31 Mar 2013

[Cruise News] Big Major Spot, Staniel Cay, Exuma Cays, Bahamas

North of Great Exuma Cay lies a series of smaller cays stretching up towards Nassau.  Some of these are privately owned (Musha Cay, for example, by illusionist David Copperfield and which can be rented for $350,000 per week) but most are uninhabited and share the same features of pristine white beaches and turquoise seas.  On one side of the chain is the Exuma Sound (effectively an extension of the Atlantic) at over 1500m deep.  On the other side the Exuma Bank, only 4m deep.  The sailing experience is incredibly different depending on which side you sail, both in terms of the sea state but, more importantly, the necessity to monitor instruments all the time to avoid running aground.

Yesterday we cut into the Exuma Bank and headed north to the Staniel Cay area, home of the Thunderball grotto (think James Bond) and swimming pigs!  These feral pigs inhabit a small island called Big Major Spot and swim out to visiting boats for food .... up to 100 metres off-shore.  We saved up lettuce, cabbage and bread crusts to go and feed them from the dinghy.  This morning we headed towards the beach where they hang out and they spotted us from quite a distance and started swimming out to us.  I tried throwing a cabbage leaf into the sea but that was no good: They wanted feeding straight into their mouths.  Cucumber chunks proved very popular with the dinghy nudged for more.  One of the pigs was really big - and could swim very well, although not as well as his smaller, pinker "cousin".  All in all, a unique experience!

Just after we anchored yesterday, I saw what I thought was a manta ray in the water, swimming towards us.  It turns out it was a nurse shark, and quite a big one at that, that swam under the stern of Jay Jay and slowly mosied away towards the nearby reef.  No swimming for me ... but Paul plans on going shark-hunting later.
Having bought a tiller extension for the dinghy, we have taken to travelling around standing up.  Not for the feint hearted in choppy waters, but at least it means we get to our destination with dry clothes .... always a bonus.  And excellent for the balance although I'm sure one of us will go overboard before long!

27 Mar 2013

[Cruise News] Stop press news!!!

We had to put a blanket on the bed last night and are wearing our Jay Jay zip-up hoodies today because it's quite cool!   What are we doing here?  What's happening?  Apparently there has been a sudden thaw of the Artic ice-cap which has pushed cold fronts south into mainland US and even down into the Bahamas.  So we're back to northerly winds for the next few days but the locals think it will be warmer again tomorrow.  They better be right or we're sailing south!!!!

25 Mar 2013

[Cruise News] Georgetown, Great Exuma Island, Bahamas

Yes, we've finally made it to the Bahamas, thank goodness.  I think I'd begun to believe we would never leave Puerto Rico but after 6 days of sailing, along the coast of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and with two overnight stops in the Turks and Caicos islands, we're here.  The "weather window" wasn't as good as we hoped / was forecast with us having to motor sail for just over half the time but it was sunny and warm and the seas were easy.  So all in all, a good trip and it's been good to undertake a longer passage again in readiness for the sail to Bermuda next month.

Our two overnight stops in the T&C were at deserted sandy islands (Big Sand Cay and Frenchman,'s Cay) where we were the only boat around,  As we approached Big Sand Cay, a nature reserve, it was obvious the bird resident didn't like the idea of sharing their night-time roosting site with humans.  They didn't exactly dive-bomb us but made a lot of noise as we sailed through the moonlit waters approaching the island.  It was pretty surreal as we could hear all this noise but see nothing.

We sailed across the Caicos Bank to move from one cay to another - the most clear waters we have seen to date.  Despite the sea all around this area being very deep (think kilometres and not metres) the bank itself is only a few metres deep and we had to pick our way across negotiating the myriad coral heads which were easily identifiable against the white sand bottom.  It will prove to be good experience for exploring all the Bahamian Cays on the Bahama Bank.  As the charts state, "Visual Piloting Rules" have to apply to ensure not running aground.

So now we have 3 weeks to enjoy the Bahamas.  Not as long as we'd originally hoped but long enough to get a real flavour for the country.

