My recollection of our sailing trip.
Transportation: After a couple of bouts with American Eagle at SJU, I vowed to find a better system. I found it. We flew to St Thomas non-stop from Chicago, had a roundtrip reservation with Smith’s Ferry, including cab pick up at STT and again at Roadtown to Sun Sail. For $79 a piece round trip it was well worth it. Our flight arrived in STT at 3 and we were on the 3:30 ferry. The cab driver was at baggage with sign in hand waiting for just us. Same at Roadtown. Going back Smith’s Ferry was broke down. So I called Marjorie in Charlotte Amalie and she got us on Native Son. Always speak with Marjorie. My initial call was to a Tortola contact that was rude an uncooperative. Leave yourself plenty of time on a departure flight. We picked up a 12:30 ferry at the West End for a 5:00 flight. As it turns out, this ferry had a Red Hook stop which means clearing customs on St Johns. So it took 2 hours to Charlotte Amalie from WE. As a bonus the departure tax is $5 per person for marine vs. $20 for air. Our friends came from Tampa on American. They had a terrible time in SJU. American Eagle kept advising of cancellations because of mechanicals. The weather was rough and they arrived at EIS 3 hours late.
Sailing: We bought owners time on Shannonagins, a 2002 43’ Sun Oddesy based at Sun Sail. The boat was nearly flawless and a great sail. Sun Sail is pricey and I probably wouldn’t have used them without this discount. But they are a first class operation in a great location. Over night at there base was a pleasure. Plenty of breeze, clean water and a great view. The staff is all very good. We were on our boat at 5:30 and everything was ready and running…AND a bottle of Pussers was on the table as a gift. Fitz Ray handles our boat and was very dependable and helpful. The chart briefing was very thorough, but somewhat disturbing. It included instructions for anchoring at Brewers, which I thought was a no-no. He also advised people they could overnight at Deadmen’s at Peter Island. He did tell everyone that as of a couple weeks ago, all dinghies are prohibited from landing on the beach at the Baths. The boat was in the best condition of any I have been on. My only complaint was a very unreliable dinghy motor.
As to our track, my original plan was to pick up my cousin, Karen and husband Bill at Marina Cay. Our ride over from Maya Cove was a wild one. TD 27 was moving in. So my wife, Deanna and I reefed coming out of Maya and both put on life jackets. We were soaked by the time we reached the east end. Before we left Sun Sail, Fitz Ray had worked on a water tank cap. He took his watch off and laid it on the forward hatch and forgot it. When we tied up, I found his watch laying back by the stern cleat…it wasn’t a Timex. Bill & Karen took the ferry over and we stayed the night. The evening was a wild ride with numerous squalls coming through, 35kt gusts and numerous 5-minute rains.
The next morning we decide to reverse our route and headed for Norman, which we thought would offer the best protection. The sail over was quite comfortable and when we arrived, the water in the Bight was very calm. The day was actually quite clear. Taking a dinghy to the Caves was no problem. This was a first for Bill & Karen, so a trip to Willie T’s was in order. True to its word a couple of middle-aged women were diving bare chest off the back that afternoon. By early evening we were riding a ball on 35-knot gusts again. One of our wind scoops blew into heaven. Not too many dinghies out. The mountains did little to stop the blowing. Again the squalls came all night, 5 to 10 minute rains and gusts over 40 knots. It sounded like a train was running through the boat. My hatch tent worked perfectly. I hung it from the spinnaker halyard and kept it a few inches off the deck. I was able to keep the forward hatch open with very little moisture coming in, even with 40-knot gusts.
Morning 2 we awake to the news that TD 27 is passing 200 miles to the south, moving WNW. High winds and seas and a chance of up to 12” of rain. We decide to take an optimistic outlook and rename it Tropical Impression 27. We talked about staying put, but decided Sopers would offer just as good protection and more options on land. Again the day was clear and the squalls were gone. This seemed to be a nighttime event. The sail was perfect. Had I known things were really improving I would have sailed all day. Bill ran a hand line out behind the boat with artificial bait. He picked up one bonita. Although it meant missing the Full Moon part at Trellis, Soper’s was our first quiet evening. When we tied up to the dinghy dock the taxis started unloading hoards of cruise shippers . They all had a drink coupon for Pusser’s and that was where they set up their blockade. We picked up some provisions and headed over to the Jolly Roger to wait them out. Last spring we couldn’t find any groceries in town. There are now 2 grocers in full swing. Harbor Market had the best inventory. When the crowds cleared, we went back to shopping. The vendors were mostly angry because the cruise shippers cashed in their coupons and left without spending a dime. That night we had some rain, but no big blows, very peaceful.
Morning 3 the skies were blue and the winds brisk. The BVI looked it’s normal self. We set full sails and head to White Bay. White caps and a reach all the way over, our best sail yet. When we arrive we find a ball on the far east end with a small surf and no winds. This is bar far my favorite place for pure swimming, some of the cleanest water anywhere. Hung out at Soggy for a couple hours, watching some crazies. It appeared some restaurant group took waiters, waitresses & bartenders from USVI on an excursion through the BVI. They had their tongues all over each other and were talking about body shots at their next stop, Willie T’s. A 40+’ powerboat was loading up for the trip over. 2 young ladies were on the swim ladder when someone released the stern anchor. The stern started swinging toward another boat, the captain fired up, threw it into gear and pushed full throttle. The 2 girls flew off the back of the boat. Thank God they flew away from the prop. Of course they thought it was quite funny. I could only imagine there afternoon in the Bight. The pain killer mix at Soggy was terrible. Someone new was at the bar. I didn't finish mine. Bill took the dinghy and went trolling for a couple of hours, picking up an occasional grouper. I forgot to mention to him, we won’t see a fuel dock for a couple of nights, but we still have a half tank when he finishes. Stopped over at Ivan’s. He took 30 minutes to show us pictures of damage from all the rains. The waterside of the roots from the huge tree were completely exposed. I think it’s a Tamarind tree?? Almost all the beach was gone. I asked him how he repaired it so soon. Lot’s of hard work, but you can’t see any sign of damage. We sat on his beach watching the sunset over St Thomas. That night we had little wind direction. We would continually do 360’s. The boat kept coming slack and ramming the mooring ball. Then about 4 AM the wind decides to hold us sideways to a pretty good surf. The heck with this, we just get up at 5.
Morning 4 a morning swim and a walk along the beach are the start of another great day. Several tents are hidden well in the beach side campground. We thought of spending 2 nights here, but our keel hits bottom a couple of times so we hold our morning meeting on where we go from here. Everyone wants to go to the barbecue in Leverick in 2 nights. So we decide to position ourselves a little closer at Cane Garden with a day stop at Foxy’s. Another good sailing day. Nothing special at Cane. It was very quiet and talk of northerly swells was just talk. It’s our quietist anchorage, well except for the dogs and roosters. This is by far the best sunset of our track. Saw a moray eel swim away from the dock. Kool!
Morning 5 off to Leverick. We want to enjoy the passage south of Guana and Camanoe and snorkel at the Dogs. So, I point us north to and try to set up for a single tack to Monkey Point. After 30 minutes of sailing seemingly away from our destination, some of the crew ask when we will tack. I said 15 minutes for sure, 30 would be great. I chose 15 and halfway there TD 27’s effects are all but gone. We’re down to 3 knots and heading southeast to keep the wind. As we get closer to Guana I thought we’d lose wind to the mountains. Instead the winds stiffen from the northeast and we hit our mark with no more tacking. As we round the corner we start the engine and motor sail between Great and Little Camanoe. Beautiful. Now the Dogs are dead into the wind, what little is left of them. We drop sail and motor over. There’s a pretty hefty swell and we decide on a ball at Great Dog. Our original goal was Bronco Billy with a sketch of where to snorkel I receive from Bill H. But I choose not to anchor because I didn’t want to keep watch on the boat and miss the snorkeling. The spot was beautiful. The snorkeling was disappointing. During our sail we dragged a hand line all the way from Cane to the sound and never had a strike. More on that later. We picked up our ball at Leverick, got our free water and ice. But the free mooring if you have dinner with 4 or more was false advertising. So was the $20 a piece for the barbecue. It was $25. But the festivities and the food were great. We loved the mocko jumbies. Prior to going ashore I happened to throw a small piece of cheese from the deck off the back of the boat. I crap my pants when a 36” remora comes up at eats it. Bill’s been around fish all his life, but can’t believe the size. He throws another piece…2 large remora appear. Before you know it they are feeding right out of Bill’s hands. Not knowing who their ride is, I decide I will not swim here. I don’t want to see if they have a shark buddy close by nor do I want them riding on me.
Morning 6 the plan was a stop at Saba, over to the Baths and then to Cooper. When everyone’s up, I motor over to Saba. So much for plans. Bill and Karen are so intrigued by Saba, we decide to just stay. It was the most fun and relaxation of the whole trip. We toured the rooms, the villa and the grounds on top the rock. Mr. Peters, the grounds keeper gives us a hearty welcome as we walk the grounds. “Come, and enjoy my yard. Please tell all your friends.” His work on this little rock is a beautiful, lush and unblemished garden of tropical plants, neatly kept lawn and a small sandy area surrounded by rock and accented with hammocks. There’s no doubt in any of our minds, we will return and stay in one of the rooms at Saba! We have a wonderful lunch here and then take the restaurant managers advice about snorkeling offshore north of BEYC. It was mostly turtle grass and very little reef. So we go back to the boat.. Folks there are fish jumping all over the sound and all around our boat. The tarpon are obviously gorging themselves below the surface and the pelicans join them for dinner as thousands of minnows dance across the water like raindrops. Bill and I can’t take it. We grab his spin casting rods and head for a reef. We circle a reef and cast across it’s edges (artificial bait on jig heads). Immediately I get a strike. I pull in a 2.5 pound yellow tail. That’s going in the dinner pot. We put it in a cooler under our cold beer. The 2 go together well. We cast, we troll, and we jig. All produce fish. Have you ever seen a lizard fish? Man, they could star in a horror film. Harmless actually, but UGLY. As we pass by a fish trap I set my hook on something really good. A short fight turns into a dead pull. Bill says, “it’s swam under a reef and lodged itself. I tell him to back the dinghy off, and as he does the fight continues. Well. Nothing huge. But a 3 pound strawberry hind. More for the dinner pot. We have our 2 way Cobras with and call the girls to tell them what men we are. They should be so lucky. They respond by informing us there are boats passing with naked women on the decks. Well, maybe we’ve had enough fishing. We should get home. Back on Shannonagins it was a hot day. We took a couple of bed sheets and hung them off the bimini to block the sun. It worked well. Next sail I will bring some light weight tarps. That evening we make an introductory stop at BEYC. I apologize. My problem, but I can’t stand what smells like snooty. 5 minutes and I need to go. Meanwhile back at the boat the tarpon are still very busy. I take my flashlight and an 80 pound tarpon turns on it’s side. Bill takes an empty jig head, hangs a flashlight off the back and starts catching goggle head for live bait. The tarpon respond with much leaping. In the dark we spot them all around the boat and we hear there splashing. Bill feeds the line out. He says they could take your line a hundred feet and you wouldn’t know they were on. He never does hook a tarpon, but hauls in a couple of baby black tip shark. I’m thinking, listen up sailors and swimmers. Be aware when you throw food off the back of your boat, think about what’s coming in. Last thing that night Deanna says to me “we never double looped our line through the mooring. Don’t you think we should? It keeps the noise down.” Well, it’s so still. Don’t worry women. That night the wind picks up and the mooring line saws through the loop all night long. Guess who’s sleeping in the bow. At 3 in the morning I get up and throw a second line on to stop the killer noise. I love you Deanna.
Day 7 – sad for all. My friends leave today and although I’m looking forward to moving into Myett’s, I always just hate giving up my boat. I hate it! What is it? The loss of freedom and solitude. Karen say’s, “well, all good things, must end.” No. No, I tell her we simply push the pause button. Later she say’s “back to reality.” I respond, “well, just a different reality, stock markets, nightly news and all…” Moorings, and sailing and rotti’s and trade winds, and silly people and Carib beer. When you’re here this is reality too. As we round the south shore a ray makes a double leap out of the water. Salute. We get our instructions for docking and as we come in. I realize the lane coming in is almost too narrow to make a turn. My crew with lines in hand go quiet. I nail the landing. A sad high 5. Checking in the boat is a breeze. We had a good boat, a good crew and we returned everything in the condition we found it… a motto my grandpa taught me. After we tie up, we watch a boat with 2 Italian couples leaving. They were on a Mediterranean mooring and untie the stern, but never untied the mooring. A woman throttles hard forward and they foul on the mooring line. It takes them an hour with snorkel gear and knives to un-foul the prop. I’m glad we wouldn’t cross paths with that crew. From here our trip moves to Myett’s…another report altogether.
Here are notes of importance to those planning:
- Unless there are hurricanes about, don’t fret the weather forecasts. The actual is always better
- If you can fly to St Thomas and ferry over, go for it. It can save you lots of pain vs. San Juan.
- I know people will chastise me for this, but we ate the strawberry hind grouper and the yellow tail. Bill has been a fishing boat captain and owned a store in a fish market. He tells me the strawberry hind (grouper) we ate is too small and the yellow tail snapper has to short a life span to collect toxins. He would not touch large grouper or barracuda. We ate the fish we caught with no bad effects.
- the coral bleaching was bad. Snorkeling at the Caves, parts of White Bay and Great Dog was sad. 3 years ago Deanna and I swam with tarpon on a reef between Soggy and Ivan’s. It’s gone. The sea life was visibly missing at most of our stops. I will not post where we had good snorkeling. I will not post where we were fishing. To those who can be trusted with the responsibility of preservation, send me a pm.
- Meat permits…we ate like kings and queens on the back of our boat. I love the food of the Caribbean, but Bill is an excellent cook. They brought 8 lbs of fresh shrimp, no permit required. I brought brats (Cheesehead in paradise), New York strips, chicken breasts, hamburger patties, hamburger for spaghetti, Wisconsin cheese and sausage and other cold cuts. Steak and shrimp, shrimp salad, fried shrimp, grilled shrimp, grouper and yellow tail, the sauces, the spices. No one was eating like we did!
- last spring we had seagulls all around. This November there were none. I’m assuming some sort of migration
- speaking of migration, last spring there were mega yachts all over. There were none last week. Hmmmm. Ok, do the yachts follow the seagulls?
- complaints continue at Cane garden with stolen dinghies and beggars on the beach. I experience kids asking for a dollar. Folks, these aren’t beggars. They’re kids. They’re my kids!!!! I think the whole thing is over blown. Cane Garden is a vibrant community with lots of hard working people, and kids. I’ve never had such service.
- the mooring rig with the snap hook suggested on this site did not work. First I had dock lines too big (7/8)” to fit through the eyelet, Sun Sail found me a smaller rope and rigged it for me. The hook was too small to fit over the eye of the mooring lines.
- Once again, Bobby’s was perfect for provisioning. The food arrived at Sun Sail as we were unpacking. I did an inventory and found several items missing. I stepped on the dock on my way to call them when the deliveryman returned with a box he had missed. The order was perfect.
- someone would do well to have fresh fruit and vegetables in the lands. Outside of bananas and mangos, none to be found anywhere.
- the ferries from West End will go directly to Charlotte Amalie, unless it stops at Red Hook. Then you will also stop at St John for Customs, for now. They are building a new dock at Red Hook with a Customs office and will alleviate the need for St John. Always check the stops your ferry will make. Smith’s Ferry is very good, but only talk to Marjorie in St Thomas
- restaurants- to be covered in my land report
Then there’s some pictures:http://community.webshots.com/myphotos?action=viewAllPhotos&albumID=511327771