Saturday, April 07, 2007

Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico

After acquiring our new US visa we headed for Puerto Rico on December the 10th, 2003 with 3 other boats. We figured it to be a 2 day trip and had waited for a good weather window to cross the Mona Pass in. The options were either to head north towards the Silver Banks and then tack back toward Mona Pass or, stay close inshore and take advantage of a counter current and land breezes. Adagio and Jockey Holla choose to stay close while the others went out deep, much to their disappointment. We arrived in Mayaguez, PR, after a comfy 43 hour sail and motor across a dead calm Mona. They got caught in the strong westerly current, had wind on the nose, pretty shitty conditions, and arrived the next day.

The Mona Pass is notorious for large swells and generally nasty conditions. Fortunately, Bruce Van Zandt’s advice in the “Gentleman’s passages” guide book were right on the money. We found ourselves flying along, close inshore, in the lee of the DR with South rather than ESE winds.

Outside the entrance to Mayaguez a Coastguard cutter decided to send a launch and board us for ‘inspection’. They were quite friendly and checked all of safety gear and for the proper discharge warning signs. We passed with flying colours and continued in to port for customs and immigration. We had to tie up to a huge commercial dock which can be nasty if a swell is running and proceeded to the terminal. Well, the immigration guy turned out to be a regular bastard and was only giving us a 30 day visa!! After some complaining and a word to his supervisor we got 90 days.

That evening we left for the anchorage of Boqueron and a good night’s sleep. However, it was dark upon arrival, something we always try to avoid, but we had good charts and buoying into the bay, or so we thought! Unfortunately, PR, like the US loves electricity and the shore was so brightly lit that we couldn’t find the markers without risking getting to close. Fortunately, John, on Jockey Holla, was already anchored and came out in his dinghy to guide us in.

Boqueron was quite pretty and we enjoyed some time there before moving on to Bahia de Salinas on the SW tip of PR. There we got to know Frank the owner of ‘Frank’s Bar and Restaurant’ who was a great guy and story teller. Unfortunately his stories, and sailing advice, were so outrageous that he couldn’t be taken seriously. One of his greatest gems of wisdom was that if your boat is sailing faster than 4.5 knots you are in danger of losing the rig!!!! If my boat sails slower than that it’s in danger of being shot!!! Still, his food was soe of the best we’d had in ages and the beer was cold.

Also met a Texan couple whilst there. He worked for FEMA and was inspecting flood damaged houses for compensation from the US government. I got to cruise with him and translate when his regular guy was unavailable. My favourite discovery was that the furniture damaged in one house would miraculously turn up in another that was being inspected a few days later. He knew because while the occupants weren’t looking he’d mark the furniture underneath with some symbol. HA! A few days later they had some time off and invited us for a road trip to San Juan, the capital. We spent the whole day exploring El Morro the main fort and Colonial San Juan. Very impressive to say the least.

Now Salinas was a nice spot but, the barnacles grew SO FAST that we just couldn’t stay any longer. Apparently it’s a test area for antifouling companies testing new products so we decided to move on to La Paguera where we could do some snorkeling, swimming and, check out the US Oceanographic Institute on an island in the bay.

LP is mainly a local tourist town with boat rentals, carnival amusements, etc., but pleasant enough. Unfortunately it was off season so most of the stores, entertainment areas and, the Institute were closed for Christmas. We entertained ourselves for a while then moved on towards the east end of PR.

As we were sailing to Viejes, the next island east, the weather turned nasty so we decide to pull into Puerto Patillas the last bay on the south coast of PR, heading east. This bay offered poor protection from the south but from the easterlies it was perfect. Ashore we decided to visited a local waterfront restaurant – I don’t remember the name but, we’ll call it Junior’s, after the owner - for a nice seafood meal. As we turned into the pathway leading to Junior’s we noticed some small concrete tables at which locals were seated playing dominoes and drinking beer. After introducing ourselves we were invited to play a few games and have a drink. Mentioning our hunger, Freddie, one of the guys replied “no problem, order what you want and Junior will bring it out here for you to eat while we play”. Turns out Junior was Freddie’s brother in law and a great cook to boot.

A great friendship was struck up and soon we were visiting Freddie’s house regularly, playing dominoes, dining, helping Junior in the restaurant and, pitching the first ball at a softball game between the locals and a pro wrestling softball team. COOL! These folks were so nice and took us all over the area on guided tours. We also visited Freddie’s other brother in law up in the mountains and had a spectacular view from his house down to the ocean.

After much procrastination it was time to weigh anchor and bid our new friends goodbye.


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