See the Pictures
Wednesday May 26th
Today starts our trip to the Virgin Islands. We have a 6:45am departure from Houston, so we have to get up at 4:00. The trip itself was not a problem. We were flying first class, so it was easy to relax on the plane and slide into island mode. Our connection in Atlanta was almost on time, and we arrived in St. Thomas about 15 minutes after schedule. But hey, itís island time now. While awaiting our bags, we try to call our friends who have been in Cane Garden Bay for a week already. They took a ferry to St. Thomas today to meet us. Turns out they are already here and waiting for us at the hotel. After a long wait, we finally get our bags and look for a cab. We get mashed in a van with a total of 15 passengers and their luggage, and head to town. Fortunately for us, we are the first drop.
John and Pege are waiting for us in the lobby. After checking in, we head for the bar. Our first rum drinks! After one drink at the hotel bar, we head down the street to the Greenhouse. We are going to meet our friends Floyd and Jennifer who live here. We drink (2 for 1) while we wait for them to arrive. Poor souls Ė they have to work for a living, even though they live in Paradise. They got there a little bit later and we enjoyed catching up with them. After dinner, it was back to the hotel bar for a nightcap. There, we found the rest of our crew who had arrived a little after 8:00pm. We elected to just stay at the hotel bar and party. I was the first to give in and head to bed. After I left, some other friends from home arrived. They are getting a boat from The Moorings at the same time we are. From what I heard, the party went on for a while and included magic tricks from the bartender.
Thursday May 27th
Today, we will meet the boat and stay aboard at the dock overnight. Our crew consists of me, my girlfriend Barbara, John and Pege, their daughter Michele and her husband Terry, and Stale and Anna-Mae. We start the day by finding out that there is no water in the hotel at all. The front desk says they are working on it and it will back on soon. (Remember, this is island time.) While we wait, we go have breakfast at Bumpas, a small place we found last time we were here. The food is tasty, and we join some of the other crew there as well. After breakfast, we went back to the hotel and found there was water. Everybody got showers and we checked out about noon. The marina where we will get the boat, is only about half a mile from the hotel, but we have eight people and lots of luggage, so we call for a cab (van sized) to haul us over there. Itís pricey, but probably worth not killing anybody before the trip really begins.
I expected to have to just stash our luggage and go kill time somewhere, but we were immediately welcomed by the staff at CYOA, and showed to our boat. The boat is a 2002 Fountaine Pajot Bahaia 46 foot catamaran named Markís Promise. We each pick our cabins and start to unpack. After a couple hours, we get a visit from Dave who is going to give us our boat checkout. The ladies head for the Pueblo grocery store to provision, while the guys get a thorough going over of the boat to make sure we understand where everything is and how it all works. About the only thing Iím not familiar with, is the operation of the generator, and it is pretty straightforward.
The ladies arrive back at the marina in a van loaded with provisions. The driver is very helpful and unloads everything into marina carts for us. We pay him and tell him that we will be back about noon on Monday the7th.
After enjoying some afternoon libations, we go to dinner at a wonderful place in Frenchtown called Craig & Sallyís. Frenchtown has numerous restaurants, and the CYOA staff has suggested this one. The place is full of wine racks with what we learn later is over 4000 bottles. Although we were told this was an upscale place as far as dress, we explained that we were boaters, and they told us as long as we werenít absolutely tacky, it was ok. Shorts and nice t-shirts were accepted. The staff was extremely attentive, knowledgeable, and humorous. The menu here changes daily, depending on the availability of fresh ingredients, and the mood of the chef. There were a variety of dishes, from beef to lamb to seafood, to pasta. We all had something different, and every plate was clean enough to put back in the cabinet without washing when we were done. The bill was a little on the high side (which we knew going in), but it was worth every penny.
Back on the boat we settled in for our first night aboard. Being plugged into the shore power still, we enjoyed air-conditioning without the noise of the generator.
Friday May 28th
The journey begins. Most of us were up at the break of dawn. This seems to be the timing we settle into in the islands. Bed by 9:00 and up with the sun. I didnít think we would be allowed to leave before noon, but Dave stops by the boat about 8:30 to let us know that whenever we are ready, just give him a holler and heíll get us underway. Since we werenít expecting this, we are not ready to go yet. We take showers, and then have breakfast at the deli that is right next to CYOAís office. By the time we hail Dave, it is about 10:30. One thing we have noticed is that the saltwater pump for the galley sink is not working. Dave takes a look at it, and after about 30 minutes of proper diagnosis to no avail, he whacks it with the screwdriver handle in frustration. Which, of course, makes it start working.
We promptly get under way now. Dave is going to get us away from the dock, which is a little tricky given the winds and close proximity to other boats and mooring balls. Once clear of the docks, he gives me the wheel, and we hoist sails. He makes sure we know what weíre doing, and that all our questions have been answered. When weíre ready, he calls the chase dinghy from CYOA, which zips out to retrieve him. We are underway!
Our first planned stop is Lienster Bay on St. John. This means we will travel directly into the wind along the southeast coast of St. Thomas. We have the mainsail up, but itís just for show. We motor at about 6.5 knots along the coast. Once we turn around the east end of St. Thomas, we unfurl the headsail and cut the motors. We were only able to sail about 30 minutes as we went north between St. Thomas and St. John, but we were sailing. We had Hannaís Reef on the stereo and made one last call back to the States to Mary Diaz to tell her Jerry was playing in the Caribbean. Once we rounded the west end of St. John and turned east again, we had to drop the headsail and motor again. We picked up a mooring in Leinster Bay about 1:45. Once secure, to keep with tradition, I cut the motors, lost the hat and sunglasses and dove over the side. Capt. has to be the first in the water. Thatís one of the rules.
Our afternoon was spent snorkeling, relaxing, reading and napping. There were only six other boats here, which surprised me. There are about 20 moorings here, and on our last trip they were nearly all full. About dusk, we started making dinner. Ashore here is part of the National Park, so dinner will be cooked on the boat, as there are no restaurants. We are having baked potatoes, salad, and beef tenderloin grilled to perfection. Dinner tonight rivals last nightís, and when you factor in the limitations of cooking for eight on a boat, that is really something. Itís not long after dinner, that we start heading to bed one by one. Dawn will be at 6:00.
