CURRENT LOCATION: Anchored near the fuel dock at Ponce Yacht Club, by the city of Ponce, Puerto Rico
17 57.964' N, 066 37.152' W
My dear Reader, I know that I left you hanging a bit at the end of my last post. Talk of 'changing the itinerary' may have left you just a little bit anxious, perhaps even apprehensive. That is just a taste of the emotional flavors we have been experiencing lately here aboard Prudence.
We knew when we elected to take this route through the islands that this section was given the moniker: the 'Thorny Path' for a reason. We also told ourselves that this part of the cruise was likely to be difficult and slow-going. To be honest, though, the daily reality of those difficulties is simply more taxing than we had expected. Perhaps it is because we have yet to develop an appropriate strategy for us and our boat to comfortably make headway against the trades. Perhaps it is because we had such a wonderful sail both to and through the Bahamas and Turks & Caicos that we became spoiled. Perhaps it is because we are pushing too fast through the islands, in an effort to make it through the entire eastern Caribbean before hurricane season is upon us.
Yesterday, here in Ponce, we met another boat who hailed from Oriental, NC. Paul & Denise sailed their Pearson 365 ketch, Vixen from Oriental down to Bonaire and are now on their way back to Oriental. A short visit with them gave us cause to pause and reflect upon our own path thus far, and to consider (with hopeful anticipation) what lies ahead of us.
Because we travel by sailboat, we are often asked, "How much time do you sail and how much time do you motor?" The true answer is dependent upon which part of the path we were on. Down the East Coast of the United States (including the Gulf Stream crossing), we motored 47% of the time. Throughout the Bahamas and the Turks & Caicos (including the crossing to the Dominican Republic) we motored only 35% of the time. Thus far, in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, we have motored 98% of the time. This analytical summary covers the 2,200 nautical miles which have passed under our keel since our departure from Oriental, NC on November 1, 2007.
[Those wishing to view a detailed analysis of our travel numbers to date can view a simple spreadsheet by CLICKING HERE.]
We are currently poised to struggle through another 100+ nautical miles of Puerto Rican waters in the same manner (read: more motoring), and we are skeptical that the Virgin Islands will bring much relief from this windward slog. Considering the trip through the Virgins and across to St. Martin would amount to an additional 150+ nautical miles of windward work. From there, we hope to find some relief in the form of the Leeward and the Windward Islands. The general north-to-south direction of this approximately 500-nautical mile path should give us the ability to turn off the engine and enjoy some quiet sailing, once again.
Focused, for now, on the 100 nautical miles remaining here in Puerto Rico, we are leaning in the direction of conducting shorter hops (less than 20 nautical miles each) in the very early morning hours. This is more in keeping with Van Sant's Rules for this coastline. The result of this strategy will be moonlight departures (at least for the next week and a half), quickly changing to dawn's early light, and sunrise just before our arrival. This means less time in the dark (which will certainly help shipboard morale), and shorter exposures to the monotonous drone of the engine. Who knows, perhaps we may even occasionally get a point of sail which will allow us to turn off the engine; however, we will not count on it.
We plan to start that process tomorrow morning, with a short 7.5-nautical mile trip to Caja de Muertos (or Coffin Island). Despite the rather morbid name, the island is reported to be quite lovely. As our guidebook states, "Sail to the island of Caja de Muertos for a Bahamas-like breather." That is something that Sheryl and I both agree we could really use at present.
Ponce has been good to us. We met a few new boats here (heading the opposite direction), including Vixen and Rob & Andi from s/v Akka. Rob & Andi have been here for a while doing some engine repairs and were kind enough to give us the lay of the land. We had planned to go into the downtown area with them yesterday to check out an alternator and starter shop (we are having intermittent starter issues). However, after standing on the corner for an hour waiting for public transportation, we grew impatient. Sheryl and I left the two of them, continuing to wait for the público, while we started walking. About 4 miles later, we found ourselves in downtown Ponce. They have a nice park (with free WiFi service), and many western-style commercial shops. While there, we ran across Ed and Pat from s/v DiVague. Ed and Pat have been shadowing us (or vise-versa) since Samaná in the Dominican Republic. In all recent locations, it seems that we are always anchored right behind them.
On our walk back to the boat, we stopped at a supermarket (a REAL supermarket) next to the mall (yes, I said mall). The selection, variety, and cost was akin to what we would find in a supermarket in the United States. This is our first time seeing this type of store since our departure from our homeland. Were it not for the rapidly approaching sunset, we could have spent all day there and purchased way too much stuff. As it was, we could just barely walk the weight of our purchases the remaining 2 miles or so back to the dinghy.
Today, we awoke to find two very new arrivals here in Ponce, which were familiar boat names to us. s/v Magic and s/v Someday Came took the shorter hops from Boquerón to here (as prescribed by Van Sant). Their arrival just as the sun was peeking over the horizon is evidence that they have learned to follow the rules. Since we intend to be more mindful of the same rules from here forward, we spent the day in preparation for tomorrow's early morning departure. We fueled up with diesel and took on some water. We grabbed any last minute provisions we felt Ponce could provide, and we checked the weather.
With somewhat renewed enthusiasm, we hope to find at least a little bit of joy in the process of traversing the next 100-250 nautical miles. Stay tuned, dear Reader, to see how it goes.