Sunday, March 31, 2013

Ram Head and Return

What a change in the weather from the past two weeks. Hard rain and winds had us hunkered down in our little anchorage for the evening and when the sun rose in the morning the sea was covered in whitecaps and the wind was still blowing at 20-25 knots from the east. Perfect for a downwind sail back to St. Thomas.

Before leaving our unnamed bay however, we went ashore for a hike up to Ram Head. In our hiking guidebook the beach is labelled as blue cobblestone which is certainly descriptive.

Reading on in the guidebook, apparently this was an area where maroon slaves hid out before the 1733 slave rebellion and although there is no groundwater, they survived on water in barrel cactus and the local seafood of whelks and conch. The cactus still inhabit the place giving it a strange scenery.

Such a rugged place with spectacular views along the south coast of St. John and the western islands of the BVI. With the wind howling, you get a real sense of just how powerful the sea and wind can be.

Easterly view into the bays of Hurricane Hole
Westerly view of Saltpond and Lameshur Bays
Mowzer and only one other boat in the anchorage - an easy but rugged climb
Ram Hill with the BVI in the distance
Bordeaux Mtn that we climbed over yesterday
Our final sail back to St. Thomas was quick and easy with following winds and seas - took us about 3.5 hours under genny alone and after we sorted out some radio confusion at the fuel dock we filled up and picked up a mooring at CYOA. Henry's getting really good at bringing Mowzer into the dock, but as he rightly pointed out Crown Bay is super easy especially when there's a big freighter just outside blocking all the wind!

Ashore, we enjoyed a couple of cold drinks at Hook, Line & Sinker and met up with Deb, Jay and Nancy there. Unfortunately Looney Bien has now closed - we never did make it there and had plans to break our last night habit of Pie Whole. Guess the greater plan was to keep us returning there which is exactly what we did.

As a final note, yes, we did manage to get through the whole bottle of rum from day 1. Final drinks on the aft-deck as the day winded down in St. Thomas.


Saturday, March 30, 2013

St. John Moments

We decided to revisit the Petroglyphs on St. John that are accessible from Lameshur Bay via the Reef Bay trail. The last time we were here was in November after the rainy season and what a difference that makes. This time the water falls were completely dried up and we were able to scramble up over the 'falls' into the dry gut and really see the magnitude of the entire area. Compare this to the previous time we were here.

Previously Henry sat on this rock enjoying a bit of a 'shower'.
The top (third) level of the falls - one can only imagine the torrents that rush down here.
Honestly, this really was the easy way up - no thorns.
We must be a bit more acclimated to either the hiking or the weather since once we had finished the hike that we had once felt quite challenging, we both wanted to carry on and instead of returning back along the trail we turned the other way and continued on the Reef Bay Trail up to the Centerline Road. The name of this road is pretty self explanatory in as much as it traverses the centre ridge of St. John from Cruz Bay at the western end over to Coral Bay in the east. What amazes me is that every year the St. John road race has runners completing the run from one end to another in some insane time, including the climb up well over 1000'. Well, we traversed just a small portion of the road before turning off toward Bordeaux Mountain where we picked up the Bordeaux Mtn Trail which is a straight descent back down to Lameshur Bay and the welcoming cool waters.

The final descent to Lameshur - Mowzer, bottom left.
We completed the last portion of the trail in a light rainshower and the sun remained with us long enough for a good snorkel along Donkey Cove which always presents us with a great diversity of fish and coral - some of the best.

We have never actually been into Saltpond Bay but have heard it is a good anchorage so we tried to get in this afternoon but with only four mooring balls and the holiday weekend, they were all taken. It looked like some unsettled weather was heading in so we picked up a ball in the next bay directly under Ram Head. We don't know the name of this bay, it's not marked with a name on any of the charts we have, but we have nicknamed it 'stink-um bay' due to the fishy/seaweedy smell emanating from the shore. The smell is counteracted by the fact that there is only one other ball here so we are pretty much guaranteed a nice secluded and quiet anchorage for the evening. As we anticipated from the clouds the weather worsened into a full-blown squall that lasted about an hour so we were happy to have picked up a ball in this sheltered cove. In the middle of the blow another monohull arrived and I am sure to the relief of their crew were able to find the one available ball. They quickly tied up and disappeared below, most likely to dry out.

The front rolling in over St. John
Here are a sampling of a few more of the sights we saw during our hike of almost 15 km.

This tree is known by a number of names including the obvious, "Monkey No Climb"
Look carefully to the left of me for more carvings.
Nope, not scared at all.
The mighty roots of the Kapok.
Not completely unscathed after our scramble.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Back to the USVI

We started the day with a dinghy ride back into Gun Creek to check out of the BVI. It is quite amazing how the agents in the BVI really act as ambassadors of their country, genuinely enquiring of our stay and if we plan to return in such a pleasant manner.

