April 2012 - Puerto Rico to Bahamas

1 April 2012   Isla Culebra, Puerto Rico
We motored down to the entrance of the bay and anchored inside the reef at Ensenada Dakity.  It’s a very calm anchorage and the weather looked good, so I spent all day changing the chain plates for the Series Drogue.  My brother, Andy, brought out a new, thicker pair that he calculates will be able to take the potential 6½ ton snatch loads.

It should have been an easy job, but nothing on a boat is ever easy.  It took me an hour to remove the first chain plate and clean everything up ready to fit the new one.  Unfortunately, four of the holes were not in the same position as the old chain plate.  It was only out by two millimetres, but that was enough to stop me dead.  I decided to drill out the holes to make them 1.5mm larger – this is easier said than done in 10mm thick stainless steel.  

Glenys cleaning the dinghy floor with acid

My 230V power drill is knackered, so all I had was a Bosch battery drill.  I drilled out the holes slowly, just increasing the diameter by 0.5mm at a time, using plenty of WD40 oil to lubricate it and running at a slow speed.  I managed to do the first one without a major problem and fitted it in place just after lunch.

The second one was more of a problem because the drill bits were now blunt and the drill didn’t have enough power.  I had to keep charging the drill battery and eventually the charger overheated and gave up.  In a mild panic, I dinghied around the anchorage trying to find someone with a variable speed 230V drill. There are a lot of Americans here who only have 110V power, but I eventually found a British guy who lent me his drill.  I managed to finish the job at half past four – a long day.

Glenys meanwhile used some very caustic cleaner to get rid of the rust stains in the inside of the dinghy. It's horrible stuff containing hydrochloric, phosphoric and oxalic acid, so she wore protective gloves and even had rubber wet suit bootees on to protect her feet.  It worked well and the dinghy now looks great.

Peter and Robyn came over from “PR2” for sun-downers.  They first met Sergio in 2001, when he had just sailed Alba from the Hallberg Rassey boat yard in Sweden to the Canaries.

2 April 2012   Isla Culebra, Puerto Rico
We had a reasonable Internet connection, so I spent all day catching up on maintenance of our web site and trying to help our son, Craig get a job.  He graduated from Leicester University last year with a good 2:1 honours degree in Physics, but the job market in the UK is very depressed.  The recruitment process is very impersonal, mostly being done on-line.  Craig has been filling in on-line application forms and psychometric tests.  Each application takes around two hours and the companies never bother to reply, never mind give some feedback.  He’s been getting disheartened about it all. 

I sent out emails to various business contacts that I had in my past life and they started to come up with some good ideas and contacts.  I’m hoping that this will give Craig something to work with.

Glenys had a working day and cleaned the teak deck and the hull.  Our anchor chain has now lost all of its galvanising and is starting to rust.  I’m planning to get the chain re-galvanised when we haul out in October, but for now the damn rust is staining the deck.  I’m not sure what to do about it.

Sun Bay, Vieques, Puerto Rico

Glenys started to make Picadillo for dinner, which is a Cuban dish made from salted beef, but even after being in the pressure cooker for an hour, the piece of beef that she had bought in St Maarten was incredibly stringy and chewy, so it went overboard and we had Huevos Rancheros instead.

3 April 2012   Isla Culebra to Sun Bay, Vieques, Puerto Rico
It was a lovely sunny day again.  The weather forecast is for very light variable winds for the next week, so we upped anchor and headed off to the island of Vieques.  There was hardly any wind, so we motored for five hours to get to Sun Bay, where we picked up one of the three free moorings.

We jumped into the dinghy and zipped a mile around to Esperanza, which is a very small town.  It is very tourist orientated with at least ten restaurants, bike hire, snorkelling gear hire, kayak hire, etc.  We stopped off at the small museum, which doubles as an information centre.  They lent us a phone and Glenys arranged for us to go horse riding in a couple of days. 

