Friday, February 25, 2011

Off to Road Town

Given the bumpiness of the anchorage we decided to have breakfast over in Trellis Bay where it is a bit more protected.

Wandering round Trellis Bay we enjoyed visiting Aragorn's Studio and some of the other craft shops before stopping at Da Loose Mongoose for lunch. This is the spot we enjoyed the Canada vs. US Olympic gold medal hockey game last year so it was rather fun to revisit the spot. We decided on the whole that we definitely like the laid-back atmosphere of Trellis Bay better than Marina Cay.

With the winds from the NE we headed off in the afternoon for a wonderful downwind sail to Road Town Tortola. As you can see we were definitely enjoying the warm sun and winds.

This harbour was a new one for all of us and after dodging a cruise ship as we came in we dropped the anchor on the western side of Road Harbor looking towards the government dock and a number of marinas.

Evening explorations ashore revealed that Road Town is relatively small and not nearly as commercial as Charlotte Amalie, but very busy in it's own right. We rounded out dinner at The Pub at Fort Burt Marina where Henry felt very British with his prime rib and yorkshire pudding while the rest of us opted for more Caribbean fare. We amused the waitress greatly when we revealed that in Canada we say "zed" but say "zeebra" (as in the U.S) whereas here in the BVI they are taught to say "zed" and "zebra" (short e). She also revealed that they call speedbumps "sleeping policemen" which I think I have also heard in the U.K.

This is the customs and ferry dock with Pusser's on the waterfront at the right and the local landmark, "The Purple Palace" just above.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Up the Bathtub

The day dawned bright and sunny and the winds were down considerably so before the weather could change it's mind we departed The Bight and headed up the Drake Passage (the “bathtub”) towards The Baths. The winds were perfect and we sailed almost all the way, until we decided that if we were to have any chance of picking up a mooring ball we probably shouldn't make another tack but head straight there. With a bit of patience, and some luck on our side, we only had to wait about 10 minutes before a boat departed, leaving a mooring ball free for us. Bonus, we were nice and close to Devil's Bay which is the more southerly entrance to The Baths, and from past experience the dinghy line is much closer to the beach and the resulting swim, much easier as well. I take my hat off to Caitlin who jumped in and made the swim, cast and all.

The Baths dished up the usual excitement of surf-pounded shores and still calm grottoes; Jim especially enjoyed returning to the spot that he had enjoyed so much last year. Caitlin looked on at the guys with bouldering chalk in envy but did quite a bit of clambering herself.

By mid-afternoon, we were ready to raise the sails again for a quick jaunt over to Marina Cay where we dropped anchor at the back of the pack. Aragorn promptly came around in his big dinghy full of fresh and baked produce so we procured a loaf of fresh-baked bread and a carrot loaf for the morning.

We headed into the Cay for sundowners and appetizers and have to say that we were pretty disappointed. The drinks were overpriced (no happy hour) and the much anticipated appies never arrived, and we couldn't get the advertized free wi-fi, so we headed back to the boat hungry for dinner.

Overnight, the winds picked up and it got pretty rolly in the anchorage but our tackle held beautifully and we were in exactly the same spot at day-break.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Change in Plans - the weather rules!

This is a lesson that we are constantly taught in a boat - the weather rules and if you forget it you will pay the consequences.

In this case, we set off from JVD this morning with a plan to head up the north shore of Tortola to Marina Cay or Trellis Bay (at the east end of Tortola). Constantly remind me that I do not like the north shore of any of the big islands!!

The winds this morning were 18-22 knots but most uncomfortable were the swells coming in a very sharp formation which made for a really rough ride. After about half an hour of bashing up the north shore and barely making it past Cane Garden Bay we decided for the sake of vacation enjoyment that we would turn around and head around to the south shore and make for Norman Island and The Bight.

We arrived just after 1pm and set to really enjoying the sun, cool breezes and lunch. I find that while dinner can be lots of fun, it is really lunch that I enjoy; a simple affair of whatever is in the fridge but I am usually exceptionally hungry which makes it all taste so good. I also managed to get a loaf of bread baked and then we headed in for an afternoon happy-hour visit to Pirates (the beach-bar at The Bight).

Here we also have wi-fi so on checking the weather the winds are pretty high for the whole week but less so tomorrow so we will make the run in the morning up the The Baths and then from there we should have easy runs back down "the bathtub" as we make our way back west-ward.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Into the BVIs

We set off in the morning with the plan to head to Jost Van Dyke (JVD) and it appears that Caitlin and Jim brought some weather with them. The winds are blowing at 20+ knots and the accompanying swells are from the ENE.

