BVI to USVI, NEW CREW, AND A NEAR THING..
POSITION 18:19.86N 064:48.01W ST JOHN, USVI
In the preps to get away from UK, the acquisition of charts for the journey was clearly pretty important and a full set from UK to BVI via Portugal and the Canaries were easily obtained - all the excellent Imray series which not only give chart details on water resistant paper but include on the back for free a wealth of things you really ought to know, like tidal movements in the Caribbean and how to work it out using the moon. Not being cheap, it does help to know where you're going or it'll cost a bomb, and as I didn't, it seemed like a good idea to get the relevant charts out here. BVI, being a 'British' island of course (yeah right), well that must be the place to get charts for the 1100 nm leg to Florida, they'd be well stocked wouldn't they as its the charter capitol of the world right?
Wrong. All the chandlers only stock Caribbean charts, except Marine Depot that is, that luckily had a few covering the Bahamas to S Florida, but in fairly small scale. Called 'Waterproof Charts', one started delaminating nicely into a snowstorm of white bits immediately, but with no replacements it was make do time. Out with the sellatape. I rang St Thomas, US Virgins, they'd have some? Nope. The charts I really wanted were the US NOAA charts, but it seems you have to be in the States to buy them.
So, with enough chart info to make a safe passage around the Bahamas, plus some detail in the northern islands around the Northwest Providence Channel which leads nicely to West Palm Beach, decision is to go using the electronic charts on the chartplotter. If the GPS fails, then we would have to cut out stops not well covered by charts, but could make some of the North Bahamian places with the help of the Cruising Guide. If we don't like it, we can always go direct for Florida.
War Against the Cockies continues: no biggies seen for some time (last big fellah went for a swim) but some small ones sighted under the grid in the sink. Action: new anti-cockie poison traps bought in BVI consisting of something nasty inside square black plastic containers with inviting entrances, strategically placed at night. No cockies sighted for four days now.
Sharkie: seen swimming right underneath the dinghy and PW just as I'm getting in, a good 2.5 feet long, looks like a shark but with strange looking equipment along the whole top of its head. It could be gills, or maybe suckers. Does it attach itself to a larger body? Actually looks more like gills, but on top of the head?
PS: its a Sharksucker. Attaches itself to sharks, whales, turtles, and occasionally frogmen. Can grow to three feet.
Inflatable floor: the removable, inflatable floor that gives the dinghy a V shape got punctured. I have a repair kit, but after two previous punctures, am now right out of adhesive. Find some in Road Town BVI - there are two kinds, one for Hyperlon, one for PVC. I dont know which is right but assume its PVC as Hyperlon is the expensive one - Avon dinghies only as far as I know - mines a 'cheapo' Wetline. I'm right, having checked on the internet. The guy in the shop tells me PVC is no good out here, no one uses it as it can't be mended due to the heat.
Well I mended it ok.
Ali arrived on 17 March, St Patrick's Day with two bags, a fiddle and wide brimmed hat, having walked away from a less than happy position as crew on another boat in St Croix. We only had a few days left in BVI as my rather ungenerous clearance of 30 days was nearly up, and to stay longer would mean temporary importation of the boat. Expensive. Next day Abes, Nick, Ali and I sailed round to Jost Van Dyke on a daysail, ate our excellent sarnies in the crowded anchorage of Great Harbour on the south coast, and sailed back - an excellent day out, and a good intro for Ali.
We needed to take on water so called up Village Cay Marina in the town centre of Road Town, Tortola BVI on the radio. 'Is your refuelling dock free?' No it wasn't. Ok, so dinghied over to the much nearer and cheaper looking Burt Marina on the west side and asked the lads on the dock. No probs. But, it looked pretty shallow around there. I drove PW slowly in and promptly ran aground in sand right in what looked like the entrance. Great. Full astern, and PW slowly came back out again. Went back around and tried coming in along the docks instead, made it, but failed to spot the refuel dock I'd just been to. Tight turn inside the poky little Reef Road Marina and back out again, sail past it a second time but deliberately this time, turn round and come in Starboard side to, into wind. The lady that runs the marina was very nice, and didn't deserve to have two Customs men waiting to interrogate her as we went back to the office. 'I DONT LIKE Customs' she said with feeling.
After anchoring across in the east side just outside the Village Cay Marina and spending a rocky old night rolling around, we went back to the west side anchorage, at dusk. Not great, but I knew the ground quite well by now having anchored there before. But I couldn't find a good place. I headed out towards a reef on the south side and on the fringe of the anchored boats, very slowly, watching the depth. 8m. 8m. 8m. 2m ....JEEEEZ! Full astern, with Ali up on the bow shouting at me (you can't hear with the engine noise), closely followed by a rumping noise and change in engine revs. 'Thats a rope round the prop'. S***¬!
