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.

19 November 2007

Mayaguez, the friendliest town around

November 19, 2007

Having arrived in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, on a Saturday we were unable to clear customs and immigration until Monday. So we had two days to explore the industrial town of Mayaguez and meet some of its residents.

Mayaguez is definitely not a tourist destination. There are no palm tree lined beaches, fancy hotels, or gourmet restaurants. Nonetheless, it is one of our favorite places so far on our trip. To say that the people are friendly would be a gross understatement: the fruit vendor who insisted that we sample (for free) all of her fruits; the friendly hellos as we walked down the street; one guy (Andy) who keyed us in on all the local foods in the neighborhood bar; another guy (Angel) who teemed up with Hans in a rocking karaoke rendition of “Come on Feel the Noice”; the surfer dude who wanted to teach us surfing on the beach the next day after a five minute conversation; and, finally, the couple who are meeting us tomorrow in Boqueron in their car to give us a guided tour of the west coast of Puerto Rico just so that they can show us their island. Not to mention the super friendly, helpful and efficient customs officers who checked us all in on Monday morning. So far, we both agree, Puerto Rico has vastly exceeded our expectations. We may have to stay here for a little bit longer than we thought! Especially since rumor has it that the Virgin Islands are expensive and crowded.

Comparing the Dominican courtesy flag (with 5 months of use) to our new Puerto Rican courtesy flag.

Hans looks for some shade under the mainsail while motorsailing south to Bouqeron.

Kristen acts as a preventer as Whisper SAILS (!!!) downwind for a few hours.

The Mona is for sissies!!!

November 18, 2007

Ha! You didn’t think we’d ever leave Luperon did you? Well, guess what? This is the crew of Whisper saying ¡Hola! from Mayaguez, Puerto Rico! We arrived at 14.44 on Saturday, November 17, after motor-sailing like mad for 49 hours and 58 minutes non-stop.

Our last view of Luperon harbor.

We left Luperon in the company of six other boats: Merengue, High States, Songbird, Bellagio, Prime Time and Axiom. Except for Merengue, all the other boats were above 40 feet, but we all arrived within two hours of each other. Way to go Merengue and Whisper!

Sunset over Puerto Plata on Thursday night.

We had a tight window to motor-sail the 250 nautical miles, and for a while we thought that we might have to stop halfway in Samana and wait for another window to finish the trip. Luckily, after the first night, Bellagio talked to Chris Parker (the Caribbean weather guru) over their SSB radio and we got a thumbs up to continue eastward. Axiom and Prime Time stopped in Samana, but we met Moon Dancer and Espiritu Libre just north of the Samana Peninsula and they joined our armada to cross the Mona.

Part of our armada. Left to right: Moon Dancer, Espiritu Libre, High States

Weather wise, a strong cold front had stalled in the Windward Passage (between Cuba and Hispaniola) and killed the easterly trade winds for about 55 hours. When traveling east from Luperon to Puerto Rico, the strategy is to wait for light easterly winds and motor at night when effects from the land cooling faster than the surrounding ocean kill the winds completely. This effect is known as the “night lee.” It is impossible to travel east during the daytime hours under normal tradewind conditions, which are: easterly winds 15-20 knots, with 3-5 foot waves. The stalled cold front, however, allowed us to travel during the daytime, motoring into gentle swells with almost no wind. Good deal!

Kristen and Kit Kat sleeping down below on Friday night. This is where Kit Kat spent the entire trip more or less.

This was by far the longest trip we’ve made on Whisper. Also, we left with some trepidation, since the Mona Passage, the body of water between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, has a nasty reputation for severe thunderstorms, strong currents and confused seas.

After leaving Luperon on Thursday afternoon, we stayed about two miles offshore until passing the Samana peninsula Friday morning where we left the coast and set a straight course for the middle of the Mona Passage. This first third of the trip was uneventful and punctuated with bad jokes over the VHF between the boats traveling together. The night was very clear with no moon and we took turns star gazing on our watches. Once offshore we realized just how far we still had to go and groaned repeatedly. Kit Kat just rolled over on her bunk and went back to sleep. Boris, our trusty 13.5 Beta diesel engine, just kept chugging along.

