Friday, February 18, 2011

Boat chores, big and small

Ron and I spent today cleaning the boat topsides and prepping her for a good waxing this coming week. We got a good recommendation on a detailing guy, so have arranged for him to come and do some work. However, that also meant we needed to empty the flybridge area of the bikes and the extra items we have up there, so that it's easier to wash and wax. It's not in dire need, but we like to do it every so often, especially with the heavy exposure to the heat and sun.

Plus, I also spent the morning trying to decide what to pack! We're heading off-island for a few days, flying back to the States to take care of a few annual doctor and dentist appointments, but more importantly, to visit with Ally in Denver (brrr!) and my family in Wisconsin (double brr!). Ally is absolutely loving University of Denver, but since she has such a short spring break this year, she won't be joining us aboard Equinox as she has in years past. Thus, the reason for our trip west to see her, and the short hiatus from live-aboard life. While it will be wonderful to see her and meet all her new friends, I'm in a bit of a quandary as to what to pack. I suspect I am in for climate shock! In any event, we spent the morning finishing up the myriad of things needed to prep the boat, and ourselves, for our departure. Olivier, the capable Capitainerie at the marina, will be keeping an eye on Equinox for us while we are away. 

View looking east from the Paradise View. Aptly named!
Morning chores completed, we had lunch at the Paradise View, a charming little Breton creperie on the east side of the island high on a hill overlooking Orient Bay and Lucas Bay to the south. The views are stunning, and the menu is too! They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the most amazing sweet or savory crepes. The menu has a mouth-watering list to choose from, with all sorts of crepe fillings, be it for a simple breakfast: "oeufs sur la plat" -- scrambled eggs -- for example, or a classic omelet with potatoes, bacon, onions and cheese: omelette with "Pommes de terre, lardons, oignons, et fromage". (Why do things sound so much better in French??) I chose a savory omelet for lunch, with egg, spinach, cheese and ham, but I was tempted to try the Crepe Americaine, with hamburger, onions, tomatoes, cheese and egg....! Meanwhile, Ron had the crepe "super complete" with ham, cheese, egg mushrooms and cream. Decadence!! The crepes were paper-thin and delicious, and the fillings layered delicately was beyond words to describe how they melted in your mouth!
Before lunch, enjoying the view
After lunch, we decided to spend another relaxing day at the beach, where we swam, read, walked a bit and simply relaxed. Ron isn't one to quietly sit at the beach, so it was a novelty to do ... nothing! A definite change of pace from our usual activities! But a much enjoyed day, nevertheless and a great way to relax before a hectic travel day tomorrow. While eager to see Ally and family again, we're also eager to return, since we feel like we've finally reached the true Caribbean here, and have so much more to explore. We've barely scratched the surface of the waters, so to speak!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Cruising Cuisine!

For dinner last night, we went back up and over the mountain to the lovely seaside town of Grand Case, considered by many to be the gastronomic center of St. Martin. Lovely! We had a great time wandering the waterfront street, checking out the posted menus and the chalkboards at each establishment. We ended up eating at Le Pressoir, a charming 1871 West Indies house converted into a restaurant, named for the huge salt press from the Grand Case Salt Pond, which was used to crush sea salt crystals for packing, export and sale in Europe back in the 1800s. The actual salt press is on display across the street from the restaurant. Very cool!

There was French and Creole cuisine on the menu, of course -- from escargot, ("crispy snails" on the English translation side), grilled frogs’ legs, foie gras ("La terrine de foie gras aromatisee au rhum jumbie" in the French version) to a duo de filets poissons -- the night’s special was John Dory and Artic Char, which I had. All sounded so good, and believe me, it tasted even better!. This is not the cruisers’ diet plan, let me tell you, but it was a great night!

