Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Let's go to St. John!

A view of Waterlemon Cay, Leinster Bay, St. John, USVI
St. John, USVI:  Last year we mostly did the south side of St. John 1) to hide from some weather & north swell 2) because the north side is all National Park and they had just raised the mooring ball rate from $15 to $26, a little rich for our blood.  From Christmas Cove we went Fish Bay, Lameshur, Round/Hansen Bay & then cleared in to Sopers, BVI.  This year we're checking out anchorages recommended by, PRETTY MUCH EVERYONE, which includes the north side.

The Narrows...

Departing Christmas Cove, we have to clear Current Cut.  There is a 3 kt current so you want to time either slack tide or going with the north current (when it looks rough, the tide is going north & it's wind against waves with a prevailing east wind, I think.)  None of our charts showed the times for this, so we spent two days observing boats coming & going to get a feel.

From Current Cut, we cruise along the north shore of St. John:  Caneel, Hawksnest, Trunk, Cinnamon, Francis & Maho before entering "The Narrows" between Great Thatch, BVI and St. John to enter Leinster Bay.  We are znxiously counting boats, to see if all the balls were full (anchoring discouraged & it's mostly 30 ft of water!), when sv Encore calls to let us know there is a ball right up near the beach (Waterlemon Bay).  Score!  We had a decent ride with a helping current until we rounded the northern most end of St. John.  

Welcome to St. John/BVI, whole other class of boaters

History:  The Danish sold the islands to the United States in 1917 for $25 million dollars.  Ruins from the Danish sugar plantations dating back to the 18th century dot the island.

It's a volcanic and very hilly (jeeps not scooters) and {gasp} has no airport!  There are 39 beaches (depending on who you ask).  The main port used to be Coral Bay but is now Cruz Bay, thanks to the ferries.  The terrain varies from the desert-like Ram's head (reminds us of hiking in Arizona) to the mangroves of Coral Bay.

The two main roads are North Shore Road (Cruz Bay to Annaberg Ruins) and Centerline Road (Cruz Bay to Coral Bay) but apparently the VITRAN bus runs to Salt Pond which isn't on the map!

The National Park on St. John was established in 1956 and now covers roughly 60% of the island (depending on who you ask) and includes the Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument.  Snorkeling off the white sand beaches and hiking the tropical forest are the main activities, making it the most popular tourist destination in USVI.  Some of the island is still privately held (some homes in the park are grandfathered). However, all beaches are public but you can't cross private land to get there--meaning some beaches can only be reached by boat!

Our mooring ball with a view of the beach

We have an unrestricted view of Waterlemon Cay (BVI, Great Thatch in the background). I still have time today to nap, lunch, snorkel, SUP!  

Waterlemon Cay from on deck

As advised, we were picking up Flow cellular from BVI and my T-Mobile was suddenly 3G, faster than St. Thomas!  Remember that cellular booster next year.

While catching up on FB, I get a message from sv Encore that it's afternoon snorkel time.  I paddle over with the SUP & my snorkel gear, tie it off and jump in.  We do a complete circle--turtles on east side, no sharks spotted on the north side, and a fabulous healthy reef full of fish on the west side (apparently a storm caused some damage to the north side always most obvious by the health of the fans).

My snorkel buddy

(I'm not happy with my Nikon Coolpix, despite all the rave reviews. My pics are dark, even in shallow water with high overhead sun & "underwater" mode. I'm taking advice!  Oh, and now it's leaking, corroding & won't turn on.  Fail)

We've been in some wonderful anchorages lately, but woefully lacking on sunrises & sunsets!  Here's your sunset from St John!

Summary:  Total time 1:49, avg speed 4.5 kts, total mileage 8.2 nm, 2-engine motor.

A view of the anchorage from the Guard House ruins

The Captain posing for a pic...

This is where you can insert the blog about our hike from Leinster to Coral Bay:  http://planesboatsandbicycles.blogspot.com/2017/03/special-report-hike-leinster-to-coral.html

Local street art on the way into Coral Bay, St. John
The Annaberg hiking path

The boats definitely leave earlier on St John.  The mooring field is clearing out by 9:30 am.  As soon a someone drops off a ball, someone else picks it up.  As sv Encore heads around the corner, I take a shorter hike over to Annaberg Windmill & Distillery Ruins (to drop off trash at the NPS dumpster). 

Panorama from the Windmill

Coral, ballast brick & stone make up the walls of the distillery

3 out of 4 days, we've have the dreaded head problem.  It's finally solved when The Captain discovers that every time he wiggles the hose, calcification is breaking loose inside & clogging the hose.  (Full head overhaul complete!)
(insert your imagination here...)  Three wild burros have appeared on the beach & they're chowing down on the all the snorkelers treats while they're in the water.  People on the beach are trying to shoo them away, but you know, burros. Hysterical.

