Friday, December 12, 2008

BVI Day Seven: Great Harbor, Peter Island to Grand Rapids

(photos above and below) A few views of the islands out the plane window as we took off from St. Thomas.

Waiting in the lobby for the Ferry back to St. Thomas, and we have about an hour to kill, and with internet access, I'm finishing up our travelogue.

We awoke at dawn today around 6am, and finished our packing and cleaning up. Washed our neglected hair and ate up the last of our food (and what we couldn't finish got tossed in the garbage, or packed in the backpack for the ride home. We untied the mooring around 7 and motored across the channel towards Road Town Harbor to turn in the boat. We may have probably been able to sail on a beam reach, but for the short distance, I thought I'd give Terri a break on line handling, and we really haven't used the engine much (I don't think we even used a quarter of a tank of diesel the whole trip). Pulled up to the dock without a hitch, tied up, unloaded, went through boat check out and we were done in about 15 minutes from the time we arrived. Our taxi was supposed to arrive at 9:30, but he got there early, and so far so good we are ahead of schedule.

Ferry ride to St. Thomas, taxi ride to the airport, then US Customs, then a flight to NY Kennedy, then on to Chicago, pick up our car from my brother's place, go get the boy, then a three hour drive home through the snow and we are home.

A wonderful time, will have to see how we can swing this again real soon.

UPDATE: As with all things, you plan the best you can, but ultimately, you just raise the sails, trim the sheets and hope the weather cooperates. Our flight from St. Thomas to Kennedy in NY had technical issues on take off, and technical issues upon arrival (they couldn't get the door open), so we ended up missing the only connection to Chicago from Kennedy. The airline put us in a cab for LaGuardia, and we ended up catching a 7:20 flight (delayed to nearly 10:15 by the time it eventually took off), and we arrived in Chicago around 10:30 local time, then after seeing what cab fare was going to run to get into town, we opted for the CTI train, taking the blue line, then the brown line over to my brother's place, where he picked us up in our trusty ole' VW. After a brief visit, we headed towards Keenan and picked him up and drove for home, eventually pulling into our place at 5:30 in the morning local time. Our one piece of checked luggage (mostly soggy summer clothing and some leftover foodstuffs) is still somewhere between NY and Chicago. Damn it's cold here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

BVI Day Six: Cane Garden Bay, Tortola to Great Harbor, Peter Island

(map above) The map of our route on our last full day at the BVI. Not many photos taken on this last day. The camera was losing power, and we were spending more time dealing with the sails and with trying to work our way toward our destination against choppy seas and a strong channel current. Most of the afternoon was spent snorkeling around the bay on Peter Island, so not many photos got taken there either.

Arose early this morning and took a quick walk on the beach, hoping to find the restrooms open, but they didn't open until the 'cruise ship folks' showed up later in the day, so we untied and left the bay early today at 8 pm so we could do our morning constitutionals 'on the run' (our boat does not have a holding tank, and we have to dispose of materials 1/2 mile from shore). Our plan today was to sail around the west end of Tortola, then east again for Peter Island for our last night (across the bay from Road Town, where we have to deliver the boat on Friday morning).

The trip west to the point of Tortola was mostly motoring, since it was a following wind, similar to the day before, with large swells (although not quite as large as yesterday), and then once we turned the corner at the point, I had hoped to raise sail and make a nice easy beam reach to Peter (again, famous last words). Once we turned the corner, the wind grew in intensity, and the waves grew as well, mixing with the tight channel and the prevailing current to make forward motion very difficult. We ended up motor sailing for a good portion of the morning, working against the current, fighting 7-8 foot waves (of the 'Lake Michigan variety', very close together and choppy). Eventually, as we moved further into Sir Francis Drake Channel, the waves and wind chilled out a bit, and we were able to lose the engine, and sailed on a zig zag course towards our destination, of Great Harbor, on Peter Island.

(image above) not sure exactly when this photo was taken. I don't see sails up, so we must've been motoring, and I don't quite recognize the shorline, it may have been heading towards Peter Island after we doused the sails, or it may have been the last morning, heading towards Tortola.

Originally, we had hoped to snorkel over at Pelican Island and 'the Indians' where we had our first stop last Saturday, but the waves and wind were a bit too much for an easy landing there, so we decided to try some snorkelling in Great Harbor instead once we made our final stop around lunchtime.

We reached Peter Island around 1pm, and after lunch, we headed ashore to the beach for a beer and a little snorkelling around the ferry dock. Pretty impressive fish right there near shore, after we've been visiting all these 'unique locations' in search of good snorkelling grounds. Our first try was 'without flippers' thinking that it would be easier near shore, but after that proved difficult, we headed back to the boat and picked up the rest of the gear, and tried a few more beachfront areas nearby, and had probably the best snorkeling of the trip, at a nonedescript beach not 30 feet from our dinghy parked on shore. At our second stop, I saw a small shark, so made us curtail snorkeling for the rest of the evening (getting to be around 4ish). Not a big one, maybe about 3-4 ft long, but I didn't wait around to get exact measurements.

