January 2-6 - The Mona Passage to Puerto Rico
We left Ocean World with every intention of going to Samana, but along the way we experienced such friendly winds that we couldn't help but want to take advantage of them. Usually, as we had found all along our trip, the winds were coming from the SE. Now, this window of opportunity was providing us northerly winds with even a hint of a westerly component in it - perfect for a sail to Puerto Rico.
The cruising book that we had been following mentioned that Samana looked like the Bora Bora of the Caribbean. To me that made it a reasonably compelling to visit. But with it, some of the other comments were very negative in that security was not good, people boarding the boat at night, rampant stealing of outboards and a somewhat greedy port captain, who charges more than he should be charging. With that in mind and the weather conditions, we decided to pass up Samana. We headed for Punta Cana, a marina on the eastern coast of the island.
That evening, Kristi woke me up at around two in the morning to tell me that it looked like we had a wind shift and that it was starting to rain. Sure enough, the wind had completely come around. We were now heading right into it and it was starting to rain hard! The rain and wind persisted for a while but eventually it subsided and things got back to normal. In other words, it was just a little nasty squall that had made its presence known.
That morning, when all of us were up, we got to thinking about Punta Cana. Why go there at all? It's just a stop along the way to Puerto Rico. With the gentle breeze on our side, why not just head straight across the Mona Passage to Puerto Rico? That's just what we did.
Sailing southeastward in the Mona Passage can be downright ugly. But with the wind we had, it was easy. During the afternoon we even decided to try out Dave's new radial spinnaker. It took a bit to figure out how to successfully hoist the sock that it was in but once we got that aloft, the blue and white sail opened up beautifully. We sailed for a couple of hours with the spinnaker until the wind lost most of its zip.
We were now starting on our second night out at sea. That evening we passed by Desechio Island (the discarded one). It was spooky - it looks like a huge flying saucer coming out of the sea. We sailed by it, keeping it to port, about a mile away. We had decided to enter the port of Boqueron by night mostly because it was a wide open harbor, with good markings and it was a full moon. But as we approached the harbor, we spotted a movement in the water not too distant from us. Suddenly we noticed it was a boat without any lit navigational lights. It made a sudden turn towards us and came to a stop a short distance from us. We had the VHF on channel 16, when we heard them state that they were the coast guard and were identifying us. After a few minutes they sped away, apparently satisfied that we were not drug runners or bringing in illegal aliens. Definitely a weird experience. We continued onward and dropped anchor at 4am in Boqueron harbor. After getting the boat in order we got some well deserved sleep, surely dreaming of pirates, parrots and drug runners.
In the morning, after coffee, a very friendly Dutch couple aboard Elza came by to give us the scoop on Boqueron. They welcomed us and gave us the name of a taxi driver who could drive us to Mayaguez to get us cleared through customs and immigration. That all worked out fine. What didn't was dinner. During our conversation with the Dutch fellow, I spoke to him in my feeble Dutch, while he spoke in Dutch and a somewhat halted English. From our conversation, I understood that he was asking us to dinner. I told him we would bring a dish too and something to drink. That evening, arriving on their boat, we brought our dish and what we were drinking but were surprised to see to signs of a dinner in the makings. We all gave gave each other that glance of despair, knowing that we'd have to make do with the drinks we brought as our dinner. That evening, when we returned to Lahaina Roads, we all attacked the bean salad we had brought, like we hadn't eaten in a week.
Boqueron is a small, sleepy village that apparently gets the weekend crowds. There are a number of restaurants, bars and sidewalk vendors selling oysters, clams and conch. We were there just prior to the Three Kings holiday, so most of the town was very quiet.
The following morning we left Boqueron and motored to Cabo Rojo, a small bay, about two hours away, with a mangrove anchorage under a lighthouse. We had plenty of time to take a long walk around the lighthouse and to a beach and afterwards, also had time to take a refreshing swim around the boat before it was cocktail time.
La Parguera was our next stop. I really wanted to see it because in his book, Bruce van Sand refers to La Parguera as the Venice of the Caribbean. Well, that was a stretch but it was in fact an interesting sight to see all the small homes built on the water, with boat garages, all surrounded by mangroves. We took a walk along the main street and found a place for lunch. We ordered a Mofongo and some Empanadillas. Mofongos are made of a bed of mashed plantanes topped with a choice of shrimp, lobster, chicken, beef or pork. While Empanadillas are a deep fried pizza pocket filled with the same kinds of things as the Mofongos. Both are very tasty.
For dinner, we went to La Parador, a waterfront restaurant in town. We all had seafood dishes. Kristi ordered lobster. What arrived was a huge lobster, cut in half. Lucky for us, she was kind enough to share the gigantic beast with us.
La Parguera also is known for its bioluminescent bay. Unfortunately, by the time we got back to the boat, we were too full and too tired to explore - besides. we didn't really know where the lagoon was located.
We left La Parguera at 7:30a.m, and headed for Ponce. With the exception of a quick run-aground (in sand) I managed to steer us into, it was an uneventful trip, taking only about three hours.
January 7-8 We arrive in Ponce, Puerto Rico
I was in Ponce harbor over thirty years ago when I helped a friend bring a sailboat back to Ft. Lauderdale. Really, all I remember from the journey was eating lunch at a tiny restaurant owned by a friendly older lady who made a pretty normal sandwich, until it got to the end. At that point she squished and heated the sandwich in a flat waffle-like iron. To my surprise, it tasted great!
As we come into the harbor, it looks different from the little I remember of it. After getting the boat settled into a slip at the Ponce Yacht Club we went for a walk to look around. Our first mission was to find a marine hardware store to search for PR charts. We didn't have any because initially it wasn't our intent to come here. Unfortunately, the yacht club was far from town and anything else. After a twenty minute walk we did manage to find a marine parts store and a warehouse-type food store. We bought a chart and some wine.
On the morning of the 8th, Kristi was leaving us to go back to California to work. Dave and she went to the airport while Diane and I went to the downtown area. She didn't know it until she got to the airport, but the airline she was flying from Ponce to San Juan was taking her and seven other passengers on a Cessna!!! As for Diane and I, our tour of Ponce was brief. In spite of its history dating back to 1692, when Ponce de Leon's grandson founded the city, we didn't find too much of interest. A few nicely maintained historical buildings, but many older ones are in disrepair. The historic downtown plaza is pretty, with a small park, fountains, a cathedral and an old fire house. That's pretty much it.
January 9 = Ponce to Salinas
We got up early in the morning, maneuvered out of the slip and were at the fuel dock before they opened. We got the fueled up and were on our way out of the channel by 8a.m. Not bad.
It wasn't far to Salinas, but as the wind picked up to just over 20 knots, with the seas coming right into us, it slowed us down to 4.5 knots. We slogged through it and shortly after noon we entered Salinas harbor. Each side of it was covered with mangroves. We stayed pretty much in the center of the channel all the way to the anchorage. After getting things settled, we took the dinghy to the local marina dock and tied up.
The walk into town was scenic, much of it being along the water. It took about one half hour before we got to the post office and the mercado. After that we walked further and saw the town's plaza, cathedral and some other assortment of buildings. Nothing memorable to note.
So here we are, tomorrow we're off to sail further eastward along the southern coast of Puerto Rico. We're slowly making our way towards the Spanish Virgins, then onward to U.S. Virgins and the BVI. Stay tuned for more.