Archive for 'US Virgin Islands'

We’ve hit the water running since Brian and Julia arrived on Monday afternoon. Both the US and the British Virgin Islands offer numerous beautiful anchorages to choose from, often with healthy coral and lots of marine life to boot, and we seem to be trying to check out each one of them! Brian and Julia identify themselves as “land-lubbers” but have been keen so far to spend a good portion of their days in the water. It’s only today (Thursday) that we have come up for air.

We started out by motoring from the large and very busy (there were 3 cruise ships there at one point) harbor of Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas to nearby Buck Island. It’s a popular spot for charter boats to bring snorkelers and scuba students, and there were two other full charter boats when we arrived. Julia was keen to scuba dive after a 10 year hiatus (Brian’s never done it and is still holding out on Dallas…), and as we were getting her geared up, we heard a student diver calling to the next boat to be rescued. Apparently he was out of air at the surface and couldn’t swim, with no dive buddy or dive-master nearby. The only dive-master who was not in plain clothes left the students he was working with on the surface to assist, leading me to suspect that the ratio of students to dive-masters is dangerously high on some of these boats. Julia, on the other hand, had her own personal instructor. Dallas helped her recall the basics and stayed alongside her during her first dive, a 190’ freighter in about 40’ of water that was intentionally sunk to serve as a reef in 1979 but has since been broken up by hurricanes. Surrounding the wreck was an impressive array of small fish, including some that neither Dallas or I had ever seen. There were also a couple of large (maybe 3’ by 1.5’) silver fish that I followed around with my camera, only to have them circle and come right at me. I thought for a fleeting moment that they might attack (you never know!), but they just buzzed by me and went on their merry way. Dallas later identified them in our fish guide as the uncommon “African Pompano”, which has a tendency to react to divers by making a brief, close pass.

julia Julia didn’t realize she was going on a scuba vacation but doesn’t mind

school “One of these things is not like the other…”

Brian was able to see most of what we saw as well as a sea turtle from his vantage point at the surface, and he really enjoyed it. Thus it was he who suggested that we get in one last snorkel before sunset at our next anchorage at St. James Island. There we saw two more green turtles, several types of parrotfish, and lots of varieties of coral (though mostly neutral colored). We had a nice dinner under the stars, and Dallas and Brian (AKA Kope), who have known each other since their first day of training at Raytheon 11 years ago, stayed up late drinking Scotch and catching up.

DSC_0245 Not a bad place to catch up

Yesterday we were back in the water by 10 a.m. at a shallow dive full of colorful corals, purple fans, and wavy plumes. The site (“Witch’s Hut”)lived up to its billing in terms of being rich with tropical fish species as well, and we spotted a large (1.5’) purple, spiny lobster sticking its long antennae out from under its rock. Julia had a chance to get really comfortable with her gear and with diving and is anxious to do more after giving her watery ears a break for a day or two.

DSC_0250 Witch’s Hut was lovely above and below the surface

parrotfish This yellow tailed parrotfish didn’t have to look hard for some coral to munch

We made a short stop in Cruz Bay on St. John to clear out from the US Virgin Islands but decided to make one last stop in US territory at Trunk Bay on St. John. We were drawn there by the description of the underwater snorkeling trail, which we would grade a C, but the bay itself was gorgeous – definitely an A. We then entered British waters, which surprisingly look just the same! After clearing in at Tortola, the largest of the British Virgin Islands, it was on to a fairly isolated spot called Sandy Spit, a tiny little white sand island that emerged out of the clear, shallow water. We anchored close enough to it that we could hear the waves crash onto the island throughout the evening. As Kope told Dallas, “Dude, you couldn’t have parked in a better spot.” We enjoyed some of Dallas’ killer lasagna for dinner, and he and Kope entertained us with stories of their not-so-Glorious Days.

DSC_0274Spitting distance from Sandy Spit

Today we are anchored at Cane Garden Bay on the north end of Tortola. This morning we wisely decided to take a taxi (rather than hike) up the mountain to the hiking trail at the top. The trail was part of the Sage Mountain National Park, and it was too overgrown to allow for many ocean views, but I think it was worth the effort. After the hike, we had a delicious Pain Killer drink (orange and pineapple juice, creme de coconut, and rum) at the restaurant at the base of the trail, and the British man who runs the place yarned to us about his days on the British research base in Antarctica – not somewhere that I hope to spend a lot of time, but interesting nonetheless.

After being on the go for several days, we decided to stay put for the night. We are resting up this afternoon in preparation for seeing what the BVI’s have to offer in the way of nightlife…

Returning from Nevis to South Frigate Bay in St. Kitts, we found that our formerly calm anchorage now had a swell from the south crossed with wind-driven chop from the east.  The trades were finally back and it looked like a wet dinghy ride to get to shore.  By splitting the ride in into two trips, we were able to get people and luggage ashore at idle speed without getting too wet.  There was time enough for one more tourist stop before our last dinner, so we caught a taxi into town, enjoyed a great local lunch, and then visited the batik factory.  Batik is a technique for making patterned cloth that involves creating a sort of stencil with wax put directly on the cloth and then soaking the fabric in a dye that will take where there’s no wax.  By repeating the process several times with several different colors, you can end up with some cool looking designs, although the days of batik being a cost-effective production process are clearly long gone.

DSC_0145 Demonstrating the wax-application stage

DSC_0152 An example of the finished product

After a Barbuda lobster dinner courtesy of chef Lauren, we said goodbye to Lauren’s parents who were leaving on an early morning flight.  We’ve enjoyed their visit and it’s made us a little anxious to get home and see more friends and family.  The next day we did absolutely nothing worth blogging about.  We didn’t even make it off the boat.  The goal for the day was to decide where to sail to the next day, but we didn’t even manage to come to a final decision on that one.  Oh well.  You gotta have some lazy days, especially when you’re as good at it as we are.

Friday morning we decided to head for St. Croix on the way to St. Thomas, thinking we’d be able to check in on Saturday morning and save ourselves the hassle of checking in and out of the BVI.  The conditions for our overnight sail were great, and we arrived at the bank that stretches east of St. Croix right around sunrise.  We picked up a mooring and headed ashore, but found out that we couldn’t check in unless we took a taxi ride to the airport on the other side of the island, so we started exploring Christiansted a bit.  It didn’t take long it find some action.  Christiansted is a beautiful little town with old Danish buildings and a fort that are nicely painted and seem to be reasonably well preserved.  There’s a waterfront that reminiscent of Key West, and a half ironman triathlon was scheduled for the next day, so the place was bustling with a strange combination of your average US tourist and ultra-fit ironman race participants.  There was a definite island flavor to the place, but it also felt a lot like the states for us and so we had to take advantage of the opportunity to have real “American” breakfast and some authentic cheap, fresh Mexican food for dinner.  Maybe this fitting back in won’t be so hard after all.

DSC_0191We passed the island of Saba off to starboard late in the afternoon

DSC_0203A bit of Christiansted from our mooring.  What ever happened to yellow forts?

Just after the last of the triathlon swimmers swam by the mooring field, we headed north for St. Thomas where our good friends Brian and Julia are going to meet up with us tomorrow for a week here in the Virgins.  St. Thomas doesn’t seem to have the incredible reef and that borders St. Croix, but it’s beautiful and verdant and we’ve already seen some great beaches.  As we approached Charlotte Amalie, we could easily see St. Johns and the islands of the BVI right next door.  As long as the weather cooperates it should be another fun and active week.