Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Puerto Rico - west to east

What an incredible couple of weeks we have had. The south coast of Puerto Rico was not really on our agenda for this trip. You may recall that, originally, we were headed to San Juan and intended to go the northern route around to the Virgin Islands. Our detour to the Dominican Republic changed all of those plans. The new route took us along the classic 'Thorny Path' across the bottom of Puerto Rico. As is often the case, the unplanned turns out wonderful and you see some great things you would otherwise have missed.

Our stops along the south coast of Puerto Rico. Up at dawn on moving days, never more than 5 hours to the next stop.

This route did, however, have a negative effect on my blog postings. We anchored out for 10 straight days as we made our way along the coast. The only data coverage we could get was via the cell phone hotspot. We usually did not have very good cell coverage.  Several times we did not even have voice coverage, much less good data connections. Short story - no postings, no pictures for several days.

We absolutely love being out at anchor. You have privacy, quiet and 360 degree water views. Most of the time you are in beautiful places looking down into clear water. Manatees, rays, fish and dolphins go right past you. At night, we get out the big flashlight and play with the fish underneath the boat. Morning coffee, lunch and dinner in the cockpit is the norm. Roosters crowing on the nearby island has been the constant background chatter everywhere except the uninhabited Isla Caja de Muertos.

'SeaClearly' has performed beautifully. She got an engine oil change back in Puerto Real so she was happy. The watermaker kept us supplied nicely so we did get our showers along the way. The wind and the sun were very cooperative in keeping our batteries happy while we were anchored.

Being at anchor for days on end has some other, less attractive, effects. We have a mountain of laundry. We were both down to the end of our clean clothes. We have washed out some of the quick-dry things in the sink. Forget washing anything cotton - it will never dry on the boat. Also, when anchored out, there is always a little bit of stress regarding your anchor. Is it set well? Will it keep us in place? And there is also some worry about security. Sometimes we are in some pretty remote spots all by ourselves. Worry is good. If it turns out to be unnecessary worry, that's better.

Once the wind settled down some on Wednesday, January 12, we started making fast progress in short morning trips from one anchorage to the next. We did three one-night-stands.
  • Isla Caja de Muertos - This is a totally isolated island 6 miles off the coast. At night, the only light is a very dim glow from the abandoned lighthouse high up on the hill. We were there by noon, sitting in the cockpit loving the view. Up at dawn the next day to move on.

The lighthouse atop Isla Caja de Muertos - Coffin Island.
Literal translation - Box of the Dead.
Puerto Rico 6 miles distant in the background looking
northeast from Isla Caja de Muertos.
  • Salinas - This is a very popular cruiser anchorage and we were planning on staying 2 nights. But, frankly, we did not see the attraction. In fact, we didn't even take any pictures. I guess that sums it up. It is a well protected anchorage but is crowded with permanent boats on moorings. There are some bars and restaurants. We dropped the dinghy, went into shore, looked around, went back to the boat, raised the dinghy and waited for dawn so we could move on. 
  • Puerto Patillas - Tucked back into a bay behind the reefs, and supposed to be just an opportune last stop along the coast, this was a neat little place. The hills rise up into mountains right behind the little town. From where we anchored, we could watch the traffic moving along the coast road like a little miniature model. We could hear karaoke night (en Espanol) from the little bar perched on the hill above the beach. We could see the waves breaking over the reefs out toward the ocean. We even had a very Caribbean Chill dolphin come to visit. This was our second laid-back, no-worries, I'm-in-no-hurry dolphin that we have met on our south coast adventure. Once again, we were up at dawn the next day to move on.
Puerto Patillas

Saturday morning when we left Puerto Patillas, the ocean was as calm as we have seen it in weeks. There was no hope of sailing but the boat ride was awesome. There were some rain showers moving through as the sun was rising which created some dramatic ocean-mountain contrasting views. We got a rainbow. Then, a double rainbow that lasted for 30 minutes and looked as though it fell into the water between us and the coast. As we rounded the south-east corner of Puerto Rico, the island of Vieques appeared ahead of us as the rain clouds and mist dissipated.

