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Something Other Than Natural Disasters: What We Did Before the Hurricanes.

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Sunset by the Pool at The Yacht Club.

Once we completed our move south and east from the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos through the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, we actually had a few weeks to enjoy some time in Palmas del Mar at The Yacht Club before we began worrying about hurricanes.

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A nature trail near the Catholic Church

The Yacht Club is (and will be again) a fabulous marina with excellent amenities and plenty of beauty, all within a gated community that includes two golf courses, tennis courts and tons of homes and townhouses. There are even two churches on site!

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So many fabulous tropical plants!

And if that isn’t enough of a draw, the Spanish Virgin Islands are a quick sail away.  I have included a few pictures to give you an idea of how beautiful this part of Puerto Rico was before Hurricane Maria.  I share these pictures because I am confident that the industrious people of PR will rebuild and soon Palmas will be whole again.  It is a beautiful place, the marina staff are some of the most wonderful people you will ever meet and The Yacht Club is a very fun place to stay!

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Heading toward the exit at The Yacht Club

We joined Shelly and Greg of  s/v Semper Fi for a quick trip to the Spanish Virgin Islands of Culebra and Culebrita.  An unusual wind direction allowed us to sail to Culebra where we both anchored, then dinghied to town for an afternoon stroll and lunch at Zaco’s Tacos.

While strolling about, Captain made had an unusual encounter.

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Not an everyday meeting!

This friendly pig meanders the street of Culebra and was very interested in being friends with Cappy, but Captain was less than thrilled with the idea.  The pig followed Captain from one side of the street to the other and really wanted to be friends, but once the pig got too close, Cap would go ballistic.  I guess Captain likes her pigs cooked and not following her.

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The U.S. Post Office on Culetra

I have not been able to find any information about the history of this post office, but I thought it looked very interesting.  It looks pretty old, but it might have been built to look that way.  The internet did not provide any information and I failed to ask while I was there.  But I thought it was cool enough to include even without the history.

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Moored behind a reef on the east side of Culebra.

We spend the first night on a mooring ball behind a reef on the east side of Culebra, which allowed us to have a fabulous breeze and view.

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The western side of Culebrita.

The next day we motored a quick 45 minutes over to the undeveloped island of Culebrita.  As usual, a crowd of motor boats gathered during the day and the beach and shallow waters were a hotspot of families and friends hanging out and enjoying the water and sunshine.

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Same beach is empty by days end.

But by later afternoon, the place clears out and we were one of only two boats that stayed the night.

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The old lighthouse with the new beacon in the background.

A quick hike through the scrubby brush took us to the Culebrita Light House. This was the oldest operating lighthouse in the Caribbean until 1975 when the U.S. closed it and replaced the old lighthouse with a modern, solar beacon with no charm and little maintenance.

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The detail inside the lighthouse was still obvious.

The lighthouse was built in 1882 by the Spanish mainly to demonstrate ownership of the island, but 12 years later the island became property of the U.S. after the Spanish American War.

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Until the 1930s, the lighthouse had full time, residential keepers.  It was used by the U.S. Navy as an observation post until 1975, when the installation of the the solar powered light deemed the old house obsolete.

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A view near the lighthouse.

We were only able to stay a couple of days before we headed back to Palmas del Mar to prepare to leave the boat for three weeks.  August had arrived and it was time to head back to the States for annual doctor visits as well as visits with family and friends.

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Sunset at The Yacht Club from the bow of LIB.

Oh, our travel plans included a quick trip to China! Fortunately, our oldest son travelled with us as he is fluent in Mandarin.  We realized just how much we relied on him the one time he wasn’t with us and we had to communicate with a cab driver! China was fun and eventful! More about that adventure in another post.

Thanks for stopping by! We always enjoy hearing your thoughts about our travels or any suggestions on places we really need to visit!

What a Difference a Day Can Make!

For the first time in my life I truly understand that the difference one day can make in my life is huge. I have so many examples recently that have driven this home and unfortunately they have mostly been sad examples.

Our dear friends, Ken and Laurie, sent a video of their sailboat Mauna Kea while they were finalizing preparations for Hurricane Irma which devastated St. Martin a mere 24 hours later.  Mauna Kea had engine problems and it was unsafe for Ken and Laurie to sail out of harms way.  A picture taken from the same place 24 hours later would show Mauna Kea in a much different condition.

We were in Chicago glued to the television as we watched Hurricane Irma swirl toward Puerto Rico where we had left Let It Be and our sweet dog, Captain.  We were very lucky because in the last 24 hours, Irma took a slight wobble north and our boat and dog were spared! What a difference a day made.

