May 8, 2019

Puerto Rico’s South Coast: Our Roughest Easting Yet

After leaving the Dominican Republic and crossing the Mona Passage, we arrived into Boqueron, Puerto Rico at 3 pm on March, 31, 2019 after a 26-hour motorsail.

We weren't sure exactly when we'd be arriving to Puerto Rico, but we were lucky enough to catch our college friends Dale and Laney, and their three children, on the second to last day of their vacation! They were staying in San Juan - on the opposite side of the island - and we reached out the afternoon we arrived with no expectations of seeing them. We were surprised and grateful that they planned to hop in their rental car the next morning to make the three-hour drive to Boqueron to visit us! We had such a great time catching up with them and having their family aboard Borealis and giving them a small taste of the cruising life.

We got another surprise when we arrived and heard from boat friends Jess and Brent on SV Sea Duction, who unknowingly anchored next to us after recently returning to their boat from some time away in the states! We met these two on our very first day in the Bahamas. It's their second year cruising and so they skipped ahead through the rest of the Bahamas pretty quickly, and we'd been chasing them ever since. We had a fun time reconnecting in Boqueron and ended up sailing most of Puerto Rico with them.

Sailing friends Jess and Brent on S/V Sea Duction

Sailing PRs Southern Coast

We visited Puerto Rico on a land vacation a few years ago and spent time in Old San Juan, Fajardo and Luqillo along PR's northeast coast, and so we were excited to explore more of the island.


Like the rest of the small port fishing villages we soon visited along PR's southern coast, Boqueron is a colorful little seaside town that is eerily quiet during the week, with empty streets and most shops and restaurants closed, and thumping on the weekends as host to hundreds of tourists from around the island. Unfortunately these little towns had limited amenities for cruisers - like dinghy docks and supermarkets with fresh provisions - but they made up for it in color and pretty anchorages!

The colorful art adorning many of Boqueron’s buildings
We spent several days in Boqueron relaxing and recovering from our Mona Passage and saw the sleepy little town slowly wake up as the weekend neared; by Friday night, small power boats were buzzing around in the bay, tourists swarmed the now open street vendor carts and restaurants, and music thumped from the beach.

Where is everyone? Many of PR’s port towns were nearly empty on weekdays

Puerto Real

After five days in Boqueron, we back tracked north a bit to Puerto Real to visit Marina Pescaderia for fuel and laundry. We also needed to make a stop (the first of several) at Mercados Bakery for their guava donuts, which Nick read about on a sailing blog several years ago. Thankfully, the donuts didn't disappoint!

On April 8 at 5 a.m., we weighed anchor in Puerto Real to start the trip south and around to Puerto Rico's southern coast. On our way past Boqueron, we met up with Jess and Brent on Sea Duction, who we planned to buddy boat with for the next few legs. As soon as we rounded Cabo Rojo on Puerto Rico's southwest corner, we were met with the full force of the easterly trades: with 20-knot winds and 3-foot swell with a short 5- to 6-second choppy interval, which we bashed into for several hours a day for the next few days.

Despite our very early morning departures (from 3 am to 6 am), we rarely saw any night lees or calming of the tradewinds from the katabatic night winds coming off the land as it cools. We consistently saw 20-knot winds from the east, 3-4 ft choppy waves, which hit us directly on the nose, so we usually had several inches of water on the decks and washing over the toe rails. Often the combination of wind and waves slowed us by a knot or two, so we motorsailed along at a very slow 4 knots for much of PR's 100-mile southern coast.

La Parguera

Five hours after leaving Puerto Real, we arrived to La Parguera, where after several attempts, we finally found a park service mooring without a destroyed pendant.

The shallow mangrove area is a popular spot for tourists on the weekends, who arrive in droves in small power boats to swim, snorkel, drink and compete to play the loudest music. :)

La Parguera is home to one of the most popular and beautiful bioluminescent bays, Bahia Fosforescente. Once night, shortly after sunset, we motored in the dingy to the bio bay and were amazed at the light from microscopic plankton that would appear in the water when disturbed. Unfortunately, it was too dark to catch on camera, but we were thankful to be able to make the stop.

Bahia de Guanica/Gilligan's Island

On Wednesday, April 10 we set sail at 6 a.m. to Guanica, or Gilligan's Island, since locals thought it resembled the island from the television show. The area is another popular weekend destination for tourists, who enjoy lounging in the shollow blue lagoons with and slowly floating through the mangroves...which is exactly what we did that afternoon.


The following morning, we departed at first light to make tracks further east towards Ponce, a very industrial and commercial port and larger city than any we’d previously visited. The Ponce Yacht Club is at the heart of the bay, which was filled with what we assumed was hurricane damaged boats.

The Tablado La Guancha, the large old fashioned boardwalk surrounding the port, was also roped off to visitors since it leaned heavily into the water from damaged pilings. Once again, this port was mostly empty midweek, but had loud weekend gatherings with base thumping music and small power boats buzzing around, but it was also very convenient for reprovisioning and other services. Within a few hours of anchoring, we had a full propane tank and a long list of items to purchase at the nearby Home Depot and Walmart - a cruisers heaven since we haven't shopped at a big-box store since leaving the states last December!

Sara cataloguing our provisions before we head to the big-box stores 

El Yunque National Forest

Our friends Brent and Jess rented a car in Ponce to run errands and stock up at the stores, but we decided to have some fun first and drove several hours to El Yunque National Forest in northeastern Puerto Rico. We visited the 28,000-acre park in 2016, and we were glad to see that there was minimal damage from Hurricanes Maria and Irma other than a few washed out trails. We had a great day swimming in Juan Diego Falls and hiking to several mountain peaks, including El Yunque Peak, Mt Britton tower and La Roca.

After a full day of hiking, we headed to Luquillo to visit the popular food kiosks or stalls for some classic Puerto Rican cuisine.

Caja de Muertos/Coffin Island

After three days in Ponce, on Monday, April 15 we finally got to raise the sails again as we headed on a beam reach in 8-12 knots of wind 8 nm south to Caja de Muertos, or Coffin Island, a state park and series of small islands that resemble a shrouded body from afar. After a leisurely sail, we headed in to explore the island and followed the cactus-lined hiking trail to the lighthouse, built in 1887. The lighthouse's observation platforms had some fantastic views of the rocky shoreline and beach below.

After working up a sweat from our hike, we headed for the water, and Coffins' sandy beaches where we found our friends Jess and Brent and may have made ourselves at home on the island tour company's water toys after they'd packed up and left for the day :)

Puerto Patillas

The following morning, we were up before the sun, at 4:30 a.m. to make more ground east toward Puerto Patillas, another small fishing village 30 nm away. With plans to keep moving the following day, we never lowered the dinghy from the boat deck to go ashore, which was a good thing, because halfway through the night we were awake from the swell wrapping around the anchorage and rolling the boat from side to side. Since we were both wide awake, at 3:30 AM, we decided to raise the anchor and head towards the Spanish Virgin Islands - our very last upwind motorsail along PR's south coast!

Despite the south coast being some of the roughest easting we've done yet, we thoroughly enjoyed our time in Puerto Rico and hope to visit again soon.

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