Friday, January 27, 2012

Arriving in the British Virgin Islands (BVI)

Puerto Rico, the Spanish Virgins, the US Virgins & the British Virgin Islands
Chatting excitedly about the tapes being rewound in our heads - all those memories from the four years of chartering boats in these waters - we pointed out islands and shared ‘Remember When’ as we cruised from the BVIs to St. John, on the US Virgin Island side. 
My favorite snorkeling spot - The Indians, BV

Frustrated - We have our Frequent Boater Option card and all we’d need to do is make a phone call into Customs/Immigration to clear in, BUT we have no working phone!  

Cruz Bay, USVI
Ah.  Grabbing a mooring ball in Caneel Bay, just around the corner  from Cruz Bay, our port of entry & clearance, we hopped into the dingy and took off to complete the necessary paperwork.  Taking one’s boat into the very busy Cruz Bay is a pain & a challenge, as it is crowded with commercial vessels, a private mooring field and tourists zipping about on the numerous ferries.  There is limited room on one side to anchor while clearing in - hence the choice to stop in Caneel Bay. 
Two thirds of St. John’s is a US National Park, including nearly 13,000 acres of submerged land around the island.  Mooring balls abound at $15 a night ($7.50 for us old folks, who have a US National Park Senior Citizen Pass), protecting the underwater reefs and sea beds from the thousands of boats who would otherwise be dropping their anchors every year, thereby destroying it all. 

The island is quaint, beautiful and the really only happening place is Cruz Bay, a colorful town loaded with shops and restaurants and bars for all the tourists.  We wandered about, on a mission to get our Go Phone up and running with a new SIM card and more minutes so we could call freely to the USA, within the US Virgins and Puerto Rico.  
Successful in finding a phone store, we headed back to the boat.  Ten minutes back on board and a quick decision was made to “get outta here’.  This anchorage rocks and rolls from numerous ferry wakes, rattling our bones and our teeth.

Heading around the island, toward Coral Bay, where our friends Mark and Lee live aboard their boat, we heard friends from our Port Louis Marina days on theVHF.  Butting into their conversations, we quickly made plans to catch up with Brandon & Carrin of Sol Mate, David & Diane on Blue Moment and Kevin, Deena & young Conner aboard Sabatticus, as well as Barbara and Stewart aboard LaLuna.   
Little Lameshur  & Great Lameshur Bays
Tucking into Great Lameshur Bay about 4:30 pm where the group was anchored, we invited all for cocktails aboard at 5:30.   It’s such fun to catch up on the ‘Top This’ cruising stories and to see old friends.  I’m always amazed at how small our cruising world is, in spite of so many miles, so much water and so many anchorages to choose from.  

With our Happy Hour extending until well past boater’s midnight (usually 9:30!), the group headed to our cockpit and swim platform to board their dingies for their return to their boats.  An absolute amazing sight greeted us all - we had our own personal, well stocked AQUARIUM off the back of Finally Fun.  We’d been lit like a house ablaze for hours, attracting two huge sea turtles, several manta rays, a number of large tarpon, as well as numerous other smaller fish, all swimming around and around in our pool of light.  Incredible!
David, Carrin, Brandon, Deena & Kevin
With young Conner scrubbing nearly 3 months of marine growth off our hull underwater and Andy as ‘supervisor’, the rest of us took off for a 6 mile hike to find the ancient rock drawings and carvings.
Same crowd with Sharon in the middle

 Seeing more than we planned as we took a wrong turn or 

two, no one cared.  The trail was great, up and down, past a mongoose (my first sighting ever) brought to these islands to rid them of snakes hundreds of years ago. 

Beautiful everywhere we looked from the trails
These ferret looking rodents abound and there are virtually no snakes on any island, anywhere.  Curious deer approached, getting an ear rub from David - so much for wild animals. 

