8 May 2011, St. Thomas, USVI to New York

Marine Forecast: not applicable, sigh.

Where to find breakfast, or a taxi, on a Sunday morning after Carnivale? Breakfast at Gladys’ on Great Dane St.: fried fish and grits for The Skipper; salt fish and chop chop for Ginger.

A quick shower and re-pack and an early taxi to the airport just in case. We hang out with painkillers and books and get one last round of chicken, beans and rice, and macaroni and cheese to go. I think we’ve eaten a barnyard’s worth of animals on this trip. At least we ate veggies and fish on the boat.

Bonus on the return flight is that the only mileage point seats available were in Business. We’re plied with food and drink and blankets, and I have tea and a bloody mary with my cheesecake. When we land at JFK, it’s suddenly spring again (at least it’s not snowing), and everyone is too fast and efficient. Our apartment seems huge, and the sky is small and empty without stars. That night we’re up several times to check the mooring lines. I think we’re about to hit land until I see the street out front.

As I sit at the computer to write this trip report, the screen and words seem narrow in every sense, flat and lifeless. There is no horizon. Better to be on a boat looking at the line where sky meets sea and to know there’s more beyond it.

7 May 2011, Norman Island, BVI to St. Thomas, USVI

Marine Forecast: excellent!
Actual: winds 9-16

Up early with last-day jitters, we have tea and are off at 7:30. It’s a beautiful day for a sail, and we make it to Road Town by 9:30 and are docked by 10. We’ve done really well at eating all our food and disposing of trash along the way, so cleanup and packing are done quickly.

We avail ourselves of the BVI YC showers, which are the second most-welcome sight since the showers at Leverick’s, and make it in time for the noon-ish ferry. Bomba Charger!!! The Skipper racks out to the jet engine drone. I eat the last of the boat snack pretzels washed down with a Carib and watch our progress through the Drake, a greatest hits of the last 9 days. I’m sad to leave the boat, roll-y nights notwithstanding. We’ve had a great time with one another, and we would do this again tomorrow. But, I’m also happy to have a respite from sun and heat to sort out this mystery rash. However, our adventures are not over….

Today is the last day of Carnivale in Charlotte Amalie, and there are no taxi drivers willing to drive to our hotel, The Green Iguana, which lies on the other side of the parade route. To get there by car would involve going around the backside of St. Thomas, which no one will do. We spend more time hanging out with the parking lot chicken at the ferry dock, contemplating options, and finally decide to walk. Even with only three medium-sized duffle bags and two backpacks, this will be a slog in the heat. We make it to the Green Bar where a taxi driver assures us he can make it to the hotel. After 20 minutes of driving around, he admits defeat, puts us out right at the parade route, and wishes us luck.

While snaking our way through families and food carts, The Skipper slips off a curb and skins his knee, winning a pretty bloody surface wound. Luckily, all the medical supplies are at hand. Bandaged, we climb a big hill behind Government House, climb the 99 Steps, and run into Suzy and Bill of the Green Iguana – with a car! Our bags ride up the final hill, and Suzy gets us to our room asap. More showers, more neosporine and bandages, and we’re back down the hill for dinner before it gets too late.

The parade is amazing, a total family affair. The West Indian Day parade in Brooklyn, New York, is huge with a lot of sound trucks, but no dancing women in feathers! Here, it seems they put the best dancers at the front and everyone else follows along, even the littlest kids. Carnivale was almost over, so our choices of street food were limited. Finally, we found a truck on Main Street that was billowing smoke out of a grill attached to the back: BBQ chicken, beans and rice, macaroni and cheese, and Heinekins. Back up the hill for more showers and a fantastic view of the fireworks. The bed was so clean and soft, but still, I dreamed that St. Thomas wasn’t properly moored to St. John, and The Skipper kept mumbling about tightening the sheets.

6 May 2011, Jost Van Dyke to Norman Island, BVI

Marine Forecast: pretty good!
Actual: wind 5-10, 12-15 in the Drake Channel

We were up early anticipating a breakfast ashore at a place that offered fried fish and johnny cakes. At 8:10 we were parked at the dinghy dock, and at 8:15 our hopes were crushed. TV and radio on, but nothing doing on the food. Maybe not enough people around to make it worthwhile. Maybe we were too early.

