Thursday, 27 March 2014

Back Into The Caribbean ….. March 2014

9 – 15 March 2014:  Boquerón, PR to Punta Colorada, SVI – 18 17N 65 16W

P3080153Toiling on Toilets and Tasty Tapas

We spent a few sociable days and nights in Boquerón.  The anchorage was comfortable, the small town pleasant and the happy hours ashore cheap and cheerful.  It was also a top spot for skipper to undertake one of his favourite maintenance jobs – unblocking the toilet!!  This time it was a major, all the pipes needed removing and cleaning, so the adjacent cupboards are emptied, the shelves removed and chaos begins.  You can only imagine what fun that is, and best we not mention the smell!!

When the trade winds eased again (and the toilet was back in working order) there was a mass exodus, we headed down the western shore of Puerto Rico, left the Mona Passage behind us and officially re-entered the Caribbean, last seen over a year ago when we left Mexico and headed to Cuba. IMG_0373

We anchored the night tucked up deep inside Bahia de Guanica, not the most scenic anchorage but it was flat, peaceful and had a great tapas bar and winery ashore.  We joined plenty of locals under the palm trees for a lazy Sunday afternoon in company with Jim and Carola off Koza and Iain and Fiona off British yacht Ruffian.  We hadn't met the Ruffians before but Koza had and they are good friends with our friends on Serafina.  They are travelling west and onto the States and heard us calling each other on the VHF Radio so gave Koza a call and we all met up for a lovely afternoon, only slightly spoiled by extensive rain! 

Early Starts to Avoid the Sea BreezeP3100002

The southern coast of Puerto Rico has off shore islands, reefs or mainland harbours about every 20 miles, so it is perfect for leaving early morning and heading east to the next anchorage before the trade winds kick in mid morning, so this was our plan for getting to windward.  Our next stop was Ponce, we nudged our way into the small anchorage and settled in for a couple of nights.

Ponce is an old Spanish settlement, complete with the trademark Cathedral, central open plaza and surrounding handsome buildings.  We eventually made it into town after kindly being picked up by a local and dropped at the plaza. P3100020 It was much further than we thought and there were no taxis in sight, we would have turned around if he had not stopped for us.  We visited the Parque de Bombas, nowadays the tourist information - most recently a fire station and certainly an eye catching number painted in black and red stripes. 

The plaza centrepiece the Fountain of Lions was switched off, the Cathedral doors padlocked: old town Ponce was definitely closed but it was late Monday afternoon, maybe that’s why.2014 Puerto Rico But when we walked further afield, extending a block or two from the plaza it was clear that Ponce has fallen victim to the same fate as many towns we have seen when malls or large shopping areas with department stores move in – the life and livelihood is taken from the old town, shops are left empty and decay sets in. 2014 Puerto Rico Unless there is a community of inner city dwellers or a thriving tourist industry there is no longer any need to go “downtown”and the soul and life of the area is lost. 

Having said that the immediate area around the plaza was lovely, hundreds of birds filled the trees in the plaza and there was an extensive display of painted lion statues (as you can see from all the photos) which certainly brightened everything up, but there were very few people.

Our early starts motoring along the southern coast continued, next stop was tucked up in the entrance to the harbour at Salinas.  The depth in the entrance was marginal for us, but it was fully sheltered with towering mangroves so we went as far as we dared and plopped down the anchor. 2014 Puerto Rico

There wasn’t much in the immediate vicinity ashore but we heard there was a supermarket out of town so walked off into the heat of the day in search of fresh food.   We waved down a pickup to ask directions and next thing we were being whisked off in air-conditioned comfort – excellent.  Just a shame we never managed a ride back in the heat with the groceries!

Going Out With a Bang

We had one more stop on Puerto Rico, tucked behind the reef at Puerto Patillas.  The charts were a little vague so we slowly entered the anchorage and found a spot to anchor in sand.  There was an uncharted patch over to our right that looked a little reefy but far enough away not to be a problem.  The wind changed direction just on dark and we were treated to rather a rolly night, so when we were both awake at 5am we decided we may as well leave as we had 50 miles to cover to Culebra.


It was still very dark so with skipper lifting the anchor the admiral was on the helm (yep, that’s me), with anchor up I turned left away from that previously spotted dodgey looking spot and headed out.  But something went wrong with my navigation or maybe we found another crunchy spot – either way we came to a rather abrupt halt in the dark, whoops!  Luckily we were going very slow, skipper immediately relieved me of my steering duties and we escaped mother earths clutches without further mishaps.  Not a good start to the day, and all before daybreak!! 