Good morning!  The water is so clear & calm, I can see a ray swimming on the bottom!
A second snorkel with The Captain is equally fantastic, even though we didn't find the rumored spotted ray or octopus, but we did find the nurse sharks!  Check out the pics below & go to our Google Map to zoom into the area:  

Our tour guide.  He picked us up as we approached the reef & stayed with us the whole time, doubling back when we fell back.

A school of fish

Smile for the camera

Wouldn't smile for the camera

Wow!  Beautiful colors didn't show in the pic

"Here sharky, sharky..."  As bashful with us as we were of them!

Just after sunset & anchor lights are starting to twinkle. Even with all the moorings full, it's a quiet, peaceful evening in the National Park.

Stay tuned for a quick jaunt to the British Virgin Islands!

NPS website:  https://www.nps.gov/viis/learn/index.htm
St. John Off the Beaten Track by Gerald Singer
St. John:  Feet, Fins and Four Wheel Drive by Pam Gaffin

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Let's Start Island Hopping!

Lindbergh Bay, St. Thomas:  With the weather forecast improving, we can start moving again.  After filling our water tanks, we motor around the airport to Lindbergh Bay (a gentle reminder how rough the water is in winds gusting to 23.  We've been anchored too long).  The anchorage is a little rolly, but we find a nice patch of sand in 15 ft of water and put on our swell bridle.  sv Encore follows us around and anchors next door.

Summary:  Total time 0:49 min, avg speed 3.8 kts, total mileage 3.1 nm, 2 engine motor.

Garmin BlueChart routing, 2.5 nm!

We're closer to the grocery, so we can provision up for the two weeks we have scheduled in St. John.  There are also two beach restaurants here (all Brewer's is lacking), wifi and best of all, more friends already anchored (sv Outta Control)!  A girl's lunch is quickly planned but we can't wait that long and the three boats quickly assemble a laundry run.

The girls aren't ready to end our "girls lunch" so we retire to Beachcombers...

sv Encore stops at a neighboring boat to learn their flag is Iceland!  I quickly swim over when I realize their hailing port is Aspen, CO!  We have another taker for girls lunch!

We assemble an incredibly diverse group of intelligent women.  We stop at a little Dominican Restaurant called The Flight Deck near the laundromat for lunch.  Two of our group have backgrounds in health care, so after discussing politics {eek, no blood shed} and world economics we declared all world problems solved & retire back to the beach.

All the crazy weather has been cutting into the sunset photos...

And the lights on the hillside above our bay--reminds me of night time in Charlotte Amalie without all the noise & traffic!

And the boat craziness begins as we inch closer to Charlotte Amalie--tall ships, cruise ships, yachts OH MY!

I'm accompanied on my morning walk/grocery run by one-half of Encore and the day concludes with a lively happy hour on sv Eva where we learn a little about the culture in Iceland, architecture and the favorite snorkeling sites of all involved (Thank you Oli, for grabbing the chart & pointing, while everyone yelled out their favorites...)

I'm floating in the bay with my noodle, with Sally on the SUP
Sally on Encore is considering a SUP, so I paddle over to drop mine off.  She quickly jumps on and we begin to tour the anchorage, ultimately ending up with both of us onboard, proving it's possible and results in a lot of silliness.

More errands.  The Captain dinghies around the corner to fill our spare propane bottle while I run into Charlotte Amalie with Encore.  I take them to my normal stops around Yacht Haven Grande and they find a few new ones!  Kmart for some sundresses & other necessities. Tap & Still for lunch. Gourmet Food Gallery for some treats. Natural Food Store for even more treats (corner of main intersection across from Wendy's & next to Pueblo).  I had a cup of Moringa tea this morning, courtesy of Jerry.

Emerald Beach Resort with sv Encore & sv Outta Control

So, I mentioned there are a couple of hotels on the beach.  We park the dinghy on the far right with the hotel's blessing ($300/night hotel).  This results in the occasional conversation with hotel guests while walking down the beach:

What's in the bag?
Laundry (or sometimes groceries)
Where are you going with your laundry/groceries?!
I point to The Captain arriving on the beach with the dinghy.
Wow, where did you get that?! {ie. I want to rent one!}
It's ours.
Where do you go with that? 
We live on our boat and we're anchored in the bay.  It's our car. 
{slack jawed}  Where are you from?
St. Louis
That's not on the ocean!
We left from Annapolis & are now based out of Puerto Rico.
How did you get your boat here?
We sailed it...
{and then I jump in the dinghy and zoom away...}
That never get's old!  We're living the dream! 

Lindberg to Christmas Cove via Charlotte Amalie harbor

Christmas Cove, Great St. James I, USVI:  After six days in Lindberg Bay, we're ready to start moving towards St John, USVI.  Anchor up!

