13 December, 2016
Well, didn’t get a whole of sleep on Saturday, the night of our arrival. Between the surge, causing us to saw back and forth, the creaking (not a strong enough word-maybe shrieking) of the lines as they alternately tightened around the PVC-sheathed steel pilings, and the at least 80 decibel music emanating from the numerous kiosks across the harbor until 02h00, sleep was an unrealized luxury. We took a walk around the property, and met a couple standing by a pile of luggage in the parking lot. They had come in the afternoon before, and were waiting for a cab to take them to the airport so that they could fly home. Their Captain had just landed, and would take their boat to St. Croix, their home port, when the weather cooperated. Perfecto! We talked to the cab driver, Wilson, who agreed in much-less-than-perfect English, to take us in to Ponce when he returned with the Captain. Well…..we weren’t too sure about the communication thing, but since he left an upright fan which he had taken out of the trunk with us as a hostage, and he had to bring the Captain back, we figured the odds of us getting to town were about 80-20, with the odds of us getting to Mass on time were around 40-60. Thirty minutes later, with our pack loaded, and the Girl retied, we were starting to get a little worried. That was just the start. The cab rolled up. The lady driving hopped out, and headed for the restroom. Out popped Chris, the Captain, who couldn’t get away quick enough. While Wilson bent his ear, he kept backing up. Finally, he said “I gotta go”. We asked him to keep an eye on our boat, the lady driver returned, and we were off. Turns out that Wilson was drunk as a skunk. As we roared down the highway, he regaled us with stories. First, about how he knew everybody around here, his other car, a Cadillac SUV, then about how he was going to take us on a tour, give us a free gift and onandon. All of this in sortaEnglish that we could barely piece together. Interspersed, were asides to the driver in Spanish, spiced liberally with “F bombs”. Finally, he got the point that we didn’t want a tour, we were just going to church (a concept that seemed very foreign to him). Winding through the backstreets now, he turns around and says to us “Nothing is going to happen to you, I take care of you”. We pop out of the barrio into the daylight, only to find that the street is barricaded. Fortunately, there are 3 cops at the roadblock, and beyond, there is some kind of festival going on (sigh of relief). Wilson gets out and tries to talk the cops into letting us through. Nope, not happenin’. Back up, turn down another sidestreet, wrong way on a one-way street, and we’re in front of the Catedral de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe. Ten bucks, “See ya, Wilson”, twenty steps and we’re in the safety of the Iglesia. I had already done plenty of praying, but figured a little more couldn’t hurt.
Afterwards, we spent a couple of hours wandering around the city square, where the Christmas festival was winding down after a weeks’ run. The downtown area in this, Puerto Rico’s second largest city, was evidently in a state of decline. There were many empty storefronts, and it was very apparent that the infrastructure was crumbling through lack of maintenance. Having had enough, we hailed a (different) cab and headed back to the Girl. As we walked down the dock, we saw Chris working frantically with the lines on our boat. Several had loosened, and in spite of the many fenders that we had hung, our Girl was slamming the concrete dock. It was all he could do to hold the boat off in the 20+ kn wind and vicious surge. Man, we arrived just in time. There was no one else around to help him, and I dunno how long he could have held out. We all got “Alizann” retied, but for the rest of the day, and the next, Suz and I were afraid to leave her. Plus, the extra day gave me time to do some fiberglass repairs-all pretty minor, considering. (Thank you, Chris). Lines stretched, loosened, and had to be redone often. All the while, the boat lurched forward, sprang back, and rotated, causing her to bounce between pilings. No proper bow lines could be tied, as the slip was too short. In a word, Miserable! On the third day, a boat moved off a face dock. After a half hour (or so) of conversation, the lady at the office consented to us moving to the face, where we could get some proper lines tied. But…….we could only stay there 2 days, as another boat was coming in. Sold! We moved 15 minutes later. Getting out of the slip was a challenge, but that’s another story. We resurrected our cancelled rent-a-car reservation, and got a good nights’ sleep in readiness for our road trip to the coffee plantation.
So, let’s back up just a tad. The night of the dock incident, we had Chris over for some enchiladas. Nothing like an Irish gal cooking Mexican food in Puerto Rico. His story goes like this: Born in the States, his folks moved to St. Croix when he was eight. He grew up there, and has worked on boats his whole life. He is currently a harbor pilot in St. Croix, and moonlights as the Captain of the 62’ Ocean Alexander that his bosses left at the dock here in Ponce. He’s worked for these folks for the past several years, and will be the Captain of their new 78’ Fleming that is nearing completion, and will be delivered soon. It seems that the owners came in to PR from Dominican Republic without clearing Customs (it was the weekend). They then left the boat and flew out, leaving Chris to deal with the paperwork on Monday. Fortunately, the Customs folks saw things for what they were, knowing that Chris had nothing to do with this mess. They didn’t confiscate the boat, and let the owners off with an $8,600 dollar fine. (probably not even a hiccup for folks that own a Cessna Citation, and have a $7M boat coming soon). Names have been omitted to protect the (not so) innocent. Just another story from the backwaters of the Caribbean.
Well, there was a whole lot more to these stories, but as usual, this is getting waaaayyyy too long-winded, so…….