Saturday May 29th
This morning we are up at the crack of dawn. It just seems natural to get up when the light comes. After coffee, we head out. Our plan today is to clear into the BVI and then go to the BVI Music Festival at Cane Garden Bay. The trip across the Sir Francis Drake Channel from Leinster to Soperís Hole is a short one. We donít bother raising the sails. It takes about half an hour to motor across and enter Soperís Hole, also known as the West End of Tortola. We pick up one of the few moorings not occupied. We are hoping to hook up with our friends from home here, but we donít see them nor can I raise them on the radio. When dealing with BVI Immigration and Customs on a bareboat charter, only the captain has to check-in in person. So, Terry and I hop in the dinghy, with all the passports, the boatís papers, and cash for our cruising permit. Once at the office, we are the second people in line, but there is no official there. After a little wait, a lady shows up and gives us the necessary forms. There is one long form for the boat, which includes info about the boat and a complete crew list, including all the passport details. Then there is an Immigration form for each person, which has all the same passport info, plus some more. Then there is a Customs form for each family. Of course, I forgot to bring my glasses, so reading the forms was a challenge. Thank goodness Terry was there to read and help me fill out forms. One we had everything filled out, it was back to the counter, which now had about half a dozen people trying to check in or out, and again, no worker person. We waited, and after about ten minutes, two people showed up and started processing us. While they were friendly and helpful, they moved at a typical bureaucrats pace. After a lot of stamping and scribbling, and the exchange of $240, we were legal.
Back to the boat to free the crew. We loaded everybody in the dinghy and went to The Jolly Roger for breakfast. It was 11:00 by now, but they were still serving breakfast. After breakfast, we took the dinghy across the bay to the dinghy dock at Pusserís. While some of us had our first Painkillers, some went shopping. We still have not found our friends, but Pege ran into some Parrotheads that she knew from Atlanta. Itís a small world. While we were waiting on the shoppers, I watched a crew hauling a 65-foot catamaran out of the water for repairs. They had some type of sled under it, which was going to ride up rails on the shore. Several men were on deck handling lines and a couple of guys were in the water under the boat getting everything lined up right. Unfortunately it was time to go before I saw the project completed.
Back on the boat we took of for the short trip to Cane Garden Bay, on the north side of Tortola. This is just around the corner of the West End, so again, we simply motored. The BVI music festival is happening here, and is a three-day event. Cane Garden Bay has many moorings, and lots of room to anchor. We were greeted by our friends from Kemah, the Caldwellís, in their dinghy. They are on a 50-foot monohull from The Moorings, called No Grief. Unfortunately, there were no more moorings available, but we were able to anchor near our friends. I was a little uncertain about our swinging room, so we put out our second anchor to the side to keep us from possibly hitting another boat during the night. My crew earned their keep during this anchoring maneuver.
Once secure, it was time to head ashore and check out the music. Not that we had to be ashore to hear it. It was very loud, even though the main speakers were not pointed at the water. John and Pege had spent a week in Rhymerís hotel here before meeting us at the boat, and they have spent time here on previous trips. So, as we approach the beach bar, they are saying hi to several people they have gotten to know. We spent the afternoon walking around the beach, getting braids in our hair, shopping, drinking, and listening to the music. About 6:00, we went to Elmís Beach Bar for dinner. We had barbeque ribs, chicken, and fish. After dinner, a few of the crew were fading already, so we head back to the boat. We partied aboard for a while, but by 9:00 we all retired. Unfortunately, the music was still very loud, even with the sounds of the boatís generator and air conditioning running. Some slept ok, some didnít. The music went on until 4:00am.
Sunday May 30th
Of course, most of us were up at dawn despite the lack of sleep because of the music. A consensus was quickly arrived at to not stay here two days as originally planned. Instead, we would cross over to Jost Van Dyke and go to Foxyís. After a gourmet breakfast of eggs, bacon, and biscuits, we head out. Our friends were going to go to Foxyís too, but they were going to stop at Green Cay on the way and snorkel. We stopped on our way to Foxyís and had a couple of painkillers at the Soggy Dollar Bar, where the drink was invented. After an hour of so there, we headed on into Great Harbor, where Foxyís is. There are no moorings here, so we had to anchor again. On my last trip here I never did get anchored well, but this time we got a good hold on the second try.
Foxyís Wooden Boat Regatta is going on this weekend, so there are lots of neat old wooden boats here. Some are anchored already and some are still out on the water racing. We had gone out of our way to stay out of their way when we had come in. There is one large tall ship anchored here which is from Canada (see www.picton-castle.com). Terry and I took the dinghy and toured the anchorage looking at the boats. They range from old crummy looking ones, to several beautiful ones.
We have dinner reservations for 8:00 at Foxyís, so about 6:00 we head to shore. The awards ceremony for the regatta is just starting, so we hang around and watch. There are a lot of interesting characters here. Up on the podium, the speakers include Foxy and the governor. Once the ceremony is over, the crowd thins considerably. We still have a little time to kill, so Barb and I walk down the dirt street to see what else is here. There are several other bars and a restaurant or two. There is actually a Customs check-in place here, and a police station. On the way back, we run into our friend Walter from No Grief, and he is talking to a young man who is crew on the Picton Castle tall ship. Turns out they are on the last leg of a yearlong around the world trip, and he has been with them all the way. Itís a deal where you buy a place on the crew. He paid for this with his college money, and it sounds like he has gotten quite an education in the year.
We go to check in for dinner, and find that our reservation has magically not been made. Kind of odd, since I spelled the boat name to them when I made the reservation. They find us a table anyway, but it is right in front of the band, so we canít hear ourselves at all during dinner. Our dinner experience was mixed. The service was very slow, and after waiting about 45 minutes the waitress came to tell those who ordered the prime rib, that it was only available cooked medium, which was not what some wanted. On the other hand, a couple of us had tuna, which was excellent. Overall, that part of the Foxyís experience wasnít the best.
We went back to the boat and had a few drinks. After a little while our friends from Kemah came by on their dinghy and joined us for a drink. A couple of us ended up staying awake until midnight, and a race challenge for tomorrow has emerged.
