Sunday, May 17, 2015

Living what I write - Part II

The US Virgin Islands
Cruz Bay, St. John
"Welcome back to the United States," the customs officer said.

We were completing our clearance paperwork in St. John, a few hours after the storm I described in the last post.

"Are we really back?" I asked. "Do we have to clear in again when we get back to the States?"

"Only if you stop in a foreign country," he said. "You're home now."

"Thanks!" We both said.

I had no idea how good that would feel. I traveled a lot internationally before we ran away to sea, but that wasn't the same. It's been over ten years since Play Actor has been in U.S. waters, and she's our home. We've flown back to the States to visit several times during that period, but every time we knew that we were just visiting. When we were in the States, we felt the pull of home.  For us, that was wherever we left Play Actor.

This time, we really felt like the U.S. was our home again. We decided we would not visit another foreign country before we got back to the U.S. mainland. We spent a couple of days in St. John, taking walks in the vicinity of Cruz Bay. We couldn't see much change from our last visit ten years ago. We felt the urge to move on.

Play Actor is the little, dark boat behind the cruise ship.
After a short sail in protected water, we dropped our anchor in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, a few hundred yards from the cruise ship dock. We found some marine supplies that we needed and bought a few more groceries, committed to the notion that we were going back to the States without clearing into another country.

Puerto Rico
Business in Culebra gives new meaning to the phrase 'laid back.'
After a day of rest watching the cruise ships come and go in Charlotte Amalie, we took a 30-mile sail to Culebra, one of Puerto Rico's coastal islands. Puerto Rico was new territory for us. We spent a day anchored in Culebra's Ensenada Honda, and then sailed a few hours to the west coast of Vieques, the other large island off Puerto Rico's east coast. We anchored off a beautiful, deserted beach for the night, enjoying the solitude.


Our beach in Vieques
The next morning, we made the first of a series of short trips, each roughly thirty miles, hopping along Puerto Rico's south coast. After four overnight stops along the south coast, we rounded Cabo Rojo on the southeastern corner of Puerto Rico. We stopped for a night in Boqueron, on the west coast, and then sailed a few miles north to a charming little fishing harbor called Puerto Real.  We did some last minute grocery shopping there and filled our diesel and water tanks, expecting that we would be sailing straight through from there to Florida, a distance of around 700 miles.
Sunset in Boqueron


















The Turks and Caicos - an unplanned stop and an encounter with the authorities

We waited a few days for a favorable weather forecast and left Puerto Real, setting a course that would take us north of HispaƱola and south of the Turks and Caicos into the southern Bahamas. We didn't plan to stop until we reached Florida, but we could sail through the Bahamas, anchoring for a night if we got tired.
Clear water in West Caicos.  That's our anchor chain on the bottom, 25 feet under the surface.
The wind died along the south edge of the Caicos Bank, so we found a spot to anchor on the east side of West Caicos, a tiny, uninhabited island out of sight of the other islands that make up the country of the Turks and Caicos. We had come almost 400 miles from Puerto Real in three and a half days. We hoisted the yellow "Q," or quarantine, flag, signifying that we had not cleared into the country. The second day we were there, a police launch came alongside. The blast of their siren brought us on deck.

"Good afternoon," I said, giving them a wave.

"Good afternoon, captain," the senior of the three officers aboard said. “Our radar station saw you enter our waters yesterday and stop. What are you doing, and what are your intentions?"

"We're becalmed, waiting for wind."

"What was your last port of call?"

"St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands," I said.

“You have an outbound clearance from St. John?” he asked.

“No. It’s not required for a U.S. flagged vessel leaving U.S. waters bound for a U.S. port."

"Where are you bound?"

"Florida, via the Old Bahama Channel." We had decided to skip the Bahamas, as the weather up there was nasty. The Old Bahama Channel runs between the north coast of Cuba and the south edge of the Bahama Bank.  It committed us to sail 700 miles non-stop, but it appeared to be well south of the disturbed weather. We just needed wind.

"You are in our waters, and you have not cleared in," one of the other officers said.

"Correct. We’re flying the quarantine flag; we have no intention of going ashore. Do you want us to move on out of your waters?"

"We'd rather you clear in and visit our country," he replied, smiling.

"Do we have to clear in to wait for wind?" I asked.

"How long do you think you'll be?" the senior man asked.

"The forecast is for the trades to start blowing again on Tuesday night," I said. It was Sunday afternoon.

“Let me see your passports and the ship’s document, please."

I passed him a plastic bag with the papers. He perused them and made some notes on his clipboard.

Returning our papers, the senior man said, "You're okay, captain. Just stick to your mission."

"So we don't need to leave or clear in?"

"Just stick to your mission. If you wish to go ashore, come into Providenciales and clear in. Otherwise, you're okay."

"But you would be safer in Provo," the younger man said. "There's a nice marina there."

"Call us on channel 16 if you have any trouble," the senior man said, waving as they roared away toward Providenciales.

Late Monday afternoon, they came back to visit and verify that our plans had not changed. By mid-morning on Tuesday, we had a ten-knot easterly wind. We raised the anchor and made sail, wondering if we were being observed by the radar station as we left the Turks and Caicos.

Next week's post: Want wind?  Careful what you wish for.

9 comments:

  1. Sounds like they were a little more cautious than called for. But, all's well. Looking forward to the next blog post.

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  2. Wow, what fun to sail the world! Bet you have some great stories….

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  3. These places look breathtaking and I'm sure the pictures do not do them justice! Even with the bits of mayhem they find along the way the journey sounds great!

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  4. Beautiful pics. Makes me want to go back - remembering my ol' Navy days but somebody else did all the "legal" stuff. Too much legal now-a-days. The business sign made me snicker. When we visited Jefferson, TX, one business we wanted to shop had a sign that read: Open 9am-8pm Fri, Sat, Noon-5pm Sun. Other days if we're here. If closed on Fri, Sat or Sun - the fish are biting. If closed, please come back, we appreciate your business. (in really small print) But we really enjoy fishing more! Have fun and welcome back.,

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  5. Love your photos! I remember the feeling after my daughter and I spent three months traveling through the islands (unfortunately by puddle-jumper planes), doing research for our guidebook. When we arrived home, I felt warm and comfortable, even fast food signs looked tempting. Later when my hubby and I traveled the U.S. full-time in our RV, it was our home on wheels. We always had a cozy place at the end of the day and a sign that said, "Home is Where You Park It". Enjoy the voyage home, can't wait to read more.

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  6. For some reason, that entire exchange was scary! I am so impressed you do this - it's such a foreign concept to me to live on a boat and just pop around the Caribbean... I'm just a wee bit envious, I must say...

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  7. What fun to live vicariously through you Charles! I'd love to see a book of your own adventures! I think it'd be pretty amazing!

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    1. Life's a Ditch and Dungda de Islan', my two non-fiction books, are both about earlier adventures afloat, Lisa. These posts will be part of a third non-fiction book about our sailing experiences.

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  8. Loving these stories...and great pics too.

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