Our last sunset, as we sit around drinking our 'sundowners' and await the 'mooring ball guy' for our evening rent. Thinking of maybe going into shore for some key lime pie tonight. Tomorrow morning we return the boat at Road Town at 8am, and shortly thereafter catch the ferry and then the flight home. A great vacation. I don't want to go home.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

BVI Day Five: Marina Cay to Cane Garden Bay, Tortola

(image above) View of our boat and anchorage at Marina Cay while we were wandering about the island in the morning, mailing our postcards.

(map above) Today's route, mostly on a 'Run' today with just the headsail, dealing with large 11 ft rolling swells.

Woke up to clear skies, but blustery conditions this morning. After listening to the weather reports, which called for rough seas and gusting winds from the east, to skip the 'Dogs' and head over instead to Guano Island on the north side of Tortola, where we had heard from a local that there was very good snorkeling, where you had to 'part the fish with your hands, they were so thick'. The passage to this island from our present location was a bit tricky. We had two options, either go north around Camano Island, which we thought might be a little hairy, or go west through a narrow passage, between Little Camano and Large Camano Island. The latter seemed to be more prudent considering the wind direction and the heavy seas predicted, but when we got there, the passage looked awful tight and shallow, but since this was the recommended passage by our charter company (a larger more inviting channel was on the other side of Little Camano, but we weren't insured for that channel). We kept a close watch on the depth sounder, and kept a safe distance from the rocks on either side, and it ended up being a safe and painless shortcut to Guano Island. However, once we reached the area north of Little Camano, the sea was running south unimpeded from the open Caribbean to the north, and we started experiencing the first of the 'ten to twelve foot waves' that were predicted for the area. Not quite as bad as six footers on Lake Michigan, as they are spaced out a bit more and take you longer to climb into and out of them, but awe inspiring nontheless for us 'lake sailors'.

(image above) Moored behind the rock at 'Monkey Point', and the swim we would make to get to shore, hoping for 'good snorkeling on the way, but were disappointed and physically wore out by time we got back to the boat.

We got to Guano Island, and the mooring at Monkey Point around 11, and the seas were still quite choppy and the wind still gusting, but we decided to brave it and tie up to a mooring ball and try snorkeling from the back of the sailboat, instead of using the dinghy (which has proven quite difficult and challenging to get back into). The swim to shore was a bit more than we expected, and we arrived at the beach quite winded and wore out and not looking forward to the swim back to the boat. Also, the water was very choppy and visibility below was minimal at best. No fishies today, although Terri claims to have seen a large school of tiny fish.

(image above) This picture does not do justice to how big these waves were today. The weather service on the vhf called them 10-11 ft waves, Biggest seas we've yet encountered, but overall, it wasn't nearly as frightening as we anticipated. To give you an idea of how large these swells were; we would occasionally pass another boat on today's sail, and the boat would often disappear into the troughs between the waves, leaving only the mast visible.

We sailed on a run, making several jibes on the way towards Cane Garden Bay on the north side of Tortola. The waves here were still of the ten to twelve feet variety, and made for a very interesting sail. We made pretty good time with only the headsail, passing Brewers Bay on the way (the beach we took a taxi to about a week ago) and arrived at our evening anchorage well before the usual time. A beautiful long beach, with several bars, restaurants and beach shops, and pounding surf. We got to enjoy the beach for about an hour, before a rain squall drove us back to the boat, and we spent the rest of the evening resting on deck, watching the sunset, and then, after dinner, took a moonlight stroll on the beach.

(image above) The sunset from Cane Garden Bay.

Tomorrow we hope to make it the rest of the way around Tortola to the west, and then stop at Peter Island for our last night.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

BVI Day Four: Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda to Marina Cay

(map, right) A view of the convoluted route we took today, dealing with a sailing mishap. Not many photos of today's events, the long enjoyable time spent at the 'Baths' in the morning/afternoon were all without the camera, and we were too panicked in the afternoon during the 'mishap' to take many photos, and then, by the end of the day, we just wanted to get to an anchorage and enjoy what was left of our 25th anniversary. Not really sure how accurate the 'sailing' route is on the map, I think we were probably a lot further out in the channel than I have indicated, but we had other things on our minds at the moment.

