What unfolded as the sun went down on Thursday, March 28th was by far the most magical encounter I’ve ever had with Mother Nature. We took the dinghy over to Bahia Bioluminiscente to meet our four buddy boat couples for post-dusk exploration. We rafted the dinghies together on the windward side of the bay and talked amongst ourselves, trying not to be too impatient or too excited for dark to descend. Several tourist boats joined us, but the bay was large enough that we didn’t feel intruded upon.
The sun soon fell behind the mountain and the sky slowly darkened. With some cloud cover, we were not interrupted by the moonrise, but could see quite a bit of light pollution from the East. Eagerly, we took unscheduled turns dipping our hands in the water and stirring them around, hoping to see a glow. Eventually, we each either thought we saw a glow or may have actually seen the beginnings of the bioluminescence. The temperature dropped with the sun, so we were wary of full immersion in the water, in fear of returning to the dinghy to wait in the cool breeze while the darkness enveloped us. I finally could wait no longer. I donned my snorkel and mask, braced my feet on the dinghy and submerged my face in the water. With my face underwater, I swept my hand through my field of vision and Mother Nature revealed her astounding beauty to me. I struggled to comprehend the unconceivable twinkling glow. The water was illuminated like a jar of a million fireflies, dancing off my hand like graceful glitter and fantastically revealing the secrets of pixie dust. The exclamations I proclaimed through my snorkel were likely indiscernible by the others, but they were all odes to the wonder, awe, and excitement. As the night continued to take over the sky, the underwater magnificence amplified. Nate and I entered the water and were further amazed at our own aura as we swam through the bioluminescence. We all gawked in shock at the amazing natural phenomenon that many of us refuse to believe is anything other than magical. Visions of fairies and scenes from Fern Gully and Avatar danced in our heads. I honestly do not think I will the words to describe how magical the water felt and looked to us, everything can only be an idyllic likeness: Swimming in glitter, weightlessly dancing with sprites, floating with fireflies, playing in magic. I know I will cherish the feeling for the rest of my life.
The following morning, we awoke in a semi-daze, still wondering if the surreal experiences of the previous night were our reality. We weighed anchor, along with Cheryl and Kevin on Leef Nu, and headed the short 20-something nautical mile jump to Ponce, Puerto Rico. After taking a lap around the deep, small mooring field, we anchored “Georgetown style” (aka, VERY close to other boats) in 25 feet of water… with only 75 feet of chain out. Not our favorite – we prefer a 4:1 or 5:1 chain to depth ration, but alas, we had few options that weren’t rolling. While ensuring our anchor was holding, we enjoyed our “new port beer,” had lunch, and then Kevin and Cheryl rowed over on their dink to pick us up. We continued the short row to the corner of the harbor, grabbed an Uber, and headed downtown to explore Ponce. Our intention was to go to the “brewery” in town. After much confusion with us, our driver, and Google maps, we finally discovered that the “brewery” was closed… and was also located in someone’s home. Strictly for bottling and distributing for the time being. Disappointed and quite hot from walking almost a mile in circles, we bee-lined for the closest google/yelp/tripadvisor approved bar that had cold beer. We enjoyed a round of drinks and split a small pizza, then sauntered up to one of the city plazas nearby. We were excited to discover a vendor market was covering the Plaza: crafts, drinks, baked goods, and a stage to fill in around the beautiful fountain. We meandered, enjoying browsing the stalls and then popped in to the firehouse museum. We then continued our cultural tour by wandering through the cultural district of the city, stumbling upon an underused urban ecopark. The photos most certainly do more justice than words:
After a few hours of soaking up the various types of art, we headed back to the harbor’s boardwalk area – sworn to be the “party spot” for the night by a few locals we’d met throughout the day. Being jobless, we checked every bar and restaurants menu, and found a small gem with 89 cent Miller Lites (10oz) and $8 nacho plates. We grabbed a round of MLs and continued to explore the waterfront area. We settled for nachos, eventually, and continued to enjoy the cheap, tiny Miller Lites. By 21:00, the area was starting to pick up, but “sailors midnight” had passed. Exhausted from our adventurous day, we headed back to the boats for sleep.
