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Ch 26 - Boqueron

After 22-plus hours crossing the Mona Passage from the Dominican Republic, we finally dropped anchor on the west coast of Puerto Rico at 5:30 pm.  Incredibly, we'd spotted the island around 8 that morning, but the strong trade winds working against us turned the last leg of our trip into a marathon.

We anchored in Boqueron, which was recommended as a smaller and more pleasant anchorage than Mayaguez, the nearest metropolis farther up the coastline; but despite what was written in Passages South, when Cap called customs to check in they demanded both of us present our paperwork in Mayaguez; but we could wait until after the weekend.  We hired a publico to take us there and back; and the Customs Officer, who spoke fluent English, was very nice but gave us an earful, complaining about cruisers following erroneous instructions in some book.  We kept quiet.  He also mentioned Ruff Life was allowed to stay in P.R. for 60 days or we'd have to formally register the boat and pay taxes on her value.  We'll be gone, we assured him.  Again, no one mentioned gunsTo continue my journal, which I wrote in the mornings while drinking coffee and waiting for night-owl Cap to wake up:

March 16, 1998 - Boqueron, Puerto Rico
"Mayaguez had stores - Michaels crafts, J.C.Penny's, etc; McD's Burger King, Church's Chicken - even a Denny's!  It's like Florida.  Boqueron is small, lots of tourists but not a real built-up place.  Restaurants, pool halls, T-shirt shops.  No banks, and we're out of cash.  Called Hillary and she's sending our mail via Fed-Ex to Wildflowers, a guest house run by an American couple.  We splurged on dinner - $64 - our eyes popped at the bill since we were thinking exchange rates, but everything's in U.S. dollars, ouch!  At least it was really good."
That first meal out was in Galloway's, a casual bar and restaurant on the waterfront, popular with tourists and still in existence (you can find photos on their page).  It felt like heaven and we understood the menu (except for said prices), which included familiar food. The servers, who spoke English, kept the drinks coming while we lounged in plastic patio chairs for hours, ordering course after course, oblivious to the bill we were racking up. There was music coming from somewhere and they even had a couple of shelves for a small book exchange, which grabbed Cap's attention immediately.  I could live there.


We did, for 11 days.  At first, the anchorage in Boqueron was full of sailboats yet empty of life; except for 4 dogs on a teeny boat whose owner, I later learned, ran a one-woman crusade to rescue Satos, or strays.  There wasn't another trawler in sight.
"Most of these boats are unoccupied right now.  No one we know, except for Double Eagle.  His Dominican crew member was forced to go back by the Coast Guard, even 'tho he had traveling papers. There are more dogs here, and we spotted another collie in town behind a tall metal fence.  I wondered if it was a female...at least Czar could earn his keep."
We'd take the dinghy to the makeshift dock along the beach, free of charge, to walk Czar and pick up what was to become our daily staples: a half-gallon of milk, cigarettes for two and a 10-pound bag of ice to keep the butter, mayo, etc., cold in the disconnected-to-save-power ice-maker.  Cap's massive iced mochas used up most of the milk, and he'd swig the rest throughout the day.  I kept to my instant coffee, boiling water in a saucepan on the stove (consuming precious power) and keeping it warm in a thermal coffee server; at least until Happy Hour, which could start any time.  The sooner the better as far as I was concerned.

A small colmado was just off the main plaza and the first time we stopped, Czar and I waited outside while Cap ran in for the groceries.  It was about 9 in the morning and I was people-watching while Czar sat alongside me beautifully.  In my memory the plaza had a circular path snaking beneath lovely trees, no idea what kind. Benches and trash receptacles were scattered about.  Despite being early the sun was hot, and a few men already had beers in hand.  One or two were still sleeping.

Younger men, working or hustling, greeted each other with words I was finally beginning to understand; a shopkeeper swept in front of her store. It was a beautiful morning and I felt relaxed, and relieved to once more be under the protection of our U.S. government.  No more being pinched for dwindling cash under threat of official action.

(Photo note:  everyone wanted their picture taken with Czar; coulda made a fortune over the years.  Here's Erika from Germany, traveling solo around the world by selling her hand-made jewelry, more in a future chapter.)

