We made it to Puerto Rico but checking in proved to be rather difficult. When I called to check in, the officer first asked if I had a decal.
“The decal enabling you to check in easier.”
“No, I don’t have a decal.”
“But, you are a US flagged vessel. You MUST have a decal.” (what happened to easier?)
“I don’t and I have never heard of THE decal.”
“Are you sure?”
“Then you will have to come to Mayaguez to check in. The offices are closed until Monday so you’ll have to wait.”
“That’s fine, but can we go ashore?” (Normally, only the captain can go ashore until everyone has been cleared.)
“If you are all Americans that would be fine.”
Having cleared halfway in we took the dinghy into town, which was hopping. It was more of a carnival atmosphere than anything else. Puerto Rican tourists strolled the narrow streets with Medallia beers in hand. A bar named Los Remos (the paddles) beckoned us for dinner and drinks. Chase and Ella danced to the band while we sat there and smiled, proud of our voyage so far.
Onboard Rivers2Seas we have about 35 flags for different courtesy
flags. These flags are hoisted on the starboard spreader to signify that you have checked into a county and show respect for the place you are cruising. Flying the yellow flag signifies that you and the crew are under quarantine until being officially cleared into the country. Having thought that we were going to miss Puerto Rico, we didn’t have the needed flag. We didn’t have the Dominican Republic either, but the marina had one for $15. In all of Boquerón I could only find two flags: a 3 foot by 5 foot cheap flag or a well made 4 by 7 foot flag. Normally the courtesy flags are one foot by eighteen inches. For $10 we had the largest flag out there. Our boat stuck out in every anchorage with the red, white and blue of Puerto Rico flapping high above.
Pulling into the fuel dock to fill up the almost empty diesel tanks, two gentlemen working on their boat nearby grabbed our lines. Sailing is easy; it’s the coming into contact with land that is difficult. Anytime we can get help it’s welcome. Awhile later after filling up with the cheapest fuel yet – the bill was “only” $400US, a group of men stood on the dock admiring our large flag. Our new friend came over and promptly burst my pride bubble. “Nice Puerto Rican flag – but it’s upside down.” Knowing that this is the signal for a declaration of war, embarrassment doesn’t quite fit. The single star in the middle should have the point pointing to the skies. He was quite nice about it and then proceeded to point out that more than half the boats in the marina had upside down flags.
Taking a taxi to Mayaguez to officially check in let the kids see that we were in America – sort of. American stores of every variety make up most of the businesses, all with a Spanish flair. It’s pretty cool. The first question at immigration was “do you have a decal?” I could have yelled at the guy, but held my tongue. We now have our own, official, spectacular DECAL.
Heading south around the corner of Puerto Rico and then East along the coastline enabled us to see the arid landscapes and picturesque lighthouses. Winds were light and seas relatively calm. We weren’t sailing Rivers2Seas, but we weren’t getting beat up either. Overnighting near a phosphorescent bay we made a nighttime tour in the dinghy with new friends from Wildest Dream. The bay had some bioluminescence that would glow when disturbed. Just another real life lesson for the kids on ecology and organisms. The coolest part was when the organisms were sucked into the cooling system of the outboard. Large fireballs of light would shoot out. David from Wildest Dream, myself and Chase thought the fireballs were fantastically cool – it must be a guy thing.
Next we headed to Caja de Muertos (coffin island). Trying to catch some wind offshore, I managed to make some good time but it was like being on a broken rollercoaster for hours with no break. As a US National Park, the island has some good trails and information. There are also five mooring balls so that anchors don’t mess up the underwater ecosystem. Having had to raise the anchor by hand since the Bahamas, a mooring ball represents a day off for my back. A mooring ball is a permanently placed anchor, generally a heavy concrete block with a line and a ball floating that we can tie a line to and be done. We tied up and headed to shore.
Hiking along the path with towering thirty-foot tall Organ Pipe cacti all around and
lizards scurrying about, fit in well with Ella’s habitat lesson. From the top we toured the lighthouse, gave a lesson on navigation, windward and leeward shores while watching Rivers2Seas floating tranquilly far below. Most hikes we rarely get glimpses of our home, the foliage being too thick to see much of a vista. Lighthouses by their very nature of signaling to mariners where a headland or island is located have become desired hikes for all of us because of these great viewing areas.
The draw of the mooring ball or the great National Park, I’m not sure which, enticed us to stay another night. The next day we swam at the beach, collected seashells, watched the kids body surf the waves and then toured the museum. Relaxation and education – what could be better? Our best lessons with the kids are the ones where they don’t realize that it’s a lesson. Boat kids learn quickly that lessons and education and learning aren’t just a school thing; it’s a life thing. They see Lindsey and I gleaming information from other cruisers, locals, guidebooks and the internet. We are in constant learning mode. To be safe, to find the fun spots, to miss the bad sections, to find the exhilarating hikes, we must constantly be learning. The kids see this and emulate what we are doing. It is one of the great benefits of having our kids with us 24 hours a day.
