Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sailing the Spanish Virgin Islands, Part 3

Sunset over Ensenada Honda on Vieques in the Spanish Virgin IslandsThe afternoon sail from Culebra to Vieques was a quick beam reach due south for a little over ten miles. We passed Punta Este, turned west into a smooth broad reach and started looking for a sheltered bay in which to anchor Quetzal for the night.

The eastern half of Vieques was used by the U.S. Navy for bombing practice from the years following World War II until 2003, and there are still no settlements on that part of the island, probably because it is still littered with unexploded shells. We felt reasonably safe approaching from the water and had no plans to walk around on shore.

A look at the chart showed a large, protected bay called Ensenada Honda, the same name as the bay we had just left on Culebra, about five miles west of Punta Este. We decided it would be a good place to tuck in against the persistent easterlies and made for it.

We carefully skirted shoals at the entrance, keeping to the deep water in the center of the channel to avoid running aground in the otherwise very shallow water. As we rounded the peninsula that forms a natural breakwater and could see all the way to the east end of the bay, we realized that we would have the entire anchorage to ourselves. We went as deeply into the bay as we dared, given the shallow water, and dropped anchor.

John declared Captain's Hour and we all relaxed in the cockpit with cocktails, taking in our new surroundings. There wasn't much to see. The cove was surrounded by mangroves growing well out into the water from shore, creating a green margin in all directions that blocked any other view. There was talk of snorkeling to see what was underwater but we decided to postpone that for morning. After cocktails, it was time for dinner, another one of John's simple but tasty creations.

As evening gave way to night, I commented that there would not be a moon that night so the stargazing should be excellent. John and Dallas seemed interested so we went to the foredeck, away from the cabin lights while Nan and Genie went below to wash dishes. Nan and I live in dry, high-altitude Colorado, where the stars shine brightly, but the stars that night were so numerous that it took some time to pick out even the familiar constellations. Being at about 18 degrees north latitude compared to our normal 39 degrees also took some adjusting.

John asked if I had ever seen the Southern Cross. I said that I had never been in the southern hemisphere so I hadn't seen it. He pointed over the top of the mangroves to our south and said, "Well, there it is." I looked and then looked again. I turned around and looked up at Polaris, the North Star. It was 180 degrees in the opposite direction. John was right. I didn't think it was possible to see both celestial poles at the same time unless one was at the equator, but there they both were. I started singing the old Crosby, Stills and Nash song, "When you see the Southern Cross for the first time, you understand now why you came this way..." John and Dallas laughed knowingly.

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