Thursday, July 14, 2016

Going "Home" For The Summer

While our home Country celebrated Independence Day with hot dogs and fireworks and family get-togethers... We made our solitary way down the coast of Tortola to Cane Garden Bay.

We had just dropped off our guest of the past two weeks at the dock in Trellis Bay.  We were probably gone before his plane took off... and headed for our "happy place" here in the BVI.

We needed some down time.  We needed some quiet.  And this is the place to get it.

Play time was over... all of our friends were back home and Hurricane Season was fast approaching.  Time to get real folks!  Time to implement our Hurricane Plan... and we had less than two weeks to do it.  We started listening to Chris Parker Weather again in hopes that he would give us good news.  Plotting our projected stops between here and Salinas, Puerto Rico... we were happy to hear that the weather window was looking good.

Primo Spot just off the marina
Friday would be perfect for skipping right over the USVIs for a beautiful sail to Culebra... With this in mind, we moved over to West End Tortola to clear out of the BVIs... and meet up with friends.

It's been a while since we've spent any time in Soper's Hole.  It's sort of a "touristy" stop with charter companies operating 24/7 it seems.  But we lucked onto a prime mooring ball to spend our one night here.

There are some spots to anchor but they are either crowded or very deep... so we ponied up the $30 for the ball and relaxed.

Our plan was coming together.  There were several couples we had hoped to meet and...this time, their schedules meshed with ours...  I let "the Locals" be in charge of the plan to get together in the evening for happy hour.  This left our day open to get out and see a little bit more of the town than we've done previously.

There is supposed to be a bakery somewhere along this road.  We walked along searching for any sign of it's existence...

Finally we decided that we MUST have passed it by and when a little girl on a bicycle came along and asked us if we were looking for the bakery.... (evidently lots of people wander around looking confused here)... we followed her right to the obscure "road" to our goal.

We gave the girl a few bucks for her help and tentatively approached what looked to be an abandoned home.

Just as we were about to give up and backtrack, a man came out and invited us in.  Sort of.  He said that it wasn't really a bakery in the sense that we had hoped.  But more of a home catering business. He agreed to sell us some patties and a nice shepherd's pie that he had on hand and we happily left with our loot.

We stopped at the grocery store just off the boardwalk for a few more things and went back to the boat to rest up for our evening out.

We volunteered to be the early birds to secure our table at the Fish-N-Lime restaurant...

Turns out that we were one of TWO couples in the place... except for maybe a feline or two.

Guess this "low season" thing is real!  But it's nice not to have to deal with crowds of people and although maybe the menus are somewhat limited... we practically have the whole country to ourselves!

Our friends began to arrive soon...  by dinghy of course!

Mike and Jen - Three Sheets Sailing - were the first...

Followed by new friends IRL Jody and Peter from Where The Coconuts Grow.  They had just announced their engagement and they were both just glowing... their bright white smiles lighting up the table!  I can only imagine being newly engaged and beginning a life that everyone dreams of in this place.

Birds feeding just off the restaurant dock.
We eventually welcomed Brittany, of Windtraveler fame... She was solo... having left Scott back on the boat with their three adorable girls.  Brittany was ready for a night of adult conversation and we laughed and compared stories as only Cruisers can!  It was such a landmark experience for me to meet up with fellow Bloggers who all had a huge part in making this life possible for me!

The folks at Customs and Immigration had allowed us to clear out the afternoon before, for an early morning departure before office hours.

West End, BVI to Culebra, Puerto Rico
We had no time to waste and more than 35 miles to go.  The downwind sailing was sublime with the rolling waves setting up behind us causing the boat to surf to breakneck speeds in excess of 7 knots.  It was so easy.  We just set the autopilot and relaxed in the cockpit.

Morning at the outer reef
Our first stop was Culebra.  We picked up a free mooring ball just inside the reef and waited out some weather.

A quick day trip to town for some provisions between squalls was about all there was on our agenda.

For three nights we waited... and listened to the weather forecast.  We hoped for perfect conditions to see us the rest of the way to Salinas,

See that wobble?
And we got them!  Leaving the reef we rounded Culebra and pointed our bow towards the Green Beach at the western end of Vieques.

The following waves were kind of big with the occasional monster.  We had all sails flying and were sleigh-riding again pushing our hull limit.  We were almost out of control but it felt really good!

You can see by our yellow track here that we had to begin somewhat off the wind.  We reconfigured our sails to wing-on-wing and sailed more dead downwind for a while... But with the big following seas we really needed to be a little off the waves and trim sails to that.

Little hint of a waterspout there for a moment...
We headed for the tip of the island and really got lucky as we picked our way through the coral heads littered along the sandy shoal that extends NW from the island.  After a couple of tense moments during which I wondered if we had pressed our luck too far... we made it over the bar with nothing less than 8 ft on white sand beneath us.  We motorsailed into the anchorage and dropped anchor in a familiar spot.

