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  • Writer's picturedianerhodes

Feliz Navidad from San Juan, Puerto Rico

Updated: Dec 26, 2023



We hope you are all enjoying the holidays! Be sure to watch our video tour of Old San Juan!


We had dreams of celebrating Christmas in Barbados by snorkeling, scuba diving, hiking volcanoes, and sitting on the beach with umbrella drinks.


However, considering the accumulation of both incomplete and new boat jobs, we decided a more practical decision would be to navigate directly south toward Puerto Rico and the big city of San Juan.


This strategic move allows us to receive Amazon packages, without incurring any surcharges (since we're back in the good ole' US of A) and also provides convenient access to essential stores such as West Marine, WalMart, and a myriad of other retail options.


San Juan


We didn't know much about San Juan but were thrilled to discover such a captivating destination. It is the vibrant capital of Puerto Rico. Nestled along the northwestern coast of the island,


At the end of the bustling San Antonio Channel is a free anchorage that is well-used by cruisers. This has been our home for the past three weeks.


Dinghy Dock with our baby dinghy

We are surrounded by mega yachts, gigantic cruise ships, lots of charter boats, jet ski rentals, stand-up paddleboarders, a Navy destroyer and the yacht club's sailing school kids on lasers and optis! It's a busy bay! The water is crystal clear and we love to swim off the boat. Our neighbors have been manatees and a great big Loggerhead turtle.


The San Juan Bay Marina maintains a lovely dinghy dock under the Sizzler. It costs $10 a day to use or $80 a month. They allow us to have packages sent there. We also have access to showers, bathrooms, and disposal of our garbage.


A twenty minute walk from the marina leads to Old San Juan, established in 1519. Historic Old San Juan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (we have visited a lot of those!). The walled city is beautiful with its narrow blue brick paver streets, colorful colonial buildings, and well-preserved forts. The imposing walls of Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Castillo San Cristóbal stand as majestic sentinels, telling tales of the city's centuries-old history.


Castillo San Cristobal
Vegetable Mofongo and Fish Tacos

San Juan pulsates with a lively cultural scene. The city is home to a dynamic mix of influences, from indigenous Taino and African roots to Spanish colonial heritage. This cultural fusion is evident in the music, dance, art, and cuisine that define the city's identity.


We enjoy exploring the vibrant neighborhoods, all decked out in holiday lights. We shake our booties to salsa and savor the delicious blend of flavors in the local cuisine. Our favorite: Mofongo Criollo de Camarones (shrimp creole over plantains). Yum!


We shared a lovely meal with one of Dave's former co-workers, Edwin.  We appreciated that he drove across the island from his home in Rincón. Dave was thrilled to meet him in person after all the Skype meetings they had together! He also helped get our propane tank filled. Thanks again, Edwin! Our plan is to sail to Rincón next winter.

Hanging out with Edwin.

Many afternoons, we walk to Condado Beach. It is protected from the dangerous rip currents that are found at the other San Juan beaches. We relax on golden sands and enjoy the tropical sun. We like to see the manatees munching on seagrass and snorkel with the reef fish, and of course, people watch. We plan to be here on Christmas day!


Our Neighborhod Beach, Condado

Apart from the captivating historical allure of Old San Juan, the remainder of the city embodies a contemporary and cosmopolitan vibe. Boasting high-end hotels and condos, chic eateries, lively malls, and festive nightlife like at La Placita. Our extensive walks throughout the city revealed it is as sophisticated and well-appointed as any city in the continental US.

La Placita is a happening neighborhood at night!

Distrito T-Mobile is an entertainment center right out of Disney World. It's San Juan's convention center, casino, concert hall, video arcade, ziplining and food court (upscale bars and restaurants) . Between all the screens and blaring music, it had more stimuli than Dave and I could handle!

