The day has finally come to leave for our charter in the Virgin Islands. But wait. Before relating the story, I have to explain why the heck we are going on a charter when our own boat is sitting in the Caribbean.
Well first, MoonSail is stored, not just sitting waiting to sail. When MoonSail goes back in the water, it will take a couple weeks to get her back in sailing form. That's not how I want to spend a vacation. Back in September, 2010, I was approached by a friend asking advice on how to arrange a charter. Three couples that we know from the Parrothead club wanted to do a crewed charter in the British Virgin Islands. I put them in touch with another Parrothead friend who lives in San Francisco now. She and her boyfriend charter a catamaran in the BVI several times a year and play crew/hosts to three couples. Dates were set and prices agreed upon. The first "snag" in the plans came when one of the original couples decided they couldn't go. We were approached again by the other two couples and asked if we would consider joining them. While we are supposed to be saving our money to someday return to MoonSail, we all need a vacation now and then right? So we joined the party. In December, we were preparing to send off half of the charter fee, when we got an e-mail from our captain saying she had mixed up dates and could not do the charter the week that we had requested. Barb and I were flexible, but one of the other couples already had their plane tickets, and the other couple had other plans that would keep them from changing dates also. We considered a backup plan of chartering a bare boat and Barb and I would be crew, but that wasn't really what we wanted to do.
When we cruised south in 2007, one of the boats we met was Adventure Bound, with Jim & Amanda onboard. Jim & Amanda are a young (by our standards) couple who were always fun to be around. After they spent a hurricane season in Grenada with us, they sailed back north to the Virgins where they sold Adventure Bound and became the captain and chef on a luxury catamaran named Bliss. They did such a good job in their first season that one of their charter guests bought an even larger cat and hired them to run it. You can see Catsy here. I knew we could not afford to charter Catsy, but I also knew that the key to a successful charter is the crew. So I contacted Jim and asked him for a recommendation of a cat in our price range and a crew that he knew and felt that we would enjoy. Jim put us in touch with Capt. Wally on Blue Bayou. Capt. Wally cut us a deal of 10% off his regular rate since we didn't come to him through a charter broker. We made the deal, and sent half the fee through PayPal to seal it. By the first week in January, we had a group dinner to discuss our food preferences and places we wanted to visit, and forwarded all that to Capt. Wally. We were on the way. Or so we thought.
A couple weeks after we had everything firm with Capt. Wally, I got an e-mail from my friend Jim. Capt. Wally died. Of course that was a shock. Even though we hadn't met, we felt bad for his partner, and wondered what we do now. After a week or so, I was contacted by Capt. Wally's partner and she told me a refund would be coming as soon as she got PayPal to let her into the account. Fortunately, that happened quickly. We could have gotten screwed on the whole deal since we circumvented the charter broker process. I know charter captains that are paying for this weeks charter provisions with next months charter deposit. If that had been the case with Capt. Wally, we might have not been taking a vacation. But, as I said, that all worked out perfectly. Now we just needed another boat. Jim was already working on alternatives, but we were trying to book Easter week, and many boats were already booked. I looked into a bare boat deal again, and found that the boat we chartered back in 2003 was available. Again though, that wasn't really what we wanted to do.
Jim contacted me after about a week with good news. Through the charter broker that handles Catsy, he found a boat that was just coming into the charter fleet. Since they were new to the fleet, looking for bookings, and knew of our previous situation, they agreed to do our charter for the same price we had agreed on with Capt. Wally. This was several thousand less than their normal rate. The boat was Sweetest Thing, a 2 year old 48 foot Fountain Pajot. We made this deal through the normal charter broker channels. Since we were now only about seven weeks from the charter date, we sent our entire fee in and I relayed the preferences we had all worked out to the new captain.
That brings us to Friday, April 15th. Most islands have only one flight per day from each major airline that serves them, so scheduling is less than flexible. In order to make a connection in Charlotte, NC, we had to leave Houston at 07:00 AM. Since we live almost an hour from the big airport, we drove up to Barb's son's house in Spring to spend the night. This is only about 15 minutes from the airport. We were up at 04:30 and at the airport a little after 5:00. We each were carrying-on a mid-sized soft duffle bag so there was no chance of luggage not making it. One of the couples going with us were also on this flight. Mickey & Karen showed up a little after us. Our flight was on-time, and we connected in Charlotte to our second flight to Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas USVI. We left Charlotte on-time, but about 45 minutes into the flight, a flight attendant made an announcement asking for a doctor. Several people went forward to assist. Whatever was going on seemed quite urgent. After a few minutes, the flight attendants put away the beverage service carts. At that point I was sure we were going back or stopping in Florida somewhere to deal with this. After a while they made another announcement asking if anybody had a blood sugar test machine they could use, so apparently the emergency must have been diabetic shock. To everybody's relief, they were able to stabilize the guy and we kept going. When we landed in St. Thomas they had him get off first and paramedics were there to check him out. Even though we will be spending most of our time on the boat in the BVI, we will start and end in the USVI. There are no big jets to the BVI, and in my opinion the whole Customs & Immigration process is easier flying to the USVI.
