Thursday, April 12, 2012

St. John, US Virgin Islands

Saturday, January 28 - Thursday, February 2, 2012
Welcome to St. John, our first stop in the US Virgin Islands. With over half of the island protected as a national park, St. John is thought to be one of the top spots for pristine beaches, hiking, and snorkeling opportunities in the Caribbean. It also means you're required to take (and pay for) a mooring ball in all but two anchoring spots on the island. To budget-minded cruisers, this means we'll likely limit our time in the park and will make the most of our stay here. Beauty certainly has its price!

We had a gorgeous downwind sail from Tortola to Coral Bay, where we anchored near Island Dream. They'd warned us about the rolling waves that rocked you from side to side, sending dishes crashing to the floor and making sleep impossible. The cure? A stern anchor. Yes, just as it sounds, you can actually tie another anchor from the back of the boat and set it to keep your bow pointing into the swells. You'll still rock from front to back, but it's a lot less noticeable spread over 45' (our boat length) rather than just 14' (Pipe's beam).

Our first order of business in St. John? Installing the wind gen! We'd had the tower installed in Road Town, and were anxious to get the windmill mounted so we could take advantage of the constant winds in the harbor. Free power is gooood! Pat's an electrical/technical guru, and we couldn't have installed the gen without him. He tested all of the connections, soldered as needed, and provided constant guidance. Rene had the unenviable task of climbing onto the top of the dinghy davits to drill holes, pull wires through the rails, and lift the generator into its cradle. Rain squalls and big waves halted the process a few times, but Pat and Rene managed to get everything hooked up by day three. Thanks to the wind gen, we should be able to run our main generator a lot less. That means we use less diesel, have less wear and tear on the gen, and can leave the boat for a few days at a time without worrying about the batteries (or freezer) dying. This was a big day for us!

We also took the local "safari" bus into Cruz Bay to clear customs, and wandered around town getting information on the park, finding a grocery store, and checking out the local hangouts. A sidewalk chalkboard lured us into Castaways with promises of $1 happy hour drinks (dangerous!) and all-you-can-eat hot wings, and we made plans to move the boats here in time for the big Super Bowl party. We anchored outside of Cruz Bay on Wednesday, and returned to Castaways for the "wings" bonanza. They had ten different flavors, from hot-hot to simply delicious (garlic Parmesan, anyone?). Of course, the real highlight of the evening was watching a couple of young guys (college kids, maybe?) attempt the Castaways "hot wing challenge". The test? Eat 15 wings and a basket of fries in 15 minutes. If you succeed, you get a free t-shirt and a $50 bar credit. If you lose? You pay $50. Granted, 15 wings doesn't sound like a huge amount of food to two growing boys, and how can you pass up such bragging rights? Ahem...enter the habanero pepper. The owner and cook showed us the peppers as they prepared the sauce for the wings, and the cook's eyes were watering from just standing over the stove. We don't know how many peppers went into making the wing sauce, but it was enough to cause some serious mayhem. Two orders were brought to the guys' table, and both tore in. The first young man made it through two, maybe three wings before he went running for the men's room. The second guy ate the entire thing, pausing periodically to ask for more ginger ale. He actually finished his entire plate before "giving it all back" to a trash can around the corner. Yuck! He was down for the count for nearly an hour, and when we saw him again, the skin around his mouth was bright red - literally burned from the sauce. Why do people do this to themselves??? True, one of the guys got his $50 bar credit, but as our waitress told us, he'd racked up a $40 tab on Baileys shots before he'd even ordered the wings. Brilliant! We actually felt sorry for both of them, but couldn't help giggling after the owner took our suggestion and put Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" on the stereo. Yep, we're cruel. :-)

The only downside to our little adventure was the anchorage. Cruz Bay proper was filled with private mooring balls, and we didn't see any place to drop the hook. Instead, we anchored around the point in not-so-protected Frank's Bay. Just like Coral Bay (without the stern anchor), we rocked and rolled from side to side ALL night. To make matters worse, we heard Darnell screaming our name early the next morning. The cause? A boat that had anchored next to us the previous night was about to hit us. The wind had died, so all boats were swinging in different directions. We were nose-to-nose with Island Dream (but still 50' away), and our new neighbor was within 10' of us. To top it off, the guys on the boat told us that "reverse" didn't work on their engine. There was no way they could back up to get some distance, so we'd have to crank up our engine and hope we still had some stretching room on our anchor chain. We managed to maneuver around them and get our anchor raised, and we and Island Dream agreed that it was time to get out of there. As much as we wanted to spend Super Bowl Sunday at Castaways, it wasn't worth another night (or four) in that anchorage! Where to go, where to go? We idled around for a few minutes checking our charts, and spotted Red Hook on the east coast of St. Thomas just 4 miles away. As tired as we all were, it seemed like as good a destination as any. We'd heard good things about St. Thomas in terms of provisioning and public transportation, and we had a friend anchored in Charlotte Amalie that we wanted to see. So it's goodby to St. John for now, but we know we'll be back to explore the National Park.