San Juan National Historic Site – Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

July 21, 2014 by SV Mary Christine | 0 comments

IMG_8304We arrived in Puerto Rico just in time to pick up my mom from the airport on May 12th. Her flight arrived in San Juan on the North Coast so we rented a car for the day and drove across the island from Salinas on the South Coast. Tails were wagging when Betsy and Gunner found out they got to come along too. Though a bit jet-lagged from her overnight flight, Mom was thrilled to see us all.

West of the airport is Old San Juan, and home of the San Juan National Historic Site. We couldn’t resist a quick visit to see the massive forts built over 500 years ago that once protected Spain’s access to the New World from attack by sea.

“San Juan Bay was the first good harbor for sailing ships en route to the New World after a one or two-month Atlantic voyage from Europe… The trade winds blew sailing ships here from Europe, helped by ocean currents.” – National Park Service

It was like a trip back in time as we visited Castillo San Cristobal, one of the two main attractions of the park. We felt a new-found connection with the people we had once learned about in history class that also arrived here by sailboat and explored the island.

“Castillo San Cristobal, with its sprawling outer defenses, was built over 150 years to protect El Morro and the city from land attack. Inspired by such attacks by rivals England (1598) and Holland (1625), it was designed by the Irish-born Chief Engineer Thomas O’Daly. O’Daly served Spain because Spain was an enemy of Ireland’s enemy England.

Castillo San Cristobal is the biggest European fortification in the Americas. It lost some outworks when part of the city wall was torn down in 1897 to expand the city of San Juan.” – National Park Service

“Castillo San Felipe del Morro (El Morro) evolved from a promontory with cannon to the massive, six level fortress that confronts you today.” – National Park Service

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In our opinion, the forts in Old San Juan are definitely worth seeing. TripAdvisor agrees, ranking it #1 for attractions in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Walking around takes about 1-2 hours and the cost is $5 for adults, free for kids under 12. Admission covers both locations at San Cristobal and El Morro. There is a tram to get to El Morro, the fort that lies further West. It’s mostly outdoors, but still fun in the rain :)

Conquering A Fear Of Heights: Going Up The Mast

July 16, 2014 by SV Mary Christine | 16 Comments

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Peter has been up the mast many times. He has changed out bulbs, serviced our wind generator and retrieved runaway halyards. He is also a big strong guy. Knowing it’s difficult for me to even raise our 12′ dinghy up onto the bow by myself, we have always had assistance from another guy to crank him up the mast while I tail the line (hold tension and guide the halyard away from our manual winches).

After we were safely anchored in Salinas, we decided it was the perfect time to go back up the mast and take a look at our faulty wind vane. At some point during our travels in the Bahamas, our wind vane stopped giving an accurate reading of wind direction. The anemometer still accurately displays the wind speed, thank goodness, but for the last several months we’ve been sailing around guestimating the exact direction of the wind. Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise, teaching us the hard way to listen to our instincts and sail by feeling rather than by digital displays. We’re still relatively new to sailing but with over 2500 nautical miles logged already, I’d say we’re doing just fine!

Whenever one of us goes up the mast, we clip in to the boson’s chair and attach a halyard to its strongest point. For a secondary safety line, we wear our inflatable lifejackets which have a built-in harnesses, and we clip a second halyard to the lifejacket harness. In the event that the primary halyard were to break, the harness and secondary halyard will hopefully be enough to prevent us from crashing down onto the deck. Whoever winches up the main halyard, will also tail the safety line, maintaining enough tension to serve a purpose.

We decided this was the perfect time for me to conquer my fear of heights and go up the mast for the first time. It’s probably more of a fear of falling, than it is the fear of heights. If I know I can’t fall, it doesn’t scare me. The sensation of falling, however, is something I just can’t seem to feel okay about.

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I began my ascent as Peter effortlessly winched me up our main mast. Our clearance from the waterline is 49′, significantly shorter than most sloops or cutters, but it was still way up there! With each crank of the winch, I slowly went higher and higher. I got to the spreader bars and yelled down to Peter, “I can’t do this… LET ME DOWN! LET ME DOWN NOW!!!!!” We debated for what seemed like an eternity. He tried to tell me it was okay, that I was doing just fine. He did his best to convince me to keep going.

Peter heard the fear in my voice and eventually let me down. I just needed a couple of minutes to regroup. Then, I tried it again. The second time wasn’t as scary, oddly enough. I approached the spreader bars for the second time and carefully climbed around, easing up on the death grip I had on the mast.

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Peter let me take my time. Once I reached the top, I looked around and felt an enormous sense of accomplishment. For me, it was so much more than just going up the mast. I conquered something I had gravely feared, and I was safe!! I spent a few minutes taking pictures and enjoying the scenery. I saw the world from a view I had only seen in pictures. It was magical!! I was 49′ in the air, hanging from a rope at the top of a pole mounted on a rocking boat in the middle of the water. Spectacular.