As we disembark in St. Thomas and enter the terminal, we are greeted by a table of complimentary shots of Cruzan flavored rums. Welcome to The Islands mon! We are all carrying all our luggage, so we breeze on out to the taxi stand and get a cab to Miller Manor. Miller Manor is a 26 room guest house overlooking the harbor in Charlotte Amalie. A little more than half the rooms are rented long-term, leaving about 10 for daily rentals. The place is run entirely by the couple who own it, Marj & Harry from Denver. They greeted us, got us checked in, and showed us to our rooms. We also met Sam the house dog, and three of the four cats who wander the property. The first piece of Miller Manor was originally built in 1854. Over the years it has been expanded bit by bit to it's current size. This results in a maze of pathways over three levels. It was about 4 PM when we got our stuff in our rooms, and happy hour, including one free welcome drink started at 4. How convenient! We enjoyed several rum punches Marj made for us and chatted with them and a few other guests until 5:30, when we were supposed to meet up with some old cruising friends.
We walked several blocks down the hill to the waterfront and The Green House. Shortly after getting there, we were joined by Britt & Teri from Sea Otter, and Tom from Lone Star. We had not seen Tom since 2007 when we parted ways on our way south. We last saw Britt & Teri in 2009 just before coming back to The States. About 7 PM, we were also joined by Steve & Debbie, the other couple chartering with us. They came on a later flight (different airline). We all enjoyed visiting until about 9 PM. As advised by the folks at Miller Manor, we took a cab back up the hill instead of walking. Security reasons aside, it is a steep hill, so a cab was a good idea. We found the bar still open and sat a chatted with Marj & Harry some more.
Charters normally start and end at noon. I had spoken with Capt Tofer (Kristofer Burton) last week, to clarify when and where to meet him. We are meeting the boat at American Yacht Harbor in Red Hook on the eastern end of the island. Capt. Tofer suggested we meet at Molly Malone's for breakfast about 9:30 and plan to board the boat immediately thereafter. We had arranged with our taxi driver from the airport yesterday to pick us up at Miller Manor at 8:30. He agreed to take us the "long" way over the mountain and do a little sightseeing as we went. Barb and I had seen all this before, but we happy to do it again. This is a first visit to The Virgins for the other couples, so it was a treat for them too. I was happy to learn that Mountain Top had been rebuilt. It had been destroyed by a fire in May, 2009 just before we returned to The States. After a stop at Mountain Top to take some pictures of Megan's Bay and the BVI's in the distance, we continued to Red Hook. It was about 9:20 when we arrived at Molly Malone's and got a table for eight. Did I mention Molly Malone's not only has great breakfasts, but they have bottomless Bloody Marys and Mimosas. Let the vacation officially begin!
Promptly at 09:30, Capt. Tofer and Chef Ian Finn came from the marina. We recognized them from their pictures on Sweetest Thing's website. After introductions, we all had breakfast and a few beverages. About 10:20 we were walking down the dock to board Sweetest Thing. Shoes were checked in the box on the dock and we all climbed aboard. Sweetest Thing has an "owners cabin" and a crew cabin in the starboard (right) hull, and two guest cabins in the port hull. Mickey & Karen and Steve & Debbie decided right off the bat that since we had coordinated all the arrangements, we got the owners cabin. We all loaded our bags into our respective cabins and came up to the beautiful air conditioned main saloon for our safety briefing from Capt. Tofer. Once that was complete, Chef Ian had to run across the street to pick up a couple of last minute provisions. I noticed a boat we knew on the end of the next dock over. We met Chris & Kelly on Verna Breeze in 2009 in Bequia and were around them for our last few months cruising. While Ian was shopping, we walked over and said hi to Chris. For the past two seasons they have been chartering Verna Breeze in the Virgins and have been quite successful at it apparently.
A bit before noon, we were casting off the lines and heading for Soper's Hole on the west end of Tortola, BVI. Thanks to Capt. Tofer's suggestion of meeting early, we were underway with half the day still ahead of us. There was not much wind, and what there was, was dead on our nose, so we motored all the way to Soper's Hole, which took a little over an hour. Soper's Hole is one of the places you can clear into the BVI with Customs & Immigration. The procedure in the BVI is that the captain takes all the passports and checks everybody in. Since we were Sweetest Thing's first charter, Capt. Tofer didn't have the BVI forms onboard that we could have filled out in advance, so he dashed in, got a bunch of forms (still $.10 each) and brought them back to the boat. We all filled out our own and he went back to check us in. While Capt. Tofer was dealing with the check-in process, Chef Ian was making lunch. He prepared a nice chicken wrap with healthy Snyder's vegetable chips.
Once lunch was done, we dropped our mooring and motored over to The Bight at Norman's Island, another hour-or-so trip. This is the home of The William Thornton, aka The Willy-T. It was mid-afternoon, so by Willy-T standards, it was pretty quiet. But, that doesn't mean it was either quiet or empty. Capt. Tofer dropped us all off to initiate the virgins amongst us. As we walked in, we were greeted by two attractive young ladies behind the bar having pictures taken while exposing their breasts. This was being done to show off their freshly applied commemorative temporary tattoos. I have seen these applied before, usually using the bartender's tongue as the source of moisture. While that sounds like a great idea, I wonder what sunscreen tastes like? The Willy-T has a reputation for girls jumping naked off the top deck in exchange for a free t-shirt. This practice was stopped in 2006 after an accident. However, in reality, the jumping continues, but there is no free t-shirt anymore. There also is a substantial metal framework in place now that you have to crawl through before jumping, so anybody who does it, clearly has ignored the signs and does so at their own risk. In my previous three visits to The Willy-T, I have seen one of two topless jumps, but never a naked one. Today, to escape the loud music, we took our drink to the upper deck. While there in the span of a few minutes, we saw five topless jumps, and one totally naked one. The naked one had a bit of extra suspense - the young lady took the bottom of her string bikini off first, then the string on the top got tangled in a knot. So she stood there bottomless for a couple minutes while working on getting the top off. The guy in the dinghy down below got more show than he bargained for. Us old folks were definitely out of place, and the music was very loud, so after one drink we called on our radio for Capt. Tofer to come pick us up. As we were leaving, a different young girl (who thankfully had not gotten naked) was hurling at the end of the dinghy dock. This was about 3 in the afternoon. Youth just doesn't understand pacing themselves.