Fast forward about a week to 5 pm Saturday, September 16th.  Frank and I were sitting at the pool at The Yacht Club in Palmas del Mar, Puerto Rico.  We were chatting with other live aboard folks lounging in the pool and we all agreed that the morning forecast of 60 mph winds for Hurricane Maria were not a problem for our boats.  We could be comfortable about staying in the marina.

An hour later, when we read the 5 pm hurricane forecast, the story was dramatically different.  Hurricane Maria had changed from a category 1 to a category 4 forecast! And she was barreling directly toward our marina!

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The Yacht Club from the top of the mast the morning we left.

Frank and I immediately began redressing Let It Be; returning her sails to working order, putting the enclosure back on the helm, replacing the broken anemometer (luckily the new one had arrived in the mail the day before!), walking to a nearby mini market for canned goods and plotting our departure for early the next morning.

We left Palmas del Mar on Sunday morning, less than 24 hours later,  and had a beautiful passage of about 375 nautical miles to Bonaire.  We sailed for the first day, then motor sailed the remainder of the trip.  We had mostly following seas that were never greater than 1 meter. Surprisingly, this was one of our most pleasant passages!

Twenty four hours later, our friends Greg and Shelly on s/v Sempre Fi had found the quickest flight they could back to Puerto Rico to prepare their sailboat and leave the marina.  Shelly and Greg left Palmas del Mar on Monday, about 24 hours after we did. They experienced 21 foot seas and a lot of wind. They could see the very outer bands of Hurricane Maria and tension was high on board! Eventually they encountered ‘a parking lot of tankers and barges drifting in the sea,’ Shelly said.  This was their indication that they had run far enough to be out of harms way and could continue more comfortably to Aruba.

Once we arrived in Bonaire, we found wifi and checked on our friends back in Palmas del Mar and learned that Maria’s eye had passed directly over our marina! Thankfully our friends are all safe, but not all of their boats survived.

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What a difference 24 hours can make!

Frank and I like to tease that since moving aboard, we live our lives at 6 knot.  Thankfully over a 24 hour period, that seemingly slow six knots was enough to remove us from harm!

There are many times in our lives when one day makes a lifetime of difference; one day you’re single the next day you are married; one day you are pregnant and the next day you are a parent.  Yes, there are many life changing moments, but somehow this hurricane season, the changes that can occur in a mere 24 hours has become shockingly real!

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Drone photo of Palmas after Maria (sorry don’t know who took it!).

We mourn for our friends, their homes and the beautiful islands that have been devastated this year by hurricanes.  All those suffering loss from Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria are in our thoughts and prayers!

Although this season has been a challenging and heart wrenching one, we are trying to take away the positive aspects as well.  For instance, we have some friends whose boats survived hurricanes with nary a scratch! We have seen many people step up and make huge inroads in gathering and delivering food and water to those in need.  We have seen friends drive from Dallas to Houston, towing boats to help rescue stranded flood victims. There are silver linings to every cloud if we look hard enough.

On a personal note, this season has reminded us that we cannot be complacent about weather while living this nomadic lifestyle that is much more vulnerable to weather and storms.  We are reminded that we must do our best to keep Let It Be movement ready at all times.  We have agreed that we should try to keep our fuel topped off in case we have to sail away from a weather event. We are reminded that we must make our own decisions and allow friends to make theirs as well – what works for us might be all wrong for someone else.

We are reminded that we are blessed to have survived this season without injury or damage to property! (So far.)

Though this blog post could be construed as a negative reflection on sailing life, in truth, Frank and I enjoy living on our boat. While others might dislike the need to pay such close attention to the forces of nature, we find this lifestyle requires us to be more observant and respectful of the power of nature.  We are constantly learning to improve our ability to understand what surrounds us.  We can no longer jump in a car regardless of the weather and without regard for tides and seas and upcoming storms. 

No doubt this life is a greater challenge than living on land, but for us it works.  We like the learning aspect and prefer to be caught up in weather and seas and trip planning rather than being concerned with the daily news or which Hollywood star has returned to rehab or who was this years biggest loser. (Plus we were too cheap to pay for cable tv!)

Over the last two years we have learned many things, but in the last two weeks we have learned to appreciate that 24 hours can bring humongous life changes.

As always, thank you for reading. Next post I hope to report more positive things, like about the amazing diving in Bonaire!

Sargassum ~ Floating Habitat with a Big Smell!

