Thursday, January 19, 2017

In the BVI

We have moved on to the British Virgin Islands (BVI).

After several days at the marina it was time to move, marinas are expensive.  We had taken a day trip to Charlotte Amalie via a Safari.  A safari is a form of a taxi but in reality it is a pickup with rows of seats in the back with a covering.  They are the main form of public transportation on St Thomas and are inexpensive, $2 per person.  We wandered around the downtown with all of the other tourist off the cruise ship.  We learned a number of things.  The shops want your business and will go all out to get it including inviting you in for a beverage (water, soda, beer, etc), free samples and vary aggressive sales techniques including price reductions every time you start for the door.  You can also take your beverage out in the street and drink it as you walk along (including the beer).  After wandering the main streets we started checking out the small alleys connecting them and found a number of unique shops.  In one we came across an oasis, a small bar with a comfortable sitting area, air conditioning and wifi.  While having a drink the bartender explained the concept of an "island pour" when mixing drinks.  Since everything needs to be shipped in everything is expensive.  Rum is made locally, cola is imported, therefore they switch the proportions: a lot of rum and a little coke.  He demonstrated the technique several times for me.  We had been given a suggestion for where to have lunch and we were not disappointed.  From there we were looking for a safari to take us back to the marina when I spotted a small open air bar with swings instead of stools.  They were comfortable, why don't more paces offer this, and the bartender was familiar with an "island pour."  We finally caught a safari and back at the marina had a light dinner and I crashed, but with a smile on my face.  One of the interesting things that happened was when one of the clerks in a store noticed my Ocracoke shirt and asked if we were from the area.  We explained where we had lived on Clubfoot Creek and it turned out she grew up four houses down on the other side of the creek.  It truly is a small world.

We left the marina but unfortunately had an incident with the boat next to us.  We needed to back out of the slip and get the boat turned into the wind once clear of the dock and other boats.  The wind, from behind, caught the stern and pushed it the wrong way and once clear of the dock we were pushed into their anchor bowsprit.  They were backed into the slip.  After clearing our rigging from them we were out of the marina.  The captain of that boat was very helpful and understanding.  Once out of the harbor we turned right and proceeded downwind using the headsail to sail to the harbor at Charlotte Amalie.  Several other cruisers have given us suggestions where to anchor and after checking them out we chose a spot and dropped anchor.  The next morning we went ashore to take care of business.  We had already done enough of the touristy stuff so we made a trip to K-mart for a few supplies and the grocery store.  Once back on the boat putting things away we got a message that Lee and Sharon from Allegro were on their way and did we want to do lunch.  As they were coming into the harbor we went back to shore to wait for them.  After a great lunch with them and meeting some of their cruising friends, one with a Pearson 422, we headed back to the boat while they went off to do laundry.  The anchorage had been very rolly and uncomfortable so we decided to move.  First we needed to top off fuel, we pulled into a marina, got fuel and we were off again to find a place to anchor.  The suggested anchorages were very full of boats and anyplace we could choose was too deep so we decided to move over to Brewers Bay.  This anchorage is right next to the airport with the runway acting as a break wall knocking down the waves.  The only drawbacks are the airplanes taking off and landing and the music from the public beach.  In the evening it quieted down and we had a peaceful night.

This being Monday we had planned to sail to St Croix.  There was a weather change forecasted and we would have a great sail there.  The "BUT" that follows that statement was that the winds and swell was going to shift and be from the north for a week.  A lot of wind and big swells 9-12 foot.  The anchorages on St Croix are on the north side of the island and we would be exposed to them for the week.  We decided not to go, we will get there later.  With the forecast for wind and waves from the northeast we decided to go back to the south side of St. John.  We pulled into Great Lameshur Bay and picked up a mooring again.  While Cori was off kayaking a neighbor came over to invite us over for sundowners. People from two other boats were there so lots of advice was given.  Tuesday morning we went ashore and went for a hike, first stopping at the VIERS center.  We had missed this the first time here and the others were telling us how interesting it was.  VIERS stands for Virgin Islands Environmental Research Station.  They host collage student who are doing research in the area.  The site was originally built as the center for the Tektite research.  Many of us are familiar with the Sealab experiment in the late 60's and this was a follow up by researchers, including NASA, for extended underwater and close quarter living.  There was a "habitat" anchored to the sea floor just outside of the bay and during 1969 and 1970 there were a series of experiments conducted, the most notable was the first crew who lived there for 59 days venturing out with diving equipment to conduct research and study the underwater environment.  Google it, "Tektite", it is very interesting.  From there we  hiked the Tektite Trail, not one of the easy trails but to a very nice overlook looking down at where the Tektite dock had been.  We spent a couple of days on the mooring while the winds blew but we were very protected.

