Archive for March, 2012

Night Moves

March 31, 2012

Anegada Passage

I’m not sure how the term “beating to windward” evolved, but I suspect it was because you can take a beating trying to sail into the wind and waves.

This blog entry starts with us in the Virgin Islands having to work to windward across the Anegada Passage to reach St Martin.  First we had to fix some problems with the boat, then we wanted a weather window where the wind would be enough from the north that we could sail to St Martin.  We watched the weather develop and it looked like if we worked out way north around Virgin Gorda we could gain an angle to the wind sufficient to sail to St Martin.  It wasn’t perfect, but we also had to consider when our nephew, Richard, could fly home from the various islands we might visit.

We had overnighted at Marina Cay in the British Virgin Islands and early the next morning we worked our way up around the north side of Virgin Gorda.  We ducked into Gorda Sound to put the dinghy on deck for the crossing to St Martin.

You can sail most of the eastern Caribbean by leaving early in the morning and arriving in the afternoon, which makes for pretty easy trips.  But the distance to St Martin is such that we would be hard pressed to do it in a day, so the typical approach is to start in the afternoon, sail overnight, and arrive around dawn the next morning.  We had the dinghy on deck by noon.  We had a good sail up for the second half of the trip to Virgin Gorda, so we elected to leave right away and hopefully tack a bit north to give us a better wind angle for the trip to St Martin.  As luck would have it the wind dropped and we fought to make progress against the waves and current.  We never quite achieved the wind angle we needed, so we started the engine and motored towards St Martin.

We had to head almost directly into the waves.  They weren’t very big – just enough to bounce the boat around.  This would be annoying during the day, but it’s very disturbing in the dark.  Both Jackie and Richard got seasick and I wasn’t quite as settled as on other passages.  We did get a few hours of sailing in, but then the wind shifted and died.  The trip may very well be the most uncomfortable we have experienced.  We had hoped for a good crossing so that Richard (and we) would have a fun passage, so we felt very bad that it was so miserable.  To his credit, Richard stayed upbeat the whole time.  We wouldn’t hesitate to have him on a passage again.

We approached Marigot Bay, St Martin, as the eastern sky began to lighten.  We had never come in the French side before, so I was feeling my way in as the sun began to light the bay.  I noticed a ketch off to our right and moments later I heard Mark on Liahona hail us.  We knew they planned to cross the same night as us, but their boat is so much faster than Compass Rose, that they waited until well into the night before leaving the Virgin Islands.

We both wandered around the bay waiting for the bridge to open.  We then followed Liahona around to the NW part of the lagoon to a nice anchorage away from the crush of cruising boats farther east in the lagoon.  There was a hotel that let us beach our dingies and provided internet access, a bakery where we got croissants for breakfast and crepes for lunch. Just down the road were a pharmacy and a grocery store, so we could get most of what we needed pretty easily.

Looking out into our anchorage in Simpson Bay Lagoon, St. Martin

St Martin

We looked at St Martin mostly as a stepping stone to the rest of the Leeward Islands so we didn’t plan to stay too long.  Many of our friends were treating it the same way.  Sailacious, Here Today, and Nirvana were already there, but left within a couple days.  Persephone arrived a few days after we did, but planned to only stay a week or so.  We expected Chimayo a day or so after we would leave.  Only Liahona seemed content to stay a little longer.

Hanging out with Willie and Mark from Liahona

Dave and Lori anchor Persephone in the rain - we get to do this later in Antigua

This was also the jumping off point for Richard.  We dinghied across the bay to a restaurant for lunch, then we walked across the street to the airport.  Some things can be so much easier in the islands.

Speaking of jumping off...while out for a walk we came across some boys doing backflips off the French bridge

While in St Martin we met up with Jon and Carol, formerly of Aldebaran.  We hadn’t seen them since we were anchored together in Bequia last spring.  They had just sold their boat and were living in an apartment for a few weeks before flying back to the US.  We got together a couple times, once to go the the Friday night party at Barnacles and again to go to Sunset Beach for an afternoon.

Jon and Carol at Barnacles

You might think that the big Sunset Beach attraction is the sunset, but that’s not quite it.  The beach is at the west end of the airport runway.  The planes typically takeoff and land going west to east.  When a jet takes off people stand by the airport fence and get blasted by the engines – sandblasted if there is much sand on the road.  The runway is a bit short so planes landing come very low over the beach so they can use as much runway as possible.  The Sunset Beach Bar even posts the schedule of major airline arrivals so you know when to watch for the planes.

Can you imagine getting this close to a runway in the US?