Off To The Spanish Virgin Islands

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

The Naked Rower ….. March 2014

1 – 8 March 2014:  Samana, Dominican Rep to Boquerón, Puerto Rico -  18 01N 67 10W



Another Cold Front So We Get To Move

We waited in Luperon on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic for the next front to come off the USA mainland and suck up all the trade winds and leave us in peace!  The winds and seas eased so we left at first light and pushed on due east along the northern shores.

Conditions were perfect for motoring, it’s a tough coastline to sail, with few safe anchorages, so we were happy to burn some jungle juice in flat water rather than bash to windward impersonating a submarine!  P2280120

The scenery was spectacular, lush green jungle edged tiny coves with golden sands, the currently tame North Atlantic lapping at the shores.  In other bays huge pieces of rock had broken off and lay scattered like marbles, no doubt the work of the same North Atlantic, but when it was in its full fury. 

Ticking Off The Miles

Since leaving Black Point in the Exumas Chain of the Bahamas we have done 5 consecutive daysails of around 50 miles, and this was now our 3rd overnighter of around 140 miles.  All the time we have been nibbling away, south and east, slowly getting closer to the Caribbean. 

P3010138At dusk the wind filled in enough for us to sail through the night, each time we rounded a headland we would hug the coastline, keeping out of the contra current.  The arrival of dawn saw the skies laden with heavy clouds, bans of squalls ensured a clean boat, what little wind we had was sucked away and we motored the last couple of hours into Samana on the northeast end of the Dominican Republic.

This time of year Samana sees thousands of tourists, all coming to whale watch.  We had rather hoped to do some whale watching of our own whilst in the bay but we didn’t spot or smell even one.  I did see one spout, way in the distance and that was that.  We had been visited on our trip from the Turks and Caicos to Luperon during the night by a couple of huge beauties, gliding along each side of Balvenie, maybe they had been on their way to Samana! 

So Different to Luperon

Downtown Samana was just so different to what we expected.  Although tourists join whale watching tours from here, very few actually stay in town and prefer to stay at one of the beaches on the other side of the peninsular.


This colourful row of quaint terraced wooden buildings opposite the waterfront looked very cute.  On closer inspection we discovered they were fairly new and over half of them were empty, the others housed  a handful of upmarket tourist shops and galleries. P3010140 I later read that Cruise Ships sometimes anchor off a nearby private island and 2000 sun loungers choke the beach. 

Maybe this commercial development was planned for those that prefer a land and shopping excursion, but the Cruise Ships are few and far between, and there didn’t look to be much trade in between.

We stretched our legs and covered downtown Samana in about half an hour, found a little local  spot that had the tiniest espresso machine ever and checked the weather again.  The light winds would last another 36 hours and that was more than we needed to cross the Mona Passage to the west coast of Puerto Rico

Off We Go AgainP3010142

The Mona Passage has a fierce reputation for being a body of very turbulent water, just above it in the Atlantic there is a trench with the 2nd deepest body of water in the world, in the Mona Passage there are shoals to 20 metres, the Atlantic sets south into it and the Caribbean escapes north, all in all it can get very very messy. 

Conditions were dead calm at 1pm when we got back to Balvenie, no sea breeze even, we were happy to motor to get the miles done.  At 2pm we weighed anchor, still in glassy seas, 10 minutes later the sea breeze kicked right in with over 20 knots on the nose, flip.   We motored out of the harbour and decided to let the sea breeze blow itself out, we took shelter at the nearby Cruise Ship island, Cayo Levantado.

Just on dark we set off again in calmer conditions and sailed a while till the breeze dropped out then motored off into the night.  At dawn a gentle north easterly filled in and for the first time in what felt forever, we sailed with the wind on the beam …. magic.P3010139

Mishaps in Mayaguez

We sailed all day and covered the 143 miles in 23 hours, anchoring in the port town of Mayaguez before dark.  We had crossed the Mona Passage without incident and we were in Puerto Rico, yet another country.  Next morning we dinghied ashore to check in.  We met a couple at the dinghy dock who suggested we were better going to the other dock about a mile away as it was much closer to Customs, so off we went.  When we got there we were re-directed back to the dock we had just come from and another Customs building which processed private yacht arrivals - not off to a good start and the day just got worse.

