November 15 - 22, 2011... Going Home

It was great returning to Boqueron; enjoying Chuck’s company (we had met Chuck 2 years ago waiting for a bridge on the ICW -- another long story of how cruisers meet and re-meet); and embracing life in Puerto Rico.  But Florida beckoned and we diligently studied weather and waited for the right time to go. 

We had a wonderful surprise when son Jay decided to come with us for the passage.  We flew him to Mayaguez, provisioned for an extra crew member, and left Boqueron on a calm, sunny Tuesday morning.  We were more than halfway across the Mona Passage before the winds came up and the seas started tossing us around.  Poor Jay suffered from a bout of seasickness that continued into the next day as we rounded the northern coast of the Dominican Republic.  By day three, all crew was healthy and we established a routine of watchstanding overnight that allowed us to each get sufficient sleep.  And John started an ambitious effort to provide real meals for dinner requiring great coordination and gymnastic ability.  But a well-fed crew is a happy crew, so it was worth the effort.

Anhinga sailed incredibly well -- liking the points of sail west and NW -- with the autopilot managing all but the most gusty of winds and breaking seas.  What a difference it makes to not have to steer all the time!  We all had time to enjoy the beautiful sunny days and watch the sea.  The extent of our wildlife encounters were flying fish and a few birds.  And every morning we did the deck check to see how many fish we caught -- at least 5 flying fish a day -- that got thrown on deck by waves or didn’t see us coming and leaped to their deaths on board.

Passing the Caicos Bank and the Great Bahamas Bank significantly smoothed the waters and traveling the Old Bahama Channel, a terrific ride.  Sailing north through the Santaren Channel we got a knot or two of lift from the current, but that was nothing compared to our ride on the Gulf Stream in the Straits of Florida.  There, we were suddenly traveling consistently over 8 knots, then 9 knots, and popping 10s and 11s, with 11.4 knots the highest speed we noticed.  Yee-hah!!!  

Then on our last day at sea, Poseidon decided to remind us of his power.  Patti went below to prepare and send an SSB sailmail message to our families to let them know we had Florida in our sights.  John and Jay were in the cockpit enjoying the ride, when suddenly Jay’s eyes went wide as he stared behind John’s head and yelled, “big wave, big wave!!”  The water suddenly crashed over the bimini knocking Anhinga about 60 degrees -- just for a few seconds -- before righting herself.  Not a knockdown, thankfully, but darn close.  No damage at all, even though all the glassware and pots and pans crashed around in the lockers.  Within a minute we had taken stock and were merrily rolling along again, but wow -- we knew how quickly our luck could have changed.

After a week at sea we had only seen one other sailboat, a handful of cargo ships, fishing boats, and many cruise ships.  Our favorite sightings were the US Coast Guard ships and helicopter.  Starting south of the Bahamas, we saw the USCG four times as they patrolled the waters between Florida and Puerto Rico.  The 270’ cutter Tahoma spent quality time tracking and talking with us as they turned our appearance in their operations area into an opportunity for some routine questioning.

By Monday evening we had rolled up the sails and were angling into the channel at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale.  We felt like hicks come to the big city.  The lights!  The buildings!  We were a little overwhelmed.  We made it just in time through the first bridge opening at 17th Street and worked our way through the ICW up to Las Olas bridge.  Once there we decided to put the anchor down for the night and wait till daylight to continue up to Delray Beach.  Being in flat water for the first time in a week felt so strange.  Not having to brace ourselves to move about was a novelty.  All of us sleeping at the same time was also weird.  It was also bittersweet, leaving the freedom of the ocean, and our time with the wind and the water.

Tuesday with Jay at the wheel, we puttered the rest of the way to Delray up the ICW.  Our appreciation for the beauty of south Florida increased as we admired the mangroves, herons, pelicans, and iguanas as well as the incredible houses on the waterway.  Twelve bridge openings later, we headed for the Delray Harbor Club Marina.  It was so great to be back in Florida, our 1,000 mile journey ended.

October 30 - November 2, 2011... Passage to Puerto Rico

Change of plans. That's the way it is with cruising. We planned for months to go from Curacao to Aruba and on to Colombia and Panama. However, over recent weeks, we got a little homesick for the USA, and decided to head north instead of west. If things go as planned now, we will head back to Florida and spend 2012 cruising in the States.

The first leg of the journey was from Curacao north to Puerto Rico. After careful consideration, we went NNE to Boqueron on the SW coast of PR, rather than the easier NW to Haiti and the Windward Passage. We figured we knew the territory and would be able to rest and repair in PR and then get the next weather window for an onward voyage through the Old Bahama Channel to Miami.

OK, so the NNE course was a bit more difficult than we had planned. We did manage to make the easting we needed, but not without running into LOTS of squalls and buckets of rain. One memorable moment of the trip found Patti weeping at the helm as she got hit for the third time in one night by storms and was completely drenched, AGAIN!!! It is amazing what passes for tragedy when you are sleep deprived and aching. Oh, forgot to mention... the autopilot quit after the first day, so we were hand steering, 2 hours on, 2 hours off, for 3 days.

On the first day, we had some good sailing even though the water was a little rough. But for the first time, John got seasick. He looked a little green, and Patti was ready to divert to Bonaire, but he was fine after losing lunch over the side. Another milestone. Doesn't sailing sound fun?

We arrived in the beautiful wide bay of Boqueron on the morning of the 4th day. After dropping the anchor (as the only cruising boat there) we sat and marveled that Anhinga got us where we needed to go -- we had done it.

