Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Visiting the US Virgin Islands: St. John

One of the boats anchored in Soper's Hole, Tortola, BVI
 When you leave the British Virgin Islands, you must go to the customs office to check out. We spent a night at Soper's Hole on Tortola's West End before checking out. I found another nice market there. As you may have guessed, good food markets are hard to come by! Many people check in at the West End as it is easier than going into Road Town, BVI. Here you see a variety of vessels in Soper's Hole.

There are many multi-masted boats in the islands. They are always interesting to see - especially under sail. Some a very large and others are smaller. I can never remember which are schooners and which are ketches or yawls! And I don't know what you call those with more than three sails.
Another multi-masted beauty!
After leaving the BVI, we sailed down the Windward Passage to Caneel Bay, St. John, US VI. Since it was late in the day, we grabbed a  mooring ball for the night and then took the dingy into Cruz Bay to clear US customs the next morning. We then learned they were open until 6 PM so we could have cleared in the night before.

For US Customs you can clear in and out in the same visit but they make everyone come inside to be processed. In the British VI, only the Captain goes into customs with all of the passports, but you must clear in and out each time. The operating hours never seem to be what is printed in the guides.

Dennis at the Pay Station in Caneel Bay, St. John, US VI

The mooring balls in the US VI are only $15 per night (unless you are a Senior Citizen, then you only pay $7.50 with a special National Park Pass which you get at the National Park office in Cruz Bay). It is an honor system, however, there are "hosts" who visit your boat and welcome you. And they record the name of your boat - just in case you don't pay or stay too long.

You can stay a maximum of seven days on the same mooring ball and up to a total of 30 nights on park system balls. The cost of mooring in the BVI is $25-$30 per night. Mooring is recommended because there are fewer and fewer places to anchor due to the preservation of the coral reefs. One also gets a much better night of sleep when hanging on a mooring ball. There is no need to worry about your anchor holding or too much swing in the wind.

A visitor stopping for a rest! Or maybe for a handout!

Three quarters of St. John is national park property and the park system has a number of tours, hikes, classes, etc. We did not have time to take part in any of these as we were trying to get to St. Thomas before dark. We plan to spend more time there next year.

We had a visitor who sat on the bow for quite a while. This is a type of sea gull. You don't see the species that we have in Michigan.

After checking into the US VI, we sailed down Pillsbury Sound, around the Dogs and then west on the south side of St. Thomas.

Here's a map to help you get your bearings!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Sailing in the Atlantic to Virgin Gorda

Having lunch at Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour
After leaving Cane Garden Bay, Tortola, the shortest route to Virgin Gorda is to sail east on the Atlantic side of Tortola. It is about a 25 mile run to get to Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbor. And this approach involves a lot of tacking as you are always sailing into to wind. Later we learned that most charter companies suggest their sailors go the opposite way around Tortola to be able to sail with the wind on the Atlantic side. I guess we never considered that route since we like to go to Jost Van Dyke first and that puts us on the north side of Tortola. Next time we will reverse our route.

The run up to Virgin Gorda on the Atlantic side is great sailing, but the winds are stiff and waves high. It makes for a long, fast sail. Larry and Joan did not have any trouble with it, but my sister couldn't handle it. She wears the wrist band with the electric zapper on the Great Lakes and the 20-25 knot winds and high seas were too much it. So for their trip we cut in between Great and Little Camanoe Islands, around Marina Cay and then across to Virgin Gorda. It got her out of the rough waters.

The Baths, Virgin Gorda, BVI

Of course, the biggest attraction on Virgin Gorda is The Baths, but we also learned that a Detroit area developer is working on a resort project at Dix Bay, just over the hill from the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour. There are several other areas to explore, including the Bitter End Yacht Club area at the north end and Leverick Bay. We did not make it to either this time - hopefully next trip.

