03/02/2013, Jost van Dyke - BVI
Last week we left the Christmas Cove in St. James Islands east of St. Thomas for St. John. St. John is for two third under the auspices of the National Park Service and has maintained its pristine appearance. To protect the underwater reefs and sea beds anchoring is strongly discouraged and in most coves and bays the Park Service placed mooring balls which they maintain. We did not have a lot of experience in using mooring balls and especially Dorothy was a little nervous since she has to catch the pendant. But practice makes perfect and we are now picking up the balls without any problem. The price the Park Service charges is only $15.00 a night and for senior citizens with a National Park Service Pass only $7.50.
There are only a few roads on St. John and most wind up at one or another of the island's gorgeous white-sand beaches, framed by the tropical forest of Virgin Islands National Park. Trails wind through the ruins of Danish-colonial sugar plantations dating from the 18th century, when sugar, rum and slavery ruled St. John and the rest of the Caribbean. We walked the trails and visited the ruins and most of them are on places with the most beautiful views of the surrounding islands. Since everything is now covered with dense forest and the hills are steep it is difficult to imagine the locations of the sugar cane fields. A park service ranger told us the fields were on terraces with rock walls. This together with the ruins which clearly give the impression how great the buildings have been shows what the slaves have accomplished in that time. Yes, the ideas and design were done with European knowledge and ingenuity, but the hard work was done by the slaves living in very bad circumstances.
We first wanted to visit the south side of the island, but heavy swell made it very hard to get into the bays and coves and we don't like to sleep in a rolling boat. So we sailed back to the north side of the island and chose as our first night stop Hawknest Bay. This is a beautiful bay with a very nice beach with some nice spots for snorkeling. During the day some rollers came into the bay from the heavy ferry traffic from St. Thomas to Tortola in the BVI. This was manageable with our floppers we hanged on the side of the boat to reduce the rolling. At night when the wind started to calm down and the angle the boat has in the water became perpendicular to the incoming wakes the rolling became so bad that it was hard to sleep.
So we left the next day to Francis Bay described by many people as the best. The bay has 4 distinct beaches with white sand and shade from the vegetation directly on the beach. One of areas in this bay is Maho Bay which has an eco-friendly resort with steep stairs from the beach up to the road and on the steep hillside many canvas covered cottages connected by stairs and wooden deck trails. This resort has a small shop with many other facilities. Dorothy did not like the stairs but it is a great location. Over the weekend Dorothy did not feel very well due to a cold and I had injured a few of ribs when I lost my balance and fell against the side of one of the winch and that was rather painful so we chose to have a nice lazy weekend just sitting in the cockpit and reading a book.
Our next stop was Leinster Bay and this was our best mooring. This is a small open bay with a small cay that protects the bay, Waterlemon Cay with a great shallow reef the best for snorkeling. We hiked to the Annaberg Plantation Ruins and another ruin just above our mooring and this looked like a home with the best view of all the surrounding islands. We only did not have internet connection so we returned to Francis Bay. In the bay was a large 180 feet sailing yacht and the crew had created a nice area on the beach with umbrellas, a bar, an elaborate BBQ, beautiful chairs and tables for the guests. The rest of the day the crew went up and down to refresh the supplies and ferry the guests. This represents good life of the rich and famous. But again we loved the beach and did some nice snorkeling and enjoyed our own good life.
But like I described before cruising is also had and sometimes dirty work; I had to disassemble the macerator pump used to empty our waste tank. You can only do this when the tank is empty and you cannot make it empty since the pump is not working. I will spare you the details, but we got it done and sailed to Jost Van Dyke Island in the BVI. Customs and immigration was very simple and we had our lunch in the world famous beach bar and restaurant Foxy. It was Friday and Foxy had its BBQ with live music and Dorothy and I partied like we are young again. The "Pain Killer" rum drink we both had a few of must have helped. The BBQ was the best and the music was exciting and we danced the night away. Today (03/02/13) we have a nice quiet day with some maintenance work and we are planning our next destination.
