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Spanish Isles Page 2

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Apart from the lack of crowds and the stellar beaches, Vieques’s main tourist attractions are the rare bioluminescent bays of Puerto Mosquito and Puerto Ferro. Light-emitting microscopic organisms called dinoflagellates thrive in these shallow bays, which are surrounded by mangroves. The idea of anchoring at the mouth of a bay called Port Mosquito didn’t exactly appeal to the crew—after all, there must be a reason for the name—so we tiptoed over the 7-foot-deep bar that guards the entrance to Puerto Ferro and dropped anchor a hundred yards from a French cruising cat crewed by a young couple and a baby. That night we joined them to drift through the mangroves in the darkness, watching oars and feet trail green streaks through the inky water. The light show at Mosquito is said to be even better, but that would have to wait for another time.

I’d have liked to head farther along the coast toward Puerto Rico, where there are reefs said to be the equal of anything the rest of the Caribbean has to offer, but time was short and we were ready for some nightlife. After that one raucous night in Ensenada Honda, we hightailed it back to Culebra and picked up a free mooring in Baha Sardinas on the west side, outside Dewey. I found it a charming township, more like a village, a backwater in the best sense of the word. We spent Happy Hour surrounded by grizzled cruising types and American expats at the Dinghy Dock on the Ensenada Honda side of Dewey, then repaired for dinner to Mamacita’s, the prime local hangout, where we’d tied up our dinghy.

Next day, as we sailed around the top of the island, we could at last appreciate its rugged beauty and see what we were missing out on by having only a week’s vacation. A gleaming strip of white beach on the lee side of Cayo de Luis Pea, just off Dewey, beckoned in vain. Next time, maybe. As we stood north, we kept a close eye on chart, plotter, and depthsounder, for navigation marks are few and far between in the Spanish Virgins. This is no place to slack off on your piloting skills or depend too much on the chart, but the water is so clear that the color changes that come with decreasing depth are obvious. We dodged between gnarly-looking mini-islands and considered possible anchorages for a future visit; looked longingly at Flamenco Beach, rated the second best beach in the world by the Discovery Channel (who am I to argue?); and finally dropped anchor between a bunch of daytripper boats at Culebrita, a stunning little island just east of Culebra.

An uncomfortable swell put paid to any thoughts of spending the night here, so we felt our way in to Baha de Almodvar through a narrow, shallow pass in the encircling reef. Protected to the east by the headland known as Cabeza de Perro and to the south by the reef that extends from Culebrita to the mouth of Ensenada Honda, this fantastic anchorage was marred only by the presence of a dozen big sportsfishermen rafted together near the reef. It was Friday night, and on the weekends the Puerto Ricans come to play in Culebra. On a weeknight, I suspect, we’d probably have been the only boat there.

Still, live and let live. There was room for all of us, and at least they weren’t a hard-partying crowd. As the sun sank below the horizon and the stars blinked on one by one, Sarah Sue’s complement assumed its now-usual position on the trampoline and talked of many things: of love and war and life and death and work and play, of islands explored and those yet to be discovered. The lights of St. Thomas showed clearly to the east. Tomorrow we would be on our way back to Charlotte Amalie, thinking about airports and taxis and cold, but tonight there was just the warm breeze blowing across the boat and the lap of water against the bows.

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