02/24/2010, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands
As two back to back cold fronts approached us, and the prevailing east winds moderating, Don and I decided to make a quick trip down to the French island of St. Martin for a few weeks before more company arrives in April. Most of our cruising friends have long since headed down island and as usual we are the last, we are slow moving and tend to stay in one place for awhile if we like it. A mere hundred miles, the sail to St. Martin can be a rough trip if the weather does not cooperate so the cold fronts moderating the conditions looked hopeful.
We left Red Hook, St. Thomas at daybreak, just as the ferry boats were warming up for their daily runs. This makes the convenient but rolly anchorage of Red Hook an easy place to provision from and then quickly make an escape. Hoping to sail and not motor the entire one hundred miles, we were extremely dismayed when the predicted 10-12 knot SW to W turned out to only be 3-4 knots and variable and then quickly turned NE to E, the direction we were heading, twelve hours earlier than forecasted! Alas such is the boating life, flexible and unpredictable. Don, still recovering from a rib injury, reinjured himself while wrestling with the sails and was grimacing in pain with each roll of the boat. This is always the time we ponder ROLLER FURLING...but it's not going to happen! We own twelve headsails, dont ask where they are all stored.
So, in the spirit of "Why are we doing this, delicious French bread and cheese, ....who needs it!" Don made a command decision and we pulled into Spanishtown, BVI to check in and spend some time in the beautiful British Virgin Islands instead. It's British so we know they have good beer. We had been here briefly over Christmas but didn't get to spend as much time as we usually like, exploring and enjoying for weeks...months...?
St. Martin will still be there whenever we get there, someday.
Settling into Virgin Gorda for a few days and watching the parade of charter boats come and go we spent a little time ashore at the Beach Bar at Vixen Point near the famous Bitter End Yacht Club. Columbus supposedly named the island Virgin Gorda as it resembles a fat woman lying on her back, it seems many stories about Columbus have to do with women. Sailors.....they are all alike! Ten miles long and with many high peaks, anything over 1000 feet is designated National Park land in order to preserve the natural beauty.
A beautiful spot perfect for a leisurely swim and a self-medicating rum and coke for Don, white sand and turquoise water. Yet deserted and rather lonely looking we thought, the down turn in the global economy definitely having an effect on these enchanted isles.
02/22/2010, Christmas Cove, USVI
For those of you who have been asking me about the Mola quilt, it's not finished but here is the latest. After a year in Panama and having bought enough molas to sink the boat, I am slowly but surely finishing up some craft projects that these beautiful textiles lend themselves to so well.
Molas are the national treasures of the Kuna Indians of the San Blas Islands of western Panama and the main income source for the Kuna Yala. Handmade, layered appliqués, these beautiful pieces of artwork start out as the front and back panels of the multicolored blouses worn by the women; they also keep the panels separate and sell them to visiting cruisers and tourists.
As soon as you drop anchor in any one of the hundreds of beautiful islands a dugout canoe will make its way to your boat with a wide selection of molas available for purchase. Stoic and harsh bargainers, these resourceful women are the main income producers of this matriarchal society. One of the last independent nations not seduced and conquered by modern civilization, the San Blas Islands remain one of our favorite places.
02/12/2010, St. Thomas, USVI
For two months Don and I have been in the USVI, going back and forth between beautiful, peaceful anchorages that afford us gorgeous sunsets, clear reef snorkeling and the hustle bustle of the busy cruise ship port of Charlotte Amalie, ST. Thomas. We were delighted to hear from our old cruising buddy Keith of s/v Scalawag who was looking for a break from the subzero temperatures of his home in Alberta, Canada. Lucky for us on his way to the boat show in Miami he decided to take a side trip down to the paradise of St.Thomas and spend a few warm days aboard the Starship along with his girlfriend Michelle. After some shopping in the duty free zone, a few tropical punches to get in the "island mood", and plenty of door pics, we headed out of the main harbor and sailed up to one of our favorite islands, St. John.
St. John is almost entirely a national park with mooring balls set in all the anchorages to protect the coral from boaters. From here you can see the adjacent islands of the British Virgin Islands, a mere two to three miles away. We took the hike to the Annaburg Sugar Mill, ruins of a colonial sugar cane plantation restored by the National Park Service. With an unobstructed view of the island of Tortola, BVI and Drake's Channel full of sailboats, this made for an interesting and beautiful side trip.
As always the clear warm water treated us to many spectacular reef fish encounters, a few hawksbill and loggerhead turtles, and a school of huge tarpon that swam by us at a leisurely pace, on their way to somewhere in the deep blue. Michelle had never snorkeled before so it was quite entertaining to watch someone try to breathe thru their snorkel and giggle at the same time. Don and I are always glad to have company, especially when they bring us boat parts and chocolate, and Keith as always came thru!
