Friday, January 27, 2012

Jost Van Dyke

After a week of staring at Jost Van Dyke from Cane Garden, Al thought that we should see it after all. On Saturday, 21st of January, we checked the chart and read the bit about the island in the sailing guide. To our amazement, we saw that the markers for the Great Harbour were placed on the west side of the harbour entrance for an unknown reason, which puts the traffic dangerously close to the reefs. The guide says sailors come into the bay staying right in the middle where it is deep, they ignore the red and green markers that lead to the government dock, and anchor or take mooring ball on the east side.

We decided to sail there, since the island is almost straight to the wet of Cane Garden, and the wind was mild, and straight at our backs. It took us about one hour to reach the harbour. It is always very hard for me to ignore any marker, but I did not become hysterical this time, because it was plain by naked eye / depth sounder that the water all the way into the harbour was really quite deep. Most of the space was littered by moorings, so we caught one not too far away from the dinghy dock, and settled down.

It was quite early, so we swam a bit and went ashore to check out the fresh produce grown locally, which was promised in the guide. Well, we only saw a lady and her two young daughters, selling some home-made baked goods at the roadside. The lady claimed that she was raising funds to send her daughters to a youth conference at St Martin / Sint Maarten, which of course prompted us, and another couple, to buy different kinds of breads, which turned out to be quite good. The owner of the produce store decided to close it for the day, so we were out of luck. While walking up and down the short street, we saw an herb garden, and a banana orchard, so there must be some truth about the vegetables and fruits grown there. I can never understand why the islands cannot produce their food, although every inch is covered by lush vegetation. We know from their history that all of the islands that we had seen so far used to be sugar plantations. Their soil or climate seems to be wrong somehow for the food crops that we are accustomed to. It is possible that growing them might require some extra effort. I guess it is easier to buy the vegetables form Florida, USA. On all the islands we visited so far, we found in the grocery stores, the pale orange colored tomatoes that taste more sour than their real flavor, but hey, at least they exist in winter. In Canada, once in a while one can find real tomatoes that come from Mexico, but they are rare, but cheaper, go figure. But I remember somebody badmouthing the Mexican tomatoes, blaming them by being dirty and not safe to eat . More organic may be, but how could they be dirty. Of course Ontario tomatoes are the best, when picked ripe, but their season is too short!

Anyway, when we came back to the boat, after having lunch at the “famous“ Foxy’s Bar (according to the guide), we started to watch the other boaters flocking into the bay. That is an interesting pursuit. We saw a young couple in a chartered boat, who approached a mooring ball, but seeing that the eye of the pennant was broken, left for another. Sometime later, another boat came there, and the older guy, who seemed to be the grand-father of the family, crated a solution, and made a loop on the pennant rope and used it to secure the boat ropes. One can see that experience makes a difference.

After a rolly night, we high tailed back to Cane Garden around 9:00 am. The seas were much higher than promised, and the wind straight up, but an hour was not unbearable. It is hard to believe how tranquil it is in the Cane Garden bay. I am very glad that we found this place to wait for a window of calmer seas to make our passage to St Martin. I am not looking forward to it, but it has to be done, so be it.

After we dropped our anchor, three more cats came along to anchor. One of them was so close to us that, he came along and asked if we minded them next to us. Of course Al being so gallant, said he did not; but I wondered if it would swing in the night and hit us. Then we saw the skipper putting a single fender at the back of the boat, probably thinking the same. How was one fender going to help I did not understand, but what do I know.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Storm in Cane Garden

The last two days, we had been laughing at the weather postings at Accuweather site; the day before, minimum temperature was shown as 0 degrees C in Road Town, and yesterday a mix of snow and rain was expected. The person entering the data must be from Canada, or joking! Same site has been giving reminders for 30 knot winds from north-east / north, for almost a week; and we did not know if we should believe it.

Well, it came with a vengeance on Tuesday night! Although the bay is only open to west, the configuration of the mountains allows winds coming down the valleys in accelerated fashion.

Tuesday morning we started to see the winds getting stronger, and took a mooring close to the north end of the bay, seeing that the rap-around swells were less severe there. But that location put us smack under the vide valley between the small mound at the tip of the bay, and the big ridge going all around it.

