Pirates in Caribbean, in the footsteps of El Pirata Cofesi and Sir Francis Drake
Martinique, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Bonaire, Martinique
2 februari -26 februari 2018
30 March -23 april 2018
The ‘Pirates in Caribbean’ expedition starts and finishes in Curacao. After arrival and saying hello, we drive to Piscadera Bay, where the yacht is anchored. On arrival day we shake of the jet-lag and examine the yacht. We make our-self known with sail- and rope handling, the deck layout and the MaxSea navigation software. We translate the weather forecasts in the route-planning and discuss the watch system, the household tasks and the safety procedures. And we will have lots of fun and a welcome dinner at the Pirate Bay Curacao Beach Club and Restaurant. Dinner and the first 2 glasses of Rum are on the house. After all, you booked a one-of-a-kind ‘Pirates in the Caribbean’ sailing adventure.
The next day we go out for training and learn how to manoeuvre the yacht under sail. Also we start with watch keeping that will continue through the following night and the following days. Knowing the yacht, being familiar with the yacht and the seas, is a number one safety-procedure which cannot be ignored. Changing land for the seas is switching your biorhythm which takes at least 48 hours.
For the night we anchor of the small island Little Curacao.
On day number 3 we leave early morning at dawn for the island Puerto Rico. Pending the wind direction (NE or E) and the wind strength we will sail probably first in a westerly direction before heading to our destination. This passage can take up to 600 NM or about 4 days.
On day 7 we will see the coast of Puerto Rico. Originally populated for centuries by indigenous tribes, the island was claimed by explorer Christopher Columbus during his voyage to the Americas in 1493. Under Spanish rule, the island was colonized and the indigenous population was forced into slavery and wiped out due to, among other things, European infectious diseases. In the beginning of the 16th century, the Spanish began to colonize the island. Juan Ponce de León was appointed as the first governor of Puerto Rico; he built the town of San Juan.
To avoid that enemies use the island to attack the Spanish Treasure Fleets, Spain authorized the fortification of San Juan. The construction of El Morro de San Felipe Castle began in 1539. Other small forts were also built.
In 1595 El Morro was attacked by Sir Francis Drake and his fleet. Fortunately for the Spaniards El Morro proved itself worthy for battle and the enemy was repelled. We will meet Drake later in the Dominican Republic.
After Blake the Count of Cumberland alongside his large fleet tried to took the city but also he failed. The same happened with the Dutch. They attacked Puerto Rico 27 years later under General Boudewin Hendricksz. They sieged San Juan and burnt down a great part of the city, but could not take El Morro.
Since Puerto Rico was a colony of Spain and could not commerce with any other country, contraband flourished with neighboring Dutch, French and British islands. The coastal towns were constantly being visited by pirates, such as Cofresi and James Sterling. These inspired moviemakers to film 2 scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides in Puerto Rico. The scene of a carriage arriving to King Ferdinand's palace in Cádiz was filmed in Fort San Cristobal in San Juan, the capital. Another scene filmed was where Jack Sparrow maroons Angelica on Sola Fide Beach, which was shot off the coast of Puerto Rico in Isla Palominos.
Fajardo and Spanish Virgin Islands
Our first stop on day 7 is Fajardo, on the east side of the island. Here we fulfil our immigration and customs obligations and encounter the unique Spanish Caribbean culture.
Next day (8) we explore the relatively undiscovered “Passage Islands”, or Spanish Virgin Islands (SPV), just a few miles off the coast. Purity will meet paradise as we cruise around Isla Palominos, Culebra, and Vieques, with a number of secluded inlets and cays in between.
The SPV is a hidden gem within the Caribbean. A prime yachting destination where you can spend the days hopping between beach sanctuaries, tempting your taste buds with robust local flavours, or snorkelling captivating and colourful undisturbed coral reefs.
