Puerto Rico, Otra Vez

We’re slowly catching up on our blog posts now that we have reliable wifi. The events of this blog post took place in March and April.

Having arrived to Culebra after an overnight passage from Antigua (catch up here), we began to reacclimatize ourselves with one of our favorite places: Puerto Rico. This is our fourth time to Puerto Rico in a little over one year. Culebra, which is part of the Puerto Rican territory, lies between the Puerto Rican mainland and St. Thomas. Culebra, along with another Puerto Rican island Vieques nearby, are often referred to as the “Spanish Virgin Islands,” with the US Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands lying just east.

This was our second visit to Culebra, but the first time we had actually visited shore. We anchored right in front of the town and checked out what was open. Normally a bustling tourist spot, Culebra has been very quiet during the COVID pandemic. Many of its popular restaurants and bars were closed. A pizza place and a Puerto Rican cafeteria called Moncho’s (chicken, rice and beans – this is where you want to go) were open for take out, and a coffee shop was open. We spent a week relaxing and checking out Culebra. We strolled around a lot, toured around in the dinghy, but the wind was so stiff we struggled to explore too much. Access was a bit difficult in certain places and we had a hell of a time docking the dinghy at the public dock with strong winds – we put an anchor out and found ourselves neck deep in water trying to retrieve it from under a log on a murky, windy afternoon. We still have much more of Culebra that we want to see, but we enjoyed our time while the usually bustling island sat quiet.

Frank making friends with 'Hector el Protector', a wooden sculpture by Danish artist Thomas Dambo. He was rebuilt after Hurricane Maria and welcomes you to Culebra
Walking around Culebra there are loads of colors, with art seamlessly integrated into daily life, and cool murals celebrating the island's love of nature and wildlife
Mural honoring Pedro Antonio Morales, a professional wrestler from Culebra. Morales rose to prominence in the 1960s with a long fighting career, he passed away on February 12, 2019.
Palmas Del Mar Marina

Around this time Mish became very busy with work, to where she would need to be working overtime for all of March and into April. We also had a lot of boat work to do so to make work life a bit easier we took a slip at Palmas Del Mar marina. It would also be a great chance to explore by land and stretch our legs. Marina space is very hard to come by in Puerto Rico but we managed to get a slip and made the 8 hour trip to the southeast corner of the mainland. It was a bit sporty out, nothing we aren’t used to, but the marina entrance, unbeknownst to us at the time, is quite narrow and challenging, being exposed directly to the trade winds. Although a bit white knuckled for a few moments before we were all the way in, it wasn’t too bad; Frank would say his experience piloting a jet boat up and down Class II rapids on the Coosa River back home certainly came in handy here! Then, upon being congratulated by some bystanders and being told by the marina boss that we wouldn’t have been able to come in the day before it was so rough out we had a laugh (and a few mojitos) at being caught off guard which rarely happens to us.

Views east from Palmas

The first night in the marina our sister ship (another Leopard 46 named “One Love”) invited us over for sundowners along with owners of a Leopard 40 “Sea Monster” and we enjoyed getting to know them as we settled in. Over the course of our time in the marina, Misha worked super hard (and did amazing!) and Frank fulfilled his captain duties fixing various bits and bobs on the boat, there’s always something. We had a bit of laughable drama when Misha needed to find a business suit to wear (we hadn’t kept one on the boat, that has since changed) for her appearance via Zoom before the Louisiana Supreme Court, and after searching 8 stores in Humacao (the nearest town), we drove all the way to San Juan to get the goods. The Israeli food stall at the mall made the drive well worth it and we had a good laugh at the ridiculousness of our predicament. All in all, it worked out and we had fun on the hunt.

Monster (of Sea Monster fame) herself at the bow heading out for the night
Respectable floor spot for an oral argument over Zoom

Having been recently vaccinated, Misha’s parents also decided to visit us and stay at the hotel located inside the Palmas Del Mar community. It was so great to see family again after 5 months and we spent every day hanging out at the pool reading books, playing cards, watching movies (classics such as Overboard and Down Periscope), and feasting. 

While at the marina, once a week we would rent a car for the day to do errands (go to the market, and always Home Depot for project supplies) and fun activities. We went for a very rainy hike at El Yunque, explored a sweet Pterocarpus swamp forest, and took some surfing lessons (Frank crushed it his first time surfing!). There really is so much to do on land in Puerto Rico and we’ve barely scratched the surface. It’s a truly remarkable place.

Surely we’re all tired of hearing about what things Frank has been doing on the boat lately, but for a quick rundown he took advantage of how easy it is to get parts (free Amazon shipping! Some moral quandaries with the Amazon dependence of course though – where we could we shopped at local shops but it can be difficult to find all you need) in Puerto Rico and knocked out quite a lot of projects. New injectors in all the engines and the generator, replacing some electrical cables, replacing noisy shower pumps, a few rigging things, and a bunch of other odds and ends hardly worth mentioning. It’s nice as the project list becomes more minor improvements!

Right: Misha was replacing the bulb for our deck light and a passerby at the marina thought it was the coolest thing ever and insisted on taking a photo and sending it to us. Wonder what her reaction would have been if she had seen Misha all the way at the top of the mast?

