Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Landfall: San Juan, Puerto Rico!

After two months of relaxation and fun in Provo, Turks and Caicos, we have moved on! We used the weather window we were given -- not as beautiful as some of the others we let go past, but our guests who came aboard or were visiting on island were our priority! Happily, on Sunday morning, we had a pretty fair window for departure -- as fair as it gets in December. We were up early, heading south to French Cay and points beyond just after South Side's Cruisers' Weather Net that morning. Initially, our contingency plans were to stop at Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic if we needed an out, but the main focus was to go non-stop to the US Virgin Islands. 
Of course, being aboard a boat, there is always the unexpected to deal with! We weren't  underway more than 10 minutes when our port engine alternator started to overheat, which Ron discovered during his second engine room check. (He always does one pre-departure, and one immediately post-departure.) So, barely out on the Caicos Bank, we shut down the port engine immediately and did damage control. We disconnected the alternator from both its external voltage regulator and the Centerfielder (the unit that monitors and adjusts the voltage between the two engines' alternator outputs to balance charging needs), making sure there was no resistance to generate heat. Once the bad alternator was off-line, we decided to go ahead and proceed on the starboard engine’s alternator, since we also have other battery charging systems (24-V DC Trace Battery Inverter/Charger  and 12- and 24-volt DC Dolphin Battery Chargers) that we can use. (Gotta LOVE redundancy!) We will have an electrical technician check the port engine alternator to determine where the issue is: bad alternator or bad centerfielder? Either way, we already have a spare alternator aboard, so that is a step in the right direction, and will get it corrected!
Sunny skies and light winds started our journey
From there, it was a pleasant cruise for the next 36 hours....we went off the Caicos Bank and took a rhumb-line to the USVirgins. The sun was shining, winds were light, and of course Ron had the fishing lines out! Not that we caught anything -- nary a bird or a weed-line in sight, but we tried! We debated briefly about stopping in Samana Bay, DR to spend a few days to see the whales there, but opted to push on and take the weather window while we had it! We knew there was a chance that the winds would kick up a bit, but all the wx forecasts indicated that seas wouldn't get horrendous -- seas of  6’ or so -- and a better weather was in store thereafter.

Unfortunately....we had to cross this thing called the Mona Passage. You may have heard of it? Yep, thought so! Called "The Thorny Path" by sailors, it's one of the most feared and most difficult passages in the Caribbean. It's an 80-mile stretch of sea between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea. Wind and waves are forced to squeeze between the two land masses just where the Equatorial Current flows through, moving west. Adding to the chaos is that the waters from the Atlantic Puerto Rican Trench push up from depths of 28,232 ft (the deepest point in the world, called the Milwaukee Deep) to ascend and accelerate into the Mona Passage, where the bottom quickly raises up to several hundred feet -- in some places to less than 100 feet! This means that the waves in the Mona Passage have to dissipate a lot of that energy as the water is stacked up, by means pushing and crashing, and make this one of the most dangerous bodies of water in the world. 
Wikipedia map of the location of the Mona Passage
I'd like to say we cruised across the Mona Passage without any issue, but....we were just one of the many boats who have made the passage and encountered Mother Nature's, um, unpleasant side! Let's just say it wasn't fun. As Equinox was about to start across the passage, I was coming on watch at midnight to relieve Ron, who wasn't feeling well from a pulled back muscle. Unfortunately, it proved to be an ugly night at the helm! The waves were cresting ever higher, pushing and jolting the boat about with no apparent rhyme or reason, although most of the waves seemed to come on the nose, causing the boat to climb the face of the waves, dive over the tops to slam down awkwardly, then lurch upwards or sideways, only to do it all over again. Relentless! It's an amazing experience, but one I'd rather not repeat through the wee hours of the morning! 
The next morning wasn't much better, since the entire north coast of PR abuts that lovely deep trench -- meaning once again, the wave action had no where else to go but up! Can I say that there was never a landfall so meaningful, and beautiful, as San Juan? 
The mountains of Puerto Rico layered beyond the coast in the hazy sunshine
However, the best surprise of the Puerto Rico coastline was something entirely unexpected! Ron shouted from the helm: "Whale!! Whale!!" and indeed, he meant it! There was a whale breaching and tail slapping the water maybe 100 yards directly ahead of Equinox! We slowed immediately, drifting and lurching in the waves to about 100 feet away, but she wasn't about to move out of our way, no way! Immense and majestic, the whale was as large as the boat, so we moved out of her way, and gently let her continue her tail slapping and showing off! How cool was that?? 
Welcome to Puerto Rico!!

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