P3010136We found Customs and handed over our passports, ships papers and USA Cruising Permit (yep, Puerto Rico is part of the USA), and thankfully check in actually all was quick and efficient.

Next up was the supermarket which was close to the dinghy dock.  Always keen to stock up on heavy items if we don’t have to carry them we loaded up 2 trolleys, paid and headed for the carpark exit – intending to take the trollies across the road then bring them back.  NO – there was some sort of scanner at the car park exit and a lock came down over the trolley wheels, they weren’t going anywhere!!   And so began Marks trips backwards and forwards with the groceries to the dinghy dock while I guarded the remains in the trolleys.  There were a couple of homeless men asleep on the beach near the dinghy dock, we imagined them waking to find bags of beer, rum, coke and a fine selection of food nearby – thinking all their Christmases had come at once!!

But It Just Got Worse!P3040148

It was a wet ride back to Balvenie, the sea breeze had kicked in and a nasty little chop was coming across the bay.

Back onboard I loosely attached Dougie the dinghy while we unloaded bag after bag of groceries.  Then we took out the fuel tank for the outboard (which we do to reduce the weight of the dinghy hanging on the davits when we lift it.)  At this point we normally either lift the dinghy or tie it on properly – that is what we normally do!!!  But today we moved the bags into the cockpit, then down below, there were lots of bags and this takes time.

All the time in the world for Dougies makeshift knot to come undone in the choppy seas and for him to float off with a good breeze pushing him on his way.  There was only one other yacht in the anchorage and they were ashore so couldn’t help, P3060150Dougie was heading for a shallow band of reef so we couldn’t take Balvenie to retrieve him, the only other option was to swim out then row back as there was no fuel tank onboard now!!  To make matters worse though, we had one of our oars stolen over summer and our new oars don’t lock in so its really a two person job to paddle.  So it was clothes off, snorkels and flippers on, and in we both jumped – every second saw him drifting further away.

Well it took us nearly an hour to get back, we paddled him, then tried one swimming and towing him while the other pushed, then paddled again.  The winds eased a few times and we made  headway but then it would fire up to full force and we would barely hold our ground in the choppy waters.  It was with immense relief we tied back up to Balvenie and reflected on what we had done and what we could have done differently.  We don’t think it was a smart move to both jump overboard but we don’t know how else we could have got him back.

We lifted anchor shortly after, I must have checked the charts through the shallows south about 10 times before we left, we didn’t need the events of the day to deteriorate any further. 

Meeting Old Friends and New

When we dropped anchor in Boquerón late afternoon we were greeted by hearty waves from the crew of Australian yacht FeijaoOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Next day the Australian invasion continued with Jim and Carola off Koza arriving, last seen in the Exumas and they have since been to Cuba and Haiti.  Then Taipan arrived,  well we last saw David and Kris in Malaysia in 2007, they took the southern route and this year have sailed across from South Africa.

Party Time in Puerto Rico

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Heading For the Hills ….. February 2014

20 –27 February 2014:  Luperon and Inland Exploring, Dominican Republic


Have 4WD .. Will TravelP2210042

With strong winds forecast for at least 5 days it was the perfect opportunity to leave Balvenie on her mooring in the secure harbour of Luperon and head for the hills.  We “sort of” hired a 4WD, lets just say one of the permanent cruisers in the harbour made a couple of phone calls, we stood on a street corner at 9.30am, a Ford Explorer arrived with a local man and toddler inside, we got in and dropped them off up the road,  we gave him $100 – he gave us his car keys.  Easy peasy – the joys of doing business in the less developed world!


Did Anyone Bring a Map??

We were sharing the 4WD with Carla and Daniel off C-Time.  They too were due some shore leave after many long days and some nights at sea so we decided to hit the road together. 

I guess really it was my job to be navigator, I’d done a great job of printing off the pages of information on where we were going, but not how we were getting there!  We weren’t doing too bad following the erratic sign posts until we arrived in Santiago, the 2nd biggest city in the DR, the slip road entry onto the Ring Road was closed for road works and why would they waste time putting up detour signs? P2210041

And so began our unplanned sightseeing tour of Santiago!!  Quite some time later, with Daniel navigating us on Google Maps on his iPhone (not entirely accurate!) and Mark definitely enjoying driving like a local we successfully popped out the other side of the city and resumed a less frantic and chaotic pace on quieter roads. 

