Spanish Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico……

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 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

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.

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….:-)

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\”

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

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. Note the ever present Cruise Ships in the background.
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

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 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