Monday May 31st
As expected, we awoke at dawn, even after a relatively late night. The Caldwell boat shows no signs of life, so we donít have to rush to start our race. After relaxing in the cockpit with coffee, we have another wonderful breakfast of eggs, sausage and toast. By the time the other boat is ready, we are ready also. We both start to hoist our anchors. As we are hauling in our anchor, a new boat has just arrived at the anchorage and is slowly moving between our boat and the Caldwell boat. This makes me a little nervous, in case I need room to maneuver. The anchorage is half empty at this point, but apparently they want this exact spot, and they make no attempt to get out of our way.
We both immediately hoist our mainsails, as we are headed directly into the wind as we leave the anchorage anyway. Once clear of the other boats, we declare the race underway. Unfortunately, the wind is coming from more or less the direction we need to go. So, some tacks are going to be required for this event. The advantage the catamaran has in this race is speed. The Caldwellís are on a 50-foot monohull. The advantage they have is that since we are going to windward, a monohull can sail closer to the wind than a cat can. So their route to Virgin Gorda can be more direct than ours. On the first leg, they immediately jumped out to a lead, but we quickly caught them and passed them. It was quickly obvious though, that they had the directional advantage. We had agreed when we made this challenge, that the course would go around Guana Island, just to make it interesting. This gave further advantage to the monohull, since the winds in the pass between Guana and Tortola were light and variable coming off the bluff of Tortola. Remarkably, up to this point, after about two hours, we were only a small distance behind them. We had probably covered at least 50% more ground, but our speed kept us in the hunt. I was hoping that once we rounded Guana and turned east again towards Virgin Gorda, the course needed would match a course we could hold with the cat and not need to tack again. This would have allowed us to use our speed advantage to catch them. Unfortunately though, we were not able to maintain the course required, and were going well north of the rhumb line. We passed the Caldwell boat, but by then we were probably a mile further north than them. Eventually, frustration set in, and I conceded the race and started the motors. We dropped sail and motored directly into the wind and into the entrance of Gorda Sound. The Caldwell boat continued on its course quite a ways offshore and finally tacked and came to the entrance. The deal is we will have to buy the first round of drinks since we gave up.
Once inside Colquhoun Reef and in Gorda Sound, we head over to Leverick Bay to refill our water tanks. We have used about half of our water so far since we are not being particularly conservative. Normally on a sailboat, fresh water is treated like gold and used sparingly, but in this area there are several places to refill at a reasonable cost, so why make the crew grumpy (or smelly). A happy crew, especially the galley slaves, keeps the captain happy. At the dock at Leverick, while we refill the water, we also get rid of our trash, buy ice, and a quick run is made to the grocery store for a couple of items. Once done, itís across the bay to The Bitter End Yacht Club. The Caldwell boat has arrived while we were at Leverick, so we find them and pick up the mooring next to them.
Our original thoughts for the evening included joining the Caldwellís ashore and crashing the free rum-punch party that they thought was going to be put on by The Mooringís (their charter company). This party was expected to also be a briefing for the flotilla of Mooringís boat going to Anegada tomorrow. Walter went ashore first, and found out there was no rum-punch party, nor an organized flotilla going to Anegada. Given that information, and our tired crew, we decide to eat aboard the boat and make an early night. The captainís back is hurting more than usual, so I take about an hourís nap and a pharmaceutical painkiller (as opposed to a Pusserís Painkiller).
When I awake, the dinghy from the Caldwell boat is just pulling up to us. They have a serious leak in their dinghy, and apparently have no repair kit, nor does their air pump work. We get our dinghy repair kit out and attempt to repair the hole in their dinghy. Unfortunately the glue in our kit appears to be beyond its useful life, so the repair is not adequate. We can use our pump however, to blow them back up. For those unfamiliar with dinghies, there are three separate chambers in the tubes, so even with one flat, you donít sink, but you canít haul eight people around. So, with a still leaking tube, two of them head ashore to see if they can swap dinghies at the Mooring repair base here, and our dinghy driver takes the rest of their crew ashore in our dinghy for dinner.
Most of our crew goes down pretty early tonight. I guess all that fresh air, the work of tacking many times (for my able crew), and the sun have made for a tired bunch.
Tuesday June 1st
Today our goal is Anegada. Anegada is different from the rest of the islands around here because it is a coral reef, not a rock mountain. Therefore, you canít see it until youíre almost to it, and the surrounding waters are very shallow and full of coral heads. For this reason it has traditionally been off-limits for most charter boats. These days, with the advent of GPS, and some channel markers at the harbor, it is possible to get permission to visit here from some charter companies. We had found when we checked in, that since we had a second person onboard who was a qualified captain (Stale) that they would give us permission to visit Anegada. We were very glad to get this, so we werenít tempted to do it without permission. The permission includes signing additional paperwork which makes it clear that you are going outside the area where they can come help you in case of a breakdown, and that if you wreck the boat, you own it. No problem.
We plan to travel again with the Caldwellís to Anegada. They have gotten up early and moved their boat over to the Mooringís dock to try and get their dinghy leak repaired properly. We have had breakfast and are ready to go anytime. We see Walter and Wyatt from the other boat approaching us in a dinghy. Turns out they are going to be a while trying to make repairs, so they decided not to go to Anegada today. So we head out without them.
The course to Anegada is almost due north from Virgin Gorda, and the winds are very favorable for the way the cat sails. We set full sail and sit back to enjoy the trip. We pass several other boats headed towards Anegada, since we are traveling at over 8 knots. The trip takes under two hours since we are making such good time. We find the red outer channel marker right where itís supposed to be, and weíve been told that the outer green and the inner red have gone missing. We drop our sails, and motor in the channel. We see several boats sail all the way in, and we saw one take a more direct and more easterly course in, but I donít believe in tempting fate, especially when there is no insurance. There are less than 20 moorings here (the book says 12) and there are only two or three vacant. We pick up the one closest to shore, cut the motors, and congratulate one another on our successful conquering of the treacherous Anegada approach. Frankly, I donít get why itís such a big deal to get here. The anchorage is near the western end of the island. There is a temptation to sail directly for the buildings and the masts of boats already here. But, as long as you know to approach the channel from the west, and be in line with the markers as you enter, it's no problem. Sailing in 8 to 12 feet of water is the norm in Galveston Bay.