We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing aboard Sweetest Thing. One of the amenities aboard Sweetest Thing was a Kindle for each cabin. Before we had gotten there, Capt. Tofer had loaded them up with a bunch of books. All three women started reading Water For Elephants. I just enjoyed sitting and taking in the feel of the islands and the motion of a boat again. Ian prepared a wonderful dinner for us. It was mahi over a sweet potato puree with pesto, followed by pears poached in red wine for dessert. We could get used to this.
After dinner we had a movie night. Again, Capt. Tofer had contacted me the week before the charter and asked what movies we might like to have aboard. There were individual DVD players in each cabin, as well as a large flat-screen in the main saloon. So, we all watch Captain Ron. I think we all had seen it before, but it had been a while.
Capt. Tofer had made it clear at the beginning of the trip that his plan, if we didn't object, would be to have us underway to our next destination at dawn. When ever we all got up, we would stop somewhere for breakfast and then continue. So, this morning, we were awakened by the engines starting about 6 AM. While that sounds bad, the drone of the engines actually put most everybody back to sleep most days. On this morning, we motored just around the corner to The Caves to snorkel. In my previous visits to the BVI, I have never stopped here. The mooring balls at The Caves usually fill up early, but thanks to our early-rising captain, we were the first ones there. Ian prepared us a nice breakfast and then we all went snorkeling. I'm not a big fan of snorkeling, although I love the view. We swam right off the back of the boat less than 100 feet to the first of the three caves. The Caves are reputed to be the inspiration for Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. As Barb approached the entrance to the first cave, she was stung by something in the water. We didn't see anything like a jellyfish, but that what she said it felt like. It got her on the shoulder and arm, so she headed back to the boat, where Ian produced some vinegar to reduce the sting. I proceeded to the cave and got a tiny similar sting. Rather than look for the cause, we all moved on to the second cave. I tired quickly and returned to the boat to see how Barb was. She was fine, and in a little while the rest of the gang came back.
Our destination for today is planned to be Cooper Island. Cooper has a small resort on it, and has always been one of Barb's favorite stops in the BVI. There was a fair amount of wind today, so a vote was taken whether to motor straight to Cooper, or sail, which would require several tacks and take three times as long. We voted for the sail. This turned out to be a good and bad thing. The sails were hoisted and we sailed northeast toward Tortola. I was sitting up at the helm with Capt. Tofer enjoying the peace and quiet of sailing with the engines off. When it came time to tack, Capt. Tofer asked me if I wanted to handle the lines or not. He had made it clear from the start that I could do as much or little as I wanted. I opted to handle the lines. On our first tack I screwed up a little and got the line over-wrapped on the winch, which caused Capt. Tofer to have to start one engine to power us through the turn. On the subsequent five tacks, I got it right. The good part of making the decision to sail was that there turned out to be NO wind the rest of the week. So that was our only chance to have sailed. The bad news was we got to Cooper Island just as another boat took the last mooring ball. So much for our stop at Cooper Island. Barb was disappointed.
We poked our nose around the corner to see if there was a suitable anchorage over there. There wasn't, so we continued around the backside of Cooper and headed for Virgin Gorda. While on the backside of Cooper, we were in the open ocean, not protected from the seas like you are in the Sir Francis Drake Channel. It was very calm by ocean standards, but still enough motion for at least one of the group to get a little queasy. Once back in the lee of the islands all was well. We motored past The Baths, our planned destination for tomorrow and went to Spanishtown to look for a mooring. There were no moorings available there either, so we went back to The Baths. You are not supposed to spend the night on the moorings at The Baths, but we planned to play stupid. It was still mid-afternoon when we got there, so we decided instead of waiting until morning to explore The Baths, we would go now. Capt. Tofer took us to shore in the dinghy and dropped us off. There are three beaches to The Baths, connected by a trail through the boulders. We were dropped off at the beach without the bar, so our plan was to hike to the bar, have a beer, and hike back. In my previous visits, we've always come by land which means you start at the bar end. We followed the trail and before you knew it we were at the bar. Since it was late in the afternoon, there were not many people there. We all ordered beers and sat at the nice shaded picnic tables to enjoy the view. After a couple beers, we headed back down the trail. Once we reached the beach where we started, we had to get back to Sweetest Thing. We had not brought the little radio to call them since it isn't waterproof. Our plan was that Karen (the youngest) would swim back to Sweetest Thing to get Capt. Tofer. It sure looked closer from the boat than it did from the shore. Karen took off swimming. When she was about half way there, Capt. Tofer noticed us on the beach. He stopped and offered Karen a ride, but she elected to continue swimming for it. Everybody boarded the dinghy while I held it from beaching in the surge. Once everybody was aboard, I gave a big push away from the shore as I lunged in. Not pretty, but it worked.
As boat after boat left, we kept watching for somebody to come tell us we couldn't stay overnight. Nobody ever came and we and one other boat stayed. The logic of not staying overnight here has nothing to do with the quality of the moorings. They just want everybody to have a fair shot at getting one for the day each morning. We dropped the mooring at dawn, so we didn't impact anybody.