Passing the Marriott, where I used to stay for work, on the way into open water

We take the scenic route through Charlotte Amalie harbor, mostly to avoid to wet ride awaiting us on the south coast of St. Thomas.  We're once again motoring into an east wind and swimming upstream of all the ferry boats that are constantly waking us.  Note to tourists:  always check the weather before boarding a ferry.  The rarely cancel & it looked like a sporty ride for them also!

The only thing between us & a pizza is our friends on sv Encore! (That's The Captain headed in for a pick up...)

Christmas Cove is a strategic stop, just before Current Cut.  And, oh yeah, there's a pizza boat! We drop next to Encore and I jump in to snorkel the anchor while the Captain orders a pizza for lunch (Yes, I planned it that way!).  I'm greeted by a barracuda who has already taken up residency under our boat.  "Oh, yeah.  Hand me the camera!"

Pet barracuda
According to the DeLoach's Reef Fish Identification book, barracuda can be 6 ft long, 
"Open and close mouth to assist respiration (not a threat)...
Reaction to divers:  Apparently unconcerned; have the unnerving habit of approaching divers and following them about the reef.  This appears to be nothing more than curiosity, as there are no reports of unprovoked attacks...Normally move away if closely approached."  

All I see are eyes and TEETH!  I swim out to check the anchor & then to invite Encore for sundowners.  After lunch, I receive a text from a friend that their kids went to high school in Indiana with one of the owner's of the pizza boat, so I'm back in the dinghy to relay a "Hello from Anderson!"  

Summary:  Total time 1:49, avg speed 4.5 kts, total mileage 8.2 nm, 2-engine motor.

Anchored in the gin clear waters of Christmas Cove and having pizza for the second day in a row. What the hell. We'll get jobs when the pizza money runs out!

Besides the pizza, there is some great people watching! Hobie cats, dinghies & small powerboats from the Yacht Club across the way. Dive boats. MegaYachts. Charter boats & the occasional schooner and/or pirate ship. Apparently, we're anchored just in front of a private mooring that belongs to a charter sunset cruise. Sundowners with Encore last night was like being a fish in an aquarium--"{whispering & pointing} Look. Cruisers. A unique species found all over the world, but especially in the Caribbean..."

Dive boats & a mega-yacht!
An overcast day but the schooner is still spectacular!
sv Encore braving the cut & forecast for St. John.  We're right behind you {wink, wink}

Encore leaves for St. John with an iffy forecast of big waves.  We're lazy so we stay behind and I get in some snorkeling.  Last year we followed the tour boat that dropped snorkelers off at the black rock on the beach.  This year I follow a dive boat to check out Fish Cay, the rock that separates the north & south side of the anchorage.  As I'm learning, a snorkel may look like a dud then turn spectacular!  This was no exception.  (I'm not happy with my Nikon Coolpix.  I've downloaded some different software and may be able to clean these up a little in the future, but for now...)

Can you see him?

It's been difficult getting a wide-angle of some of the places we've snorkeled, but this gives you an idea...

More pufferfish.  Bashful & won't hold still for the camera.  These two are swimming a figure-eight.  I even tried to catch them on video!

My first sea slug

Check out our Google maps for Year 3, for the best snorkeling spot in Christmas Cove.

Standby for our trip to St. John!


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Special Report: Hiking Ram's Head from Salt Pond Bay, St. John, USVI (Update)

The sign pointing you up the trail

(Update see link below to download free charts & GPS coordinates!)
We are on a National Park mooring at Salt Pond Bay, St. John, USVI.  It's time for another National Park Trail hike!  It's 1 mile and 273 ft up from Salt Pond beach to the top of Ram's Head with magnificent views along the way.

Come off the sandy beach and head south

You climb a small rise and suddenly have a view of a beautiful rocky beach

I could have photographed this all day

Listen to the tinkle the rocks make when the water recedes after a wave...

The Captain waiting up ahead for me to move along

It's a National Park so it's "Leave only footprints/bubbles" but that doesn't stop some from moving things around!  This wasn't me.  I'm not that patient.  Someone should probably spell out Odin and take a pic.  Please send it to me!

Continuing along the shoreline

And then we start up again

View towards the BVI side

A view down to the St. John side & the rocky beach we followed up

The only other sign on the trail.  I think we're here!

From atop Ram's Head looking west, a view of the south coast of St. John with St. Thomas in the far back left.

As we turn to head back, Norman's, BVI is on our right and our mooring field on the left.

Some of the Turkish Cap cactus had berries.  "Are they poisonous?"  "They don't taste poisonous."  {Sigh}  Google says they aren't.  They also aren't peyote or agave.  Before Google, we needed a set of encyclopedias or a library to settle our discussions!

The inside of the berry

Back along the rocky beach.  Mother Nature is a a magnificent artist

Heading back up off the rocky beach

Boat in sight!  I'm ready for a swim.
Download free charts & GPS coordinates!  http://trailbandit.org/newsite/