Now that weíre here, we decide to explore the island and do some snorkeling. We have already made reservations for lobster dinner at Neptuneís Treasure via the VHF radio. We hail them again and ask them to arrange for a taxi to take us to Loblolly Bay at the eastern end of the island. He says there is one already sitting there that will take us, so we pile in the dinghy and head to shore. We get into a diesel powered Mazda minivan that is well past its useful life, along with the old woman driver, and head down the road. The road starts as sand, but soon turns to concrete. The point where it turns to concrete is actually a roundabout under construction. Itís hard to tell exactly how long itís been under construction, since there are no obvious signs of recent work. We travel a number of miles on this narrow but nice concrete road, on the left, and at about thirty miles per hour in second or third gear. Iím not sure it the van wonít go faster, or if this is just her style of driving. We pass a few nicely kept little homes, several of which seem to double as shops of one sort or another. We pass the concrete mixing yard, with itís one very tired looking concrete truck that has a front tire that has not seen air inside in quite a while. This may answer my earlier construction timetable question. There are cows here that are allowed to roam free, including in the road. They are terribly skinny since there is not much grass for them to graze on.
A few miles from our destination, the road again turns to sand. Our speed doesnít change, and the road isnít too bad, although itís a little like a washboard. We see a pile of sand ahead in the right lane, and we laugh about why it was dumped there and there was no warning sign. We then notice several similar piles ahead in our lane. These are dump truck sized piles of sand, and we are heading right for them. We donít say anything, and I assume the driver is just having a little fun with us pretending not to see the sand. Well, turns out she really didnít see them. She swerves at the very last minute, but itís to late, and we blast into the right half of the first pile. Sand flies everywhere, over the top, in the open windows, in our mouths and hair, and we almost come to a dead stop. She asks if we are ok, and in between our laughter we tell her we are. She gets us rolling again, and now there is a very loud bang under the van each time we hit a bump. Itís sounds like something has been knocked loose. We make it the last few miles and arrive at The Big Bamboo at Loblolly Bay. We ask her how much we owe her for the ride, and she just asks us what time we want to go back. She will pick us up and weíll pay her for the whole thing then. As we got out, we noticed that the front of the van has sustained considerable damage from the sand pile strike, but it doesnít seem to concern the driver.
We walk a short distance to the beach and find it to be beautiful, with reefs just a few feet offshore for snorkeling. We don our gear and jump in. I quickly find that swimming with my fins on puts too much pressure on my back, so I barely move my feet but get to a nice little chunk of reef in just a minute. Itís small, but home to lots of colorful little fish that donít mind my presence. After just a short visit, I head back to shore and find a beach chair in the shade from which to watch the others. They explore for a while and return to shore, where we all agree that rum drinks at the Big Bamboo Bar are in order. We told our driver to be back at 5:00, so we have some time and enjoy a couple rounds of drinks.
Our driver is there promptly at 5:00, and our ride back is much less eventful. We joke with her and make sure she sees the westbound pile of sand before we repeat the earlier performance. When we reach Neptuneís Treasure, we pay her $8 per person, which seems quite reasonable considering it included entertainment and excitement. She thanks us "for being good" and we laugh. Weíre not sure if she means being good about not making a stink about the accident, or if normal tourists behave badly after an afternoon of beach bar visits. We dingy back to boat to clean up and relax before dinner.
Our dinner reservations are for 8:00, although Randall from Neptuneís told me they start serving about 7:00 and we could come whenever we were ready. We arrive about 7:30, and find our table on the edge of the water waiting for us. There are about 20 other diners already eating. We order a round of drinks from our waitress Sally, and enjoy the fact that we are here. We have all pre-ordered the lobster dinner, which Anegada is famous for. When dinner arrives, the lobsters are huge. What we are served has been cut in half and is pretty much just the good eating parts. The tails are a good eight inches long and a couple of inches wide. They are served with drawn butter, coleslaw, rice, and sautťed peppers and onions. While I wouldnít say the lobster was as good as the best Maine lobster, it was still excellent and again, the size was amazing. We took our time and relaxed and enjoyed being in a beautiful place.
Back on the boat with full stomachs and plenty of rum, we didnít last long and hit the sack. This anchorage can be a little rolly, since itís open to the east, protected only by reef. We bounce around more than previous nights, but since weíre on a mooring, Iím not concerned. There ended up being 42 boats in the anchorage overnight. So I guess itís not that big a secret anymore.
Wednesday June 2nd
We are going to have a full day today, so we rise early as usual, but we donít have a large breakfast, and we plan to be underway by 8:00. We have coffee and get off as planned. Again, a few boats leave just before us and sail out of the anchorage and outside the channel. We motor and follow the markers to be sure. Once clear of the outer marker, we hoist sails. Today, the wind is blowing a little more than yesterday. We have between 18 and 21 knots of wind. Contrary to what we were advised by Dave the CYOA guy, we do not take a reef in the mainsail. We have the wind right at 90 degrees, and we are flying. We hit our speed record so far Ė 9.2 knots - on this leg.
Our plan for the day is to sail to The Baths, on Virgin Gorda, then continue over to Trellis Bay for the night. Our ride from Anegada is fairly boisterous, since we have 20+ knots of wind and about four foot seas hitting us on the port beam. It takes a little more than two hours to get to the vicinity of the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbor. Our choices for visiting The Baths are to take a mooring just offshore from them, or get a slip in the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbor and take a taxi to The Baths. The moorings can be quite rolly, and landing the dinghy at the beach at The Baths can be exciting. So we decide to spring for the slip in the marina. I hail the marina on the radio and get some instructions for where to tie up, that seem to make perfect sense until I am inside the marina. Then I have no idea where to go. Fortunately, there is a guy on the dock whose job it is to point and help you tie up. We are quickly secure, with no damage and no injuries Ė that means it was a success.
We gather our snorkeling equipment and head for the taxi. While the rest of the group secures a taxi, I go to the office and pay for four hours in the slip. On the way, we notice that the local police seem to have a great interest in the Mooringís catamaran that came in right behind us and parked in the slip next to us. They donít care about us, so this is something specific to this boat.