Tuesday night, around 11:30 we got awakened by the howling, accompanied by an occasional whistle of the wind, which sounded like a truck hitting us. There was some rolling by the swells, which came from the side, after breaking up at the tip of the bay. We felt we were left in the cross-fire of the see and the wind. After listening to the howls for a while in bed, we got startled with a sudden thump on the side. Al immediately jumped out to check, and I followed. What we saw was really interesting; it was our mooring buoy hitting the port side hull from the outside. While we were watching, it started to move out, and came towards the starboard side; at which time Ruyam got whirled around like a top.

One can imagine the noises coming from all directions, including the lapping of the sea. Since we could not sleep, we sat at the gully and surveyed our neighbors. It was a sight to see; every moored boat was heading at different direction, their mooring balls at different sides. However we were the only ones up it seemed, most of the people had been partying all night, and apparently oblivious to the weather. Nothing to be scared of, it was just annoying. I am thankful that we were not at the Road Town harbour, which I am sure, was hit much worse than us; but Al was arguing to the contrary. I think he forgot that we had been subjected to less vicious north east winds there, with devastating results. I still like Cane Garden Bay, which at least rolls gently, because the winds, which come at right angle to the swells, do not create waves. The sea seems calm, but breaks with violence at the shallows.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Back in Tortola

We anchored at our usual place, and did all the things necessary after a trip, laundry, groceries etc. The first night was fine, the next day we docked at our marina to get water and engage the nice guy Vivien (it must have a different meaning in the Caribbean) to scrape the bottom of Ruyam, and spent the night there. Early in the morning, we left. Al thought that we should get inside the breakwater at the harbour, since the winds started to pick up. We tried three times to set the anchor in a very crowded small area, but decided to get out, seeing that the anchor dragged and put us in close proximity with two other boats. Better outside we thought, and anchored in our usual pace, just outside of the breakwater.

I can’t say it was a good decision. During the first night, the sea got so high that we constantly rolled from side to side. I thought it would end in the morning, but no, there was no break from the high wind and high seas. Our dinghy rides become perilous and very wet. After the night, I thought we should go to shore, and explore the beaches from land, since the beach we usually used was smack in the wind. While looking at the chart, Al remembered having heard that Cane Garden Bay, situated at the west end of Tortola, was a nice spot. When we checked the guide book for BVI, we saw that it was recommended only when there were no north swells. So we hired a taxi to see how it looked.

When the taxi brought us down the mountain we saw the bird-eye view of the bay, which was stunning. So calm, so pristine, and so crowded with smart boaters. Almost all the mooring buoys were taken, although the long, sandy beach was almost deserted. The bars/restaurants lining the beach were almost empty in the afternoon. Then I saw that happy hour in one of them was starting at 3:00 pm. I guessed that the place would become alive after that hour.

We made the essential inquires about the services available, and learned that there was water and fuel at the municipal dock, a laundry place, WiFi at the bars and two grocery stores. Well, who needs Road Town, we could stay there until the time comes to make the passage to St Martin/Sint Maarten.

I was thinking of staying that night at the small hotel (nothing fancy), but Al thought we should bring the boat there in the next morning. So we returned to Road Town for another night of violent rocking. It spoiled my appetite so much that we had to chuck some of the food I prepared for dinner. I almost never do such a thing, after spending money and effort in buying and transporting the ingredients and preparing the meals. So, it was a manifestation of my discomfort, and Al apologized for not listening to me to stay there at night and come back in the morning, to get the boat.

Anyway, around 7:00 am, we started our engines, and went underway towards Cane Garden! The wind was strong on our back, so the two hour trip was not all that bad. I think I am getting used to the beating, and if there is a valid reason for taking a trip, I can endure it better.

Since we were so early in arriving there, we were able to choose a nice mooring close to the beach, and settled down. Many more boats came after us, and all the numerous moorings got taken.

I think this bay is what Caribbean is all about. The water is like an aquarium, clear to the bottom, with lots of birds feeding on the numerous fish. One gets startled while swimming, when the pelicans dive suddenly all around. I also saw a brown bird which sounds like our Canadian goose, but looks smaller. There is so much activity around, it is really entertaining.

Al had been checking the weather every day, and finding out that the expected storm was being postponed to later in the week. We came here on Saturday, thinking that it was imminent on Sunday night, but nothing happened until Tuesday morning. In the meantime, we decided that taking a mooring was too expensive, and set out anchor after the first night, however, on Tuesday morning, swells started to roll us a bit, winds turning to north. I thought it was prudent to pick up a ball, after tinkering with the anchor several times, seeing that it had dragged some, when wind started to create twisters around us.

