Saturday, April 28, 2012

Puerto Rico

After doing the Mona Passage, our first stop in Puerto Rico was Boqueron.

Boqueron is a sleepy little beach town on the west coast of Puerto Rico that comes alive Friday through Sunday.  Jet skies, loud music, and traffic jams are the norm on weekends.  The anchorage has great protection and holding, and it is a good rest stop after the Mona Passage.

Galloway’s Restaurant provides a hangout and Internet availability for cruisers and an odd assortment of expatriates.

Our next stop was Ponce.  The only anchorage in Ponce is dominated by the Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club.  Unfortunately, the PY&FC is not really cruiser friendly, and the club extracts $10 per person a day to use their dinghy dock. 

A short distance from the anchorage was a boardwalk with 4 or 5 restaurants that blasted 4 or 5 different musical selections for our listening enjoyment.
The actual city of Ponce is a $15 cab ride away from the anchorage.

Visiting Ponce however is well worth the effort.  Ponce has Puerto Rico’s largest population outside of San Juan metropolitan area and a rich history.

The early 19th century brought a wave of immigration and interesting architecture to Ponce. 

Most of old town Ponce is still there, but many of the buildings are in need of restoration.

Throughout Puerto Rico, we found the people to be very friendly and eger to help us with our Spanish.

Puerto Rico produces a lot of great looking produce.

And, Pollie found the clothes shopping to be interesting.

Many of the brands seen in the U.S. are available in Puerto Rico.

But, we visited a local’s place for lunch where we met the owner.  He let us examine the carnival masks he had decorating the walls.  The food was outstanding.

Our next stop along the south coast of Puerto Rico was Salinas.  Salinas is much more cruiser friendly. 

The area around Salinas is much more rural than Ponce.  The building above is an old train station left over from the time when sugar cane was king in the area.

Our last Puerto Rican stop was not on the mainland, but anchored off of Vieques Island.  After the U.S. Navy stopped using Vieques as a bombing range in 2003, that section of the island became a wildlife preserve noted for its beautiful beaches and azure-colored water.  Because of weather constraints and reports of dinghy thefts, we only anchored and did not go ashore – maybe next time.

Monday, April 16, 2012


The Mona Passage, or simply The Mona, is an 80 mile strait that separates the islands of Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. The Mona connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean Sea, and is used by cruise ships entering the Caribbean and cargo ships between the Atlantic and the Panama Canal.

This stretch of sea between the two islands can be the most difficult passage in the Caribbean.  The tidal current can run various directions making passage timing rather difficult.  Extremely deep water from the Puerto Rico Trench(13,000 feet) meeting the shallow water (50 – 60 feet) over the Hourglass Shoal in the Mona means there is a lot of energy that needs to dissipate.  This dissipation can take the form of very large confused waves over and near the shoals.  And, to add to the fun, you are now in the Trade Winds which can mean constant winds at 20 knots on your bow.

Before we even got in the vicinity of the Hourglass Shoal, Pollie spotted what appeared to be breakers in what was charted as 60’ water.  We immediately altered course.

