Saturday, May 19, 2012

Culebra & Culebrita - The sun shines and the birds sing.

Alianna Cayo De Luis Pena

Culebra and Culebrita are the Spanish Virgins eastern most islands.  In fact they are closer to the US Virgins than to Puerto Rico. I like it here, it is relaxed and laid back.  There is no hustle and bustle, there is no daily grind to life.  The sun shines, the birds sing and the wind blows and thats about it. Instead of heading straight to the main town of Dewey in Culebra, where occasionally a shop may decide to open, we decide to stop at a small islet to the west of Culebra called Cayo de Luis Pena and pick up a free mooring ball. We had read there was good snorkelling and once again (and I apologize for the repetitiveness of these adjectives in my blogs)as we pulled into the bay, we could see the waters were the clearest shade of turquoise. In 10 meters of water I could still see the bottom.  A small sandy beach was fringed by dense shrubs. After a day-charter boat had left with its boat load of tourists and thier holiday smell of sun lotion) we had the bay to ourselves.  We jumped in and spashed about, checking the mooring was safe and not about to snap. Below the surface of the water lovely underwater coral gardens opened up before us with large purple fans, brain and elk coral and a huge amount of colourful fish all darting hither and thither.   We walked on the beach in the shallow water as the sand was too hot for our feet.  It is truly exquisite to have a whole bay to ourselves, how lucky we are. 

Pretty fished
The wind and seas picked up when we got back to the boat, deflecting around the corner, turning our little piece of paradise into a washing machine ride.  We decided to head over to mainland Culebra for a bit more protection and a peaceful night’s sleep.  During the night the swells had become more southerly and the boat was rolling around all over the place 

West side of Culebra

 By the morning we decided we had had enough and moved Alianna around the corner and behind the protection of the reefs at Ensenada Dakity, (I love the way that name rolls of the tongue....dakity, dakity, dakity).  Once again we picked up one of the free moorings.  It was lovely to be protected behind the reef from the seas with the benefit of the cooling trades blowing through the boat.  The water was murkier here as it was surrounded by mangroves but we could still see hundreds and hundreds of starfish below on the seabed.  We saddled up the dinghy and rode into town (I wondered if my rising trot was helping me from being thrown out of the dinghy or softening the blows to my spine as we bounced the mile or so over the big seas) for a spot of provisioning (apparently we don’t shop, on boats we provision!). It was market day and we filled up with fresh fruit and vegetables only to find them cheaper in the supermarket (that was open) later – why is that always the case with markets?

A couple of days later we moved around to Culebrita (little Culebra) to the east. Culebrita is a stunning spot.  It has the Jacuzzi baths where large seas from the Atlantic Ocean push through rock formations into protected pools and make the water froth and bubble.  The derelict lighthouse at the top of the hill, built in 1886, is apparently a national monument.  The island is deserted except for wildlife like the turtles that lay eggs on the beach and the birds that sing.  We love it here, there were a couple of other boats but we all kept ourselves to ourselves.  A north swell had started to run making the bay uncomfotable.  It was time from us to head over to the bustling island of St Thomas in the USVI’s.
Turtles nesting
Colourful houseboat at Ensenada Dakity

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Bioluminescent Bay, Vieques

Salinas del Sur
So, that bioluminescent bay I was talking about was fairly impressive. Look up bioluminescence, Puerto Rico in google images to get an idea. I did try taking photos but my camera is not good enough. The bay itself, Punta Ferro, is about half way along the south coast of Vieques.  I had pictures but I deleted them - Oops! It apparently is not the most spectacular bioluminescent bay in the vicinity – that being Mosquito Bay two miles to the west, but our 6’ draft is too deep for us to get in there. So Punta Ferro it was.  It is a pretty mangrove bay with caves at the entrance and small pretty white sandy beaches. As it has a narrow entrance it makes the bay a calm and protected spot to anchor in and we do like an un-rocking boat for good night sleep. You can only see the bioluminescence in the dark. So we waited for the sun to go down and for darkness to fall to get a glimpse of this natural wonder and sat in the cockpit, drinks in hand, waiting for something to happen.  Nothing did happen.  We waited some more and still nothing happened. So Sim decided he would go and dangle his feet in the water.  Which apparently is what you need to do; movement in the water is needed for these little creatures to activate their neon glow buttons (defence mechanisms that produce a chemical reaction). But before Sim even got to dip his pinkies in the water little glowing patterns were popping up all around us making spiral and zigzag shapes in the sea.  Once again we were big chickens and didn’t jump in.  I had heard the light attracted bigger fish.  And big fish that I can’t see = scary! But Sim did dangle his legs and the light sparkled like a thousand stars.  We were very impressed with what we saw.  Maybe next time we will be brave enough to swim….

