Puerto Rico and the Dreaded Mona Passage (April 29 – May 18, 2016)

The Day came.  It was the Dreaded Day.  Since reading about the Mona Passage over a year ago, this was my biggest worry for the whole trip.  The passage connects the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.  It separates the islands of Hispaniola and Puerto Rico and is an important shipping route between the Atlantic Ocean and the Panama Canal.  However, it has a reputation of being one of the most treacherous routes in the Caribbean, especially for boaters, as it is prone to unusual currents and huge waves.  All I had read made the Gulf Stream back in Florida sound like baby steps compared to the Mona Passage.

Craig, on La Sirena, and John decided we should leave Samana in the Dominican Republic at 2 PM in order to get the best conditions possible for the 25 hour trip.  I had prepared lunches and dinners ahead of time that could be taken out of the refrigerator whenever we were so inclined, and had stocked up on granola bars for breakfast and snacks.  The day started pretty well.  The waves were about 4 feet and Craig & John  were feeling assured that all would go well.  I had my patch on, which was about all I could do to get myself ready.  It wasn’t long, though, before it became apparent that I would have to ride inside AfterMath, as the waters were too rough for me to stay on my favorite spot, the seat on the bow.  Being inside is always hard for me, as the fresh air outside helps any feelings of queasiness.  I napped off and on for a while as John was at the wheel, but at about 11:00 PM, he needed a break.  I took over, but this time, I was not able to read as we traveled due to the waves.  Within about 1/2 hour I saw some weather activity on the radar and woke John to let him know.  He took over to both steer us around the storms and to keep Craig updated so that he could avoid them too.  Finally, John went back to sleep and I took the 1:00 AM to 4:00 AM shift at the wheel.  Lightning added to the creepiness of being out there at night, and while it was rough, it was no where as bad as I had expected.  But then it happened.  The waves just seemed to grow and grow and they came so often that there was no break between them.  We were tossed and turned and Craig, in his sailboat, looked like he was even worse off then we were.  For the next several hours the Mona Passage lived up to its name.  It was miserable for all of us, but thankfully, we made it.  None of us are looking forward to seeing that body of water ever again!

Finally at around 3:15 PM we reached our destination of Mayaguez in Puerto Rico.  The anchorage was a welcome site, although it was more of a commercial one than we were used to.  Customs and Immigration were supposed to be open until 4:00 PM.  We were slightly ahead of Craig so John dropped the dinghy in the water and headed to shore, hoping to get us checked in and then have time to go get Craig so he could check in too.  As it turned out, they were not open at all, although people were there in the building.  We were able, after a couple of hours, to get a phone number to call to check in and finally we were legally back in a U.S. territory, with a Puerto Rican courtesy flag flying on AfterMath.

The streets of Boqueron.

From Mayaguez, which is on the west coast of Puerto Rico, we began making our way around the island and down to the southern coast.  Still on the western end, we battled more waves, but only for a few hours.  Soon we arrived at our first stop, which was in Boqueron.  Boqueron is a funny little town that comes to life only on the weekends.  The few streets of the town are lined with little stands that seem to sell a lot of oysters, clams and the like.  There are countless bars and lots of cars going one way, but parking where ever the mood strikes them.  It is noisy and colorful and filled with people walking around with no apparent destination in mind.  It’s supposed to be the ‘Key West’ of Puerto Rico, but it wasn’t the Key West I love so much.  We made our way through Boqueron, but decided just one night was enough in this area.

IMG_3030Houses on the water in Parguera.IMG_3029IMG_3025IMG_3037These guys are huge!  At least 4 feet from tip of the nose to tip of the tail.IMG_3019A typical bar in Puerto Rico.  We found even the best restaurants to look a lot like this.IMG_3041In the mangroves.IMG_3013The view from the anchorage in PargueraIMG_3014

The next day we traveled to Parguera, now on the south coast, again dodging waves and heavy seas.  Apparently this was once a busy town, and maybe it still is on the weekend, but it was now Monday and there was hardly a sole to be seen.  There are also no dinghy docks in Parguera, so John dropped Craig and me off as we both really needed to find a few provisions.  We found a little grocery store there, but it really was not an appealing one and we bought very little in it.  We did meet our first Puerto Rican iguana there, who did not seem to be the least bit surprised by being approached by me holding a camera and taking his picture. After John picked us up we spent some time riding on Tangent, our dinghy, through the mangroves in the nearby islands.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust a few of the fish at Guilligan’s Island.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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IMG_3048At the restaurant near Guilligan’s Island.IMG_3051IMG_3052IMG_3055IMG_3058IMG_3068IMG_3071

As Parquera didn’t have much to offer, we left on Tuesday, May 2nd, and made our to Guanica where a park called Guilligan’s Island, named after the TV show, was nearby.  We anchored near a lovely resort, but unfortunately, the anchorage was pretty rolly.  Rolling anchorages make for uncomfortable sleeping, but we all wanted to take a day at the park which was known for it’s shallow waters with easy snorkeling.  Wednesday morning we took the dinghy over to the park’s docks and spent a nice time enjoying the fish that swam among the mangroves before heading to a local restaurant where we had lunch.

Thursday, May 4, we went to a lovely hurricane hole in Ensenada, which was perfectly calm and wonderful.  We were all so happy to have a nice restful night with no waves or rolling at all.

Although Puerto Rico is the size of Connecticut, they say it takes 11 days to transit from the west side to the east side, which we surprisingly found to be true.  Because the trade winds come to life at mid morning, bringing 4-6’ seas, most cruisers travel between sunrise and 10 AM.  For sailboats, that means approximately 22 miles per day.  For us, not much better.  Add in delays for rough seas and high winds and 11 days start to become realistic.