We saw planes come in even lower than this

On to Antigua

After about a week we were ready to go.  Our next stop was Antigua.  It was too far to go in a day, so again we were faced with an overnight passage.  We watched the weather and picked what looked like a pretty good forecast.  The seas were supposed to build the day after we planned to leave, so we wanted to be in just after dawn.  We caught the 11:00 AM bridge opening and left St Martin.  It was a beautiful day with calm seas, but light wind.  We motored about three hours to St. Barts and then the wind filled in.  It was not quite as north as we expected, but it worked.  The trip was pretty uneventful. The wind picked up a little as did the seas, but never enough to cause a real problem, although it just bumpy enough that it was a bit hard to get to sleep. 

Motoring the flat seas between St Martin and St Barts. There was a string of these fishing floats the whole way between these two islands

Compass Rose really flew and we soon realized that we would reach Antigua in the wee hours of the morning.  We already had the main down so we reefed down the jib and mizzen to slow the boat down.  Still we were off Jolly Harbor on the west side of the island at about 4 AM.  Jackie was asleep, so I just kept sailing down the island.  We turned the corner which brought the wind too far forward to sail, so we dropped the sails and motored the rest of the way to Falmouth Harbor.

We went through some rain, but it cleared just before we entered the harbor.  We had never been here before and there are a couple shallow areas, so we carefully felt our way around.  We saw some dark clouds appear over the hills, so we hurridly found a spot and dropped the anchor as the rain started.  We were a bit close to another boat, so we moved after the rain let up.

We got settled and then met Steve and Janice from Sailacious at the dinghy dock.  They walked us over to customs in English Harbor and showed us around a little.  Then it was back to the boat where we relaxed and caught up on the sleep we missed on the passage down.  It really felt good to be here, because we shouldn’t have any more overnights between here and Grenada and we should be able to avoid passages to weather as well.

Next: the Antigua-Barbuda experience

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St. John – the Lost Photos

March 24, 2012

The last blog entry was pretty recent, so make sure you didn’t miss it.  It ended with “Next: St. Martin”.  Well, we found some pictures from Francis Bay, St. John that we really wanted to post, so you will have to wait for the St. Martin installment.

We took one last walk around the salt marsh before we left.  When we got there in December, the marsh was completely full with water all the way into the mangroves.  Winter is the dry season and the marsh is quickly turning into a mud flat.

Sea of mud - you can see all the little footprints from the wading birds

This yellowlegs must be a juvenile - running around in the mud with no boots on

We got a good look at some little crabs.  Usually the hide in their holes when we approach, but that day they all stayed out.

This crab is really much smaller than he looks in the picture

Even the crabs found the mud to be a challenge

We saw other cool things on the walk, like a humming bird that posed for us.

A hummingbird poses for us

We often see termite tunnels that cross the path, but that morning we came across one that didn’t have the roof on it yet, so we could see the termites working on it.

Termites working on their tunnel. You can see the walls on each side

The boardwalk was extended since the last time we visited.  Some locals took cut offs from the boards and made this design – looks a lot like a compass rose.

Jackie and Richard check out the compass rose

We finally started the journey.  Our first stop was West End, Tortola – better known as Sopers Hole. Since we were just staying overnight, we were able to check in and out of the British Virgin Islands in one stop.  While there we picked up some provisions and fuel.

We then started out for Virgin Gorda, but decided it was too late to get there before dark, so we divirted to Marina Cay.   After spending so much time in murkey Charlotte Amalie, anywhere we could swim was a delight and the water in Marina Cay is very inviting after a hot day motoring.  Richard and I really appreciated that skinny guys can float in salt water.

It’s nice not to sink like a rock

We even try a little water ballet.

Check out the ballet legs

Next: St Martin – really!

Lots of Virgin Island Stuff

March 21, 2012

STUFF THAT HAS HAPPENED – NOT NECESSARILY IN ORDER

Published

We mentioned to Laurel, the park ranger who leads the birdwalks, that we had picures of the Manta Rays in Francis Bay.  She later asked if they could use them in the local Audobon magazine.  We got published!

Click on the link: Feb 2012 Bananaquit and check out page 3.

Marina Break

We had been rolling quite a bit in Charlotte Amalie and Superbowl Sunday was fast approaching so we decided to take a break and spend a couple nights in Crown Bay Marina.  Our friends Bob and Debbie on Chimayo  also came into the marina.  Janice and Steve on Sailacious and Dave on Persephone anchored out, but came in to watch the game.

There are a few big yachts in the marina, but most other boats are not too ostentatious.  Then Bob pointed out the boat at the end of our dock and one almost across from us.  The one across the dock was Ella Bleu, John Travolta’s sailboat, and the one at the end of the dock was Blue Guitar, a powerboat formerly owned by Eric Clapton.

