Monday, June 25, 2012

The Spanish Virgin Islands

Part II of our "Take a Walk Down Memory Lane" series... our second (and final) "lost blog" from 2012. (We've modified the "published date" to keep it in line with our 2012 travels.)
- May 26, 2013

Tuesday, May 29 - Wednesday, June 20, 2012
So we've all heard of the US Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands, but the Spanish Virgin Islands? We'd never heard of the SVIs before we began cruising, and had no idea that these gems off the east coast of Puerto Rico would so capture our hearts. The Spanish VIs, best known for the two largest islands of Culebra and Vieques, are technically part of Puerto Rico (and are thus US territory). In reality, if you forget about the oh-so-convenient US post office and non-roaming AT&T cell phone service, these islands make you feel like you're in some remote part of the Caribbean.
We first landed in the Spanish Virgins after a down-wind sail from St. Thomas. Having 10 knots on our stern gave us a perfect opportunity to use the whisker pole - similar to a spinnaker pole, it holds the jib out at 90 degrees. By putting the main sail all the way out on the other side, you fashion a "wing and wing", a.k.a. the poor (lazy?) man's spinnaker. We had a gorgeous 20-mile run to Culebrita, a national wildlife refuge off the coast of Culebra.

We entered the harbor only to see a spectacular crescent beach lined with palm trees, and an old lighthouse at the top of the hill...NOTHING else. No bars, no restaurants, no hotels, nothing. Just a few free mooring balls for anyone who wanted to stay here, and a long reef along both sides of the cove offering some incredible snorkeling. As much as we loved the BVIs and USVIs, this was something else entirely.

Our friends Damon and Marcie, who we'd all met at Lifestyles Resort the year before, had also flown into St. Thomas to spend ten days aboard Storyville. Thanks to their airline benefits, they could easily fly into one airport and depart from another. Why not come along to Culebrita and Culebra? There were plenty of flights back to the States from San Juan! Deana and Troy were terrific hosts, and even got Damon up the mast like a pro. There was plenty of snorkeling during the day and beach happy hours and music at night. Not a bad way to spend a week!

We also got to see Runyon and Ivy on Ghost. They were rushing through the SVIs on their way back to the U.S., but we were able to meet up with them for an afternoon at Culebra's Flamenco Beach. What a beautiful spot! The beach has miles of soft white sand, and is a favorite among locals and tourists alike. Many families come to Culebra via ferry from Puerto Rico and camp in the woods behind the beach. The entire area is a public park, complete with food stands, BBQ pits, and fresh-water showers. It's a relatively easy and inexpensive way to get away from the hustle and bustle of mainland Puerto Rico, and you'd be amazed by the amount of luggage, coolers, boxes, and camping gear that gets piled onto the ferries every weekend.

We spent most of June bay-hopping from Culebrita to Culebra's main harbor at Dewey town, then along Culebra's coastline and back to Culebrita. With the exception of Dewey town, all of the anchorages had free mooring balls to help protect the fragile reefs. Bahia Almodovar had a massive but shallow reef between the moorings and the open ocean, so you could sit on your boat and watch some incredible waves crash while being completely protected where we were. Our anchorage at Tamarindo Point had coral heads right below our boats - we could just jump in the water and see hundreds of fish. If we felt like getting into the dinghy, we could go around the corner to a huge line of soft corals, or across the channel to another wildlife refuge, Cayo Luis Pena.

For creature comforts, Dewey offered it all. We could get free wi-fi in the harbor, visit a vegetable market across the street from the US post office, shop at any of three colmidas (markets), and enjoy some incredible meals in town. Mamacita's had great breakfast on the weekends, and fabulous dinners any night of the week. (If you're lucky enough to be there for their ribs, get them!) Heather's served up pizzas that would put the American chains to shame, and (we hear) a mean frozen passion fruit mojito. For a special night out, there was El Eden. Their mushroom risotto and saffron lobster risotto were some of the best we've ever had. Who would've imagined so many great restaurants on an island few people have even heard of?

As much as we've loved Culebra and Culebrita, it's finally time to haul the anchor and head back towards Luperon. August 1st will be here before we know it, and we want to be safely tucked in on our mooring ball before hurricane season gets too active. Til next time...

A huge thanks (again) to Deana on Storyville and Darnell on Island Dream for letting me use their great pictures!

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