Another perfect sail from St Thomas to Culebra. I had grown accustomed to the tumultuous seas that run between the islands in the south-eastern Caribbean, caused by the strong current that rushes through the channels coming up against an opposing trade-wind. It was a pleasant surprise to have a smooth crossing between two islands and the wind was from astern which is what the junk rig excels at.
There was a well-marked channel through the reefs and into the big protected anchorage at Ensenada Honda. We sailed gently in and found a good place to drop the anchor. I recognised a few familiar boats following the same track as us. I needed to clear in with customs as although Puerto Rico belongs to the US it is not a duty free zone like the other US Virgin Islands. So it was a shortish walk to the airport to do the necessary and get a cruising permit.
Once again finding an easy place to get ashore was a bit of a problem. There are no floating dinghy docks in this part of the Caribbean and the designated ‘dinghy docks’ are all built with monster inflatables in mind. Usually much too high for me to even get a good grip on the wharf to pull myself up and out of the dinghy. Not to mention that I always need a stern anchor to stop the dinghy from slipping right under the dock and possibly getting crushed by the passing wake of a power boat. If at all possible I try to find a small beach to land the dinghy even if it means a bit of a walk back to the village centre. On my first attempt at getting ashore in Ensenada Honda I used a tiny patch of sand quite close to the town dock. Only problem was that the only way to get back to the road was to wade knee deep through the mangroves. The next time I went ashore I rowed a bit further up the bay and found a public access point which was a bit scruffy but much easier to get out of.
There is a narrow channel leading out of the lagoon to the bay of Sardinas on the south western side of the island. A lifting bridge across the channel no longer works, but makes an interesting feature. The channel is quite shallow and I rowed through under the bridge one morning to have a look at the other side. It opens out into a very peaceful lagoon surrounded by mangroves and small bars and restaurants. People were fishing, a heron waited patiently for something tasty to swim into range. I just sat in my dinghy and watched. Once through the lagoon you come out into the big Sardinas bay with a ferry boat dock and an interesting statue made of wooden tiles. I mooched around for a bit and rowed back.
Another day I walked across to Flamingo Beach on the north coast. Surely one of the most beautiful beaches I have seen, even comparing it to some of those in Brazil. Clear turquoise water and miles of white powdery sand. Unspoilt shoreline and not very crowded even though it was a weekend. The only jarring notes were a succession of dive boats bringing hordes of trainee scuba divers and while I was sitting peacefully on the sand two police beach buggies motored past, perilously close to me.
I decided to move on to the island of Vieques, about 20 miles south and anchored in Bahia Salina del Sul at the south eastern end. The island had been used by the US for gunnery practice until 2003 and as a result it is still an unspoilt tourist destination. The bay where I first anchored is still off limits for going ashore and big signs warn of the dangers of unexploded missiles. I was quite happy to stay on board and I watched a herd of wild horses grazing and moving along the shore, passing close to the warning signs. Not much later I was startled by an incredibly loud bang and saw a big cloud of smoke a little way inland. I couldn’t help wondering if the horses had set something off. It certainly made me realize that the warnings were for real.
My next stop was at Bahia de la Chiva, a beautiful place, again I was the only boat there – what a difference to the crowded places I had been in recently. I would have loved to linger and really explore all the possibilities but unfortunately I had to keep moving as I had just found out about an urgent problem with my bank that had to be sorted out. So I could only stay overnight before heading on to Puerto Ferro which is supposed to have amazing bio-luminescence. Well, it was a nice quiet and protected anchorage, surrounded by mangroves but the light-emitting sea-creatures must have been taking time off. There were some faint sparkles but nothing like the bright phosphorescence that I sometimes see on a dark night at sea. Still, it was a pleasant stop and I got the kayak out for a paddle around the enclosed bay.
Then it was on to Esperanza, a small town with lots of beach bars and restaurants. The bay is split with two possible anchorages and the free guide book, that I had downloaded, recommended the smaller one. I crept carefully in as it seemed rather shallow and finally dropped the anchor in just under 3m. A few minutes later a slightly manic ‘anchorage warden’ raced over to tell me that it would be better to move to the other side where everyone else was anchored. Seems that there was going to be a lot of jet-ski activity in the little bay because of the holidays. It didn’t take much to convince me to move.
I suddenly realized that it was the easter weekend and the place was hopping. The campsite was pretty full and happy families thronged the waterfront. I took a stroll along the beautiful ‘paseo’ and stopped at a bar for a cold beer on the way back.
Early the next morning I set off for Puerto Patillas on the south western end of Puerto Rico from where I could easily reach Ponce by the end of the weekend and sort out the bank problem.