San Juan Convention Center
The inside of Distrito T-Mobile
The ever changing LED ceiling of the Arena Medella inside Distrito T-Moble Photo courtesy of DiscoverPuertoRico.com

Boat Jobs

"Cruising is just boat work in exotic locations" It hasn't been all fun and sunshine. We came here to get sh*t done. Here is just a sampling of what we have been working on.


Job #1 New Outboard Engine

In the wild world of Cruising, your dinghy is your station wagon. We're all about anchoring (free!). To get anywhere from the anchorage, you've got to hop into the dinghy to get ashore.


Now, usually, we roll with Dave's deluxe wooden dinghy, but thanks to some misadventures (check our Bermuda blog for the juicy details), it's temporarily out of action. We are forced to resort to our baby 6-foot inflatable dinghy.


Our pint-sized 4hp engine decided to take an unexpected vacation. Dave went into full mechanic mode. He tried everything short of giving it a motivational speech—fuel switcheroo, carburetor spa treatments (multiple times), new spark plugs—literally, the whole shebang! Alas, our stubborn engine remains on strike, apparently on a quest for an extended coffee break.


Rowing against the wind and current in a floppy, little dinghy is not my favorite activity so it was time to buy a nice reliable, new outboard engine.


We found a lovely 6hp baby for a reasonable price and snatched her right up.


Now we buzz around the anchorage like everyone else (only in a much tinier dinghy)! Dave has been sporting an ear-to-ear grin as he zooms around on plane and I am so happy on our shorter cruises in and out of port. But we are both looking forward to having our much bigger dinghy back in action.

This is fast for us!

Uber, baby!

For us, the best mode for getting around with packages (or late at night) has been Uber. You can Uber anywhere in San Juan for about $5-$8.


One Uber driver wasn't too happy when we approached his car with our new outboard engine but he was okay with it after he realized it was brand new and wouldn't leak gas or oil in his car (plus we put down cardboard.


Job #2 Fix our Big Dinghy

Dave making repairs to Half Pint

Our battered wooden dinghy Half Pint is undergoing a serious glow-up, courtesy of Dave's handyman prowess. He's wiring back seams and re-epoxying inside and out. He's currently on layer #4 of epoxying and sanding. Soon, it's prime time for priming and painting. Half Pint is eagerly awaiting her grand debut with our brand-new engine!


We upgraded to sturdier oars, bidding farewell to the flimsy pair that snapped in the Bermudian wind gusts. An Uber driver doubted our new 7ft oars would fit in her compact car, but Dave wiggled them in!


Job #3 Make the Inverter Work

7 months ago while on anchor in Fair Haven, NY our battery display suddenly went dark. This controls the inverter (which make electricity which we can use to power stuff!) The inverter hiccup meant our gleaming, new watermaker and dive compressor make lovely pieces of art with no usefulness at all. It also leaves us scrounging for places to fill water.


Dave tinkered tirelessly while we sailed on, eventually diagnosing the root cause: our trusty 30-year-old inverter was dead.

Our New Inverter!

The plan? Order a shiny replacement once we hit Annapolis and perform the installation there. A good plan, or so we thought. Even with it freshly in place, the new inverter stubbornly shut itself off after a couple of seconds.


Dave was feeling pretty low at this point and time wasn't on our side for a prolonged wait on more parts. With a shrug and a sigh, we set sail for Bermuda, leaving behind our watermaker dreams.


Along the way, Dave figured out the problem was in setting the controls on the inverter. To do it properly we needed a Windows computer (Dave uses a Linux machine and I have a Macbook), an ethernet cable, and a few more parts from Victron that they failed to include.


We got all this in San Juan and lo and behold, the inverter now works! However, the way the batteries are installed, it isn't generating enough power to turn on the watermaker. Every time it kicks the inverter and tells us low battery.


Little boat projects seems to always snowball into great, BIG boat projects. Dave is now rewiring the battery setup, adding in more lithium batteries and more solar panels. We are now waiting on parts. I hope he gets it all done before we sail to the USVIs to meet my sons mid-January!


Job #4 Secure Everything Better!