What a joy it is to return yet again to this beautiful and now favorite anchorage for some much needed rest after a long day on the water.

We relaxed and floated around the boat and spent a restful night with no worries.

The next morning we were up again and moving on.  The weather forecast gave us just enough time to get to Salinas before some unpleasant conditions moved in once again.

Downwind sailing is relatively new to us as we've spent the majority of our cruising life sailing directly upwind.  We are amazed that sailing in winds and seas that would have made for a bash going the other way, made for a delightful day going west!

A strange sight caught my eye from off in the distance.  I kept watch thinking it could not be what I thought it was... an oil drilling rig?  Out HERE???  We haven't seen one of those since we sailed in the Gulf of Mexico!

Getting closer...
At first it looked as if it was being towed off to our port side... but soon I realized that it was moving across our bow!

So we're sailing along with the pole out on the jib and full main in 20ish knot winds and 4-6 ft. seas.

I told Bruce, "there's a boat that looks like it's towing an oil rig and I think we're in a crossing situation"

Bruce says..."We have right-of-way..."...


And closer!!!
I turned on the AIS and got the name of the tow boat.  It showed that the the tug was "Not under command" and that the rig had "limited maneuverability"...


So... I hailed the towboat Captain and after a brief conversation in which I learned that he was indeed awaiting the arrival of a Captain, we agreed that I would hold my course.  He was moving at a rate of 1.5 knots and would maneuver to avoid us if needed.  We were making 6.5 to 7.5 knots and would easily pass in front of them.

It was at about that time that Bruce SAW the oil rig... and began freaking out!  I wonder what he THOUGHT I had said... because clearly he had not heard me... He never listens.

The waves were BIG!
Disaster now averted, we continued on our merry way.  As we neared the coast of Puerto rico and began to make our way around the south side, the waves got a bit more confused and quite a bit larger.

For a while it was all I could do to control the boat and we had to hand steer because the autopilot couldn't correct for the more irregular big swipes from behind.

Sailing wing-on-wing was not an option with the waves coming from our stern quarter... we had to steer to the waves in long gybes.  There was a minor wind shift that helped... without it we would have had to go much further out before we made our gybe to the lay line. (which we nailed by the way-that racing history pays off)

After that I was happy to feel the boat settling in for a more comfortable ride and as we approached the shoreline, the waves settled down considerably.  We were almost there...

Will these rollers take us onto the reef?
Puerto Patillas was one of the anchorages we skipped on our way east the first time.  It would be new to us today and that brings with it a certain amount of anxiety.

Safely past the danger
We began to see waves crashing on the protective reef around the tiny bay and wondered how much the rollers would affect us going in.

But our worries were completely unfounded as the entrance to this calm oasis is wide open and easy!  We actually sailed in and didn't drop sails until we were very close to the shore where we found a nice sandy spot in about 15 ft of beautiful water.

The little town was a welcoming sight and we almost changed our decision to make this a short stop for the night.  But there was weather coming and even though we had an "extra" day... we wanted to keep it in the bank.


So we left the charms of Patillas unvisited and remained on the boat with the other more obvious charms that were all ours to enjoy!

The BEST of times...
Jezabelle enjoying the new smells on a light breeze
Only one more short hop to go until we're home.  We were excited about it.  We couldn't wait to see our marina and get settled into our slip... and turn on the AIR CONDITIONING!!!  It was beginning to get really hot these days and we were READY!

We were on our way early again to take advantage of the morning calms created by the island... Following the coast closely we never saw another big wave,

The Boca de Infierno held no terror for us today as we popped in through the reef and motored toward our safe haven.  With only one small hiccough left to get through... a thrown alternator belt that was quickly replaced... our eyes searched all around us, eager to learn about, and make familiar... our new home...
Inside Boca de Infierno
The winds had already begun to blow by the time we arrived and the marina did not answer our hail.  We anchored among the moored boats and dinghied in to get a slip assignment.

We would have to wait one more night to feel the soothing comfort that electricity would bring... the winds were blowing too hard for us to safely dock the boat.

We spent the afternoon placing some docklines on the pilings and cleats in our slip in preparation for our early morning move... then settled down to enjoy the cool evening and what would become a familiar sunset.
Before the sun was high the following morning we were securely tied up with life-giving cool air wafting through our tiny house.

This is an ending... and a beginning.  It is the end of freelancing, the end of new places, the end of uncertainty... for a while.

But it is the beginning of a time in which we can settle.  We can put down a few tentative roots.  We can - not worry about what tomorrow will bring (If you don't count hurricanes!!!), and hopefully we can make some new friends.

This will be our third summer.  The first we spent in Charleston, SC.  The second was a little marina in Gulfport, FL.

This is our first "foreign" port where we will get to know the place and begin to think of it as "Home"... and one day we will look back on this and say "Remember that summer we lived in Puerto Rico?"

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