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Magazín Bilingüe de Sátira Política, Humor,  Anécdotas, Cuentos, MASCOTAS y Algo de Literatura Puertorriqueña

Bilingual Magazine of political satire, Humor, Anecdotes, Short Stories, Pets and Mascots and some puertrorrican literature

San Juan--Puerto Rico



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Meeting the Islanders of Vieques and Culebra

The Story of Esteban Rivera

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Both my sons sailed with me in the Stella Maris, but the eldest: Luis, mastered this ancient art; I guess it’s the reason he later joined the US Navy and served in a couple of Middle East conflicts in the Seals’ EOD unit. Rombie, my second, learned to fly and now is a captain with American Airlines.  Bettina my youngest is a home wife, never showed any inclinations for any sport.  Well, but I just want to tell you some stories about my sailing this time in the Vieques/Culebra’s area.


When you sail in these eastern Puerto Rico’s waters known as the Vieques Sound, ultimately there are two basic things you are going to experience sooner or later: you are going to hit most the rocks, reefs o shoals in the area. More likely around Palominito Island, and sailing towards Isabel Segunda in Vieques, the Johnson Reef’s shoals. Which lays straight Southeast of Cabeza de Perro, Piñeros Key’s East Side. And ultimately, you’ll get to know a lot of people in both Vieques and Culebra.


If you sail from Fajardo towards Culebra Island, it’s true that you’ll be doing it, along a chain of rocks to your Bow’s port side, specially cumbersome in a close heeled beat to windward, but they  are so visible that they are hard to miss.  Otherwise, contrary to Vieques’ passage, the whole 17/18 odd miles are pretty deep, all the way till you get to Dewy its main port.   I din’t particular like to dock there, since the Ferry’s terminal is there as well; its very noisy and when it arrives, you have to get the hell out of the way. You are better off by sailing the South coast—some 4 miles or so and come around into Fulladosa bay, passing Carenero and Punta Soldado entrance. Its buoyed RRR; that’s to say: Red-Right-Returning if you want to use it; in my case, Stella Maris  only drew 4.5 feet and I just stayed close to the shoreline saving time. If you have a medium size sloop, you’ll be able to do it likewise, without any problem; just watch the rocks and stay at deeper water. This will take you all the way into the bay which is fully protected and calm as a lake. Once in, with your dingy, it’s easy to get to town or any of the small Inns or resort in the area.


I don’t know, I think I sailed a lot more to Vieques than Culebra even thought I finally ended living there for close to 8 years, when I built Flamenco Resort; the only one in Flamenco beach. I’ll tell you about my experience there later.  But for many years, it was Isabel Segunda in its North side of  Vieques, Punta Arena in its West  and Sun Bay in its South that were my destinations.  They were great years. And talking about making friends with the islanders, there is one in particular who really befriended me sincerely: Esteban Rivera and it happened very casually and spontaneously. I had a Cal 25 (Guanahani), and in transit to Punta Arena, I noticed that my block ice had melted too rapidly (the ice chest had very little isolation), so about mid way close to the Navy long Jetty , I lowered the Genoa jib, started the 7hp outboard motor, trimmed in the Mainsail, and heeled all the way to Isabel Segunda. Once there, I walked the three blocks to the nearest gas station where I knew I could get some block ice. No luck, they had no block ice, only the usual cube ice.  I had one of these two wheels grocery cart, I put the four bags I bought there, and started to walk my way back to the boat under a real hot summer burning Sun.   I don’t have to tell you, that this is not ideal to transport cube ice; and about midway, most of it was melting away really fast.  I then heard a coarse voice saying:   “look at this <tonto—fool> is this guy transporting ice or cold water?  I looked over my shoulders and it was Esteban Rivera, laughing perched on an old Jeep. “Common, put that shit in the back and hop in, I’ll take to the Ferry Terminal”.  I know, it’s a rare way to start a friendship—one that lasted close to 20 years when he died—but that’s folks the way it started.


Esteban Rivera, was a merchant marine. You know, they work six months and off the rests. So, he always, spent those other six months in Vieques. He had built a fairly spacious cement house in Monte Santo, There is a Hotel there now, I think is the “Retreat something”;  but in the other side of the road. He was divorced and lived initially when I met him and later, when a girlfriend. She was heavy I mean heaaavvy; probably, around 370- something.


Esteban had been a cook in the merchant marine and reallyhe was a hell of a cook but you know what? His girlfriend was even a better cook. In those days, I mean in the early 70s , Vieques was very very different. The US Navy was accepted in town employed a lot of people, and controlled a lot of land, particularly in the East side and some portions in the West, where they had practically all the living quarters. Apparently, someone had released some cattle in the Navy’s East side reserved and it had multiplied tremendously through three years .It was all Red-Charbry most of it. Esteban had a big freezer and used to kill two or three  young steers every year he came back, and legally or not, butchered them in all the American cuts. I tell you, the barbecues and stews I ate there under the Flamboyant trees, I have never..ever again, tasted any other  better. Not to mention the Lobster, fish, Land crabs, even “Peje-blanco” an aphorism to colloquially describe Green Turtles (against the law then and now),  but this is the way islanders lived in those days.


Esteban was not originally from  Vieques. He was actually born in Playa Brava in Culebra. Then, there were a lot more indigenous so-to-speak  people spreaded throughout the island. The US Navy had not commenced the removal or evacuation  of all these people yet. This only happened after de 2nd. World war. Many of these people were forcibly removed from Flamenco, and the North side beaches.  Most migrated to Saint Thomas, St.  Croix and and Vieques.


His father, a very stern and harsh disciplinarian,as all fathers were then, had a small dairy operation ( a few cows, no more than 3), which were milked daily, its milks sent to town via donkey’s back. Esteban was only 13teen years old  and was given the task of delivering said mill to town.  That trip from Playa Brava is not the easiest one, inasmuch as you have to climb a steep knoll out of the beach and gthen down to town. One early morning, Esteban was conducting the family donkey with a steel vat full of milk in each side of the animal.  According to what he told me with his eyes full of tears, the darn animal, for whatever the reason, got spooked  and slipped falling down.  All the milk carried in both vats, spilled out. When he finally made it back to their hut, his father hit him so bad that he almost passed away. The same day, he walked all the way to town, got aboard a merchant sloop that was loading sacks of charcoals for Puerto Rico,  and never made it back to Culebra. It was not up to the time I started to built Flamenco Resort, that Esteban came back to the Island; 30 years afterwards. He spent a week there with me visibly upset. There were no roads or even trails to Playa Brava, so when he wanted to visit his old homestead I took him there in Stella Maris. We dropped anchor and he just swam ashore.  I watched him walk around a certain place, looked around for a while and swam back to the boat. “There’s nothing left, even the palisade and corners beam of their hut, rot awaythere is nothing left; then he just started to cry.  It was the first and last time I saw him do so.


Now, every time Esteban was back from duty in his ship, he would call me. First I would either sailed to Vieques in my Cal 25 weekends,  and later, when I built the resort at Flamenco Beach in Culebra, and had moved there, I would have him over. Many times when I purchased my Cessna 172, I would pick him up at Isla Grande Municipal airport.  I must tell you that it was this man who taught me everything I know about the islands which he knew in and out; and there are countless stories we experienced together with my kids. One of them, our encounter with a giant squid near the Grampus Reef’s buoy, I will tell you next time.