Another rolling night at the mooring ball outside Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda, and the morning dawned with cloudy, overcast, with sporatic rain and gusting breezes. We found the weather report on the VHF, and a high pressure system seems to have moved into the area for the rest of the week, promising heavier than usual winds, high seas, and intermittent rain squalls. We took our time getting up this morning, and eventually took the dinghy into the nearby marina to try and find some ice and pay for the previous evening's mooring ball charge. We picked up a few more provisions at the grocery store, along with the ice for our freezer, and just as we were loading everything into our dinghy, the skies opened up with a strong rain that continued until we reached the sailboat.

We decided to brave the 'iffy' conditions and motor down to either Fallen Jerusalem or the Baths to try our luck down there, maybe do some exploring ashore, or some more snorkeling. No one was at Fallen Jerusalem today, and no wonder, because the pass between the south end of Virgin Gorda and the out island was open to the ocean, and some incredible swells were rolling in, which made the passage quite exciting, but when we eventually got the mooring ball, the conditions looked too shaky to attempt tying up there for any length of time, so we aborted and headed back north for the Baths (which had several boats tied up there already at 10 in the morning). The weather seemed to be improving a little bit, the clouds breaking up and the sun starting to come out, but by the time we arrived at the Baths mooring area, the sky opened up yet again, and Terri had to climb to the bow to tie on in a drenching rain squall. We scurried below for some tea and a game of cribbage. After the game, we peeked outdoors, and saw that the sun had once again come out, and we prepared the dinghy to go ashore, along with our snorkeling gear (decided to travel light this time, and just do the trails in our bare feet - a smart decision).

The Baths were beautiful - a couple of beaches surrounded by piles of ginormous boulders with trails winding through, between and over them onto the next beach, and then out in the water, swarms of interesting and colorful reef fish swimming around the submerged rocks. We also found ourselves in the middle of a huge swarm of Germans on the trails through the boulder field, not sure where they all came from, perhaps from a cruise ship excursion, but several of the males of the species wore some interesting bathing attire (little 'penis pouches' on a sling some of them looked like - Tim dubbed them 'nut sacks').

After spending a couple hours hiking and snorkeling, and laying on the beach, we successfully re-entered our dinghy and set sail for Marina Cay on the opposite side of the Sir Francis Drake Channel, to our northeast, and what we hoped would be a nice easy beam reach sail, as the winds seemed to be favorable. Not to be however, as we hadn't yet had our daily 'excitement'.

The winds proved to be a bit more than I had anticipated, and grew stronger, along with stronger waves the further we got from shore. I was tooling along at a pretty good pace with just the headsail out, but got greedy and asked Terri to also set out the jib to perhaps give us just a little more speed. The jib proved to be a bit too much in the growing breezes, and when we were in the act of aborting our sail choices, we lost track of one of the jib sheets while furling the genoa, and it ended up in the water. Tim started the engine to try and gain some control over the situation, but should have gotten the sheet out of the water before hand, because it wasn't long before the engine conked out, and we found the port jib sheet wrapped around the propeller, the engine dead, the transmission stuck in forward, and us stuck out in heavy growing seas and difficult winds. At first, I had forgotten that we still had the main sail up, and was making plans for us to drift with the prevailing winds and try and phone for help (actually my first response, was 'maybe I could put on the snorkeling gear and try to free it myself?' which Terri smartly vetoed right out of the box). I eventually smartened up, and took stock of the actual situation and realized that I could still maneuver fairly well (if conditions didn't change drastically) with just the main sail, until help arrived (and when Terri called, they weren't sure how soon help COULD arrive). We were advised to avoid collisions, and try and circle around the same general area until a diver could come help us free the jib sheet from the propeller.

(image above) "Gun" prepares to go diving under our boat to cut loose our headsail sheet which had gotten wrapped around the propeller. After 2 hours of sailing back and forth without a motor, we found ourselves right back at the 'Baths' for our rescue.

After about an hour and forty five minutes later, and two or three passes back and forth in front of the Virgin Gorda sailing grounds we have been hovering around the past 24 hours, help arrived in the form of a young man with size 16 feet named "Gun", who helped bulldoze us towards shore and moor up at one of the 'Baths' mooring balls, and he went below with one of our kitchen knives and freed up the propellor. Very nice young man, and did a good job of corralling a pair of panicky sailing tourists. Brought us a new jib sheet (since he had to cut away a portion of the one we fouled), and also took our trash, which was very nice. We were back on our way to Marina Cay by around 4pm, and this time we played it safe and motored across (the seas were still quite high and rolly, but it wasn't too bad once we got in the lee of 'The Dogs' (a quintet of islands west of the northern half of Virgin Gorda).

(image above) Tied up to a mooring ball at the Marina Cay anchorage. The fuel dock and gift shop are visible on shore.