Our Voyage Back

We spent two more days in Culebra, waiting for a calm day. Can you believe it, as soon as our guests left, the winds died down, and weather became sunny and hot. When we went to swim at the Flamenco beach, we saw that the sea was as calm as it could get; hard to believe.

On our way to Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas, we retraced our blue line in the hand-held GPS, did the trip in the calmest of winds in a breeze. The only excitement showed itself during our turn into the harbour. First of all, we saw two gigantic cruise ships getting close to us on the way; then the one which had been going faster lead the way in ahead of us, and all of a sudden we entered into a cloud of fog. The markers that I had spotted earlier vanished, and right at our heels the other cruise ship was kind of lingering, but inching its way towards us. The entrance to the harbour is not that wide, you know. Anyway, thanks to the blue line, we were able to find the right angle, then the fog somewhat dissipated, so we sipped into the harbour just in time. The sight inside was incredible, there was a second cruise anchored sideways at the entrance, and a third at the dock. We started wondering how the one behind us was going to fit, but it did, got docked in the middle. I don’t understand what the thousands of people would do in that small town, except shopping for Columbian emeralds, gold, fragrances, Swatches etc., which are sold tax free. Most of the shops there are stocked with high priced goods; one has to go a lot of distance to buy everyday items. I thought that I should take advantage of the situation, and bought two fragrances for the price of one.

The harbour was very crowded with anchored boats as well, so we only spent the 4th and the 5th of January there, got our water and diesel from Yacht Haven, and moved on to Caneel Bay, St. John, for three more days. Al checked the weather constantly, and decreed that we should hurry to Road Town, BVI, since major storms were brewing. Well, promise of low waves and moderate winds never come true. We got a of beating towards the wind for about an hour and a half, but this time we chose the channel, north of St John, to get there. I can’ say that it was a breeze, but we were close to the target, so did not mind the way too much.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Guests Take Their Leave

Deniz and Zeynep had to catch their plane at San Juan, departing 7:30 am on the 3rd, so decided to take the ferry a day before and stay the night at the Airport hotel. They had bought their ferry ticket in Fajardo, which cost them a mere $2 a piece, after checking the two airlines which provide regular service to and from Culebra. All he planes were sold out, considering the popularity of Culebra for the holidays.

Their ticket was for the 1:00 o’clock ferry, so they got ready around 11:00 am, and we took the dinghy to shore, and walked through the town to the ferry docks, which turned out to be quite a distance, when carrying luggage (since they are experienced sailors, they brought collapsible bags without rollers).
We sat at a dirty table overlooking the ferry docks, sipping our beer and munching on the pizza slices Al found at the nearby small bakery, and began watching the people who started a line-up to get on the ferry. As well, there was a line-up of almost fifty cars, which we first presumed to be waiting to take the ferry customers having arrived at Culebra, which did not make much sense, because there was nobody disembarking at that time. When asked, we learned that the cars were waiting to get fuel, from the only gas station with one pump. Poor guys, they were waiting patiently in the glaring sun! Then Zeynep pointed to a pedestrian couple waiting in line between two cars, their jug at hand, who turned out to be our friend Tony, and his wife Suzanne from Canada! Al went to talk to them, and learned that they were getting ready to sail to St Thomas, USVI in the next few days and needed fuel. That was a sight to see. Only us Canadians would do such a thing and stand in a line of vehicles. I spotted earlier a guy with three jerry-jugs in hand, sneaking in to the pump station to jump the que.
While we were watching the crowd lining up for the ferry, I started to get restless, and Al suggested joining them, and taking turns in waiting beside the luggage. Deniz categorically refused to wait in line for an hour or more, and we kept on sitting at the table. I did not understand how he could be so cool, when the line had started to form a snake coiling around itself, with people carrying/pushing multiple baggage, baby strollers, coolers, what have you; kind of orderly but quite noisy. I could not imagine how all that people was going to fit onto the boat, which was not that big, but had three levels of covered seating. The dock master started to allow passengers inside, but very slowly. Since there was no assigned seating, small groups of people were let in, to give them time to settle. Half an hour before departure time, Deniz finally decided to get up and join the crowd. We waited until they settled at the third level, and waved them good-by. Al took some pictures while the ferry got underway, and we returned to the boat, which seemed deserted.