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After soaking in a few moments of new-found serenity, I did what I had gone up there to do in the first place. The wind vane was just out of my reach. My arms just weren’t long enough to bend the wind vane back into place. It was obvious it had been bent, and needed to be bent back, then recalibrated. I snapped a couple of pictures and asked Peter to bring me down.

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In the meantime, some neighbors stopped by to see if we needed any help. Peter had to go up the main mast after me to bend the wind vane back into place so we gladly accepted help winching him up. It took just a few minutes and he came right back down. Unfortunately, it will require another trip back up to finish the calibration at another time. We sent him up the mizzen mast after that to do a quick repair on our wind generator. He added some bolts to quiet down all the vibration we were getting, and did a brief inspection on the rest of the unit.

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Its times like these where teamwork is crucial. You have to trust that you’ll keep each other safe. With each obstacle we conquer, our confidence grows exponentially, preparing us for the next adventure!!!

Please stay tuned! We have many more adventures to share with you from our travels over the last few months! We are currently in St. Lucia waiting for the next weather window to move south to Grenada where we will spend the remainder of Hurricane Season.  We may not be able to get back to you right away, but we love hearing from you. Please leave us a comment :)

Beating to Wind: The Southern Coast of Puerto Rico

July 16, 2014 by SV Mary Christine | 4 Comments

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Our perfect Mona Passage crossing landed us on the Southern coast of Puerto Rico, in La Parguera, around 8am the morning of May 6th. We spent two nights resting at anchor near the mangroves just outside the town.

We didn’t find La Parguera to be “cruiser friendly” at all. There was no dinghy dock but a few of the local shops on the water let us tie up to their docks while we took a look around. On a second trip to shore, we found it was much easier and more welcoming to buzz up to the deserted boat ramp and tie up to the mangroves wading in to shore. No one was there to give us funny looks and it was off the beaten path which also seemed a bit safer. The town felt dirty, and not much nicer than some of the places we saw in the DR. We hoped to find some cheap authentic and tasty Puerto Rican food but our tastebuds were completely underwhelmed. Other cruisers we met along the way told us they loved La Parguera… maybe they visited other parts of town?

The remainder of our time here was spent resting on the boat. There was much sleep to catch up on after the last week of night crossings. It’s amazing how turned around your body can get sleeping during the day and staying up all night, then trying to switch back to nighttime sleeping.

On the second night, we finally began to feel a little more adventurous and took the dinghy two miles east to the Bioluminescence Bay as recommended by several locals and our Active Captain overlay in our Garmin App. As the darkness surrounded us, we sat and waited. The water was still and all was quiet. We were the only ones there. Soon, splashing our hands in the water generated small glowing streaks of blue light. We zipped in circles around the bay while huge balls of light shot out from behind the dinghy like fireballs in Super Mario Brothers. It was a pretty cool sight to see. About an hour later, we cruised back to our boat between the mangrove islands following the tracks on our iPhone Garmin app. The charts aren’t completely accurate here, placing safe water where shoals and islands reside, but we trusted our tracks in the pitch black.

A good habit to get into when arriving in a new anchorage is to stop by and meet the neighbors. We like to meet other cruisers anchored nearby and check in to see if they have any local knowledge – good, bad or otherwise. SV Rainbow was the only boat there with us. We had heard of Mark and Tina in the news several months back after they were brutally attacked on Rainbow down island. Tina was away from the boat at the time but we got to talk to Mark for awhile. The cruising community is a small world and the farther we travel the more we are meeting people with mutual friends. We learn so much from stories we hear and the experiences of others. Mark had some great tips for us on a few of the places we planned on visiting.

Mark also had a current weather report and our magic window appeared to hold up for just one more day before turning nasty. We pulled up anchor that afternoon, hoping to sweep under the nearly non-existent Puerto-Rican night lees. The wind and waves we faced on the Southern Coast of Puerto Rico were just as rough as the North Coast of the DR. The current swept us back while our 80hp Ford Lehman engine chugged along beating straight into the wind. We tacked off shore and back in again several times trying to make forward progress.

We motor-sailed our little hearts out. It was a last minute decision to skip Ponce and push on for Salinas. We had read such bad reviews about the anchorage at Ponce and after our less than enjoyable experience at La Parguera, we opted for a warm welcome in a “cruiser friendly” and safe anchorage. The journey there was rough, but we made it. We watched another gorgeous sunrise and took down the sails in the early hours of the morning. We both had a huge sigh of relief as we motored slowly into the harbor where the seas instantly turned to glass. We knew we’d be safe when the winds picked up in just a few short hours.

Stay tuned for a few highlights from our time in Salinas! We’re in St. Lucia now and have so much to share with you about all our adventures!!

 

 

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