CRUISING VIEQUES: Visit to the Bay of Death

Warning sign Vieques

IT IS DIFFICULT when visiting Vieques by boat these days to get reliable information on where exactly you’re allowed to go. During my exploration of the Spanish Virgin Islands this winter I’ve had three different set of charts aboard–all published after the U.S. Navy stopped using the island as a gunnery range–and they are maddeningly inaccurate and inconsistent about what areas are still restricted. Going ashore at Bahia Salina del Sur on Monday morning, however, Phil “Snake Wake” Cavanaugh and I were confronted with some very explicit signs (see photo up top) that suggested our presence might be prohibited.

We had arrived at the bay after sailing over from Culebrita the previous day through a series of squalls.


Approaching squall seen from the old light tower on Culebrita, shortly before we left for Salina del Sur

Under sail Lunacy

Another squall overtaking us as we sailed from Culebrita around the east end of Vieques

At anchor Vieques

Yet another squall approaching after we anchored at Salina del Sur, the easternmost bay on Vieques

As we opened the bay, I was relieved to see that another boat, a small local power cruiser, was already anchored there. This clearly implied it was kosher to park here. We of course noticed the several signs staked out along the beach, but were unable to read them at a distance through our binoculars. I assumed they were similar to the signs on Culebrita, admonishing people not to molest the many sea turtles in the area. Shortly before nightfall, the local boat hoisted anchor and disappeared, and we were left all by our lonesomes.

Such a glorious sensation! Isn’t this exactly what all cruisers live for? Falling asleep in my berth that night, I felt like a child on a Christmas Eve.

At anchor in Salina del Sur

Lunacy at anchor on Monday morning below the old U.S. Navy fire control tower

Come morning–the first clear one we’d had in days–I was very anxious to get ashore and hike around to the old control tower from which the Navy once coordinated their bombardments of the island. Phil, however, didn’t seem quite as enthusiastic.

Once we beached the dinghy and read the signs he became even less enthusiastic. It didn’t help matters when we quickly found objects buried in the sand that seemed vaguely projectile-like.

Beach bomb

Could THIS be unexploded ordinance?

But I was determined to get to that tower. Directly behind the beach was a dirt road that clearly had been used very recently, and I reckoned we’d be safe as long as we stayed on the road. So off I marched in the direction of the tower, with Phil tagging along like the robot in Lost in Space, waving his accordian arms, proclaiming at regular intervals: “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!”

Lost in Space robot and Will

We did not get blown up, but we did find some wild cotton plants. There were also a few areas where it seemed bulldozers had been at work pushing the soil up into shallow berms.

Vieques road

Road to the tower

Wild cotton

Wild wild cotton could not drag me away

After a half mile or so we came to a large clearing where there was an open view of the north side of the island, as well as a blue shipping container and a cyclone fence surrounding a large collection of blue barrels. There were also two vehicles and some men walking around. I thought they were wearing white shirts, but Phil insisted they were in white suits.

This put a damper on my enthusiasm with the quickness, and we turned right around and started marching back to the dinghy. On the way Phil found an old shell casing that we added to the seashells and coral we had picked up on the beach.

Beach stuff

Souvenirs of our surreptitious expedition

Jesus walking sign

Praise the Lord! He has risen from the dead

Later we hoisted anchor and sailed down to the little town of Esperanza, where we sought religious guidance and contemplated the circumstances of our deliverance.

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