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Puerto Rico Cruising Tips – Copyrighted Material

If you’ve ever been to a Puerto Rican Day Parade, then you are aware of the vibrancy of this culture.  The food, the music, the conviviality at its core all make for a fabulous party wherever you encounter it, especially here on the island.  Cruising Puerto Rico and the Spanish Virgins is an ideal way to get your fix of mofongo, meringue and merriment in addition to satiating your more nautical longings for safe harbors and exhilarating sails.  Our family of four recently enjoyed several months aboard our Jeanneau 43DS exploring these islands.

View from Morning Meditation Spot

As an American, it is easy to travel to Puerto Rico, and for any Caribbean Cruiser it is an easy sail from the more popular charter destinations.  We sailed from Saint Thomas, a comfortable 45 mile broad reach downwind.  Customs offices are conveniently located at Fajardo and San Juan, but easier entry can be made at the islands of Culebra or Vieques .  A welcome program for boaters is the “Local Boater Option”, which allows previously registered captains, crew and passengers to report port entry via telephone in most instances.  Check the customs and border patrol website, www.cbp.gov for more information.

Rather than heading north to Fajardo or south to Ponce, we happened upon a gem of a marina, Palmas del Mar Yacht Club, an affiliate of IGY Marinas located in Humacao, Puerto Rico.  Sometimes the entrance to this marina seems daunting; passing between rock jetties with pulsing rollers thrusting you inland. Like good-natured fraternal hazing, there’s hardly any real danger and the warm welcome on the other side makes it all worthwhile.  The docks in this lagoon are completely surrounded by a 10 foot high rock wall to seaward and townhomes on the other.  There are friendly dockhands ready to take your lines and solicitous marina office staff who facilitate check-in.

Despite the sense of safe enclosure, and the 50 or so boats that call this home, the harbor remains clean and the breeze is almost always fresh.  We were there from May through July and really struggled to find a day where the air was still enough to remove our headsail without significant beating against the shrouds.  We didn’t have to struggle, however, to find beautiful sea life blossoming beneath our hull.  The evening was full of curious trumpet fish, hermit crabs and downright gigantic tarpon seeking table scraps, while in the mornings shy manatees, bold pelicans, and paddling iguanas caught our attention.

The marina has reasonable rates, accommodating staff, and an inviting pool and tiki bar all set within a private golf and tennis community of some 2000 acres.  The General Manager, Juan Jose Boschetti says “We eagerly welcome transients or charters on yachts of all sizes, and provide the same excellent service we offer our year-round members.”  Not only is your boat secure, with concrete docks, ample new pilings and cleats, and that seawall, but you are totally safe, ensconced in an upscale utopia.  There is a mostly deserted mile-long beach where I enjoyed daily strolls with my Labradoodle.  Although somewhat isolated and insulated from all that is Puerto Rico, it does have an on-site rental car facility and a convenient mini-mall in walking distance, where the two-for-one burritos are a delicious bargain on Tuesday nights.

Beyond the gates, a 15-minute drive away, a multitude of modern conveniences exists including Walmart, Sam’s Club, and every other chain store imaginable. Further down the road there is plenty to explore.  With a car, we went to Old San Juan, Ponce and Caguas which each had a plethora of interesting museums, intriguing history, and rich Puerto Rican food.  We also went to El Yunque, the rainforest, for a hike and refreshing dip in the waterfalls.  The new visitors’ center is one of the most informative, and architecturally appealing we’ve ever seen. It was easy for us to spend an hour exploring the detailed exhibits, but more hands-on activities would’ve been appreciated by the children.

When we weren’t exploring on land, we were out navigating the local waters.  There are plenty of anchorages an easy sail away.  Unfortunately, from the Palmas Yacht Club it is a bit upwind to the islands of Vieques and Culebra but both are very worthwhile.  The winds were steady around 15 knots, almost on the nose, so we enjoyed several close-hauled tacks.  Salinas and Boqueron are downwind and good Puerto Rico stopovers on the way west; just remain a few miles off-shore to get clean breezes.

