February 2012 ~ Virgin Island Visitors
Day 533 ~ ImplosionFebruary 29th, 2012
Wow, what a day. Started the day at 7am with the sound of a large anchor. Looking behind us, we saw that the Disney cruise ship was only about 50 yards behind us. Setting our hook close to the East end of the bay for calm water was anything but. With 3 other cruise ships at the dock, and two others over in Crown Bay, the anchorage was alive with boats, tenders, wakes, bells, whistles and chaos. Disney employed local ferries, along with the Kon Tiki floating restaurant barge to ferry their passengers all day; most chose the route between us and the ship. Like having a parade of buses pass by your bedroom window.
The water maker guy called right at 8am and said he could come out shortly. After 1.5 hours, we had fresh water flowing from the sea into our tanks. Woo hoo. That's where the good news ended.
A half an hour later, the bomb dropped. Renter tried 5 times to start boiler and ended up taking 'another cold shower' before work. Spent all day on the phone arranging the replacement of our failed system, along with alternate lodging options for our renters. By 7pm and 60+ calls later, we had 2 guys scheduled to arrive at our house at 9am tomorrow. The renters opted to stay put and tough it out.
In the midst of the chaos, I just had to get a break from the insanity and the girls and I dingied and hoofed it to NAPA for a water maker replacement part. "Don't call the French company," the Reefco guy said, "Just go down to NAPA and get a Ford starter solenoid." Spent a couple of hours getting it mounted and the heavy wiring re-routed and bolted down. Flipped the switch and --- nothing. Argh!
Had leftovers for din din, then was trying to relax on the tramp with the girls and a story when I looked up to see some fluky current driving us right into the back of a boat named "Bliss". Crashing into Bliss was not my idea of a night cap on a terrible day. I started hollering and, in a moment, Lisa had the engines in reverse. So, at 9:30pm, up came 60 meters of chain and a sleepy-eyed Bruce anchor.
Anchoring in the dark is never fun, and this was no exception. With a flashlight illuminating hulls in all directions, we finally found a hole and dropped Bruce again. He grabbed instantly, and we finally called it a day.
I would think that you only have so many of these in a lifetime.
Day 532 ~ SlidingFebruary 28th, 2012
Hassel Island is one of our favorite close, but not too close, to town anchorages, but when the winds shift to the east, it gets rolly. Too rolly.
We had a quick brekkie and stopped by Crown Bay for water and fuel in prep for our 450 mile passage to the Turks in two days. Lisa, once again, expertly slid our 24,000lb home right up to the dock, dodging untold millions of fancy plastic along the way.
The new renters are reporting heating problems already, so we had a technician come out. In 15 minutes he had diagnosed the problem. Our Lennox Complete Heat, which was recalled for cracked tanks 10 years ago, finally gave up the ghost. We have no choice but to replace it and, with brand new renters, ASAP. Lennox agrees to honor their warranty, but only to the tune of 20% of the cost of a new one. How nice. After a few frustrating phone calls with "Customer Affairs" people, they're not budging, our 6 day old renters are taking cold showers and we're screwed.
Day 531 ~ Laundry DayFebruary 27th, 2012
You know you live aboard when doing laundry rises up like a fiery dragon over your day. At home, you pitch in a load when it's convenient. Here, however, it's a full mobilization of forces every time and tends to get put off until there's just no more putting it off. Plus, with our plan of leaving for the Turks & Caicos with Thursday's weather window, we have several items yet to check off the to-do list.
After the usual fits and starts, the girls and Lisa were finally headed over to Crown Bay Marina while I stayed behind to catch up on a client project before entering no-cell land. Didn't get much done as the anchorage became untenable with the swell hooking around the corner and adding to the standard ferry flop.
Lisa returned with the girls and full dive tanks. After lunch, Nina and I headed to fill our propane tanks, get dinghy gas and grab a few groceries before moving into the inner harbor, and hopefully to calmer water. By the time I returned, it was late afternoon. The bay was now calmer and we still needed to buy water and fuel so we decided to move around in the morning.
Remember, every day's a vacation out here.
Day 530 ~ Rental Car CrazinessFebruary 26th, 2012
McKerrows were up and ready to launch at 5am. Nina and I took them to Crown Bay, thinking that we'd be making two trips. Once seeing inside the surprisingly spacious trunk, we were close to fitting everything in. It's only a mile. Three adults, 3 kids, 2 large suitcases, 4 carry-ons and a few backpacks, we crammed into our Aveo. They don't call it 'compact' for nothin'. We said our final goodbyes and headed back to a quiet boat.
Cars are handy, no doubt about it. But, like boat, the pain is in the deadline.
Despite our time crunch, we enjoyed our Swedish pancakes and then, at 10am, we put the pedal to the metal. We dinghied the dive tanks to Scotty only to find his shop closed, then Crown Bay to retrieve the car, a short driving tour around the island, K-Mart, PriceSmart (where the lady grudgingly gave us a day pass) and Cost U Less.
Well, we're halfway through Cost U Less and we get word from our renter that our boiler is not functioning much at all. Now each time they want hot water, it has to be re-set. Unfortunately, being Sunday, we have to wait 'til tomorrow to call the heating guys out.
We head back to Crown Bay to drop off groceries and girls, top off the car with gas and return the car to the lot. I even arrived with 10 minutes to spare.
I had the guy return me to the dive shop as I figured that's all the farther the girls would make it. While talking to the proprietor wondering what was taking them so long, I put my hand in my pocket and pulled out the emergency stop cord for the dinghy engine. The one we use like a key. Oops. Would Lisa remember how to circumvent the emergency cutoff switch? I called. No answer. Left her a voicemail, "Take off the engine cover, unplug the brown and black wires that connect the cut off switch from the coil..."
