Friday, April 18, 2014

The Virgin Islands Re-visited

April 18th 2014

Position 18° 21.445’ N
              64° 34.830’ W

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A beautiful evening with a new moon
Our passage from Îles des Saintes was according to plan; the weather cooperated for the most part although seas to begin with where rougher than expected. Moderation did occur during the trip and we experienced good lee protection from the islands of Guadeloupe and St. Kitt’s.  

Necker Island

Rounding the NE point of Virgin Gorda

The sights we see

Bitter End Yacht Club

While we were transiting the lee of St. Kitt’s it was time to try our luck with the fishing rod. Lavinia chose the lure, a yellow and green one, she spat on it for good luck and away it went. I let it out to approximately 100 yards behind the boat clear of the turbulent wake water. The drag was set and we both retreated back to navigating the boat from the pilot house. Some time passed, nothing; bemoaning our luck and making mutterings about our friend Bill Miller on ‘Ann Louise’ who had just posted pictures of his catch of a massive wahoo he had caught off the coast of St. Lucia a day or two before. “What were we doing wrong”, “nothing”, I told Lavinia, and be patient. Some more time passed and HT called out that she could hear the reel paying out line…I ran down from the pilot house, there were no other boats around. I took the rod from the holder, struck and began to crank the little blighter in. It was not a big fish, I could feel that…I saw a flash of yellow as I was winding in the line. My first thought was that it was a little chicken dolphin, a Mahi Mahi, they are green and yellow. As the catch became visible at the stern disappointment set in, guess what? We had caught a banana peel. HT immediately owned up that she had, minutes before, eaten a banana and thrown the peel overboard! What are the odds of catching one’s own banana peel 100 yards behind the boat? We laughed and decided that fishing was over on this occasion as the seas were building; we were leaving the lee of St. Kitts now on our way to Sint Eustatius and Saba islands and I don’t relish dealing with a fish in rough conditions. Once past Saba Island we altered course very slightly for Virgin Gorda, we were in the Anegada Passage; had she lain down as forecast or would we have a monotonous bouncy ride? The passage was not too bad and we were able to sleep comfortably during our off watch periods. On my 4 – 7 watch, as dawn arrived, so did a distant view of land; it is easy to imagine being Christopher Columbus at times like this wondering what his thoughts were and the words he may have uttered. We were nearly there. In the morning light of February 26th I saw the outline of Virgin Gorda, the fat virgin, as Columbus called the island, a welcome sight after an 80 mile, 14 hour journey from Saba. We rounded the north-eastern tip of the island and immediately began to experience the calmer reef protected water, the trip was almost over and a welcome rest waits in North Sound. We entered the marked channel to North Sound and were moored up to one of the Bitter End Yacht Club mooring balls by 08:45. 

After clearing in at Gun Creek we spent two days enjoying the facilities of Bitter End and, of course, a great hamburger at Saba Rock, the best in the Caribbean in my opinion and all this while being surrounded by the turquoise waters of the Virgin Islands. We left Bitter End and North Sound earlier in 2013 on our way south to Trinidad so arriving back here was the completion of our Eastern Caribbean circumnavigation…we did it and we are still in one piece! 

Our next stop would be Spanish Town or as it is known ‘The Valley’, the principal town of Virgin Gorda. We spent only one night and a morning here just enough time to be rocked and rolled all night by the ferry wakes and the swell coming in from the Anegada Passage, miserable! We went into town to the bank ATM, to eat some breakfast plus go to Buck’s grocery store for a few provisions.
The Baths

