Thursday, February 19, 2015

Caribbean Chillin' - not like the chill back home

So, what ever became of June and Duane? They sailed off to the Virgin Islands and reported that they had made it there successfully. But then the blog posts just sort of stopped. Hope they are OK.

Oh, we are OK, alright! I have become incredibly lazy about writing up our adventures. Here are my reasons:
  • Sporadic access to the internet.
    • We have no cellular data available (without coughing up cash). We only have Wifi when our extender gets us access to an open AP. Or, in a marina, like we are now - for the first time in over 3 weeks.
  • Computer issues. 
    • For several days, our Dell laptop refused to recognize that it had a battery.We could only use it when plugged into 120 VAC - which we weren't. Then, one morning, the computer found the battery again. Hmm.
  • Snorkeling. 
    • It just takes a lot of time to go snorkeling. Sometimes the snorkeling is good, sometimes marginal. But you never know until you try.
  • Sailing. 
    • When moving from place to place, we have been sailing as much as possible. Sometimes, very slowly. So it takes a while to get anywhere and uses up hours.
  • Staring at the scenery. 
    • It is not my fault that the scenery around St John is so captivating. We often spend the first couple of hours in the day just looking around.
  • Flashlights. 
    • OK, stay with me here. One of our after-dark pastimes while at anchor or on mooring balls has become shining a large flashlight down into the water to attract little fish.Which then attract larger fish. Which keeps us entertained for quite a while. Until the Fishing Bats show up. Yeah. Look them up. When they arrive, we turn off the light and run inside.

No, we did not take this picture.
We could never take this picture.
You can't take a shot like this while diving for the cabin.
 Maybe you see the pattern here. We have slowly devolved into a Caribbean attitude. We move, or don't move, based on whims and weather. We hung around St John for weeks. We circumnavigated the island, stopped in bays on the north side and the south side. Saw cool stuff, had some visitors, ran into some old boat friends. We will get some pictures together and post them shortly along with the stories.
Some good snorkeling

An occasional rainy day
A normal day

Scott Beach at Caneel Bay

We have now moved on (all the way across the Sir Francis Drake Channel) to the British Virgin Islands. We checked into the BVIs on Tuesday at Soper's Hole, West End, Tortola. It was a painless process of sailing from the mooring near Caneel Bay over to Soper's Hole. We worked our way into the harbor and scouted around until we found an open mooring ball near the ferry dock. We raised our yellow 'Quartine' flag to indicate that we were new arrivals to the country and took the dinghy into the Customs and Immigration office. A few minutes later, we were back on SeaClearly raising the BVI courtesy flag indicating that we were, now, officially checked in.

Another short dinghy ride and we were eating lunch at Pusser's Landing, followed by provisioning at the Riteway Market and then back to SeaClearly. We dropped the mooring ball and sailed out of Soper's Hole to start our month-long exploration of the BVIs. We began by sailing back and forth across the channel with no particular destination in mind. We sailed past the entrance to Nanny Cay Marina to check it out. We had reserved a slip there later for a couple of nights. We finally settled on Great Harbour at Norman's Island to anchor for our first night in the British Virgin Islands.

Duane at Pusser's Landing
Soper's Hole, Tortola
The harbor at Soper's Hole

The BVIs have a different atmosphere than St John. The bareboat charter business drives the economy. And there are hundreds of charter boats. We were chartering one of those boats a few years ago so I won't berate the skills and judgement of the charterers like some folks do. But they are everywhere. And, they only have a week to fulfill their Carib dreams. The mooring balls fill up fast and, apparently, the competition for the remaining balls can get touchy.

We chose to anchor all the way out at the edge of the Great Harbour rather than go deep into the bay looking for a $30/night mooring ball. We dropped the hook in about 30 ft of water just inside the corner of the point. Out of the waves and current, nice breeze, beautiful views. Cute little goats grazing on the cliffs - which were not very far from SeaClearly's bow. The water stays deep right up to the island. For us, coming from the Albemarle Sound, having deep water is a joy. As one person told us, "The only underwater hazards here are marked by islands."

On Wednesday, we got up (unhurriedly), watched the scenery for a while (accompanied by coffee) and then started prepping SeaClearly for a marina stay. We had to dig out the docklines that we haven't seen in a few weeks. We also had to lift the dinghy up onto the davits. We have just been towing it around behind us as we circled St John but we chose to lift it for going into a marina slip. We raised the anchor and it came up in Caribbean style - with fine, white sand spilling off of the anchor as it comes up through clear water. A beautiful sight to behold.

