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31 March 2016

A little tour of Puerto Rico

March 18 2016

Marina Puerto del Rey
We moved from Vieques to the giant marina of Puerto del Rey, near Fajardo. 

With 14 docks, over 1000 vessels and a permanent carrousel of golf carts ferrying people and luggage around, it is an impressive sight. 

After squeaking our 13"6' beam into an approximately 15 foot slip, we went to rent a car for a little driving tour of the island.

We first set out to the south, on the back roads through Juncos to Guavate for one of the culinary monuments of the island, Lechon Asado. (roasted suckling pig).

Continuing on the scenic route 184,
Central valley in Yabucoa region
we drove a semi-circle in the mountains and central valleys of the island and were very impressed by the natural beauty of it, and how little tourism there is outside of San Juan. 

We finally arrived in Yabucoa and followed the seaside to Patillas and Guayama, where we eventually found a little hotel on the water.

Near the hotel in Guayama

Time to try another prized local dish, Chillo Frito (fried red snapper) as well as well as the local flan de coco. We are rapidly regaining all the pounds we lost on the boat.
Chillo frito

The next morning, breakfast of champions in the covered market of Guayama with Domplines (fried bread) and excellent Habichuelos Guisados (red beans in sauce) to accompany our coffees. A trend is clearly developing.
We continue to Ponce, where we stopped in 2011 on our original southbound trip, for a lunch at the Casa del Jefe (more local specialties, obviously), and some shopping. 

And then, back to the mountains through
the middle of the island, to Adjuntas, 

Add caption
the capital of Puerto Rico coffee production.

We score a few pounds from a small producer who also has a coffee shop in the town square, have one of the strongest expressos of our life, and continue towards the lake region, stopping at the Lago Dos Bocas.

It is already evening when we arrive in Arecibo, and the only recognizable hotel is right on a 6-lane highway. We decide to go for a guesthouse or boutique hotel, but discover that these never have signs, and that a few web entries lead to ruins. As dark settles we find a place that looks good, but the air conditioning of this boutique hotel (2 rooms!) is down. The manager tells us he has another property, and leads us to a place that we had ignored as looking like a crack house. It is just under renovation, but it is clean, the beds are ok and the manager brings us missing supplies. 

The next morning we are off to the famous beaches of Rincon to see the surfers. We first stop at Crash Boat Beach, a very charming family beach. 
Crash Boat Beach
The crowds and the volume of the boom boxes are very impressive, and everyone seems to have a great time.

As for Rincon, the surf is absolutely flat, and there are no surfers. Susan learns the sad difference between a surfer bar and a sailors bar by getting served the weakest piña colada of the island. We will have to retry somewhere else. JP prudently sticks to local beer.

It is time to drive home and rest for our climb the next day of El Yunque, the tallest mountain here. Following the excellent advice of fellow cruisers Karen and Michael of Mischana, met in the marina after a four year hiatus, we start early and arrive as the site is still deserted. 

We have a wonderful walk through this rainforest and get to the top in about two hours, walking most of the way in a mist, with occasional raindrops. 

The top is supposed to be the best view of the many climbs in the Caribbean, but obviously it is rarely to be seen due to the permanent cloud surrounding the summit. With a little thought for the millions of Japanese who have this experience every year at the Jungfraujoch, we start our climb down.

Best view of the Caribbean 

As we climb down, we cross more and more people going up, and when we get to our car, every parking lot is full. We cross another 176 cars and buses on the park road going down. Where did they all go? 

What to do after a few hours of healthy exercise? Go to the Kioscos for more PR fried food, of course! 

The real Piña Colada
The Kioscos are a long row of beach shacks, ranging from very basic food stands to restaurants, in Luquillo, just north of Fajardo. We indulge in an octopus salad and chicken-stuffed fried sweet plantain. Susan can finally enjoy her piña colada, from the selection of the pineapple to the eating of the innards and of course the drinking.

27 March 2016


15 March

From St. Thomas, we crossed to Vieques or Isla Nena, the small companion island to Puerto Rico. As usual on crossings, we were trying to fish, an activity that has been spectacularly unsuccessful this season: fish caught = 0 lures broken away by fish = 4
Oh no, not another barracuda!

