||Crossing the Mona Passage between the Dominican Republic was
relatively benign. Good news - it has a nasty reputation. The wind in
a squall forced us to take a course north of Mona Island, but that just meant we were
relieved of having to make too many decisions about our landfall. It would
be either Mayaguez which is a port of entry, or Boquerón which isn't - though
we'd read that one could anchor at Boquerón and then take a taxi to Mayaguez to
clear in. Since 9/11 however, things had tightened up considerably and we
had (American) friends who'd had real problems with the authorities for not
following the regulations to the letter. To be sure, we called the coast
guard. They had no idea, but would try and contact immigration. When
they finally came back the answer was less than clear, but couched in a way that
implied we ought to go to Mayaguez. That was, of course, the easiest answer
for them to give. So to be on the safe side we went Mayaguez. That evening we dropped
anchor close to the
ferry terminal, but in shallow water well out of the way. Next morning
the dinghy in the water to go ashore and clear in.
morning with the ferry gone the terminal had a deserted look. We
dinghied over. The wall was predictably high (ie above our heads)
with just a rusty broken ladder in one corner blocked by an old pilot
|There was though a brand new shiny sign
announcing that there would be a charge for tying up any vessel on the
harbour wall, to avoid any doubts it clarified that this included
dinghies and tenders. Surely not. We had attracted the notice of a security
guard who was walking over to the harbour wall. He confirmed that
the charge was $1 per foot with a minimum charge of $25. "It's
since we were privatised." he said "But you could pull your dinghy up on
the beach on the other side of the bay and walk round on the
road. That would be free. Or you could tie up on the jetty a
bit further round the point, a bit longer walk, but also free."
Neither wading up the beach in decent cloths or walking for miles in the
heat really appealed much to Lindy. "Just pay." she instructed.
So we did.
"No weapons beyond this point"
read the sign on the entrance to Border Security. The implication
being that weapons were OK everywhere else. Welcome to the USA.
There being no ferry, all the doors were locked, but after some rattling
we were let in. Clearance was as efficient as you'd expect -
passports, finger prints and eyes all scanned. All done.
"Which ports can we clear out from when we're ready to leave" we asked.
"No need. Just leave this card with a marina when you leave the US or
post it back to us when you arrive in the next country".
What a change after all the mountains of bureaucracy we'd become used
to. The cruising permit took a little longer and whilst we waited
the officials explained where the supermarkets were, computer shops, how
to get to town etc. We already liked Puerto Rico.
And what about the rat you're asking? Well, we'd
found one pad with a perfect rat silhouette of rat hair on the sticky
pad, so it had obviously got stuck and freed itself, perhaps when the
boat rolled. One thing seemed certain - from now on ratty wasn't
going anywhere near one of those pads ever again, peanut butter or not.
More drastic action was needed and in Mayaguez we found one of those old
fashioned non humane spring-,loaded rat traps with jaws. In the
bilges that night, smeared with tomato paste which we now had plenty of
evidence to suggest was ratty's favourite food, it was set. We'd barely put
our heads on the pillow and there was a loud satisfying snap followed by
less than a minute of banging and ratty was toast!
The following morning after a proper burial at sea for
our ex shipmate we sailed back towards Boqueron, where we now knew we
could have anchored to clear in but then we'd have
missed the computer shop and the rat trap! Boqueron is a lot more
cruiser friendly and the yacht club, although too shallow for us, can't
do enough to help cruising sailors. The anchorage is of a busy
tourist beach - Boquerón's only real reason for existence. It's a
very busy place with narrow streets full of bars and restaurants serving the visitor, but
even busier that normal when we were there as it was the venue of a Gay
Pride weekend - so rainbow flags, outrageous costumes and very loud
music were the order of the day. However, we still needed to do a
proper restock after our time in Las Aves and Boqueron only boasted a
couple of small shops. We were also on a mission to head east as it was
already the middle of June, so after a
couple of days we were off again.
A couple of hops and an overnight stay in Guanica,
surrounded by the decaying remains of the cranes of sugar processing
factories brought us to Ponce.
|| "The Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club has a
reputation of welcoming visiting sailors" says noonsite. Well it
didn't seem very welcoming to us and nor to any of the other cruisers we spoke to. It's not that they were
unfriendly, more that they were indifferent. They'd also
constructed a schedule of charges that gave a strong impression that
they'd rather we weren't there. Like $10 per person per day to tie
the dinghy to their dock - and that didn't allow the use of any of the
facilities except the very public showers. Alternatively, you can tie up
opposite the yacht club on the public jetty or in the fisherman's
harbour for free. Hmm let me think.
is a proper place, a city of 200,000 people and the infrastructure you'd
expect in a country which is (almost) part of the United States.
So shopping malls, super stores, all the things that sailors like us
left home to get away from, but now yearn for. It also has a
historical town centre (with Gaudiesque fire station) which, as in many
places, struggles to retain a vibrant feel when all the real shops are
now out of town. So for us it was shop till you drop time.
|We had been planning to leave the boat in
the marina at Ponce for a few days and hire a car to tour
the island, but the prices were so outrageous we thought better of it
and with our lockers full to overflowing we headed east again.
A couple of days later and we were in Salinas - a large
protected shallow bay right next door to a reef protected network of
mangrove channels which forms one of the best hurricane holes in the
Caribbean. Just as well when you consider that statistically PR is
just about in the centre of hurricane alley. We did need to
haul our anchor and reanchor though. Bad holding? Too close? None
of the above, just trying to find a decent wifi signal. And the club here,
what a difference after Ponce. Free secure dinghy dock, use of
facilities, free garbage disposal and friendly, supportive large cruising community.
There was also a cheap car hire operation solely focused on cruisers so
it was from here that we organised seeing more of the island.
Tourism for us is also about shopping, all kinds
of shopping - chandlers, hardware stores, department stores, clothes
shops etc, any chance to buy something we haven't seen for a long time
even if we don't actually need it yet. This might have something
to do with the fact that we have now raised the water line on Samarang
twice! So when we drove to San Juan our first stop
was West Marine, followed by Sears and JC Penny. Then break for some
more traditional tourism, into the old town and lunch in a Turkish