Sunday, December 23, 2007

Circumnavigating the Spanish Virgin Islands

OK, look out faithful reader. . . it’s another long one as Scott and Sue are back from their circumnavigation of the Spanish Virgin Islands. Enjoy.

December 17 Monday - Culebra (Dakity) (18 17.5 65 16.8) to Ensanada Honda on the southern coast of Vieques (18 06.8 65 20.5)

The general plan is to totally explore these Spanish Virgin Islands AND in so doing enjoy some non-beating-our-brains-out to-windward sailing. The wind is supposed to be 15 -20 knots east all week and I don’t think the trades get down much below that often. Sure you’d like 10-15 knots and two foot seas but we’re not in Kansas anymore. Wait there’s no water there...uh... We’re not in Chicago any more! We’ve been in Culebra over a week which is over my limit! So on Sunday night we moved the boat about a mile to a bay called Dakity. There are mooring balls in here (free!) and you can see the state of the seas from the anchorage. It’s well placed behind some reefs so the waves are non-existent. We could see that the seas were not all that friendly as the sun went down but maybe better tomorrow. We only have to sail about 15 miles south (BEAM REACH!) to get to the eastern tip of Vieques. We are up at 0600 and checking the seas as the sun comes up. Not too bad. Let’s GO! And we do. As we get under way I check the ‘dripless’ gland for the prop shaft. This allows water to make its own seal around the prop shaft. Very clever. Clever but right now I have about 6” of water over the top of my diesel tank! The dripless seems to be dripping. Why isn’t the bilge pump coming on? Well, that’s another question. Right now I hit the over-ride switch and make the bilge pump come on. It is winning the battle so I guess water isn’t coming in too fast if at all now. For all I know this water came in during the night. . . or yesterday! So, go on or go back?

I love Sue. I asked here her opinion and she said, “Well, when we get to an anchorage at Vieques or back at Culebra the boat will still be in the water so what’s the difference”? Onward! We think it is dripping when we are underway and spinning the prop shaft and today should be a lot of sailing and not much engine.

We sailed beautifully. Now that the wind was abeam and even a little aft of beam Enee is not so slow. We made 6+ knots and sometimes 7. This with a nasty bottom!

As we approach and round the eastern tip I hail the Vieques Range Officer to see if they are playing war games today in Salina Del Sur. I tried three times as we approached to hail them but no response. Good. I guess they are not playing soldier today. We have no trouble navigating between the rocks and turn east to get in the lee of the hills. We had a couple of dolphins lead our way in! Time to turn on the engine and pull in the front sail. go. Can't start the engine because the push button doesn't do anything. Tack back out into the deep-wide water. Snappy has to go down into the engine room and jump start with a channel-locks. Ok, now we can tack back in and make our way to the anchorage.

As we continue toward our anchorage we get hailed. Yeah. We are gently asked to leave as they are going to play today. Rats! We just beat a squall in and now we have to go back out and sail about 3 miles to the next anchorage.

We begin to raise the main again while in these calmer waters but...... now what?!? The halyard is trapped around a mast step. Not just any mast step. The second step from the top. No jiggling it off from there. Have to unhook the halyard from the sail - which means climbing 2 steps up the mast. Then walking the halyard back through the lazy jacks and finally swinging the thing free of the step. Sheesh what a pain. Step back up and reattach the halyard without letting it get around a step again. Have to keep pressure on both ends and hang on. Quite a trick. We finally get the main up - reefed of course - and head back out to sea.

A little rough now with the squally weather cranking up the wind. Worst of all we have me at the helm with the wind behind us. The main has been reefed all day and now we roll in some of the jib before the squall we can see behind us comes to eat. Not too bad but I’m glad we got some of that huge jib in in time. To turn to make our approach to Ensenada Honda we need the wind on the other side of the boat so we do a “Mr. Teyema”. My brother-in-law’s father used to take me sailing when I was a kid on his little Sunfish. When we were running before the wind and then had to get the wind on the other side of the boat we’d turn all the way to the wind and through it (tacking) instead of jibing. I think on the old wooden sailboats they called this ‘Wear Ship” (There, there ship!). A neat maneuver but you have to make sure you wait until the jib blows across before letting go the sheet or you’ll have the jib out in front of the boat. Not that WE’VE ever done that!

We don’t have detailed charts for this bay. We only have the chart for the whole of Vieques Island and Bruce Van Sant’s chartlet from his book. But we follow his directions and we read the water pretty well (Light blue shallow but maybe ok. Brown BAD) and make our way north and then back east to get tucked into the mangroves and out of the wind and waves. Water got pretty thin at one point - 0.9 meters under the keel (~3 feet) but then it went up shortly thereafter. We can see a boat anchored on the right hand shore but we go past it to get our nose stuck farther up the bay toward where a river empties into the sea. Anchor down and nobody died and only the switch on the bilge pump broke.

