Puerto Rico 2017

January 22, 2017

Sunday in Culebra and the place is dead. The hammering salsa music died away sometime after 3.00 a.m. and the dancers and drinkers are presumably sleeping it off. While Annette sorted out the laundry and supplies, I checked the engine fluids, condition of the anodes and the steering fluids. I tested the bilge pumps and exercised the engine room through-hulls. Everything checked out “good” and we are ready to cruise! Naturally we toured Ensenada Honda by dinghy and collected multiple sand samples. I am thinking of applying for a UNESCO grant.

January 23, 2017

This morning we raised anchor at 0840 hours and headed further westwards towards Fajardo, Puerto Rico. We had reservations for the marina at Puerto del Rey and arrived there three hours later, tying up at the dock at 18 17.4 N 065 38.0 W. The marina called us when we were in mid-passage and warned us that we needed to check in with Customs and Immigration. When I responded that we had already performed this task in Culebra, they sounded surprised and demanded the 18 digit clearance confirmation number. This I provided. I hope I copied all the numbers down correctly.....

January 23, 2017......continued

When we arrived at the marina we discovered that the marina uses golf carts to shuttle people and goods along the long narrow concrete dock. The golf cart drivers wear life jackets, an “OSHA” requirement we were told, but the passengers are expected to swim for it or just have to take their chances I suppose. The marina boasts a marine supply store but it did not stock the necessary “courtesy” flags, needed for our proposed route westwards. The marina restaurant was also closed for a Monday but back at DoodleBug, over our delicious peanut-butter sandwiches, we had a slow and fractious internet connection that did work occasionally, thus we began to catch up on the various projects that have been hanging around.

January 24, 2017

We picked up a rental car this morning and despite our GPS snarling driving directions at us in Spanish, such as “Heya stupido! Mas rapido!”, we managed to find both West Marine and Walmart. Annette has been doggedly searching for bean bag filler for the past several months as we have travelled north from Grenada. When I suggested “frijoles plasticos” at the various establishments, this provoked laughter but no word in Spanish for filler was substituted. “You have to describe what it is for”, we were told. We also contacted a real estate lady for suggestions for an overview of rental / lease properties in the area. She indicated that she understood our constraints and requirements and promised to e-mail some listings to us.

January 25, 2017

The propane fueled stove / oven aboard Doodlebug has an electronic lighter and last week the latter had refused to function. We had back-up BBQ lighters of course but the childproof locks were problematic for those of us suffering from arthritic hands. Yesterday Annette had watched Youtube videos on how to make the flames bigger but sadly, not on how to defeat the mechanical interlocks. I had performed surgery on a couple of lighters and although you cannot defeat the mechanism entirely, since the ignition sparker and the gas valve are on separate buttons, I was able to remove the return spring from the gas valve to make it easier to operate.

Today the goal was to repair the stove itself. The stove is the exact same unit that is “gimbaled” on the sailing versions but on a catamaran is screwed solidly in place. The igniter, associated batteries and wiring are all installed conveniently underneath the unit, thus the stove has to be removed, or at least raised for access. Three hours of cursing, blood loss, frustration and four cans of beans as jack stands and it was done! Annette got to clean out the accumulated centuries of “rental” grease and dropped food from beneath the unit and I eventually found a corroded spring that was preventing the sparker unit from receiving power. All back and working again just in time to visit Jay and Sandra aboard S/V Long Reach for sundowners.

January 26, 2017

I began the day with my “final” attempt to remove a solar panel. Four of the six panels we purchased last year have stopped operating and the wiring terminal blocks are accessed from beneath the glued down panels. We had originally discarded the idea of using the recommended adhesive for the panel installation and instead chosen to use household silicone caulk on the mistaken belief it would be easy to remove if ever needed. Ever had now arrived and that stuff should have been used for the heat shield tiles on the space shuttle! Even with a hammer and broad bladed chisel I made no progress and realized that this will be a project for the next time the boat is stored on the hard.

