On Saturday, February 7th, the anchor is up at 9 AM in Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas, USVI. Sailing downwind in light to moderate air, Cutter Loose is bound for the easternmost islands of Puerto Rico known as the Spanish Virgins. During this 26 nautical mile passage, we bid farewell to the now familiar waters of the Lesser Antilles (i.e., the Windward and Leeward Islands from USVI to Grenada) and enter a geographical area of the Caribbean Basin known as the Greater Antilles (i.e., Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola and Puerto Rico).
Since this is previously unexplored territory for us, there is an air of eager anticipation and excitement aboard Cutter Loose as we barrel roll alongside Sail Rock and enter the territorial waters of Puerto Rico. Travel to new and different places stimulates one’s curiosity. Already, our sensory antennae are hyper-extended, anxiously processing every facet of our new surroundings.
The term Spanish Virgins implies that these islands are as beautiful, slow-paced and cruise-worthy as the islands of the USVI and the BVI to the east. Our destination today is the island of Culebra where Pittsburgh friends Glen and Nancy will be visiting aboard Cutter Loose for a few days.
La Isla de Culebra once served as a target for U.S. naval sea and air weapons. Today it is a relaxed beach destination for Puerto Ricans seeking an alternative to traffic congestion and hectic lifestyles on the mother island.
From our anchorage in the protected harbor of Ensenada Honda, there is easy access to the nearby village of Dewey. The harbor is uncrowded. About twenty cruising boats are anchored here, some which have established long-term residency in Culebra. Small, twin-engine, commercial aircraft routinely buzz the anchorage during takeoff from a nearby airfield. A shallow canal extends from Ensenada Honda to the ferry dock which fronts on the Bay of Sardines.
The town’s ferry dock comprises a large part of the public plaza that forms the nerve center of island activity. Each day, there are three departures and three arrivals to/from the City of Fajardo, on the east coast of Puerto Rico. Two dollars (one dollar senior rate) buys a ticket to ride on the 90-minute, fast ferry to the mainland…an incredible bargain.
Culebra is not a pristine resort island. While there are two small resorts located outside of the town of Dewey, most buildings in the village house small, funky restaurants, bars and guest houses. The primary form of transportation by residents and visitors alike is golf carts. The slow pace, unstructured appearance and casual, non-pretentious image is what makes Culebra so attractive to many visitors.
On most weekdays, the island is quiet. Weekends, however, are a different story. Taxis cram the ferry plaza to meet arriving passengers. On Saturdays and Sundays, many day visitors arrive on the morning ferry and take the 5 PM ferry back to the mainland. From the ferry dock, visitors can board a publico (shuttle bus) for the 2-mile ride to unforgettable Playa Flamenco, the island’s premiere beach attraction. This attractive semi-circular bay is ringed by a silky, soft, white-sand beach. It is named after the pink flamingos that once nested in a nearby cove.
Since the roads outside of the Village of Dewey are relatively free of traffic, our Bike Fridays prove to be the perfect means by which to explore the outlying parts of the island. This is the first time the boat’s bicycles have been deployed since our visit to the French island of Marie Galante in March, 2013.
To our surprise, the out and back to Playa Zoni on the northeast coast of Culebra is quite hilly, requiring more effort than we had anticipated. There are no restaurants or commercial amenities along this route. In fact, most of the island outside of the village of Dewey remains undeveloped.
A stalled cold front remains stationary over Puerto Rico during our visit, resulting in cloudy skies and considerable rainfall for a period of three days. Some of these downpours result in localized flash flooding. As we travel further north and west, cold fronts exiting the U.S. east coast will exert more of an impact on our movements. This is the price to be paid for departing the relative predictability of weather in the Windward and Leeward Islands.
Despite the gray skies, heavy cloud cover and intermittent rain, the anchor is up in Ensenada Honda on Sunday, February 15th. Cutter Loose is bound for the island of Vieques, about 20 miles to the south. Our destination is the town of Esperanza on the south coast.
The U.S. Navy purchased about two thirds of the island in 1941 for the purpose of aerial and naval bombardment. Many Puerto Ricans objected to this misuse of Vieques. Finally in 2003, the U.S. Navy ceased the bombing and decommissioned the base. To this day, many of the bays and beaches on Vieques are off limits due to the danger of unexploded ordinance.
An attractive promenade extends along Esperanza’s waterfront, providing access to restaurants, picnic shelters, roadside vendors and the beach. The movie Lord of the Flies was filmed here in 1963.
On Sunday afternoon, the waterfront is active with beachgoers, family picnics, card games, domino games and loud music. By sunset, the waterfront bars and restaurants are filled to overflowing with patrons.
Tonight, we have signed on for an evening tour of Puerto Mosquito, one of three bioluminescent bays in Puerto Rico. A twenty-minute bus ride transports us a few bays to the east and into another world. Cloudy conditions have erased any semblance of light in the night sky, which is beneficial to our purpose tonight.
Here, aboard a pontoon boat equipped with an electric trolling motor, we are treated to an awe-inspiring, underwater light display. These are not electric lights. Rather, they are single-cell organisms that emit an eerie glow when disturbed by underwater motion. When feeding fish swim nearby the boat, they leave a trail of sparkling light in their wake. When human arms and legs are immersed in the water, thousands of sparkling lights remain on one’s limbs for a brief moment after resurfacing. This phenomenon is an incredible display of nature…one that will not soon be forgotten.
The hour is late when we return from our evening adventure. Tomorrow, Cutter Loose is bound for Puerto del Rey Marina near the town of Ceiba on the eastern coast of Puerto Rico.