Peering over the stern, I was in time to see Perky the dinghy floating away towards the reef, its thick painter cut right through. So now we were going backwards, the dinghy was going past the bow, Ali was shouting and I was grabbing a couple of boathooks. Amazingly, looking back on it, we hooked the dinghy before it disappeared for ever, and didn't hit the reef or any of the boats right behind us. Not my best day..
TIME TO MOVE ON
The GRIB Files showed that we were now outside the northern edge of the tradewind belt, and in an area of high pressure, meaning very light winds that would be all over the place. Great for a holiday, but not good for a 1100nm transit to Florida in a wind powered vehicle. In those winds it would take a month! But we had to leave BVI, or pay lots of money. Nearest place to BVI is the USVI - just a few miles away really - so that was the decision...visit tropical America and wait for the wind! To do so, you must have a visa in advance which I had obtained in Trinidad from the Embassy, and Ali had a US passport anyway.
Friday, our last possible day, was forecast to be nil wind, so Thursday 21 March it was then. Customs were upstairs from the ferry terminal, and unmanned for a while, until a uniform appeared to tell me they opened at half past. I spent the time carefully filling in the forms he had given me in quadruplicate, a waste of time it turned out as you use the clearing in form that you've already got, ok? Well thanks for not telling me that 20 minutes ago, mate.
The Customs guy was nice actually. Then it was downstairs to find the Cashier to pay - a smartly dressed and expressionless young lady who arrived to open up as I did. Her social skills owed everything to working closely with Customs. No greeting, just a waggle of fingers under the grill. This means by the way, give me your paperwork. When her computer finally comes on line after 15 minutes of waiting, she just says '75'.
I haul out my money, suddenly realising I've left the bulk of it on the boat.
I've got $25.
'I'm sorry but I'll have to leave the paperwork with you and go and get some more money' I say lamely.
'Well I wasn't expecting it to be that much...'
YOU HAVEN'T GOT 75 CENTS?!!!
Meeting up with Abes, Nick and Ali afterwards in the popular Village Cay Restaurant on the waterfront, we said our goodbyes and thanks for all the hospitality they had given us (great BBQ's) thensailed at midday on 21 March out of Road Harbour bound for the US Commonwealth territory of St John, and Cruz Bay in particular, where US Customs awaited. It was just 30 miles away.
The sun shone, the wind was light but steady and, unusually, from the south south east, so a perfect day for a gentle sail round the south of St John to make best use of it. The first leg southwest was hard on the wind but we just made it in one tack past Privateer Point before turning almost downwind along the south coast , now with a dying wind behind, so all sail went up plus a pole on the genoa to hold it out. We were making just 3.5kts but with a 4.5kt SOG, arriving at Cruz Bay about 4.30pm - an hour before closing. Good job we did!
Cruz Bay was manic as we slowly approached under power now. Boats storming in and out, it was crazy crazy, boats coming in behind us and overtaking, another just ahead, ferries coming out, and a jam-packed anchorage wedged between the buoyed channel for the ferries. We had a go at getting in on one side very close to the rocks but as soon as we got the anchor down the depth dropped to 1.5m - at 1.4 we ground. So up anchor and get out of there fast with a huge catamaran coming out right behind - also looking for a space. I settled for right outside in the main channel and dropped the hook there, safe from the chaos further in. We dinghy'd in and joined a queue of about 70 Americans outside Customs. This became 80 when a Customs Officer kindly inserted a whole lot more right in front of us.
We got in after 5pm, but by the time I'd filled in the inevitable forms - mainly incomprehensible, referring to merchant ships with cargoes - it was after closing, the doors were locked and just one, large, displeased, female Customs Officer remained.
I had to have, she reiterated, an address in the USA. And a phone number.
'I live on a boat' I explained again.
Not a glimmer..
I think the fact that we were now keeping her from going home shortened proceedings considerably. I asked for and got 30 days after Ali kindly gave her address.
Ali wanted to chill out and have a look round, but got over-ruled as we needed to move the boat to a better anchorage before it got dark. Opting for the next bay round to the north, Caneel Bay - owned by a beach resort for the wealthy of the same name - we motored round and picked up one of the very posh white mooring buoys there, as we were now in the National Park bit where you are expected to use the buoys provided or they blow up your boat and sell you to slavery. By then the wind, as forecast, had died completely. Curiously that night PW very slowly rotated round the mooring all night, as if in a slow whirlpool.
We slept well, the stress of arrival in a US country behind me.
After breakfast, produced at astonishing speed by Ali presumably to hurry me up, we set off in Perky for the dreamy white beach of Caneel Bay. Asking for a map of the island from one of the uniformed employees manning the sports kiosk out front was a mistake, as we not only didn't get one, but received a fairly aggressive dressing down for parking the dinghy without a stern anchor. So ok, we go back to PW for an anchor, quick change into swimmers, and drop a stern anchor out as we come back into the dinghy dock.