We “Googled” the internet to find the nearest Home Depot store but I failed to notice that the store distances displayed were in fact “helicopter” distances. We set off for the town of Cagua instead of that of Carolina (they both start with “Ca”) at almost double the highway distance but were rewarded with a view of areas of Puerto Rico not previously visited.

We also made a “final” attempt to contact the real estate lady we had called a couple of days ago. It is odd that people won’t say ,“Sorry, I’m too busy”, when you ask for advice / help but instead say “Yes”, promise an immediate e-mail response and then refuse your further communication attempts in perpetuity. We have experienced this phenomenon before from businesses and have always taken it as a clear warning of the kind of service you would expect to get if you had a serious transaction to perform.

January 27, 2017

Amongst today’s goals was to unbox and test the dehumidifier we purchased yesterday. We ran the unit for four hours and it produced over a gallon of condensate from its test location in the starboard hull. This makes one realize how useless the pots of moisture absorbing chemicals really are. These are sold at marine supply stores to prevent mold growing aboard your stored vessel and we had used these in Grenada after we failed to find any on-island supplier of dehumidifiers. In addition, the chemical pots and their refills cost way more than the purchase price of a commercial humidifier. The obvious problem with the latter is that it requires a supply of electricity to make it operate. We queried the folks who operate the on-the-hard hurricane storage facility at this marina if they could provide power for a dehumidifier and were told that they could not because of the “risk of fire” amongst the stored vessels.

We next made a run back to the Fajardo West Marine to buy courtesy flags but they had none in stock and didn’t offer to order them for us. The whole world has gone to internet shopping – all you need it a delivery address and the necessary time!

On our return to the marina, Annette spotted a “Super K-Mart” and a search of the furniture section produced bean bag filler! We now need a windy day so that we can feed our emaciated bean bag chairs on the front deck.

January 28, 2017

Today and after an epic boat washing effort, we drove to San Juan to pick up daughter Marian.

San Juan airport is a little odd. From the parking lot you jay-walk across several lanes of traffic to the arrivals area. Here there is a ladies’ toilet accessible from the “street” but the “juan” for the caballeros is inside the terminal. The automatic doors refused to open from the street side. As we pondered this, an airport employee used a security card to open the doors and we walked inside with her, accompanied by her glowers of concern. The security exit from the terminal had some quantity of limo drivers holding up signs for their arriving clients but we bypassed these in our search for a bar and refreshment. None to be had. All food and drink is the “other side” of security. We discovered a single elevator that connected the flight check-in level with the baggage claim area and chatted with one of the flight check-in employees who was on break. Apparently we had wandered aimlessly through two security barriers against the traffic flow, without realizing such, or being stopped and there is not supposed to be exterior access to the baggage claim area.

At the proscribed time we waited patiently at the baggage carousel bearing the airline name, flight number and city of origin of Marian’s flight while she and her bags were arriving on an entirely different and unlabeled carousel, some distance away. Thank goodness for cellular telephones!

She is here and we all made it safely back to Puerto del Rey marina and Doodlebug!

January 29 - January 30, 2017

Sunday was a slow day as Marian recovered from her travels. On Monday we were fired up and after the excitement of getting our propane tank refilled (I may write a book about the various experiences!), we headed into San Juan to tour the fortress of El Morro and San Juan “Old Town”.

January 31, 2017

This morning we were in non-stop action, returning our rental car, settling accounts at the marina and taking on fuel. At 0950 hours, we set course for the town of Esperanza on the south side of Vieques, anchoring at 1230 hours at 18 05.6 N 065 28.4 W. The town boasts a series of beach front bars and restaurants and we wandered towards the east end of town where there are several ruined buildings. There were feral horses grazing amongst the ruins of the more modern looking buildings. I say “more modern” based upon the sophisticated graffiti that adorned the few standing walls. The older red brick building that stood nearby, looked at though it dated to the Danish colonial period and its lack of machinery spaces suggested that it had not been used for the harvesting and processing of sugar cane but more likely as a seafront warehouse serving the various plantations. Both Google and the locals we asked remained mute as to its history.