As April approached we started to plan for hurricane season. Given the COVID situation having not improved we had already decided to return to Florida for the summer. We had thought of stopping in Bahamas on the way but with all the COVID testing requirements, plus it already getting late in the season, we began thinking of making a straight shot to Tampa Bay from Puerto Rico which would be about a 6 day journey. Our friend Rollo, to whom we had just said what we thought might be long goodbyes, had a bit of time between leaving Antigua and arriving in the UK for the summer and decided to come join us for the month. He arrived in late April and we left the marina just a few days later to head west around the south coast of PR to station to cross the Mona.

When we were leaving the marina, the sargassum seaweed was so thick it covered the entire exit and we had no choice but to motor right through it. About half way through Rollo, who was tidying up some dock lines on the port side, yelled up to the helm that the engine was vibrating roughly. We must’ve gotten so much seaweed tangled around the props that the cutters couldn’t keep up! Misha and Rollo sprang to action preparing an unspoken plan to make an emergency docking while Frank started troubleshooting. Putting the engine in neutral, a brief kick in reverse, and then back in forward seemed to clear it and we were off. Out of the marina, we turned down and set the sails and had a decently long day hop to Ponce, the second largest city in Puerto Rico. We intended to stop at Caja de Muertos just outside for the night, but it was too rough and Ponce was quiet and calm, albeit a bit tight on space.

The next morning we left Ponce for a shorter sail to Cayos de Caña Gorda which is also known as Gilligan’s Island, or as the locals spell it, Guilligan’s Island. This spot was remarkable. There was a reef, behind which some small mangrove islands lie in front of the anchorage, with a quaint town behind. It is a very popular spot for Puerto Ricans to come to hang out. Although we only planned to spend one night here, we made it two as we enjoyed the peaceful serenity, exploring the mangroves, and chatting with the friendly locals. We could have easily spent two weeks here.

One of our favorite things at Gilligan’s Island, which our friends Zach and Lindy on Holiday told us about, was to take floats to the “top” of the mangroves and float back down it like a lazy river! Nearly 5 months on and we still dream about a trip down the mangrove lazy river!

We left Gilligan’s Island in advance of some nasty weather for Puerto Real. We didn’t have any wind at first so we just motored, but the wind filled in a bit and we flew our spinnaker around the southwest corner of Puerto Rico before we turned up to Puerto Real, passing Boquerón. It was obvious the west coast of Puerto Rico is incredibly beautiful, and much calmer than the east coast which is exposed to the trades, as dolphins brought us to the entrance of Puerto Real.

Puerto Real is a very cool port. It is a fishing village, but one that has become kind of hip, so there are some cool restaurants on the waterfront. Marina Pescaderia has become a very popular marina for cruisers, given its strategic location for crossing the Mona Passage to the Dominican Republic. We anchored in the bay outside the marina, but the marina let us use their dock to leave the tender and get to shore. Every morning the fishermen would leave at first light (not before some really loud “get pumped” music), coming back around lunch. It was a peaceful place we could definitely have spent more time in. We seem to say that a lot about places in Puerto Rico!

There were some decent restaurants there as well and we took advantage of that to get our final fix of Puerto Rican cuisine, one of our favorites, including the best Mofongo we ever had. One night we didn’t throw out a stern anchor on the tender while we ate at the restaurant where we could see the dinghy from. While we were eating the tide came up and the tender managed to sneak under the dock while we weren’t paying attention (distracted by the stunning sunset no doubt). We found our tender wedged real tight under the dock. Oh sh*t. First we tried to use our body weight to weight the tender down enough to allow the outboard space to come out from under the dock. Nope (if you ever want to know how it feels to be in a coffin, lay down in your tender wedged under a wooden dock – absolutely frightening). So, we decided the only way out was to pull the drain plug and fill the tender with water until it dropped low enough we could get it out. OC Tenders isn’t lying when they say their tender is unsinkable, but dammit we tried our best! We only had to fill it half full of water to get it unpinned. Then Frank used a trick he learned on the lakes of Alabama to get the water out of the boat: driving around on plane with the drain plug out – the water just shoots right out the drain hole. After 10 minutes of joy riding the water was gone and we went back to the boat, soaked and adrenaline pumped but relieved and ready for a night cap. 

But then, DOH! Rollo left his water bottle on the dock. We went back for it, and on the way back Frank was looking back and noticed the water coming out behind the engine was glowing. “What the hell is going on!?” Then we realized it was all bioluminescence! We looked around us and things were glowing everywhere in the water! Having dropped Misha off while we went to get the water bottle, we came back to the boat yelling at her to come outside and get in the tender then went for another joyride. We motored circles around the bay amazed by the bioluminescence everywhere! It was the closest thing to Avatar we have ever seen. What a cool experience! All made possible by forgetting to set the stern anchor to keep the tender out from under the dock on a windless night. “Happy little accidents.”

While we waited for the bad weather to pass, we knocked out the final project list for the passage and prepped a lot of food so we could avoid cooking as much as possible while on passage. We expected the passage to Key West to last 6 or 7 days, with the possibility of stopping at Great Inagua, Bahamas half way to rest for a night or two if we wanted.

In our next blog post, we’ll cover 925nm to Key West, stop for a bit of fun, then wrap up the final 200nm to our home port of Tampa Bay. Stay tuned!

2 thoughts on “Puerto Rico, Otra Vez”

Comments are closed.