Sunday, 21 December 2014

Christmas

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
This was the lighted boats parade on Friday night. Also a festival in town live bands and good local food a fin evening.
Hope you all have a lovely Festive Season

Culebra December 2014



Culebra December 2014

After lunch and emptying the engine bilge yet again we head for shore. The main issue is to see if we can get propane. You can’t call it gas out here – that’s what they call petrol! In Bonaire we took a cylinder to be filled just before we left, and they had run out, so we only got 3lbs instead of 8lb and we had to change it at Puerto Patillas. If we do not get propane here we will only be able to stay a day or two and then have to head for St Thomas because we know we can get it there. The 8lbs normally lasts about a month so we should have over a weeks’ worth, but we do not want to be without.

Dinghy dock bar

We tied up at the Dinghy Dock Bar, colourfully painted, nice and low and in company with several other dinghies. Paw Paw is here too, but not on board as we pass. We walk round town over the no longer lifting bridge over a canal cut by the US Navy to link Ensenada Honda with the west coast. 

Street scene Culebra Town

Town is very colourful if a bit ramshackle. Students are painting murals all over own, some buildings are in use but on several the art works cleverly disguises what would be ugly derelicts. 



Painting the Murals

Christmas decorations are also being put up all over.


 Some are really 'Mickey mouse'!


Decorating the town
We eventually end up at the ferry dock, on the west coast, with no sign of propane anywhere. Tourist Information is here so we go in and ask and are given a phone number, which does not work. We go into Culebra Divers for a look around, meet Julie, the owner and mention propane. She sends us back over the bridge, down along the canal to Milka, a supermarket. She says they do it. It is quite a small building but a remarkable stock, floor to ceiling, probably anything you need, including fresh veg and a butcher where later we buy the best steak we have ever had.
 
At the till we ask the proprietor and he says they don’t do it but Pipi does and he phones him for us! But, Pipi has a new number which he has not got. So, he sends us back all the way to the ferry dock to the gas (petrol) station, where Pipi’s wife works! She is not on duty, but the other lady phones her and gets Pipis number for us! This is just how kind and friendly we found everyone here.

By now it is after 5pm so we decide to phone Pipi tomorrow and head to the Dinghy Dock for a Happy Hour beer. Paw Paw are there so we join them and end up having a very nice dinner there. In the water are 4ft Tarpon that are fed on all the leftover fish and bones from the diners, so occasional feeding frenzies take place all evening! If this is not interesting enough, a bit later bats fly up and down, occasionally dipping into the sea to catch small fish with their feet!

The next morning Richard phones Pipi and they arrange to meet at the dock in 10 minutes. I stay on board and eventually decide that Richard must have had to go with Pipi to fill the cylinder. Nearly an hour later Richard returns, Pipi did not show, and he did not have the phone. Richard phones again and a conversation of “where are you” in broken Spanish and English ensues, Pipi agrees to be at the Dinghy Dock in 15 minutes. 

This time we both go, as I can go shopping while Richard waits for Pipi. We wait outside the Dinghy Dock Bar for about half an hour, still no show. So I head off for the vegetable market I saw yesterday and Richard waits. The market is closed, so I go to Culebra Divers to buy a pink octopus for Elise. Julie tells me the market is only Tuesday and Friday. 

Richard appears a bit later. Pipi came, took the cylinder and brought it back, “10 minutes” he said, about ½ an hour later we have a full cylinder for $15. Result! This just shows that in the islands nothing is straightforward, but patience and perseverance are usually rewarded.

Now we have propane so we don’t have to rush to leave, which we are rather pleased by because Culebra is charming and we want to see more.  We have just heard that the Gas station is now out of gas (petrol).
On Sunday we have arranged to go diving with Paw Paw in the marine park on the west coast. 

The no longer lifting bridge

After exiting the cut on the west side it is about a 15min ride to the dive site. The National park authority have laid moorings as it is a no anchor zone, we tie up and try to find the site. Fortunately a local boat ties up to the next mooring so we swim across and ask them. The dive is the reef we have just passed. We are advised to keep close to the shore to avoid the current.


 It is a shallow dive less than 10m, there were lots of corals, sponges and invertebrates, we saw two turtles a southern stingray and jellyfish as well as the usual reef species. The visibility was not as good as we were expecting and was nothing like as spectacular as Bonaire, but still a very pretty tropical dive.

Always beautiful

Tuesday is Rowena’s birthday so we arrange to have a ‘hire car’ for the day. This is not actually a car but a golf cart! Lots of these are seen around the island used by the locals and visitors alike. It doesn’t take long to travel the length and breadth of the island. 