Marina Cay is a very cute little anchorage, featuring a tiny little islet, sourrounded by a large coral reef (which we hope to snorkel tomorrow). We found a nice restaurant ashore to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary (surprised we made it this long). The restaurant was very nice, Terri had Red Snapper, and I had some Blackened Mahi Mahi, and we also each tried a rum shooter featured at the bar, and at the end of the meal, the restaurant was nice enough to give us a bottle of Zinfandel, in a baggie of ice for our celebration back on the boat. Unfortunately either our corkscrew is screwed up, or the bottle is, because we can't get it open.

(image above) motoring around in the dinghy at Marina Cay - time to go back to the boat and 'dress up for dinner'.

Tomorrow -- well, not sure. Perhaps the weather will dictate. Would like to go over and check out the 'Dogs', but they are an iffy anchorage.

Monday, December 8, 2008

BVI Day Three: Cooper, Salt Island to The Baths and Virgin Gorda

(image above) On the beach on Cooper Island in the morning, the 'queen of the beach' resting nearby.

A rolly night at the Cooper Island bay, once the sun went down and the nightly breezes began to blow, they switched around from the east to the northeast, and we were rockin' and rollin' all night long. Not all bad, though, because when you awaken at 3 am to check the boat your breath is taken away by the sheer number of stars up in the sky.

We woke bright and early, and headed up to the dock to see when the gift shop opened, because I broke my pair of sunglasses the previous afternoon, and the salt spray really bugs my eyes when we are underway. We took a quick dip in the bay, and played catch with the resident beach dog until we happened upon the proprieter of the dive shop, who sold me a pair of sunglasses and shot the breeze with us for a spell.

(map left) Our sailing route for the third day, motoring back to Salt Island, then tacking back and forth on the way to the Baths and Virgin Gorda.

Our first destination of the day, after breakfast, was to backtrack over to Salt Island, and try snorkeling again over that shipwreck. The seas were a bit more choppy than the day before due to the wind change, and when we got there, it took three passes at the mooring ball to successfully pick it up. (Terri got it each time, but had to drop it due to the wave action driving the boat out of range).

All the while we are making our passes, I was being careful to avoid a pair of scuba divers who were quite a distance out away from the usual 'diving area', verging on getting out into the channel between Salt Isl. and Dead Chest Isl. By the time we had successfully tied up to the mooring ball, I noticed that a dinghy had joined the pair of scuba divers and that there seemed to be some sort of commotion out there.

(image above) The rescue vessel eventually arrives to take one of the divers to the hospital.

I jumped into our dinghy to go out and see if I could lend a hand, as it was getting clearer that something was not quite right with the situation. I noticed as I approached the group, that one of the divers was getting frantic, and the person in the dinghy hadn't shut off his outboard engine (very dangerous with two divers in the water clinging to your boat), and he was having a hard time getting them into the boat. By the time I arrived by his side, he had the 'frantic guy' in the boat, and he was blue. Scary blue. Zombie blue. Foaming at the mouth and obviously in shock. I quick motored halfway back to Terri and shouted for her to call 911, then returned to the boat to help out. The guy in the dinghy left the remaining diver with me, and returned to the sailboat to try and get the guy some help, and I tried to get the remaining diver into my dinghy, and when that failed (he was a rather hefty fellow), we tried towing him back to his sailboat, but that wasn't working either, because I was worried about drowning him behind me, or chopping him up with my propeller. Thankfully, a couple of guys from another sailboat came by, one of them announcing he was a 'dive master', and helped get the guy out of the water (he wasn't as bad as his friend, but he was starting to look a little shaky). By the time we got back to their sailboat, them with the diver and me with the tank and gear (it didn't occur to me to try and take it off in order to get him into the boat - and man, that shit is heavy), the 'blue guy' had his color back, and was breathing, but still didn't look 100%. More helped showed up from a nearby commercial dive charter, with a gal who had some medical training and oxygen, and eventually the rescue boats arrived and the guy was whisked off to the hospital. Meanwhile, Terri was worried about me, because I jumped into the boat so fast I neglected to bring my life vest, and the current was so strong out there in the channel that we were starting to drift off during my half assed rescue attempt. We kind of hung around and waited until the rescue boats left, and it was clear the guy was going to be alright, and then afterward, we decided to go ahead and try and snorkel (but Terri wasn't 100% gung ho about it after the emergency incident - and Tim was still pretty shaky and full of adrenaline as well) We still don't know exactly what happened to start off the whole thing, either they got a bad mixture, or just panicked when they couldn't get back in the dinghy with all their gear on - who knows. I think he's going to make it though.

