Thursday, March 27, 2008

More of the aftermath

Some more on what last week's "oceanic event" left behind:

The top photo is the karst at Middles Beach taken last October. The bottom photo is the same rock taken Tuesday (3/25). The angles are different but - you can see in the lower photo the "middle" of the karst formation has been cleaned out. All that rock is now scattered about the beach. Some of these are BIG chunks of rock. It's just another example of the power of the ocean.

We finally went snorkeling off Shacks Beach late Wednesday (3/26) afternoon. It was very late so the light was bad and the water was still very cloudy and churned up so no pictures yet. What we saw was I guess what one would expect after such big waves: lots of sand moved around, dug out of some areas of the reef and piled up in others.

There is a lot more karst exposed along the edge of the beach, especially at low tide. At the west end of the beach, near Villa Tropical, a new area of karst has been exposed underwater. I can't wait for some clearer water to check that out. We hope to have pictures in the next day or so.

Sadly, some of the older, dead elkhorn coral was broken and tossed about. Even the coral that's no longer living is fascinating to swim around. It's still habitat for a ton of sealife.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The ocean is returning to normal

The ocean is slowly returning to normal, back down to less dangerous, more surfable heights. Well, more surfable for most surfers.

I missed the three biggest surfing events in 25 years: Thursday at Tres Palmes at Rincon, they were tow-in surfing 35 foot waves. (Tow-in is where the surfers are actually towed out to the wave by a jet ski 'cause the waves are too big to paddle through.) Traffic and parking were so bad you couldn't get close to Tres Palmes. I've heard Thursday at Wilderness was epic, a day for the ages. (I tried to get there late in the morning but our little car wouldn't go through the massive puddles left by the storm surge.) And lastly, the marathon all-night night surf session at Crashboat. Oh, well.

By Saturday morning all the wave-starved surfers were at Wilderness. The parking area was packed and cars were parked all up and down both side so the "road" in. I quit counting when got to over a hundred surfers in the water. And that doesn't count all the surfers down toward Pressure Point and up the shore toward Ruines.

There are new pictures on, the first new surf pictures in more than a month, from this week at Wilderness and Surfers.

Now that things are calming down, it's time to assess what the storm left. A LOT of sand was moved around. Some beaches have been reshaped. The dune was breached in a number of places, especially at Middles and Golandrina. (There are some pictures on Flickr.) We're pretty lucky: the dune along Bajura and Shacks beaches suffered minor damage. It will be interesting to get back in the water and see what happened to the reef. Darryl has already been diving at Crashboat and says there are things on the bottom he's never seen, exposed by the shifting sand.
Fortunately for us, there was no rain. Several times during the big tide and storm surges, the normally dry little river behind us was actually flowing backward because of the push in from the ocean. If there had been any significant rain, the flooding would have been bad. But there wasn't any rain so there wasn't any flooding (except in the low spot int he road at the corner by Tropical Trailrides, Villa Montana, and Villa Tropical and the Shacks neighborhood).

Friday, March 21, 2008

Watching the "perfect storm"

All along the coast from Villa Pescara to Shore Island, Middles, Golandrina, Jobos, Shacks, Surfers, Ruines, Wilderness and beyond, people gathered to watch the biggest oceanic event in more than 25 years.

Wednesday night surfers set up lights at Crashboat and had an extremely rare night surfing session (sorry we missed that!). We went to Crashboat last night hoping for another night session but only one surfer ventured out although a number stood around considering it. The big problem was light - there were some nice wave sets coming in but they just couldn't see them.

This morning is gray and rainy. The ocean is still big but not as big as yesterday. The surge is still high but not as bad as yesterday - no floods down the road today and that's a good thing.

We've uploaded some video from yesterday at Borinquen and Ruines to YouTube and I'll post an album of still photos to Flickr later today. I've been trying capture a sense of how big the waves are, but I don't think I've done it very well. The scale, the sheer massiveness of the incoming walls of water, gets lost in the photos.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The ocean in a powerful mood

It doesn't seem angry or stormy, just immensely powerful and intent on showing it, reminding us - especially those of us who live close to its edge - of that power.

NOAA is saying this is the biggest oceanic event here since the "perfect storm" in 1991.