We made reservations for a “Bio tour” of the adjacent bay for tomorrow night and for supper we decamped to the “El Blok” hotel for a meal almost as memorable as that we had enjoyed here in November, 2015.

February 1, 2017

Marian spent most of the day taking photos but has been plagued by camera problems. Her recent pictures are often out of focus and we struggled with tests and diagnostics to locate the problem.

That evening we went on a “Bio tour”, a heavily hyped tour by kayak of the adjacent shallow bay, where the attraction is an alleged large concentration of bioluminescent creatures in the enclosed waters. When disturbed by a dipped hand, a kayak paddle or the passage of a fish, these plankton emit a burst of light. For the tour that night, we dosed ourselves liberally with insect repellant and after being handed a greasy and aged lifejacket, were instructed on how to hold a kayak paddle. So far so good. We were then assigned kayaks and although the sales pitch had emphasized that we would use, “safe and stable” two person sea kayaks, as the only party of three on the tour, we were assured that these kayaks could comfortably carry three. Not! The middle kayaker, in this case Marian, was not afforded a paddle and we were so cramped there was no room for the stern paddler (me) to use his paddle. In addition, Marian was partially sitting on my ankles and ditto my ankles were digging into her hips / butt. Either the moon was too bright or the plankton took the night off but we have seen better light shows when we have flushed the sea-water toilet on Doodlebug. After an hour and a half of cramped torture, we were more than ready for dry land. I usually avoid any enterprise that uses words such as “Eco” in its name (this is a Greek word meaning “no air-conditioning”) and have now added “Bio” to this list.

February 2, 2017

We had ordered a replacement liferaft for Doodlebug and on Monday had called the freight company to check on the clearance procedure. They did not respond to my e-mail but when I telephoned, the lady exclaimed that they had been wondering how to get hold of me (perhaps call the contact number listed on the shipping form?). The raft had arrived on Sunday and needed to clear the “Import authorities”, even though of course it was manufactured in the USA and was shipped to Puerto Rico on a US carrier. For the tax dance we had to hire an agent and this had all been taken care of via multiple e-mails of scanned copies of passports, boat registrations etc. etc. Yesterday it had cleared the import authorities and the shipping lady had promised me that it would be delivered to the Puerto del Rey marina around noon today. We raised our anchor at 0817 hours and set sail on a reverse course back to Puerto del Rey. The waves were in the 3 to 4 foot range with added swells but daughter Marian remained unaffected by the motion. At 1047 hours we dropped anchor outside the entrance to the marina at 18 17.4 N 065 38.1 W and prepared to dinghy ashore so that we could leave an envelope with a payment check for the clearance agent, to be retrieved by the liferaft delivery driver. I had e-mailed earlier to see if they would give me a delivery time but received no response. I now telephoned and the shipping lady placed me on an extended hold before breathlessly informing me that the driver had forgotten to load the liferaft on his truck and had already left. Pretty routine really.

No point in getting mad so we negotiated that the raft would be delivered next week to our destination marina of Puerto Real at the west end of Puerto Rico. We ate lunch in the marina restaurant and tapped into their WiFi as we lay at anchor. It was too late to make the jump to our next anchorage, thus we settled in for a quiet afternoon and evening aboard Doodlebug, cheered by the thought that at least we weren’t paying the marina $100 / night for the privilege.

February 3, 2017

We arose moderately early, raised anchor at 0654 hours and set sail for Cayo Puerco, on the south coast of Puerto Rico. It was a pleasant sail, a little bumpy on the eastbound leg to clear the islet Cabeza de Perro but becoming more comfortable as we turned to the southwest. We had about one eighth cloud cover, a sunny day with 3 to 4 foot waves on top of the swells. For the first couple of hours we were transiting shallow waters, zig-zagging between fishing markers. At 1130 hours Marian was thrilled by the visit of a pod of dolphins.

An hour later, we passed through the reef gap at Boca del Infierno and the waves and swells died away almost instantly. We dropped anchor at 1249 hours at 17 55.9 N 066 14.4 W inside Cayo Puerco, a shallow and quiet bay ringed by Mangroves.

