SVI Journal: Day 5, Vieques to Culebra

An early morning rain shower shook me awake. I got up to make sure we were still on our mooring in Esperanza, and I found three of the teens sleeping on the couch in the salon. Apparently they’d all been sleeping outside until it started raining.

I started the coffee pot and went back to bed until the rain let up. Then Mary helped me round up the ingredients, and I started flipping pancakes. That was the only breakfast I made all week. I put frying pans on two different burners, so I could make two pancakes at a time instead of just one. It’s still a slow meal to churn out for eight people when you don’t have a big griddle available.

After breakfast we decided to leave Batubara and Chateau du Mer behind to get an early start down the coast of Vieques because we wanted to make a stop at La Chiva to check out the beach.

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We motored east past an old deserted lighthouse sitting atop the bluff and within the hour we were anchored at La Chiva. The sandy beach area was a marked contrast to Esperanza, and the first thing we noticed were the hazard markers around the small island denoting unexploded ordinance. Of course, we didn’t know what they meant at the time, but later we found a sign explaining it.

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We donned our masks and fins and swam to shore, seeing nothing in the water except sand and sea grass.

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Then we set our flippers in a pile and took a stroll down the sand.

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We found cactus, coconuts, and a strange bumpy fruit, which we later identified as noni, growing along the beach. After enjoying getting our fill of beach time, I put a noni in my pocket for research purposes, and we swam back to the boat.

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Still finding no sign of life in the water I made one more circle before giving up, and I finally ran across a big cushion sea star.

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I dove down to snap a picture, and then I pointed it out to the rest of our crew and the crew of Batubara who had just arrived. Afterwards I felt a bit guilty about it because that poor cusion sea star was molested six ways to Sunday as it was picked up and carried around to be show to everyone. However, aside from losing a sucker on somebody’s hand, it was finally released more or less unharmed.

The charter company had warned us about the heavy bloom of sargassum, so while we were swimming, Andy took some time to check the starboard engine strainer and found quite a bit. However, he wanted to make sure the Starboard raw water system would prime back up before he changed the port. Meanwhile Doug tried to check the strainers on Batubara and found they weren’t very accessible and impossible to open. We all just agreed that both boats seemed to have enough water flow and decided not to mess with them anymore.

We pulled up anchor and began the longest leg of the week, the trip around the east end of vieques and north to Culebra. With gorgeous blue water ahead of us we decided to sail instead of motor and make a long tack out past the island and back. Unfortunately, as soon as we released the rolling furler, we fouled it.

Jayne and Mary had to man the helm and the lines while Andy and I bounced around on the tramps trying to get things untangled. After a tense ten minutes and some good teamwork, we finally got the fouled loop off the underside of the roller and back on the drum.

We re-grouped then set sail again, successfully this time, and wandered out into the deep waters of the Caribbean. At 40 feet, I could still see shapes on the bottom through the water. The depth finder quit at 310 feet.

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I sat and marveled at the blueness of the water, and I saw my first flying fish. As we neared the end of Vieques we could see the dark outline of St. Thomas on the horizon.

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The Sail Caribe catamarans are allowed to go to St. Thomas, but the monohulls need special permission. I’m not sure exactly why, but that was the rule. However, this trip we weren’t stopping in St. Thomas. Instead we turned north towards Culebra.

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Since we were the only boat that took the long route by actually sailing, we were the last of our group to arrive. Of course, there was still time for a quick snorkel. I ran into several starfish, a giant hermit crab, and a bearded fire worm.

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Bahia de Almodovar is an amazing anchorage. It’s protected by a reef and sandbar, so you can look directly out from your calm, protected mooring into the ocean.

It was truly a beautiful spot and aside from the two sportfishers rafted on a mooring ball at the entrance, we had the entire place to ourselves.

Logan, one of the teens on the boat was enjoying looking at all the homes up on the bluff around the bay — at least until she saw a homeowner staring back at her from his window.

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I manned the grill and we cooked Mary’s curry chicken kebabs, which got high acclaim from the entire crew.

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Meanwhile Cade was getting lessons in knot tying from Andy.

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That evening felt a bit like an article out of LIFE magazine.

