Letter from the Indies - Spanish Virgin Islands
Firstly let me explain what the Spanish Virgin Islands are. Belonging to Puerto Rico, they consist of Culebra and Vieques 12nms off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico, a commonwealth of the USA. Given the name for marketing reasons it’s very Spanish in all ways including language, food and this makes a refreshing change.
The Islands are as you would imagine the Caribbean was 30 years ago. It is not very developed and hence very quiet - apart from weekends when all the Puerto Ricans charge out in their big stink boats. The larger of the two islands Vieques has only
just opened up to the public as this was a military training ground for the USA up until only two years ago. Military presence is apparent and we only hope that we don’t put an anchor down on an unexploded bomb. Beautiful beaches dot the islands and it’s hard to imagine all the war games that must have happened here.
We left the harbour of Magen, supposedly one of the top ten beaches in the Caribbean (we have seen many that rate higher), on the west coast of St Thomas to sail the 20nms to Culebra in frisky winds.
By the time we got there it is blowing 30 knots; we are under full sail and Ian is in his element not wanting this great sail to come to an end. A narrow channel has to be navigated through the reef, coral heads are showing only metres away and we are sailing at nine knots. Thankfully this channel is well marked with green and red buoys and Ian is rounding them, pilot book in one hand, glancing at the chart plotter and fiddling with sails. Some might think this is exciting but for me it is nerve wracking in such close quarters. I certainly deserve my rum cocktail when we safely anchored off the town of Dewey in the harbour Ensenada Honda on Culebra.
Although we have gone from one US territory to another we still have to clear in the yacht. Now issued with a year long cruising permit we are free to sail any where in the USA, just phoning in at major ports.
Our stay here is a lot longer than we planned as the winds increase but the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series being sailed in New Zealand is keeping us entertained.
Richard did a great job and we enjoyed his gutsy, tell it all, commentary. More often than not, we get wireless internet connection on board. With the advent of new aerials, life has been made easier. The latest model (High- Power IEEE 802.11b/g AP dongle) we just purchased for only US$80 can pick up sites over 4kms away in the town of Dewey, whilst we are moored in a secluded bay behind a reef. Every yacht club seems to offer free service, even those just operating from tiny shacks.
Leaving the shelter of the reef we sail to the island of Vieques and spot our first whales. We are now entering whale territory so will see more as we sail North West. Winds prevent us from seeing the brightest luminescent bay in the world, Puerto Mosquito.
We will return next week and try again, no moon is the best time so our timing will be perfect. Anchoring off the village of Esperanza we go ashore to enjoy the Spanish music in the bars. Playing excellent guitar is Kiwi Kim from Dunedin, New Zealand. Not very Spanish but Kiwis attract kiwis. Also in the bar was Maximus owner Bill Buckley’s nephew from NY, small world.
While launching the dinghy to motor back to the yacht we had an unfortunate incident when two large rocks were thrown at us, just landing behind in the water. We must start wearing Aussie or Kiwi colour’s to show which country we come from, especially with the anti American sentiment here.
In most of the bays, moorings have been laid for the free use of boats, to help protect the sea bed, and some bays on Vieques are totally restricted to preserve the coral.
On our travels we gather friends with some joining us at a later date. Joining us this week are Geordie and Patricia Burnett-Stuart from Scotland-France; we met in Martinique last year.
It's time to provision, so we head for mainland Puerto Rico and anchor in the shelter of a small island, Isleta Marina, off Fajardo. Taking the ferry ashore, a culture shock awaits us. We find it dirty, scruffy with huge supermarkets full of American goods. Fast food outlets dominate the area so here’s hoping when we sail the south coast we will find it a lot more interesting. A big shock is the price of rum. It seems that the home of Bacardi it is heavily taxed. Since the US navy has withdrawn from Puerto Rico huge taxes have been added to all goods to compensate the loss of revenue.
We are very much looking forward to sailing back out to the lovely Spanish Virgin Islands with Geordie and Patricia.
I must say that we are enjoying wonderful sailing wherever we go with hardly any motoring, a real pleasure even when it is hard on the wind.
by Andrea and Ian Treleaven