Friday, February 22, 2008

We're in the BVI

Hi everyone! Just a quick update to let you know we are currently island hopping in the British Virgin Islands. We left St. Croix on Sunday, 2/17 after spending 10 days in Christainsted Harbor. We enjoyed our time there but we were getting anxious to leave. The weather forecasts for the passage back to St. John hadn't been good the entire time we were there. It looked like our best shot would be Sunday with a forecast of 15-20 kt winds, 5 ft seas with a 9 second period. That forecast proved to be accurate for the first half of the trip. But about 13 miles from St. John the winds picked up to 26 kts, the waves increased and came closer together. We could also tell that St. John was getting rain and the squally conditions hit us while we were still about 7 miles out. The rolling and pounding caused jerry cans to slide back and forth on the deck even though they were secured both top and bottom. A small gas can that was tied on deck loosened enough to bang against the side breaking the pour spout and allowing sea water to splash into the gas. Theses cans were tied the same way we've been tying them for over 4000 miles! It just wasn't a good day to put out to sea! We arrived in Salt Pond Bay, St. John cold, wet and very tired.

On Tuesday we sailed along the south coast of St. John and rounded the west end to head to Jost Van Dyke. We choose this route to avoid the high seas that were still pounding the east shore. As we cruised along the west shore I said, "Hey Jim. We're on a beam reach! When was the last time we got to do that?" What a great feeling to not have the wind on the nose! We arrived at Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands where we cleared customs, grabbed a quick beer at Foxy's Bar, bought some ice and then headed back out to move the boat to Little Harbor for the night. We treated ourselves to barbeque chicken, ribs and chicken curry at Abe’s by the Sea.

The next day we were up and out again sailing over to Norman Island and the anchorage called The Bight. Boy, this is charter boat central! I think there were about 50 boats on moorings here and all but a few were charter boats. It's big business. Last night we stayed at Marina Cay and it's the same thing. We're starting to feel out of place! You should see our neighbors. We have a beautiful Swan sailing yacht, about 70+ ft long anchored next to us. Her crew was busy washing down the decks this afternoon and her tender is almost as long as Merengue. Jim wants to move the boat. He’s afraid I’m becoming attached! There are quite a few yachts in the 55-80 ft range here. I don't think many cruisers hang out in the BVI. Too crowded and too expensive. But it is a sailing paradise. I love being able to go out and sail for a few hours, arrive in a new place, swim, snorkel, relax and drink a sundowner while the sun goes down and then get up and do it again tomorrow. The next island is just a few miles away. To our sailing friends back in the states who are dreaming of spring and launching the boat, I highly recommend a charter vacation in the Virgins. We did it several times and it was always great.

The other night, when the moon was full there was a lunar eclipse. I slept right through it but Jim did wake up in time to catch a few photos.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

St. John to St. Croix, USVI

Our next stop on St. John was Salt Pond Bay on the SE end of the island. From here you can hike along several trails leading up from the beach. This hike took us to Drunk Bay on the windswept eastern coast. "Drunk" is dutch Creole for "drowned." Hikers have left their mark by constucting figures out of the bleached rocks and coral. It's like walking through a boneyard!

Look like anyone you know?

This trail took us to Ram Head, a rocky cliff 200 ft above the Caribbean.
Beautiful view!

Merengue in Salt Pond Bay, part of the Virgin Islands National Park. Anchoring is prohibited here but moorings are provided for $15 per night. This is an effort to protect the sea floor from anchors and the chains that tear it up.

We left St. John on Feb 7, 2008 for the 35 mile crossing to St. Croix. We had been watching the weather for weeks and it seems like there are always big seas to deal with in this passage. We sailed in 17-25 kts with 6 to 7 ft seas. There was the occassional 10 footer just to keep you on your toes! We flew along doing over 6 kts with reefed sails. But the constant rolling takes its toll. The 2 brackets that Jim had installed on the front edge of the solar panels to help stabilize them snapped in two. Another trip to the hardware store and more repairs!

When we arrived in Christainsted Harbor we motored around looking for a spot to tuck ourselves in. Usually that is not a problem, one of the advantages of a small boat that will fit into spots where many bigger boats can't go. But the harbor was packed with boats and after circling through several times, we had to resign ourselves to anchoring on the outer edge, right next to where the sea planes took off and landed. They took off only about 100 yards from us and idled past us after landing, often coming as close as 50 ft. The pilots wave as they go by! Thankfully they only operate during daylight hours!

