Saturday, February 28, 2015

The "Not so Virgin anymore" Islands

In fact it seems like they are doing it with anybody and everybody these days - for money of course! 
What is it like to sail the Virgin Islands? It’s a lot like going to Disneyland except in boats. The place is completely overrun with people in rented Boats. And it shows in a big way. Here people are on a tight schedule. 20 islands in 6 days because they have a plane to catch next Saturday! When you wave at other boaters, they just stare at you. People are driving the boats in manner that we have not seen in a while (or ever). The anchoring places are limited, and there are so many boats that people are competing for places to anchor (or more likely for mooring balls). Most of the best anchorages are now filled with mooring balls - which serves double purpose - they make it illegal to anchor there, and they cost money. $15 / night in the US Virgin Islands and $30 in the British Virgin Islands.

So far we got schooled by this evil Customs lady (she made us come back 2 times to the customs office and then ran after us outside and made us come back to the dock for the third time to give us some more schooling lessons - turned out we were not supposed to visit customs coming from Puerto Rico to US Virgin Islands, but she never asked where we were coming from - but it was all our fault), we also got chased out of the area by a park ranger - we anchored on the left side of the bay but it was only allowed to anchor on the right side of the bay. 
The sailing distances here are so small that it is actually more work to put the sails up and after 40 minutes start putting the sails away than just to motor from spot to spot. The bay, we visited a couple of days ago (Caneel Bay), which is supposed to have a really nice beach, even after we paid our mooring fee, you are not welcome to bring your dinghy to the beach, you cannot hang your laundry in your own boat  - because the upscale resort on the shore does not wish it - but other than than you can pull out your credit card and pretty much shut up.

OK, how about some positive aspects? 
We have seen more topless women here on the boats than we have seen in a while. 

No seriously, the Islands are still very beautiful and very easy to sail. The land provides natural protection from waves, so you still have the steady trade winds without the ocean waves to go with it. Perfect for sailing.

We did talk about skipping the British Virgin islands and continuing sailing south, but the winds are so strong right now that we will have to stay here for a while, so we might as well get in line and “tour” the Virgin Islands.

We also went diving the Cow Rock. It was pretty good - except our photography skills are still lacking. Next dive will be better :)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Today we saved a man from drowning!

Well the title sums it up, but let me tell you a little bit more about it.
We sailed to Culebra, which is an island just east of Puerto Rico. The weather has not been very good, it rained for last 3 days and today is first day when it's sunny, but boy, is it windy! 20 knots steady with 25 knot gusts. - and this is the mildest day of the week. By Sunday it's going to be 30 knots steady with 37 knot gusts. That's a lot of wind pressure. And of course the waves come with it. We are getting really good at reefing the sails these days.

We anchored in this nice spot where we wanted to go diving, so Anthony and I went diving for an hour or so - the diving was terrible. We descended to 32 feet and we could not see the bottom which was at 35 feet. We would have to swim 2 feet from the coral in order to see it. The rain and wind mixed up the water so much that the visibility was very, very low.

But I digress - back to our rescue operation.
In the afternoon we wanted to see the famed Bahia Flamenco beach - some reports put it as one of the best lagoons in the world!

We had to cross the island on foot across two steep hills, so we went ashore and started walking. We were just at the top of the hill when we heard this faint yelling. It was coming from about the location where we left our boat, but it was a different sound! A grown man screaming at the top of his lungs over and over - we were too far to discern the words but something was not right. Then the voice stopped, but after a short while it came back. We decided to turn back, descend the hill and see what it was. We send the boys to run ahead, while us - the old guys were behind.
As we got closer, Anthony and a couple of other guys were already wrestling to put our dinghy back in the water. We previously had to drag it about 20 feet aground as the waves were so big.

The guy that was screaming (Spiro was his name- from Greece) told us that him and his friend were snorkeling but the current took them offshore and only he was able to swim back. His friend was swept away into the ocean and may be dead now - oh boy!

So Anthony, the guy that was screaming, and another "hippie looking guy" that apparently was camping in the woods nearby, and also came to help, and I jumped into the dinghy and went to search for the missing swimmer. We found him still alive, with no mask on, struggling to keep his head above the water through the swells. He said that such a powerful wave came, that it took his mask completely off. We safely pulled him into our dinghy and brought him back to shore.

The happy rescued swimmer (second from left) and his friend from Greece.

I hope that one day if need to be the same favor will be repaid to us if we are ever in trouble. It was really the loud screaming of his buddy friend that saved this mans life as we would not have heard it and returned back otherwise.

