Literally, The BVI's Ended With A Bang
13 March 2017
My Cay was sailing along close hauled in a stiff trade breeze, but she was performing just as beautifully as she does when going upwind in 18 knots of breeze. Full jib, one reef in the main and 7.5 knots registering on the speedo. Down below all I heard was the familiar twang a boat makes when something in the rig gives way....my worst fear was that a one of the stays holding our mast up in the air had just shredded.
Bounding up on deck and popping my head up through the companionway, Bonnie let me know the jib was falling to the deck. As my head spun around 180 degrees, I could see the jib slowly flopping to the foredeck like an accordion, which quickly became the signal that we would be taking the jib down. As soon as I had it fully lowered to the foredeck, I could see that the webbing on the head of the jib had failed and we would be need a sailmaker to work their magic to repair our wounded wing.
After almost 30 days in the BVI's, a wounded wing was sending us back to St. Thomas to make repairs and make My Cay healthy again.
Our time in the BVI's has been truly amazing. We visited anchorages we love, we visited anchorages we have never visited and we went back to anchorages we stopped in many years ago. Throughout the 30 days, we learned to slow down and take our time at each anchorage. Being able to spend more than 24 hours in one place allows you to meet transient sailors, as well as the community that lives in the BVI's.
Our highlights included the 3 days we spent on Anegada, roaming the island by motor scooter and soaking up the simplicity of the small island settlement. Seeing Peter Island after passing it by for the last 10 years, my how the anchorage has grown...but, yet it is still remote and secluded. Finding the Sunset Loop on Peter Island was a bonus too. Visiting Jost Van Dyke and Cane Garden, to see just a small amount of development, but yet meeting the most genuine local people who call Tortola home and welcome you in as if you were family. Anchoring in Savannah Bay inside of the reef, surrounded by just 3 other boats and being able to stargaze with the absence of ambient light. We can't forget North Sound either. Usually you are in a rush to get in and out of North Sound in 1 night, but when you have time, it really becomes a separate cruising ground. Bitter End Yacht Club, Leverick Bay, Saba Rock, Briars Creek and the list goes on...it's a place that can capture you allow you to escape from the Drake Passage Highway and crowded anchorages...must be why Bronson likes it there!
We will return to the BVI's in April, but next we will dive deeper into the USVI's. Our goal is to spend time on St. Thomas and take care of a few life things that need attention, stock up and head back out.
St. John and the natural beauty of the National Park is on our list of places to explore. After St. John, we are hoping to sail south to St.Croix and see an island we have never been to.
The adventure rolls on.......
Returning to Where It All Began
27 February 2017
Arriving in Brewers Bay, St. Thomas next to the Cyril King Airport stirred a lot of memories for both my Dad and I, but my emotional buttons really were pushed when we sailed passed the Bolongo Bay Resort and into Red Hook Marina. The memories of vacationing with my family at Bolongo Bay and seeing it from the water, while cruising over to Red Hook where Bonnie, Dad and I have all passed through as we prepped for the trip brought me all the way back to the beginning. All of a sudden, everything came full circle from the first time my parents took my sister and me on a charter, to having shared a growing pursuit with my Mom before she passed away. For me, the arrival in the USVI’s and BVI’s was like returning home.
It's now been almost 3 weeks since we crossed over to Jost Van Dyke and raised the British Virgin Island courtesy flag and we still look in the rear view mirror in amazement that we have made it this far! Boquerón to Ponce, Puerto Rico…waiting in Ponce and watching the Patriots win the Super Bowl to fighting Trade Winds along the south coast of Puerto Rice and having to turn back. Finally finding a weather window to motor against those Trade Winds to get the last 100 miles to St. Thomas….a long 17 hours of slogging east against waves 5-7 feet at times, to waking up to the beautiful sight of Culebra and flat calm water.
The pace has finally slowed to a crawl. After stocking up on food, doing laundry and seeing my Dad head back to the States, we set our course for a month long visit to the British Virgin Islands. We have explored Jost Van Dyke, Tortola, Virgin Gorda’s North Sound and Anegada, as well as caught up with our friends on Charis….and we still have 11 more days before we have to clear out of the BVI’s. Each of our stops has been for 2-4 days, unlike the many “Bareboat Charters” who are around us. The bareboats are on a schedule and are in and out in one night….advantage goes to full time cruisers who can stop and take the time to appreciate the island vibe. We still have to traverse Drakes Passage and island hop our way back from Virgin Gorda.
