3 MEN IN A BOAT
POSITION N17:57.34 W066:17.55
SALINAS HURRICANE HOLE (SOUTH COAST OF PUERTO RICO)
BOCHERON TO SALINAS VIA PLAYA SANTA, AND BACK TO THE FUTURE
Sunday 29 March 2015
As is best if you don’t want a pounding, left the anchorage at 0400 in near still air and flat water under headsail alone, downwind, silently slipping out through the gap in the reef under starlight. Nearing the Southern corner of the West coast of Puerto Rico, soon Pinball would be rounding CABU ROJO, a gnarly cape around which winds would probably strengthen. They did. Heading out to sea a mile or two to clear the shoals, it was rough! The winds increased to 25-28kts now on the nose as we turned East, so it was motorsailing with just a mainsail up. Oh well, just got to lump it, and look forward to dawn. As CABO ROJO receded, the wind dropped to 20-25kts, still strong but not too bad. It was my own fault; the offshore forecast had been for stronger than the recommended 10-15kts - at which speed the Island effects reduce the gradient wind overnight. Stronger than that and they don’t so you get the brunt of it. There would be less wind tomorrow, so decided to make the 30nm to PLAYA SANTA and anchor there for the rest of the day, leaving early tomorrow again.
PLAYA SANTA, my chosen overnight stop, didn’t look like it would offer very much protection on arrival, and it certainly didn’t. The Easterly swell came right round the Cape into the anchorage, and proved a very rolly place to spend the night. Worse, it was Jet Ski City, and the local play-beach for retards. Eleven jet-skis manned by post-adolescent speed-freaks greeted Pinball in line astern all doing 30kts. Arriving at midday, by which time the sea-breeze had kicked in, it was howling. I was going to love it here!
Monday 30 March 2015
I do like leaving; but I really loved leaving Jet Ski City, at 0500. The wind had died back, the sea calm – apart from some swell – and the night lee had clearly worked this time. We slipped past the other cruiser who had arrived mid afternoon, still asleep. He too would be leaving soon enough, I guessed. Still no moon – it had just set – but a blaze of light was lighting up the clouds to the south, another cruise ship heading east too whilst its carefree passengers slept off the booze. All the booze-cruisers move at night, and anchor in the day.
Dawn came. A tanker, the CATALUNYA SPIRIT, repeatedly called for a Pilot on VHF, to no avail, but his R/T discipline was excellent. Unusual! He was waiting to be taken into PONCE – my destination. The AIS told me we were on a near collision course as he was going so slow northwards, but I held my course as I could see him now for one thing, and the Pilot had arrived for another. With less than a mile to go, CATALUNYA SPIRIT accelerated out of my way.
I should be following him in. But the seas were still down, the wind a gentle 12kts….maybe, MAYBE I could make it the extra 20nm to SALINAS before the sea breeze kicked in and doubled the windspeed?
I carried on. The chance to gain a day would be useful, and anyway, PONCE didn’t sound that great. Yes you could get just about anything there, but it was a large industrial town and a noisy anchorage the guide book said. Onwards Pinball!
Two hours later and the wind had doubled to 25kts, and the seas beginning to really build, but we were doing ok, motorsailing 30 degrees off the wind, tacking left and right between the cays to gain some protection from the seas. Another hour and the wind was gusting up to 30kts, but Pinball was on the last long tack to SALINAS – a hurricane hole surrounded by mangroves – which we entered by 1400. Not dissimilar to LUPERON, it was full of boats, mainly unoccupied, but found a space in the middle and dropped the hook. Mangrove mud provides very good holding! Well, its like planting it in concrete.
Six days to go til Stu and the new crew David arrive, on the same flight by jove.
I would need a car to collect them – this is AMERICA – the International Airport being in San Juan on the opposite, north side of Puerto Rico. I was driven to the Hertz car place in Salinas somewhere by the indomitably doughty Pat, an American liveaboard widow who related her cruising history enroute, and now lives afloat here. There the delightfully pleasant Francis signed me off on a Nissan Altima.
‘‘I LOVE this car’ she confided. ‘Its my favourite’.
How I searched for the keyhole! Only pride prevented me from going back in. Oh, wait a min, whats this? ‘PUSH TO START’ button. Pushed it….nothing. Another five minutes goes by, try foot on the brake…… yes!