We had another wonderful dinner of snapper with mango salsa from Chef Ian.
We were underway from The Baths at dawn. Even though I was awake, I relaxed in bed for another 45 minutes before coming on deck. Every morning, as promised, Chef Ian had coffee ready whenever we got up. We recently started hearing ads for a new product from Baileys of a non-alcoholic Baileys flavored coffee creamer. Why would you want that when you have the real deal? As we were approaching the entrance to Gorda Sound, we passed a monohull going the other way. It was Sophisticated Lady, a boat we met in Grenada. Rick is the captain and he is the one who left us to baby sit his parrot for a few weeks while we were running the marina in Grenada. I grabbed the VHF and hailed him. We had a short chat and caught up.
We picked up our mooring for the day in Leverick Bay and it wasn't even 8 AM yet. Chef Ian had breakfast ready as soon as we stopped. After breakfast, Tofer and Ian threw the kayaks off the boat for us to use. I have never been in a kayak before, but I always wanted to try it since watching the tourists do it in Grenada. Mickey and I were the only adventurous ones who opted to kayak. These are two person kayaks with nice back rests. The getting in and out successfully from the swim platform of the boat was a challenge. I got in first, in the back of the kayak. I was a bit wobbly, but did it. Mickey got in next, equally ungracefully, but successfully. Capt. Tofer gave us a quick lesson in how to paddle the right way, and the wrong way. Of course the wrong way is the way that seems intuitive when you don't know what you're doing, so that's how we did it. We paddled around the perimeter of the bay with Mickey just riding about half the time. He has a shoulder in need of repair, so he couldn't paddle the whole time. As we headed back towards Sweetest Thing, I made sure to pass close to a few cruising boats that were obviously not charter boats, just to see if they were anybody we knew. They weren't. When we got back to the boat, Mickey got out of the kayak quite wobbly again, but he made it. I really wanted to just roll out into the water to cool down, but I didn't want to lose my sunglasses or hat. Well, I wasn't as graceful getting out, and ended up in the water anyway. But, with one hand on the boat, and one on the kayak, I went in slowly and didn't lose anything.
After cooling down in the water I was aboard playing with my binoculars. Yes, we carried our stabilized binoculars on the trip with us. We brought them home from MoonSail because they needed repairs. Capt. Tofer really liked them too. I was looking around the whole anchorage and I spotted a boat like MoonSail across the bay. Had I seen it before we did the kayaking I would have gone by it. I couldn't quite read the name, and I wasn't going to paddle that far again, so it remains a mystery.
In the afternoon, we went ashore. Capt. Tofer has realized that he doesn't need to taxi us around in the dinghy, since I can drive the dinghy. So, I took us ashore, along with the cash to pay for the mooring, get some ice, and some fruit for breakfast tomorrow. When we got to shore, the gang went to the grocery, while I went to the end of the dock to pay for the mooring. I asked when they closed for getting ice purposes, and it was 5 PM while we would be at the bar. So, I got the ice now and ran it back to the boat. I got back to the dock and found the gang just leaving the grocery.
Michael Beans, who used to play at the Marina Cay Pusser's everyday, now plays here. He is an interesting character. He's not so much a musician as a showman. In addition to his entertaining, he is passionate about a charity he supports in Haiti. His daily show here is from 5 to 7 PM. Happy ARRRRRR! We got to the bar about 4 PM and interrupted the bartender cutting up fruit for the evening's garnishes. Michael had just gotten there too, and I introduced myself and mentioned our mutual friend Rick from Sophisticated Lady. Rick had helped Michael get a bunch of outboards and other supplies to Haiti in 2009. He had boat troubles and we helped coordinate radio contact with him to get parts shipped in for the return trip. I saw Michael's show in 2007 when we passed through on MoonSail, but Barb wasn't feeling well that night so this will be her first time as well as the rest of the gang's. Michael's show is what you would call an audience participation show. Every table has shakers made from old plastic water bottles with sand or rocks in them, you are expected to respond ARRRRRR! at all the appropriate times, and give pirate toasts in-between songs. (To qualify as a pirate toast, you must simply include the word ARRRRRR! somewhere.) I gave a toast stolen from Jerry Diaz & Hanna's Reef - Here's to you, here's to me, here's to taking life easy, ARRRRRR!
Right after the show we were back on Sweetest Thing for dinner. A night or two ago, somebody mentioned having plain old cheeseburgers one night instead of "fancy food". So, while we were at The Baths, Ian had taken the dinghy to Spanishtown and bought Bubba Burgers! He couldn't find any buns, so he baked some from scratch. Sweetest Thing has a grill on the back, and tonight is burger night. Ian was having a little trouble getting used to the grill. We were all inside and he brought a tray of burgers in, set them in the galley grabbed something and ran back out. Capt. Tofer assumed the burgers were ready to be served and served us. Well, Ian had realized he had overcooked the burgers, and he was starting over. He didn't tell Capt. Tofer that though. We were all eating the very well done burgers not saying anything. When Ian realized we were eating them, he was embarrassed and a little upset with Tofer for serving them. But, most of us ate a second, much better one. A slight miscommunication but part of the fun.
The motors started about 06:00 again this morning. As with other mornings, most of us went back to sleep to the white noise. When I got up a couple hours later, we were approaching Anegada already. Anegada is unlike the rest of the Virgin Islands, in that it is not a volcanic formation, but a low coral atoll. The highest point on the island is merely 28 feet above sea level. We picked up a mooring and had breakfast.
