide with shoals all along it. It had a sharp bend to the right and then a 270 degree turn to the left like a life sized question mark shape as you entered. Add the current and wind to this and it was a bit exciting. For those of you South Pacific sailors, think of Vuda Point Marina, Fiji but twice as long with the above mentioned twists! All of this after a mile and a half of narrow reef channel.

The narrow shallow entrance (here we're departing) from Turtle Cove Marina - Turks and Caicos Islands

The narrow shallow entrance (here we’re departing) from Turtle Cove Marina – Turks and Caicos Islands

We docked along a nice side tie and the marina was not particularly busy. The staff was friendly and the marina had some nice restaurants and would be a good base to explore the island from. While we were here, we got a hire car so we could have mobility. Also, we both wanted to try KITE BOARDING!

Provo has a perfect beach to learn to kiteboard along it’s southeastern shore – Long Bay Cay Beach. We contacted Wayne and his lovely girlfriend, Caroline who was down from Canada taking a bit of time off her duties as an anesthesiologist. Caroline did the appointments via email and we arranged to do what they called a “kite mudder’ lesson the next morning. The features which make this beach perfect for learning are: Less than chest deep water for over one square mile! Flat sandy bottom with no reefs. Steady trade winds blowing at a slight angle toward the shore and of course, 82 degree (28 deg C) water temperatures. Also, there are no real obstructions on the beach to interfere with launching and recovering the big kites.

Scott assisting in Kite Launch

Scott assisting in Kite Launch – Long Bay Cay Beach – Provo, Turks and Caicos Islands

As we had steady 17-23 knot trade winds in stable weather, this was a bonus as well. No big wind shifts or squalls to bother with. The first thing to learn is how to fly a kite. These are between 8-17 square meters in surface area (30-60 square feet). Your weight matters in combination with how much wind you have to decide which kite to use. First was the trainer kite, but as we knew how to sail, we didn’t have to stay in that very long. Next, we added the board. That’s when it gets a bit wild. You have to “think” about the kite and the board not only to get started, but once up, both skills have to be used at once. Herein lies the challenge! It took me till day three to get up on the board with any success. That was about lesson hour 6. On my final day, I was getting up pretty well, but still wouldn’t say I was at all accomplished. Nikki did one day of lessons and after another primer will be ready to give it a go getting up on the board. Our time with Wayne, Caroline and instructors Alex and Nick with perhaps one of the highlights of the season. We’d recommend the Turks and Caicos Kiteboard school to anyone who wants to give it a go!

 

Nikki learning to "Fly a Kite".....:-)

Nikki learning to “Fly a Kite”…..:-)

 

First time successfully up on the board!

First time successfully up on the board!

 

About lesson hour 6. I finally got the hang of it....sort of....:-)

About lesson hour 6. I finally got the hang of it….sort of….:-)  The water is 3 feet deep here for over a square mile!

 

Form matters in this skill and you can see I'm still a bit new to it all.  It was really thrilling to speed along the water with my own private "motor boat in the sky".

Form matters in this skill and you can see I’m still a bit new to it all. It was really thrilling to speed along the water with my own private “motor boat in the sky”.

 

Nikki, Alex (instructor) and Scott after our kiteboarding lesson.  We'll do this again!...

Nikki, Alex (instructor) and Scott after our kiteboarding lesson. We’ll do this again!…

 

Nikki and I decided we’d also try a dive at Turks and Caicos as it’s considered one of the premier diving islands in the Caribbean. We did a two tank “wall dive” and it was really quite nice. We went with Dive Provo (a very well known dive outfitter) and it was a fun day. We also saw the Turks and Caicos Aggressor (live aboard dive boat) when we were off the very up-market and exclusive Aman Resort on the northwest side of the island. When we returned to Turtle Cove that evening, we had the Turks and Caicos Aggressor docked right next to us. We didn’t know it, but this was their “homebase”. They do week long dive trips throughout the group. The divers live aboard and are off dock for most of the week. Cindy and I had done similar trips in the South Pacific on the Solomon Islands, the Galapagos Islands and also our honeymoon in Palau aboard the “Palau Aggressor”. We asked for and were given a lovely tour of the boat as I wanted Nikki to see what a live aboard dive boat was like.

