Ponce, Puerto Rico
Monday 19th March 2012
Distance run: 207 nmiles
Having filled up with diesel and been checked out by Customs & Immigration, and with International Despacho in hand, we slipped the lines around 1100 on Saturday morning and left the Dominican Republic headed for Ponce on the south coast of Puerto Rico, a passage of 180 nmiles. The forecast was for light winds, 10-15 knots from the E/ENE, with a moderate sea state that would reduce further over the next few days. We motor-sailed for the first two hours to get out of the bay and clear the headland, and then unfurled the genoa, switched off the engine and set our best course to windward (yet again!) The wind was, as always, very fickle, and sometimes allowed us to sail close to the rhumb line and other times had us sailing on a tack that was making very little in the direction we wanted to go. Only once, south of the Isla de Mona in the middle of the Mona Passage did we put the engine on and motorsail for two hours in order to make on a tack rather than go west of North! Shortly after this, however, the wind came around nicely almost to the North, and we were able to sail the rhumb line for most of the second half of Mona.
As we approached the land mass of Puerto Rico we were welcomed by some pretty horrible squall clouds, much as we had when we left the island of the Dominican Republic behind (when it was me on watch and who got absolutely drenched!) These squalls didn’t rain on us however, they increased the wind to 20-25 knots and changed its direction so that rather than sailing towards the island we had to bear away and sail south east. By the time we approached Cabo Rojo (another one – this time on the south-western tip of Puerto Rico) the sun had gone down and we were in the night lee of the island. The seas flattened considerably and the wind died away, and as we had to motor anyway we were able to head up and along the coast. Being able to sail the rhumb line rather than tack meant that we had made better time than anticipated, and so we motored gently at 3-4 knots to time our arrival at Ponce for daylight.
We arrived in the harbour around 0730 and tied up on the fuel dock at the Yacht Club. We filled the jerry cans with diesel and put a few gallons in the tank to top up. We had not filled the jerry cans at Boca Chica because of the ridiculous price there. The yacht club charges boats over 40’ in length US$50 to use the fuel dock for checking into the country, but they will take this charge off the price of a slip if you stay there. So we waited until 0800 when the office opened and asked about a slip for the night. No, they didn’t have any space, so we had to pay the $50. They also charge $10 per person per day to use their facilities if you are at anchor, so we asked for a couple of days’ passes instead of the slip fee reduction. No can do, they said. We couldn’t understand the logic, but it wasn’t worth pursuing.
We phoned Customs & Border Control to begin the check-in procedure. The call lasted 15 minutes and cost £21! Half an hour later they arrived at the dock, completed the paperwork, stamped our passports and told us to collect our cruising permit from their office. We had turned in our cruising permit in Key West, but when we told the CBP guy this, he checked on his computer system and it showed we should still have a valid one, so he re-issued it and we did not have to pay $19 for a new one. Steve shared a taxi with Doug from Rigel who was checking in at the same time as us, to go and collect the cruising permit, and then we slipped the lines, found a spot in the harbour and dropped the anchor. It felt good to be in flat water once more.