Looking East from Dakity

By lunchtime we have pretty much travelled all of it and decide to spend the afternoon on Flamenco beach, (formally a bombing range for the US Navy).


Reminders of the military are everywhere

 It is now a beautiful horseshoe beach used as a nesting site for Leatherback turtles, a laid back camp site in the dunes and pretty much party time for all at the weekends!

Life's a Beach!

We will not leave until Saturday as we want to visit the museum; it is only open Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The small museum is worth a visit and charts the inhabitants from the early Taino Indians to the Spanish settlers and the arrival of the US military in the early 1900’s. The locals really did have a hard time they were almost under military occupation. Finally a concerted campaign in the 1970’s including a mass picnic on the bombing ranges drove the military out (so they went to Vieques instead!).

The Museum - an old munitions store!

Culebra really does have a laid back feel, a place to come and chill, enjoy the beach or just hang out. We will be sad to leave but the weather looks good for us to actually sail (not motor!) to St Thomas on Saturday.   

Looking across the anchorage

Yes! We can actually sail to St Thomas, we will have to put a tack in but we manage to sail from Culebra to Brewers bay St Thomas USVI, wow! It is our first proper sail in about 3 weeks.
Brewers bay is fairly deserted of boats, we are pleasantly surprised, two other cruising boats and a few locals on moorings, plenty of room to anchor and have a swim, pity about the airport being so close but it is not too intrusive and closes down at night. We will go round to Charlotte Amalie on Monday as we need to get; you’ve guessed it, Propane! Our 3lb fill in Bonaire lasted exactly 7 days, the filling plant here have always given us a good fill so we are not worried about not getting any propane here. We will also do mundane tasks like shopping and laundry.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

A Virgin at last!



A Virgin at last!

Well a Spanish Virgin Island anyway!
From Salinas east was always going to be a hard slog. The local wisdom is to start early before the trade winds start to blow and arrive at your next stop by midday. The reason for this is that Puerto Rico has some really high mountains that cause Katabatic winds overnight. These winds tend to be NNE and cancel out the Easterly trades so you only have to contend with the Westerly flowing current. By midday this land effect is over and the land then starts to have the opposite effect, so by mid-afternoon we have strong S Easterlies, caused by the land being hotter than the sea. Phew!

All of the above only works if you are close inshore, out of the current and in amongst all the fishing floats! Did I forget to mention them as well! Inshore you also get the chop from the shelf, offshore you get less chop but more current. You pay your money…..
Not just fishing floats but a large log as well!

Everyone we have spoken too has no real solution to this conundrum except for an early start and motor sailing east. That is what we did.

An early start from Salinas

We left Salinas before it was really light and took the inside passage inside the islands through the Bahia de Jobos, it looks pretty shallow and it is in places. The chart plotter proved pretty accurate and we kept to the deep water exiting through the gap in the reef at the Boco del Inferno, an unmarked channel but easy to see the gap of about 20 yards wide with 5m of water. (No problems, but a bit scary none the less).

Can you see the waterspout? - Spotted on our waty to Puerto Patillas

While motoring through the unpredicted swells the engine note slows then picks up again, it does this several times. We try the ‘Italian tune up’ but this doesn’t solve the problem, it seems we are having fuel starvation, with maximum revs and the engine running lean we are now running hot and set off the over temperature alarm!  With 10 miles to go to Puerto Patillas, hopefully we can keep the engine running and fix the problem when we get there, changing filters in the swells will not be easy! 

Anchorage Puerto Patillas

Thank goodness we arrive OK in Puerto Patillas. It is an anchorage inside an offshore reef, the reef breaks up the swell so we were anchored in flat water, no real shelter from the East wind but it was fine for the night with the land producing gentle cooling offshore breezes. Two local boats were on moorings but we were alone at anchor. Nothing much ashore either, but it looked like there was a hotel being built. Fuel filter changed and all seems OK. We will find out for sure tomorrow.

Another early start, even before the sparrows! We are motoring east again. Since Ponce, each of our little hops has been 20-25 miles east so we are slowly making our way to where we want to be. On this leg of the journey we will get to the furthest east point on Mainland Puerto Rico, here we will have a choice to make; either head a little North up the coast to Cayo Santiago (the home to a colony of Rhesus monkeys kept on the island for research by the University of Puerto Rico – Why?), or make for the deserted west coast of the island of Vieques. It is further to Vieques than Santiago and with predicted settled weather Santiago should not be too rolly. It can be rolly with big swells but these are not predicted so we head for Cayo Santiago. For 20 minutes the wind is in our favour and we actually manage to sail, not for long, and the engine is on again. From either anchorage we will have the same distance on Friday morning to Culebra.