We had arranged our cab driver Pichy at Fajardo to wait at the ferry station to drive them to San Juan. Al urged Pichy to show Deniz’ name on a piece of paper, to attract his attention, and he agreed. But it is hard to gauge if the Puerto Ricans understand everything we say, especially on the telephone. Al unconsciously changes his speaking style, and assumes a deep accent, which is quite funny to listen. We hoped that Pichy would be there, and would not charge more than his promise.

We were anxious to hear about their arrival, and heard from them as soon as they settled in their hotel. Deniz asked if we had been watching the departure of the ferry, and if we had seen its return to the harbour. Well we had watched a little, but we had not seen the detour. You know, Deniz and Zeynep had so many problems at every step of their trip, and the same detour had happened in their first plane ride, that they must have said, “Here we go again, the ferry had mechanical problem like the plane, and we are stuck in Culebra”. However, the thing was captain’s important documents were left at the harbour, so they continued immediately afterwards. The fast ferry ride was not too bad, a bit bumpy maybe, but nothing like coming in, and much shorter, a mere hour and a half. But Deniz had a lot to complain about Pichy. He said Pichy’s van was full of people, with a little space left for the two of them. He let them go somewhere on the way, and when Deniz raised the issue of payment, which he thought should be reduced, Pichy showed surprise, and declared that they were his family, catching a ride, and what was his problem, didn’t he took them where they wanted? No argument there I suppose.

Our relationship with Pichy started when we needed to move around in Fajardo for shopping. He is a young tall guy with a constant smile, sporting a heavy gold chain coming down to his belly, with a huge cross attached. The first time we engaged him, we needed to go to several places, so he took us to all of them, and came back to pick us up after several hours, to allow us to shop etc., for $20.00 dollars. That time he made us wait about an hour to return to Isleta, and excused himself that he had been stuck in traffic, but he had a young woman sitting at the front seat, with whom I taught he argued all the way in Spanish. We thought she was his girlfriend, but we did not say anything. After that, whenever we had to go somewhere, whether it was one trip or more, the price was always the same. The only time he charged more was when we had to go to Ceiba, to change our propane tanks. We explained to him what we needed, which could only be done by Suarez Gaz, somewhere near Ceiba according to the reports from fellow mariners at Isleta, and he said “Yes, yes”. So we started on a country road, passed Ceiba and more, and I asked Pichy if he knew where we were going. “Yes, yes”. Then he stopped when he saw a pickup truck with Suarez written all over, to ask for directions. The guy genially showed that it was around the corner. That was our Pichy, but he was very friendly whenever we saw him standing by his van, waiting for customers, he would come by and shake Al’s hand. With all his faults, I think he served his purpose, but Deniz might differ.

The next afternoon after their scheduled arrival in Ottawa, we tried several times to contact their home to check if they had arrived safely. No luck until quite late that night. We spoke with their son Mehmet, and learned that they missed their connection, and were booked for a later flight, and that they were on their way home. We were uneasy until we heard from them, and we did; bless their hearts. Oof, that part of the story had a happy ending.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

New Year’s Eve

We dressed up and had our dinner and champagne on board, and took the dinghy to the town to participate in the famous celebrations. There was a band playing at the town square around the ferry docks, and hoards of people were standing around, sitting at corners or lugging coolers (full of booze I presumed) here and there. Zeynep thought that the coolers must be government issued, since all of them were identical. It was interesting that there were no peddlers for food or drinks, except the few small restaurants lining the area, which were packed. Rest of the people brought their own it seemed.

We walked about a bit, but I got tired and found a place to sit. From my vantage point I could see the stage and the people congregating to dance in front of it. The master of ceremonies/singer was taking turns of constantly talking or singing. So it was quite lively, all kinds of people; Puerto Ricans, European and American tourists, sailors, singing along and dancing Salsa. We watched people having fun, and especially the two middle-aged women competing to dance with an old man all night. Those two got awards at the end of the night.
(Videos courtesy of Deniz)

I must have had too much to drink, I did not feel like dancing, so we went back to the boat around 11:00 pm, and waited for midnight, watching the constant fireworks coming from three directions. It was a memorable night, very different from anything I had seen before.

Second Culebra Experience

As soon as we got out of the marina, the wind and high seas started to beat us. I suggested turning back, since there was no pressing reason for taking this trip for Deniz and Zeynep, besides sight-seeing. They were to return to San Juan by ferry, to catch their plane on the 3rd of January. I was afraid that they might get stuck in Culebra, if storms should continue. But of course, the guys thought nothing of the waves, and Zeynep put up brave front, so we pressed on. It was a good thing that our ginger tea was already in the thermos!

