Friday, March 28, 2014

Back to CYOA

Book-ending the weather seems to have become a habit for us. We left the docks at CYOA a little over two weeks ago after a couple of days of squally weather in Charlotte Amalie and we returned today dodging squalls for the most part of the morning. The only other rain we have seen in the last two weeks was the squall that we got caught in on the sail up to Anegada.

Like a homing pigeon though, Mowzer made her way back to St. Thomas where we fueled up at Crown Bay before settling onto a mooring at Frenchtown Marina.

Approaching Charlotte Amalie we listened to the U.S. Coast Guard making securite announcements on the VHF that the main channel into the harbour was closed due to the International Sailing Regatta. It was quite interesting listening to the motor yacht behind us persuading the Coast Guard to let him enter so he could make his customs appointment for his passengers at 2pm, and we followed up with our own conversation as we maneuvered around the launch escort to confirm that we could enter via the East Gregory Channel. I actually found it interesting how friendly and casual the coast guard were on the radio; very easy to understand but quite a bit more conversational than I expected. On the other hand, getting the fuel dock to acknowledge our call took a bit more effort.

International Sailing Regatta action outside Charlotte Amalie harbour.
Coast Guard provides an escort through the action in the harbour.
We whiled away the afternoon in conversation with Jay discussing many of the updates and modifications we have on our list; he is a fountain of knowledge and full of great ideas.

The CYOA fleet looks poised like race horses.
Now, we're just getting ready to head out for our traditional last dinner in St. Thomas at The Pie Whole; wonder what they'll have on tap tonight?

The face of a happy, relaxed sailor thinking about what's on the menu? I think yes!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Exploring Coral Bay

After our strenuous day yesterday, we were definitely a bit more lazy today with nothing more on the agenda than a trip round to the east end of St. John and Coral Bay.

Coral Bay is a huge complex of protected bays that essentially face the south, some are in the national park and some are not. The easternmost bays (Long Bay and Hansen Bay) have good anchoring in sand and are fronted by small homes along the road. In the middle, the bays are part of the park system and in three of the deep fingers of Hurricane Hole are park day moorings. Finally, on the west side is Coral Harbour where the little town sits. This bay is chock-full of anchored and moored boats, many are live aboards and quite a number look abandoned. Along the perimeters are a number of wrecks that remind one that perhaps this is not the best place to sit out a hurricane.

We opted to pick up one of the park moorings for the morning and enjoy the solitude and serenity of one of the mangrove lined bays in Hurricane Hole.

We are now down to just a couple of days left on Mowzer on this trip and the next time we are aboard we will be deep in a refit to see us set up for living aboard. We spent the morning going over the boat and creating our refit/update list. It's quite an extensive list of new items and some modifications to existing, and over the next few months as we make progress I'll share what we do.

Funny little story: early in the trip we were irritated with ourselves that we didn't bring a tape measure aboard, wanting to take measurements along with photos to provide more detailed specs on installations. On the day that we hiked out of Savanna Bay, I was walking along the road, looking around at all the scenery and what should I spy discarded/lost on the side of the road but a 12-inch ruler. Brought it home, cleaned it up and it has become one of our essential tools aboard!

After all this activity we headed over to Coral Harbour and given that is it exactly two weeks since we visited Skinny Legs with Dave and Alex, we decided it was time for a repeat cheeseburger. We didn't take on the Johnny Horn hike so not sure we earned them quite as well, but they were still delicious paired with a nice cold beer. For Caitlin- do you notice Dad's t-shirt?

Rated #1 island hamburger by Dave, pretty good in our books too.
This little boat is smaller than our dinghy but is fully fitted with sails and rigging, a beautiful piece of work.
We returned to the blue cobblestone beach around Ram Head to pick up a mooring for the night and enjoyed a spectacular sunset at the end of the day. Tomorrow will see us return to the dock in St. Thomas with another fabulous three weeks under our belts and a few more lessons learned and decisions made.

Sundowner Painkiller on the foredeck.
Sunset over St. Thomas.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

And Upwards We Go

Someone (ok, me) had the bright idea that we would climb up Bordeaux Mountain this morning because doing it in the morning when we were fresh would definitely be easier than hiking up the Centreline Road in the mid-day heat to get to the top. Well in theory that makes sense, but in practice I'm leaning toward them both being bad ideas...

The Petroglyph hike beckoned once again but only if we went up Bordeaux first! This hill (mountain?) is 1270' high and the trail to the top is about a mile long, giving an average ascent rate of about 20%. It took us an hour and I can tell you we were pretty happy with ourselves when we reached the Bordeaux Mtn Road at the top. Unfortunately the reward of smoothies we had promised ourselves at Chateau Bordeaux on the Centerline Road was not available for another hour so poor planning on our part.