A short trip west would take us to The Baths where we picked up one of the national park moorings. With snorkel gear donned we set off for the Baths, a short dinghy ride from the mooring field. We snorkelled in the most wonderful water for two hours enjoying the colourful fish and coral marvelling all the time at how clear the water was. A visit here is a must. We pressed on to our final destination of the day Great Harbour, Peter Island. This big bay is an easy in and easy out. There are no reefs to be wary of. Anchoring is permitted and we ventured far into the SW corner where we found flat water, we dropped the hook in 45 feet. There were four other boats in the area but there would have been room for twenty so it was very private. We felt like we were in the wilderness and HT remarked that this was the closest she had come to camping, she has never camped! It is now March 2
nd the weather is perfect and I mean perfect the skies have been blue, the humidity down and the temperatures in the very low 80’s, the Virgins appeal. There are so many anchorages and islands here and it is not hard to see why the area is known as the sailing capital of the world. Even though there are many boats they are absorbed well and it doesn’t seem crowded or at least it doesn’t yet! We Stayed in Great Harbour two days and three nights, we really like this place. We took a dinghy ride to explore east to Deadman's Bay. This is another anchorage although not as protected as Great Harbour, the trade-off is the beach a wonderful stretch of white sand and clear shallow water to swim in. We pulled our dinghy up onto the beach and cleaned the bottom then enjoyed a relaxing swim before our ride back to ‘Partners’. One more candle lit dinner before we depart for Norman Island and our next anchorage in the Bight.
Great Harbour, Peter Island
Waterlemon Bay & Cay

Sugar Mill Ruins

Sugar Mill on St. John

Sugar Mill at Leinster Bay

A Hawksbill Turtle

A cool shady walk
'Rising Sun' (453' long)
David Geffen's yacht 'Rising Sun'

There are times for all of us who are in a special relationship or a marriage, which are brought on by an event, a particular place or a moment of imagination that make all of us want to renew our commitments to each other or our marriage vows. A thought, a warm feeling, something that triggers those thoughts of love and dependency which one has with one’s partner. The same feelings can be applied to nature and, in my case, the reason why I love cruising and the life it allows me. My latest moment was this morning, while ‘Partners’ is still anchored in Great Harbour, Peter Island in the British Virgin Islands. This beautiful protected bay on the north side of the island is a ‘back to nature’ location, no internet, TV, FM radio stations and it is uncrowded with few other boats. The bay is surrounded by high ground covered in vegetation, sound is rare and the lack of it borders on eerie. This setting promotes thought and this morning I woke at 05:15, it was pitch black dark, it was still with not even a ripple on the water or a breath of breeze; these conditions are a rarity in the Caribbean where the trade winds normally blow constantly. Occasionally there is a weather phenomenon which ‘kills’ the wind and allows a morning like today. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, HT was still asleep so I didn’t want to put a light on, I proceeded to the aft doors to the aft deck of ‘Partners’ and upon opening them saw that we were facing in a different direction. Those of you who are familiar with the trade winds know that when one goes to bed facing in a general easterly direction one expects to wake up with the boat facing in a general easterly direction! Today ‘Partners’ was facing 180° from her ‘bedtime’ direction, even the dinghy was alongside instead of streaming off the stern as normal! Zero wind, the morning was so still…nature was ‘chocking’ me, I couldn’t have found a more natural unspoilt spot. As the minutes passed and the black moonless sky started to turn to the dawn hues I could hear the sound of wild goats on the hillside only 200 feet away and a coo of a pigeon waiting for the light. The water is deep here and although we are anchored in 45 feet of water we are only 150 feet from the shore. The aura of this place spawned so many good feelings, freedom as a child playing in the countryside of England, where I grew up, being one with nature and being without a care in the world, it reminded me of and really endorsed the freedom we have as cruisers; so many back to nature thoughts, I was in overload! Some of you reading this may have forgotten the feeling I have just written about here, I feel privileged to be able to remind you all that there are places which allow one’s mind to wonder, that stimulate imagination and provide jaw dropping views of nature’s beauty. As the light came and the early still began to stir, the breeze started to ‘kiss’ the earth gently, slowly bringing everything back to normal. ‘Partners’ began to swing on her anchor back to the ‘correct’ position with her bow pointing in an easterly direction. The dinghy assumed its ‘correct’ stance of streaming off the stern mildly straining at its painter. This morning was my moment to remind myself that I love HT, I thank her for sharing my life, for being my partner and experiencing this life with me…this morning was also the time where I reminded myself of the wonders of nature and the beauty this earth provides… 

While on shore during our working lives, especially in Florida where we lived, we always talked of wanting a home on the water where there would be cooling breezes and fresh air to provide relief from the summer heat and also where there would be tranquil views of the water. Finally we have our waterfront home but with a bonus, a huge bonus in fact, we have a ‘movable’ home on the water which we can relocate at will to a new and exciting spot where we can experience the variety that nature provides. This life is addicting and a little concern creeps in at times like this of whether making the transition back to a land based existence is possible. Obviously, one day, it will have to happen but it won’t be easy or a happy day!  