A pair of menu boards outside one of the Grand Case restaurants
L'Auberge Gourmande, one of the well-known and long-time restaurants
in Grand Case.
Today, we spent the day cruising about the island by car; running to Budget Marine again, and then over to Oyster Pond to see the sights. While in Oyster Pond, we pulled in at the marina and stopped at the dive shop there, The Scuba Shop, for a few items. We’d heard that the dive shops here on St.Martin have a free booklet of dive sites that are suitable for diving from your own boat or dinghy, so we wanted to get a copy. Peter at The Scuba Shop was very helpful, and explained that the booklet is really aimed at the charter fleet crowd. While most of the dives listed were fairly basic  sites for both snorkelers and divers, they did list several scuba sites around Ile Fourche and St. Bart’s that sound interesting! We’ll definitely have to get a dive permit in Gustavia whenever we move Equinox to St. Bart’s! Since the Scuba Shop is also an authorized dealer for several different regulator manufacturers, we checked out their gear and had a nice time window shopping!
After our forays around the island, we decided we’d check out some of the beaches on the island. While we would have liked to spend some time on Maho Beach, it was on the opposite end of the island. Maho Beach is best known for the fact that it’s located at the western end of the runway at Princess Juliana International Airport, and approaching planes land right overhead, touching down about 40-100 yards behind the beach. Apparently, when the big 747s take off, you practically get blasted off the beach! But, Maho Beach wasn't in the cards, so we meandered our way north from Oyster Pond through some goregous rural countryside.

West Indian fishing boats
However, there was a beautiful beach on the way back north along Orient Bay, or in French, “Baie Orientale”, so we decided to check that out. We’d heard that the bay was was one of the most popular, with lots of water sports and with five different beaches along the bay. The beaches here are really majestic, with the mountains rising up all around behind the 2 mile-long sweep of white sand. In Orient Bay, there are tiny islands just offshore, including Green Key, Tintamarre and Pinel Island, with the area being a marine reserve with good snorkeling. All gorgeous! 

Green Key and south Orient Bay
However, after we parked and walked out onto the the southern end of the beach, we also discovered another reason why Orient Bay is so popular, since it is one of the island’s public “clothing optional” beaches! After a fun lunch at Andy and Cheryl's Baywatch Cafe, we walked down the beach. While we encountered a few nude sunbathers all along the beach, the majority are at the southern end, where the famous Club Orient is located. It turns out that “Club O”  -- their motto: “Nothing is better!” -- is the island’s premier naturist resort, including a full-service restaurant and bar on the public beach. Folks along the beach were very low-key and laid-back, whether they were in swimsuits or without. And, when in as the Romans! (Or, rather, the French!) We had a great time; we found a pair of lounge chairs for the afternoon, and had a relaxing time reading, napping and swimming in the sunshine. One thing we noticed as the folks went past, while clothing might be optional, sunscreen is not!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A busy day!

They are not kidding! 
Wednesday, we rented a car for the day to run some necessary errands. First order of business: refilling ALL of our propane tanks. We'd refilled two when we were in Turks and Caicos, but one of the tanks seemed to have a defective valve, as it wouldn't open the tank when turned. So, down to a tiny bit of propane in our last tank (the one we use for the grill), we were in dire need. Up and over the mountain we went, with all the tanks in the rear of the car, hoping like hell we wouldn't get rear-ended, and found the propane place!

Not exactly state of the art facilities, but cheerful and friendly!
After taking the tanks back to the boat, we ventured to downtown Marigot. It was market day along the waterfront, where vendors in long white,  gingerbread trimmed stalls had all sorts of items for sale. Women in brightly colored skirts and tops were selling fresh fruit of all kinds -- mangos, fresh coconut, whole ripe pineapples, green and yellow plantains, huge papayas -- as well as a wide variety of dried spices. Bundles of  long sticks of cinnamon bark, allspice, cardamom, coriander, peppercorns of various colors, whole vanilla beans, curry blends, dried pastas and something that looked like dried albino seaweed. It was great to meander through and see such variety.

Sticks of cinnamon bark
I have no idea what this is...! It looked like seaweed,
like what you would find in a seaweed salad in a sushi place, only pale.
At the other end of the market, there were stalls filled with piles of pink fresh red snapper, large lobsters (for $11/lb) and fresh fillets of mahi-mahi. All were glistening and bright, looking delicious! But...knowing we are leaving in a few days to return to the States to visit with family, we can’t fill our refrigerator just yet. Not that we weren't sorely tempted!!
Freshly-caught red snapper on ice

Instead, we went to Serafina’s, a fabulous Marigot boulangerie and had a late breakfast, sharing a bowl of fresh fruit, as well as smoked salmon, capers and cheese on half a baguette. Amazing food is everywhere here! 
Where we had a late breakfast
Just a few of the delicious sandwiches to choose from!
From there, we ran more errands. Off we went to Budget Marine (the Caribbean's answer to West Marine), a large, brightly-lit and well-stocked chandlery where we got a few more courtesy flags for the various islands in this part of the Caribbean: Anguilla, Nevis and St. Kitts, Saba and others. Not sure when we'll get there, but always good to have them on board should we need them! 

