Anchors Away!

“You can live however you want in New York City,” an artist/mentor once told me when I was a teenager. She was right. I’ve lived in New York for over ten years and I keep discovering what kinds of experiences are possible in this city.

Polo shirt: bought at Find vintage in Portland, Maine, Shorts and sunglasses: Asos, Shoes: Cole Hann (from about 5 years ago!), vintage scarf

I thought I hated boats. I grew up in Maine and boating was part of my existence. While I loved exploring islands and the rocky coast, I also grew to loathe the tedium and seasickness that I felt when I traveled long distances by boat. As a result I’ve avoided myself from most things maritime since I was a teenager. However, like everything that I once thought I didn’t like, I recently reconsidered.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been reading Anne-So’s breathtaking accounts of re-learning to sail and then taking a trans-Atlantic journey via sailboat, but boating has been on my mind lately. When our friend C. offered to take us sailing on his father’s boat I had to jump at the chance.

The boat was moored at City Island, a small island off the Bronx that feels like a New England town: seafood shacks, clapboard covered houses, and the air full of wheeling gulls. C’s Dad reviewed safety and protocol aboard and soon we were hoisting sails and settling in for an afternoon on the water.  When we cut the engine and were propelled by nothing more than the wind and could hear the waves slapping against the side of the boat I felt like I was in a space connected to my memories growing up, the place where I am from and the where I am now. Looking back to the Manhattan skyline from across the glittering water, I felt like we weren’t just floating off an island off the Bronx, but in a space that was all its own. That’s why realized I needed to rethink my feelings about boats: they are a world apart, no matter where their port of call.

Culebra Tropical Escape, Part 2: Culebrita

Culebrita all to ourselves

Looking back towards Culebra from Culebrita

We went to Culebra to “get away from it all.” We chose an island off the beaten track so we could exhale, explore, indulge in sunshine and nature, and enjoy without being around hordes of others in a heavily commercialized place. To pursue this idea even further we decided to spend a day exploring an even smaller, more secluded place: Culebrita (little Culebra), an uninhabited island to Culebra’s east. Upon the suggestion of the dive shop employee (hint, always ask at the dive shop for suggestions) we called Captain Sebastian and he agreed to show us around Culebrita on our last full day of vacation. We assured him we were “Four healthy people in our 30’s who wanted to snorkel, hike and relax on the beach.” Sebastian was about our age and the son of a yacht delivery captain who grew up throughout the Caribbean. Culebra is most definitely Sebastian’s home, though. When asked about Vieques, Culebra’s larger neighbor, he shook his head, “Too big for me man, too many people.”

Culebrtia beach

We met Sebastian at 8 am at the dock by Mamacita’s restaurant. It might seem punishing to get up so early on vacation, but trust me, getting into a small boat to chill out and take in the beautiful, tropical sights is nothing like getting to work at 8 am, so why worry about it? You can always nap on the beach later! We began our adventure by taking a tour of a mangrove forest on Culebra, marveling at the tangled roots and the watery passages between them. Then it was off to Culebrita.  The wind was blowing strongly and the waves were super choppy, with white caps even in deep water. It was a fun, ride. Having grown up on boats myself I could tell Sebastian was super skilled at handling the the wind and the waves. So I let myself relax.

Exploring the mangrove forest by boat

When we got to Culebria we were the only ones there. Sebastian explained that it usually fills up by 11 am, so it’s good to get an early start. Because of the high winds the only other boat we saw the whole time was that of Captain Sebastian’s friend, Captain Bill. Bill has a catamaran and will fish and cook you a huge meal as he shows you around. The beach was on the leeward side of the island, so we soaked in the view and the sun out of the wind and then motivated to take the 15 minute hike to the lighthouse on the highest point of the island.

Hiking to the lighthouse on Culebrita

Close up of the abandoned lighthouse on Culebrita

A word of caution about hiking in Culebra and Culebrita: watch out for the thorns! Sebastian carried a machete to cut them back and I can see why. Those thorn bushes are intense and a brush with a thorn and your bare ankle or arms would be really painful. Thorns aside, the hike was lovely and mellow and the view rivaled those we saw from our hike along the spine of Jost Van Dyke last winter.  Speaking of our trip to Jost, Culebra and Culebrita are only 17 miles from St. Thomas, in the US Virgin Islands, so the British Virgin islands are not too far off. In my own ignorance of the region I had no idea how close the Virgin Island and Puerto Rico are to each other. Answer: very.