Well, in the end we still got time to go to Flamenco beach on the other side of the island and enjoy splashing in the big waves.

All is well that ends well, and today ended really well.

Puerto Del Ray Haulout

It always makes me sad to see Galaxy being pulled out of the water. It's not natural.

We noticed it already in the Bahamas that something is not quite right with one of our saildrives, and we would have to pull the boat out of the water. On the way to Puerto Rico the other saildrive developed a vibration noise so we spent a few days on the "hard" and took care of the issues.

Puerto Del Ray is on the east coast of Puerto Rico near city called Fajardo. It is a very large marina (over 1100 slips) and they have very large boat yard which can accommodate our catamaran, so we headed there to do the work.

The staff in this marina was rather incredible. I have never been hauled out of the water with so many people helping to pull the boat out, and doing to so meticulously. It was really a great experience.

We changed the seals, took one drive completely out of the boat into Volvo Service, and installed it back in. I won't bore you with the details. Galaxy is back in the water. Let's hope the drives serve us well for a long time.

After all it's time to start exploring the Virgin Islands ! ! !

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Puerto Rico - Vieques, and thoughts on crime

We sailed to Vieques, one of the bigger islands off of Puerto Rico. Vieques has a Bioluminescent Bay, which is claimed to be perhaps the best bioluminescent bay in the world.

We definitely wanted to see it, so we sailed there. As we are sailing, we were reading anchorage information on our charts supplemented by Active Captain reports and several guide books, and one theme became quite obvious. Crime! Active Captain has accounts of people getting their dinghies stolen.
This type of crime is quite new to us (we never once locked our dinghy in the Bahamas) and although we are locking our dinghy wherever we go now, it's a major PITA!
So we decided to pull our dinghy out of the water every night and take extra precautions. It was about 9:00 pm that night when we hear a frantic call from a sailboat to a Coast Guard reporting that their dinghy is gone. It was tied behind the boat when they anchored, and now it's gone. Here we go! Not having a dinghy to be able to go ashore is a major deal. It pretty much ruins your cruising plans as you cannot get off the boat!

The following day 7:00 am in the morning, we hear the same sailboat hailing the Coast Guard again. A local fisherman found the dinghy adrift, and took the time (out of his fishing livelihood) to find the owner and tow the dinghy back to them.
What is the moral of this story? There are also nice, caring people living on Vieques, and their voices should also be heard - and yes, lock and tie your dinghies properly!

Ok, I'm off my soup box. We visited the Bioluminescent Bay, I took pictures, just to find out that my camera's mirror is locked up so the camera is unusable -  so no pictures. I'll have to find a replacement.

Vieques has very clear water - just like the Bahamas. It was so nice to snorkel, hunt for conch and overall just be anchored in a pristine environment again.

Next on our agenda will be to head back to Puerto Rico mainland. We have a saildrive (It's the transmission and the propeller that is under the boat) that is leaking sea water, so we need to haul Galaxy out of the water and address this issue - so we are heading to Fajardo to take care of this.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Puerto Rico - Inland

We are anchored on the south side of Puerto Rico in Salinas, a very protected spot, so we rented a car and went exploring the island.

Arecibo Observatory

Puerto Rico is home to the world’s largest and most sensitive radar/radio-telescope, set in an ancient sinkhole.
Built in 1960's it uses radio waves similar to an echo sounder visualizing distant objects. This telescope is used for researching earth's ionosphere, comets and other objects. It is also used by scientists as part of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project. Very interesting stuff.

Rio Camuy Cave Park

The river Camuy is the worlds third largest underground river and in this park it formed many caves, caverns, sink holes, which are amazing to explore. We visited the park and explored the caverns.

Toro Negro Mountains and Dona Juana Falls

The central Puerto Rico is very hilly and is absolutely a visual treat to drive through its scenic roads. We hiked to the highest peak of Puerto Rico - the Cerro de Punta, which is 4390 ft (1338m) high.

Close by are Doña Juana Falls - a nice waterfall (200 foot / 60m).

San Juan

In San Juan we mainly visited the two forts which are the biggest forts that Spanish built in the Americas. They are the. San Cristobal Fortress, which was designed to protect fro land invasion, and the El Morro, overlooking the San Juan harbor and designed to protect from water invasion.

El Yunque

El Yunque National Forrest is the only tropical forest in the US park system. And it is absolutely beautiful. We hiked many trails and enjoyed it a lot.