That afternoon we launched three kayaks (Annette in the “youth” kayak favored by seven year old Lincoln) and explored the mangroves. Even though the bay lay mill-pond still, Annette managed to fall out of her kayak in the eternal quest for sand samples. I assisted in her rescue with my kayak and she swears she will never again step into mangrove mud, making muttering noises about the “African Queen”.

February 4, 2017

There had been two other vessels at anchor in Cayo Puerco but we were alone the following morning. We raised anchor at 0725 hours and set sail for “Gilligan’s Island”, passing through the reef pass at Cayos de Ratones and back into the Caribbean Sea. Like yesterday, a few scattered fair weather cumulus, sunshine and following seas in the 3 to 4 foot range. At noon we turned through the reef gap at Cayos de Cana Gorda and dropped anchor at 1203 hours at 17 57.0 N 066 52.3 W inside another mangrove ringed harbor.

We dinghied over to the nearby ferry dock and then walked over to the Gilligan’s Island Resort, a large and sprawling enterprise but obviously very popular. A constant stream of boats ferried day-trippers to and from the nearby “Isla de Gilligan”, a mangrove ringed islet with warm shallow waters over white coral sand.

The resort restaurant was closed and we walked back to sample the famous empenadas served by the ferry dock restaurant. We noted that you could order food to be delivered to the island by the ferry boat crew. As we ate our empenadas, washed down by local beer of course, the ferry boat docked and the small bar was swamped by returning day trippers, singing to the loud music playing in the bar, hauling their ice chests and beach chairs and looking like they were having a really good time. Puerto Ricans really know how to enjoy life!

February 5, 2017

This morning the wind was blowing hard and it was overcast as we raised our anchor at 1300 hours. We followed our inbound GPS track in the reverse direction to exit the mangrove ringed anchorage behind Cayos de Cana Gorda. The light was poor for reef spotting but the crashing waves clearly delineated the gap of the narrow reef entrance as we exited to the Caribbean Sea. We immediately turned west, following the southern coast of Puerto Rico, putting the wind and waves on our stern. Doodlebug does not track well under these conditions and she weaves back and forth as the rollers push the stern from side to side. I typically meddle with the response setting on the autopilot to ameliorate the worst of the wannabe broaches and sometimes, motoring either faster or slower seems to help a little. The weather forecast had called for light winds and yet we were seeing whitecaps atop the steep waves. We passed near La Parguera and and saw a large white blimp tethered closely by its nose to the ground. The internet reports that this is part of the “Tethered Aerostat Radar System”, used by the US Customs and Border Protection as an effective means of spending taxpayers dollars. I am sure that balloons were the latest high-tech devices when first flown in 1782 and I further suspect the customs agents alert each other by semaphore flags when they spot a suspicious aircraft flying by.

The lighthouse we could see in the distance was growing larger when a pod of dolphins visited us and played around our bow wave for five minutes or so. This lighthouse marks the point of Cabo Rojo, the southwestern “corner” of Puerto Rico. We swept around this point to head north and the waves died away, leaving us to motor into the bay at Puerto Real in near calm conditions. We anchored at 1612 hours at 18 04.2 N 067 11.4 W.

February 6, 2017

Monday morning and we raised anchor and moved into the nearby Marina Pescaderia, tying up at the dock and hooking into the umbilicals of city power and Wi-Fi. We plan to stay here for a week before heading across the Mona Passage to the Dominican republic. The marina sits in the middle of this small town / village and we walked from the marina parking lot into the narrow main street that was lined with small bars and stores selling fish. Lots of fish. Perhaps the name “Marina Pescaderia” - the “Fish Shop Marina”, might have provided a clue. We stopped in the nearest bar for refreshment and chatted with the proprietor. The bill was $2.50 for the two beers. Annette bought two red snappers from one of the stores while Marian took dozens of photographs of the scaling and filleting process that seemed to occupy the balance of the day. That evening we ate a fine meal of barbequed fish, reminding us of past fishing adventures when we were together in Fiji.