The snorkeling was absolutely beautiful. Below us in the water about 20-30 feet deep was the wreck of an old wooden hulled ship, covered with fish and coral (and to make it even more tempting to jump in the water, a couple of other snorkelers warned us that a 3 foot barracuda had just swam our way - we never did see the barracuda). Not quite as many interesting fish as the other site, but the wreck was spectacular. But the fun was just beginning, as we had to get back in the dinghy. Yesterday, it wasn't easy, but we eventually managed it, but for some reason today, whether it was the choppy waves, or being tired and strung out from the rescue, but we just couldn't seem to get back in the boat. At one point we thought of either swimming for the sailboat (but the swim ladder wasn't down), or swimming over to one of the other boats and asking for help), but eventually Terri managed to get in using the outboard as an additional 'handhold', and then she was able to help me aboard (as she said, it was like 'boating a marlin'. Enough excitement for one day, we thought, lets head for our next destination (after a quick lunch, that is).

(image above) Ashore at 'The Baths' for our brief visit on the evening of the third day. We would spend a lot more time here the following day, but didn't bring the camera ashore.

Next stop was 'The Baths', an area of huge boulders and beaches on the southern end of Virgin Gorda. The wind wasn't cooperating again today, so we had to do several tacks in order to reach it by sail. We were beating into the wind again today, but we seemed to do it a little more efficiently this time, and only had to make 3 zigzags, past Cooper Island, then Ginger Island, then Round Rock and Fallen Jerusalem (we almost stopped at this island, which looked very similar to the baths, but there was only one mooring ball, and it was taken).

We got to the 'Baths' around 4, and decided we'd try and take a quick peek at it before heading north to our night destination. More snorkeling, and one more time we had to try and climb into the dinghy from the water, so I rigged up a rope across the dinghy to aid in climbing aboard, and it seemed to help a little bit (still took me two attempts to get in though when it was time to go). We'll be heading back to the Baths again tomorrow. This place looks way too cool to try and fit into a rushed 45 minute time period.

(image above) another parting photo of the beach at 'The Baths' before we swam out to the dinghy for yet another attempt at 'boarding from the water'.

We hit the anchorage around 5, just in time to tie up, straighten up the living quarters and sit down to watch the sunset. This area is less scenic than the last two anchorages we had. Nearer to a large town, and there are two freighters moored out in the channel nearby, and a marina just around the channel. Not many mooring balls to choose from either, I think we got the last one. I'm wondering if this is going to be another bumpy night. Every time a boat comes out of the nearby harbor, we get a nice big wake.

(image above) the colorful sunset from our rather dull anchorage outside Spanish Town on Virgin Gorda.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

BVI Day Two: Norman to Cooper Island

(photo above): The view of the Norman Island Anchorange at 'The Bight' on the way down from our 'trail hike' in the morning.

As usual, Tim awoke with the dawn, and took a quick shower in the head, and sat out on deck to read his cheesy paperback (Dennis Lehane, "Shutter Island", actually pretty good book). Terri woke pretty early too, and so did the mooring ball collection people, who were alongside with their dinghy around 7:45.

(photo above) A view of the southern side of Norman Island on our 'trail hike' in the morning.

After breakfast of instant oatmeal and jelly toast cooked over the gas burner, we took the dinghy ashore to check out the 'mountain trail' we had read about. Not as brambly and overgrown as we were led to expect (at least the main drag to the helipad), but further ashore it got a bit more rustic and we got our legs dinged up a bit, but it was worth it for the beautiful island vistas. Didn't see and wild goats or cattle (predicted by the guidebook), but saw a few lizards and a hermit crab, and a mystery snake.

Back at the dock, we took a quick refreshing swim at the beach, then headed back to the boat to pick up our snorkeling gear. Our destination was the 'west end caves', a popular snorkeling spot. Rather than take the sailboat, we just dinghy'd around the point and tied up to the 'dinghy floats'. First time we'd been snorkeling since our last trip to Mexico (however many years ago that was), and Terri was a little bit nervous to jump out of the boat in water over our heads, wearing this strange gear. Once in the water though, we didn't want to come out. Lots of cool fishies galore, including this one school of black and white and yellow stripedy guys who weren't shy at all around the snorkelers. Some very big colorful fish near the coral walls and lots of different color coral fans and brain formations and such (we've got a book here on the boat for identifying local fish, so we'll have to check out the photos and try to identify the suspects). Getting back into the dinghy was another challenge altogether, for a while there, I didn't think I was going to be able to get Terri back in.

(map above) Our sailing/motoring route (including the short jaunt around the point for snorkeling) for day two. The wind was from the east today (as we would learn it almost always is), so we were doing a lot of tacking to get to our destination. If we were smarter, we might have let the wind dictate our course a bit more, but the sailing was a lot of fun, nonetheless.

(image above) Sailing toward Peter Island for the umpteenth time of the day as we tacked back and forth across the Francis Drake Channel on a close reach.

(image left) The beach at Cooper Island as we went ashore to pay our 'mooring fee'. A nice little beach, but the only part of this large island we were allowed to explore, since the rest of it was privately owned.

