In the early morning calm we motored along Puerto Rico’s eastern shore watching the sun climb over the island of Vieques off to the east. Many of you may remember that only recently the US Navy stopped using, or perhaps abusing Vieques as a bombing range. Once those war exercises ceased, the massive naval facility at Roosevelt Roads fell into disuse, and now it appears to be the US Navy’s largest gray elephant, an empty, all but deserted base. As I pored over charts of this area prior to our cruise, I imagined this area as a difficult, dangerous, wind-swept shore. What we found instead was easy to navigate, wide open ocean, with nothing to fear – as long as you paid attention. Sure there are reefs, and coral, and rock, but as long as you don’t fall asleep at the wheel, and keep track of your course, nothing could have been easier. Frankly, thus far, our trip to the Caribbean had been the ultimate “piece of cake”.
But then again, maybe we’re just getting better at watching our weather, not taking too many chances, and planning our voyage legs so we don’t get the crap beat out of us. Before we left our home waters I made a lot of promises to Joy, and I think I did a pretty good job keeping those promises. Come to think of it, I probably enjoyed the trip a whole lot more too, because every leg was fun. Even the worst moments, few and far between that they were, we now laugh about. Those moments were almost always due to the same sorts of errors – being tired, lack of attention, or lack of proper planning. We do our best to keep those moments to a minimum, and we seem to be getting better at it all the time. We’re liking this life.
We rounded Isleta Island to the north and east, choosing to skip the narrow reef channel close to the mainland side. We slowly coasted back south towards the anchorage area. All the cruising guides tell you to sneak in close to the southwest shore of Isleta to find protection from wind and waves. All well and good, but every inch of water in close was taken by old relics of boats, many of them sunk or sinking. Elsewhere, there were boats of all sorts, many relics, lying to moorings. There was not a whole lot of room to anchor. Our first attempt placed us too close for comfort to another boat, and after “discussing” our location for a bit, we agreed to move well out of the way of all the other boats.
Between us and these boats above and below is a 2 to 3 foot deep shoal that is hard to see even on the best of days. It looks like a good anchoring spot until you glance at the chart, see the shoal, and then notice no boats here.
Isleta Marina Resort is a fairly large, pretty well protected marina that only cost $50.00 a day for dockage including electricity and water. But for $5.00 a day we could use all the facilities including the ferry to the mainland. We chose to stay at anchor where it was much quieter, cooler, and only a minute to the docks in our Go-Fast dinghy. While at the marina I spent some time chatting with the manager. He was very helpful and took time to walk me around the property, show me the stores, the restaurant, the laundry, and explain how the ferry system worked. He was impressed that Joy and I had sailed all this way considering what it took for us to do that, and he wanted to help us in any way he could. He told me about mainland shopping, the fresh vegetable market, the fish market, and inland travel. Proud of his country and his marina, he was pleased to make it all available to us. This is a great place to stop for a while, and one you don’t want to miss.
The next day I wanted to chase down a part for the boat; the engine warning buzzer had quit buzzing. So I did a little research, took the ferry to shore, and planned to walk to the “Skipper Shop”. After I got off the ferry I was walking down the pier next to a man who looked like he knew his way around, so I asked him if he knew where the Skipper Shop was. “Yes”, he said. After a second or two, I asked if he could give me directions to the shop. “Yes”, he said. A few more seconds, and realizing he was a man of few words, I asked if I could walk there. “Yes. but it’s a long ways”, he said. He then offered to take me there in his truck! And so off I went with Juan, owner of one of the largest working barge companies in Puerto Rico. He drove me to the shop, asking me along the way how I knew I needed the buzzer. He waited for me to be sure I got what I needed, then drove me back to the ferry before he went on about his work day. I had a great time learning a bit about his company, and talking about life in Puerto Rico. Can you imagine a stranger doing all that for you back in Florida? Not in my neck of the woods.