Leaving our mooring ball at 3:45AM was so easy, just untie one cleat and pull the line in. Lindsey went back to bed, while I navigated by radar and GPS. No moon, just Rivers2Seas floating below a sea of stars with bioluminescence filling the black sea. More than ever I felt like a space traveler going Mach speed though the galaxies. Sure we were only going 6mph, but that must have been the space-time continuum confusing me.
Outer Space has always fascinated me and looking at stars has made me feel so small. One of my favorite trips ever was skiing into Holy Cross Mountain with my buddy Bryce and his friend Dale. Dale was one of those great teachers that loved to teach anyone who cared to learn. He taught me names of distant galaxies and the fables and legends that went along with them. As I froze my butt off in a snowbank, he went on and on giving me my greatest space lesson. Sadly, he died the same day as my mother in an Alaskan avalanche sliding down a peak on a sled. Obviously, his joy of life never diminished. He must be orchestrating spectacular light shows with my mom now. Cheers, you two, the shows have been wonderful. This morning’s sunrise is just another spectacular ball of fire changing colors before me and all around. Peace.
Heading into Salinas harbor around 7AM, a military speedboat came up on our stern really fast. Moments before hitting us, the boat veered off and reconnoitered with another vessel. A few minutes later, we were flanked on either side by an impressive fast hypalon gunship and a local police boat. Luckily, no guns were drawn, but the presence was frightening. The police boat was trying to hail us on the radio. We could hear nothing. Close enough for talking; I let them know in Spanish that I couldn’t hear. They fiddled with the controls and still nothing. I asked if they were on channel 16, the universal emergency and hailing channel. More fiddling with controls. Finally, we were talking. One of the police officers gave the other the universal look of “you fool.” Nevertheless, they were going to follow us into the anchorage and board Rivers2Seas. We had to anchor twice which meant pulling the chain by hand, all the while with two gunboats at our side. We had hoped because of the early hour that the other boats in the anchorage hadn’t seen the parade. During the week we spent in Salinas we were constantly bombarded with “what happened with the police?” They were on the wrong channel and had to save face and check all our papers. Fun, military style.
Salinas is known for a good marine chandralry, good restaurants and cheap supermarkets. A cruisers paradise. In reality, the marine store had moved out of town, the restaurants were mediocre and the supermarkets far away. A cruisers reality. Often cruising feels like fixing a boat in paradise, looking for parts in a confusing city and being shocked by food prices.
Our watermaker had not been working right since we started in September. My friend
John on Bikini helped me trick the computer and fill our tanks anyway. We ordered membranes while in Georgetown, Bahamas to fix it correctly. After a couple days of emails and working out the issues of our now extinct manufacturer the dealer informed me that he couldn’t sell us the membranes because of dealership exclusivity areas. I would have to order them from a guy in New Jersey. That guy didn’t have the parts either and didn’t want to order them from the manufacturer. I called the original guy back in Florida and pleaded for help. He thankfully did and so the saga of our well travelled parts begun. He had them air shipped from California to Florida, then shipped them ground to North Carolina to a guy who was sailing to the Bahamas, that guy gave them to a wonderful guy Mick in Georgetown, who gave them to our friends on Bikini who air shipped them to Fajardo, Puerto Rico. We rented a car and headed 100 miles to Fajardo to pick them up two months after the initial order. The kicker was that as we headed across the Mona Passage, the watermaker decided to work and now the parts are just another $1200 spare part aboard.
Renting the car and getting to a large West Marine store enabled us to fix all sorts of things on the boat. My list was long and the kids ran all over the store adding to the two carts of supplies. Day’s worth of projects now awaited me, but first we had some more touring to do with the car.
El Yunque is the only US National Park that is a rainforest. We had some spectacular hikes looking for flowering bromeliads, critters, and waterfalls. More education from the tourist sites and maps and the lessons on habitat continued. The lushness of the foliage, cascading waterfalls and intermittent rain was like moisturizer on our skin. The kids ran down the spongy muddy paths screaming, “look at this” every 100 feet.
Heading into Old San Juan, we toured the large
forts with thousands of other cruise boat tourists. Cool forts but the people all seemed fat and pink. We wondered what all the locals thought of the pink tourists. The Puerto Ricans were all dressed to impress with the shoes being a focal point. Our water sandals did not pass muster. A fantastic sushi dinner on the main walkway while sipping a Medalla beer let us people watch.
The next day we restocked the boat with $1400 worth of provisions from a Sams Club, Wal-Mart & local vegetable store. We had already stocked up in Boquerón a week ago with $800 in groceries but cheap food is hard to find in the islands. The fridge and freezer were stocked full. Some American brands like GoGurt (freezable yogurt) excited the kids. When you have a three-week search for Cherrios, finding a favorite specialty food is really exciting. Finding NutterButters in the store sent Chase screaming through the aisles until he found mom. Our kids have certainly learned how to be thrifty with their treasured foods. We eat less than we ever did in our land-based life, but spend three times as much on food of generally lesser quality. It’s one of the great frustrations for all cruisers.
In Salinas bay we drank coffee each morning looking for the elusive Manatees that frequent the area. Often we would see ripples but not much more. Once a huge 1000-pound lumbering blob came right up to Rivers2Seas. It was spectacular. Seeing animals this rare and so close is one of the great fortunes for all cruisers.