Early morning headed out of Puerto Patillas. Beyond the reef and turning east.
Southeast corner of Puerto Rico nearing Punta Tuna. The rain clouds introduced some incredible colors to the scenery.
The hues changed from minute to minute as the sun rose and the clouds moved.

Full double rainbow. It was so close that I could not get the entire rainbow into one picture.

It was tempting to sail over to that spot.

We spent two nights anchored off of Green Beach at Vieques. We, actually, moved from one spot to another (about 300 yards away) for the second night. The first spot was really cool. We could look over the edge of the boat and see fish swimming around the rocks. We could identify individual species of fish on the bottom in over 20 feet of water. We could see the outlines of the rays buried in the sand between the rocks, waiting for unsuspecting victims.

Unfortunately, we had dropped the anchor in rocks. As soon as we snorkeled off of the boat and got a look at the anchor, it was clear that it was not set. It was just wedged under a rock. We stayed in that spot overnight only because there was no wind predicted so it seemed relatively safe. The next day, we pulled the anchor up and moved over to an obvious sandy area where our hook dug in nicely.

Green Beach at Vieques

Green Beach is a popular local boater destination. Small boats, run-abouts and sport-fishers all make the short 6 mile trip over from Puerto Rico to anchor up near the beach and hang out. We were there on the weekend so there were about 15 - 20 boats. That part of the island is a park so there are people arriving by car and rental jeep from the land side. It is a party scene but most of the crowd is gone by evening. By the time we were ready to leave on Monday morning, there was only one boat left in the whole area.

There are snorkelers everywhere in the water. And the snorkeling is pretty good. There are rock formations just off of the beach that rise up from 6 - 8 feet to within a foot of the surface, There are abundant tropical fish. Not too much in the way of coral in the shallow areas but there are some nicer specimens out a little deeper. Junie and I took the dinghy into the beach, tied it to a tree and pulled out a stern anchor to keep it from washing up onto the beach. Then, we snorkeled around for nearly 2 hours. That evening, we could feel those seldom-used swimming muscles. We thoroughly enjoyed the stop here.

One fish, blue fish.

Clear water, sand, grass. From the surface, eight feet deep.

SeaClearly in her element.

And now, we have made it to Fajardo! All the way on the east end of Puerto Rico, Fajardo is a busy, populated area. We are tied up in Sunbay Marina with good water, good wifi, good electric, good security and a rental car. We found the laundry, we found a good panateria for sandwiches and pastries, we found ice cream and we found the grocery.

Cremaldi is the TripAdvisor #10 rated restaurant in Fajardo

We have a list of provisioning and maintenance tasks for the next week but a high priority is sightseeing! We are looking forward to visiting Old San Juan. We will be arriving by car instead of boat and we will be meeting son and daughter-in-law, Jeffrey and Alyssa, there to share the experience. We want to hit the rain forest at El Yunque. We are going to eat out to make up for all those days at anchor when we couldn't.

I can't begin to describe how excited we are. We have reached a point in the trip where we can just kick back. The big journey to get here is done. We will be day-tripping and day-sailing for the next couple of months. The weather is wonderful. The scenery is overwhelming. The water is gorgeous everywhere you look - a different gorgeous in each place. Feeling pretty lucky.


  1. Glad to read the great report! So are the Virgin Islands still on the itinerary?

  2. Oh, absolutely! We can almost see the Virgin Islands from here. We will sit here for a week then go visit Culebra and Culebrita (about 20 miles). Right after that, we will steer for St. John (another 25 miles). Those seem like real short sails now:) Thanks for following!

  3. Great report! What are the depths where you anchored? Deepest?

  4. Hi Jim.
    The deepest anchorage was probably about 20 feet at our last stop in Vieques - only because we chose to park far off the beach. Typically, we have never had more than about 4 - 8 feet under us so 10 - 14 feet deep. We have had as little as 2 feet under us. Kind of like back home. We always drop a lot of chain. 125 - 150 feet is normal.