Friday, December 14, 2012

Puerto Rican Excursion

November 28

The ferry from Culebra to Puerto Rico runs quite a few times a day and in various formats.  We learned later that there are a number of boats but essentially they seem to fit into two categories:  the high-speed cat that takes about 45 minutes and the ferry that takes about 90 minutes.  The amazing thing about the trip is that as a foot-passenger, the cost is minimal at only $2.25 per person one-way.  We decided that for less than $10 for the two of us, it was a pretty good deal to go and explore the eastern end of Puerto Rico.

Up bright and early we queued up to get our ticket for the 6:30 am high-speed ferry.  Even before we were aboard, we were chatting with a woman in line who is a live-aboard cruiser currently anchored in Dakity.  The ferry to Fajardo, PR and a short taxi-ride would take them up to the Wal-Mart for provisioning and other errands and this is a typical cruiser's shopping trip in this area.  Once onboard, we were introduced to other folks heading over for the day and before the end of the trip we had met Sebastian who runs a day-charter from Culebra to go out fishing and exploring.  All highly recommended renting a car for the day since the ferry terminal is pretty-much in the middle of nowhere and not even really in Fajardo, so there is not much to see on foot.  Sebastian made a phone-call and before we knew it, we were all set up with a car and the driver was booked to meet us at the ferry to take us to the office.  In the process we got to see Puerto del Rey where Mowzer makes her home in hurricane season and then we were off to explore for the day.

Puerto Rico is such a large island that we knew we had to pick just one thing to do for the day, so we chose to visit the rain forest on the slopes of El Yunque.  This is a National Park that was developed in the days of the depression using make-work programs to build the infrastructure (roads, trails) and today there is a road to the top with various hiking trails and lookouts.  We stopped at a very impressive open-air visitor centre and then proceeded to drive right up as far as we could.  We discovered that the tour-taxis tend to take people to where they can make a quick walk to see something and then get back to the car without spending too much time.  Once we passed the last road-side attraction, the crowds disappeared and we felt like we almost had the mountain to ourselves.

It was hard to believe that these flowers weren't plastic!

View to south-east from Mt. Britton tower.  The clouds rolled over occasionally dumping a rain-shower.

This part of the trail actually was paved with concrete - not a bad thing when 200" of rain a year might have washed it away, not to mention hurricanes.

Not sure what this bird was but he was quite successful at fishing.

At the open-air visitor centre.
Here's a recommendation, if you ever find yourself in this part of the world, go for a meal at Lolita's.  Hand's down the best Mexican I've ever had - about half-way between the Wal-Mart and the turning for El Yunque, on the south side of the road.  ... and they have free wi-fi.

Five o'clock found us catching the ferry back to Culebra.  We watched the trucks getting packed in and then headed off under a rainbow.  Watching the full moon rise over Culebra felt rather an auspicious end to the day.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Culebra - Part 2

As we carried on with our visit to Culebra, following Thanksgiving the crowds left the island and we pretty much felt like we had the place (almost) to ourselves; after Sunday that is.

Since we last visited two years ago, there are more mooring balls but they are still all free - sweet!

November 25

Sunday morning arrived and we knew the bays would be filling up with last-day holiday makers from Puerto Rico; Tamarindo beach on Culebra was no exception.  We headed up to the bay bright and early and were the third boat on a mooring ball.  However, as the morning progressed we had front row seats to the technique of stern anchoring to the beach/breeze and the ensuing raft up.  By the time they were finished there were about 15 boats in the bay at Tamarindo and we weren't too impressed by the guy who rafted up to a boat half his size and then tossed an anchor out the side of his boat leaving no room for our scope on the ball - just a little too close for comfort.

We have not yet swung our stern towards this anchored boat.
With all that excitement out of the way, we enjoyed our time at Tamarindo and the short hike over the hill to Flamenco Beach on the north side of Culebra.  Apparently The Discovery Channel rated Playa Flamenco the second most beautiful beach in the world and it is not hard to see why.