The next morning, we joined Cheryl and Kevin for a grocery run, then said our farewell-for-now to them upon return to the marina. Our former buddy boats had arrived while we were shopping, so they stopped by to say “hello and goodbye.” We started weighing anchor for our next anchorage destination and had a minor mishap where Nate almost lost the tip of his finger. That darn anchor is trying to kill him. Luckily, his finger stayed attached, and despite the vasalvagal reflex which turned him a horribly scary shade of green, after a ginger ale, ice, and 15 minutes of focusing, his color returned to normal. Phew. That would have put a damper on the adventures! Despite our potential “Nathan has –insert old school disease here- you cannot ford the river… you lose the game of Oregon Trail,” he was a trooper, as always, and we carried on. We arrived at a nicely secluded mangrove anchorage in the early evening and took advantage of the relaxing evening with just the two of us to watch the sunset and then a few episodes of Handmaid’s Tale.
We awoke early the next morning, excited to round the southeast corner of Puerto Rico to gain distance towards the Virgin Islands. After a few hours of motorsailing, we (wait for it….) actually got to SAIL! No engine! Such a treat on this trip down the thorny path. We reveled in the creaks of rigging and occasional flutters of sails while we trimmed for the ideal sailing for the first time in a while. We anchored behind a pretty little island of Isla Pineros. The water was clear and I jumped right in. After a few laps around the boat, I discovered quite a few small crustaceans on the aft end of our hull. Always in need of an activity, I asked Nate to hand me the scraper and I got to work. A few mouthfuls of salt water (thanks to the motorboats speeding by us) and a decent workout, the hull was sufficiently clean for the time being. We were grateful for another relaxing evening, knowing our jump to Culebra the next morning would be a little bumpy.
Said jump ended up being smoother than we’d thought and we arrived at the anchorage around 11:00. After lunch and, of course, our “new port beers,” we headed ashore to explore the little island. Being Nate’s second time on the island, we had a general idea of what to expect and where things were. We walked enough to feel like we’d burned sufficient exercise calories and then plotted to walk to Flamenco Beach the following morning over a few tasty cocktails at the aptly named “Dinghy Dock Bar.” Another relaxing evening on the boat brought us a nice sleep and the following morning.
After enjoying an energizing breakfast, we geared up for our 4+ mile walk to what the Travel Channel calls one of the “Top Five Most Beautiful Beaches.” We enjoyed the walk, congratulating ourselves on going early in the morning, as the sun was blasting on us, even though it was only 08:00. We arrived at the beach, and although it was beautiful, we agreed that we wouldn’t vote for it in the top five. We continued our walk along the beach until we ran out of sand. As we started to head back, we realized our best option for visiting San Juan and getting to St. Thomas in semi-decent weather was a now-or-never kind of thing. Walking along the beach, we decided to aim for the noon ferry from Culebra to Ceiba (mainland). Realizing we were still 2+ miles from the boat, we picked up our pace, booking a hotel and rental car as we walked. We made it back to the boat with enough time to pack overnight bags, shower, have a fast lunch, and get to the ferry with plenty of time to spare.
