Tag Archive: Modesitt

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico
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.

The happy family aboard Rivers2Seas

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

The three amigos on a hike

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.



Laundry 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

Bromiliads in bloom

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 National Forest

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

Just another famous fort

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 kids couldn't get enough and pointed everywhere

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.

The crew

Leaving the Turks and Caicos at 4am proves easy.  Hoisting the mainsail and unfurling

Leaving Sapadillo Bay in the Turks and Caicos at sunrise

the jib gives us an average of 8 knots of speed.  Seas were large at 9 feet but manageable as they were on the back quarter.  The winds picked up throughout the day and so did the seas.  The Offshore Weather Report states that the significant wave height is the average height of the waves.  Actual height may be twice that – or more.  So with some waves topping 18 feet, some larger, winds topping out at 28 knots we were moving!  One reef in the main and two in the jib and we still managed to hit 11 knots.  Most of the time winds were at 20 knots and waves simply large but manageable.

Chase has been prone to seasickness all along so the fact that he woke up three hours into the trip ready to puke was no surprise.  When Lindsey went down I took

The seasick crew tries to rest

note.  When Ella, who has never come close to seasickness, threw up all over her feet and the cockpit I let off a little to get more of a following sea.  That just meant we surfed down some of these screamers – a little more disturbing for myself.  Chases favorite drink is blue Gatoraide.  He was quite excited later when he discovered that when it came back up it was still blue.  AND when you eat something yellow like crackers – blue and yellow make green.  Holy cow, what a lesson on colors.

It was right about this time that I ran across the cockpit with binoculars in hand to check on a suspicious boat bobbing, that I first slipped in a pile of puke.  Despite being a trained scientist, binoculars and microscopes have always made me nauseous.  So it must have been a miracle that I could even see the fishing trawler bobbing in these seas without getting sick.  It wasn’t fishing or moving and people were all about its decks.  As we sped by with sails blazing the captain hailed us on the VHF radio.  Responding to his call in Spanish we quickly changed to English.

They had been without power for 12 hours and had been drifting at sea in these bouncy seas.  At 73 feet long the vessel was fairing

The Fearful Captain

well.   The engines had overheated and now would not work.  Their generator had run out of fuel and they only had a limited amount of time left using the VHF.  Miss Kristy was motoring with cargo from Haiti to the Turks and Caicos.  They were in distress and requested that I call their master, Mr. Robinson or the United States Coast Guard.  Mr. Robinson wanted nothing to do with the issue.  The captain had told me that 14 people were aboard, but it may have been 140.  The language barrier and his distress made it difficult.  We couldn’t tow her and we didn’t really want 140 Haitian refuges onboard.

As I called the USCG on the satellite phone to initiate a rescue, the vastness of the sea overwhelmed me.  Seventy miles from the coast of Haiti might as well be a 1000.  With the seas rolling every which way, I could only make out the boat half the time.  The USCG took all the coordinates and information about Rivers2Seas.  The most difficult part was that I couldn’t find my own telephone number.  We ended the conversation so that I could relay the information to Miss Kristy.

location of the disabled vessel

Miss Kristy, Miss Kristy, Miss Kristy, Rivers2Seas…I have contacted the US Coast Guard and they are notifying the Haitian navy.”  I felt bad at this point.  Do the Haitians have a navy?  Would they care?  My answer came quickly.  An hour and twenty minutes after I notified the USCG, they had a helicopter hovering over the scene.  They dropped a canister onboard with a charged VHF marine radio to keep in contact with Miss Kristy.  A USCG cutter was underway to tow them ashore; it would arrive in 12 hours.  The helicopter hovered overhead for two hours then had to leave to refuel.  They would be back in two hours.  That’s the last we heard.

Taking your family into the open ocean is intimidating, overwhelming and just plain scary at times.  The what-ifs occupy your mind as you have nothing to do but think as your boat gets pounded by waves.  What if we need a rescue?  What if Ella or Chase goes overboard?  Knowing that there are men and women in the USCG who are trained to help in these situations is comforting.  Seeing them in action is wonderful.  Seeing our government help other nationalities is the best.  America has superb resources and it’s great to know that when called upon…America is up to the task.  I shall wear my orange shirts proudly thinking of our USCG.

I veered Rivers2Seas off a little more, shaken a bit by the experience, stirred a little bit by the vomit all over and the adrenaline dump knocking me out.  I had been at the wheel for seven and a half hours.  I tried to snuggle with Chase who wanted mom back and then with Ella who wouldn’t stop trying to wake me to play.  An hour later after my “refreshing” rest, it was back to the wheel.

Landfall in the Dominican Republic

Making landfall in the Dominican Republic at 10pm proved rough. We wouldn’t be able to anchor until sunrise.  We motored up the coast with the smell of cow dung and smoldering fires filling our nostrils.  To me, this mix of smells is so pleasant as it is the smell of developing countries and the wonderful people within.  We anchored at 9am in Rio San Juan, Dominican Republic.  This is not an official entry point and even if we had entered legally, we would not have permission to be here.  A 28-hour sail, puking kids, a seasick wife and myself exhausted we dropped anchor.

A half hour later, I was asleep; Lindsey was asleep and the kids were playing with trains.  That’s when a fisherman came by and said

getting ready to fish in the Dominican Republic

that we should move a couple hundred yards over because we would drag anchor.  We pulled up the anchor by hand moved Rivers2Seas over and then started our day…Life on a boat.

The local commandant visited us awhile later and wanted our papers, which we didn’t have.  Luckily, I speak Spanish and he was nice, but firm.  The kids help in these situations as does the remnants of vomit as you try to explain that you are exhausted from a rough day at sea.  As long as we left by midnight we were OK,  11pm would be better.  We left at 4am.  Which as I write this, sitting at the helm in a calm sea motoring back along the coast the world looks beautiful.  A large full orange moon is setting straight ahead dancing in and out of the clouds.  Lights from the coastline twinkle a mile off my port side.  The sun will rise in an hour or so to uncover towering mountains up to 10,000 feet high…Life on a boat.