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The Summer Solstice – Part 3

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Flying the chute downwind to Puerto Rico

In past writings, I have mentioned several times that I often look around and think to myself, “how did I get here?”  Sailing downwind from Jost van Dyke, with St. Thomas to port, Great Tobago to starboard, and Puerto Rico somewhere over the western horizon, this was one of those times.  It’s rather hard to put the feeling into words.  I will say that when you see a sunrise in the Caribbean, with no sound but the Atlantic swell rushing past the hull, that the feeling is nothing short of intoxicating.  Addicting.  That moment reignited in me the absolute desire to unplug from the rat race and voyage.  This is where I belong. This is the real world: totally engulfed by the immensity of the wild and the sheer awesome power of the sea.

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Solstice in her slip at Puerto del Ray, Fajardo.

We began the sixty mile stretch to Puerto Rico goosewinged – that is the mainsail sheeted out to windward and the headsail poled out to leeward.  This effectively creates a downwind rig in lieu of using a downwind sail like a spinnaker.  However, our speed was a bit lacking, and with the swell on the beam, Solstice tossed about rather uncomfortably.   So after a couple of hours of this, Paul made the call to hoist the asymmetrical spinnaker.  I’ve never really flown a spinnaker at all before, so this was a real treat.  With nearly perfect conditions at the upper extremity of wind speed for flying such a sail, Solstice  saw nearly nine knots, which is quite fast for a full-keeled heavy displacement boat.  And thus we cruised into Puerto del Ray, Fajardo.

After clearing in with customs, a quick lunch and a trip to West Marine, we decided to head to old San Juan for dinner and drinks.  Paul and Alex went to school together in San Juan, so I got a first hand tour of their old stomping grounds.  We wound up at a little restaurant called El Alambique, where several Cuba Libres and some delicious mofongo found their way into the mix.   I have to admit, I really liked Puerto Rico. Excellent food, pretty beaches, and beautiful women…. I think I’ll be going back one day.  Hahaha

Our tacks along the southern coast of Vieques

The following day we set sail to Vieques, which lies just to the southeast of Puerto Rico.  For about sixty years, the island was occupied by the U.S. Navy, and the western two-thirds of it were used for bombing practice.  In fact, if you look at the charts, there are areas designated with “unexploded ordinance”.  Now the island is mostly national wildlife preserve and is a beautiful spot for cruisers.  Our destination was to be Cayo Real, just off of the village of Esperanza.  So after our beam reach south, we had to round the Arenas Shoals and tack to the east along the southern shore of the island.   We reached our anchorage with relative ease and picked up a mooring.  Paul didn’t exactly trust the mooring (some haphazard local’s invention), so we dropped the hook as a security measure. This will prove to be problematic later…

As the sun set, Paul whipped up some burgers for dinner, whilst I took a swim next to the boat.  Paul was about to follow suit, when he saw something large swimming around the boat.  Our initial thought was it was a reef shark, so Alex donned his headlamp and turned on the red LED.  As soon as the light hit the fish, he screamed “WHAT THE F**K!?”  It was actually a very large tarpon, and his headlamp refracted off of the fish’s great eye in such a way that it glowed a deep intense red.  It was wild!  Once again we took the dinghy ashore in pursuit of the ever-elusive Cuba Libre.

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Squalls passing over Vieques

Earlier in the day, we had seen some squalls passing through the area, but managed to avoid getting hit.  Before turning in, however, we could see a fairly significant system building on the southern horizon.  Dark clouds and distant lightning that yielded no thunder.  It stirred in me a sense of awe and fear.  Not fear as in terror, but more of an anxiety in anticipation.  We knew it could possibly get violent, so we prepared for it by clearing the deck and closing all the portholes.  At about 0100, I awoke to a strange sound on the port side hull, which was right next to my head.  I laid there awake for a few moments before I realized the breeze had freshened and the lightning-to-thunder interval had grown shorter.  I decided to get up on deck to check things out.  When I got out there, Solstice was pointed stern to the wind, with all of our neighboring boats pointed bow-to. Odd.  So looking around the boat, I found that the mooring ball was bouncing sidelong to the port hull, which was the noise I heard tapping previously.  Being stern to the wind in a gusty storm with a flat-transom ship could be potentially dangerous, so with the rapidly approaching storm, I made the decision to rouse Paul.  When he got on deck to check things out, we found that Solstice had swung around with the current and her bow was caught between the anchor rode to starboard and the mooring line to port.  We were pinned in this position, so to speak.   Without hesitation, Paul pulled up the anchor and all of its rode, and we worked the bow around to face the wind right as the squall hit.  The storm turned out to be all bark and no bite, but it was far better to be prepared than not!

I awoke fairly early the next morning to Nature’s Call.  As my foggy mind and eyesight cleared, I saw six or seven spotted eagle rays swimming under Solstice.  Man, what an incredible way to start one’s day.  I joined them for a swim, played around with a conch, and after a quick breakfast and coffee we sailed off of our mooring for a day of intense sailing up to Isla de Culebra.

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Solstice moored at Cayo Real, Vieques

– Ryan

Updated: August 12, 2016 — 12:07
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