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Sargassum at sea (image by Tam Warner Minton/Flickr)

Sargassum grass is a type of brown algae that floats in small patches or gathers into large masses and can be found in every ocean except the Antarctic.  The first written report of sargassum dates back to 1492 by Christopher Columbus (don’t get me started on the different names I have encountered for this famous explorer!).

Like every living force, sargassum has some great properties and some that we could do without.  Here in The Yacht Club at Palmas del Mar, Puerto Rico, the big negative is the smell emitted by the algae as it dies on the shore line and releases sulphur compounds that smell like rotten eggs on steroids!

But this floating grass also has benefits for the ocean.  As many as 52 varieties of fish were found to take shelter and find food within this floating algae off of North Carolina.  Sargassum grass offers a moving habitat for fish in parts of the ocean where no other is available.

Interestingly, a study by the North Carolina National Estuarine Reserve states, “The Sargassum community occupies such a large dimension of the upper water column (up to 3 m depth) and is typically so diverse that one gear or collection method cannot effectively sample it all.” 

In studying the algae columns, researchers found that there is something of a layering habitat within the sargassum where smaller fish live in the algae, slightly larger juvenile fish live below the grass and larger predators such as dolphins swim further down in the water.

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Small gas-filled spheres that look like berries keep the seaweed afloat. (naturetime.worpress.com)

In recent years, sargassum has become so prolific that it has caused issues along some beaches, creating foul smells as it rots on the shore, deterring vacationers from visiting popular resort destinations.  Additionally, the grass can be so dense in places that it inhibits the movement of hatching sea turtles on their way to the water, causing them to die before reaching the ocean.  But once in the water, small turtles also find food and shelter within the sargassum algae.

The benefits of sargassum are not limited to fish and turtles.

Since the eighth century, traditional Chinese medicine has used sargassum as a natural diuretic and for treating goiters and thyroid deficiencies. Additionally, the algae is nutrient dense and contains carbon, making it an excellent fertilizer.  The government of Tobago is encouraging farmers to use this algae as fertilizer on crops.

Experts believe these main factors are causing the increase in sargassum grass;

  1. higher ocean temperatures which allows this tropical plant to thrive
  2. polluted waters carrying higher nutrients that act like a fertilizer for the sargassum
  3. changing “liquid boundaries” in the ocean caused by storms and high winds help spread sargassum throughout the oceans

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Sargassum drift near The Yacht Club only two weeks after a clean up.

Most days as I head out for my walk here at Palmas del Mar, I hold my breath as I pass one area ripe with rotting sargassum grass.  Even though the marina is doing all it can to collect and remove the plant, I gag a little on days when the smell is strong.

So I’m glad I researched sargassum and can at least appreciate the benefits it offers instead thinking it is just a “smelly weed.”  Perhaps the next time you are confronted with the obnoxious odor of this algae as it decomposes, you will be able to consider its’ benefits like I am now and both of us will resent the smell a little less.

As always, thank you for visiting our blog. We love hearing your comments. If you are interested in seeing more of our everyday activities, please visit our FB page: Let It Be, Helia 44

 

Ponce, Salinas, Patillas and Palmas, PR Stops.

Our early departure from Gilligan’s Island meant we arrived in Ponce by 7 am.  The anchorage was pretty quiet at that hour except for the Ponce Marine Policia who followed us into the anchorage and politely waited for us to anchor before approaching our boat.  Apparently when they spotted our boat and looked up our information, they did not show that we had checked into the country.  Fortunately Frank had a record of his conversation with the Small Vessel Reporting System (SVRS) officer and he had the confirmation number of our check in via the telephone.  The Ponce Police were very nice and respectful to us and soon the misunderstanding was resolved. The Policia returned our paperwork and wished us a happy Memorial Day weekend.  A police stop is one way to get your heart rate up early in the morning.

We didn’t spend enough time in Ponce to rent a car and go into the heart of town so we really don’t know what it has to offer.  Instead we walked the (mostly closed) boardwalk where only a handful of people were strolling about.  Apparently things don’t get started there until evening, (surprise) but we were too tired to go back to the boardwalk that night, especially with another 4 am wakeup planned. Obvously, we are not your source for information about Ponce.

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Beautiful scenes on our way to Jobos Bay

There was a bit of a storm brewing in the Atlantic Ocean and along with every other boater in the area, we were keeping an eye on the weather.  We left especially early for Salinas the next morning with the express purpose of looking into a suggested hurricane hole near the Salinas anchorage just in case the storm developed.

We guided LIB through the mangrove lined inlets and fingers just east of Salinas in Jobos Bay and basically toured the area to determine if it would be a good spot to wait out a hurricane if the storm developed.  (Yes, it is, but the area is protected and you cannot anchor there until a storm is imminent.)

