Time to move on! We had thoroughly enjoyed our time in St. Martin but we knew we had to keep moving south. We left the Grand Case anchorage in St. Martin at 0930 on Friday and headed to the island of St. Barts, just 20 nautical miles south. Our plan was to stay at St. Barts for the weekend and then make the 76 nautical mile journey south to Antigua.
We arrived in the busy anchorage outside of Gustavia, St. Barts on Friday afternoon. Immediately after our anchors were set, Mike piled into our dinghy with our vessel papers and passports and left to pick up Barry and Dave. Like many islands in the Eastern Caribbean, only the captain of the vessel is allowed to leave the boat for the clearance process.
Once all vessels were cleared in, the rest of us crew (and our pup Ocean) could head to shore. And what an eye opener that was! St. Barts is known for being an island playground for the rich and famous and, yeah, wow. Prada, Rolex, Gucci – one pricey store after the other and so many people walking around in designer clothes and jewellery. Definitely not our jam! Still, we couldn’t resist one meal ashore to get our feel of the vibe. We chose the cheapest waterside restaurant we could find and still walked away paying almost $100 CAD for a couple of appetizers and drinks. Yikes!
Although the anchorage was close to town, it was extremely rolly and uncomfortable. We were in a protected harbour but we were being thrown about like we were in the open ocean with 6 or 7 foot swells. Yeesh! The good news is that we had word that a beautifully calm anchorage was just around the corner (1/2 hour away). All three boats were anxious to get out of our current washing machine situation so weighed anchor early the next day and moved just a few nautical miles north to the quiet and remote Colombier anchorage. What a difference! It was calm, beautiful and absolutely full of sea turtles! We spent the weekend with lots of beach walks, hikes along the mountain range and snorkeling. Fabulous! But the weekend went quickly and we knew we had plans to head further south.
Unfortunately, leaving St. Barts also meant leaving Indigo Lady. Lisa and Dave are headed west to St. Kitts to have their boat hauled out of the water for the summer while they fly home to New Hampshire. It will be sad for Caretta and Wild Horses to continue on without Lisa and Dave. They have made us laugh, explore and snorkel more than we ever would have on our own. Cheers to our dear friends! Our only solace is that we have plans to meet up again in St. Martin next January. Yay!
Our 14 hour passage to Antigua was fairly uneventful, peppered only by a few threatening squalls that never actually crossed our path. We had weighed anchor at 0400 so were able to watch the sun slowly rise. That never gets boring 😊. With the wind just off our bow, we were able to motorsail the whole way, which helped our speed immensely. We arrived at Jolly Harbour, Antigua just as the sun was setting. Too late to clear in, we grabbed a mooring ball and settled in for the night. Since we were not cleared in, Ocean, Mike and I couldn’t leave the boat. No worries, Customs opens at 0800. In the interim, Barry dinghied over to our boat with the news that he had caught not one but two black fin tuna. Yum!
The next morning, we moved Wild Horses to a free dock in front of Customs. We were cleared in by 1000 hours. Well, Mike and I were cleared in but not Ocean. Antigua requires that a government veterinarian inspects any dogs or cats at the dock before they can go to shore. Dr. Edwards is a busy guy so he didn’t arrive until 1800. Thankfully, he had given his approval in the morning for us to quickly take Ocean off the boat to do her business. Rest assured that no dogs were made to cross their legs during this process!
Since we were finally at a dock (it has been 4 months!), we decided that this was the best time to finally go up the mast and fix our dim and blinking anchor light. Immediately, I was able to see the problem. There were no frayed wires or corrosion, just a bulb that was on its last legs. Mike ran out and purchased a new bulb from Budget Marine (only 5 minutes away) and voila! We have our bright and non-blinking anchor light again!
Of course, it wasn't all work in Jolly Harbour. We enjoyed lovely walks about town, great food and, of course, the beach.
Caretta and Wild Horses are now anchored in a quiet bay just north of Jolly Harbour. We are the only two boats so we have the beautiful sandy beach, calm and clear blue water, and a gentle breeze all to ourselves. My gosh, even a dolphin swam by while I enjoyed my morning coffee. We will take a few days to relax here and then move the boat over to English Harbour, a very busy anchorage on the south coast of Antigua. Early next week we will say good bye to Antigua and sail 42 nautical miles south to the French island of Guadeloupe.
Enjoying the blog? Wondering where we are now? Click the link below to find out!
Community is the Backbone
Wild Horses is over 20 years old now and with constant moving (and bouncing through waves and swells), new problems seem to come out of the woodwork far too often. Most times these are small issues and quicky fixed. Other times, not so much. In St. Thomas, USVI, we took a mental inventory of the current woes of Wild Horses.
Yeesh. We knew some of these issues could only be fixed once we could get to a proper marine store in St. Martin. But, for many of the problems, we still had to troubleshoot the cause. Time to call in our boat buddies! Dave (Indigo Lady) is a retired physics teacher and Barry (Caretta) is an electrician by trade. Talk about a dream team! Slowly but surely Dave, Barry and Mike worked together to resolve most of our boat issues.