From the main street, the harbor full of boats looked like an invading army about to overrun the kids on their way to school in this peaceful town. I was creeped out; it felt like bad karma. So, back to the boat and after a consolation breakfast of tea and banana, we were away to Norman Island (10-12) with the idea of a snorkel at The Indians first.

On our last trip, The Indians was our nemesis (boat hook lost, retrieved and broken in 10 minutes), and The Skipper was determined to win this time. Arrived: busy. Made a few turns: still busy. Picked up a ball at the edge of Norman, ate lunch, saw an opening and zinged back. Busy. So we circled, and circled, and circled. For 2 hours. While fat people who didn’t snorkel AT ALL lolled on their catamarans and played cards.  Still, The Skipper was determined. Ginger was pissed off and had to read the paper below until there was an opening. At which point another circling, Canadian, boat tried to make a play for the ball. Denied.

Mindful that others might soon be waiting, we suited up quickly, and The Skipper, first in the water, says, “careful, there’s a current.” At which point Ginger jumps in, thinks of all the rivers in the South (where she grew up) that have currents that suck people under, completely freaks out, and sets a record swimming from boat to dinghy mooring line. After some deep breathing, The Skipper convinces Ginger to let go of the line and put her face in the water. All is well until Ginger sees a wall of small fish floating in the swell off the reef and thinks, “Lots of small fish are tasty snack for big fish. Where are the predator fish?” At this point, Ginger has had it and swims backwards to the boat so as not to see how dark and deep the water gets. The Skipper enjoys a leisurely snorkel.

Thankful to be on the boat, Ginger is only somewhat concerned at the small clear blisters covering her face and neck and the small dots covering her stomach and legs. The Skipper is very concerned. Away to Norman where we have our pick of spots. Drinks, snacks, showers, and a trip to Pirate’s Bight for a final round of painkillers with the sunset. And some web searching for info on Ginger’s rash: nothing conclusive, but hints at avoiding heat, sunlight, saltwater….

Ginger lurks in the shadows as we watch a brilliant sunset, then back to the boat for a dinner of huevos rancheros, finishing off the rum under the stars.

5 May 2011, Mahoe Bay, USVI to Jost Van Dyke, BVI

Marine Forecast: perfect!!

While Ginger is plucking her eyebrows during a moment of personal hygiene in the pre-dawn hours, she notices that there are small clear blisters under her eyebrows, on her cheeks and forehead and throat. After shaving, she finds small itchy red dots on her legs and stomach. Hmmm. More thorough face-washing, less sunscreen.

Over breakfast, a lone dolphin cruises in and out of the bay, and we decide to walk to the Annaberg Sugar Mill. Then it’s either Jost Van Dyke or Leinster Bay, but we can’t decide. One thing at a time. Having perfected our 2-person dinghy beaching drill in big surf at Cinnamon Bay, Mahoe Beach is a cakewalk (9:30). The Cruising Guide says it’s a brisk 30 minute walk to the Mill. I’m not sure who walks briskly up a steep grade in the tropical heat. And I forgot to bring a seltzer.

We took a brief side trip to see the ruins of the Annaberg school (very cool) and finally made it to the top of the ruins at the Mill just as a wonderful park service employee put out a cooler of water and cups. Hooray US tax dollars! The ruins were well-preserved with lots of signs to read and great views of Leinster Bay. I could have stayed for hours, but somewhere during our walk, we decided Jost was the next destination, so we beat a quick-ish retreat to the boat (11:30). Motoring out, we saw a turtle in the water, and I was sad to leave this little bit of paradise.

After a *very* leisurely sail (12-2:45; winds from 12 to 4 knots), we made it to Great Harbour and were pleasantly surprised to find a mooring ball. After the lowest-stress C&I process I’ve ever experienced, we had a drink at Foxy’s, enjoyed the happy hour musician, strolled the main drag to consider dinner options, and went back to the boat for drinks and snacks until the sun slipped behind the hill.

Then back to Foxy’s for jerk chicken wings (tasty!) and BBQ baby back ribs. These were like Uncle Joe’s ribs, with a sweet, tomato-based basting sauce and then more to cover. The different cut of ribs meant more blackened crunchy parts! The bugs were out, so we didn’t stick around for the DJ. For bathrooms al fresco, Foxy’s is only a close second to Pirate’s Bight, and both were clean and large. More rum and tonic on the boat ensured a sound sleep despite the swell that worked inside the harbor.

