La Parguera to Salinas, Puerto Rico

November 29, 2006

Rather than spending our day after Thanksgiving fighting crowds in shopping malls we worked off our turkey and stuffing by snorkeling a reef off of La Parguera. The sun was warm and the water was a refreshing and comfortable temperature. Many local boats were setting their anchors at a couple of popular islands nearby – we counted more than fifty small and medium sized power and sport fishing boats clustered at one location. Sometimes four to five boats were rafted up together. Puertoriquenos standing in chest-high water with their canned cervezas in insulated jackets chatting or sometimes batting a beach ball back and forth. Where we tend to seek isolated anchorages, these folks seem to prefer tight quarters for the socializing. It was a fun atmosphere, even from a distance, as we dinghied past to observe families young and old enjoying themselves and the company of others. Even though Christmas is a very important holiday on this island (some people reportedly keep their Christmas trees up year-round), holiday shopping was not on their agenda for this day either.

It was hard to leave La Parguera, but other destinations were calling our name. On Saturday, November 25th we pulled up the hook, waved goodbye to our new friends, and set the sails for Cayos Cana Gorda. Cayos Cana Gorda is a series of three keys off the shores east of Guanica. The southern most key in the series is now more popularly known as “Gilligan’s Island”. Too bad Rod’s Skipper hat and my MaryAnn wig were packed away in a Halloween storage box!

With southeast winds between 10 and 15 knots apparent we had a fun close reach sail from south of La Parguera up to Gilligan’s Island. We were lucky that the conditions permitted such a sail as normally the trade winds are too strong on the nose to allow such progress. On approach we entered the Guanica ship channel, which was well marked, before turning east along the shoreline. We passed by Punto Jacinto, taking pictures of the beautiful homes on the ocean view bluff. As we rounded the point we spotting “Magus” in the anchorage and were excited to catch up to some of our Luperon Class of ‘06 mates.

Since we arrived on a Saturday there were a number of local boats enjoying the waters and beaches of Cayos Cana Gorda as well. We picked up Chris and Yani to toodle about in the dinghy and check out Gilligan’s Island. The island is now a state park and has trails and picnic tables sprinkled about – most of which were being used by the weekenders. We walked through to the favored swimming spot between Gilligan’s Island and its neighboring key and joined the others in the chest-high water for some afternoon socializing – drinks in hand of course.

Early Sunday morning “Magus” was under way and by that afternoon we had the Cayos Cana Gorda anchorage to ourselves. The sun was setting, casting a warm red glow across the horizon as we took a dip in what was now our own private pool. The water that was so refreshing earlier in the hot day now felt warm to our skin in the dropping dusk temperatures. I think it got down to 78F that night.

Chris Parker, our weather forecast guru, reported increasing trade winds by Wednesday so we made the decision to move on while we still had light winds on the nose. So we upped anchor on Monday morning and headed east into the day’s first light, motor-sailing a straight line to Isla Caja de Muertos in less than five knots of breeze. Most guide books recommend a path to Ponce, which is Puerto Rico’s second largest city and a popular stop for yachties on the south coast. We agreed to skip it for now and make further easting as the winds allowed. By noon we had the hook down at Isla Caja de Muertos (Coffin Island) and were enjoying lunch in another private anchorage.

Isla Caja de Muertos is a picturesque island with an impressive 19th century Spanish architecture lighthouse atop its 244 foot peak. The name of the island is based on a legend of a pirate and his mistress who died tragically shortly after their marriage. The heartbroken pirate had his true love embalmed and placed in a glass topped coffin (picture Snow White) so he could visit her from time to time (eew). Well, eventually the pirate was hanged for his crimes and his crew, who believed there to be hidden treasure in that creepy coffin, were more than a little disappointed in the contents. Murder and suicide befell the crew and the maiden was finally put to rest in St. Thomas. The legend held through the years until the island was officially given its current name. Others, who prefer a lighter story, say it is so named because its distant silhouette has the shape of a coffin.

Only one night at Caja de Muertos (remember the weather forecast) and we were heading to Salinas on Tuesday morning. It was going to be another day of light wind motor-sailing, which can be somewhat boring if you don’t have some kind of diversion. From our charts we saw we would be passing over many different depths in route which could mean dinner. So Rod got out the caveman handline and I dispensed Beautiful Babe Spit (credit to Ann Vanderhoof, “An Embarrassment of Mangoes”) on the hook that was disguised as a blue plastic fringy fish thing. This lure has provided dinner in the past (as long as BBS was administered) and it did not fail this day. Fish On! Tonight we would be having Cero Mackerel. A good sized one that would actually feed us for a couple of days.

