Thursday, December 9, 2010

Photos uploaded

Check out the photos link at the top of the page - I've uploaded all our photos to our webshots album.  There are also some videos; this one might put you in mind to visit de islands.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Wrapping it up for 2010

Our final day awaking in St. Thomas to beautiful sunshine, light breezes and warm temperatures.  Saturday, we made our way back to Ottawa closing out another successful two weeks of exploration, relaxation and building our skills.

We pulled out of Brewer's Bay and headed into Crown Bay Marina to fuel up.  Henry did a wonderful job of getting Mowzer alongside the dock with no stress, strain or freaking out on my part - he's getting really good with the twin engines!

Back at CYOA we completed our final checkout.  We were so impressed with the condition of Mowzer.  Of course there is some normal wear and tear from the charter life, but she is clean and well-maintained and completely ready for another busy season.  In fact, a quick turn-around was required as the next paying guests are coming aboard on Sunday to start their own personal adventures aboard our cat.

This is our final track from the GPS (the little green tracks are on-land exploration).  You'll see that we had to zig-zag our way around because of the east / north-east direction of the wind.  Start in St. Thomas in the middle, head west to Culebra, south to Vieques, back north to Culebra, east back to St. Thomas and then east again to St. John before returning once again to St. Thomas.

We arrived home in Ottawa with no delays (spoke to John today and apparently they ended up delayed overnight in Philadelphia, so we consider ourselves very lucky.)

Henry had to work early Sunday and when I finally awoke it was snowing, which it continued to do all day.  By the later afternoon, the accumulation wasn't very much (perhaps 2") but the message was clear!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Where have all the winds gone??

John & Eleanor, is it windy where you are?  Did you take the winds back home with you???

We thought perhaps that Coral Bay was exceptionally sheltered but the fact that we actually needed a blanket last night should have been a hint.  Seems like the next cold front has settled in taking some of the poof out of the winds and as we left Coral Bay this morning for our down-wind sail back to St. Thomas, the most we saw was a 4-knot ruffle on the water but not enough to push the boat along at more than a snail's pace.

We opted to fire up the engines (I know, lazy to you purists) and we traversed the south shores of St. John and St. Thomas under cloudy skies.  Not to sound too miserable 'cause we still feel like we're in paradise, we just felt that the mood echoed our own as we took the final leg of this trip.

Offshore from Charlotte Amalie we decided to explore Buck Island which we have read of in the cruising guides but have never visited.  We found an interesting little island with the wind station that we often get readings from, but the little bays and day-mooring balls were full of local tourist and dive boats.  How many cruise-ship passangers can you fit in one little bay??

We opted instead to head back to our old-faithful anchorage in Brewer's Bay to enjoy the afternoon as the front finally passed over and released the sunshine.

We dinghied up to the Virgin Islands University dock and although not a public dock we were given 30-minutes leeway to visit the campus.  Built across a number of steep hills (what isn't in St. Thomas?) the campus is exceptionally neat and tidy and very pretty. This is a picture of one of the dormitories.

The walk around the university also offered up some wonderful views over the airport and south toward Vieques and St. Croix - conjuring up memories of one explored and another adventure around the corner.

We wandered about until we came across the bookstore where we picked up a few snacks for the evening before returning to retrieve our dinghy from the dock.

Snorkling the bay, we found a small reef on the north side and were rewarded with a turtle-sighting as we hovered over it grazing below.  A spectacular sunset over Sail Rock was accompanied with the comings and goings of a cruise ship and multiple airplanes off our stern as we enjoyed a number of sundowners.

The final reward of the evening was the little wooden-masted sailboat that has greeted us on each return to Brewer's Bay, all decked out in Christmas lights.  A little surreal but I suppose we'll have to adjust our outlook as it is now December.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Slice of the Cruising Community

Lameshure Bay was home to the Tektite Project in 1969/70 and today at the original basecamp there stands a little volunteer-run museum and an open-air camp run as the Virgin Islands Environmental Resource Station.

Back in '69, a group of four aquanauts lived underwater in a pressurized habitat for longer than anyone had before.  This was a combined project of the U.S. Navy, NASA, the Dept. of the Interior and General Electric (who built the habitat) and was designed in conjunction with studying crews for prolonged space exploration.  It was really interesting to read all the articles that were written at the time, in addition to viewing the actual artifacts such as a rebreather scuba tank that enabled a diver to stay under water for more than four hours at a time.  The most fascinating to me was the National Geographic article written about the four 'girls' who lived in the habitat for two weeks.  The team lead and second where highly qualified marine biologists and the other two were graduate students both of 23 years of age; I couldn't help but think of Caitlin doing this type of ground breaking work and yet being referred to as a 'girl' - how times have changed.  The displays and photos of the scientists and engineers in their shirts, ties and eager smiles in the late 60s took me back to photos of the same time when Dad & Mom went to Sudbury and Dad was doing cardiac research - why is it that so much scientific equipment at that time was coloured that horrible 'hospital-green'?

Once we'd completed our shore-side explorations we had a fabulous day sailing around the corner to Coral Bay.  The winds were light, we shook out the reef in the sail and once we figured out the confusing view of the islands ahead of us, we turned left to the east end of St. John.  The advantage of sailing in the Virgin Islands is that it is easy to do line-of-sight navigation.  The only problem is you have to be sure of which island you are 'sighting' before you sail to it!