Ah, back on anchor and we look around. Nice. We’re the only boat back in here. What’s that? The water is teaming with jelly fish! Who knew? Well, no swimming today and if Mismo falls off the boat here, she’s on her own!

Speaking of Mismo, she had a rough sail during the first part anyway. It took her awhile to accept the fact that we can’t pay total attention to her while reefing the jib and navigating these waters. For awhile we put her sleeping box in the cockpit and she did hunker down in it. Then she had to take care of some bowel business and after that quickly jumped out of her box. Down below you go. Cleaned up her sleeping box but she kept climbing the steps into the cockpit. Things were getting a little dicey out so we put the board in and closed the hatch so she had to stay below. She found her way into our bed (the v-berth with the steps of cushions to climb in) and tried to sleep. One other place she found to hunker down down below was just under the bottom step where her water and food dishes are on top of a non-skid rubber pad. She liked the non-skid.

After a light lunch I re-wire the float switch and it is back in operation. No water is coming in right now so I’ll mess with that ‘dripless’ gland another day.

December 18 Tuesday Ensanada Honda to Sun Esperanza 18 05 . 5 N 65 28 . 5W

Scott is up by 0500. It’s still very dark out. We’re not leaving until the sun is up. But he wants to put way points into the GPS and find other things to fool around with. So he’s up. Not me. I can still see Orion through the hatch so it’s still night time as far as I’m concerned so I roll over and sleep for another hour or so. However once one person is up according to Mismo everyone should be up. She can’t stand it any longer and begins to jump on my face enough times that I too get up.

We listen to the off shore report. Sounds about the same. 15 - 20 knots from the ENE. Seas 5-9 feet. We had a wonderful flat night at anchor last night and this morning this bay is very calm as the sun comes up. Hard to believe it’s blowing and rolling that much out there. We raise the main at anchor then raise anchor and off we go.

We follow our tracks from the day before. Scott discovered that our GPS has this feature where you just move the cursor to where you want to make a way point and it automatically puts one in. You just have to name it. Pretty slick. He highlighted some points along the path we took in and they were a good guide to follow. Much easier than trying to stay on the jagged path line.

As we make our way out into the sea the waves are rather large and rolly. We let the jib out only to the spreaders and find that we can comfortably sail with the wind and waves at our quarter with no problem. Of course we’ll have to tack (do a Mr. Teyema - see yesterday) a few times to make our mark to Sun Bay but we are sailing! Nice.

It was less than 10 miles to our next anchorage. We left at 0700 and had anchor down and breakfast cooking at 1000. What a great way to spend a morning.

We pull into Sun Bay and see that there are mooring balls. A sailboat is just leaving so we take his mooring. Must be a good one if they stayed on it all night.

How beautiful. This bay has a mile long beach that curves around the opening of the bay. It’s lined with palm trees and clean light sand. We decide to rig the dingy, go ashore, Scott will run/walk to the other end of the curve, I’ll join him there - just walking and taking pictures, and we’ll check out the bay of Esperanza next door. The bay next door is not as rolly as Sun Bay and is closer to town so we decide to walk back to dingy, get back aboard and motor on over to the other mooring balls in Esperanza bay.

As we get to the dingy we suddenly hear a noise and realize that it’s a horse announcing his arrival. Just one young horse running through the woods coming out by our dingy just 10 feet away then running down the beach. What’s that about? By the time I get my camera out of the waterproof bag - he’s gone.

Time to tackle the outboard again. We barely got ashore coming in because the motor was acting up again. Scott thought that the hose end that attaches to the gas tank didn’t get attached properly and that’s why the motor stopped suddenly and the bulb on the hose deflated. Before we head back to Enee he makes sure the hose is attached properly and sure enough the motor starts right up. Half way back it dies again. Well that wasn’t the fix either. We row the rest of the way. We did order a new carburetor - finally- for the thing and it should be in Culebra when we return. Hopefully that will really fix this monster. In the mean time we plan to anchor as close to shore as possible. The mooring balls we’re heading for are fairly close to shore.

We raise the dingy on the davits with the motor on it since we’re just going around the corner. We follow the 10 meter depth line and easily make our way into the next anchorage. There is a shoal marked on the charts that stretches far into the anchorage from a small island. We note the lat/long of that shoal and stay well north of it. But wait....why is the depth dropping???? According to the chart it should be 3 meters deep here but I read less than a meter (Add 1 meter to 1.5 meters of our keel and you still don’t get 3 meters)! Dropping fast to .5 .4 .3 .2 Back Up! Quick!! It got to .1 meters under the keel when I backed up and returned to deeper water. When backing up much of the bottom (which was very close to the prop) was stirred up and a sting ray jumped out of the water about 5 feet. Sorry guy. Didn’t mean to disturb you.