For four and a half hours we fought with high waves, northerly swells that were coming from a different angle, and wind blowing head on. I had a hard time watching the bow constantly diving into the water, and coming out with a high angle. The sight was too scary, so I sat facing the back, and did not move much, since keeping one’s balance was almost impossible. Zeynep and I did a lot of talking, doing small physical exercises with our arms, and drinking our tea, to keep ourselves busy. I think I was the only one scared of the situation, but everybody felt the discomfort. We made fun of Al by asking “When is the tide going to help us?”, “Is tide really coming, or has it stood you up?”, “How come four feet waves look so high?”

After four odd hours, we got encouraged by the seeing the entrance to Ensenada Honda; but the waves and the wind doubled while turning in. The last bit was not easy to take. Poor Zeynep could not help commenting on the length of the trip. If you ask me, I can live without ever hearing the name of Culebra in my life! It had been such an ordeal both ways, and I am thankful that we did the passage with friends, rather than tackling it alone; however I felt responsible for their safe deliverance.

The worst was over, as soon as we entered the deep bay, it was quite calm, so anchoring was a breeze. It is customary for Deniz to dive, to see the position of the anchor, so he immediately jumped into the water. I felt so sorry for him, because I would not dip my hand into that awful water. The last time we were there, I saw several dead fish floating on the surface. When I told him that, he said he could not see the anchor anyway (at 15 feet of depth). What a sacrifice!
Our stay in Culebra was not too bad, the town Dewey is very small, but he beaches around the island are great. We got a map of the town and vicinity, and decided to walk about to explore it. We had learned from our friends earlier that on Fridays a pickup truck would bring fresh vegetables to the town, so we made the mistake of asking the grocery store about it. The owner told us that the vegetables would be sold in his store on Saturday, not on Friday. One should not believe everything one hears. Half an hour later, while looking for the bakery, we stumbled upon the mini market place that was being established around the said truck. I even held one corner of the that tent they were trying to set up over the vegetables. So we were right on time, to get our pick before everybody else. I don’t think much would be left to be sold at the grocery store the next day. It was a make shift place, but equipped with Interac and credit card payments. That was a lucky find, thanks to our willingness to walk around.

The next day we found a nice beach at the north end of the island called Plaja Flamenco, with miles of a sandy beach where high waves constantly hammered. The beach was lined with a park, picnic tables under coconut trees, open showers, not very clean bathrooms, food kiosks, etc. It turned out that Deniz enjoyed the surfing waves as much as we did, however Zeynep had a mishap in a similar sea, so did not swim much. The two of us walked on the beach, which curved around to create a calm area, and swam at the protected side, and later joined the guys sitting at a table in the shade sipping their beer. We had lunch there, and later took our showers, thanks to the custom of Zeynep always carrying soap in her purse. During the shower, when I commented that in Turkey, it was not allowed to use soap at the beach showers, Zeynep saw the sign to the same effect, but it was too late. You know, finding that facility was a great help for preserving our water supply.

Marina Del Ray

Al and Deniz contacted the marina and got directions to the slip we were to dock. It was quite a big marina, mostly full, with different kinds of boats tied for the winter. They gave us an inner slip to my dismay, although there were some readily accessible ones. Anyway, Al maneuvered the cat perfectly while I watched with apprehension, and Deniz gave the lines to the guy waiting at the dock. Great success in docking, and quiet at last, after the constant hum of the wind on the way.

This marina was the best we had seen so far, including the Yacht Haven Grande of St Thomas, USVI, considering the facilities provided. Everything was clean and modern, despite the fact that it has been in operation for twenty years. It was so big that the marina staff was running around on the docks in golf carts. One could call the marina office on VHF and ask one of these carts to transport you from your slip to the restaurant, or to showers and laundry etc. The drivers were master racers, spinning the wheels of the carts on narrow docks skilfully.

As soon as we docked, I made some ginger tea, by boiling fresh ginger slices and adding some lemon juice, which I found to be effective for nausea. Although neither Zeynep nor I get sea-sick, we both felt uneasy because of the exhaust fumes and the violent rolls.