Their successes include:
The biggest issue, and the most challenging for our dream team, was finding the stray electrical current that was depleting our engine zinc. The solution to these types of issues is usually found using a process of elimination. With a multi-meter, you test wire after wire, connection after connection, until you finally find the stray current. Yikes! There are a lot of wires on Wild Horses – this could take awhile. Thankfully, Mike had a good starting point. We had been having a weird buzzing noise with our water temperature alarm since the Bahamas. Could that be part of the problem? The guys set to work, poring over the electrical schematic for Wild Horses and getting their hands into the circuitry with multi-meters and jumper cables. Watching these guys work the problem was incredible. And, after six hours + missing lunch + many litres of sweat (it was hot!) + a hundred or so engine tests, they found the problem. Let me yell that from the mountaintops - they found the problem! Or, rather, the TWO problems. Problem #1 was a faulty trip breaker and, very close beside it, was problem #2, a burnt connection wire. The burned wire was likely a second victim of our engine issue back in Canada. Wow. I mean, wow.
These guys are incredible and forever in our debt. While thanking them, their response was “but this is what boaters do, help each other” and it is true. Our community is always there for each other. Always. And that is what makes this community so special. We just happen to have a few of the star players in this community as great friends 😉.
And, yes, if you were keeping track, our anchor light issue remains unresolved, but we will get to it. It is just lower on the priority scale. Until fixed, we will just keep our eye on “blinky”.
Even with all the boat fixes, we are still having a grand time and fitting in some pretty cool adventures. This past week, Lisa on Indigo Lady arranged for us to go to a pirate-themed Escape Room in Sint Maarten (Dutch side of St. Martin). Finding the activity was easy, but she also made sure that Ocean could come along. So cool!! This complicated things though – Lisa then also had to figure out how to get all of us plus Ocean from our anchorage in Marigot Bay to the Dutch Blonde Beach Bar (home of the Escape Room) in Philipsburg, a 20-minute drive by car, which we don’t have. Dog-less people have lots of options, of course. There are buses and taxis that run regularly between St. Martin and Sint Maarten. The solution for us? The owner of the Dutch Blond Beach Bar, Sunil Vaswani, offered his services! For just $40, he would come and pick us up (and Ocean) at Marigot Bay and return us at the end of our day. What??? I have to attribute this amazing opportunity to Lisa’s exceptional people skills converging with a restaurant owner who aimed to please. Incredible!
And the car ride to and from the Escape Room wasn’t just a car ride. No, it was a guided tour of Sint Maarten provided by Sunil himself. Not only did he point out various landmarks but we learned about the economy, culture, history and geography of the island. Oh, and then there was the Escape Room. This was a challenging puzzle for the six of us. The concept was that we were captured by Blackbeard and had to escape the room using only the clues around us, many of which were in secured boxes that we had to figure out how to unlock. It was a fun and exciting 60 minutes. We failed to escape but we were super close. Perhaps we would have been successful if Ocean had used her search and rescue talents instead of sleeping through the activity!
This week has been jam-packed and we have thoroughly enjoyed St. Martin. Still, we have to keep moving. A few days ago we decided to move along to the Grand Case anchorage, a little north of Marigot Bay. And today, Friday, we arrived at St. Barts, another French island. We are happy to be on the move!
We keep heading south.! Check out where we are today by clicking the link below.
Bonjour St. Martin!
This week was another jam-packed week of moving the boat, exploring islands, hanging out with friends and, of course, eating some great food!
Last Friday, Wild Horses, Indigo Lady and Caretta moved along to St. John, our last island in the USVI. It was a short one-hour trip from our St. Thomas anchorage where our friends on Bitty Rose were still anchored. We had a great reunion with Kate and Clay the night before, having last seen them way back in Puerto Rico. This is an interesting part of cruising – you meet people, hang out, say good-bye but you know that you will likely meet up once again at another anchorage, another island, or another country even. A few cruisers call this “bungee boating.” It totally fits!
We were looking forward to our visit to St. John as the majority of the island is a national park. A little remoteness, trail walks, and snorkelling sounded wonderful. Arriving in Cruz Bay, St. John, it quickly became clear that the harbour anchorage was extremely full and extremely busy with ferries and tour boats. Hmmm, not really the tranquil setting we were expecting. No worries! We just moved a little more north to Caneel Bay, an anchorage that gave us dinghy access to the town of Cruz Bay but the quietness of the park. Each boat picked up a mooring ball ($26 USD a night), and then we launched our dinghies and headed into town for lunch. The town of Cruz Bay is hopping. The busy ferry from St. Thomas brings tourists, vacationers and locals back and forth. The shops and restaurants are full and there is constant activity on the streets. It was a fun place to just take in the island vibe.
On our way back to our boats, we were pleasantly surprised to see that our friends Matt and Lisa (and pup Rex) on Bye Felicia had also just arrived. Ocean was very happy to see her boyfriend Rex again! After a quick greeting, all four boats made plans to meet up for a drink on Indigo Lady in the evening.
Thanks to Indigo Lady, we also fit in some snorkelling off Mingo Cay.
We knew our time in St. John would be a little short-lived though. A weather window to head to St. Martin had opened up for the following week and all three boats agreed that we should take advantage. Our weather router, Chris Parker, was giving this window the thumbs up but saying it would close tight by the end of the week, meaning we could be waiting several weeks for another opportunity to make the 93 nautical mile journey to St. Martin. On Monday morning we got into our dinghies and headed into Cruz Bay once again, this time to get our USVI departure papers. We were heading to St. Martin the following morning.
