Cutter Loose is underway from Puerto del Rey Marina at 9 AM on Friday, February 20th. Our objective in the coming week is to savor Puerto Rico’s south coast with the eventual goal of reaching the seaside village of Boqueron on the west coast.
The easterly trade winds blow vigorously on the south coast of Puerto Rico, making this passage especially difficult for eastbound cruisers en route to the promised land of the Virgin Islands. One beneficial characteristic of the south coast is that it offers a series of protected bays and harbors to hide from heavy weather.
Our course today follows the Media Mundo Passage inshore of Isla Pineros and past the former Roosevelt Roads U.S. naval base on the southeast coast of Puerto Rico. During WWII, this base was capable of harboring the entire Atlantic fleet. Its function was to protect the Panama Canal and to defeat any German incursion into Western Atlantic waters.
Transiting the cut in the reef at Boca de Inferno, we enter Bahia de Jobos and motor to the nearby anchorage in the lee of Cayo Puerco. By 5 PM, the anchor is down, having logged 60 miles for the day. This is a cozy, mangrove-lined anchorage in the lee of Cayo Puerca. Puerto Ricans flock to the mangrove creeks in this bay whenever a hurricane threat arises. Tonight, Cutter Loose has the bay to herself.
On Saturday, February 21st, it is a short run inside Cayos de Ratones (Rat Cay) to the Bahia de Rincon near the town of Salinas. Inside this well-protected harbor, there are a dozen or more cruising boats hunkered down in advance of the blustery conditions that are forecasted for Saturday and Sunday.
On the afternoon of Sunday, February 22nd, we tempt fate by departing our snug anchorage for a short 17-mile, downwind run to Isla Caja de los Muertos (aka Coffin Island), about 7 miles offshore from the seaport city of Ponce. The seas this afternoon are in the 8 to 9 foot range under an ominous dark, cloudy sky. A peak wind gust of 33 knots is recorded during today’s passage. Frothy waves lift the stern of Cutter Loose, sending her surfing towards Coffin Island at 8 knots. Had better judgment prevailed, we would have remained one more night in Salinas. However, once in the lee of Coffin Island, the blustery conditions subside rapidly as today’s bouncy conditions fade into a distant memory. Tonight’s fiery sunset is tinged by storm clouds on the horizon. Cutter Loose is one of only two boats in this secluded place.
Given our late afternoon arrival, the decision is reached to remain here at Coffin Island for another day to hike to the lighthouse and explore this uninhabited, arid island.
Under the care of the Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources, Coffin Island has been designated as a wilderness area to protect its sea turtle habitat. At the island’s summit is a low tech lighthouse which is operated by the U.S. Coast Guard. Our hike to the summit is rewarded by superb views of the anchorage below.
On Tuesday, February 24th, we depart our secluded mooring at Isla Caja de los Muertos for a delightful 29-mile, downwind sail to the town of Guanica. In 1898, American soldiers first stepped ashore here to claim the island of Puerto Rico for the U.S. A few miles east of the entrance to the Bahia de Guanica is a small group of mangrove islands known as Cayos de Cana Gorda. Locals refer to this place simply as Gilligan’s Island. Tonight, Cutter Loose is one of seven boats anchored in the lee of Gilligan’s Island.
While the crew of Cutter Loose remains fast asleep, each of the other boats anchored here silently depart the anchorage in the pre-dawn hours. Presumably they are headed east into the prevailing wind and sea. Eastbound cruising boats must take advantage of lighter winds in the early morning hours.
At 9 AM, the anchor is up at Gilligan’s Island for a pleasant 31- mile, downwind sail to the small town of Boqueron on the southwest coast of Puerto Rico. Our course today takes us a few miles offshore from the village of La Parguera where an unidentified flying object is hovering high above the water. Its shape roughly resembles a pregnant goldfish cracker. However, instead of orange, this goldfish is pure white with no obvious markings.
This is how the UFO appears through a telephoto lens from the deck of Cutter Loose:
Thanks to a Google search, the mystery is quickly solved. As it turns out, the UFO is a TARS (Tethered Aerostat Radar System)…a balloon attached to land by way of a two mile tether, hovering 10,000 feet above the earth’s surface in our little corner of the world. The TARS balloon is 208 feet in length and 69 feet in diameter. Its purpose is to aid in the interdiction of illegal drugs entering the U.S. and the Caribbean. The radar device inside the TARS specializes in tracking slow-moving, low-flying aircraft which are difficult for conventional radar systems to detect. A network of TARS balloons stretch along the southern border of the U.S. from Arizona to Florida and extending into the Bahamas and the Caribbean.
This is a close up photograph of a TARS balloon as depicted on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website:
Rounding the southwest corner of Puerto Rico, the historic 1881 lighthouse known as El Faro, perched atop the dramatic golden cliffs at Cabo Rojo, comes into view.
A few miles to the north, Cutter Loose sails through the south channel entrance to the expansive Bahia de Boqueron where the hook is set just off the beach.
During the week, Boqueron is a sleepy little beach town where many of the restaurants, bars and vendor food stands that line the streets remain dark.
On Saturdays and Sundays, the community becomes transformed into a raucous street party, complete with live entertainment. Bohemian in character, Boqueron attracts local boaters, cruising sailors, beach goers, motorcycle clubs, tourists, and students from the University of Puerto Rico in nearby Mayaguez.
Puerto Ricans love their music LOUD. Local boats are judged not by their length or speed or attractiveness, but rather by the chest-thumping capacity of their powerful stereo systems. Speaker arrays can be aimed at their intended target to add life to the party.
Our time in Boqueron is made more enjoyable by the company of Island Packet friends Richard and Jan aboard IP 370 Morpheus of London. We first met this charming couple while at anchor in Virgin Gorda in 2012. It is always fun to share an anchorage with Morphie.
The weather forecast for the foreseeable future is for wind gusts of up to 30 knots and seas in the 8 to 10 foot range. We will remain patiently at anchor here in the protection afforded by the Bahia de Boqueron until a suitable weather window opens for our forthcoming journey across the Mona Passage to the Dominican Republic.