Okay. Forget the mooring balls. We anchored in 3 meters of water (really) out by the little island. This will be close enough to shore.

Scott jumped in the water with fins and snorkel to check the anchor. We read that it can be slippery here with the grass but our anchor dug in after only one bounce. He says it looks good and sure enough our lat/long isn’t changing except for our swing. Another anchorage, another view, and also quite beautiful in its own way. There are many boats here, mostly fishing boats so the bay looks busy. And indeed there is more life on shore - we can see a beer banner. We see the dingy dock and decide to visit later in the afternoon, once we’re sure the anchor is really really holding and that means there’s time for a nap too.

About 4 p.m. we dingied ashore with no motor problems, said hello = hola to the family jumping and swimming off the dock, and walked down the road along the shore. First we saw signs advertising burgers, snacks, cold drinks this way with an arrow toward a fast food trailer on the beach. The guy yells, ‘Cheeseburgers here. Cold Cerveza!’ Sounds tempting but we walk on. There are several bars/restaurants along the street right next to each other as if they’re connected.
We walk into Bananas where the bar has two open places. We sit down and immediately the bartender greets us and asks when we arrived and where we’re from. We ordered Medalla’s and chatted with Kevin - the bartender. He was busy making tropical drinks in the blenders that were right in front of us. Each time he had a little extra and poured a short glass for us. Yum. We’re going back tomorrow for sure. Banana’s is a great place to sit and watch the sun go down with your own boat in the picture!

December 19, Wednesday - Layover day in Esperanza

The morning started with me taking the dingy ashore for a little run/walk. I’m trying hard to do this when the situation allows and this one does. The motor almost runs all the way there. Nice. I’ll worry about that after the run. I just follow the road parallel to the sea. After about 3 blocks I’m basically out of town. The road is hilly but not all up so that’s good. After about a mile I turn around and jog back. Sue and I will explore more of this little town later in the day.

After several pulls I get the motor started and cast off. And then it dies. Then it won’t start. I drift and wish the damn thing would just fall off the transom and leave me alone. After ignoring it for a few minutes I try again and it starts and runs roughly back to Enee. Later that morning Sue and I go out and see about snorking along the shallow spit that runs to the north of the little island off the coast here. It’s real close to us. Dingy takes us there but we have to row part way back. I’m ready to explode.

Dingy on shoal near our anchorage. Notice how the waves come from both directions making for a very shifting shaol.

After pouting on board for awhile I get back in the dingy and mess with the motor. There is not much to adjust and I’ve had the damn carburetor apart 1000 times. I squirt some CRC 656 into the air intake and run it wide open. I do this a few times. Hmmmm, maybe that helped. Well, winds are light and we can row if we have to. In to town we go (motoring all the way!). We walk to the little store called the Green Store. Pretty well stocked store. We pick up some kitty food, 2 potatoes and 4 apples. We take another route through the neighborhoods back to the water and stop at Bananas for a beer.

While there our friends on Whisper came in. We saw them arrive earlier and warned them of the shallows. Their boat is smaller though and they made it through. We talk with them for a bit about which boats are still in Salinas and who is going where when. We know almost every boat that is talking on the VHF now between Salinas and Culebra and we know all of them from Luperon. The fleet is now coming more together and I think when we get back to Culebra we’ll be in the company of over a dozen boats we know.

Back on board for sunset and a perfect one it is. I may have even seen the ‘green flash’. Is he a big Norwegian looking guy? Somebody help me here. I make potatoes, cream of mushroom soup, onions, and ham in the pressure cooker (10 minutes is too long!). Yum. I call it scalped potatoes and I guess it’s close. We sit on the foredeck with a glass of wine after dinner. The little town has strung christmas lights along their main street for about 3 blocks. Looks like a little pretend city. Another great day!

December 20, Thursday - Back to Green Beach 18 06 . 6 N 65 34 . 6 W

That was a nice lay over day but it’s time to get moving again! Just 9 miles to the west end of the island - Green Beach. This is where we stopped on our way to Culebra from Salinas a couple of weeks ago. Again we sail there on a nice downwind run. The mooring balls are still there and we get one nice and close to the beach this time. We’re close enough to snork from the big boat toward shore and forget the dingy. Really! I don’t need that outboard ruining my day. Nice snorking here. Reading and laying about filled in the rest of the day. The moon is getting nearly full and it’s a wonderful view from this beach looking back toward Puerto Rico.