01/30/2010, Christmas Cove, USVI
Since Don and I have spent the last few months here in the US Virgin Islands and probably will be in the area until May I thought I would post a few pictures and share a little about the islands and their history. Maybe more history than you want but feel free to just skip to the pictures!
The US Virgin Islands are made up of three large islands, St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix along with numerous smaller islets. Purchased in 1917 for $25 million from the Danish, the United States was concerned that foreign powers, namely Germany, would establish naval bases close to American shores. The US government also wanted to establish another military outpost in the Caribbean as a safeguard for the newly constructed Panama Canal.
Originally inhabited by the Arawak and Caribe Indians, historically Columbus is given credit for "discovering" the Virgin Islands in 1493 on his second voyage to the Americas. Having stopped in St. Croix for fresh water and seeing all the numerous islands visible to the naked eye he summarily christened the islands "The Virgins", encompassing all of the present day British Virgin Islands as well. In honor of St. Ursula and the 11,000 virgins who died in the 4th century in battle against the Huns at Cologne, the Virgin Islands became part of the Spanish empire. The Spanish used the many natural harbors and anchorages for traveling to and from the New World, bringing gold bullion from South America back to Spain. Eventually the gold supply from Peru dwindled and the Danish and British took over the Virgin Islands, hoping to colonize the heavily Spanish West Indies.
Plantations of sugarcane, cotton, indigo, pineapples, and of course production of rum raised the need for a cheap labor force, and the importation of African slaves began. Life on a plantation was extremely harsh and a slave's life short. Even with the increasing numbers of slaves being provided, the plantation economy did not thrive as it did in the United States. Drought, hurricanes, pirates and privateers, and the American and Napoleonic wars all made it difficult for the finished products to reach their destinations, mainly Europe. After the abolishment of slavery by the British in 1772 the ever increasing numbers of slaves in the Dutch Virgin Islands rebelled for their freedom at the same time the sugarbeet made sugarcane an over-priced commodity. For the next century the newly freed slaves struggled to survive off the land and sea, while the still prosperous European plantation owners fled.
Once again the geographical advantages of the Virgin Islands came into play in its prosperity. Ideally situated in the temperate trade wind belt and having literally hundreds of anchorages within a few hours of each other, the Virgin Islands are now the prime area for the charter and cruise ship industries. In an area where once Columbus, Sir Francis Drake and Blackbeard dropped their anchors, now thousands of charter boats and cruise ships take advantage of the turquoise water, balmy breezes, and gorgeous sunsets.
Don and I spend our time anchorage to anchorage, never more than a two hour trip, sometimes not even enough time to bother putting up a sail! While finding parts, fuel, water, and produce can take up an entire day, at least we are lucky enough to do it in paradise.
01/03/2010, Virgin Gorda, BVI
Christmas holiday was spent in the British Virgin Islands where the Starship enjoyed a relaxed two weeks with our daughter Darci who came to visit over her break from college. Don and I were happy to have our third crew member back, complete with shrimp kabobs and sour cream apple pie for Christmas dinner, and onboard art lessons for mom. But Don, not to be left out, assisted Darci in taking apart, cleaning, and putting back together her malfunctioning laptop that accidentally sponged up a spilled Guinness! Dad is handy to have around when something needs to be disassembled and reassembled in perfect working order.
A wicked lightning and thunder storm on Christmas Eve had us scrambling for the foil and putting the GPS in the oven, all the while collecting rainwater for future use. We have been so spoiled these last few months with good weather and an uneventful hurricane season that it was a good refresher for our ever so important "Save The Electronics" drill.
As a perfect ending to the year, we lounged and watched 2010: The Year We Make Contact for 2010. We are still waiting! But mostly we were delighted that our DVD player still functions and that the depth sounder reads correctly!
Don and I hope that the New Year of 2010 brings much joy, happiness, and prosperity to you all. And remember, your cabin on Starship is always ready!
01/02/2010, Christmas Cove, USVI
Happy New Year!
The first blog of the New Year finds us back in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. Following Deb's visit to California for Thanksgiving our friend Dave came to sail with us for two weeks and enjoyed some fabulous weather, sailing, hiking, and swimming. And as Dave is an extreme carnivore our BBQ finally got some much needed use and Daisy oodles of rib bones. The main delicacy in St. Thomas is definitely the BBQ ribs! We explored the sights of the main harbor of St. Thomas, Charolette Amalie, by foot, by car, and by boat, along with our other fellow trimaraner John on s/v Buddy. A major port of call for cruise ships and mega-yachts, Charolette Amalie has everything duty-free from Gucci to diamonds to rum. We stuck to the rum and have decided that while the views and beaches at the world class resort of Caneel Bay, St. John's are beautiful, the best Painkillers are at Joe's Beach Bar on Water Island. These are the important facts that we cruisers are so dependant on and feel compelled to share!