We ended up leaving Norman Island around Noon, and started sailing northeast towards our afternoon/evening destinations of Salt Island and Cooper Island. The wind was steady most of the way, but in an inconvenient direction for where we wanted to go, but we made the most of it, tacking back and forth across Francis Drake Channel, past Peter Island, Dead Chest Island (avoiding Blonde Rock, a nautical hazard not visible above the water), mostly close hauled and heeled over all the way. We ended up sailing most of the afternoon, only pulling up to Salt Island around 4. We had hoped to snorkel again over a shipwreck (the 'Rhone'), but since it was getting late, we figured we better get into a harbor and get settled for the night (sun sets rather quickly here around 6pm, with a very short dusk). We pulled into the harbor at Cooper Island and picked up a mooring ball, like we'd been doing it all our lives. Good job Terri. Starting to get the hang of this. We paid our fee at the bar, then sat for a while on the beach, then headed back to the boat for sundowners and supper.

Tomorrow hoping to get to 'the baths', and backtrack to our 'shipwreck' that we missed this afternoon. Beautiful day today, the best weatherwise of the whole trip, with steady breezes, manageable waves, and blue sky with puffy white clouds.

(image above) Our 'home away from home' for the week, Thermofossicle (a name we would have to spell for every mooring ball collector during the week). As we approach with the dinghy after our evening walk on the beach.

(image above) Our first nice sunset looking west from the harbor at Cooper Island as we enjoyed our evening beers in the cockpit.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

British Virgin Islands - first day of charter

(above): This is a map of our sailing grounds over the coming week, I'll be using this map to highlight our routes as the week progresses. I'll be using blue to indicate 'sailing' and red to indicate 'motoring' and purple to indicate 'motor sailing'.

We rose bright and early with the alarm clock at 7 am (along with every other poor fool at this marina), to be ready for our boat orientation, which we mistakenly thought would be at 8 (he got there at 9, Winston again). We went through all the systems, and I got to ask my questions about things I didn't quite understand.

We mentioned the anchor light, and deck light which we discovered weren't working the night before, but forgot to do anything about it when he left. So at around 10 am, we went into the office and asked about the faulty lights, and they sent a crew down to take a look.

It was very entertaining watching the young fellow in the bosun's chair being hauled up to the top of the mast to change a few lightbulbs, something I'm sure lies in our future, but not anything we are in a hurry to do (sort of like colonoscopies). We didn't want a repeat of our first charter in Traverse City, with trying to haul a emergency light to the top of the mast. We didn't expect it, but they also sent someone down to fix the nav station bench, which was missing a hinge. We went back to the trusty Rite Way supermarket and got a few more sandwiches for lunch, and sat and listened to the interesting barely understandable local dialog (something about the antichrist and implanted microchips).

(map right): Our route on our first day, Road Town Harbor on Tortola to Pelican Island, then on to Norman Island for the night.

Finally left the dock around noon, and managed to only slightly scrape across the piling on our way out. Motoring out of Roade Harbor in Tortola went without incident, and once we passed the designated bouys we raised both sails and headed south for Peter Island on a beam reach. Beautiful but cloudy weather and a steady breeze took us across Sir Francis Drake Channel in about an hour, hour and a half, and we found ourselves at an Island group called Pelican Island (and the Indians), which is a small rocky island, plus a quartet of large jagged rocks off the west. Supposedly good snorkeling here. Our first challenge: pick up a mooring ball. There were about 5 or 6 boats already tied up at this area (day mooring only, part of the National Park System), and we saw a few that we might give a try capturing.

(photo above): Approaching 'The Indians' to the west of Pelican Island for our ill fated 'first mooring ball'.

We picked the hardest one for our first mooring ball attempt. The float was no longer floating, and instead was a de facto anchor wrapped around the lower part of the mooring cable. We tried about 4 times with Tim at the wheel and Terri at the hook, and on our first pass, the hook broke in two and started floating away. Terri actually grabbed the ball the first time, but couldn't hold on to it for the weight, so we tried sending Terri out on a dinghy expedition, where she toured the rest of the anchorage, unable to either start the engine or put oars in their slots (they were broken and not workable). I eventually came around and picked her up before she floated off to Africa, and flagged down a helpful group of Brits to rescue our floating hook remnant. We tried a few more times with Terri trying to lasso the ball western style, but Tim couldn't seem to get close enough to the ball to make this work, so we switched positions and tried a number of other passes with Tim as the wrangler (where Tim admitted that yep, this isn't easy). You can imagine how tempers were doing at this point. We still hadn't gotten our hook back yet from the snorkeling dudes, when Tim finally managed to snag the ball with his makeshift sliding knot. At this point we got some mixed signals with the boat direction, and Terri ended up reversing us full thrust as Tim frantically tried to not lose the ball he so hard fought to win (which ended up tightening the knot to a point where I couldn't untie it from beneath the ball). The British came to rescue, with a knot loosening tool, and returned our hook, and we took another mooring line and secured the ball in the correct manner. We had no intention of snorkeling now. I think we used up our alloted 90 minutes of time at the ball just in tying up to the ball. Tim eventually got the engine on the dinghy going (very much like trying to start the chainsaw), and we took a short impromptu jaunt to Pelican Island to beachcomb, forgetting the camera in our haste. We found lots of cool shells, including a fair to middling Queen Conch shell (not storeroom quality, but damnit, it was hard fought for). Getting dark and rainy at this point, around 4, so we decided to head over to Norman Island to find an anchorage.