With departure papers in hand, we moved our boats to our staging anchorage at Coral Harbor, just 10 nautical miles away. This is a big anchorage with access to town and, even more important, home to “Lime Out VI”, a floating taco stand! Yum! We treated ourselves to three large and savoury tacos – ceviche for me, surf and turf for Mike and a third, blackened tuna, to share between the two of us. Truly the best tacos we have ever had!
The next morning, we prepared Wild Horses for our 10am departure. But, uh-oh, in checking the engine room Mike found water under our propellor shaft. Yikes! It wasn’t enough water to stop us in our tracks but it was concerning. I mopped up the mess, knowing that I would have to do this repeatedly while underway for the whole 24 hours to St. Martin. Ugh.
Of course, once again, the wind was directly on the nose so we had to motor along, first past the end of the USVI and then by the British Virgin Islands (BVIs). The day was starting to bleed away and the last of the BVIs were still in sight when a couple of seabirds (Boobies) landed on our bimini top and decided to hitch a ride to St. Martin. They were an entertaining pair of stowaways and, thankfully, also considerate enough to miss our dinghy when “doing their business”. Outside of the Boobies and my hourly mop up of sea water from under the engine, our trip went very smoothly. Neither of us completely enjoy overnight sails but this was an easy 21-hour motorboat ride.
We arrived at the beautiful island of St. Martin (French side)/Sint Maarten (Dutch side) at 0700 and by 0815 we were checked into the country. We had purposefully chosen the French side of the island due to the informality of their Customs and Immigration, especially for our pup Ocean. No pet import permit or fees here! In fact, she laid beside us during the check in process. There wasn’t even a space on the form to declare we had a dog. Easy!
We will spend at least a week here, enjoying all that St. Martin/Sint Maarten (commonly referred to as “SXM”) has to offer. French wine, food and friendly locals. This is going to be fun! And, yes, we will also need to trouble shoot that pesky water under the engine issue. But first, we will enjoy some brunch in town and then back to the boat to catch up on our sleep.
We are still on the move. Click the link below to find out where we are today!
Warning: This Boat Stops for Pizza!
We had arrived in St. Thomas, USVI last Saturday and we were ready to explore. The very next morning (Sunday), we left our first anchorage on the far eastern shore of St. Thomas and headed for Charlotte Amalie, a very busy harbour that welcomes cruisers, local boaters and is also a port of call for many big cruise ships. We anchored just off the cruise ship dock, which happened to be empty that night. This was a very rare day in Charlotte Amalie! Instead of sharing the town with a thousand or so tourists, it would just be us, our buddy boats and a handful of other liveaboard cruisers.
What was up next on our agenda? A tour around town and a lovely lunch with our boat buddies. We walked to the tourist area and picked up a few fun things like water shoes and a dog collar for Ocean.
It was an extremely hot day so we were relieved that most of the shops had air-conditioning and Ocean was extra happy they allowed dogs! They even let her ride on the open-air town bus 😊.
Although Charlotte Amalie was interesting, we were all craving a bit of remoteness and the chance to do some snorkelling. Early on Monday morning, Wild Horses, Caretta and Indigo Lady weighed anchor and headed off for Christmas Cove.
The trip to our anchorage was a bit sportier than we had hoped for. The wind was a few knots stronger than expected and right at our nose, so no sailing for us. Making things even more uncomfortable was the high waves and ocean swell. The forecast was for 1-foot seas and we were definitely getting 4-5 feet, right at our bow. It was a one-hour hobby horse extravaganza.
Arriving at our anchorage, right off the coast of Great St. James Island, we knew it was all worthwhile. Pretty sandy shorelines, lots of rock outcroppings for snorkelling and that bright blue clear water that we love so much. We were wowed.
Oh, and the pizza! Incredible!! Huh? Well, let me back up a bit.
First, you have to know that we are pizza-loving people to the extreme. Actually, that is a massive understatement. We are pizza-fanatics! Back home, during our land life, we would have pizza at least once a week. And we love all kinds of pizza – New York style, deep dish, artisan, homemade. Truly, we rarely meet a pizza we don’t like. Since leaving Canada last September, we have devoured many a pizza. For us, cruising is eating pizza in exotic locations! 😉
Second, we love new, unique and interesting stuff. I mean, that is part of the reason why we are living on our boat! And, when those two loves come together in one place? Well, you get The Pizza Pi, a real-life floating pizza boat! Right in our anchorage! Oh my! Later than evening the motley crews of Wild Horses, Caretta and Indigo Lady enjoyed a fun evening of pizza, beer and “guess that tune” (supplied by Barry’s uber-eclectic playlist) aboard Indigo Lady. Lots of laughs and full bellies!
We finished off our time at Christmas Cove catching up on boat chores and letting Ocean get in some much-needed time swimming off the boat. Also, on the agenda was getting Ocean to the nearby veterinarian at Canines, Cats and Critters. She needed a booster for a few of her vaccinations and also to get an up-to-date international Health certificate for our trip to St. Martin. It looks like a weather widow may be opening up early next week to make the 93 nm hop further south to our first French island so we want to be ready.