From Norman Island we cruised across Sir Francis Drake Channel to Tortola and our destination was Marina Cay where we anchored a little west of the mooring field with three other large sailing boats. That evening a short dinghy ride in ‘Junior Partner’ or JP for short, our nickname for ‘Partners’ dinghy, took us to the Cay and their bar which is situated at the top of the island, great views. A live band was playing and they were great…many cruisers were there having a merry time. We drank a few beers tipped the band and took the dinghy ride back to ‘Partners’. In the morning we weighed anchor and cruised west and north to a small isolated anchorage on Great Camanoe Island. The anchorage at Lee Bay has a rocky bottom and after two attempts at getting our anchor to hold we gave up and motored over to Guana Island and the beautiful bay there known as White Bay. White Bay is a long protected bay with a white sand beach and sandy bottom. The bay is full of mooring balls now and although anchoring is allowed the privately owned island does not encourage it. We found a spot on the north end where we were able to anchor but it was a ‘squeeze’. The owners of the island have made an exclusive luxury resort here and have service boats that ferry passengers and supplies back and forth to Tortola continuously during daylight hours; at night the boats are moored on private moorings one of which was close to us, too close unfortunately and although other buoys were available we got the impression that the powers that be wanted to make us feel uncomfortable and chose to put one of the boats as close to us as they could. They succeeded and we had to move. The only available option was to pick up one of their mooring balls! It was getting dark and we didn’t want to be motoring far to find another anchorage so we bit the bullet and coughed up the $30 for the mooring fee. We had not been on the ball for more than five minutes before a young lad approached us to collect our money. He explained that the owners tried to prevent anyone from going ashore on the island but law required that access be granted to anyone up to the high water line. So although discouraged one can walk the beautiful beach and we did! Two mega yachts were anchored out in deep water in the bay and we watched as their crews transported portable cabanas, chairs, large mats and water toys to the beach to be set up to await the pleasure of the owner or guests should they wish to spend some time on the beach. We spent two days in White Bay and both days the ritual was performed. We felt sorry for the crew performing their thankless task as on the second day after spending an hour or more setting up the ‘beach club’ no one came...the owner or guests just decided to do something else! We watched as the crew of three took the dinghy to shore packed everything up and retreated back to the mother ship!  We did not feel welcome on Guana so the next morning we moved on to Cane Garden Bay where we found more mooring balls, they are everywhere now! We were able to anchor with plenty of swinging room here and were comfortable for the first day and night, the second day, however, when the NE swell became more of a N swell and the rolling began was a different story. In the morning we were still okay with only moderate discomfort and were entertained with watching the half dozen or so surfers. Cane Garden is well known as a surfing beach and when the swell is up has a reputation of producing some ‘perfect’ waves. Gradually through the day the swell grew to a point where we wanted to put an end to the rolling so off we went crossing the calm waters, enjoying the gentle ups and downs on the large swell, to Jost van Dyke the third largest island of the BVI group. We decided to anchor in the gin clear water of Manchioneel Bay on the south side of Little Jost van Dyke Island; the spot is isolated with no visible signs of habitation although there is a beach bar on the SW end of the Island. We spent four days here and explored, went ashore to deserted beaches and did our Robinson Crusoe thing; it was a lot of fun! We were joined by Steve and Janice from Sealacious a 37’ Tayana, John and Jo from Out of Africa in their Moody and Chuck and Barb from Tusen Takk II all friends and fellow cruisers that we knew. Chuck and Barb are Krogen owners like us and have a 48’. The first night we were together we all met on Out of Africa for a BBQ which was a blast. The next night we joined up with Chuck and Barb again to dinghy ashore to Foxy's Taboo for dinner where we could sample their famous cocktails and ribs. We had a reservation and arrived just in time to miss a torrential downpour; we were seated and spent little time looking at the menu, we knew what we wanted, we were having ribs, right! We ordered four exotic colourful cocktails and awaited the return of the waitress to take our orders. When she came Chuck spoke up and said “I’m here for those wonderful ribs”, the waitress, her voice laden with apology, replied “I’m sorry but we are out!” I, with disappointment, said “but we had a reservation” and the waitress pointed out very politely “not for ribs though!” We quickly overcame our disappointment and ordered alternatives which without exception we all thoroughly enjoyed. After a really pleasant evening we went back to the dinghy and successfully negotiated the trip back, about a mile, in pitch darkness. Lavinia is always a little concerned taking dinghy rides when she cannot see anything in front of her! We arrived back safely to our calm anchorage said our good nights and retired.

