Another day another bay
The British Virgin Island verses the US Virgin island.....no contest. I'm not sure if it's because I had Diana, my traveling mate from India onboard or that I have reconnected with Willem, a business buddy from my backpacker days or that Elena who I had met here 6 months previously, come to sail and drink margaritas with us....or is it just that the BVI's have provided me with beautiful bays and days.
The USVI's are America in another place. We had anchor rage....albeit my fault. But hey, if you anchor too close to someone's private mooring ball they have a right to be pissed. But we realized it and started pulling up anchor to move when they came home.....you sort of don't expect to cop half witted abuse from a couple of sailors who live in a paradise? But we did...the passing comment from the rage man was...."you better sleep with one eye open" Needless to say I had a wonderful sleep while he tossed and turned with his own rage.
Oh well, see you USVI's and hello the BVI's.
And here we are. Crystal clear water, constant wind, anchorages that teem with happiness and joy. And if they don't the bars will change that real quick.
Almost two weeks of great sailing and anchorages. The best can only be judged by of the people we met and it's a close contest.
Willy T's at Norman island is an old rusty boat that serves cold margaritas and allows you to do back flips off the top deck right next to the sign that says "don't jump".
Diana did her first snorkeling while watching pelicans dive for small bait fish that were being rounded up by huge Tarpon.
Some mad South Africans took us wake boarding at break neck speed.
The back flips off Willy T's became naked back flips latter into the night....the margaritas became even colder and our green backs much soggier.
Rules! You can break em...and we did.
My own country has become one of these overly bureaucratic places that takes people's ability to think for themselves away. The BVI's on the other hand is the sort of place that allows everyone to be themselves. And by doing so we can still respect others around us.
Maybe the back flips pushed someone's boundaries. But how hard can it be to turn your head when a few white flashes of arse gleefully launch themselves into the deep. The laughter compensates for any distress others may have.
The barman didn't turn an eye....this is after all the Willy T...and a country that can still allow people to be themselves. Get your white arse in gear Australia.
So I now sit in Virgin Gorda, the very same place I started my sailing. This is our launch place for the last leg of the journey before Ooroo is put to rest. Sint Maaten, here we come. It will be our last night sail as and I shall have some time to finish what may be my last blog for a while.
Sint Maaten is know as the top of the mountain when sailing from the US into the Caribbean. After knocking into the easterlies for 2000nm, Sint Maarten is the place you turn south to explore a plethora of new countries, cultures and islands. The wind is a the perfect angle for Ooroo to do her thing with the most comfort and speed. But that perfect sailing experience will have to wait for Jules and her kids Sarah and Tom to come back next January continue.
The sun is on my back and the bays of the BVI's are disappearing in the sea mist behind. The final day of sailing is ending.
Oli woke me for my watch and hour early after hearing a Security call on Ch 16. It was the Cruise Liner Fantasea letting all shipping traffic know that they were about to let of some fireworks. We have phosphorescence of our stern, stars lighting the sky and fireworks off a Disney type ship to boot. I was worth he early wake up.
We a motor sailing at 30 degrees to the wind, tacking every couple of hours. The wind at 20 knots is coming straight from Sint Maarten. It is what we expected and this is how Ooroo handles these conditions best. The sail gives us a few more knots of speed and the angle means we aren't smacking straight into the waves. It's faster than just motoring. It's bumpy but doable.
I also have another batten that wants to depart the sail. This is our troubled sails last journey and if I try and drop her to retrieve the batten she i will lose it into the sea. So what will be will be.
And I lost it. The wind increased and I woke Mark to help me put a double reef in that old sail. We had a bumpy ride.
So now I'm in another Bay....Simpson Bay, Sint Maarten.
It's amazing the difference 9nm of ocean can make. We left the USVI's on the last day of our humanitarian parole visa and the day after we said ooroo to Charlotte.