But before we head to St. Martin, we have one more island in the USVI to explore – beautiful St. John. We weighed anchor this morning and made the short trip over there for the weekend. More exploring ahead!!😊
Yes, we keep moving along! See where we are today by clicking the link below!
Ocean Play: From Culebra to the USVI
We arrived at the island of Culebra last Monday and loved it immediately. It is beautifully green with perfect sandy beaches littering the coastlines. The coral reefs around this island are known to be some of the healthiest in the area so our plan was to start the day outside of the main town and get snorkeling.
But, small glitch in our plan. Mike had tweaked his back earlier in the morning, just before we weighed anchor. Ugh. He could move around but it was limited. Snorkeling would have to wait. So, onto Plan B! Our buddy boats went on to the chosen snorkeling site while Wild Horses continued for another hour to the main town’s huge lagoon. Here Mike could rest and our buddies would catch up to us the next day. Perfect!
Downtown Culebra is very walkable, with lots of restaurants, cafes, and stores. Even a really great gelato cart with beautifully served gelato. Passion fruit and cherry with a twist of coconut. Yum!
Our boat buddies arrived the next day and we quickly made plans for exploring Culebra, visiting the nearby smaller island of Culebrita and also for doing some snorkelling and diving in the area. Mike’s back was healed and we were ready to have some fun. Our friends Dave and Lisa on Indigo Lady offered to play chauffeur for our three-boat play dates (Wild Horses, Caretta and Indigo Lady). Awesome! Indigo Lady is a beautiful boat. Dave and Lisa purchased it as a sailing catamaran several years ago but quickly converted it to be solar electric powered. It does not disappoint! On the few days we were on the boat, it was moved entirely on solar. Incredible! You can see more about the conversion of Indigo Lady here.
Our first adventure was to take Indigo Lady to Culebrita. This island is home to incredible walking trails, beautiful natural baths and, oh my gosh, also to a hoard of bees! Thousands of them to be exact. The area is suffering from a lack of rain so these poor bees were looking for any and all sources of fresh water. For those that know our pup Ocean, well, this is a problem. She loves to eat bees. Yes, you heard that correctly. She actively hunts them down. Now, with hoards of them in the picture, it was just too much for her and she did get the bitter end of a few of them. Getting stung didn’t deter her though! With a swollen nose and jowl, she kept right at it. For the rest of us, the bees weren’t an issue. They only wanted the fresh water and we had beers in hand (and not water) so they left us alone!
On Thursday, we rented golf carts so we could see more of the island of Culebra. Caretta and Indigo Lady climbed into one cart and Wild Horses took the other. It was an awesome day of touring the island, including an incredible day at Flamenco Beach, one of the world's most beautiful; beaches.
Friday we continued the adventure! We set off on Indigo Lady once again and headed around the north west shore of Culebra to explore one of the many island dive sites. Dave and Lisa launched their Hookah dive system (surfaced supplied air system), Andrea and Barry jumped in with their dive tanks, and Mike and I slipped below the waterline with our snorkel masks and fins. And Ocean you ask? Well, she did her exploring in her birthday suit with just a simple life jacket on. Four ways into the water and we were all plenty happy with it all!
Whew, what a jam-packed three days of exploring the Spanish Virgin Islands!! But all good things must come to an end, but only so you can enjoy other good things! And that is exactly what we did. On Saturday we all weighed anchor and headed off to St. Thomas in the USVI (United States Virgin Islands). We will explore the islands of St. Thomas and St. John as we look for a good weather window for heading to St. Martin. More fun awaits us! 😊
Want to find out which island we are exploring today? Click the link below!
We left Ponce last Saturday and took Wild Horses on a very short boat ride to Isla Caja de Muertos (Coffin Island). Oh wow. The island did not disappoint. It is just 8 nautical miles south of Ponce but as Wild Horses glided closer to its shores, we felt we were entering a magical world. The tiny island (just 1.5 miles long and 1.2 miles wide) has green mountains, sandy beaches and the most beautiful blue water we have seen since the Bahamas. It also had been home to our buddy boats (Caretta and Indigo Lady) for the last two days. It was nice to reunite with our friends and they immediately played tour guide for the island. We fit in some exploring of the ruins, checked out the trails, and had some much-needed beach time for our pup Ocean. We ended the glorious day with a few drinks aboard Indigo Lady, planning the next leg of our journey.
As much as we loved Isla Caja de Muertos, we were eager to make the three-hour trip east to Salinas, Puerto Rico. The marina in Salinas welcomes cruisers. For $50 USD a month, you can use their pristine dinghy docks, nice showers and, most important for us, the marina’s address to receive packages. We had been waiting for an opportunity to order a Starlink Kit so this really fit the bill. Starlink is fairly new but has been a game-changer for cruisers wanting more “home-like” unlimited internet data. It uses satellites so moving from island to island becomes seamless. Compare this to buying SIM cards for each island and trying to connect to, sometimes, shifty cell towers – yikes!
The town of Salinas itself is small but its harbour is perfect as a home base for touring Puerto Rico and for getting provisions near the large city of San Juan. And that is exactly what was in the cards for Wild Horses, Caretta and Indigo Lady. On Monday we rented two cars (Wild Horses had a van while Caretta and Indigo Lady took a car) and set off for an incredible two-day adventure + provisioning trip to San Juan.