We also bought more boat wax, a length of line for a better mooring bridle, and a new antenna for Eclipse. Our VHF radio aboard Eclipse receives just fine, but can’t transmit more than a whisper...unfortunately, even with the new antenna! The old one was so ratty that it needed replacement anyway, but clearly there is a corrosion issue elsewhere that is causing enough of a voltage drop so that we can’t transmit. Where it is, I have no idea. :( Another boat project in paradise that will have to be dealt with!
The old antenna
After all our errands and projects, we stopped and bought a few items for lunch. Happily, along with the many boulangeries, patisseries, there are fromageries: I have found cheese heaven! With a great view of the water, luncheon on Equinox’s aft deck was a fresh baguette served with an assortment of cheeses: Bleu d’Auverge, Fromage Altesse, Tomme Noire Des Pyrenees, and a Chamois D’or, accompanied by a glass of  Saint Emillion Grand Cru. Heaven!

St. Martin, French West Indies!!

Ron and I dropped the mooring and left at 9:30p, for a starry night crossing from our anchorage at Cooper island, BVI. We opted to leave at night so that we would arrive at St. Martin in the morning -- I prefer not to arrive at a new port in the dark! We cruised along at a relaxed 7 knots (sometimes slower due to the current) in 4’-7’ easterly swells, with the trade winds were moderate, east at 14-19 kts, right on our nose. We had a  loping hobby-horse ride; it wasn’t smooth as silk but certainly nothing unbearable, either, and it eased as we moved into the wee morning hours. No crashing waves spraying the pilothouse!! In fact, no crashing waves whatsoever, just swells.

Land Ho! St. Martin on the horizon
St. Martin/Sint Maarten is a small island, only 34 square miles, and is the smallest island shared by two nations, the French and the Dutch. As is typically the case in the Caribbean, the island changed hands several times during its history, between the Spanish, French and Dutch. After a tumultuous hundred years, Spain finally  abandoned the island, and Dutch and French colonists jumped at the chance to occupy the island once more. The French came from St. Kitts, the Dutch from St. Eustatius, to claim the land.

Folklore insists that the division of the country (in 1648) was done by having a Frenchman, armed with good French wine and a Dutchman, similarly armed with his favorite drink, "jenever" (Dutch Gin), walk from opposite shores. Where the two met in the middle was the demarcation line of the frontier, dividing St.Martin from Sint Maarten. Because the French side is larger by 20 square miles, it was said that the stronger gin was the undoing of the Dutchman, since the Frenchman walked farther than his counterpart. On the other hand, the Dutch locals tended to blame the French walker for running! More reliable historical accounts indicate that the French had a large navy waiting just off St. Martin's shores and won the majority of the territory by force.

We opted to tuck in the secluded north bay of Anse Marcel, and treated ourselves to slip at the Radisson Blu Resort Marina and Spa. While Marigot Bay farther south has an amazing anchorage, many marinas and a bustling array of shops, restaurants, and other services being in the capitol of French St. Martin, the highly touted Heineken Regatta is coming in a week, so things are even more crowded and bustling than usual. SO -- in search of a bit of quiet solitude for the moment, we headed north. (We’ve had our fill of crowded anchorages in the BVI!)

After meeting Olivier, the Capitainiere (Dockmaster) here at the Marina, we got settled in and gave Equinox a good wash-down of the boat. Mid-afternoon, we crashed for a bit before an early dinner and enjoying a quiet night aboard. The marina is surrounded by mountains, literally nestled into this little bowl of an anchorage, so it's very protected. Birdsong in the evening and morning is incredible, since the foliage is so thick and the mountainous area surrounding the marina relatively undeveloped. Very cool place to be!!

The view of Anse Marcel and the inner marina from the mountainside above.
Equinox is in the center of the photo, docked near the end of the pier.
A better view of Equinox nestled in her slip

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy to be heading out!