We worked our way back down the Reef Bay trail to the Petroglyphs - drier than ever, and then carried on down to the remains of the Reef Bay Sugar Factory. We learned that the original name of this area was probably Rif, Riif or Riff after Rif Paret, an overseer on a local plantation back in the 1700s. Another bay in the area has also bastardized his name and is now known as Parrot Bay. As the sun climbed higher we made our way back home over the ridge towards Lameshur Bay. The 6-mile hike had pretty much done me in and as I browsed through our hiking book and read about the life of slaves on the sugar plantations I am amazed by the toughness of life back then. They awoke at 4am, working through the day in the searing heat, most likely naked with no protection of shade trees in the sugar-cane fields, hard labour all the way through until 10pm at night. Even after emancipation in 1848 freed slaves were required by law to stay on the plantations so it wasn't much of freedom and I don't imagine the overseers went any easier on them. All of the sugar mill/factory ruins that we find today have an air of sadness over them and one can only imagine the hardness of the life.

Along the way we spied lots of wildlife and greenery. We even caught site of a shy little mongoose but he was much too quick for a photo. Two weeks ago when we hiked with Dave & Alex on Johnny Horn, they commented that they had not seen a mongoose, which reminds me of a little riddle: What is the plural of Mongoose? (you have to get to the end for the Caribbean answer)

All fresh and ready to start our hike up the mountain
Our huge thanks to those who established the trails and those who maintain them today
Half-way up the views are stunning
There is art and humour everywhere to be found on St. John
Some of the folks we met along the way
The way down, if you please
The 2nd half of our hike. The first half is just off the map to the left.
False Pineapple - apparently produces an edible citrus-like fruit
The deer on the lower part of the trail were incredibly numerous
We made it to the Petroglyphs. In the wet season the waterfall would have us soaked at this point.
The easy, shady walk down to Reef Bay
Reef Bay Sugar Factory
Part of the old steam engine gearing.
Mangrove Cuckoo
The final crest with a view of Lameshur Bays (Great & Little).

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Checked Out

We awoke to a beautiful sunrise over Sandy Spit, recognizing this as the day we will check out from the BVI and back into the USVI.

Customs & Immigration are available at Great Harbour on Jost Van Dyke, open at 8:30 so we mozied over and picked up a ball in the bay. Once we'd paid our $1 for the paperwork (only if u have the exact change so I scrounged up dimes and pennies to make it - otherwise $5 at that time of the morning when they have no change), we filled our tanks with water at the dock and pulled down the BVI flag from our mast. Next stop Cruz Bay to check back in with U.S. Homeland Security. Since it had now marched on to lunch-time, we started with an appetizer slice of pizza at Ronnie's (up the hill) and then found Woodies where Henry had a delectable fish sandwish and I enjoyed a basket of beer-battered shrimp. We definitely have to do some hiking on St. John to work off this lunch!

Ferries and launches ply to and fro at Cruz Bay
Although Cruz Bay is a small little town, it is home to the ferry dock bringing over visitors from St. Thomas and as such it is a hive of activity. We aren't quite ready to reintegrate into this pace of life yet, so we headed for one of our favourite haunts on the south shore of St. John - Lameshur Bay.

The only building in sight is the ranger station - can you find it?
Peace and calm returned as we tacked back and forth towards our destination with the wind right on the nose. Many times we've beaten along this coast into large swells and fighting the current, but on this trip the ocean has been relatively flat with waves only in the 3' range and althought we had to tack back and forth a number of times to make our destination, the afternoon's sail was over all too quickly.

In Lameshur Bay we whiled away the remainder of the afternoon as we watched at least four turtles feeding on the seagrass in the bay, listened to the birds rauchously calling from shore and watched the play of lengthening shadows across the unoccupied hillsides in front of us.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Calm & The Crazy

Today was a day of two extremes. We awoke to calm, still waters like we've encountered rarely down here in the winter months. The breeze barely picked up all day so were happy to stay put at Diamond Cay and not try to sail anywhere.

Calm: First order of the morning was a snorkel along the edge of the bay. Of course because I didn't take my camera we encountered more varied fish than before as well as a large turtle feeding on the grass and accompanied by two large fish that alternated between making the turtle look formidably large as it swam along and then went to work on cleaning its shell whenever it stopped to eat. We had snorkeled quite away around the bay when we were encircled by a huge school of small silvery fish. Every way you looked, all you could see was the flow of the fish surrounding us, like a river.