Diving on the northwest side of Provo with "Dive Provo" at "The Crack". A deep cut in the wall that starts at 50 feet and drops to several thousand feet.

Diving on the northwest side of Provo with “Dive Provo” at “The Crack”. A deep cut in the wall that starts at 50 feet and drops to several thousand feet.

As Nikki had read about the Aman Resort and wanted to try to drive up to the lighthouse on the northwest of the island (always one of her favorites!), we took our car and just went on an island junket. We found some lovely secluded beaches, but as we didn’t have a four wheel drive vehicle, prudence dictated that we not drive up to the lighthouse. Instead, we took a flyer to see if we could get into the Aman Resort. After the guard called in, they said yes (we didn’t have a reservation) where we were met by our lovely guide. She gave us a tour of the hotel grounds, told us where we could and couldn’t go (very exclusive!) and left us at the bar. The place was gorgeous and the rates were 2,000 USD to 15,000 USD/night depending on your accommodations. Most all the rooms were private beach villas and we saw about 10 guests. They had a wonderful library, infinity pool and lovely restaurant. We opted for the bar!

Our personal bartender (no one else was at the bar!..:-) was Aris from the Philippines. He explained to us about the hotel and it’s sister properties around the world and that there were lots of Filipino employees at the hotel. He made us the BEST Mojito’s EVER and gave us the recipe! Just to give you an idea…. Nikki and I each had one and then asked to split another. 60.00 USD! Actually, he sort of gave us each a second one but didn’t charge us for four, only three!…ssshhh! I left him a nice tip. We really enjoyed our few hours in the true lap of luxurious surroundings and our fun time with Arias at the bar.

We departed back to the hotel and reflected on what a wonderful time we’d had in the Turks and Caicos, how nice the people were and the fabulous water world of diving and kite boarding! We did some last minute shopping (there were two very nice markets!) and then got ready to continue the adventure off to our next and second to last destination for this season – The Bahamas.

Stay tuned, we’ve the Bahamas to go before our season ends in South Florida!

Scott and Nikki

April 20th – 29th, 2014 (-4 on UTC)

Dear F&F,
20th – 22nd April – Vieques, Spanish VI
After a long leisurely (Easter Sunday) breakfast on the boat in St Croix we set off for a glorious 5 hour downwind sail to the island of Vieques. This was the first anchorage of the season where we were only one of two boats in the bay and no sign of any habitation whatsoever onshore. It turns out errantly, US Customs told us to check in here at Ensenada Honda. We called them on the phone to tell them there was absolutely nothing here. They told us we were wrong…. Was I going to argue with him? No…:-) I asked if he’d ever been here before? He said no, but he’d give us two extra days so we could check in at Culebra – our next planned stop.

Apart from wild horses on the beach and the ominous signposts we spotted informing us of the risk of unexploded bombs both ashore and underwater, there was nothing but beautiful scenery, palm trees and white sand beaches. Prior to 1999, the US Military used this island as a target practice island. Just before the millennium, a 500 lb. bomb accidentally killed a local which caused all sorts of demonstrations and was quite notable in the US news at the time. From then forward, the US Military has been steadily cleaning up the island of ordinance and hence the warning signs! The upside of the island’s checkered history is that it has been slow to develop and the attraction of tourists from outside Puerto Rico is a recent phenomenon. We were looking forward to seeing some of the un-spoiled Caribbean and finding out more about Vieques’ history. No sooner had we got settled in the Punto Conejo Bay anchorage that we realized our neighbor was getting extremely up close and personal. When we hurried into the cockpit to investigate we realized, that for the first time ever, we were dragging the hook! Immediate action was required and in short order we reset the hook. Frankly, I don’t think any anchor would have held where we dropped as it was solid thick sea grass. I thought I’d dug in the hook by backing the engines, but it must have just been a temporary grab of the grass. Once we dug through the grass, we were set for the night.