Monkeys on the beach

Cayo Santiago is very pretty and we are the only boat anchored in the lee of the little island. An afternoon swim (even though the water is a bit green and not very clear), a very cold beer (the fridge has been on maximum as we have more electricity than we need with all our motoring) and supper in the cockpit, monkeys on the beach (going ashore is prohibited) what more can you want? An engine bilge that doesn’t fill with water when we are motoring! I suppose we cannot have everything.

Bye Bye Cajo Santiago

Dawn over Vieques

Our final leg to Culebra, an early start (again) and we are motoring! Across the Vieques sound we motor towards the north shore of Vieques so we can get out of the current. Unfortunately this strategy means we will not be able to sail to Culebra as our course is NE and that is where the wind is from! We arrive in Culebra by lunchtime, navigate our way inside the reef  - the channel is well buoyed - and anchor inside Ensenada Honda just off the town dock south of Pirata Cay. (Just where a Corsair should be!)

Anchored off Pirates Key





 Ok on a final note, here is one of our most usefull bits of kit while on passage. Thank you Vic! Somewhere to keep the camera, gloves sunglasses (well the case mainly!) and a cold drink! Water of course.

A very useful box!
 

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

To Puerto Rico!



To Puerto Rico!

We didn’t mean to go to Puerto Rico!( Sounds like an Arthur Ransome novel!) Honest we really didn’t, we wanted to go to the Virgin Islands.

Bunkering in Bonaire
 With a good forecast for the next 5 days (light and from the east) we are on our way to the Virgin Islands.
After leaving Bonaire on Thursday 13th about noon we arrived in PONCE, PUERTO RICO at 0800 on Tuesday 18th after the sail from hell. We had never intended to go to PR after our experience last year but a combination of weather and sheer exhaustion we are back in Ponce!

Our trip went something like this;
Thursday was nice and calm and we sailed slowly north easterly.
Friday there was very little wind so we motored due east.
Saturday started ok with a north easterly wind so we were not making much easting.
Sunday was a day of squall after squall 30 knots plus and very heavy rain from the north east. Fortunately we put the second reef in on the main Sunday evening as the wind increased to F6 NE with 3m plus seas. We were crashing off waves and crashing into waves with waves breaking over the bimini and dumping in the cockpit. For a while we were just below leaving Galene to fend for herself. Fortunately 'Arry the Hydrovane does not mind steering in these conditions.


A close encounter
This continued all through Sunday night, Monday and Monday night. We slowed the boat down to reduce the slamming and possible damage. By now we were so exhausted that we resigned ourselves to going in to Ponce. We just really needed to stop. We sailed slowly so to arrive in daylight, dropping the sails in the channel entrance and motoring to the fuel/customs dock at the yacht club.

Ponce Yacht and Fishing club

On our way in we saw Paw Paw (a Leopard 46 Cat) who we last saw in Bonaire, they had left a few days before us and had an equally horrible time for the first day of their journey, having twisted the fore hatch on one of the hulls which let a lot of water down in one of the cabins. Fortunately no other damage
As usual the yacht club people were lovely and this time the customs were much nicer and even smiled.  They seemed more relaxed about the garbage and confessed that they no longer have a facility on the island to dispose of foreign garbage.  When they discovered we were going to the USVI’s they said to keep just any of our meat tins that we open and dispose of them there, as they have the facilities!!

 It helped that Paw Paw and Campechano are here too. Campechano (another Cat) told us their story of breaking both the dagger boards. They were making so much leeway without them that they would have been blown to the Dominican Republic! Fortunately their home port is Salinas just up the coast from Ponce and the yard at Ponce will be able to make the repairs. We realised we were lucky not to have suffered any damage, having only a rather damp boat.


Drying out!
So we are here for a while washing off the salt and getting rid of all the sea weed including the bits in the main stack pack and generally drying out - back to being a boat not a submarine. We have made a modification to the anchor locker drain to stop it draining into the forepeak lockers. We still drain into the bilge now via a long hose, but at least the locker contents will hopefully stay dry if we play submarines again!
As for Christmas, the way I feel now it will probably be at Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club. I am sure they will do a good deal for a long term berth and we have 6 months on our US visas. After this sail, which was worse than the Atlantic, I don’t think I want to be at sea for a while.

