24 December 2007

Merry Christmas & God Jul!

December 24, 2007: Christmas Eve

We’re spending a warm, tropical Christmas and New Year’s in Culebra, one of the Spanish Virgin Islands, just east of the main island of Puerto Rico. We’re here with friends that we met in Luperon: three boats from Montreal, Phoenix III, La Bete and Taima.

We left Salinas last Wednesday around sunset and had a rolly & bumpy motorsail along the south coast of Puerto Rico and across to the west coast of Vieques, the island south of Culebra. We arrived at Vieques around 3:30AM, both of us feeling rather seasick from the trip. We compensated for the bad trip with a gorgeous sail the next day to Esperanza, the town on the south coast of Vieques. The beach, Sun Bay (Sombe), is a half-moon shaped beach lined with palm trees, shade, grass and surf to swim in. Best: we could swim to the beach from our anchorage!

Hans sailing south of Vieques.

A beach in Vieques... not too bad eh?

Sunset in Vieques.

However, on Friday morning we weighed anchor after a very rolly night of little sleep and headed to Culebra. There were quite a few rainstorms on the horizon as we left, but they all seemed to gravitate to the island and we just got a few showers. The sail to Culebra was fun: it’s great to be sailing again instead of constantly trying to motorsail to get east. Most of our easting is over now and we can see the next islands on the horizon: St. Thomas to the east and St. Croix to the southeast!

We had lots of rain and rainbows on our way from Vieques to Culebra.

We plan on spending tonight and tomorrow feasting on Christmas food; on Friday Suzanne and Liberty arrive to celebrate New Year’s in style on Whisper.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

Above, 4 pictures from El Yunque National Park, the only tropical rain forest in the United States where we spent a few hours on Sunday.

18 December 2007

Watch out, we can see you on radar

December 18, 2007

Whisper got an early Christmas present: a radar! Thanks to a sailing buddy, Dave, we now have a radar on board to spot storms and ships, two of the more stressful aspects of night sailing. Hans was inspired and constructed a swinging bracket for the radar which mounts on the wind generator’s mast. It is constructed of a salvaged bimini frame (stainless tubing) that is bent to hold the radar. This is then bolted on to the mast for the wind generator and swings so when Whisper heels over the radar remains level with the horizon. Pretty slick! Total cost: $5.50 for the bolts; $10.00 for inspiration from beer. A typical, store-bought radar mount costs anywhere from $200 to $800. Way to go Hans!

Kristen meanwhile varnished all the exterior woodwork so Whisper looks shiny and new. we're leaving this evening for Culebra, about 60 nm to the east/northeast. We'll be traveling with Phoenix III and La Bete and there are plans for a fishing competition en route.

Salinas harbor.

Tough and sleek Whisper at anchor.

The new radar on it's swinging bracket.

Sunset at Salinas.

Dinner on Phoenix III (Gil, Gervais & Manoun)

11 December 2007

Blue Water Sailing: December issue

December 11, 2007

Check out the current December issue of Blue Water Sailing. Kristen's debut in the magazine world is on newstands now! Her article: "Leaving Chicken Harbor" is about our trip from George Town, Bahamas to Luperon, Dominican Republic. More articles are on their way so we'll keep you posted.

Mast up, mast down, Tropical Storm Olga…exciting days

December 11, 2007

The anchorage at Salinas, Puerto Rico

Before leaving Luperon, Kristen went up the mast to check the rig over from top to bottom. We usually do this before any big passage, and normally Kristen gets to the deck, smiles and says “everything is fine.” Not this time. As Kristen was hanging at the spreaders, she shouted down to Hans: “hey, can you hand me a magnifying glass?” She found some small cracks around the spreader bases. We emailed the photos to a rigger in Annapolis who emailed back and said we could sail, lightly, but needed to get the mast checked out. We motorsailed to our current location, Salinas, on the south coast of Puerto Rico and, with the help of Jill on 53’ Phoenix III, we dropped the mast and called a rigger from Fajardo to pick it up.