We anchor at Vieques, to visit a Caribbean cove named Mosquito Bay that is hailed by the Guinness World Book of Records as the planet's brightest bioluminescent bay. Centuries ago, the island's indigenous Taino people and early Spanish settlers believed the glow was the product of supernatural phenomenon or black magic. However it glows due to the high density of dinoflagellates - microscopic plankton that dramatically come alive when disturbed. Scientists estimate there are about 160,000 per litre of water, and they thrive thanks to the decomposing, nutrient-rich mangrove leaves that germinate the bacteria they feed on.
We will anchor nearby, probably in Esperanza, and watch these phenomena from rental kayaks, once we've slathered ourselves with insect repellent. However please note that the name Mosquito Bay is not related to any malaria-spreading flies, but from 'El Mosquito', the boat of Roberto Cofresi. Cofresi was a Puerto Rican pirate regarded as a Robin Hood-like figure in the Caribbean. The robber-of-the-rich-giver-to-the-poor would use this and other bays to elude the authorities.
After our bio-luminescence experience and a good sleep, we will give us next day some time to visit the island and a cosy family-run guesthouse. In this easy-going town by day old-timers play dominoes in the shade, and at night (particularly at weekends) revellers of all ages congregate in open-air bars that boom out salsa, merengue and reggae.
On day number 10 we leave very early in the morning for the 70 NM sail to San Juan, enjoying line-of-sight navigation and year-round warm weather, calm seas and mild winds. Established in 1521, San Juan is the second-oldest European-founded settlement in the Americas and the oldest under US jurisdiction. Shoehorned onto a tiny islet that guards the entrance to San Juan harbour, the old town is now a historic wonderland that juxtaposes historical authenticity with pulsating modern energy.
Here in San Juan, the many stories around the previously mentioned pirate Roberto Cofresí y Ramírez de Arellano (born June 17, 1791), come alive. Despite his birth into a noble family, the political and economic difficulties faced by the island as a colony of the Spanish Empire during the late 18th and early 19th centuries meant that his household was poor. Cofresí worked at sea from an early age; although this familiarized him with the region's geography, it provided only a modest salary. He eventually decided to abandon a sailor's life, becoming a pirate. At the height of his career, he evaded capture by vessels from Spain, Gran Colombia, United Kingdom, Denmark, France, and the United States.
Cofresí commanded several small-draft vessels; the best known a fast six-gun sloop named Anne, and demonstrated a preference for speed and manoeuvrability over firepower. He manned them with small, rotating crews, which most contemporary documents and accounts numbered at 10 to 20 in size. Cofresí preferred to outrun his pursuers but his flotilla engaged the West Indies Squadron twice, attacking the schooners USS Grampus and USS Beagle.
Despite never confessing to a murder, he reportedly boasted about his crimes; the number of people who died as a result of his pillaging ranged to 400, mostly foreigners.
Cofresí proved too much for local authorities who accepted international help to capture the pirate. Spain created an alliance with the West Indies Squadron and the Danish government of Saint Thomas. On March 5, 1825, the alliance set a trap which forced Anne into a naval battle. After 45 minutes, Cofresí abandoned his ship and escaped overland; he was recognized by a local resident, who ambushed and injured him. Cofresí was captured and imprisoned, making a last unsuccessful attempt to escape by trying to bribe an official with part of a hidden stash. The pirates were sent to San Juan, where a brief military tribunal found them guilty and sentenced them to death. On March 29, 1825, Cofresí and most of his crew were executed by firing squad
This story will enfold before our eyes. Beyond its timeworn 15ft-thick walls, San Juan is far more than a collection of well-polished colonial-era artefacts. It’s also a mosaic of ever-evolving neighbourhoods such as Santurce, which has a raw vitality fuelled by street art, superb restaurants and a bar scene that takes over the streets at night. You will find sizzling salsa music at the Nuyorican Café in San Juan’s hottest nightspot. A congenial hub of live Latino sounds, hip-gyrating locals and 6-piece salsa bands that usually get hopping around 11pm.
And of course we will score somewhere a bottle of rum. In Puerto Rico, rum production is a business of great tradition, dating back more than 100 years for some companies. We will learn about five of the rums you should try when mixing drinks or tasting it on its own – there's no need to wait for Thirsty Thursdays. The first is the well-known Bacardi. Than we have the Caliche Rum, named after a type of limestone found widely on the island, Don Q, Palo Viejo and Ron del Barrilito.