About 10:00, we went ashore. Capt. Tofer and Ian did not have any need to go ashore, so we took the dinghy ourselves. We stopped first at the dock for Whistling Pines, the restaurant where we plan to have dinner. Sam the owner was on the dock putting some fresh lobster he had just purchased from a local fisherman, into the holding pen where they will stay until dinner time. Sam walked up to the restaurant with me and I made reservations for dinner for all eight of us. Chef Ian gets the day off today and he and Capt. Tofer are joining us for dinner.
After the reservations were made we dinghied over to the Anegada Reef Hotel dock, where we had already arranged an island tour via the VHF radio. We met Mike our driver and climbed in the back of his open pickup. There were two benches on either side of the bed for us to sit on. Our destination for the day is Loblolly Bay, but "the tour" means we will go around the island the long way to get there. Our first stop was Cow Wreck Beach. We stopped briefly and took some photos. Next stop was Flamingo Pond. As we approached the pond, Mike stopped the truck and yelled back that "this is Flamingo Pond, but there are no flamingos. They left a couple weeks ago to nest." Ironically, seeing the flamingos was the main reason for taking a "tour" instead of just taking a taxi to the beach. Oh well. A mile or so further down the road, we came to another pond called Red Pond. Mike stopped to explain that this was a pond used for harvesting salt. While we were stopped, a flock of flamingos flew way on the far side of the pond and landed in the water. We could barely make out that they were indeed large pink birds. So I guess the trip wasn't a total loss.
The next stop on the tour was the settlement. The Settlement is the name of the only settlement on the island. We saw the nice new Government building, a church, the school, and numerous homes. There are only 240 full-time residents on the island and most of them live here in The Settlement.
Last stop on the tour was where we were going to spend the day, Loblolly Beach. Loblolly is on the eastern tip of the island, while the anchorage is on the west end. It was about 11 AM now, and we arranged with Mike to pick us up at 4:30. So far our taxi experience was much better than our last visit here. If you don't recall that, you can read the June 1st 2004 entry here. We stopped at the bar and ordered drinks and opened a tab. We then went to the restaurant desk and ordered our lunch, to be ready at noon. We then went out to the beach and claimed a palapa and benches. It was all wonderfully informal in that there was no credit card left with them, just a first name. We immediately got in the beautiful water. Loblolly is the perfect beach because it is protected by a large reef about a thousand feet offshore. So the big waves of the Atlantic are breaking out on the reef, and the water inside the reef is relatively calm. We were just standing in the water watching as a local fisherman delivered a bunch of lobsters to be consumed later. There was a holding pen in the water to keep the critters contained. As a couple men were putting the lobsters in the pen, one noticed a large fish swimming nearby. He ran up to the restaurant and came back with a hand line with a hook and a piece of chicken. In a few minutes he had landed a large snapper. Is it too late to change my order? Somebody will be getting a fresh lunch.
At noon, we left our towels to keep claim of our palapa, and went to the large open-air ramada for lunch. We grabbed refills of our drinks on the way past the bar, and our lunch was served within a few minutes of our seating. Lunch was quite good. Once we finished eating, Mickey spotted a hammock. Mickey has been hoping for a hammock ever since he arrived in the islands. He got comfortable in the hammock and the rest of us went back to the beach. We spent the next few hours in and out of the water with frequent trips back to the bar for cold beer. About 4:15, we packed up and went to settle our tab. The bartender added up the bar tab and yelled the number over to the girl at the restaurant counter. She added that to our lunch bill and we paid up. Mike, our driver, came around the corner right on time for the ride back to the anchorage.
We dinghied back to the boat with plenty of time to relax and freshen up before our 7 PM dinner reservations. Capt. Tofer drove us in for dinner at 7:00. Our table was ready, and Capt. Tofer made sure the waitress knew he was our captain. The deal in a lot of the restaurants is that the captains meal is free when he brings his guests to a place. There are three places on the beach at the anchorage for dinner. The Anegada Reef Hotel, Neptune's, and Whistling Pines. We had eaten at Neptune's years ago. Whistling Pines had been recommended to Capt. Tofer by a friend, so that's where we chose to go. They also had dropped off a menu at the boat when we first arrived. We all had lobster except Ian, who had a steak. The lobster dinners were very good, although I can't honestly say it was any better than what we had at Neptune's years ago. Ian's steak was lacking unfortunately.
After dinner, we walked back to the dinghy dock to find our dinghy gone. Thank goodness I wasn't responsible for it tonight. The first thought is that it was stolen, but especially in a small place like Anegada, we didn't think that was likely. Our second thought was that somebody took it by mistake. There were a couple other dinghies still at the dock, and bare-boat charters are known for taking the wrong one since all the charter dinghies look alike. As we were standing there figuring out what to do, a guy pulled up in a dinghy to retrieve his guests. He said he saw a dinghy just floating by itself a hundred feet or so off the dock. It was quite dark, so we could not see that. He went out and towed it in to the dock, and it was ours! Apparently somebody must have untied it to move it or untangle their line from ours, and they didn't re-tie it securely. Capt. Tofer was sure he had tied it securely when we left it. Anyway, all's well that ends well. That would have been a major inconvenience to not have a dinghy for the rest of the trip.
