Before setting sail around the world I had this simplistic plan of following the warm weather to wherever it took us. Little did I know that working with the weather isn’t necessarily easy! Sure, there’s warm weather to be found but there’s also some pretty nasty weather at times. (Note: The video of our sail from USVI to Puerto Rico is at the bottom of this post)
No matter where you are in the world, there are seasons to sail and not sail
For example, when we started out I didn’t realize that the Mediterranean was seasonal where most sailors ‘winter,’ or lay up in a marina, from October to May. The Med becomes a terrible place to sail between November and April – bad storms, big seas, a lack of services.
Furthermore, once in the tropics I didn’t realized that for insurance purposes we’d have to find a hurricane (or typhoon) safe spot during hurricane season OR sail out of the designated hurricane zone.
It now makes sense to me why many sailors spend June to October in the Mediterranean, cross the Atlantic during the winter, enjoy the Caribbean when the Med is cold and there’s a lack of hurricanes and then back to the Med for the summer.
Enjoying the best of the Med and Caribbean makes sense for some people and aside from the fact that you have to cross the Atlantic it’s quite straightforward.
For us, however, the plan is to eventually circumnavigate the planet
So…my simplistic idea of following the warm weather has become more complicated than I originally thought.
It is possible to follow the warm weather and sail in the big seas during non tropical storm seasons. To do so, you have to circumnavigate the planet quite quickly – many people do it in around 14 months.
There are specific time windows to make sure you’re moving east
My husband and I don’t have a bucket list need to sail around the world – our desire is to enjoy the journey. We don’t want to rush for the sake of getting somewhere and a 14-month circumnavigation makes me feel as we’d be sailing more than experience the world. And let’s not forget that I get seasick!!!
That being noted, you can also circumnavigate the world staying in warm weather however you have to either lay up OR go north or south of the tropics to wait for the tropical storm seasons to pass.
For us, we decided to sail out of the tropics and head up to the east coast of America
The plan was to start heading north at the beginning of June leaving time to sightsee along our travels and ensure we’d arrive in North Carolina by the end of July.
My husband and I were eager to visit Turks & Caicos, the Bahamas and make some stops in US States of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Note that doesn’t mean we actually followed that plan!
So…why North Carolina?
The main reason for our journey to North Carolina has nothing to do with sailing and everything to do with family. My brother, sister-in-law, niece, nephew, mom and step-dad all live in North Carolina. The secondary reason was to get work done on the boat for our eventual progression into the Pacific Ocean and around the world.
During the American summer boatyards are not too busy. Most of the boats are out on the water. We thought it would be a perfect time to get work done, visit family and do some short sails along the east coast of America visiting perhaps Maine, New York, Boston and so forth.
Our current thoughts are to do the Caribbean season again heading back down at the end of the year and avoid the hurricane season in a hurricane safe spot, like Grenada, an island at the top of South America, or head back up the east coast. Thereafter, we’ll enter the Panama Canal around February the following year to hit the weather at the correct time.
Plans change however, so who knows where we’ll actually be at the end of the year?!
Time to head north
In May, Simon and I started to think about a route to North Carolina. Often we’d look at the map and discuss options. Furthermore, we’d have discussions with other boats making the same journey.
For some reason I didn’t want to think too much about our journey north until we had to actually do it. I kept feeling like it was far away so why think about it?
Eventually the time came where we had to turn the boat north and start making our way. Fortunate for us, one of my FaceBook followers, Kyle Martindale, contacted me asking if we needed help getting from the American Virgin Islands up to Florida. One thing led to another and Kyle flew out to Britican at the beginning of June ready to spend three to four weeks with us.
After serving in the US Navy, Kyle entered university to get a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He contacted me saying that he was about to graduate university and had one month between finishing school and starting his new job.
What perfect timing!
Bringing pilot books of Turks, Caicos and Bahama Islands with him, Simon and Kyle spent a few hours discussing options. The first plan was to sail to Grand Turks, a Caicos island, visit a deserted reef 40 miles off the coast of Cuba, called Hogsty Reef, and stop off in three or four places along the Bahamas before sailing over to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
That was the first plan
It didn’t take long to realize that Simon and Kyle were struggling with the part of the plan that included the Bahamas. After scouring the maps we discovered that there were very few places our boat could get into due to the depth of our keel. We draw 7.5’ and most anchorages and marinas didn’t come close to having that sort of depth.