We arrived in the Salinas harbor just before noon on Tuesday, November 28th and anchored among some of our Luperon friends, “Magus”, “Maatkare”, and “Indigo”. The Salinas harbor is very protected, which is great when strong winds come through, but since it is so enclosed it is not a place where you jump off the boat for a swim. Rod prepared fish fillets for dinner, which were delicious, and we started making plans for doing some inland touring while here. This is where we will rent a car and leave the boat for a few days to visit historic Old San Juan on the north coast, among other sights, and make long-anticipated trips to Costco, Home Depot, and other large superstores for provisioning. Not sure which we’re more excited about – 16th century Spanish forts or first-world shopping. It’s a toss up, really.

Thanksgiving in La Parguera, Puerto Rico

November 23, 2006

So far we are soaking up the coast of Puerto Rico at a typical Lucky Peek pace — slooooowww. We ended up spending six days in Boqueron; enjoying its tranquil bay, its mile-long crescent sand beach, and its quiet during its sleepy mid-week state and then watching it transform into a rockin‘, weekend destination for local Puertoriquenos – many of which arrived on polished Harleys and other two-wheeled machines. The little seaside town came alive with loud music and a multitude of sidewalk vendors selling fresh shucked oysters (which we did not partake of given my violent intestinal intolerance to them). The main street is shut down every weekend night so the pedestrians can weave their way across without too much danger. Before the street barricade was set up there was a steady stream of cars and bikes arriving for the weekend party. Conveniently for us, the dinghy dock was located right in the middle of the main little square where all the action seem to be centered.

In Boqueron we tasted our first Medalla, the local Puerto Rican beer, and we sampled a variety of empanadillas, which are scrumptious little fried meat pies with your choice of filling – chicken, fish, lobster, shrimp, etc. Not the healthiest fare, but mighty tasty and cheap!

We received a gracious offer to stay in Boqueron for Thanksgiving dinner by an American couple who lives there and hosts an annual traditional turkey dinner for all the cruisers in the harbor. It was tempting to stay and give Thanks with new friends as well as other members of our Luperon Class of ‘06 who were planning to stay for the dinner: Paul on “Sunrunner”, and Jack and Des on “Famous Potatoes”. But we decided it was time to up anchor and move on. So on the sunny afternoon of Sunday, November 19th we left Boqueron, made a stop for the night at Cabo Rojo (Cabo Rollo) along with Chris and Yani on “Magus”, then had an invigorating sail around the cape the next day into 20+ knots of wind to La Parguera on the southern coast.

Ahhhh…. La Parguera. La Pargueraaaahhhhh. La Parguera is now on our list of favorite places. The intricate reef system and numerous islands off of La Parguera provide endless options for anchoring near this charming little town. Formerly a fishing village, La Parguera is now a popular getaway for locals and foreigners alike who travel here on the weekends for the boating and excellent diving opportunities. By dinghy we explored the miles of mangrove creeks that lace together the mainland and its many coastal islands – one of which is reportedly inhabited by monkeys. We didn’t see any ourselves but thought we heard them mocking us as we paddled our way quietly through the mangrove tunnel that was at times barely wider than our dinghy. Mangrove roots hung from above our heads and sometimes in front of our faces as we made our way through to the other side which opened up into a beautiful little protected bay. No boats, no people, no monkeys. Just us in the warm sun marveling at the beauty.

Thanksgiving was drawing near and Rod was making plans to carve a Spam into the shape of a turkey for our dinner until we received another gracious offer for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. We didn’t intend on leaving La Parguera before Thanksgiving so we accepted the invitation and had a wonderful time getting acquainted with the cruisers that are calling La Parguera home for the winter (and in some cases, next summer and next winter). Don and Olga from “Richard Cory”, Ken and Andrea from “Ruff Life”, and Jim and Debbie from “Majong”, who hosted all of us aboard their classic 50 year old 52-foot wooden yawl. And Wally, a character whose boat name we cannot recall, told the tale of the crew of the vessel flying the Pink Jolly Roger and has Rod now scanning the horizon to find the same.

It’s hard to be away from family and friends this time of year but we are thankful for the new community of friends that are so open and welcoming. We are thankful for so many things, including the opportunity to be out here doing what we are doing and enriching our lives with new experiences. And I’m especially thankful that I didn’t have to eat Spurkey for Thanksgiving.

Happy Thanksgiving, all.

