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Saturday, 24 May 2014

Nano tech surveillance, La Paguera to Boqueron

Boqueron bay is flat calm in a pale sunrise, the bay is huge, perhaps two miles across and protected from the ocean by a sunken reef that stretches across the entrance, about a mile from the shore. We came in through a cut in the southern end, called Canal Sur, (South) which was marked by a big green buoy, at about three in the afternoon and anchored about 200 yards  from the palm fringed beach that stretches a good mile from end to end.

The passage from our last port of call, La Parguera, took us round a particularly nasty bit of Puerto Rico called Cabo Rojo, pronounced Roho, which means cape red in Spanish, named seemingly by Christopher Columbus, who must have been colour blind. I thought it looked more mucky brown than red, but Jackie was a little more gracious and reckoned it was perhaps more tan. So Cape Tan it is then; the entrance to the dreaded Mona Passage. The seas around us turned from deep blue to turquoise and far from being tempestuous, were slight to moderate, as we nautical fellows categorise these things, this indicates that we're in shallower waters, and even though we were at least two miles off shore the depth thingy was showing about 30 feet. The wind was on our tail, which always makes for awkward sailing, trying to keep the sails full of wind is difficult. We want to head north east-ish, but so does the wind so we fall away from our course and put the wind more on our beam, or side if you like, but this takes us off our course and away from the coast. Jackie, who has an intuitive feel for this sailing business now, says that it'll be ok, we'll head out for about an hour, then turn and run in the opposite direction on a beam reach, the best point of sail, which will take us slap bang into Boqueron. There's not a lot of wind, about 12-15 mph,  we've only got the genoa and mizzen up, I suggest we hoist the mainsail, but Jackie who has an intuition for this sailing  lark decides we don't need it, and an hour later she's proved right.

About this point we're visited by a big brown seagull type bird that dips and swirls around picaroon as though it's some kind of scout for Homeland Security, and I scrabble to find the camera, but by the time I've got it we look around and there's no sight of it at all, like a will-o-the wisp it's gone. Earlier we had a butterfly that fluttered about the rigging, we're three miles off shore, what an earth is a butterfly doing three miles off shore, another eye in the sky no doubt working for Homeland Security with some fancy nano hi-tech camera system.

 You may think I'm a bit OTT about these US Homeland security folks but in La Parguera they had this huge air balloon thing tethered at least a mile high that the conductor of the Lake Taho symphony orchestra says can spot drug runners coming out of Columbia, which is a long long way from here so I wouldn't put it passed them to be tagging birds and butterflies with mini cameras. Oh, that conductor, just a part time resident of La Parguera out for a morning punt on his paddle board who stopped by to say hello, and had we been staying until Thursday, don't ask me why Thursday, he would have invited us across for cocktails. He mentioned being a bit of a tri-athlete,  maybe he was on a strict training schedule, that ruled out cocktails till Thursday, I don't know, you work it out.

But I digress, having turned Picaroons' bow to face the western shores of Puerto Rico, and with the wind now on our starboard beam, she picks up speed and the winds freshens. Looking at the projected track on our chart plotter we're bang on course and trying to catch sight of the buoy that marks the cut through the reef. There's a strong current running up this coast, and although it feels like we're flying along we're only doing about five knots, and heeled over the wind picking up to a healthy twenty-five knots now.  By the time we're passing the buoy, with the reefs safely avoided the wind has increased somewhat and although we've only the mizzen and genoa up Picaroon is heeled more than is comfortable. "A good job we didn't put up that main sail" I said. Jackie gives me one of those looks, that says, "listen to your wife"; time to reduce sail and haul in the genoa. With Jackie at the helm, able seaman Col wrestles with the sails as we turn into the wind, trying to manipulate three ropes. One winds the sail in, the other two are the sheets that need taming to avoid a bad wrap, or furl as we say.  Now like most people I've only got two hands and with the wind now blowing at thirty knots this operation proves a trifle messy, as the genoa crashes and flaps madly, sheets get stuck on bits of the boat they shouldn't, or should have been uncleated before we began to furl. Finally I get the job done, now time to drop the mizzen, and sail into the anchorage safely on Mr Engine Sir, now purring away below. "I'm afraid I can't drop the mizzen" I say, "looks like the halyard has got itself jammed around the winch". No amount of tugging and heaving will free it so we resign ourselves to keeping the mizzen up, and just spill the wind from it. Anyway it always looks good from the shore when you see a yacht coming in under sail, and it impresses other cruisers that may be, no, will be watching.