Turns out it was an incredible fish boil.  I guess we were a little jumpy facing The Mona.
About the time we got our courage screwed back up, we passed a small fleet of these Dominican fishing skiffs.  They probably don’t have GPS, radar, satellite locators, or the fuel burn like we have.
We knew we were not going to be alone because the sturdy looking Renaissance was making the same passage.  But, because of their boat speed they were leaving 6 hours before Motivator.  Knowing this did not make our 20 hour passage (1:30 PM – 9:30 AM) seem so long.
Another cute feature of The Mona is that almost every afternoon thunderstorms build over the land mass of Puerto Rico and then roll off into the sea with the evening offshore breeze.
Using Passage Weather, Buoy Weather, Wind Finder, and weather guru Chris Parker’s forecasts (it is kind of like wearing two belts and two pairs of suspenders) we picked a very calm weather window for the passage.  Our game plan was to use the evening offshore breeze from the Dominican Republic’s land mass to calm the wind and seas generated by the Trade Winds, then be in the lee of Puerto Rico in the morning, and anchored before the afternoon Trade Winds.
Our plan worked, except for one furious thunderstorm and a Coast Guard rescue during the night. 
At about 2:30 AM the VHF radio lit up with a Puerto Rico Coast Guard station responding to the distress calls from a 36’ sailboat, Plane To Sea.  Their radio was very weak, but after numerous calls the Coast Guard was able to get their Lat/Longs and ask for assistance from any available boat.  We put their position into our chart plotter and discovered we were about 17 miles south of their position (two hours at full throttle).  Before committing to a rescue, I queried the Coast Guard and found out they had a helicopter en route with an ETA of 10 minutes.  A second sailboat then advised they were in the vicinity and were loosely buddy boating with the stricken boat.  But, they were reasonably questioning the nature of the emergency.  A much shaken lady on Plane To Sea was finally able to reveal they thought they had been in a collision with another vessel and had be demasted.  They were taking on water, but it was manageable.  The mast and rigging was being drug along the port side of the vessel.  Before the Coast Guard helicopter got to the stricken vessel, it was surrounded by a squall.  At one point we were watching the flares fired by the boat, but the helicopter was on the other side of the storm and could not see the flares.  After about 45 minute to an hour a Coast Guard small boat was able to get on scene and remove the lady, tie off the mast, and follow the husband as he motored the boat slowly to Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. 
After the report of a collision, we were even more diligent about scanning the horizon and watching the AIS and radar for other boats.  Additionally, we were trying to stay out of the way of the rescue attempt.

We were comfortably at anchor in Bahia de Boqueron when Renaissance joined us.  Whew, what a night.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Santa Barbara de Samaná

The east coast of the Dominican Republic is very irregular with Samaná Bay extending west into the island for several miles.  Bahia de Samaná is somewhat developed on its north coast and has a national park on south coast.  The main city is Santa Barbara de Samaná, or usually referred to as just Samaná. 

Again, we had the choice between anchoring at Samaná with reports of theft and shakedowns by officials, or pull into an upscale marine a couple of miles to the west.  At $1.00 per foot, the Marina Puerto Bahia was a no brainer.
Check in with the officials was a snap with the marina handling most of the paperwork and providing office space for the officials.
On site, there are three restaurants, two complete with infinity pools, and a small grocery store.
Pollie moved right in.

Included with our marina fees was a one-way ride into Samaná.  You were on your own for the trip back ($20 via taxi).

Like sharks smelling blood in the water, the vendors were all on high alert because a cruise ship was pulling in for a day stop.
Evidently when the cruise ships started stopping at Samaná, the city fathers thought it necessary to build this theme park shopping area to attract the tourists.
Unfortunately, the cruise lines now give the passengers a choice between Samaná and going to this island resort for the day.  Fortunately for us, most of the passengers chose the resort.
We found the old architecture much more interesting than the theme park shopping area.  Besides as Pollie pointed out, they were trying to sell, “the same old crap.”
Their money could have been better spent on other revitalization and beautification projects that the locals could use as well as the tourists.
“Bridge to nowhere”
Their anchorage looks very inviting; too bad it is getting a bad reputation with the cruisers.

Before returning to the resort, we had a great lunch at an open air, street side restaurant attached to this lady’s home. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Fish Story

They are called Mahi Mahi, Dolphin (fish, not the Flipper variety), or Dorado (in Latin countries) and often referred to as the perfect pelagic game fish.  They range from Rio de Janeiro to Nova Scotia, but prefer water in the 78 to 82 degree Fahrenheit range.  Studies have shown that they are capable of growing to a length of 4 feet and 40 pounds in less than a year.  Eating up to 20% of their weight each day means they are hungry.  Dolphin, therefore strike first and ask questions later.  But, I wouldn’t know, because I haven’t caught one, yet.  That is a barracuda in the photo above and below.
Unlike Mahi Mahi, barracuda are not good for eating and are carriers of ciguatera.  So in these photos, I am attempting to shake the barracuda off of my lure, and avoid reaching down amongst all of those teeth to unhook him.  This time I was successful, the previous barracuda took my lure.
Motivator is a good platform for trolling, and her aft cockpit is great for landing a fish.  But, the sport fishing boats have the advantage.  They come with live wells for keeping live bait.  Cruisers are generally limited to artificial lures.  On the commercial fishing charter boats, you have a captain to operate the boat, and a first mate to assist with landing the fish.  Without a big strong first mate to subdue a flailing 40-50 pound angry bull dolphin, most cruiser reportedly rely on pouring cheap vodka in the gills to nicely put the fish to sleep.  Notice my first mate is ready to hand me gloves, gaff, vodka, or whatever I need to land dinner.
Thank you Izzy R for the great pictures!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Puerto Plata with Pollie