02/21/2013, Christmas Cove St. James Island
As mentioned in our previous blog we arrived in St. Thomas US Virgin Islands on Valentine's Day and are anchored in Brewer's Bay next to the runway of the airport. It is described that this bay is not very attractive due to the fact that it is next to the runway with a surprising amount of flights during the day. But we like it especially since the airport is not only used by large airlines, but also by local carriers with small planes and even seaplanes. It is very interesting and not disturbing since at night there is no traffic. The bay is deep but the beach is very nice with directly behind it a major road into town with $1.00 bus fares in open buses. In this area is also the US Virgin Island University. On the island side of the bay is a very high mountain of about 1,000 ft. high. A little north/west is a valley with some very nice houses and at night it is very pretty with the street and house lights.
St. Thomas is a tourist destination with on many days cruise ships in the harbor. Not the place we find very attractive. The capital city is Charlotte Amalie founded by the Danish who owned the US Virgin Islands until 1917 when the US purchased the islands for $25 million. The old town has many old buildings with Danish architecture. The well preserved ones are occupied by an endless amount of jewelry stores that have the outside very nicely restored, but I think that the interior is disgusting. Especially the small alleys are really beautiful and interesting. Directly behind the tourist shopping area is the remainder of the old town and the buildings are very badly maintained which make them interesting but not nice. So this built a love/hate relationship for me with the tourist shopping industry. The buildings are preserved but used in a bad way. This is of course just my opinion since many tourists are visiting the island and enjoying the tax free shopping. On Friday the harbor had 5 cruise ships and the front streets with all the stores were so crowded that is was hard to walk on the sidewalks. The area that is well maintained without the jewelry industry is an area on top of the 90 steps. Dorothy with her knee problems did not want to join me to climb these steps and waited for me in the park. Due to this I did not spend sufficient time to explore this area, but the buildings are really very nice and remind you of the old Danish buildings in Copenhagen, but in a much nicer environment. Copenhagen does not have the mountains like St. Thomas.
We also took the cable car up to Paradise Point that is only open on cruise ship days. This is a very nice ride and the view on top is beautiful. We had a cold beer on the terrace enjoying a great panoramic view of the harbor and the city; we met 2 German ladies traveling on a cruise ship and shared some great stories. Instead of renting a car and driving on the left side with hairpin curves, we took a bus tour that took us to beautiful places with great views but also to tourist centers like "Mountain Top". But the admission also included a Banana Daiquiri with generous amounts of rum and that was a good compensation. The bus tour also took us to the botanical garden that was absolutely beautiful and this location also served a free rum punch. So we had a good morning with great views, a nice ride and 2 rum beverages; we love retirement!
But it was not only fun, work needed to be done on the boat. I used the Brownie's Third Lung Hookah diving system that my son gave me to clean the bottom of the boat. For someone like me who has never been under water this is a fantastic experience. Instead of a tank you get the air from a compressor with a hose and a normal regulator. And it was necessary, we had a lot of hard marine growth, but it was easy to remove. However, I did not have sufficient weights to keep me down and I bumped my head several times against the boat.
Then the starter battery of the generator died. Good heavens we have jump starter so we still could start the generator. The battery shop did not want to deliver so I took the old battery out carried it over the beach to the road and waited for a taxi or bus. Suddenly a nice lady approached me and asked me if I needed to go to a battery store and offered to take me to the place. She knew where the store was waited for us outside and afterwards dropped us off on the beach. The next day she drove us to the airport to pick up the mail that Heather our daughter-in-law sent us by FedEx. She brought us flowers from her own garden and some delicious cake. Her name is Wanda but I call her an angel. Wanda and her lady friend from Germany visited us on the boat and we had a great time.
We needed a modification on our mainsail cover and on Hassel Island is a very famous Sail Loft Manfred & Brandt. A nice older German gentleman came to our boat on Sunday to take measurements, but we had to go to Hassel Island to pick up the cover. This morning (02/21/13) we left our anchorage in Brewer's Bay around 7:30 and took a harbor tour with Island Girl to Hassel Island. I did not want to anchor in the little bay of the island and temporarily anchored in the main harbor at Yacht Haven Grande just in front of the city of Charlotte Amalie. After we got our new sail cover we left the harbor and sailed along the south coast to the east side of St. Thomas to Christmas Cove west of the St. James islands. We are now lying on a mooring buoy with a fantastic view of the numerous lights of St. Thomas that indeed remind us of Christmas. Tomorrow we will sail a little north/east to St. John.