Rafted up with Phoenix III to take the mast down.

Whisper without a mast...motoring to the marina to drop the mast and roller-furling off.

The night before the rigger was due to arrive, we met our new best friend, Fred. Fred is a mechanical engineer, Lloyd-certified marine surveyor and currently works as a non-destructive metals technician for gas and oil turbines. He took a look at the cracks and convinced us we could solve the problem ourselves. The next morning, he picked the mast up at the marina, we drove it to his house and we started work.

Transporting the mast on Fred's van.

You can see a couple of the small cracks visible in the red dye.

Our work was supervised by the puppies. Fred's wife, Mary, rescues stray dogs and currently had about 10 puppies nipping at our ankles.

We started by testing the cracks and any other suspicious areas with red dye. The cracks showed up…we sanded them and filed them, re-tested them, and they did not appear. It turns out the cracks were just superficial. Wow! We spent a couple happy days doing some regular mast maintenance, under the close supervision of Fred, and last night we rafted back up with Phoenix III and re-stepped the mast. Hurrah! This last week has been pretty stressful…we originally thought we would need to spend anywhere from $500 to $3000 on mast work, or on a new mast, but with the generous help of Fred, we got away with spending $33.

Stepping the mast

This morning we woke up after a night of rain to even more rain. Tropical Storm Olga is currently north of Puerto Rico and we are receiving a lot of rain, rain and more rain. The winds are not too strong in the harbor but we might be in Salinas for at least a few more days while the seas subside.

The southern band of showers associated with Tropical Storm Olga pass through the anchorage this morning.

05 December 2007

Fishy fishy fishy

December 5, 2007

We’re now in the hurricane hole of Puerto Rico, Salinas. We arrived here yesterday evening via Ponce and Isla Caja de Muertos.

We spent 3 nights in Ponce, anchored right next to the waterfront boardwalk, La Guancha. A tourist investment established about 10 years ago, La Guancha is a row of restaurants and bars, each equipped with its own loud sound system. The music started around lunchtime and stayed on until well after midnight. We joined the party on Saturday night but by Sunday afternoon we were ready for some peace and quiet. On Saturday we walked around downtown Ponce, visited the old firehouse and the Massacre Museum. In 1931 a group of Puertorriquenos vying for independence staged a rally in Ponce. The rally was met by the police force of Ponce and 19 people were killed. The Massacre Museum outlines the history of independence movements in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the US, and, similar to Washington, DC, receives economic benefits from the US but has no voting rights in the government. Citizens of PR are split 50/50 on the issue.

After touring the downtown, we spent a couple hours at the art museum which has a large collection of Italian religious works, a gallery of Dutch paintings and a gallery of romantic English paintings. Disappointingly, there is only one small hallway with Puerto Rican art. With History and Culture out of the way, we walked to the mall! Time to surround ourselves with mass-consumerism, and what better time than the first weekend of Advent?! Full-scale Christmas shopping was in progress along with a dance recital, sit on Santa’s lap, and a teeny-bopper fashion show. We topped the day off with a movie and popcorn.

The old firehouse in Ponce.

The central plaza in Ponce.

Ponce gets in the Christmas spirit with Rockettes and the parade of lights on the water.

On Monday morning, we weighed anchors and motored the short 7 miles to Isla Caja de Muertos, a State Park with a crumbling lighthouse, crystal clear water and great snorkeling. Merengue pulled into the anchorage a few hours after us and we caught up on our travels over some sundowners. We were both exhausted after scrubbing the bottom of Whisper, snorkeling and attempting to kite-surf (not enough wind), so we were in bed at Cruiser’s Bedtime, 9PM!

Yesterday, we planned to hike up to the lighthouse with Jim and Wendy, but it turned into a run since we were being chased by Isla Caja de Muertos airborne cavalry division . . . mosquitos! The view from the lighthouse was impressive though and worth the bugbites. We snorkeled around the gorgeous coral reefs on the northeastern side of the island and saw a large variety of coral and fish.

