Thursday, May 17, 2012

Boat Guests and the BVIs

Tuesday, February 21 - Sunday, March 18, 2012
We know we sound like a broken record, but we absolutely LOVE the BVIs! The scenery and easy sailing never gets old, and we even manage to see some new sights now and then. This time, we dropped the hook in White Bay, Jost Van Dyke, to visit the infamous Soggy Dollar Bar (the alleged birthplace of the Pussers Painkiller). Rumor has it the bar's name came from the state of your money after swimming from the boat to the beach bar (there's no dock at the bar). These days, most people land their dinghies on the beach and walk along the surf to the bar. (Granted, the old way definitely offers better bragging rights!) We managed to find an anchoring spot between the reef and the beach, but Storyville couldn't find a spot they liked and decided to go the half-mile back to Great Harbor. Little did any of us know that they'd have the better deal. We went into the Soggy Dollar for a Painkiller (or three), and watched Pipe rock and roll as the swells came over (and seemed to become enhanced by) the reef "protecting" the bay. Rene set a swell bridle, but the chain going over the rocks reverberated through the boat all night. The swell bridle came loose around 6am, and the side-to-side action really kicked in. Note to cruisers/charterers who come here: anchor or grab a mooring ball in Great Harbor and dinghy to the Soggy Dollar Bar!

The next day, we introduced Storyville to one of our favorite non-touristy anchorages, White Bay at Peter Island. Peter Island may be most famous for its exclusive resort that pampers its guests with gourmet meals, spa treatments, and breathtaking views of the surrounding Virgin Islands. But at $500+ per night, it's a little out of our price range! Fortunately for us, Peter Island also offers one of the better-kept secrets in the charter-heavy BVIs: White Bay is one of the few anchorages without mooring balls, so at most you get a few adventurous charter boats and a couple of mega-yachts. Island Dream came over from St. John, and we all sat out some rough weather for the next few days. We enjoyed some down-time (read "swimming and happy hours") at Peter Island's gorgeous beach, and found a beautiful snorkeling spot around the point from our anchorage.

The small-craft advisory was finally cancelled on Friday, so we decided to move up to Gorda Sound. Seas in the channel were still rough, and we were lucky to make 4 knots. En route to the Sound, we got to see some incredible J-series Maxi's (the design once used for America's Cup race boats) practicing for an upcoming regatta. Some of the boats were heeled over enough for us to see their teak decks as they passed alongside. What a sight! We did our best to stay out of their way, and managed to get to the Prickly Pear anchorage in time for happy hour at Saba Rock. The next few days were spent in Gorda Sound preparing Pipe for our boat guests. You remember how we were supposed to get to St. Maarten in time to pick up our friends on March 8th? Unfortunately weather guru Chris Parker had nothing but bad news of 10-14' seas and high winds in the Anegada Passage for the next 2-3 weeks. Noooo! There was just no way we could risk our boat (and ourselves) to make the trip in those conditions, so Geoie and Sarah were ultimately able to change their plane tickets to come into Tortola. Best of all? March 8th just happened to coincide with Trellis Bay's Fireball Full Moon Party. Welcome to the BVIs, guys!

You've got to love the Beef Island (Tortola) airport. It's situated on a small island right next to Tortola, and the dinghy dock at Trellis Bay is a 5-minute walk from the terminal. There are plenty of shops and restaurants at Trellis Bay, which has become an unofficial departure lounge of sorts. We arrived in Trellis Bay a day early, and Rene met Geoie and Sarah at the airport. We spent a few minutes on the boat - long enough for hugs, a welcome drink, and a change into shorts - before taking them over to Island Dream to meet the gang. We'd planned a Mexican potluck before the big full moon party, and Pat and Darnell were kind enough to host. After that, it was fireball time! The party was as good as we remembered, and Geoie and Sarah were real troopers considering they'd been awake and traveling since 2am. After the party, we decided to spend an extra day to give them (and us) some time to recover, but soon began the BVI shuffle:

--Foxy's Taboo on Jost Van Dyke for Rene's big 5-0 birthday dinner, plus an after-dinner piercing party on Island Dream (notice Rene's new shackle earring? Pat's got one to match!)
--A beach day at picture-perfect Sandy Cay and a visit to the original Foxy's in Great Harbor for Deana's birthday (not to mention a celebratory Zaya toast on Storyville afterward)
--A chill-out day in White Bay at Peter Island
--Another beach day and party night at Pirate's Bight and Willy T's on Norman Island
--A run to Gorda Sound via a stop to explore the Baths
--Happy hour and internet at Saba Rock
--And finally...a night at Leverick Bay for some beach time and Michael Beans's pirate show

Tired yet? We have no idea how charter boats do this all the time. They must need a vacation from their vacations once they get home! All in all, we had a terrific time with Geoie and Sarah. We're really trying to convince them to visit us in the Dominican Republic this summer, especially if it coincides with our week of all-inclusive luxury at the Lifestyles resort. Let the arm-twisting begin!