The other issue was booking into the Bahamas. In order to sail north and navigate to the very few spots that could take our depth we’d have to go way out of our way. Furthermore, it costs $300 to enter the Bahamas. That cost includes the booking in fees in addition to a fishing license but it’s not a small sum of money. We wondered if we’d get value for the money considering the few places we could stop.
My fear was having to do long sails
Considering my seasickness I prefer to sail for a day or two maximum. Based on the new plan it looked as if we’d have a couple three to four day sails.
In addition to brainstorming our passage up to Florida we received an email from friends saying it’s worth stopping at San Juan, Puerto Rico.
We looked at the map and added San Juan into the plan – it would be our first stop and it was only a day sail away!
So…without any further a do, let me get on with our voyage
We started off knowing that we’d sail to Puerto Rico and up to Turks and Caicos.
After that, we’d have to make a judgment call as to what made the most sense considering the current weather reports and timings. We had to keep in mind that Kyle needed to be back in States at a set time to get home for his new job.
American Virgin Islands (or USVI) to San Juan, Puerto Rico
Previous to our departure from the American Virgin Islands, our plans did not include a stop in Puerto Rico. As mentioned above, lucky for us, friends travelling north mentioned that San Juan had an old town and some historical sights worth seeing. Due to a last minute email we altered our plans to include a stop at Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan.
It was day one of sailing with our new crewmember, Kyle. Kyle flew down to the America Virgin Islands from Connecticut – it was a direct flight into St Thomas where he grabbed a ferry over to St Johns and was introduced to the boat and my family (Simon, our daughter, Sienna, and me).
As mentioned, I met Kyle through my SailingBritican Facebook page. He contacted me saying that he had a break between finishing his Mechanical Engineering Degree, after serving in the US Navy for four years, and starting his new job. Kyle explained that he’d pay his way to and from the boat, contribute to food and help out in any way that he could.
Being the first unknown person to visit Britican I wasn’t sure how things would go
Our last crewmember, Eve, was introduced to us through a friend and we were able to spend a month getting to know her before she came aboard. With Kyle, the only way I could get to know him was through messages over Facebook.
Within five minutes of meeting our new crewmember, however, Simon, Sienna and I knew we were in good company!
For the first evening with Kyle, we showed him around the boat, enjoyed dinner and had a nice conversation while watching the sun go down. We had an anchor ball off the coast of St Johns and it was a lovely setting for Kyle to get acquainted with us and the boat.
The next morning, my husband and I woke around 5am to lift anchor so to arrive in Puerto Rico during daylight. With 20 to 25 knots of wind behind us we were propelled forward with ease.
The 12 hour sail to San Juan was easy going but the swell made the boat churn in an uncomfortable manner
We told Kyle to sleep in, it being his first day with us, but he was up early helping Simon to pole out the headsail. With winds behind us, using a pole to hold out the headsail helped to get us more speed and reduced flapping generated by a lull in the wind.
As we made our way northwest we all enjoyed getting to know each other. It was a relaxing sail with relaxing conversation.
Once we made it to the Puerto Rican coast we were all gob smacked at the sight of such a large city!
I can’t remember the last time Britican pulled into an island housing so many buildings. As far as the eye could see, the coast was full of high rises. And to our delight as we rounded into the San Juan harbor we passed a most impressive fort that we later discovered was named el Morro (the headland).
To get to the marina we had to head up the coast to the fort and then back the way we came but through an inland waterway. Fortunately, a boat was ahead of us and we noticed that they called the San Juan Port Authority to seek permission to enter the port. We followed suit and were welcomed in. The authorities told us to keep our VHF on channel 14 to monitor traffic due to a cargo ship leaving.
As we entered the port we enjoyed the monstrous fort followed by modern buildings, clean landscape and several commercial ships, coast guard vessels and cruise ships.
What a massive place, we all thought!
Later we learned that Puerto Rico is the most visited Caribbean island. I had no idea! In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone that visited the island. As we progressed more and more inland our excitement grew. Like all the islands in the Caribbean, each one is different – this one seemed more so than the others!
Mooring up was easy. At first we freaked out a bit as the marina uses a pole system so most boats had two front lines with a bowline to poles at the bow and the stern was secured to the jetty or dock. When we found our slip we had a jetty to the side and back of us so there was no need to fix ourselves to the poles. Two attendants’ helped us in and as usual, Simon did a stellar job backing us up.
Simon and Kyle went to Customs to clear us in and an hour later they came back not only clearing us in but also getting our USA Cruisers Permit necessary for long stays in America. Knowing that it can take quite a bit of time to get the permit in Florida, Simon was able to get the permit quickly in Puerto Rico, an unincorporated US territory.