Wild donkeys also abound, wandering the roads looking for any little open air taxi loaded with tourists to stop and feed them anything.  Well trained they are and a hazard to the unwary driver on these twisting little roads.
Ruins of an old sugar plantation

More of the same ruins
Carved between 900-1500 AD by pre-Columbian Taino indians

The water makes for a mirror effect, signifying the duality of the spiritual & living worlds

Onward to Coral Bay, hooking up with Mark and Lee, the British friends we’ve cruised off and on with and whom we’ve spent time in this Bay with on our trip down islands, we caught up with all the news, shared a beer or two and attended a fun filled evening of entertainment at Skinny Legs, the very popular bar here in Coral Harbor.  


Lee's part time pet 

The neck is so very soft to touch, but the feet are something else

Eating a papaya
Dick Solberg & The Sun Mountain Band @ Skinny Legs

Hiking to the sugar mill on St. John's

Ah, so many pretty islands all around

Exploring the sugar plantation

A furnace

Slavery made these plantations possible & profitable

Click to enlarge to read how sugar is made from the cane juice

Amazing how rum is made from sugar (click to enlarge to read)
Andy struggling to get out of the dink w the groceries
Leaving St. John's we dropped the anchor in St. Thomas Harbor, near Blue Moment, we accompanied David via bus to the Home Depot and Cost U Less Cosco-like grocery store.  Ah, simple pleasures -- drooling at all the US goods and foods I’d not see much of for a year, I shopped quickly (those guys were waiting!).  Nearly $800 later, we a store employee offered to give us a ride back to the marina.  We absolutely packed his van to the roof full of our stuff, with the overflow on our laps! At the end, he charged us $40 - a royal rip.
Heavy, Heavier & Bouncing
We are now reprovisioned for our long trip back to the USA.  Coffee, milk (Parmalot boxed milk - fresh milk is very rare in these islands) and meat topped the list of Things I Must Buy.  Andy purchased his 3rd Wet/Dry vacuum cleaner of the year - he rips through those things in nothing flat and it is frustrating they don’t last longer.  These water suckers are indispensable in the engine room and bilges when things go ‘oops’.  
St. Thomas
St. Thomas vendor market on the street
Huge mistake.  We spent two nights at Crown Bay Marina, wanting to wash the boat and fill our water tanks.  Beautiful marina, nice amenities, including a small horrifically expensive grocery store - those mega yacht folks don’t care what they pay - therefore, the price is set high because they buy!  However, this marina shares space with a commercial container shipping company.  Bright lights, pounding pounding pounding noises and horrific head splitting fumes waifed over Finally Fun, keeping us awake off and on both nights.  That evening, at the restaurant I asked our waiter about the noise, lights and smell and when did it quit.  “It doesn’t.  It goes 24/7.   Sometimes it gets so bad our patrons get up and leave without eating their meal.” 
Departing Crown Bay Marina - see container ships on the right
None of that is found in their ads I must say!!  We washed the boat only to wake up to FF absolutely covered in black dust.  We washed her again just before our guests arrived the next afternoon.  To add insult to injury as that old saying goes, the marina charges 16 cents a gallon for the water... for the privilege of washing their dirt off our boat.  Bah.  I wrote up a very unfavorable review on Active forewarned my boating friends.  

Update:  We learned from other boaters later that the water in Crown Bay Marina is 'iffy'.  We are struggling with rusty looking water - drained our tanks already and remade water, to no avail.  It seems this Marina has the water shut off more often than not for a numer of reasons.  When we arrived there, we were told an accident had caused a pipe to break, therefore no water.  When the water was turned back on, it was rusty and Andy did not notice til too late, in spite of using a filter on our hose into the tanks.  Our boater friends tell us this is a very often occurrance at this Marina and they then use cistern water and other suspect water.  We are heading back into another Marina to drain the tanks, this time totally from the inside of the engine room and start all over - at 16 cents a gallon for another 350 gallons plus.   I'm furious at Crown Marina for not being upfront and forthcoming.
St. Thomas - Shopping Mecca

Thursday, January 26, 2012

St. Martin to British Virgin Islands & U.S. Virgin Islands

A brief weather window - time to haul anchor after two weeks on St. Martin!  Our friends are arriving in St. Thomas on February 1 - we now have a schedule to keep.  This is the time of year that it seems one gets a weather window only every 7-10 days due to the Christmas Winds and squalls making their way from way up north. For you non-boaters, the weather on the island is great, never hampering any activities.  Those squalls and winds I referenced, however, kick up the seas and the Atlantic Ocean, making for HUGE waves, sometimes very closely spaced.  The norm has been 20 foot waves this week out there where we need to go - NOT what we want to bounce up and down on!  