Thursday was a sad day on Hi Flite.  Cori received an email that notified us that George, the previous owner of Hi Flite had died and his memorial service was to be held on Saturday.  George loved his boat and selling her was an emotional experience for him.  After we bought the boat and I was spending time on her in Florida trying to learn all I could before bringing her up to North Carolina, George would come down most days to help me get familiar.  One of my favorite George stories was the day he looked at me and said "well, she is yours now so maybe I should show you where the leaks are" and proceeded to point out where there were leaks that he had not gotten to yet.  There weren't many but it was funny to me since most previous owners will never admit to any defects in their pride and joys.  We spent a lot of time together, him telling me stories and giving advice and he showed me a lot about the boat and went out sailing with us when Cori was there to make us more familiar.  He and Barbara even hosted us to Thanksgiving dinner while we were there, and it is through them that we became familiar with the Cuban sandwich.  One of his stories stuck and years later when faced with a fuel problem on a boat we were delivering his advice was foremost in my mind and we got the boat to her new home port by feeding fuel from jerry jugs when the fuel tank pickup was fouled.  We also did this the summer we had our fuel tank replaced.  While waiting for a new one to be delivered we continued sailing and using the boat by using jerry jugs again and the hoses I used for that are onboard ready to use again.  We have thought of George often and his spirit still lives with us on Hi Flite, the boat that he loved.

We decided it was to move since we had heard good things about Salt Pond Bay just further long the coast.  We dropped the mooring and motored two miles to the bay.  We were lucky, we arrived in time to pick up a mooring ball that just came free.  Salt Pond Bay is small with only five moorings but the beach is very popular with tourists and locals.  Cori went kayaking and I went snorkeling. There are a couple of rock piles in the bay with good snorkeling and there are several turtles that were hanging out between us and our neighbors, very easy to see when snorkeling or when they come up for air.  It turned out our neighbors and their company were from Sioux Falls SD.  Cori got back from kayaking and wanted a garbage bag and off she went to one of the beaches to pick up the trash that had been washed up there.  On Friday we went to shore to hike the Ram Head trail.  Ram Head is a narrow peninsula that makes up one side of the bay.  It is an easy hike, compared to the others we have been on, and once to the end there is a beautiful panoramic view of the island and the surrounding area.  Once back from this hike we took the Drunken Bay Trail across the peninsula to Drunken Bay.  The attraction there, besides the view is the rock sculptures people are making.  Besides the standard rock towers people are using rocks to make human figurines and some of the washed up coral to spell out messages.  Photos will be posted later.  All of these days we had strong winds coming over the island and short rain squalls passing through.  We saw more rainbows this week then any other time.  Saturday Cori went kayaking again and I spent the day reading and relaxing (napping). Sunday was a repeat, with Cori off in her kayak and I stayed back to run the generator and water maker.  Later we swam over to the neighbors to hang out in the water and visit.  We discussed our plans to go around the island and spend another day in Waterlemon Bay before making the jump to the BVI (just a couple of miles away).  Their response was "why wait"?  We made arrangements with our friends on Voyager I to let them have our mooring and when they showed up Monday morning we dropped off and headed around the island.  There was still a lot of wind, 15-20, and waves on the nose until we got around the island and started downwind.  We pulled out the headsail and sailed down the channel, around the edge of Tortola and across to Jost Van Dyke island.  We pulled into Great Harbor, picked up a mooring ball, had lunch and then went in to meet with Customs and Immigration.  We were cleared for 30 days.  We have again left the country.  We did a short walk along the waterfront to get familiar and had a beer at Foxies.  Foxies is an institution in the area.  If you are in the BVI you almost have to stop there,  We were there in the afternoon but their evenings and holiday parties are legendary.  Back on the boat we watched the boats come in look for a mooring and leave or find a spot to drop anchor.  We spent the night but it was a little rolly.

