Thursday, April 13th, 2017
I left St Croix at 6 in the morning so as to be sure to arrive at St Thomas in daylight. The sun was barely up and I gently negotiated the marked passage through the reef. I needn’t have bothered to leave so early as the wind was a delightful ENE F4 and the current was helping a little. It was a perfect sail with the wind on the beam. As I approached the islands I decided to anchor back in Rendezvous Bay, St John for the night and relax before braving the unknown (to me) and busy anchorage at Red Hook, St Thomas.
Again, there was only one other boat in the bay and the water was beautifully calm and clear. I watched an enormous turtle slowly paddle past the boat. It would have made a wonderful photo but I knew from past experience that if I went below for the camera the opportunity would be lost. So I just watched and enjoyed the sight.
Next day it was a short, fast, downwind sail to Red Hook. The anchorage looked pretty crowded and bouncy with constant ferry traffic. Not a place I would normally choose to stop in but fairly convenient for Budget Marine where I hoped to get a copy of The Panama Cruising Guide by Eric Bauhaus.
To my surprise, I spotted Sean on his small boat, anchored in a good spot reasonably close in. I passed nearby to say ‘hello’ and he said he was on the point of leaving. I made a slow circle round the anchorage and watched him get the anchor up and sail away, tacking through the crowded bay with casual aplomb. I nipped in and gratefully took his place. Another interesting boat that I saw in the bay was a junk rigged Colvin Gazelle with the romantic name of ‘Lord Byron’s Revenge’. A beautiful schooner which conjured up rather wistful memories of the boat that I had originally planned to go cruising in.
It was a downwind row ashore (not a good thing as it would be a battle getting back) and I chose to stop at the nearest place to tie up the dinghy which was next to a marina that had been ruined by a hurricane some time ago. There is a friendly bar called Lat 18 still operating and they gave me directions for getting to the main road. It was a longish walk to Benner Bay over the hill and I found Budget Marine. The book I wanted would have to be FedExed from St Martin at astronomical cost if I wanted it in less than 3 weeks. Oh well, I’ll just have to manage without that new bikini.
While waiting for the book to arrive I took a local bus in to Charlotte Amalie, the capital of the USVI. It was great riding on the open sided bus along the twisting hilly road to town. I got off at the big IGY marina at the Eastern end of town and followed the waterside pedestrian way into the historical district. I had a good view of the bay and it looked as though it could be quite a reasonable place to anchor, although there didn’t seem to be many places to leave the dinghy ashore. The main street in town is a shopper’s paradise with all the luxury brands, precious jewellery, diamonds, electronic equipment and works of art. I walked along just window shopping. Touts stand outside on the pavement trying to lure you inside. ‘No money! Just admiring’. ‘No problem, have a nice day!’. ‘Where you from?’
It was a hot day and I found a place to sit down in a shady alleyway. Obviously still too close to the luxury part of town. I was charged $9.50 for a coconut and lime drink. Cooled and chastened, I carried on.
When I tried to catch a bus back to Red Hook I learned that they only travel one way, so I would have to complete the circle going all the way round. It was a chance to see a bit more of the island. A woman at the bus stop also explained to me that the only way to tell the ‘real’ buses from the special tourist buses was by checking the passengers. If they were all white and the bus was not crowded, then it was a chartered tourist bus and would not stop. The real buses would be jam-packed with mainly black faces. That explained why so many buses had been just passing me by.
The book arrived as promised and I was very happy with it. Now I feel a lot more confident about navigating in the San Blas Islands The Navionics charts don’t show much detail and I have been told that they are unreliable in places.
Next day I thankfully left the friendly but less than comfortable anchorage at Red Hook and moved around to Brewer’s Bay on the south coast. A wonderfully protected spot in the lee of the airport runway. Due to the regular take-offs and landings of the planes, the Virgin Islands Guide describes it as ‘..less than an idyllic tropical escape from civilization’, but in my opinion all those have disappeared anyway, overwhelmed by the crowds of moored charter catamarans, jet-skis, ferryboat traffic, kite-boarders, et al. Apart from the planes, Brewer’s Bay was a great anchorage and I left rather reluctantly after only 2 nights there as I was becoming concerned at how quickly time seemed to be passing and I wanted to be crossing to Cartagena before the end of May and still wanted to spend some time in Puerto Rico.