February 7, 2017

We rented car from the marina this morning and set out for the salt flats near Cabo Rojo. Two hours later the photographers were finally through taking pictures of salt (??!!), we were all starving and decided to leave the hike to the lighthouse for another day. We ate lunch at the shopping mall in Mayaguez, the third largest in Puerto Rico. It was home to all the usual culprits of Walmart, Sears, Office Max and the like and a sharp contrast with the laid back lifestyle of Puerto Real. When we returned to the marina we witnessed a minor miracle in that our new liferaft had been delivered. The old raft was due for its annual recertification at an estimated cost upwards of $1,000. It is rated as an ”Offshore” model, meaning that it contains supplies such as water and food and weighs in at 200 pounds. Marian and I struggled and spent perhaps twenty minutes getting it out of its locker, leaving it sitting on the deck. Annette and I could never have launched it in an emergency situation and even if we had, such a raft depends upon the weight of multiple occupants for its stability. The new replacement raft is sized for 6 persons and weighs in at around 70 pounds. It cost around $2,000 and requires recertification every three years. Hopefully, we will never see it inflated.

February 8, 2017

This morning we received an e-mail from Tracie and Bob aboard S/V Cloudstreet, an Amel Super Maramu that arrived yesterday. They had noticed a power cat on the dock with the name of “Doodlebug” – us of course and wondered if by some freak of coincidence, we had once owned an Amel. Tracie and Bob have owned S/V Cloudstreet for the past three or four years and she was formerly named, “Northfork”. Before she received this latter name, she had been named “DoodleBug”. We are in fact the original owners! We walked over to the dock where she was moored and introduced ourselves. It was so great to see the original Doodlebug again and such a strange feeling. We sailed her and loved her for six years before selling her in 2009 and hadn’t seen her since. Bob showed me the maintenance logbook, still on board with entries in my handwriting.

That afternoon we dropped Marian off at the local cemetery in order that she could take photographs of grave markers and whatever (I cautioned her there was to be “no digging up”). She telephoned around 4:30 hours to say that she was ready to be picked up and I drove over to discover the cemetery gates already chained and padlocked. Naturally she was inside somewhere. The bartender across the street directed me to the main gate (also locked) and provided me the phone number of the groundskeeper with the gate key. Fortunately the main gate had two side pedestrian gates, similarly padlocked but low enough that they could be climbed over fairly readily by a young lady wearing a mini-skirt. We left before the police showed up.

February 9, 2017

A fairly slow day running a few errands. The early excitement of the morning was receiving an e-mail from the US Coast Guard granting us a permit to enter the territorial waters of Cuba for an educational visit. I forwarded this permit to our insurance company who have previously stated that they would extend coverage to Cuban waters if we obtained such a document.

That evening we had arranged to meet Joe, Tracie, Kyra and Marian, crew of the Amel Super Maramu S/V Cloud Street for drinks and supper at the marina restaurant, together with Rachel and Paul Chandler of S/Y Lynn Rival. Tracie and Bob had met the Lynn Rival’s crew at the Customs and Immigration office when they went to check in. We were amazed to hear that Rachel and Paul had been seized by Somali pirates in 2009; see:- http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2223979/Paul-Rachel-Chandler-Kidnapped-pirates-Tortured-held-hostage-desert-hell-388-days-IS-couple-setting-sail-again.html

They had been held hostage for over 400 days. After a ransom was paid, themselves and their boat S/V Lynn Rival at least somewhat rehabilitated, they had set off sailing again. In the article above, when Rachel was asked what they would expect if disaster struck again, she is quoted as saying, “Lightning doesn’t strike in the same place twice”. Here we all sat together, the crew of the former Doodlebug and the crew of the new Doodlebug. We had made the passage through the pirate country in late 2006 aboard Doodlebug “One”. Life is full of strange coincidences, usually caused by glitches in The Matrix. Doodlebug “One” had been struck by lightning 5 hours after we purchased her in March of 2003 and struck again by lightning at the repair dock 80 days later. We sincerely wish Paul and Rachel fair winds and a safe passage after their terrifying and life-changing ordeal.

