Friday, 29 November 2013

Puerto Rico November 2013

We had to go up to the office to phone customs. The marina do not charge for this of you take a berth and it was as cheap to stay a week as for 3 days so we booked in. Richard spoke to customs and they wanted to know what food we had on board and if we had tinned meat. We were told to go back to the boat and wait for them to come.

Quite soon, Cagney and Lacey arrived. Cagney armed, ready to arrest or shoot. Lacey, the “Agricultural Officer”, could only hand out a $5000.00 fine for any garbage infringements. She asked about fresh food, but fortunately I had read a book of a couples cruise down here and she had mentioned the problems with produce, which is what the Americans call fruit and vegetables, and we had used all ours on passage.

Then Lacey wanted to inspect all the tinned meat to find country of origin. She did not say which countries were banned, but luckily all ours passed muster (even the Fray Bentos pies!). Finally we came to garbage disposal. We are not allowed to throw away anything from the boat unless she has inspected it first and then it has to go to a specialist disposal company. She would kindly give me their number when we went to their office. In the interim it must be stored down below in a sealed container.

I asked if it would be all right if I went shopping and then only used the food I bought in Puerto Rico. No, she said.  As soon as we take anything onto the boat it becomes foreign and the same rules apply. I must also keep all my receipts of anything I buy in PR !!!

“Oh, and by the way, Welcome to Puerto Rico.”

The only good thing came from Lacey who said it would cost $19 for a cruising permit. If we just checked in it would be $34 and we would have to check in at each place we went to. So, we had to go down to their offices which was a $10 taxi ride each way!

Cagney eventually appeared with the garbage peoples number, telling me the first one had gone out of business, and these she knows are “very expensive”! I picked up a pamphlet in their office about the garbage with a website because I thought this is just impossible. I can understand fresh produce could have pests and disease, but not tins, etc.

Later, we tried to access this website but were informed that we did not have authority to access it. That was when we decided this was just not worth it and left.

The marina staff were lovely, washing machines only $1.50, a restaurant and a café on site and just behind our mooring was a clump of mangrove where dozens of cattle egrets roost as well as several pelicans. Most of the boats were big power boats but like an all marinas, not much movement, but a few came back with big wahoo and snoek.

One evening we walked to La Guancha Boardwalk which is where all the locals hang out especially at weekends. We had already heard the usual Spanish custom of loud music till all hours as the boardwalk was just the other side of the marina. It was interesting, lots of tiny cafes in blocks all serving more or less the same food, empandillas(nice), fried pork, fried chicken, fried fish, nice enough but too much oil. In the spaces between café blocks there were different entertainments, DJ and dancing, a talent competition, different music and like Spain, all ages out enjoying the evening.

A day out to Ponce by taxi because car hire is about $50 per day was not quite the “not to be missed” experience as described in the free cruising guide. There are still many lovely buildings even though the majority are derelict or empty. At times it felt like a ghost town as there were not many people about.

The market is in a huge Art Deco building but inside are about 3 stalls with vegetables, about 20 selling lottery tickets and the rest is empty.  We, of course could not buy any vegetables because we would not be able to dispose of the peels but we had a banana as a treat. Lunch was empanadillas in a café there run by two old ladies, delicious. Everyone speaks Spanish with very little English, so we were trying to remember the bits we learned in Spain.
Town Square

The Town Square has lovely gardens and the recent addition of lion statues brilliantly painted by local artists randomly placed.
Street Art
They have their old fire station, red and black, which is the main tourist attraction. Inside is and old fire engine and a small museum. From there we did a bus tour $2 each but mostly were shown more parks and statues, mainly of past governors. Some more lovely houses, but up the side streets, more poverty and dereliction.
The Old Fire Station

There were very smartly dressed policeman all over the place, almost as many as the population, with many different modes of transport from on foot, segways, mini mokes to a pair that looked like extras from “CHIPS”.
An Art Deco house

We had another taxi ride to Walmart where again almost everything is in Spanish. We looked in the fresh produce aisle for all the Puerto Rican fruit and veg they are so carefully protecting and found only locally grown bananas! We also found PR coffee which is very nice and local PR rum, which isn’t so nice. We threw away as much packaging as possible while waiting for the taxi and put more into plastic boxes on the pontoon, so that it did not become ”foreign”.