A big tourist attraction here is to visit a bioluminescent bay at night.  The bay has lots of phosphorescent plankton and on a dark night, it is supposed to be spectacular especially if you can jump in and swim about.  They arrange trips on electric powered boats and also kayaks.  Unfortunately, it will be a full moon in three days’ time meaning that the evenings won’t be very dark, so we’re going to give it a miss.

We walked to a small grocery store and then along the Sun Bay beach, which is very pretty with palm trees planted all along the one mile stretch of sand.  There are lots of people camping on the edge of the beach; perhaps they’re here for Easter which is this weekend.

Back on the boat, there was a swell hooking around the corner and making us roll, so I put out a stern anchor to keep us bow into the swell.  We chilled out for the rest of the afternoon reading.  At sundown, we had a minor attack from mosquitos, which were taking advantage of the still air.  I received six bites in two minutes, so we went to MOSCON 1, closed all the hatches, put up the mosquito net in the cockpit and “Bopped” our bedroom with fly spray.  This is the first time that the mosquito net has been out since our trip up the Manamo River last September.

4 April 2012   Sun Bay, Vieques, Puerto Rico
Our mosquito tactics worked last night and we had a good night’s sleep.  The wind seemed to be picking up from the east and having a stern anchor out puts more strain on the mooring, so I lifted the stern anchor.

Series Drogue

We took the dinghy over to the beach and spent an hour doing a couple of jobs.  I de-rusted the steel bar for the outboard lock while Glenys started making templates for a dinghy cover.  We bought the Sunbrella for this in Trinidad over five months ago and have never managed to get around to making it.  The tropical sun is quickly degrading the rubberised Hyperlon tubes and we’re getting an increased amount of damage when the inflated tubes rub against dinghy docks.  We’re hoping that this cover will help to cut down these problems. 

It’s quite a complicated three dimensional problem, but after an hour of messing about, we think that we have some templates made out of old newspaper.

Back on Alba, the wind had dropped and we were rolling a lot, so I reset the stern anchor.  It didn’t work quite as well as last night because the wind veered through 180 degrees during the afternoon, but it was better than nothing.

I dug out the Series Drogue from under the front berth and connected it up to the new chain plates to ensure that it all fitted together.  This is a piece of safety equipment like the EPIRB which hopefully will never be used.  If we are caught out in a major storm, then the biggest danger to our small sailing yacht is surfing down a large breaking wave which can capsize the boat and roll it over.   The Series Drogue consists of 200 feet of heavy nylon rope to which there are attached 132 small, 5inch diameter nylon cones.  When the weather gets too rough, we'll deploy the rope out of the back of the boat and the small drogues will slow the boat down to around one knot.  This will prevent us surfing down big waves.

I assembled all of the parts and carefully packed it into a holdall bag.  It will be stowed away until we are making long passages and then be placed on the aft deck ready for instant deployment should we get caught out in a storm.

Glenys made some neater templates for the dinghy cover – we’ll have a second fitting tomorrow.  We’re running out of beer and fresh food now – we need to get to a supermarket and stock up again.  We had Baccalau made from salt cod for dinner.

5 April 2012   Sun Bay to Esperanza, Vieques, Puerto Rico
It was another fine, light wind day.  I cut my hair with the electric trimmers.  I’m becoming quite an expert at doing a number 12, which is ½” all over.  I look a bit like a convict, but it’s much cooler than having long hair. 

We went to the beach for the second fitting of the dinghy cover, but half way through, a police woman came along and told us that we weren’t allowed to land our dinghy here because it’s a national park.  She threatened us with a fine, so we left quickly.

Paso-fino Horses, Vieques, Puerto Rico

We motored a mile around to the anchorage off Esperanza, so that we will be closer to the dinghy dock while we went horse riding in the afternoon.  The sea bed consists of very thick weed and our CQR anchor wouldn’t dig in on the first attempt, so we dropped the anchor a second time and I snorkelled down and physically pushed the point of the anchor in.  Once it was started, it ploughed into the weed when Glenys backed the boat up.  