Boqueron, Puerto Rico: 18d01.425'N 67d10.682'W

Willemstad, Curaçao

Willemstad is a big town, but easily walkable.  The city is divided by Sint Annabaai channel, a waterway which leads to the largest natural harbor, now used primarily for petroleum refining and a large shipping port.  The oldest section of town, Punda, has buildings dating from the mid-1600s, including Fort Amsterdam which now houses the government.  The later buildings from the 1700s illustrate what has become known as the Dutch Caribbean style where the facades are painted pastel colors to eliminate glare from the sun.  The city really is an architectural historian’s paradise.  There is also a colorful floating market where Venezuelan merchants offer produce and souvenirs.  

The channel was spanned in the 19th century by a bridge built by an American entrepreneur.  It was replaced more recently with a pedestrian walkway that opens for transiting ship traffic.  We actually rode the bridge as it moved for a freighter.  (What cruisers will do for fun!)  The bridge allowed the development of Otrobanda, the other side of Annabaai, and became a middle-class residential area.  In the 1970s, the Queen Juliana bridge was built for vehicle traffic.  On this side of town a developer bought about 20 buildings to create the Kurá Hulanda museum and hotel.  The museum is dedicated to the history of the slave trade and African art.  The gardens were a welcome respite for us after we had traipsed all over town touring one day.  

In the heart of Punda is the synagogue, built in 1732.  It is the home of an active Sephardic congregation, Mikve Israel-Emanuel.  The temple is a large building within a walled courtyard and has a sand floor, the tradition recalling the days of the inquisition and the conversos.  We contacted the synagogue and were able to attend during Yom Kippur.  The services were mostly conducted in English and Hebrew, though during aliyahs, some of chanting was in Ladino, the language of the Sephardim.

On another foray into town we spent some time in the Maritime Museum, across the water from Punda in Scharloo.  This part of town, originally built by Sephardic Jews, had some large mansions.  One of these old mansions, was rebuilt for the museum.  The 500-year maritime history of Curaçao is fascinating, and the museum does a decent job of covering it.  

September 20 - October 12, 2011... Catching Up in Curaçao

Has it really been a month since we updated our blog?  Don’t know where the time goes.  After our return from Ecuador, we provisioned in Bonaire and set out a few days later for Curaçao,  stopping overnight at Klein Curaçao, a small uninhabited island a few miles off the SE coast of Curaçao.  It was a pretty stop -- just us, one other cruising boat, some fishermen, and swooping pelicans.  But, towards morning as the prevailing winds died, the anchorage got rolly, so we only stayed the one night and made our way to the main island.

We chugged into Spanish Water, a large inland bay on the south side of the island and spent a good 1/2 hour trying to figure out where to anchor.  There are restricted anchoring areas established by the harbormaster, so that transient boats don’t clog all the channels used by the fishing and pleasure boats docked in the bay.  We got a spot in Anchorage ‘B’ and stayed there a week or so till we moved to Anchorage ‘C’ in Kabritenbaai, a small protected cove.  Here we wake up to the birds singing and the morning sun shining on the colossal rocks that dot the shorelines all around the bay.  

There are about 80-100 cruising boats here at any time, mostly Dutch and other Europeans, some Canadians and South Americans, but very few from the USA.  (Curacao used to be part of the Netherlands, but is now a completely independent country that is part of the Dutch Kingdom.)  Many boats spend the entire hurricane season here, leaving for Bonaire or Aruba, then returning to restart the clock on their 90-day immigration visas.  Spanish Water is a comfortable anchorage with a morning VHF radio cruiser net and the obligatory happy hour hangout near the dinghy dock.  Several supermarkets send free buses to pick up shoppers, a great convenience.  And, the bus to the capital of Willemstad is just a short walk away.  We love the kayaking and hiking opportunities here; it took four kayaking excursions to circumnavigate the bay and we still have lots of walking and hiking trails to discover.

Close to the anchorage is one of the old forts on the island.  This one, Fort Beekenburg, has been restored enabling you to climb to the top and get some great views over Caracasbaai, Baya Beach, the Caribbean, and Spanish Water.

Klein Curaçao:  11d59.207’N 68d38.779’W
Spanish Water, Curaçao: 12d04.675’N 68d51.522’W (Anchorage ‘B’)
Spanish Water, Curaçao: 12d04.316’N 68d51.556’W (Anchorage ‘C’)

September 10-11, 2011... Baños, Ecuador

Our last weekend in Ecuador we drove south to Baños, a town known for its hot springs, thermal pools, and active volcano, Tungurahua.  We stayed high in the mountains at a resort called Luna Runtun, where we would have had a great view of an eruption, if there had been one.  Luckily, the volcano is currently inactive, though the town is on alert as the volcano has spewed gases and rock earlier this year.

The resort is on the edge of a national park and planted with beautiful flowers and trees.  We enjoyed the scenery, which also included great views of Baños below.

Before heading back to Quito we walked through town and visited the waterfalls that fill the natural pools.  On weekends the town is packed with local tourists enjoying the waters, the town squares, and the markets.  As in other parts of the country we saw indigenous people dressed in traditional clothing, not for tourists, but because they maintain their own customs.   A street vendor was having a hard time keeping up with business so we decided to go over and see what she was selling.  Chochos!  We all had some, this bean grown in Ecuador, served with roasted corn, onion, and lime.  Great!