Puerto Rico

Short Update; Mona Passage 7th Nov 2016

Short Update; Expedition HQ in the UK, 7th Nov 2016

Will and George have made landfall on the small island of Mona in the middle of the Mona Passage, having paddled for 15 and a half hours covering something over 50 miles. The ’50 miles,’ though is figurative given it doesn’t take account of the unpredictable currents and winds that torment sailors in this perilous passage where the Atlantic rushes in to meet the Caribbean Sea. It is in fact, as treacherous a piece of water as you will find anywhere. 

When Will and George write their blog posts they are necessarily sanitised. This is though, after some hard yards hacking up the Puerto Rican coast, the really tough stretch on which the success of the whole expedition rests. While a bad thing can happen at any moment during the three months, this phase is especially spicy. If the Anegada Passage was the Khumba Icefall of the expedition then the Mona Passage is the Hillary Step. After today they have another gruelling crossing to the Dominican Republic followed by many days paddling to traverse the north coast to their jumping off point for the 120 mile 36 hour leg to the Turks & Caicos. On reaching the T&C they will have broken the back of the expedition by being more than half way to Miami. 

I have chewed through my mouse today and will probably start on the keyboard tomorrow.

Thank you again for all your messages of support, all of which are passed to the boys when internet access allows.

Puerto Rico - On and On...

Well, since our last post we have made it into Puerto Rico, along it's South coast, up the West and made two failed attempts to leave - 165 nautical miles (192 miles) in total in the past week. We have slept on a driveway, in an attic, and been given a room on four other happy occasions. We have fled to shore after being caught out in lightening storms, suffered sun burn and dehydration, been molested by vicious mosquitoes and managed to hitchhike 5 miles to a supermarket and back. In the last week of hard kayaking we have moved about half a centimetre across the world map.

850 miles down.

It is difficult to know what to write in these blog updates. We are sure many people probably think we are just bouncing up the Caribbean from one nice resort to another. Our experiences of finding places to stay and the hospitality we have received (and not received) are the interesting parts for us... it is nice to switch off from the pain and misery of the kayaking... and so this is what we tend to write about. It is, of course, not the whole story.

Hitchiking back from the supermarket.

Hitchiking back from the supermarket.

Apparently, it is the kayaking (or our pain and misery to be more specific) that people reading want to actually hear about. We'll try and get a balance.

The newest addition to our kayaking knowledge is that of thunderstorms. Lightening is a hugely exciting phenomenon and of course is nothing new to us. We have seen many a storm while at home, driving along a motorway or in the mountains. The chance of getting struck by lightening is usually miniscule. However, when you are the only object sat above the surface in a massive expanse of water, the odds suddenly become somewhat less favourable.

In fact, being 2 miles out to sea (relatively close to shore thankfully), having a thunderstorm charging over the mountains towards you is terrifying. Absolutely terrifying.

This was the case on a couple of occasions during our days kayaking down Puerto Rico's South coast. At this point we hadn't researched much into thunderstorms or the advice for kayakers. It is not like being in a yacht, where the mast is a lightening conductor and will ground any shock to the sea. For us, the tallest point for miles around is the top of our heads... and we're holding carbon fibre paddles (conduct electricity brilliantly).

Rain heading for us. Just a light shower this time...

Rain heading for us. Just a light shower this time...

When you are fatigued, hungry and have a target mileage for the day the obvious decision - i.e. get off the water as soon as you hear thunder - suddenly becomes a difficult one to take. You can imagine us tired, hungry and getting pelted by rain watching this big cloud from 30 miles off.... 20 miles off... 10 miles off... wondering whether to keep paddling or not. What are the chances of it going wrong anyway? Eventually, on each occasion we decided to seek refuge on land. It was the right call every time.

Puerto Rico is different to the other islands we have moved along so far because of its size and its mountains. These mountains create two problems for us. The first is storms with the rain (miserable) and lightening (scary) they bring. The second is variable winds that can offset and often reverse the forecasted wind. If you have no interest in wind, skip the next paragraph.

There are two wind effects that affect us each day: 

1. Anabatic - As the sun comes up in the morning it starts to heat the cool sea air. As it warms up it becomes less dense and rises from sea level towards and up the mountains. This creates an on-shore wind which is a pain because we are usually trying to head away from land in the mornings and thus into wind.

2. Katabatibc - The opposite occurs as the sun goes down. The air starts to cool, becoming less dense and falls off the mountains creating an offshore wind i.e. straight into our faces as we are trying to get into land in the evenings. 