02/14/2013, Brewer Bay - St. Thomas
After spending over 2 weeks in Puerto Rico it was time to move on. Our next destination was Vieques the largest island of the Spanish Virgin Islands. The Spanish Virgin Islands are part of Puerto Rico and consist of 4 separated areas, Isla Palominos, the islands and reefs of La Cordillera, the islands of Culebra and the island of Vieques. After the US Navy stopped using Vieques in 2002 and Culebra in 1975 as bombing practice areas the islands completely depend on tourism. But this industry is developing very slowly and that makes it a paradise for cruisers and other visitors who are not looking for resorts with wining, dining and gambling. Walking over Flamenco Beach in Culebra you believe that you are back in the late 1960's with people camping in primitive tents and huts along the beach in the brush. These are the prime "Beach Bums" I always wanted to be.
We left Salinas at 6:30AM on our way to Puerto Patillas on the east coast of Puerto Rico. This was a short 16 miles hop using the philosophy from Bruce Van Sant in his very widely used book "The Thornless Path to Windward". The guidelines are based on the fact that the "Trade Winds" are reduced in strength during the late night till the early morning by the land winds created by the islands. However, when you meet a big squall coming off the islands that will not always create the smooth sailing you are aiming for. We had such a squall of this strength, some rough seas, the wind and waves on the nose. In Puerto Patillas we snuggled close to shore behind the reefs for a quiet day since we planned to leave at 12:00 midnight to sail to Vieques. Early in the morning when we came close to Vieques we did not see land. The east and west sides of the island were used for bombing range and ammunition storage and these parts are completely uninhabited which means absolutely no light on the west side of the island. With the moonless night we saw north of us the contours of the mountains that sometimes looked like the low clouds around us. It was very spooky. We arrived at 6:30AM in Vieques and anchored in Ensenada Sun Bay with one of the most beautiful beaches I have seen.
At the anchorage we did not have internet connection and for that we had to walk along the one mile beach to the next bay in front of the little town of Esperanza. We had lunch in the Trade Winds Restaurant with a great view of the bay and enjoyed the non-tourist like atmosphere of the Spanish Virgin Islands. This place is so close to the US and so far away from our typical life style in the US. We played on the beach, did a lot of swimming, and met a lot of cruisers and other visitors including a family from Vermont, visiting their daughter who is an intern, assisting with a program to monitor several turtle species coming on shore on the beaches. All this time we were the only boat in the bay, but suddenly late in the afternoon boats started coming in including a large charter catamaran with at least 10 people onboard that anchored just next to us with little room to spare. When we left the next morning at 5:00 AM, we had to maneuver a little in the dark to get away from this boat.
It is about 22 miles to Culebra our next destination, 11 miles along the coast of Vieques to the east and at the end of the island after a sharp turn to the north another 11 miles to Culebra. We estimated that this trip would take us about 4 to 5 hours. But an unexpected high easterly wind created very short and high waves and together with a 1 mile current against us we did not make more than 3 Kn and it took us 4 hours to get to the east point of Vieques. After making the turn to the north and passing Vieques it would be smooth sailing to Culebra. So I lost my patience, turned too early and consequently we came in the breakers on the east point of Vieques. The sea punished me directly, as for the first time since we have Island Girl a big wave came in the cockpit and I was soaked. After this it was a smooth sail to Culebra. We used a free mooring buoy in the large "Ensenada Honda" bay. We need to stay in this bay for a couple of days due to weather conditions with what Chris Parker our weather guru, described the seas as "Horrendous washing-machine of large North Swell and large and steep seas from the ENE".
To spend some time in Culebra is not bad at all. Culebra has some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. The most famous one is "Flamenco Beach" that I described above and 5 others with Zoni Beach as our favorite. This beach is a little isolated compared to Flamenco Beach and is wide and long with pure white sand and the colors of the sea are really like in the commercials. The Spanish Virgin Islands are connected with Puerto Rico by a ferry system with ticket prices of $2.00 one way. In the weekend many people take the ferry and buses are waiting to transport the people to the beach. The ferry landing place is a very fun area with small restaurants with side walk cafés and a nice part with great benches. During the week it is a nice, quiet area where people are waiting for the ferry, eat something, sit and read a book or just sleep on the benches. It is our favorite lunch location. We used the dinghy to go around, walked in town and used the bike to do some exploring. We rented a brand new jeep for one day and drove all the roads on the island and visited every beach. Using a car on the island needs some skills to drive steep roads and I can tell you the roads are steep. Every hill has a different view with not only a view of the island but the surrounding islands such as Puerto Rico, Vieques, Culebrita and St. Thomas. The weather is great except for the day the storm blew in. We needed to use the dinghy to go back to Island Girl, the rain was coming down, the water in the bay was quite rough due to the wind and as a result we were wet and cold. The wind was blowing the entire night, but we slept like babies safely on the mooring buoy.
