A great visit..
Sorry for the delay in posting, but we were caught up in a great visit with dear friends... We had an exceptional week, visiting St. John and brand new anchorages for all of us. We left Crown Bay on Sunday, Dec 18th and headed up to Leinster Bay, Water Lemon Key on the North end of St. John. From here you can see Joost Van Dyke, Tortola and all the smaller out islands on that end. Waterlemon is a lovely little place, with nice snorkeling, however the Christmas Winds are up, and the outer edge of the key was a little rough. They have mooring balls here, and most everywhere, since the bulk of the island is a National Park for a mere $15 a night. The pay stations are located on a small float, located in the bay, so the Backseaters kayaked over and took care of the necessary. We stayed in Leinster two days, the second day we went to shore and took a fabulous hike up and into the park, across a ridge and far enough to see Coral Bay on the south side. Along the way we were able to see some ruins, one a terrific archway left from some building, another the foundation of a huge mansion on the hilltop, called Windy point. We would never have found the mansion, or known what it was without the help of a family of hikers who gave us some tips as we met them on the path. They were regular St. John vacationers, and were happy to give us a few tips along the way. We originally planned to hike all the way to Coral Bay, as the path said 2 miles or so... well, it may have been 2 miles...but they were island miles which meant up, down, up, up, down, etc and by the time we got to the crest and headed down...down looked like a LOOOOONG way, and the fact of climbing back UP it on the return trip daunted most of us (I think the vote was 3 to one!) so we turned and headed back. We took another short, flat path around to see the ruins of the Annandale Sugar Mill Plantation which is a wonderfully well preserved and partially restored site.
Tuesday, Dec 20th we headed over to Maho Bay, and took a can there...a pretty site, but with the winds picking up the snorkeling was a little cloudy and hard to see. In the afternoon, the Park Ranger stopped by to advise that the wind forecasts were looking grim, and the seas forecasted in the bay were to be 10-15 feet. As you can imagine, this was disconcerting to us, however his recommendation that we move to the south side of the island came a little late in the day for us. Dilemma....the Backseaters are out snorkeling...there are still a few cans available in the more protected portion of the bay, but boats are headed in to snatch them...stay or go, stay or go...well - we go, find a better (we hope) can for the night, then jump in the dingy to go search for our intrepid dive team who we hope are still walking the beach and none the wiser to our move.... However, that was not to be...unbeknownst to us they saw us move the boat as they were swimming back and so continued to swim halfway across the bay to catch up with us. After hauling them in the dingy we head back to the boat where we fortunately can laugh about the crazy events of the day...
Wednesday, Dec 21 - we had a bumpy, but fine night, and as we look at our original mooring we would have been fine overnight. Hmm - nothing like a warning from a Park Ranger to make you rethink your decisions. However, all was well, and we got a great story out it too. And even though now the Backseaters will not leave the boat without either Jim or I, they are still talking about next time, so our friendship is intact! Today we headed over to St. James Island, and a small bay called Christmas Cove. The snorkeling here was great, and we saw stingrays and sea turtles, porcupine fish, squid and several other very interesting and uncommon sea critters. The water was clear and except in one area, had a very limited current, so the snorkeling was quite enjoyable here. Late in the afternoon, we discovered another secret about Christmas Cove...It is where Santa keeps his reindeer! One wandered down to the rocky beach late in the day to say hello to the boaters, and watch the sunset with us.
Thursday afternoon, we headed back into Charlotte Amalie Waterfront to anchor for the night as Friday was departure day for our friends. The winds are STILL blowing, so the bay is a little rocky with that and boat traffic, as usual but we decide to go to town for dinner. Since the Backseaters were familiar with our old (smaller, and very wet) dingy I made a point of telling them that with our new (bigger and much improved) dingy we don't get wet going to shore.... Ummmm, usually! With the chop in the harbor we hadn't even let loose from the mother ship when we were taking some spray....oops! Well, it still wasn't as bad as it would have been! We tied up to our friends on Ocean Jedi, and Frank and Denise joined us for supper. We stopped at the Fat Turtle at Yacht Haven and had a drink and ordered dinner when Pop! the whole island went dark! After a few moments some lights popped on in certain locations as back up generators kicked in, but not many and the only light that now illuminates the restaurant comes from a few flashlights that the servers have and the cruise ship still in port... After 25 minutes, we determined that our dinner was not going to happen here, so we went back to OJ where Denise had a crock pot going with one of her charter suppers which she generously shared with us. Delicious!
Friday Dec 23rd...Sad day! Departure day and we see the Backseaters off to the Taxi at the Ferry dock. A few hours later we head to shore again to meet up with Bob & Keri, and their family who arrived this morning on one of the cruise ships. We ended up having a late lunch with them then headed back to the boat where we waved them off and out of the harbor!
