Written 23 March 1993
Warm sunny days, gentle breezes, crystal waters. Ahhhh, paradise - but not quite yet. When last you heard from us, we told you of our "romp to windward" to the Virgin Islands an of our encounter with Zeus or Thor or one of those storm gods. Well, I'm please to report that after 2+ months and a haul-out in St. Thomas, we are all together, both boat and crew, and on the move again.
Two to three months in Charlotte Amalie Harbor, St. Thomas, I would not recommend to anyone. It is a big harbor with lots of cruise ship, ferry and yacht traffic. All this activity really churns us the water and cases the anchored boats to rock side-to-side continuously. There were some time when I though I was going to have to put up our lee cloths to stay in the bunk at night. Why, you may ask, did we stay and endure these conditions? Good question. Basically, we are chickens and without a depth sounder, we did not want to venture our into unknown, reef-strewn waters. This area is definitely not like our good ole, soft-bottom, Chesapeake Bay. So our days were mainly spent working on projects on the boat and dinghying (???) in for happy hour/dinner at Castaways Bar at Yacht Haven. The biggest challenge we had most of the time was how to stay dry on the ride to shore and how to keep the growth off of the anchor chain.
Sundays were spent at the (free) beach party at the gorgeous Sapphire Beach resort and the rest of the week was spent scoring the marine stores for parts and stuff and daily trips to the post office. Projects included re-insulating the ice-box, installing new instruments, and re-doing the nav. station to accommodate the new instruments. We were again on a first-name basis at the marine stores and at Castaways.
Right around the end of December, (in fact, at Christmas time) we were introduced to the "Christmas winds." These are winds which blow a consistent 25-30 knots day and night. This is great when you're at anchor and running your dinghy into shore each day, NOT! The weather was rain - sun - rain, etc., etc. I'm sure you get the picture. These lasted for about a month. Seas just outside the harbor entrance were 5-8 feet and choppy. Just picture the Chesapeake Bay with 5-8 ft. chop. At this point, I'm asking myself, why do all those people charter boats down here? The weather, winds and seas are terrible. But it is 80-90 degrees each day with night time highs in the 60s and low 70s.
Finally in February, we made our way over to the east end of St. Thomas and boat yard to be hauled out. We were out for 2 weeks closing in and drilling new holes in the boat for the new depth sounder and knotmeter thru-hull fittings. Things get done down here on "Caribbean time", a completely different time-keeping system then elsewhere. We also (again) raised the waterline on the boat. The people in the boatyard and associated marina were fun and we met several other cruisers who were doing work on their boats. As Bob say, "they were a very eclectic group" of people who lived, worked and hung out around the boat yard and Bottoms Up bar and restaurant. As an example, one girl, named Holiday, borrowed a burro, donned a Mexican hat and rode down the dock to wish her boyfriend a Happy Birthday. I bet you won't see that at Mears Marina in Annapolis.
By mid February, we were set free and could roam where we chose to go. The winds calmed down, the rain showers stopped and life was beautiful again. So we chose to take a "long passage" to Christmas Cove (about 1 mile away) located on a small island next to St. Thomas. We finally spent our first night in the idyllic anchorage we had been dreaming of for so long. We swam, snorkeled and lounged around enjoying our beautiful surroundings. Then we took off.
We sailed to Caneel Bay, Francis Bay and Leinster Bay on St. John, USVI, and then to the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and Jost Van Dyke, our original destination the Virgin Islands. We were only about 3 months late. Checked into Jost Van Dyke and headed straight to Foxy's Bar and Restaurant. We met Foxy and heard him sing and entertain everyone there. What a great character and terrific little beach bar. Jost Van Dyke is a wonderful little island, still undeveloped and unspoiled (no hotels, few taxis, very few roads). While taking a hike around the island we discovered an unknown little spot called "bubbly pool" by the locals. It is located on the windward (northeast) side of the island and consisted of a narrow cut in the rocks which allowed the large waves to crash in and swirl around in a pool on the other side of the opening. The effect when sitting in the 3' deep pool was that of a Jacuzzi. It was fabulous and there was not a soul around (good think, since we had forgotten our bathing suits).
The next stop in the BVIs as Soper's Hole, West End, Tortola. This is wonderful harbor, very protected, but verrry deep (50'-60'). There are lots of mooring buoys that you can pick up and use for $15 a night. While we were there, we rented a car and drove from one end of the island to the other. What a beautiful place and people are very friendly. We drove to one of the national parks on the island called Sage Mountain - the highest point on the island. We walked up to the summit from where we could view almost all of the Virgin Islands. What an incredible sight.