Once anchored in Coral Bay we had a look around us and quickly came to the realization that this anchorage is totally off the charter beat.  The variety of boats in the bay and the various ways in which they are kitted out for life aboard (if occupied) was the equivalent of visiting an old established neighbourhood with loads of character compared to a new development where everyone's garages are still painted the same colour.  It was also obvious that many of the boats have not been touched since hurricane season and there were a few sad relics still underwater that may or may not be cleared out soon.

Ashore, Coral Bay is an interesting mix or harbour hang-outs with gift stores, a serious-looking marine mechanic, little grocery stores and bus-stops for those who are making the trek across the island to the main town of Cruz Bay.  We spent some time picking through one of the shops and in the process were offered a mooring ball and a personal tour of St. Croix the next time we are down this way!  Everyone we met is so friendly and has a story to tell of where they left 20-odd years ago before settling on the island.  Many of the local cruisers spend the high-season working on St. John and then head out of the 'box' for hurricane season, but none of them told of how they return to their original home further north.

We finished up the evening with sundowners at Skinny Legs bar and then back to the boat for dinner; we are now personally cruising through the leftovers (and eating very well, I might add.)

A couple of challenges to end this posting... the first is like the 'Where's Waldo' search with a twist:  in this one you must consume at least two rum drinks and then go about finding your dinghy in which to go home (oh, and by the way you have to know where to find your boat too!)  In the second you have to figure out which legs belong to you and which to leave behind... all part of the local atmosphere.

Sad Day - John & Eleanor depart (Wed Dec 1)

The title pretty much says it all, but we did manage to enjoy a wonderful breakfast at the Frenchtown Deli before John and Eleanor had to catch their taxi to the airport.  According to calls home, the weather has been grey and mucky and so we enjoyed the beautiful clear sunshine of the morning in St. Thomas.

Here we are on the dock right in front of Azzurra - two sister ships getting acquainted.

Being in town, we decided to visit ScotiaBank and see if we could set up an account to make the banking with CYOA easier; it is so irksome to have to pay wire transer fees and losses to currency exchange!  However, since 9-11, US banks have had onerous compliance regulations placed upon them and with us not being residents we’re unable to set up an island-side account to simplify the whole process.  Looks like we’ll have to settle for a US$ account at our Canadian bank which will at least help with the Fx rates if the dollar drops either way in the future.

With all that put aside and few groceries in hand, we set off from CYOA (with a little help from our dock-side friends) and headed up to St. John.  Our plan is to spend the next couple of nights on the south-side of St. John, away from the northern swell, exploring an area we haven’t seen before.

Tonight we are on a National Park mooring ball in Greater Lameshure Bay.  Beside the muted lights of the half-dozen boats in the anchorage, there are absolutely no lights ashore since we are surrounded by park-land.  The brightest thing in view is the massive cruise ship hovering on the horizon as it slowly tracks eastward, letting its passengers enjoy dinner before hitting the open waters and crossing over to St. Martin.

The Big Trek (Tues Nov 30)

This morning we awoke with the anticipation of the crossing from Culebra to St. Thomas.  This is the crossing that has been at the back of our minds throughout the trip because  the combination of a northerly swell and winds from the east north-east make sailing to the east more difficult.  The forecast has been for reducing winds throughout the week and while we’ve found that the winds have been less than they were earlier, they certainly haven’t dropped off as much as was anticipated.  We’ve approached this crossing with the idea that if push came to shove we could always motor it, but making it by sail would be an accomplishment.

With all this in mind, we set off from Almodovar taking a northerly track between Culebrita and Cayo Norte to set us on the path for St. Thomas.  As we cleared the shoals off Culebrita we entered the Virgin Passage where we encountered swells of 10-12’ and winds from the east north-east up to 26 knots.  This has been the most challenging open-water passage that we’ve taken on so far and with the sails reefed we made good time past sail rock (yes, it really does look like a giant sail) and then found ourselves in the teeming waters of off-shore St. Thomas.  Having seen virtually no one for over a week, were suddenly on the alert dodging other boats large and small.  In fact, we had a chuckle when the first boat we saw out in open water, we actually had to adjust direction as we were on a collision course.  To make matters more fun, as soon as we’d avoided the little boat, a commercial tanker split the difference and passed right between us.

We cleared into Brewer’s Bay for a late lunch and a snorkel, completing a full figure-8 treck as you’ll be able to see once I post our sailing path for the last week.  What a glorious afternoon and a wonderful sense of accomplishment to have made it.

As an evening treat, we finally picked up a mooring ball in Frenchtown Marina so we could visit ashore for dinner with John and Eleanor.  This was not before we fully realized that we were back in the busy-busy world of life in the USVI; we were buzzed by a 767 as we entered Brewer‘s Bay behind the airport, we passed right under the bows of the Queen Mary 2 (world’s largest ocean liner) as she prepared to leave the dock in St. Thomas and then had to dodge the float plane from St. Croix as it landed down the passage that we needed to take to our mooring.  Whew!

As an added bonus, we met up with Greg and Titsiana (appologies as I am sure I have spelled this wrong) who are the owners of the new Mahe 36 ‘Azzurra’ in the CYOA fleet.  Dinner at Hook, Line & Sinker rounded out the evening and put a nice cap on our Spanish Virgin Island circumnavigation for November 2010.  I’m sure there are many other islands left to explore in the region but what a wonderful introduction this has been and sure to be an area we will cruise in the future.

For all those considering the SVI, of course we won’t encourage you to go since we’d love to keep the anchorages as pristine and lonely as they are!