What you find with the island vibe, is genuine friendly people who are unique and appreciate the simplicity of island life. One moment you are sharing sea sickness remedies with someone from Trinidad to potentially arranging lobsters from someone’s cousin who lives on Tortola, to learning that a good deal of Road Harbor is reclaimed land…and that the rum distillery in Cane Garden is one of the oldest buildings on the island of Tortola. You can only learn these things or have these conversations if you reach out and join in the island community. The people you meet are infectious with their happiness and willingness to help others.
While sitting at a corner spot in Anegada, we struggled with how to describe what we see as paradise. When you look around the physical area, there was is the beautiful turquoise green water with dotted coral heads. Palm trees lined the shores, while brightly painted walls from surrounding buildings catch you eye. The roads are silent with no traffic and the shuffling of flip fops could be heard over the pavement. The scene screams paradise. But, one could easily be turned off by the stripped for parts rusted tractor on blocks, the unfinished masonry work on the buildings, the decrepit restaurant equipment piled in the corner and the makeshift bathrooms at many places….all of this begging the question…what is paradise? What is it that we as humans come to believe is paradise?
Paradise is a cruel irony, which beckons you to believe that you need to spend more or indulge in opulence to find paradise. Paradise is not fancy; it’s not well finished brick and mortar. High-class dinners and marble bathrooms will dazzle you. Paradise is the living heartbeat of where ever you land. All of the amenities or none of amenities, paradise lies not in the eye, but in the heart. It is the warmth of the people, the community you feel and the happiness you find in the simplicity of life. You can take any location you have ever been and the factor that qualified as paradise for you were the people and how you felt while you were visiting….and if you stay long enough, it might become home.
We can all find paradise; it is a lot closer than you think.
Milestones and Frustrations
08 February 2017
It’s late in the afternoon and we are some 300 miles into a journey we never had planned, but are glad that we took the plunge to challenge ourselves and see what we can endure. Part of living the life of cruising is finding your limits and pushing beyond boundaries….and on this run we certainly pushed beyond what we thought we could handle. With the seas building to 6 feet, the wind on our nose and our forward speed slowing to 5 knots, our lead “Buddy Boat” has made the call to bail out from our course to St. Thomas and head south to the small village of Boquerón, Puerto Rico. We didn’t plan on Puerto Rico, but here’s our chance to see another island!
The story is much deeper than what I have laid out in the first paragraph, for the last 2 weeks we have felt like we have constantly been on the move and not enjoying the “cruising life”, but we also chose to make some changes in our route to gain the experience of sailing for 500 miles. We were fortunate to have hooked up with 2 other boats who were heading from the Caicos to St. Thomas, so we jumped at the chance to have “Buddy Boats” for our first 3-day sail. The tradeoff was we would not be visiting Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico this time around.
Milestones. Milestones big and small have been accomplished over the last 2 weeks. Starting back in Georgetown, Bonnie and I made the trip from Georgetown to the Caicos in 24 hours and sailed 180 miles with just the 2 of us! Along the way, we saw the Southern Cross for the first time! We picked up my Dad in the Caicos and promptly set a new milestone. Leaving the Caicos with 2 other boats, we sailed the north side of the Caicos and set course for St. Thomas, trying to accomplish 500 miles in 3 days. Ultimately, we didn’t make St. Thomas, but we did sail for 350 miles and safely made the western shores of Puerto Rico, having bypassed the Mona Passage! Bonnie caught her first fish…a big ole barracuda! By far the largest milestone was realizing that we have now travelled about 1100 nautical miles from our homeport in Bradenton….a feat we still have trouble grasping.
I would love to blog that we have had amazing experiences and have visited unbelievable places, but several factors have limited our time ashore. First, is the constant movement from port to port that we have been on. After leaving Georgetown we passed through Long Island, Mayaguana, Caicos and Boquerón. These were all short stops in which we were either resting, waiting out a cold front or getting provisions….which brings us to Ponce, Puerto Rico. We arrived here over a week ago with plans to keep on moving along the south coast of Puerto Rico. The constant movement from harbor to harbor makes you feel like you are missing out on what cruising is supposed to be about. You don’t get a chance to absorb your new surroundings. There is a change in the cruising grounds from the Bahamas to Puerto Rico too. In the Bahamas, the anchorages have much to offer along the shore or within walking distance. Couple that with their small settlements and it is a huge difference from the hustle and bustle of Puerto Rico. Upon arriving in Boquerón and Ponce, we realized we were back in civilization. While you have everything you would need: major supermarkets, parts, a mall, Walmart, etc. ….all of it is a taxi ride away!
