We made the decision a few months back to sail to Puerto Rico to do our final preparations for the passage to Panama and for the coming year in the Pacific. We expected to be here during most of December, sail to Panama in January, transit the canal in early February and be on our way. Ha, say the forces of the nature. We hadn’t factored in the Christmas winds, those relentless higher-than-normal tradewinds. Add to that a seriously large ocean swell and an unfavorable wind direction. We were pinned down in Bequia for too long and finally made an uncomfortable run to Martinique where we spent Christmas with Flying Cloud.
Other boats stuck to their schedules doing shorter but just as uncomfortable hops and most got to where they wanted to be in a reasonable amount of time. Not us. As the days ticked by I got more and more frustrated and stressed that we wouldn’t be able to transit the canal in early February and our whole schedule would be thrown off. The words “schedule” and “stress” are not supposed to be in a cruisers vocabulary. Part of my stress was that my sister and brother-in-law are meeting us in Panama to do the canal transit and I can’t even tell them when to come. It’s a well-known rule in the cruising world that you don’t make a schedule with guests because you’re at the mercy of weather and other factors and you have to be able to wing it. But everyone has some kind of schedule , especially land-based people. I was also stressed because I had hoped to spend a glorious month in Puerto Rico chasing down cousins I haven’t met yet and researching family history. None of that was looking possible. The final stress nail in the coffin was that we’d decided to completely replace our rigging for the Pacific passage and ordering it, deciding where to ship it and finding someone to help install it was nearly impossible as we hopped north. I was getting cranky.
On January 5th we got an email from Jack’s sister. She would be in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, the week of January 12th for her annual company sales meeting and could we be there? We’d made it as far as St. Croix but were once more pinned down by unfavorable winds and high seas. We’d made the decision weeks ago to skip Fajardo and sail to Puerto Rico’s south coast because while Fajardo has most of the yacht services, it has no comfortable anchorages and the marinas are ridiculously expensive. We figured it made more sense to anchor in a safer place and rent a car for provisioning and touring. But Deb would be in Farjardo in a week. What should we do?
We should go for it. We left the rolly but fun anchorage at St. Croix for a long and lumpy day motorsailing to Culebra where we dropped anchor in a quiet place for a change and checked into Puerto Rico. Then we spent a frantic day and a half Skyping and emailing the resort where Deb would be staying to see if they had a slip we could use. It would be a budget buster to stay at a marina but easier to visit with Deb. The dockmaster said he didn’t have any room, but when he heard we hadn’t seen Deb for over a year he told us he’d figure something out.
We left Culebra in the same lumpy conditions we’d arrived in and motor sailed the nasty 20 miles to the La Conquistador resort hotel. We called the dockmaster on the VHF radio and he told us to come straight in then make a hard right to a starboard tie-up. I rigged the fenders and docklines, a little rusty because it’s been a long, long time since we tied up to a dock. Jack continued to pilot EV toward the shore, but we couldn’t see the entrance to the marina. I stood on deck with binoculars as Jack followed the chartplotter and inched forward toward what looked like solid rocks ashore. Finally we saw the tiny break between the rocks and Jack eased EV through the breakers then made a hard right to squeeze between a ferry and the concrete pier. The dockmaster, Andres, was waiting for us and I tossed our docklines and just like that we were tied up to something solid for the first time since we-can’t-remember-when. It went so smoothly we impressed ourselves.
Andres welcomed us as we thanked him profusely for squeezing us in because this way we could avoid a long wet dinghy ride ashore to visit Deb. He pointed toward the hotel and said, “is that who you’re visiting?” It was Deb, making her way toward the dock.
Suddenly my stress and worry were gone and I was so happy to see someone I love. It’s been over a year since we saw Deb and almost that long since we saw any family member at all, longer for most of our close friends. Despite email and Facebook and Skype and FaceTime nothing beats a hug. We couldn’t believe we had actually met up with her, that for once something worked out well. We all talked at once trying to squeeze a year into a day but within minutes the time slipped away and we were just hanging out together, enjoying our usual comfortable relationship.
Deb wanted us to meet all her friends, co-workers she’s known for twenty years and longer. And she wanted them to meet us.
We took the funicular up to the resort and were introduced to friend after friend after friend. They all knew about us living on a boat and they were all agog at our lifestyle. I felt like I’d been ripped from our new world — the world of other cruisers where conversation centers on what boat system you’re fixing at the moment and where you’re cruising to next and which anchorage is better and how to navigate a local bus system — to our old world, where people wear shoes and go to meetings and have cars. It was serious culture shock and I realized how much we’d changed in the past two years.
We went to Starbucks, our first since Florida, and took a cab to West Marine and Walmart and felt very much like the American consumers that we are just below the slightly unkempt cruiser surface. Then we just hung out in the hotel with Deb and entertained a steady stream of people who wanted to know about our boat and our travels. Answering the usual questions — what do you do at night? What about storms? Aren’t you afraid? Are there pirates? Do you have a bathroom? — made us look objectively at the life that had become, truth be told, a stressful grind the last few months. I could feel my enthusiasm rekindle and we remembered how starry-eyed we were at the beginning of this journey. Visiting Deb and gaining perspective on our chosen life from people outside our small community was a shot in the arm and we’re so happy for it.
Sadly, the time was too short. The ferry dock wasn’t the most comfortable tie-up and EV was getting big black marks on her hull that had been so lovingly polished in Trinidad. Deb had meetings to go to and we needed to get someplace safer and set up the rerigging. After a last Starbucks with Deb, an onboard visit from a future cruiser and more profuse thanks to Andres for allowing us some family time from the convenience of a dock, Jack edged us away from the pier, pirouetted EV in the tiny marina and bounced us out to the lumpy sea again, heading south.
It was clear we wouldn’t make it to Salinas that day so we diverted to Vieques and dropped the hook off quiet Green Beach. Off schedule? Whatever. My stress was gone.