Immediately we knew this was going to a special couple of days. The trip from Salinas to San Juan took us through the enormous and beautiful Cordillera Mountain Range. It is about 85 miles from Salinas to Old San Juan and we enjoyed every mile of it. Well, except the last bit of finding parking in the congested, narrow, and oh-too-frequent-one-way streets of Old San Juan 😉.
After a leisurely lunch, it was off to tour the forts. We walked first to the Castillo de San Cristobal, the largest fort ever built by Spain in the New World. Caretta and Indigo Lady toured the inside of the fort (no dogs allowed!) while Wild Horses enjoyed the immense grounds surrounding the fort, checking out the view, iguanas and, of course, meeting a few dog-loving people. Next up, was walking through historic Old San Juan on our way to San Felipe del Morro, one of the first forts constructed in Puerto Rico in the 1530s.
By 4pm on Monday, we were tired from our walking tour and ready to check into our hotel. Indigo Lady had booked us into an apartment-style pet-friendly hotel in Old San Juan. What a find! Our apartments were lovely. A Spanish style with two bedrooms, a little kitchenette and, oh my gosh, air conditioning. A wonderful respite from the staggering 90 degree Fahrenheit heat.
Although our Monday had been jam-packed full of goodness, our plans for Tuesday were even better. We were going to the rainforest! El Yunque National Forest is an hour east of Old San Juan and it was going to be our playground for the day. El Yunque has over 28,000 acres of land with numerous hiking trails, waterfalls, rivers, fresh water pools and incredible vistas.
We were able to fit in several hikes, including one to the top of Mount Britton, a short 1.6 mile hike that goes straight up 650 feet to the Mount Britton tower. Incredible!
But, with only a few days with our rental cars, we knew we also had to get some serious provisioning done. After a late lunch just outside El Yunque, we bid farewell to the mesmerizing forest and headed back towards San Juan. Tuesday afternoon and all day Wednesday, Wild Horses, Caretta and Indigo Lady were in full-on provisioning mode. Between the three boats we shopped hard at Walmart, Costco, West Marine, Petsmart, Advance Auto Parts and the local Econo grocery store. Both the car and van were topped full of gear and food. We were ready for the next leg of our journey!
Our last full day in Salinas was used for boat chores. We topped up our diesel tanks, made water with our Rainman Watermaker, did a few loads of laundry, hooked up our Starlink system, got the boat bottom cleared of barnacles, oh and stowed away that mountain of provisions we purchased in San Juan. How to top off such a busy day and an amazing week? We all went out for an evening of live music and sushi of course!
On Friday, the plan was to depart Salinas, Puerto Rico and head for Vieques in the Spanish Virgin Islands, a 45 nautical mile journey east past the south shore of Puerto Rico. At 0645, Wild Horses fired up her engine and…uh-oh…our engine exhaust fan wasn’t on. One quick call to our buddies and we had both Barry (Caretta) and Dave (Indigo Lady) on Wild Horses, problem-solving with Mike. After 45 minutes of testing and analyzing, it was determined that our exhaust fan had officially died. With no spare fan on board, I started to get worried that we were dead in the water for at least a day, maybe a week, while we tried to source a new part. I shouldn’t have worried! Dave and Barry figured out a way to cool the engine room by using our cabin fans and a few open hatches.
And it worked! We are now enjoying the Spanish Virgin Islands. Our first anchorage was just off the western shore of Vieques, arriving late afternoon on Friday. Today we are anchored at Cayo Icarnos, at the top western edge of the Spanish Virgin Islands. Beautiful!
Interested in seeing where we are anchored right now? Click the button below!
Exploring the South Coast of Puerto Rico
Our first few days in Puerto Rico were marvellous. We were anchored in Puerto Real harbour and enjoyed several days of catching up on our rest after the Mona Passage. Although our journey from Luperon wasn’t difficult, it was long. Four days of overnight travel with only a couple of short rest stops to catch our breath. We were ready to decompress and hang out with our friends on Indigo Lady, Bitty Rose and Caretta. A few days later our friends on Bye Felicia also anchored in Puerto Real. It made Ocean very happy to be reunited with her little friend Rex.
By the weekend, we were all rested up and ready to get moving again. Wild Horses, Caretta and Indigo Lady all weighed anchor and headed south along the coast of Puerto Rico. We were only a pod of three this time as Bitty Rose had left two days before us and Bye Felicia needed to stay to fix their autopilot (it broke down at the beginning of their Mona Passage journey – yeesh!). Just an hour and a half into our journey, we rounded the southwest corner of Puerto Rico, where the Mona Passage and the Caribbean Sea meet. It was a beautiful moment for all three boats – we were finally in the Caribbean Sea! We congratulated each other over the VHF radio, excited to have met a big milestone in our journey. This is one of the perks of buddy boating. Yes, you are there for each other through planning and boat issues but, truly, the best part of buddy boating is sharing the happy moments. This kind of community has a bigger than life impact out here on the water. The bond becomes tight fast!