Crazy: Suddenly though, the fish started churning back and forth more frantically and looking through the movement I spied a good sized shark. It was dark and menacing and needless to say that was the end of the snorkeling for me so we made our way back to Mowzer, with another view of our friendly turtle on the return trip. Apparently Cane Garden Bay had a number of sharks in it last week. This was the first time I've seen one in the water and while it scared the crap out of me (well almost) and it appeared huge when I saw it in the haze of the water, I'll try to be very realistic and say it was most likely about 4' long.

No picture of the shark but when we got back to Mowzer, this guy was hanging out - the biggest barracuda I've ever seen.

Calm: We moved Mowzer over a bit in the anchorage to a nice quiet spot with a good view to the reef that protects this bay from the swell that roles in from the north. I guess this makes it a good fishing spot and we watched this fellow playing out his line.

Crazy: Well, apparently it is Yacht Week. This is an event that basically creates a huge flotilla of captained party boats that are rented out by the "room" and then move en masse to the various party and hangout spots around the islands for the week. We hadn't run into any of them yet but our first encounter was at The Bubbly Pool on Jost this morning. In hind-sight, this was a break-away group on their own who were actually very nice, a group of guys mostly in the U.S. services and some of the girls were nurses. Their captain said the best part was that they all knew how to listen to him, guess that goes with the training. Needless to say, the party was the goal and I can't be more thankful that CYOA doesn't participate in the rental of the boats.

I think the birds were enjoying the human antics.
More Crazy: Sitting calmly at anchor about 5:15 in the afternoon we noticed a large 50' catamaran motoring very quickly towards the sand bar that runs across the back of the mooring ball area in the bay. Waiting for him to throw the engines hideously into reverse or to quickly try to turn at the back of the bay we held our breath as he ran the boat solidly aground. Luckily he went aground in sand and not the coral fringing the bay and the powerful engines reversed him off the bar, but we can only imagine the damage done to the sea grass that we had watched the turtles munching on earlier in the day. As I said above, glad that our boat is not rented out to these guys. Within about 15 minutes, at least 20 boats had pulled up to the concrete pier, rafted up or anchored close, all with at least 10 people on board partying hard. Obviously our quiet little sojourn was over.

Diamond Cay anchorage - moments before there had been just a handful of boats in the bay.
Back to Calm: Just round the corner with the sunlight starting to fade over the hills of Jost, we resettled our anchor in the lee of Sandy Spit. Along with four other boats we will enjoy the light winds, starry sky and the knowledge that the party boats are safely tied up to the dock at Foxy's Taboo for the night.

Ahhhhh, breathe in The Calm.
By the way, tomorrow we are heading back to St. John and we most likely will be off the grid for the remainder of the week. I'll post updates once we're back online.


Another Fine Sailing Day

... But not before we consumed a delicious brunch selection from Da Loose Mongoose at the edge of the bay to the sounds of a lovely tin pan oddly paired with a background track of Hotel California and others similar. Definitely catering to the older cruising crowd but we still couldn't complain about the setting, the view or the food. Lobster benedict for me and a 3-egg omelet for Henry.

Mowzer on a mooring ball in front of The Last Resort, the restaurant on Bellamy Cay.
We could almost dabble our toes in the water from our breakfast seats.
Our companion may have had a little too much of the rum punch last night - this was her sleeping position and not just a stretch.

Aragorn's Studio is an arty hangout and interesting to browse through but definitely not for the faint of wallet if you wish to purchase. We wandered through and admired some of the works, but kept our wallets safely tucked away.

It is nice to see all the locally produced artwork and the entrance is very alluring.
Some of the artwork is created right on the beach in the shade of the Manchioneel trees.
Our lazy Sunday morning had now ticked away and it was time to push onto the next destination. We had Jost Van Dyke in our sights, but weren't sure that Mother Nature was in agreement with us. Such a pleasant afternoon but with winds under 10 knots it was going to be a slow downwind sail to our evening stop. Nothing daunted (it was so tough!) we carried on and surprisingly made our destination about 14 miles away by late afternoon. We'd had no wave action, minimal swell and an assisting current to help us along with the 10 knot winds so we pulled into Diamond Cay at the east end of Jost in time to fire up the BBQ and prepare a wonderful feast of ribs for dinner.

Spinnakers set, if you have one. We kept pretty good pace with our genoa/main combination.
Wilson?? Just happened to capture the popular spot of Sandy Spit looking relatively deserted.
Along the way we had a brief visit by a dolphin, saw our first flying fish of this trip, were greeted by a huge sea turtle in the anchorage and watched the antics of the pelicans in the bay. However, the only picture I managed to get of any of the wildlife today was this unnamed bird on a guana covered rock.