Paradise Inside A Paradise

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Mona Island. Yes, Mona Island……

I apologize; it has been a while since my last post. We have had a lot of visitors and the new grand babies take up valuable time.

So here goes the latest adventure.

We were sitting in the marina bar on a Sunday night talking about crazy sailing adventures with several other sailors. Some of the stories were harder to believe than others. Sailors always try to make the stories more interesting so others will actually listen with envy. This is why sailors are so interesting, right?

Then someone brought up the beautiful island called Mona in one of the most dangerous passages in the world. The Mona Passage is feared by many because of the crazy current, high seas and rogue waves. Mona Island has some incredibly unique animals, birds, turtles and is sometimes called the Galapagos Island of the Caribbean. Very few people actually get to go there because of the required permits and difficult location in the Mona Passage. This was one of those father son bucket list moments that I knew just had to happen.

Before we knew it we had a crew of five ready to leave that Thursday night. They all had the same enthusiasm as Liam and I. It started as a joke and snow balled into reality and in four days we were going, for real. The crew consisted of a DEA agent, retired CT SWAT Team Officer, an EMT, my amazing son Liam and me. I am leaving their names out.

Remember this is a sailor’s story. So as most of this is true some things are not. I will let you guess.

We all met at the marina Thursday evening to set sail that night.

Of course nothing is ever simple. The bolt for the alternator pivot point snapped off on the engine pre check that afternoon. That was not an easy part to find as Friday was Three Kings Day and every store closes early the night before a holiday. I was able to find the bolt in Mayaguez and replaced the alternator pivot bolt. I did another thorough check of the entire boat and concluded we were ready for crossing the Mona Passage.

I will admit I was a little nervous. We set sail at 11:30 PM under a full moon. It was a beautiful night. The wind was coming from the west at 10-15 knots and waves were only 3-5 feet high. Every hour of this ten hour journey the engine, batteries, gauges and bilges were checked. Like I stated, I was nervous. Besides I was responsible for four other lives.

During the first four hours of the trip the seas were calm. By 4:00 AM the moon had set on the horizon, the seas and wind picked up and my crew was fast asleep with the exception of my boy, Liam. It was pitch black. But in the far off distance I could see the occasional light from the northern Mona Island lighthouse. I actually loved the sound of the ocean crashing against the hull and the wind whistling by. Plus, the conversations you have with your son at “O” dark thirty while everyone else is asleep is priceless. The lack of sleep didn’t seem to bother either of us. We were too excited to care. He and I spent hours just talking. I don’t actually remember what we talked about but I am sure it was earth changing stuff.

At 06:00 the sun started to rise and the cliff face of Mona Island was lit up like the Cliffs of Dover. It was an amazing sight. The crew woke up and before we knew it, we had caught two five foot Barracudas.

As we sailed past the northern shore/cliffs another island became visible. It is a much smaller island just north of Mona called Little Mona, Original name, huh? That island is all cliffs all the way around and impossible to anchor next to and explore. I hear the fishing around that island is fantastic.

On the west side of Mona Island, the wind and waves had died down. The sailing became comfortable and calm again. The visibility below us was over 75 feet. Yes, we could see the ocean floor 75 feet below us. This made navigating a little difficult as you could not believe the depth meter or your eyes. It appeared to be much shallower than it actually was.

We then spotted a buoy about a mile away and sailed towards that. That buoy is the guide marker to make it into the mooring area. Once we rounded that buoy we could see the two markers on the beach. We lined them up with the buoy behind us and sailed right in.

The passage into the protected anchorage was about 50 feet wide. In high surf I don’t think our boat could make it in or out.   We tied up to the mooring buoy just north of the old loading dock in about 10-13 feet of water. The water was crystal clear with turtles swimming around everywhere. The beach sand was a bright white. We all sat there looking at the cliffs and the little beach for several minutes.

We just could not believe what we were seeing.

After we absorbed as much as we could we all dove into the water and swam to shore. We walked down the beach to the Mona Island Departamento De Recursos Naturales Y Ambientales or DNRA office. The Island has 4-5 armed rangers stationed there every week. They rotate out every other week. The DNRA employees do not have a working boat. They have several ATV’s and trucks but no water craft. We thought that was a little odd.

After introducing ourselves to the DNRA officials they asked us to help save 18 Cuban refugees that were stranded on a cliff about a ½ mile away. They told us that the refugees had been there for three days without food and water. Liam and one of our crew members jumped into the inflatable and made nine trips back and forth. They retrieved them all including a man with a broken leg and a four year old girl.

It is really sad to see what people endure to leave their countries for the American dream. Most of these refugees will pay $1500-2500 to have someone deliver them by boat to Puerto Rico. The worst part is most of these refugees get dropped off on a deserted island 46 miles away from Puerto Rico. They climb the sheer cliffs to find stores, cars, people and they find nothing. It is an expensive trip for people that only make around $5.00/day. The majority of them get sent back to their country after landing on Mona Island. The DNRA processes the refugees. They Photograph, fingerprint and confirm actual point of origin. Then they get picked up by police boat and returned to their country by air from Puerto Rico.

Later that day we decided to walk the beach and stopped to talk to one of the DNRA officials. He told us they find at least three dead refugees a week on the island. He also told us that they find abandoned boats at sea are without people on them. He was visibly shaken up as he told us this. He also stated that he fears 100’s of refugees lose their lives every month crossing the Mona Passage and they are never found. They simply run out of supplies, get affected by the high seas, lose direction and/or die from dehydration. The bodies just disappear in the Mona Passage.