Cruising produces moments of exhilaration and an equal number of frustrations. Our range of emotions have tilted from excited relief to getting cranky about the weather and the boat. When we arrived in Boquerón, we marveled at the back drop of sharp mountains shrouded in the early morning haze. They appeared to look like low clouds, but inching closer to the anchorage we realized the terrain had changed and as the sun rose over the tops of the mountains, a sense of relief set in as we dropped the anchor. We had been going on hour number 72 when set the anchor down in the soft mud at 7amand then the realization came that we just made a long run of 3 nights of offshore sailing. We were on a high, feeling accomplished, all was good.
After a day of rest, we assessed the boat after a hard motor sail. Our only issues appeared to be water leaking through our forward Dorade vents, a leaky shaft seal and the need for more fuel. Ponce was going to be our best chance to get fuel, address the minor issues and load in some fresh food. A 40-mile motor sail, 1-2 days to take care of issues and away we would go with our “Buddy Boat” to St. Thomas…we would be watching the Super Bowl somewhere near Brewers Bay! This plan sounded solid, easy to accomplish and we had been on a roll anyways.
As we plodded along the coast towards Ponce, the trade winds began to build as the afternoon ticked onto the 2pm hour. A mere 10 miles from the entrance to Ponce, the seas built, the winds topped 20+ knots and the auto helm failed! Rounding the corner by Ponce Yacht Club, we found a crowded anchorage, but happily set the anchor down and in a well sheltered inlet from the ranging trade winds. Ashore, we learned that the Ponce Yacht Club no longer offers guest passes and that the only access to shore is a very small dock across the way lying near a public boat ramp. Back at the boat, the news was just as unsettling. The arm which holds the auto helm ram to the rudder quadrant had failed and was now lying in 2 pieces. The only fix was finding a machine shop that would make a new one. Our 1-2 days, was now looking a bit longer.
A week has passed us by while we have been anchored here in Ponce. With the help of our faithful taxi driver, we made our way around Ponce. Laundry was done, food was bought and parts were found. Our taxi driver even knew someone who could make the arm for the auto helm! Throughout the week we were able to remedy the auto helm, our shaft seal issue has been minimized, we just sealed the Dorade vents closed and we topped up fuel and food. All excited to move on and bam….we can’t get the trades to settle down enough at night. We made an attempt and just got our assess handed to us for 3 hours one night…frustrations! If it’s not the boat. It’s the weather!
We will head out again with the dying trade winds and coast along the shore. Pushing to make it as much distance as we can at night before the sun rises and the trades kick back in to full strength. Minimize the frustrations, feel good about small accomplishments and keep working towards the next destination…one harbor at a time.
Sad To Say Goodbye to Georgtown
17 January 2017
We are about to put Georgetown in the rear view mirror, but not for bad reasons, just because the weather window calls for us to move onto our next destination. We arrived here in Georgetown over a week ago in front of what became the longest cold front of the season. Never expecting to spend almost 2 weeks in this cruisers homeland, we adjusted and have found ourselves a bit sad to be leaving such a great community. If you are new to cruising, this is certainly the location to meet veterans, learn the ropes, have some fun and really begin to experience the cruising community.
It is very easy to see why many cruisers fall in love with the Bahamas and Georgetown. We never expected to enjoy it as much as we have over the last MONTH. The sailing is easy, the water is super clear, the anchorages are wonderful, but the most amazing part…..the Bahamian people are exceptionally friendly and the cruising community is a real community. My favorite example is standing in Exuma Market today, watching Bonnie talk with not 1, not 2, not 3, but 4 different cruising boats today about our plans, where we were headed and what their plans were…..it was like we had seen old friends and just couldn’t get out of the store!
Onwards we go to Long Island, Mayguana and into the Caicos. This will be the longest run that we have done by ourselves…..180 miles or so with just the 2 of us! We will push new boundaries! Today, several boats met on the beach to trade information, share strategies and share experiences. It was comforting to know that others were first time cruisers making their way to the Caicos, Dominican and the British Virgin Islands, as well as the a few veterans who were happy to share their knowledge of travel s through the Caribbean and beyond. What struck me is the theme of community and looking out for each other…I now know that as we head out for 180 miles of open water there will be boats in close proximity in case we need a voice, guidance or just a chance to chat…..community.
So off we go, Caicos this weekend, Luperon, Dominican Republic shortly thereafter and then onto Puerto Rico. The British Virgin Islands are getting closer!