We appreciated the fast-ferry’s 26 knots across to the mainland and waited to be picked up by our rental car company. As soon as we were signed and able, we headed towards San Juan, a little over an hour’s drive. We’d made a plan on the ferry and continued it in the car. We took advantage of having the car and went to Ocean Lab Brewing Company in Condado, enjoyed a beer and the beautiful venue and view before heading to Casa de Bacardi. As we rolled up to the distillery, we were instantly impressed. The iconic fruit bat symbol welcomed us into a gorgeous compound. We parked and headed straight to the ticket booth. We happily paid $15/person for the “historical tour” which would commence in 30 minutes. With the tour, we received two tokens that we could redeem for one of four handcrafted cocktails of choice at the outdoor bar while we waited. We excitedly jumped in line with our tokens and both ordered the classic mojito. Being a seasoned beer, wine, and liquor festival goer, we thanked and tipped the bartender, but did not offer the tokens when he did not ask for them. Woohoo! Suddenly, $30 for not two, but four Bacardi cocktails and a tour was a pretty decent deal. We sucked the mojitos down, not in the urgency of time, but because they were so darn delicious and hopped back in line for our second round. Our buzzers set off, indicating it was time to load into the trolley for the tour just as we entered the line. Being the punctual person I am, I immediately entered a slight anxiety mode; concerned we’d miss the tour. I left Nate to order the drinks and headed to the trolley to ensure we weren’t left. Luckily, he was able to order our two traditional daiquiris (rum, ice, lime juice, and sugar… not blended) and jump on the trolley in the nick of time! We spent the next 45 minutes oo-and-aahhing throughout the museum, distillery, and gift shop. We even got to sample Bacardi’s best rum. Fortunately, we both weren’t huge fans… nothing is worse that really, really enjoying a bottle of rum that is well outside of your budget.
Happy with our experience and excited to see downtown, we headed to our hotel for the night. Thanks to so much work travel in the past, we were able to book the room with points and get an upgrade. We shoved our faces full of free dinner at the Sheraton Club Lounge and then hopped in an Uber to go to Old San Juan to meet two of Nate’s friends and former colleagues for an evening in the historic city. We spent the following few hours gazing at the splendor of the two large forts, sculptures, architecturally pleasing buildings, and the fun cobblestone streets, lined with bars, restaurants, shops, and hotels. Dusk gave everything a phenomenal glow, highlighting colors rarely noticed in the brightness of day. We shared laughs, stories, and many rounds of beers before bidding farewell and headed back to the hotel for a well-deserved night of rest.
Wednesday morning we awoke with enough time to enjoy another free hotel meal, check out, and drive back to Old San Juan for the few hours we had in our schedule. We rushed to the National Historic Site: Castillo San Felipe del Morro “El Morro” to enter the fort for our self-guided tour. We spent an hour winding up and down the maze of corridors, levels, stairs, and ramps, reading every sign we could find, satisfying the history-nerd in each of us. Pleased that our park entry fee covered both the large forts, we spent our remaining time exploring Castillo San Cristobal. Another labyrinth of tunnels, greens, catacombs, and nooks and crannies to read through the amazing history held within. We were back in the rental car by noon, headed back to Ceiba. We returned the car, got a ride to the ferry, and were back in Culebra before 16:00. Phew! What a whirlwind 24 hours of exploration and history!
Pleased our dinghy was still attached securing to the public dock, we blitzed back to the boat for quick showers and unpacking, then back in the dink to meet Sarabi (boat buddies: amazing how we always seem to cross paths) at the Dinghy Dock Restaurant for dinner. We laughed our way through another enjoyable evening in the company of Owen and Miranda, furthered by their visiting friends, Jim and Karen. Dinner was delicious and naturally, we ended up back on their boat for more entertaining discussions and drinks. Another round of “farewell-for-now” and we were racked out, sleeping soundly after yet another packed day.
Thursday morning we set off towards St. Thomas – beating hard into the 15-20 knot winds, determined to undermine our forward progress. The boat crashed exhaustingly through the 4-6 foot seas for several hours, sending me below with another bout of seasickness and leaving poor Nate to do everything himself. Within a few hours, we were comfortably in the lee of the island and navigated through to the main town anchorage area. After two laps through the tight quarters, we finally settled on an anchoring spot, realizing how spoiled we’ve been since Georgetown with vast safety zones around each boat. We dropped the hook, confirmed it was set, and then had our celebratory beers and lunch. We launched the dinghy and headed in to explore Charlotte Amalie shortly after. Not ones to dilly-dally, we aimed straight for the local brewery, Rock City, and promptly enjoyed two of their lagers, after sampling a few other brews. We met the brewers, Brett and Sam, and promised we’d return next time we were in St. Thomas. We continued to walk around throughout the afternoon, meandering through Kmart and accidentally walking for quite a while through a pretty rough part of town. Neither of us had expected St. Thomas to have such a large subsidized population. We felt safe enough in the daylight, but were happy to finally find a cross street to return us to the massive marina and affluent waterfront shops. Stumbling upon a sign which read “$3 Medalla Lights, $3 Absolut, $3 Local Rum Punch, and $3 Jameson” we popped right in and plopped ourselves down on the bar stools. After two delicious and inexpensive rounds, we’d enjoyed conversation with a local, the young bartender, and a few pop-in visitors. We headed back to the boat for dinner and enjoyed the break from the high winds to blog and read in the cockpit before heading to bed.