Danger - Explosives
Next stop was Bahia Salinas del Sur on the south eastern corner of the island. We were a little anxious as we had just heard on the VHF radio that military practice was about to begin and Sim and I weren’t sure if the lat and long we had taken down of the area we were supposed to avoid was correct.  But we carried on anyway and figured (hoped) they would call us if we got in their way. (I thought they had stop target practice….maybe they still do it out to sea). We pulled into Salinas del Sur in one piece. It’s a beautiful big bay with white sandy beaches.  One thing we have noticed sailing along the coast are the amount of pristine beaches devoid of anything other than signs posted every 20m that were too far away for us to read.  Coming into Salinas del Sur we noticed the same signs on the beach. This time we could read the danger signs in Spanish and English with the skull and cross bones and bomb pictures making it perfectly clear we were not to go any further than the beach. I guess that is why so many beaches are empty if you can only access them by sea. We anchored in the middle of the bay and went snorkelling.  Under the water were remnants of things that once went bang! Large bits of shrapnel and an old yacht that had obviously been used as target practice; it was kind of eerie.  Despite the beauty of the bay I felt the solitude.  That afternoon another announcement was made on the VHF, this time telling us to keep a mile off a certain location to stay clear of unexploded explosives.  I think we both felt it was time to move on to Culebra.
Bombed wreck underwater!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Underwater Wonders

Manatees in Salinas, PR
On the morning of the day that the winds had settled down enough for us to leave Salinas, we re-anchored in the entrance to the bay where the mangrove water had better visibility for Sim to clean the eco system that was growing on the bottom of our boat.  He donned his snorkel and mask and slipped in to the water with strict instructions for me to keep watch as we had been told that the manatees (seacows) like to come and see what you are up to.  Sure enough ten minutes later I heard a splash in the tranquil water and saw the wide flat tail of a manatee disappear below the surface. I told Sim who swiftly made an exit out of the water. (he was scared)  For despite the gentle reputations of these giant aquatic creatures he didn’t fancy one brushing up against him, especially as it seemed to be a mother with a pup and visibility was about 1ft.  It was amazing to watch these animals that were at least as long as Sim if not more and twice as wide, with their curiosity of the boat and their natural affection for each other.  They constantly played and frolicked and nuzzled each other tenderly and I wish I’d had the courage to jump in with them. But I didn’t.  It’s a shame their population are dwindling with the ever growing presence of marine traffic and their unassuming and slow manner that all too often has them in the path of a fast spinning propeller.
Green Beach, Vieques, PR

Sand Dollar
Hermit Crab in Conch Shell
We left Salinas with smiles on our faces, happy to glimpse these shy animals in their natural habitat. Heading back east into the trade winds is never easy in a sail boat especially one with a little engine like ours.  But the next day the winds were so light and the currents favourable that we made it all the way to Green Beach at the west end of Vieques in the Spanish Virgins.  Vieques, as I have said before belonged to the US military which for over 50 years used this tropical island for target practice.  Now it is a wildlife refuge and so far untouched by tourism.  Green beach is just that, a beautiful sweep of golden beach fringed by tall palms trees.  The water is the clearest we have seen in a long time.  The weather was squally most days but still we swam and snorkelled everyday. Despite there being no reef to speak of there were unusual sea urchins, sand dollars, rays, conch shells, all sorts of things to keep us splashing about.
Unusual sea urchin
Today we have arrived in a bay called Puerto Ferro, it is a bio luminous bay which means that at night you can see phosphorescent.  If you jump in and splash about you can see the phosphorescent glow and sparkle like a thousand lights.  This needs to be seen to be believed so we will get back to you……

Saturday, May 5, 2012

El Yunque National Park Rainforest

Salinas, Puerto Rico
As hurricane season approaches Sim and I have been in a complete quandary as to where to spend it.  Generally it is spent somewhere that gets no or little hurricane activity; the southern East Caribbean, the north coast of South America, parts of the Central America or North America.  Other possibilities are places that have hurricane holes – areas of water that are surrounded by land to protect the boat from huge surging seas.  Currently we are in Puerto Rico – right smack bang middle of hurricane central, we kinda like it here.  The Spanish, US and British Virgins with their sparkling waters and great cruising grounds are just to our east and mainland Puerto Rico, known as Isla Del Encanto (Island of Enchantment) has much to offer with rainforests, beaches and plenty of old world Spanish colonial history to explore.  They have one of the best hurricane holes in the north Caribbean and everything is available. So should we or shouldn’t we stay?  That’s the question we are asking ourselves.
Coco Falls El Yunque Rainforest
Mina Falls El Yunque Rainforest
Yokahu Lookout Tower, El Yunque

However as hurricane season hasn’t started yet (beginning of June) we have decided we will head back to the ubiquitous sun, sea, sand and well whatever else of the Virgin Islands for a bit of traditional Caribbean therapy.  If we feel like it we can head back down the east Caribbean chain or hang around here and make a mad dash for the hurricane hole should anything nasty come through.

In the mean time, last week we tried and failed to head east to the Spanish Virgins. So while we waited for the weather to ease we hired a car and went exploring again; this time to the El Yunque national rainforest in northern Puerto Rico. Although this is virgin rainforest it is not virgin territory. Concrete trails have been put in and barriers put up, notices and signs everywhere, visitors come in their masses to explore this easy to access tropical forest. But despite the fact that we didn’t feel like intrepid explorers it was wonderful to be walking under the cool shade of the rainforest canopy and visit the (overcrowded) waterfalls and lookout points. We visited the beaches at Liquillo – the sun capital, trying to find the meter long iguanas with no success and then took the long coastal road back to Salinas…..and yes we did stop and spends hours in Walmart on the way home.
Windward Beaches
Sim, El Yunque