IMG_3075Christopher came to meet us!IMG_3076Craig relaxing on AfterMath.IMG_2237The anchorage in SalinasIMG_2238IMG_2239IMG_2327As always, the weather is so important to us.  See the storm rolling in here?

The next day we continued along the south coast, again only riding for about 4 hours because the waves were heavy, and arrived at Ponce Yacht Club, where we stayed for two nights.  There was a pool there, although I admit i was the only person over the age of 18 in it.  Our next stop was in Salinas.  We stayed there a few nights while we waited for weather and mail.  The best part of Salinas was that, on Mother’s Day, we got to meet Christopher Alesevich, who is the son of our friends Chris and Sam.  Christopher lives near San Juan and we had asked him if we could have our mail sent to his house while we were in Puerto Rico.  He wanted to see AfterMath so he came to see us and spend the day.  We really loved having Christopher visit and we found him to be wonderful company.

IMG_3079Early morning in Puerto Patillas.  We left just as the sun was rising and were rewarded with this sight.

From Salinas we traveled to Puerto Patillas.  The anchorage there was again rolly, but we only stayed one night and we were visited by another couple on a boat that we had met back in the Turks and Caicos.  It is fun to meet people and find them again throughout our travels and always wonderful to hear about everyone’s adventures.

IMG_2342Here we traveled by car back to some of the places we had been by boat.  This is Patillas from the top of the mountains.IMG_2343IMG_2344All beaches in Puerto Rico are public.  Here is one we stopped at to take a walk.IMG_3106This family was very happy to pose when I asked if I could take their picture.IMG_2347

IMG_3104IMG_2348The view from a roadside restaurant.IMG_3092Another iguana that climbed the wall and posed for us.IMG_3109Salinas by land.IMG_3110Salinas has a very nice town square.IMG_3120Back to Ponce by car.  There is a beautifully restored area in the city and we enjoyed walking around it.IMG_3122Craig and John walking down the streets of Ponce.IMG_3128IMG_3133The fire department museum in Ponce.IMG_3136A lovely church on the town square in Ponce.IMG_3139A couple of views from the streets of Ponce.IMG_3142IMG_3154Off to Guavate, where this kind of establishment is the norm.  IMG_3156Lots of noise, music, dancing and eating.  This couple waved for me to take their picture.IMG_3159The Puerto Rican people seem to know how to have fun on a Sunday afternoon.IMG_3161IMG_3163Lots of little stands everywhere you go in Puerto Rico.IMG_3166IMG_3167John had read that you should eat Pig on a Stick in Guavate.  We had already eaten and did not partake of any of this poor guy.

IMG_3172In the forest near San Lorenzo.IMG_3176More scenes along the way.IMG_3181IMG_3183IMG_3185

Finally from Puerto Patillas, we made our way around to the east coast and to Puerto del Rey Marina in Fajardo.  The marina here is huge; there are 1000 slips and it is such a long walk to get to the office or the shops that golf carts travel the docks to pick you up and to bring you back.  The golf carts have trailers, which are very handy when bringing groceries or supplies to the boat! At the marina, there is a Thrify car rental, and we took advantage of the convenience and rented a car for a few days.  One day was spent re-provisioning, one was spent touring, and one was used to get Kirby a haircut and to pick up some more mail we had sent to Christopher.  John had some maintenance done on the boat while I was out getting a pedicure and enjoying a little shopping time while Kirby was being groomed.  All was well and we were set to leave on Monday, May 16, when my computer died.  On Sunday it started acting strangely and I quickly backed it up on two separate external hard drives.  This was a good thing as, after that backup, the computer never turned on again.  The next two days were very frustrating as we worked to get me a new Mac Book Pro to replace the 5 year old one that died.  Today, I write this blog on my new computer, that is not completely set up yet, but did allow me to upload my pictures and write this post.

Craig left yesterday and made his way to Culebra, one of the two Spanish Virgin Islands, and he is waiting for us to join him tomorrow.  We will get up early and make our way from Puerto Rico to the Culebra and then, the next day, arrive in St. John, a U.S. Virgin Island.  From there, the British Virgin Islands await, one of our favorite places to be.

So, tomorrow we leave Puerto Rico.  The winds and the waves here have been a trial for us, but I can’t leave without giving my thoughts on what this island is truly like.  Here the people are friendly, and most of them speak English if you ask, but calling businesses on the phone is a challenge, because most introductions are in Spanish, that is, if they answer the phone.  It is a noisy place, with music blaring in every store, restaurant, or bar.  It is colorful, though, everywhere you go.  The scenery is absolutely gorgeous, with water and mountains, lush greenery and flowers of every color.  The trees and plants here that grow wild are those that I bought and planted in my yard in Bradenton, Florida.  Driving is interesting as no one seems to mind going the wrong way in the street if it makes their life easier.  Part of the U.S., but it’s own country, we have had lots of fun in Puerto Rico.

Here is where we are today!

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4 thoughts on “Puerto Rico and the Dreaded Mona Passage (April 29 – May 18, 2016)

  1. Had a dragon boat race in Ponce two years ago. Funny to see those same lion shots at the fire department on your blog….
    Pat Van Stedum

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  2. Hey Brat, life is good on Aftermath. I am loving my trip with you and John and thanks for taking me snorkeling. I’m feeling the stress of an overnighter at the wheel in the dark while the waves are LARGE. Love ya kid and you guys are in my prayers with the guidance of the saint of the seas. Cheers to red, white, and blue weekend.

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