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

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