That day we caught a good size barracuda, which we released due to ciguatera concerns. He did manage to break the lure however, so the score is now fish 0  - lures 5

Night bait

At least we can still catch bait if we run out of lures - or make a fritto misto.

We anchored in Bahia Salina del Sur, a wonderful anchorage where one sadly still cannot walk ashore, as it is part of the old Navy shooting range, and not all unexploded ordnance has been removed. This is a very sore subject with the locals - the Navy jobs are gone but the long term negative effects are there to stay for decades at the present remediation rate. 
Our neighbors in Bahia Salina del Sur
Trop petit, mon ami...

Meanwhile it is very beautiful, with many nice conch shells (all too small to keep, so no conch salad, alas) and has no cell phone service if one wants quiet.

We moved to Ensenada Sun Bay, next to the small town of Esperanza the next day. Esperanza is about 5 blocks square and very quiet, but people are extremely friendly and helpful. 
Esperanza dock and beach
There are a few beachfront cafés, bars and restaurants, as well as tour operators for the nearby bioluminescence bays. We judged the moon was too bright for those, better luck another time.

The next day we took a maxitaxi to the main island city, Isabela Segunda, and visited the local art gallery (many temptations, which we resisted) and the old fort, now a museum of local culture and resistance to the Navy activities. A delightful garden lunch at Conuco, which also features interesting art and great sangria (warning: rum loaded) completed the day.

St. John and Great St James (St. Thomas) USVI

12 March St. John

Did you say traffic?
We had never explored the US Virgins and were interested to see St. John, much of which is a National Park. They do not make entry easy. Cruz Bay, the only entry point, is a ferry-infested tiny harbor with no space, plenty of reef and a customs dock always full except when you return by dinghy. Once cleared and duly briefed by the Park Service on mariners' duties, we headed north to the mooring field of Caneel Bay, with beautiful views of St. Thomas, Great St James, Jost Van Dyke and a series of small US Virgin islands.  It is very spectacular, but not peaceful, as cruise ships, fast motor boats, ferries, tour boats et al. all zoom by on this highway between the USVI and the BVI. 

The next day, we moved to the South coast, and it was a different world - quiet, just a few boats in the mooring fields of the Park. 

We moored in Little Lameshure,a delightful small circular bay. 

Don't step on me
We went snorkeling among the rocks, many fishes, nice rays, but also the most sea urchins we had seen in years. When we walked the parallel trail the next day, we realized we had swum close to a mile total.
Termite nest

We spent the next day walking through the nearby park trails, very nicely maintained, enjoying old plantation ruins, beautiful vegetation and some animal life.

14 March St Thomas

Ever ordered a pizza while snorkeling? The place for it is the anchorage West of Great St. James Island, in the south of St. Thomas. 
Floating pizzeria and delivery vehicle

This bay has a reef in the middle which makes for good fishwatching, and best of all there is a floating pizzeria anchored near the shore. We swam there on our return from the reef and ordered their specialty, Pizza Cubana, basically all the components of a cuban sandwich on a pizza. 

After an hour or so of swimming in the (comparatively) colder water of the Virgins, this was quite a welcome treat.

And some more Virgin Gorda pictures, just because:

Saba Rock Hotel
Lunch at Leverick Bay

Racing in style

10 March 2016

St Kitts and back to the British Virgins

March 3 2016 St Kitts

A mere 8 miles sail took us from Nevis to its sister island, St. Kitts. Like many siblings, the two have a colorful history but are now at peace with each other. We anchored in the southern peninsula at South Friars Bay, first with the tall ship Mandalay of Zanzibar, then in splendid isolation.

The town of Basseterre (originally in the French Quarter) is pleasant
Basseterre central square
but was somewhat overrun when we visited the next day by two immense and identical cruise ships from Costa and Carnival. So much for brand differentiation. We beat the crowds to a quiet breakfast at Ballahoo.

Bastion of Brimstone Hill Fortress

We decided to take the bus to visit the Brimstone Hill Fortress. St Kitts was the first English colony in the Caribbean, and accordingly a major military strongpoint.

We had planned to walk up the 600 foot hill, but a friendly taxi driver took us up a few minutes from the bus stop. On the way down, a friendly Puerto Rican couple from said Carnival ship picked us up...well, exercise another time.