What Sharon will miss in St. Martin

What Andy will miss in St. Martin
We cruised through the narrow bridge on the French side from the Lagoon to Baie de Marigot at the 2:30 pm opening so we’d be in position to get an early start toward the US Virgin Islands the next morning.  Small world again, we dropped our hook a bit behind Elaine and Bob, aboard Mar Azul, who was out there making water.  Another excuse for a party!

Someone had a very bad day outside the French bridge

The Witch's Tit on the French side.  Look closely.

Scary.  Looks so narrow!!!

Here comes Finally Fun, ready or NOT

Made it thru the narrow bridge into Margot Bay!

Crap,  Now the rocks and reef to squeeze past!

Daybreak over Margot Bay
Up at 4:00 am, with a planned departure for 5:00 am, we found ourselves squinting, trying to see in the pitch black night.  No moon, no stars - only a few anchor lights in Margot Bay providing some faint illumination.  

Not wanting to risk picking our way out of the anchorage in the dark as many boats have no lights on at all and not wanting to shine our spotlight all about, waking boaters as the light would flash into their cabins, we settled in to wait.  Finally, a bit of light at 6:00 am and off we went. 

Got a little rough out with big swells
Six to eight foot swells, almost beam to us, rolled us all day.  Thank goodness for the stabilizers.  Andy was a pale shade of green throughout the 9+ hour cruise and I know he hates it when I sit there reading a book!  The only company we had along this long route were a pod of small dolphins who played in our bow wake for half an hour, providing much needed entertainment.

Ah, we missed our chance to make water all day and we are really low.  Once out, there was NO WAY Andy was going below to turn on the water maker in that hot rolly engine room.  I was useless.  I could not remember how to do it & Andy’s oral instructions just glazed my eyes over....Missed opportunity and another key learning.  This one - Turn on the watermaker just as one clears an anchorage, well before getting out into the unprotected seas!!
Pulling into Key Cay on the western side of Peter Island, British Virgin Islands, we dropped the hook in this beautiful, isolated anchorage and hunkered down, yellow Q flag flying.  This is ‘out of the way’ as we didn’t intend to clear in and out, planning to depart early for the USVI where we’ll spend a week til our first guests arrive and we head back to the BVI.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

One Island - Two Countries - Saint Martin & Sint Maarten

Pulling anchor at first light, we were outta Statia - wanting to be long gone before Customs & Immigration ‘woke up’.  Another uneventful cruising day, but with weather looming that would lock us down for a few days - we cruised the approximately 30 miles into Simpson Bay on the Dutch side, nearly 4 hours after we pulled anchor.

Dutch Bridge Simpson Bay
Treading water for almost an hour,  waiting for the 11:30  bridge to open, we watched about 15 vessels doing the same.  Busy busy place this time of year - far different from when we were here in the Spring.  
As this is our second time on this 37 square mile island of two different countries (Dutch & French), read our blog dated May 17, 2011 with some history and some photos - I won’t be redundant!
Andy checking us in at Immigration
Cruising through the Bridge, with the Bridge Tender yelling his usual, HURRY HURRY, we continued on to the French side.  We are getting better - locals told us one CAN go thru the Dutch side without PAYING the huge fee and go on to the French side -- rather than go around the island and come through the French bridge to anchor on the French side.  We are smarter this is free to anchor on the French side and the Dutch charge big bucks to do so.   No matter, we are comfortably tucked behind Grand Illet in Simpson Bay Lagoon on the French side with plenty of room and good holding.  