Isla de Vieques is unique in all the Caribbean: Most of its land is undeveloped due to the US Navy exclusive use of two thirds of the island for over 60 years. In 2003, the Navy abdicated control of this land to Fish and Wildlife administration, making it the largest national refuge in the Caribbean. There are no restrictions governing anchoring in most of the Refuge’s harbors (except those clearly charted as containing unexploded ordinances) and within these anchorages the environment is shockingly pristine.  We had several nights to ourselves in Bahia de la Chiva, with only open water beyond the reef and miles of hills blanketed in wild native flora on shore.

For more excitement, anchor in instead in Puerto Real or Esperanza, Vieques off the beautiful promenade, where a cluster of restaurants and small shops provide interesting diversion.  We were warned to pay someone to watch our dinghy, but found that a small padlock was enough of a deterrent against theft.   Just a short ride away is the world’s brightest bioluminescent bay, easily enjoyed with one of the many tour providers. Another fascinating outing is a short taxi ride to Forte Conde de Marisol, where an interesting museum explains the island’s history, followed by a short walk downhill (past freely roaming horses and chickens) to the town of Isabela Segunda where a plaza, restaurant and tourist office provide plenty for an interesting afternoon.

Culebra is an idyllic archipelago Northeast of Vieques, but still less than 20 miles from San Juan.  The large harbor Ensenada Honda is really several smaller ones; well protected alternatives up among the mangroves, the open center near town, and a sandy spit called Dakity near the mouth protected by a coral lagoon.  Ashore there is an artsy main street which runs parallel to a canal through the middle of the island.  This canal makes an interesting dinghy ride surrounded by large tarpon, and Mamacitas restaurant served us delicious lunch and inn is the best spot for lunch . Flamenco Beach, on the North side of Culebra is frequently ranked one of the most beautiful and exotic beaches in the world.  Surrounding Culebra, there are several small islands, the nicest of which is Culebrita with a protected cove on the north side and a good hiking trail through the arid brush.

Returning to the main island of Puerto Rico, we ventured to ports further west:  Salinas and Boqueron.  Salinas is a good anchorage midway cut into the southern coast protected along the west side by a small island and to the East by the mainland.  The holding is good in mostly mud and the breeze blows steadily ashore through the opening in the mangroves.  The single marina has a small pool, a bar and hotel rooms.  For provisions, it is a 5 minute taxi or rental car ride to large chain supermarkets.  For interesting cultural and tourist attractions, take the day to drive to Ponce thirty minutes away.  Salinas itself is best for rest and relaxation, or a deep sea fishing expedition to the South.

On Puerto Rico’s western edge is perhaps its best anchorage,  Boqueron.  Depending on your day of arrival, your impression will vary greatly.  The view is open to the West for breathtaking sunsets, but actually bounded by reefs, so stick to the channel as you enter.  Ashore, town is quiet from Sunday through Thursday, but on Friday and Saturday all the tourist and locals come out to party.  Oyster tables spring up along Main Street, where freshly shucked delectable oysters and clams are only $5 a dozen.  Local pubs put out tables and chairs where you eat and drink; shouting to be heard above the blaring salsa beats.  For a more sedate scene, head down to the end of the strip to Calloways where free internet, live music and reasonably priced dinner specials round out the offerings.

Boqueron is also known for its beach and nature preserves.  One of the nicer beaches in all of Puerto Rico is just a block or two down the back alleys over a draw bridge.  Once there, you’ll find miles of sand, gentle surf, lifeguards and shower facilities.  With a rental car, it is easy to drive to Cabo Rojo Lighthouse to see the incredible views from the limestone cliffs or slightly further drive to Mayaguez to see the world-class Puerto Rico Zoo.  Really, having seen the Bronx and San Diego Zoos, we can say this is as good, but on a much smaller scale.

With so much to offer and such easy access it’s a wonder Puerto Rico still is relatively obscure destination.  The culture of the people, the ample anchorages, and the area’s many attractions make it a very pleasing place for a short visit as a charterer or a longer stay as a liveaboard or for any duration in between.

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