It felt so great to be back on a boat last week when we chartered with our friends Rick and Eva in the Spanish Virgin Islands. The islands are off the coast of Puerto Rico and, unlike the nearby US and British Virgin Islands, they are still virgin cruising grounds. There are no large towns with tacky shops and no invading cruise ships. In fact, many of the places we stopped were uninhabited islands. Just us, the beachs and maybe some roosters and goats to keep us company!
Our trip started very early Saturday morning as we awoke at 4am to make a 6am flight. The flight was late leaving so we missed our connection by 5 minutes. They were just closing the doors as we ran up. After much angst, the gate attendants (US Air) were very helpful in getting us re-booked on later flight. Arriving later in San Juan meant that we didn’t have enough time to complete our provisioning. We were pretty wiped out after driving to Fajardo, picking up our liquor supplies and schlepping everything onto the boat. I tried something new for dinner at the marina restaurant–mofongo! It’s a delicious dish made with smashed plantains and shrimp creole.
Getting ready to go cruising
Our boat “Do Over” is a Lagoon 40 catamaran. It’s almost twice as wide as Moondance with 3 cabins and 3 heads. It was very comfortable for the 4 of us and I was glad we were in that boat instead of Moondance in the wind and sea conditions we experienced. A catamaran has a much different feel that our monohull. It doesn’t heel over but it does wobble a lot.
On Sunday we discovered that the grocery stores don’t open until 11 am so we got a later start than planned. Oh well, it’s Island Time! We left in the early afternoon and sailed a short distance to Palaminos. It was windy (20 – 27K apparent) with brief squalls. Rick and Skip had to put a reef into the main.
Palaminos is a favorite anchorage for the Puerto Rican Navy — a nickname for the pleasure boats that gather on the weekends (kind of like being in the Magothy River.) They seemed to be having a great time. There were only a few boats left with us as we enjoyed our first happy hour. Eva made her famous Mexican seafood cocktail for our appetizer and I prepared our first meal featuring grilled cheeseburgers. We were back in cruising mode!!
Hanging out with the PR Navy on Palaminos
In the morning we visited Palaminitos – a tiny island with the most perfect pair of palm trees. After our charter company delivered a back-up chart plotter (since ours was acting flukey) we dropped the mooring and motor-sailed to Culebra.
We had the wind on our nose with big seas–pretty yucky conditions. I quickly forgot about that as we arrived at beautiful, protected Tamarindo beach. We dinghied ashore to explore and swim before heading back to the boat for happy hour and dinner.
Rick and Eva took the same charter last year and knew that Flamenco Beach was not to be missed. After consulting Google Earth we went ashore and hiked about 20 minutes to the other side of the island. It was georgeous. Pink powdery sand on a wide crescent beach. I swam in the waves and couldn’t stop taking pictures.
This is not what you want to see after using this path!
Remnant of the occupation days
After lunch at the kiosks we headed back to the boat. Rick and I snorkeled off the boat. The water was much cloudier than in the Bahamas but I did see lots of nice fan coral and fish.
We were going to stop at another beach near Dewey but there were only 3 moorings and they were all occupied so we continued around to the harbor in Dewey. There were many cruising boats in the harbor. As we anchored the boat we got the usual stares from experienced cruisers as they watch in dread as a charter boat anchors next to them. We needed a sign saying we’re really cruisers too!
This doesn’t suck!
The past few nights we’ve been showering off the transom of the boat to conserve water. We do this a lot in the Bahamas–shower with salt water and just rinse with fresh water. Tonight, we took ‘real showers’ (or as I say “naked showers.”)
Rick and Skip picked up some ice in town before we weighed anchor and motored to Culebrita–an uninhabited island/National Wildlife refuge off Culebra. The entrance to the Tortuga beach anchorage looked dicey so we decided to pick up a mooring on the other side and hike over to Tortuga.
An aid to navigation. What a concept! We never see these in the Bahamas!!
Skip liked driving the boat
Beautiful water near Culebra
Rick checks our mooring. They were not well-maintained.
Moored in Culebrita
It was a good decision because the few boats moored off Tortuga were rolling in the surge. A short walk along the rocky shore brought us to the Jacuzzi’s where water spashing from the ocean side fills calm rock pools with water. Of course I had to get in and swim around even though it started to rain a little when we arrived.
Rock pools are filled by the surf
After relaxing on the beach we headed back to the boat for more relaxing and reading. BTW, I was riveted to the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. The movie is coming out this month!
Limin’ on the beach
Eva made fish tacos for dinner. She’s an amazing cook! After rum drinks, wine, good music and star gazing we all pooped out early.
I woke up to the sound of goats this morning. I could see them with binaculars–mehhing all along the coast and up in the hills. We had our longest and roughest sailing day today to Vieques. It was mostly downwind but with a lot of wind and waves. I wasn’t much use and so thankful that Skip and Rick were handling the boat. It was a real vacation for me!
We tried to pick up a mooring at our first choice of beaches, Bahia La Chiva, but it was too windy and the pennant was too short. We anchored just to have lunch and moved further down the coast to Sun Bay where we finally managed to hook a mooring. Since it was already late in the afternoon we just hung out on the boat for the rest of the day. Eva made tandori chicken with beans and rice for dinner-yummy! (Did I already say that she’s an amazing cook??!!)
Ramon arrives with Jim to help us with the generator. He was really cute (and previously the captain for Geraldo Rivera’s 70′ yacht!)
We went ashore in the morning to check out the small town of Esperanza. We had a tough time finding a place to land the dinghy and ended up at the far end of the beach. Esperanza is a scrubby little town with a few restaurants and shops. We bought the requisite T-shirts and had a decent lunch at Bananas. After hanging out on the beach for a while we headed back to the boat where Skip is more comfortable. He can’t sit on the beach without a chair. I can’t believe I actually found a beach chair in one of the lockers on the last day of our trip!
It was my turn to be chef so I cut up our remaining vegetables for dipping and made a dinner of shrimp with couscous.
Our last day started early since we needed to get the boat back by 10am. We sailed with reefed main and jib under squally skies. At one point we saw a spectacular double rainbow (soooo cool) but there was no way I felt like getting my camera.
We had to document our dependence on electronic devices
We were sad to leave and face the long day of airports and sitting on planes. We had a nice lunch in Old San Juan at The Parrot Club before starting the journey home.
For anyone interested in chartering in the Spanish Virgin Islands, Sail Caribe is the way to go. The boat was only 1 year old and well outfitted. When we had issues, they actually came out and fixed things for us.
Another beautiful sunset (Eva’s photo)