From mansions on cliff faces, pristine marinas, cruise ships and yanks with anchor rage (that's a story for another time) we are now anchored off a palm covered beach. The beach is also the road, the floor of the bar and coats the top of the pool table. The beach smells of quality weed and the locals are so "on it" that its up to us to remember what we drank when the bill is paid. Welcome to the British Virgin Islands, and more specifically Jost Van Dyke Island.
The short sails have been perfect. We have a few weeks were we don't have to beat into the easterlies so we are sailing the best angles to the wind as if we have all the time in the world.
We have four days before Diana, comes on board to reminisce about our past travels and to fill in the four year gap since we last saw each other. Four days to travel 30nm to Road Town, Tortola via other beaches just like this one.
....now a day latter we sailed again. We pulled up the sails from Great Harbour just to pull then down again 15 minutes latter as we approached White Bay. From Foxy's Bar to the Soggy Dollar Bar. I always was a little over critical of sail boats motoring when the wind is great. Anyway, my crew didn't like the idea so I did it anyways just for the exercise.
This is the sort of place that I should have Jules with me. At least I know she, this Sara and Tom will be with me when I up anchor next year. We will have many days like this.
The bar is called the Soggy Dollar, because you can anchor so close that it's not worth launching the dingy. They have a clothes line behind the bar to dry the greenbacks.
With a setting sun I'm picking up there WiFi on board and in the unlikely even we ran out of rum o beer, I just dive into the beautiful clear water and two minutes latter I have a refill.
The day trippers are clearing out to there hotels in St Thomas and Tortola while I chill.
Life is a boat!
A wee dram of scotch on Shalama with Sebastian and Liz last night and bagels and cream cheese on Ooroo the next morning was our farewell to Vieques.
When I think about my top ten experiences and locations so far, it's the articulate funny Pom, the "its 10am so lets have a beer, Yank with there beautiful 1941 wooden boat that's is a stand out. Or is it the island itself? With its friendly people, wild horses, beautiful beaches and that word "opportunity" written all over it. I have reasons to return maybe with Jules. I have friends for life living there dream here and I want to come and see there progress in developing a kick arse charter business using classical wooded boats.
We set sail....with all our sails for the first time in weeks. The destination, Isla De Culebra. The GPS was set and then the phone rang. "Dad it's Oli, I'm in St Thomas and only have $20 bucks". That's why plans are designed to be broken.
The wind is with us, albeit light and so we are now heading straight to St Thomas. It's a day sail, the sun is shinning, Mar Caribe is being polite, everything on Ooroo works. Charlotte is sunbathing, Mark reading and soon I'll have my son back on board. Perfect.
Every guide book tells you that St Thomas and the Capital, Charlotte Amalie is all glitzy jewelry shops and love boats during the day and gangsters and closed shops at night. It's true. Having stayed here before and been told to go home before dusk by a barman that would otherwise have been taking my money is testament to that. The front page of the local paper boasted that The USVIs has the worlds 7th highest murder rate.
It's funny (in a not haha sort of way) that we receive more warnings about theft, violent crime and dingy's been stolen right off your davits in US territories than in the third world ports.
So for Charlottes second last night on Ooroo, we are finding a quiet harbour, beach bar and will relax. We picked up Oli without much hassle last night and then refueled this morning. With 10 knots of wind and time we are tacking down the coast in search of Charlottes last stand. This is postcard Caribbean. We pulled in at Capella Island after only an hour for a swim and then an hour and a half latter, Redhook Bay for the night. And no it's not what we expected. Charlottes last stand has just been described as the "St Thomas Drinking Capital". I wonder what the murder rate is here?
To be cont....
Finally, our sails were repaired and the new solar controller arrived and with that we pulled anchor in Salinas to hit the Spanish Virgin Islands.
It was a little rushed. All day I waited for the wind to drop so we could rig the main sail and for the solar controller to arrive via UPS. It was a day late. Mark, when wondering around town flagged down a UPS van and with new crew member, Brett managed to work out that the guy had tried to deliver the controller the day before only to find no one would take responsibility for the package and it was sent back to Ponce. And the funny thing was it was simply being posted to the post office for us to pick it up. Post offices don't receive port it seems?