Morning brought the expected early departure at 06:00. We again slept in for a couple hours and got up as we were approaching our destination for the day, Marina Cay. Marina Cay is a nice little island that is all a small resort. There is a Pusser's restaurant and bar, some rooms, a Pusser's store, and a fuel dock. After breakfast, we went ashore for a couple hours to browse the store and just relax on the beach. Around noon, we went back to the boat and Ian had lunch ready for us. After lunch, while the others read and relaxed aboard Sweetest Thing, Barb and I took the dinghy the mile or so to Trellis Bay to look for cruising friends. Ron & Kim on Island Siren are folks we have known via the radio while we were cruising, and kept up with on Facebook since returning to The States. They have been living aboard in Trellis Bay for a couple years now working. Ron teaches first-responders fire courses and Kim is working at Da Loose Mongoose bar/restaurant. We stopped and knocked on Island Siren in the anchorage and met Ron. We chatted a few minutes with him, and he told us Kim was at Da Loose Mongoose, and he was heading in for a beer in a few minutes. We went on in to the dock and found Kim. She knew we were in the area and might stop by, so it wasn't a total surprise to her. Ron joined us a few minutes later and we visited with them for an hour or so.
We got back to the boat in time to clean up and go back ashore to see Eric Stone play at Marina Cay. We have known Eric for a number of years, but haven't seen him in a while. We enjoyed his show and chatted with him during his break. We left the show about 7:30 and went back to Sweetest Thing for dinner. Tonight was steaks on the grill. Ian had a better handle on the grill performance this time and they were great.
We were underway early again, but today I got up shortly after the engines started. Capt. Tofer hadn't originally planned to leave at the crack of dawn today, but the large sport-fish boat on the mooring next to us was drifting within inches of us, so we just left rather than deal with him. Our destination today is Jost Van Dyke. This is where Foxy's and Corsair's are, as well as The Soggy Dollar Bar. We picked up a mooring in Great Harbor. Last time I was here, five years ago, Great Harbor was about the only BVI bay without any moorings. Unfortunately, the anchoring here sucks, so of all places you wish you had a mooring, this was it. There still aren't as many moorings as there could be, but at least there are some. We had breakfast, and took a little swim in the morning. A couple of the group snorkeled but didn't find much interesting to look at.
After lunch, we took the dinghy to shore. We made reservations for the six of us to have dinner at Foxy's and then set about trying to find a cab over the hill to White Sound where The Soggy Dollar Bar is. While trying to arrange a cab, we ran into Rick from Sophisticated Lady. He had four charter guests also wanting to go to White Bay. A maxi-taxi with some people already in it came by and we stopped him. He needed to take the people he had to the ferry dock and then would come back for the ten of us. He told us to walk down by Corsair's where he would pick us up. We walked to Corsair's and decided to grab a beer for the ride. I knew from previous visits that Corsair's is a Latitudes and Attitudes Harbor Hangout. We ate there five years ago and met Vinny the owner. Vinny was behind the bar and I ordered two beers. Of course he didn't remember me, and I wouldn't have expected him to. While he was getting the beers, I noticed a sign on a beam over my head from Old Minnewaska Road. Minnewaska and Mohonk were two resorts near where I grew up, which were built by brothers back in the 1800's. They had these cool handmade wooden signs all over the properties marking the trails and roads. Minnewaska burned down when I was a kid, but Mohonk is still a high-end resort that I have been to many times to visit, although I have never stayed there. I pointed at the sign and asked Vinny where he got it. He slyly looked at me and asked why I knew where it was from. I told him I grew up near there. He grinned and asked where. When I told him Wallkill, NY, he told me he grew up in Gardiner, NY about eight miles away. The taxi came back and was waiting, so I told Vinny I would come back and we would talk.
White Bay is not too far from Great Harbor, and could be considered walking distance. That would be except for the fact that it's over a hill that the Ford truck we were riding in had trouble climbing. We did get a great view of both Great Harbor and White Sound as we rode over the hill. I have never seen White Sound as crowded as it was today. It is the Thursday before Easter, and besides being a busy week for bare-boat charters, the Puerto Rican Navy is out in full force. The Puerto Rican Navy is what cruisers call the hundreds of small power boats that make the trip to the Virgins from Puerto Rico on holiday weekends. There were powerboats rafted seven and eight to a raft, with their sterns to the beach and music blaring. Surprisingly, as busy as it was, we got a prime table at Soggy Dollar with no trouble and didn't have to wait too long to get Painkillers from the bar. The Painkiller, is a drink made from dark rum (preferably Pusser's, but not here), pineapple and orange juices, and coconut milk, with fresh nutmeg grated on top. This drink allegedly originated here at the Soggy Dollar. The Soggy Dollar got it's name from people swimming to shore from their boats and then paying with wet money. To this day, they have a clothesline behind the bar to hang up wet money. We spent a couple hours drinking and watching the show. I forgot to bring my phone, so I couldn't call any friends and tell them to look for us on the webcam.
At 4:30, our taxi driver came back and picked up the ten of us to return to Great Harbor. He dropped us at Foxy's. Since we were not in a huge hurry, I left the group there and walked back to Corsair's to see Vinny. What I found was that they close for a couple hours before dinner and leave a yellow pad on the bar for writing down dinner reservations. I tore off a sheet of paper and left Vinny a note with my e-mail address. I'm sorry I didn't get to chat with him more. I went back and got the gang and we dinghied back to the boat. We cleaned up and relaxed a bit before heading back in to Foxy's for dinner. We were half an hour early for our reservation, but they were not packed, so they sat us immediately. We had a very nice dinner. My previous Foxy's dinners had been on Friday's when they do a BBQ of ribs & chicken. I had never ordered off the regular menu before, but they had a large selection, especially by Caribbean standards, and it was all good.
