Back in the Boatyard, Baby!

Sanitas finished the 2019 cruising season at the Puerto del Rey marina in Fajardo Puerto Rico. This marina is massive – it holds over 1000 boats in wet slips, and several hundred “on the hard” for hurricane season storage. It’s so huge, they employ a fleet of golf carts to drive you from a slip to the parking lot or the main office building because the walk can be nearly a mile! I’d often choose to walk, and I could get my daily 10,000 steps just doing laundry!

Once we pulled into our slip at PdR, the vacation was over! Now the hurricane season preparation spreadsheet comes out, and we get to work cleaning Sanitas from bow to stern and making her as safe as possible from tropical storms while we travel for the summer. Capt. Mike and I rented a storage unit on land so that we could remove as much as possible from the boat, giving us the chance to clean very thoroughly and allowing ventilation so that we don’t return to mold or mildew. But remember how far our slip is from the parking lot? Getting everything off the boat is a challenge, even with a rental car.

Once she’s mostly empty, we could get down to business and do some once-a-season jobs like cleaning and marking the anchor chain….

….And inspecting, cleaning, and removing the sails.

Knowing that we are inside the hurricane box, we took special care to remove anything that could be grabbed by the wind. For the first time, we removed all of the running rigging, replacing the thicker braided nylon lines with thin parachute cord “messenger lines”. I almost don’t recognize Sanitas with no canvas and no lines!

While we were in a wet slip, we had access to fresh water so that we could spray a season’s worth of dirt and salt water off everything. We also had access to electricity, which means air conditioning – hooray! We set the thermostat at 72 deg, and I think it actually got the temperature inside the boat down to around 80. Unfortunately, being in a slip so close to land and to other boats also meant LOTS of tiny little flies. I hung up fly paper and by the time of our haul-out, we’d captured hundreds.

One thing that made all the heat and dirt and flies tolerable was the $1.50 rum punch pouches sold in the marina cafe. In all kinds of tropical flavors, and ice cold, it was tough to walk by without stopping for a treat.

Finally, the big haul-out day arrived, and Sanitas got to go for a little ride! Capt. Mike did an excellent job backing her into the teeny little haul-out slip, and the very professional boat yard crew drove her across the parking lot, transferred her to a small hydraulic trailer, and slid her into place in the dry storage yard.

We chose Puerto del Rey for a reason – it supposedly has the most secure hurricane storage in all of the Caribbean. In the boatyard, concrete footings reinforced with rebar provide strong tie-down points. We used ratcheting tie-down straps rated at 10,000 pounds to secure Sanitas to the ground. In theory, all of the boats lined up and tied down together provide additional strength. We have our fingers crossed that it’s true, and that we’ll have no problems during the storm season! To further reduce risk, we hired a caretaker to visit and inspect Sanitas periodically, and to double check that she’s secured before every big storm.

After two weeks of hard work, Sanitas was safe and secure and Capt. Mike and I could have a little fun. We explored Luquillo Beach and the kiosks that serve the tastiest food and drink we had in Puerto Rico.

And we took a day to explore El Yunque National Forest – the only tropical rain forest in our national parks system. True to its name, it rained the whole time we hiked, so we didn’t have great views…but the vegetation and scenery and waterfalls were amazing! We worth the trip and the soggy hiking shoes!

Finally, a little drama to close out our season…. on the day we were scheduled to fly from Puerto Rico to Colorado, Southwest canceled all flights to Denver because of weather. (Although how they knew at 5am east coast time there would be bad weather in Denver at 8pm mountain time, I have no idea 😡) So we were left to reschedule our flights, find a new place to stay in Puerto Rico, extend our rental car, and cancel our hotel in Denver. On the positive side, we had a day to explore Old San Juan. So we made the best of it, hiking through the Castillo San Felipe del Morro fort, and touring the governor’s residence at the Fortaleza.

I could have spent several days just wandering the streets of Old San Juan, enjoying the people watching and sampling the tasty food! It’s the only city I’ve ever visited where the historic streets are paved with blue bricks – due to the iron content of the ingredients.

I realized that we’d been in Puerto Rico almost a month and we had yet to try paletas – the local version of popsicles, made with fresh fruit and all kinds of gourmet ingredients. Well, we certainly remedied that error on our last day!

And of course, we visited the iconic Passeo de Sombrellas or the Umbrella Passage and joined the rest of the selfie-mad tourists. Instead of rainbow colored umbrellas, they were camouflage print during our visit in honor of Memorial Day and in support of the Army National Guard. I can’t wait to do more exploring when we return to Puerto Rico in the fall!

The Last Hurrah

All good things must come to an end, and we were rapidly approaching the end of Sanitas’ 2019 cruising season. So Capt. Mike and I decided to end the season on a high note. While our buddy boats continued on to Culebra and then to the US Virgin Islands, we decided to spend our last few days quietly at anchor off the coast of Vieques. I’m so glad we did! The public beach at Sun Bay is the prettiest we saw in Puerto Rico – white sand stretching for over a mile, with strategically placed palm trees for shade, calm blue water, and wild horses! And only two boats anchored here!