We got our precious water, did our laundry, took long hot showers; heaven on earth! To top it off, the guys thought I should get a break from cooking, so we tried the elegant restaurant of the marina. Everything was great, but unfortunately it only lasted one night. Early next morning, we had planned to start for Culebra, SVI, to spend several days, including the New Year’s Eve; because we heard that Culebra was the happening place for the celebrations.

Al had been checking the weather sites, and found out that the forecast for the winds and wave heights would be most favorable on the 29th, which was the reason he rushed us back from Vieques, to start our major passage to Culebra. We had done that passage coming west in about three hours, and we were expecting some delay in going east towards the wind. Al also read something about the tide, being in a favorable direction against the waves sometime in the morning, so he decided to start around 9:00 am. We checked our charts, and got ready to “retrace our steps” on the GPS.

On to Vieques

Al constantly checked the weather forecast in three different sites, and decried that the winds were going to abate somewhat on Sunday, December 25, which would give us a break to reach the west shore of Vieques, SVI. Al spent the whole evening plotting our numerous way points on his two GPS devices while sweating and swearing, and I wrote the route in my notebook, trying to calm him down. Deniz checked the general plan, and gave his consent.

Early in the morning of the 25th, Deniz and Al released the lines, and we went underway towards Punta Arenas, the north-west tip of the island. The trip was about two hours, but the winds were nowhere near calm as promised. We got hit all the way down from our port side, until we came to the lee of the big island, and anchored a little south of the point. It is interesting that while traveling, it never fails to rain, but as soon as we reach a shore, the sun shows itself. We spent the day swimming in the pristine and calm waters, and went to bed early. First time in nearly two weeks, we came to a place that was closed to the constant easterly blowing wind. What a change it makes to have real shelter.

Next day, to Esperanza, situated at the south of Vieques. It was not a long trip, but we faced the easterly winds, since we had to keep our distance from the shore, full of dangerous reefs and jutting points. Esperanza is a very small town, marked in the chart as having an anchorage. So we decided to go in to check it out. When we cautiously entered through a narrow channel between two small islands, one of them connected to the land; we saw many boats anchored at the outer edge of a reef, not accessible from where we were, which was about only 6 feet deep. Al turned around, and hightailed to the anchorage at the bay to the right of the town. The bay was spacious, pristine and offering free buoys for the taking. It was a piece of cake to catch one!

Deniz and Al took the dinghy to explore the way to town. It seemed from our vantage point that one could pass through a narrow opening at the end of the beach and get to the town; however they saw that it was impassable. While they were contemplating about leaving the dinghy at the shore and walking to town, Al saw a bum like man fishing in front of his make shift tent in the bush. As his custom, Al stroked a conversation with the man. He later told me that the first thing the man asked was the value of our dinghy. That discouraged Al about leaving the dinghy unattended, and they came back to the boat. Later, Zeynep and I swam to the shore and walked along the beach; she collected some shells and brought them to the boat in her bathing suit while swimming back. The whole expedition took us two hours, and we got exhausted.

The days are generally so short that all of us were ready for bed around 9:00 pm every night, although we were having afternoon naps all around. This is to say that we did not do much during their visit, but I hope they had a relaxing time. Since most of the time Christmas winds created havoc in the sea, we could not do any sailing. Vieques Island created shelter but could not provide fresh water for us, so staying longer than a week was not possible. We rationed our water supply and supplemented our dishwashing with sea water etc., but would not be able to survive long.

We wished to do some provisioning in Esperanza, so released the cat from the mooring at the bay, and set anchor among the other many sail boats at the reef area which was closer to the town. First we thought we could start the journey back to Punta Arenas that day, in order to stage for the return to the marina in Fajardo, but decided to stay the second night in Esperanza instead, and dine at a restaurant (Trade Winds) mentioned in the guide books. I think Deniz was tired of my cooking which lacked most of the fresh ingredients I usually require to make it good. Ah well, I improvise with primitive conditions, and try to add some variety, but I am no magician. The only thing I can boast is that, what I cook is always wholesome and light. My friends always make fun of my insistence on using calorie wise ingredients with no fat and very little olive oil, so taste can be problematic. But hey, everybody who eats with me gets used to it. Even Deniz stopped complaining about my pastries being dry!