With Vicki and Larry, we had a wonderful dinner at Chez Bamboo. There is a nice grocery store at the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour so it was great to see some good looking meat and vegetables for a change. We used our time here to rest, relax and read. It is good to have a do-nothing-day after a long sail.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Moving on to Cane Garden Bay, Tortola

Just across the water from Little Jost Van Dyke lies another lovely beach at Cane Garden Bay. This is another good beach for swimming, walking, sunning and enjoying music and drinks.

In this bay, there are a number of restaurant bars where one has a happy hour with live music each night. Then another one has live music after dinner. To keep peace in the community, the entertainment rotates through the seven establishments. So there is always fun somewhere every night of the week!

The pelicans provide great entertainment here as they spend all light hours diving for fish. I mean flying high and diving straight down into the water! It is amazing how much energy they spend just catching food to provide them energy. Talk about being on a treadmill!

The Callwood rum distillery on Tortola, BVI
Dennis and I walked through the streets of the community and found the only surviving working rum distillery on the island. They are the only ones who produce their rum from sugar cane. It has been in the Callwood family for over 200 years.

I am not a rum expert, but my Captain claims the rum that has been aged for 10 years is the smoothest he has ever had. The distillers claim you don't get a headache from it since there are no additives! I think I could get one just by having too much to drink, but I did not test the my theory!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Exploring Jost Van Dyke

Jost Van Dyke is one of the first islands you see when you say "Land ahoy!" coming from the US East Coast. It was truly a welcome sight on our eighth day at sea! We passed by Jost Van Dyke about 45 minutes before crossing the finish line for the Caribbean 1500 Rally back in November. It has now become a favorite place for us.

JVD is a smaller island, but packed with fun! First of all it is the home of the 42 year establishment called Foxy's. Good food, good drink, good times! There is a barbecue with live music on Friday and Saturday nights. And music on Thursday nights, too. If you anchor too close you will hear it into the wee hours of the morning when the last customer goes home - or gets in their dingy to head to the boat! Great Harbour is also the customs and immigration for the island so many people come ashore here.
White Bay is the best beach in the BVI

Foxy's provides evening entertainment while at White Bay just west of Great Harbour lies the most beautiful beach in these islands. The sun, sand and surf keep you "entertained" during the day. There are hammocks and beach chairs and several restaurant bars. The most famous is the Soggy Dollar Bar. It got its name from people swimming ashore for the famous Painkiller rum drink invented here.

The bay is protected by a huge coral reef so many boats cannot go ashore. We can't because we need at least 8 feet of water with no waves to bounce us up and down. Instead we go by taxi and leave S/V Trillium in the Great Harbour bay around the point. The two days we have spent in White Bay reading and relaxing were the best!

Foxy's Taboo on the east end of Jost Van Dyke
After a second overnight in Great Harbour with Vicki and Larry, we pulled out early and went to the east end of the island. There is a place on the north shore called the Bubbly Pool, but it is too dangerous to anchor on the north side due to the northeast Trade Winds. Instead, you go ashore at Foxy's Taboo (no wonder the smart island businessman located his second establishment there), then walk along the beach, climbing over coral and tree limbs to a rocky path that takes you up and over the top to the north side. As you come down the path you can hear the water crashing on the rocks below.

Hiking up and over the mountain to the Bubbly Pool

The Bubbly Pool is a relatively small area of sandy beach tucked in behind some major rocks. When the waves hit the side of the island and rush into the pool area, it fills with bubbly water and spray. There is a strong surf and surge effect as the water crashes in and rushes out. It was well worth the climb. Many people have built little structures of coral "rocks" on the ledges of the pool "walls" as offerings to the spirits.

The water between Jost Van Dyke and Little Jost Van Dyke is one large bed of coral and you cannot even go through with a dingy. Some people were kayaking in that area. You may be familiar with the beautiful Caribbean blues of the water, but you definitely need to be aware of brown water: that is coral underneath. It will destroy your dingy and dingy motor not to mention potential - actually, probable - damage to your boat if you should get onto one of the coral reefs by mistake.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Exploring Norman Island and The Bight with Family

When we leave Nanny Cay, we usually head straight across Sir Francis Drake Channel to The Bight at Norman Island. It is a short sail and it gives us time to provision in the morning and be off the dock around noon. It is important to get to The Bight early as it is a popular mooring spot for overnight - especially with the week-long warriors on the charter boats. (Boy, it would be nice if they knew - or at least demonstrated that they knew - the rules of the water "road!" You can't count on them to miss you even if you are in the right!)