While we waited I noticed one bedraggled man staggering towards us or the colmado, I couldn't tell which; but as he neared he stretched out his arm towards me.  I wasn't sure what to do or expect so I remained motionless, as did Czar, even when the man firmly but gently gripped my forearm to maintain his balance, mumbling something in Spanish. We stood thus connected, staring at one another for a few moments until a young man came up and led the man away so tenderly I was ashamed of my unwarranted fear.  The Ugly Americana.
"Some watchdog! He's useless!" I barked at Cap when he came out, adding, "I thought you said he was a good protector."
"He is; if you were really in danger he'd have come to your defense."
I wasn't convinced, stupid dog.  We poked around town then stopped to talk to an American woman who introduced herself as the owner of Wildflowers, a two-story concrete guest house she and Bill, from New York, ran with son Craig on the main drag. (The guest house also exists today, with different owners.) Judy invited us inside for a tour, beginning with the downstairs bar and dining area, run by Craig.  The guest rooms were modest and clean, and as we explored she explained how busy weekends could get, which turned out to be an understatement. She and Bill offered the use of their mailing address to receive our package from Hillary, which meant we'd be staying in Boqueron at least for a few days, Saints be praised.

Wednesday, March 18
"Monday, right after writing, a welcome sight pulled up alongside and dropped anchor: Water Witch!  I couldn't be happier.  They came in with 7 others, including Aussie D'Light, Beyond and Sara Jean. It was great to have a friend to talk to again.

"Cap went in for his shot of pool, and yesterday was St. Patrick's Day so we went to Wildflowers to watch the annual parade.  It consisted of a bagpipe player, a Master of Ceremony who looked like the Mad Hatter in green, down to his shorts and socks, and 20 or so ex-pats in Shamrock hats, all having great fun.  I said I thought there would be floats, to which the answers were, "You're in Puerto Rico!!"  Silly me.  Had green Bass Ale, plus Craig kept setting up various shots."
We'd stop in to to drink and socialize with our new friends, Cap more often than me.  He and Craig would go shoot pool after Craig closed the bar.  One day Cap returned and explained an opportunity out of nowhere: Bill and Judy wanted to turn over the operation of Wildflowers in order to travel more, so Cap and I could rent the entire place from them and manage it ourselves, renting out rooms and serving lunch and dinner.  I was not enthusiastic at all and made it clear I wasn't crazy about Cap's idea of the distribution of duties, adding a crack about him financing it himself. 
"Well that did it - he said he had it and was leaving; would sell his guns and take off.  What a shock!  I knew he was right about my attitude, but I didn't expect him to jump ship, so that was another fun evening.  This morning we agreed to try again - me not being negative about everything; and we spoke of renting a place for a month and using the time to work on Ruff Life; scout the area; see what it's like to live on land again.  And tonight Bill and Judy are taking us to dinner to discuss the 'opportunity'."
March 21
"It was a long dinner - starting off with "What kind of experience do you have?"  It was sounding like an interview except I didn't want the job to begin with, so I let Cap do the talking.  They were nice enough and dinner was ok, fried chicken and beef stew.  We stopped in the bar afterwards but I was tired from all the emotionalism of late, so Cap brought me home.  I asked if we could discuss it the next day; it sounded like long, hot days, from 10am to 11pm or midnight, slaving over a deep-fat fryer.  Not quite what we had in mind but we would talk, so after dropping me off Cap went back in to get something from a 'friend.'  Didn't get back 'til late, and he had a hangover the next day.
"I left early to get a bottle of rum to repay Aussie D'Light, then went to the beach with Vickie while Cap slept.  Jeff's been in bed for 3 days with an ear infection."
I wasn't crazy about Bert-n-Ernie on Aussie D'Light (all pseudonyms), but they kept popping up in the same anchorages so we socialized with the same people.  They were Birders, and the only reason I know the term vent is from suffering through Bert's boring lectures. Vickie and Jeff went along on one expedition in the D.R., but they were always up for new experiences.

Tradewinds trawler Ruff Life
Bert was loud and obnoxious, while Ernie was there to smooth ruffled feathers caused by her husband's demeanor, sometimes.  The morning after they arrived in Boqueron he dinghied over and rudely demanded compensation for the fuel line he left at Cap's disposal in the D.R.  Cap was still sleeping and I resented Bert flexing his muscles at poor little me first thing in the morning; he wouldn't have acted like that with Cap.  He could have been nicer about it, but I smiled, went in, bought the rum and handed it off to Ernie in a brown paper bag before heading for Water Witch.