The next morning all of our friends left the bay and sailed off to their next destinations. This is how it is in the cruising community we are all independent, we go our own ways but when we do meet we have a great time with each other then bid farewell until the next time... 

Our next stop was in Great Harbour where we anchored just two nights before clearing out from the BVI’s for the USVI’s. We found Ralphs, a great grocery store, and did some re-provisioning. We have learnt that as cruisers when one sees something that we need one should buy it! It is not always easy to find the things one wants so when the opportunity presents itself it is always sensible to take advantage. Oh, and we paid one more visit to the World Famous Foxy’s and yes, we finally did have our ribs! Sadly Chuck and Barb were not with us this stop Caneel Bay on St. John where we picked up a mooring ball, as members of the National Parks the senior price is only $7.50 per night and these moorings are nicely maintained so provide a peace of mind experience. We took the dinghy around to Cruz Bay and the Customs house where we took care of the clearance formalities...we were back in the US of A. Our next anchorage was Maho Bay where we had spent only one night a year ago. We enjoyed several nights here this time in flat smooth water which is an indescribable blue, just gorgeous! We swam and snorkelled and walked the white sand idyllic spot. Our last stop on St. John was Leinster Bay and our particular favourite Waterlemon Bay. We picked up a mooring adjacent to Waterlemon Cay where the water is deep and clear but close enough to quickly reach the reef that surrounds Waterlemon Cay. We snorkelled and enjoyed three days here. Seventy five percent of St. John is national park controlled and is pristine. We walked to an old sugar mill where we spoke to two of the volunteers’. One was cooking bread the old fashioned way in an open pan on a fire, the bread was good as was the almond tea she also brewed. We sat with the other lady and asked her many questions. She had lived on St. John for 26 years and obviously loved her ‘home’. She mentioned, during one conversation, that she was disappointed when the busses show up carrying the passengers from the cruise ships that visit St. Thomas, they ferry across from Redhook, that a number of the people seem uninterested in ‘her’ island and she focused on one person who actually asked her which island they were on, they didn’t even know. I think she enjoyed our questions and interest in St. John which, in my opinion, has to go down as one of the must visit islands in the Virgins, in fact in the whole of the Caribbean. In another life while working in Florida I had an assistant Caron who for some time lived on St. John and raised a son here, she always sighed longingly when she remembered her time on St. John, a beautiful place. I know Caron I’ll send more pictures!

Maho Bay
We left Leinster and cruised east around the island travelling then west along the south coast to Redhook Bay on St. Thomas. We spent one night anchored in Muller Bay where we were rocked continuously by the many ferries that use Redhook as their base...not for us; we moved round to Charlotte Amalie and the big open harbour there. We anchored in the eastern part near the main cruise ship dock and the Yacht Haven Grand Marina. The anchoring here is good with a sandy clay bottom that really doesn’t want to give up the anchor as we found out when we left. Charlotte Amalie is a big town by island standard and has every facility. The very nice dinghy dock at Yacht Haven Grand is convenient for Pueblo’s grocery store, K-Mart and all the other stores one could wish for. The marina is also a mall complex with many high end stores and several restaurant choices. The main town is a pleasant easy 1¼ mile walk west along the waterfront where duty free shopping abounds. Altogether this is an easy stop for us cruisers. We took a dinghy excursion to Frenchtown to visit Ace hardware and stumbled across the ‘Rum Shack’ which overlooks Water Island. We decided to have a beer and lunch, I ate a great hamburger and for HT a Sushi platter, we had a wonderful lunch.
HT Having fun on St. Patrick's Day
St. Thomas Regatta