Puerto Rico – Arrived Monday, Nov. 13th, 2006

Having some trouble with updating the Blog from our SAT phone e-mail. Sent two entries, but one failed so they may be out of order now. The most recent update is that we are in Puerto Rico now! Yay! But that posting may actually appear below the posting of “Bryan and Allison visit the DR” (which is a loooong entry) which says that we’re still in the DR.

Did I mention we’re in Puerto Rico now??? The DR was great, but we’re very happy to be on the move again.

Bryan and Allison Mann Visit the DR

October 13-24, 2006

September came and went in the blink of an eye and then we blinked again and it’s November!

At this writing we are still anchored in Luperon, Dominican Republic but are anxiously awaiting the next appropriate weather window to head east to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands for the winter months. We spent September doing some additional projects on Lucky Peek to get her ready for the next leg of our journey and also in preparation for much-anticipated guests!

Bryan and Allison Mann (from Boise) arrived in Santo Domingo on Friday, October 13 and we set out for an adventurous 11 days with them. We had a rental car for the duration of their stay so we had a full agenda of inland touring planned. We stayed the first few days in Santo Domingo, enjoying the city’s old New World sights and getting B & A accustomed to other big city normalcies – persistent tour guides offering their services, aggressive merchants calling us into their gift shops, and young shoe-shine boys that are sadly working the streets when they should be in school. Our first lunch at a sidewalk cafe held an emotional moment when a young boy, seeing that our flip-flops hardly needed shined, looked longingly at the club sandwiches on our plates. We knew when our next meal would come so we shared our sandwich quarters with him and were rewarded with a beautiful smile of gratitude in return.

From Santo Domingo we traveled into the interior mountains to Jarabacoa. At the Hotel Gran Jimenoa we had rooms overlooking the Rio Jimenoa rushing by with a backdrop of lush green mountainside. We had originally planned a one night stay here but by the next morning we all agreed that it was worthy of a second night. That decision allowed us to enjoy a long day in the area hiking into the Salto Jimenoa waterfall and then a spontaneous horseback ride at the confluence of the Rio Jimenoa and Rio Yaque del Norte. In the mountains there aren’t aggressive merchants but there are persistent offers for horseback rides. After repeatedly saying no to a man and his young son offering their horses Allison said “Let’s do it!”. And so she and I were off on a ride along the river. I have to admit that I wasn’t a willing participant initially but with the little boy sitting behind me on my horse talking non-stop in Spanish that I couldn’t begin to understand and swatting the horse’s hindquarters with a switch from a tree to make it go faster so I would giggle… well, it turned out to be pretty fun. We celebrated our ride afterward by sitting at the small riverside thatch-roofed shack/bar sipping an ice-cold Presidente’ grande in true Dominican style – sharing a 24 ounce bottle of beer among the four of us in little 4 ounce plastic cups. We amused the proprietor with our Spanish and in turn he gave us a Spanish lesson by holding up items in his small open-air shop and exclaiming the Spanish word. A little reminiscent of Sesame Street – only with beer.

Leaving Jarabacoa for Luperon meant leaving the cooler mountain temperatures for h-e-double hockey sticks. We tried to warn Bryan and Allison but our words could not adequately prepare them for what they were about to experience for themselves. Sun, boat in the sun, tropical heat, no A/C, no A/C, no A/C. You know the kind of heat that causes a constant stream of sweat to run down your back dampening your fresh shirt? A sweat mustache the no amount of dobbing will erase? A heat with no relief. Once on the boat we advised them to sit very still under the direct flow of a fan. They advised us to go for rides in the air conditioned rental car. And so we did!…

On Thursday, October 19 we took the air conditioned car for a 40 mile drive out to Rio Damajagua where we hired a guide to take us into the jungle, rock-climbing up the river, so we could then descend that very river via it’s many natural waterfall slides. It was late afternoon when we left the main road and turned down onto the narrow gravel road that was flanked by thick fields of 8-foot tall sugarcane. “Children of the Corn was mentioned and creeped us all out a bit. We eventually arrived at a deserted gravel parking area where a Dominican with a blue “Guide” shirt sat in a folding chair. A small group of young men was clustered on one side of the parking area enthusiastically watching an informal cockfight. We were immediately greeted by another “Guide” and once we agreed to a price of 200 pesos each ($6.00) we were off with our two guides, Commando and Manual, to experience 7 of the 27 levels of waterfalls that Damajaguas has to offer.

A quick stop along the way to pick out helmets and life jackets for each of us and we proceeded to hike into the jungle, fording a river and many creeks, until we arrived at a beautiful pool of water that would signify both the true beginning of our ascent as well as the finality of our exhilarating descent. Our jovial guides set to work pulling us up rock faces – literally pulling us up over small waterfalls, leading us further up the river and deeper into the jungle. Beautiful, unspoiled, and so incredibly green and lush. The water so refreshingly cool.

