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by Dan and Jan Ahart

Chapter Thirty-Four

Our mail finally arrived and we left Luperon on March 26th motoring overnight to Samana, which is on the east coast of the island. Samana is larger and prettier than Luperon and is used as a departure area for cruisers heading for Puerto Rico. The weather must be given special respect for the trip in that the dreaded Mona Pass between the island of Hispaniola and Puerto Rico must be traversed. It is akin to crossing the Gulf Stream in that the currents are strong and flow north. If the winds are even slightly from a northerly direction, some very confused and rough seas will be encountered. Instead of organized swells and waves, the swells will vary a great deal in height and frequency and seem to come from various directions. Plus, smaller waves that are superimposed on the swells also behave erratically. The result is a very rocky, rolly, bouncy ride somewhat akin to being in a busy waterway with boats all around you going in different directions and causing wakes from all directions.

We waited in Samana five days for acceptable weather and finally left early one morning, motoring directly to Ponce, Puerto Rico. It took us 29 hours to cover the approximate 180 miles. As overnight passages go, it was fairly uneventful. Jan and I take three-hour shifts. We used to do two-hour shifts, but the person trying to rest would barely get to sleep, when it was time to get up again. The worst shift is the one just before sunrise. Staying awake can really be a challenge. We always have the radar on at night so we can watch that, but we also try to tune in some all-night talk show if we can find one. We also have recorded music we can listen to and we eat a lot of snack food. Trail mix, popcorn, peanuts, etc. We have found that keeping our stomachs full lessens the chance of seasickness, which always seems to be worse at night when there is usually no discernable horizon. We rarely get the dreaded mal-de-mer anymore, but that is probably due to finally getting used to the motion and taking some basic precautions. If we know, there is a good chance we will be subjected to lots of motion on a passage; we will take Dramamine or Bonine as an extra precaution. Ginger snaps seem to help also. Having been seasick more than once, we know it is to be avoided at all costs. Nausea is an absolutely awful and debilitating state in which to be. We have each been totally incapacitated to the point where we were reduced to merely concentrating on taking the next breath. Fortunately, for reasons unknown, both of us have not been sick at the same time. We hope our immunity continues to develop and seasickness becomes a non-issue.

Having reached Ponce Yacht Club on a bright sunny morning, we wasted no time anchoring "Sojourner" and promptly taking showers and long naps. It is understood by cruisers that new arrivals should be left alone for the first day after a passage, so they can rest and recuperate. Then too, when arriving in a new country there are the onerous Customs and Immigration procedures that must be followed promptly. That is one chore that Columbus did not have to deal with when he landed on Puerto Rico in 1493. Typically of Europeans, he disregarded the native name for the island and promptly claimed it for the King of Spain and christened it San Juan Bautista. In 1521 the city of Puerto Rico was founded. Later the city and country names were swapped. The island remained under Spanish rule until it was granted independence in 1897. However, a year later, Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the U.S. at the treaty of Paris, which ended the Spanish American War. In 1917, Puerto Ricans became U.S. citizens. In 1952 Puerto Rico was granted commonwealth status, which allowed Puerto Ricans to elect their own governor and establish their own laws just as all of the fifty states do. Plebiscites were held in 1993 and again in 1998 to determine if Puerto Rico wanted to petition to become a state, remain a commonwealth or become independent. In both votes about 47% voted to remain a commonwealth, 47% voted to petition to become a state and 6% voted for independence. In the meantime, Puerto Rico benefits enormously from U.S. expenditures for public projects including highways, power generation, water systems, sewers, schools, parks, and post offices. Not to mention the local expenditures from U.S. military bases. Most all American retail businesses have outlets in Puerto Rico and U.S. currency is used. The island is very much like America except that Spanish is the predominant language. The commonwealth consists of the main island, and the islands of Mona, which is a small island west of the main island and the larger islands of Vieques and Culebra, which are east of the main island, plus several smaller islands and reefs.

Ponce, located in the center of the southern shore of P.R. is named for Juan Ponce de Leon, who founded the city and was the island governor from 1510 to 1512. We anchored at the local Yacht Club in order to visit a friend, who is active nationally in the U.S. Power Squadron, of which we are members. We had a great time visiting in Ponce. Many of our cruising friends were there and the yacht club was very accommodating. We did a great deal of provisioning and touring. The only drawback was that across the small bay from the yacht club was the location of a huge municipal park that featured a waterside boardwalk with 18 different restaurant/bar establishments. Every night loud music was played and the parties would begin. One weekend it seemed that every college student in Puerto Rico had descended on the park for an all night Latino version of a rock concert. We slept with earplugs. Puerto Ricans party often and vigorously.

After nearly three fun filled weeks, we moved on. Our next stop was Salinas, 20 miles east of Ponce. Salinas is a much quieter little bay and town with extremely friendly and accommodating people. We washed clothes, did some shopping and some maintenance on Sojourner and met a few new cruisers. Salinas was one of those harbors where the cruisers are usually found napping or quietly reading a book. On the 26th we motored to Puerto Patillas, another 20 miles east and a yet smaller and quieter town. We were the only cruisers in the bay, which was really pretty with a very picturesque town and nice little park and beach. We only made 20 miles a day, because we traveled only in the early morning hours, before the trades winds piped up and made traveling uncomfortable.

The trade winds finally gave us a break and we motored all the way to Isla Palominos, which is off the northeast coast of Puerto Rico and three miles across the bay from Fajardo, which boasts the largest marina in the Caribbean - 950 slips. Isla de Palominos is so pretty and has such beautiful beaches that it is a favorite picnic and swimming location for the residents of Fajardo, so it can get busy. But we had a good night's sleep in spite of the partying. Culebra is the next stop. Stay tuned.

Dates: 2001-03-26,
Locations: Samana, Salinas

The Ahart Odyssey 1999-2004 Dan and Jan Ahart. All rights reserved.