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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Lasso Come Home! Tricky Docking in Puerto Rico



San Juan Puerto Rico’s Club Nautico marina.
Glassy-smooth water!

If only we hadn’t seen the sign in a Culebra grocery store.  It informed us that check-in was required, even for US registered vesels already checked in through the US Virgin Islands (USVI).  That was news to us, as the customs agent in St. Thomas USVI told us we were already checked through Puerto Rico, we just needed to check out upon exiting there.  After our mishap in Sint Maarten (click here to read about that), we weren’t eager to risk another customs snafu.

“We must inspect your boat.  No, there isn’t a customs dock.  You will need to dock at Club Nautico or San Juan Bay Marina. Call us when you’re in and we will meet you there,” insisted the customs officer for Puerto Rico.

Docking at Club Nautico requires lassoing or
finding some other way to tie off against
these tall posts.  The boat on the right is
MUCH taller than ours.

We weren’t too happy about it.  We rarely dock at marinas other than temporarily to purchase fuel or water because we’re frugal, and you pay to stay.  At Club Nautico, it was 1.50/ft./night, relatively affordable, but still our whole daily budget. Club Nautico generously offered to not charge us to borrow a slip (for not boaties, a slip is like a numbered, asssigned parking place within a marina for your boat) for customs.  We decided to pay and stay there overnight, for the convenience of laundry, internet and a long, hot shower with no impact on our water supply. 

Despite San Juan Puerto Rico’s placid, near windless waters, docking was incredibly nerve-wracking.  You know what I mean – one of those experiences when your butt clenches so much you feel sweat coat the hair between the dimples on your lower back. In tight places Journey’s steering is unmaneuverably slow, and reverse is wimpy enough to be practically uselessness.


Our dinghy was a huge help in tying and untying.  
The Club’s primary customers are serious sport fishermen – they host a large internationally renowned sailfish (marlin) tournament.  Their tall sport fishing boats are much more able to “lasso” themselves into position between the tall posts enclosing the marina’s deep, narrow U-shaped slips.

Our bow would be tied to the bottom of the U after navigating through two tall posts with less than a yard’s clearance on each side.  We needed to secure our boat against these posts as part of our docking process.  The posts were ~15’ above the waterline; about 8’ above our boat’s deck.  We needed to try to “lasso” the posts as we passed by, throwing our docking lines well above our heads.  One of the marina staffers secured us one one side from aboard the neighboring fishing boat.

Astride the post on our starboard side, the finger we needed to carefully hop into was a mere 2’ wide finger on one side, only 6’ in from our bow, which is a ways on a 36 ½’ boat.  The finger was so skinny, it felt like a bigger step down from our deck than it was.
We're in!

The irony? There was no laundry. The internet was an additional fee and we could tell before we paid for it that it wasn’t very good so we didn’t pay nor did we use internet the whole time on Puerto Rico.  I did take a long warm shower at the marina, mostly it was very long because there was almost no water pressure, so it took a while to do the job. And the customs agent never ventured beyond our cockpit to inspect the rest of the boat, though he did leave black heel makrks from his combat boots all over the decks. On the other hand, he was a great “Welcome to Puerto Rico” ambassador.  We’re just not sure why the inspection couldn’t have taken place over the phone.

The Club Nautico facility was very nice; regularly hopping with events.  Staying there did make it convenient for our big provisioning run (prestocking in affordable Puerto Rico before entering the expensive Bahamas), loading up our boat from a dock instead from our little tiny dinghy.

Everyone at Club Nautico was unfailingly pleasant, attentive and helpful – from the harbormaster to the gate guards.

This gives a better view of how much lower our boat is
relative to Club Nautico’s more typical sport fishing boat.

In retrospect, we figured out alternatives to landing a high lasso on the slip posts, tying off low, instead, from our dinghy.  If we sail into Puerto Rico again – likely as we loved it,  and our stay was far too short -- we will still try to find an alternative to docking in San Juan for Puerto Rico customs check-in.