Not forgetting Culebra's history as a bomb practice range for the U.S. Navy there are still unusual sights on the beach.

We couldn't resist naming this guy with delusions of grandeur as "the Puerto Rican Army".
Not sure how I managed to pass up getting a picture, but tucked in by the parking lot for Flamenco is a kiosk stand with the requisite souvenirs, bars and cantinas.  The whole place is built on a wooden platform that keeps the sand at bay, the food is great and running around is a whole passle of cats and chickens.  It's a weird mix of tourism and local charm and with Spanish the predominant language along with the music you feel a bit like you've been plunked down in another world.  Loved it!

November 26 & 27

We loved Tamarindo so much we decided to stay a second night.  On the first we were completely to ourselves after the weekenders pulled up and left, and on the second we had just two other cruising cats in the bay with us.  A hike up the west coast of the next bay and rugged Rosario Beach this time and then back over the hill to Flamenco for a swim and a cold beer.  A pretty laid back Culebra day.

On Tuesday we thought we should actually do some sailing and so we headed out for a little excursion around the cays that run up between Culebra and Puerto Rico.  Up went the main sail on the mooring ball (super easy in the light winds) and as we headed west out of the 'protection' of the bay we soon discovered that there wasn't much to be protected from.  The winds climbed to a whopping 8 knots, the swell topped out at about 3 feet and we bobbed along making 3 knots if we were lucky.  Change of plans was called for so we fired up the engines (to charge the batteries, don't you know) and continued on our little jaunt.  Circling around Cayo Lobo and then Cayo Lobito we checked out the minuscule anchorages on the rocky crags and were caught up with Don Street's description on the back of our chart that with the ground quickly sloping away, if you didn't set your two anchors well, you'd drag all the way to Puerto Rico - not a pleasant thought for the middle of the night.  So far as we could see, there's wasn't much room to swing a cat of the four-legged kind, let alone a sailboat.  We carried on until we'd pretty much circumnavigated the cays and came back up to the bay on the south-western shore of Luis Pena, the largest island just off to the west of Culebra.  Two day moorings are available there and the snorkelling in this bay is great.  Apparently, later in the year the island is a nesting site of Boobies that fly all the way from the Galapagos Islands so as a nature reserve it is unpopulated and off-bounds for part of the year.

We finished off the day back at Culebra on a ball by the ferry dock.  The high-speed ferry comes and goes without too much excitement but I tell you, almost better than watching TV is watching the fun of loading up the ferry with the trucks and cars that come and go to the island (yes, we're lame and it doesn't take much to amuse us.)  Even the garbage trucks come over from the big island and then return at night.  It's quite an operation manoeuvring the big trucks, including dump trucks and cement trucks, in the tight space by the shops to reverse back onto the ferry where they are packed in tightly for the crossing.  One poor fellow must have put his big delivery truck on and off the ferry four times as the loading foreman figured out the best configuration of the trucks and cars that wanted to make that last crossing of the evening.  At one point there was a horrendous crunching sound, followed by lots of shouting and we can only surmise that the last spot in the parking area by the road is not the premium location.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Canadian Registry - at last!

Readers from our last trip out will remember that we did a haul-out in Nanny Cay in March in order to fulfill the ridiculous measurement requirements of Transport Canada to complete our registration.  TC won't accept the original builder's certificate of measurement even on a new catamaran and they have no 'formulaic' measurement such as is used for pontoon boats and monohulls.  I guess there just aren't enough catamarans in Canada for them and this makes a great money-grab for those providing the measurement services.  Anyway, off that rant ... we finally completed and received Mowzer's registration and she can now sail with the maple leaf fluttering off the back-stay.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Week in Culebra, SVI - Part 1

We spent a fabulous week on the island of Culebra in the Spanish Virgin Islands.  Don't get me wrong, there is wifi available on the island but between us having a problem with our bullet (wifi) connection and then spending loads of time in isolated bays with barely a cell-phone signal, we just didn't get the blogs posted as usual.  Sorry for the length of the post but now we're back home and I'll catch you up on what we saw and did; it's the whole week in one go!