The Wild Ponies of Vieques Island in the Spanish Virgins - Esperanza Anchorage

The Wild Ponies of Vieques Island in the Spanish Virgins – Esperanza Anchorage

The next morning we moved up the coast about six miles to the main town of Esperanza Bay. As we approached, a local American ex-pat (Glen) came out in his dinghy and helped us negotiate the shallow sand bar into a secluded part of the bay. Though he had moorings available, we declined his offer as we didn’t like the way other boats were doing the rolly-polly. Once we’d secured the anchor (making sure it held this time – we didn’t want a repeat of last night!) – Glen came aboard for coffee and told us he and his partner escaped the rat-race many years ago. They arrived here on a boat and basically never left. Glen told us a few things about the island, the best tours and things to do. We went ashore and booked a night tour of the bioluminescent bay for that evening and after doing a bit of internet at Lazy Jacks Bar, went back to the boat for a late lunch. We’d heard the bioluminescent bay was a “must do”. We’d seen some outstanding night time shows and were hopeful but not too optimistic. Well, they did warn us when we booked that it was not guaranteed that there would actually be any phosphorescent organisms to see and I think they knew we wouldn’t see it at it’s best. The water temperature had recently fallen in some end of season storms from last year. Since then, the bay has been “darker” than in years past. The bay is an environmentally protected area with no engines permitted as the fuel residue harms the bioluminesense. In the pitch black by the side of what was essentially a shallow pond open to the sea, we all ‘felt’ our way into kayaks in the moonless night. As we paddled our way into the center of the shallow bay, we then just hung around while the two young guides gave us an elementary talk on some of the star constellations above. To be fair we have been spoiled as nothing will compare to the sight we encountered last season when we crossed the South Atlantic. One night on the way to the island of Fernando De Noronha off Brazil, we saw (no exaggeration) literally thousands of luminescent jellyfish gliding alongside the boat for about 20+ miles, it was without doubt one of the highlights of our adventures on the boat together. We did see a little phosphorous movement when the kayak oars hit the water, but nothing to write home about. Oh well, at least we got our exercise for the day.

Nikki on the boardwalk at Esperanza, Vieques - Spanish Virgin Islands

Nikki on the boardwalk at Esperanza, Vieques – Spanish Virgin Islands

22nd _ 24th April 2014 – Culebra & Culebrita, Spanish VI
The next morning we decided to move on and motored to yet another Ensenada Honda Bay on the sister island of Culebra, 12 miles to the north. We discovered an even sleepier place which according to our Lonely Planet guide, ”is home to rat-race drop outs, solitude seekers and eccentrics”. Perhaps it is, but apart from tying up at a private dock and walking to the airport to get checked in, we didn’t think it was going to be much of a hang out. We even managed to purchase our US Customs decal which would be required when we arrived in Florida. It’s effectively a “tax” to cover the cost of US Customs checking in boats from foreign countries. It’s good for a year.

Tortuga Bay, Isla Cuebrita.  Note the "Jacuzzi" is the area in the upper right hand corner. Photo taken from the Lighthouse trail.

Tortuga Bay, Isla Cuebrita. Note the “Jacuzzi” is the area in the upper right hand corner. Photo taken from the Lighthouse trail.

Late that afternoon we decided to pull up the hook and motor around the corner to the tiny island of Culebrita. This was the baby of the Spanish Virgins and also we thought the nicest of them all. This was a great little spot and we spent a relaxing couple of days anchored in beautiful quiet, Tortuga Bay with several other boats.

Here we met new friends Bev and Bob of Catana 43 catamaran “Icaros” out of Townsville, Australia. We meet them a few more times “down the road”.