Each morning, we’d check off a couple of items on the “get Sanitas ready for hurricane season” checklist. Then we’d go ashore and walk the length of the beach (stopping by the cafe, just in case they might actually be open one day and willing to sell us a pina colada) and we’d visit our horse buddies. That cafe never actually was open. Sigh. Since it was spring, it was baby season, and I saw some of the cutest wobbly new-born foals I’d ever seen. Don’t worry! I kept my distance so mama wouldn’t get nervous. One small herd of wild horses staked out a primo spot by the outdoor beach showers, and Capt. Mike would turn the showers on for a few minutes each day to give them fresh drinking water. Watch out for those big teeth and sharp hooves, though!

On our last full night at Sun Bay, we booked a tour with Jak Water Sports to visit the bioluminescent bay at Mosquito Bay. Remember when we visited the bioluminescent bay at La Paguara? Well, everyone told us that the bright and active bioluminescence here on Vieques would make La Paguera look like a dim has-been by comparison. We dinghied ashore around 8:30 and the tour bus picked us up at the end of the dirt road. For $50pp, they set us up with a glass-bottomed kayak, paddles, PFDs, and a super knowledgeable guide. We probably spent an hour and a half gliding across the bay, watching the bioluminescence streak like warp speed beneath the glass bottom of our boat. We were encouraged to dip our hands and feet into the water and to watch the glowing sparkles run down our arms. The only no-no was swimming in it. Apparently, prohibiting swimming and motor boats has protected the bay and its microscopic inhabitants. It really was considerably brighter than La Paguara, although being able to swim in the bioluminescence was a true highlight, so I am very glad that we had the privilege of experiencing both.

One our last day of cruising, we had a lovely short sail around to the west coast of Vieques to anchor at Green Beach. It was wonderful to sail downwind after weeks of sailing straight into the trades. We didn’t even turn on our motor on this last beautiful day! This section of the island used to be controlled by the US Navy who performed armaments testing on Vieques. But today, the few military buildings have been abandoned, and all that remains is a lovely and quiet small beach. If we hadn’t just come from beautiful Sun Bay, I might have even considered it the most beautiful beach on the island. Of course, there’s also the famous Black Beach that we didn’t visit- sounds like another trip to Vieques is in order!

We toasted to our success in traveling all the way from St Petersburg Florida with our last bottle of Prosecco. It’s truly amazing to me that we got ourselves and our boat all this way! Capt. Mike agrees that our second cruising season has been much more relaxing and enjoyable than our first. This last quiet night was a chance review the stories, adventures, and wonderful people we met this season, and to prepare ourselves for the long list of jobs awaiting us in the marina. Cheers to a wonderful cruising season!

Puerto Rico’s South Coast

Now I warn you… my impressions of the south coast of Puerto Rico may be slightly influenced by how unpleasant the sailing conditions were while we traveled there. You know – those 25 knot trade winds I keep griping about. I’ll stop complaining, but you may notice a certain lack of enthusiasm that might not be completely warranted….

The highlight of our south coast crossing was a stop in Ponce, the second largest city in Puerto Rico. Not only because the boardwalk of restaurants and bars is a two-minute dinghy ride from the anchorage. Or because we shopped at the first American grocery store and Walmart shopping center since Florida. The colonial old town of Ponce is delightful. There are beautiful Spanish colonial buildings, piazzas and parks, and a world class art museum.

The flag of the city of Ponce is red and black, honoring its historic fire station. The station has been renovated and it’s beautiful, plus the historic firefighting equipment on display is fascinating.

Did I mention that the mascot of Ponce is the lion? No accident that you’ve seen lions in most of these photos – even on the ice cream truck!

From Ponce, we made a short hop to Isla Cana de Muertos, or Coffin Island. I was looking forward to a beach day, but the weather didn’t cooperate. Instead, the island made us work to discover its treasures. It was difficult to find a safe place to dinghy ashore, and when we did, the trail was overgrown with cactus plants of every shape and size. They were beautiful, and fascinating, but still prickly! I wished many times for a machete for a little DIY trail maintenance. Capt. Mike wished the same after a baby cactus hitched a ride on his leg.

But we persevered, and climbed up to the spine of the island where a lighthouse dating back to the Spanish colonial days holds the position of honor. We did a little breaking and entering to earn the best views of the island and surrounding seas.

Back at sea level, we hiked to the beach where day trippers visit from Ponce, and after the ferry departed, Capt Mike did a little American Ninja Warrior practice.

After a few days exploring on land, we headed east again. Set the alarm for 4:00am and headed out before sunrise to try to catch a period of calm before the daily trades kicked up. It didn’t work. We actually experienced some of the worst weather and roughest seas we’d seen all season. I tell people that I don’t get seasick, but that day, I might have been lying. On the plus side, I got some great pictures of our buddy boat Soluna riding on one hull in the big waves.

We lived to tell the tale, and soon anchored in Patillas harbor for a few days. Since we were here during the week, rather than on a weekend, town was quiet with very few restaurants open. But Paraiso Bar was open, and here Capt. Mike began his love affair with mofongo rellanos – mashed plantains cooked in garlic and oil and stuffed with fried pork or grilled shrimp.