The south coast of Puerto Rico isn’t long, just 170 kilometres, and it is littered with beautiful anchorages. This means that we can make progress along the coast in short morning hops (2 to 4 hours) when the eastern trade winds are lightest. The view from each anchorage is stunning – sandy or rocky shorelines with either a small village or tiny local housing scattered about. There are tall mountains in the distance and we can watch the waves breaking out in the Caribbean Sea. Since we have our pup Ocean, we always take a few trips to shore which gives us a chance to hike a trail or wander about town, meeting local people and learning about the area. Our days are blissful mixes of exploring, chatting with friends, daily tasks (laundry never goes away!) and relaxing in the cockpit watching the sun disappear over the horizon.
Now we are currently in Ponce, which is an industrial-looking anchorage almost halfway along the south coast. Ponce was once a very happening stop for cruise ships, with a beautiful boardwalk and quaint shops and restaurants. Three hurricanes (Irma and Maria in 2017, Fiona in 2022) and one earthquake (2020) later, it is battered and bruised. The once bustling boardwalk is now fenced in and desolate. The parking lot is empty. Damaged structures, light posts and statues lay ruined. It isn’t the prettiest area these days but Ponce isn’t giving up. The city has plans in the works to bring this area back to its former glory. Hopefully, one day, we will return to see it alive and beautiful! 😊
Next for us is to head to Salinas, an active cruising anchorage where we will be able to rent a car and explore more of the interior of Puerto Rico. With the big city of San Juan just a few hours away, it is also a great place to use as a base to re-provision for our trip further south. Our plan is to stay at least a week in Salinas and then to start our journey to the USVI by early May.
Click the button below to find out where Wild Horses is currently anchored.
Could Wild Horses skirt the rules a second time and not officially check out of the Dominican Republic? Um, yup!
Bitty Rose, a fast Catamaran in our buddy group, was the first to leave the Escondido anchorage at 1730 on Sunday night. At 0330 the next morning, the rest of us weighed anchor. Our journey to cross the Mona Passage had started. We were officially on our way to Puerto Rico.
Still under the cloak of darkness, we made our way along the final stretch of the northern coast of the Dominican Republic. The winds were light and we were enjoying a calm sea state. No waves or swell. It was beautiful. This was the weather we expected from the forecast and the weather we always hoped we would have for our journey across the dreaded Mona Passage.
Why is the Mona Passage so feared? Big Atlantic waves and swell push their way through the shallow passage going against the numerous underwater currents. The result is a sea state that can become very big and rather steep. Add to that regular thunderstorms that pop up on the Puerto Rican coast every afternoon. The topper is that it takes over 12 hours to cross the Mona Passage which means that a boat faces a change in tidal currents while underway. To say that the Mona Passage is no joke, is an understatement. Choose the right weather and it is doable. Choose the wrong weather and it is dangerous.
But our weather was mild at best. We were confident and excited as the sun rose before us. We decided, along with “Caretta”, to short cut the traditional route across the Mona to save a bit of time. Instead of hugging the DR coast for the first 80 miles, we would head further offshore and straight for Puerto Real, our intended landing point in Puerto Rico.
For the first several hours, we were relaxed under calm seas, motoring due to the light winds. At about 1100 hours, the wind picked up and, well, so did the sea state. We had 24 knots of wind directly on our nose (sailor-talk for “right at us” 😉) and the waves became steep. Wild Horses slammed up and down like a rocking horse for 3 hours. Now, this wasn’t uncomfortable but it was extremely annoying. We ordered calm seas!! Oh, the Mona Passage wins again, sigh.
Although the seas calmed significantly early in the evening, the wind never dropped below 14 knots. It sounds like lovely sailing weather but, no, it was directly on our nose. We continued motoring.
But an odd thing was happening to our fuel level. We had topped up our 55 gallon tank before leaving the anchorage, with a spare 5 gallons on deck. Since we burn 1 gallon of diesel an hour at 6 knots, we had plenty of fuel for the 28 hour passage. But, wait, the fuel gauge disagrees. We have used half of our fuel and we are only 8 hours into our journey. Huh? Weird. We did some quick math and felt we still had plenty of fuel to finish off the trip. We were a little concerned but logic told us we would be okay. We were at a crossroads. We were still close enough to the DR coast to abort our passage plans for that night and go get more fuel at Punta Macao. We could always continue on tomorrow. Ugh, but the weather is perfect today and, really, we should have enough fuel. The gauge must be wrong. Our go-no go decision was made final. We put our last jerry can into the tank and decided to carry on.
Four hours later, we are hailed on the VHF by our buddy boat Caretta, motoring behind us. “Hey Wild Horses, you are looking more like a pack of mules up there. What’s going on?”. He was right. Our speed was dropping. But why? Earlier we had noticed large swaths of sea grass (aka sargassum) skimming along the water’s surface. It was impossible to avoid and our thinking was that some of this sargassum was clinging to our rudder and prop, slowing our speed over ground. We stopped the boat and went into reverse to clear the grass away. It worked! Our speed boosted back up. Yes!
And so our afternoon and evening continued. After sundown, we motored forward in complete darkness, guided only by our instruments until the three-quarter moon started rising about 2330.