We headed along the south shore of St. Thomas and then headed up through the cut into the BVIs but with the wind on the nose we decided to motor most of the way and made Great Harbour on JVD by early afternoon. Since the last time we were here two years ago they have put in ~30 mooring balls which is great because the holding for anchoring is poor and this lessens the number of boats that come in, drop their anchor and leave for the bar only to drag into the boat behind them. We headed into Foxy's famous beach bar for a cold drink and then decided to hike over the hill to the Soggy Dollar Bar in White Bay. Given the winds and the narrow bay behind the reef in White Bay we were happy to be in Great Harbour but White Bay definitely has the most amazingly fine white sand beach anywhere! Painkillers at the Soggy Dollar Bar, where they originated, were a treat and then, much fortified, we hiked back over the hill. The 'hill' rises to about 500' and the road is probably about 3 km long so we were definitely feeling the steepness of the climb in our legs the next morning!

We rounded out the evening with appies at Foxy's and then headed back to dinner on the boat. Hey family, do you remember the Laura Secord Monopoly chocolate game we picked up at Xmas and never played? It was great family entertainment for the evening, but we owe you all one!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Caitlin and Jim have arrived!!

This morning we headed off for a quick hike along the Francis Bay trail and made it as far as the ruins of the Annaberg School which was built in the mid-1800s on a Danish plan to build a number of schools across the islands and mandate education for the local youth - very progressive.

After leaving Francis Bay we picked up a mooring ball in Trunk Bay to try out the underwater snorkel trail. There was a heavy swell running but the trail is protected behind a cay so the snorkelling is fairly easy. Getting in and out of the surf at the beach proves more difficult. To be honest, there were so many people in the water that there really weren't that many fish to be seen and you had to keep an eye out as much at the surface as down below so we felt we'd rather head back to Leinster Bay or other spots for a good snorkel.

The winds picked up nicely and we sailed back to St. Thomas to be on the dock by 2:30 and then headed up to the airport to meet Caitlin and Jim. We decided to walk which takes about 45 minutes from CYOA and after meeting up, we all decided we were up for the walk back. Jim and I stopped at the Pueblo to replenish a few supplies while Caitlin and Henry continued on to the dock.

Dinner was a quiet affair but it is so good to have them both down here; Caitlin's first time and Jim's return. We're all cleaning up with showers, checking email at the dock and plan on a good start in the morning so we can get up into the BVI's before it gets too late in the day. Our first planned stop is Jost Van Dyke but we don't have a solid schedule beyond that.

All for now - make sure to check back to the last post from Christiansted because with the better bandwidth I was able to load pictures.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Buck Island and back to St. John

Christiansted and St. Croix have stolen our hearts and we will definitely be back, but now it was time to move on. We had one more day planned in the southern USVI at Buck Island before heading back north to St. Thomas.

Buck Island is surrounded by reefs and has the protection of the National Parks Service. There is a small anchoring area off the west end beach so that is where we headed. Day-trippers come to Buck Island for the white-sand beach and snorkeling and a number of small and commercial craft shared the anchorage for the day but then cleared out before sunset. One boat that did come in to stay was flying a Canadian flag and so we made the acquaintance of Gilles and France on Belle Brize and shared some good stories over 'tit ponche and wine. We had a wonderfully lazy day in the sun although we did take the dinghy around into the lagoon formed between the island and the reef along the eastern end of the island to explore the underwater snorkeling trail, but the swell was up and made it very rough at the site so we headed back. We were rather disappointed to miss it until we exited the lagoon and were surrounded by a pod of 6 dolphins, including a mother and baby! This was our first dolphin encounter and to see them from the dinghy was amazing. We circled around and they came back swimming across our bow and along side for a few minutes before heading back to whatever had them occupied before we happened along. All of a sudden, missing the snorkeling wasn't so bad.

Saturday arrived and this was our travel day back to the northern USVI. We decided to make St. John our destination for the night and then we'll head down to St. Thomas on Sunday to welcome Caitlin and Jim! We upped anchor and were on our way by 7:30am, with a tip of our hats to Belle Brize as we departed. When we sailed south a few days ago the winds were from slightly south of east which put up sailing close-reach at about 60 degrees on the wind. This time the winds had moved more to the north and once again were in front of the beam. For much of the trip we were pinched right up to about 30 degrees and despite all the words that abound about cats not being able to sail to wind, we made 5-6 knots except when the winds dropped below 12 knots themselves. About a third of the way across we hit a line of squalls where we prudently motored around one with extremely heavy rain and wind gusts (it was time to charge our batteries anyway). Once the squalls had cleared out the winds settled to about 10-14 knots and with the lighter air it was about 3:30pm that we made the Flanagan Passage at the east end of St. John. For a bit of excitement, we had to navigate around one of the large cruise ships coming out of Road Town, Tortola, as we passed through the narrow passage.