Our original plan was to try and anchor, but with the gusting winds, I'm glad we chickened out and picked up another mooring ball. First try this time with Terri at the hook. Beautiful spot, but kind of crowded and a little noisy. We may try snorkeling for real tomorrow (supposed to be some caves around the point).

Snug as a bug in the rug here in the harbor, and actually have internet (we aren't even all that close to shore).

(photo above) The anchorage at Norman Island, taken the next morning on our 'wilderness hike'.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Chartering in the BVI - Part 1: Getting There

Drove down to Chicago Tuesday night and spent the evening at my brother's place. Keenan came up for the send off, and we dropped him off around midnight at the Red Line. An early morning call, with the cab picking us up at 5:50 for the ride down to O'Hare. Our flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico took off at 8:30, and we arrived around 3, local time. We then had a three hour layover before our flight to St. Thomas in the US Virgins.

We had heard about some good food in Puerto Rico from Geri, but we didn't want to go through the rigamarole of going through security again to get to it, so we opted for a quiet looking bar near our boarding gate. $6.50 beers (Madalla or something like that, a local brew, presumably) and the worst meal for the money than we've had in a long time. Terri got Nachos (which we originally thought of splitting, since they had a $10 price tag), and were basically ball park nachos with velveeta and tomatoes and sour cream, and I got a cuban sandwich, which basically ended up being a slightly cuban-ish 'Slim Jim' like you'd get at Big Boy. It was nearing dark when we got on the little puddle jumper for St. Thomas, and it was a short hop over to the island, and then a 12 dollar cab ride to the building right next door to the airport. Starting to feel like we've started to work our way through our budget before we've even gotten to our destination.

Anyhow, settled into our hotel room now. Nice view (from what we can see at night), and we took a hike down the road to stretch our legs, and build up an appetite, and ended up eating dinner here at the hotel. A couple of beers and vegetarian burritos, the best meal of the day, and then a quiet stroll down on the hotel beach, before the storm clouds rolled over the hills and it started lightly raining on us. We have the whole day in St. Thomas tomorrow, so we plan on doing a little sightseeing and exploring in the morning.

(photo above): St. Thomas as seen from one of the roads leading up to Mountain Top.

We had a day to spend in the USV island of St. Thomas, with no specific plans as to what we were going to do with our time. We rose fairly early (as usual, I was up with the dawn, and Terri slept in a bit later), and caught the shuttle downtown to try and hunt up some breakfast, and maybe do a little shopping in the business district. We found a nice little hole in the wall deli/bar near Fort Christian and the Vendor's Square and had a very nice meal and had a nice talk with the waitress, who is also a sailor and gave us some good tips on places to go.
After breakfast, we wandered a bit through the vendor's market, and then wandered a bit through downtown, eventually heading uphill to try and find the '99 steps', which we assumed were something like the slave built quarry steps we saw in Nassau. At the top of the steps we came across Blackbeard's Castle (not sure what this was, but seems to be geared towards the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' crowd, like so many cheesy gift shops around here), at which point, we started noticing how nice the scenery was from the growing altitude, so we thought we'd try and climb up to 'Mountain Top' which is purportedly a great scenic outlook, where you can see all the surrounding islands. The island doesn't seem to be 'pedestrian friendly', and walking up the tight little switchback roads with traffic driving on the opposite side of the road, with little or no shoulder beyond the pavement was a bit hairy at times. We didn't see any other 'walkers', but plenty of tourbuses passed us with encouraging shouts from the passengers. The view was spectacular when we finally made it to the top, and we celebrated with a couple beers and a very refreshing banana daquiri (and several bottles of water to make up for the two that we drained on the way up).

(photo above): Magen's Bay as seen from Mountain Top, we will eventually hike down to it thanks to directions from the bartender.

