Monday, April 24, 2006

Salinas to Culebra April 2006
Originally uploaded by S/V Raft.
Picture: Bev in the Jacuzzis, Isla de Culebrita

We were welcomed into Salinas by two boats that we had met in Luperon, Rose and Meridian Chaser. Didn't have much time with Rose, Sandra and Bill, only a quick hello and goodbye as they were off the next morning heading west. Jan and Judy on Meridian Chaser had been in Salinas for about a month and were willing to share all the info on this sailor friendly town, starting with dinner at Cruisers' Galley. New owners had taken over in the past few months, and the food was excellent and affordable -- all you could eat BBQ with salad bar for $10. We also found Roy and Wanda (the poet on Renaiance) who are staying in the marina until they leave for an family trip to Alaska in June.

Salinas harbour is surrounded by mangroves 360 deg so it is very protected. Some people use this as a hurricane hole. The harbour and the local wet lands are natural breeding grounds for Manatee and yes there are lots of them here and they are not imported. Playa Salinas has a good bakery and a great marine supply store so most of our needs can be met. Everything is close at hand except food stores and auto part stores. These are in Salinas proper a couple of miles up the road.

The westerly winds are continuing and we know we should really be taking advantage of this but still want to tour the island and get some boat things fixed. At Playa Salinas Marine we were able to get a bracket to replace one that broke off the boom (for the main sheet) and have a new topping lift made. Our old one, made of stainless steel aircraft cable was unravelling. In the quiet harbour it was easy to hoist Ross up the mast to install the new one. (Thanks Jan for your backup) That took two big jobs off the list. We plan to rent a car Wednesday/Thursday to travel to the Aricebo Radio Telescope Observatory and the Rio Camuy Cave Park and reprovision along the way. We can't go earlier because the Aricebo is not open on Monday and Tuesday. We had met up with a nice young Columbian couple, Natalie and Luis, (Vagamundo) and planned to share the trip with them.

But Monday morning, our weather reports indicated that we would have a great opportunity to get to Culebra early this week, and that by the weekend the winds would be too strong to allow us to go. So we quickly changed our plans, we went shopping (still with Natalie and Luis) completely filling the rental car with all of our purchases, mostly food. It was great having Natalie and Luis along, because Spanish is their first language, and they negotiated a better price for the rental car (got a full sized car for the price of the small ones) and got us into Sam's as "visitors" something they are not usually willing to do.

We returned to the Marina in Salinas, quickly dinghied our purchases to RAFT, put the refrigerator stuff in the refrigerator, and then went to have drinks with Roy and Wanda, and farewell dinner again at the Cruisers' Galley Upon our return to RAFT, we still had to store all our purchases away and get ready to take off in the morning.

We had a wonderful sail to Vieques. The seas are calm and the winds not quite strong enough for us to turn off the engine, but it is still a wonderful day to be on the ocean. We anchored carefully off Green Beach, having dragged through the grassy area to the sand, but the anchor held before it reached the coral ledge. Bev dove to check the anchor and enjoy the fish swimming under RAFT. This is only the second time since we left Georgetown that we have been able to enjoy the water.

When we arrived, there was one powerboat there, and he left, leaving us the entire anchorage to ourselves. When this happens we are always concerned that maybe we misread the weather, or charts and question whether we should stay. But we had a very quiet night, and had no difficulty getting the anchor up in the morning.

The winds were still forecast to be light so headed to a little bay on the east end Viaques, Baie Icacos. The US Navy used Veiques as a NATO bombing range for the last 40 years. We have heard that the the bombing range been closed in the last two years and that with permission you can anchor in the little bays BUT DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING!! We call the range control to request permission and got no answer. Procedure then is if you get no answer than it is okay to go. We were entering the anchorage when the range control called to inform us that we had to leave the area immediately as the range was "HOT" and that we were in the "fragmentation fallout area". Don't your just love military terms. Appears that they are in the process of cleaning up the range and disposing of unexploded ordinance. This caused us to alter course to Culebra which was our ultimate destination.

We decided to take advantage of the light winds and anchor on the north side of Culebrita. As promised by the guide books, this is a fantastic anchorage as long as there are no northerly swells. We picked up the last mooring ball (free) and started to explore the island. First stop: the Jacuzzi's Here there several ponds, somewhat cut off from the ocean, that trap fish, and the dark rocks absorb the sun's heat and transfer it to the water. It was really lovely. Can't compare it to the Baths in Virgin Gorda as we haven't been there, yet!

