Thursday, 19 December 2013

Still in St Thomas

St Thomas Tuesday 17th December

We are still in Long Bay, Charlotte Amalie because the wind remains 20 – 25 kts easterly with 2-3m swells and regular rain squalls, and wherever we go next it will be east. When we arrived in the squall the anchorage was quite empty but as the days go by, more and more boats are coming in. On the return from one shore excursion we see Badgers Sett, who we last saw in Bonaire.

Ok-we are in the group of 3 in front of the barge with the crane - the only ketch!

That evening was the lighting of the Christmas Tree in Havensight Mall so we have our reunion there. First a couple of beers at Mojo’s , then the tree and a stroll around all the stalls. Arts and crafts and all kinds of food, nicer because it is done by locals. We all enjoy Pinapple’s famous rotis.
At the tree lighting

We have another few Safari bus excursions - in pursuit of a new o ring for the petrol generator and inland to Tutu Mall for some photographs. The traffic is amazing  and made worse by road works all over the place.
Half way up the hill behind town is an old lookout tower, now called Blackbeards Castle. 

Blackbeard's castle - Note the flag at 1/2 mast for Mandella

We decided to walk up and see the views, taking in the 99 steps, laid from ballast bricks brought from Denmark.

The 99 steps
 The boats would then return laden with sugar and rum. There are many pretty colonial style houses,  some are museums, with narrow streets and steps everywhere. 

Friday night was “Miracle on Main Street” when all the shops stay open late and offer discounts. There are again food and craft stalls, pan bands in the streets and a parade of boats lit up for Christmas. Another very festive evening in good company with four other boats.

Tomorrow we hope to go to St. John, if the weather is as forecast. We hope all of you are enjoying the run up to Christmas and we wish you all Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year, maybe a bit  early, but wifi has been very difficult to get here, and St John is mostly a nature reserve, so we are not sure if we will find any there.

P.s We had an Inglorious sail, out of the harbour tacked into a F5/6 with 2-3m waves and decided to go back! It was horrible even if the water was warm, it was still coming over the sprayhood!

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

St Thomas

St Thomas

Monday 25th November.

The pilot book says the passage from St Croix to St Thomas is a ‘Nantucket Sleigh Ride’. Well it certainly is exhilarating! With a forecast 15-20 kts from the east we are looking at a beam reach all the way. The seas are forecast to be 1-2m so we should have a good fast sail. We covered the 40 miles in 6 hours at an average of over 6.6kts. The projected F4 got up to a F6 with some pretty fierce squalls (gusting over 30kts!). The seas got up to 2-3m so we put the 2nd reef in the main and reefed the genoa so things were under control. (So much for forecasts once again!) Richard has discovered that his waterproof jacket is no longer waterproof and is not a happy bunny!
We had planned to anchor off Water Island just west of the main town of Charlotte Amalie. Our chart mentioned that we needed a permit to anchor in the main harbour but we can find no reference to it anywhere else, so just to be ‘legal’ we have decided to anchor to the west of the main harbour. There is a marina close by and a supermarket so we should be OK for provisions.

We carefully followed the buoyage through the East Gregerie channel and looked for the anchorage off Ruyter bay. The bay is full of local moorings so we look for a spot to anchor. We spy a spot with no moorings and proceed towards the land. The water is shallowing to under 2m then clunk, clunk the keel has touched the bottom! Fortunately we are going very slowly and quickly reverse and spin round off (with another couple of clunks!) No wonder there were no moored boats there! We couldn’t work it out as there were boats to landward of us so obviously an isolated rock known to the locals. The chart plotter showed we had 6m where we run aground! When we dived on the keel there was no real damage only a couple of scrapes on the antifoul.

We saw some people coming back to their boat in a dinghy so we asked them about anchoring. They told us that the holding wasn’t good and that all the moorings were private so we had best go to Honeymoon (Druif) Bay. This bay was also full of moorings but we managed to find a space and anchor in 10m on a sandy bottom. It will be a long ride to the marina and the supermarket in our collapsing dinghy. We braved the elements the following day and went to find the supermarket. By the time we got to the marina we were both totally soaked. The channel between Water Island and the mainland funnels the wind and created quite a chop. Fully shopped and a quick picnic lunch in the marina gardens we are ready to face the ride back. We pump the starboard tube up and head out. Not as wet going back as the wind is behind us but we are still getting wet.  Excursions ashore will be restricted to the beach for the time being (until we get our new dinghy).
Honeymoon bay anchorage

The beach is lovely, white sand,lined with tall palm trees and a bar/café at each end,and frequented by all the tripper boats from the cruise ships. We have lots of passing traffic and some very unusual craft. The floating 'barn', various 'pirate ships' and several motor and sail catamarans. A walk ashore on the island is interesting as there are few cars, most people get around using golf carts. There are a lot of properties for sale and a run down hotel. At one time it was probably quite an exclusive resort.  It is a dry forest with thick vegetation, tall trees growing next to Frangipani, cacti and epiphytes very similar to Curacao but definitely wetter. The island seems to be frequented by aged hippies and boat bums. Not much wildlife – hermit crabs, millipedes up trees(!?) and all the usual birds, but many Pearly Eyed Threshers, which were quite reclusive on the other islands but here they even pick up scraps from the tables at the pubs.

The floating 'barn'
We managed to get some internet (pirated) here so we know our new dinghy has arrived. Budget marine is at the other end of the island in Brenner bay. Before we go there we want to have a look at Charlotte Amalie so on the Sunday we motor round to the main harbour. Looking for a spot to anchor we see ‘Tranquility’, who we last saw in Bonaire. We anchored close by and went for a quick chat before heading for the town. There is a dinghy dock behind the coastguard dock and the ordinary shopping is across the street from the Yacht Haven Grande at the eastern end of the bay.
Main street St Thomas
Downtown seems to be endless jewellery shops, tee shirts and souvenirs for the tourists that are offloaded in droves from the cruise ships that arrive every day.  The shopkeepers and their touts lurk on every corner in their ancient doorways like vampires waiting to pounce, attempting to lure you inside with ever tempting offers to buy the usual tat! The architecture is colonial Danish with narrow streets and alleyways between former warehouses.
Gladys' café, the only Caribbean lunch spot in town! - really good 
 Downtown is quite a shock and we repair to an alleyway pub for lunch. The food is pretty bland Americana but the beer is local from St John and is really very good. Fortunately it is Sunday and everything closes at 15.00. We have a walk around and decide that there must be better places on the island. We need to meet some locals and cruisers to retain our sanity.

The local brew
Camille Pissarro was born here on the main street and his former house is now a gallery. His paintings of the bay where the cruise ships now dock show the contrast of 100 years of ‘progress’.

Inner courtyard, Pissarro's house
Brenner bay is a 2 hour sail east. The entrance is up a shallow narrow channel with nowhere to anchor. There are a couple of boatyards and we hopefully will be able to find somewhere to dock. Anchoring outside and a long dinghy ride is not an option at the moment! We get to the head of the bay and the end of the channel. Forrtunately,there is a pontoon with a yacht on about to leave, we park on the end. A local guy working on his boat tells us where the Budget marine store is. The pontoon belongs to a boatyard, I am sure they will come and ask us for money if they want it. (Nobody did!)

Brenner bay channel

A short dinghy ride to Budget marine and we now have a new 2.6m RIB. Richard has a new waterproof jacket and things are looking up. We gave the old dinghy to two young guys working in the boatyard, I am sure they will have hours of fun sorting the problems! We need a reliable dinghy so the old one had to go.

Across the road is a good little supermarket where we get fruit and veg and some nice pate and  fresh bread which will do for lunch.

Jo at Budget marine recommended anchoring in Christmas cove on Great St James Island where there are moorings for free. It has been designated a marine conservation area. All the buoys were taken so we had to anchor anyway.We will spend a couple of days here and have a snorkel. The snorkelling was not that good but then the weather wasn’t that good either (windy and rain). However it was nice to swim. The predicted northerly swells will make the anchorage at Christmas Cove rolly so we are going back to Charlotte Amalie. Obtaining weather is always a challenge, especially without WiFi, so the kindle using 3G and Navtex are invaluable.

Christmas cove
After an easy downwind sail towards to Charlotte Amalie we arrive  at the harbour entrance in the middle of an horrendous thunderstorm, visibility is down to a few feet so we cannot see the buoyage. We trace our outward track on the plotter going back in so we know we will be safe. In the anchorage two catamarans have collided having dragged their anchors in a 30kt squall! The town is partially flooded, cars have stalled in the streets, the busses have stopped running, traffic is gridlocked and the fire brigade and police are trying to sort out the mess. At least the visibility is clearing so we are able to find a spot to anchor. (Richard’s new waterproof jacket works too!)
Look behind you!
When two Cats collide!
We now have other challenges for Charlotte Amalie, we need the propane cylinder filled and we will try to do some regular shopping at Pueblo supermarket along with our laundry.
Local 'Safari' buses, the way the locals travel $1 or $2 per ride depending on distance.