Due to the very high north/easterly swell we did not visit Culebrita but sailed this morning directly to St. Thomas were we are anchored in Brewer Bay in front of a nice beach and the runway of the airport and a very high mountain. But in our next blog we will describe St. Thomas.
02/05/2013, Salinas - Puerto Rico
We had some beautiful anchorages in Puerto Rico but Salinas beats them all. The anchorage is very well protected, with no boat movement at all during the night. We are in front of a nice marina with all the amenities, but we don't have a slip in the marina so no charge for all the stuff a marina can offer. Free internet, great restaurants and bars, a little town with a good grocery store etc. We used our bikes to go to town to do shopping for essentials and it was a nice ride. We are surrounded by mangroves with manatees in the water and in the background the mountains. This is the best an anchorage can offer. We arrived early on Thursday morning in Salinas after a night sail and we spent the rest of the day relaxing. We had work to do since after only running for a couple of hours our generator stopped working again and our solar and wind generator need some support to get us through the night (no sun and trade wind during the night). But the frustration took over and we decided to wait a couple of days and start to enjoy the most beautiful island first. Another good service of the marina is that an employee from Hertz is waiting with cars for people with reservations and has in many cases a car available without a reservation.
It was raining on Friday, that does not happen too often on the south coast and we took off to Ponce the second largest city in Puerto Rico some 25 miles east of Salinas. Besides the old town along the harbor with some buildings built from natural stone (see pictures) Ponce is just a large city and we did not care too much about this. So we took the route 123 into the mountains. This route is not a major road and soon we were driving on a very narrow, winding road with very sharps turns into the mountains. The road is complete surrounded by dense tropical jungle. However, due to the elevation it was very cold outside the car. That day it was 82 in the lower elevations but when we stepped out of the car on top of the mountain the car thermometer indicated a temperature of 56 with a very strong wind blowing through the valleys. The vegetation reminded us again of Indonesia and Suriname, countries we have lived in for such a long time. Dorothy and I agree again that we absolutely love Puerto Rico and we might consider moving here to a nice home in the mountains when we are done sailing and traveling. It is very difficult for me to describe the beauty of the island and the joy we had by driving around, but we hope that our pictures can do the talking.
We returned just in time to the marina to participate in the Friday night BBQ. The food was great, the atmosphere with a mixture of local people and cruisers and good music made it even more perfect. One of our posted pictures shows Dorothy with a rum punch; people, who know her, know that she rarely consumes alcohol, but she definitely enjoyed the rum punch. Although we were hungry it was impossible to finish our food so we took the leftovers with us for a great lunch the following day in our car in Old San Juan.
Yes, that is what we did the next day. We had a beautiful drive to San Juan over the mountains on a very good 4 lane highway. First we went to a West Marine store in San Juan where we did a lot of purchases for broken and needed parts and additions to our boat inventory. The store had the same inventory as the stores in Miami with similar prices. In Best Buy we purchased some computer stuff and a few DVD's for our evening entertainment.
We crossed the bridge to Old San Juan and a new world opened to us. Old San Juan is a designated World Heritage Site by the United Nations. This area was founded in 1510 to protect the Spanish interests from attacks of the Dutch, English and pirates. Old San Juan is partially surrounded by the old city wall and two forts, The Castillo de San Felipe del Moro and Fort San Cristobal. The Spanish culture in this area is so much alive and walking in the narrow streets with all the beautiful buildings, most of them restored is an adventure in itself. We visited both forts which had a special memory for me since I did contract work for a company in New Orleans with a contract for mapping work for the restoration efforts of both forts in 1988. We had only one day planned and that is clearly not sufficient to explore this area so we added it to our bucket list to come back without any strings attached but just explore.