As the sun was heading down, we came around the north side of St. John and into Francis Bay to spend the night. Our total distance for today: 42.5 nautical miles.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Christiansted – a day about town

Given that we toured the island yesterday, we spent today exploring the quaint streets of Christiansted. Much of the waterfront and shop fronts are maintained in their eighteenth century Danish style with Fort Christiansvaern anchoring the eastern end of the main area of town.

We are anchored off to the east past Gallows Bay near the fishing dock and Altoona lagoon. This has provided beautiful vistas of the sun going down over the yellow, peach and blue facades of the buildings. Now was our chance to explore up close.

Actually, we started the day with returning our jeep which put us walking back into town from the western side. First stop was St. John's Church built by the English in the mid-1700s and just like an English country church it was replete with old trees and a churchyard. Here the similarity ended as we clambered around the wonderfully eccentric Caribbean graveyard where you really do feel the spirits just below the surface.

Further on into town we took a personal tour of, actually we wandered around, Government House. This building is used as the seat of government on St. Croix which is actually administered from St. Thomas. But, the original house was built by a Danish merchant and the upstairs ballroom with ante chambers opening to the courtyard and the street was beautiful. The peace and calm of the inner courtyards, the neo-classical styling with Caribbean concessions to the heat and the ubiquitous yellow, leads to peace and quiet just yards from the bustling streets below.

Loved this - the Danish sentry boxes were decorated with hearts!

We meandered on to the eastern end of town where we found the scale house and Fort Christiansvaern. In the scale-house we met up with a tour of school-children and I was amazed at how politely almost everyone of them said good morning to us. This would never have happened back home. In fact, all over the island you are constantly greeted with a smile and at least good morning, good afternoon or good evening, if not further enquiry as to how you are enjoying your day.

The fort is pristinely maintained by the National Parks Service and while you get a feel for the architecture and the cramped quarters (it is not very big), it is so incredibly clean it is almost impossible to imagine the deplorable conditions the soldiers and imprisoned slaves or citizens would have found themselves in. The whipping post was tastefully removed by a former governor and with every surface freshly painted yellow, white or green, there is not a trace of the former conditions. The views of the bustle of the anchorage however, were pure delight and we happily watched Mowzer bobbing in the distance.

Lunch rounded out or visit of the waterfront where we scooped up some free wifi (we're a bit distant in our anchorage) and then back to the boat for some R&R. We have a dinner reservation at Rum Runners where we'll be heading once we've charged up the boat's batteries and lazed around on the trampoline in the sun and afternoon breezes.

Addendum: Funniest thing just happened in the anchorage. Suddenly this noise started up near the back of the boat and we rushed out to see what might be wrong with the engines or dinghy. It was a strange sort of pulsing noise. Luckily we were quickly put out of our worry as a fellow swam by with his horse - it was the horse puffing through it's lips that was the noise we could hear. He calmly headed off to the boat launch and I'd like to say he rode off into the sunset, but he was going the wrong way.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

St. Croix - a magical isle

We love St. Croix!

Puerto Rico is known locally as the "Big Hurry" and Vieques, which we visited in November, as the "No Hurry" and here on St. Croix they claim to be the "Little Hurry" island.

We have two days to spend on the island and we planned on one walking around the alleys and gades of Christiansted and the other hopefully driving over the island and discoving the sights, sounds and smells away from the 'city'. It turns out that the Agricultural and Food Fair is this weekend which endeavoured to change out plans vis a vis car rentals. After visiting the big agencies (Avis, Budget) we ended up with the local Olympic rentals. At first they didn't have anything available, but after much entreaty the ladies at the counter did indeed have a jeep that we could have for the day. In actual fact we could keep it til the morning! This set our plans in motion, literally, and we headed off from Christiansted to explore the corners of the island.

The east end, also known as Point Udall is the easternmost point in the U.S. and as such, they have erected a millenium, sun-dial type monument on the point. The views are spectacular over the Caribbean with only a very hazy St. John in sight to the north.

From the east point we headed along the south shore where the volcanic hills to the north slope gently into the blue of the ocean. About mid-way along, the industrial heartland of St. Croix is located with the Hovensa oil refinery and other busy-looking sights. The sheer magnitude of the refinery and the adjoining workers' estates aparently places this as one of the 10 largest refineries in the world. We rounded the airport and then not much further along the road, found the Cruzan Rum Factory - nirvana! We picked up a tour, did the requisite looks into vats of fermenting molasses and yeast, smelled the wonderful sweet sugary smells, admired the oak barrels and finally arrived at the bar where for the $5 admission we could enjoy any number of concoctions or mixes of the various Cruzan flavours. Wonderful stuff!

Fredericksted, on the western shore was next on the list and wandering the streets of this sleepy waterfront town led us to a delicious lunch of roti. The waterfront has been fabulously developed, including a massive cruise ship dock, but there is not much else infrastructure to support the influx. We enjoyed the stop but I imagine the big ship passengers head for other interests. The bay is surrounded by a wide sweep of sand to the south and we could definitely see ourselves coming back for a visit.