It is hard to offer what a typical day looks like for us at the moment. Back in the Caribbean islands our program tended to follow a cyclical pattern, starting with arriving on the South coast of an island. One day paddling up the West coast. Leave at 1am to get to the North coast, have a leg stretch and breakfast on the North coast, then relaunch at 5.30am (first light) to start the crossing to the next island. Then repeat.

Kayaking around a marina looking for a place to stay.

Kayaking around a marina looking for a place to stay.

Now we always try to finish our days at around 4pm, so we have time to find accomodation or a camping spot before it gets dark. This means starting our day at any time between 1am and 8am depending on the distance we intend to cover, normally dictated by the next available accomodaton. 

On crossing from the Beachcomber Hotel, USVIs to Culebra - a little island that is part of Puerto Rico - we had nowhere organised to stay and little opportunity to camp close enough to the town where we could pick up the supplies we needed. Fortunately, as we were paddling down the big bay we came alongside a boat on a private dock to ask where we might be able to leave the kayak while we head to customs. The kind landlord, Luis, allowed us to tie up on his pontoon and what's more kindly offered for us to sleep on his drive.

We had an easy (ish) time getting through U.S. customs and immigration at the airport, found a small supermarket to restock, then had an entertaining evening as we tried to get to sleep on the drive... in full anti-zika attire... while the residents had a Friday evening celebration. I guess we chose the wrong drive.

Full anti-zika measures... going to sleep on Luis driveway.

Full anti-zika measures... going to sleep on Luis driveway.

The following day we made the crossing from Culebra to mainland Puerto Rico and down to Palmas del mar where we had been advised we would find a safe place to camp. Something definitely got lost in translation  because Palmas turned out to be a rather fancy and exclusive marina and plaza. While the marina offered us a complimentary 'berth' for the night inbetween two superyachts we had a very hard time finding somewhere to sleep.... as you can see...

Struggles.

Struggles.

Amazingly though, just as we were about to bed down in the marina loos to shelter from the rain we got talking to someone and through a couple of connections who must all remain nameless to protect their identities (and their jobs) got us a shower and a couple of beds right by the marina. Guys, if you read this, thank you!!

So after a quick snooze we were back on the water for 3am and making our way down the South coast towards Salinas. It was a llong and hot day with very little breeze, but we were accompanied most of the way by a small fish of some sort. You can imagine how I jumped when I put my feet in to cool off and it whipped out from under the boat to have a nibble!!

Gilbert in action.

Gilbert in action.

However, it turned out we hadn't picked the wrong drive to sleep on back in Culebra. Luis, the owner, also happened to own a restaurant in Salinas with a couple of rooms where he allowed us to stay and eat. El Dorado is a fantastic venue and well worth a stop over if you are passing by.. or even if you are not! We were taken care of fabulously by Alex, who brought us plate after plate of food and even sorted us a lift to the supermarket.

A real treat... our budget doesn't normally stretch to such delights.

A real treat... our budget doesn't normally stretch to such delights.

Carrying on along the South coast we soon had our mad dash to shore as our first thundrstorm came over. We sheltered in the mangroves for half an hour - well, George lasted about 5 minutes before deciding to risk the lightening over zika as the mosquitos came out to play - before continuing on to Cobada Beach House. Jorge, our host, kayaked out to guide us through the reef lining the beach, for which we were very grateful given our previous experiences with reefs and kindly sorted us out with dinner, breakfast and snacks for our next day! 

And more rain... bit of a theme for Puerto Rico so far.

And more rain... bit of a theme for Puerto Rico so far.

It was certainly a flying visit, and we were off again. However it was not long before more thunderstorms brewed and we were forced to sprint 2 miles into shore. We must have looked quite a state when we walked into the reception of Copamarina Beach Resort asking for them to sponsor us a night. Very fortunately some nice manager took pity on us and set us up with a room for the night. It seems odd walking into a nice hotel room but being upset we were not in a miserable campsite if it meant being 10 miles further down the coast.

We left early the next morning and kayaked again. Monotonous is the best word to describe the hours between 8am-4pm each day and there is really very little to write about. We will though follow up over the next couple of weeks with a series of 'how are we prepared' videos/posts to show you how we are dealing with some of the challenges such as navigation, the sun, sharks, eating, weather forecasting etc.

"But they said my arms would get bigger!..."

"But they said my arms would get bigger!..."

On the evening of the 3rd November after a night in a mosquito filled hell hole and a brutal kayak up the coast into wind and tide - one of our hardest yet! - we made it up to Rincon, where we have been accommodated by the wonderful and hospitable Carlos in his Blue Whale Beach Apartment (listed on AirBNB). We are now here, enjoying a rest day preparing for the "murderous" Mona Passage! 

