It is hard to believe we have been here for 10 days already. The time is flying and we have nothing to show for it, except a relaxed attitude. It is so nice not to have to go anywhere, study weather, and plan excursions. We are living the life in Boqueron.
The first day here, we were just hanging out in the cockpit recovering from the passage when we noticed a 53-ft sailboat dragging across the bay. We tried calling any authorities in the bay (local police, Cabo Rojo police, Natural Resources police, even the Customs and Border Protection -- all of whom have boats with lots of horsepower in the Cano) but we got no useful response. So we lowered the dinghy and put out a general announcement call on VHF 16 telling any boats listening that we were headed to the south end of the bay; please join us to help save a boat from going up on the rocks. Three sets of boaters answered the call. In no time we had dinghys on each side of the sailboat pushing like tugs, people raising the dragging anchor and people steering the boat. The owners of the boat were not in Boqueron -- they had gone to San Juan for the day. We pushed, guided, and finally anchored the boat about where it had been before dragging over a mile down the bay. This was a terrific demonstration of cruisers helping cruisers. Thankful owners met the rescuers the next day on the dinghy dock. Wow.
That was our big excitement. But maybe even better is the wildlife we are seeing here. There is a very healthy population of terns fishing in the bay, screeching all day and diving like crazy. They are joined by pelicans and most everyday by a pair of frigate birds -- big black soaring birds that have a wingspan about 7 feet wide. Completing the bird list so far are the yellow-crowned night herons swooping low out of the mangroves. We've also seen dolphins, a ray, maybe heard a manatee, and a sea turtle came over to investigate us too. (Hey dude...) We are loving this.
Of course we've taken several kayak expeditions, going into the Cano to check out the mangrove swamps and going around the northwest corner of the bay up the coast a mile or two. Even just going up and down the beach by kayak is fun -- there is always something new to look at. Speaking of the beach -- what a gorgeous place. It is over a mile long and is backed by lots of palm trees so that there is plenty of shade to get out of the afternoon heat. The beach is the focal point here in Boqueron, and the weekends are just packed with people all having a great time -- families, tribes of teenagers and college kids, even cruisers -- many bringing barbeques and tables and setting up for a whole day of fun on the beach. And the music! Fabulous sounds from all over the beach and live bands playing in the bars and restaurants in town. Dancing in the streets is acceptable behavior here. This weekend there is a boy scout jamboree added to the mix - must be 1000 scouts out there playing volleyball, swimming, and camping out on the beach.
Weekdays are very quiet by comparison. We tried to take public transportation to the nearest supermarket, but didn't know that it was some holiday. Taking pity on us, a man who lived next to the bus stop gave us a ride to Cabo Rojo and the Econo supermarket. We shopped and filled four large bags with groceries and tried again to find the bus back to Boqueron. The supermarket staff tried to help us too. No luck. Just when we were contemplating walking 4 miles with all this food, here came Henry to the rescue. Henry is another cruiser who lives part time in Boqueron. He figured us for cruisers and offered us a ride back to the dock. How could we ever get this lucky! Later in the week we had Henry and his wife Martha out to the boat to swap stories. They are remarkable people and we are happy to have met them.
So we spend our days watching for new boats to the anchorage and saying good bye to boats leaving. Boqueron is a crossroads from the Caribbean to the Atlantic and we are eager to meet those coming from the south to hear about their experiences in all the places we intend to go. Everyone loves to talk about what they've done and to advise us about places we simply cannot miss. We just take it all in. And we keep running into people we met in the Bahamas who are going south as well. It really is a small world.
We have no dramatic sea stories to tell about our passage from Samana to Boqueron. That's the good news. Nothing broke, we weren't worn out on arrival -- all good. The weather started out kind of iffy - leaving Samana there were still some squalls and lots of rain out there, lightening too -- but it wasn't really bad and the seas weren't being kicked up too much. Not too much to do on the overnight passage - not a lot of boats out there. With dawn, we were heading out over the Hourglass Shoal into the Mona Passage and suddenly our winds went from 0 to 20 where they stayed for a bit - must have been a rainless squall. Then winds died away to nothing again. The whole day Wednesday we had no wind and very calm seas. And the sun was out and hot! We let our autopilot do the work and we enjoyed the seascape. That was really a first for us -- usually we are fighting the elements to get where we are going -- this was a pleasure. By sunset we had the southwestern Puerto Rican shoreline in view and the anchor was down by 10pm. We were welcomed by an unseen dolphin who we could hear breathing near the boat. We celebrated our arrival with hot water showers.