600 Nautical Miles Under Our Keel
11 January 2017
We have made our way to Georgetown, Exuma at the eastern end of Great Exuma in the Bahamas. For many cruisers, this is the end point of their journey. The warm weather, easy access to most services and the very large cruising family who take up their winter residence here harkens the question, “how much farther do we really need to go?”. Infamously, Georgetown is known as “Chicken Corner”, the place where you either spend your winter and return back to the States in early spring or you plunge head long back out into the Atlantic and truly become blue water cruisers. We are sitting confined to the boat waiting out the massive cold front that swept through the States and made an appearance throughout the Bahamas. With time to spare, it provided a chance to reflect on the first 600 miles under our keel.
Challenges, successes, setbacks, changes, growth are common themes you would expect with submersing yourself in an adventure through the tropical islands and into unknown areas. It has been no different for us throughout the 600 miles. As we bobbed about in the Gulf Stream, wrangling the dinghy from a busted dinghy davit and dealing with sad family news, we began to question whether we had the mettle to complete a trip of this magnitude. We are cruising newbies and each step along the way becomes a challenge that is met and lays out another challenge for us to overcome. Completing the Gulf Stream was a challenge, getting to Nassau was a challenge, navigating the Exumas was a challenge and so it goes on. Those successes bring moments of relief, as well as growth. Each time we lay down an anchor in a new spot, meet new faces, learn about where we have landed….we gain a wealth of knowledge and enrichment you can’t get behind a computer surfing the internet. Hearing people’s stories first hand, by voice, can be very powerful in creating memories for you to store in your human computer brain. Immersing yourself in new territories challenges you to stretch your boundaries, but it also rewards you with experiences which fuel your fire to take the next step.
Changes happen in a subtle fashion, at first you don’t realize the changes which are occurring. First, it takes time to unwind from what is “normal” in life. I am still struggling with a “normal” day. The rigors of daily structured life must go out the window, because now your day is run by weather and the distance you need travel. It is a bit of a survival mode. Instead of fighting traffic, rushing to get to the next meeting or completing a project on deadline, you learn to be flexible and adaptable for your own safety. Decisions of the day are predicated on being in a safe anchorage, taking the safest route given the sea conditions and ensuring where ever you land…you have food, fuel and water..the 3 tenets of survival on the water. The change that occurs is you slowly begin to realize that your natural survival instincts kick back in and going with your gut and trusting yourself becomes natural once again.
Mother Nature is buffeting the anchorage with her daily 20 to 25 knots winds from a stubborn front which refuses to give way to lighter winds. The heavy winds and passing rain showers have dampened the ability to make daily trips into Georgetown, so the extra time is spent wondering what the next 600 miles will bring. We have begun looking forward to our next big challenge of navigating the Far Out Bahamas and arriving into the Turks and Caicos. Shortly thereafter, we will make landfall on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic will present a fresh set of challenges ranging from a language barrier, to different foods, to a complete change in currency. Add to it that it is high mountainous region and its’ rich history and you have a recipe for “culture shock”. The cycle will continue to repeat itself with each step of the journey. Be challenged, find successes, create growth. It’s the journey and the road you travel which makes each stop a precious memory
Staniel Cay and Black Point Settlement
02 January 2017
We are nearing the end of our time cruising these picturesque cruising grounds known as the Exumas. Our last stop in the Exumas will be Georgetown, by far the biggest settlement in the Exumas, but for now we are spending our last days in the outpost settlements of Staniel Cay and Black Point. Each is distinctly different, yet they are only separated by roughly 5 miles.
Staniel Cay is a touristy type stop for cruisers and those from mainland United States. Anchored just across the way from Staniel Cay Yacht Club, we were surrounded by 40 other boats all looking to enjoy the New Year’s holiday and all the festivities taking place on the tiny island. While there are only about 80 full time residents, it is the visiting population that keeps the placing buzzing all day long. What makes Staniel Cay such a popular spot? Perhaps it’s the famed Thunderball Grotto, where the James Bond film Thunderball was filmed. Maybe it’s the swimming swines (aka Hogs) that splash about along the shores of Hog Beach while eating right out of your hands. Or, maybe it’s the endless festivities taking place at Staniel Cay Yacht Club with the Bahamian a Class Challenge Regatta, New Year’s Celebration and Cruiser’s New Year’s Day Regatta. There is still plenty of sparkling clear water, reefs to snorkel and the quiet tranquility of bungalows lining the shoreline too.