The taxi is a typical island taxi, which means itís a pickup truck that has bench seats in the back and holds eight or ten people, depending on how friendly you are, and itís pink! We encounter no sand piles on this trip, as it is all nice concrete road through a fairly developed area. We are going by houses, businesses, and an elementary school. After a few miles, we arrive at The Baths National Park. Similar to the taxi at Anegada, the driver doesnít want to be paid now, but asks what time we want to be picked up. We tell him to be back at 2:00 and off he goes. The Baths are a huge group of granite boulders right on the shoreline. So there is beach, boulders, and reef all intermingled along the shoreline. The taxi deposits us at the top of the park, where there is a bar and restaurant. We first have to negotiate a trail down to the water. This trail is fairly steep and sandy, and at places so narrow that you have to wait for people coming the other way. Once at the bottom of this trail, there is The Poor Manís Bar, and a couple of local t-shirt and jewelry vendors. There is a small beach where we can access the reefs to snorkel, and a trail that goes through the boulders for quite a ways to another beach. This trail requires stooping low through pass-throughs, climbing small ladders, and negotiating water filled rooms. I started down this trail, but quickly found that it was more than I should undertake with my back hurting. I came to a point where I could see the water, so I thought it would be a good idea to just swim back to the beach where the rest of the gang was. So off I went, with no fins, or mask. It soon became apparent that it was further back to the beach than I estimated, and I was getting tired quickly. I swam close to the rocks, and found one that was just shallow enough to stand on and catch my breath. At this point I noticed that the key to the boat, which was on a float, was coming out of my swimsuit pocket. I put it in another pocket that had Velcro, and took off again. For a second time, I stopped on a rock to rest. While resting, I felt my pocket and found the key was gone. Just before I panicked, I saw it bobbing just a couple feet from me. I grabbed it and kept it in my hand this time. I continued my swim and finally came to the rest of my gang snorkeling just off the beach. I got ashore and thought about how stupid it was to swim around instead of backtrack on the trail. Time for a drink. While I have a painkiller, the rest of the gang gets tired of snorkeling and is ready to head up to the top. We gather our stuff and head to the top, where we will have enough time to have a nice lunch before the taxi shows up.
At the top is a beautiful restaurant that has a mostly indoor area, a more exposed patio, and a small swimming pool. When you are standing at the pool, you are overlooking the boulders and looking out to the west over the water and other islands in the distance. This may be the most picturesque view we have had yet. As we enter the patio area, a young woman sitting at a table by herself, asks us if we are from Kemah. We say we are, and then realize that Barb had a Kemah t-shirt on. Turns out she lives in the next town south of Kemah, and used to live on the same street in Clear Lake Shores that Pege and John live on now. It truly is a small world. We enjoy a nice lunch here, with a few more run drinks. At exactly 2:00, our taxi shows up. Again, Iím surprised they arenít on island time. He returns us to the marina and we pay him $6 per person for the rides.
We spend a little time in an area of shops, and then return to the boat. We notice that one of the policemen is asleep in the cockpit of the boat next to us, apparently waiting for the people to come back. Sure wish we knew what they did. We leave the marina and head over to Trellis Bay for the night.
Trellis Bay is only about 40 minutes from here, so we just motor over. I donít want to over exert my crew with the sail handling. I donít think I mentioned, but hoisting the mainsail on this boat is quite a job for two men. Trellis Bay is on Beef Island, which is just off the eastern end of Tortola. Itís where the Tortola airport is, so we hear the planes coming and going until late in the evening. We arrive at Trellis and pick up a mooring ball. We make reservations via the VHF at The Last Resort for dinner. A few of the crew take a dinghy ride to shore to dump garbage, visit the store, and pay our mooring fee. A few of us nap before dinner. About 7:15, we head to shore for dinner. The Last Resort is an English establishment, famous for itís beer-drinking donkey named Vanilla, and singing dog. Well, the beer-drinking donkey died a couple of years ago, presumably from over drinking, and the dog didnít sing tonight. We had read reports that the food here was an English buffet, and not very good, but we found that they have revamped their menu. The only "English" food was bangers and mash, and then there was a nice selection of other things. We had an excellent dinner and a great time. The donkey has been replaced with one named Butter, who only gets carrots instead of beer. There was a young guy from England singing and he had lots of cute ditties in addition to cover songs we all knew. There was a cat roaming around that befriended me when I pet him and gave him a tiny bite of my tuna. We stayed here until after 10:00 and had a great time. Back at the boat, we quickly crashed.
Thursday June 3rd
We had a fairly rolly night again last night. Even though we are in a very protected bay, the wind blew hard all night and we sailed back and forth on the mooring. We awoke early as usual, although a couple of us, myself included went back to bed for an hour or so before breakfast. Our breakfast today is a casserole made up of breakfast leftovers from the last few days. While this may sound disgusting to some, it is excellent. We are a little late with breakfast, because the LP gas accidentally got turned off when the coffee was done, so the oven wasnít really on for the hour we thought it was. No foul though, since we are in no hurry today. We enjoy our breakfast and immediately head for stop one.
Marina Cay is just across a little straight of water, and they have water, ice, and a Pusserís Bar to get Painkillers and our flag certificateís signed. (As with last year, we are doing the Pusserís triangle, which means when you drink Painkillers in three different Pusserís bars, you get a pennant for your flag line.) We get there after a few minutes of motoring, and find the dock full. We start to circle, waiting for somebodyís departure. There is another boat from The Moorings circling also. After a bit, the dockhand waves to us to come in on the backside of the dock. I hadnít realized there was a backside to the dock, but this worked great. Shortly after that, the big catamaran on the main dock face left, and we helped the Mooringís boat get docked. We started chatting with them, and it turned out they were from Houston too. We filled our water tanks while the ladies went to get the drinks and certificates signed. We are back underway in about 30 minutes.
The first stop today is Cooper Island. This will just be a short stop for more rum drinks at the cool beach bar. The neat thing we found out last trip about this bar, is that you canít order frozen drinks before 6:00pm. We pondered the reason for this back then, but came to find out it is because all their electricity comes from an on-island generator that they donít run until 6:00. We spend about an hour here and have a couple of drinks, and then head off for the next stop.