Thursday, December 15, 2011
After more than a week of light and easy winds, a low east of here shifted and overnight the winds piped up...which is nice for the breeze, not so much for the noise and the fact that this morning we are heading over to the Crown Bay Marina for a few days to get the boat ready for friends who are coming in on Saturday night. The winds are between 15 & 20, with gusts reading 28 -yeow! And we have to pick up our anchor and avoid hitting this bozo who anchored a little too close to us...fortunately Jim is an expert at the helm and when we finally retrieved our, very well dug in anchor, we were within 20 feet of him..ok - believe it or not, that was the easy part. Now we have to go and put the boat in a slip that is certainly wide enough for us, but has concrete piers that only come out about 25 feet...a bit like wearing a hospital gown with your back end open to the breeze!
Again, Jim is an expert, and we had an excellent dock hand on the pier to catch our lines and snug us in. OK - so we are here! About 10 minutes from the airport (for those who might want to know!), on the safari bus route to town, with a restaurant, a grocery store, etc all right here.
Tomorrow, more work - but for today we are relaxing, getting the laundry done, getting on the internet figuring out where to get the stuff we need, and on and on...But for now, let me say...we really LOVE St. Thomas! it nice being in America.
Wednesday, December 14th.
Denise & Frank rented a car and invited us, and another charter boat friend, Deby of theirs to go shopping on the island with them...How exciting...No, really it is. Home Depot, Kmart, Pricemart, the marine chandlery, all in one day...AND in a car..bliss! so off we all go shopping bags in hand, in the mean time they give us our island orientation. After about 6 stores, we have too much to continue shopping, so we head back to the dingys, load all the stuff into the two dingys, drop Deby and all her goods off at her boat, then back to ours, stuff all the cold goods in the fridge, then back in the dink, pick Deby up, and back to the dingy dock for more. The dingy dock is so crowded this afternoon that Frank & Denise have to lock their dink to ours as we got the only space left on the dock. Then it's back in the car thru the rush hour (kids getting off school and all the cruise ship passengers heading back to the boat) to the Cost-U-Less. We didn't finish here until after 6 so now, we get to do all the same hauling and schlepping...in the dark. When we finally got back to the boat we had cold sandwiches and crashed.. Ahh the glamorous life of cruising.
We are safe and sound in St Thomas, more. Alter after sleep, and um...more sleep!
PS - Just posted the previous days blogs...look below for the first half of our trip..thanks!
Monday, Dec 12th
Hmmm what is it about this date that rings a bell?!
We left Nevis around 7am, after another good nights rest...for the last leg, 149 miles to St. Thomas. It is bright and clear, with a perfect blue sky and almost no seas, yet, as we are in the shadow of St. Kitts, then Eustacia for several hours...however, eventually we hit the gap and the swells come in at about 6-7 ft, but at ten second intervals, on the beam...all in all pretty comfortable. the last little bit of land we pass is Saba Rock, an exceptionally beautiful little island, with houses ringing the ridges. Just outside and to the south is the Saba bank, a shallow ledge of the sea (65 ft) that is just covered with net markers.., we are very happy to be crossing over in the daylight - but even so...it is a tense few hours, and we are happier to be out of it.
Tonight, we also receive a very special gift, and one I have been waiting years for - To see the moon rise out of the ocean. We had the perfect conditions, a waning moon, two days from full, and a dark and nearly cloudless sky. Jim had the first watch, and so woke me to witness the event, that came up way too fast for my taste, but, oh what a wonderful sight!
We also discovered a disturbing fact about the course we were heading....it's a flipping freeway out here after dark! Literally waves of cruise ships with a few freighters thrown in to make things even more interesting, past us going every direction. Most of them seem to be heading toward St. Maarten, whose lights we can see in the far distance. Twice Jim had to wake me for extra eyes, and I returned the favor on my watch. (Emily...we had a green, white, red experience...just like when you were with us!) for you non sailors, the red light is on the boats port side, and the green one is on the starboard. If you can see one or the other, it means they will pass you safely...but if you can see both....NOT GOOD - that means he is heading straight for you! We operate on the gross tonnage rule which means...the BIGGER ship has right of way. We repeatedly altered course to allow them clear passage. Finally after midnight things calmed down and we were able to relax slightly, as much as you can relax on a night passage.