We kept our visit to Staniel brief and quite low key. Seeing the number of boats and the number of people ashore at the Yacht Club created brain overload after having spent several days in remote anchorages. Mornings were spent lounging about the boat and doing boat chores. The big task was to complete cleaning the bottom of the boat. A thin film of algae had been collecting and the calm waters and warm temps were a perfect excuse to get in the water. Armed with a sponge and soft brush, I worked my way around the boat scrubbing away the slime. Up on deck, Bonnie held a line making it easier for me to thrash about. The slime coming off the boat must have seemed like some good eats, as a school of reef fish swam by and checked it out. A large stingray glided by below me as I continued on with my labor and thankfully the Nurse sharks decided to stay in near shore this morning.
Later in the day we hopped into the dinghy and decided to find out more about these swimming hogs. We had been watching the tour boats flood the beach with gawking tourists. The local tour boats roar from one spot to another, quickly ushering people from snorkel spot, to beaches, to whatever seems like a good tourist thing to do. The more horsepower they have, the faster they can rocket from stop to stop on the half day excursion. Luckily for us, we landed on the beach with no tour boats present…but we did have a tour guide. One of the little girls from a cruising boat presented herself as an expert on the hogs. While we eyeballed a rather fat and happy hog near the water, this spark plug assured us that there was a bunch of piglets asleep in the Palmetto palm hammock. Sure enough, 5 or 6 piglets napped away like they were a herd of puppies. In the sand, they were all scrunched together and our little tour guide began reeling off their names. She had a name for each pig on the beach…I figured she was either really creative or she has spent a lot of time in Staniel Cay!
Our only other excitement was a visit to the local store on Mailboat Day. It’s not a holiday, but like Black Friday, you better shop early to get the good stuff. Usually on Thursday’s, a supply boat arrives on the island from Nassau with mail, fresh groceries, supplies and other goods that have been ordered for the island. We were able to get fresh lettuce, milk and few other items which were much needed. Cruisers from all the boats visit the stores like bees coming and going from a hive. Even the big Mega Yachts are not immune to needing a few essentials. I saw one Chef dressed in uniform stroll passed us with a full cart of goodies…I am sure that boat has a menu much more diverse than what we are living on!
Just 5 miles south is the larger Settlement of Black Point. Don’t let the notion of “larger” fool you into thinking this is thriving metropolis. The 200 or so residents of the island will welcome you with open arms and remind you just how friendly all of the Exuma Island can be for visitors. The island is flanked with low lying hills and an anchorage that funnels down to a sandy beach with shallow water sands that are exposed at low tide. The main part of town sits at one end and the smaller very remote end of the island contains small cottages that are for use by vacationers looking to get away for an island retreat. These cottages dot the hill overlooking the anchorage and are painted in vibrant colors of pinks, blues, sea greens and other assorted colors. Just beyond the cottages on the East side, the raging Atlantic Ocean with it’s deep blue water swells up against the bluffs which protect the island. Standing there, you can appreciate the strength of the ocean waters slowly eroding the limestone walls.
We spent New Years Eve and a few book ended days in the Black Point Settlement, but could have easily spent a week or more enjoying the food, hospitality and quiet charm of this island of 200. Whereas Staniel Cay was bustling with the activities of a full week of New Years hoopla, Black Point was happy to be a deserted outpost for cruisers. Our “big” New Years Eve plans consisted of watching the Alabama game followed by an outstanding dinner at Lorraines Café. We had walked the town the previous day and acquired the needed intel on television and food. Like most remote islands, a dinner reservation is a nessecity and finding a TV with your favorite game may take some coaxing in the local establishment.
Reservations ensure someone will be there, the place will be open and your menu choice will actually be available….seats aren’t a problem…but if it’s slow night, you wouldn’t want to show up to find the only restaurant closes because no one was on shore that night.
Watching the Alabama game at Scorpio’s gave us a chance to talk with the local people of the Settlement. I learned that the boat building family that I had met in Warderick Wells literally lived a stone throw from the Scorpio. The C Class Bahamian boat that they were currently working on was sitting next to the house. The gleaming blue hull, done in the traditional wood frame and with it’s deep full keel sat on a trailer waiting for the spars and rigging to be completed. An older gentleman struck up a conversation with us as we took in the game. In talking with us, he described what we had already come to know as truth….that the Exumas were truly a friendly place, where you were welcome and were treated like family.
The Patriots are onto the Playoffs and we are onto Georgetown.