When we returned to the dinghy to go home, we found an older-then-me guy kneeling on the dock trying to untie a dinghy line. After our experience in Anegada, I didn't want somebody to come back to a missing dinghy, so I held our flashlight so the guy could see what he was doing and get his line undone without leaving the other tangled line loose. He seemed very surprised that I took the time to do this for him. I guess that's a difference between people you would encounter bare-boating vs. a full-time cruiser. (I should explain, so as not to offend some friends who regularly bare-boat charter, but are also real boaters. Most bare-boat charterers are not boat owners. Thus, many are pretty clueless in what they are doing. It can be truly scary to see some of the things these charterers do. There are exceptions of course.) We returned to Sweetest Thing for another great night's sleep in the comfort of a gently rocking boat.
Our 6 AM wake up engine came on as expected. We are returning to the USA today, sort of. Our first stop today is Trunk Bay, St. John. I got up shortly after we got underway. Since we are entering US waters, we aren't technically allowed to touch land until we have checked in with Customs & Immigration. As we were approaching Trunk Bay, we observed (through my stabilized binoculars) a Nation Park Service boat cruising the coast of St. John. We were expecting that they may be observing us, obviously coming from the BVI, and going to challenge us about stopping at Trunk Bay before checking in with Customs & Immigration. But, they went east to Francis Bay, turned around and went back towards Cruz Bay without paying any attention to us. We picked up a mooring in Trunk Bay. By then, everybody was up, and Ian had breakfast on it's way. We enjoyed a relaxed breakfast and decided not to go ashore or snorkel, keeping us totally legal.
We were taking our time because we want to spend a little shopping time in Cruz Bay, St. John, and things won't open until around 10:00. We dropped the mooring about 9:30 and motored around the corner to Cruz Bay. There is room for a couple boats to anchor right up near the Customs dock, and there was only one other boat there, so we dropped the hook . We got all our passports and dinghied to shore. We timed our arrival perfectly, between ferries from Roadtown, BVI. Once inside the Customs building, we were instructed to each see an Immigration officer, then give our passports to Capt. Tofer and he took care of Customs for all of us.
We all were going to go shopping, so Capt. Tofer left us with the handheld radio to call him when we were done. We meandered to one of the areas of shops and the ladies started browsing. By 10:30, the guys were tired of walking and we decided to go to Woody's for a beer, and the ladies could meet us there when they were done. So, the guys went the two blocks to Woody's, only to find they weren't open yet. We poked a head in the door which was ajar, and asked when they opened. The answer was 11:00. So we went back to the ladies. There was one particular t-shirt shop that Barb wanted to go to. She had been there five years ago. We could see the place, but due to construction, we couldn't see how to get in. After walking all the way around the block, we finally spotted the tiny sign indicating the detour. When we got to the store, we found a lady out front washing out a paint roller. She informed us that they were closed for painting today and we should come back tomorrow. Barb was bummed. The two specific things she wanted to do this week (Cooper Island and this store) were both strike outs. But it gets worse...
The girls were done shopping, and it was a little after 11:00, so we all decided to go to Woody's for a beer. When we got there, we were greeted by a young lady who asked how many we were. I said six, but that we weren't having lunch, just a couple beers. She frowned and apologized, explaining that since it was Good Friday, they couldn't sell alcohol until 4 PM. What kind of deal is that? Now we were all bummed out. Our foray into Cruz Bay had pretty much struck out. We knew there was plenty of beer on the boat, but the ice was gone. So, we stopped at the mini-mart on the way to the dock, grabbed two bags of ice, and called Tofer to pick us up. Fifteen minutes later we were sipping a cold one as Ian prepared lunch.
We left Cruz Bay and headed past Christmas Cove, and along the south shore of St. Thomas towards Charlotte Amalie. We went around to the west side of Water Island and picked up Sweetest Things regular mooring. This is where she is kept when not on charter, and where Capt. Tofer lives aboard his own boat with his family. Our plan is to spend the night here, and then tomorrow around noon, we'll go over to the marina at Crown Bay to depart. As we approached the mooring, Capt. Tofer's wife Becky was in their dinghy at the mooring waiting to hand us the two pennants. We got secure and Becky came aboard to meet us. Barb and I had read Capt. Tofer's personal blog about their cruising, before we got here, and after spending the week with him, we feel like we know the family, so it was nice to meet Becky.
After a while, Capt. Tofer took us to the beach. There was about a six-boat Puerto Rican Navy contingent here, with their music blasting of course. They also rent out the large pavilion on the beach and set up tents inside for the weekend. We found a bench to park our stuff on and got in the water. We spent a couple hours in the water and sitting on the beach. We also met one of Capt. Tofer's kids playing with some of the visiting kids. We knew who he was because a.) he wasn't Puerto Rican, and b.) Capt. Tofer had pointed him out before we left the boat. We said hi to him and he probably wondered who these people were and how did they know who he was?
After we returned to Sweetest Thing, Capt. Tofer's other three kids came over to say hi. So, we met the whole family except his oldest son who is 18 and living back in the States helping take care of Grandma and going to school. Ian prepared our last dinner of the charter. It was spaghetti with meat sauce and meatballs. It was excellent. I'm not sure what his spice combination in the meatballs was, but they were very tasty. We spent the evening relaxing and lamenting the fact that the trip was almost over. Capt. Tofer's 14 year old daughter came over and brought her book of drawings to show us. She is a very talented artist.
