Passage Back to Puerto Rico

We are playing a bit of catchup on the blog now that we have reliable wifi. The events of this post took place in late February.

Having thoroughly enjoyed the first two months of the new year in Antigua (catch up here), our 3-month visa was running out. We had an option to renew it for another 3 months, but at a decent expense and hassle. We didn’t really have an agenda for the spring except to be back in Florida by the end of May or so. We decided that rather than renew our visa, we would sail back to Puerto Rico to spend some more time there before Florida. In addition to avoiding the hassle of renewing our visa, COVID case numbers were growing exponentially at this time in Antigua to a level greater than that of Puerto Rico.

With the plan set, we started to get our ducks in a row. We needed to restock on fruits and veggies one more time, get a COVID test to send to Puerto Rico and clear out of Antigua. This could unfortunately all be accomplished in St John’s Harbor which is full of awful smells, sounds and nasty water quality. So, we anchored there on a Wednesday night and on Thursday we went into town to get our groceries, then came back to have our noses tickled for our COVID test and complete outward clearance at Customs & Immigration. Our friend Rollo also drove up to say goodbye – isn’t he the sweetest? – and we were so sad that we assumed it would be quite a while before we crossed paths again. Teary eyed, mostly from the goodbye, but also partly because of the putrid smells of the harbor, we decided to get out of there. Although leaving from St John’s Harbor for Puerto Rico would have been convenient, we retreated to Hermitage Bay to rest and prep the boat. We spent the next day, Friday, going through our checklist of things that needed to be prepped and cooked, then were off to an early bed time.

Outside the Customs Office in St John's
Sunrise on the way out of Antigua

We awoke a bit after 4am, made some coffee and ginger tea and checked the weather one last time. All systems were a “Go” so at 5am we weighed anchor and in complete darkness and almost no wind motored out of the harbor and got on our course. Once we got out of the shadow of land, the sun began to illuminate the horizon and the wind filled in nicely. We unfurled our genoa, shut down the engines, and enjoyed sailing towards our next waypoint just north of Saba. We had an excellent 20kts of wind, but some rough swell. We had 6 footers behind us, which is no problem, but we had fairly steep 6-8 footers on the beam, which were uncomfortable and causing us to lose some speed. Over the course of the passage this secondary swell, leftover from the previous week of enhanced 25kt trade winds, would die down and move more aft.

Our route took us just offshore of St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Eustatius, and Saba. Normally we would have stopped at all of these, but with COVID that is not an option with all the (costly) required testing and advance notice of arrival, etc. So instead we just enjoyed the views. We needed to make just under 6kts average speed to reach Culebra, a Puerto Rican island east of the mainland, before sundown Sunday and this was non-negotiable because our COVID test results would expire after that, as Puerto Rico requires the test be taken within 72 hours of arrival. Some governments allow time at sea to be subtracted from that, so you can take your time getting there safely, but not Puerto Rico. (Maybe let’s reconsider, eh – for folks’ safety? Boaters will tell you that passage on a schedule not aligned with the weather is often a dangerous, fool’s errand, and we concur). Throughout the day, we met our minimum required speed under sail, but weren’t putting a ton of time in the bank either as the sea state was still a bit rough.

Passing St. Kitts
A brown booby gliding above

One thing to keep us entertained during the day offshore is to watch the wildlife. As our boat cuts through the water, flying fish will jump out of the water and zoom just over the surface. It’s fun to watch and hard not to squeal “WEEEEEEE!” as they do it; fishing for hours on end. Brown boobies (that’s a bird, folks) take advantage of this and will glide near boats, swooping down to catch flying fish and eat them. We delight in watching them prey, cheering them on with “Get ’em! Get ’em!” and other words of encouragement. But what do the brown boobies do at night, now that they’ve followed us 70 or more miles from where we first picked them up? Well around 9pm when Frank was on watch he looked back and saw one resting on the railing of the boat! It was pretty rolly still and he was having to do quite a balancing act, including using his wings sometimes, to stay upright and attached to the boat. Later, as we had to walk right past him to change shifts, he flew over to the tender on the back of the boat and spent the rest of the night perched on the tiller. The next morning Stanley (Mishi can’t help herself but make buds with every animal, and name them) took flight again, scooping up any flying fish who dared break the surface in front of him.

At sunset, we passed Saba and from here it was a little over 110 miles to our destination of Culebra. The wind began to fade, rebuild, fade again and so on for the rest of the journey. The night portion of the passage was pretty uneventful, a couple very distant ship crossings to keep us attentive and little else but the fight against falling asleep as we took turns on watch. Around 1:45am the moon set and the only light until 5:30am were the stars and the instruments (blue light blocking, tinted glasses are a must for Mishi on these pitch black night watches – no one has time for instrument-light induced headaches). These are the times that having radar and AIS are helpful to identify possible ship crossings early. The radar will also pick up storms, of which we had none. The AIS will tell us how close we will pass to other ships and at what time, while also providing their name so we can hail them for a chat on the radio if necessary. You can only imagine how bright the stars are with no lights nearby and no moon in the sky!

The sun setting behind Saba

After the sun rose, it was not far before we sighted the US Virgin Islands, which are just east of Culebra. We carried on, at various times getting some wind and at others not and throwing on a motor to make sure to arrive before our COVID test expired. The sea state had greatly calmed at least and was more gentle in pushing us along. As we closed on Culebra the magic commenced. A pod of 6 dolphins with several calves came and swam at the bow with us for about 10 minutes. They were welcoming us back to US waters! Then, as we furled the sail on final approach to Culebra, we spotted two whales surfacing to catch their breath! We didn’t see them again after that but it was so remarkable to finally see a whale while under sail.

We pulled into Culebra, a small and beautiful island that is a tourist hotspot and looked for a spot to call home for a bit. There is a nice calm spot behind the reef as soon as you come in the narrow channel, but it is taken over with mooring balls which are free but when we went to pick up one of the only available ones it looked sketchy. We certainly trust our own anchor more. Instead, we went further back into the bay and anchored by the town. We submitted our negative COVID test results, which we had received while underway, to the Puerto Rican Department of Health online, then cleared into the US using the ROAM app whereby a Customs and Border Patrol officer video chats with you, asks a few questions and then you are good to go. We had ramen noodles and nachos for dinner over a movie and were in bed not long after sunset and slept for a solid 10 hours!

We Love Culebra too!

We would spend the next week exploring Culebra, before taking a slip at a marina in mainland PR. Then we would cruise the south coast of Puerto Rico for a bit before prepping for our passage back to Florida, which would be by far our longest to date by far! Stay tuned!

1 thought on “Passage Back to Puerto Rico”

  1. We love catching up on your Galatea travels. This was a dream Robert and I had BC (before children), but obviously had to settle for week long charters, that we were able to enjoy many summers. Often with our friends and neighbors, Valerie and David. Such fun memories. Keep us posted, and safe sails.

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