Blue Guitar and Ella Bleu

More Visitors

A friend of ours, Dave Daniels, needed to move his boat back to Florida and was looking for crew.  Our friends Don and D had considered helping him, but the logistics couldn’t work out.  I mentioned the situation to my brother, Dave W, and he was interested.  After a few emails and a phone call or two he was on board.  Two other crew had been lined up, so there would be four for most of the trip.  The others were Lori, a women Dave D had met when she was visiting another boat, and Jake, a friend of Dave D.  Dave W flew down and spent a day and night with us before we turned him over to Dave D.  The trip went pretty well.

Crew l to r: Lori, Dave White, Dave Daniels, and Jake

Playing  Tourist

While in Charlotte Amalie Jackie and I played tourist a little bit.  When brother Dave was here we walked up to Bluebeard’s Castle, which turned out to be a hotel that had decided to cash in on the fame of Blackbeard’s Castle to get some toursits.  After Dave left we trekked up to Blackbeard’s Castle.  According to their website:

“Blackbeard’s Castle, St. Thomas Skytsborg Tower (meaning sky tower), was built in 1679 by the Danes as a watchtower for the harbor of Charlotte Amalie. It is located at the highest point on Skytsborg Tower Government Hill. Danish Soldiers used Skytsborg as a vantage point to spot enemy ships and protect impressive Fort Christian from attacks. Fort Christian is at sea level, which was ideal for warding off attackers with canon fire, but did not offer a good enough view of the incoming ships before they entered the harbor. It is not known what year Skytsborg Tower took on the name of Blackbeard’s Castle, but the infamous Edward Teach, commonly known as Blackbeard the Pirate, did sail the Caribbean waters in the early 1700s. It has become part of the lore of the island that he used the Tower as a vantage point for his own treacherous purposes.”

The tour up to the castle includes four historic houses and the Caribbean World Amber Museum.

View of the harbor from one of the houses. Can you guess which boat is Compass Rose?

Looking west from one of the historic homes

Pirates of the Caribbean

We also took the dollar bus to Red Hook at the eastern end of the island.  The attraction was a salt marsh where we did some bird watching, but we didn’t see anything spectacular.

Lounging Lizard? We saw this iguana walking the dock at Red Hook

During this time the end blew off our water maker’s pressure vessel.  The local Spectra dealer looked at it and we sent pictures to the factory.  They had never seen a failure like this before.  Although the unit was out of warranty, they sent us a new pressure vessel – we paid only for shipping.
 
Visiting St John
 
We took another break from Charlotte Amalie and hooked up with the Cruzateers in Rendezvous Bay on the south side of St. John, where we met Mark and Willie on Liahona.  This is a nice little bay that is essentially undiscovered by cruisers.  From there we went around to Francis Bay on the north side of St. John.  We were in search of the elusive Manta Rays.
While there we picniced on the beach,
 

Picnic on the beach at Francis Bay

went bird watching at the salt marsh,
 

Green Heron at the salt marsh

Tried a new figurehead on the boat,

A pelican roosts on our bow

did water arobics,

A little after this was taken a turtle came to visit and then a dolphin tried to run over Janice

went bird watching at the salt marsh (as you can see this was a recurring activity)

At the salt marsh: Jackie, Eric, Bob, Debbie (Chimayo)

Fixin’ to Leave the Virgins
Eventually we returned to Charlotte Amalie to get ready to leave the Virgin Islands.  During this time we took care of some old and new problems with the boat.  The first was to get the autopilot repaired. That got shipped back to the factory.  We also had a failure with the voltage regulator.  Balmar stood behind the product and helped me troubleshoot the system.  Jackie flew back to the US and spent ten days with her niece and family to help out with their new baby, Willow. 
 

Great Aunt Jackie with grandnieces Willow (l) and Sumer (r)

While she was gone I did some boat projects including modifying our dodger to fit around the sea hood we installed in Oriental.  When she returned she brought back the new regulator and the repaired autopilot.
 
Balmar offered to take a look at our wiring to see if they could find any problems.  I installed the new parts and then drew up a wiring diagram.  One wire didn’t make sense to me and Balmar confirmed that it was wrong.  They came up with the right connection for it.  Evidently when a previous owner installed the unit, two wires were connected to the wrong spots.  I moved the one wire and just disconnected the other.  No more wiring going up in smoke so far.  It’s amazing the boat didn’t burn long ago.
 
Anchoring around Charlotte Amalie harbor
 

Double Rainbow over Charlotte Amalie

This boat anchored right by us. Would you cross the Atlantic on it?

Rising Sun anchored in the harbor.  The boat was the second largest private yacht in the world when it was built for its original owner, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison.

Rising Sun

Moused!  Disney Magic anchors in the harbor and the harbor pilot usually has to ask some private boats to move – at 5:30 AM.

