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.