A few minutes later, I hear Nana calling my name. Ingenuity ruled the day. Nina remembered that the motor used to have a jury-rigged zip tie in place of the emergency clip. Nana remembered that we had ziptie attached to the key and floating fob for a lock we rarely use. When held firmly with one hand while steering with the other, Lisa was able to start the engine and mostly keep it going.
We left the dive tanks at Hi-Tech for filling and returned with our provisions. Girls were in a bit of a slump having only the 5 of us for company for the first time in 27 days.
Early dinner, early bedtime. These kids need sleep.
Day 529 ~ Back to "Civilization"February 25th, 2012
Sailed to Little Saint James for a dive around the Ledges. We arrived just about the time the dive boat was leaving and were able to jump right from the back steps into a diving paradise. Not bad timing.
With taxi prices what they are and decent priced groceries not within walking distance, we decided to combine forces and rent a car to cover the airport run and a basketful of cans, boxed milk and other heavy items. The question was not when we could pick it up, but if the rental company even had one available. Finally, after the 6th call, we managed to reserve their last car, a compact. The thought of 5 suitcases, 3 adults, 2 kids and a carry-on a piece going to the airport conjured up sardine images, but we figured the mile we had to cover could be done easily in two runs. We were also told that we had to be at the dock by 3:30p if we wanted a ride to the lot not within walking distance.
Divers back on the boat at 12:30p, we sailed off our mooring ball and into our well-known bay off Hassel Island. Only 2 boats there today. Headed straight for customs to clear in and, with 20 minutes to spare, we called the rental company only to realize that none of us carried a wallet. Peter zoomed back to the boat and returned right at 3:30p. Whew.
McKerrows and kids wandered about town while Lisa and I filled in rental paperwork and listened to the many rules of the rental business ($1000 fine for handicapped parking violations, a run to St John was at our own risk, $100 fine for smoking in the car, car must be returned with same level of fuel or higher, the car was due back 24 hours after we were picked up at the dock and not when the paperwork was complete, we have to change our own flat tires and any tow truck fees are our responsibility).
After that introduction, we were very careful to mark all the dents, scratches and peeling paint before leaving the lot; the paper diagram of the car was a mass of red scribbles. Oh, and when the lady checked our fuel, it was empty. But, it turned out she was the only genuinely friendly one in the bunch and went about getting fuel vouchers to fill our tank and another car to get herself back.
Returned to the boat so McKerrows could pack and the kids could have one more swimming ritual (jumping off the side of the boat time and again until too cold or tired to climb the ladder).
Topped a crazy day off with apple cobbler and real whipping cream for dessert. Simple pleasures.
Day 528 ~ The RescueFebruary 24th, 2012
So there is this cultural thing with sailors that makes them reticent to give advice and quick to help those that should have listened to others.
I read a quote once, but can't remember the place or the person. It goes something like this,
A landlubber was walking the docks when he sees a small boat heading out into a savage gale. He stops an old grisly mariner who was watching as well, "Hey, isn't it dangerous to go out there today?"
"Yup." says the old salt.
"Well, shouldn't we warn him or try and stop him?" the landlubber asks urgently.
"Nope," says the old fisherman.
"That seems cruel, inhuman!" countered the first.
The old sailor takes a long pull on his pipe and looks mistily towards the turbulent horizon. After a pause he says, "Look, we're all gonna drown eventually. Who are we to say this isn't his day?"
The first time I read that I thought, "gee, that does sound harsh." But, like sailing's closest cousin, mountaineering, what can, should or shouldn't be done boils down to the subjective judgment of the person putting his own skin at risk. A go or no-go decision involves values and drives that go deep and long through the human soul. Giving another sailor advice about what to do and how to do it effectively negates much of the mystery and attraction that drove us out here in the first place. Asking is one thing, telling is another.
Personally, I would never take a small dinghy around St. John, but we see people all the time buzzing around out there in tiny craft.
The Narrows, nemesis of the swimming slave
After a couple of hours of client love, we dropped our mooring and motored out into "The Narrows", a stretch of deep water dividing the USVIs from the BVIs. The chart shows it enjoying a 3 knot tidal current running back and forth. This, no doubt, cut down on the number of swimming slaves who found freedom in British territory that lies just a mile away from Danish St. John. To top it off, wind funnels between the mountains of Tortola and St. John in torrents.
With both Yanmars burning hydrocarbons, we were pounding our way through this slice of nature when Nina hollered, "Hey, I think that dinghy is in trouble!" I had just seen them motoring our way a minute earlier until our vectors were clearly going to pass at a good distance. Looking off the starboard side now, we could no longer see white foam rolling off their bow. Instead, they were drifting downwind sideways bobbing around in a nice 2-3 foot chop. Hmmm.
We cut power and did a slow arc back towards them. "Are you in trouble?" I hollered.
"Yes, the motor won't start!" the mom yelled back.
Lisa artfully manuvered us alongside and they scrambled aboard. A mom with two teenage sons. Smiles all around and a touch of relief.
Nina, Justin and I tied their painter to a longer line and cleated off, then Lisa spun us around and back into the teeth of the wind. We ground onward to Waterlemon Bay. We tagged a mooring, towed their dinghy to shore and mobilized for a hike to the Nanaberg ruins where 600 slaves toiled under the hot sun day after day, year after year, while, just across the channel, former slaves of Great Britain walked free.
Day 527 ~ Slow SailingFebruary 23rd, 2012
It always pays to snorkel your anchor. There were great blasts of wind throughout the night. With the ready image of Bruce embedded in a sand bottom, I would turn over, recall the mental picture only a few hours old, and promptly slip back into dreamland.