Take-off and landing.

The day after we arrived in St. Croix, Christainsted was holding a "Jump Up." A Jump Up is an island expression that means to dance. The festivities included food, music, late-night shopping and an appearance by the Mocko Jumbies Stilt Walkers. We ate shrimp roti, sampled fresh squeezed sugar cane juice and drank rum out of a coconut.

Steel Pan music. It was great until Jim said, "What's this song?" I had to tell him it was For All We Know by The Carpenter's. After that he wanted another rum!

The Mocko Jumbies, sitting on top of a van as they dressed in their costumes.

Jumbies were evil spirits. Mocko Jumbies are pretend spirits used to chase away the evil ones. The Mocko Jumbies have their faces covered so the real spirits can't recognize them.

Christainsted Harbor.
Fort Christainsvaern, completed by the Danes in 1748. This fort never saw battle.

Is this thing loaded?

We rented a car to tour the island. If you haven't noticed yet, there are 3 things we don't pass up while traveling. The first is forts, the second is brew pubs (yes, we did try the one on St. Croix) and rum distilleries. We'd like to think at least 2 out of the three have historical significance. On this day we stopped to tour the Cruzan Rum Factory.

Molasses fermenting in the tanks. Great aroma!

Rum aging in the barrels.

Jim aging in the bar!

Caribbean Colors.
Happy Hour at Angry Nate's Restaurant on the waterfront.

As of today, we are just hanging out waiting for the weather to change. We'll head back to the U.S. or British Virgin Islands and then on to St. Martin where our friends Mike and Marcia are meeting us on March 1st.

Gotta go now. It's Valentine's Day and Jim is cooking Spaghetti Bolognese for dinner. We've got a nice bottle of red wine to go with it. Life is good!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Culebra to St. John, USVI

Getting the boat ready to head to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Here's Jim changing the oil. People don't believe us when we tell them he has to hang up side down to do it!
Two good things about changing the oil, the engine runs better and you get increased oxygen to the brain!
Here's Bailey trying to ignore all the swearing coming from the engine compartment.

The Dinghy Dock Bar, Packer headquarters in Culebra. Unfortunately we had to watch the Pack lose in overtime.
Oceanfront property that is still reasonably priced. Two stories with a front and back porch!
Approaching Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas. We've been here many times before and it's always fun to come back. But it seems new again when you come by sailboat. You look for different things in a location when you're cruising vs vacationing.

The anchorage in Charlotte Amalie, busy and crowded.

The 99 steps.

Blackbeard's Castle above the waterfront.

Nightfall over St. Thomas.

After leaving Charlotte Amalie, we headed to an anchorage at Christmas Cove. As we were approaching the bay, our friends Hans & Kristin on Whisper hailed us on the radio. They were less then a mile off our starboard side, heading to St. Thomas. We hadn't seen each other for awhile. We'd been hanging out in Culebra and they'd just returned from St. Croix. They changed course and joined us in Christmas Cove. The four of us went snorkling (saw a Reef Shark) and then had drinks and dinner on Merengue. It's such fun when a new landfall reunites you with friends.
This turned out to be a beautiful but uncomfortable anchorage. We rolled all night and slept very little. The next morning Whisper headed to St. Thomas and we moved on to St. John.
Everyone at home think we're doing something so unusual but there are lots of cruisers out here. This boat, Time n Time hails from Racine, WI. We met the owners while hiking on St. John.

The island of St. John is only 9 miles long by 5 miles wide and about two-thirds of it is National Park. We hiked for 5 hours on this day and saw plantation house ruins, petroglyphs that are believed to be the work of Taino Indians and the ruins of a rum factory. The landscape is beautiful! Afterwards, you return to the boat for a swim in clean, clear water.
The overgrown ruins of a manor house.

Petroglyphs, carved into rock above a reflecting pool.

Ruins of a rum factory.

By the late 1700's almost the entire island was deforested and planted with sugar cane. This factory became steam-driven when slavery was abolished.

Today we are in Coral Bay, the small, bohemian town on the east end of St. John. We headed in to get some ice, fresh groceries and to update this blog. Internet is not always available so we grab it when we can to let you know where we're at. Later today we'll head back over to one of the anchorages on the south-side of St. John. Life is good!