In the morning we decided to move around the corner to White Bay which we are told is one of the more beautiful beaches.  We grabbed one of the moorings and went to shore to take care of phone business and the required stop at the Soggy Dollar.  The Soggy Dollar is where the painkiller was invented and it is a requirement that you stop and have one.   We also needed to stop at the little store to get a SIM card for my phone.  ATT works but as soon as we leave the US islands we are using international roaming fees.  Once that was taken care of we used their suggestion for a lunch spot.  The interesting thing at lunch was if you ordered their signature drink they gave you a cup of ice and put the two bottles of rum and the fruit juice on the counter and you mixed your own drink.  While at the Soggy Dollar we met a fellow sailor from Booth Bay Harbor Maine.  We had an enjoyable time talking with him and exchanging stories, all sailors have stories.  Once again we rocked and rolled through the night so in the morning we moved on to the east end of Jost Van Dyke and picked up a mooring ball.  One of the attractions here is the "Bubbly Pool".  We made the short hike over and soon the group that was there left and we had it to ourselves.  The pool is where the water has broken through the rock shore and formed a shallow pool and when the waves hit the entrance it funnels the water in and turns the pool into a sort of a jacuzzi.  The bigger the waves the more pronounced the effect.  We only had five footers so the effect wasn't as dramatic as it could have been.  Earlier in the week with the north wind and swells they had been hit with thirteen foot swells and the pool was too dangerous to go in.  Photos and video to follow.  On the way to the pool we went under two sets of yellow tape with the message "Crime scene, do not enter".  When the boat arrived to take our money for the mooring he explained that just a few days before someone had been climbing on the rocks at the pool and fell and died.  It truly was a crime scene.  Speaking of the moorings, here in the BVI there is a boat that comes out about 5:30 to collect the $30 to stay on the mooring overnight.  It adds up quickly.  This morning we decided that when Cori got back from her kayak trip we would move the boat to another area by a sand beach and anchor for the night.  When we got to the anchorage it was more rolly then we like so we moved back closer to the mooring field and dropped anchor. We are still rolling but not as bad.  Since we are out here with just a couple of other boats I fired up the generator to charge the batteries and make more water.  I don't like running the generator when someone is close because I don't like hearing anyone else's generator and am sure they don't like mine.  I spent the rest of the day reading and Cori sorted through provisions and did some cooking.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

St. John US Virgin Islands

We have WiFi again.  We have been in some isolated anchorages and have been lucky if we get one bar with our phones and no data to speak of.  Fortunately, isolated anchorages are what we enjoy.

We left Culebra with a forecast of reduced winds and seas.  Reduced is relative, when it blows 20-25 everyday dropping below 20 is a reduction.  We have been experiencing what is called the "christmas winds".  The christmas winds continue until some meteorological event shifts the high pressure that sits up north of the islands.  Eventually something moves and the winds calm down.  We have had almost constant 20-25 knot winds from the east since we arrived.  The forecast called for several days of moderation and we took advantage of it to motor, against the winds and waves to the island of St John.  Oh yea, the waves.  The forecast called for them to drop from 7-9 foot.  Depending where we were in relation to an island they did drop but we still saw a lot of 7-9 footers.  But it could have been worse, it was a short trip, 35 miles or about six hours.