Greta May, with the Welsh couple Dave and Jane aboard who we met in Salinas and La Parguera, have just weighed anchor, off to clear out in Mayaguez,  as we glide by and we give her a wave. Jane calls out from the helm, there's plenty of water, bye. That was sort of stating the obvious, I thought, I suppose she meant you can get quite close to the shore before dropping the anchor. After our experience with La Parguera we're a bit more cautious, and still sporting a mizzen full of wind we decide to drop the hook about two hundred yards from shore. Picaroon swings to face the wind, the chain tightens and we stop, take transits, engine off.  An early G&T rounds off a successful days sailing, we can tackle the mizzen later when the wind drops, for now it's just steadying Piccars as she lies at anchor in Boqueron Bay.

(Jackie to John Parlane, (RYA Instructor); maybe we shouldn't have missed out on the 'Competent Crew' course!)

Continued by Jackie:  The G&T slipped down easily but no time for another; we had to go ashore to clear in with Homeland Security at Mayaguez. With the sail covers on and the dingy back in the water we headed for the shore, not knowing where to tie up, how we would get to Mayaguez and just hoping that we were late enough for them to tell us to come tomorrow morning.

 We found a rickety dock close to a small sandy beach and hopped ashore. Walking into a small square we headed for a bar and ordered a couple of cold beers. Col asked if there were any public phones around and immediately two locals offered us their phones, a fellow cruiser who had settled in Boqueron for over thirty years was the first and I phoned HS to announce our arrival. For most cruisers this would be enough but as we had been naughty by not clearing in at Culebra from St. Thomas, HS in Ponce had told us very clearly that we would have to appear at Mayaguez in person, after phoning of course. The officer on the other end of the phone was about ready to go home and I suppose thought we were calling from the boat, he said, "Yes, just come tomorrow after 8am; do not leave your boat; do not bring anything ashore with you apart from your papers" etc., etc. Phew! Well that was a relief and we ordered another beer. OK, now how do we get to Mayaguez tomorrow we pondered and no sooner had this thought crossed our minds when another phone was thrust at us with Raul on the other end. "I'm out of town just now but I can give you another number to call". We call Elvin who agrees to pick us up at 8am for the thirty minute drive to Mayaguez.

 Elvin is a very friendly and chatty local chap who had lived and worked in the US for many years so his English is perfect and Col chats with him all the way about the history of Puerto Rico, America, Dominican Republic. Soon we pull up at an impressive Georgian building and approach the first HS Officer who waves me towards a glass-fronted counter which looks remarkably like a Bank at home. Behind the glass another Officer indicates we should sit down and wait.

 A couple of minutes later, he beckons me to the counter and a strange exchange begins.

Me; "We have arrived in Boqueron from Ponce and I have come to clear in"
HS; "When are you leaving"
Me; "Well I am not sure, it depends on the weather"
HS; "Why are you here"
Me; "To clear in"
HS; "You don't need to clear in if you have paid in Ponce, you only have to come to clear out"
Me; "But the Officer in Ponce said we had to come because we had been naughty and they want to teach us a lesson"
HS; "Who was the Officer, ah yes Rxxxxxxz, just a minute".
HS goes off to phone his colleague in Ponce and ten minutes later comes back to the counter;
"Officer Rxxxxxxz says you have misunderstood him and you don't need to be here, just come when you're ready to clear out".

Both Col and I know this is not how it was explained to us but I am not arguing and a little light comes on; maybe we can clear out now and save another trip so I ask "How long after we clear out do we have to leave?"  (We've heard its only 24 hours but worth asking.)

HS; "You give me the date you're leaving and I can fill in the form" he advises rather confusingly.
Me;  "I can't give you a date because I am not sure when we'll be leaving".

Now I can see that I am beginning to try the mans' patience, so I decide to give him a big smile, thank him for his kind assistance, collect Col and Elvin and get the hell out of there, only dashing back for my hat which I left on the seat. On the way back we call into a supermarket for supplies and I muse on whether the quick dash back for the hat was a little risky and, with my back-pack on, I could have been mistaken for a terrorist and got shot.

Oh well I live to fight another day and it may have cost us $35 for an unnecessary trip but at least we are legal, have restocked the wine cellar, and are not 'invisible' as Officer Rxxxxz had warned us against.

Once that weather window opens we'll be back in Mayaguez where we may have a more sensible exchange, who knows.