Tuesday, May 3, 2016

USVI & BVI, Virgin Islands

Smooth ride to St. Thomas, USVI

US Virgin Islands, St. Thomas, Charlotte Amalie:  Since we only have 20 miles to cover, a leisurely 8:00 am departure is scheduled.  To make it more exciting, two boats are anchored very close to us, and everyone has drifted over their anchors.  As the chain comes up, it pulls us backward until we're very close to our neighbors (& comes up with a nice ball around the bridle--much to The Captain's delight).  The anchor is off the bottom just as I prepare to ask the monohull to hand me another cup of coffee and we join the parade back out towards the channel.  As we fuss over rerouting the two forms of electronic navigation (decided Charlotte Amalie instead of airport anchorage), we remember we can 1) see St Thomas, 2) see the Sail Rock which is halfway across, 3) follow the other sailboat!

We can see it from here, but loaded into two chartplotters anyway

The wind is calm and the waters are almost flat as we motor over to St. Thomas.  Sailing would be nice, but sometimes a quiet motor is OK also.  As we pass the airport I used to fly into for work, I wave.

I elected to do the "Haulover cut" route into Charlotte Amalie, which results with a brief head-on with a seaplane (he stops and turns into the marina before we finish deciding which curse word should come after, "HOLY.....").  Pirate ship off your starboard.  Gheez.  Welcome to the zoo.

Zoom in for "Seaplane off your bow..."

Downtown Charlotte Amalie harbor is a busy one but we manage to anchor in between all the moored charter boats in 30 ft of water--The Captain is not happy.  30 ft of anchor rode at 5:1 is 150 ft or 7:1 is 210 ft!

We are fortunate that there is only one cruise ship at a time in port while we are here.  Afternoon entertainment is the apparently required lifeboat drills involving them following each other around in a big circle in the bay.  "Can I drive one?!"

Tap & Still with Kelly Nicole courtesy of Kelly Nicole

We head into town with Kelly Nicole for dinner.  Rebecca from Summertime Rolls has designated Tap & Still as our destination.  Experienced travelers, we stand at a corner and point in a lot of different directions until someone, (with a paper bag full of cheeseburgers from Tap & Still) points us in the right direction.  It turns out, it's just around the corner.  The guys were excited to get some Dead Guy Ale and the burgers were excellent, topped off by a funnel cake for desert.

Stats:  Total time 4:32, avg speed 5.1 kts, total mileage 23.1.  Motored 2-engine.  Calm winds, flat seas.

After a quiet night in Charlotte Amalie harbor (Except for the occasional siren & a lot of honking on the main drag), we were up early.  Grocery store (cheap liquor at Pueblo and duty-free mall), chiropractor, fuel dock.  Back to the boat for lunch & anchor up for the 7 mile hop to Christmas Cove.

The Marriott

On the way, we pass the Marriott where I used to stay for work.  I would sit at the beach bar and wave at all the sailboats as they went by, hoping that would be us one day.  Today, I wave back from our boat!

Gin clear waters of USVI
The Pizza Pi boat surrounded by customers

Christmas Cove, Great St. James Island, USVI:  It looks crowded, but we grab an opening mooring ball and I'm in the water floating on my noodle by 2:30 pm (80F with a light breeze).  I coax The Captain in for a quick snorkel over to a reef which looks damaged but is making a comeback (saw a flounder).  A busy day!

Pizza Pi with friends

We invite Kelly Nicole over for happy hour and dinner.  "We'll order pizza!"  I've been waiting a long time to say that.  Pizza Pi is a food truck but it's a sailboat.  You call on the radio to order, then you dinghy over to get it:  "We need to order a pizza."  "What's your boat name?"  "We'll hail you on the radio when it's ready."  "Odin, you're pizza is ready."  The scramble to the dinghy almost resulted in someone going overboard.  I can't tell you how fun this is.  They don't even have prices on their menu (like it matters).  They do a heck of a business.  A lot of boats came in, picked up a mooring, swam/snorkeled, had pizza then left.  A lot of people run over in their small powerboats. 