Nov 22 - U.S. Thanksgiving

Thanks to Jim for getting up so early to drive us to the airport in the wee hours of the morning under a blanket of thick, freezing fog.  Flying through Charlotte we arrived perfectly in St. Thomas and got an $8 pp cab ride down to CYOA.  What a change in one day!

Being Thanksgiving and not being near a mega mall preparing for Black Friday, the island retail was actually shut down, so finding a meal and groceries was going to be a little more of a challenge.  Wonderful Nancy however invited us to join herself and friends just next door to the docks for a fabulous pot-luck turkey and ham dinner with all the fixings, all topped off with an evening of music.  What a great welcome; never before have we sat out in the tropical breeze enjoying a traditional Thanksgiving dinner as the moon rose over the harbour and the lights twinkled on the hillsides.  Definitely something to be thankful for.

Nov 23 - Just Around the Corner

Friday morning saw us up bright and early for a walk up the 99 steps in Charlotte Amalie. I missed my usual walking companion Jan, but Henry came along and enjoyed the early morning views of the harbour as a cruise ship pulled into the dock.
Yes...we broke down and had Egg-McMuffins for breakfast (guilty yum)
Provisioning was done at Pueblo since we didn't have a car; what a difference in the grocery store in the morning, compared to when we are usually doing our shopping in the evening, when we're completely bagged from the full travel day. It was so quiet that there weren't even the usual complement of taxis lined up out front, so I'm not sure who actually gave us (and our groceries) a ride back to Frenchtown, but his 2 year old in the back seat wasn't quite sure what to make of us either.

We have decided to head to Culebra in the Spanish Virgins this week but the winds were very light, only 5 to 8 knots from the south so we decided to take a very easy day, got off the dock and just headed round the corner to Linberg Bay for lunch. We've always thought if anyone arrives in St. Thomas that we were meeting at the airport that it would be fun to pick them up in this bay and dinghy them out to the boat, and that is exactly what we saw others doing. After the excitement of doing a lot of nothing ourselves we decided to pick up and move round to Brewers Bay for the night. We were the only ones in the bay other than some moored boats so we had a charming evening until a front arrived bringing heavy rains and black skies. In hind-sight, with the winds forecast to swing around to the north overnight we should have probably moved a bit closer to the airport side of the bay, but our anchoring proved worthy to the high speed winds whistling down the steep hillside overnight and in the morning all was calm.
This was our view of Brewer's Bay a week later as we departed the island.

Nov 24 - Off to Culebra

Another early start, but this was most likely due to the fact that with the rain last night we were in bed by 9 pm. This morning we had one of the most perfect sails over to Culebra. We were off the hook at 8:30 and with winds of 8-12 knots on or behind the beam and flat seas, we were over to the west side of Culebra and tied up on a mooring ball near the ferry dock by 1:30. The sail was so relaxing, with no anxious moments, high gusts, squalls or anything else to deal with, other than watching for wind shifts and avoiding the dreaded gybe.

Sadly we discovered, as we wandered through the town of Culebra, that Mamacita's - the little bar that we had enjoyed so much with John and Eleanor - has closed down, as has also the Dinghy Dock Bar. We popped into the dive shop where they told us that Mamacita's owners are moving to the Dinghy Dock and hope to have it open as the season gets underway, but they are suffering the loss of two great hangouts at once in town.

Last night with the wind from the south and then the north we didn't have to contend with the sun shining into the cockpit as the day wore on. Today, being a much more typical Caribbean day with the winds settling into the east, we unfurled the sunshade that I made at home, and it fits and works perfectly. I can tell already that it is going to be wonderful having the additional shade at the back if the boat.
So pleased with the fit and effect of the new sunshade - it is so much cooler in the cockpit and cabin as the afternoon sun beams down.
Stay tuned for part 2...