The beach was an exquisite white sand crescent with an old lighthouse on the hill dating back to the 1880’s. There is still a navigational aid on the same site, but its source is now a modern solar powered light mounted alongside the original lighthouse keeper’s house and gardens. The other great attraction here on the island is ‘The Jacuzzi’. On the northeast side of the bay hidden behind some boulders is the most amazing natural phenomenon – a small shallow sunken warm sea water pool with natural swirling water. We both loved it and had the spot to ourselves relaxing fooling about and jumping in and out. It was great fun for what would be our last afternoon on the Spanish Virgins before we began our next forage back to the city and the bright lights of Puerto Rico.

Nikki in the old lighthouse. The lamp was fixed on the post over her right shoulder. Today - it's a beehive.  Fortunately, they weren't interested in us....:-)

Nikki in the old lighthouse. The lamp was fixed on the post over her right shoulder. Today – it’s a beehive. Fortunately, they weren’t interested in us….:-)

24th – 27th April 2014- Puerto del Rey Marina – Puerto Rico
Yet another wonderful sail of the season for the 4 hours to the east coastline of PR. However, there was some confusion trying to figure out which marina to go into for the night! As usually happens when you are semi lost as to where we should stay, the answer came in the way of an unexpected source. A local guy at the fuel dock where we stopped suggested Puerto del Rey Marina. It turned out they had one space available in a huge very modern marina. Turns out much of the film, “Captain Ron” with Kurt Russell was filmed here. Scott always fuels up at any given opportunity as in his words, “you just never know when another chance will present itself”. It’s a hangover from an old OCD disorder or perhaps maybe just common sense. It’s actually from a time when he ran out of fuel sailing in the Hawaiian Islands in 1976 with his Dad. Who….never let him forget it…:-)

This was our first encounter with a local on the mainland of Puerto Rico and luckily for us he spoke better English, but Scott’s Spanish isn’t too bad. Puerto del Rey turned out to be an excellent spot and a reasonable base for some initial exploring of the island. The interesting thing about this huge marina was that with over 1000 berths (the majority of them “sports fishers”, you had to call the marina office for them to come and pick you up in one of their golf carts. Otherwise, it was a 15 minute walk to the shore. The next morning we arranged to hire a car from Budget (also conveniently located in the marina complex), and drove to the capital San Juan.

La Perla (The Pearl) Restaurant. Right out of "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea"

La Perla (The Pearl) Restaurant. Right out of “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea”

What a surprise this country turned out to be, maybe it’s because of its close association with mainland United States. It was very different to drive on well-maintained roads and through large shopping areas. A bit like passing through some mid-west towns in US. Among other things that PR’s capital city of San Juan is renowned for are its wonderful old blue-hued cobbled streets, Caribbean style pastel architecture and historic forts. Add to that list decent restaurants serving good coffee, friendly helpful locals and what more could you want. We loved this place! We did an initial look round as we knew we wanted to bring the boat here later in the week as a convenient point to launch off for the 2 day sail to the Turks and Caicos. On the way back to the marina later we decided to stop for an early dinner at one of the large resort hotels and eat at the renowned La Concha Hotel’s restaurant, “Perla” in the Playa Condado area. The restaurant first opened in 1958. It reminded us of a cross between the set from “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” and “Star Trek”. It was rather pricey but the food and service were excellent. Nikki said the floor could have done with a bit of a sweep and polish – but that’s just her Domestic Diva alter ego emerging! The view from the tables next to the curved glass windows overlooking the ocean was definitely worth the effort. It was a special treat. After dinner, we walked back through the pool area and hotel foyer where throngs of people were dressed up in their best glitter-at-cie for a night of disco electronica. The music and DJ were already cranking it up and it looked like the happening place. We didn’t stay long, but did very much enjoy the people watching.