The morning found dense overcast clouds with rain squalls visible to the south and west. We were still dry, but that probably wouldn't last. We quickly ate and were underway by about 9am. Justin and I had rigged the genny, but now with the gusts hitting us hard and fast, that didn't seem like such a good idea. We raised the main and shot down Sir Francis Drake passage towards St. John.
A half an hour later, the clouds were a distant blur on the western horizon, headed for Puerto Rico and beyond. The sun emerged, hot and fierce. The winds evaporated. We rolled up the headsail and unrolled the genny. She started pulling but, minute by minute, the wind tapered off. The main was bouncing around now, controlled more by the small waves than the wind so we dropped her without having to turn a degree.
Our speed dropped from 4 to 3 to 2.2 knots. At this snail's pace it would take 4 hours to make the 9 miles to Sandy Cay. With the sun high and hot and typical tradewinds predicted, I opted to just sit it out. We made bread, the kids played school and the adults dozed, exhausted from three days of back-to-back diving.
We finally fired a motor about 1pm and motorsailed the last few miles to Sandy Cay, arriving just as the masses were starting to call it a day. We snagged a day mooring right off the beach and the crew swam ashore. Lisa spent a most enjoyable afternoon aboard arranging utility transfers for our new renters. What fun!
All were aboard by about 5pm and, with only one other boat in the bay, we sailed off the ball, no engine required. Then, we had one of those unplannable, incredible sails, floating downwind and down swell towards St. John with a brilliant, amber sunset igniting the sky over St. Thomas as we ghosted along. Even Nika was mellow.
Day 526 ~ Taking it in the MouthFebruary 22nd, 2012
Took Amy, Lisa and Justin over for a pancake-powered dive at Cow's Mouth off Mountain Point. After holding station for a few minutes to be sure all was well, I tied the dink to the dive mooring ball and snorkeled around for awhile. Powerful surge was propagating around the corner and churning of a fierce amount of air and sand. It was all I could do to swim against the surge just to hold station, the next second to be whipped forward with the receding wave.
The divers faired no better. A half hour later they hailed me from well down the point. Visibility had been poor and they were whooped from fighting the surge around the rocks. Chalk one up for experience.
After lunch, we upped anchor and headed to Spanish Town for water. The channel into Virgin Gorda Harbor is long, narrow, crosswind and crosswave with a nice line of coral bounding both sides. Threading needles like this make me a bit testy I am afraid. Lisa, calm and collected as every, drove us straight through with never a wrinkle and backed us into the dock like she was parking a Mini Cooper at the mall instead of a 24,000 floating condo.
While there, we got a half an hour at the dock to grab some provisions, get the dive tanks filled and satisfy our ice cream urges, long supressed but never forgotten. On our way out, we had to turn back for a charter boat who was entering the narrow channel, and then for 3 more who came in without calling the marina first. Lisa held station until we finally had an opening to make a dash out.
Hoisted the sails and used the wind to get us back to Beef Island where we knew we had AT&T coverage in order to finalize the house rental. After dark, we were joined in the bay by a 104' sailboat and a very large barge and tug, which clanked and banged throughout the night.
Day 525 ~ The Baths v5.0February 21st, 2012
We were up and going by 8am and arrived at the Baths by 9am. To our amazement, all the balls were taken and there were at least a dozen boats already anchored. We had no choice but to do the same. By 10:30am, there were more people arriving and now anchoring among the mooring balls. Just another spectacle of the clueless credit card captains. Insanity!
Peter, Justin and Amy headed to Spanish Town to fill dive tanks and see about extending our BVI time. It costs $20 to stay a month, $15 to stay 3 days and $10 a head to file an extension. What was that about open arms?
We waited 'til after lunch to go to the beach until the crowds thin out. Kids found and played in their "secret spot" among the house sized boulders and away from the general traffic path while I took care of some client work and house rental tasks. We can get AT&T coverage if the boat swings the right way.
We retrieved Bruce and tacked our way to Virgin Gorda's Long Bay, one of our favorite haunts with great holding in sand and crystal clear water.
Day 524 ~ Make it MondayFebruary 20th, 2012
With our traditional Sunday Swedish pancakes displaced with yesterday's diving trip, we had to make up for forgotten flapjacks. Eighteen eggs and the other required ingredients later, the plates were clean and kids were pancake powered for the day.
We dropped our ball and sailed out to the wreck of the Rhone; Lisa has dived it several times already but never tires of seeing again. Justin and Lisa reported seeing a monster grouper, at least "this long" says Justin, extending his arms as far apart as possible. Six feet, at least. Lisa also saw an octopus scooting along the bottom, changing colors as he went.
We stayed through lunch after which the kids snorkeled. Moved off about 4:30p and motored to Beef Island to check out a new anchorage. No one there, clear water and a sandy bottom. The kids had a chance to do their traditional evening jump-off-the-boat routine which is the ideal energy burner before a slow descent towards bed time.
Not much more we can ask for.
Day 523 ~ Sail Caribbean Divers DeliversFebruary 19th, 2012
Melisande and her husband, Mike, manage Sail Caribbean Divers here on Tortola. They offered to take the entire crew diving today as they had the day off and, well, their company's 36 foot dive boat. They arrived at 9:40am and rafted up to us. Ten minutes later, the whole gang was aboard and grinding our way across the channel to Dead Chest Island. We were in the water by 11am; the kids and I snorkeled the rocks while the rest of the adults went around the point in a dive called Painted Walls. It was fabulous. Check out the pics.
We lunched while we crossed to Cooper Island and dropped the kids off at the beach before heading south of there to Wreck Alley. Sail Caribbean has sunk 5 large boats onto the trench's sandy bottom. Returning to our quiet mooring, we transferred our piles of gear and crew to our boat near sunset. A real treat and very generous of them.