19 Mar 2013

[Cruise News] About to depart for the Bahamas at last

Well I'm pleased to report that we're finally weighing anchor and setting off for the Bahamas.  The weather window looks good and I can't wait to be on our way!  Bahamas here we come!!!!

Sadly the end to our stay in Puerto Rico has been blighted by me being pick-pocketed at the St Patrick's Day festivities, not by native Puerto Ricans I hasten to add who have been nothing but kind and helpful resolving our situation.  But we lost over $600 of cash, all our credit cards and our driving licenses in the incident.  I can picture the people who did it but won't mention their nationality to avoid creating an international incident!  They made a show of being friendly and interested in what we are doing and I was taken in by it.  Anyway, learning points from the experience and we have managed to get things sorted helped by a wonderful American couple we have got friendly with (Becky and Joe) who have ferried us around in their hire car, and two charming Puerto Ricans (Miguel and Rey) who have been sympathetic and helpful in communicating with the local police to file the theft report, and gave me a big hug to boot.  It kind of restores your faith in the human race.

I'm really looking forward to the passage to the Bahamas and to getting there.  Will be back online in around 5 days all being well.

17 Mar 2013

[Cruise News] Back in B-b-boqueron!

We gave up on motoring east along the south coast of Puerto Rico on Thursday and decided to return to the west end of the island, probably the sensible option for the passage to the Bahamas. 

Weekend is party time in Boqueron and this weekend sees the celebration of St Patrick's Day with a parade and lots of fun and festivities.  It was lovely arriving back in Boqueron as people we knew were still here and pleased to see us .... always nice to see a friendly face.  Since we were here midweek, one of the oldest buildings lining the waterfront (a lop-sided, clapboard building painted turquoise) has burnt down.  A shame for the town but it's also knocked out the internet too .... a real hassle for cruisers!

Oh, and by the way, we're leaving tomorrow all being well.  At last!

14 Mar 2013

[Cruise News] Isla Do Muerto (Coffin Island)

7 miles SE of Ponce is this small island which is a nature reserve and surrounded by the clearest of turquoise seas.  The island is crowned by a lighthouse which we hiked up to see - despite it still being operational, sadly it was very delapidated when we got there, a shame seeing as it date back fin Island)to 1887.

Back in the 1800s the island was used as the meeting place for Masons - an organisation that was outlawed at that time,  On the hike up to the lighthouse there was a memorial monument to the Masons dating from that time. 

13 Mar 2013

[Cruise News] On the sea again

After 5 nights at anchor in Boqueron, and with still no suitable weather window for sailing north in sight, we've decided to cut our losses and back-track to the USVI.  We had to miss these out on the way to Puerto Rico because we ran short of time so it will be nice to visit them and tick them off the list so to speak.  We're then hopeful that next week will yield an opportunity to head north, although it will have added an extra 24 hours to the sailing time to the Bahamas.  But, we're not good at killing time so would prefer to be sailing somewhere in the meantime, unlike a neighbouring boat here in Boqueron who have been waiting over 5 weeks for a weather window.  Just shows we're definitely not proper cruisers yet!

10 Mar 2013

[Cruise News] Boqueron, Puerto Rico

We arrived in Boqueron Friday afternoon with the plan on overnighting here, clearing out with Customs on Saturday and heading off later that day.  Things haven't exactly gone to plan!  Firstly, Customs told us they don't work Saturday and Sunday thus delaying our earliest departure to Monday.  And then the weather is conspiring against us.  We have to sail across the Mona Passage on leaving Puerto Rico, a stretch of water 80 miles wide separating PR from the Dominican Republic, and notorious for kicking up big seas.  All the advise is not to sail it when the wind is from the north and, you guessed it, it's coming from the north for the next couple of days.  Tuesday would be a good day to head off from a wind direction perspective but there big swells forecast until Wednesday (up to 13') suggesting Wednesday would be a better launch day.  But then another band of high winds is forecast to come through on Thursday.  You get the picture!