While up on the mountain we got a glimpse of Magen's Bay Beach on the north side of the island, and we asked directions from one of the bartenders on how to best get there. Mostly downhill, which was a nice change of pace, but with more hairpin blind curves and little shoulder to walk on. The beach was beautiful and not too crowded and I had thought ahead and wore my swimsuit under my clothes (Terri didn't and regretted it), so I had a nice refreshing swim out in the lukewarm calm water. After a walk to the far extreme end of the beach and a couple more beers, we decided that we didn't have enough gas left in our engines to try and walk back to town (which would entail crossing the island ridge once again), so we grabbed a taxi back to the city center and got a recommendation from the driver for a place to eat.

(photo above): Magen's Bay from the western end looking east.

We walked around a bit, did a little shopping, and eventually found the restaurant ('Cuzzins' I think it was called) and had a very enjoyable supper around 4ish. I had Conch Creole with Funji (whatever that is), local stuffing and rice and peas (and a very spicy hot sauce... yumm), and Terri had one of the fish specials (catch of the day, we though she said it was 'king fish'), which had a similar topping of onions and peppers, with fried plantains, sweet potato and vegetables.
I then talked the poor girl into walking from there back to our hotel. I have no idea how many miles we put on our poor feet today, but it feels like one of those 10 mile hikes from our backpacking days (I'll google map it later and figure it out when I get home).
Back at the hotel now, about 6pm local time and feels like 10. We are whipped. A very fun day however and looking forward to our ferry boat ride to Tortola tomorrow morning.


We rose bright and early to catch the taxi down to the Tortola Ferry Dock, and we were on the water by 8:50. The weather was an interesting mix of sunshine clouds, rain and a beautiful rainbow over St. Thomas (or it could have been over St. John's, hard to tell). The sun was back out and shining by the time we arrived around 9:30. Customs was quick and easy, but getting our prepaid taxi ride to the Charter docks was a bit of a problem. Somebody didn't pick up our paperwork and there was confusion regarding whether or not we had paid for the ride. We got to the docks around 10, and found out our chart briefing time would be at 4 and check in to the boat would be at 6, so we had about six hours to kill, so we stashed our bags in the office and headed out on foot to check out the local grocery and downtown area.

(photo above): The view from the road to Brewer Bay, looking down on Road Town on Tortola (skies looking a bit overcast), you can see Peter Island and Dead Chest Island off on the horizon.

Shopped a bit in the downtown local vendor booths and then hired a taxi to take us to the other side of the island where we had read were some nice beaches. Terri did NOT want to climb these mountains today and I have to say I was in her corner. Glad we didn't, because once the taxi left the town proper, it started heading STRAIGHT UP the sides of the mountains, and the ride back down on the other side was just as harrowing (but with worse roads). Our driver, a fellow named "Lonely" with incredibly long fingernails and lots of gold bling kept up a running commentary on the way, instructing us on local history (some of it going back to the 1700s, and not all of it we could decipher due to his accent). Some beautiful scenics on the way however, and he did a fine job of getting us there in one piece (he informed us that he is 65 years old and has been driving cabs here since he was 17).

(photo above): Looking down the beach from the north side of Brewer Bay, near where we were dropped off by 'Lonely'.

The beach was very nice. Secluded, quiet and with a scenic view of the Jost Van Dyke Islands off the north. The waves were quite a bit bigger than the ones at the St. Thomas beach the day before, and Terri remembered to bring her bathing suit this time and got to enjoy the sight of the waves nearly peeling my swim trunks off. Keenan would have gotten a big kick out of these waves. 'Lonely' kept up a vigil for us at the local watering hole while we hung out on the beach most of the afternoon (he said things were kind of slow in town).

(photo above): View looking straight up from our beach towel on Brewer Bay Beach, on the north side of Tortola Island

Back at our chart orientation at 4, we got a rapid fire verbal tour of the islands and how to avoid sinking or running aground in all the bays from Winston the 'chart orientation dude'. A bit overwhelming, but we think we have a sort of plan for tomorrow. Norman Island, the setting and/or inspiration for the 'Treasure Island' book. We sat around for an hour or so after our chart tutorial, and signed our paperwork and were led aboard our 36 ft Benneteau "Thermos Popsicle" (not the real name, but pretty close, and what I have rechristened her). Beautiful inside, lots of room, and actual galley with gimbaled stove, a shower stall, two roomy staterooms, fridge, nav station, and a roomy little living room/salon where I am writing this now. We get woken up for a boat orientation at 8 tomorrow morning, and then we are on... our... way.

Unfortunately, we have no internet access right now, so I'll have to save it and post later. (update: here I am at Norman Island in the middle of a bay at a mooring ball, connected to the internet.. what at amazing world)

Wildlife Tally so far: 3 Iguanas (jumbo sized at the top of some trees), numerous Chameleons, One mystery lizard (medium sized), several jumbo sized spiders with colorful patterns, many free range chickens, 1 mongoose, a couple pelicans.