We spent a rolly week anchored in Red Hook St Thomas as the harbor was convenient to Ted getting to Captains School each morning at 8am, but as soon as the exam was finished we weighed anchor and headed west in search of peaceful harbors. Red Hook is a busy ferry dock with service to St John and other locations in the Virgins, so ferries come and all day and most of the night leaving their wake to anchorage. We were keeping a close eye on Tropical Storm Chantal who was scheduled to pass to the south of us with uncertain impact so we first took a look at the lagoon on St Thomas. This area is extremely well protected but unfortunately, like many anchorages in the USVI, it is choked with boats in various stages of disrepair. Allow me to digress on my observations of harbors in the USVI.
As I mentioned in earlier posts we consistently meet new people all over down here and, as anywhere else I suppose, folks run the spectrum of humanity. On one end you have families like ours who have sailed from all over the world to find a better place to raise their children and are either settled in to the Virgin Islands or are working for a spell to refill their cruising kitty. We have met wonderful families from all over Europe and the Americas all with really cool stories and many have become close friends. On the other end of the spectrum you have folks who washed ashore here 20 years ago on some small boat with wild dreams of sailing the world only to find they weren’t able to escape the lure of the bottle. They are continuing a subsistence lifestyle living on social security on their now dismasted and entirely rotten carcass of a boat. These folks, while diehard drunks, are largely benign and don’t bother anyone although they do serve as a reminder of what life can become down here. People have been coming to the USVI for decades in search of paradise and unfortunately for many, it has not worked out. The problem for the rest of us however is many of their boats are left behind. Beautiful harbors all over the USVI are clogged with abandoned derelict boats making some of them dangerous to anchor in due to the underwater hazards awaiting ones ground tackle. The struggle for the local community is how to get rid of the boats. It’s very costly to remove them and, this being US territory, there is a host of “regulations” to deal with so, like many things in mainland America, nothing ever gets done. Down here there is however a “natural” solution, commonly referred to as a hurricane!
As we poked around the lagoon on St Thomas looking for a spot to hide out and weather Chantal we discovered that it was dead low tide and even though the tidal range down here is very slight it meant the further reaches of the lagoon were not going to be accessible. The latest guidance on Chantal didn’t have us terribly alarmed as they weren’t calling for winds much over 40kts and the storm was moving very quickly but, it being our first brush with tropical weather, we were apprehensive. Looking at the weather models and the direction of forecast winds we decided to head to Water Island and Honeymoon Bay as it was well protected from all but the west and southwest. We hunkered down there and stripped the boat of all excess windage. This involves taking the sails off mizzen, main, and genoa. Removing the bimini and lowering the solar panels. Adding chafe gear to our anchor rode and preparing additional anchors. It was a full day of work and a silly mistake had us lose our genoa halyard from the mast but, at the end of the day we were pretty well battened down. As it turned out we never got a single drop of rain and the winds never blew over 10kts! We were thankful nonetheless and it was a good exercise for us all. The following day I went to the top of the mast and reinstalled the genoa halyard and we put the boat back together.
Having finished the course for my captains’ license I discovered that passing the exam was the easy part in getting the license. Like most things US, there is a mountain of bureaucracy in between demonstrating one’s ability to responsibly execute an action and being “duly permitted” to execute said action. I’m still working on completing the little details before I can actually file my application for the license. At this stage I am waiting on the TSA to complete their “threat assessment” on me so they can issue a Transportation Workers Identity Card, or TWIC. With any luck in a few more weeks I’ll have all the t’s crossed and i’s dotted and be ready to file, oh and pay the $150 application fee. Did I mention that each T to be crossed typically involves giving someone $100 or more. At any rate at least with the license we can fall back on using Demeter for charters down here if like. [Update: TWIC card has been issued and is in handJ]
After Chantal passed we decided to head east to our favorite island in the USVI; St John. Most of St. John is designated as park land and there are dozens of great hiking trails. We also use a mail spot in St John to receive packages and forwarded mail. Our wifi antenna had suffered from water intrusion so we ordered a replacement. We have used an outfit in Florida called Islandtime PC. Bob Stewart the owner is a cruiser himself and he designs and builds custom computers for boats that run on 12 volts and have very efficient hardware and monitors. He sells these custom computers at a really low cost too. Bob not only has given us great deals on his wifi equipment he has also been our personal tech support guy willing to take calls from all over the Caribbean at just about any time. He’s helped us out of many IT jams and when its time, I fully intend to buy a new boat computer from him. So with our wifi antenna back up we are once again able to pick up free internet just about anywhere we anchor. This makes Skype and our new friend FaceTime the easy way to stay in touch with family and friends.
St. John has many gorgeous anchorages and many of them have moorings provided by the park service so you don’t have to anchor. The use of moorings prevents damage to the sea floor and allows the grasses which the sea turtles are so fond of to flourish on the bottom. St John is also steeped in history having been operated by the Dutch for sugar production for many years. Except for the scattered ruins here and there, little evidence remains of the once immense plantations that existed on the island. Hiking through shaded forests one often encounters large stone walls in the middle of nowhere, remnants of old slave quarters and ruins of estate houses that the jungle has since reclaimed. Life aboard does not often allow the regular opportunity for exercise, so Claudia and I have been trying to make an effort at getting ashore and hiking regularly. It being summertime in the tropics we try to hike in the mornings when possible. Our last hike was the Reef Bay trail which is about 3 miles in either direction and has just over 900 feet of elevation change. Claudia has gotten out more frequently (2-3 times a week) for 4 mile hikes with a new friend and occasionally the kids tag along. Here is a link to the St. John Trail Map – The trail we regularly do from Coral Bay is the Johnny Horn Trail to the Brown Bay Trail.
One thing I was not expecting was the difference in summer weather here versus summer in Annapolis. The temperature climbs to the high 80’s most days with lows in the high 70’s most nights. What is absent however is the oppressive humidity that plagues the East Coast. I was expecting high heat and tropical humidity but instead we often experience large dry air masses which come across the Atlantic from Africa. Many of these dry air masses are filled with dust from the Sahara which sometimes causes me to sneeze and have allergy like symptoms. Most nights we sleep with a sheet and most days the heat even ashore is tolerable. All in all I am still very much in love with the climate here!
So we’ve been hanging out here in Coral Bay on St John for the last few weeks while getting through hopefully the last bit of paperwork and forms related to immigration and work permit for the BVI. We’ve made some new friends, the kids have had sleep overs with local kids, and we’ve really been enjoying the community here. We went out a few times sailing heading out to the deep water that lies between St John and St Croix with the hopes of catching some good fish but haven’t had much luck yet. We are hoping that next week Ted will complete his BVI immigration and work permitting process and we will make plans to head back to Tortola. We are waiting on approval by the BVI Ministry of Education to home-school our kids for next year. Once we have that, Claudia and the kids immigration clearances should be complete allowing them to take the medical exams and tests remaining for their applications. With any luck our next post will be from Tortola with us settled in and working once again.