Sometimes, a charter doesn’t start auspiciously.
This one was preceded by the usual weather checks, including visits to hurricane watching sites. Every day’s forecast called for some material chance of thunderstorms. Over the years, I’ve learned not to take too much notice; after all, on the greener islands, it rains almost every day. How many of us have escaped a week of tropical sailing without having a single 2 a.m. Hatch Drill? Of course, when there is talk of hurricanes (none for us this time) or substantial accumulations of rain, I pay attention. And this particular forecast called for more than an inch of rain in Fajardo shortly after we arrived.
We managed the drive from San Juan to Fajardo, and provisioning at the well-stocked Ralph’s, without any rain. (Memorable comment from the supermarket: “Did you think that’s enough wine?” said Eva to Rick and Jeff, who bore only 6 bottles.) Then we got to Puerto del Ray marina, and were greeted with this sight:
Is it a good omen to share dock space with The Black Pearl?
Then came the rains. Buckets and buckets of rain. Thankfully, we’d packed foul weather gear and waterproof shoes, so we didn’t drown in the rain as we made our way to the tiki bar (Lally’s) at the marina, huddling under the overhang at the bar.
I had the idea to shower that night, so as to make a quick getaway Sunday morning. But in the marina bathhouse, I hardly needed to enter a shower stall. The rain, humidity, condensation and dripping ceiling turned the shower room into a sauna — except it wasn’t warm. Ugh.
Sunday morning, the rain held off long enough to have our boat and chart briefings, and I optimistically made a run to Walgreen’s to buy extra sunscreen and beach towels. But once we got underway, it wasn’t long before a drenching, blowing squall hit us en route to Culebra. The boat was rolling so much, I didn’t even bother to go below to fetch my foul weather jacket, and soon we were soaked, though I had to wear sunglasses to be able to see through the rain when I took the helm. At least one crew member chummed the waters.
Not the view you want during a tropical vacation….
The rain eventually stopped, and we’d made it to Cayo de Luis Pena, across a narrow channel from Culebra. We anchored off a pretty beach, and went ashore to explore and swim. It was only moments before I felt one prickle, then another, than dozens more. I’d woken the no-see-ums and was now serving as their buffet, scoring too many furiously itchy bites to count. And on returning to the boat, I discovered my first aid kid had only ONE Benadryl. Arrrgh! If only my Walgreen’s run had pessimistically prepared me for insect bites instead of sunshine!
This beautiful and calm beach harbors voracious predators: hordes of flying teeth!
Of course, we know about the Spanish Virgin Islands’ past as a military training ground. Nevertheless, it’s never heartening to see warning signs about unexploded ordnance, and buoys prohibiting anchoring — right where you were about to anchor.
So, where are the snakes? Pirates? Poison apples?
Is that a manchioneel (highly poisonous)? Couldn’t the no-see-ums eat them?
I am a vivid dreamer. And my dreams are heavily influenced by my surroundings. And I’m also quite blind when I take my contact lenses out for the night. So I suppose it’s not surprising that days of skittering jelly beans (Confession #1: I discovered Candy Crush the night before we flew to Puerto Rico), hungry insects, threatening fish, ugly weather and buried mines would make my overactive imagination excessively suggestible. One night in my bunk, at precisely 12:10 a.m.,I felt something raspy brush against my hand. Semi-consciously, I batted it away, only to have it lick at my hand again.
My natural reaction: SCREAM! Which of course drove Rick and Jeff out of their berths (Confession #2: Rick and I don’t always share a berth), turning on the lights. “Something licked me! Something in my cabin! I don’t know … A rat. A mouse. Something!” We stripped the bed, checked all of the corners with flashlights, and found nothing. Other than racing hearts and raised blood pressure. (Jeff and I are the same crew members who were convinced we were about to be boarded by pirates in Belize, so we have a little history of over-reaction.)
That’s a remora, not a shark, hanging around off our swim platform.
I eventually calmed down. And, in fairness, after that first rough and stormy day, our entire trip settled into a much more laid-back and pleasant routine. In reality, the only rain came in brief squalls, mostly at night when our hatches were open and our laundry was pegged to the lifelines.
Look how relaxed they look. Are they even conscious?
Rick and Jeff and I know what a truly bad charter week looks like — like the week we spent in the British Virgin Islands with Hurricane Georges: (Rendezvous with Georges). And Rick and I spent a soggy week in the Abacos on a charter that detoured our one-time plan to go cruising (which has now been revived, more than 10 years later). This week doesn’t even come close! In fact, it was one of our best charters ever; over three trips, the Spanish Virgins have delivered something awfully close to paradise.
But writing about paradise is kind of boring. And paradise comes with a price. So I’ll keep telling the stores, warts and all.
P.S. That rodent tongue? It was a tassel from a shirt.