Friday morning we made the short hop to our new home… St John Island! Our big announcement is that we’ve accepted a position (as a couple) with a small sailboat charter company. We are delighted to have the opportunity to live in such a beautiful place and earn some money while enjoying it. We arrived in to Cruz Bay midmorning, took a lap around to find the mooring balls we’d been directed to, only to find none and be very confused on where we were supposed to put the boat. We saw our future charter boat anchored just outside of the channel in a tiny, shallow cove. Welp, might as well drop the hook there and figure out where we were actually supposed to go. We carefully wiggled Lady Sun Dream into a decent position – still a stone’s throw from shore and now not one, but three catamarans. Adding to the stress of this tight situation was the shallow water – our keel stirred up mud as we settled with the wind. Having the gut feeling that this was certainly not the area we were directed to spend the next few nights, we contacted Chris (our new employer) for some clarification. Luckily, we were able to clear up the miscommunication and we promptly weighed anchor and headed out of the harbor – much to the relief of another catamaran, waiting their turn to enter the “three hour temporary anchorage area.” Apparently, we’d dropped the hook where the charter boats do crew and guest swaps on Fridays – whoops. We puttered around the corner to finally find the mooring balls to which we were originally supposed to moor. Safely secured to the National Park Service mooring ball, we tidied up the boat and started to kill time, having no plans until dinner with our new employers that evening. As luck would have it, our time-killing attempts lasted just long enough to feel productive, and then we received a message from a former buddy boat, Latitude Adjustment (John and Sally). John let us know he saw on our boat on marine traffic and informed us they were drinking in downtown Cruz Bay. Excited to see them, we quickly readied ourselves and the dinghy and headed in to town to see them. After a fun visit while drinking beer in the main public park, we said our farewells and headed back to the boat to shower and clean up for dinner. Dressed better than usual, we headed ashore before the sunset, being new to the area and not wanting two trips in the dark. We enjoyed a glass of wine on the patio of the Quiet Mon (Kenny Chesney fans may recognize the bar name) and waited patiently for our new employers to arrive. We greeted them on the street and headed around the corner to a beautiful little restaurant called Extra Virgin. After a wonderful evening of being wined and dined, we knew a little more about our new gig and Nate was scheduled to join Chris (new boss) for a day charter the next morning. Jumping right in!
Chris picked Nate up on the boat Saturday morning and I settled in to take advantage of a day on the boat alone. After doing some solid cleaning, yoga, a workout, and blogged and read until my eyes were crossed, I finally succumbed to my lonesome boredom at 15:00. I headed in to town to explore until Nate finished his workday. I hopped to a few different bars and shops, introducing myself to the locals along the way. Nate joined me just before 17:00 and we quickly chose a suitable location for a beer and dinner. The Tap and Still greeted us with happy hour beers (Rock City Brewery – St. Thomas) and cheap, tasty burgers. We shared details of our days and then grabbed a drink on the beach before heading back to the boat for a restful evening.