4 May 2011, Caneel Bay to Mahoe Bay, USVI

Marine Forecast: beautiful!

Even after a sleepless night, Ginger couldn’t help but be a little smug while writing postcards and watching the sun rise over Caneel Bay. And the day only got better. Over breakfast, we decided to check out the Caneel Bay resort. Since it was built in the 1930’s, I’d thought it would be art deco but it was more of a Frank Lloyd Wright aesthetic with long low buildings open towards the water.

The red-striped taxis in Cruz Bay were eerily like the golf carts in The Prisoner, and the manicured grass at the resort just added to the genteel incarceration effect. We were welcomed cordially, though, and instructed *not* to sit on the beach chairs. But the gift shop was good: postcards, more sunscreen, but no sunglasses even though the backs and insides of Ginger’s ears were a raging itch. The bathrooms were good: AC, tile, nice hand towels. It really is amazing how welcoming of boaters the resorts are, especially in the low-ish season. Definitely not a privilege to abuse, but an interesting way to see places we normally wouldn’t go (Caneel Bay 9-10).

We motored up to Mahoe Bay (11-11:30), had our pick of mooring balls, and geared up for a dinghy trip to Trunk Bay (1pm). Unfortunately, we turned in one bay too soon, so we practiced our 2-person dinghy beaching drill in Cinnamon Bay. We shared a sandwich, then ran it out into the surf where Ginger practiced her shallow-water-dinghy-start magic and zipped over to Trunk Bay. Tied up at the dinghy line (thanks US National Parks!) and swam in to look at the underwater snorkel trail. Very cool but not as many fish as The Caves. Lots o’ sea urchins, though.

And then we thought, why not eat lunch on shore? So The Skipper swims out, dinghies in the food to Ginger waiting in the surf, parks and swims back. Honeymoon! We share a sandwich and some very warm Caribs under the trees, look at the white beach and light blue water and the afternoon rainstorm blowing through behind Jost Van Dyke, and keep poking one another to make sure this isn’t a dream.

The Skipper retrieves Ginger and the food from the surf zone and we make it to the boat just as the rain starts (4pm). Nap, drinks, sunset, dinner: one of those Indian foil pouches of chick peas over boiled potatoes. The rum and tonic and lime come out as does a huge sky of stars and we watch the Big Dipper wheel around the mast.

3 May 2011, Norman Island, BVI to Caneel Bay, USVI

Marine Forecast: It was going to be nice for the rest of the week, so we stopped listening.

This was the big travel day with BBQ in Cruz Bay, St. John as the prize at the end. We had a nice hour of downwind sail to Frenchman’s Cay (9-10), then motored to Soper’s Hole Marina for fuel, water, and more ice, then picked up a mooring ball to finish with provisions and C&I. Ginger drove the big boat and the small boat all morning (except for docking).

After getting our third and final case of beer (Carib), we zinged to customs for checkout only to find that the copies of our entrance cards were wanted before they would let us out of the BVIs. Another to and fro, with fraying nerves, and we were finally underway. (Time at Soper’s 11-1.) Ginger made tuna wraps with cheese while The Skipper drove, and after a moment’s testiness navigating around Johnson’s Reef, it was a smooth ride to Caneel Bay in a light rain, arriving at 2:15. To ease the way through US C&I, as instructed, we tried to make ourselves as presentable as 6 days on a boat with minimal showering would allow. Thank goodness we snorkeled the day before.

We dinghied to C&I through some swell and chop off the point and since there weren’t too many boats, tied up at the US C&I dock. Yes, the National Parks dinghy dock was just across the cove (and very full), but we wanted to do the right thing, at least this time. Paperwork was all good, and when it came time to pay the docking fee at the second desk, the woman couldn’t find our boat name in her machine, so waved us through! After a chat with the nice Agriculture Officer that had me wondering about the status of our fruit, we drove around the corner to find a dinghy dock in town.

Scored a parking spot at a dock in front of the bars and scored a well-earned beer. We were the first customers when Uncle Joe’s opened at 5, and we tucked into our combination platters (chicken and pork ribs) with two sides. Like the BBQ at Leverick’s, this was cooked over hickory but instead of a spice rub, Uncle Joe’s used a spicy, tomato-based sauce to baste and then cover the meat. Add the flaming pepper sauce from the table, and yes, it was totally worth the trip.

I didn’t fancy driving around the point in the dark, so we dinghied back to the boat for the last of a fantastic sunset with drinks. After a long day, we were treated to yet another roll-y night. We moored at the outside edge of the field and closer to Cruz Bay so were exposed to the vagaries of the Caneel ferry and other boat traffic plus a solid north swell. If there were enough daylight left, we might have moved the boat further up the bay, but I noticed everyone was rockin’.

2 May 2011, Norman Island, BVI

Marine Forecast: eh, we listened to it in Spanish; same wind, same waves, same chance of rain.

It was a bit blowy when we woke up (after the sunrise but not before it was up!), and after the previously “long” day, we decided to keep it local and explore Norman Island – after another cup of tea. Before our trip, I read Treasure Island and learned that Robert Louis Stevenson’s description of the fictional island was based on Norman. Of course I was keen to see if we could find any places that resembled the book.

We went back to Pirate’s Bight dock, and after a man made fun of my dinghy driving, he relayed the news about Osama bin Laden being killed by US troops. We sat bobbing in the dinghy, and it felt miles away, like when a swell moves across a whole ocean and then only lifts your boat a few inches when it passes.

Thoughtful, we wandered up the path on the left edge of the harbor, made some pictures of our boat, and noticed we had the smallest vessel of anyone. So began our conversations about, “next time, a bigger boat.” We retraced our route and took a different path with an eye to reaching the top of one of the ridges. And we did, and I saw a reef and a cove on the southeast side facing the ocean that did match up with Treasure Island!

And then we walked to the very top and saw…. a helipad! How come the Cruising Guide never mentioned this? The view is fantastic, and I suspect on a full moon night it would be even better. It was hot by that time, so we passed on walking more of the trails, but I’ll bring better shoes and a book about rocks. There are lots of different kinds of rocks all within a short distance of one another. Next time….

We drove to Willy T for a cheeseburger and fish and chips in paradise, then back to the boat for a quick change and a drive to The Caves for snorkeling. Ginger is not keen on being in water where she can’t see the bottom, but The Skipper is an experienced diver, so with some hand-holding, this proved to be a successful snorkel trip. After a wet ride home, there was more chillin’, boat drinks, a nap, then a sunset beverage at The Bight. Dinner on the boat was tuna croquettes with a sauce of camembert and sun-dried tomatoes. The stars were amazing.

1 May 2011, Virgin Gorda to Norman Island, BVI

Marine Forecast: East winds 12-17 knots, seas 4 to 6 feet, isolated showers

We were up with the sun for tea and more of the same breakfast with the strong idea that we might sail to Anegada. We called the BVI Yacht Charter base at 8:30 to check weather and get the ok. They said, “Go ahead, but your crew might not like the ride.” We were pretty happy with the chill vacay vibe, so that was the end of Anegada plans. Next time!

We waved goodbye to the Necker Island lemurs and the Easter parade headed to Anegada, and we sailed (9:30) on the same broad reach for four hours from the Dogs to mid-Peter Island when we had to douse the sails (1:15) for a passing storm. (While we’re close to Peter, I’ll mention that when we chartered in 2009, we visited friends who stayed there, and the bathrooms by the dock are ok. Leverick’s are better.)

Norman Island was our destination (2:10 arrival), and I was a happy clam eating chips and reading in an 18 knot wind while The Skipper napped. I never mentioned how little clothing we packed for this trip. We always sailed in long sleeve shirts and shorts/pants, but spent even more time lounging around in bath towels. At Norman, we decided to never ever share a boat with anyone if it can be helped, the better to lounge in towels more.

After a boat drink to wake up (the case of Red Stripe long gone and well into the Presidente), we were off to Pirate’s Bight for painkillers and dark/stormies and the chicken roti. These were a little differently spiced but equally as good as the chicken roti at Cooper Island Yacht Club.

We were going back to the boat, but two beach chairs were free, so we had another round. Being the responsible dinghy driver, I only had a beer. I didn’t finesse the landing so well, but The Skipper excellently lassoed a cleat, and we lounged in towels with drinks and watched our neighbors feeding fish with a huge under-boat light.

