|Welcome to the Spanish Virgin Islands|
never believe where these “undiscovered” cruising grounds are.
By Diane M. Byrne — October 2001
Confession time: I don’t like the Caribbean. The anchorages are too rough for my comfort; I still feel like I’m moving hours after I’ve returned to terra firma. In addition, I’ve grown so accustomed to the conveniences and pulse of New York City that the Caribbean’s "get away from it all" isolation tends to make me stir-crazy after a day or two.
At the same time, though, there’s something undeniably attractive about the Caribbean. I’m always amazed by the turquoise brilliance and crystal-clarity of the water. Sharing an anchorage with no one else except for the fish "commuting" from one end of the beach to the other is also inviting; they don’t jabber away on cellphones and jostle me the way human commuters do. And, of course, the tropical temperatures make for a welcome winter break.
So if I could find a place that let me enjoy the humming pace of a big city yet also indulge in a little solitude in a calm, palm-fringed, turquoise-hued anchorage for a few days, I’d be truly happy. But such a place doesn’t exist, right?
That’s what I thought–until May, when I cruised among a group of islands that are literally sitting under the nose of the continental United States. They’re the islands of Puerto Rico, which some people are beginning to call the Spanish Virgin Islands because of their combination of Latin, Caribbean, and American rhythms.
Straddling the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, Puerto Rico has received cruise ships for years in its capital, San Juan. And while San Juan and other cities contain marinas for pleasureboaters, most slips have been occupied by residents and, during billfish tournaments, anglers. But charterers and megayachts like the Feadship Kisses and Benetti Kingdom 5KR are beginning to discover them and Puerto Rico’s centuries-old mix of Spanish, Native American, and African cultures as well as modern mainland-American influences and infrastructure. And the marinas are expanding their facilities to attract even more big yachts.
One charter yacht that uses Puerto Rico as her base is the 121-foot Nectar of the Gods. Her owner, José Garrido Rodriguez, is a native and, like many fellow islanders, fiercely proud of the diversions awaiting visitors. In fact, he’s on a mission to increase the region’s popularity with charterers. He, his yacht, and her first-rate, six-person crew were my tour guides during my cruise.
While the sun shone brightly as I landed at the San Juan airport in early May, Mother Nature soon sent clouds and on-and-off showers rolling through. So much for exploring Old San Juan–a small section of the capital that dates to the 16th century–on foot before heading to the yacht. Instead, Jorge, a friend of Rodriguez who picked me up at the airport, drove me through Old San Juan and along the coast to give me a sense of the architectural and topographical diversity, which ranged from La Fortaleza, a former bastion that’s now the governor’s residence, to modern shopping malls. We later stopped for a snack at one of the numerous friquitines, funky roadside shacks that serve various meat and seafood fritters. While we munched away and drank coconut water straight from the largest coconuts I’ve ever seen, a young couple danced the merengue to music that was piping out of speakers. Raindrops? I was too busy tapping my feet to pay attention.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.