NORTHBOUND LUNACY 2019: Puerto Rico to Bermuda

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This year’s seasonal repatriation began with a quick cruise down Puerto Rico’s south coast in company with my old compatriot Phil (P.T. Cav, formerly Snake Wake) Cavanaugh. Our departure from the marina at Fajardo, shortly after 0800 on Tuesday, May 7, was most serendipitous. We had very calm conditions extracting ourselves from our berth, and just outside while raising the mainsail, then the tradewinds promptly filled in and swept us westward.

My purpose here was to get a better sense of some Puerto Rican geography that was important to Thomas Tangvald, both when he was younger and still sailing with his father, and when he was older, preparing to sail to Brazil with his own family. Accordingly, after sailing at a brisk pace past Naguabo, where Thomas purchased his last boat, Oasis, we pulled in our first night out at Guayama, in Bahia de Jobos, after the threading the dauntingly named Boca del Infierno. There is a great deal of protected water behind the reef here, dominated by a large sugar refinery and a power plant. But in the quiet southeastern corner, at the so-called Old Basin, we found what would have been a perfect spot for Thomas to work at converting his over-canvassed open-cockpit nativo racing sloop into a svelte low-profile ocean cruiser.

In this YouTube viddy here you can see Thomas sailing Oasis with his wife Christina and young son Gaston from Vieques to Guayama soon after they purchased the boat:

 

Sugar refinery at Bahia de Jobos

The rainbow that found us after we anchored off the Old Basin

The following day we again flew downwind and after a long day of sailing rounded Cabo Rojo, at the southwestern tip of Puerto Rico, and so arrived at Boqueron Bay. Back in the 1980s and early ‘90s this was a favorite haunt of Thomas’s father and was popular too with Caribbean cruisers generally. One old cruiser told me you’d once see as many as 80 transient boats anchored out here during the height of the season. Nowadays, though, it is quiet and unfrequented. It is a great open bowl of a bay, well protected from any easterly wind, with lots of room to anchor.

Obligatory downwind selfie

One of two sailboats we found anchored at Boqueron. Derelict, but inhabited

 

The town dock, festooned with Puerto Rican flags

We finally struck out early the next morning, Thursday, north for Bermuda. We spent much of the day motorsailing through the maze of shoals and lee-shore backwind off the island’s west coast, but by late afternoon were at last sailing in deep water in the clean easterly tradewind.

Our passage to the Onion Patch took in all a bit over six days. We had the usual mix of conditions. First a few days of vigorous close-reaching on starboard tack as we traversed the tradewind belt. Then a variable stew of what-not:  some motorsailing; some wing-and-wing work; some mild reaching (both close and broad); some spinnaker work (just a few hours); a series of weak squalls; and finally, five days out, one monstrous hour-long squall (fortunately from behind us) with long sustained gusts over 50 knots, followed soon after by a sibling squall with gusts to 40.

Sunset clouds

P.T. Cav admires the spinnaker

Spinnaker, interior view

Approach of the monstrous squall

There were, as always, some technical wrinkles. For example, the ongoing prevalence of Sargasso weed in the wide swath of the Atlantic between the Gulf Stream and the Caribbean again proved troublesome. The weed caught up on the centerboard, on the rudder, on the daggerboards when deployed, and also, most annoyingly, on the propeller when it was turning. In the last case this would eventually belabor the engine badly, such that it spewed clouds of black smoke out its exhaust, even at relatively low RPMs. To clear the centerboard and daggerboards all we had to do was pull them up and drop them again; but to clear the prop and rudder we had to periodically round up and stall the boat so as to let the stuff fall off. Not a huge problem, but it certainly was tedious.

Once again, as on Lunacy’s transatlantic delivery two years ago, we caught a flying fish in the boat’s clever doghouse vent. This time, fortunately, we perceived this immediately, before the fish began rotting, so were spared the most malodorous consequences.

Most alarmingly, after we finally ceased our initial spate of hard close-reaching, I discovered the commodious forepeak sail locker was about one-third full of water. After way too much theorizing, I realized this probably (and counter-intuitively) was caused by my having closed the valve that feeds the wash-down pump, which is mounted in the forepeak.

Extracting the frickin’ fish through the tiny drain hole at the bottom of the doghouse vent. The second time we’ve had to perform this gruesome chore. To my mind this now officially rates as a design defect

The wash-down feed valve in the forepeak, closed. Boréal prides itself on mounting all through-hull valves atop standpipes leading above the waterline. In this case, with the bow pumping up and down in strong seas as we close-reached through the trades, it seems the repeated violent compression of air inside the pipe compromised the valve, causing massive leaking. Once I taped up the valve and opened it the leaking stopped

Lunacy at anchor in St. George’s, Bermuda, after another successful passage. The cruise ship slipping through Town Cut is kind of hard to miss. This is the first time I’ve seen cruise ships in here since the mid-1990s. Be sure to tune in next time for an exciting anecdote on this subject

Right now, as I post this, I am preparing to leave St. George’s for New England–for the second time in a week. More on that later!

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6 Responses
  1. Robert R. Bartlett

    I was never a believer in Boreals concept of not having the “through hull” where common sense would say they should be … in the hull.

    1. Charles Doane

      Robert: I don’t think it’s a flawed concept. If you sail in freezing water it saves your valves from being damaged, which is why Boreal favors them. They see the boat as a high-latitude cruiser. I had an old Person Alberg 35 with overboard plumbing on standpipes with no valves at all. There are various advantages. In this one application, however, for a through-hull fitting on the bow, it seems the large amount of pitching a bow does changes the equation a bit.

    1. Charles Doane

      Jorge: We had been running off wing-and-wing with a poled out headsail and double-reefed main. As the squall approached we rolled up the headsail and continued running off under the double-reefed main alone. This worked fine. Kept the angle at a broad reach and we were fast with relatively easy motion.

  2. John S

    Charlie
    Excellent post. I’ve been fascinated by the Tangvald’s for a long time. Talk about free spirits. But you have to wonder was all this heartache just bad luck or a result of poor judgment and even poorer decision making. Of course it doesn’t have to be one or the other, sometimes it’s all of them.

    I’ve know some free spirits in my day. A few people seem to be able to pull off anything without a scratch while others seem to have a dark cloud following them around. Makes you wonder what’s at the root of it.

    So are you researching a book? If so it ought to be interesting. Safe voyage home to NE. I’m waiting for my own window for the run back to NC.

    1. Charles Doane

      Hi John: Yup, I’m working on a book. A biography of Thomas. As you say, they are a fascinating family. Best wishes for a fast passage to NC!

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