We had to go back to the boat with a list of chores to do. We did most of them on Sunday and finally I started working on the generator. When I found the problem it was a very easy solution; a relay that controls the fuel pump was loose and needed a band to keep it in place. The band was gone and the fuel pump only worked once in a while. With all the investigations why the pump did not work in an area only accessible to dwarfs it took me the entire day and bike ride into town since I dropped a fuel line washer. Hurray, the generator works and we are ready to move on.
01/31/2013, Salinas - Puerto Rico
Last week on Tuesday morning we arrived in Boquerón on the South West coast of Puerto Rico. Stories told not to expect too much of the location and town. This was maybe the cause that we liked it so much and stayed in the beautiful bay until Sunday morning. The town is small but it has everything we needed for food and parts. It has the reputation of a party town for students of the University of Mayaguez that is close by and bohemians, but it reminded us of Key West before the tourists took over. We enjoyed our beer in one of the sidewalk cafes and watched the world go by. We even got invited to a strip (from the waist up) domino game. However, this crossed the line for Dorothy. We made beautiful beach walks, but did a lot of work on the boat as well. We had a broken fresh water pump, a replacement of the fuel filter of the generator which was more difficult than expected and with no fuel dock we had to fill the tank with dinghy rides with 2 jerry cans at a time. We met a Dutch couple Ria Sprenger and Jan Huls from The Netherlands on board of their boat Kismet, who were on their way from Turkey, Brazil, Suriname, Curacao, and Puerto Rico to West Palm Beach and we had a great time sharing stories. The anchorage was great and we slept very well except the last night when a north westerly swell caused Island Girl to roll.
We left the bay at 6:15 AM and had a good motor sail to La Parguera. We found a great anchorage and enjoyed our dinghy rides along the beautiful houses partly built over the water and the mangrove islands. We visited Isla Cueva, home to some 400 monkeys related to those on Cayo Santiago on the east coast of Puerto Rico imported from India for research. On the map Isla Cueva looks like a peninsula, but there is an absolutely gorgeous mangrove lined channel between the island and the mainland which we passed paddling the dinghy under a canopy of mangroves. La Parguera is best known for its bioluminescent lagoon called Bahia Fosforescente. Here millions of tiny luminescent dinoflagellates (a microscopic plankton) light up the surrounding water due to any sort of disturbance. Because there was a huge rainless thunderstorm coming from the mountains we did not want to leave Island Girl and we missed this show.
On 01/29/13 we left La Parguera at 6:30 AM for a short motor sail to Cayos de Cana Gordo or better known as Gilligan's Island. The island was originally called Cayo Aurora after a woman who escaped from a nearby farm and swam to the island where she lived free for many years as a female Robinson Crusoe. Currently it is a very well maintained state park with a lot of weekend visitors, but during the week it is very quiet. We played in the water on a small but very private beach, met some people who are staying in a very nice beach resort on the mainland and used a ferry to Gilligan's Island. The reefs and the mangroves protect the knee deep water and with a clear sandy bottom, an ideal place to play in the water.
We wanted to move further east but the weather prediction did not give good news until Sunday afternoon. We checked about a night sail and it turned out that Wednesday night after the trade wind diminished that we had an opportunity. We checked with Chris Parker, the Caribbean weather guru and it was a go. However, when we went to bed at 7:30 PM the wind was still in the low 20th knots and the water was still very rough. At 10:30 PM when we woke up it looked a lot better and we left at 11:00 PM. Since at night we did not want to pass through the reefs we had to make a one hour detour and so actually we started our 35 miles trip at 12:00 midnight. During the first part when we had to stay outside the reefs we had very nice 6 to 8 feet but long swells. A big part of the trip we could stay behind the reefs in relatively flat water. The coast line east of Gilligan's Island is very developed and it gave us a great view of all the lights up high in the mountains. Very soon after we left we saw a long row of blinking red lights on the horizon and we started guessing what those could be: a channel, an airport and we had many other ideas. It also seemed that we never came closer to the strip of lights. Finally just before the channel to our destination we saw an endless row of very high wind 'mills' each of them with a red blinking light.