We had to clear the sargassum one more time during the night but, otherwise, it was a fairly comfortable night motor. Well, except for that damn fuel gauge. It just kept dropping faster than expected. We confidently told each other that it was fine, we had enough fuel. Besides, now we were well into our passage and there was no turning back. We carried on knowing that conditions were great (no squalls, reasonable sea state) and that, heck, we are a sailboat. Worst case scenario, we could pull out the sails and tack our way across the dying wind to the finish line. We wouldn’t arrive until the middle of next week (an exaggeration of course) but we knew this wasn’t a dire situation.
At 0545 hours on Tuesday, the sun rose. We were within 25 nautical miles of Puerto Real. We had cell service once again and the sea state remained comfortable. Our fuel gauge, however, was less than happy. We were now fully in the “red” zone. We estimated that we had about 4 gallons of fuel left. And, we had about four hours left in our journey. Let’s see – we burn 1 gallon an hour…Ugh, this was going to be a photo finish.
Then a mere half hour later, a hail from our buddy boat Caretta. “So, I am extremely low on fuel. Not sure what is going on but I am not sure I have enough to get to Puerto Real”. Huh? It appears Wild Horses and Caretta were both in a fuel pickle. We continued to motor on (remember – no wind equals no sailing), hoping to get to shallow enough water to drop anchor before our tanks ran empty. We had 5 nautical miles to get to shallow water.
At 0700 hours, Caretta turned off her engine. She had run out of fuel. Barry, the captain, immediately dropped his dinghy and attached it to Caretta’s starboard side. He was going to use it as a substitute power source to get Caretta closer to the harbour entrance. From there, he could anchor and dinghy into the marina to get fuel. It worked! He was making 3.3 knots underway.
At 0745 hours, a mere 4 nautical miles from Puerto Real, we heard the telltale sounds of our engine struggling for fuel. We turned it off and dropped our dinghy. We were also going to be a dinghy powered sailboat! Going slow but steady, we made it to a great little spot, just outside the harbour. Caretta anchored close by shortly after us. We were safe, but before getting our much-needed diesel from the Puerto Real marina, we had to check into Puerto Rico. Thankfully, the CBP Roam app makes it super easy and within 30 minutes we had hoisted our Puerto Rican courtesy flag and were leaving to get fuel so we could move the boat the 0.25 nautical miles into the protected harbour of Puerto Real. What an arrival!
Once both Caretta and Wild Horses were safely in the harbour, we discussed our fuel issues. Although we had travelled separately before Luperon, we had both stopped at Great Inagua, Bahamas for fuel. We had both been forewarned that sailors often get bad fuel from Great Inagua but with no choice at the time, we had filled our tanks. Ah, that makes sense. Bad fuel burns inefficiently and at a higher rate of consumption. We had our answer to our fuel conumdrum.
Indigo Lady, the fourth boat in our buddy group, also had her issues. She had taken a different route, choosing to hug the coast before crossing the Mona Passage. Strong winds and a fouled prop made them abort their plan for a few hours but then they were able to continue along, anchoring in the harbour just a few hours after we did.
All four buddy boats are now in Puerto Real. We successfully completed the dreaded Mona Passage and can now relax for a few days. Whew! There is never a shortage of drama and learning in this sailing gig!
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We have reached another big milestone, having completed the Mona Passage, the long and (sometimes) treacherous waterway connecting the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. But the fun, stress and rewards are truly in the details of getting here. It was anything but ordinary for us. A series of memorable moments that ended with the sweet reward of finally being in Puerto Rico. Here is part one of our journey. Part two will follow in a few days.
Where to begin? In Luperon, Dominican Republic of course!
Last Wednesday, we were still in Luperon and planning to get our despachos (exit papers) on Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday. The weather looked perfect for a one or two-night run along the north coast of the Dominican Republic to Escondido, near the Northeast tip of the country. From there, we could hug the Eastern Dominican Republic coast to Punta Macao (just north of Punta Cana) and then head east towards Puerto Rico. On paper the plan looked beautiful. The weather looked near perfect. There were about 6 other boats planning to make the same journey.
Then we got the news. Semana Santa (Easter) business and government closures in the DR were going to begin at twelve o’clock noon on Thursday. All stores would be closed and, worse, if we didn’t get our despacho by noon, we would have to wait until the following Monday when the government opened back up. The Armada (the Navy) wouldn’t be issuing any despachos on the long weekend.
Getting a despacho is serious business. Once issued, the Armada wants you gone within a few hours or, if late in the day, you must be gone by the next morning. Yikes! The weather wasn’t great for leaving Luperon on Thursday night. We were experiencing several squalls, bringing high winds with lots of rain and more of the same was forecasted to come over the next day. No worries, we thought. We will just get our despacho on Thursday and then go around the corner from the official harbour and hang out until Saturday April 8, our planned departure date. We were technically skirting the rules but, really, it was the safest option and surely the Armanda would understand.
With despachos in hand, and in between squalls, we moved Wild Horses just outside the Luperon harbour. We were still in the Luperon inlet but not in plain sight of the Armada. Three of our buddy boats joined us (“Caretta”, “Indigo Lady” and “Bitty Rose”). We enjoyed a lovely evening in the bay and woke the next morning, ready to do a little preparation for our long journey ahead. But why rush? We weren’t leaving until Saturday so making water and cleaning the boat bottom could be done tomorrow. On the Friday, we started the day with a beautiful walk along the coastal trails and then leisurely set about doing boat chores. All was quite calm and lovely.