"Where to snorkel?"  I've probably mentioned it before, but we learned this in the Bahamas.  Arrive at a known good snorkeling anchorage early.  Sit back and wait for the charter/dive boats full of people to arrive.  10 people jump in the water, snorkel, jump back in the boat and leave.  Snorkel there.  It's worked in Staniel Cay, Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, and Christmas Cove, USVI.

Stats:  Total time 1:29, avg speed 4.8 kts, total mileage 7.2 kts. Motored, light winds.

We've had calm trade winds for almost a week.  It's coming to an end tonight, so we're headed to St. John hoping to find a protected anchorage.  Unfortunately, we've learned the National Park Moorings that occupy most of the park are $25/night.  We won't be doing much of that :-( "Welcome to the Virgin Islands....where everything is expensive.)

The Virgin Islands, particularly the BVI side are supposed to be some of the best cruising grounds in the world.  Great sailing (short 5 mile hops from anchorage to anchorage), great snorkeling and beautiful scenery.  The charter industry here is HUGE!  We're not interested in crowds or big parties, but luckily the charter season wraps up in March, so again, our timing is excellent (yeah, we planned that!  LOL). Christmas Cove was our first taste of the laid back, everyone out for an afternoon swim, off to the next anchorage stop we are hoping for.  

Kelly Nicole & Odin courtesy of Kelly Nicole

Fish Bay, St. John, USVI:  We're off the mooring early to reconnaissance a few anchorages for the forecast squalls. We don't want to get stuck on a mooring for $26/night. We end up at Fish Bay, which  is protected and only a few private moorings. We're the only anchored sailboat until Kelly Nicole comes around the corner. We're snug as a bug in a rug in 10 ft of water over sand. Big beautiful mansions (including one with a helipad for the R44) surround us and at night they sparkle like candles on the hillside. Kelly Nicole departs but we spend another day with the place to ourselves before we motor over to Lameshur NPS mooring. The boss hustles me out hoping to beat a rain shower, not realizing we only have to cover 3 miles, not 7. 

Stats: Total time 1:08, avg speed 4.5 kts, total mileage 5.1 nm. Motored. 

Kayking Lameshure

Lameshure, St. John, USVI:  The First Mate is at the helm for another mooring ball pick up!  A quick kayak reconnaissance shows some elkhorn coral so big, you can see if from the surface. I hustle back for a snack & to load up our snorkel gear. This could be a couple days of morning & afternoon snorkels! We're surprised when our leisure snorkel off the back of the boat takes us all the way around, almost 2 hours, our longest snorkel.  We're all pruny when we finally get back.  The Captain's favorite was near the boat, but mine was just off the point where you could hover over 3 ft high elkhorn. 

A huge elkhorn coral, Lameshure, USVI

This the most coral we've seen in one place (besides Warderick Wells): branching fire coral, blade fire coral, common sea fans (we see this a lot but not always healthy or very big & colorful), elkhorn, mustard hill coral, brain coral and a lot more that I forgot.  

We didn't see any huge fish (The Captain is still looking for a giant Snapper), but there were a lot of different kinds and several schools:  lots of white with subtle yellow (porgy?), black and yellow angelfish (my first?), brown & white Marbled Grouper Juvenile (almost looked like a triangle from the front because his pectoral fins seemed more an extension of his body), and lots of parrotfish. A big barracuda was under the dinghy dock with a giant school of tiny silver fish (scad?). A school of medium-sized silver-colored fish seem curious and followed us to beach. We climb out at the dinghy dock and walk back over to our beach. 

