Sunday, June 12, 2016

Better Late Than Never

Struggling to round the NW point of Culebra
Culebrita.  What can I say about Culebrita?  Remember this is the place that Bruce and I missed because the winds and seas were a little higher than we liked... and our chartering friends went without us.  But NOW... the winds and seas are more accommodating and NOW is our chance to see this place for ourselves.

Seas were very good to us
We got a late start but the winds were coming from the ESE in the mid teens and the waves were 3-4 ft from the east.  We had two choices... round Culebra to the south as we've done several times now... or go against the advice of our friend's charter company and brave the fierce north side.

Black Cliffs on the NE end of Culebra
What do YOU think we did?  Of course we went against the advice of the charter company...  C'mon... We're Cruisers.  We've been in the Big Water before!  So we took the shorter route and it went quite well.

We started out with just sails... the boat rose and fell gently on the swells as the wind helped us get around that long arm that stretches NW on Culebra.

Yellow line is our track
Once we got past that, the boat  seemed to struggle to make way.  After a short discussion about starting the engine (Bruce wanted to but I did not)  we ended up motorsailing and tacking our way up-wind and against the unseen current.

So.  Was it dangerous and scary as the charter captain said?  No.  It was just slow going against wind and current... but really quite pleasant and a change of scenery for us that we enjoyed.

First glimpse of the Culebrita Lighthouse
Our first glimpse of the lighthouse on Culebrita was exciting as we slid by the southern shores of Cayo Norte.  We slipped through the gap between the small islands and picked our way through the coral field with Bruce on the bow as lookout.

I was a bit nervous coming in but we never saw any really shallow water... And the waves were small today.  I would have had a lot more anxiety if we were being lifted and dropped by big rollers so for sure we won't be doing this in big weather.

Once we were past the coral the anchorage stretched out before us to a long white beach.  The water was crystal clear and calm.  What a delight!

There were already a few boats anchored up close to shore or on one of the many free mooring balls  But then it's Friday and this place is a favorite of the Locals.  We had no hope of being alone here on a weekend...

And... of course we were inspected by a bird!  This time... a dove.  I wondered what she was doing here as I crept forward to get a picture... Just before she flew away... she left her calling card.

Sunset courtesy of Sahara Dust
True to form, we settled in and relaxed on deck to watch day turn to night here in our new home...  It was almost too much to take in, this visual overload.

And while a small part of us still wished that we had come here with our friends... a bigger part was glad we came when conditions were right... and we had time to hang out and enjoy this place in slow-cruiser-style.

Nothin' to do but watch the sun slowly....slowly...      set.
Gorgeous pre-dawn
The next morning we were eager to get an early start on our hike up to the highest point on Culebrita.  Our goal?  To check another lighthouse off of our list!  I LOVE lighthouses! Sleeping beneath the rhythmic sweep of light is a singular joy for us... that was not to be.


First rays of sunlight on the Lighthouse
The Culebrita Lighthouse is no longer in service and the light has been replaced by an ugly metal tower with a cold bulb at the top... The structure was built in the 1880s and the cost of upkeep is just too high. You can read about the lighthouse here... if you are interested.

We landed the dinghy on this perfect expanse of snowy white sand.  I wanted to stay and enjoy making the first footprints of the day, but it was going to be a hot one so we pressed on.

Not so crowded yet... but it's Saturday... they will come!
We easily found the trailhead and began our hike barefooted along well-worn sand trails.

We came to a fork in the trail but there were signs pointing the way.  There are other beaches to explore here but we had no time today.

We stopped to put on our shoes as we began to encounter rocks... and crabs!  Yes, the quiet of the morning was interrupted by the sound of what must be thousands of crabs creeping along through the dried leaves littering the ground beneath mangrove and brush.

We could see them moving along until we got about ten feet from them... then they would suddenly zip back up into their shells and play 'possum.  I waited and waited in breathless silence for this guy to come out... then Bruce made a noise and he closed back up again!  Dang it Bruce!!!

The trail began to incline and our breath became more and more labored.  Remember we live on a sailboat where we often go days or even weeks without much physical activity...

