Waiting for Weather

17 February 2001, by Tom Waid

Salinas, Puerto RicoWe, like all our cruising friends, have at times been pummeled by the weather. Enough, perhaps, that one would expect us to be blasé about it. "Well we have to get to Boqueron so damn the squalls. Forge on ahead." Not so, the near knock down off Basse Terre in Guadeloupe and beating to windward in forty-knot squalls approaching Antigua has taught us that we’re certainly capable of handling such events but also that if we have the option of avoiding them then we do.

My friend, Brian, aboard The Legend many times quotes the notorious Captain Bunky. "If it’s going to happen it’s going to happen out there so let’s go!" Captain Bunky will have to go without me.

Obviously the weather is a prime consideration when making a multiple day passage. Principally we sail in the correct season and try to set out with a good forecast. Sailing in the correct season for the area of ocean we’re traversing assures us of a minimal chance of running into truly dangerous weather. Other than that, however, after a few days the original forecast has grown stale and we do have a chance of encountering "rough going." It’s something we’re all prepared for and while we’re offshore we do have the options of altering course to avoid the worst of it or heaving-to and waiting it out. There’s nothing hard to run into so, while it may be uncomfortable, it’s not extraordinarily dangerous.

The danger comes when we’re close to land. There are hard things to hit and many times the wind will intensify off coastlines and headlands. A fresh twenty-knot breeze while offshore can become a thirty-five knot howler at the point of land marking the entrance to our next anchorage. At a time when less wind would be appreciated we get more. For that reason we put in as much effort planning weather strategy for short inter-island and coastal hops as we do for offshore passages.

We’re in Salinas on the south coast of Puerto Rico. A week ago we made a dayhop to here from Vieques with fifteen-knot trade winds on our back. It was a glorious sail but as we approached the entrance to Salinas the influence of the coast intensified the wind to perhaps twenty to twenty-five knots. So it was a bit of a wild ride but the entrance was wide and easily negotiated. We were soon winding our way up the mangrove-lined channel to the anchorage.

It was our intention to stay only a few days and move on eventually to Boqueron but the next day reinforced trade winds set in. These are trade winds augmented by a strong high-pressure system to the north. While sustained winds were forecast to be around twenty-five knots and gusty they do get intensified along the coast. Boats were arriving reporting gusts of over forty knots. So, should we push on anyway? We are going downwind so the boat could take it but Cabo Rojo on Puerto Rico’s southwestern corner could be more excitement than we could ever want since the cape effect can, at times, double the normal wind velocity. Best to wait for more normal trade wind conditions. So, for a time, we’re stuck in Salinas.

It’s not exactly a hardship since Salinas is a wonderful place, quite unpretentious and very friendly. On our first walk to the supermarket we fell into the company of a lovely Puerto Rican lady named Lucy who was happy to walk with us and tell us the story of her life. Politeness barred me from asking her age but she is old enough to have had a job in an electronics factory during World War II. Lucy’s stories opened a window into life in Puerto Rico. She told of the jobs she held while raising six children. Also she’s tough. She talked about having a hurricane blow the roof off her house as it were nothing more than a flat tire, more an annoyance than a disaster. When Lucy reached her destination she wished us success in our voyage and we went our separate ways. It was one of the more insightful walks we’ve taken.

One of the World's Oldest TreesSo waiting for the weather can lead to unexpected adventures. A few days later we teamed together with Noel and Edie from the Canadian yacht Keneskoonech and rode the publico to Ponce, Puerto Rico’s second largest city. A publico is a "public car," essentially a taxi that drives a set route. The fare is cheap, which is nice but it encourages the driver to pack in as many passengers as possible to make it worth his while. With quite a bit of squeezing the four of us just managed to fit in the back seat of an aging Cadillac. The front seat was equally crammed as we jolted down the highway, thirty-six miles to Ponce.

Traditional Mask, PonceWhile in Ponce we took the tour bus which showed us the sights of the city including a tree reputed to be eight-hundred to a thousand years old. All very nice but the best is always to immerse ourselves in the local culture. Shopping in stores only frequented by the locals and dining in their restaurants. I will remember Puerto Ricans as very friendly and polite people who are quick to laugh and enjoy life.

And then there’s the music, the Salsa and Meringue wafting out of the radios and onto the streets. The everyday music of Puerto Rico that is quite sophisticated and always captivating to listen to.

Back aboard Bellatrix I tend to my usual chores. When we’re anchored in places with a good deal of particulates in the water we try to avoid running the watermaker. Amongst the mangroves of Salinas is just such a place. The pre-filter would clog-up too quickly so we opt to carry water from the marina instead. It was here while I was sitting on the bow pouring water from the jug into the tank inlet that one of the more curious events of the voyage occurred. Linda was ashore and I was alone aboard Bellatrix. In the distance I saw a small pod of dolphins frolicking in the water. It’s always fun to watch dolphins and as I watched they got progressively closer. Soon they were right under the bow where I sat. There were four of them ranging from a juvenile to one that was quite large and it soon became obvious why they were attracted to Bellatrix. They began to use the rope anchor line as a scratching post. The other yachts around me were using chain and apparently the dolphins preferred rope. I watched for perhaps three to four minutes as they rubbed themselves fore and aft against the anchor rode. They enjoyed scratching their itches and I very much enjoyed watching them.

Voyaging is a small sailing yacht requires patience. At times the weather will fail to cooperate and will require and indefinite wait. However, it’s not always a bad thing. While waiting for weather in Salinas we had some remarkable experiences that we’ll not soon forget.

Explaining Puerto Rican Culture

A Cafe Named Internet

17 February 2001, by Tom Waid

In the first year of the twenty-first century the World Wide Web has indeed become worldwide, yet it doesn’t necessarily always ride on a super-highway. There are places where it’s more an "information dirt road." In small island communities a good source of additional cash can be had by offering Internet access. Whatever the business, bar, jewelry store, souvenir shop, etc. a computer in the corner can make more money than a pinball machine. However, not everyone offering Internet access knows everything they need to know to assure your success downloading e-mail. For example one place we went to had six computers routed through a box that allowed them to share a single phone line. I remember the consternation on the faces of five people paying eight dollars an hour when the proprietor decided to use the unoccupied computer to download a MP3 file. Until the download was complete everyone else was stuck in traffic.

It has to be said, however, that, savvy computer geeks can be found when you go looking for them. The Cyber Café in Fort de France, Martinique is a good example. The barmaid keeps the computers cooking and is tri-lingual between English, German, and French. Also the computers are oriented for privacy so you can leisurely sip your Bier Lorraine while reading the off-color joke your buddy back home sent you and not worry about who’s looking over your shoulder.

Then there’s the fact that just the word "Internet" is hip. Once when Linda and I were walking around Portsmouth, Dominica we noticed and establishment named "The Internet Café." "Hey great," we thought. "Let’s check our e-mail." When we entered we saw no computers.

"No, we have no computers," said the lady behind the counter when we asked about retrieving our e-mail.

"But your sign says Internet Café?"

"Yeah, we’re a Café. Want some coffee?"

We politely declined and wrote it off as an information dead-end.

Return to "Voyage of the Bellatrix"


Lesson Resources    Links    Voyage of the Bellatrix    Scuba Diving    N6496B    Home