Halfway the trip is an island called Caja de Muertos or Coffin Island. The island has a very nice pirate history and on top of the hill is a historic Spanish lighthouse built in 1887. Due to strong North/East winds we could not use the anchorage close to the island and we put a visit to Caja Muertos on our bucket list.
We arrived still in the dark in Salinas and waited in front of the channel for some daylight and had the anchor down at 7:00AM. We will stay in Salinas until the weather improves and our next destination will be Las Palmas del Mar on the east coast of Puerto Rico.
Yesterday, January 22, 2013 we arrived in Boquerón in Puerto Rico after crossing the Mona Pass between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico and by that we arrived in the Caribbean Sea. Although we saw the Caribbean Sea during our land trip to Santo Domingo a week ago, arriving with Island Girl is for some reason more special. I lived and worked in the Caribbean in the seventies and beginning of the eighties and visited nearly all the Caribbean Islands but never by boat like we are planning to do now. After Dorothy arrived from Indonesia in Suriname I took her on several trips to the Caribbean islands and of course we spent our honeymoon in Curacao and Aruba. That was actually our last Caribbean trip and we are so excited to be back.
We were a little over 2 weeks in the Dominican Republic and with the beauty of the island we could have spent more time over there. While sailing along the north and east coast of the island we saw many beautiful locations that are worth visiting. But we had a plan to go as fast as possible to the Caribbean and to have completed the difficult crossings to get there. The Mona Pass is considered the most difficult one after completing the Gulf Stream between Florida and the Bahamas, the Tongue of the Ocean between the Great Bahamas Bank and Nassau, the Atlantic Ocean passage from Long Island to Provo in the Turks and Caicos and the Turks Channel from Cockburn Harbor in South Caicos to Luperon in the Dominican Republic. We watched the weather windows and it did not look very good until last week Thursday. Then 3 boats arrived in the Ocean World Marina from the Caribbean all with professional delivery crews and all with very bad weather stories. An Island Packet 38, similar to Island Girl, came in with broken equipment in the mast. According to the captain this happened in the Mona Pass by rolling of the boat in over 20 ft. waves. The professional delivery crew had a young lady on board who had no sailing experience and she was so afraid that she was ready to 'jump ship' and never go back on board anymore. This made us even more careful to select a favorable weather window. We left on Sunday and the first part of the trip along the north coast of the Dominican Republic was fine. The trade wind, although on the nose, was not too bad. This changed going into the night after we made our first turn to the south/east coast line of the DR. To put it mildly, it was not very comfortable. The next day sailing with just the engine and still wind on the nose was better but still very rough. But then we had the scare of our lives. Something big came out of the ocean very close to the boat and made an enormous splash. We both screamed: "What was that?".
A humpback whale started a great performance for us around boat. It jumped 6 times next to our boat; dove after each jump under water came up with a big fountain of spray out of its blow hole and made the next jump. Then it moved to the north and started making big splashes with its tail and we saw it doing this until it disappeared over the horizon. In San Antonio, Texas we lived next to Sea World and since our son Robert was employed at Sea World as a water skier, the park was almost our second home and we watched many whale shows in the park with the killer wales. But seeing a humpback whale up close in the wild was absolutely the highlight of our trip so far. Humpbacks come south to give birth just north of Hispaniola, but I did not know they also go as far as into the Caribbean Sea. A comment from any whale experts about this in our blog would be appreciated. We talked on the radio with another sailor who passed us on his way to the north; he saw the whale too and had the same experience we had.
The Mona Pass was basically the easiest part of the trip. When we passed the so called "Hourglass Shoal" we made our turn into the Mona Pass and the wind gave us an opportunity to set the sails and we had a very nice sail to the Mona Island. The "Hourglass Shoal" is relatively shallow part in the ocean, but is still hundreds of feet deep, but the waters these shoals try to contain comes from the Equatorial Current and this means a lot of water and a lot of energy for the shoals to dissipate and you do not want to be in it. After we passed the "Hourglass Shoal" we had to go back to the engine but until 3.00 AM the half moon was out without any clouds in the sky and it was beautiful. After the moon went under it was suddenly pitch black again, but the stars were sparkling everywhere. We arrived in Boquerón, Puerto Rico at 10:00 AM just before the trade wind started to blow.