So back to our first day on Mona Island, We rescued 18 Cubans, we explored the deserted beaches, did some scuba, snorkeling, floating and some much needed relaxation. It was a full day plus Liam and I had not slept. I decided to take a walk and sleep under a palm tree. After about twenty minutes I realized I would not be able to sleep on the beach. The hermit crabs and huge iguanas were just too curious to let me sleep. They don’t see many people so they are not afraid of us like they would be in more populated areas. I did not enjoy the curious visitors next to my face. So I headed back to the boat where Liam and the other crew members were out having fun chasing sharks and turtles.

That afternoon Liam caught a several lobsters for dinner. He even found a shark hiding in a cave which really freaked out one of the other crew members who was diving with him. We cooked the lobsters and some steaks on the grill that night. The sunset after dinner was one of the prettiest I have ever seen. After sunset the almost full moon came out and lit up the water. The glistening of the moon on the surface of the water made a dramatic reflection on the ocean floor below the boat. I wish I could describe this better. Then a huge shark swam under the boat. The moonlight shimmering through the water onto the back of the shark created a menacing black silhouette on the ocean floor. He swam back and forth under the boat for several hours.

I think this is what kept me out of the water the next day.

That evening I think I fell asleep around 8:00pm. I decided to lie down on the couch in the living room area of the sailboat. The next thing I knew it was 6:00 AM. I think the lack of sleep finally caught up to me.

Liam and the crew decided to watch a movie with surround sound. They also turned on the generator, turned on the air conditioner and closed all the windows. Then a huge thunderstorm hit with heavy rains and high winds. Somehow, I slept through it all and heard nothing………………

The next day I woke up early and made breakfast tacos and coffee. Everything tastes better on a boat. Cleaned up and away we all went again. We ended up doing much of the same as the day before.

I had to repair the Jabsco toilet. This is one of my favorite things to do. If anyone knows what a Jabsco toilet is I am sure they have repaired one. It’s a real $h!**y job.

I also had to remove the bolt I replaced the day before and install a shorter one. I have to make a side note here: Use anti seize lubricant!!! This makes working on a boat so much easier in the waves.

I finished the departure pre check for the return journey and decided to kick back and relax.

The Coast Guard arrived around 10:00 AM to drop off more Cubans that were stranded on Little Mona Island. I believe they rescued 14. This seems to be an everyday thing out there. Liam and I did some exploring on the trails above the beach. We also found a few caves but we did not have the right clothes to go into them. The other crew members spent the day snorkeling, taking pictures with a drone and exploring.

Around 6:00 PM we decided to set sail back to Puerto Rico. The weather forecast showed a big swell headed our way. Our timing was perfect.

If we would have waited any longer the waves could have prevented us from leaving safely out of the mooring area.

The next day we found out the waves were over 18 feet breaking into that mooring area. We made it through the reef without any trouble and headed south. Liam stood on the foredeck pointing out which direction to go to avoid hitting the reefs. As we got further from the island the waves on the south side of Mona were far too big to sail safely back to PR. We turned back north and watched the last sunset as we sailed past our anchorage. Of course we caught another Barracuda. Then the sun faded away.

On the north side of the Island the almost full moon came up over Mona. It lit up the sky so bright and just then we hooked a Mahi-Mahi. This was a beautiful fish. We would have loved to keep this one but due to the high waves it broke free. Liam still feels bad about losing that fish. We yelled at him and almost threw him overboard. It wasn’t really his fault but we needed someone to blame. Plus, he was the youngest on the boat and it’s always the youngest ones fault.

At about 11:00pm the entire crew was fast asleep except for Liam and I. He and I stayed up for the return voyage east. I was really nervous because the waves were increasing beyond my comfort level. The waves did not have any real pattern to follow either. Sometimes you can ride a wave like a surfboard but these waves were coming from all directions. It made for a very long night. Thank god for Auto Pilot and Liam for providing good conversation and back up confidence.

Around 2:30 AM a large power boat appeared about three miles behind us. We were going around 4-5 knots. The power boat was traveling around 20+ knots. We immediately woke the rest of the crew and got them all on deck. As soon as the Power boat got close enough to see the full crew standing tall on deck they broke off and went south. Not sure what that was about. But it was a little intimidating. We wonder if it was just a friendly visitor or pirates. I guess we will never know. That is probably a good thing.

At 3:00 AM I could start to see the lights of Puerto Rico. Then the almost full moon disappeared around 4:00 AM and it was pitch black again. The GPS was my only way home. The noticeable landmarks of Mayaguez and Cabo Rojo just were not noticeable. We sailed into Puerto Real with blind folds on. I swear I have never been that blind. We sailed into port without a hitch.

The sun finally came up as we were loading the vehicles for the road trip home.   We all were extremely excited to be able to say we sailed to one of the most unique places on earth. We did something very few people ever get to do and we did it without any real issues. And most importantly, I got to do this bucket list item with my son.

The older he gets I realize I will have very few of these moments left. He has turned into a very fine young man and be will starting his own life soon. I am so impressed by him. He has courage, knowledge, common sense, resilience and he is definitely his father’s son. He will never fully understand how proud I am of him. I hope he knows that these brief moments in time that we spend together mean more to me than anything else in my life.   It was an outstanding father/son bucket list adventure.

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