At Long Last, Culebra!

Before there was M/V Smartini, before there was M/V Turtle E. Awesome, before Fran and I even knew what a trawler was… Culebra was on our radar. We don’t remember where we even learned of its existence, but when we first hatched the idea of eventually living somewhere in the Caribbean, it was there. We made it a “Favorite” on the weather app on our phones, so when we checked the weather for Indianapolis and Satellite Beach, we also saw what is was like in Culebra. Year-round, the daily highs and nightly lows wouldn’t vary more than two or three degrees over the ten day forecast period, and the day-to-night changes were almost always less than eight degrees. “We’ve got to see Culebra!” we said to each other, many, many times.

This is the kind of weather forecast you can almost post well in advance, like Steve Martin’s weatherman character in the movie “L.A. Story”.

Two days ago, we arrived! Since our Forty One Hour Crossing from Turks and Caicos to Puerto Real, Puerto Rico on March 6 – 7, we’ve been slowly picking our way along the South coast of this beautiful country, working our way towards St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. And while we thoroughly enjoyed all of our stops along the way (which I will write about in another post), being in Culebra – a small island off the Northeast coast of Puerto Rico, is special. It has a significance that I can’t really put my finger on. We’re by no means done with the Big Adventure – in fact, we’ve really just gotten a good start on it. It’s not like we’re really, really far away from home (although at 1,030 nautical miles from Satellite Beach, it’s the farthest we’ve been, and the first destination over 1,000 nm). But it does seem significant to both of us, and I’ll just leave it at that.

1,030 nautical miles from Satellite Beach, FL

We haven’t been able to explore very much of the island yet, because we can’t get a rental car or golf cart. There are a number of places that rent them, but because it’s the weekend, they’re all rented, and besides, on weekends, they have a three day minimum, because this is such a popular weekend destination for Puerto Ricans on the main island. But from what we’ve been able to see from Smartini, on foot, and via Killer, we like it! A lot!

Hayden and Radeen on Island Spirit in the left foreground, Paul and Liz on Oneiro at far right

The main anchorage has about 20 boats in it now, many of them cruisers like us (although they all have this funny looking “stick” pointing up to the sky, with a lot of ropes and cables all over the place – I think they call them “sailboats”). When we arrived, there were more than that. This is a very popular place for people to stop for a day or three or ten, on their way to or from the Virgin Islands and beyond. Although it’s been windy, there is no annoying swell from the sea that reaches into the anchorage, which can make it really uncomfortable. The holding (for the anchor) is excellent, and there are plenty of places on the shore to land and tie up the dinghy, the most lively of which is a waterfront bar / restaurant called The Dinghy Dock.

Killer and his new best friends, at the dinghy dock at The Dinghy Dock (not a typo!)

Because of its popularity as a weekend spot for people on the main island, there are lots of places to grab a bite, get a cold beer, rent a car, buy groceries, etc. There’s a ferry system that can get you to and from the main island in about an hour, several times each day, for only $4.50 round trip! And if you’re in a hurry, or need to get a little farther, the local airport has several daily flights to San Juan for only $90 round trip, and from San Juan you can get almost anywhere. JetBlue operates a ton of flights to San Juan from all over the US and the Caribbean, and Southwest flies there from Chicago, Baltimore, Orlando, and Ft. Lauderdale.

This is NOT zoomed in. The approach over the road really is this low!

Speaking of flying, the airport is right at the end of the harbour where the anchorage is, and it’s quite busy at times, both with scheduled service and private planes. We’re having a blast watching them land: they come down through a gap between two tall hills, then at the last minute, they make about a 45 degree turn to try to set down near the beginning of the 1/2 mile long runway. That’s the size of the smallest runways Fran and I ever landed on in six years of flying Pooh (our beloved Cessna 182) all over Florida, and to a lot of destinations in Georgia and the Midwest. And I can tell you, we never made a 45 degree turn at the last minute to land on them!

Paul and Liz (from S/V Oneida) on Killer, after a successful snorkel adventure

We’ve not yet thoroughly checked out the scuba diving and snorkeling here, but we did take Killer a few miles yesterday to a snorkel spot that was on the nautical chart. We took our new best friends Paul and Liz (from the stick boat “Oneiro”) with us, and found some very nice snorkeling, with very healthy corals, sea fans, etc. We even found a little nurse shark to play with. Also, when we arrived in the harbour a few days ago, a locally based scuba dive boat was coming in at the same time, so there must be at least some decent diving. Unlike Turks and Caicos, there are regular seasons for spearing fish and catching lobsters, which is exciting.

On our home-in-the-Caribbean Shopping List, there are several things we’re looking for, and Culebra checks a lot of checkboxes:
Great weather all year: CHECK
Beautiful island with good boating: CHECK
Excellent scuba diving and snorkeling: Not sure yet
Enough people to have several good bars and restaurants: CHECK
No cruise ships: CHECK
Spanish speaking, so we can finally get conversational: CHECK
A bit of an expat community, so we can be among our own kind if and when we choose: CHECK
Easy for family and friends to visit: CHECK
It has an airport, so we can start flying again: CHECK

We’re planning on staying here for at least three more days, and Sunday evening we’ll be able to get a rental car or golf cart as soon as the mainlanders start returning them so they can go back home. We should be able to do lots of exploring before we leave. Heck, we might even look at a local Real Estate Guide! As I said in my write-up about Turks and Caicos, it’s way too soon to get serious about looking for a home, but from what we’ve seen of Culebra so far, it’ll make the list of places to consider. But regardless of how Culebra figures into our future, it has certainly been part of our past, and it feels really cool to finally be here.

2 thoughts on “At Long Last, Culebra!”

  1. Butch & Fran – Indeed we have been reading your posts and wishing we had just continued on with you from Sand Cay. We were having so much fun with both of you. Congratulations on your first really long straight passage. No small accomplishment – this from prior “stick boaters”. Keep up the posts – we are taking notes for our passge to meet up with you next winter. The cocktail bird has been asking where his buddies are! Beth & Pat / Olaf

    1. Beth, we’ll be EXPECTING you to meet up with us somewhere in the Caribbean next winter! No excuses – Smartini.Life will tell you everything you need to know about getting here, and what to do here, etc. We miss the cocktail bird – how do we know when it’s OK to have a drink? Because of the confusion, sometimes we start at 11:00 in the morning!

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