Francis’s favourite proved an excellent vehicle, the best automatic I’ve driven, lots of power, an automatic gearbox that works, and just great to drive. I’m no car man, but credit where credit’s due eh? Nissan of course.
So cruised around until I found an out-of-town food store and stocked up. Next day, thoroughly prepared with hand-drawn map, marine GPS (no roads on it), the addresses of a couple of OFFICE DEPOT stores, all 50 odd miles away, and the near new laptop I’d bought off them whose screen failed after a month, and one of those miniscule maps you get from Hire Car places, I set off.
You can get to San Juan either on the four-lane highway 52 with its electronic tolls, or you can take the old, windy highway 1 across the mountains. I took the latter, and actually felt a bit seasick after a while with the endless S-bends. My fag-packet plan to find the store failed completely as they don’t mark the road numbers like we do, ended going all the way up to the airport on the north coast, then hopelessly lost coming back. Only the GPS saved the day, eventually. One missed turning and you are committed to miles of misery.
With the plan long abandoned and heading for the south, by compass alone, still lost, I actually tripped over an OFFICE DEPOT in the dark, swerved off the six lane highway and parked up. Wow! What a bit of luck. And still only 8pm so an hour to closing.
It was closed.
Of course it was. It was Easter Friday.
Saturday I tried again. I had marked the GPS with a waypoint a mile after leaving so this time it would be easy, right? All went well until about 2 miles off, then….well I don’t know what happened, but never saw it. So back to compass work again, and eventually got there from the north, somehow. At last! And they were open.
I explained the problem to the nice assistant.
‘So you want to exchange the laptop then, right?’
‘Yes. Or get my money back’. She nodded in agreement. This was going so well! How helpful, good ole Yanks.
Then the young floor supervisor pitched up, with her makeup and headset.
‘Our policy IS that we can only accept returns up to 14 days after purchase’ she explained with a smile.
I don’t often get angry, but sometimes… We did not part friends.
The Salinas anchorage is, as Bruce Van Sant tells us, the best place to leave a boat and tour the island. Surrounded by mangrove, with a smashing little marina full mainly of local motor boats, from your anchored boat you can tootle in on your dinghy, tie it up safe in the marina, get fuel and water there, use the pleasant outside bar area with wifi, enjoy BBQ nights at weekends, and best of all use their loo without anyone complaining or demanding money. They arranged my hire car, and I left it with them afterwards. Good, or what!
Sunday 5 April 2015 PINBALL GETS SOME CREW
Determined to do better with the nav, with intense concentration the Airport appeared ahead, and a warm glow began. Being early, I thought I’d just have a look around a bit before parking up: mistake. Miss the ‘PARKING’ entrance and there’s only one option left.
I came off at the first junction outbound, over the confusing multi-lane bridge and headed back towards the Airport, took a wrong turn trying to get back on the entry road and ended up in a private condominium concrete jungle requiring an impressive U turn to escape, followed the signs out again, found the entry road but is it East or West I want? Got to be East hasn’t it, but it wasn’t so back we go to the multi-lane bridge. Sigh. This time I make it, park up and stroll in looking forward to one of those nice expensive Airport coffees.
No such luck. Here you meet arrivals standing, no seats here, down by the guarded exit door on the ground floor where taxis drivers lurk. David arrived first – five minutes before his plane was supposed to land, according to the ticker board.
‘Are you Neeegel’ a lean, bearded student-like David asked quietly, as I was peering through the glass from the wrong place. It took me a minute to cotton on of course, as his plane hadn’t landed yet had it. He must have been the first off, as Stu arrived some time later, relating hilariously how his apple had been ceremoniously binned by an official and nearly led to his arrest.
‘But its my LUNCH!’
Easter Monday 6 April 2015. STORE SHIP
Pinball was duly loaded up with more food than seen for a long while, fuel cans and tank hand-refuelled, water transferred to the main tanks with more in containers, and the weather scrutinised. Stronger winds all this week..Of course! Stu always brought it with him. We were ready for a hard beat Eastwards towards The Virgins.
NEXT: PUERTO PATILLAS FOR A REST
PIC: SALINAS ANCHORAGE