So the UPS driver actually went back to Ponce to returned his van and then delivered it to us in his own time right to he marina. How good is that. I tipped him of course. That was 7.30pm and the wind was dropping enough for the sail to go up. So Charlotte cooked, and Brett, Mark and I went rigged the sails and made Ooroo ready to take advantage of the calm conditions for a night sail. We departed at 10pm.
I enjoyed a great few days in Salinas. Ollie and Jen delivered Charlotte to me after having a weekend in San Juan...they then headed off for some more great times, Oli deciding quite rightly that time with Jen was more important than his old man. He will meet us in St Thomas in a few days. Mark found Brett in a backpackers and found out that he was up for the adventure of a night sail to Vieques 50nm away. The slight change in dynamics coupled with some time away from Ooroo and each other works wonders.
In Salinas, I met up with the witty John Perry, a single handed yachtsman of 10 years. Runner up sailboarding world champ and now drinking buddy. He has a web site called www.desperatesailors.com
It's a great site that marries sailors with crew and better still, the skills of sailors with work that needs to be done on your own boat. Whether you want a sail repaired, an engine overhauled, water maker fixed or a haircut and manicure, his site will by location make the introduction. Cheap skilled labour at our manicured finger tips all for free. John is yet another sailor I hope to see on my future voyage.
While plugging good people, I can highly recommend Marianne from Tradewind Sail Repairs. Being just outside the marina she is convenient, she knows the area (cheapest beer and best feed) and even lent me her push bike for the many post office and provision runs. Oh and she's can sow. Her Australian Cockatoo even wolf whistled me. Always a winner.
Less of a winning combination is the sailing I'm doing right now....the motors are on, it's calm and I haven't been able to test these sails.
After my shift I woke the the sound of sailing. The sun was coming up and Mark had found some wind. He last few hours of the trip was awesome.
We anchored just 50 m from shore at Esparanza with the 1941 beautiful wooden Shalamar just to our bow. Sebastian and Liz on Shalamar have been stalking Ooroo since Luperon DR and have arrived at this destination after 3000 nm to set up a charter business. And I can't think of a better winning combination. Sebastian and Liz fell in love with Vieques a few years ago and they are determined for me to do the same....and I have.
With borrowed car and great humour they have shown Charlotte and I every bar, hotel and beach on the island. We have drunk beer and rum and eaten almost every meal together. They are quiet inspirational in there quest to establish themselves here. I'm now convinced that, should I go back into the bar or hotel business this is the place. It's ready to just go off. Vieques is nestled between Peurto Rico and the US Virgin Island. It has had a stunted growth because the US navy used it for shelling practice for 50 years. Houses run free. It has the worlds best Bio Luminescence....that I hope wasn't created by some nasty bomb the navy fired into the tranquil waters.
Sebastian, who I first met in Luperon came across as a very dapper Pom, but proved to be one of the funniest guys I have ever met. Dirty jokes delivered in the best Oxford English just work so much better. Liz, an American oozes enthusiasm and antidotes that can keep any dinner table entertained. And they talk at the same time. But it works so well. They are made to operate a tourism business.
Pinocchio was walking down the street in New Jersey looking very glum. Jimminy Cricket came up an asked if he was all right,
"No" said Pinocchio, "I have a problem with my new girlfriend. Every time we have sex she gets splinters".
"why not try sandpaper" suggested Jimminy. A few days latter Jimminy finds Pinocchio looking much happier. "Hows the new girlfriend?" he asked. "Girlfriend" says Pinocchio, " Who needs a girlfriend when you have sandpaper"
I'm going to post this blog before its finished because I know the last 24hrs we have on this island are going to be hectic. Dinner at Marilyn's tonight will be right off the back of a full on beer and beach day. Tomorrow morning we plan to sail the short hop to Calebra for a night and then we are in sight of St Thomas. Charlotte will leave us and Oli will come back on board.