View from the top of the lighthouse: Tortuga Beach

View from the top of the lighthouse: looking towards St. Thomas

Lighthouse stairs: totally terrifying

Sebastian fearlessly lead us up the lighthouse tower, which is not at all safe or a journey for the weak at heart. SMH and S. followed him right up to the top, sitting on the edge of the tower in the howling wind. Just writing about it makes my palms sweat. A. and I poked our heads out, took in the view and retreated. I’m glad I mustered my courage to do it, but climbing crumbling cast iron steps is clearly not an activity for worry warts like me.

Totuga beach, lighthouse in background, Culebrita

After lunching and snorkeling (do I even need to tell you it was amazing?) we took another walk across Culebrita to a beach that was even more perfect that any of the ones we had seen so far. White sand, palm trees, crystal water, the whole lot. Tortuga beach is also a national wildlife preserve where turtles nest in the spring, hence its name. While I would have been content to laze on the sand, the adventure continued and I went along.

On the way to the baths

Sebastian led us over craggy rocks to a series of tide pools fed by the waves. We stared at them admiringly, watching the surf crash in and feeling the wind whistle by our ears. Suddenly Sebastian stripped off his shirt, dropped his bag, and jumped in! We stared, slack jawed. We were sure our Captain was going to be swept out to sea. He waved at us, “What are you waiting for!” One by one we plunged in. The sea water was bubbly from the surf and felt as if we were swimming in seltzer.

The baths, Culebrita

Photo by Captain Sebastian

But we didn’t stop there. We hiked up yet another rocky outcropping to stare out at the sea and watch the waves crash into the tide pools. There’s nothing that settles me and puts me at peace more than watching the waves and staring across the sea towards the horizon. When I was flying to Culebra I joked that I was looking for paradise. I dare say that we found it.

Wind and waves, Culebrita

Culebrita, Tortuga Beach

I highly recommend Captain Sebastian’s tours. He’s fun, knowledgeable and will customize where he takes you to what you want to do. He also goes to Luis Pena, the islands you can see in my sunset photos in my previous Culebra entry, which have incredible snorkeling. He brings water, fruit and fruit juice for you! The price is extremely reasonable and as I said, he’s a great skipper to boot. He doesn’t have a website, but you can call him at 1-787-435-4498 to make a reservation. Don’t worry, he said it was OK for me to put his number on my blog.

You can see a full set of my Culebra and Culebrita photos on Flickr.

Finally, because pop culture never gets old (until it does) we of course, could not stop humming this song while we were boating:

Casual Evening Boating Attire

It’s a well known joke in my family that I don’t like boats. It’s not my fault, it’s just that when I am in a boat larger than a canoe that has a motor I tend to get really sea sick really quickly. Blame it on a childhood spent on them. However, I may have made my peace with boats after a wonderful evening spent aboard the ship Clipper City this past weekend. Our friends Frank and Sandy got married on the boat (by the ship captain, which is something that they can do as a captain!) and invited us to celebrate with them. It was magical to float about New York Harbor as the sun sunk behind Ellis Island and send golden rays glancing off the giant shipping dock cranes in Red Hook. The invitation called for “Casual Evening Boating Attire” and I think I was successful. There are more photos on flickr.

Rendez-Vous with the Real French Navy

Sometimes living in New York is just surreal. My friend who works for the French consulate invited me to a cocktail reception aboard the helicopter carrier Jeanne D’Arc, a French Navy training ship that was doing its last worldwide tour of duty before being retired.

I wore a pinstriped blazer, black heels (despite being warned in an email not to, because one had to climb many ladders to get to the deck where the reception was, but I knew these would be French people, which meant the women would all be in heels), and carried a handbag I bought at Monoprix for 20 euro, figuring I’d look the part in my own American way. And yes, I hummed the Camera Obscura song all day.

My grandfathers served in the American navy and I had to laugh at myself, me who hates war, living it up aboard a ship (albeit, not an American one). It was pretty great to climb down ladders and through hatches, to drink a coke and avoid that weird, electric blue, menthalated syrup drink that the French love as the sun cast evening rays over Manhattan.

Even if the event was way too crowded and there was no where near enough food or drinks, I wouldn’t trade being served hors d’oeuvres by a French sailor for anything. And I still need to procure one of those stripey shirts that they wear…