February 10, 2017

The goal for today was a walkabout, or rather a “driveabout”, to visit various sites in southwestern Puerto Rico. Our first stop was at “Casa Pueblo” in the town of Adjunta, located in the mountains north of Ponce. Casa Pueblo is a non-profit, environmental group. Most “environmental groups” I find to have more in common with the Taliban than modern society. Their ludicrously exaggerated claims destroy any possible credibility, plus their proposed solutions to modern problems are usually such to make the Luddites proud and generally leave me cold.

The Casa Pueblo organization was formed around 1980 and ran a successful campaign to prevent pit mining for gold in the Adjuntas environs. We had seen pit mining in the empty desert lands of Australia and it makes perfect sense there, both economically and with the real environmental impact. However, in a relatively densely populated and mountainous island such as Puerto Rico, subject to frequent hurricanes and torrential storms, the impact of pit mining with its risks of storm runoff and the leaching of toxins into the water supply represents an entirely different ball game, particularly when we are talking about a commodity as commercially useless as gold. The Casa Pueblo folks were very pleasant people to visit with and we found them mostly sane.

We met one of the founders of the group and she recommended a lunch stop at the Tierra del Frio restaurant, just off the main square of Adjunta, a good call. The afternoon was waning when we set out once more to look for the Cascada Las Garzas waterfalls. The GPS found the spot but although we found a beautiful little stream, there was no sign of waterfalls.

We made the return drive along the scenic “Ruta Touristica”. This was not for the faint of heart. The narrow road had some impressive potholes, plunged steeply up and down ravines and ridges, ran through tunnels of towering bamboos and really had some wonderful views. On the negative, it was easy to see why many of the cars here have dented hoods and fenders since Puerto Rican drivers can be a little casual about which side of the road they drive on. We continued to be amazed at how friendly everyone remains when they halt, blocking the narrow highway, in order to chat to a friend. Overall a fun day.

February 11, 2017

Daughter Marian went home today and we spent most of the day driving to and from the airport. In early evening we learned that she had made it safely to Houston, together with Annette’s surplus inventory of sand samples. I had wondered why her suitcase was so heavy.

February 12, 2017

Sunday in Puerto Rico and we each had a list of necessary chores to prepare Doodlebug for a departure on Tuesday. Annette inventoried her supplies and I checked the engines and engine rooms, discovering in the process that the port engine room bilge pump was not operational. It did not take long to determine that the pump itself worked but the float switch and its associated wiring were bad. This is the second float switch to fail in a week. These are not expensive items but I have already used my spare and will have to wait until Monday to purchase a replacement. The only real problem is access, as it is mounted in front of the engine and near impossible to reach, at least for normal sized human beings.

Walmart was open on Sunday and although I did find marine bilge pumps for sale in the sporting goods section, there were no float switches. Late that afternoon, Bill and Jennifer of S/V Address Unknown stopped by with their burly crew and hauled off our “old “ liferaft, handling its 200 pounds of deadweight as if a child’s toy.

February 13, 2017

Our last day before departure and we had a heavy schedule as always. M/Y Texas True had arrived in the marina the previous evening and we invited its crew of Dennis and Donald to join us while we ran errands in our rental car. Donald is Canadian and Dennis, who hails from East Texas, said that in his youth, he was so tough, “he could stomp a bumble bee with his bare feet!”. Apparently this is how you impressed East Texas cheerleaders in the 60’s. Both crews needed to checkout with Customs for departure documents from the USA (we would need these for entry into the Dominican Republic - the officer just stamped and signed a blank form and told me to fill the rest out myself), the necessary beer run, plus a bank run to the ATM for cash. Sadly we turned in our bright yellow rental car and became pedestrians again. That evening we ate at a local restaurant with the crew of S/V Cloud Street, which we will always think of as Doodlebug “One”. A merry evening.