It is time to move on. On day number 12 we leave for the Dominican Republic. The recorded history of this island began when the Spaniard navigator Christopher Columbus set feet ashore. It was inhabited by the Taíno, an Arawakan people, who called their island Ayiti, Bohio, or Quisqueya (Kiskeya). Columbus claimed the island for the Spanish Crown, naming it La Isla Española, later Latinized to Hispaniola. In 1844 Dominican independence was proclaimed and the republic, which is also known as Santo Domingo, maintained its independence except for a short Spanish occupation from 1861 to 1865 and occupation by the United States from 1916 to 1924.
On our passage of 350 to 400 NM we will first sail a little bit north of Punta Cana, close to the deep water drop on the outer reefs, before turning south. Here we hope to find between January and April a population of 4,000 to 5,000 Humpback whales. The chance is there that we will see them trolling around, breathing and jumping close to the yacht.
On day 15 we enter Boca Chica, where we check in at customs and immigration. We will stay for 2 night giving the opportunity to visit Santo Domingo, or ‘La Capital’ as it’s typically called. This city is a collage of cultures and neighbourhoods. It’s where we hear the vibrating sounds of Caribbean ‘life’. Domino pieces slapped on tables, backfiring mufflers and horns from chaotic traffic and merengue and bachata blasting from corner stores. At the heart of the city is the Zona Colonial, where you’ll find one of the oldest churches and the oldest surviving European fortress among other New World firsts. Here you find also the Rum Museum, where you can learn about one of world’s most famous rums: Brugal XV.
Amid the cobblestone streets, it would be easy to forget Santo Domingo is in the Caribbean. Home not only to colonial-era architecture, but also to hot clubs, vibrant cultural institutions and elegant restaurants. Santo Domingo somehow manages to embody the contradictions central to the Dominican experience: a living museum, a metropolis crossed with a seaside resort, and a business, political and media centre with a laid-back, affable spirit.
In Santo Domingo also the invasion and brutalities of Sir Francis Drake come alive. In January 1586 the powerful pirate Drake arrived with a fleet of 21 ships and 2,000 men, of which 1,200 came down onto the island. They brought the entire city to its knees. His invasion and demolition weakened the Spanish dominion over the island. Drake, nicknamed by Queen Elizabeth 1 as ‘my dear pirate’, drove the Spanish garrison out of Santo Domingo. He burned the city methodically, piece by piece, until he received a ransom of 30,000 crowns. It is also told that the people of Santo Domingo gave him all their treasures.
Drake operated from his headquarters in the Cathedral of Santa María la Menor in the Colonial Zone. It is the oldest cathedral in the Americas, begun in 1512 and completed in 1540. It is the Cathedral of the Archbishop of Santo Domingo who has the honorary title of Primate of the Americas because Santo Domingo was the first Catholic diocese established in the New World. The Cathedral is fronted with a golden-tinted coral limestone façade; the church combines elements of both Gothic and Baroque with some lavish plateresque styles as exemplified by the high altar chiselled out of silver. There is also a treasury which has an excellent art collection of ancient woodcarvings, furnishings, funerary monuments, silver, and jewellery.
After much persuasion by the towns people, and when there was nothing else to take, Drake finally left the ruined city. He sailed to Cartagena (now known as Columbia) and St. Augustine (in Florida). Because of his acts of piracy the war between England and Spain was started.
Bonaire and Curacao
On day 17 very early in the morning we start sailing the 500 NM across the Caribbean Seas to Bonaire. Here we hope to arrive late on day 19.
In this snorkelling paradise we stay for 2 nights. We will sail along the magnificent coast with its turquoise waters and around Klein Bonaire. We celebrate happy hour at Karelse Bar and tour around the island to the salt pans with its thousands flamingo’s and the Lagoon.
And you will be offered at the place of the skippers on the evening before departure a nice farewell fish/meat barbecue sobbed with the islands well known rum punch.