Salinas entrance
Saturday we left for Salinas at first light as it is 24 miles but the coastline is all reefs and little islands and the anchorage is tucked up in a mangrove. We wanted to arrive with good light and after motor sailing all the way we were anchored at noon. It is a lovely anchorage, mangroves on both sides and very, very calm. There is a yacht club at the top and quite a few buildings and boats moored and anchored, quite a few look as though they have been there a long time.

Salinas at night
The guide book says there are many manatees here so we were really hoping to see one. There are buoys everywhere warning of them and all the craft really travel slowly up there, but we unfortunately did not see one. We did not go ashore, just enjoyed the peace and watched the birds - all the usual pelicans, frigates and terns but we did see two American White Pelicans which are rare down here.

We had intended to go to Vieques, Spanish VI, the next day but after checking the weather on the Kindle and the winds to be NNE it looked good to go straight to St Croix. The next morning  I made a big pot of soup thinking that would be nice for supper on passage – turned out it was the worst choice possible – but more later! We had a nice relaxing morning planning to leave at 14:00.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Curacao revisited

Back from Europe we returned to the heat and dust of Curacao Marine, the diggers and tip lorries still busy with their land reclamation. There were boats continually being put back in the water so we regularly had new neighbours and everyone was getting ready for the season.

We spent another two weeks working really hard on the boat : washing all the cushions, more varnishing, changing the oil in the outboard, trying to find the leaks in the dingy floor: it appears that the glue on the seams has gone and generally fettling the boat for another season.
Our 'Twin tub' washing machine!

We hired a car for a week and went out for supper – a real treat!! We did some shopping at the other supermarket for a change and because they have slightly different stock. There is also a really good DIY and homewares shop, Kooimans, so we went there a few times as well. We also used the car to get diesel as there is no fuel at the marina.
A Drive through ATM!

Another nice beach!
Finally, we had a few days exploring the island. We had a long drive all the way up to the north of the island which was a lot like Bonaire, more hilly but also dry scrub and cacti. There are a few places where it much more green and a little section where the trees actually make a canopy over the road. There are many idyllic beaches and we stopped for a swim and a beer at one.
One of many lovely beaches


There are several “Landhuise” which are the old plantation houses, but they are nowhere near as grand as the ones in the eastern Caribbean. Quite a few are just a large house, and many are derelict. Most of the restored ones are now museums depicting different aspects of the islands history.

The tree canopy
 We decided to visit Christoffel Park which contains Landhuis Savonet. The house dates back to 1640 with a good museum telling the history mainly of just this plantation. It was one of the few that was actually successful, many of them were more like country houses for the wealthy Willemstad merchants. There was a river that ran in the wet season and they grew a wide variety of crops including sugar, maize and coconuts. They had cows, sheep, goats and poultry and made cheese. Of course, this all worked much better before the abolition of slavery after which it all went into a slow decline.
Typical Landhuis

The freed slaves were allowed to stay on the plantation in with a small plot of land to farm for themselves. As payment they had to work for the landowner several days a year. If he needed more labour he had to pay them. Life was still very hard for the workers with lots of abuse by the landowners. In the museum they had videos of elderly people who had grown up there remembering their chldhood and what their parents had told them of their lives. Very interesting and quite touching.

The park was great to drive around, narrow winding roads, up and down very steeply in places, all rough cement and very rocky at times. You had to be very careful, but at least it was one way! There were ruins of other plantations and occasionally you would arrive at the sea with good views of the spectacular north coast with big waves crashing onto rocks and pretty inlets.
Road in the park

We saw the Indian caves with ancient rock paintings, now only inhabited by bats and hermit crabs. It was a mystical place for the Indians and we wondered if it still held some thrall as we saw a dead cat and two dead iguanas in crevices. Did they go there to die or was it just happenstance?
There was a lot of bird life, Troupials, Caracaras, Parakeets, Hawks, Bananquits, Auriols and others.

Was this a slave 'whipping post' or a beacon to guide ships ?