It will be a bitter/sweet destination.
Finally we reached the Caribbean after 2000nm. And here I sit in a little bar in Salinas Peurto Rico two weeks latter telling you about it. I admit I have been a little bereft of words....me of all people.
From Rincon we sailed down the west coast to Boqueron in the early morning enjoying the protected anchorage and the slow Monday vibe of fresh oysters and cold beer. This town sleeps after the weekend and that suited me fine. It was also Jens first taste of sailing for years and we took took care that it wasn't two hectic.
Early he next morning we rounded the south western corner of PR into the raging easterly blowing the new found Mar Caribe right into out faces. "Welcome" it said, "Respect me....and we will get on just fine". I do. It was the wettest sails we have had..no sooner had the water hit you, it dried leaving a crust of salt on another crust of salt. It was warm, and call me mad but it was enjoyable. As all good sailing books say about DR and PR..."sail at night or you are an idiot". We mostly did this first short passage to Parguer in the early morning but copped the wind before arriving. Jen and Charlotte handled it ok as did Ooroo.
I'm struggling to remember facts about each passage when I leave the Blog for to long. I like them all and so don't really differentiate between them.....but here are a few dot points...(I love dot points...as when you lose some creativeness in writing you can just write a list )
Rincon highlight and lowlight...Oli launching himself from the 15m San Sebastian waterfall with only the knowledge he gained from YouTube. The local guy next to me was saying to his son...."don't you do this ever". Jen and Charlotte discouraged him as did I. Seeing him sitting in a torrent of water and knowing he had to jump from there out a long way to miss the rocks below wasn't comforting. Having some guy say "left left"...and pointing right to were he should try and hit the water wasn't comforting either.
People pulled out cameras...maybe hoping to add to the You Tube footage or make money from the media if it all goes wrong! Maybe even funniest home videos. That only encouraged him. He jumped. He hurt his bollicks....good. If he had of hurt more he would have ruined a lovely day out and maybe the whole voyage for everyone. Anyway he did do it with style. Silly bugger.
Love sickness.....it hits us all and Charlotte caught a bout of it that made seasickness and bowel cancer a walk in the park. "Come back Dakota". As a dad I was trying to be by her side the whole time...I let her sleep...it is the best thing for both love and sea sickness (don't try it with bowel cancer). I encouraged her to keep busy. We waked for miles to find the optimum web connection at the optimum time (Australian time I might add) to get a dose of loving. I understand it and respect it....I'm not taking the piss here.
Charlotte however has kept busy and is planning the amazing rest of her trip as we speak....walking Spain's, Camino, all 700kms in summer at age 18 alone....now that gets respect. I'll have a bout of love sickness when she leaves us on the 7th June but will recover when I see Jules in July.
Mark, knowing this part of the trip is coming to an end is planning his next adventure....to climb the highest peak of South America. Now thats a big call.....six plus months at sea level to 6998m. He is getting his Spanish perfected and his backpack aired and cleaned. But will he do it in boardies and flip flops? I think yes.
I think Parguer has amazing Bio luminescence...I can't remember seeing any fireworks, We haven't caught a fish in ages, the dingy losses air like liposuction loses fat people. I had a hangover, but can't remember when.
Enough of list making.
We sailed to Ponce, again with the nights assistance. We moored at the refueling dock and paid for a night....we had intended to stay a while at the marina and get stuff done on the boat...but, it's a marina with a membership base and so cruisers aren't that welcome. Only members can use the pool and gym and the nighttime music is overpowering. The showers have mosquitoes that are impervious to drowning and you need a taxi to go anywhere. The internet we were told not to bother with. And were greeted by the Customs and Boarder Protection guys and gals.
"Where is your cruising permit and agricultural permit". After the debacle of the first check in to PR apparently they forgot to check the boat for rubbish and dogs and issue us with the required permits (even after being processed by three officers for 5 hours). The rules are that if you bring rubbish from another country onto US soil, you must keep it in sealed plastic bags so that you can dump it in a non US country. The US have been dumbing there bad stuff on other beaches for years so I understood. Fortunately we arrived with nothing but Walmart stuff as we had used all our fresh food getting here....good old Walmart.