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Mauna Kea looks pretty in the evening colors.

After a pretty thorough reconnaissance mission, we went back to Salinas and anchored near Laurie and Ken of s/v Mauna Kea.  We were really excited to catch up with the only other 2016 Sail to the Sun Rally boat gliding around Puerto Rico and still exploring outside of the States!

We spent a couple of days in Salinas hanging out with Ken and Laurie who were experts on the area since they had been there for more than two weeks. The marina in Salinas welcomes anchored cruisers and has a nice dinghy dock which we have learned is sometimes hard to find.  The marina has a little bar/restaurant as well as washer/dryer and showers.  Very helpful to the cruising community.

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Are you jealous of that exotic blue leopard material?

There is a decent grocery store about a third of a mile from the marina and Laurie lent us her collapsable grocery cart to make the walk home easier.  For these last two years, Frank and I have carried our groceries home in backpacks and reusable bags, but this little cart made the walk so much easier that I have already ordered my very own collapsable cart.

We hung out in Salina a few nights waiting to see what would become of the storm in the Atlantic that was projected to head toward Puerto Rico.  Fortunately the storm dissipated and we would not need to seek refuge in Jobos Bay.

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Look how bright and well defined the colors are in this rainbow!

Rain has been plentiful here in Puerto Rico so the salt water is routinely rinsed from our decks and we have seen many pretty rainbows.  I especially liked how vibrant the colors were in the rainbow pictured above.

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Patillas is at the foot of these lush hills.

Mauna Kea and Let It Be left Salinas and headed for Patillas where we would stop before our final jump to The Yacht Club Marina at Palmas del Mar; our stopping point for this hurricane season.

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Ken strikes a pose after anchoring Mauna Kea!

Once anchors were set and a quick rain shower had rinsed our decks, Laurie, Ken, Frank and I dinghied into town to stretch our legs and check out the town.  We strolled to the left, then we strolled to the right and about 30 minutes later we had pretty much traversed the waterfront area of Patillas and Captain had enjoyed plenty of sniffing and calling card deposits.

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Ken, Frank and Captain chilling in the shade and watching the activity.

Rain was threatening again so we found a little outdoor spot with plenty of umbrellas and enjoyed lunch while watching the comings and goings along the main street.  We were surprised that there seemed to be a lot going on here even though the town was tiny.

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Can you tell we were caught in the rain?  Maybe I need a selfie stick? Or longer arms?

Our lunch table was right on the main road and we had the perfect spot to observe the comings and goings in Patillas.

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Disco bus for elders??

I have no idea what was up with this bus but the folks on board were having a grand time and the lights on the bus were flashing all kinds of random patterns.  We couldn’t decide if it was a tour bus (but there were no blaring announcements) or if a retirement home had gone all out on their day bus!

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I wish I could have captured the lights and music in a picture!

Lights and bling are obviously emphasized in Patillas as is evidenced by the ice cream truck we saw on the main street just as we were finishing lunch.

WAIT!!!!!! Did you say ice cream truck? Well we paid our lunch bill and took off after that ice cream truck.  I felt like we were part of a cartoon comedy because every time we got close to the truck, he moved on!  But we persisted and finally managed to catch the ice cream man!

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I didn’t see any bomb pops but we found plenty to enjoy.

After strolling the beach front and eating our ice cream, we had pretty much exhausted Patillas so we headed back to our sailboats and simply enjoyed the view from our boats.

Once again we were leaving before sun up so it was early to bed for all of us.  But at least we had a chance to walk around a bit, and had a short jog chasing the ice cream truck!

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A stellar final sunrise!

Our final sunrise as we motored toward Palmas del Mar was stunning.  The sun sprayed golden rays across the ocean and brought forth a beautiful day for our final push along the southern coast of Puerto Rico.

We arrived at The Yacht Club at Palmas del Mar and were warmly welcomed my the great team who runs this marina.  In the fall of 2015 when we were preparing LIB to be our live aboard home, we had spent almost two months here and we were thrilled to see the same fabulous folks here upon our return.

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Sunset from The Yacht Club

I truly cannot say enough positive things about the staff at The Yacht Club Marina.  They are the most caring, helpful, happy and kind people we have met.  And they are very organized and efficient.

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Full moon rises over the rock jetty at The Yacht Club

This is a wonderful place to while away our time during hurricane season and if we must be on the dock, I can’t think of a better place.

As always, thank you for visiting our blog. We would love to hear from you in the comments below.  If you are interested in seeing more of our everyday activities, please visit our FB page: Let It Be, Helia 44

 

 

 

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