We wanted to get to the marina relatively early in order to maximize the facilities but, at the same time, you hate to give up any time out on the water. Especially when the day offers up perfect sailing. We sailed a close reach north toward Tortola and then, eventually, turned downwind toward the marina. You just hate to quit sailing when it is so nice. We really enjoy the sailing hours.

The Tree of Shame
Those are all propellers that people have damaged
hitting the reefs and rocks.
Nanny Cay Marina is pretty cool. It is a marina and a resort - but not a stuffy resort. There are a variety of stores, restaurants, shops and restaurants. It is the home to a couple of charter companies. There is a chandlery, a dive shop and a boatyard. The have great showers. We were planning to top off our water tanks but their water was not as good as we can make with the watermaker. So, we decided to skip the water. Later, we noticed all of the locals buying bottled water at the store.

The beach at Nanny Cay Resort and Marina
We will stay here for a couple of days. We need to lay a coat of varnish on some sections of teak before it deteriorates any further. I still need to take down the failed radar unit and test the new one. No need to feel sorry for us though. We are working in shorts and T-shirts, barefoot, breezes in the palm trees. Which is another reason I have not been posting too many pictures. We can't take the guilt from our poor friends up north getting hammered by the winter. Sorry mon. I mean, sorry y'all.

SeaClearly in her slip at
Nanny Cay. One of many sailboats.
Still the prettiest.
Nothing but blue skies.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Sad Anniversary

Today marks one year since Roux, our big, gentle Chocolate Lab, passed away. We still miss him dearly. We are flying our Roux burgee in memorial and having a very down day. There is a link, on the right side of the blog, to 'The Life of Roux' posting from last year. He did love the Bahamas.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Hanging around St John

If you look at our track over the last week, it doesn't appear that we have moved very far. That is because we haven't. That is not to say we have been sitting still. OK, we have spent some time just sitting still. St John has been our target for quite some time. Now that we are here, we have been able to get up in the morning, choose to do something - or nothing - and then be very comfortable with the choice. Watching the sun go down as the lights come on over on St Thomas is really nice. Throw in a full moon rising from behind and it is hard to beat. Oh, and turtles. We have a couple of big turtles that seem to be hanging out right in our neighborhood. We enjoy them. We like turtles.

In the middle of the week, we moved a couple of bays east to Francis Bay. We sailed for a couple of hours, turned into the bay, grabbed another mooring ball and went snorkeling. Right off of the boat. It was kind of a long swim but Junie was brave and we were fine. The snorkeling there was not great but the exercise was good. We only spent one night there, I think. Maybe two. We are definitely losing track of the whole day-of-the-week thing.

Francis Bay. That is St Thomas in the distance.

We jumped off of the boat and snorkeled over to that beach.

Then, we moved back near Caneel Bay because we would, eventually, need to go into Cruz Bay again and this is a convenient spot. It is a little busy with boat traffic. In addition to the Caneel Bay boats, this is a regular first-last stop for bare-boat charters. If you have to take your rented boat back to St Thomas tomorrow, this is a good last stop. Also, if you are coming back to the USVI from the BVI, this is where you can check in.

We picked a mooring ball over near the Scott Beach side hoping to steal a better free wifi signal. It was not better. We did take the opportunity to go into the Caneel Bay Resort to look around and see if anything had changed. One big improvement - they now have gelato in the gift shop! We are always in search of good gelato and this was good.

Also, our new location put us closer to Henley Cay, a small island just across the channel. We took the dinghy over to the beach there and found some of the best snorkeling ever. The island is only accessible by boat and has a wicked tide that rips back and forth. As a result, it has been somewhat protected. We drifted along looking at a great variety of corals, loads of different fish and nice rock formations. When it came time to head back towards the dinghy on the beach, it became evident just how much current there was. We had to work a little bit to kick our way back but it was definitely worth it.

We moved from one side of the bay to the other (about 500 yards,) still looking for a wifi signal strong enough for Skype and Facebook. Found it. Thursday evening, we went into the Caneel Bay Resort for a sushi dinner. It was good but, of course, over-priced. It was fun to be overlooking the bay, with SeaClearly silhouetted in the setting sun, having a nice dinner amongst the resort dwellers. Even though we cleaned up and put on our best outfits, I am sure we stood out as boaties.

