Ponce, Puerto Rico
Date: Sunday 1st March 2015
Position: 17:57.875N 66:37.022W
We only spent one night at Gilligan’s Island so on the morning of Wednesday 25th February we made our way the short distance to Ponce, another location we knew from our trip down the coast the previous year. The weather forecast had told us that we were to expect a period of strong easterly winds, so I knew that were likely to be holed up in Ponce for a few days. I also knew that the anchorage there would be crowded and prone to surge, so I booked a place in the yacht club so we could leave the boat for extended periods and use our time there seeing the sights we had missed when we were last there.
We thought that we would take on fuel before we entered our berth and as we slowly approached the dock the attendant watched us from the shade, his ample form more than filling the chair he was crammed in to. Then just a few meters away from the dock we ran aground. After a few moments he struggled upright and waddled close to us before offering the sound advice ‘you want to be careful there, there’s a shallow spot’. Don’t you just love folk like that.
Fortunately we hadn’t been going fast so we were able to get ourselves off by going hard astern, and at our second attempt made it to the fuel dock and filled up. There were a number of customs officers on the dock and one of them had seen my Ocean Cruising Club burgee (which has some yellow on it) and assumed that it was a ‘Q’ flag (even though it was clearly flying from my starboard spreader) and taken it to mean that we had not yet cleared in to Puerto Rico. He was reluctant to accept my assurances that we had cleared in, so made me dig out my paperwork whilst he phoned through to his office to verify everything.
Eventually by 11:30 we were able to leave the fuel dock and as it was now blowing quite strongly I called the marina on my VHF radio to ask for some help in entering our allocated dock. They told me that someone would be sent along to assist. I maintained station close to the dock, but no-one appeared. I called the marina again on my radio and no-one answered. After about the third attempt I was again told that some-one would be along. This farce was then repeated several times over a period of about 90 minutes, when after calling the marina again I was told that the person who was supposed to be helping had gone to lunch and no-one else was available.
It was by now blowing even stronger so I decided to anchor, have some lunch ourselves and try again early afternoon. Whilst enjoying a sandwich we saw a young guy paddling over to us on a stand up paddle board. He had been sent by our diligent but rather dumb customs officer who had seen us in the anchorage, again thought we were flying a ‘Q’ flag and told us to come in to the fuel dock to clear in. I told the guy to report back to the officer that we had already cleared in and that we should be berthed in the marina in a few minutes.
Eventually by about 1:30 some-one had arrived to help us into our berth and we were successfully tied up and fortunately we did not hear from our over-zealous customs officer again.
Unfortunately we found that the marina was not at all protected from the surge generated by the strong winds. The movement on the boat was extremely uncomfortable as our mooring lines came taught and the boat jerked to a standstill. It was impossible to move around the boat without hanging on even though we were in a marina. That first night was quite miserable, so in the morning I dug out every snubber and dampening device I had and after a couple of hours of adjustment managed to make life on board more tolerable. Unfortunately the second night was even more uncomfortable than the first as at about midnight we experienced the unmistakable sensation of the boat grounding. Our berth was clearly not as deep as we had been told by the marina staff. My first thought was to just slip out of the berth and return to the anchorage, but I had tied so many lines to the boat to try to suppress the surge that doing so would take some time. I adjusted some of the lines to pull the boat a little away from the dock and the grounding stopped. Maybe there was a single high spot or some debris on the seabed that our keel was just managing to catch and my small adjustment to the boat’s position managed to avoid it.
In the morning I reported to the marina office and they were able to move us to another dock with more depth, but there was no explanation as to why we may have grounded. It may sound as though the marina staff were not very helpful but strangely enough when I spoke to them face to face they went out of their way to do what they could to help. I think that the problem was both cultural and caused by the nature of the marina operation. It was in fact a private club that allowed a small number of transitory boats to use vacant berths; they were not set up to offer normal marina services.
Our new berth was fine and even though the wind continued to howl all of time we were there and the surge continued to roll in I managed to get the boat set up in such a way as to make this just about tolerable.
Ponce is Puerto Rico’s second city and it was a delight to stroll around. Here are some pictures:
The old fire station:
A carnival costume on display in the old fire station:
The old library:
The splendid back streets in the old part of town: