January 28, 2014 We dropped anchor next to Prickley Pear Island in the North Sound late yesterday afternoon. It was a day of fiascos and problems in paradise that had us shaking our heads and squinching our faces in disbelief. We had really enjoyed the solitude of Benures Bay on Norman Island and had seriously considered staying on anchor there another day. In retrospect, we probably should have. The snorkeling was amazing. We snorkeled around the boat to check the anchor and saw a herd of huge starfish slowly making their way to wherever starfish go in packs. The shoreline of the bay is gorgeous and craggy and we should have explored it more, but we decided to load up the dinghy with our scuba gear instead. We went around the corner and dove on Spyglass Wall. It’s named that for the pirates who would use the ledge that overlooks the Sir Francis Drake Channel to spy their prey. The dive was again awesome. The visibility wasn’t as fantastic as we have experienced on other dives, but the sea life was just as fascinating to observe as they would swim into the tiny cracks and crevices of the wall. Sunday was an excellent day and we were exhausted from snorkeling, diving and exploring.
Monday morning we pulled anchor and made way for Spanish Town on Virgin Gorda to visit the Immigration and Customs agents that will grant us our extension to stay a bit longer. We have friends from home that will be visiting us in St. Martin the beginning of March, so we have a few more weeks to explore the British Virgin Islands. But, as all things in the islands have a way of going, we discovered we were a few days early on renewing our stay (they changed the rules and we didn’t get the memo). After dropping anchor in the ridiculously rolling anchorage and spending an hour getting the engine to work on the dinghy, we finally made it to shore. Apparently, our little work horse of a dinghy doesn’t appreciate being dragged behind the boat when we move. She put up a major protest and refused to start. Jim has a lovely war wound on his hand from fixing the small engine and to top off the aggravation of that, the Immigration man told us we have to come back on Friday for our extension. We then visited the grocery store and found little in the way of edible fresh produce or the Cat Crew’s favorite pate. So, we carted our skimpy bags of canned goods back to the boat where we were rocking and rolling in the surf. The cats weren’t happy. We weren’t happy. So, we pulled anchor and had an energetic sail back to the North Sound where we knew we could find protection in the 45 knot winds. Once we dropped anchor and were securely in place behind Rocking B, I went to check on the Cat Crew. Buddy Bosun had shimmied himself into the pillow case of Jim’s pillow. He wasn’t amused by the heeling we were doing in the high winds. A bit of their favorite food and some comforting had all three cats happy again. A band aid for Jim’s hand and a touch of rum in Jim’s Coke had him cracking a smile as well.
We plan to do some maintenance chores today, dive on Cooper Island on Wednesday and make our way back to Spanish Town to visit the Immigration people again. Hopefully, the grocery store will have a better stock by then too. All’s well that ends well.
January 25 We forewarned Trevor of the romantic beauty of the Virgin Islands, but what I didn’t think he expected was to see so much beauty not only above the water, but below. It was fantastic trip for both Trevor and Hannah and we recognized their cumbersome delivery of our new scuba gear with a couple of trips to see the world below the water. Trevor wanted to relax on the beach with no planned events, but we signed them up for the PADI Resort Course at the Bitter End. With a little instruction in the pool and hand holding from the instructor, they were able to go on three dives and explore the coral, fish life and the wreck of the RMS Rhone. They became hooked as fast as we did. The true beauty is found under the sea.
It was a sad day when we had to take them to the Customs and Immigration dock in Soper’s Hole so that they could catch the ferry to St. Thomas and board their plane back home, but overall we had a great time sailing, swimming, kayacking and of course, diving. The weather was perfect and an appreciable diversion from the terrible winter Chicago is handing them. I wish that they could have taken some of the warmth back home with them, but Trevor reported it was a shock to their systems once they reached the Midwest and the below 0 temps. Hannah told me that they’d be back to see us soon! We loved having them with us. It was the most excellent time sharing this paradise.
After we said our goodbyes we sailed from Soper’s to Norman Island and met up with s/v Endorphin and then the crew of s/v Rocking B. We’ve done some snorkeling and diving here in the Caves, The Indians, and totally on our own off our dinghy at Angelfish Reef. Norman Island is said to be named after Captain Norman, a pirate who was eventually apprehended and hanged by the Spanish Guarda Costas. It is also said that the island was the inspiration behind Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. We haven’t found any buried treasure, but just looking at the caves brings images of the movie The Goonies to mind. We snorkled into two of the caves and honestly, I got a bit creeped out. The walls are colorful and the fish life is amazing, but it gets dark quickly as you venture into them I said, “Nope” and swam in the direction of the opening. This was one of the busier spots that we visited. We’re not keen on big groups of people, so we really felt blessed when we maneuvered our dinghy to Angelfish reef on the furthest western tip of Norman Island where we had a dive site just to ourselves.
This was essentially our first dive all alone. The dive on the rock structures called The Indians was supervised by our friends on Rocking B. They were snorkeling above us and were standing by as we practiced using the dinghy to launch our dive. The hardest part of that dive was getting back onto the dinghy after we surfaced. Angelfish Reef offered some great sites-an octopus fleeing some pesky fish, a southern ray buried in the sand and eyeballing us, and a beautiful turtle that led us back to our safety line that we hung from the dinghy. It was a beautiful dive, but also sad. Bleached coral-a sign of unhealthy and dying coral, was prolific. Piles of dead coral were everywhere. In doing some research, we found that much of the Caribbean coral is dead. http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2012/09/06/caribbean-coral-reefs-mostly-dead-iucn-says/
Climate change is a huge contributor to the decrease in coral. I’ve seen a few silly comments on social media concerning the chilly polar vortex that the States are experiencing. Relating the cold snap to a denial of global warming is so scientifically ridiculous that it makes me a bit angry. But overfishing has also contributed to the decline of coral, among other factors such as phosphates and the use of agricultural fertilizers that drain into our oceans. It’s obvious that something is wrong.
But aside from the diving, we have also been watching the weather. The winds have increased again as predicted by our weather router. We’re looking at heading to St. Martin in the near future, but we won’t go until the winds are favorable. There was a report of a horrific crime committed in St. Lucia where a cruiser lost his life protecting his boat and wife from robbers. This, and reports of thefts in St. Martin give us pause. We would love to experience the beauty of each and every island in the Caribbean, but there are some places where we will not go. St. Lucia is now one of those places. We do not want our loved ones back home worrying about us and we certainly do not want to go where our presence is not wanted. As many of our friends have already headed south, we are happy to explore a little more of the British Virgin Islands. We note their comments like, “We thought you’d never leave the North Sound.” And we chuckle. We’re happy to take our time and enjoy the moment. The other islands will be there when we’re ready and we appreciate the reports of the friends who have gone before us.
January 13 We left our mooring ball in the North Sound and had a great day of sailing to Norman Island last week. The winds have been quite high lately and we had the boat surfing at 14 knots at one point. We also witnessed a 50 knot gust while on a mooring ball in the Bight. We ended up staying a couple of days and having the best chicken wings ever at Pirates and then satisfying our curiosity concerning the antics at Willy T’s. We only stayed a half an hour on the old ship converted into a bar before we realized that it is as full of debauchery as rumored. Not actually our type of establishment, but we knew this going in.
We moved from Norman Island to Soper’s Hole on Tortola in order to grab a mooring ball to quickly visit the grocery store and replenish our stores. It ended up not being the quick trip we expected. Every mooring ball was taken and when we decided to drop anchor we found that there was a problem. The sensor for the chain counter wasn’t registering and therefore the windlass would quit dropping the anchor at 3 feet. We circled around until a mooring ball became available and that’s where we’ve been ever since.
Our mooring ball is within eyeball distance of the Customs and Immigration Building/Ferry Dock where we will be picking up Trevor and Hannah on Wednesday. We wanted to leave and explore Jost Van Dyke, but since we have a mooring ball so close at this point and there’s no guarantee that we will even get a ball on Wednesday, we decided to squat. Also, with an inoperative anchor we didn’t want to take the chance of getting somewhere where there were no mooring balls available. We could by pass the chain counter and drop anchor, but the fear of getting it back up is a little concerning. Jim has ordered new parts and they will be delivered to the Bitter End. We’ll be able to pick them up and fix the issue after Wednesday when we return back to Virgin Gorda.
Soper’s Hole has been terrible for our sat phone coverage and to get internet we need to come to shore and plant ourselves in a coffee shop. We plan on using our time here to polish, wax and clean s/v Somewhere in preparation for our next guests. We’ve had time to spend with our Salty Dawg organizers, Linda and Bill and they introduced us to their friend, Russ Ward. You may recognize his voice if you go to You Tube and search his name. He was an NBC Radio Washington correspondent for several years. Needless to say, we’ve had fascinating company and great conversations the past couple of days.
I’ve been negligent in updating my blog. I apologize. We’ve been busy. Yeah, well, it’s true. We’ve been working on boat projects and socializing and garnering experience in our new hobby. Where do I start:
December was a fantastic month. We were able to order Christmas presents for all of our precious grandchildren and even though we weren’t there physically, we were able to spread some joy to let them all know that they are in our hearts. We had Christmas dinner with fellow boaters that had completed the Salty Dawg rally with us. We haven’t been lonely as we always have our new and old friends on board boats coming and going from the North Sound. We’ve also had two special guests from home to introduce to our new lifestyle of living aboard. We had a lot of fun with Allison and Michelle, ringing in the New Year with reggae music, swimming with the jack fish, hiking, and enjoying a painkiller or two.
Jim’s Christmas present to me was diving certification. I was quite reluctant and after the 3 hour training in the pool I became even more reluctant. It wasn’t pleasant learning how to breath underwater. I hyperventilated, cried and nearly threw a punch at the instructor when he made me prove, one more time, that I could clear the chlorinated water from my mask. The gear was bulky, the pool was cold, and I felt as graceful as a gorilla in a ballet class. I love the water-love to swim, but this new sport had me wondering why I agreed to do something that wasn’t physically possible for me. Then came the first open water dive. I was scared, but Jim kept saying that I would regret it if I quit before I even got started, plus there was the issue of no refund for drop outs. So, I pulled up my big girl wet suit and took the leap. Amazing, beyond words. Just look at the pictures, they show only a fraction of the new world we’ve been introduced to. We’ve gone on a total of eight guided dives and each time has been more amazing than the last. We’ve ordered our own gear that will be arriving when my son visits us next week.
The kindness and patience of the dive staff at Kilbride’s Dive accounted for much of our enthusiasm. I can’t praise them enough for introducing us to the world under the sea. Their spirit of adventure is contagious and the knowledge of Ben, Shon, Shane, Kay and Devon is remarkable.
Today we will be leaving our mooring ball at The Bitter End and exploring some other areas in the British Virgin Islands, especially a grocery store that carries a wider variety of fresh fruit and vegetables than we’ve been able to buy in Gun Creek. We need to provision since our stores are getting rather meager. I also need to find a store that carries bathing suits. Mine are all sagging and bagging and loosing their ability to be bathing suits. Salt water eats bathing suits. I won’t go into another salt water rant, but I’m a little sad about a couple of my favorite suits no longer holding up to the task. Time to go shopping. It’s a silly thing to complain about, though, as back home everyone is trying hard to stay warm, keep their pipes from freezing and their furnaces running. Stay warm, my friends. Happy New Year!!
It has been noted by observant friends and family that our Spot Tracker site has shown no movement since we reached the Bitter End. True. We have been attached to a mooring ball here in this amazing spot for quite awhile and it looks like our plans to disconnect from it and travel on have been thwarted by the infamous Christmas Trades. The Christmas Trade Winds are explained here, from Ocean Navigator:
“The Atlantic subtropical high (also known as the Bermuda High) plays the major role in this situation.
This feature is present in the Atlantic almost all year, but its position shifts with the seasons, and its size and strength also varies. Typically, the high is larger and stronger during the
summer months, but it is also usually centered at higher latitudes (in other words, farther north) at this time of year. During the transition from the warm season to the cold season, the “storm
track” of lows progressing from North America generally eastward over the North Atlantic shifts farther south, and there is a corresponding shift southward of the subtropical high. Even though
the high usually becomes smaller and weaker during this time of year, because it shifts farther south (usually to somewhere in the 25 to 30 degree north region) it induces a stronger pressure
gradient between its higher pressure and the lower pressure farther south toward the equator. This increased pressure gradient leads to stronger winds.
Ironically enough, it is when the storm track becomes even more active with stronger systems and shifts farther south that the Christmas winds tend to abate. When strong lows move from the eastern U.S. into the western Atlantic and intensify farther to the south, it typically leads to weakening of the subtropical high with the center of the high shifting farther south, and farther east. In some cases, the high may disappear altogether for a short time, but more commonly, it just moves to the eastern Atlantic leaving the subtropical latitudes of the western Atlantic with no sign of any region of higher pressure. This will interrupt the trade wind flow and often lead to smaller seas in the waters north of the Caribbean Islands, although the other effect of a pattern like this can be large swells from the north eventually reaching the north facing shores of the islands because of strong northerly winds farther to the north behind strong winter storms.”
This means that we’re experiencing high winds and occasional squalls and expect to for the next 10 days. Despite wanting to go explore a bit more of The British Virgin Islands, we thought it would be prudent to stick around where we’re comfortable. It really is quite amazing here and we’re certainly not bored. Jim and I took advantage of a few lulls in the system and navigated the dinghy out to a reef in the Caribbean Sea and did some snorkeling. We saw an amazing amount of colorful fish, coral and even a submerged cannon that gives evidence of the privateering, swashbuckling days of the Caribbean. I haven’t always been comfortable snorkeling. Actually, I’ll admit that the underwater habitat of fish that bite, sting, and otherwise show that they don’t want humans there has made me over cautious. The beauty of these creatures and the coral has helped me overcome my fear, but I do keep a safe distance. That’s probably why I haven’t been able to capture the magnificence in my underwater photography. One step at a time. I’m working on it.
We found a local grocery store in Gun Creek that is a short dinghy ride (or hearty kayak jaunt) away from our spot in the mooring field. The employees have been patient with me when I hold up a piece of fruit or veggie and ask , “What’s this?” They also let me know how they prepare it and what they eat with it. The prices aren’t too bad, either. Even though we’ve been eating a lot less as we adjust to the heat, our stores of food are slowly diminishing. We plan to provision much more once we get to Road Town in a few days. We aren’t starving, though. I purchased christophene, a fruit new to us, and made a delicious dish from a recipe I found on line. I’ve had a bit of difficulty gastrointestinally with some of the food we have had in restaurants. I’m not saying that it hasn’t been delicious, but conch fritters and other fare hasn’t agreed with my system. The local “painkillers’ (a lovely, coconut, nutmeg spiced, rum drink) are tasty, but two of those and I feel like I’ve been at the dessert table way too long. We’re trying to prepare and eat more foods on the boat and that’s helping my stomach get back to normal.
Our friends on Rocking B have had to take a trip home an we miss them, but they’ll be back soon. There are still a few Salty Dawgs in the mooring field with us and we’ve enjoyed their company at Saba Rock, Leverick Bay and having drinks at YCCS. They’re all beautiful resorts.
It’s not all play time, though. Boats of any size take a lot of work to maintain. Things break and the more technology there is onboard, the more complex the fixes get. Things especially break or need maintenance after a grueling passage that puts the vessel under stress. Jim and I fill our mornings with boat chores. Cleaning and polishing take on a whole new element with salt water. I’ve mentioned it before and will probably complain about it until we’re back in fresh water again. Let’s face it: The ocean stinks. All that romancing of sea spray and candles scented to smell like ocean breezes, HA! The truth of the ocean: There is salt in that water. It is sticky and corrodes things. Even worse to consider is that there are organisms that we can’t see in that water as well. When we swim off the boat, we hose off on the stern with precious fresh water to prevent the eventual stank on towels and bathing suits that surely will occur within moments of drying. Anything that gets wet (say from a hatch left open when a brief, but heavy downfall of rain occurs) needs to be dried immediately or the mildew and mold will grow within hours. We are in the tropics, after all. Vinegar, baking soda, and tea tree oil have become my new best friends. We also have the Cat Crew to add to the messiness of living. Their cat litter can’t be allowed to spill into the bilges-even a little bit tracked on their paws will end up clogging up the bilges. Their shedding has also taken on new proportions as they adjust to the heat of the islands. The vacuum cleaners get a work out trying to keep up with their hair loss.
Along with the battle of mold, mildew and trying to keep the boat smelling nice, the repairs and maintenance are a full time job. We were able to get a shipment in to the BVIs from a marine supply outlet and Jim has fixed the problem of our overheating water maker. He also has fixed the transmitting problem with the AIS/VHF radio and finally gave up the fuel tank issue, but has spent many, many man hours trying to figure out why it isn’t venting correctly and preventing us from topping off our tanks. Every fix it project requires the boat to be torn apart, things moved, stowed items piled up in the main salon. It’s exhausting. The fuel tank issue finally had me at the breaking point when once more our bed was torn apart and the entire state room looked like a tornado had hit (the fuel tank is located under our bed). Boat life is messy.
We’ve been enjoying the fact that we have fairly decent internet here. With our booster we are able to communicate quite well and keep up with family, order Christmas presents, and browse sites. I came back from an outing at Saba Rock to find a facebook message from my son, “Damn Mom, quit having a good time and check your facebook” . My fear of not having a cell phone to keep in constant contact seems to be annoying my kids more than me. But the internet and the sat phone have been enough for me. Many of our cruising friends have picked up new sim cards or local cell phones for their calls home. It’s certainly quite easy to do that here, but I’m actually enjoying not having my little communication device attached to my hand constantly. To wonder that was an idea back in Hampton that had me worried.
The wind is whipping up as predicted. Those Christmas Trades are showing their power. We’re going to deflate the kayak this morning so it doesn’t take a beating and complete our normal boat chores-I might even figure out a way to decorate the main salon for Christmas. If I come up with something creative that the Cat Crew will leave alone I’ll let you all know.