We have been in Puerto Rico for just 3 days, but it finally feels like we are somewhere truly out of our element. It feels exciting and adventurous being somewhere that everyone doesn’t speak English. Noah is determined to learn Spanish so he can play with the local kids. The owner of the Marina we are currently at has a 9 year old son that plays soccer. They live in a town that we will be visiting on the way East and he said he would like us to call him to arrange a soccer play date with our boys, his son and his son’s friends. I think Noah feels a little nervous about that as he mentioned that everyone here speaks much better English than we do Spanish, even if their English is minimal. I am so excited for us to learn Spanish as a family, and while it feels overwhelming right now I know that as we spend more time in Spanish speaking countries learning will be inevitable.
Noah had complained about a toothache while in Turks & Caicos and when inspected I could tell he had a cavity. The first thing we did when we checked into the Marina in Puerto Rico was to ask about a dentist. The Marina owner got on his phone and had scheduled an appointment for us for the following morning at 8am. People are good! The hygienist asked me something in Spanish and when I couldn’t understand she got out her cell phone translator – it said “where is the hassle?”. I showed her which tooth and all was good. It was a baby tooth so they decided to pull. Two x-rays, Novocain, and the extraction was $50! I was seriously impressed.
We were able to have dinner with the parents of a man we met in Belize this time last year, Adam Mellor. Check him out on FB and Instagram – he is traveling 200 countries living in his truck. He’s a total inspiration for living life to the fullest and his parents were so sweet and hospitable. Again, it reminds me that my favorite part of this adventure is meeting people we never would have if we stayed in one town and never left. There are so many amazing people out there.
A quick update on what we have been up to and plan on doing:
As previously mentioned, we were having issues obtaining our US Coast Guard registration which is required when checking in with customs and immigration in each new country. We finally figured out a solution to our problem and received our registration while waiting in Mayaguana (a southern Bahamian Island). This allowed us to go to Turks & Caicos where we could stage and fuel up before leaving for Puerto Rico. Turks and Caicos had some great snorkeling, but honestly most of our time was spent socializing with several other boat families that were there at the same time as us. The boys met 2 Brazilian boys their same ages and literally played from 6am-8pm 2 days straight. Turks & Caicos does not have a friendly customs policy and if we wanted to stay longer than 7 days we would have to pay another $550, so needless to say we needed to high tail it out of there after a strong front settled down. The winds were certainly not ideal, but they weren’t horrible either so we left on a Friday afternoon and arrived on Monday morning. We timed it this way so I would not be out of touch for work during the week.
The passage was much rougher than we had anticipated. Trade winds were on our nose for much of the way and we were banging into large swells – definitely not fair winds and following seas. In the middle of my night watch on the first night I heard a bang and saw half of the dinghy had fallen into the water. The pulley holding it up had shattered with the force of our banging. I woke Pat up and he donned his life jacket and tether and got into the dinghy and was able to re-attach it with a knot – in the dark, in the middle of the ocean. I was so grateful for his level headedness. Our second night, we had a few large barges come quite close and we had to back track to avoid being run down, and again during my shift we had a mysterious spot light shine towards us followed by Morse code. I didn’t realize what was happening until I woke Pat up (again!) to check it out because it was creeping me out. As we figured out what was going on, we had gotten farther and farther apart and it was too late to try to communicate. Neither Pat or I are brushed up on Morse code so we didn’t know what the message was. We keep thinking back on that, hoping it wasn’t a refugee boat in need of assistance. This was fresh on our mind as we had just heard that a couple of days prior a refugee boat from Haiti had hit a reef right near us in Turks & Caicos and most of the passengers did not survive. The ocean is no joke, and I can’t imagine traversing the same waters we do in our boat in a small wooden boat without instruments in an attempt at a better life.
Our last full day I was woken up to Pat telling me our main sheet (the line that holds our boom in place) had broken (the stainless steel shackle holding it to the boom literally blew up) and our power had gone out. Again we are in the middle of the ocean and while we could potentially handle not using the main sail, losing power is catastrophic. This means our VHF (for lack of a better description our telephone used to hail for help in emergencies), bilge pump, navigation equipment, depth sounder, etc were gone. As Pat and I went into survival mode I sent Noah downstairs to find something and he came up to tell us our battery isolation switches were not in their correct positions. When we fixed that, our power came back on. Apparently somehow they had been tripped. Way to go Noah! I cannot tell you the sense of relief we had when that situation was resolved. Pat was able to tie the mainsheet down with another line so we could use our main sail. This was very important as we were already going slow beating against the waves and losing the main sail would slow us down even more. This means using more fuel (which is not unlimited on our boat), and sailing past the weather window we had selected. We hobbled into Puerto Rican waters Monday morning beat. Nobody had slept for 3 nights as the bashing boat was just too loud and rocky.
We could smell land before we saw it. It smelled divine – earthy, smokey, and a little sweet. Pat and the boys didn’t fish as much as they wanted to on this passage because it was just too rough. Pat caught 3 Barracuda which he released. We sailed past several shallow banks in the middle of 25,000 ft. depths where Humpbacks are currently calving. We were lucky enough to see some breaching on our second night at sea and thankfully they weren’t too close. After this passage I’m not so sure about doing a big crossing at any point in the future. The thought of being out at sea for weeks at a time makes me very uncomfortable. We won’t see another multiple night passage until we hit the end of the Caribbean Islands and head for the Panama Canal. And once that passage is done, we won’t have any more long passages! Not that I’m counting .
I realized that we haven’t given any updates on our plans for the foreseeable future and that is because they seem to change daily. Our current plan (reserving the right to change it completely tomorrow) is to hop along the Southern Coast of Puerto Rico, hit the Spanish Virgin Islands, USVI’s, BVI’s, and then most of the Caribbean chain Islands. We will hop off from Martinique (staying far enough North that we don’t have to worry about Venezuelan Pirates) to the ABC’s (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao). Although the ABC’s are near Venezuela they are safe because of the tourism industry. We will then go to Cartegena, Columbia, the San Blas Islands, and transit the Panama Canal. Our goal is to be on the Pacific side of Costa Rica for hurricane season. We will enroll the kids in a Spanish/English immersion school and stay there from June-December, and we are considering renting a house during the rainiest months (September/October). We plan to get a used car for the time we are there to explore the rest of Central America. Stay tuned!