I’m not much use for keeping dates or timelines. I honestly don’t remember when JB and I left St.Thomas, but probably about a week and a half now, maybe two? The sail from St. Thomas to Florida is all downwind at this time of year and is about 900 nautical miles (1NM is about 1.15 miles). I don’t understand why in modern day (given it no longer represents one minute of latitude) we have to talk in nautical miles and knots, but alas such is boat life. When we left St. Thomas we traveled about 20NM to Culebra, one of the Spanish Virgin Islands off the SE coast of Puerto Rico. Surf potential and birding opportunities drew us here, and how close it is to St. Thomas. Since time is not our main concern, we are by no means going as far as we can every day, instead stopping where is seems comfortable and enjoyable.
The sail to Culebra went over without a hitch – the swell mellow and the winds favorable – allowing us to cruise at about 5-6knots. There are many jobs to do be done aboard a sailing yacht, I have taken it upon myself to be the official whale lookout. Oh to see whales! How magical it would be. Who has time to worry about sails and ocean depth when there are whales just waiting to be spotted? No whales yet.
Culebra is a small, slightly mountainous island, untouched by the modern development that has run rampant in St. Thomas and the major cities of mainland PR. Beautiful murals cover much of the stone walls downtown, and not a McDonalds in sight. A surprisingly large group of cruisers anchor in the main harbor near town; this is surprising because there are beautiful harbors just outside of town that provide solace from late night partying, beautiful ocean views, and good swell protection – JB and I went to one of these spots. We picked up a mooring ball after someone told us they had dragged anchor the day before, plus they were free to use. Dry reef right in front of the anchorage provided protection from swell but we still had a wonderful wind, it was like a little slice of ocean front property – private flamingo viewing included!
We attempted to dinghy around the island to check out surf for JB, but the swell was unsafe for our 12’ inflatable and we resolved on renting a golf cart the following day to check out the North-side beaches. Golf carts are how many of the locals get around the island, and in just a few minutes we were overlooking Culebra’s coast, uninhabited islands, roaming livestock, thousands of bougainvillea in bloom. In hopes of finding some hidden surf we hiked down to Brava Beach; and although the waves weren’t what JB hoped for, it was a remote beach empty of tourists surrounded by lush mountains.
That night the winds picked up, gusting to 30 knots, and it rained more than ever before on the boat; although we were comfortable on the mooring ball I was still relatively sleepless and very thankful for the first bit of morning light to get out of bed. At first I wasn’t sure what was happening, but I realized through my grogginess the boat next to us had its anchor pull and they were quickly drifting into the mangroves. I hollered to JB, so that he could dinghy over and wake them up, or tie up to their bow and pull them. JB rushing to get his clothes on, me reiterating he needs to hurry up (like he didn’t know), he hopped into the dinghy and I untied him. Just as quickly at the dinghy engine started, it died, and he too was now drifting in the wind. Apparently with all the rain, water had fouled the gas through the tank vent. When the drifting catamaran was 100 feet or so from running aground, their anchor momentarily caught, buying us some time. With no one else awake around us, I started yelling “WAKE UP WAKE UP” so they could start their engines before dragging again. Thankfully my alarmed voice woke my nearest neighbor who blew his air horn to finally wake the unsuspecting couple. JB was still drifting, so the same neighbor went out in the rain, dressed only his boxers and shirt, to tow JB back. In gratitude we invited Philip and his daughter, Anneleize, over for dinner. Our invite was also a bit selfish to hear stories of sailing around the world with his family; stories of pirating, storms, near misses, beautiful islands and advice on sailing; he entertained all my ridiculous questions and concerns. Most importantly, he let us know where to find a public mango tree on Culebra, and the fruit was just starting to ripen.
The next morning JB and I each took a 5 gallon bucket, giddy like children opening Christmas morning presents. The tree did not disappoint; I rode JB’s shoulders to pick the higher mangoes and we lugged our 10 gallons of fruit back to the dinghy.
Did you know the mango tree is a relative of poison ivy, in particular the skin and the sap? Funny thing is I knew this and had seen images of “mango rash”, but I didn’t think twice about it since I grew up eating mangoes from my own tree. We left Culebra the day after mango collection and sailed 40NM to Playa de Patillas for the night, before continuing 20 more nautical miles to Ponce, PR the following day.
Ponce is the second most populated area in Puerto Rico and we stopped here to get the engines checked by a “professional” mechanic for insurance purposes. On arriving in Ponce, I was determined to see a doctor for my mango rash knowing it may be my last opportunity to seek medical assistance for another week or so. I had the same rash when living on St. Thomas (but I didn’t know what it was from then) and I knew it could get real bad; I needed Prednisone to have any relief. I had no success calling doctors from the boat, so I finally decided to Uber to Med Centro in town while JB stayed on the boat since winds were blowing. There was no walk-in clinic as I thought there would be, but a truly strange string of events led to me getting a corticosteroid shot in the butt for free. To my surprise no one had heard of such a mango rash before, not even the doctor (she didn’t seem much interested in helping me out). I was hesitant to get a shot because I had previously taken oral doses, but the doctor wouldn’t prescribe pills to me. Maybe it was because I looked like an addict, walking in her office scratching, smelling of sweat, in an oil-stained shirt, rambling about mangoes and how I live on a boat and need something to take so I’m not out at sea with a horrible reaction. So two shots in the butt it was. For free, because they didn’t know what to do with my insurance (that was so kind of them)! They all kept saying Zika Zika, I had to reassure them MANGO MANGO! After this interesting experience JB and I couldn’t sail away from Ponce quick enough. 20NM later, loaded up on Benadryl in the most unpleasant seas yet, we were rewarded with being the only people anchored in this beautiful bay near Guanica, surrounded by mangroves, a cleansing wind, wading birds and dolphins. We will stay here for a few days before heading to Boqueron, PR – which will be our last stop before crossing the Mona Passage en route to Turks and Caicos. The first true test of our sailing (in)ability.
It has been almost 48 hours since I got the my shots, my eyes are still swollen and the rash is getting worse. I can’t even look at the mangoes without being itchy. I’m not even sure I will risk eating them. Any suggestions are welcome!