Amidst a Caribbean cruise I got to do the coolest shore excursion.
Tim made the detailed plans, so I had but a vague idea on stops. On day 3 I found out we would be stopping in San Juan, Puerto Rico and it hit me: Luis Ruiz of the “Kamikazes!” He is a paramotor instructor there who had invited me (and everyone else) to com enjoy his little slice of paradise.
So I texted him and won the lottery. He was available, he was willing to come fetch me in AWFUL traffic (next time I’ll Uber out), and the weather was perfect. He was also kind enough to let me mooch a machine and wing.
We’re cruising with some good friends so Tim hung with them to explore the downtown and lay low near the ship–this has been one busy few days.
Traffic, Roads & Hurricane Damage
Remember, this ship is huge–disgorging a big part of 6400 guests into downtown San Juan. All manner of taxis, tour operators, street vendors, and hawkers of trinkets converged on this spot selling everything from religions to carvings. Poor Luis managed to coerce his truck tank through this and back. It was sure easy to find him when he was coming by: a truck full of paramotors.
Outside the downtown traffic let up in places. I was impressed with how little hurricane damage was visible. There’s still a lot, Luis tells me, but they’ve also done a lot of work to clean things up.
It was fun to kibits with some local pilots, two of which I think flew down from another site. One (Griff) was a doctor playing some hookey from the office. They all represented the sport well.
Site and Flight
The moment I stepped onto grass it was obvious this would work well. A steady, straight-in 10 mph breeze blew and there were was room to play. Luis let me use a ground handling harness to play with the Apco NRG before flying. It’s been a while since I’ve flown the wing and I wanted to get some feel for it. That was good. She tended to fall back a bit so I let the trimmers out more and noted that I’d want to give her a bit more airspeed before turning around.
Reverse inflations are nearly brainless in these conditions but I definitely don’t want muck it up. I’m a guest, there’s busy 4-lane road just behind launch, and cameras were plentiful, including from passers-by who just want to check out the amazing craft. Luis got some sand out of one tip and I headed out for a quickie to get the feel for things.
Landing was a bit trickier since I wouldn’t fly over the road. Wind helped. Went to idle (just in case) descended over the palms, went a bit wide to burn off 20 feet, turned in, goosed a bot of power to cheat out some more flare authority and slid to a stop. Ahhh.
Shortly thereafter we all launched for an hour-long cross country. It was awesome.
Near the Ship in San Juan
Before Luis got there I had an hour or so to stroll around near the ship. I was surprised how quickly the crowds tapered off since most people probably headed out in vehicles or went to the Fort, a nearby tourist attraction. It has a cool history that I’ll hope to explore sometime, but not today.
At least two religions were out there soliciting their brand. I didn’t see any takers but that didn’t deter their effort.
It was a surprisingly beautiful downtown, maybe because I was expecting more hurricane damage. While that was evident in a few places, it could have been much worse. Business owners there and government are highly motivated, no doubt, to keep the ships coming. As painful as their traffic is, their money has to be hugely welcome.
What the float? RF intelligence? Satellite signal monitoring? Then why have what looks like a telescope. We did find out this is a French Military ship that has been hanging out here from some time, going out and coming in frequently.
There’s nary a weapon in sight. A more helpless target would seem to be hard to imagine but then with modern warfare so beholden to electronics I can imagine a lot of electrons being effectively spewed. More than likely its some kind of signal intelligence gathering.
After writing the above paragraphs I noticed the “A601” on the ship’s side. A quick Google search revealed the “secret.” It’s for tracking missiles, mostly from the French Navy but also, no doubt, of other nations.