Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Puerto Rico and the End of the Thorny Path

After one of my Facebook posts someone asked me what the "thorny path" meant. I probably should have detailed that out at some point, so please accept my apology and let me explain.

Sailing is preferable if the wind is coming from your side or somewhere at your back. Same goes for waves. The more in front of the mast either of these items the bouncier the ride.

The third variable: current, can generally be used to a sailor's advantage if the trends are predictable.

Impromptu Buddy Boats on the Mona Passage with us. We weren't the only folks that spied a weather window and made a run for it. We established a VHF channel to discuss strategy, right about here we'd decided to push further away from shore to find calmer wave action and avoid encountering fishing equipment in the dark.

Going from Florida to the Caribbean means going directly against the trade winds, which almost always blow from the East, stronger in the afternoon. The current and waves in this region also generally come from the East, or slightly North of East. And there's a lot of East to be conquered to get from Florida to the Caribbean. So the wind, waves, and current are generally fighting any progress. There's a lot of motoring - the sails don't get out much. That's the essence of the thorny path. Lots of motoring and regular beatings.

Boqueron Still Life on a Monday morning

Experienced sailors all say the same thing about the thorny path "did it once, won't do it again", and instead sail waaaaaaaaay out of the way in a really big tack out into the open Atlantic Ocean, and sail back into the the BVI on Longitude 65. This method is called "taking the I-65". But we wanted to experience the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, and also Chloe still won't pee on the boat making regular landings important, so we decided we'd give it a whirl. After all, others have survived, how bad could it possibly be?

The Fort at Old San Juan

We planned all our hops through the Bahamas trending South and East, and then fought our way along the Dominican Republic coast, where we perched on the East side of the island and looked out over the Mona Passage to Puerto Rico. Famed waters, these are. Any sailor who has experienced this passage will take a big breath and pause before telling you their personal horror story.

By the time we reached the Dominican Republic the signs of stress were starting to show on the sailors around us. One couple put their boat up for sale. Another threatened divorce. A single-handed sailor put his boat on the hard for a season to "go home and think about it for a while". Many got sucked into major boat repairs or marina life and stayed longer, then longer, always finding a reason not to leave. That last one tempted us too. The Dominican Republic is affordable to cruisers, the fresh food is plentiful and the people are friendly. But in our case the insurance company won't have it - they want us South of Latitude 12.40 (the hurricane belt) by July 1st. So we had to keep moving.

BBQ at Los Pinos, on the mountaintop Ruta de Lechon (pork route)

In the end the Mona Passage was every bit as awful as we'd heard to expect: the pokiest middle finger at the end of a very long thorny path. We were advised not to try to play the currents as their timing was simply unpredictable. We studied the wind and wave patterns very carefully, integrated advice from the weather and local sailor gurus, and still got our asses handed to us by wind, waves, and most of all the current which slowed us from our usual cruising speed of 6.5knots to 3.5knots, extending our time in the wave beating zone by hours. Fortunately Minerva is a sturdy girl and the only casualty she suffered was some trimwork that had to be reattached after arrival. We received only minor bruises that healed quickly.

Shortly before arriving in Puerto Rico in the middle of the night, the wind and waves finally released us and we motored into the anchorage on a glassy sea, a surreal experience. The smell coming off the island of Puerto Rico from the earlier rainstorm was grass and dirt, agriculture and wet sidewalks. In short, it smelled just like a baseball field. The sweat flop had barely dried on our skin when we set the hook in the protected anchorage at Puerto Real and passed out flat, dreaming of childhood days playing at parks.

Ah! That new outboard smile!

Shortly after sunrise our first morning in Puerto Rico the music started. And didn't end until after we'd gone to bed each night. Everywhere in Puerto Rico there is music; all the time from every jetski, every car, every boat. Happy bouncy music and it's all very LOUD. We ordered a new outboard from the local chandlery and settled in to wait for its arrival while the Spring Break insanity unfolded around us in Boqueron, a popular public beach and party town.

These little pouches of deliciousness are called Gasolina and they are made in Puerto Rico. We coined them "adult Capri Suns", they are booze in a squeeze pouch - the perfect way to end a sweltering day. Very little sugar, small enough to keep a few in our tiny freezer, they store in the bilge with no fuss. Lance is addicted to these things.

Continuing East along Puerto Rico's coast meant doing so at night to avoid fighting the tradewinds, and so that was our pattern. Go to bed early, anchor up in the dark, motor in the dark, arrive in the morning light and set the hook, do it again.

Puerto Rico has plentiful US post offices. Huzzah! Finally we were in a position to catch mail from home including a great big bag of flags. These are the flags we are likely to need between now and Christmas, the rest are stowed away for use in 2024.

Then we reached Salinas and received an unexpected miracle, West Winds at 10am and flat seas! We hoisted the spinnaker and reveled in the free ride as far as it would take us, landing in Culebra and setting the hook alongside our buddy boat at midnight. A few days later we made the short hop to the USVI on calm seas in full daylight. And that's the end of the thorny path. We made it. Boat, relationship, and bodies intact. Whew.

Spinnaker sailing! Yeah baby!

 It was an experience, and now we are sailors who will say "we did it once, won't do it again". The dog will just have to finally give in and pee on the boat. She has a pee pad and she knows what we want, she's just stubborn.

The turquoise waters of the USVI remind us of the Bahamas. There are a couple of turtles that pop up for air, we'll go snorkeling after them tomorrow. But first, a cocktail and a toast buh-bye to the thorny path.