Our final destination today is Peter Island. None of us have ever been here before on previous journeys. Peter Island is home to an exclusive resort on the north side (see www.peterisland.com). In the small bay called Spratt Bay, where the resort is headquartered, there are only six moorings, and about 15 slips at a new dock. We are lucky enough to pick up a mooring, and by dark, four of the six are taken. The mooring fee is $45, as opposed to the normal $25, but this includes use of the resortís grounds, showers, garbage pickup, etc. After checking in at the front desk and paying the mooring fee, we get the group and head for the beach bar which is over the hill and actually fronts Deadmanís Bay, which is the next bay east from where we are moored. Four of us elect to walk the trail, although we get picked up by a resort golf cart and ride in comfort, and four elect to go around the point in the dinghy. On the beach is a very nice restaurant and bar. There are also hammocks on the beach, and plenty of chairs, etc. A little further down is a place that rents wind surfing boards, small Sunfish sailboats, and Hobie Catís. It is very entertaining to sit at a table just off the beach, drinking our rum drinks and watching other guests try to master the above mentioned water toys. We stay here for an hour or more.
For the return trip, six of elect to take the golf cart route, while Michele and Terry take the dinghy. The golf cart crowd heads down the trail to a waiting cart, buzzes over the hill to the marina, and awaits our dinghy to arrive to get us back to our boat. Meanwhile, the dinghy pair is having a little trouble. The first problem was getting the dinghy away from the beach. As they tried to push the dinghy to deep enough water to start the motor, a wave swamped them from behind. This wave also dislodged their grip on their rum-drinks-to-go. So, once away from the breaking waves, they used their now empty cups to bail the dinghy. But the adventure wasnít over. Apparently in the bailing and flailing to board the dinghy, the fuel line became disconnected from the tank. So, once underway, everything was fine until the engine died just off the rocks that form the point separating the two bays. While Michele went for the oars, Terry figured out what was wrong, and the problem was corrected. Those of us waiting at the dinghy dock were getting a little concerned about how long they were taking, and we were relieved to finally see them appear in the marina.
Our dinner tonight is another meal, which was cooked at home and frozen for the trip here. We enjoy another fine meal on the boat and then await the rise of the full moon. There has been some debate amongst the crew, whether the full moon is really tonight or last night, but both were beautiful and were captured by our paparazzi.
Friday June 4th
The night on the mooring in Spratt Bay on Peter Island was interesting. For starters, there are six mooring balls very close together. It was very windy, and because we are in a very small bay surrounded on three sides by hills, the winds swirl from all directions. This means we donít hang off the mooring as usual, but rather swing around in complete circles and cross up over the mooring ball. Since all the boats donít swing in unison, there were times when we would be close enough to another boat to pass something across had we wanted to. While this made me quite nervous, it appeared there was just enough room that we shouldnít touch. Since the boat would sometimes float up over the mooring ball and then turn around, the mooring ball would sometimes be pulled under one of the hulls, which made a noise that made me very nervous because I didnít realize what it was. Several times in the night I got up to look because I heard that noise and thought we had touched another boat. Each time, the other boats we not close to us, and I was puzzled about the sound. It wasnít until morning that some of the crew mentioned what they thought the noise was, and then we witnessed it happen once before we left. The captain did not have a good nightís sleep this night.
Today there is no rush to get going. Our destination today is The Bight on Norman Island, and itís only about a five-mile trip. We take our time enjoying coffee, and a breakfast of scrambled eggs and left over pulled pork rolled up in tortillas. A little after 10:00, we bid Peter Island goodbye. We are going such a short way, and itís dead downwind, so we just motor again. As luck would have it, we time our departure perfectly with the arrival of a heavy shower. This shower came from the southeast, so we were not able to see it approaching while we were in the confines of Spratt Bay. Most of the crew heads for the comfort of the cabin as we motor through the driving rain. As is the norm here, the shower lasts no more than ten minutes and it is past us. This also proves to be the only rain on the whole trip that was more than a few minutes of sprinkle.
We arrive at The Bight and find surprisingly few boats here. This is quite a large anchorage, with lots of moorings and perhaps only eight are taken. We get the boat secured, and plans are made on how to while away the afternoon. The captain decides a nap is in order since I had almost no sleep overnight. Several folks go ashore and visit the gift shop at Pirates, and befriend a local fisherman who gives them some sardines to cook for lunch. I should mention that Stale and Anna-Mae are Norwegian, so sardines for lunch is a good thing. The rest of the afternoon is spent relaxing, reading, and just soaking in the scenery.
A mega-yacht pulls in at one point, and a small launch is dispatched with a driver, a couple, and some guys who look like security guards. They go to The Willy T. apparently for lunch. A short while later, they return to the yacht and it goes away. We are left wondering if it was somebody famous.
The Bight is the home of the William Thornton, (a.k.a. The Willy T.), and Pirates Restaurant. On our 2002 visit, The Willy T. was the sight of the famous dinghy-starting incident where my elbow hit Barb in the forehead as I started the motor and knocked her out. For this reason, she never enters the dinghy now unless the motor is already running. In 2002, we had drinks at The Willy T. and dinner at Pirates. On this trip, we plan to have drinks and dinner on The Willy T. We have a 7:00pm dinner reservation, so we head over about 6:00. The crowd is slim compared to our previous visit. While we are at the bar, we see the mega yacht coming back across the channel from Roadtown, and it appears to go into the next bay west of us. A short time later, we see the launch from the yacht approaching, this time with just the driver. He ties up and comes to the bar. He is apparently on a cigarette run, although itís not clear if itís for himself or the guests on the yacht. He buys three packs, and orders a shot for himself and the bartender. We strike up a conversation with him and find out that the boat is from West Palm Beach, FL. He is from South Africa and has been working on the boat for a year. We ask him who the people are, and he just says they are guests of the owners. He claims to not even really know whom they are and that he just does his job. Iím sure part of his job is maintaining the privacy of the people on the yacht.
One of the traditions of The Willy T. is that if you jump naked into the water from the upper deck, you get a t-shirt that says "I came, I saw, I jumped". We joke with the bartender about doing it and he assures us that we would be surprised at some of the people who have. Another Willy T tradition is the placement of temporary tattoos. The bartender gets to install them at the location of your choice. Our group ends up with one on a breast and two on upper butt cheeks. All three were on the ladies, of course.