We are guided to an inexpensive laundry near Yacht Haven Grande, across the road from Pueblo  and close to Kmart shopping mall. Yacht haven Grande lives up to its name as it is a haven for superyachts, the dinghy dock is not so super but is adequate if crowded.
Dinghy dock yacht haven Grande

The propane cylinder has to go to Krum bay for refilling a 30min dinghy ride away, close to where we were anchored off Water island (if only we had known). There is a shortcut between Hassel Island and the mainland so we can dinghy round.
A narrow gap with a reef at the far end. on the way to Krum bay.
The dinghy dock in Krum bay is in a run down industrial area opposite the power station. Sunken boats abound. Fortunately the weather is calm and we do not get wet in our new RIB.

Krum Bay dinghy dock - with a Heron
It is still very windy and a little rolly here. We are feeling a little more disposed to St Thomas having seen a little more of it and spoken to people here. The weather is improving so we will move on to St John (reported to be unspoilt) and then to the BVI’s.
Rowena's Birthday salute - The flags read 'Happy Birthday Row'


Tribute to Mandela on Nelson Mandela Circle - All the flags in town are at half mast too.


Saturday, 7 December 2013

The Passage to St Croix


The Passage to St Croix

Ah the best laid plans etc, weather forecasts and lies….

We left Salinas with the wind in the North but not enough to sail so we are motoring again! Perhaps when we are clear of the land the wind would pick up and it did, unfortunately with not as much North in it as predicted. What do they say about gentlemen not going to windward?

With about 100 miles to go we are sailing under reefed main, mizzen and genoa as we are in no real hurry and will be there in the morning. Reefing down for the night is prudent as the squalls can be pretty fierce, and pretty sudden. The log recalls that the wind gradually went from NNE to E by 0600 we had several rain squalls where the wind got to a F6.  It is good to be sailing at night as you don’t always see the size of the waves. A forecast 1-2m waves turned out to be 3-4m with 3m swells, not comfortable when going to windward! For a dry boat there were times when we were playing ‘submarines’!

We handed the mizzen as it was being backwinded and doing no work. Hard on the wind we eventually arrived at the South west tip of St Croix and tacked towards Fredericksted.

I forgot to mention the soup! This meal was taken as never ending ½ mugs at regular intervals together with slices of bread and butter. More like a rough channel crossing than the Caribbean!

We reached Fredericksted bay by 08:30 but it offered little shelter and with large 3m+ swells from the north would be very rolly! We had no choice but to make for Christiansted.

We sailed to the NW tip of the island off Butler bay then it was engine on and bash eastward into the current and waves. We were both exhausted by now because even off watch you were kept awake by the banging of the boat as she crashed through the waves. Baked beans on toast and hot chocolate was breakfast – real comfort food.

 Slow passage was made but eventually we made the entrance to Christiansted harbour. The entrance is fairly narrow and surrounded by reefs on both sides together with a reef in the middle of the harbour. The buoyage is pretty strait forward even if it looks confusing. It reminded us of going into Bembrige, but we would never have gone in there with a large following sea.

Safely inside we are looking for the designated anchorage behind Protestant Cay, it seems to be taken up with local boats on moorings and no free space. Just then an alarm goes off. It is the engine overheat alarm!! No time to hang about so we anchor outside the channel just off the boatyard. We are at least safe although we are bouncing about and swinging with the wind and the swells coming in the harbour.

We tidied away the boat as quickly as we could, drinks and some crisps and fell into bed at 16:30 and did not wake until 07:30 next day!

Then we called  the Customs, not sure if there is any paperwork coming from PR to the USVI’s. I tell the guy on the phone who has a very West Indian accent that I have a cruising permit, it seems to stop any questions, I am to call back later and give the details to his colleague. A nice lady with an American accent takes the details and advises me to let them know when I go ‘foreign’. (I presume she meant when we leave US territory!)

Formalities completed we can relax and fix the engine! The raw water impeller has started to strip it’s blades. Out of the 6 blades 3 are damaged, that would explain the overheating as the pump efficiency must have been drastically reduced. A spare impeller fitted and we are good to go. Now to go ashore.

