The Spanish Virgins: Paradise in Culebrita

July 27, 2014 by SV Mary Christine | 4 Comments

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Mom was SO excited to go for her first sail! We left Salinas on May 18th around 8:30 at night. It was beautiful and still inside the harbor. As we motored out, we saw not one but TWO flares go off, just East of us outside the harbor. Couldn’t be fireworks. They were most definitely flares. Peter immediately got on the radio announcing what we saw and the US Coast Guard responded right away. They asked that we call them from our Sat Phone to give them all the details. They asked what our course was, the approximate location of the flares, the seconds between the shots, the angle and speed of the flares and any other information we could give them. It was really quite reassuring how totally “On It” the Coast Guard was. I mean, you always wonder if you really needed help, would anyone hear you?

Within what seemed like minutes, a helicopter was flying above us with a spotlight. We never did find out if they found whoever had shot off the flares but hopefully everyone was okay.

The seas along the Southern Coast of Puerto Rico were nasty. The night lees we found in the DR were long gone and the Trade Winds were creating something fierce on the surface of the seas. The waves had the shortest period we had encountered yet, bashing against our hull as we motored hard to wind. Uncomfortable was a mild way to put it. After just a short while, Mom wasn’t feeling too well, giving her a terrible first impression of her journey.

Mom stayed up with me for my watches and we slept when Peter took watch. 15 hours later we arrived at Puerto Real, Vieques, around 11:30 am. We decided to take it easy that day and stay overnight. The next day, we left Puerto Real and took a short trip over to Ensenada Honda (or The Turtles). The day after that (May 21st), the weather looked good and we decided to take a three-hour sail and detour up to Culebrita instead of heading straight to the USVI.

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As we rounded the point into the anchorage on Culebrita, we saw a gorgeous white sand beach and clear blue water. This place looked like PARADISE compared to the anchorages we had been staying in ever since the Bahamas. There were about 4 boats on mooring balls near the beach. We decided to anchor in a sandy patch a little further back.

Peter took off on a paddle board to go say hi to our friends on Rainbow, just across the anchorage. Last time we saw Rainbow was back in La Parguera so it was nice to see a familiar boat. We spend a fantastic three days here in this magical little place. If we ever come back this way, we will definitely schedule in some extra time to come back here. One of our favorite places for sure.

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Lobster Season on Culebrita happens to be YEAR ROUND! The anchorage here is also on the North Coast of the island which is supposedly not affected by Ciguatera, notoriously found on the South side of Vieques and Culebra. Within the first 15 minutes of snorkeling around the reef nearest our boat, Peter spotted a monster lobster down about 20′. He used his snare to catch him and quickly swam towards a sandy patch away from the reef. If the lobster were to get loose, it’s best to take it where there is no where to hide. By handling lobster over the reef, they can easily wiggle away and crawl into a hole faster than we can swim back down.

We stayed on Culebrita for three nights. Every night we were there we had fresh grilled lobster. Peter dove hard for them for many hours and always towards the end of the day he would come up with some of the biggest lobster we’ve ever seen. Although leery of the larger fish, he hooked a few mutton snapper off the back of the boat each night as well. The larger ones have a higher chance of containing Ciguatera so Peter let those ones get away.

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Gunner and Betsy had SOOOO much fun swimming at the beach! Betsy would spend the whole day in the water if she could. Gunner goes back to the dinghy when he’s tired and barks at us to lift him back in :)

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Gunner wasn’t too sure about our dinghy anchor…

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Gunner was very excited to find a coconut up on the beach. He kicked it around a few times but eventually figured out he couldn’t eat it. I think he likes to be where the coconuts grow just as much as we do!

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Friday was the start of Memorial Day Weekend. All the Puerto-Rican power boats cruised in, one after another, after another, after another!! We were amazed at how many there were. 60+ at least. Other cruisers had told us about the “Puerto-Rican Navy,” and that this is a regular occurrence on the weekends but we didn’t understand until we saw it ourselves. The music got louder, the wake got larger, and the bikini bottoms got smaller. It kind of ruined the whole place. Being anchored next to a bunch of rowdy naked people partying all night long is not our idea of paradise so we got out of there as fast as we could.

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It was a short sail over to St. Thomas, USVI, on the 24th of May. We arrived just in time to pick up my grandmother (Mom’s mom) who everyone knows as “Bean” the very next day.  We’ve had some pretty amazing timing on this adventure and this is just another example of how everything happens for a reason, at exactly the right time!

Salinas, Puerto Rico

July 22, 2014 by SV Mary Christine | 7 Comments

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After we picked up Mom from the airport in San Juan on May 12th, she quickly got acquainted with our little home aboard Mary Christine back at the harbor in Salinas. She wasn’t just excited to see us… she really wanted to learn how to SAIL!!! She brought more enthusiasm for learning about the boat than we could have ever dreamed :) We’ve heard from other cruisers that most guests that visit your boat have no idea what they are getting into and don’t realize how hard it really is living on a boat until they see it first hand. Mom was planning on staying for about 3 weeks so it’s a good thing she immediately fell in love with the lifestyle. It’s not for everyone, but when you love it, you REALLY love it :)

We spent a few days showing her how all the systems work and what our daily routine looks like. She had to learn how to flush the toilets, how to conserve water, what all the strange sounds are, and how to help with the dogs. Most importantly, she learned our process for quickly closing up the boat when it starts raining in the middle of the night. It rained a LOT when we were in Puerto Rico. IMG_8186

There were still a few essential boat projects that had to be done before we could leave. We went up the mast and Mom took some great photos for us! We changed the oil and filters while fitting in some hot yoga in the engine room.

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We watched the local police make their rounds.

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And we enjoyed some great meals together.

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After a trip to Costco, Wal-Mart and West Marine in the rental car, we were completely reprovisioned and ready to go. While waiting for the next weather window, Peter found some time to play around with one of our Tower Paddle Boards and go after some of the MONSTER tarpon we saw. Although it was smaller than all the rest, he actually landed one from the SUP!! He had hooked one almost as big as the board but luckily it broke off before taking Peter out to sea.

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Salinas is a great Hurricane Hole with all around protection. The holding was like cement and the people there are the friendliest we saw in all of Puerto Rico. We met some wonderful new friends that showed us overwhelming kindness. It’s also a great safe place for cruisers to stay in bad weather. If we ever travel past Puerto Rico again, we would definitely stop by Salinas.

Although there were great U.S. stores and other U.S. luxuries nearby, our overall impression of Puerto Rico was rather disappointing. We visited La Parguera, Salinas, Ponce, San Juan, and Fajardo. The locals made little effort to speak English and almost all the drivers were terribly rude. Outside the gates of Marina de Salinas, we just never felt very welcome. We were also told to not go out at night in the cities - the homicide rate is three per day!

The Puerto-Rican coastlines bring harsh winds and currents, making for commonly uncomfortable travel. We found the lightest weather window possible and we were all happy to continue on our journey East towards the Spanish Virgins where Mom finally learns how to SAIL!

Have you had a positive experience in Puerto Rico? Please leave a comment and tell us about it!

Stay tuned for more adventures. We are currently in Carriacou, Grenada watching the weather, and catching up on boat projects and blog posts :)

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

July 21, 2014 by SV Mary Christine | 1 Comment

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 :)

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