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.
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'|