After numerous pulls up and over rocks and swimming through rock canyons to reach pristine, isolated pools fed by waterfalls, Commando announced that we had reached level 7 – our destination. Time to head back down. No! We all cried – we must not stop! To reach the 27th level it takes all day, which we didn’t have, but we did have enough daylight left to continue on to the 11th level. And so we continued…

To reach the 8th level we had to climb a knotted rope up a rock face and then use a vine (yes, an actual vine like Tarzan) to climb the side of the mountain. It seemed impossible for this experience to get any better but it did. We hiked, climbed, and swam the pools to the 11th level. No other tour groups pushing us along. No liability waivers to sign. In a word, we were giddy. And then without warning Commando demonstrated what was expected at the 11th level — jumping off the cliff we stood on through the narrow canyon into the deep pool of water 30 feet below. Rod jumped after Commando, followed by Bryan, then Allison, then me. Well, not exactly. I didn’t jump. Call me chicken, call me a wimp, but I do not jump off of cliffs into pools of water. I was perfectly happy to scramble back down the rocks with Manual and meet up in one piece with the crazies I was with.

Three more cliff-jumps and umpteen slides down natural water chutes (which I did do) into pools of water and we were gradually working our way back down from the 11th level. Along the way we passed a pool of water where the rock rim had naturally taken the shape of a giant heart. What an appropriate thing to see on Bryan and Allison’s anniversary! Yes, this was their 14th Anniversary! What a memorable way to celebrate!

It was getting dark by the time we were hiking out of this most incredible experience. Jungle sounds were filling the air and the low light was getting more thickly filtered by the minute. In the car back to Luperon, through our dinner that night at Gina’s Upper Deck and for the rest of the evening we each took turns proclaiming that to be one of the most exciting things we‘ve yet to experience. What a day!

We climbed back into the nice, cool car the next day and headed west to Los Gringos, an intimate little beach-front establishment with two cabanas on the beach and Patrick, a world class Belgian chef catering to our cravings. The only downside to Los Gringos (aside from the jungle spider — ask Allison about that), was that we only had one night to spend there. We made the most of our one night and then got back to Luperon the next day with only 30 minutes to spare before leaving for Santiago.

Our trip to Santiago was to watch a favorite Dominican sport: beisbol. The DR has six professional baseball teams and many of the Dominican players also play in the US Major Leagues. Remember Sammy Sosa? With our new team hats on we cheered for both Licey (team from Santo Domingo) and the Aguilas (from Santiago). The cheerleaders – scantily clad, Dominican beauties – danced between inning and kept the fans, especially Bryan and Rod (and Steve and Chris and Jack) entertained. Licey won, and since I was the sole member of our gringo group wearing a Licey hat (I bought the Licey hat because it had a giant “L” on the front of it) I received many smiles and fist pumps (a popular Dominican gesture) as we left the game.

With only a few days remaining in their visit, we decided to keep packing the activities into our schedule. So on Sunday morning we toured Isabella, which contains the remains of the first European settlement by Columbus on Hispaniola (some claim the first in the New World). Then we continued westward to the town of Dajabon on the Haitian border. We didn’t cross the border into Haiti, but on Monday morning at 7am we did witness a stream of Haitians crossing the guarded bridge into the DR for the Haitian market. Every Monday and Friday the border is opened to allow Haitians into Dajabon to set up booths – many of which were simply tarps or blankets on the ground – and sell merchandise at cut-rate prices. The merchandise (household items, clothing, shoes, shoes, shoes, etc.) is typically goods that have been sent to Haiti in aid packages from other countries, including the U.S. The Haitians then bring those goods over the border to sell them for money so they can in turn buy food items from the Dominican vendors in the market – trucks of plantains, eggs, rice, ice (yes, ice – huge 3’x4’ blocks of ice), and other staples that are scarce in Haiti. The muddy streets were full of vendors and shoppers; a cacophony of Spanish and Creole filling our ears. The only English heard was from our own mouths. The bridge that serves as the border crossing was a bustle of activity as streams of Haitians were rushing goods packed in bundles on top of their heads into Dajabon. Crudely made wooden carts full of food items were pushed and pulled back over the bridge. Eggs – stacks and stacks of eggs – were carried back to Haiti on the tops of womens’ heads. Twelve or more stacks of 3-dozen flats at a time (that’s over 400 eggs on a head). The expressions on the faces of these women, and in the faces of all the Haitians, told a clear story of hard work and desperation. Very different from the smiling Dominican faces we were used to seeing. The few hours that we spent at this market holds a book full of visuals and impressions for me. Many times during that morning I found myself very emotional over what I was witnessing. A powerful imprint has been left in my heart and soul.