Sunrise on Friday morning, off Samana.

Kristen taking it easy off of Samana on Friday.

Hans relaxing off of Samana on Friday afternoon.

This little guy landed on Whisper thirteen miles from land after we went through a rainstorm on Friday. He stayed for perhaps half an hour, then took off again. Kit Kat kept her paws off.

All day Friday we saw clouds building and thickening to the east, and while there still was no wind, the threat of thunderstorms made us a little bit antsy. By nightfall, the sky had closed in, and we couldn’t see the moon or any stars. It soon started raining and radar-equipped High States reported rain clouds six miles deep. (Hmmm…. radar seems awfully handy… a good safety feature on a boat… wonder if anyone needs an idea for their Christmas shopping list?) Thankfully, they were just rain clouds with little wind and no lightning. In the middle of the night, we passed through another particularly large squall and got bounced around quite a bit. Kristen had been feeling a bit nauseous already, and the pitching of the boat in the darkness gave her the opportunity to make a sacrifice to mother ocean in the form of her fried potato, onion and cheese dinner. Sucks to be Kristen!

High States passes close to a squall on Friday afternoon.

With Kristen out for the count, it was up to Hans to steer the boat for the rest of the night. What a hero! What a captain! True salt of the sea! Kit Kat as usual refused to help and instead demanded food--also as usual. To be fair, Kit Kat has proven herself to be a true ship’s cat. No complaining from her, and she didn’t throw up like Kristen.

The night continued to be rainy and bumpy, but it finally cleared around 04.30. Kristen stood watch for a couple hours and when the sun rose we had a clear view of Isla Desecheo and the Puerto Rican mainland. Land ho! We had the anchor down in Mayaguez harbor at 14.44 and the cold Presidentes cracked open at 14.46.

Sunrise on Saturday morning, you can just see Isla Desecheo (Puerto Rico) off our bow.

This passage was both the longest and most successful trip we have made on Whisper. We never expected to make it to Puerto Rico in such good time and we were a little nervous about crossing the Mona Passage after reading so many horror stories from other sailors. Also, we were proud that we interpreted the weather correctly and made the decision to keep sailing to Puerto Rico instead of stopping at Samana. The past few times we have sailed at night it has been with nervous anxiety, but we both felt comfortable and at ease at night on this trip. Why was this long passage so much better than all the others? Good weather? Sailing with other boats? No engine problems? No complaints from the feline crew member? Nah. Cold cheese, juice, soda and the celebratory cold beer on arrival made all the difference. Long live the fridge!

Landfall in Puerto Rico!

Two exhausted sailors enjoying some cold Presidente beers.

We’ll now make some short hops along the south coast of Puerto Rico in the mornings to avoid the strong easterly tradewinds during the day. We’ll be sailing again soon, but it feels wonderful to be out of Luperon harbor and back on the move with the Mona Passage behind us. Our spirits have lifted dramatically!

12 November 2007


November 12, 2007

Someone please report my abuse to PETA! I'm such a nice cat...sleeping..

Helping Hans plot our course to Puerto Rico...

and what do I get?! thrown in the water! the injustice.

09 November 2007

Whisper has sails!

November 9, 2007

After spending five months as a powerboat stuck in Luperon Harbor, we finally bent Whisper's sails back on today! Puerto Rico, here we come!

07 November 2007

more pictures from the States

November 7, 2007

Here are some more pictures from our trip to the States. Our internet connection died in the middle of our last posting.

Hans and Matt hiking in York, ME.

Hans and Suzanne at Springweather Nature Area in N. Springfield,

We just kept hiking...Abbey with the rest of the Snow Day crew at Cascades Waterfall on Mt. Ascutney.

Hans Laura and Kristen at Moynihans in Worcester enjoying some Long Trail on tap.

Helen (Kristen's mom) serving up some pumpkin soup on Halloween. Thanks for the pumpkin Suzanne!

We just keep on hiking...Kristen and Rod (Kristen's Dad) at the top of Putney Mountain.

Abbey, Hans and Matthew on one of Vermont's many covered bridges. Hey Abbey and Matthew...you're in for it. you know that, right?

Matthew carving out his jack-o-lantern and Suzanne saving the seeds for roasting.