November 2013
A picture doesn't always tell the whole story, though the one above shows what story tropical island charters aspire to.  A quiet anchorage, a beautiful beach, and no one but your crew to share it with.  If you're lucky, you get a day or two like that.  The rest ofthe story can be told with words and pictures.

I told some of the story about this particular sailing charter in the islands off the east coast of Puerto Rico on my blog.  Here are the links:

The Caribbean Parfait
The Whole Fish
The Curse of the Black Pearl?

For those who want the gory details (as well as some editorializing that inevitably goes with it), here they are:

DATES: November 2-10, 2013 (off-season)

TRAVEL:  We fly American from BWI-MIA-SJU, arriving just before noon without mishap; Jeff flew USAirways from IAD-SJU, also arrving at noon.  We did a week rental with Hertz to get us to and from the base in Fajardo, but Sail Caribe will get you to their base, with a provisioning stop, for $90.

CHARTER COMPANY: Sail Caribe   This was our third trip with this company, and they are a welcome entrant to this market and a first class (and growing) operation.  Here are reports of our other two trips: 2011 and 2012.

BOAT: 2013 Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 409.  The boat had 3 cabins and 2 heads, which worked for my crew of 3.  My husband and I each took one of the aft cabins (each of which would have been a squeeze -- and a head-knocking one at that -- for an adult copule), and our friend Jeff took the v-berth.  As with any boat, this one reflects a series of compromises. This particular boat drew 7 feet -- the deepest draft boat I've ever chartered -- and all I can say is how glad we were that we didn't have to put her back in her slip after our sail.  On the positive, I will note the following excellent features:

Electronics: A full suite of instruments, including a chart plotter, on a large screen in the middle of the cockpit.  The screen could be turned to face either of the two helm positions.  You could even control your iPod through the system. 

Anchor/Windlass: The windlass could be controlled from the cockpit, and included a chain/rode counter, so you didn't have to guess how much scope you'd put out.  The system worked smoothly and nearly effortlessly.  This was key, because we did a lot of anchoring on this trip -- the mooring balls in Vieques (with the exception of Esperanza) are all gone.  The 35# Delta anchor set like a dream, and we never had to try more than once.  (I'm sure that will cost me later .....)

Refrigeration: How rare is it to NOT complain about a boat fridge?  This one, a top loader, was deep and roomy, and run off the 12-volt system, so there were no swings of temperature like there can be with engine-driven systems.  The fridge had a variety of racks and sliding baskets, so you could arrange items as you see fit -- like keeping the lettuce away from the freezer, and keeping cold drinks at the bottom.  But the mushrooms were beyond salvaging....

PROVISIONING:  We used the Ralph's supermarket in Fajardo, which also sells beer, wine and liquor.  The selection is excellent -- very much like a mainland US supermarket with the exception of produce.  In the produce area, you'll find exotic stuff like tamarind pods, but you won't find avocados.  The meat department has everything you'd want, including decent steaks and good seafood, as well as local favorites like goat and octopus.  Prices are similar to mainland U.S.

WHERE WE SAILED:  We arrived at the base around 4 on a Saturday, with provisioning complete.  We had our chart/boat briefing (individualized, aboard the boat) at 8:30 on Sunday morning, so we were off the dock by 10:30.  This allowed us to go further on our first day than usual.; plus, we like to get the long windward sail out of the way first.  Our itinerary:

Day 1: Cayo Luis Pena (uninhabited) -- anchored (there is an anchorage with moorings, but we stayed elsewhere)

Day 2: Bahia Flamenco, Culebra -- anchored for the day
    Ensenada Honda/Dewey, Culebra -- anchored overnight

Day 3: Bahia Tortuga, Culebrita -- moored

Day 4:  Bahia de la Chiva, Vieques -- anchored

Day 5:  Esperanza, Vieques -- moored for the day
     Ensenada Sun Bay, Vieques -- anchored

Day 6:  Esperanza, Vieques -- moored

Day 7:  Cayo Icacos -- anchored for lunch
     Isla Palominos -- moored

Day 8: Return to base

WHERE WE ATE: In San Juan, we go back to old standbys -- Metropol in Isla Verde after we landed, and the Parrot Club (because Aguaviva is closed on Sundays) in Old San Juan.  Out in the islands, there aren't that many choices, so we planned to eat most of our meals on board.  We ate at the kiosks at Playa Flamenco, at the Dinghy Dock in Dewey, and at Belly Button's and Duffy's in Esperanza.  You can't go wrong with Puerto Rican food. especially seafood.

All in all, I rate the Spanish Virgin Islands one of the great Caribbean crusing grounds.  The feel of the Virgin Islands many years ago, with a little Latin flavor.  I'll keep coming!