Indigo Lady sent our group a text that changed it all. The Armada had informed them that the four of us were in violation of their rules. We were told to leave within the next hour or surrender our despachos. Uh, oh. The northern Dominican Republic coast has high winds, waves and swell every afternoon and today was no exception. Indigo Lady pleaded our case and finally the Armada agreed that we could leave later into the evening, but was clear that they didn’t want to see any of us in the bay the following morning. Yikes! We left at midnight.
The winds had abated long enough on Friday night to allow us to make a safe and fairly easy motorsail to Rio San Juan, a very rolly and uncomfortable anchorage 10 hours away. The next night, we again weighed anchor at midnight and journeyed another 10 hours. This time, it was to Escondido at the Northeast tip of the DR. Having arrived at 0900 hours, it was now Sunday morning. Escondido was a beautiful place to spend our Easter Sunday, with its perfect beaches, small, intriguing caves and towering green cliffs. But, oh, was it rolly! The swells coming in from the Atlantic rocked us soundly. All four boats made plans to leave as soon as possible.
There were two options for our next landing point. The first was Samana, on the east coast of the DR. It is the usual next stop for sailors awaiting a good weather window to cross the Mona Passage. In Samana, we could fuel up and get our international despachos, which allows you to leave the country (the despacho we got in Luperon granted passage only to Samana, Dominican Republic but not beyond). The second option was to head straight for Puerto Rico, 150 nautical miles away, foregoing any official checking out procedure from the DR. Could Wild Horses skirt the rules a second time?
Stay tuned! Part two will follow in a few days!
At long last, the weather window we have been waiting for is forecasted for this weekend and into next week. We are expecting an extended period of light winds and mild seas for both the northern coast of the Dominican Republic and for the Mona Passage, the 80-mile long strait that will take us from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico. With such a magical weather window before us, our plan is to leave Luperon and go all the way to Puerto Rico, a journey of approximately 245 nautical miles. Going straight there (without stopping) would take us 44 hours. But we do plan on stopping a few times along the way, to rest and to wait out the stronger winds that inevitably develop in the afternoons. Our journey is likely to take four or five days when all is said and done.
Our planned departure date is Saturday April 8 and we have about eight other boats travelling with us. Our only problem is timing. Huh? Well, weather isn’t the only thing we have to work around. The Dominican Republic has a very controlled system for issuing exit papers (called Despachos in the DR). You request your Despacho from the Armada (The Navy) on the day you wish to leave. If granted, you are expected to weigh anchor and be gone within a few hours. If you do not leave, you must surrender your Despacho and re-request another one for your new departure date. In addition to the request process, they have rules around when they will issue a Despacho. Never before 6am or after 6pm; Never on a Sunday, and; Never on holidays. Uh-oh. Our weather window is lined up exactly with Samana Santa (Holy Week or Easter). We are hoping to plead our case to the Armada today (Thursday) and get an exception so we can leave on Saturday. Fingers crossed!
In addition to planning for our departure, we had a very busy week! We did a little bit more exploring, including checking out the old yacht club near the harbour. In its day, this was a beautiful building with sleeping quarters, pools and with gorgeously maintained grounds. Now, it is almost in ruins, abandoned by the local wealthy family that once owned it.
Boat work was also on the agenda for this week. We did some much-needed maintenance, including changing transmission fluid, engine oil and checking the engine impellor. Our friend Barry on Caretta also got in on the action. He is an electrician by trade and was able to fix our electric winch, which has been inoperable since before we left Canada. Yes!
To us, though, the most rewarding time was the three days we spent volunteering at the Luperon Dog and Cat Clinic. What an eye-opening and soul-soothing experience! The clinic is held once a month and offers rabies and other vaccinations as well as deworming, and parasite (flea and tick) medication. Nails are cut, dogs are dewormed, ticks are removed. The incredible part is that the clinic is run completely by volunteers using funds donated by locals and cruisers. Wow!
The first day of the clinic is closed to the public so we could do prep work. Syringes containing deworming and flea medication were filled for over 300 local dogs. The idea is to prepare these medications ahead of time so that the owners can pick them up on the two open-door clinic days. And, oh man, we quickly learned why. The clinic doors opened at 9am on Monday and there was already a line up of owners with dogs and puppies waiting for medication and vaccinations. Dogs arrived in make-shift crates, with barbed wire leashes, on motorcycles, or carried two or three in hand. There were wee four-week old pups, big dogs, little dogs, senior dogs and even a few cats. It was mayhem! We were scratched, bitten (lightly), licked, nuzzled and drooled on. But with each dose of medication, we saw big thankful smiles on the owners. It was two full exhausting days and we are all the better for it. To be certain, these were the experiences we wanted as cruisers. Having a chance to give back to the community is beyond rewarding.
It will be bittersweet leaving Luperon this weekend. We have loved the people, the dogs and the town. Now it is time to move on and see what other incredible experience awaits us as we continue to travel south to Grenada. 😊
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Victoria is a hiker, dog-lover, blog writer and planner extraordinaire. Oh, yeah and she is kind of fond of living on a boat.