Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sailing the Spanish Virgin Islands, Part 6

Rain clouds and sun beams over Playita, Puerto RicoAs we set out on the last sailing day of our Spanish Virgin Islands trip, we expected rain but it never materialized. There wasn't much wind either. We motored out past the small islands that hemmed our overnight anchorage at Playita and then motor sailed west-southwest toward Isla Caja de Muerto in a lazy broad reach.

With the wind picking up slightly, we decided to turn off the engine. A little while later, John's keen ear picked up a noise. There was a light thumping on the hull that only he could distinguish from the gurgling sound of our wake. We rounded up into the wind and John went overboard with his mask and snorkel to see where the noise was coming from. He came back up sputtering and asking for a knife. There was a crab trap float and its line tangled around the propeller shaft. It wasn't tightly wrapped so he guessed that we had run over it after turning off the engine. He cut it loose and then came back onboard.

As he was toweling off, John told us that this situation provided a valuable lesson: "Never wait to investigate or fix a problem. It will only get worse." I could see his point. If we had ignored the thumping and tried to start the engine, we could have damaged the propeller or shaft. Or if the engine stalled because of the tangle when we needed it to get into port, we could have had a serious problem on our hands. I had been at the helm when we ran over the crab trap float so I felt most to blame. I pledged to pay better attention to obstacles in the water.

The southern coast of Puerto Rico between Playita and PonceAfter lunch, we noticed two catamarans heading in the same direction we were, and they were gaining on us. Someone muttered, "Damn catamarans," and there was immediate assent. We decided to conduct an unofficial race. John kept his expert eye on the wind and sails and called out commands to Dallas at the sails and me at the helm. We turned the boat into a downwind run and put out Quetzal's nifty Forespar carbon-fiber whisker pole so we could sail wing-and-wing. We kept our heading just off the north point of Isla Caja de Muerto, far enough from the southern shore of Puerto Rico to get clean wind from the east. The other boats jibed toward shore too soon, and we pulled away. We made a smart jibe ourselves just past the island and aimed for the port at Ponce, arriving ahead of our competition and claiming the last temporary dock spot at the Ponce Yacht Club.

After moving Quetzal to a more permanent slip, we went searching for the yacht club's bar for a victory drink. We had won our race against the catamarans, and we had arrived safely at our final destination.

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