We bid Viequez a fond farewell as we sailed away from the west coast one morning with just the jib up. It was a fast, dead downwind sail that caused me to gybe once or twice. We sailed 10 miles before rounding up behind the protection of Cayo Santiago, also known as Monkey Island. The island is home to a research facility established in 1938 with the importation of 409 rhesus monkeys from India. Now there are around 1000 monkeys roaming around the island. This is still an active research facility so you are prohibited from stepping on the island, but you are allowed to observe the monkeys by staying 30 feet from the shore. I found the best spot to be on the north coast toward the east end where the feeding pen is located (right at the end of the isthmus). My parents and I sat in the dinghy for over an hour watching 15-20 monkeys walk, sit, climb, and eat. Some of them were even in the trees. It was fascinating as I keep thinking I had enough photos and videos only to have one of them do something else that I had to get also.
The next morning we motored upwind about 8 miles in order to round a point just past Roosevelt Roads, which is a recently abandoned naval base. Once around the point we anchored in the lee of Isla Pineros. This island is only a mile or so from Puerto Rico and causes a natural channel, but if you get to the middle of the west coast and go directly to the beach you will be able to anchor out of the way of boat traffic. Just head in until the depth is appropriate for your draft. The anchorage is a good strategic location, but the beach and snorkeling off the boat are not worth the effort due to grass and mud. However, there is decent snorkeling at either point on the west coast and some rocks across the channel hold lots of promise.
After another peaceful night we sailed to the north end of the east coast and explored Cayo Lobos (be careful since it seems there are at least three different islands called Lobo). This anchorage is not quite as protected and is against a private island with lots of guard dog signs, although we did not see a lot of signs of guard dogs (see what I did there?). There was some very nice snorkeling right off the back of the boat. Cayo Icacos is half a mile away and has a wonderful beach that is very popular with day boats. Plus between the two islands are lots of reefs and rocks to explore with the dinghy.
We spent the next night at Isla Palominos, which is the best island on the east coast of Puerto Rico. Let me clarify this statement by saying the monkeys were amazing, but that is all there is to do on Cayo Santiago. While Palominos has free moorings, reefs to snorkel right in the middle of the mooring fields, a beach club, and a small islet right next to it called Palomintos. This was not much more than a sand bar with some brush on it and walking around it took all of about 2 and half minutes, but it is so easy to relax and before you know it half the day is gone. In fact we liked it so much, the next day we sailed an hour to the mainland, picked up my aunts and uncles, and eagerly brought them right back to experience the same things we did the day before. One thing to note is Palominos is owned by the Conquistador Hotel and they ferry their guest to and from all day long.
Since my aunts and uncles were only on the boat for half a day we had to rush back to the marina, but I wanted to sail past two islands to check them out. The first is Isleta Marina, the first marina on this side of Puerto Rico. It features two high rise condos, an extensive dock, some boatyard capabilities, and an anchorage in the cradle of this island. The second was Cayo Ramos, which is a private island. You would expect someone that bought an island to show off a bit of money, but that is not the case here. In fact the dock looked a little decrypted and the buoys to mark the swim area were actually one gallon oil jugs. Oh well.
Our final destination this cruise was Puerto Del Rey, the largest marina in the Caribbean. In fact it is so popular the Pirates of the Caribbean leave their movie prop boat here (check out the last photo of the figurehead). Once we topped off the fuel and completely drained the water tanks, I kicked everyone off the boat. This sounds mean, but I was having it hauled out of the water and stored on land for the remainder of the hurricane season. I got the boat put away in record time thanks to my parents and aunts & uncles. Mostly because we were motivated to get it done that day, because for the next week we wanted to do more cruising of Puerto Rico. This time in a van, but you can read about that next week.