The day unfolded with little wind, especially in the direction we were going, so it turned into a motor excursion from North Sound on Virgin Gorda all the way down to Cruz Bay on St. John. The trip however was sunny and uneventful and with the motor running we enjoyed the competency of the auto pilot at the helm holding a steady course across the north shore of Tortola.

Check-in formalities were completed with the US Customs & Border Patrol, which are also quite pleasant in Cruz Bay but with a slightly different tone and no informal chit-chat. We then reversed direction around the south shore of St. John and came to rest on a mooring ball in one of our favourite locations, Greater Lameshur Bay.

Sum total we covered 36 nautical miles.

The only picture all day was of a rain squall over Tortola

North Sound Revisited

Ok, on the off chance we sound like groupies here, we'll get this out of the way immediately. Yes, we have what might be termed a small addiction to a blog Zero To Cruising. Mike and Rebecca Sweeney set off from Kingston, Ontario about 3 years ago to cruise south on their PDQ catamaran and we have followed their trials, tribulations and learnings ever since.

When we arrived down here we realized that they had made the trek up from Grenada and were in the BVI, but serendipity had us crossing paths as they had to exit to the USVI just as we were heading east. Again, as we were heading from Virgin Gorda over to Trellis Bay earlier in the week our paths crossed and then finally we connected back in North Sound yesterday morning.

We anchored in Leverick Bay this time which is across the sound from where we were earlier and spent a bit of time exploring this area up to Gun Creek, the end of the road on Virgin Gorda. The other resort areas are only accessible by water. Gun Creek is a bustling little community that includes a customs and immigration office (we were able to check into opening hours for our check-out all around the Easter Holidays) and also the water taxi that transports workers to the various resorts as well as anyone else who wants to get around. We picked up some last minute groceries and enjoyed a bushwacker at Jumbies before heading back to Mowzer.

In the afternoon Mike and Rebecca and their friends Kirk and Donna (from Ainulindale) joined us for drinks/snacks and most interesting conversations about their experiences as they have travelled down the east U.S. coast and as far south as Trinidad. We explored all sorts of topics from the social politics of the cruising community to the rules, regulations and realities of head pumpout (sewage disposal for those wondering).

As our time down here winds to an end, we now need to make our way back toward the USVI, so we're off this morning west-bound and will most likely head to St. John for a couple more days of exploration. If our web connections goes down we may be quiet for a while - basically "off the grid" in St. John.

ZeroToCruising with Ainulindale just behind them
Doesn't matter what your boat is like, if you paint it blue and yellow it's pretty

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Happy Birthdays

With travel in March it always seems that we miss Peter's and Caitlin's birthdays.

Best wishes from both of us, ... and Mr. Gnome.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

New Friends Found

Today was a day of discovery, both of place and people.

With yesterday's hike fresh in memory, we set off much earlier today to explore the south end of Virgin Gorda, known as The Valley. Our first intent was to hike up Cow Hill but the hill is on private property owned by the Little Dix Bay resort, so we were personae non grata there. Nothing daunted we headed on down the road until we reached beautiful Savannah Bay. Along the way, we were presented with a landing approach view of Virgin Gorda's runway.

Savannah Bay is almost entirely surrounded by reefs, with an entrance only at one end. The waters were amazingly crystal clear and with good sun overhead it is easy to see the coral that poses such a danger to boats.

The next decision was whether to return over the small hill to Spanish Town or to try to continue up the mountain to Gorda Peak. The prompt arrival of an open-air taxi made the decision easy for us and we were whisked up the steep hills and around corners that had us reminded of the impossible road on Saba. The views from the top were of course stunning as we were treated to a 360-degree panorama that encompassed North Sound, Anegada, and all the other islands of the BVI. It was like looking at a live postcard of the various places we have visited over the last couple of weeks.

View from the top - Saba Rock in North Sound
In order to see over the trees there is a 3-storey platform at the top of the peak
South to The Valley - Savannah Bay on the right
We may have gotten a ride up the to the top, but we made the descent under our own power. The peak is at 1350' and needless to say we came all the way back down to sea-level. Hot and thirsty we returned to the marina at Virgin Gorda Yacht Club for lunch and a drink and then with the hottest day we've had so far we made our way directly west into the sun and across the channel to Trellis Bay, where we had made arrangements to meet up with Paul and Elka.