The site is very impressive, with an interesting museum on garrison life in the 17th and 18th century.

The historical museum in Basseterre gives a fascinating, if somewhat depressing, idea of the history and living conditions in St Kitts, both before and after the abolition of slavery.

The island reputedly has a plague of monkeys who eat all the mangoes - we did not see any until our last evening, before having dinner at the elegant Carambola restaurant in our anchorage. They are not really timid:

March 5 2016 en route to Virgin Gorda

Statia dock
With a cold front coming, we shortened our St Kitts visit and set forth to the North in the early afternoon for a 130 miles run to Virgin Gorda.
We passed in the lee of St Eustatia (Statia) at sundown, but the charm of it was a bit lost on us
Pirates of the Swiss Lakes
with dozens of tankers and tugs plying the anchorage. We had to dodge under sail a Swiss tanker, "Matterhorn" (!) who had quietly raised anchor behind another tanker. Once more, we let the the rule of tonnage apply over the rules of the road. 

We passed Saba island in the night, and gradually lost our wind approaching Virgin Gorda, finishing with a 50 mile motorsail. After 5 years we were back in the land of charters and super-yachts, in the Bitter End anchorage. 

A different vessel we met is the Hawaiian sailing canoe Hōkūle'a, on a 4-year nearly completed extended circumnavigation - open deck, steering oar, no cabin, not a screw or nail in her and of course no engine. 

A very brave crew of 10, including a Hawaiian master navigator who steers by the stars... the GPS is strictly for the blogging.

The wind is blowing hard after the cold front and we will resume our travels to the American and Spanish Virgins in a few days.

09 March 2016

Sainte-Anne and first visit to Nevis

The day after Leigh's departure, after a last sunset,
we moved to Ste Anne to visit our Swiss friends René and Ginette on Opus. We had a nice week together, visiting Le Marin to chase arcane or unobtainium spare parts, enjoying dinners on board and on shore. 

The weekly couscous fiesta is a great dancing opportunity. The restaurant owner takes the mike for everything from French oldies to American standards and Latino music.

We also enjoyed walking part of the trail that rounds the Ste Anne peninsula – beautiful beaches and utter calm 5 minutes from town.
Ste Anne Anchorage

Anse Caritan Ste Anne

When the next weather window opened, it was time to make way North towards our end-March Puerto Rico appointment. We decided to go to Nevis, with a quick overnight in Deshaies, Guadeloupe.

The crossing along Martinique, Dominica, Les Saintes and Guadeloupe was a mix of fast sailing between islands and slogging along the coasts; in Deshaies we caught the last free mooring ball and were able to avoid the anchoring demo-derby taking place daily in this small bay where wind and current have their own minds and squalls are frequent.

We restarted the following morning in the dark, in light airs, towards Montserrat, Redonda and Nevis.
The Kingdom of Redonda

The going was slow enough that we deployed the spinnaker, which immediately caused a squall to descend upon us upwind of Montserrat. We weathered it, but ten minutes later, as we were doing a brisk 9 knots, we saw the spinnaker fall like a tree next to the boat – ripped head. After 30 minutes we had recovered the whole soaking mess from the ocean, never stopping on our way to Redonda. JP had not blown a spinnaker since his regatta days, a few decades ago…

Spi aftermath

We made Nevis just for the sunset, 12 hours for 70 miles and picked a mooring close to the only town, Charlestown. At Customs and in town, people were universally friendly and helpful.

Restored building at Golden Rock

The next day we undertook an island tour – the main attractions are big plantation houses converted to high-end hotels, some very tastefully. 

Montpelier Hall
Verandah at Hermitage
We were particularly impressed by Golden Rock (great landscaping and use of nature), Montpelier (beautiful hall) and Hermitage (fully restored colonial wooden house). 

We also stopped at old churches with tombstones from the 1600’s and hot sulphur springs.

Wild donkeys run free in the hills.
Talk to our agent!

Orchids - so hard to photograph

Lunch was at the delightful botanical garden, overlooking the south coast and featuring a Thai restaurant and flower extract drinks.
Did you say purple flower?

An excellent fish dinner at Double Deuce, a beach restaurant concluded our visit to Nevis.

Squall and rainbow on Nevis peak
The ship's mechanic