We made it.. We are finally here. The Virgin Islands! The cruising and boating mecca of the world.
Our original plan of small jumps each day needed to change due to weather. The weather this year has been really tough on east bound travel and this latest passage was no exception. To do the small jump plan, we would need a bunch of days of good weather in a row but that just wasn’t happening. So instead we jumped on a good 24 hour weather window and decided to make as many miles as we could in the settled weather and seas. This meant our new destination would be Culebra, Puerto Rico. The furthest island to the east in the Puerto Rican chain and one of the Spanish Virgin islands (or Puerto Rican Virgin islands depending on who you ask). Sadly this meant missing the bio-bay in Vieques but sacrafices had to be made.
From Salinas to Culebra is about 70 nautical miles or about 14 hours of travel time. The weather was predicted to settle down in the late evening and remain settled for about 24 hours. With this in mind, we decided a midnight departure would be best. I was excited as night sailing along the coast is my absolute favorite type of travel. Its romantic and magical to watch the lights and buildings go by while ghosting on an inky sea.
I was not disappointed. We departed almost exactly at midnight and followed the route suggested by Jonos (owner of Sal Pa Dentro, the local cruisers bar). This kept us protected and behind the reef for the first 10 miles of the trip. After that, we exited the reef through a 12ft deep cut and into the open ocean. We were pleasantly greeted by settled seas and just regular ocean swell, no big choppy waves. We motored through the night watching the coast slip by. The trip was uneventfull until about 4am when Smitty’s motor suddenly died. They got it restarted, but it died again within about 10 minutes, no bueno. Jesse alerted everyone on the radio to the problem and we all throttled back while he worked on the issue. After some new fuel filters, the motor started right back up and we all continued on our way.
By this time it was light out, so keeping with the Party of Five mantra (if its light out and we are moving, we are trolling a hook) I through out a fish hook. Within 5 minutes the reel started screaming. I quickly set the hook and called for Rhonda to slow the boat down. Within a few seconds of fighting, I knew we had something big as the drag was set high and it was still pulling line. Pull up, reel down, loose 1/2 to drag, repeat for about 10 min. When the fish was finally at the sugar scoop we were both dismayed to see a Horse Eyed Jack (can’t eat due to ciguatera). Unfortunately in our hurry to throw it back, we didn’t even think to take a picture. Trust me, he was big for a jack, probably about as big as they grow (about 2 feet and about 15lbs).
Shortly after the fish excitement, we made our east bound turn for Vieques. We planned to hug the north side of Vieques and turn towards Culebra at the end of the island. This strategy lets us take advantage of the much smoother water close to land and not face the large swells in Vieques sound. We caught 2 Barracuda on this leg but again threw them back as they also carry ciguatera. Dammit I really wanted an edible fish since we had not caught one since Bahamas!
We made our turn….. and for the first time in weeks, we raised a sail. Since I’m a lazy bastard, I only rolled out the Genoa and left the main zipped in the bag. So we motor sailed with the Genoa the last hour and a half at 6 knots/hour or so. I left the Genoa up as long as I could and only brought it down when we entered the channel to Ensenada Honda (entry to the bay). Just as we finished rolling in the Genoa, the fishing reel started screaming again. Although the fish didn’t feel big, I knew it wasn’t a Barracuda as it fought like a bugger. Swimming back and forth and trying to dive as I diligently reeled away. When it hit the sugar scoop I was elated to see what I thought was a small Tuna. Research later showed it was actually a “little tunny” and some consider it bad eating. Wow were they wrong. Tasted just like Tuna to me and the family loved it.
So now we sit in an idealic bay, next to a cool little town, with beautiful clear water. Not a bad place to contemplate our next move and what to do for hurricane season!