The End of the (Caribbean) Road

St Thomas, US Virgin Islands

By: Kerry

Flamenco Beach, Culebra, Spanish Virgin Islands

Flamenco Beach, Culebra, Spanish Virgin Islands

Our original agenda had us sailing Fantazia all the way to Antigua, but we need to get back to NZ to turn Sel Citron around and point her towards Fiji before winter hits.

Delays out of Florida and a few longer-than-anticipated sailing legs mean we aren’t going to make it all the way.

From Marina del Rey on the east coast of Puerto Rico, we jumped off to the island of Culebra – in the ‘Spanish Virgin Islands’ – and then on to St Thomas in the US Virgins and finally to Virgin Gorda and Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.

In all, we sailed 1500 nautical miles from Florida to Tortola – a sizeable chunk of it into strong headwinds.

It’s been a really good trip on lots of levels: we’ve seen places we’d probably never have seen otherwise and shared good times with Mick and Garth. We’ve learned a thing or two from John, who’s got a few sea miles more than us under his belt – and who’s kept us amused with yarns about his days on the road with rock stars. And Christine’s stories of Parisian photo exhibitions and village life in the Loire have us wanting to move to France!

Sue and Alan, old friends of Christine and John, joined us in St Thomas, and we had a few fun, chilled out days in Cane Garden Bay and Virgin Gorda, before catching the ferry from Road Town back to St Thomas for the long journey home…

Iguana, St Thomas

Iguana, St Thomas

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A Tale of Two Cities

Marina del Rey, Puerto Rico

By: Kerry

Fantazia Caribbean-9244Ponce is known as ‘The Pearl of The South’ in Puerto Rico. Its centre is crammed with grand and opulent public buildings in its own, unique ‘Ponce Creole’ architectural style, which is a tropical amalgam of Neoclassical and Art Nouveau, with a little Rococco flourish here and there.

On the main square, the cathedral is painted in mauve with white trim and fronted by a fountain attended by stone lions that apparently came from France. Next door is the Parque de Bombas – painted in red and black horizontal stripes – that houses the museum of Ponce, the tourist office, and a vintage fire truck in its foyer.

It’s charming and quirky and clean. And disturbingly empty of people.

Though apparently reluctant to admit it, Ponce has been in decline for around a century: since the US started manufacturing sugar from beet rather than cane, undermining the mainstay of the Ponce economy. Later, political decisions saw development focused on the north coast of Puerto Rico and the south was overlooked. And then the GFC hit. Ponce’s port – though looking almost new – lies dormant. Probably a billion dollars worth of cranes and equipment, utterly idle.

It’s eery and sad.

By contrast, Damian and I spent a day sightseeing in San Juan.

Old San Juan is crowded on cobblestone streets between massive fortress walls on a finger of land with El Morro – a fort/castle – at its tip.

Like Ponce, San Juan’s architecture is flamboyant and grand, painted in wildly vivid colours, one building brighter than the next. But unlike Ponce, San Juan appears to be thriving: it’s a hub for cruise ships, and throngs of white-socked Americans filled the quay-side restaurants and kept the many tourist shops, cafes and galleries busy.

Few of the cruise ship crowd ventured beyond a block or two from the waterfront. Deeper into the Old Town, restaurants were humming with Spanish-speaking locals. People walked briskly, the traffic jams consisted of BMWs and Jeep SUVs and everyone seemed busy.

The place was buzzing.

We had lunch at Barrachina, the restaurant that claims to be where the pina colada was invented. Of course, we had to try one… or two…

And then we spent the afternoon strolling the back streets, taking photos – probably more than I’ve taken in the whole trip so far!

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Mutton Dressed as Lamb and Pig on a Spit

Ponce, Puerto Rico

By: Kerry

Fantazia Caribbean-9126“Fried Pork Chops” feature on many a menu in Puerto Rico, but on Sunday in Guavate – in the mountains an hour or so from Ponce – Pig on a Spit, or Lecheron, is the order of the day.

Lecheron restaurants line either side of the narrow, winding street, their windows displaying golden-crusted, impaled porkers turning slowly over gas flames. In between the restaurants, stalls sell pina coladas and icecream, and tourist tat ranging from San Juan snow domes to blow up smurfs.

Extended families come from as far away as San Juan to make a day of it, enjoy the carnival atmosphere and generally eat, drink and be merry. The street chokes with cars and motor bikes and people, from pig-tailed kids to heavily tattooed bikies and Goths to grandparents – and of course, there are the ubiquitous acres of bouncing fluoro lycra.

There’s no such thing in this country as ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ (or pork chop as piglet, as the case may be!) – no matter what age you are, buy your clothes three sizes too small – that’s why they’re made of stretch fabric. Wear the highest shoes you can manage and BLING IS BETTER!!!

Christine, John’s wife, flew in from New York this morning – John picked her up in San Juan and joined us back in Guavate.

We were the only gringos in town and we had a really fun day with the locals – who laughed and joked with us (in Spanglish) and included us in their exuberant embrace.

We stood in the crowd at the edge of the dance floors, watching the locals merengue, bachata and salsa (the oldies cutting the rug with considerable more panache than the youngsters!), and cheered on the sixty-ish woman who could shake her booty with a force and flamboyance that could buff concrete, as she played to the audience, especially the appreciative gringa in the corner (yours truly).

Late in the afternoon, we drove back through the pine forest on the winding downhill road with bellies full of pig and Caribbean rhythms thrumming in our heads.

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Onwards to Puerto Rico

Ponce, Puerto Rico

By: Kerry

Fantazia Caribbean-9079With Mick and Garth’s departure, it left sailing the 300-odd miles to the east coast of Puerto Rico to John, Damian and me. Not a distance you’d normally be concerned about, but once again, we were beating against the trades and negotiating the bottom end of the notorious Mona Passage between Hispaniola and Puerto Rico.

Frank had given us a fine-tuning on the katabatic theory: if the trades don’t get above 15 knots during the day, he reckons, the katabatics will kick in. Any more than 15 knots, they won’t and you should stay put.

So we ate the elephant in small chunks: a 60 mile hop to anchor off Saona Island for a nap, then a night-time departure to make the crossing to Boqueron on the west coast of PR.

The trades had been up almost to 20 knots during the day, but we went anyway. The katabatics didn’t exactly kick in, but at least the headwinds were lighter and it ended up being a reasonable crossing.

Boqueron had little to recommend it, and Mayaguez, where we had to go to clear Customs the following day, didn’t inspire either, so we left at 0500 (hoping that the katabatics might ease our way early in the day) and motored 45 miles around the corner and along the south coast to Ponce, arriving in time for the annual mahi mahi fishing competition, the biggest weekend of the year at the Ponce yacht club. The docks were bristling with rods and tuna towers atop 30 or so sports fishing boats.

We arrived in time for the fish weigh-in and the start of the music… Loud, but nothing on the DR!

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