At 7:00, we go to the restaurant end of the boat, place our dinner orders and pick a table. The seating is at picnic tables, and there is probably room to seat fifty of sixty people at a time. The kitchen is right next to us, at the bow of the boat and is pretty much open to view. There are three people doing all the food prep and delivery. We have a couple of people having steak, and couple of tunaís, a couple of prawns, and a chicken roti. Everybody enjoys their meals, and we also have fun with some of the neighboring tables of people, who are from Atlanta. After dinner, we head back to the bar end of the ship. There is more of a crowd now, both in the eating area and in the bar. The dinghy dock is full, with a couple on dinghies double-parked.
I have had enough rum to think it would be a good idea to jump off the ship naked, and Iím disappointed to find out that only girls get rewarded with the t-shirt. So, the honors for our group are left to Michele. She takes the dive and is met at the ladder on the dinghy dock by Terry with her clothes. There is some initial resistance from the bartender (a girl now, not the guy we started with) about the validity of this, since we didnít announce our intentions to her first. I guess a wet person with dry clothes on, and several peopleís testimony isnít enough evidence. After a conversation with the original bartender, who was aware we had been contemplating it, the t-shirt was presented.
After several more drinks, we dinghied back to the boat for a nightcap before bed. There was more contemplation of jumping off boats naked, but it didnít happen. Hopefully the captain will sleep better tonight.
Saturday June 5th
Today should be a pretty lazy day. We are not going very far today, so there is no need to rush. We have a leisurely breakfast of French toast, and leave the mooring sometime after 10:00. We motor out of the bay and just around the corner to The Caves, which is supposed to be excellent snorkeling. There are three or four National Park day buoys here for snorkelers, but they are taken so we have to go a little past The Caves and pick up a regular mooring further in the bay. Those snorkeling get ready to go. Three take the dinghy, while one elects to swim. There is a place near the entrance to the caves where you can tie dinghies to a line while you snorkel. The rest of us relax on the boat reading or daydreaming. After about an hour, we see two of our snorkelers making their way back towards the boat in the water. And then the dinghy is coming back with just Terry driving. He gets to the boat and asks if we have seen Stale. We have not, and he is not one of the two coming our way in the water. Terry goes back and looks again, but comes back again without having seen him. A bit concerned, I join Terry in the dinghy and we go for another look. Once over there I realize how hard it can be to spot a snokeler because all you have to go on is the color of their snorkel and their butt. We do quickly locate him and get his attention. We pick him up in the dinghy and head back to the boat.
With all aboard, we head for our destination for the day, which is Hurricane Hole on St. John. It is only about five miles and dead downwind again, so we motor once more. Crossing between Norman Island and St. John, the swell of the sea is quite large. We are going with the swell, so it isnít all that uncomfortable, but itís enough to make the autopilot fairly useless, so I hand steer us to the other side. Hurricane Hole is one of several legs of a large bay on the southeast side of St. John. We proceed further and further into the bay and still can feel quite a swell, but it is much less than in the open water. It is deceiving that the bay keeps going, as it splits off into several small fingers near the end. We go to the furthest finger in and are surprised to see National Park Service mooring balls here. We go to the ball furthest in the bay and tie up. We are the only boat in here, and as soon as we cut the engines, we can hear a multitude of birds and critters on the shore. The shore is lined with mangroves all the way around. This is called Hurricane Hole because it would be an excellent place to hide a boat during a hurricane and hope it would be protected. While it had been very windy out on the water, in this area, there is just enough breeze to keep it comfortable.
The mooring balls here are all marked ĎDay Use Onlyí, which leaves us wondering why. Are they not to be trusted for overnight mooring because they are less strong, or are you not supposed to stay overnight at all? Since we are the only boat here, and nobody hassles us all afternoon, we elect to stay. After we got home to Texas, I sent an email to the NPS, and asked about this. Turns out, no anchoring is allowed in Hurricane Hole anymore, and the day use only deal is so that boats donít park overnight and hog the moorings, thus giving more boaters a chance to enjoy this place. I donít feel too guilty about staying, since we never saw another boat the whole time we were there, but it leaves me wondering how you are supposed to know all the little rules if you are traveling around various places in the world. In this case, I could have checked with the NPS before we left, but what about the day when Iím bouncing around the Caribbean in my own boat? How do find out all the little local rules before you violate them?
The afternoon is spent snorkeling, reading, and napping. This brisk pace is just wearing us all out. We see and hear lots of birds in the brush, we can hear goats but never spot them, and the snorkelers saw several interesting water critters. We have a lone seagull that likes to sit on the dinghy and watch us, although he doesnít want the bread we offered him. He stays for a couple of hours and just watches us.
As the sun goes down, we enjoy another great dinner onboard. We also have set the goal of consuming all the adult beverages that we still have before Monday noon, although we donít really do much damage this evening. Everybody turns in relatively early. I think we just barely made 9:00pm.
Sunday June 6th
We had two rain showers overnight last night. It is very nice to not have to run through the cabin closing hatches when the showers come and then getting all stuffy inside. But, that comes with the trade-off of hearing the generator running. Personally, I have slept very poorly for most of the trip, but I donít think it is the generator that is keeping me awake. I think the responsibility of being the captain puts pressure on me that I donít even realize myself at the time. I have noticed this before, when I have guests out on my own boat.
Today is another multiple stop day, so we get going fairly early. Our first leg is to travel west around the southern shore of St. John and stop at Cruz Bay to check-in and shop. The wind is dead behind us and there is a very large swell running, so we elect to motor the hour or so to Cruz Bay. We actually pass Cruz Bay and pick up a mooring right around Lind Pt. from there, since pleasure boats are not allowed in Cruz Bay itself. We all pile in the dinghy with our passports and head back to Customs and Immigration. The trip through US Customs and Immigration is not as time consuming as going into the BVI. There is only one form that I have to fill out, and itís simpler than the British one. Each person checks in with Immigration, and I do all the work with Customs. The whole process takes about 10 minutes, and we are done.
We walk into the shopping area and visit several shops. Of course there are beers and rum drinks acquired along the way too. We were told to visit the Fishtrap restaurant where the brother of the CYOA guy who checked us out works, but we donít find it. We do have an excellent lunch at a restaurant called the Mongoose. There are two parrots in a cage a few feet from our table. One of them squawks like John & Pegeís bird does sometimes, so John goes over and has a heart to heart talk with it about the merits of being quiet. There also are a few cats here that lounge around, oblivious to the customers. One lets me pet him, but Iím not giving up any food this time.