The north west corner of the island is covered in rain/cloud forest and the jeep that we had landed in, came in handy on the pot-hole strewn roads.

The end of the day brought us past Salt Pond where Columbus first landed on St. Croix in 1493, and killed some natives thereby cementing western relations with the locals, and then on into Christiansted where we enjoyed the sunset view from the boardwalk. All-in-all we enjoyed the variety the island has to offer from the steep uninhabitable hills of the north, to the arid, cattle-grazing slopes to the south and tucked inbetween the damp sugar plantation ruins of the rainy areas.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

St. Thomas to St. Croix – via St. John

Have we got all the saints in there yet – definitely for the U.S. Virgin Islands!

We set off from St. Thomas and although the initial plan was to head straight for St. Croix, we decided that we would take a shake-down day and head up along the southern shore of St. John to spend the night. This would ideally put us on a better angle of sail to St. Croix and we knew that Lameshure Bay would provide an idyllic quiet spot after the hectic hustle and bustle of St. Thomas. And what better place to spend Valentine's day than a nice secluded bay with only a handful of other boats and no beach-bar in sight.

Tuesday morning we were up bright and early and were off our mooring ball by 8:30am. The direct line to St. Croix put us with 36 nm on a nice line just above beam to the wind. All in all the crossing took 6 hours and by the time we dropped the anchor off Christiansted it was about 3 in the afternoon – our longest passage yet. The sailing was absolutely spectacular with seas only 3-5 feet and the winds from 12-18 knots. The trades are a joy to sail in, especially after the shifty winds of the Ottawa River, and for much of the journey Henry had the sails so beautifully balanced that the boat steered itself to the perfect point of wind – and with no auto-pilot sucking up power!!

Christiansted is a pretty little town of Danish heritage that has been preserved in the store fronts along it's little narrow streets. We didn't do much exploring today but headed to Rum Runners for a coldie and appetizers (on Kirsten's excellent suggestion).

Generally the plan is that tomorrow we will explore the town and harbour and then try to explore the island on Thursday. We've heard that rental cars are hard to come by, but if we can't find one we can always enlist one of the local drivers to take up on a personal tour. Of course we'd love to get over to the Cruzan Rum distillery near Frederiksted and could find us at the eastern-most point in the U.S. There are great-houses left over from sugar plantation days, a rain-forest and numerous other sites to explore so we shall see what we can make of it.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Island-Time Notes

Given that our trip down was extended by about five hours due to a return to Charlotte after we'd been in the air for two hours, and our checked bag's arrival 24 hours later, provisioning and a day on the island was called for.

On St. Thomas there are a number of choices for provisioning if you have a car. For walkers there is the Pueblo but with independent transport there is the Plaza Extra, Food Center, Fruit Bowl and Cost-U-Less. There are numerous other little shops as well, but these are the big ones. We visited the Cost-U-Less but decided that we really didn't need a TV, a whole pork loin or 10 lbs of hamburger on our little boat. Last time we were down we tried the Plaza Extra so this time we headed for Food Center. Budget Marine is also located nearby on the south-shore road so we picked up a few boat needs and a chart for St. Croix as well. When all was done, we liked the size of Food Center but I think it was slightly more expensive and a little less selection than Plaza Extra and with the latter there is a K-Mart close by for other needs. The other small factor is the road with the heavily loaded car with cases of water nestled up to the veggies traversing potholes and steep hills. Don't get me wrong, nothing was really the worse for wear, it was just a little nerve wracking listening to things shifting in the back as we climbed up and down. The road up to Plaza Extra is just a little less extreme.

Speaking of driving, I love driving on St. Thomas. Left-hand drive cars on the left with the passenger staring wide-eyed into the oncoming traffic while the driver hugs the safety of the curb, steep hills with a sharp curve at the top so neither can see where you're going or what's coming – who needs a carnival ride? We're getting to know our way around though so navigating, at least in daylight, is becoming much easier. Henry even found the Home Depot, replete with palm trees, and couldn't resist a quick visit. I must say, with the trade winds blowing through, I've never smelled such a pleasant Home Depot.

Oh joy, oh bliss – promptly 24 hours after we all should have arrived, our bag was delivered. Now we're all set to head off in the morning.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Surprise, surprise! I had an email from Adam at SAIL magazine this past week responding to a message I'd sent him back in November when the article for CYOA featuring Mowzer appeared. Along with some great comments about a "great boat in a great location" he commented that Mowzer was once again gracing the pages of the magazine - this time on the cover of the January issue!

And... we're back on count-down til we're back aboard in February. This time we're thinking of heading south to St. Croix for a week and then Caitlin and Jim are going to join us so we'll probably return to the BVIs. This will be Caitlin's first time there so the visit wouldn't be complete without heading to Foxy's or The Bight.