This evening was an experience we will treasure for a long time. Remember Paul and Elka were purely a chance meeting a couple of days ago over cocktails on the back of Mowzer in Lee Bay. They very kindly invited us to join them for dinner at "Canadian Night" in East End, Tortola. Paul has his boat on a mooring in Trellis Bay, so we met at Da Loose Mongoose and he drove us to DoveLove where a group of expat and cruising/live-aboard Canadians meet every Tuesday night for dinner. The group was most welcoming and the owners of DoveLove, Lynne from Kitchener and her husband (a local from the BVI) prepared a wonderful dinner. Included in the group were a number of other nationalities including a South African orthopedic surgeon and his wife who had actually lived in Sudbury for a couple of years. As we left the restaurant we wandered down the hill where a local church choir was performing at an outdoor venue; really more of a African/Rock/Gospel group and man could they sing!

East End on Tortola has a bit of a reputation as a rough part of the island, but the people we met (both locals and aways) were charming and hospitable and really made us feel welcome. In particular Paul and Elka went out of their way to introduce us to island life as they have become part of the community here.

Monday, March 25, 2013

That Which Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger

We started the day with some snorkling just south of Haulovers. The snorkling was fantastic but we kept running into clouds of jellyfish which wasn't so pleasant so we headed back to the mothership and then around Salt Island and into the bay on the north side.

I've got to practice diving so I can get down to fish-level
Fish love to hang out under the boat
It had been a few days since a good hike so we headed ashore and set out up the hill at the eastern end of the beach for some good views. Hill number 1: no problem, good views, nice breeze. Once we crested the hill we realized we could keep going to hill number 2.

Mowzer (the little one) in the bay at Salt Island
Only goat tracks to follow up Hill #1
Hill number 2: hot but still ok, no paths, lots of scratchy thorns but still great views and a cooling breeze. From here we could see Haulovers Bay on Cooper Island where we stayed last night.

One boat left at Haulovers this morning
Notice hill number 3 in the background. Didn't look so tough from down here...

This is where the hiking got serious. Scrabbling through the dry undergrowth and over rocky outcrops with the temperature climbing and no shade or path in sight. Henry was a mountain goat and made it to the top - he's being charitable when he tells me I was 30' from the crest but hill number 3 had me beat. On the descent we crossed the spine of the hills out to the south and finally made our way across the salt ponds that give the island it's name and back to the beach. I have never been so happy to sink into the cool ocean waters.

Definitely the dry season - amazing how it all comes back to life in the rainy season
Notice the lovely path we didn't take from the salt pond
Counting from the right - #1 (155'), #2 (270') and #3 (386')
Mid-afternoon we up-anchored and headed for Spanish Town on Virgin Gorda. We really felt that third time was the charm since we have intended to stop here on two previous occasions but always kept on going to another anchorage. The afternoon sail was again pretty surreal with 15 knots of wind on a close reach and boat speeds topping out at 7.4 knots. Sweeeeet!

Tomorrow morning, if I'm still able, the plan is to do a little hiking around The Valley on Virgin Gorda.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

A tour and tidbits

This morning as promised Paul and Elka took us on a dinghy tour up the north-west shore of Great Camanoe Island. Even though the swell had come up during the night we had a great ride around the shore-line discovering a thunderous blow-hole cave that filled with water from the surge and then spat out a spray of fine mist with a roar, and further along the coast, a narrow cave entrance at water-level that Paul says rises up about 200' into the hillside and is filled with bats. On a calm day you can take the dinghy to the entrance and hear the bats squeaking inside or if you visit in the early evening you might see them leaving the cave, but I wouldn't be keen to take a dinghy round into the rock strewn bays in the dark.

Paul was extremely knowledgable of the local geology and natural sights. We learned for instance that the laughing gulls (considered a pest) will actually sit on a pelican's head and pluck fish right out of it's beak. The red-beaked birds we had seen in Culebra in the past are called Tropic Birds and the heron that we had seen in Puerto Rico and again on the CYOA dock is called a Night Heron. Finally, and probably the one I will remember most is the name the locals have for the Turpentine Tree: The Tourist Tree. This tree is notable for its paper-thin bark that turns red and peels!

We were extremely honoured when Paul presented us with a copy of a book we have admired many times about the BVI; he is the publisher. We were sorry that we had nothing more than some fresh-baked tea biscuits to give in return but we had all thoroughly enjoyed the morning.

For the afternoon we decided it was time to up-anchor and go for a sail. Our original intent was to head to Spanish Town on Virgin Gorda but given that this is the holiday without a plan, the winds set our course for us and we ended back in Haulover Bay on Cooper Island. This is one of our favourites: the low saddle of land allows the breeze to cool the boat without being exposed to the waves, the sunset over Salt Island and later the twinkling lights of Tortola in the distance all contribute to the charm of the place.

We capped off the evening with a cut-throat game of Scrabble - Henry won this one but I'll be back to exact my revenge.