December 21, Friday - North to Palimonoes 18 21 . 0 N 65 34 . 7 W

Off we go! I am digging keeping on the move this way. For the first time in . . . I can’t remember, there is not enough wind to sail. Shocking! We have to use some engine assist. After a couple of hours though some wind came up and we were off the engine and sailing on a beam reach north to a little island off the north east corner of Puerto Rico called Isla Palaminoes.

Captain talking to Leah off the east coast of Puerto Rico. And yes that is a cigar!

Very pretty location. The parks dept. has put mooring balls on the western shore here and we take one. Now you can see nearly the entire expanse of Puerto Rico’s eastern seaboard. Nice. There is probably good snorking around here but we have zero confidence in our dingy motor and don’t want to get stuck stranded out here or find our selves drifting out to sea. Having a dependable dingy would make for a much more interesting trip! Our boat is surrounded by millions of little fish. Every once in a while they get themselves all worked up and come boiling out of the water. Crazy.

Peter and Crystal are here aboard Sundowner. Crystal is about 5 months pregnant and has just recently returned to the boat from New England to continue the cruise. Very exciting times for these two young cruisers!

This is a pretty busy place. There is ferry service from mainland Puerto Rico about every 30 minutes. This causes some wake when they come and go but not too bad. We can see lots of power boats with there sterns to the beach as well. This island is only about 5 miles from the biggest marina in the entire Caribbean - Marina Del Rey. I think this island makes for a nice day trip for those boat owners. But, everyone goes home before sundown leaving just 3 cruising sailboats on their moorings.

December 22, Saturday - Return to Culebra 18 18 . 5 N 65 17 . 9 W

Well our stint of downwind sailing is over! We originally thought that if we were getting headed too much to go to Culebra that we would fall off and just head for Isabella Secunda on the north shore of Vieques. Turns out the wind put both of those in our initial no go zone. So we did our motor, full main and reefed genny routine and started clawing our way toward Culebra. At about the halfway point we could have used this wind to sail south to Isabella Secunda but that’s a big town and to get ashore we’d have to wrestle with the outboard again and I’m so done with that. We think we have a new carburetor waiting for us back in Culebra so we decide to just keep tacking and use the day to get back to our anchorage there. We arrive around 3 PM and anchor right back where we were next to our good friends on Bellagio - who treated us to a wonderful 'boat' cooked chicken dinner. What a great welcome home.

Mismo Update:
So her favorite hiding place is in a canvas sack filled with plastic grocery bags. It's a perfect fit for her and she likes to climb in when we're under sail. It's her cruising hammock.

Whew! A whirlwind tour of the Spanish Virgin Islands. This is a great cruising and sailing region. The seas of Vieques Sound are fairly well protected and there is a lot to explore. We don’t think anyone really goes here they mostly just pass through on there way to BVI and beyond. Good. Keep going. Makes for nice cruising for the few who take the time to knock around these parts.

Now what? Got to get the outboard in shape. I hope the new carburetor is the answer. We didn’t get back to Culebra in time to see if it was waiting for me at the post office so now we’ll have to wait for Monday. So, Chirstmas in Culebra. Once the outboard is fixed we are thinking about sailing 40 miles south to St. Croix. From what we read this place is also largely ignored by the cruising communitiy as it is not right on the trail through the virgin islands. But, we think we can make a big ‘V’ and sail south-south east to St. Croix and then north-north east to the British Virgin Islands and make this hunk of easting two long beam reaches. Looking forward to that!


Sally said...

Great Sunday afternoon reading as usual. Love your adventures. Now back to the gift wrapping job and reality for me. Merry Christmas!
Sally in Ohio

deborah said...

Merry Christmas

Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas! Glad you are enjoying the islands. We are very proud here in Puerto Rico of our little islands. We don't refer to them as the Spanish Virgin Islands. They are simply Vieques and Culebra and they are Puerto Rico. They are part of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. We take muchh pride in all our towns and cities and Vieques and Culbebra are their municipality.
Keep on enjoying and if you get to Tortola you will very much enjoy.
Make sure you go to Jost Van Ldyke for New Years. It is a riot and many boats line up to enjoy the New Year. Full Moon parties are also fun. Good Luck. Gm

Rich P said...

As I finish reading, the Bears have knocked off the Packers 35-7! NIce! And ALL of the predictions in the Tribune had the Packers winning, most of them with a reverse score close to that! Double nice!

Heading for Hawaii Christmas Day! Can't wait to experience some sun for about 12 days like you get to experience every frigging day! It's 18 degrees in Chicago today!