30 April 2011, North Sound, Virgin Gorda, BVI

Marine Forecast: East winds 11-16 knots, seas 3 to 5 feet, isolated showers
Actual: winds 18-21, seas 1-2 feet

Up before the sunrise over North Sound, Ginger kept quiet so The Skipper could sleep and tried to read a bit. After tea, we decided to postpone our trip to Anegada by one day and hang out in the North Sound. We were off the dock by 8 and decided to use the steady 15-20 knot breeze and relatively small swell to sort out the boat handling issues. I made loops off Gnat Point while The Skipper read up on sail trim for weather helm and then we tacked around and futzed with sails and lines till we were both happy (8:30-12:30). Time well spent.

We picked up a Bitter End Yacht Club mooring ball, had boat drinks and snacks, and then dinghied in for a look-see about lunch. Resorts kind of creep me out with their extreme orderliness. BEYC was no different, but the plants were pretty, and the style of the buildings was low key in a posh way. There weren’t many people around, and the person at the reservation desk generously invited us to use the beach chairs since they weren’t busy. Not the case, I’m sure, during high season. The Skipper had the winning lunch of grilled cheese with bacon and tomato and an icy Carib in the main dining area. I should have known better than to order falafel and white wine – two imports that didn’t make the trip well.

And then I found the bathroom! Air-conditioned, dark, spacious, and not-moving!! I was loving the trip and the boat so far, but this was such a nice treat. We looked for postcards (score, plus stamps at the front desk) and sunglasses since the backs of my ears were chafed and itching (no luck). We strolled over to Birras Creek Resort so I could comparison shop on the bathrooms, but it was even more deserted, so we de-camped to the boat for drinks and a nap. Jellyfish warnings were up, so no swimming.

We went back in the early evening for a drink and sunset at the bar/grille. Maybe it was because they served drinks in for-real pint glasses or because they mixed the drinks strong, but I’d wager BEYC has the best painkiller and dark/stormy in the area. I made sure to sample as we went along, but that evening stands out. The sky was silver, then gold-red, and then silver again. On our drive back to the boat, The Skipper noted several fireballs from grills off the end of some neighbors’ boats, and we were glad we weren’t too close to them or their full tanks of dinghy fuel. Dinner was linguine with garlic and smoked clams followed by more boat drinks while listening to the crickets. And on the fourth night, I slept.

29 April 2011, Cooper Island to North Sound, Virgin Gorda, BVI

Marine Forecast: East winds 14-18 knots, seas 5 to 7 feet, scattered showers
Actual: wind 18-22, seas 4-6 feet

Up early for tea and yogurt with banana and blueberries. The day’s destination was the North Sound and a slip at Leverick’s Marina for some BBQ! Sails up and we were away by 9 on a nice long tack by the Dogs but when we tacked back The Skipper was unhappy with how the boat handled, so we doused the sails at 11:45 and motored in by 1:30, keeping an eye out for Richard Branson’s lemurs on Necker Island.

In anticipation of a trip to Anegada, we decided to top off with fuel and water. This involved parallel parking between Richard Branson’s monster catamaran, Necker Belle, and Captain Rick’s Sophisticated Lady. We erred towards Captain Rick, and missed! After futzing with docking, fuel, water, power, etc, Ginger so appreciated the marina showers and will always think fondly of Leverick’s for that. During pre-dinner boat drinks, we were treated to a parade down the dock of at least half the Atlanta country club in their pastel finest getting on a ferry with their boat drinks. They were followed by our manly neighbors’ and their macho speedo show.

My inner ear was thoroughly adjusted to the boat, so our walk to the store for a case of Presidente and some cooking oil was happily woozy. A couple of painkillers evened out the situation, and when they laid the BBQ on, I was in a meat coma! No one on TTOL has actually said what’s involved in the Friday night buffet, so OMG was I surprised: pork ribs, brisket, chicken, mahi mahi, and pulled pork. There was another part of the buffet table I never saw that seemed to involve vegetables and dessert. I started with all the meats and went back for more chicken and mahi mahi. The Skipper did venture into the macaroni and cheese with his second plate of meat. It was The Skipper’s birthday meal, and he was super happy. What a generous feast!

We skipped the band at the bar since we could hear it from the boat. The Skipper went immediately to sleep. Ginger was treated to Roll-y Night #3 that involved two perambulations with a flashlight to check lines and fenders to see if there was a way to tighten anything further. There was not.