This place, the landscape honed to perfection, is all private land patrolled by smartly uniformed local employees driving passenger carrying golf buggies. But they don't own the beach that brings all the clientele here, as USVI law says anyone can use any beach. But because they own all the rest, you can only access the beach from the sea if not an inmate. Or in other words, you not supposed to leave the beach area once arrived.
Well of course we did, walking along a trail to the next couple of beautiful beaches, before arriving back at the resort by chance only to be stopped and questioned by a buggy. '...not allowed....can't go there....only if you're staying here...etc'
Next day, Saturday, we tried the Caneel Trail to Cruz Bay, got lost, came out on a road, Ali turned the wrong way and before I could demonstrate any superiority, stuck her thumb out and got a lift straight away with a young American whizzkid girl who organised bands and events. They got on like a house on fire, speed talking in the front like only Americans can whilst I rearranged the shopping in the back, and we all went to Coral Cove instead of Cruz Bay as thats where she was going. Coral Cove is an anchorage much favoured by long term American cruisers whose rarely moving boats back onto Skinny Legs Cafe - a safe haven for these refugees from the modern world, and in some cases the law.
Another thumbed ride from a young couple on holiday took us to Maho Bay on the north coast, a beautiful piece of sand and warm water, where a ray, small shark and turtle made an appearance. At the far end of the beach we got talking to Pat, a solidly built all American guy with a house 1000' up on the island, and a wife who slept through his laconic monologue on life on the island. We drank a beer each from the coolbox, then set off hitching again to get back and were picked up straight away. Hitching is easy here. %%%%%%%
Sunday, 24 March 2013
Walked along the coast path back to Cruz Bay - about 2 miles - skilfully evading the Camp guards, and spent the day looking round.Cruz Bay is the nerve centre of St John - much of which is a National Park thanks to Laurance Rockefeller's purchase and donation to the US government in 1917 - and as such is extremely busy with ferries to and from the very much more developed island of St Thomas, bringing in hordes of Americans daily. At night it is a blaze of lights, whilst St John has just a few. After a veggie burger each in JJ's cafe we walked back to Caneel Bay to find someone had nicked Perky. It was nowhere. Unusually, I hadn't locked it as it is pretty safe here.... Then I got it. Must be management, they've taken it as we failed to stay on the beach and put it somewhere. Now I could see Perky, bobbing around on a buoy 200m out to sea. Ah! Ok, I'll just swim out to it and liberate it, Ali can look after my kit, no probs. I told Ali who goes up to a big roly poly employee with a motorboat and tried to persuade him to take us there. He looked impassive and immovable. Then a smarmy young manager comes up, wine coloured shirt, name tag, trouser creases, smirking, and gives us the naughty naughty talk, then tells Rolypoly to take us out to Perky which I can see, engine tilted up as I left it, no mistaking old Perky. Glad I did that!
When we get there, its not Perky. 'Must be that one then', further out. Its not. Try again. There's one more, way out now.
Its not. There are no more dinghies.
'Oh, hang on, yes it IS!' Well, at least it wasn't stolen.. I start planning to return after dark to let the tyres down of that smoothie manager chappie.
Sunday, 31 March 2013
Been here in the USVI's now 10 days, with perfect weather the first week, but cloud and rain the last few - just like an August day in UK. It is a lovely island, with perfect beaches. But there was a reason for being here too, besides fun. Wind. Up until now the winds between here and Florida have been either strong northerlies (a 'Norther') or very light and all over the place. Now they are back to Easterly and tomorrow we will set off for Turks and Caicos, a 480nm leg so should take about 4 days. Turks and Caicos are low lying, and surrounded by a shallow reef, so should be interesting. They are also British it says on the chart. We'll see.
Yesterday we cleared out with Customs in advance, topped up with water in the tanks, and set sail the ten miles back east to Coral Cove where there is a gig planned for tonight. We didn't make it. Against wind and current the going was slow, then the wind increased steadily to around 30knots and we were not going to make it before dark. Sailing around here in the dark is not recommended unless you were born here in a boat. So it was back to Cruz Bay and anchor outside again - no room inside the busy bay.
The difference between St John, where we are, and St Thomas across the water, is massive. St John is paradise, St Thomas is America transplanted. I couldn't wait to get back when I went over to the chandlery there looking for charts. JJ's Cafe overlooks the waterfront and ferry dock at Cruz Bay, and they do the best breakfasts ever - two sausages, two eggs easy over, four pieces of toast, hashbrowns, and good coffee. Its going to be hard....
NEXT STOP TURKS AND CAICOS ISLANDS!