Years later, back on land
Thank goodness Vickie was around.  At least with her I could be myself.  I teased her about killing Jeff, since no one had seen him in days.  "Just dumped him over the side; no one would know,"  must have been my mood, but it happens.  Vickie could handle the boat alone if need be; but what I didn't learn until Boqueron was that she didn't fare well, constitutionally, during long voyages, so she'd take something to sleep in the cabin while Jeff did the sailing.  I really missed a lot about learning to cruise.

Author's note: I must take this opportunity to make a point: I'm writing this during the 2020 Coronavirus epidemic, and due to closings and physical restrictions, many couples are finding themselves in the same proverbial boat as Cap and I were on Ruff Life: cooped up with one another 24/7, day in, day out. Remember the advice I said we were given back in Florida: Boating will either make or break a relationship; and today's stay-at-home orders aren't much different. Perhaps, then, it's a bit easier to understand the often cantankerous relationship Cap and I had, even in Paradise.

"When Cap finally woke up he asked if I'd like to leave for Ponce in a few days.  What??!!  Seems he heard from Craig that the church across the street from Wildflowers is hoping to get them (or more likely the bar) to move or better yet, close; so that ended that discussion.  We can rent something further south."
March 24
"Guess an 'attitude adjustment' was required, because we've been having a nice time the past few days, playing Yahtzee, reading and I worked on my needlepoint.  I wanted to paint the mirror frame attached to the bedroom door but had trouble with a design, so Cap sketched out something better than I'd imagined, surprised the hell out of me.
"Czar's been misbehaving so he's in training again.  I cooked up some Chicken Cacciatore; however, I had the munchies when we went to town after dinner, so I ate a lobster-stuffed pie (empanada), slice of pepperoni pizza and chocolate ice cream.  Just like going to the boardwalk when we were kids.  Had a nice surprise when the TV actually picked up a signal and we got to watch Cadfael.  Funny what we used to take for granted.
"The trades pick up early morning and last until late afternoon, pretty strong - 30 knots.  Vickie and Jeff helped us get diesel and water at the marina's dock, since I'm still terrible with tying off.  We said our goodbyes at Wildflowers, picked up a couple of souvenir tee-shirts and beer can huggies, and at 6:30 this morning pulled up anchor and cruised the short distance to El Combate, a shallow spot with no protection, but a pretty stop for breakfast.
"We have the place pretty much to ourselves; no other boats; because it's a 3 day weekend and most everything is closed.  We walked around cute neighborhoods but never spotted any wild monkeys (we'd heard stories).  Swam at the beach, Cap made some breakfast burritos, and we tried to leave at 2 pm but just after pulling anchor the engine died. 
"Something happened with the batteries because the engine wouldn't start, so Cap's got the charger going. He got Czar to swim to shore by tossing him in and then jumping in after; but Czar did really well. At the moment, he and a new friend are having fun running back and forth along the beach.  Finally, another dog the same size."
Czar even took a few steps into the water to go after the stick Cap threw; until he realized where he was and turned around, letting the Rottweiler have it. Cap was always so disappointed that Czar refused to Fetch, but he kept trying.  So we let the batteries charge for awhile and tried to start the motor, but everything, engine, generator, acted screwy and nothing worked.  I suggested a loose connection to the batteries, what did I know, and Cap didn't react like it was a dumb idea.  He said he'd check, and sure enough, that was the problem.  It just made sense, with all the knocking around he had to do in the engine compartment to keep us afloat.

Once reconnected, the engine turned right over and we continued our cruise to the anchorage at the tip of the island by the Cabo Rojo lighthouse. In engine-time it was a 2-1/2 hour trip but we didn't anchor until 5:30 pm. Aussie D'Light, Beyond and a few others were already there, and Water Witch arrived after us.  It was hard to sleep because of the rolling seas all night, so by first light we were all off: sticks tacking their way and Ruff Life motoring alone, to make the turn and get close to Ponce before the trade winds picked up.

Up next:  Sidetracked

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To read from Chapter 1:  A Rough Start







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