Galene in peaceful Salinas

After a week at Ponce we are on the move again, Paw Paw and Campechano have gone to Salinas and we will catch up with them there hopefully. Heading east we will have to motorsail and will leave at first light to get there before the trade winds pick up at lunchtime. Once again, the forecast is not accurate and we are bounced around in heavy seas until past Caja Del Morte when all we have to deal with is a horrible choppy sea.

Salinas Anchorage

We arrive at peaceful Salinas lunchtime on Thursday. It is the Thanksgiving holiday and very quiet. Anchored up amongst the mangroves it is a beautiful spot.  Hopefully we will see a Manatee here? The Marina has a bar and restaurant and there is a shopping centre about a mile or so walk away. Our plans are to stay here a few days before moving east again. We wanted to go to Vieques and Culebra on our way to the Virgin Islands. The locals here say that Vieques is no go due to the crime associated with the drug scene that seems to have become established on the island. It looks like we will give it a miss and go on to Culebra.

A glimpse of a Manatee

 Mornings we have breakfast with manatees!  Unfortunately they did not come very close to us. All you see is a nose poke up or a tail disappearing very quietly, but still a privilege to see. Ospreys, frigate birds, Royal terns, pelicans, grey herons and cattle egrets fly over all the time. Fish and rays are jumping – it is really a lovely anchorage. The only thing is the water is a bit green, though clear, so we don’t fancy swimming. 

One of the colourful marina residents

There is a laundry at the marina, a swimming pool and a nearby bakery which also has basic provisions. There are dozens of restaurants all round known for their seafood. Water and fuel are available at the marina - when they eventually get a fuel delivery! Also a nice little bar with wifi and food set amongst the mangrove trees. Watch out for the seedpods falling on your head!

Walking into the village

We plan to leave Salinas at first light on Wednesday  3rd December  towards Culebra. The forecast looks good, but as we know, anything can happen!

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Bonaire October/ November 2014



Bonaire October/ November 2014

Unfortunately our night on the town left me (Rowena) with a bit of a dicky tummy. Six of us ate and drank the same but just two of us got the lurgy, strange.  Still, I managed to drag myself ashore for sundowners again with several others boats, mostly old friends which was rather nice.
Sponges Spooring

Richard had a dive with Dave on the Sunday and they saw the tunicates sporing! I had my first dive on Monday, just off Galene and saw the big brown leathery sponges sporing, so then I did not feel too cheated.

Galene from the reef

We started water aerobics again just four of us at first, but gradually increased to 7 or 8. So Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings got off to an early start. This all culminated in a lovely brunch on Exit Strategy on 14th November, celebrating Roses birthday as well as our last class before we all left for our various destinations. Great exercise and good fun chatting with the “girls” at the same time. (Perhaps more chatting than exercise!)

Ladies who Brunch!

We soon dropped back into the regular Bonaire rhythm. Shopping bus to Van Der Tweels Tuesday and Friday, laundry at Mageros, who always kindly collect and return us to the Marina. We often went as a group so this became a little social event too, although most of us tended to make use of their free wifi to catch up on emails, etc. Van Der Tweels publish their own magazine, mainly recipes, which I really like. It is Dutch, of course, but I can understand enough to use them. So part of the fun there is trying Dutch cuisine – they use a lot of capers, red cabbage, beetroot, anchovies and radishes among other foods I rarely use, so now we have a nice new repertoire of meals, many of them quick and easy. 

Wednesday was still ½ price burger night at Bistro de Paris at the marina where we caught up with all the cruisers we had not seen during the week. Another favourite meeting place, just across the road from Karels was Divers Delight, formerly known as Paradise Moon – the sign is still up!- where they serve pints of draught Heineken for $3 during happy hour. They also have a good $10 menu. Of course, you always bump into someone you know when you tie up your dingy at Karels. Bobbejans ribs are as good as ever, too.

The Venezuelan Consulate had a cultural evening, so we went along. There were various food stalls and a small table of “crafts”, but not very interesting. Ladies and girls in national dress wandering around, a few speeches, and a movie running all the time on one wall showing magnificent scenery (no sound) interspersed with what appeared to be various Indian tribes showing how they prepare something which we took to be cocaine! As afterwards they all went into trances or started manic dancing. Very strange.  They had a big orchestra playing lovely music in the background all the time. Not at all as Spanish as I expected. They had nice pamphlets to hand out, showing all the Venezuelan tourist attractions, but all in Spanish, one had a few paragraphs in English. A good idea, but since we believe all the airlines have stopped flying into Venezuela, you have to wonder who this publicity is aimed at.