The Famous Willie T's
The Bight is the home of Willie T's Bar. It is a floating establishment of many years. In its heyday, those who jumped off the stern naked or nearly naked received a special tee shirt. It This is not the case today as I have not seen or hear any big splashes! And certainly no one is lining up to view any great happenings!
The last time we were there it was too rough with winds gusting over 25 knots. Joan and Larry weren't really interested in a dingy ride in rough water to get a drink. I think they were afraid of being "in the drink!" It was their first day on the boat and still getting adjusted to the swaying, etc. We are  there again with my sister Vicki and her husband Larry. This time we had a fun night aboard Willie T's: music, dancing and Painkillers!

Dennis was interested in the posted sign prohibiting jumping or diving off the bar boat. He even photographed it for someone who fondly recalls participating is such activities at a much younger and daring age. Probably the real story now is that someone go hurt and the authorities put an end to the jumping! We will have to pursue that angle. And today you just buy your Willie T's shirt!

Sunset at the Bight, Norman Island
We have moored at The Bight a couple of times and have enjoyed the sunsets over St. John, US VI. Out of curiosity, I googled "bight" to see the definition: a loop in a rope; a wide bay formed by a bend in the shoreline. I am satisfied with those two definitions. They seem nautical enough.

There is not a lot to do at the Bight. You can hike a trail up to the top. The Pirate's Bight Restaurant in onshore on a nice beach.And there are shallow areas for snorkeling. Around Treasure Point, you can visit the Caves. It is also a good overnight if you are planning to go to Pelican Island and the Indians which only allows daytime anchoring.
The wind really funnels down through the valley in the mountain of Norman Island and can make you feel like you are on the high seas. Thank goodness for mooring balls! Otherwise, you would be up all night checking your anchor hold. Usually the winds are less when you get back out into the channel in the morning.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Heading Out to Explore with Friends - Leg 3

One of the many rock formations at the Baths
Upon leaving Marina Cay, we motored over to the Baths on the south end of Virgin Gorda. Anchoring in the immediate area is no longer allowed due to the efforts to protect the coral reefs. Since we had not purchased a BVI National ParksTrust permit, we could not pick up a mooring ball. Actually, it is very difficult to find one available as boaters arrive very early in the morning to get one. Even though there is a 90 minute time limit on the mooring balls, it doesn't seem to be enforced.

We saw several large vessels anchored there. One of these is an unknown make to us. It was huge and looked like an office building on top of pontoons! Check out the photo of this strange looking vessel. On the port (left) side, it has a "garage door" that opens for a rather large tender (as in 25+ feet and two 250 hp engines! This is by far the most unusual looking vessel we have ever seen.

We also saw a Hobie Cat race coming from Peter Island to Virgin Gorda with colorful sails. They looked so tiny in the distance that we thought they were windsurfers. Even when they got up close, the 18' cats looked like little toys next to the other yachts. I couldn't imagine sailing in such big waters on an 18' boat!

We continued on to Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour to dock for the night. A trip to the Baths was a must for Joan and Larry so we hopped an open air taxi. The taxi drops you off at the top of the Baths where there is a restaurant called The Top of the Baths! It is actually operated by a relative of one of Dennis' young associate lawyers. Unfortunately, the family wasn't there to say "hello." The view from their terrace was spectacular. Then comes the long walk down, a trip through The Devil's Bay Trail and then the long climb back to the top.

Larry & Skipperette at the Top of the Baths
All the way down, I was dreading the walk back up as I have done it before.

                                                                                         Dennis stayed behind at the marina to do some legal work as we had been to the Baths several years ago. He does try to get a few hours of work in each day, maintaining contact with clients and his office.