Normally Customs is done over the phone from the marina but Simon and Kyle took a very quick taxi ride over to the Customs building a street away from the marina near the airport.
By the time the guys were back to the boat it was approaching 7pm and we were all hungry
We walked to the end of the pontoon where a chain restaurant called Sizzlers was located. We inhaled some food and went back to the boat for an early sleep.
The next morning we jumped out of bed, cleaned up the boat and headed out for a day of exploration. I couldn’t wait to check out the fort and learn more about Puerto Rico.
We all wondered how America acquired the country and were eager to gain an insight into the regions history.
If you’re also interested, here’s what Wikipedia has on the acquisition:
On July 25, 1898, during the Spanish–American War, Puerto Rico was invaded by the United States with a landing at Guánica. As an outcome of the war, the Jones–Shafroth Act granted all the inhabitants of Puerto Rico U.S. citizenship in 1917. The U.S. granted Puerto Ricans the right to democratically elect their own governor in 1948. In 1950, the Truman Administration allowed for a democratic referendum in Puerto Rico to determine whether Puerto Ricans desired to draft their own local constitution without affecting the unincorporated territory status with the U.S. A local constitution was approved by a Constitutional Convention on February 6, 1952, ratified by the U.S. Congress, approved by President Truman on July 3 of that year, and proclaimed by Gov. Muñoz Marín on July 25, 1952, the anniversary of the 1898 arrival of U.S. troops. Puerto Rico adopted the name of Estado Libre Asociado (literally translated as “Free Associated State”), officially translated into English as Commonwealth, for its body politic.
We left the marina, crossed the road and instantly found a bus stop
The sign explained that the cost was 75 cents per person so we had $3.00 ready. The bus came within 30 seconds of getting our money out.
When we hoped aboard and attempted to pay the bus driver explained that the bus took quarters only. We didn’t have any change so he just motioned for us to go sit down. The bus driver let us on for free!
After a very short ride into the San Juan Old Town, we got of the bus and started walking along the blue cobbled brick streets. Never in my life had I seen blue bricks! They were amazing beautiful and reflected the feel of the sea but on land.
Our plan was to get some lunch, explore the fort and check out the old town by wandering around the side streets. We happened upon a Mexican restaurant with a $7 lunch special. One soft drink and a burrito or double decker taco or nachos or quesadillas. SOLD. Lunch was plentiful and tasted amazing.
Visiting El Morro
We then headed for the fort and discovered an amazing stretch of green grass, a cemetery by the sea and the large fort called, el Morro. Sienna and I ran down the grassy area to take in the amazing cemetery. We took some pictures and then raced through the children flying kites up to the fort.
The entrance fee for adults was $5 and children are admitted free. El Morro was one of the most impressive forts I’ve ever come across and let me tell you that I’ve seen many forts, castles and keeps!
From Wikipedia: Lying on the northwestern-most point of the islet of Old San Juan, Castillo San Felipe del Morro is named in honor of King Philip II of Spain. The fortification, also referred to as el Morro or ‘the promontory,’ was designed to guard the entrance to the San Juan Bay, and defend the Spanish colonial port city of San Juan from seaborne enemies.
In 1983, the citadel was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations in conjunction with the San Juan National Historic Site. Over two million visitors a year explore the castillo, making it one of Puerto Rico’s leading tourist attractions. Facing the structure, on the opposite side of the bay, a smaller fortification known as El Cañuelo complemented the castillo’s defense of the entrance to the bay.
The four of us walked every area of the fort taking in the informational displays and beautiful views of the navy blue sea.
For the rest of the day we wandered around enjoying the shops in the old city
We also discovered a massive department/grocery store not far from the marina (Walmart) so we were able to stock up on some food and drinks. In hindsight, if I had known we were stopping in Puerto Rico before sailing up to America I would have done all my food provisioning there. Not only is there an abundance of every food, the cost reflects US prices.
After two nights at the San Juan Bay Marina we slipped our lines and headed for Grand Turks. For your reference, the San Juan Bay Marina was $145/night for a 56’ monohaul sailboat.
It’s amazing that we almost missed this stop! Next time we’re sailing by Puerto Rico we’ll arrange to spend more time to further explore this lovely island.
Next in this series: PART 2 OF 7: SAILING TO GRAND TURK (USVI TO NORTH CAROLINA TRIP)