We return to the boat and head to our stop for the night, Maho Bay. Maho is on the north shore of St. John, about midway in the east-west length of the island. This is the same place where we spent our last night on our last trip. As we enter the bay, there is a very large (150 foot) motor yacht anchored outside the mooring field. I go a little out of my way to pass by so we can get a look, although we were never within 500 feet of the big boat. As we approached, five crewmen appeared on two decks to make sure we werenít coming to close. As soon as we are clearly past, they disappear back inside.
We picked up a mooring close to shore. Last year this proved to be an error, as it was a windless night and we got bugs. This time is was good, as we had a nice breeze all night and no bugs at all. I immediately went down for a nap, while others went in the water, or read, or napped, or took pictures. Our dinner tonight is a buffet of leftovers from previous nights. As usual, we have over provisioned and we have plenty of food and drink to finish up. There is talk of keeping the final-night skinny-dipping tradition alive, but in the end, we all fade early.
Monday June 7th
Our last day. We have set 8:00am as the planned departure time. Weíre all up in time, but breakfast is still in the oven at 8:00. Since breakfast is a casserole thing, we decide we can get underway and eat as we go. We will be motoring for a while anyway, so eating underway shouldnít be a problem. We drop the mooring and I swing wider than we need to just so I can pass by the big boat again and see if I get the same security reaction as yesterday. Today, there is no reaction to our presence, although again, I didnít come real close.
We would love to sail on our final day, but given the wind direction, wind speed, and the fact that for the first time in ten days we have a deadline, we end up motoring all the way. We pass by Johnson Reef, Lind Pt., Cruz Bay, through the islands at the east end of St. Thomas, and along the southern shore of St. Thomas to Charlotte Amalie Harbor. Once on the south side of St. Thomas, we again have about a four-foot swell from astern, so the autopilot has a little trouble keeping us on course. Over the long haul it is doing fine, but we take some major twists and turns along the way. Eventually, I hand steer just to feel better about being on course.
It takes us about two hours to make the trip. We have to stop at the fuel dock at the Crown Bay Marina and fill the diesel before we return the boat. We dock there and put about 65 gallons of fuel in. The price is under $2.00 per gallon, so Iím happy. I notice a sign at the fuel dock desk that says on Tuesdayís fuel is discounted five cents. Itís tempting to keep the boat another day.
Once away from the fuel dock, we contact CYOA on the VHF. As we motor around the corner to their marina, they send Dave out via dinghy to meet us. We have to raise the sails so they can inspect them before we dock. Much to my crewís delight, Dave does the work of hoisting the sails. I know they were looking forward to hoisting that heavy mainsail one more time, but they didnít put up a fuss when Dave did it. Of course it was a little embarrassing that Dave did it by himself when it had taken both Stale and Terry to do it when we raised it. Once the sail check was complete, Dave took the helm. My duties as captain were over and I was demoted to line handler. It was just as well, because Dave put the boat in a slip that I would have guessed was impossible. Twin engines are a wonderful thing. We had a little trouble once we were abeam the wind, but we got her tied up and secure.
Dave told us to relax and get showers ashore if we wished, while he inspected the boat and completed the inbound checklist. I was the only one who wanted to shower ashore, so I took care of that while the rest of the gang took garbage ashore and started moving luggage off the boat to the dock. Dave went over the rest of the check-in with me and everything was good. Nobody wanted to leave the cockpit, but we had to go.
The van driver who brought the ladies and provisions from the grocery store was at the dock waiting for us as promised. We had two for the airport, two for the Holiday Inn for one more night, and four for the ferry back to Tortola for two more nights. He carefully loaded the luggage in the right order and then loaded us in the right order. The ferry dock was first, where we bid goodbye to John, Pege, Stale, and Anna-Mae. They are going back to Rhymerís at Cane Garden Bay for another couple of days. We then went down the street and dropped Terry & Michele at the Holiday Inn. They couldnít get a flight until tomorrow, so they will spend the night here. Then it was off to the airport with Barb and I. Our flight doesnít leave until 4:40, but we were told to allow three hours for security. I have noticed several flags at half-mast along the way, and I ask the driver why this is so. He tells us that President Reagan died on Saturday. We had no idea. Itís amazing how easy it is to loose touch when youíre out there. Once we are at the airport, we are sure to get the drivers card so we can call him next time. We have compensated him very well, but he worked his butt off for us, and it was more like having an old friend drive you around instead of a taxi.
In the airport, we run into Wayne and Felicia, the Atlanta Parrotheads whom we had met in Soperís Hole last week. They are on the same flight we are on. Our flight is pretty much as planned. We are in first class, and we leave St. Thomas right about on time. Atlanta had some bad weather earlier, so the whole Delta system was slowed down some. We were held in the air for a while, and when we landed, we saw that our flight to Houston was also delayed almost two hours. So, we ended up not getting home until about 2:00am.
The trip was wonderful. We took four couples, who were already close friends and family, put them in a small space for ten days, and we didnít kill each other, or loose any friendships. The rolls on the boat fell into who did what best. The ladies primarily ran the galley and did an excellent job. (I gained eight pounds on the trip.) The guys did line handling and mooring and docking duties. I felt a little guilty about not doing more of the physical work and just driving, but due to my back injury, I wouldnít have been able to do the heavy work. I found this very frustrating, as I donít like being limited. Thanks to all of them for understanding, and they did a great job.
Back in the real world, I am even more anxious to get my boat ready to go make this a permanent lifestyle. I have set a soft target of leaving in a year or so. Some of that is based on finishing preparations on the boat, and some are personal and financial considerations. I have told the rest of the crew that even if I take off, they can either visit me along the way, or Iíll meet them and play Captain if they absorb my part of the charter fee.
Last minute update before posting Ė I visited my back doctor on the Friday after our return, and he told me to take off the brace and resume normal activities. I can expect my back to be sore for a while until my lower back and abdomen muscles get used to not having the brace on. So, Iím free to install all the equipment I have purchased to get my boat ready to cruise. Iíll get that all done in the next couple of months, then use the Harvest Moon Regatta in October as a shake down cruise.