Well, we’re battened down, ready to head out and leave the BVIs behind. During our 18 days here, we’ve been enchanted with the beauty of the various islands, enjoyed the chance to do some fun dives, and had exceptionally great food at just about every place we’ve eaten! Unfortunately, though, we’ve also had some unexpected sour notes. As a rule, I like to write about the positive things -- because there is so much to smile about and appreciate while cruising -- but, honesty compels me to admit that during our stay here, it’s clear that the BVIs have become a victim of its beauty and popularity. I don't want to be too negative, but cruisers would probably like to be aware of a few pitfalls!

The islands are home to the largest charter fleet in the Caribbean, as well as being a huge cruise ship destination, so as a result, there’s a bit of a touristy and false Disneyland atmosphere with the steady stream of cruise ship passengers and charterers in many of the anchorages here.  Because of the huge influx of visitors, some places are no longer quaint nor out of the way: we were startled to see that cruise ships not only dock near the Baths, but also come into north Gorda Sound to disgorge masses of passengers, who then flock to the BEYC shops, beaches and restaurants. It's best to visit these fabulous places when there are few cruise ships in port, or it will be crowded.

During the winter months, popular anchorages are choked with the plethora of charter boats (Moorings, SunSail, CYOA, Conch Charters, Virgin Traders, Barefoot Charters among others) all vying for a mooring or a place to anchor; there are only a handful of long-distance cruisers aboard their own boats here. We found we missed the typical cruiser camaraderie that one finds in other ports, since most of the folks are simply here on vacation. Unfortunately, some charterers are boisterous party-hearty groups here for  their own celebratory week or ten days, with no interest in other boaters or experiencing a true taste of local Caribbean flavor. To them, the BVIs are just an exotic backdrop to their getaway and they almost shun interaction, be it with locals or other cruisers. apologies to anyone I've offended with my venting! Sour notes aside, we’ll take the fun times and good memories we've made here, and look ahead to St. Martin! May the crossing of the Anegada Passage be kinder than the Mona Passage!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Virgin Gorda: Gorda Sound, North End

Yesterday we cruised up to Gorda Sound, anchoring off Prickly Pear Island near Virgin Gorda’s north end. Gorda Sound is a fabled stop for yachtsmen over forty years, being home of the Bitter End Yacht Club. According to Street's Cruising Guide to the Eastern Caribbean, the Bitter End was founded in the 1970s by a gentleman named Basil Symonette, when there was nothing but bush on the end of the island. He and some friends hacked away the brush and built a small guest house that they dubbed "The Last Resort" --  in regards to its remote location. It grew into a well-regarded sailing-oriented operation from its humble beginnings, and eventually, Basil sold the Bitter End Yacht Club to the Hokin family, who still own and operate the now-greatly expanded, bustling resort. The glow of its original charm seems a bit lost amidst the the plastic signs for the various restaurants and retail centers, children’s camp programs, boat rentals, sailing school, windsurfing and other watersports. BEYC is now a nautical "Grand Central Station", and caters to family vacations, weddings and honeymooners, not just visiting yachts and vacationing boaters.

There are a number of other establishments around Gorda Sound, like Leverick Bay Marina, Biras Creek Resort and Saba Rock, the smallest inhabited cay in the BVIs. We dinghied over to Saba Rock Resort and had a great lunch there on Friday. Just under one acre  at low tide, Saba Rock is a hotel, restaurant & bar, as well as a full service marina. They have an impressive collection of antique outboard motors and other nautical memorabilia there, adding to the unique ambiance. Fun indeed -- check these out:

So, we've enjoyed our time here! To add to the camaraderie, we crossed paths yet again with Tom and Judy off Long Reach, whom we met while in the Turks and Caicos. We dined aboard their lovely catamaran one evening, and then reciprocated as well on Saturday night. It was a great time trading stories and experiences, and we hope to catch up with them again sometime! Cruising is a small world indeed, for you never know whom you will see again and again! 

And, speaking of crossing paths, when we moved anchorages, we also had the fun serendipity of crossing paths with Chanticleer again! She was on anchor just ahead of us  when we dropped anchor near Biras Creek. Chanticleer is the boat previously owned by Frances Langford, who was known as the "Sweetheart of World War II. (Her trademark song, "I´m in the Mood for Love" captivated soldiers during the 1940s, and she traveled the world with the USO Bob Hope Shows during the WWII.) We've encountered Chanticleer several times before, first in the Chesapeake at St. Michaels, where we helped her captain clear their props after they got fouled with their tender line as they were docking, and then again in the Bahamas, when we both were on anchor at Great Sale Cay on the way to the Abacos.

And...the connection has grown, since our current home port and marina, Outrigger Harbour, was part of Langford's former estate! Frances Langford married Ralph Evinrude in 1955, (his family made the famous Evinrude outboard motors) and Langford began accumulating property along the Indian River in Jenson Beach, Florida. Among the 400 acres was a small marina, where Langford kept Chanticleer during the winter months. Adjacent to the marina, they opened the Outrigger Resort in the mid-1950s, where Langford frequently performed. Nowadays, The Outrigger Resort is known as The Dolphin Bar, and their marina? Outrigger Harbour, our small but lovely condo and marina community! How neat to see Chanticleer yet again!
Chanticleer, a gorgeous 108' Burger
Chanticleer on anchor ahead of us near Biras Creek, Gorda Sound, BVI

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Getting to know your neighbor!

We awoke this morning to find a sailboat anchored just off our stern. (No, we didn’t have the sign out...!) Turns out their mooring painter had parted from the mooring shackle during the night -- no fault of theirs -- and they found themselves bumping up against a neighboring sailboat in the wee hours. Thankfully, there was no damage to either vessel, but they had no recourse but to drop anchor in the midst of the mooring field, and the captain of the chartered vessel stayed up all night to make sure they didn’t go elsewhere in the dark. (Thankfully there was a licensed captain and sailing instructor aboard with the charterers!) The guy was very nice; he apologized profusely for the intrusion into the the mooring field, but we had no issue with the captain, as he dealt with a bad situation the best way he could! We were just glad there wasn’t any damage done, and no one was hurt. 

View of the sailboat off our stern at Cooper Island 
Moorings here in the BVI are everywhere; just about every good anchorage now has an extensive mooring field, which sometimes makes anchoring difficult since the depths drop steeply not too far from shore in some areas. We’ll take a mooring when we feel its the best option, but we always dive on the mooring to make sure it is in good shape! When we anchor, we use our laser range finder (we have a small Bushnell Yardage Pro Sport 450) to make sure we have adequate space between us and any other boats nearby. I am dismal at estimating distances over the water, so the range finder is an excellent way to be certain that we have adequate swing room, especially in a crowded or tight anchorage. It’s an key precaution, since Equinox likes to swing with the current rather than the wind, due to her deep keel. And we always dive on our anchor as well, to make sure that it is well-set!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Cooper Island, BVI: Diving Wreck Alley and the Inganess Bay

Driftwood "Dolphin" at the Cooper Island Resort
Ron and I have spent a couple of days here at Manchioneel Bay, Cooper Island, one of our favorite spots in the BVI. The last time we were here, there was only a small dive shop and an even  smaller beach bar on a cement patio. Now, there is a tiny but gorgeous eco-friendly resort, adjacent to the still-existing and now expanded dive shop, with a fabulous beach lounge area, covered open-air restaurant and bar, cute boutique gift shop and well-kept bungalows. It’s very cool! Built in 2009 from recycled teak and other natural materials, Cooper Island Beach Club gets up to 70% of its energy needs from solar panels, its water from rooftop rainwater collection systems and cisterns, and has rooftop solar water heaters to provide hot water. It operates on a very green-conscious basis, all of which is done with great taste. Even their brightly colored bar stools are made from recycled teak from old West Indian fishing boats!

Ron paying for our mooring at the CIBC. Love the bar stools!

The diving here off Cooper Island is great, too. There are several dive sites off Cooper, some on the Atlantic side of things and exposed to the easterly sea state, others in between the two islands of Cooper and Salt. The wreck of the RMS Rhone, a 310' Royal Mail ship that was sunk in a hurricane in 1867, rests on the west side of Salt Island, but conditions in the Drake were so sloppy that taking the dinghy around to dive there wasn’t appealing to us. Instead, we opted for sites closer to Cooper’s lee shore, and revisited the dive site named “Thumb Rock”, named for the large boulder on the shore that stands out like a sore thumb on Red Bluff Point, Cooper Island. Besides the large boulder fields along the shoreline, there is lush spur and groove coral topography, and the reef life was teeming. Despite the somewhat low visibility due to the churned up seas, we found two absolutely huge Matriarch-of-the-Sea-sized female lobsters hiding in the was not the least bit fearful, and came out to challenge us, trying to scare us away with her long spiky antenna. The other lobster we found merely glowered at us from her tucked away hiding hole but each of them were formidable! 

We also thoroughly enjoyed new-to-us sites of Wreck Ally and the Inganess Bay. Wreck Alley is a grouping of four different boats intentionally sunk as dive sites along the southwestern point of Cooper Island in 85' of water. The eldest boat, the Marie L, a 90’ cargo boat, was sunk in 1991, and four years later, another 90’ inter-island trader named the Pat was intentionally sunk “nearby” -- but it actually hit the Marie L on the way down and the two boats ended up nestling together, with the Pat coming to rest against the Marie L’s hull.. Now they look as if they are passing port-to-port in perpetuity...graceful yet rather eerie, underwater! 

Internet photo of the Marie L and the Pat
The other two wrecks, the Beata and the Island Seal/Joey D were sunk a few years later, and that pair sits sit just a hundred yards to the north. All are filled with fabulous reef life: good sized snapper, sergeant-majors, blue tangs, wrasses, hinds, french grunts, angel fish, parrotfish of all sizes and colors, encrusted with soft corals and rope sponges. There was a huge bushy black coral growing from the ceiling of the pilot house of the Pat that looked like a chandelier hanging down. A very cool dive indeed! At 85’ in depth, we couldn’t spend as much time as we’d have liked to fully explore all four wrecks, but we will definitely dive this again sometime in the future. 

We also dove the wreck of the Inganess Bay, a 136' inter-island trader that grounded in Road Harbour during hurricane Bertha in July 1996. It was sunk in August of the same year, and while initially intact, it is now in two sections, due to recent storms. There aren't that many reef fish here, as the wreck is sitting in a large sandy area away from the reefs around the island, but I did see a large black grouper that ducked inside the wreck on our descent. Unfortunately, Ron and I also saw our first BVI lionfish, a small juvenile, inside the westernmost section of the wreck. We swam around the anchor windlass and foremast on the bow, and checked out the main hull with its many places to peek inside. While not as riveting as Wreck Alley, this is still a decent dive. We enjoyed it!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Backing the Pack!

Well, it wasn’t our Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl, but having grown up in Wisconsin, I am forever a Cheesehead as well, so we reveled in cheering on the Green Bay Packers in the Big Game! Ron and I went up to The Pirates’ Bight for dinner and watched the Super Bowl on their TV with the rest of the cruisers and charterers anchored here -- quite a crowd. The majority seemed to be dressed in Packer Green and Gold, and were cheering their hearts out with us! It was a great time, and a great game!! Ron retrieved the conch shell horn from the boat at halftime, so introduced many of the first-time charterers to the sound of the conch shell being blown in celebration. Whether to herald the sunset or to cheer on the Pack, everyone enjoyed it immensely!! The Packers clearly deserved their 31-25 victory! Go Pack GO!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Bight, Norman Island: Diving and snorkeling