No engines waking us up this morning. Capt. Tofer had gone to Crown Bay before we got up and bought fresh bagels for us. We had bagels and fruit for breakfast. Our plan this morning is to perhaps snorkel some and then have lunch on the beach at Heidi's. Heidi's used to be an old food truck last time we were here. It has been upgraded to a custom-built golf cart based kitchen. She has excellent burgers as well as other stuff. As the morning went along, and we all started packing, the snorkeling plans were blown off since nobody wanted to pack wet bathing suits. Then mid-morning, Tofer found out from his kids that Heidi was not on the beach today. Probably because of the holiday. So, we made an alternative plan to have lunch at Tickle's at Crown Bay Marina, where Becky works.
About 11:15, we dropped the mooring and headed around the corner to Crown Bay Marina. Crown Bay Marina is quite busy, with some ferries going in and out, and a busy fuel dock. The plan is to go to the fuel dock, where Capt. Tofer will fuel the boat and fill the water tanks, and we will disembark. You have to contact the marina on the radio and get permission before you enter the marina since it is so busy. Capt. Tofer had already called on the phone to arrange for fuel, so they expected the call. We had to hover outside for about ten minutes while another large boat at the fuel dock finished up. Once we were at the fuel dock, we all unloaded our bags onto the dock. We said our goodbyes to Capt. Tofer, and Ian loaded all the baggage into a dock cart and pushed it up to the restaurant for us.
Becky was expecting us and sat us in her section. We had a great lunch, with of course, great service. Once it was time to go, Becky hooked us up with a taxi driver that they use all the time. He loaded our bags into the van and we headed into town. Barb and I are spending the night at Miller Manor again, and the rest of the gang is spending a few nights at the Marriot at Frenchman's Reef. Miller Manor was the first stop, and we said our goodbyes to Mickey & Karen and Steve & Debbie. We rang the bell and Harry came to let us in. There was a mountain of luggage in the lobby, and Harry explained that a whole family had rented all their rooms the night before and were checking out, but they all had gone to eat before getting picked up to go to the villa they had rented for two weeks. We heard later a pickup truck came and got all the luggage. Even though we were early, our room was ready. We went to the room, took showers, and took a nap. We have plans to meet old friends Floyd & Jennifer who used to live in Houston and now live here, for dinner.
A little after 4, we went to the bar for a couple drinks. Floyd &Jennifer aren't picking us up until 7:00. Harry & Marj enjoyed hearing how our week went and we chatted with them until 7. Floyd & Jennifer picked us up out front, and we went to a place called W!kked in Yacht Haven Grande. We had a nice dinner and caught up with Floyd & Jennifer, and got them caught up about mutual friends back home. We were back at Miller Manor about 10.
Today is our travel day, but our flight doesn't leave until 4:40 PM, so we have most of the day to play. We left our bags in the lobby of the hotel, and went to Bumpa's for breakfast. We have been here before and they have good breakfasts on the second floor patio with a nice view of the harbor. After breakfast we started looking through shops. The one other thing Barb wanted to do was get a new necklace for her Atocia coin pendant. The chain she has had since we got the pendants in 2001 has had several burrs on it and has been repaired twice already. Of course buying gold jewelry when gold is at an all time high price isn't the smartest thing to do, but we found a nice new chain that she likes much better. Once that was done, we still had several hours to kill. So, we went to a little bar in Royal Dane Mall, where we also have been before. We met Mark the bartender who had just started a week ago and now had been left to run the place by the owner. We were drinking beer, but Mark gave me a very good margarita that he made in error. Can't let good booze go to waste you know.
About 1:30, we reluctantly got a cab. We had him take us up the hill to Miller Manor, where we grabbed our bags, and then to the airport. When you leave St. Thomas, you go through US Customs & Immigration there, so you don't have to do it on the US end. We filled out our forms and passed through with no problems. Once through security and everything, we had almost two hours to kill. So we went, where else? To the bar. US Airways flies here from both Charlotte and Philadelphia. There is one flight per day except on Saturday and Sunday when there are two flights to each. There is just one gate podium, and you walk outside and up stairs to the planes. There was a US Airways plane there when we arrived, and the sign at the podium indicted it was the 2:45 flight to Charlotte. We are on the 4:40 to Charlotte. We could see the gate and the plane from the bar, and after an hour, that plane was still there, and the sign hadn't changed. A little after 4:00, we went out and sat by the gate. There was something unusual going on with this flight as it still hadn't left. Soon, another plane arrived, but it was a Airbus A321, not the Boeing 757 that our flight was supposed to be. So, I assumed it must be a Philadelphia flight. Then I saw police go to the original plane. Turns out that flight was supposed to be a 767, but they sent a 757. This resulted in some screwed up seat assignments. In one case, two people were on the plane with the same seat assignment, and they both refused to leave the plane. Thus the police. After more than a two-hour delay, the plane finally left. Meanwhile, they called our flight to board. Turns out we had an equipment change too, but the A321 and 757 are very similar sized, so we didn't have any problems. The whole process was slowed down though since the other flight was delayed and they only have so many ground people working. So, we left about 30 minutes late. Our flight was very smooth, and we had an hour and a half between flights in Charlotte, so we were fine. Our second flight, to Houston, was actually early and we got to the airport about 11:30. On the way home, we got near I-45 and I-610, and saw traffic coming to a stop. There were two unrelated accidents on I-45, one northbound and one southbound. Fortunately for us, the southbound one was off to the side and we were only delayed a minute or so as we crept by. The northbound side was closed entirely, with a large back-up. Traffic jams at midnight! Houston! We were home and asleep before 1 AM. Morning is going to come early.