Diving was as always FAB. One of the most memorable was when we went to Cliff. We saw a reef shark down in the depths – of course I was spooked – and then another, and another and I could not deal with any more, so we made a speedy exit. Of course, it was only the one shark, they are not usually in groups, the others were just huge Tarpon, but by then I was too spooked to look properly!

Honeycomb Cowfish
While there, I got a new Scubapro reg, for not a lot more than it would have cost me to get my Poseidons serviced, as they now need new hoses as well. The other thing is that I can’t get them serviced out here, so it means dragging them back to the UK each time. Took a little bit of getting used too, I have had my Poseidons for over 10 years now. They have a little switch so you can regulate the airflow to suit yourself which is nice. Richards dive computer also died, so he got a new Zoop as well.

Getting ready for the clean up dive
On Saturday 18th October we took part in the quarterly clean up dive arranged by Dive Friends. The object is to pick up rubbish from around South Pier at the commercial dock, so the Harbourmaster stops all boat movement for the morning- not that there is usually a lot! We all meet at Dive Inn and get a free tank of air. It is a great dive under the piers, reminiscent of Salt Pier, with amazing sea life in amongst all the rubbish. They asked us to leave the old rubbish, which is becoming part of the reef, just bring out new stuff.

Octopus trying to hide!
 We saw an octopus living in an old tyre, sponges and corals growing on what look like old engines and various fish using all the junk as hidey holes, so not all rubbish is bad! It was a weird feeling swimming under big ships and looking up at their props, thinking if they turned them on we would just be sucked straight into them. 117 divers took part and we collected 1034 items including 4 towels, 4 pairs of sunglasses, 2 locks, 1 chair and a pair of underpants! We even got a group photo in the local paper. That evening we were all invited to a Barbeque at Hamlet Oasis – Dive Friends providing one drink and the meat. We each brought a salad or desert. A fun evening.
Baracuda on clean up dive

Then, I got an ear infection, so no diving for about 10 days. Very frustrating as during this time we had lovely calm weather, just  perfect for going over to Klein Bonaire, so that delight is for another trip. After I got the infection, several people told me to make a mixture of 50% rubbing alcohol and 50% white vinegar and spray my ears after each dive. If only someone had mentioned this before! I have never had an ear infection before, so it was totally unexpected. Anyway, the alcohol vinegar mix seems to work as no more problems, but I will keep it up, for sure.

One day we were invited on ‘Yachtsman’s Dream’ to go and dive Salt Pier. We had dived it as a shore dive when Ian and Louise were here in July now we were doing it from a boat (a lovely big catamaran). The dive was as good as before despite a long swim from the mooring. 
Picking up the mooring at Salt Pier. Note where you store your cyliners on a cat!

The sail there and back was also interesting as we had never sailed on a cat before. There is no sense of the wind, or speed, the boat doesn’t heel over! You just have to keep looking at the instruments to see what is happening.  Thanks to John and Lela for a lovely day out.
Occi at Salt Pier

While here we managed to do some boat jobs as well, the teak toe rail and rubbing strake were in need of a coat of teak oil so we managed to do this in between dives. Working on the boat is very difficult as the diving is a great distraction, two moorings away from us was a yellow frogfish and on a small boat mooring just inshore of us was a pair of seahorses. The seahorses could be seen while snorkelling as it was very shallow. You just have to look at these things every day!
Our seahorse

The big job was mending the petrol generator. This had been broken for several months and there was no means of obtaining spares in the Caribbean. The fault had been diagnosed as an ignition problem.  On our visit to the UK the repair agent suggested it could be one of three components that had failed, we ordered all three to be safe and were going to change them in order of probability of failure (and ease of replacement). Guess what, the most likely fault was the one we had and with a new ignition module installed and a clean spark plug the generator ran as new. Brilliant we now have 240v electricity and plenty of battery charging in no wind conditions. Very useful as the wind died at night and we needed to charge the batteries up every morning.

The varnish brush came out again as we varnished the companionway entrance and the cockpit  table, the binnacle got a coat of paint as well so ‘Galene’ is looking a bit more loved!
Our stern gland continues to leak when we are running the engine so we always have to manually pump out the engine bilge. This is a problem we will get to the bottom of!
Checking the mooring

The moorings here are beginning to empty as boats are beginning to move on. Most are going west to Columbia and Panama, some through the canal others on a circumnavigation of the Caribbean. We are waiting for a ‘window’ to go North, the plans are to get to the Virgin Islands in one go. The Hurricane season looks to be over so we will be off at the first opportunity. All we want is gentle South easterlies for a few days, who knows we may even get what we wish for!

Yachties leaving and these monsters arriving!