Monday, April 2, 2012

Adios Antigua

As always, we've found departure bittersweet after the months spent in one place. Antigua was no different, but the happy anticipation of making a passage made up for it. And for once, all our departure preparations weren't in vain! Usually, the weather gods chuckle and delay your weather window or good weather arrives before you are ready. But, in this case, we timed things well. Saturday morning we cast off the mooring lines and headed out, happy to be moving on again. Equinox seemed just as happy to be underway again, enjoying the comfortable seas and great conditions!
Our last view of Antigua as we moved west
Weather was to our advantage, and we had a lovely ride, wih beamy, somewhat quartering/following seas that the stabilizers handled easily. We fished as we went, and simply enjoyed being out on the waters again in brilliant sunshine! We cruised past Nevis, St. Kitt's, Statia and Saba, and onward through the night and weather conditions improved as we went.
Nevis wearing her usual cloud hat
Coming up on Statia, also covered in clouds
Saba in the dusk, looking like Santa in his sleigh with his
cloud hat flying out behind him. Wrong time of year, I realize.
We cruised through the night with Karyn taking the first 6 hour watch 7-1am, and Ron taking the wee hours. It was a gorgeous smooth and easy night passage, skies studded with ghostly clouds and the seas around us reflecting the silver glitter of a waxing moon. As the moon rose, its reflection lit our path as we sliced through the seas....the epitome of peaceful and serene.  I reveled in it; the magic of a quiet night passage is profound, a time when you really feel at home, at one with on the sea. I so appreciated being able to enjoy it!

The day arrived bright and sunny, and soon we arrived in Culebra, Puerto Rico about 11:30am. We cleared in by phone, having a current CBP decal and our Local boater numbers (such a nice option!) but since we were coming in from another country, we still had to present ourselves to Customs/Homeland Security at the local airport. We tied up to the somewhat decrepit dinghy dock across the street from the El Batey restaurant, and followed the road about 10 minutes to the aeropuerto, where Customs is located. The sloping runway and surrounding steep hillsides make for some exciting landings and take-offs! Apparently, they call the incoming landing approach over the mountain "the slide"! We could see why; you wouldn't want to overshoot that runway!

CBP officer Gonzales was very nice and helpful, and cleared us in efficiently, before a cheerful warning about the impending masses of humanity that would soon be descending on the island with the upcoming Easter spring break. Masses of humanity? Er....not what we wanted to experience, so the info was welcome and we made a mental note to find a quieter anchorage before then! Back en route to Equinox, we made a well-deserved lunch stop at the Dinghy Dock, where Steven, the bartender, made us “welcome to Puerto Rico”. The tasty chicken and black bean burritos were even more welcome!

We’d dropped anchor amidst a plethora of sailboats anchored off Cayo Pirata in Ensenada Honda, knowing it was close to Customs in Dewey/Culebra. It’s a noisy anchorage though; between the barking dogs, crowing roosters and the planes taking off just overhead, you can’t get a moment’s peace! We did spend the night there, but weighed anchor by 0800 and were soon snug on a mooring by the smaller nature preserve island of Culebrita. The mooring was one put in by their Department of Natural Resouces – marked MC with a stripe -- but it was a hefty mooring and well-anchored with fairly new shackles and line. There was reef scattered about everywhere, and the waters delightfully clear. After snorkeling and swimming to the beach briefly, we made two dives there, exploring the deeper edges of the reef.

While we encountered no lobster, nor any large fish whatsoever, we did enjoy the sight of a squadron of 5 eagle rays that soared past, feeding, and encountered a couple of solitary turtles. Culebrita is a nature preserve, a nesting site for giant sea turtles and colonies of sea birds (terns, red-billed tropicbirds and boobies), and boasts the oldest lighthouse in the Caribbean, built in 1886. The reefs around it are numerous; during our dives, I noted a juvenile queen angelfish, many parrot fish, a scrawled filefish, a sharp-nose pufferfish, a few trumpet fish, a few peppermint crabs (one quite large), yellow grunts, blue tangs, damselfish, wrasses, and blennies. Juveniles aplenty hid among the many purple and green sea fans that adorned the coral, along with the largest flamingo tongue I’ve ever seen! 

The coral itself looked a bit stressed and hurricane damage is noticeable in spots; the eye of Hurricane Hugo in 1989 passed right over the eastern end of Puerto Rico with devastating force and ravaged Vieques, Culebra, and their reefs. In fact, more than 80 % of Culebra's structures were destroyed, and of the 300 boats that used Ensenada Honda as a "hurricane hole", 100 were totally destroyed. According to an in-depth survey by the US Geological Survey, the onshore environment of Culebrita and other nearby islands has totally recovered, and the reefs are showing signs of healthy regrowth as well. The study even suggested that "high-energy storms may be necessary for healthy growth of coral reef complexes in the same way fire is necessary for healthy forest growth". While the reefs may have been more spectacular in the past, it's still enjoyable and heartwarming to dive there, watching the eagle rays soar past!

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