Puerto Rico

21 January 2019   Isla Caja de Muertos, Puerto Rico
We rolled a fair bit over night, so we were sleeping in the recover position and had a restless night.  After breakfast, we went for a stroll on the island.    Isla Caja de Muertos is the number one tourist attraction in this area, so there’s an excellent gravel path leading up to an abandoned lighthouse.  

The lighthouse is all sealed up with notices forbidding entry, but someone has knocked a hole in the wall.  Of course, we had to go in and climbed up the rusty spiral staircase, taking care to put our weight as close as possible to the solid edge of the steps.  There’s a nice view from the top.

Inside the Lighthouse, Isla Caja de Muertos

Back at the boat, we pulled up the anchor and moved ½ mile along the shore to get out of the swell.  We anchored at 17°53.93N 066°31.36W in six metres on good holding sand and it was nice and calm.  We tried to go snorkelling at the north end of the island, but there was nothing but broken coral and rock, so we gave up.  I ended up spending 20 minutes scraping the propeller.

22 January 2019   Isla Caja de Muertos to Ponce, Puerto Rico
As usual in the morning, there wasn’t a lot of wind, so we had to motor across to Ponce, where we anchored in the small harbour at 17°57.95N 066°37.07W in 9 metres on good holding mud/sand.  There’s a huge marina/yacht club here, which we’ve heard is expensive and unfriendly to yachties who anchor in the harbour - they used to charge $10US per day to leave your dinghy there. 

I popped ashore to the marina office and, sure enough, they were very stuffy, saying that we couldn’t leave our dinghies there; we couldn’t use their laundry facilities; and they won’t even let us go to their bar restaurant for a beer or a meal in the evening.  Their one concession is that we can buy fuel from their fuel dock…

After lunch, we dinghied over to the Club de Pesca in the east corner of the harbour.  They have a small marina for private fishing boats and were incredibly friendly.  Most of the local people predominantly speak Spanish, but we eventually found Luis who spoke very good English.  He told us that it was no problem to leave our dinghy on one of their docks and gave us the telephone number of a dentist in Ponce town centre.   While we were sorting ourselves out, we met Damien and Rebecca, a couple of Swiss cruisers. 

The harbour is in a commercial dock area called La Guancha and there’s not a lot there apart from a row of food kiosks along the waterfront.  The Ponce town centre is 5 kilometres away and I was struggling to get an internet signal to call an Uber taxi, so Luis kindly gave us and the Swiss, a lift into town, dropping us off at the dentist.

The dentist was very good and only kept Glenys waiting for ten minutes, before taking an x-ray and sorting out the problem.  Part of her tooth had pulled away with the filling and there was some decay, so he drilled it out and put in an amalgam filling which he said would be less prone to come out than a modern hard white filling.

Ponce Harbour

We went looking for a laundry, which was supposed to be opposite the post office, but we couldn’t find anything.  Like most town centres in the 1st world countries, the building of big shopping malls, has forced the shops out of business and there are lots of closed shops amongst the colonial architecture.

We met up with Damien and Rebecca, who shared an Uber with us back to the port - they came on-board Alba for a few beers.

23 January 2019   Ponce, Puerto Rico
A few months ago, I fitted a brand new Volvo water pump onto our engine, but unfortunately, the damn thing started to leak a couple of weeks ago.  We’re now in a very secure anchorage, near a large city where I can get mechanical assistance if required, so I reluctantly removed the pump and stripped it down to replace the seal.

It’s a scary job, requiring the shaft to be pushed out of the housing.  There are two bearings in the pump and one of them was very rusty and needed to be replaced.  The bearing is pressed into a 30mm deep bore, so I used a hammer and a punch to try to knock it out.  There’s only a 1mm wide lip that is accessible, so it took me ten minutes of hammering to move the bearing about 10 mm.  

Then the middle fell out of the bearing, leaving a steel ring inside the pump bore.  I couldn’t get access to knock the ring out, so I started to despair.  Eventually, I made a small puller bar by cutting up a large washer, so that it just fit inside the bore.  Using a bolt and other backing washers, I was able to fit the puller bar behind the bearing ring and by tightening a nut on the bolt I was able to pull the bearing ring out of the bore – phew!  

After that it was a fairly simple job of rebuilding the pump with a new bearing and seal.  While I was at it, I changed the pump impellor.  The whole job took six hours, so I’m hoping that I won’t have to do it again – ever!

24 January 2019   Ponce, Puerto Rico
Glenys dragged me off into Ponce Town to be a tourist.  An Uber taxi dropped us off at the Museo Castillo Serrallés, which is the number three tourist attraction in Ponce.  It’s an old colonial house owned by the Serrallés family, who built a Cane sugar empire in the 1800s.  The house was built in the 1930’s and is built on a hill with a fabulous view over the city.

Downtown Ponce, Puerto Rico

We paid for an hour long tour, which was interesting, but a bit rushed with a guide who spoke English four times faster than I could ever do.  After a tot of rum, we climbed a 50 metre high cross – 102 steps and had another view of the city.  The grounds also contains a Japanese Garden, which is about the size of three tennis courts; and the formal gardens of the house, which were okay.  

The property also has a small butterfly house, with several species of butterflies.  The highlight of the visit was the endearing old man who gathers the caterpillars and raises them to butterflies in plastic cups.  Despite not speaking any English, he was able to show us the process of hatching the butterflies.  It was a pleasant couple of hours and, even better, we obtained old-age pensioner tickets, so the whole thing wasn’t too expensive at $6 US each.

The taxi driver and a guard at the Castillo had told us that the area around the Castillo was very dangerous, but we ignored them and had a nice one kilometre stroll back into town.   The dogs in the posh houses at the top of the street were scary, so we armed ourselves with a couple of stout sticks.  The neighbourhood at the bottom of the hill looked very suspect, but everyone we met was polite and smiled when we said “Ola”.

Back in the safety of the town centre, Glenys took us to a small local restaurant called “El Barril de la Mulata”.  It’s a little rough and ready, but was full of locals enjoying lunch.  There were four options, which we ordered at the bar ($5US each) and then grabbed a table.  The meals were huge – chicken for me and beef for Glenys accompanied by rice, beans, plantains, etc.   We were stuffed - when will we learn to share a meal?

We waddled to a supermarket a few blocks from the central square and did a two-trolley shop.  Our plan is to sail to the Bahamas at the end of next week, so we’ve stocked up here thinking that getting provisions in Boqueron (our departure port) will be more challenging.  We caught an Uber back to Alba and collapsed.  In the evening, we were treated to some of the famous Puerto Rico ear-drum-bursting music, which carried on into the small hours.