I was loving this!  The terrain reminded me of days gone by when we used to go hiking on our family's property in the Texas Hill Country... right down to the scrubby brush and red dirt!

A side trail took us to a small beach on the eastern side of the island where there were mooring balls available.  Maybe next time we will stop there...

The view improved as we continued up and up.

The last part of the trail had a much steeper incline and we had to stop and take a water break.  We found a spot in the shade and cooled off for a bit.

We could hear goats running around in the brush... the kids bleating for their mothers.

We had no idea how much further we must go to the top... but very soon after we continued on, we got our first glimpse of the goal.

And the goats!  There was a billy goat tying to keep his harem together and away from the intruders.

He looked a little menacing but after a short stare-down... he broke eye contact and galloped after his family.

We explored these crumbling ruins in silence... listening for voiced from the past.

I call dibs on THIS ROOM!

The door into the turret

Looking up inside the turret
We each wandered through the rooms and experienced this moment by ourselves.  I sometimes think I can actually FEEL the people who once lived here as I try to put myself in their place.  I listened to the soft sigh of the breeze and gazed out the window of what was someone else's view once upon a time.

It must have been a lonely life with little compensation other than the normalcy of this stunning vista.

Everyone should have a photo of their boat like this!
I found Bruce out on the helipad and the deck where the ugly metal tower the now serves as weather station and light.

Looking south
We sat on the edge of the cement and just stared at the waters all around us and talked about how these are the moments we like best...

Another billy chasing his girls away from us.

Photo courtesy of the ugly metal tower
Odd that these marble floor tiles are in such great condition
The climb back down the trail wasn't going to get any cooler... so we began our hike back down starting with one more run through the lighthouse.

Back on the beach we were not surprised to find we had new neighbors.  The locals and tour boats were beginning to pour in...

We settled in the cockpit and watched it all...  There is no use getting upset about the traffic or the music playing loud enough for the whole anchorage to hear.

Big boat backing into the parking spot beside the others.

This is THEIR place.  And their weekend.  And we enjoyed watching these lucky families frolic together in this beautiful place.

Toward late afternoon we got a burst of energy and took a dinghy ride over to The Jacuzzis.

We could take the hot dusty trail over land to reach the pools... or we could arrive by sea on the dinghy.  Much more fun by sea, I say...

Arriving by sea

We clambered over the black volcanic rocks to reach the calm pools.  With a north swell, these pools become bubbly... like a jacuzzi.  But today there was no north swell so they were mostly calm with just the occasional waive making its way into the outer pool.

Planning his route
Bruce climbed over a rocky ledge to reach the outer pool while I stayed in the inner pool where it was more calm.  This rocks are razor sharp and I had already discovered how easy it is to be sliced with just the merest contact...
It wasn't easy going and I worried he wouldn't get back in one piece
We spent an enjoyable half hour or so playing in the pool until another family arrived and we left them to have it to themselves.

When we got back to the boat it was really HOT.  The wind was light and the sun was beating down... The crystal waters beckoned and we answered the call.

There are some rocky patches along the outside of the anchorage that didn't hold much of interest... although later in the evening we heard a boy chattering excitedly that he had found an octopus.  I guess they come out at dusk...

We spent the afternoon cooling off in our giant bathtub and watching the neighbors.

The sunset was a replay of the evening before... but we're OK with that...

The next morning we fled once again to Ensenada Honda on Culebra to wait out some stormy weather... We said So Long... but not Goodbye to this magical place as we will surely return to continue exploring all that Culebrita has to offer...

Update:  We had such a great time here we came right back for one more day.  We used this anchorage as our staging point for the jump to St. Thomas... These are my picks of the photos from our Bonus Day:


  1. Wow, just beautiful photos! Glad you went your own way and got there with no cruising drama! What a lovely place with those brilliant colors.

    1. Yes this is a place not-to-be-missed. There are still trails left unexplored for us to come back to...

  2. Wonderful sailing report...hopefully I will get this far one day....thanks again for your wonderful reporting and pictures.

  3. I know you will Richard! It'll all be here when you get out this way! You're very welcome!