Justin whipped up some burgers on the grill, sent the kids to bed early and we adults ended up playing a game of Hearts 'til the wee hours. Amid shots at Shooting the Moon, sips of Jamaican Ginger Brew and tales of skiing adventures in Montana we accepted an offer to rent our house. Scary, but necessary.
Day 522 ~ Customs ConfusionFebruary 18th, 2012
We did a quick breakfast, then welcomed Spade back to the family and headed to Road Town to check in. Lisa worked nearly an hour filling out an electronic pre-clearence on the eSeaClear website including all passport numbers, birth dates, etc., ad nauseum. We even had to flip a 180 in order to get AT&T wifi coverage for the last step. When I got to the customs office and gave them the eSeaClear pin number they just shook their heads in resignation, "Sorry, Mon, that lady isn't in today."
"So I have to fill out all these names and numbers (9 people) in two different places by hand?"
"Sorry." Once again, the BVI welcomes us with open arms.
I filled out the forms by hand in duplicate all the while hoping a ferry doesn't arrive the minute before I get done (in which case I have to sit, watch and wait my turn while they process 120 new arrivals - not speaking from experience or anything).
Return for crew to get refills on our dive tanks and a few provisions. Lisa maneuvered the boat into Village Cay Marina for water but, with the silence on the VHF radio, we were on our own for docking. I went to find someone to take the water reading so we could begin. A guy finally rode down the dock on bike but immediately went away, leaving us with instructions for getting the final number to the cashier. It didn't take us long to realize that we were on our own for releasing the lines and jumping aboard before the boat got too far from the dock. We were thankful for only a light breeze.
We then headed to Brandywine Bay where a former college roommate of Amy's invited us to user her mooring ball and join them for dinner. She must have worked all day creating it; there were multiple appetizers, a full meal and then, as if that weren't enough, frozen green grapes dipped in sugar and Key Lime Pie with real whipping cream.
I was surprised to realize how much I hadn't missed real meals until I had one. Wow, what a feeling. Thank you Melisande and Mike!
Day 521 ~ Key Point, againFebruary 17th, 2012
After yesterday's marathon of watering, sailing and motoring, we took a nice leisurely morning. About 11am we upped anchor and sailed our way out of Long Bay and over to Peter Island, one of our favorite spots with Jaru. Good holding and shallow, but not too shallow. A nice beach for the kids and decent diving for the grown ups.
Day 520 ~ Friends AboardFebruary 16th, 2012
We awoke after a peaceful night. Very little wind, no swell, flat calm with a sliver of moon adding just a touch of frosting. The morning broke cool and partially cloudy. I got the run-around at the post office yesterday, so now we have to go back on foot and get the package the lady couldn't find, but the tracking number insists is, in fact, there.
We do a quick brekkie, get Sea Pearl down so the kids can do some beach combing while Lisa and I pound the pavement in the sun. I was killing waiting time in the dinghy so decided to check out the sticky throttle problem. Turns out it wasn't nearly as complicated as I had envisioned. Ten minutes with a screw driver and some PTEF grease put all back where it belonged. I fired it up and Justin and I went for a test drive. Worked like a charm, and, wow, it's fun to go fast again. This simple fix also cut our commute to the far side of Charlotte Amalie from 20 minutes to about 3. Admittedly, those three included flying off of wakes and rocking from side to side in the chop, but the spray was flying and we were making tracks at last.
Got our package and snagged a few last provisions; feeding 9 ups the ante a touch. Then it was zippy zippy back to the boat where we found the entire beach crew, including adults, paddling back to the boat hoping to avoid a dark rain cloud. Once all were aboard, we upped anchor, took on some water at the IGY marina (mega yacht haven) and headed out in the deep blue.
We fished for a good couple of hours, and even saw a Dorado leap through the air after a flying fish, but that's all we saw of him. Discouraging. Winding our way in to Long Bay on St. John's east side, one of our favorite spots now, we enjoyed a later afternoon swim and Pina Colada smoothie treat.
Day 519 ~ Kids ArriveFebruary 15th, 2012
Nick and Lita helped tidy up the boat. After breakfast, we dropped Lisa and girls off to do laundry while Nick & Lita rented a car for the day and graciously took me to Budget, Cost U Less, Post Office and Price Smart before heading off for their own touring. I fixed the stern deck shower and swim ladder in a frenzy of after-sunset projects, all of which probably could have, and should have, been done months ago.
We finished our boat-cleaning for the McKerrow's arrival and then we waited for their call. The girls were vibrating with excitement. "What time is it?!" Nika checked the clock every few minutes, loudly announcing the current time.
McKerrow's "finally!" called about 9:15pm. Nika and I dingied over in the dark to the customs dock and loaded up the entire crew about 10pm. Then all mayhem ensued until well after 11 when the girls, giddy and exhausted were sent to bed with the promise of kid play for the coming week.
Day 518 ~ Missed by a MinuteFebruary 14th, 2012
We enjoyed a peaceful night in Great Lameshur Bay. The winds were predicted to improve today. The idea of motoring back down the miles we had fought upwind for hours just last week makes me sick. We dropped the ball after a quick brekkie and raised the sails under another bluebird sky.
We only had 12 miles to go, distance we could have ticked off in a couple of hours of gentle downwind surfing. However, having been skunked fishing the last couple of weeks, I had the itch pretty bad. So, instead, we took a long tack out over the wall where the water drops from 50 meters to 1,200 meters in just a half mile. We saw some flying fish (good), but no birds (bad sign).