Following our offshore sailing adventures, we recognized the need for adjustments. We incorporated snaps and straps to better secure our belongings during ocean voyages. The cabinet housing our pots and pans needed help. It was prone to launching frying pans at us in heavy seas.


Also, we had grill issues during our last sail. The grill ended up dangling upside down with its lid ajar, having ejected its grate. We procured a new grate, reinforced the securing straps, and I sewed a cover for added protection.


Job #5 Gelcote repairs

We've banged into a lot of hard things over the past seven months incurring dings and bings on the hull of Lagerhead. We are taking time to repair all her blemishes and keeping the salt water out of her core. I also swam around the old girl and cleaned her hull.


Job #6 Bow Thrusters

Our bow thrusters quit at the most inopportune time in Annapolis when we were in a bit of a blow trying to pull into a marina slip. Here in Puerto Rico, Dave was able to dive down and check out what was happening underwater which turned out to be a lot of Chesapeake Bay barnacles keeping the propellers from turning. With a scraper in hand, he fixed the problem.

Job 7 # Poop Shoot 💩

The Enemy

Our macerator pump, the unsung hero (or villain) that chomps up and spits out the unmentionables, hasn't lived up to its promise. Dave's been in a wrestling match with it for the entire journey, and let's just say, it's been a bit of a constipated relationship.


Boats can discreetly bid farewell to waste if they're more than 3 miles offshore. But our pump? It's been playing the diva card—barely a few seconds of work and it's already overwhelmed.


We dream of the day when we can just flick a magic switch and say sayonara to our problems, but alas, we aren't there yet.


Instead, we've become frequent flyers at pump-out docks. Annapolis conveniently sent a pump-out boat our way once a week.


I've reached my limit; I'm done with the poop drama. I've set my sights on a composting toilet for the boat—because who needs this kind of emotional turmoil every week?


However, Dave's not ready to throw in the towel just yet. He's got one last ace up his sleeve: a bigger, badder pump. Will it be the hero we need, or are we destined for more toilet turmoil? Stay tuned for the next thrilling episode of "Shitt's Bleak!"


Isn't this such a glamorous lifestyle? Jealous yet?


When Dave finishes these jobs (I am just the whip-yielding taskmaster...er.... I mean cheerleader), we hope to have time to visit the Puerto Rican islands Culebra, Culebrita, and Vieques before sailing to the US Virgin Islands.


Culebra

We're not done with Puerto Rico though, next winter we plan to explore the southern and western coasts extensively.


Year End Wrap Up

In the rollercoaster ride that has been 2023, we've experienced exhilarating highs and challenging lows aboard our sailboat house.


Our expedition has led us to awe-inspiring locations, introducing us to remarkable individuals throughout our journey.


We take pride in the considerable distance we've sailed with our home. Taking a leap that many merely fantasize about. We've relished the tranquility of being a minuscule little boat in the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean.


Our connection with nature has deepened. The ever-shifting landscapes of the ocean have held us spellbound and the awe-inspiring beauty of starry nights, free from artificial lights, has left us amazed. The delightful experience of coexisting with diverse birds, fish, and sea mammals has been truly wonderful.


Yet, the reality of life on a boat hits hard—sometimes the ocean is scary, everything breaks, maintenance is a constant challenge, and the bills have a knack for exceeding our budget.


Living in tight quarters 24/7 demands a unique kind of adjustment, and being stranded on the boat due to unruly weather or unfinished jobs has tested our patience. Meeting and then saying goodbye to new friends and the longing for friends, family, and missed events back home.


2024!

Nevertheless, as we set sail into 2024, we are optimistic about growing more acclimated to this lifestyle and cruising to exciting destinations, meeting new people, experiencing different cultures and visiting with our friends and family.. Here's to embracing the highs and weathering the lows with grace and resilience.


Wishing everyone a spectacular 2024—may it be your most rewarding year yet!


A Good Message for 2024!

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