At three o’clock, we went into Esperanza to walk to the Horse Riding centre.   It’s the day before Easter Friday which is a big national holiday in Puerto Rico.  All of the available space along the beach is taken by tents.  These aren’t small tents, but huge dwellings with everything including the kitchen sink.  The small town was buzzing with people partying and dancing to Spanish music at the various restaurants. 

We walked a mile out of town to the horse riding centre and met Elizabeth and her sister.  There were eight people in the group with one being a total beginner, so the ride was a little tame, but pleasant.  The horse are a paso-fino cross breed.  The paso-fino horses are trained to do a running gait (called the “Paso”), which is a very smooth when you get it right.  The route was varied – along some beaches and narrow paths through woodland.  My horse was terrified of waves, so it was difficult to control along the beaches.

We managed to get back on board Alba before sunset.

6 April 2012   Esperanza to Cayo Obispo, Puerto Rico
It’s Easter Friday today.  We still have very light winds, but we’ve decided to move onto Fajardo, where we can restock with food and fuel, ready for going to the Bahamas when the wind returns.

We had a lovely sail down the south coast of Vieques and then north up to Fajardo.  The 12 knot winds were from the east and the seas were very calm.  We anchored behind Cayo Obispo, which is a small island with a marina and apartments.  It lies ½ mile offshore from the town of Fajardo.

We went into the marina, but the office was closed up.  However, we managed to get a ticket for the small ferry that runs across to the town of Fajardo – we plan to go shopping tomorrow.  We’re able to pick up a wireless Internet connection from Sunbay Marina across on the mainland, but for some reason, I can’t pick up or send email, which is a bit frustrating.  Perhaps it will work tomorrow.

We were invited on to “July Indian” for an evening beer or two with Linda and Garry.  They’re heading up to the USA like us and are also waiting for the winds to pick up.  There’s a big cold front across the northern Bahamas which is producing gale force winds and seems to be sucking all the air away from us.  Garry reckons that it will be another week before the trade winds return.

7 April 2012   Cayo Obispo, Puerto Rico
First thing this morning, we spotted a manatee which surfaced very close to our boat.  I knew that there are lots of them on the south coast of Puerto Rico, but didn’t expect to see one here with all the boats whizzing about. 

We took the marina ferry over to Fajado and walked the mile or so into town. It's a pretty dodgy area with all of the houses having thick iron bars - obviously burglary is a problem around here. Being a holiday weekend it was a little quiet. We walked up the high street which is just lots of small shops with no real character.  There’s a pretty square with a church and a fountain, but not much else.  

Heavily guarded houses in Fajardo, Puerto Rico

We walked down to the public transport depot to get a “publico” which are small mini buses.  Normally you tell the driver where you want to go and he then waits until the bus is full and then takes everyone to their destination.  There were only a few publicos hanging about and not much business, so one guy agreed to take us to West Marine by ourselves for $7US. 

West Marine is a big American boat parts chain, but I was disappointed that their prices were higher than Budget Marine who we have been using up the islands.  They also didn’t have anything that we wanted – not even the correct size of pop rivets to repair our rod kicker.  We met Kathy & John from “Oceana” while we were in West Marine and they kindly gave us a lift to Wal Mart.

Wal Mart was fantastic – it was like being in wonderland after all of the small stores that we’ve seen for the past year.  Glenys bought a USA SIM card for her phone, so that we don’t have to pay outrageous roaming charges for local calls.  We only bought a few other things, but we spent a happy hour walking around and staring at things.  After lunch at Burger King (well we’re in America), we spent a couple of hours in a big supermarket, restocking for our trip through the Bahamas.  The plan is to come back on Monday and Tuesday when we have a hire car and get lots more heavy stuff like orange juice, milk, beer, etc.  

We rang for a taxi, which dropped us back at the ferry dock for $6US.  I made a reservation for a hire car which we can pick up early Monday morning.  The plan is to visit the old town of San Juan on one day and go hiking in the rain forest on the other day.  We had a quiet night in and treated ourselves to King Prawns in Garlic.