We ended up sailing probably 20 miles to make the 12 back to Hassel Island, what is becoming our preferred town anchorage, ferry wakes and all. I was surprised to find it empty which always makes me a little suspicious now. Perhaps it's rolly, but no, we set the hook in 4.5 meters of over sand and grass, pulled back on Spade and were set for a very peaceful night.
We lowered the dink and Grandma, Nick and I headed ashore. Grandma and I found a taxi right off, but by the time it was our turn at the counter we were informed, "Sorry, the flight closes an hour beforehand; you are too late and you'll have to go standby on the next flight."
I looked at my iPhone which read 2:50, exactly 1 hour before takeoff. Obviously, they had oversold the flight. It was tempting to make a scene, but there was plenty of room on the next flight so I let it go. On the positive side, we discovered that next one flew direct to Miami instead of stopping over in San Juan, PR. Unwittingly, Grandma had been promoted.
Nick & Lita offered to treat us to dinner, a rarity in our cruising life. Jaru had highly recommended the Green House and, being located across the waterfront road, made for an easy decision with only a dinghy for transport. Good food and fun company made for a memorable evening; Lisa and I both appreciated the cooking and clean up break.
Day 517 ~ Just another MondayFebruary 13th, 2012
We all slept late, what with the the extravagence of the night before. New friends and stories had us up until the wee hour of 11pm. At home that was normal; seems so long ago. After a quick breakfast of oatmeal and some fruit, we were just starting to get the moving itch when a raft of our French neighbors came by to ask about our Breeze Boosters and Lisa scrambled to make sense of French again.
We decided to move over to Ram's head for a hike, and perhaps some more snorkling. Spade was buried in the sandy bottom and took some tugging to break free, even from straight overhead. The wind was virtually nil, so we motored 4 miles into the lee of Ram's head and picked up a mooring. By now, the windless day was almost oppressively hot. Swimming sounded good to Nick and I, so we got wet while the girls lazed around fanning themselves with silk Chinese folding fans while consuming frozen grapes. Figuratively speaking.
By the time Nick and I were back aboard and lunch was over, we had agreed to ditch the hike (too hot!) and head to the beach at Salt Pond. While Grandma and the girls wiggled their toes in the sand, Nick, Lita, Lisa and I snorkeled the reef at the entrance to the bay. We give it an 8 out of 10; it was very nice, actually. Once again, we found a turtle. I was incredulous that Lisa could beat her previous perfect picture from last month but, once again, she nailed a great one even getting the underwater white balance set perfectly. Composition, focus, sharpness, color and content and all before the battery died minutes later. So many variables. You go girl.
Day 516 ~ Slow SundayFebruary 12th, 2012
We began the morning with, as all Sundays do, Swedish Pancakes. We graced them with a rare taste of yogurt which was squirreled away at the bottom of the fridge unbeknownst to the rest of the fam. Instead of jumping up afterwards and rushing off to soccer practice or a church activity, we just sat there and watched the sun silently drive the shadows of the night into ever smaller slices of a sparkling paradise. The water was calm, the breeze light, the sea of the deepest of aquamarines.
We were expecting Nick and Lita, friends of Dorine and Jim (grandma and grandpa) at the beach any time. But the hours slid by as they met new people who offered them a ride out to our neck of the woods, essentially the farthest east one can go by paved road, with a few stops along the way. By the time they arrived, we had the fresh bread out of the oven and, true to form, the first two pound loaf disappeared in minutes.
We took the whole gang, including Grandma, snorkeling along the small reef which defines the northern edge of Long Bay (within Coral Bay, St. John). We managed to find a good variety of fish and Grandma had fun in the calmer conditions.
By the time we were all showered off it was time to tackle dinner. Nick and Lita regaled us with stories of rural Alaska life until hours after our normal bedtime. Laughter shook the boat time and again. I am sure our neighbors think the booze must be flowing. Little do they know how much fun can be had without it.
Day 515 ~ The Walking SharkFebruary 11th, 2012
The swell shifted during the night and we awoke to a decent side to side roll. It was time to move on, great beach or no. With 33 miles ahead, we were retrieving Mrs. Spade by 10am.
We were crossing two large underwater shelves, one dropping from 30 meters to 3,200 meters and the reverse bank of the canyon near St. John. St. Croix and St. John are like two adjacent 11,000 foot mountain peaks wrapped in the thickest of deep blue covers. Fish like that, a lot and so it was with more than a little excitement that Nana and I debated the merits of different lure choices, finally opting for one traditional hootchie squid skirt rig and a new novel super heavy-duty flasher.
Once clear of Buck Island park, we dropped the lines and trimmed the sails. The wind was ideal, the traditional westerly flow of the trades with a touch of southerly, perfect for a run to the north. As the depth sounder lost all contact, the waves grew sloppy and confused. We bounced around for a good half hour before clearing the current swirls and finding more even waters.
The sail was ideal for several hours. As we approached St. John, the winds tapered off by immeasurable degrees. Bit by bit our speed fell from 8 to 7 then 5 and 4.5 and finally 3.2 knots. We crawled the last hour to make Long Bay within St. John's larger Coral Bay. We rounded the corner and found only a couple of cruisers nested in a large anchorage.
We dropped Spade again, seeing what looked like a sandy bottom. She caught quickly with a jerk that felt like it would rip the windlass out of the locker. I was in the water a minute later only to find disappointment. Spade's large point was hooked in a little crevice of corally, rocky bottom. The first time the wind shifted she would be free to slide along a large field of flat rock scattered loosely among the dead coral.
Just 20 meters inland was a large field of sand. I was tempted to dive down and walk the anchor over to the sandy patch but the 12-14 foot depth wouldn't leave much working time once I got to the bottom. Oh, and chain is really heavy. So, on came the engines, and up came the anchor. Lisa expertly slide us over, we dropped again and pulled back. Spade found her hold in the deep sand and set quickly. Back in the water but now Spade was completely buried. I was swimming a wide arc to check for underwater obstructions when I caught side of a form moving.
