Ponce anchorage has a less than stellar reputation. Poor holding, unfriendly yacht club, lots of free music late into the morning. Things like that go on a place’s permanent record. We quickly found the cruiser friendly docks, people to go with them and decent holding close to the oh-so-exclusive Mr. Uh-uh, that’ll be $10 per day per person to land your dinghy, shiny pants yacht club with wifi. After a modest amount of arm twisting a fellow yachtie gave us the code and our long range antenna pulled in the usual spotty wifi signal. Copacetic so far. Then we began a more or less constant regime of sea trials due to our bizarre auto pilot maladies, often times finding someone had come in and taken our preferred anchoring spot while we were out turning corkscrews and scratching our heads out in the bay. Once anchored, cruisers are loath to up anchor just to go for a sail and you can chalk me up in that column. Still, I had faith in our venerable sixty pound old fashioned delta plow anchor and 150 feet of 10mm Italian chain, hadn’t it already circumnavigated? What could go wrong?
With our friend George helping we found that the new “less sensitive” whizbang direction sensor for Uncle Ray is very sensitive indeed and needs a quiet place to play, otherwise there’ll be hell to pay for anyone needing an autopilot. The original Raymarine installer had mounted the “less sensitive to interference” sensor in an equipment bay that looked more like a huge snake nest, a veritable electromagnetic maelstrom of wires and gear, believing Raymarine’s own installation guidelines. Paper will sit still for anything. We found the sensor liked being far far away from this mess.
With newfound hope in our hearts we needed to celebrate so we declared a spa day at the hot springs and getting back at dusk we found Escape Velocity curiously tied to a mooring ball near where we thought we were anchored. There are no good explanations for this. I’m not one of those skippers who can anchor and head into shore without a thought. This boat was well and truly anchored before we left. A quick ride over to our neighbors left me shaken and grateful. It seems that EV had broken out in a squall and was headed for a rough concrete wharf when they caught up to her and brought her back to the mooring. Cliff said that he was usually drunk by noon but fortuitously he had run out of money that day so he was able to figure out what to do. Lucky us. And lucky that we took the previous owner’s advice and always leave our engine keys in the ignition when we leave the boat. A local I know owned the mooring so I thought we’d just stay there but he came by and said he needed it so it was back to finding a good spot to anchor.
The next day we took EV out again to test the new and improved permanent location of the autopilot sensor. We motored into the wind toward Coffin Island meaning to sail back downwind and really give the pilot a workout. Unfortunately the wind kicked up to the 30s and we figured we’d given Uncle Ray a good enough sea trial and headed back to the harbor. It took us several tries in the high winds before we got the hook in and we moved on to a planned drive to San Juan with George to meet up with our friends from What If.
First up was a short trip to the far side of the harbor to the canvas shop where our repaired dodger was waiting. As we walked up to the shop Marce said, “oh my god is that EV out in the bay?” Just then George started excitedly honking the car horn. This is impossible, not again! We diced with death all the way back to the dinghy dock and bounced out into the bay in Catnip. As we were tying up to EV far out in the bay two other boats arrived to help but we already had her engines started and with our hearts beating wildly, turned her around heading back to the anchorage. I wasn’t sure what was going on but I wasn’t interested in anchoring anymore. I finally raised the marina on the VHF and they said to stand by, they’d get back to me. They never did. We tied up to the fuel dock like we owned the joint and told Luis the fuel jockey that we had a ground tackle problem and we’d be back to fix it. He said, “I know, she looked like a dog sniffing around for a nice place to lie down.”
George drove the hour and a half to West Marine in San Juan and we bought a new 20kg high tech Rocna anchor, then we met Kris and Dean and Derek of What If for dinner. We three Manta crews had a great time in spite of all the uncertainty on our minds. Once again we said goodbye to What If. We keep thinking it’ll be the last time we see them but this may really be the last time.
We got back late to EV still tied to the fuel dock and installed the newly repaired dodger panels in the dark. Seems crazy but we really missed their protection in the cockpit especially in these winds.
At dawn I started implementing my plan to switch anchors, a plan that I formulated instead of sleeping last night. We have a very beefy articulated swivel on the old anchor to attach the chain to the anchor. This has a thick pin which passes through the end link of the chain and screws into the swivel with permanent thread lock, still tight but not too tight. I tied a line to the old anchor and kicked it off the deck for the last time. It’s a poor skipper that blames his gear but I say good riddance. Kris & Dean had reminded us at dinner last night of how many times that anchor had allowed us to drag. Marce winched the new anchor up over the railing with the jib halyard while I guided the shaft into the anchor roller and reattached the swivel. Another Rocna boat. There are a lot of us; we are not early adopters on this one.
We left the fuel dock before the wind picked up and got the anchor down first try. The jury is still out but today was a real test with wind in the thirties all day and I have to say that it seems we didn’t drag an inch, which is quite an improvement. It’s a good thing because we are knee deep in preparations for the passage to Panama and we don’t need any more distractions.
We are lying perfectly still, in the same spot in Ponce harbor, Puerto Rico. I’m liking this Rocna but it’ll take awhile before I completely trust it.