We decided to return to Fajardo the next morning, but not to Sunbay Marina, which was close to the northern tip of the east coast of Puerto Rico. Instead we stopped at Marina Del Ray situated at Ceiba, a few miles south of Fajardo; and not a moment too soon. All the way to the marina, we got hammered by easterly winds at our starboard. Even setting the sails did not stabilize the boat, which rocked violently. Deniz was not impressed with sailing the cat, although he admits that living conditions are superior to the mono hulls. That time was our only attempt in sailing, which proved to be too hard with high seas and unpredictable rain conditions.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Guests Arrive

While waiting for our guests, we got ready to meet them. One of the main issues was transportation from San Juan Airport, where they were landing, to Fajardo. So we decided to rent a car, and meet them at the airport. We started to shop around, first stop being Avis and Enterprise, but it was Christmas time, and they were reluctant to give a car for regular prices. The last resort was World Car Rentals, which was not very reputable (we heard from several people that their cars were old, and insurance had a considerable amount for deductible; but Al felt desperate on Saturday, and booked a Mitsubishi for Wednesday (the 21st) at 11:00 am, so we would have time to do some shopping and drive an hour to San Juan Airport, to meet them at 4:30 pm.

On the morning of Wednesday, we moved to Sunbay Marina, and tied up in quite harsh conditions. When Al was getting ready to deal with the car around 9:00 am, he received a text message from Deniz, advising that their flight was delayed until 2:00 am in the morning, and they were in New York, USA at that moment. No matter, it gave us time to do shopping with our car, since carrying the groceries to the boat at Isleta was a major problem, but not in the new marina, since the car can be parked very close to the docks.

Al called for the car. The reception he got was “What? Who? When? No, there is no message about any car being reserved in your name”. Al was adamant, but since he is very polite, he pleaded with the lady, instead of getting angry, since we were kind of expecting it (at least I was). At last, he got a promise for a Ford Taurus, and we walked over to their office to get it. The lady gave us the keys, and told us to check the dents on the body before taking it. We saw that the outside was covered some small dents at every corner, but inside was another story; the side panel at the door was missing, the seats were burned by multiple cigarette tips etc. We went in, and I could not help pointing out to the lady that she gave us the worst car in the lot. I asked if they were reserving the other cars for “better customers”, and she said they ha VIP s. I laughed at her face, and reminded her about their bad reputation. I bluntly told her that we would not have come to them any other time of the year! I started walking about the lot, waiting for Al to come back. After some time, I peeked into the office, and he winked that we were getting one of the new Nissans. I have to thank my good friend Nural, who always encourages me for standing up for my rights. Al never argues with anyone, and I usually do not interfere; however, as it is said in Turkish, if the baby does not cry, no one would feed it. Sometimes, it is enough to show your displeasure to change things. Not always maybe, but it would not hurt to try.

Anyway, we got the car, did our shopping, with lots of time to spare, and got restless on the boat. I suggested we should start driving to San Juan in daylight (ends around 6:00 pm), since we did not know the way, and Al reluctantly obliged. We reached San Juan in about two hours, since we visited “The Outlet” mall on the way, just to see how Puerto Ricons were getting ready for Christmas. They were not any different than Americans or Canadians – franticly shopping and eating. The only difference was the absence of the Carol tunes constantly being broadcast on the loud speakers. What attracted my attention were the toques, woolen jackets and boots on sale – who would buy or wear them in a climate where the temperature never dips below 25 C. Correction, I saw some young girls sporting boots while wearing strapless tops. Oh well, they have to look good.

Anyway, we reached the Airport, took a turn inside around the arrival side and exited to continue on to San Juan and did some sightseeing in the “Old” part, without seeing much because it was raining hard and quite dark. I thought there would be restaurants etc. to cater to the tourists, but we could not see any on the way. So we stopped at San Juan marina (we cannot stay away from marinas any more) and had an extended dinner (about two hours). Then what? While we were thinking of taking a stroll, it started to rain again cats and dogs. Al does not like walking anyway. Back to the Airport.