SHARK! came immediately to mind. Evidently, yesterday's encounter made more of an impression than I had thought at the time. However, the form soon took the shape of a humanoid. He was carrying his Bruce anchor along the sea floor dragging its length of chain behind. He stepped up from the rocky floor, took a couple of steps onto a grassy shelf, jammed his anchor in then shot for the surface.
I guess I wasn't the only one with that idea.
Day 514 ~ Buck Island FeverFebruary 10th, 2012
Christiansted isn't all bad. There is great holding in the lee of Protestant Cay, but the currents are squirrely, chop from the large reef sheltered bay rarely ever lets up. The bums who monopolize the best boardwalk benches day after day were just a little too friendly with our blond daughters. Oh, and the shopping is totally tourista.
We had fun swimming and driving around the island in the rental car but now it's time to move. The 20kg Bruce stern anchor and bridal arrangement had worked wonders now for 5 days and nights, keeping us pointed into the prevailing chop and out of danger from the nearby moored boats who swing every which way in the swirling eddies. Time to welcome Jr. back into the family. It took 10 minutes of heaving and ho-ing to wrestle him out of the sandy bottom by hand where he had completely disappeared.
We then swung into the current, raised the dink and fired up the engines. After nearly 10 days with 6 people and little rain, we were low on H2O. With Bruce Sr. back aboard, we motored over to St. Croix Marina where we tied up to their fuel dock. It's a nice easy straight-in approach and Lisa nailed it, once again.
Their water however, was another matter. It trickled out of a short hose with the color of, well, if you took a can of Coke and dumped it into a gallon of water you'd pretty much have the right shade. It was "city" water which "sometimes gets a break in the line", whatever that means, but still gave Lisa and I pause. In the end though, with a watermaker on the blink, we really don't have any choice but to rely on our array of super filters to keep any nastiness at bay.
I had planned on motoring the 5 miles or so to Buck Island. Once out of the bay, though, the wind came from the south enough to allow us to sail. We tacked our way up the north coast of St. Croix and into the channel between Buck Island and the mainland.
We could clearly see NASA's most easterly VLBR antenna doing it's slow, silent dance with the distant stars. Black holes, actually, are what it's after. Lisa takes a pretty dim view of taxpayer funded deep space research and couldn't resist a remark about NASA needing only to turn those things inward to find a Black Hole that sucks all money in it's proximity into the abyss.
Buck Island is a national smational monumento of some sort. In reality, the overall experience belied the hype of the tourist boat brochures. The coral is dead and bleached out, and the fish population, while amazingly diverse, is pretty pathetic by any Caribbean standard. We've found better snorkeling many other places. But we were here, so I insisted the girls give it a try.
In the year we have been aboard, the girls have gone from decent swimmers to complete fish. They were dipping and diving and twirling around me as I plodded and pumped my way through the underwater snorkel "trail" which amounts to a dozen signs describing sea creatures that may be seen along the way. Nika was chasing off a curious Barracuda and Nina and I were searching for the last underwater trail marker when I felt Nina grab my calfs. She dug her nails in and promptly start crawling up my back while her finger shot past my face gesturing urgently ahead and slightly to the left.
I followed her point. There, ghosting along with easy strokes was a Black Tip Reef Shark. He was probably only 4 feet long, perhaps 80 to 100 lbs, and in lazy cruise mode but we realize that this is his turf and his rules. Nana had caught sight as well and joined our little cluster of bodies. Nika was still twisting around looking for another wimpy Barracuda to scare when I grabbed her wrist and pulled her in. Besides putting my body between her and the shark, creating a cluster of four human masses gave us the appearance of an 8 arm 250lb octopus what would, it seems, give any shark a moments pause.
In any case, he didn't seem to care. He cruised for a while between us and our dinghy, then made his way off into the haze. Now unobstructed, we then swam quickly but with nice easy strokes back where Nina, suddenly overcome with weightlessness, hit the eject button and jettisoned into safety; Nana wasn't far behind. I swam to the other side and pulled myself out. Nana, who was hanging over the side with only her face in the water, hoping for another glimpse, promptly fell back in with a splash of flailing limbs. That might attract the wrong attention so I grabbed by the arm when she bobbed back up and slid her in too. Safe and sound.
The reality is that the likelihood of being bitten by a squirrel is 7 times more than the chance of being bitten by a shark. I know of only one person who sports a wild squirrel bite so until I hear of 6 more we're good, right?
Bureaucrats just love that kind of math.
We returned to the boat and told our tale of adventure. We ate lunch and, after another snorkel with Lisa, we dropped our mooring ball and threaded our way back out of the reef channel and found a nice anchorage in the lee of Buck Island's west side. The beach looked nice, so we dropped the dink for the third time today and puttered ashore.
It turned out to be more than nice. It was huge, had perfect sand and plenty of play area for the girls to build houses, mock fire pits and create a vast array of cutlery and kitchen goods from sticks and leaves. Lisa and I took a walk and watched a blue heron snatch a fish right out of a wave. Tasty.
Day 513 ~ More DrivingFebruary 9th, 2012
We were up and going in good time. With the promise of another half day on wheels, it wasn't hard to get everyone motivated.
We drove the East side of St. Croix and then returned along the Southern coast. Beautiful country, sparsely populated, just occasional homes here and there along miles and miles of waving wild grasses, shrubs and rocky beaches. The eastern end of St. Croix is dominated by a huge, shiny mosque on a mountaintop. The girls were fascinated.