That night Bryan and Allison’s visit ended where it began – in Santo Domingo. Over a nice dinner in a beautiful courtyard we reflected on our adventures over the past 10 days. From the city to the jungle we had seen and experienced some amazing things. We were exhausted but didn’t want it to end. We decided we just needed a couple days to rest then we could go again for another 11 days. But alas, they had a plane to catch the next afternoon. And so we said Hasta Luego to our good friends and wished them well on their return home and their next adventure.

Muchas gracias, Bryan y Allison, por su visita. Buenas suerte en Carolina Norte.

Puerto Rico!

We are now in Puerto Rico!

Bucking sailor superstition, we left Bahia Luperon on Friday, November 10th at 6:30pm. That morning, after comparing all weather data, we determined that we had a window opening for us and it was an easy decision to jump on it. We checked out of DR customs and immigration that afternoon, paying all fees – most legitimate and some questionable – and prepared Lucky Peek for our journey eastward. The winds were already light and they would get lighter in the night as the “night lee” set in. The night lee is an effect where the land cools faster than the sea, thereby creating a thermal effect that further diminishes the strength of the trade winds near the shoreline. Very favorable for a sailboat with a small engine that needs to travel directly into the trade winds to get where it wants to go.

This method of taking advantage of night lees to sail the northern coast of the Dominican Republic is discussed in great detail in Bruce Van Sant’s book “ The Gentleman’s Guide to Passages South: The Thornless Path to Windward”. Van Sant has several decades of sailing experience under his belt and his methodologies are highly regarded in Caribbean sailing circles. He’s now retired from cruising and lives full-time in Luperon, where we had an opportunity to meet him and get first-hand advice.

Following his Thornless Path advice, we motored eastward along the coast during the night. We deviated from his advice in that instead of stopping during the day and waiting until nightfall to continue, we just kept on going. The winds were light enough to make this possible, but also there was a slight northerly swell which made any anchorages along the north coast untenable. Stopping to anchor would not be a comfortable option. Better to keep going. Plus, after spending six months in the DR we were excited about moving on and had plenty of energy to just keep going. And so we did.

Thirty-six hours after leaving Luperon we were on the east coast of the Dominican Republic and were making a turn out to open ocean to begin a crossing that many cruisers talk about — the Mona Passage. The Mona Passage does not have a favorable reputation, to say the least, but a comfortable crossing is possible in the right weather window, which is exactly what we had. Light easterly winds <10 knots and a swell that was very gentle and was actually diminishing as the day progressed. As the DR skyline faded into the mist off our stern we looked ahead to one more night underway. After a beautiful sunset that evening we could already see the glowing lights of the western coast of Puerto Rico! At 8pm we had enough wind to give Forrest a break and we were able to make way under sail alone for the next four hours, until we had to change our heading and were pointed right into the winds again.

The remainder of the night we traveled quite slow so we could arrive in Mayaguez in daylight. At 6am we were on approach and by 7am (60 hours after leaving Luperon) we were anchoring just off the Customs dock in Mayaguez harbor. Clearing into Puerto Rico was fast and easy and best of all, it was free! No time to relax yet, though. Our real destination for the day was Boqueron, which was another 10 miles south. We continued on our way, at a slow pace, and finally relaxed that afternoon after settling into the anchorage at Boqueron. We were excited to see two other boats from Luperon in the harbor and very happy to see Magus arrive just a few hours after us. Receta would arrive the following morning since they made an overnight stop in Samana.

A summary of our route and timeline:

Friday, Nov. 10: 6:30pm, pulling up anchor and leaving Luperon. Adios!
Saturday, Nov. 11: 4:30pm, checked out anchorage at Escondido. WAY too much swell. Continued on.
Sunday, Nov. 12: 7:30am, making turn at Punta Macao to begin Mona Passage crossing
Sunday, Nov. 12: 11:30pm, sailing past Isla Dececheo. In the starlight this tiny island looked so close!
Monday, Nov. 13: 2:00am, the lights of Mayaguez are very bright and the rising moon is illuminating the outline of the western shore.
Monday, Nov. 13: 7:00am, anchoring in Mayaguez to clear in with customs. We made it!!!

We plan to stay in Boqueron for a few days – possibly through the weekend, as this is a popular weekend destination with the locals. Then we will work our way along the southern coast in short hops. We are excited to have a new country and culture to explore and experience! Stay tuned for PR updates.