We moved from the NPS mooring ball to one of our new company’s moorings in Great Cruz Bay – almost two nautical miles south of our current location. We painstakingly attached to the mooring, struggling because the line was too short to fully reach the bowsprit. We finally attached, packed a cooler and bag for the day, and went to start the dinghy… only to find the in-line fuel filter shattered during the short transit. Why would anyone make in-line fuel filters out of glass? Ugh. Glass all over the dinghy and almost assured we would have to cancel our morning plans. Nate swiftly jerry-rigged the two partial lines together, removing the broken filter in the process. Only 10 minutes behind schedule, we loaded into the dinghy and headed ashore. Our bold (or stubborn) selves started our two-kilometer walk to downtown to meet Chris. What we did not realize was that our 2km walk included not one, not two, but three ridiculously steep hills. Clearly, it never snows on this island, or everyone would be incapacitated by the hills. We finally made it to town and jumped in the truck with Chris to head up the north shore road to Cinnamon Beach. He pointed out all the excellent beaches, snorkeling spots, and turtle playgrounds as we weaved up the narrow roads through the USVI National Park. We arrived at Cinnamon Beach to a sad scene of hurricane-ruined buildings and infrastructure. Seeing a 12in thick concrete and rock wall reduced to stones and mortar really puts the storm force in perspective. After taking in all the damage, but learning about hopes for rebuilding from new vendors, our spirits were lifted as we arrived at the beautiful volleyball court. Throughout the course of the morning into the afternoon, we met about 20 awesome locals – all relatively the same ages as us. Thrilled to be introduced to such a great community, we started to sway from regret to excitement about agreeing to a job on such a small island. As we left, we were invited to a potluck that night, and you all ought to know our rule by now: never turn down an invite from a local. We headed back to the boat to clean up, whip together a chicken and bacon fiesta dip, and headed back ashore. After roughly 12 minutes into the 15-minute dinghy ride, I had the horrible revelation that we’d forgotten the keys to lock the dinghy on the dock. Fast-forward to another rough dinghy ride to and from the boat, during which I balanced the hot fiesta dip, and we finally arrived, semi-dry and the dip mostly still layered, rather than tossed. Grateful to borrow the work truck from Chris and Elizabeth, we headed to our new friends’ place via the grocery store. We were out of cheese on the boat, and what good is any fiesta dip if it isn’t topped with cheese? The island had no power starting around 10:00 that morning and I discovered my grocery store navigation skills when I arrived and they still had no power. Luckily, the cheese section was still semi-chilled and my night vision decent enough to find shredded cheese. I checked out, luckily having cash, and received a hand-written receipt. Apparently, brown-outs and black-outs are a common occurrence on the island – good thing we have our own power generating sources on the boat! We then endeavored the slightly terrifying steep, narrow, and winding road to our new friends’ house. Did I mention they drive on the left side of the road here? Yeah… that’s tough to adapt to in 10 minutes behind the wheel. Luckily, we made it unscathed and were smart enough to do the necessary 20-point turn on the gravelly cliff-edge while it was still light outside to turn the truck to face our exit. We had a wonderful evening in the gorgeous mountainside home of our new friends and even met a few new ones. We returned the work truck to town, gave Chris and Elizabeth the keys and a full report of the fun evening they missed (they already had plans to host a dinner for another couple, so had to miss the potluck). Our dinghy ride home in the dark proved to be safe and successful and we crashed into bed and slept hard through the night.
Late Monday morning, we met one of the other crew couples and saw one of the two charter catamarans. After some assistance with arriving guests, showing Chris our mooring ball, and delivering some laundered sheets to the other catamaran, we were free for the day. We popped to a local bar to check out their $10 beer and lunch special and meet another local bartender. Deciding we didn’t feel like enduring a third dinghy ride to the boat and back, we bought a six-pack and strolled around town. We checked out the Virgin Islands National Park Visitors Center, snagging all the good hiking and touring maps for future enjoyment, then headed to another bar, The Terrace, to visit our new friend Hillary, who was tending bar that night. Delicious wine flowed, and we also delighted in happy hour oyster Rockefellers and a half baguette. We chatted away with other bar companions and finally headed home for an episode of our current show and an early bedtime.
This morning (Tuesday) we decided to continue our “island research” by trying the bottomless mimosa/Bloody Mary/screwdriver option at Sun Dog Café. You know… for “research” so we can make fun itineraries for our guests, family, and friends that come here. We can’t possibly recommend a restaurant without trying it… that would be unfair! So here we sit, finishing another mimosa, finalizing our adventures for the past week and a half. We are both heading “home” to see our families this week, so we will be delayed on the next update. Until next time…
Sarah & Nate