While we were in St. Thomas, we met a very charming and energetic lady who also owned and sailed a Shannon sailboat (43 footer). She seemed to be focal point for all the Shannon boat owners sailing in the Caribbean. She told up that she was organizing a rendezvous of all the Shannons in the area, so naturally we decided to attend. What a terrific time we had meeting these people and sailing with them. We sailed to North Sound, Virgin Gorda, BVI and attended a wonderful cocktail party hosted by Shannon owners who lived high on a hill overlooking the Sound. Several days later we all sailed to Anegada, BVI, our favorite island. Anegada is called the "drowned island" as it is very flat as opposed to the other mountainous Virgin Islands. It is surrounded by reefs, some extending our 5-6 miles in spots. As you might expect, this island is off-limits to most charter boats, so it is relatively uncrowded and quiet. There is a small population of people living there, most making their living from tourists and fishing. Because they don't get the hoards of tourists, they almost adopt you and make you feel as though you are a part of their family. We had a wonderful lobster dinner at the Anegada Reef Hotel and "fish fingers" at Neptune's Treasure Restaurant. A couple of our new friends, familiar with the island, took us on a hike from the north side of the island around the west and back to our anchorage on the south side. We walked mile after mile of totally deserted white beaches with aqua blue water and huge waves crashing on the reefs. Our sail back to Tortola was a fantastic reach - one of the few times we were not beating our way to windward.
Our next stop was the bight at Norman Island, BVI, another very protected anchorage. This was also one of our favorite places. The snorkeling on Norman Island was the best we have seen so far. The coral is very colorful and alive with sea life (fish and turtles). While there, we would dinghy over for a rum punch to the William Thorton, an old Danish ship turned into a floating restaurant.
With great reluctance, we finally checked out of the BVIs at Road Harbor and moved to a favorite anchorage on St. John, USVI - Francis Bay to wait for good weather to go "down island." We arrived there just as the monster storm hit the US East Coast. Unbelievable as it may seem, that storm affected this area as well with large swells and stiff breezes (20-25+ knots) out of the East. Of course, East is where we must go in order to get to St. Martin and Antigua. I'm beginning to believe the fellow I heard on the SSB radio the other day. He said to just follow the little arrow at the top of your mast to get wherever you want to go. (For those non-sailors, that arrow tells which direction the wind is coming from, which means that you are always trying to sail into the wind.) Just as that storm finally moved away, another low and front moved off the coast of Florida and into the Bahamas, creating the same conditions here. Our weatherman, "Herb" from Bermuda, has said that we will not have a good weather window for sailing east for another 2-3 days. So we just wait. Francis Bay/Maho Bay is a terrific place to "hang out." The Maho Bay campgrounds are on shore and we've met some nice people there. They have a cafeteria-style restaurant and bar with happy hour from 4:30 - 5:30. So we usually dinghy-in for a "sundowner" and popcorn.
We may get the idea all that we do in the islands is go from bar to bar for happy hour. Here is a list of other things that occupy our time.
Several other of our new cruiser friends are also waiting to go down the islands, so we will probably all go as a group whenever the weather cooperates for us. St. Martin is about 80 miles from St. John and is an overnight trip through the Anegada Passage between the VIs and St. Martin. A long fetch can cause the seas in that passage to build quite high, making conditions very uncomfortable, especially if there is a large NE or E swell running. So we are going to pick our opportunity to sail since we are not really on a time schedule.
Meanwhile our friends on Puff are in Luperon, Dominican Republic and those on Sea Wolf are waiting in Culebra, Puerto Rico. We are all waiting for the cruising weather to improve before moving on. M-W-F mornings we all get together via SSB radio on frequency 6.215 mHz. to chat and trade rumors and weather information. It is so good to be able to keep in touch with them. We all hope to meet somewhere down island and will probably travel together from then on. Our friends on Almitra are currently in Panama and plan to go thru the canal on March 26th and enter the Pacific. We have been able to keep in touch somewhat through the SSB and other cruisers who know them.
Our intention is still to try to get to Panama and through the canal in '93. We will see how our trip down the Leeward and Windward island chain goes. The plan is to visit St. Martin, St. Barts, Nevis, Antigua, Guadeloupe, Isles de Saints, and Dominica in the Leeward Islands. We also plan to stop at Martinique, St. Lucia, the Grenadines (Bequia, Tobago Cays) and Grenada in the Windward Islands. From there to Margarita Island, Venezuela, and maybe the ABC islands and San Blas islands, arriving at the Panama Canal sometime in May. Later than that our cruising windows for that area and beyond start to close down. In order to meet that time table, we must "boogie on down" and not spend too much time in any one place. If we run out of time, we will probably do what all the other cruisers do and spend the summer cruising Venezuela, Trinidad and the ABC (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao) Islands and then sail up the chain to visit island missed or revisit some and then go back down next winter to position ourselves to go through the canal in March 1994.
In the meantime, we are enjoying the Virgin Islands and plan to go snorkeling this afternoon before going into short for happy hour with our friends. We have enjoyed all your letters and hope everyone will continue to write and let us know how you are doing.
Bob and Judi