We got the third degree. Remember we had a Parol visa based on humanitarian terms due to the ripped sail and loss of solar power.
Four officers inspected us. Three lovely people and a short guy. You know the type. He was the loudest and had the most impressive utility belt I had seen so far. He pulled black gloves out of one compartment and squeezed them onto his hands like he was about to preform surgery. My butt clenched. His starched trousers we ticked into his shinny jack boots. I could drag this out as it did last a few hours but I won't. However when we were ordered to go "straight away" to there office we off course politely agreed...then the small guy said "you are steeling water". That's when I got mad. "don't you accuse me of steeling anything" I said. "you have taken it from that tap over there" he said pointing to an unused tap on another dock. I advised him that we have paid and have been directed to use that tap. He didn't like it. The three lovely customs people rolled there eyes collectively. Mark asked him if he could give us a life to the customs office and was ignored. Anyway we went by taxi, spent another hour, paid $37 and got the papers we needed and although I don't believe them, we are allowed to use the same paperwork for the US Virgin Islands.
Salinas is fantastic. Ollie Charlotte and Jen hired a car in Ponce to explore San Juan. Mark was also keen to explore but kindly helped me sail away from Ponce to here. We departed at 3am and arrived at 8am. We stripped the sails from the mast and deliver them to Marianne at Tradewinds Sail Repairs and I have a new Solar Controller being delivered to the local post office (I hope I can find it). I was very happy to stay on Ooroo alone to get the stuff done that I would have had done in Ponce. Mark has hitched to catch up with the others in San Juan.
So right now I'm drinking a beer in this cool little bar. They have hung an Aussie flag I gave them....which apparently means I'm now family. I even have my own stool.
05/18/2012, Rincon PR
Checking into PR was like a comedy. As mentioned before we tied up to the customs dock at Mayaguez in the early morning of the Wednesday the 16th only to be told that a ferry was coming in and so there will be no resources to check us in. They had no issue in us heading to Rincon. The anchorage is beautiful. We are still flying the yellow quarantine flag.
Jen drove Oli, Mark and I the 30 minutes back to the dock to check in at noon the next day. The Customs and Boarder Protection office is large for a town so small....there were no ships in harbour yet 15 or so staff to monitor the entry point to PR.
A security guard made us stand outside the open door while he went to grab an CBP Federal Office. A man came out with the mandatory gun, capsicum spray, batton and light saber strapped to his huge girth. "follow" and we did, "wait" and we did. Passports and boat papers we offered. I had the impression the guy couldn't read. Passports need to be the right way up to read them and the name Ooroo is a name and not a vessel registration number.
So we are waiting by one of those huge X-ray machines. For the sake of this blog I shall call e officer Gilligan. He leaves for 10 minutes and comes back and says "we have a big problem". I'm thinking he has the problem...but that wasn't a helpful thought.
He said, "let me explain! If you came by an aircraft and we didn't want you then the aircraft would have to take you home at no cost to the US government. That is the agreement with have with the aircraft, If you came on a commercial ship and we didn't want you here then they would have to take you back.....this is our agreement with them" he repeated this several times. I cold see Mark wanting to ask questions but prayed he wouldn't just yet. He said "do you understand" about 5 times.
Well we did understand, but didn't know were this was taking us. We all had valid US visas.
He said "we don't have this agreement with private vessels, so if we don't want you in the country then we have no way of sending you home without a cost to the US Government". Ahhhh so that's it.
So we explained to him our predicament. We ripped a sail in DR, we have an issue with the solar controller and so we crossed the Mona Passage because we know we can have these items fixed here. We all but cried.
He explained we need a B1B2 visa and that is only issued in our country of residence. Or we can pay $550 each for a visa waiver.