While in Charlotte Amalie we had the pleasure of meeting Brian and Jackie Smillie onboard their 48’ Krogen ‘Gotta Smile’. They were kind enough to invite us for cocktails one evening. They were entering the Caribbean for the first time and intended spending hurricane season in Trinidad like us. We had much to talk about and the evening just wasn’t long enough! We were able to share some information about the Leeward’s and the Windward’s; hopefully it would enhance their cruise south. We told them of our plan to cruise to Culebra and then on to Puerto Rico where we would be flying back to Florida for a family get-together for Easter. Upon mentioning this they volunteered the name of a marina they had stayed at in Fajardo called Sunbay Marina. It sounded perfect for us too so we made reservations for a month stay there to facilitate us leaving ‘Partners’ during our Easter break. We said our goodbyes, they weighed anchor for St. John and we for Culebra, a 20 mile passage to the West. As cruisers we knew our courses would cross again before too long. 

A friend of ours John Perry on board his sailing catamaran ‘Stingo’ was already in Culebra on a mooring ball behind the reef at Ensenada Dakity, part of the larger bay named Ensenada Honda. After a good uneventful cruise in calm conditions we entered Ensenada Honda. Culebra, one of the Spanish Virgins Islands, is a popular haunt of all cruisers; the anchorage is one of the best in the Caribbean and affords flat seas in all conditions. The reef which protects the harbour here is huge and wide so any seas are reduced to a ripple by time they have passed over the coral. Upon entering, the US Coast Guard maintains two well marked buoyed channels here, we were looking through the binoculars to see if we could scope out an available mooring ball and quite coincidently the ball right beside our friend John was open, we took it! John had been in Culebra for some time and had got to know most of the other cruisers moored there. On our first evening there he invited us onboard ‘Stingo’ for sundowners so we could meet everyone else. Eight of us whiled the night away with much laughter and storytelling. There is never a dull moment when a bunch of cruisers get together for sundowners! We spent five days in Culebra. We enjoyed a meal at the Dinghy Dock restaurant with friends Dave and Jane from ‘Greta Mae’, we had first met Dave and Jane in the Windward’s at Tyrrel Bay, Carriacou last July. They told us they were on their way to the East coast of the US with intentions of cruising the NE for the summer. We also hosted a sundowners party onboard ‘Partners’ before our departure...all a fun time. Our last evening was again a visit to ‘Stingo’ to enjoy Johns rendering of Pasta Alfredo...was it good or what; John is a single-hander and I guess as such one learns how to cook! Sadly when we returned to ‘Partners’ we had generator problems and we couldn’t charge our batteries which we had to do to get us through the night. This necessitated us leaving a little ahead of schedule so in the morning after a ‘short’ night (we had to run the main engine to put enough amps back into the batteries for the night) I called up Sunbay and asked them if they could accommodate us a little earlier than problem! We weren’t due there until the 15th April and today's the 10th. The wind had been blowing strongly for the past four days but fortunately a front had killed the gradient wind and the Trades had abated for this trip, we made good way and after a comfortable crossing arrived in Fajardo after 3½ hours. Sunbay is an all inclusive marina where the slip fee includes water, electricity, cable TV and Wi-Fi service. For our 42’ boat the monthly rate is $750! A really good price for the Caribbean we feel.

Sunbay is all that Brian and Jackie ‘cracked’ it up to be, friendly clean and secure; we are comfortable here. There appears to be no swell that enters so we are virtually motionless in our slip. Olga, one of the owners of the marina, greeted us in the office and made sure we had answers to all our questions she really made us feel at home. Olga provided us with a map which, as we were to rent a car, was most helpful. Olga’s husband, the other owner, also built the marina some six years ago so this is a family owner facility and it shows. Another helpful perk is that the marina has in slip fuelling!

I will end here and say that the Virgins will ‘call’ again, the calm protected waters make these islands one of the finest cruising grounds in the world and fortunately there are enough islands, bays and sights to keep us interested, visit after visit, the trip from the south back across Anagada is certainly worth it! After our trip to Florida for Easter we will resume our cruising, we are not sure where we will be off to at this point but we will let you know when we decide!

Is it time for you to plan for a life afloat?

A great view while on one of our walks...