 Yachts moored Med style - aft in to a dock, mooring line in front
Whoa!  Things have clearly changed since we were here in May.  Every marina is full of mega yachts - really big, huge, expensive yachts....billions of dollars in inventory is tied up all along the Dutch side!
Crew washing the hull - never quit; always washing
Amazing - helicopters & fancy ‘dingies’, wave runners and other water toys are visible on these boats.  Some of these dingies qualify in my mind as a go fast boat to aspire to -- fancy, fast and very very expensive!!                        Ahhhh, the money!  We also watched many a private jet taking off and landing at the nearby airport. 

Someone always has a bigger boat
Now, on shore, I’ve never seen a ‘rich and famous’....probably because I would not recognize anyone, never having made friends with many of those....
Carolyn, Joanne & Bill aboard Finally Fun

We’ve caught up with friends from Port Louis Marina in Grenada, Bill & JoAnne of Ultra and got to meet folks we’ve been communicating with via email and blogs for some time.  Mandy & Scott aboard Three Little Birds, who followed our waterway path 
Bob, Elain, Andy & Sharon aboard Mar Azul
through the Dominica Republic via our blog, are here with their 3 young sons, as are Elaine & Bob Ebaugh aboard Mar Azul, members of our DeFever Club!  Add to the mix, Carolyn & Paul of Catamania that we met while shopping in Budget Marine on shore, and we’ve developed quite a party crowd!  
Our two weeks in St. Maarten went quickly with a dinner party aboard Finally Fun for the crowd one night, cocktails aboard other boats and lots of shore time, wandering about.  

Beach at Philipsburg
Catching the bus with Bill and JoAnne to Philipsburg, we wandered about taking in the sights and the shops.  Philipsburg is a major duty free zone, the capital of Sint Maarten and the port for the enormous cruise ships that arrive here on a daily basis during the high season.   It is somewhat quaint, charming and busy!  
Philipsburg street off the beach

Get a massage, right on the beach!


Birds eating sugar 
On a mission, Andy & I did find the camera we’d been researching.  Our shop keeper, unlike the one in a duty free zone on another island, dealt fairly with us.  He matched’s price for the Pentax waterproof camera and threw in a chip, a case and a floating wristband.  Remember, the other duty free store I wrote about was trying to charge us $250 MORE for the same camera than the Amazon price!  Buyer always beware!  
Getting sand blasted!

A highlight!  AND the guide books make NO MENTION of this --- Maho Beach, just off the airport, is the site of all those videos and photos of folks being blasted by sand and getting knocked over by the blast of the jet engines as the plane takes off.  
Just overhead

With Bill and JoAnne, we hopped a bus, heading off to get exfoliated!  Exfoliated we did!  Standing on the beach, waving at the jets as they passed right over our heads to land, I was struck by how much fun it would be to simply FLASH the pilots and wondered why no one did THAT?  Perhaps jail time?? 

 As soon as one jet landed, another made ready to take OFF. 

Sharon & Joanne, full throttle 

As the planes  pulled into position at the end of the runway, engines screaming,  the heat blasting our faces and bodies, we hunkered down, ready to RUN!   As the jet pulls forward, engines full throttle, the blast is incredible!  Sand painfully whips into one’s skin, hair and eyes!  As I turned, looking toward the water, waves, made from the blast, were frothing their way halfway across the little Bay and swimmers were diving under.  A somewhat painfully fun experience!  