The most Eastern most point of USA (incl. territories) is St. Croix and so a must-see. While driving to the little tourist turn-around at the end, we pass a monstorous radio antenna. It's a huge satellite dish built by NASA for “outer space listening” and is the easternmost point in the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA). The VLBA is a system of ten radio-telescope antennas, each with a dish 25 meters (82 feet) in diameter and weighing 240 tons. From Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the VLBA spans more than 5,000 miles, providing astronomers with the sharpest vision of any telescope on Earth or in space. VLBA has an ability to see fine detail equivalent to being able to stand in New York and read a newspaper in Los Angeles.
The money spent by the government on aliens and black holes they'll never reach is astounding. And they wonder why the tax compliance rate is so low.
On the return, we found a part at Budget Marine nowhere near a marina or anchorage. By island standards it makes sense; it was built halfway in between the yacht club and nearest marina. But, then, those owners probably have cars. With one last stop at Pueblo, we returned the car 5 minutes early. Back at boat we lunched then swam to cool off.
Getting the itch to move, and soon.
Day 512 ~ A Long Driving DayFebruary 8th, 2012
So this is about the second time we have rented a car to see a tropical island, or maybe the third. At any rate, it's rare and the kids were excited and made lessons an "are you finished yet?" affair. We eventually mobilized and were in the dinghy heading to shore. The rental car guy was waiting at the Fort park for us and we buried him with bodies and accessories. We had our minivan a half hour later and headed north and around the island.
The northern side of St. Croix is a series of steep shimmering grassy crests which march to the sea below. The road winds around these hills in a ribbon of hairpin turns, many with tummy turning drop offs to rocky salt washed rocks below. Here and there homes are nestled into the hills, some with ear popping driveways.
We reached the end of one road at the Carambola Resort and turned inland. In minutes, after cresting a ridge, we were in a tropical rain forest complete with huge mahogany and swamp style trees with huge bulging root spines curving into the wet ground. The road, washed out in several places, reminded us that water will have its way. The road darkened under the thick canopy. Vines suitable for many a Tarzan hung at the edges of the road. "Could I swing on those?" Nika asked. Probably.
We descended then into Frederiksted, the primary town on St. Croix's west side. The sea was flat calm and the place had a "no big cruise ships in today" empty feeling. All except the coffee house that was bustling with the jittery nerves of the addicts seeking solace from the hallowed bean.
We made a few predictable stops, Home Depot, K-Mart, etc, but bought little. The box stores just don't hold much allure anymore. We opted to skip our provisioning run to Cost-U-Less and instead catch up with our friends on Moerae whom we had met in Culebra. We found them hanging out at the Green Cay Marina. They have been out nearly three years and are now in the move-off-the-boat phase.
As the sunset and the bugs emerged we decided to make it a marathon day and hit Cost-U-Less before they closed at 9pm. We got there about 7:30 and nearly shut them down. We weren't back to the dinghy until nearly 9:30 and, of course, everyone was hungry. I made the mistake of snagging a few "journey cakes" from a roadside truck. The first few bites tasted great, but then hit a greasy bottom. Definitely not a "journey" we want to experience a second time.
By the time our 250lbs of food was on the boat, the girls could hardly keep their eyes open.
Day 511 ~ Tackling the Nasty NastyFebruary 7th, 2012
The day has finally come. The storage area under the cockpit receives every stray hair, Cheerio and plenty of soapy runoff from showers. To say it's less than sterile would be putting it mildly. During the Ant Wars, it was their favorite hangout.
After lessons we took Grandma and the girls ashore for some window shopping. Back at the boat, Lisa decided to give in. I organized fishing gear for a while, but it was soon clear that the gooey battle was a two person affair. Out came our three spare anchors and down went the scrub brushes. Bucket after bucket of seawater slowly washed away the accumulated slime and grime.
As we were repacking things, the girls called for a pick up. We all went for a swim and enjoyed chasing the Pearly Razorfish until he would run, at incredible speed, straight into the sandy bottom and disappear with only a brief poof of sand.
Day 510 ~ Broken DownFebruary 6th, 2012
We had made plans for a land trip with Moerae today. After three years living aboard, they prefer St. Croix to anything else they have found and are actively house hunting. They shipped their SUV here from North Carolina and generously offered to loan it to us for an island tour and grocery run.
We did lessons and were gathering shore supplies when Alfonz called to report bad news. "Sorry Mon. I am stuck on the side of the road with a car that won't run, again."
We shifted gears and punted. While Grandma and the girls played around in the park, Lisa and I hoofed it with all our laundry to the Prince Street Laundromat, which offered 24 washers and 2 banks of dryers along with a single plastic chair stuck in a dusty corner under a blaring television.
Lisa was happy though, the machines were large and half the price of those in St. Thomas. An hour of Judge Judy later, we were pulling the final few items from the dryer and heading back to collect the shore crew.
Day 509 ~ Lego HarmonyFebruary 5th, 2012
We started this Sunday as we always do, with a tribute to carb lovers everywhere. The wolves promptly devoured a huge stack of steaming Swedish Pancakes.
It's difficult to understand and impossible to predict, but somedays the girls just choose to get along. Today was one of those days. The peaceful respite from bickering and back biting lent a relaxed and tranquil atmosphere to a warm and sunny day. Ahhh, now that's what a Sunday should feel like.
Lisa updated the blog with more photos. At last check there were over 4,200 pictures, which seems like it should be enough. I took a nap, the first in many a moon.
Day 508 ~ Passages SouthFebruary 4th, 2012
With 35 miles of passage ahead of us today, it was tempting to rouse the crew out and crack the whip. But if anything has finally sunk into my dense gray matter, is that the sea isn't on a timeline and is never impressed by those who are.
