June 12-14, 2011... Beating to Windward

With an early Sunday morning departure we started our trek eastbound to St Thomas. We knew a tropical wave was due through the Virgins and Puerto Rico Tuesday-Wednesday, so we thought it wise to get a move on. Our original plan was to make the trip in about three segments, with rest stops in between. Our first destination was Coffin Island (Isla Caja de Muertos) about 30 miles away just southeast of Ponce. We had forgotten how awful sailing east against the trades could be. We hadn't done this in over a year and suddenly remembered why. Its just so difficult to make satisfactory progress, and hard to get over the feeling of frustration.

Once stopped for the night at Coffin (and what a gorgeous place this is!) we checked the weather service for the forecast. Not only was the wave still due to come, but the tradewinds after the wave in the Thursday-Saturday timeframe were supposed to be 20-25 knots. Ugh. Not great for eastbound sailors. So, Monday morning we pulled ourselves up and decided we had to do the rest of the trip in one fell swoop -- meaning about 100 miles -- an overnight -- with an arrival on Tuesday in St Thomas.

Sailing was pretty good; we were getting better at tacking (almost on the hour...) and slowly making distance east. We were at the east end of Puerto Rico by evening, and like a bad joke, we got a squall in the Vieques Passage. This was our third time across this channel, and the third time we hit a squall! So, totally drenched, we soldiered on. About three hours later, after more tacking and bashing into very lumpy, churned up water, we decided to bite the bullet and turn on the engine to make a more easterly course across to Vieques. After motorsailing and motoring through the night, we finally got a break at the east end of Vieques. As the sun came up and our course changed for the 20-mile northeast trip to St Thomas, we turned off the engine. Sails up, we hurtled between the islands and made it in.

The toll on the boat wasn't too bad -- we lost a wire tie from the pin that held a lifeline in place. Found the pin on deck but not the wire. Also lost the headsail furling drum pin, though it had been secured to the drum. Must have broken loose and washed overboard in one of the hundreds of bow waves Anhinga took during the passage. The toll on the crew was a little greater. John, who lost count of how many tacks he made, ached all over. Patti, whose hands suffered from her deathgrip on the helm, also ached in shoulders and arms. We decided that beating to windward must mean beating up the crew. After arriving in Charlotte Amalie, we slept like babies.

Isla Caja de Muertos, Puerto Rico: 17d53.532'N 66d31.684'N
Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas: 18d20.237'N 64d55.780'W

June 8-11, 2011... La Parguera

Ahhhh, it's good to be back. La Parguera is one of our favorite places in Puerto Rico. We anchored a little closer to town this time, but still not too far away from some primo snorkeling spots. We went back to the reef 3 times in 3 days -- couldn't get enough.

We met Chuck and Lolene -- some friends from Boqueron -- to catch up after a year. They'd been out cruising a bit and were planning to go out again for a few weeks. Lolene tipped us off to Caracoles, a small mangrove islet just east of town, that hosts an impromptu party every weekend. We checked it out on our way back from snorkeling on Friday and went back for the big show on Saturday. This is yet another gorgeous place that attracts everyone who just wants to enjoy life. We dinghyed over, dropped the anchor, and watched the party happen. Terrific music coming from all the boats provided us with just the inspiration we needed for a little bit of dancing. Its not often that you get to dance waist deep in clear water on beautiful white sand.

Like all great spots, we find ourselves having to leave before we want to. The weather was due to turn bad mid-week and then go from bad to worse. We needed to be in St Thomas (over 120 miles away) on 19 June to get our new refrigeration installed. So -- we had to leave La Parguera Sunday morning. Hasta luego!

La Parguera: 17d58.200'N 67d02.970'W

June 5-8,2011...Ensenada, Guanica Bay

The weatherman says to be ready for 'unsettled' weather and make for an anchorage protected on all sides. Sigh. Its that season. So, luckily for us, there is a well-protected cove in the northern end of Guanica bay near the town of Ensenada. We made the move, and though the water is a bit mucky (this is a mangrove area), and there is an abandoned sugar mill next to us, the birds are singing, the houses picturesque, and the hills will protect us from the south, west, and north. So we waited for the horribleness to arrive -- 50-knot thunderstorms?!?!?!?!

We used the time to visit the towns of Ensenada and Guanica, both of which have huge baseball stadiums and bakeries pumping out lots of great-smelling bread. Guanica also has a long boardwalk (malecon) with a monument to the US soldiers that landed here in 1898, as well as a nicely-manicured town square with fountains and seating. The houses are pretty -- different colors -- lots of grillwork -- and the streets have broad sidewalks. (Now if only there were town docks that didn't look like they might blow away with the next storm!)

BTW - the extreme weather didn't come -- at least not to Ensenada -- so we either beat the storm with protection or were overly cautious. In any case, we're safe and sound.