While reading in the cockpit, I glance up at a strange sound and see a turtle surface a little way from the boat.  Bliss

The Captain wants to move before another day of squalls, but not too early. I'd been geeking out on Hurricane forecast file names for our Iridium (stand by for a blog on hurricane weather!) when he rustles me out on deck. The winds were 15 which allowed us to sail for about 15 min, then it turned rough as we motored into the wind and waves towards Hanse Bay/Round Bay.  I'd already forgotten how much that stinks.

Stats:  Total time 0:37!, avg speed 4.2 kts, total mileage 2.6 kts.  2-eng motor. Light winds

A Hansen Bay, St. John sunset

Round Bay/Hansen Bay, St. John, USVI:  is one of the few places in St. John that isn't a part of the National Park, so anchoring is allowed.  Summertime Rolls has stayed here, and says "there is plenty of room".  When we arrive, there are 8 boats north of Pelican Rock.  We do a drive through, looking for sand where the water goes from 60 ft to 15 ft.  We see a few spots, but they don't look that big once we motor through and I point us over to the empty south side.  "Why is everyone over here?"  (Floating bar, apparently).  We find 14 ft of water, drop the anchor and back down on it.  After lunch, we finally get the snorkel gear out, and before I can my mask situated, The Captain is on the way back.  "No good.  The tip of the anchor is on a rock and not buried."  We scramble back onboard to reanchor.

I finally snorkel to Pelican Rock and find some of the biggest coral fans so far just past the dinghy mooring.  The Captain declares two lazy days in a row.

I manage another bottom scrub which reveals some tiny barnacles.  There is a stingray under the bridle to keep me company and two fish join me, swimming alongside.  While sitting in the cockpit in the afternoon, I look up and see two tiny deer walking on the beach.  We are not in Missouri anymore!

Since we arrived, we've been hearing a strange sound.  We finally determine it is the chain rubbing on rock as it drifts across the bottom.  For some reason, it seems to be getting worse, and starts to drive us crazy.  The last evening, I can't sleep.  NEXT!

Stats: Total time 1:30, avg speed 4.0 kts, total mileage 6.0 nm. 2-eng motor. 

Our next door neighbor.  Wow!

Soper's Hole/West End, British Virgin Islands:  We missed catching up with Summertime Rolls.  Instead we head for Soper's Hole/West End, BVI to check in with customs, provision, and sit for the next 2 days of squalls.  We were advised to roll in around 9:00 am to catch a ball as people left.  Motoring into 15 kts of wind and waves is still an unpleasant ride.  We've been spoiled.  We turn the corner into the Sir Francis Drake Channel and the genoa is unfurled.  We are surrounded by sailboats on every side, headed in every direction.  What a show!  Welcome to the BVI!  (The anchorage at Norman looks FULL.  Take snorkeling the Indians off the lists.)

With the First Mate at the helm, The Captain grabs the first ball he sees and when queried about price, he says, "Oh.  It's private."  I reluctantly creep down the outside of the crowded field, staying just outside the ferry channel until we spot one ($30/night for 2 nights).  The balls are close together and despite the fact ours is good for a 60 ft boat, I'm nervous.  I sit in the cockpit for an hour, watching the boats around us and become concerned for our gel coat.  People are cruising through way too fast!  At some point it becomes amusing and I make brunch and come back out for the show.  We thought Kelly Nicole ditched us, but it turns out they are one row up.  The Captain heads in to clear customs ($35 but he had to wait in line with all the charter boats with 10 people and a fist full of passports each!). Plans are made for happy hour at Fish & Lime ($70 for 2 people for dinner and drinks.  YIKES!).  The lady on the boat next to us is brushing her fender covers.  I'm going to do that later. Maybe.  Or not.  

Pusser's Potato Tree

This mooring field is crazy!  We head in to Pusser's for lunch and end up sharing a potato tree (spiral cut potato ships, blue cheese sauce, tomato, green onion), because it's all we can afford!  I score a BVI flag in a tourist shop.  Grocery includes grapefruit juice, Ting and cheap alcohol (large Finlandia $12, cheap french red for $6, Sapphire for $15).  Despite a huge charter crowd the little store is well-stocked and reasonable.  I don't want to leave.  The laundry has closed but who needs clean sheets?!