We did not see any of their white tailed deer, but many iguanas including one eye to eye! I was looking out over a viewpoint and just in front of me I saw some rather odd looking bark on a tree, looked again and realized an Iguana was staring back at me! It kept nodding its head which I took as “Don’t come any closer”, so I didn’t!
A close encounter!
                         St Willibrordus is an old coastal town with a huge church and old buildings.

Just outside is a lagoon that also used to be a saltworks and a sign that says “Flamingo Area”. Obviously, the flamingos can read as they were dutifully stalking around filtering for food and preening – beautiful birds.

Flamingos and Tricolour Heron

Another Landhuis here is now the home and gallery of artist Nena Sanchez, and ex Miss Curacao and Miss Universe entrant.

Sculptures in the gardens
She has restored the house and filled it and the garden with vibrant paintings and mammoth sculptures.

Only on the 'Dutch Islands' are the Coke signs Orange! 
After our few days of sightseeing we were back to the everyday business of getting the boat ready for the coming season, one job always leading to another. We were keeping an eye on the weather looking for a ‘window’ of light winds preferably from the south east so we could head towards the Virgin Islands.

We had originally planned to go back to Bonaire for a few days and then go north. Looking at the weather we saw we had a week of light winds with some south easterlies, pretty much perfect. Our plans of stopping in Bonaire were cancelled as we decided to sail to either Puerto Rico or the Virgins, wherever the wind would take us! So at 16.30 we filled the boat with water, fitted jackstays, and make ready for sea. Fortunately we had already checked out with Customs and Immigration (as we had planned to go to Bonaire) and off we went at 0800 the following morning on a 400 mile trip. We would have to manage with what food we had on board. Fortunately we had been shopping thinking we were off to Bonaire so we wouldn’t starve.

We knew we couldn’t arrive in Puerto Rico with fresh produce and we also read that you couldn’t have garbage either, so being over provisioned was not the answer. Little did we know how draconian the garbage rules were to be and almost impossible to comply with.  

Monday, 11 November 2013

Arrived in Puerto Rico

Cruising plans really are set in blancmange! We had planned to finish off our boat jobs and go back to Bonaire before heading North. We had our car hire and island tour then we looked at the weather. We had a window of 5 days of gentle east and southeast winds.

Our initial plan was to sail to Bonaire but why not take advantage of the weather and get north? So last Tuesday morning with a few hours notice we sailed North. Ideally for the USVI's but anywhere east of the Dominican republic would be good.

An early morning start, we left the marina at 0730 but had to wait 1/2 hour for the bridge to open so we could leave the harbour. We had to motor against the SE wind down the coast of Curacao, rounding the south of the island we could sail NE to clear the north of Bonaire and we are off sailing again.

To sail north east can be a challenge against the wind and current. The current is always there, a 2kt westward set but the wind in the south east really helped us for a couple of days.

Day one the log read 106 miles with 4hrs motoring (getting out).
Day two we ran the engine during the evening as there was little wind, eventually sailing in an easterly F3 with calm seas. Day two saw 111 miles run.
Day three we had a couple of rainsqualls and the wind getting up to a F6 almost in an instant and dying again as the squall passed. We managed 113miles on day three.
Day 4 we were not going to arrive in daylight nor were we going to arrive before the moon set at 2300. As there was some conflicting information on the pilotage and entry to Ponce yacht harbour we decided to slow down and arrive at dawn. Easier said than done as we reefed down for the night and set in for a slow sail.
The wind gods had other ideas no sooner had we reduced sail then the wind increased! We were now sailing hard to windward in a F4. Normally this would be perfect but not when you don't want to get there in a hurry!
We arrived 2 hrs before dawn and trusted to our plotter and pilotage info. We never found the leading lights, but managed to avoid the reefs and the island in the centre of the bay. By the time we were tied alongside the customs dock at the yacht club it was getting light.
Eventually the wind went east but we were still on track for the town of Ponce in PR.

With calm seas most of the time it was pretty much a perfect sail in 4 days we travelled 412 miles and motored for 12 hours.

Our plans are to stay in PR for a few weeks exploring the islands of Vieques and Culebra off the east coast before making our way to the US/BVI's.