Yesterday was a town day. Into Cruz Bay for laundry, lunch and groceries. Most of you know that food - restaurants or groceries - on islands ain't cheap. Groceries - especially produce, crackers, cookies and meats- are about twice as expensive as mainland. Basically, anything that spoils or anything that is light for its volume demands a premium price. Taking the dinghy to town is always fun, though. Cruising into the dock to tie up, drag all of your stuff up the hills on a cart, around town, in and out of stores. It sounds like work but it is sort of funny. I guess we should ask someone to take that picture.

While we were in town, we stopped at the National Park office and pre-paid for another three nights on mooring balls. We can use any of the mooring balls around St John so that works out good. We can move wherever we want. Assuming we move. We are planning to get around to the south coast of St John. Maybe today. We'll see.

It is a very quiet morning sitting here off of Honeymoon Beach. I can hear a few chickens and, humorously, the donkeys on St John are being rowdy this morning and hee-hawing loudly. Not something I have heard often. We are missing everybody. Sorry for the lack of postings. We are wrapped up in hanging out in St John.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Puerto Rico Wrap-up and on to St John!

We wrapped up our stay in Puerto Rico with style. We met up with Jeffrey and Alyssa, as planned, to visit Old San Juan. We grabbed breakfast at the Cafeteria Mallorca. A mallorca is, basically, a cross between a roll and a donut. I got the ham and swiss on a mallorca because, well, how bad can a sandwich on a donut be? Everybody else got a more normal breakfast.

We walked all around the fort, El Morro. Inside, outside, up and down the spiral stairs and through all of the levels. This place is just phenomenal. The scale and scope of this fort, built so long ago, is amazing.

Alyssa, Jeffrey and Junie.
Dwarfed by the fort.
From the fort looking east along the shore of PR

Then, a late lunch at El Charro. It is a classic, hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant that Alyssa knew of from when she lived in San Juan for a while. Definitely not on the cruise ship itineraries. They had the most awesome Tortilla Soup.
That evening, we returned to Fajardo to prep SeaClearly for our next move - Culebra! And, Jeffrey and Alyssa had decided to join us for the sail. They made reservations at a resort on Culebra and would return back to Puerto Rico to fly home after we all spent a couple of days exploring the island.

We motored out of our slip in Sunbay Marina and pointed east again. Which meant that we mostly motored again. But it was a pleasant boat ride and, less than 5 hours later, we were turning into Ensenada Honda. The resort they had booked was actually near the mouth of the bay so we picked up one of the free mooring balls in Ensenada Dakity. It was an easy dinghy ride over to the resort and Jeffrey and Alyssa got to arrive by boat!
The view from our mooring ball in Dakity anchorage.
Yes, that is a reef right in front of us. We saw turtles all
day long and listened to the waves rolling over the reef
all night. A little un-nerving but a wonderful spot.

Over the next two days, we went downtown to the Dinghy Dock restaurant, took a golf cart to beautiful Flamenco Beach, had dinner on SeaClearly and had lunch back at the Dinghy Dock. We dropped our visitors off behind Mamacita's for their short walk to the ferry. We had a great time. It was very cool that they could arrange to be in Puerto Rico while we were there.
Flemenco Beach, Culebra. One of the world's top beaches.

The water is clear and the sand is white -
even underwater. Jeffrey shows off snorkeling skills.

Alyssa and Jeff

A bunch of cruisers showing up at the Dinghy Dock.

On the ride back to the ferry.

Junie and I went back to SeaClearly and, despite having no schedule and despite the fact that this is a wonderful place with much more to explore, we started preping to move. We can feel the pull of St John. As were were arriving here, we could already see St Thomas rising in the distance. We are close enough to almost touch our destination. The weather will be settled for one more day. Gotta go!

We arrived at St John, US Virgin Islands on January 30. We both felt that the real capstone of this trip would be the moment when we sailed up to the coast of St John and grabbed a mooring ball just off of Caneel Bay. We have some history with this area. We stayed at the resort several years ago and became enthralled with the Virgin Islands. We came back here only three years ago and chartered a boat for the first time.

Sailing into St John!

This time, we arrived on our boat- SeaClearly. It was an emotional moment for us. This really represented the accomplishment of the goal. We dreamed, we planned, we persevered. Now, we have arrived. It is a good feeling to have put yourself to the test and succeeded. Sure, we have to get back home again. But, for now, we are basking in the glow.

As I am writing this, we continue to bask in the glow several days later. I guess we are adapting to island time. We managed to steal some wifi from Caneel so we could catch up with family via Skype and Facetime. We researched our watermaker issue and resolved that problem. We dinghied into Cruz Bay for laundry, lunch and, of course, ice cream. If we can ever pry ourselves off of this mooring ball, we will go explore the rest of St John.