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!