Culebra, Puerto Rico
After a great sail back up to St Martin where we stocked up again with some maintenance items and parts from the chandleries, and of course some gorgeous French cheeses and pates, we set off east to St Thomas for the third time this year. Again a wonderful sail with the added bonus of dolphins and their babies coming for a play, and we had a slow but steady 24 hour down-wind run to Charlotte Amalie with our headsail poled out.
After checking in we had some entertainment in the harbour that afternoon when the border patrol boat pounced on a charter catamaran coming in, several other officials turned up including a helicopter circling around. We could see numerous people on board, some made to sit on the front well into the evening, and the cockpit was also full. It was obvious that they had many more occupants on board than they should have done, and we heard the next day from another cruiser that apparently 65 illegal immigrants had been found including women and children. They were held on board overnight and then taken off the following day on numerous boats which headed out of the harbour, complete with helicopter escort.
We were feeling rather guilty as we too had some stowaways on board, Stanley the spider had been caught when he jumped on me from the bookcase and his pal Simon crawled across the sofa shortly afterwards and was apprehended. They had unwittingly had a free passage all the way from St Kitts..perhaps. A jar made a temporary holding centre, we even caught a fly in the evening and gave them supper! Yes, we did actually take them ashore and set them free on the dinghy dock the next morning…the heat must be getting to us.
I finally managed to get my iPhone fixed at the Tutu Mall, the screen had decided to part company with the phone so I thought it was time I got it sorted. After a week on the island, and a couple of days chilling at Brewers Bay watching dolphins, turtles and pelicans (it’s a tough life), we set sail for Culebra just 15 miles to the west.
Culebra is a small island off the east coast of Puerto Rico, although it is actually closer to St Thomas, once in the hands of Spain it was invaded by America in 1898. The entrance to the main harbour, Ensenada Honda, is via a narrow channel through the reef. With wind on our side (for a change) we sailed the whole way in through the dog leg channel and across the vast bay to the (only) town of Dewey where we anchored.
Checking in here was actually a pleasant experience for the first time ever. We called Border Patrol to announce our arrival and after taking down a few details the very professional gentleman directed us to the small airport where we could find Customs and Immigration, and said that he would call ahead and let them know we were coming. A 10 minute walk through the small town took us to a very tiny and well-kept airport, the Customs Officer was very friendly and helpful and issued us with a cruising permit for one year which entitles us to enter any US port during that time without any further form filling or charges. We just have to telephone to announce our arrival. He then took us into the airport lobby to find us a map and give us advice on where to explore and snorkel. What a breath of fresh air! We thought we had lucked out last week in St Thomas when the Customs lady had offered us a pen to fill out the form (actually, it was 10 minutes before her lunch break and she wanted us both to complete the forms to speed up the process), but this topped it.
What a wonderful start to our visit here. We noticed a lot of people whizzing about on golf carts so the following day we hired one from Jerry’s Jeeps, again very helpful and friendly staff. It was great fun, a little unnerving at times as there are some very steep hills and lots of pot holes, but we explored the island for the day for less than $40 and only used $2 in fuel!
Flamenco Beach on the north west point is popular with day trippers from Puerto Rico, understandably so as it has beautiful soft sand and calm waters protected by the reef. The beach and surroundings are part of a National Wildlife Refuge area and behind the beach is a designated camping ground, very clean and quiet and what a fab place to come camping.
At the end of the beach are remnants of the US Navy occupation, a strange sight on a typical looking Caribbean beach. The Navy set up a base here in 1903 and started using the island in 1939 as a gunnery and bombing practice site in preparation for their involvement in World War II. In 1971 protests led to an eventual withdrawal of the Navy in 1975, there are still areas fenced off with warnings of unexploded bombs!
Plenty of these Thrashers about too, they look like a thrush and have the most beautiful call.
Views looking across Ensenada Honda.
We stopped at the small Museum to learn a little more about the island and its history, the building itself is pretty and well maintained with beautiful trees and shrubs around it.
I also spotted a peacock, we have heard them calling from the boat but I just didn’t believe they would be here.
Culebra has 23 smaller off lying islands, all uninhabited and part of the protected wildlife refuge set up by President Roosevelt in 1903.
We found another gorgeous beach on the east coast called Zoni Beach. This is where turtles including the ‘leatherbacks’ come to lay their eggs, there were many nests roped off as we walked along the beach. When we first walked onto the beach we could see a black dog swimming in from offshore, we looked around and saw no one waiting for her and couldn’t understand where she was swimming in from as the islands are half a mile away. When she reached the beach she ran as if her life depended upon it, straight into the thick undergrowth behind the beach. She was very skinny and looked as though she had not long had pups.
We are really taken with this island, it is again so different from the others just a few miles away. With only 1800 residents, the 7x5 mile island seems peaceful and quiet – even on the weekend when the ferry loads of Puerto Ricans arrive and double the islands numbers. We really want to anchor off and explore the smaller island of Culebrita off the east shore , so are waiting for a settled weather window to do that as it is rather exposed with reef around its anchorages.