I spent most of February anchored in Marigot Bay on the French side of St Martin. A vast anchorage with hundreds of boats, many of them giant catamarans. South Africans are not allowed to check in on the Dutch side without a visa which, of course, I did not have. The French are more accommodating and its a short bus ride from Marigot to Philipsburg with no stops or checks at the hardly noticeable border.
I had been using up my hoarded ship’s stores, most of which were way beyond their ‘best by date’, and needed to restock. This involved many trips to the supermarket, each time buying only as much as I could carry for the roughly half-mile walk back to the dinghy dock. There was a wonderful variety of stuff, practically all imported, but no tax was payable and the prices were reasonable. At last my big food locker under the port side bunk was full to the brim and the credit card was exhausted. Time to move on.
I had to wait out a few days of strong westerly winds which made the anchorage extremely uncomfortable. The rough weather also brought some rain and obligingly helped to fill my water tanks. At last things calmed down and I had superb weather for the 80nm sail to Virgin Gorda in the BVI. A gentle F4 SE breeze with calm seas and sunny skies. This must be just about as good as it gets. The dark, moonless night was lit by brilliant stars and sparkling phosphorescence.
I arrived at the entrance to North Sound at about 9 on Saturday morning and was able to sail right up to Gun Creek where I dropped the anchor and rowed in to the convenient dock next to the customs office to clear in. They are open on Saturdays and Sundays from 9am to 2pm with no overtime charges.
Next morning I motored around North Sound looking for a good place to spend a few days. And came face to face with the harsh reality of the booming tourism industry. All the popular, and therefore good, anchorages are swamped with mooring balls with monster catamarans attached, leaving the only available places to anchor far away from the shore and often in deep water. Not too much of problem when the water is calm and the wind gentle but now the wind was keeping up a steady 20 knots and all the available anchoring places were very rough and choppy. Maybe this is why catamarans are so popular. Of course, they also all have big inflatable dinghies with powerful outboard engines. Getting ashore is not so much of a battle. However, rowing a light dinghy in a heavy chop against a strong wind is not one of my favourite pastimes. As it was impossible to get ashore, the shoreside attractions had to be forgotten and I found a lovely comfortable anchorage in the lee of Prickly Pear Island protected by a reefy bit. At least here the water was flat although the wind still howled down over the rocky cliff in regular williwaws. The holding was good and I could enjoy snorkelling around in the beautifully clear water. A big, resident Green Turtle regularly patrolled his domain and I enjoyed watching him (or her?).
Way, way back when I was living in Hout Bay, South Africa and still just dreaming about going cruising I met Julian Putley while he was building his boat, ‘Starry Night II’. His girlfriend, Monique came over from Brazil to join him when the boat was ready and they sailed away to Virgin Gorda and I lost touch with them. Now, about 25 years later, I was paging through a copy of ‘All at Sea’, a local free monthly magazine that he writes for, and I read one of his regular humorous articles. There was no contact information, but just then someone called my name and powered up in a big dinghy. Not Julian but Will, another old acquaintance last seen 12 years ago at Flores in the Azores. He promised to try to look up Julian for me. It was obviously meant to be. A few days later I was waiting out a really strong blow behind Marina Cay, when Julian roared up in a powerful inflatable armed with a bottle of KWV Pinotage, a couple of books he has written and a bag of chocolates. He and Monique now have a house high up on Sage Mountain on Tortola and when I moved around to Cane Garden Bay I was able to join them for dinner. It was quite an occasion seeing them both again and reminiscing.
Cane Garden Bay was a very pretty anchorage and so, also very popular. Most of the bay filled with moorings and most of the beach filled with plastic deck chairs for hire. Lots of bars and restaurants. I managed to find a place beyond the moorings, just inside the reef. There I met Sean, anchored on a small boat quite close by. He had arrived after almost a full circumnavigation having started out from California. No engine, hanked on jib. He was working on hand-stitching a patchwork crab claw sail for a friend’s kayak. He finished it just before I left and I was able to get some pictures of him trying it out.
A big swell had started breaking on the reef near to me and I decided to sail over to Jost van Dyke in search of a better spot. Although the anchorages are not always as good as I had hoped they might be, the sailing in between was always wonderful. Normally I only needed to raise 4 panels and I would be skimming along at 5 knots. I carefully planned my route around the islands so as not to have to do too much back-tracking and find myself having to beat up against the wind. After an abortive attempt at finding room to anchor between the big boats at Sandy Spit I retreated to a reasonably comfortable spot close to the B-line Bar on Little Jost van Dyke. I was able to row across to the other side of the bay and found the path that leads to the Bubbly Pool where waves come crashing through a gap in the rocks and rush into a smallish pool. Swimming there is only for the brave.
On the walk back I stopped for a while and watched some Black Necked Stilts foraging around the mangroves.
Next day it was on to Great Harbour where I was able to get water and clear out before heading across to St John. I’ve been getting plenty of exercise rowing against the wind and getting the anchor up. Most of the places I’ve anchored in have been in water between 10 and 15 meters deep. That’s a heavy load of chain to raise with a manual windlass, especially in a strong wind. Maybe one of these days I should treat myself to an electric windlass…
It was a short sail to Cruz Bay where I could clear in to the US Virgin Islands. Plenty more exercise for my old arms. There was no space for me in the tiny area reserved for anchoring inside the protected part of the harbour and I had to retreat and anchor outside off Lind Point. Not a bad spot, but the wind had picked up again and it was a long, hard, rough row to get to the customs dock. The massive wakes from constant water taxis and ferry boats didn’t help. People on some of the big white boats who had seen me recently in Great Harbour, Jost van Dyke, shouted their encouragement.
Clearing in went smoothly and I walked up to the nearest supermarket to get a few essentials. On the way I had to negotiate a mad throng celebrating St Patrick’s Day. I really am out of touch. When I eventually got to the supermarket I realized I was back in the US. Air-conditioned with well stocked shelves and fresh fruit and vegetables. I indulged in a bottle of Cruzan Rum.
Back at the boat, I dumped the shopping and set off straight away to a quieter spot in Rendezvous Bay on the south coast. It is a well sheltered bay outside of the National Park area so there are no moorings and no charge for anchoring. The water was crystal clear and there was only one other boat there. A wonderful chance to relax after the crowds and commotion of the last few days. I had a cooling swim and soon it was sundowner time.
To my delight I was also able to pick up a usable, open Wi-Fi signal and keep in touch with the weather forecasts. Things seemed fairly settled and I decided to enjoy a few days just chilling out in this lovely spot. The snorkelling was good and I loved watching brilliantly colourful little fish just going about their business on the reef. One day while giving the hull a bit of a brush down I was a little nervous of a really beautiful silver barracuda that was keeping me company. He stayed a polite distance away but I kept a cautious eye on him and his mouthful of sharp teeth.
The weather forecast for Wednesday looked reasonable for the 35nm trip to St Croix and I made a really early start to be sure of arriving before dark. Unfortunately the westerley running current seemed to be setting me off course and with the wind blowing a bit more from the south than was ideal, I had to resort to motor sailing to make it in daylight. Well it gave the battery a much needed charge.