The La Pearla Restaurant as seen when sailing into San Juan Harbor

The La Pearla Restaurant as seen when sailing into San Juan Harbor

27th – 29th April 2014- San Juan Bay Marina – Puerto Rico
We motored along the northeast side of the island passing famous long sandy beaches. We passed the Pearl restaurant and got a look at it this time from the waterside. Soon, Fuerto San Cristobel came into view and we knew we were almost in the calm waters of San Juan Harbor. We approached San Juan Bay through the commercial shipping channel with the El Morro (the famous fort), guarding the entrance. You can certainly tell why this island was so sought after by the waring sea powers of yester-year. The entrance to the Bay at El Morro was never defeated until the US invasion fleet in the days of Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders. We were told that San Juan Harbor is the 17th largest natural bay in the world. It was considered the gateway to the Caribbean in the days of the old sailing ships. We could feel the ghost of Ponce de Leon (who was Governor here) as we motored past the turrets and outpost sentry boxes. We stayed at the aging, San Juan Bay Marina. It was much smaller and and was within walking distance (across the two causeway bridges) to some hotels and restaurants along the beach. That evening we did the walk to a local restaurant called Ropa Vieja. As it was Sunday, lots of locals were out and about on the small city beaches and jumping off the high bridges into the water. It was a zoo, but they all seemed friendly and helped us with directions etc.

The very impressive Capitol Building in the Old City, San Juan - Puerto Rico

The very impressive Capitol Building in the Old City, San Juan – Puerto Rico. Note the ever present Cruise Ships in the background.

 

Main Church, Old City, San Juan - Puerto Rico as seen from seaward.

Main Church, Old City, San Juan – Puerto Rico as seen from seaward.

 

Classic Sentry Box (There are over 220 of these at the two forts).    El Morro, Old City, San Juan - Puerto Rico

Classic Sentry Box (There are over 220 of these at the two forts). El Morro, Old City, San Juan – Puerto Rico

The next morning we got a taxi into the old town of San Juan and after stopping for a breakfast omelet in Calle Fortleza, we did some sightseeing around El Morro. The fort is one of two main forts in the old city and both are run by the US National Park Service. We had read about doing a Segway tour of the old city and were able to book for the next afternoon. It took a few minutes of practice to get used to steering and stopping the thing and a bit longer to rid yourself of the ‘goofy’ feeling of being up in the air higher than you’re used to – but my goodness what a fun few hours we had. Jose, our lovely, very bright and accommodating guide took us on a bit of an extended tour as we were the only two. Another couple were going to go, but she got cold feet, so we had Jose all to ourselves. We think if you’re willing to be a bit patient and put 10 minutes into riding after learning, you’ll really find the Segway a blast. We sure did. We went past the historic fountain of Raices (which depicts the Taino African and Spanish Heritage of the island) then through the ‘Paseo De La Princesa’ which is a wonderful old cobbled trail around the outer wall leading to El Morro itself. Then back through Old San Juan and it’s original merchant houses, passing the home of Ponce de Leon. On the way back we stopped off at the ‘Instituto of Cultura Puertoorriquena’ where Scott bought some of the local masks to take back to his other Beach House on the beach in California. These masks were called “Gigante Viejas” and first mentioned in Cervantes “Don Quixote”. They are ceremonially used to be “tricksters”. The actual history is quite complex and I’m not really sure if it’s completely understood. But it’s the Caribbean mon….it’s different down here.

We had a fabulous time on our 2 hour Segway tour of the Old City, San Juan - Puerto Rico

We had a fabulous time on our 2 hour Segway tour of the Old City, San Juan – Puerto Rico

We found the Customs office after a bit of hunt and peck in the commercial ferry terminal. Check out was easy, a walk back to the boat and ready for our 2 day trip to the Turks and Caicos tomorrow. This would be our first and only multi day, overnight trip of this entire season. We really enjoyed San Juan in particular and recommend it to all who follow. We were especially enchanted with the Old City and it’s rich history.

Stand by, more soon!
Scott and Nikki