The next day we hiked to the lighthouse, 305' above sea level and view was magnificent. We also checked out the other 2 beaches that are on the island. The snorkeling, right off the boat was fantastic. Bev saw reef squid, a school of blue tangs, stoplight parrot fish, and all the other usual reef fish, plus was able to follow a seaturtle for quite a distance, close enough to see the 3 yellow remoras underneath the turtle. That evening when we disposed of some salad leftovers overboard, 3 reef sharks were fighting for the remains. You could easily spend a week in the anchorage, except as the wind started to pick up, the swell caused RAFT to rock from side to side. Guess our time in this beautiful anchorage was coming to an end.

So we motored over to Ensanada Honda, and anchored behind Cayo Pirata, just off the small town of Dewey. We will hang around the Spanish Virgins for the next 3 weeks or so. We will try to use this as a base of operations and take the ferry back to Puerto Rico for some day trips. Hopefully will get to the Radio Telescope and the caves. This is a very protected bay that we can leave RAFT. It is also the local hurricane hole for the charter fleet stationed in St Thomas and St John. Culebra is still considered to be part of Puerto Rico and has regular ferry service between San Juan and Fajardo.

Just as a note: If you are using winlink for emails, the southern coast of Puerto Rico is terrible for transmission. things have improved now that we are in the Spanish Virgins.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Mayaguez to Salinas April 2006

Mayaguez to Salinas April 2006
Originally uploaded by S/V Raft.
Picture: Ross hard at work in his "garage"

We ambled down from Mayaguez yesterday following the inside route. Left around 8:00 am to avoid the winds but this isn't really an issue since we are in the lee of the island now. Most of the other boats we had left Luperon with had traveled directly to Boqueron. (As a side note to other cruisers who might be reading this log: We were told by the US customs/immigration people that there is no problem with anchoring in Boqueron and going by land to Mayaguez to check in. We just saved the car rental/taxi fare) There were about 30 boats in the harbour when we arrived. Bouqueron is a typical beach town, like Wasaga, Grand Bend, etc. really busy on the weekend with cars and motorcyles driving the strip and locals enjoying the beach. The streets are full of vendors selling oysters, clams, empanados, tshirts..all pretty rundown but very quaint. No Mcdonald's or KFC here. All local stuff and only local people..just like a beach hot spot in Ontario in July. There is some major development around the bay but it set back from the bay so as not to spoil the town atmosphere and the beach. We thought it was condo and found out when we were walking the beach that it is actually short term rental apartments for weekend/holiday use, looked after by the state park. We are waking up to the crowing of roosters each morning. It was really hopping over the weekend but during the week, it is dead quiet, as everyone has gone back to work.

Things are still very affordable. We have been out for lunch twice at a local rice and beans spot. All the rice and beans you want plus good sized serving of roast pork (very good) fish, meatloaf, chicken or turkey (we didn't have that after all we have eaten in the DR) with a can of pop for $4 each. Then we found a small fruit/vegetable/butcher shop and bought 2 large grapefruits, 6 oranges, 6 pork chops and 2 small steaks for $9. 2 french loaves at the bakery $1.25. Too bad the ice creams cost $3 for 2, but we are worth it!

Bouqeron is a really nice place, but after a week here we are definitely ready to leave and we have been trying. We did leave 4 am on Tuesday to go around the SW corner of Puerto Rico, and only made it to the next bay. We had been noticing the engine had been running hot, and the hot water tank discharging (usually means the engine is running hot) since we left Luperon, but Ross just thought that the Heat exchangers (we have 2) were getting salted up, and planned to clean them when we got to Salinas. However, on Tues morning, Ross discovered that his little "rad" bottle had leaked on the hot water tank and it was salt water, which it shouldn't have been. Obviously salt water was getting into the fresh water system somehow. After determining that the hot water tank was not contaminated, that's a good thing, he pulled off the other 2 heat exchangers,and we found out that the little used one we had bought in Annapolis was leaking. Fortunately, we still had all the parts necessary to reconvert RAFT to being a raw water cooled system, which Ross did. The picture show how the difficult it can be working on a boat, especially when at anchor. To get to the engine everything has to be taken out of the large cockpit locker, and what isn't shown is that all of his tools have to be unpacked from under the quarter berth and spread around the nav station. But that is another definition of cruising: fixing your boat in exotic places.

By the time the repair was complete, the tools put away and the cockpit put back to normal we had missed our early morning light wind opportunity to turn to the corner, so we decided to stay the night where we were, off of El Combate State Park. The wind picked up during the day (25 knots), and that night, and we heard the reports from the other boats which had "gone around the corner" and it didn't sound very nice out there, so we decided to return to Bouqueron on Wed. morning and see if we could source out another heat exchanger.