With a repaired engine we decide to find a better anchoring spot. We found what looked like a good spot off Protestant Cay but after a few minutes we were swinging too close to a catamaran so up came the anchor and we went in search of somewhere better. Near the edge of the channel we find a space with no mooring ball close by. Down goes the hook only to be told by a local that we are anchored on top of someones mooring, so we move again, this time to the edge of the seaplane area. A bit noisy but we seem to be OK, although the planes do come fairly close.
Not so, as the DPNR police come and move us as we are too close to the seaplane area. We asked where should we go and he waved his hand in the direction we had come from! OK so we try again close to the Cay only to find we are dragging as the holding is poor. After 2 attempts we give up. (No wonder there were no moorings there). Finally we go back to where we started and anchor on a good sandy spot about 10 m from where we started from! We had travelled 3 miles around the harbour and anchored 6 times! We both were in need of a beer!

Osprey on Buoy in the anchorage
The swells seem never ending and the anchorage is not really calm. We manage to launch the dinghy but it is too bouncy to get the outboard on! Eventually after 2 days it is calm enough to get the motor on the dinghy. We now cannot start the outboard. The problem seems to be the carburettor is flooding. We call the boatyard/marina and arrange to berth on the outside. It is still pretty swelly but we get alongside with no mishap. Within a few minutes of tying up the mechanic has diagnosed the problem. The solution is to ‘boil’ the carburettor in an ultrasonic bath to clean it out.

We arrange to berth for a couple of nights so we can see the town, go shopping etc. At least we can get ashore if we cannot repair the dinghy. The boatyard were very helpful, only charging us for 1 night giving us the first night free as we were having work done (the outboard fixed) by them. Thanks St Croix Marine!
Alongside St Croix marine

If it is not one problem it is another! With a working outboard we have a collapsing dinghy. It seems to have suffered a catastrophic failure of the front tube! It is completely flat. The glue holding the pressure relief valve has given way and as fast as we pump it up it is going down! Giving somewhat hair raising rides across the harbour to town! The solution while ugly manages to work. We have glued the valve in with Sikaflex/3M 5200 adhesive sealant as we have glued the transom and all the other bits falling off the dinghy!

Poor little dinghy
The permanent solution is a new dinghy which they do not have in St Croix. We will have to go to St Thomas. A phone call to Budget Marine and a new RIB dinghy was ordered from St Martin to be delivered to St Thomas in a weeks time, at least we will have a new dinghy and hopefully this one will last longer than the 12 months of our Excel inflatable.

There is a supermarket at Gallows Bay, within walking distance of the marina so we had a nice little shop buying fresh fruit and veg that we had been missing. We had lunch at the Bistro, which also has wifi (none at the marina)- rather strange. We ordered chicken ciabatta but the bread appeared to be a deep fried roll! Nice home made chips, though. There is also a laundry and the marina offered to drive us up if we needed to, which was very nice.

We had a couple of trips to town in the dingy as it would be a long walk. This was before the Sikaflex solution, so we took the pump with us and had to re-inflate it before we could come back! Many of the lovely old buildings are nicely restored and covered walkways give shade as you shop. There are cannon planted upright on many of the corners and we discovered this was to prevent the ox carts from bashing into the buildings in days of yore!
Old customs house

 Now, unfortunately most of the shops are geared to tourists and we only found a tiny supermarket but nice island style bread.  Most of the bread we got in Walmart was very sweet.
Street scene
The vegetable market did not have much either, mainly elderly ladies each with a small pile of produce, but we got a nice enough selection. Richard found a barber for a much needed haircut.
Barbour shop

We came back in the evening for a free jazz concert but first stopped at the Fort Christian Brew Pub for some locally made very nice pale ale. The concert was on the lawns near the fort and we met a few locals which made a very pleasant evening with an interesting insight into island life. The ‘locals’ were from St Lucia, Bonaire, the USA and Antigua! None were born on the island.
Jazz evening

The following day we had a trip around the oldest (only?) Danish fort in the Caribbean and watched the weigh in at the Wahoo fishing competition. Won by a lady with a 43lb specimen.

Somehow we are exhausted with St Croix, the sort of shopping we need is not local and the anchorage is too rolly for a comfortable stay. We are off to St Thomas on Monday and hopefully we will have a better time there (and collect our new dinghy).