The waves, as much as 18 feet high, have crashed over and through the dunes in some places, again reminding us of how important those dunes are, how we need to protect and not destroy them. The area of beach at Middles where we flew kites just a few weeks ago is filled with seawater that rushed over the dune. The road a little further on is closed because the ocean is covering it. The beach road at Golandrina is covered with debris, mostly coconuts and palm fronds, sand and mud, washed over by the waves.

Down at the end of our road the ocean has pushed up into the river and flooded the corner where you turn to go to Villa Tropical or Villa MontaƱa. The Villa Pescara - a popular beach and party place, what our friend Zan calls the "beer park" - has been closed and evacuated. Several of the kisoks at Villa Pescara are filled with sand. A friend told us emergency crews are moving tons of sand off the road and out of the kiosks with front-end loaders.

So far, we don't seem to be in too much danger of flooding. The forecast calls for scattered light showers. As long as we don't get a big rain, I think we'll be okay. As I write this we are more than two hours past high tide, which is the time of greatest danger from ocean surge. The next high tide will be a little after 8:00 this evening. We'll be keeping a close eye on that.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Storm front

Elaine and Amber watch the big waves off Shacks Beach

A big storm off the East Coast of the US is pushing huge - some say maybe the biggest in 20 years - waves onto our coast.

The beach at Shacks, past Villa Montana to the west and Jobos to the east, has pretty much disappeared as the waves come all the way to the base of the dune.

The surfers are stoked! We're hoping to get some great pictures but so far the waves are pretty disorganized. Everybody was out watching this morning. Nobody was venturing into the water at Surfers or Wilderness, waiting for low tide this afternoon. We're keeping an eye on it. There is a chance of rain in the forecast. If we get much rain, flooding could be an issue because the waves are pushing into the mouth of the river that drains this area. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Porcupinefish (and other denizens of the shallows)

Yesterday, snorkeling on "our" reef here at Shacks, we were treated to a wonderful dance.

Porcupinefish are usually very shy. When we approach they usually hide under an elkhorn coral or under a coral ridge or in a little cave in the reef. They peek out from their hiding places where you can see their big dark eyes and puffy lips. Yesterday, what we assume were a mating pair, were swimming big circles out in the open, around one section of the reef. They tended to move away from us, but they stayed in the open, the smaller one (the female? we're not sure) always following a short distance behind the larger. It was amazing and wonderful to see these beautiful fish out in the open, to watch them swim and react to us and other things on the reef. There are more pictures of this encounter on Flickr.

One of things we've noticed is the way many fish - including the porcupinefish - bank as they turn. Some just turn their bodies and change direction. Others seem to "fly" through the water, banking into turns the way an airplane banks in the sky.

In a shallow area just off the beach this young (about 2-1/2 foot long) barracuda just hangs in the current. If I approach him to take a picture, he slowly swims away but makes a big circle and comes right back to the same place. I'm learning that if I don't chase him, if I just stay quietly (as quietly as I can considering I'm not nearly as good at hanging in the current as he is), he'll come back and give me another shot. Mostly he swims pretty slowly but every now and then, something will startle him and then he becomes a silver torpedo, just a flash through the sunlight. When motivated, he can really move.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy Birtday, Darryl!

Last night we had a surprise birthday party for our good good friend (and dive instructor/buddy) Darryl.

It was a great party in what has become an Ola Lola's tradition - lots of people, tons of food and tons of fun.

Darryl's birthday was actually Wednesday. We went diving with him and it was a great dive (Elaine is going to write about that). But he dives every day so it wasn't a really really special birthday. We couldn't let it go with just a post-dive hug and a "happy birthday." So we had a surprise party. And he was truly surprised! Somehow, we managed to keep it a secret - and to get him here right on time.

Darryl is going to Paris in a month so we gave his surprise party a French theme.

Thanks to everyone who helped and everyone who brought food. Special thanks to Kendra, who couldn't be here for the party 'cause she and husband Boyd are in Barbados, but who made the berets and other decorations before she left.

There will be a few more party pictures on Flickr tomorrow. The next Ola Lola's parties? Boyd and Kendra's going away party then Zan's birthday. Watch out for that one!

Monday, March 10, 2008

A great day in the ocean

We went snorkeling at Crashboat yesterday, on the reef between Crashboat and Naturale and it was an amazing day. (You can see pictures of all of these on a new set on Flickr.)