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It was also at dinner that I filled the 32GB SD card in one of my cameras. I thought to myself, good thing I’m always prepared and bought this spare 64GB SD card. Too bad I didn’t check to see if 64GB cards worked in my older camera. Turns out, they don’t. My precision piece of German engineering was “dead in the water” so to speak.

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After dark we dinghied over to Batubara to watch the small sharks circling under their boat in the blue light. Those were the only sharks I saw the entire trip.

When we got back to Caicu I found the air-conditioning on our side of the boat had quit, and the thermostats were giving a HI PS error. However, I was too tired to deal with it, so we opened the hatches and were thankful that there was a cool breeze coming through the bay.

SVI Journal: Day 3, Punta Arenas, Vieques

I did manage to sleep past sunrise Monday morning, but the sun wasn’t very high before everyone on the boat started moving around looking for breakfast. I took a quick snorkel and found that a school of jacks was under the boat. Cade threw his line in the water and within minutes had reeled one in on his makeshift fishing pole, crafted from an old boat pole, two discarded battens, several hose clamps, and a lot of tape.

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The Sail Caribe captain on duty called us back about the dinghy and suggested we empty the water trap on the fuel filter. We did, and it started right up, so we told them all was good. Big mistake. Although it started after dumping the filter, it wouldn’t hold idle, and it made getting from the boat to shore for the rest of the week a giant headache. We’d have to rev it up to start it, then throttle down, pop it into gear, and then immediately rev it back up again. It was a process that required perfect timing or the engine would die and take ten minutes to start again. In retrospect, we really wish we’d insisted they fix or replace it that morning before we left the area.

The rest of the morning was pretty relaxing.

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Just after the first ferry showed up with El Conquistador visitors we realized we were on a mooring ball that said DIVE USE ONLY instead of DAY USE ONLY, which explained why there was a cattleboat full of people waiting to snorkel sitting and staring at us. We quickly moved balls and finalized our plans with Batubara and Chateau du Mer to head south to Vieques.

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We had a nice day of sailing between islands, and Mary while still anxious, seemed to be getting more used to the swells. She had no trouble prepping lunch while we were underway.

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Although we all left at different times, at one point we all ended up sailing together.

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Not that the teens remembered any of it. Once we hit the open water, they were passed out.

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We dropped anchor at Punta Arenas, and I put on a snorkel to “dive my anchor” for the first time. It’s a pointless activity in Galveston Bay since there’s zero visibility in our water.

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When I made it to the anchor, I found a small fish had already decided the dugout area under the plow would make a great new home. I hope he enjoyed it for the one night we were there.

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Mary and I kayaked to the beach, and while pretty, the sand was grainy and hard to walk on. There were also lots of spiny anemones along the water line, so we had to be very careful where we stepped.

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We ended up being the only three boats anchored in the area.

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When we got back we cleaned up and set out snack trays for the pirate party as our guests came dinking over with their eyepatches on.

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Andy and Jayne graciously donated a bottle of Ron Zacapa XO Solera Gran Reserva Especial for the party. I’m not much of a liquor drinker, but I don’t think I’ve ever had rum quite so good.

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It was a bit crowded to have 17 people aboard Caicu, but everyone had a great time. Then, as the sun went down the crews of Batubara and Chateau du Mer departed, so that we could cook dinner.

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The teens whipped up some spaghetti, and we all laid on the tramps looking up at the milky way. We saw two shooting stars that night before heading in to bed.

That’s when we discovered the air-conditioner had quit. The generator was running fine, but the air-conditioner was completely dead. We opened the salon settee to find that AC unit was half submerged in water.

Thankfully it was a cool, breezy night, so we opened the hatches and went to bed.

SVI Journal: Day 2, Checkout and Chart Briefings

I was awake by 5 a.m. Even though we hadn’t yet left the marina, being on a catamaran sitting in blue water in a tropical location made it harder to stay in bed than Christmas morning. I grabbed the camera and took a walk through Puerto del Rey enjoying the silence and solitude.

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Eventually, one by one, the members of our various crews began appearing from their vessels. It was quite comical to watch each person attempt to quietly disembark from an unfamiliar boat with hidden magnets on the backs of doors and hatches that caused them to bang open loudly. Stealthy they were not.

When I got back to Caicu, our Lagoon 400, there was a waterfall starting in the salon and running down the stairs into the port ama. A quick investigation revealed the salon air-conditioner was the culprit. The pump that was supposed to be draining the condensation out of the boat was not functioning, and the water had developed into quite a pool under the seat.