Jim woke me at 4 for shift change, and as we discussed what was on the radar, etc, he told me about this particular contact that he had been watching for several hours, about 5 miles away, that seemed to be heading away from us, in the same general direction and speed. All thru my watch I never saw any lights from the boat, but Radar continued to advise us it was there. About 5:30, Jim woke while we were still aways off to get ready to make port. But as dawn approached, so did the cruise ships and we watched them queuing up for entry to Charlotte Amalie. At about this time our mysterious radar contact turned and is now heading closer to us, when they were inside of two miles away and we still couldn't see their lights I was finally able to see the boat thru the binocs and discovered they were running dark...no lights of any kind. The words, 'must be a patrol boat' were barely out of my mouth when the radio crackles and we hear, "vessel at latitude X, longitude Y, heading Q, at a speed of 6" (hey...that's us!!) "this is the United States Coast Guard please identify yourself." We respond and switch channels to have a lovely conversation with the USCG patrol boat. "What is your vessel, spell her name, where is she registered, where did you come from, where are you going, how many people on board?, etc, etc." after our brief conversation I tell them it was good to see them out there this morning and they sign off then Jim says...well, If I knew it was the Coast Guard, I would have been a lot more comfortable for the last 5 hours!
They ended up shadowing us for the next hour or so, until we entered the main harbor channel, behind one Cruise Ship, and in front of another. When we arrived in downtown Charlotte Amalie, we met our friends on Ocean Jedi, who directed us where to anchor in this busy but HUGE anchorage. ...WOW... What a view! We are HERE! Tuesday, Dec 13th, 8:15am, our anchor down and set, all kinds of boats all around us, one cruise ship on the dock, and another entering the channel! Wow - we did it!
We dropped the dingy and headed over to Ocean Jedi where Denise cooked us a delicious breakfast and then jumped in the dink with us to show us where the customs office was. We checked in, then headed back to the boat to check OUT! The only thing left on the agenda today...is SLEEP!
Sunday, December 11, 2011
After sleeping like the dead for 10 hours we were up at 5:15 this morning waiting on the sun...while the full moon shone like a beacon leading us straight out of the harbor we waited anyway, just a bit then hauled the anchor and made our way out of the harbor just as the church bells rang 6am. It may seem like we are obsessed with time, but there is a good reason for it. We spend lots of time planning and forecasting, checking the weather, planning routes, in order to make sure we get where we need to go at the right time. For today's trip that meant leaving before dawn, as early as we possibly could see well enough to make our way thru the net floats that are laid out in front of Deshaias. These are a common occurrence here in the islands, and we do love the fresh fish they gather, but they are worrisome for us as we are cruising along looking for a float about the size of a coconut, or a bleach bottle, that originally was white, probably, but may be yellow, or after so long in the water, brownish...like an actual coconut...which does complicate things. As the float is attached to a long line, which holds a net under the water so, as long as you don't hit one you'll be fine...the trick is seeing them so you don't hit it.
We were heading for Nevis, 70 miles away, where we plan to pick up a mooring overnight and continue on in the morning. Another good night's sleep is in order before our last overnight passage to the Virgin Islands. The issue, of course is time. If we could sail, we can make 7-8 knts easily, however the forecast is for light and variable winds, well we might still be able to motor sail, but we HAVE to maintain a speed of 7.3 knots in order to make it to Nevis before dark, and as sunset is about 5:40...6pm means pure pitch black...eeek! So we plan for 7 plus knots, planning for the trip to take 10 hours, we should be in by 4pm...giving us an hour margin. Our planning paid off, and we again motor sailed, pushing the boat a little harder to maintain speed. It was a beautiful day, and we saw a few more boats. We practiced with the radar which fortunately does an excellent job, once you learn to read it...but truly regretted the lack of our AIS. The first ship that came close to us passed off our bow about a mile and ½ away. We found that our AIS works inside of 3 miles, which is helpful...but has its disadvantages, like when you see a freighter closing in on you on the radar and realize that you are truly on a collision course. Jim quickly adjusted our course to allow this second vessel to pass. When our AIS finally kicked in we could see they were steaming at 15 knts, and passed us within ½ a mile! Thankfully, we could clearly see them....really glad it wasn't night. The biggest issue is unless you know their name...they DO NOT answer you on the radio. Here we are sailing along off the coast of the still active volcano Montserrat with 3 boats in sight, a freighter, us and a 4 masted clipper about 5 miles away. So I hail ''freighter off the east coast of Montserrat''...nothing, finally the AIS kicks in and I get the vessel name, when I hail this time,...different story, oh yes, hello, what do you want?.
As we finally approach Nevis, the winds, which had been 5-6 all day pick up to 16 knts, of course. The mooring field at Nevis is huge, probably around 75 moorings, which currently have about 6 boats tied up, seems a little eerie. There is a storm to the west of us that threatens to eliminate our sunset possibilities, and makes it get darker that much faster, and even though the moon is still nearly full, by 7:45 it still hadn't made an appearance, so contrary to last night, tonight it is pitch black here in the anchorage, and we can see lightening off in the distance and we are grateful that all our planning paid off.