Boqueron, Puerto Rico: +18° 1' 24.12", -67° 10' 51.06"
An unplanned week in Samana. So that's cruising. You live by the weather window. After a couple of days of resting and cleaning up the boat after passage, we started exploring town. Plenty of bars and restaurants, a fairly good grocery store with a bakery, terrific produce market, a casino, and lots of chachka shops. The later are there as major cruise ships come in to Samana and disgorge their passengers into this tiny town. They all need to buy something to take back to the ship.
We kayaked around the harbor and the small park on the island marking the edge of the harbor and went out the channel for further exploration. Wouldn't you know it, a squall comes in and kicks up the swell in the channel and we are all of a sudden 'adventure kayakers' in white water. Turning back we got to Anhinga and started to board; that means Patti's paddle goes up first, then she boards and takes John's paddle, then he boards before lifting the kayak. So what happened after Patti put her paddle on deck? We lose our grip on Anhinga and the current takes us -- up the creek without a paddle. John has his, but we are halfway down the harbor before he can turn us around and push us into the wind back to the boat. It all ends well - we get on board eventually.
More and more we are getting to understand how small a world it is. We went to an internet cafe to check email and weather and found a table by the only electrical outlet. Next to us was a man we came to learn was also on a boat. This was Chuck on Ronin, who we had met from a distance in the ICW last fall as we waited for bridges to open in South Florida. We remembered his boat and story -- he remembered our boat too. Chuck had been in Samana a few weeks waiting for his return weather window to Boqueron, where he lives. Over the next few days he showed us the ropes in town.
Finally, after hours each day of analyzing weather information, listening to Chris Parker on SSB, and having our kids send us weather reports from the internet that we couldn't get in Samana (the wifi connections were never reliable - thanks again Galen and John), we found our weather window: Tuesday night into Wednesday would get us to Boqueron safely -- Thursday was promising to bring bad stuff on both the DR and PR sides. So we got ready; got the Navy to come out with our despacho and do their inspection of our boat (we had to ferry them in the dinghy -- boy did they squeal after John picked up a nice bow wave and drenched all of us on board...); waited for one more late afternoon squall to pass through the harbor, then off we went. Felt great to be on the way again.
Monday morning we picked up our despacho from the Navy, backed out of the slip, and headed east. We had some really good sailing, good weather, and made some miles through the Bahia Escondida before the winds picked up around the Cabo Frances Viejo. This point of land became part of our lives for the next few hours as the seas and currents kept us from moving very quickly. Then, after nightfall, while we thought we would get the night lee and have some more good sailing, the winds picked up even more to 20-25 knots, as did the chop and the seas which were up to 8-10 ft. We left up a reefed main, took the other sails down, and turned on the engine. We puttered through the night and made it to Cabo Cabron by morning. The winds had come down and the seas were moderating, but we were now exhausted, not being able to sleep much through the rocky night. So, we decided not to punch through the Mona Passage and turned right instead into the Bahia de Samana, anchoring off Santa Barbara de Samana by early afternoon.
We had just fallen asleep when we heard people boarding the boat at around 5pm. It was our 'official' welcome to town. The Navy wanted our despacho, and the rest of the group (4 came aboard) wanted money. We gave them some and hoped they would go away. Which they did. We're not sure how much of this was official (we did get a receipt from the Navy) and how much was corruption, and it doesn't make us want to go ashore or ever come back here again. We wonder if any of the locals here know that they would get more people to come spend money if they operated in a legitimate fashion. It's just too easy to bypass Samana if you know you are going to be taken to the cleaners here.
Santa Barbara de Samana: +19° 11' 52.02", -69° 19' 44.64"
We spent several days waiting for weather, going into town to do some big time T-shirt shopping for John, taking the guagua to Sosua (a tourist town east of Puerto Plata), and making use of the marina pool. And, let's not forget the wonderful ice cream in Central Park either. Then on April 1 we attempted our big move down the coast. Leaving as early as we could (we had hoped for 8am, but didn't get our despacho until 9:30) we headed out. It was raining, there was a calm sea with 6-7 ft north swells -- but with a long period it was comfortable. Then just after noon the winds started whipping up and were crazy -- from every direction. The wind chop on top of the swells was very rough. Knowing that we had another 36-40 hours to go with nowhere to duck into to escape the north swell, we looked at each other and decided. We had to go back to the marina. Feeling defeated, but thankful that the marina was still so close, we arrived a couple of hours later. Other cruisers on the dock had heard our radio call that we were coming back and we had a welcoming committee there to help us with lines. It felt good to be safe and sound, but we knew now that we had a few days wait before we would again get a weather window. So that it wouldn't be a total loss, we went to the Ocean World dolphin show and were pleasantly surprised with the acrobatics of both the dolphins and the trainers. We may just go again!