So, we did a nice human paced morning, and got the boat tightened up for the miles ahead. Recent memories of salt soaked bunks informed our attention to every hatch handle.
We dropped the mooring about 10am and set sail for St. Croix, to the south. The weather forecast was pretty accurate with nice northeast wind allowing us to sail large, and fast.
I ran two hootchie rigs the entire way, both off the shelf, from 50 meters to 3,600 and back up again. On the approach to St. Croix I saw birds working a feeding frenzy, numerous fish were dashing against the surface working a ball of bait.
Shortly after that I had one and then two hits back to back, both poles bucking and squealing with lost line and then nothing. The neither of the single hook rigs managed to set. For a minute I could see the ghostly missile shadow tipped up towards me under the following waves.
The entrance to Christianstead harbor is a bit tricky, so we dropped the canvas and motored our way. Moerae had recommended anchoring in the lee of Protestant Cay, but when we founded the south side of the Cay, we were presented with an array of densely packed boats, most on mooring. Bouys and line snags, wrecked docks and derelict boats quickly became a maze with potential entanglement or crunchy crunchy at every turn.
Lisa expertly manuvered a path through the mayhem, and we found a spot on the northern edge of the pack in 2.4 meters of water over sand. Big Bruce caught and held immediately, holding us straight into the breeze and harbor chop. Not sure what to make of this zoo, but if feels great to have the hook down with new shores to explore.
Day 507 ~ Kid PlayFebruary 3rd, 2012
We had arranged by text for a kid rondy at the beach this afternoon. Once lessons were complete, we did a quick lunch and then Nina spotted kids at the beach. Now they were motivated. The dingy was dropped and fired and they were off with Grandma to burn off energy.
Lisa and I did boring grown up thing like work on the computer and straighten up the cockpit. As the sun sank, we headed ashore to say goodbye to Tim, Linda and the gang and get everyone aboard before the no-see-ums appear with a vengeance.
Day 506 ~ RecoveryFebruary 2nd, 2012
Dark clouds mounting as the sun set warned of more rain to come. We crammed the cockpit with every book and fabric that should have been drying in the breeze. Sure enough, rain fell intermittently throughout the night. We collected water in our port tank to make up for the losses of the day.
By dawn the sky had cleared off and the sun broke out intense and warm. The array of wet things were spread far and wide and the sun slowly did its hot work, baking the moisture out gram by gram.
We did lessons, lunch and the usual things. The girls and grandma headed to the beach in the afternoon giving Lisa and I a couple hours of kid-free time.
We did a mish-mash of leftovers and curry for dinner and finished reading Caddie Woodlawn, a favorite of the girls.
Day 505 ~ The Water WinsFebruary 1st, 2012
The Hassel Island anchorage isn't really that great if the wind isn't substantially from the north. The swell from the East hooks up into the harbor making for rocky days and nights. So, once everyone was dressed and fed, we upped anchor and motored into Crown Bay Marina for fuel and water.
Once again Lisa deftly manuvered our home through a forest of million dollar plastic castles to kiss the dock with a gentle touch. You go girl! By the time the tanks were filled, the mail dropped off, etc, it was nearly 11am. We cast off, raised the sails and headed for, well, somewhere.
It was still blowing 20-25 knots from the East and guess which way we wanted to go? Well, east. The wind and sea will yield, but only with intensive spray and impressive airborne moments where our 12 tons of books, beans and bodies are launched off large waves only to be reclaimed by gravity a moment later with a bone-jarring crash. Time and again we crested, surfed and slammed.
On one such occasion, Grandma's coffee pot flew off a shelf and exploded over the floor, accompanied by nice sliding pools of syrupy smell. Then it was the corn flake container, popping its Tupperware wanna-be Walmart quality lid and spraying flakes about the starboard passageway like confetti on V-E day.
But the crowning touch was the side hatch, a full 1/3 square foot of hinged glass which the girls were responsible for closing and clamping before we left. From the cockpit angle I could see multiple instances where the starboard bow was completely submersed for a moment or hit by huge swells slapping the gunwale and the following wall of water exploding up the side.
Little did we know that a part, a slice, a percentage of that crystalline salty sea was bursting into Nana's room with every slam, raining down on Nana's blankets, soaking through sheets, sopping the mattress, dissolving rare books, blurring childhood chalk drawings and saturating clothes, toys, doll hair, towels and cushions. The water erupted with such compuction that the opposite wall was dripping.
Lisa's a trooper in most situations. She takes the realities of boat life, the spills, messy kitchens, cold showers, nasty laundry, moldy walls and funky smells with nary a complaint. Her sole nemesis, the real biter, is saltwater in the boat soaking things. Salt water never really dries, the resulting residues are damp and slimy for weeks, months on end. Lisa loathes salt slime.
When a wet floor mat came flying out of the door and landed with a splash on the cockpit teak, I knew things were not going well. A half an hour later, the cockpit was jammed with salt-soaked accessories, just the beginning of the cleaning ordeal.
Searching for respite, we poked our bow into Fish Bay but found it just big enough for our boat to squeeze through. Unfortunately, there were already 4 boats anchored in the center deep enough for boats to spin safely. We weaved our way through the field, the grassy bottom clear and close, just two feet to spare. Too tight. A minute later we were motoring back out into the tameless chop. For half an hour we bounced along until we could finally turn into Little Lameshur Bay. There was one mooring ball left. Relief, finally.
Lisa burned off precious gallons of fresh water rinsing mattress, cushion, books, linens, toys and clothes. They were just beginning to dry in the sun when a rain squall hit and dousing the boat and all items we couldn't gather in time. Adding insult to injury, more short rainbursts passed over until there was no sun left.
Sometimes, the water wins.