On Wednesday morning, we tried to raise anchor, to find out that the anchor was caught on a coral ledge. It was 0530 when we had dropped the anchor and still dark, so we didn't realize that the lighter sand we thought we were anchoring in was actually a coral ledge. Fortunately we were anchored in only 10 feet, so Bev dove down and attached a back line to the anchor and with the dinghy Ross tried to back it out. However this was not a successful exercise so Ross went down, and sat on the bottom and physically pulled it out from under the ledge. We were free but the shank of the anchor now has a big "wow" in it. (Thank you Kathryn and Ron for the weight belts) We returned to Bouqueron.

Bouqueron doesn't have many stores, but since we were going to be there another day, we figured we might as well see if we can get a new/used heat exchanger. We started at the marina and were sent to the gas station across the road, then directed to the mechanic. The mechanic was enjoying empanadas (look like Jamacian pattie cakes, stuffed with seafood or meat) at the small outside bar across from the marina and gas station. We showed him our leaking heat exchanger and after some discussion in both Spanish and English and with the help of 2 other patrons in the bar, it was decided that he had one that might work for us, but it was larger, which suited Ross fine. He returned in about 20 minutes (to the bar) and $40 cash later we had another "used" heat exchanger but we needed larger hoses, which we did not have on RAFT. We inquired about public transportation, which there is none, so Tony, one of the interested/helpful patrons, offered to take Ross to the hardware store. This always seems to happen, when we need assistance, ride, etc..the good people that we meet come across.

We had dinner on another boat, and an enjoyable evening. The next morning's job... install the new heat exchanger and convert RAFT back to being fresh water cooled. This keeps the salt water out of the diesel engine, and stops "salt water damage".

The weather forecast is finally encouraging, winds are expected to be light, possibly even west?? and seas flat for the weekend, so we expect to try to make our way around the corner tomorrow, enjoy a couple of the anchorages before getting to Salinas. At least that was the plan. However on Friday, we were up at 0400 and ready to go when at squall came through the anchorage with winds 15-20 from SW. The Bourqueron anchorage is completely open to the west, and rarely experiences any west winds, so that had everyone up! We waited for the squall to go through and had our anchor up by 0530. As it was Easter weekend, and with the light winds predicted we had hoped to bypass the first couple of stopping points, even though we heard La Parguera was wonderful, we expected Gilligans to be super busy, didn't need to go to Ponce by boat, and head right for Caja de Muertos (Coffin Island). Bev hoped to spend the weekend hiking and snorkeling around the island. However when we did reach the island, about 1400, the winds were 20k from the south west, and the few boats that were in the anchorage were bucking major waves on a lee shore, and it didn't look very appealing. We still had enough daylight so we continued on to Salinas.

As we arrived in Salinas we were greeted by 2 boats that we knew from Luperon and found another old friend on the dock. Salinas is another great, fully enclosed harbour and very cruiser friendly.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Mona Passage April 2006