We use an online program called Active Captain to help guide us.  People write reviews and rate such things as marinas, anchorages and make notes about different hazards you may encounter.  Using this we chose a bay on the south side of St John to anchor when we arrived.  Once we got in we found that it wasn't a real good choice so we tried the next little bay.  It was a bit less crowded so we dropped anchor to see how we would ride.  Not good, too much roll.  We decided to continue along a couple more miles to Great Lameshur Bay and pick up a park service mooring.  Most of St John is a national park and most of the bays in the park have mooring balls provided by the park service.  You are also not allowed to anchor in the park waters to protect the coral and bottom structure.  This sounds like a nice service but nothing is free.  Until this year there was a charge of $15 per night for the mooring but this year it was raised to $26.  Fortunately, I have a senior access pass that reduces my cost by 50%.  I only have to pay $13 a night.  If you or anyone you know is over 62 and travels to any US National Park this is a good card to have.  It costs $10 and gives free admission to all National Parks for the person and everyone with them.  I have used many different parks.  The bad news is that there has been a proposal to raise the cost to $80 in the new budget.  Still a good deal if one visits several parks.  The card is good for the rest of your life.  I have saved well over the purchase price in just a few years.  Anyway, back to St John, most of it is wilderness and thy have developed a number of hiking trails and that is one thing we tried to do.  Our first attempt at hiking was called the Bordeaux Mtn. Trail.  This turned out to be anything but a walk in the park.  The trail is 1.2 miles long and climbs 1277 feet, and then you have to walk back down.  I thought my knee hurt going up, coming down again was ever harder.  We made it and there were some breathtaking vistas along the way.

  The nest hiking excursion, after a day of rest, was the Petroglyph Trail.  This was only about three miles with a diversion to the  Reed Bay Sugar Mill ruins, then three miles back.  This did not climb as high but we still had to climb over a major ridge line to get there, and back.  The petroglyphs are some  carvings in rocks from the original natives of the islands back several thousand years.

  The sugar mill ruins were the remnants of the last sugar plantation in operation on the island closing in the early 1900's

Another bright idea we had was to hike the Brown Bay Trail until it met up with the Johnny Horn Trail that ended in the town of Coral Bay.  From there we planned on following the road back to where we left the dinghy.  About a six mile hike across the island and back crossing several ridges with some grades almost too steep to climb and descend.  Once in Coral Bay we stopped at Skinny Legs bar for a cold one and met Rick and Nancy from Colorado and accepted a ride back to our dinghy.  Back at the dinghy we found that we had been visited by a park ranger and he left a notice that we were not allowed to leave the dinghy where it was and that it is against the rules to tie it to a tree, or anything else for that matter.  It was just a warning, not a citation so there was no penalty.  We also got a warning the nest day when we got back from a day trip to Cruz Bay.  We were not supposed to stay two nights on a day-use mooring.  We moved to an anchorage outside the park for the night in case he came back to check on us.  We made several more hikes while around the island, mostly short ones to a ruins of some sort.

We did make one trip to the town of Cruz Bay, taking a Safari Taxi to town and then the bus back.  Safari Taxis are pickups with seats in the back and a roof over the passengers heads.  We climbed aboard and quickly found we were with a former resident of New Bern NC and a resident of Ocracoke Island.  They were on their way to the ferry to return from their vacation.  While perusing shops we also met a former resident of Beaufort and while waiting to board the bus met a family from Cary NC.  They all noticed that my T shirt was from Oriental NC and struck up a conversation.

Aside from the hiking Cori took several opportunities to get out on her kayak and explore some of the beaches and I got in some more snorkeling.  I saw a variety of coral and fish, again taking too many pictures of where a fish had been.  One site had a number of squid to check out.

We worked our way counter-clockwise around the island staying for a couple of days in different bays.  Our last night the winds and waves shifted and we started to roll.  We had plans on moving along a short distance to check out an underwater snorkeling trail but it was too rough to want to stay even for just the day.  We checked out several other bays, even taking a mooring on one to see how it felt but still was uncomfortable so we moved on.

We moved across to Big James Island and picked up a free mooring in Christmas Cove.  The story is that it is called Christmas Cove because that is where Christopher Columbus spent a Christmas.  The unique thing in this cove is the pizza boat.  There is a boat anchored that is set up with a kitchen to make and sell pizzas.

We had a great time on and around St John and will be back.  We decided to take a couple of days and give Hi Flite some love.  We moved to Red Hook Bay on the east end of St Thomas and are tied up to a dock.  I need to give the electrical system some attention and need to be on 110 service for a couple of days.  We were here only a couple of hours and Bill and Andrea from Voyager I stopped by to say hello.  We met them in Culebra.  We have been meeting a lot of others along the way, even a family from Fargo while waiting for our pizza at the pizza boat.

In the midst of this we spent a quiet Christmas and New Years Eve.  We hope everyone had a nice Christmas and wish all of you a Happy New Year!