Moused. Disney Magic's anchoring location requires private boats to move.

One More Visitor
 
Our nephew Richard was on vacation from his flight attendant job, so he hopped a plane down and hung out with us for about ten days.  We spent some time in Charlotte Amalie while I finished fixing the wiring, then we sailed for Francis Bay, St. John.

Our view of the harbor entrance as we prepared to leave for St. John

Francis Bay – one last time
 
The trip to Francis Bay was uneventful.  We snorkeled, hung out on the beach, and did some bird watching.

Elusive (really!) Mangrove Cuckoo

Nephew Richard relaxes on the beach

 
Next: Voyage to St. Martin.
 
 

Visitors From the North

March 6, 2012

No sooner were we back in Francis Bay than our friends Don and D came to visit.  They own the Dickerson 41 Southern Cross and helped us immensely while we were in Oriental, NC this past summer.  Not only did they help us with tools and advice while fixing Compass Rose, they opened their home to us when hurricane Irene flooded our apartment.  As a way to thank them for all their help we offered to host them for a little Caribbean vacation. 

Not too far into planning for their visit they heard of a friend of a friend who needed help moving his boat from the Dominican Republic to St. Thomas.  What luck!  A sea voyage and a vacation!  The trip down went well and the day after they arrived their skipper brought them over to St. John on the car ferry so he could help them get their gear to our dingy.

On the day D and Don were to arrive Jackie and I went on a birding tour of the north side of St. John.  We saw a lot of cool birds.  In a marsh next to a road we saw a Green Heron down a fish and a Snipe – the bird you never find on a snipe hunt.

Green heron about to devour a fish

After bird watching we met Don, D, and the rest of the crew in Cruz Bay.  We had lunch, did some provisioning, and then Gordon gave us all a ride back to our dinghy.

We hung out in Francis Bay for a while snorkling and watching for Manta Rays.  We eventually spotted one, but it was on its way out of the bay, so we didn’t get a very good look at it.  We did do a trip into Cruz Bay so we could visit the Tap Room and do some shopping.  As I understand it, the Tap Room started out by making beer, but couldn’t keep up and now has it brewed for them in the US using their recipe.  They have a lot of good brews at the Tap Room and Don and I set to sampling them while the ladies went shopping.

Does Don seem a little fuzzier than usual in this picture?

The ladies spot an elusive Blue-eyed Beer Peeper

Needing a change of venue we crashed and bashed our way upwind, then rolled downwind to Coral Harbor in Coral Bay where we went to dinner for Jackie’s birthday.  The next day we moved across Coral Bay to Long Bay.  This is one of our favorite “off the beaten path” anchorages.  Nice snorkeling and a cool little lunch spot just down the road.

Vie's Snack Shack - Cool little lunch spots like this are spread around the Caribbean if you just take the time to check them out

Even the Bannaquits think Vie's is a great place for lunch

A Green Antillean Hummingbird stops moving just long enough to get its picture taken

While in Long Bay we were discussing which boats where in the bay next to us the previous day.  I got out my binoculars to check the boats out and discovered Mane Bris anchored there.  We had met Hal and Inga in Grenada as had Don and D when they were there a couple years before us.  We dinghied over to say hello.  It turns out the top half of their mast broke off north of Puerto Rico and they were motoring back to Grenada to fix it.  They were leaving the next day, so we invited them over for dinner.

(l to r) D, Don, Eric, Hal Inga

Hal and Inga left the next morning.  Last we heard they were in Martinique.

We moved out of Coral Bay and around Ram Head to Salt Pond where we picked up one of the park moorings.  Salt pond is a little gem on the little visited south coast of St. John.  It has good snorkling, a very nice beach, good hikes, the salt pond for bird watching, and it’s on the bus line so you can get around the island for $1.

We did some snorkling along the edges of the anchorage each day.

Barracuda don't bother you, but they give you a disquieting evil eye

We had fun hiking up to Ram Head, the rocky outcropping that separates Salt Pond from Coral Bay.

Rose among the thorns. I have to keep reminding myself that this is an arid climate and the cactus outnumber the palm trees

Don and D explore Ram Head

View of Long Bay - our favorite anchorage in Coral Bay

On the way back from Ram Head we explored the salt pond – a bird watching area.

A bird watching...

After the bash around the island to get to Coral Bay, the downwind sail to Christmas Cove was a refreshing  journey.  We picked up a mooring and went snorkling with Janice from Sailacious.  She led us to an area we hadn’t checked out before and found an amazing number of fish.

A Palometa watches the snorkelers

A couple squid swimming in formation

All good things come to an end.  We sailed to Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, so Don and D could catch a plane back to the states.