Return to RAFT and Mona Passage March 30/2006

We enjoyed our family time in Florida and Canada, despite the cold weather, but we happy to return to Santa Domingo to continue our Dominican adventure. We had a great return flight (we flew Spirit Airlines from Fort Lauderdale, very affordable), one more evening at Betty's and caught the 830 bus back to Luperon. We were anxious to see how RAFT had survived four weeks without us.
Upon arrival at the dinghy dock, we called Derek and Ester on our new hand held VHF radio, and they willingly came to give us and our luggage (one more bag than we had left with) back to RAFT. RAFT was fine, no water or mold/mildew issues, and exactly where we had left her. We spend the afternoon putting away everything away and RAFT back to order, and then we were off to Puerto Blanco Marina for Friday night BBQ. The filet mignon was excellent!!
The boat population had rotated while we were away. Only 3 boats that had arrived with us in February were still in the harbour, but there were many others who had come to take the missing boats places. Some of these new boats were travelling southeast, having spent March in Georgetown at the regatta, and others were heading north, home to USA and Canada. Of course the harbour full time residents, like Unity, Off Call, Presque Isle, Smigeon, Rhat Cat, ….were still there and welcomed us back.
The Mona passage is one of the "rights of passage" this journey south has in store for us. Like the first crossing the Gulf Stream in Florida, this passage strikes fear in the hearts of sailors!! this is only because its the first time and it is a unknown. Like the Gulf Stream crossing, you must wait for the right weather and sea condition to go. Unlike the Florida crossing it is much longer so the opportunity to go must be there for a 3-5 days. These opportunities seem to happen about every two weeks and seem to be there for a longer time..
There appeared to be a good weather window opening up early in the week, to head east. We really didn't know if we could be ready for it, but were going to try. We had an empty fridge, which had lost its gas while we were away, fuel and water tanks to be filled, anchor chain and bottom to be cleaned and Ross needed to give RAFT a good going over to make sure she was seaworthy having sat in Luperon Harbour for two months. So we made the boat chore list and set about to see if it could be accomplished, should this weather window materialize.
By Tuesday, Ross had changed the oil and fluid in the engine and transmission, topped up the water and fuel tanks, recharged the refridgeration system and given RAFT a good check up. Bev cleaned the anchor chain which was full of barnacles after 4 weeks, and Doug from Presque Isle did RAFT's bottom. We had loaded the freezer with Ana Lopez's chickens, packed away a case of Presidente beer, made our final trip to the bakery and the fruit/veg truck. Last on the list: despacho (check out)
We headed in, with quite a few other boaters to the blue trailer. We had to pay $50 to immigration because we had left and returned to the DR which they call a "crew change". We had been forewarned about this by the other cruisers. Harbour fees were $15 per month and $20 paid to the commadante for the despacho. All together we paid $85 when we arrived, $20 when we flew out, $20 when we arrived and $100 to check out..$225 US for our two month stay in the DR ($90 more than most because we flew home) But we have thoroughly enjoyed the DR, its people and scenery, the inexpensive cost of living, and we really hope to return.
The weather window continued to hold, and so about 5 pm on Tuesday, RAFT and about fifteen other boats left Luperon. The first 3 hours were tough going. The winds were NE about 10 knots, but the seas were 6-8', we had about a knot of current against us, so we were motor sailing, doing 1 mile tacks out from the rhumb line, averaging 3 - 4 knots, speed over ground. The seas were definitely calmer close to shore. We were concerned that if things didn't settle down, we couldn't continue this way for entire trip. We knew we had left before the evening island lee had kicked in, (as per Bruce Van Sant's instructions) but we wanted to leave the harbour in the daylight to be able to see the reefs and the fish pots. Previous departures by other boats were marred with crab/lobster trap floats wrapped around propeller shafts while exiting the harbour at night. Not something we wanted to chance.
At 8 pm, we heard a loud bang, and found that one of the brackets that holds the main sheet in the boom track had broken. It was dark, and RAFT was bouncing around, when Ross tethered to the jack line, had to sit on the cabin top, and figure out what had broken and how to fix it. In the end he decided to leave it, since it was still attached by one bracket. Bev's only thought: Why couldn't this had happened on our sail to Luperon, then we would have had 2 months to get it fixed? Or why do things like this always happen in the dark?
By 9pm the seas were settling down, but we still were only averaging 3 - 4 knots, and this rate it was going to be a long trip. It seemed to take forever to pass the bright lights of Puerto Plata. Finally about 1 am we rounded Cabo Macoris, having fought a 1 knot current all the way. The winds were light, and the little there was on the nose. Our speed did pick up and we were heading for Cabo Frances Viejo. By dawn, we were in light winds and waves, motoring north of the cape. Chris's weather indicated that the winds and seas were going to continue to be light right through to Friday so we kept on going. Since the conditions were so light, we decided to run the rhumb line between Cabo Frances Viejo and Cabo Cabron, just north of Cabo Samana..
Winds and seas remained light all night and all day, as we crossed the Mona Passage. However just before we reached Isla Desecheo the winds picked up enough that we actually we able to turn the engine off for a couple of hours and sail. But then they shifted more to the south east and lightened up and we put the engine back on. It was dark, about 11 pm when we arrived at the Mayaguez harbour entrance and it was difficult to differentiate the navigation and range lights from the city lights. The buoys did show up when on radar, and we slowly proceeded until we had sorted it out, and made our way to the anchorage. Hook down and a quiet night, a successful 55 hour passage from Luperon to Puerto Rico and we were glad to be in.
The next morning, being Friday, we had read in the guide books to expect the ferry in from the Dominican Republic. Sure enough, the ferry was on the horizon by 730 am, and we wanted to get into immigration before it arrived. Clearing in was easy, but because our US cruising license had expired we had to get an new one. And for that we had to wait until the customs officer was through with the ferry. We went back to RAFT, tidied up, and returned before noon to get the paperwork. ($19 for a year)
The winds we up, and rain was threatening, so we decided to stay another day in the anchorage and leave early Saturday morning when we were fully rested.