|Welcome to the Spanish Virgin Islands|
2: Fajardo, Culebra
By Diane M. Byrne — October 2001
After licking our fingers, we headed back to the car and drove a short while to the town of Fajardo, which has the most significant noncommercial docking facilities on the east coast of Puerto Rico. In fact, Puerto del Rey, the 16-foot-draft marina where Nectar lay waiting for us, is in the midst of expansion and will have 1,000 slips within the next few months. (An InterContinental hotel is also opening next to it in March, followed by a golf course, spa, and villas.)
Fajardo is reputed to be the place where pirates once stocked up with supplies, but today it’s a common jumping-off point for the outer islands of Puerto Rico. That was our plan: depart for Vieques, Palomino and its little sister, Palominito, and Culebra before returning to San Juan. But first I got acquainted with the crew: captain Peter, steward Greg, stewardesses Debbie and Jody, engineer Caroline, and chef Debrina. Debrina soon became my new best friend due to the amazing food she prepared, especially the chocolate brownie with Kaluha sauce my first night aboard. Rodriguez invited Dan Shelley, the marina manager, to join us for dinner, and we were treated to an amazing history lesson about Puerto Rico and her cruising grounds. He told us of countless calm anchorages where the only "company" he encountered were the stars above. He also talked enthusiastically about tiny Mona Island on the west coast of Puerto Rico, called "the Galapagos of the Caribbean" for its large iguana population.
The next morning I woke to grey skies and word from Peter that a front was moving south and west, which would make the cruise to Vieques (and the departure the following day) uncomfortable; he therefore recommended against it. I was disappointed; years ago a friend of mine raved about its dozens of beaches and Mosquito Bay, famous for its bioluminescence. Most Americans likely associate Vieques with the protests over the U.S. Navy’s bombing exercises there but probably don’t realize that there are many fine beaches far from the military drills and that luxury resorts are planned for the island as well. Mosquito Bay is reportedly so remarkable that if you jump in at night, the water surrounding you and the droplets covering you seem to explode with light.
But because of the weather, we set off for Culebra. We had calm seas–nearly flat at the outset–for the 25-mile trip and made a leisurely 14 to 16 knots. I alternated between sitting in the pilothouse and Nectar’s comfortable saloon, enjoying the ride. Along the way, we circled Palomino Island and Palominito, which is really more of a sandy spit. (Palomino is privately owned, but guests of the sprawling Wyndham El Conquistador resort in Fajardo can use its beach.)
Shortly after our arrival in a serene, flat-calm bay near Dewey, Culebra’s only town, Rodriguez suggested exploring the island’s perimeter via the Nautica tender, Capuccino. No sooner had we hopped in than the sun came out. It highlighted the lush greenery of Culebra and the handful of homes dotting the hills. It also accentuated the spray from the huge rollers we encountered (more like surfed) and watched explode over rocky outcroppings around the south side. Outside of a surfer and young couple from Dallas on a chartered catamaran–and oh yes, a manta ray–we had three hours of solitary fun.
Culebra is a lot like St. John in that most of it is a nature preserve. It’s also where Puerto Ricans go to escape from the hubbub, relaxing at the handful of guest houses and open-air restaurants in and around Dewey. Life is simple here, on purpose. Because of all of this–but more so because the ever-hyped St. Thomas is 12 miles east, its twinkling lights visible at night–only Nectar, a sailboat, and a small center console shared the tranquil anchorage.
We spent an extra half day in Culebra, stretching our legs in Dewey. Here we met some young boys fishing under a bridge, and they proudly displayed their catch, a few small fish. We also met a former Chicagoan, who with his wife runs the Barefoot Contessa, a jewelry and trinkets pushcart.
Since the sun was still out in early afternoon, we thought we’d head Nectar back to Palomino and Palominito for swimming and anchor out for the evening. The sun cooperated for a while, but when clouds began rolling in and the breeze picked up, Peter suggested returning to the dock at Marina del Rey, since the holding ground at Palominito isn’t entirely secure. Score another one for Mother Nature. We kept our spirits up with a spontaneous happy hour on the bow and invited Peter, who’s quite funny, to have dinner with us on the aft deck.
I ended my trip with
an all-day exploration of Old San Juan, an architectural, historical,
and photographic delight. Busy and congested but vibrant and colorful,
it’s crisscrossed with cobblestone streets; museums, galleries, shops
with santos (hand-carved religious figures) and other local crafts, plazas
filled with magicians and artists, and restaurants competed for my attention.
I gladly gave in to most of them.
The problem, of course, is that it doesn’t exist, right?
Nectar of the Gods charters for $65,000 per week, plus expenses.
Bob Saxon Associates Phone: (954) 760-5801. Fax: 954-467-8909. www.bobsaxon.com.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.