Ensenada: 17d57.811'N 66d55.560'W

June 1-5, 2011... Gilligan's Island

Having spent so much time anchored in Salinas and touring on land, we thought it time to go sailing again. And, we wanted to return to some great places we visited last year. So, out the channel and sails up for the trip to Bahia de Guanica and Gilligan's Island. The wind was light, but we trimmed and trimmed and got Anhinga to move down the coast. John was awarded the black and blue medal of honor when he got his arm between the wind and the rigging as the boom shifted during a jibe. Just as the wind started to come up shrieking, we entered the bay and found our spot for the night in calm waters.

We had some downtime as the weather turned gray, so we puttered around the boat cleaning and fixing some things that had gone too long. But when the sun came out again we were in the dinghy making for the reef to snorkel. It had only been a few weeks since we were swimming in Vieques, but it seemed too long. It felt great to be in the clear waters with the fish and coral again.

Gilligan's Island (Cayos de Cana Gorda): 17d56.910'N 66d52.399'W

May 31, 2011... Ponce

In Salinas, we spent time with Babbie and Ronnie on Campechano, who we met in Grenada last year. When we got back from touring in the north, Ronnie offered to show us his hometown, Ponce, and we set off for a whirlwind tour. From the minute we neared the city, Ronnie gave us history lessons, info about how everything in town was built or renovated, and showed us places we never would have gotten to on our own.

Starting in the center of town at the historic plaza, we stopped at the Catedral de Nuestra Senora; the old wooden firehouse, Parque de Bombas, with its antique fire engine; walked up the Atocha pedestrian mall; visited the market building designed by Eiffel of Paris tower fame (where Ronnie found nispero, a fruit we had to try -- good!); went back to the plaza for the best ice cream in the country (we all had yummy peanut flavor); got in the car and headed up into the hills.

For a real treat, Ronnie took us to the Castillo Serralles in El Vigia. This is now a museum but was the Serralles family home, built early in the 20th century. This family ran the sugar business in Ponce and now runs the rum company that makes Don Q, Ronrico, and Captain Morgan, among other brands. The house and gardens are absolutely magnificent and the view over Ponce is gorgeous. The board (on which Ronnie sits) decided to add a butterfly garden to the grounds and we stopped to see those too. What a fantastic place -- too bad we don't have a big party to throw -- this would be the spot!

Next stop on the itinerary was the port area, the Paseo Tablado La Guancha boardwalk and the Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club, all of which Ronnie had a part in building. We had anchored here last year -- it was certainly nice to get an idea from the land side how things looked.

Once we had exhausted Ponce, we drove to Juana Diaz, a small town to the east, as Ronnie had a hankering for some mabi and thought we should try it too. This refreshing drink made of fermented tree bark really did hit the spot after our visit to Ponce. We can never thank Ronnie -- our ambassador from Ponce -- enough, for this terrific day.

May 30, 2011... El Yunque

For the last day of the car rental we drove out of the Old City and headed to a very popular cruiser destination, West Marine! Stocked up on toilet paper among other things and drove across to Plaza Las Americas mall for the Borders bookstore where we added to our Spanish-language Garcia Marquez collection and some DVDs.

Then on to El Yunque rainforest. This is part of the US Forest Service system and has a fabulous welcome center with lots of information, and the rangers had the rare Puerto Rican parrot available to see. (Apparently they are pretty hard to see in the wild.) Driving through the forest the vegetation gets very dense. Patti's favorites, the giant ferns, make you feel like you are in a science fiction movie -- like radiation made everything super-sized. Luckily for us, there was no rain that day, so we didn't have to slosh around on the trails. Everywhere we looked was another gorgeous view or beautiful trees, flowers, waterfalls and streams. Enjoy the photos!

May 28-29, 2011... Old San Juan

We rented a car for 3 days and took off on a Friday for Old San Juan. The trip from Salinas is under an hour and we found a parking spot on the street. Dropped our stuff at Da House Hotel on San Francisco street and started walking. What a gorgeous city! Most of the old buildings have been restored; facades maintained, colors magnificent. The Spanish influence apparent as the buildings have airy courtyards and iron balconies; the Moorish influence seen in the tiles and columns. A photographer's paradise (John took over 500 pictures...no, we won't post them all here...)

Of course it was hot, why shouldn't it be as we trudged up to El Morro, the fort, and inspected every nook and cranny, and enjoyed the views in every direction. Guard duty in one of these sentry boxes wouldn't be so bad as long as the sea breeze was blowing. We saved the Fort San Cristobal for the second day -- this one even bigger than El Morro -- and walked and walked and walked.

Dinners out were special -- after eating on the boat for several weeks it was nice to splurge on ceviches at Auerola and fantastic Italian food at Il Bacaro. We'd go back to both of those places. We only wish we had more time to explore more restaurants in town. Next time!