Our new Norwegian friend Marten had given us a tip; the Buffalo Bar at the airport was validating parking tickets up to six hours. We parked in the parkade about five hours before the arrival time and spent some more time at the bar. Then I felt tired, so we went to the car and slept for an hour or so. It is hard to keep Al in one place, so we had to go around and check the arrival plaza, and look at people meeting their loved ones. I really like watching people at arrivals embracing each other; it is usually a happy place. I tell you, Puerto Ricons are very expressive of their happiness, much different than the smiling-hand shaking-nodding Canadians. It was quite entertaining to watch the commotion. The plaza is another story. People wait outside of the carousel area, and look in through the glass. It is interesting to watch the travellers coming down and congregating around some carousels. We walked along the windows, trying to guess which carousel Deniz would be coming, and decided to wait at the exit gate. After sometime, we spotted Deniz and Zeynep coming towards us. They were dead tired, but we talked all the way to Fajardo. By the time we got them settled in their cabin, it was almost 4:00 am. There was a storm raging in the sea, which yanked our dock lines and squished our fenders with a deafening noise on their side. I felt awful, but we could not do anything until the morning. Sure enough, around 6:30 am, I saw Deniz at the deck, conversing with Al about changing the structure of the dock lines. They were able to minimize the noise, and the poor guy went back to sleep.

We knew that the storm was going to last for a few days, so we planned to keep the car for three days, and do some sight-seeing in Puerto Rico. First we visited the famous rainforest called El Yunque (pronounced something like jungle, go figure Spanish), which was quite interesting. The enormous size of the trees with lush green foliage and peeking bright flowers were a wonder, but Zeynep and I were drawn mostly to the clusters of bamboo shoots going in all directions, some of them being uprooted, resting on the others. We also visited the interpretation centre, a very modern building marking the entrance to the wilderness on top of a mountain, with occasional breathtaking glimpses of the sea to the north.

We spent the next day in old San Juan, Puerto Rico, which is known as the oldest city in North America, founded by the Spanish colonizers. It is a very well preserved and neatly maintained European town, with a citadel and high stone buildings, painted with pastel colors.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Isleta Marina, Fajardo

We have been languishing at the marina for ten odd days. Although Al and I have been busy every day, with shopping, laundry and general maintenance of the boat, I started to get bored. We are counting the days while waiting for Deniz and Zeynep to come on the 21 st of December.

Actually this place is quite entertaining; stating at 6:30 in the morning, every fifteen minutes the small ferry to mainland passes by us, and we exchange hellos with the captain, who is almost level with our heads sitting at the cock-pit. In the afternoon, the other ferry takes over, and follows a different route, so it is not so annoying.

Last week one day, when we returned from shopping, we saw at the ferry dock on the mainland that multiple police cars and ambulances were waiting for the boat to arrive. When it came, a group of paramedics, rescue operators, HAZMAT people etc., came to the Isleta with us. Their equipment filled all the space in the ferry. We asked the dock master at the marina, and learned that a man in his fifties, who was living on his boat at the marina, and doing some odd jobs for the marina administration had died in the afternoon, while working on the engine of one of the ferries. Apparently he was suffocated in the unventilated engine room, because of a gas leakage. We felt awful when we saw the poor man being taken away on the stretcher. Although it is the fault of the marina administration, they do not seem to have any responsibilities for a contractor. Hard to believe! Today we learned from the man’s friend, who wanted to buy his boat that, he did not have a wife or children, except a mother and some siblings. What a waste of life, which could have been avoided!

Anyway, sad story aside, this marina is in the worst possible location for the “Christmas Winds” that constantly blow from north and northeast. First of all it is at the east end of Puerto Rico, on a very small island with absolutely no protection. The wind howls all day and more so, at night. The way we are tied at the dock is also wrong for the wind; it is constantly blowing on the stern. As a result, we are stuck inside the boat every evening and early in the morning. If the gusts come from north, they push the boat towards the dock, and gets Al concerned for the fenders. We blew one of them the other day, and were forced to buy a ball shaped one instead, which was recommended by our friend Ricardo. Al really liked the ball, and intends to buy another one.

Well, if the wind is easterly, the boat is pushed away from the dock, but then the lines get tightened at intervals, and jerk the boat. If one is not careful, it is easy to fall down in the boat. Of course Al is concerned about the lines giving way, so he checks each one of the four every now and again. There is no winning in this game! Of course, there is no shortage of noises coming from all sides as well. The constant knocking of the waves from underneath, whining of the halyard etc, clicking of other boats in the neighborhood; it is a miracle that anyone can sleep in a boat tied at the marina, but one eventually gets used to it I guess.

Al decided to move into Sunbay Marina, after our guests arrive, which is across the small channel from Isleta, a dingy ride away, but much more protected, and a little bit more expensive. Did I mention that we are paying $100.00 dollars for a week? I think it hardly pays for the water and electricity that we are using every day, so we had a very good deal.