Sand is adhering to my head as I run!
That night, scratching my head, I realized I had sand stuck all over my scalp, about 1/4 inch thick!!!!  That sand did not ‘shake’ out either...lots of shampoo, scrubbing and a hard rinse - several times - got most of it out!  Phew!   
Wandering off the beach, we climbed our way up to a fancy resort, trying to find our way out up to the street and to Maho Village, a fancy casino area.  Stopped by a guard, we talked our way in with promises to stop at the Bar for a drink.  Money talks.  We did stop as the Guard watched us all the way!!  Ordering drinks in this very fancy place, we learned (a) No Tanguara gin (b) No limes to go in the bar brand gin and tonics (c) No painkillers - a de rigueor item on every bar menu (d) Not much of anything.  We finally figured out that this very fancy resort is an ‘all inclusive’!  Their bar was bare bones.  I guess one gets what they pay for!  This resort must not be spending Big Bucks on their guests.  Profit Margin seems to be high on the priority list!  Another Buyer Beware -  Live and learn and READ the content of any contract when signing up for a vacation! 

Pricy pizza w Bill & Joanne
Stopping in Maho Village for a 2 for 1 pizza and 2 for 1 beer and wine, and two small salads, we were shocked to see the bill at $120 total for the 4 of us.  Ugh...outta here too!
Stunning bar
Wandering about the Village (all modern, for the cruise ship trippers and mega yacht people), we found a Bar on top of a building that was jaw dropping.    On this rooftop,  covered in sand & greenery, were big sand balls holding real fire.  Other flames and lights with flames flickering, umbrellas, very comfortable couchs and even a BED or two for seating were everywhere. 
Fabulous views & ambiance!

 It was lovely to stand there taking it all in and to see the sea and the town lights twinkling all around, down below.  At 9:00 PM, however, there were NO customers.  We did not sit down to enjoy the ambiance, fearful of what the price would be after our pizza experience, but what a place! 
Making crepes on the sidewalk
Imprompteu dancing in the street
The little town of Grand Case is not to be missed on a Tuesday night!  
Local color & talent dancing in the streets


The music makers marching down the street

Negotiating a round trip deal with a taxi driver ($10 per couple), our little crowd headed there for an evening of fun and “harmony night” as the locals call it.  The streets are closed off, vendors set up their displays of home made rums, home made foods, jewelry and all the rest of the typical island trinkets on tables lining the streets and the entire town becomes a party. 
I found a beautifully carved wooden bowl and made a purchase.  I’d eyed these bowls even in the USA but this one was beautiful and far far less than any price I’d every seen own ‘work of art’ as a remembrance.  

Bill & Paul sampling home made rums
We grazed our way up and down the streets, sampling the rums, chatting with the locals and eating where the locals eat, at the end of the closed off streets, on picnic tables with foods cooked on grills right there.  
Our fun group enjoying BBQ in the street

Outdoor BBQs
Note the large tattoo

Life is all about Timing!  In the right place at the right time, we watched history in the making.  

Laura's parents & family awaiting her arrival in Simpson Bay
It was so exciting to watch Laura Dekker, the youngest person to

circumnavigate the world ALONE, complete her voyage here in St.

Maarten in the Leeward Islands, after 500 days at sea.   It was 

heartwarming to watch her sail in through the Dutch Bridge aboard 

her 38 foot sailboat, Guppy, with the mega yachts blasting their 

horns & the crowd cheering. 

The red sailboat in the background is Guppy

Guppy & Laura arriving at the St. Martin Yacht Club

Mega yachts in the background, Laura standing there by her boat

Her hull

An amazing accomplishment for one so young!

Laura's family greeting her at the dock
 Remember, the Dutch courts tried to stop her, saying she was too

young.  Her father sailed with her to St. Martin, where she began 

her actual journey, in spite of the court ruling.  She was 14 when

she left and is now 16 years, 4 months old.

We decided to head directly to the British Virgin Islands and the US Virgin Islands, skipping St. Bart’s and Anguilla.  We’d heard from every boater how expensive both places were - both to check in and out and to simply exist there.  We are not interested in $100 hamburger meals!  I’m tired of duty free shopping zones loaded with fancy watches, designer clothing and the like...Not My Thing. I want isolated anchorages, peace and quiet for a few days.

Ah, dirty Andy says this island of St. Martin/Sint Maarten is NOT Same Shit, Different Island.  He loved our time here.
Fun loving, smut minded Andy