Meanwhile we're having a relaxing time here in Boqueron and finding it very sociable.  It's the departure / arrival point for most boats sailing between the Bahamas and the Caribbean so there are plenty of cruisers here to share a beer and anecdote with.  We've also used the opportunity to re-stock (yet again) Jay Jay with enough food to probably sail to the Arctic - a chap off the neighbouring yacht very kindly gave us a lift to the supermarket yesterday so we didn't even have to use a taxi!

Boqueron is very popular at weekends with Puerto Ricans and has a real street-party atmosphere.  We had dinner ashore last night with four Canadian and two American sailors, all who had arrived from the Bahamas yesterday, and had a really fun evening.  We also got a couple of T-shirts painted with Jay Jay on the front, set again a Caribbean beach.  A nice souvenir of our time out here.  Let's hope the UK serves up enough sunshine this year for us to be able to wear them.

7 Mar 2013

[Cruise News] Ponce, Puerto Rico

We're halfway along the south coast of PR now in the second largest city of Ponce.  It dates back to colonial times and has an air of faded glory about, despite the government's program me of rejuvination.  Probably the most notable feature of the city is the old fire station, a wooden building dating from 1843 that is painted in the city colours of red and black.  Red represents fire and black the ashes.  Back in the early days of the station, the firemen didn't receive any pay and so they were all awarded wooden homes, also painted red and black.  Some 150+ years on, the descendants of these original firefighters are still entitled to live there rent-free.
Tomorrow morning we'll continue our journey west along the south coast, hopefully rounding the SW corner and ending up in Boqueron.  From there we'll check out on Saturday and start the four day passage to the Bahamas.  It will be strange to make a long passage again after 3 months of island hopping but the weather forecast is looking good so we should have a decent crossing.  We're very excited about visiting the Bahamas - everyone we talk to says they are spectacular.  Let's hope so!

5 Mar 2013

[Cruise News] Esperanza, Vieques

We sailed over to Vieques on Sunday arriving in Sun Bay to rendevouz with the couple we met 10 days ago in Culebra.  It's a beautiful bay and a bit of a first for me - staying somewhere with only 2 other boats.  Last time we were in the Caribbean I always looked to have at least 5 other boats around, ideally 10, so I'm coming on in leaps and bounds!

Vieques is the largest of the Spanish Virgin islands and is very laid back.  Mainstream tourism hasn't arrived here and it lends the island a certain charm that isn't present in the BVI and USVI.  There are only two towns on the island, Esperanza and Isabel Segunda, the capital.  We've visited both in the course of the last two days, preferring the former which is surrounded by a beautiful bay.

We're setting off along the south coast of Puerto Rico tomorrow as part of the first leg of the journey to the Bahamas.  It looks like we'll be facing very light winds so may well be motor-sailing a fair bit of the way.  Better than high winds, but expensive!

Puerto Rico

We've had a great time in Puerto Rico and have seen a lot of the sights on the eastern side of the island, despite having to spend far more time at the marina sorting out the anemometer and forestay than we'd hoped!  So yesterday being finally free of boat issues we visited the El Yunque rainforest which is the only rainforest national park in the US.  It's in three distinct levels, dictated by both the height and also the type of vegetation.  We were only in the first level at around 1500 feet.

Puerto Rico has one of the rarest birds on the planet - the Puerto Rican parrot - and there are only 22 of these left in the wild.  They inhabit the third level of the forest and to help keep predators away from this level, the national park creates artificial nests in the lower levels to "accommodate" other birds.  

Another rare world phenomenon is bio-luminescence in the water.  Last night we were lucky enough to visit one of the three bio-luminescent bays in the Spanish Virgin Islands.  Whilst two of these are on Puerto Rico, the one considered to be the best is on the neighbouring island of Vieques where the density of the single-cell, microscopic dinaflagellants (? spelling!) is the highest in the world.   These little critters fluoresce when they are agitated and so trailing a hand or foot through the water creates the most incredible spectacle.  I don't often use this word, but last night fully deserved it .... awesome!