The view from the lighthouse at Isla Caja de Muertos.

Whisper and Merengue at anchor at Muertos.

Caja de Muertos
The wind seemed calm enough around noon, so we weighed anchor at 1PM and motored to Salinas. Of course, the tradewinds picked up by 2PM and since we didn’t want to raise the main for fear of breaking the mast (there are small, hairline cracks we need to get fixed…), it was a rolly, bouncy ride. It was worth it…we caught two fish, a yellow-tail snapper and a tuna! We met up with friends Yvonne and Carmelle on Taima and Jill on Phoenix III, both from Montreal, and we had a fabulous meal of fish soup, sushi, shrimp and salad.

Fish #1: yellow-tail snapper.

Kit Kat meets fish #2: tuna

30 November 2007

Kite-surfing, snorkeling and beach walks: this is paradise!

November 30, 2007

It really feels like we’re cruising again! Over the past week, we’ve spent time along the south coast of Puerto Rico; learning how to kite-surf, going fishing & snorkeling and long walks on the beach. Life is good on Whisper!

Houses that are built on the waterfront in Parguera.

The view of Parguera harbor. You can see Whisper: the boat in between the two islands to the left.

We left Cabo Rojo on Saturday morning and motorsailed about 10 miles to the waterside town of La Parguera. Puertoriqueños come here by the boatload on weekends to hang out in the crystal clear water and enjoy the party atmosphere at night. We stayed for 5 days doing the same! We also went snorkeling, fishing (unsuccessfully) and took a full day of kite-surfing lessons. We now know the basics of kite-surfing and are ready to use our own kite which we bought in Cabarete, DR, hopefully with less chance of mortal injury. Thanks to our sponsor, Hans Ericsson Photography, for making our kite-surfing dreams a reality. We hope you like your "Whisper Kite-surfing Expeditions" mug and tote bag. Please remember that your contribution is tax-deductible. Contact your local H&R Block for more details.

Kristen learning how to kite-surf with the help of Luijo.

Hans' turn at learning how to fly the kite. We started the lessons by both flying the kite while standing in shallow water. By the end of the day we both could control the kite and drag our bodies through the water upwind and downwind. Hans even got up on the board twice! Luijo, our instructor, was very impressed with our aptitude. We were just happy not to get hurt...too badly. Hans got a bad scrape on his leg from some coral.

The winds are not good for kite-surfing, but they’re great for traveling east, so we left Parguera and sailed to a spot called “Gilligan’s Island.” It reminded us of Shroud Cay in the Exumas, Bahamas: crystal clear water, white sand, shallow mangrove creeks and palm-tree lined beaches. We met a German named Gerd who lives there and we played Boule on the beach with him last night. On the way to Gilligan’s Island, we caught a little mackerel, our first successful fishing trip on Whisper! We fried it up and had a nice fish and mashed potato dinner. Thanks fishy-fishy!

Hans catches our first fish. Yes, it was small, but the perfect amount for two and very tasty. We think it was a mackerel.

Kit Kat examines the catch. Yes she got a piece.

The beach at "Gilligan's Island."

Hans, dinghy captain, motoring down the mangrove creek to the beach.

Sunset along the beach.

After some basic engine maintenance this morning, we weighed anchor around 9.30 and set sail for Ponce, 20 nautical miles east on the south coast of PR. We arrived around 1.00PM and finally got two anchors set in 30 feet of water nestled among moored boats around 1.30. Yes, cold Medallas were on order! Tomorrow we hope to catch a ride into town to see the art museum, historic district and maybe even catch a movie! We’re pushing to get to Fajardo in a week or so to have work done on the mast. Before leaving Luperon, we found some tiny cracks near the spreaders. They look benign but could mean a demasting. That could ruin a nice day! We’ve been in contact with a rigger so we just need to get there and he should have the job done in no time. Right…?

