San Juan Surprise

Expectations proved to be misleading: From the moment the Around the Americas guys sailed into the harbor off Old San Juan, their experiences in Puerto Rico were nothing but fantastic. "Herb's Watch" for December 3, 2009

Puerto Rico Herb 368

In the coastal Puerto Rican town of Parguera, a small fleet of cruising boats rests quietly in the mangroves.Herb Mccormick

We'll start this one off with a mea culpa: When Ocean Watch, our 64-foot steel cutter, departed from Miami bound for San Juan, Puerto Rico, on our ongoing voyage Around the Americas (www.aroundtheamericas.org), I wasn't exactly brimming with enthusiasm over our next destination. It was nothing against San Juan, really, as I'd never seen one bit of the place beyond the airport, and only that on brief layovers while headed toward somewhere else. But I had a lot of friends in nearby St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and I knew the lay of the land there very well. I reckoned it would be not only a more fun but also a better, more efficient place to get things done.

Once again, as so often is the case on this ongoing adventure, I turned out to be most pleasantly surprised.
My one and only exposure to Puerto Rico came a few years ago on an assignment for Cruising World to write a charter story about the pair of islands off the country's eastern flank, Vieques and Culebra. We'd picked up a charter cat in St. Thomas and sailed over, and on that first night out, I vividly remember seeing the multitudes of lights of the U.S. Virgins behind us and the relatively remote, dark, shadowy coastline of the Spanish Virgins there before us. The contrast was vivid, and unexpected, and our cruise through those delightful Puerto Rican isles was fantastic.

So perhaps I shouldn't have been so astonished, after all.

But from the moment we sailed into the harbor off Old San Juan, our experiences in Puerto Rico were nothing but fantastic. The old section of town was a delight, colorful and friendly, with no lack of inviting cafes and architecture. We loved walking the streets and taking in the sights and sounds.

Midway through our stay, we rented a car and ventured to the west coast, where we dove on the magnificent reef and hung out in Rincon, which has become a world-class surfing mecca with stunning breaks and beaches. We wished we'd had more time, especially when our fellow crewman, David Thoreson, broke out the map and pointed out all the alluring harbors and towns he'd visited a few years back on an eventful cruise along the well-known "Thorny Path" from the Bahamas to the Caribbean.

For most of our visit, we tied up at the outstanding facilities of the Club Nautico San Juan, just a couple of miles from the old part of town. Though we were one of only a handful of sailboats there, the club welcomes transient cruisers, and we'd give the place our highest recommendation. Everyone there treated us like royalty.
The local Costco proved to be an outstanding place to provision and load up the freezer for the next long leg of our journey, across the equator and on to Cape Horn, and the fact that they traded in U.S. dollars, of course, made shopping all the easier.

We left San Juan soon after the larders were full. It'd been such a good stop, we all agreed, that we'd look forward to returning sometime down the line.