To reconnoiter Puerto Plata we chose to go with the City Tour offered by the marina.  Fabio our driver/tour guide/ body guard showed up at promptly 8:30 AM.  After picking up a young Canadian couple at a resort, we were off.

Our first stop was the Burgal Rum Factory.  Established in 1888, Brugal founded rum production in the Dominican Republic.  This facility did not actually distill the rum from sugar cane, but did the fermentation, blending, and bottling process.
After tasting a few samples,
We made a few purchases.
Taxi Stand
Puerto Plata moves on motorbikes.  The yellow vests with numbers on the back indicate that they are a taxi, not a private vehicle. 

For about $.25 U.S. you can go anywhere in Puerto Plata.  We found the motorcyclists to be rather aggressive, and stop signs and other traffic signals to be merely a suggestion.  Driving in the DR is not for the faint of heart.
The DR’s presidential election is coming in May, so there are campaign signs everywhere.   The Dominican Republic has had a fairly stable democratic government for a number of years albeit with some U.S. intervention (Christians In Action) and the usual amount of corruption.
Much wealth has been generated in the DR, but unfortunately it has been unequally distributed.  A near riot broke out among the street kids when cash was flashed because Pollie wanted to tip this Michael Jackson impersonator.
While baseball is a national pastime in the U.S., it is the national passion in the Dominican Republic.  This is one of the many DR training fields that may generate a future U.S. MLB player.
Unlike the Bahamas, that produces little food, the economy of the DR is dominated by agriculture, with 56% of the country used for crops and agriculture.
Part of the agriculture is dedicated to tobacco, so our next stop was the cigar factory.

Pollie was a quick study, so they put her to work.

I was forced to test her handy work.

Another product they sold was a drink called Mama Juana.  The bottles are stuffed with Timacle, Osua, Marabelf, Magey, Palo Indio, Bohuco Caro, Brasil, Canelilla, two fingers of honey, three fingers of rum, and then topped off with sangria. 

It is quite tasty, and comes with a claim of, “THIS PRODUCT INCREASE MAN’S VITALITY.”  We’ll let you know if it is effective.
Our next stop was at the Amber Museum.  Dominican amber is resin from an extinct tree, Hymenaea protera, which produced a thick honey like substance that readily trapped insects and plant material.
The transparent quality of the Dominican amber has allowed scientist a glimpse into the ecosystem of a long-vanished tropical forest.  Remember the movie Jurassic Park, and its premise of taking DNA from amber to create modern day dinosaurs?  Much of the filming was done nearby.
No tour is complete without visiting the city’s fort.  Fort San Felipe was completed in 1577 to protect the city from French and English pirates that continuously terrified inhabitants of Puerto Plata.
The fort provided a great view of Puerto Plata Harbour which is mostly commercial and not very appealing to the cruiser boats.
Like most of the tourist attractions, Fort San Felipe had its share of vendors hoping to cash in on the unsuspecting vacationers.  Many of the hawkers said their handicrafts “were made by my father.”  So I figured their fathers must have been Chinese. 
Pollie’s blond hair seemed to make us even more of a target.  When she went up to pet the burro, she was suddenly lifted onto the animal.
She would have been happy with sidesaddle, but he insisted that she straddle the animal.
Turns out that a picture on a burro is worth $5.00, but I enjoyed the show so much, I was willing to pay $10.00.
He left me holding the burro while he ran for change for my twenty.

Our last stop was to the top of the mountain via cable car to see the statue of Jesus billed to be much like the one Rio de Janerio, Brazil.
Of course, our tour guide/body guard insisted on getting the normal tourist shots for us.