26 November 2007

Thanksgiving dinner

November 26, 2007

Don't be alarmed. Contrary to her yowls heard across harbors from here to Maryland, Kit Kat received both a Thanksgiving dinner and a reward for crossing the Mona Passage. A whole can of wet cat food at once. Yummy.

Sailing again!

November 26, 2007

On Friday morning, fighting off the dolor de la cabeza (headache…), we picked up Sonia and Nono in Boqueron and they joined us for our sail to Cabo Rojo, the southwestern tip of Puerto Rico. We’re really on our way now, towards the Caribbean and this season’s sailing adventures.

There wasn’t much wind, but we were able to sail for a couple hours, although only at 2.5 to 3 knots, not exactly a record-breaking performance! We anchored at Cabo Rojo, a cape with steep, red cliffs and a well-maintained lighthouse from the Spanish years. The lighthouse is part of the Department of Natural Resources and has trails that lead to the lighthouse and a beautiful beach, Playa Salinas. We hiked and swam and had a picnic lunch on the beach. Late in the afternoon, we met Valerie (Nono and Sonia’s daughter), at a restaurant. We said sad goodbyes as the sun set, but we hope to see Valerie, Leo, Gabriel and El Gordo in San Juan in a few weeks.

Nono and Sonia sailing on Whisper.

Cabo Rojo, the southwestern tip of Puerto Rico.

Playa Salinas with the lighthouse in the background.

Sunset over Cabo Rojo.

A warm welcome

November 22, 2007

On Tuesday morning, Sonia and Nono, a couple we met at the karaoke bar on Sunday night picked us up in their car for a tour of the west coast of Puerto Rico. We didn’t know what to expect, since we had only met them for an hour, but we all got along great and had wonderful time. We started in Boqueron, in the southwest corner of PR, and by the end of the day, we had traveled up the entire west coast stopping off at small beach towns and scenic vistas. It was great to be able to see this part of the country since we’ll be traveling the opposite way and would have missed it.

Nono, Hans, Sonia and Kristen overlooking the Mona Passage.

The Rincon lighthouse, on the west coast of PR.

Playa Rincon, a world famous surfing beach. It is even mentioned in the Beach Boys epic "Surfin' Safari"

The church in Hormigueros. The only church built on the top of a hill in Puerto Rico (all others are built on the town squares). It was built by a local farmer who was saved by the Virgin Mary from being gored by a bull. Nono explained to us that people who have prayed for help with physical ailments and who have been cured come to this church and walk up the 78 steps on their knees to show their gratitude to the Virgin Mary.

The 500 year old church in San German

A street in San German at night.

A view of the old square in San German.

Sonia kindly invited us to their house for Thanksgiving dinner. On Thursday, Nono picked us up at 11am Puerto Rican time (add 1 hour). But we didn’t push the panic button, knowing that he would be there at some point. Thanksgiving dinner was a relaxed affair. About 20 family members came over and we did the usual: pre-dinner drinks and conversation, each person around the table gave thanks, eating way too much really good food…turkey, rice with beans, mashed potato salad, avocado, stuffing, gravy, cheesecake and pumpkin pie. Yum. After the meal we all relaxed on the patio with coffee and eventually more Medallas (Puerto Rican beer). By the end of the night we traveled in two cars to bring us back to Boqueron. The men went in Leo’s pick up truck and the women traveled in the jeep. We stopped along the way at San German, the oldest town on the west coast of Puerto Rico. It is well-preserved and you can easily see the Spanish history. Back in Boqueron, Hans took El Gordo and Gabriel out to Whisper for a tour and we drank just a few more Medallas to end the night.

Thanksgiving dinner at Nono and Sonia's house. Thanks! It was great!

Everyone lined up in front of Nono and Sonia's house in Hormigueros.

The "West Side Locos"

It is so lucky that we met Sonia and Nono. Not only did they give us an amazing tour of their part of Puerto Rico, but they made us feel very welcome in their family and we had a great time together.