The Outdoor Adventure Capital of the DR

Our first nights stop was in the foothills of the mountains at Jarabacoa, the surrounding countryside was lush and green, the air clearer and cooler.  Jarabacoa was a functional working town, nothing too cute or touristy about it, even though it was purported to be the tourist mecca of the interior we didn’t see another “gringo” around and didn’t even get hassled by any tour operators to take us kayaking, white water rafting, paragliding or on a tour to the nearby waterfalls. P2220101

Where Are The Dinosaurs??

After spending a comfortable night at Hotel California it was off into the jungle for some hiking, waterfall sightseeing and dinosaur hunting.  Many scenes from the movie Jurassic Park were filmed at the Salta Jimenoa Uno Waterfalls so we went off road down an exceptionally steep grassed driveway to the track entrance and hoped like hell we would be able to drive out again!!


P2210059Up, Up and Away

The hike down and back up got the heart pumping, not from running from the jaws of dinosaurs though, just exercise at altitude, something we very rarely do.  Back in the carpark the attendant stopped traffic on the road in preparation for our exit.  Mark gunned the accelerator and we exited the carpark feeling like a rocket being propelled skyward – we landed successfully back on the road and continued our journey up into the mountains. P2210056

One Big Vegetable Patch

We stopped at a small farming community for lunch and sat with the field workers eating beans and rice, the staple diet of so many of these countries.  Back on the road we kept climbing, making our destination of Constanza mid afternoon.  It is a small but busy agricultural town, set in a very picturesque valley at 1200m surrounded by high mountains on all sides.  As far as you could see in every direction the fields were full of crops of all varieties.  Strawberries were in season, roadside stalls offered the fresh fruit, strawberry jam and various other strawberry concoctions, we stocked up on goodies.


 Definitely Off The Beaten Path

We decided to go for the complete rural experience and headed some miles out of town.  The drive was an adventure in itself, first we needed to convince a road works worker we really did need to go down the road that was closed, then convinced another that we could just fit between the two big holes they had dug, then we went off road stopping at every intersection to ask directions – rarely understanding the rapid Spanish instructions fired back at us – just following the way they pointed!  And finally we found Rancho Macajo.


P2210061The log cabins were probably just a tad more rustic than we would have liked, but the setting and views were just amazing.  I was the only one up for an afternoon walk so I climbed as high as I could above the ranch to take in the views, then went back down to the dirt road and enjoyed a long walk up into the valley, soaking in the vista below me.  Every inch of land was either planted or ploughed, interestingly we didn’t see any farm machinery anywhere but we didn’t see any oxen and ploughs either, is it all tilled by hand?P2210064

The ranch was an interesting place, the owner has turned it into a mini menagerie with 21 different species of birds and animals.  We had an excellent dinner, followed by nightcaps sitting around a roaring  bonfire, the starry sky was crystal clear, the silence overwhelming, it was a magic spot.

Going Down

Next morning it was downhill all the way, we made a couple of attempts at finding an alternative route back to the coast – both failed badly.  We did however find the ring road around Santiago again but to our dismay it was closed on this side as well.P2210073  While we were parked in the middle of the road looking for plan D a car pulled up in front of us and the driver had rather a heated discussion with the armed guard patrolling the traffic cones.  We heard them mention Puerto Plato which was where we were aiming for, eventually the guard moved a cone, the car drove through and so did we.  We didn’t hear any gunfire behind us and never looked back!!

About 30 miles later we got to the Puerto Plato exit, and you guessed it, it was coned off!!  We drove slowly by to assess the situation and make sure the exit was actually passable, all looked ok, no traffic or armed guards around, so we reversed back to the exit, I jumped out and moved a couple of cones, through we went and headed on our way!!!P2220106

Back to the Seaside

While we had the 4WD we couldn’t forego an opportunity to do a supermarket run and nearby tourist town of Puerto Plato was sort of on the way.  We made it down to the waterfront, but where was the supermarket?  While I was off looking for somewhere cheap and quick for lunch Daniel spotted some friendly policemen and next thing I know we were all back in the 4WD and following a police escort to the supermarket, right into the carpark!!

A couple of hours later, with the 4WD bulging at its seams, we made our weary way back the last 30 odd miles up the coast to Luperon.  We emptied the contents at the dinghy dock and Mark set off trying to find the owner of the Explorer.  He never did find him, but the keys were handed to someone and we never had anyone come looking for us!

It’s Great To Be Back In The 3rd World (Maybe 2nd World!)