So we cried poor. To Gilligan's credit he played along with us. Winking and saying "so you don't have any money". He went to seek out his supervisor to see whether we can be issued with a Humanitarian Visa.
I was summoned to chiefs office and he interviewed me about money. I standing like an obedient school kid...he was siting behind a desk....I think this is because we was extremely short or didn't want to stand up without his Batman Utility Belt on. You must have money he said and I agreed. "My crew however don't and if I am to lend money to my crew I can only draw $300 a day from my bank" said I with slight exaggeration. "We wont have a fee for you for almost a week". I was dismissed to go back to the X-ray machine. We waited. Gilligan came back and said we are very lucky, we will grant you a 21 day humanitarian visa due to your unfortunate distressed situation. Yeh. Then he too exaggerated by saying..."this will take a couple to hours to process". It took 5 hrs.
Gilligan spent the next hour one finger typing, umming and ahhing. Eventually he finger printed me...twice. Apparently I was too helpful. He kept asking me not to move my finger as he rolled it around on the scanner. He took my photo.
So I took a photo of Gilligan from my iPad....we had free WiFi so up to Facebook it went.
A huge woman entered the room. She also had the uniform, a shinny shield on her mammoth chest....but no Bat Man Belt. They didn't make them that big. I guess she packed her hardware in her cleavage. Let's call her Jowls.
I said "Hi". And was deflated at being ignored by such a buxom woman in uniform. She started telling Gilligan he was doing it wrong. They argued in Spanish. I think Jowls stared processing us as well. Gilligan started complaining that he had a meeting at 2. I'm thinking that's great, we will be out by 2. But i think he was just making excuses to leave because he didnt know how to work the computer and couldn't be told by her.
They got another guy to come help. This guy had the belt...I knew that before he entered the room. With one leg shorted that the other his hardware jingled like Christmas.
"Hi" I said before I membered my mistake.
Between eating chocolate bars and texting, Jowls slowly typed. We waited.
Poor Jen also was waiting. I asked if we can get lunch and she grated permission for Jen and I alone go the food run. Jen and I took our time, glad to have been sprung. When we returned we told Oli and Mark that Jen beat me at pool. "she much better than you Oli" I gleefully stated. We said the beers were cold too. Much like the soggy tacos we got from Taco Bells. We also had chocolate. I contemplated bribing the Jowls with chocolate bars but concluded that would only slow her down.
The second Guy, I knick named "shuffle". He shuffled paper, lost paper and shuffled across the room to print more paper. He also had a speech impediment. I'm visualizing him making an arrest "fffffffreeze. Or maybe chasing someone. If the culprit ran in circles he may just have a chance. I must have looked goofy to them, sitting on a cold bench seat with a smile on my face.
A few others come and went....I'm not sure how many as they all looked the same. I wondered how they processed the ship the day before. But understood why they couldn't handle three blokes on a boat.
Shuffle made me sign some stuff as captain. I sighed something with Marks name on it and the words "notice to detain, remove or present alien" he signed the one with Oli's name on it were I should have signed. Then he spent 30 minuted shuffling through the papers looking for one with my name on it. Jowls yelled for him to check the printer....no paper with my name on it turned up. He lost interest after awhile and so I think he may have lost it.
I think Jowls took a liking to Mark. Her sitting, Mark standing, holding hands over the finger print scanner. She took her time. She looked up at him, smiled (well I think it was a smile) and then mentioned an ex husband....very random.
I asked when they closed and they said 4pm. It was now 4.30. Ahhh, I thought. Overtime.
I asked if we needed to check out of the country when we leave and Shuffle said no. Mark asked and Jowls said yes. We asked If we could write them when we leave instead and they said yes and even gave me customs and boarder control letter heads to use. That could be fun.
The paperwork they gave me is all wrong....right down to the spelling of the boats name.
It was after 5 when they stamped "Parole" in the passport with the word scribbled beneath it saying "humanitarian" ....I'm out by June 7th or I go to jail.
But I can't complaint. The guys doing this job in Australia can take two years to process boat people.