It had obviously be doing this for some time as the wood at the corner of the couch was discolored and starting to rot. The commotion of pulling apart the couches and sopping up the water, we woke up the rest of the boat. They were not as excited to be up at the crack of dawn.

We wandered up to the small café near the Sail Caribe office for breakfast. Service was quick and the food was very reasonably priced. Then after breakfast we wandered by the ship store, which wasn’t yet open, and stopped into the small convenience store to see what they carried. They had a nice variety of cereals and canned goods, but after realizing we had plenty of space in the freezer on our Lagoon 400, Caicu, we were hoping to score a couple frozen pizzas. Sadly, that was not something they carried.

Once back at the boats each crew began a boat briefing with a representative from Sail Caribe. Our rep was Pedro. He walked us through every system on the boat, showed us where to find all the battery switches and breakers, and helped us do an inspection of all the systems.

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We started the engines. We started the generator. We lowered and started the dinghy. Everything except for that air conditioner condensation pump seemed to be in good working order.

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A couple guys bailed the water out of the couch and then sopped it dry with towels. The official response was, we know it’s broken, but we don’t have a pump for it, so you’ll just have to watch it. (I’m not sure why they couldn’t pop a bilge pump with a float in there as there didn’t seem to be any shortage of those in Puerto Rico, but I don’t run Sail Caribe.)

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Once we finished the boat briefings we all congregated on Batubara, the Lagoon 450, for a chart briefing with Graham. He set a few ground rules and walked us through our planned itinerary. The north side of Vieques was off limits, which wasn’t a problem, and the north side of Culebra where we had planned to anchor one afternoon to visit Flamenco Beach was off limits. However, he showed us where we could moor on the west side of Culebra to then be able to walk across to Flamenco beach. He also familiarized us with the local rules and regulations. For instance, you can’t pull your dinghy up on the beach anywhere in the Spanish Virgin Islands because it might damage a turtle nest. That was an important thing to know, both for us and the turtles.

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We met Pedro back at Caicu for our last test before embarking on our week-long adventure. He had Andy, who was our captain for the week, drive us off the dock and out to the end of the marina where he had to hold the boat into the wind while we raised the mainsail. It didn’t take him long to get the hand of the twin screws, something neither of us have on our boats at home. We got the sail up and down and then headed back to the fuel dock to drop off Pedro.

It was on the way out of the marina that perhaps the most adrenaline-generating incidence occurred. We were puttering along while “someone” was playing with the charter plotter. When he pressed “Go To Track” the autopilot kicked in and promptly turned us straight onto a crash course for the breakwater. There were two or three seconds of sheer panic as we fumbled to find the off switch to regain control of the boat. Thankfully we did not crash the boat into the breakwater and made it out into the open ocean – my first time in the Caribbean.

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A brief photo itinerary of our trip through the SVIs

We landed in Houston Sunday night after an absolutely gorgeous week in the Spanish Virgin Islands. As I continue to dig out from under the giant pile of work at the office and sift through the almost 100GB of photos, I thought I’d put together this quick photo recap of our trip. Hopefully I’ll be able to start transcribing and posting my daily journals tomorrow.

Day 1 – Puerto Del Rey, Fajardo, Puerto Rico (We took early boarding and spent the first night at the marina. At left is Caicu, a Lagoon 400, our home for the week.)

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Day 2 lunch – Cay Icacos (Apparently this is the only above-water photo I took the entire time we were at Icacos. #oops #superexcitedtobeunderwater)

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Day 2 overnight – Isla Palomino (Pretty calm and quiet on a Sunday evening.)

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Day 3 – Punta Arenas, Vieques (Pictured are our friends aboard Chateau de Mer, a Jenneau 469, and Batubara, a Lagoon 450)

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Day 4 – Esperanza, Vieques

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Day 5 lunch – La Chiva, Vieques

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Day 5 overnight – Bahia de Almodovar, Culebra

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Day 6 lunch – Tortuga Bay, Culebrita

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Day 6 overnight – Dewey, Culebra

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Day 7 – Punta Tamarindo Grande, Culebra

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Day 8 – Back to Isla Palomino (Crowded and loud on a Saturday night.)

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