On To Culebra

14 January 2019   White Bay to Jost Van Dyke, BVI
We love the anchorage at White Bay, but it’s time to move on – we only have six weeks to get to Georgetown in the Bahamas, which is 800 miles away.  Our son, Craig is meeting us there and before he arrives, we want to spend a few weeks cruising Puerto Rico and the southern Bahamas.

There was hardly any wind, so we couldn’t be bothered to pull out any sails and motored the 12 miles across to Great Harbour on Jost Van Dyke.  The anchorage is now a mass of moorings, so rather than stressing out trying to anchor between them, we picked one up – we only want to clear out of customs.  

Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke

We arrived in the bay at 11:30, so decided to rush into the customs office and try to clear out before lunch.  After tying up the dinghy on the wooden dock, we found the Police Station and customs at the end of the dock.  Five minutes later, we’d cleared out – it’s a miracle.  The customs and immigration officers simply took one copy of the triplicate form that I’d filled out when we arrived in the BVI and handed me back the yellow copy – job done.   

Great Harbour is the major settlement on the small island of Jost Van Dyke.  It’s a single sand street with the police station, a couple of small shops and half a dozen restaurants, which are filled with day-trippers paying high tourist prices.  We didn’t stay.

After dropping the mooring, we were clear of the bay by 12:10 – a very short 40 minute stop-over.  We motored around to the east end of the island and looked at anchoring by Green Cay, but it’s very deep water and looked very rolly.  Instead, we back-tracked a little and went into the bay next to DiamondCay – no surprise that the best anchoring spots are covered in moorings.  We anchored right in the middle of the bay at 18°27.01N 064°43.34W in 14 metres on sand and thick weed.

15 January 2019   Jost Van Dyke to Culebra, Puerto Rico
With 40 miles to go to Isla Culebra, Puerto Rico, we left early.  Unfortunately, there was only 10 knots of wind, which was more or less directly behind us, so we had to motor most of the way.  

During the first hour, I hooked a Barracuda, which I managed to release after an epic struggle involving hooking our gaff into the gills and then using a pair of pliers to remove the hook, while avoiding the thrashing and snapping teeth.  Fifteen minutes later, I hooked a small Bonito, but it dropped off the hook as I was lifting it on deck.  Then the dreaded Sargassum Weed appeared and after clearing the hooks four times, I gave up – no fish for dinner tonight.

Damn Sargassum Weed

After lunch, the wind picked up and we were able to sail the last eight miles.  We safely negotiated the channel passing the shallow reefs into Ensenada Honda and anchored at 18°18.31N 065°17.88W in 6 metres of water over good holding mud.

Puerto Rico is part of the USA, who can be very strict about their border controls.  The regulations state that incoming vessels MUST ring a particular telephone number as soon as they arrive.  The call centre will then give further instructions on the rest of the procedure.  This is all very good, but we don’t have a USA SIM card for our telephone, so it’s Catch 22 – we can’t go ashore and we can’t ring them.

I popped over to another boat and found out that the US Border Protection Agency is based at the airport, about 1 mile away.  There was nothing else that we could do apart from walk to the airport and report in.  By this time it was nearly 15:00, so, worried that the might close at 16:00, I frog-marched Glenys to the airport.

The uniformed (and armed) lady at the Border Protection Office immediately asked if I had rung the telephone number as required.  With some trepidation, I explained that we didn’t have a telephone, and to my great relief, she didn’t whip out her black shiny gun, but smiled and said that’s okay, she can sort it out.

The process was very painless – only two forms to be filled in and a few questions while she entered our details into the computer system.  At the end of 20 minutes, we had been cleared through customs & immigration; and had been issued with a Cruising Permit that is valid for 12 months and is useable on mainland USA. 

Old Lifting Bridge, Culebra

We had been a little concerned about our visas.  Foreigners entering the USA on private vessels have to have a B1/B2 visa.  We had obtained these visas in 2012, which expire in 2022, but the visas were in our old passports, which had been cancelled a few years ago.  It appears that this is a regular occurrence and the officer didn’t bat an eyelid, when we showed her the visas in our old passports – phew!

Having cleared in, we walked the hot road back into town and had a quick stroll around.  Culebra is a small island and the town is also small with a couple of (err) small supermarkets.  There’s a ferry port which brings tourists across from mainland Puerto Rico and a number of restaurants and guest house to accommodate them.  The preferred mode of transport is that locals have huge pickup trucks and tourists putter around on motorised golf carts.

A narrow canal leads from Ensenada Honda to the ferry dock side of the island, passing under an old steel lifting bridge.  The mechanism no longer works, but it must have been an impressive sight because a whole section of road was lifted vertically supported by four huge lattice pillars.

In the evening, we went to the Dinghy Dock bar for a couple of beers at tourist prices ($3.50 for a small beer).  We were planning to stay for a burger, but burgers are only served at lunchtime and the cheapest thing on the evening menu was $20US.  We retired back to the boat and Glenys rustled up Heuvos Rancheros for dinner. 

16 January 2019   Culebra, Puerto Rico
Glenys had a bee in her bonnet about going to see Playa Flamenco, which is a beach on the north side of the island and reputably one of the best beaches in the world.  We trudged along the tarmac road, past the airport for 2½ miles in the beating sun.  

A Lonely Task - gathering Sargassum Weed

I was expecting an isolated beach, but there are lots of little souvenir stalls, snack bars, toilets and camping grounds.  There’s a guard house at the entrance, stopping vehicles and charging each tourist a $2US entry fee.  However, the guard never stopped us as we walked past - he probably couldn’t believe that anyone had walked all the way from town.

The beach is indeed very lovely, with azure seas and white sand fringed with coconut palm trees.  Unfortunately, in the past few days and huge amount of Sargassum Weed has been blown onto this tropical paradise.  There was one lone guy working with a lawn rake, scraping up the seaweed – a daunting task when faced with a mile long shore line and the seaweed 6 foot wide and 1 foot thick.  We had a chat to him and he was very philosophical about the job – he has been camping at the beach and is doing this work as a gesture of good will – a lovely bloke.

After a fifteen minute stroll along the beach, we walked back into town and called in at the supermarket next to the small canal to stock up on beer and a few other things – there’s a convenient dock next to the supermarket which  makes it ideal for buying heavy stuff.  I bought a couple of cases of local Medella beer, but unfortunately, I didn’t notice that it was the Lite version until we were back at the boat – Lite Beer, what’s that all about? 

In the evening, Reg and Nicky from “Blue Velvet” came over for a beer and an hour later, Jean-Francoise and Silvie from a Canadian boat stopped by.  We’ve been unable to buy a SIM card in town and I discovered that they are going to the BVI.  I have a BVI SIM card with some credit left on it and Silvie has a USA SIM card with credit left on it, so we did a swap.