First, we swam through thousands of mackerel scad. These silvery fish flash by in the shallows. You can just hang there and watch them stream by.

Then we saw five a "family" of five reef squid. We were surprised because we usually don't see them til later in the summer. That doesn't mean they aren't there, we just usually don't see them. We love the squid so seeing them now is a bonus. At the risk of repeating myself, they are wonderful to watch.

Then we watched a porcupine fish out in the open. We see them a lot but usually peeking out from under a rock or coral ledge. Two things were truly fascinating: first, his ability to quickly change his camouflage colors. Near the coral he had a splotchy almost hunter/military camouflage scheme. As he swam over the sand, he lost the splotchy look and took on a tan spotted look. The other thing I haven't seen before is the way porcupine fish use their pectoral fins. It was very cool.

Another color-changer was the spotted filefish. When we first saw the filefish, he was the grey-and-yellow we commonly see. Then, suddenly, with almost no apparent change, he was covered with white spots.

Have I mentioned the green turtle? This is a different turtle than the hawksbill we've seen before. And Elaine saw at least three different fish we've not seen before. She's still trying to identify those. Hopefully, we'll see more of them and we'll get pictures of them to post soon.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

First, "Dances with Reef Squid;" now...

Now she's "snorkels with turtles." We swam with this little guy for 10 minutes or so at Crashboat on Thursday. We been swimming with this guy before; I found pictures of him from February when we went snorkeling in the same area with our friends Marty and Anne. I''ll put pictures from both days up on Flickr.

Thursday was a beautiful snorkeling day - good water visibility and very little current. By Friday morning, when I went snorkeling at "our" beach at Shacks, the current was rippin' and visibility had dropped considerably. But it's good to get in the water and swimming against the current is better than a workout in one of those "endless pool" exercise things.

There still hasn't been much in the way of waves for the surfers (except for one day that I totally missed). It's been pretty small and really windblown. Everybody's hoping for a good swell todayfrom a storm off the East Coast of the U.S. The winds have been strong - 20 mph+ all day everyday. Kite surfers are lovin' it but they'd like to have some waves to play on too. There's been too much wind for us to go fly our sport kites or to try to take pictures from the kite. I've got a few new kite surfing pictures posted on Flickr as well.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Snow day!

Well, it's not really a snow day. But we do have an unexpected day off Sunday at Ola Lola's. Seems that bars cannot be open on election days - and Sunday is the primary election here. So all the bars have to close by midnight Saturday and cannot reopen until midnight Sunday. I don't know how we missed that one in the Puerto Rican Bar Owner's Manual.

The "dry" election days are apparently to prevent - or a least reduce - election day brawls. Puerto Ricans taken their politics very seriously, sometimes to the point of violence.

So we have a free day! It's kinda like a snow day...only not so cold. Instead of playing in the snow, we're gonna play in the ocean.

Monday, March 03, 2008

"Kite Kamp" flies into history

Our first Puerto Rico "kite kamp" has flown into history.

First, sky-hi thank yous to Mike and Tracy Delfar and Dan Newman and his daughter Alison for escaping late winter in Milwaukee to come all the way to our warm sunny beaches to help us introduce sport kite ballet to a Puerto Rican audience.

The most frequently heard comments from spectators were "Wow!" "I've never seen anything like that!" "That was incredible!" "I want to do that!" "Where can I get a kite like that?" "That was so-o beautiful!" "Amazing!" "When are you going to do this again?" "I'm bringing my friends tomorrow!" (After watching team Pegasus [that's us]) "That was so romantic! It was a beautiful dance."

We finally got the opportunity to show our local friends what it is we do when we talk about "kite flying."

We had several hundred people stop to watch. Some came on the beach and hung our with us. Others, including a couple of police cars and motorcycles, stopped and parked along the road and watched from there. A number of the local officials - potential supporters, partners, sponsors and regulators whose blessing we need for the future - came to watch. A number of people brought their own kites to fly. Dan and Mike brought several big delta kites to add to ours and increase the size of the sky show.

Our friend Marisol's nearly three-year-old daughter Kailani (that's her in the top picture) won one of the kites we gave away. She loved it! and she did a great job holding on to it and flying it all by herself.

This was a preview of a bigger festival we're planning for next spring. Our plan is to work with local environmental groups to promote clean, responsible use of the beaches and ocean by everyone. Stay tuned for more info as that progresses.