What's that phrase about "no rest for the wicked"? We had just enough time to hug Geoie and Sarah goodbye at Beef Island on Friday before running back up to Virgin Gorda Sound to get ready for a Sunday departure to St. Maarten. The weather looks as good as it can get on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, but we have to be there before the swells pick up on Tuesday. We'll have a couple of weeks in St. Maartin to get some boat work done before Rene's mom joins us for a visit. Cheers!

P.S. I have to include some HUGE thank you's to Deana on Storyville and Darnell on Island Dream. Darnell supplied the liquid courage for Rene's and Pat's piercings, and Deana did the actual hole-poking. Phenomenal job, ladies! I've also included a few of their gorgeous pictures in the link. Why rely on one camera when you can have three?! "-)

If you like these pics, there are plenty more when you click here.

Storyville Has Arrived!

St. John, USVI
Friday, February 17 - Monday, February 20, 2012

Our good friends, Deana and Troy on Storyville, have finally made it to the Virgin Islands! After a two-day run from Luperon to Boqueron, they made yet another 48-hour trip from Puerto Rico to the USVIs. We had taken a mooring in Caneel Bay, part of the USVI National Park, to await their arrival. When we saw Storyville's maroon sail covers in the distance, we jumped in the dinghy to play welcome party. With Storyville settled on a mooring ball 50' away from Pipe, it was just like Luperon revisited! We, Island Dream, and Toucan Dream all descended on Deana and Troy for hugs and some catching up before letting them get a nap; that evening, it was time for happy hour and a welcome potluck on Pipe. It was great to have the gang back together again!

Monday we moved over to Hawksnest Bay for some snorkeling in the morning, and continued on to Francis Bay that afternoon. It's incredible how close everything is in the marine park. Hawksnest is only a half-mile from Caneel, and Francis is maybe two miles from Hawksnest. You could easily spend a week here, but cruisers on a schedule and/or budget could still visit most of the anchorages in a couple of days. Either way, we're definitely getting spoiled. To think, we have an 80-plus mile long trip ahead of us to St. Martin in a couple of weeks...

Francis Bay turned out to be a great anchorage...the calmest one we'd had in the Virgin Islands so far. The bay was fronted by a small island that protected the mooring fields from swells brought on by fast ferries and mother nature. We enjoyed our first great night's sleep in weeks before getting up for more snorkeling and kayaking. Unfortunately, our first visit to St. John was a quick one; we and Storyville sailed to Jost Van Dyke later that day while Pat and Darnell stayed behind to wait for a package from the States. We're making our way to Gorda Sound to wait for a weather window to St. Martin, where our friends are visiting us on March 8th. We'll pass back through here in a couple of months, and hope to see more of what the park has to offer then. Till next time...

For more pictures of the Virgin Islands, please click here.

St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands

Friday, February 3 - Thursday, February 16, 2012
Talk about misconceptions. Months ago, when we planned for our Virgin Islands cruising, we poo-pooed the idea of spending any major time on St. Thomas. Our perception of the place? Too crowded, too expensive, too touristy, and way too many cruise ships! Okay, so it IS all of those things, but it's also a lot of fun! Our first port was Red Hook on the eastern side of the island, where we were looking for a safe haven after our nightmare anchorage near Cruz Bay, St. John. Red Hook had been recommended to us by a cruising couple we met in St. John, who told us it was much more laid back than the capital city and main port of Charlotte Amalie. Red Hook turned out to be our kind of place, with laundry and free wi-fi at the marina complex, an impressive gourmet market across the street, and easy access to $1 or $2 "safaris" (big pickup trucks with benches built in the back) that could take you to the grocery store, K-Mart, Home Depot, the local Cash & Carry (like Costco without the membership card), or even all the way to Charlotte Amalie, where you could ogle the cruise ships and mega-yachts at Yacht Haven Grande. We found a little anchoring spot on the south side of Red Hook's outer harbor in 15' of water, just outside of the mooring field. It was a little rolly during the day thanks to the inter-island ferries that ran from 7am to 6pm, but things quieted down at night. Best of all, we were treated to the neighing of horses swimming with their trainers right next to our boat. We weren't sure if it was some sort of rehabilitation program or just simple exercise, but it was pretty cool to watch.