On our second day, thunderstorms loom just the other side of the mountain but never make it across to the mooring field.  We study possible BVI stops, but the north side is out because of the north swell.  The south islands are all mooring balls for $30/night ($30x30 nights = $900!  Too rich for our budget).  

Stats:  Total time 1:29, avg 4.7 kts, total mileage 7.1 nm. Motored 45 min (into 15 kt wind & waves). Motor-sailed genoa & 1-eng 44 min (quartering tail).

Gin & Tonic
In a 6 oz highball glass, 
squeeze a wedge of lime in the bottom, 
fill with ice (6 baby ice cubes, if you live on a boat), 
1 oz Sapphire Bay or Gordon's gin, 
2 oz Schweppes tonic water.  

Virgin Gorda/North Sound, BVI:  A weather window of two days of calm motoring weather to cross the Anegada Passage is coming, so we depart our mooring at 7:15 am for Virgin Gorda North Sound.  By 8:30 am we've made a slight turn to the north and the winds are clocking south enough to unfurl the genoa.  With 15 kts of wind, we are doing 6 kts.  We pass Beef Island airport, where I used to fly into for work.  I spot a large sea turtle as he swims by.

Again, lots of mooring balls and the anchorage near Kelly Nicole is crowded.  The wind has kicked to 20 kts and the fetch inside a 2 mile wide bay is decent so we wander over to the south side and drop the anchor next to a charter cat in Robin Bay.  This is also a short hop to customs.  6 hours later, just before sunset, the anchor begins to drag.  However, a large catamaran dropped outside of us in deeper water and the power cat has moved over near our anchor (topless woman at the helm).  Reanchoring is difficult.  We can't squeeze in the middle.  We can't drop across the catamarans anchor chain.  We can't reanchor where we were despite the fact it came up sand.  We end up over to the side, much closer to the rocks & reef than I like.  I declare anchor watch, which sucks the night before we do an overnight across the Anageda.  

The Captain heads out at 10:00 am to clear us out ($0.75).  He leaves the generator running, hoping to top up the batteries, but I kick it off trying to make espresso.  After an hour and a half, I start to get concerned.  Is he just standing in line, did he have trouble with the dinghy or did he get arrested for not declaring the cat?  I swear the rocks are getting closer.  I can't get the generator restarted.  I'm considering starting an engine.  It's getting hot and the FLIES!  Three have made their way into the boat, despite the screens and they won't leave me alone.  I'm sleep-deprived and quite cranky by the time The Captain returns.  I crank out some dishes before our passage and heat up some rice for dinner then we decide to leave early at 1:00 pm instead of 3:00 pm.  I can't stand the BVI anymore.

I thought the reason for all the mooring balls was deep water (and because it's easier for the charter customers and of course, revenue) but not I wonder is the sand is hard-packed making for bad anchoring.  We were 2 for 4 dragging while at anchor in the Virgin Islands.  Not good.  And that was with light winds.

After visiting, I get why people love to come here for bareboat vacations.  Many of the islands are 5 miles apart.  You can get up in the morning.  Move 5 miles to a different island, snorkel, have lunch.  Move 5 miles to another island and spend the night, dining at a different restaurant.  While on vacation, $30 mooring balls and nice dinners out aren't as big of a deal.  For cruisers on a tight budget, this is NOT paradise.  Next.

Stats:  Total time 4:33, avg 5.4 kts!, total mileage 24.4 kts. Motor-sailed genoa & 1-eng with 15 kts, close hauled, peak speed 7.0 (beam to close reach)!

The megayachts are now megayacht SAILBOATS!  Note the Hobie Cat on the cabin top (with a kayak underneath).  Our neighbor at Pizza Pi

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