Sounds exciting...

Storms coming over off the mountains.

Storms coming over off the mountains.

Tortola; Kind Hearts on Golden Cays

Arriving at Nanny Cay

We were very grateful for the kind welcome at Nanny Cay and the hospitality we received there. Still shattered from the previous 36 hours it was a relief not to be straddling our hammocks but to be set up with a hotel room and a bar tab! I fear we were too tired to make the most of the latter... another time maybe.

The next morning we had a rather important errand that the rest of the trip now hinged on. It might seem an obvious part of the planning phase to check, double check, and check again that we met all the visa requirements for each country (and we're visiting 18!) you plan to visit.

We didn't. 

We turned up with ESTAs, part of the visa waiver programme which entitles you to enter America or its territories for 90 days without a visa. The catch is it is only valid on certain official carriers i.e. airlines and ferries. Private planes and vessels, including kayaks, do not count.

It was an unpleasant night back in Carriacou when we found this out. ..

Luckily there is a simple back door! Get an official carrier to the United States,  clear through homeland security with your ESTA, then you have 90 days to come and go from the U.S. 

We were very lucky to run into our new friend Marcie, who after hearing about our exploits offered to sponsor us by taking us from the marina to the ferry terminal (and back) and pay for our ferry tickets. Suddenly life went from difficult to alright and Marcie kindly saved us a massive hole in our budget. 

So we spent the first half of the day travelling to St. John's, US Virgin Islands and back so we could get the little stamp in our passports allowing us to re-enter by kayak. It was a great trip.

When we got back to Nanny Cay we were privileged to meet the General Manager, Miles, who was kind enough to sort us out with lunch and an incredibly generous credit at the marina store where we were able to replace much of our broken kit, walking away with new dry bags, repair kit (duct tape), and two shiny Leatherman's to replace our rusty Gill marine knives. Thank you Miles!

Hearty welcome at Frenchmans Cay

Ready to carry on but with only a couple of hours left of daylight we set off and kayaked four miles down the coast to Frenchmans Cay where we have been put up for two nights while we get ready for the next leg.

New friends at Frenchman's Cay.

Update from Expedition HQ; Sun Oct 30th

Will and George have now left the US Virgin Islands and are currently transiting the south coast of Puerto Rico having set out this morning at 4am and are heading for the town of Salinas. Then, over the next couple of days, they will make their way to Mayaguez on the West coast which will be their jumping off point for the crossing to the Dominican Republic. Optically, it may appear quicker to transit over the north coast but given the Atlantic breakers would probably result in tragedy the southern route, although longer, is the more pragmatic.

Overall the expedition is going well. They are on schedule and the two most important components of the expedition, their bodies and the boat, are holding up well. They have suffered a litany of broken kit issues which is to be expected on a journey of this magnitude and with grateful thanks to Miles at Nanny Cay, much of the BAR (beyond all repair), kit has been replaced. It is perhaps worth bearing in mind that there are few expeditions of any type these days of this duration and a lot of manufactured kit is just not made to the extreme specs required for something like this, or certainly not within their funding limits.

While there have been some hairy moments, which they have decided not to share with us until the end of the expedition, the months of planning and preparation have so far at least, been vindicated. Without though, the kind hospitality and support that they have experienced across the islands, and freely offered advice, it is unlikely they would have made such good progress. Certainly, their limited budget would be under some duress at this point and that's putting it mildly.                                                                                                                                         

While one never wants to tempt fate the navigation has been bang on throughout which is a heck of an achievement in its own right. I'm going to ask them to expand on the subject a little more when time allows because I think it will be of interest to future kayaking expeditions in the area. Of particular interest will be the explanation as to what happened here...... couldn't find your way out of the marina lads?      

'why don't you stop and ask someone....'

In front of them they have the hop to the Dominican Republic and then a long and arduous leg to the Turks & Caicos which will easily be the longest to date. From there to the Bahamas and then Miami. They are struggling for accommodation offers in the T&C and Bahamas. If you have any contacts, please do get in touch, goldenarcexpedition@gmail.com You may be unaware but on some islands, camping is very much frowned upon, if not illegal, and their primary consideration is always the security of the boat so safe havens are important to the success of the expedition.

Finally, thank you again to all kind supporters for both your charitable donations and messages of support. I know Will and George would like to spend more time thanking people individually but with a small Samsung tablet and sporadic wifi it isn't always possible. I am sure they will on their return.

Chuck who?