After a day of running errands and exploring Red Hook, we decided to explore St. Thomas's "big city". We took a safari from Red Hook to Charlotte Amalie, where we wandered around the high dollar shops (does "tax free" REALLY make a Rolex more affordable?), had lunch at Hooters (free wi-fi!), and met up with our friend, Shane, from Guiding Light. The visit also gave us a chance to see the Charlotte Amalie anchorage, which didn't look nearly as crazy as we'd expected. We and Island Dream moved the boats over a couple of days later and spotted our friends' gorgeous wooden ketch, Three Belles, as we entered the harbor. We hadn't seen Carl and Riva since Christmas in Salinas, and looked forward to spending some time with them before they continued on to St. Barth's for Carnival. We soon learned that Kevin and Jenny from Vagabundo and Dave on Cross Seas were also anchored nearby at Water about a Luperon reunion!

For people who never expected to visit St. Thomas, we somehow managed to fill two weeks on the island. A few of the highlights in Charlotte Amalie:

--We finally had a belated birthday dinner for Pat at a sushi place Darnell had read about. It took us two tries in the dinghies before we found it, but was well worth it. Spicy Tuna Roll...mmmmmmm!
--Shane on Guiding Light invited us to happy hour on his catamaran to catch up and take some pictures for his website. He's starting a new charter service in the Virgin Islands, and welcomes visitors to his website at
--We enjoyed an incredible happy hour to say goodbye to Carl and Riva at Big Kahuna on the waterfront. We have to give a huge thanks to bartender Mark, who fed us the house special, "Love Juice". It's vodka infused with fresh blueberries, strawberries, and pineapple, and is highly addictive. Afterwards, we found a local hangout (Pie Whole Pizza in Frenchtown) that served amazing brick oven pizzas with a fantastic selection of Belgian beers.
--Being anchored near the cruise ship dock, we could watch the monster ships come and go. There were 2-3 cruise ships at the dock on most days, and some days another cruise ship would anchor in the harbor. Add to that another dock at the West End of the harbor, and you could have 6-7 boats in the harbor at any given time.

After Carl and Riva left, we pulled up anchor in Charlotte Amalie and sailed the five miles to Turtle Cove on Buck Island for some great snorkeling. What a beautiful spot! We got to see turtles (hence the name), squid, a beautiful spotted eagle ray, and tons of fish. We enjoyed free mooring balls and the sound of the surf at night, and were one of only three boats in the area. This is why we got into cruising! An added benefit? We finally had a few much-needed "gold star" (i.e. "no money spent") days!

Our initial plan to begin moving towards St. John was cancelled thanks to a forecast of strong northerly swells. There aren't a lot of options in the area when strong ground swells are expected, so we went back to Charlotte Amalie until they subsided. Rather than anchor in the harbor, we found a spot at Honeymoon Cove on Water Island. It was still fairly rolly, but we were able to get wi-fi sporadically and extend our gold star days. The real excitement came the night before we left, when a massive cruise ship left the west end dock and came right past us. Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas is the 2nd largest cruise ship in the world...just two inches shorter than her sister ship, Allure of the Seas. This puppy can carry 6,000 passengers, and ironically, we've actually sailed on her for a friend's wedding cruise in 2008.

After nearly two weeks, we finally decided it was time to say goodbye to St. Thomas. The island was a great stop, but we wanted to get away from the lures of easy-access shopping and touristy happy hour spots. We sailed east to Christmas Cove, a marine reserve with FREE mooring balls. We enjoyed some good snorkeling and more gold star days, and could see St. John and the BVIs in the distance.

Our next stop will be St. John to check out Caneel Bay and the anchorages on the north side. Deana and Troy on Storyville have finally made the jump from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico, so we hope to see them here in the next week. Till next time...

If you'd like to see more pictures of the USVIs, please click here.