With the provisioning completed on Saturday morning, we all enjoyed one last lunch together at The Pub before we said our goodbyes to Karen and Kerry at the ferry dock. It was a great time having them aboard! With our farewells said, Ron and I headed back to Equinox, moving her from the rolly and lumpy anchorage in Road Harbour to the more protected anchorage at The Bight at Norman Island. The winds have really made the Drake Channel a sloppy passageway and we're happy to be tucked in the lee here. Need I say the weather forecast is getting a bit monotonous? Every day it says the same thing:
So...we're not heading anywhere fast, but then again, we're not on a schedule, which is the beauty of cruising. Instead, Ron and I used our time to make a scuba dive out by The Indians, diving the site called “Deep Indian”, where we explored the black-coral bushes so prolific in this area. The abundance of juveniles and reef fish is lovely to see --- a result, we believe, of no lionfish in the area. (We’ve not seen one as of yet, and we’re delighted.) We have seen a lot of morays, lobsters and southern rays in addition to the juveniles. The taking of lobster and conch while on scuba is prohibited in the BVI, and it’s clear the lobster know this, as they are rather unconcerned with a diver’s presence. And, after seeing  the hundreds of empty conch shells littering the shorelines and reefs in the Bahamas, it’s a delight to see the many conch moving about on the sea floor here. Granted, they aren’t moving fast!
You can see quite a bit of marine life, even just snorkeling. The terrain is mostly sand and scrabbly rock covered with a profusion of hard corals, sea whips, sea fans, sponges, bluebell tunicates and soft corals. Ron saw a goldentail moray on our afternoon snorkel along the northern shoreline of the Bight, and I had fun watching a southern ray and several crabs in the shallows. In case you don't know what the heck a tunicate is, a tunicate is one of the most common marine invertebrates, but the least recognized. They can be solitary or grow in colonies, but basically they are small tubular animals with an intake siphon and an central outflow opening. I've found them in numerous small clusters here, ranging in color from pale lavender to a deep blue. Very pretty and delicate, they look like they are bits of blown glass. There's always something to see underwater! 
A photo of some bluebell tunicates, which grow in clusters.
They are commonly found here in the waters of the BVI.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands, Day 2

Exploring Road Town's Main Street

We spent the second day in Road Town doing reconnaissance of local supermarkets for provisioning and checking the ferry schedules. With little long-distance cruising ahead for the foreseeable week or more due to a relentless forecast of stronger winds and higher seas, Kerry and Karen picked a date for departure and made arrangements to fly back to Florida on Saturday, by way of a ferry to Charlotte Amalie. They had an open-ended ticket out of St. Thomas, which allowed us all to meander through parts of the BVI together the past 10 days as the weather allowed. It was a treat not to be on a schedule! But, the weather now insists we aren’t going anywhere for a while, until the seas calm a bit.

The Sunny Caribbee Spice Company, where Karen found me
the long-sought-after caraway seeds for my rye bread
We found provisioning in Road Town to be very easy. There are even companies that will do the provisioning for you, bringing your selected items right to the boat if you are at one of the marinas. This caters primarily to the charter crowd, who all seem to be pressed for time, eager to sail off as soon as they can after they arrive, but the service is also quite expensive. Wanting to do our own provisioning, we went to Bobby’s, a large supermarket in downtown Road Town. We missed the small side entrance the first time we rounded it, but we did get to see their rather unique approach to a loading dock: staff were using a forklift to hoist heavily loaded pallets up inside nothing more than a 2nd story hole in the wall. Really! I should have taken a photo of it while they were loading things in, but it was too tight and busy, right on a main thoroughfare as we threaded our way through the high stacks of pallets on the sidewalk, each towering well over our heads. Pretty sure that OSHA would not have liked the whole scene! :)

The loading dock on the second floor, "closed" for the moment.
As for provisioning, the store had a large selection of produce and dry goods, and we filled our cart easily with the needed items on our list. Thankfully, we didn’t need any meats, as things were a bit scanty in that department. I, for one, had never seen pork snouts on sale before, but there they were, available aplenty, adjacent to the pigs feet, pig tails, and the usual salt cod pieces and whole salted fish. Guess I am a veggie person at heart, although I do love conch salad and goat stew! But no goat was available that I could find, and conch salad isn't on every menu here the way it is in the Bahamas. And...I admit I wasn’t feeling daring enough to buy the pig snouts. Maybe next time?

Actually, all joking aside, we’ve found the food here in the BVI to be delicious. In every place we’ve eaten, we’ve had absolutely fabulous food -- fresh grilled mahi-mahi, perfectly made jambalaya, spicy seafood fra diavolo/fruitti del mare, great chicken roti, among others. One evening I sampled the “Local FishPot Fish”--a whole grunt, pan-seared and utterly crispy & delicious, served with “Fungi”, a type of polenta with superbly spiced sauteed onions and peppers. Yes, we’ve all eaten very well!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands, Day 1

The steep hills of Road Town rising above the Wickham's Cay area

We anchored in Road Harbour, Tortola for a couple days, doing a bit of exploration ashore of the small downtown area and...searching the local chandleries for a new fuel line for Eclipse. You see, after re-fueling Eclipse at Peter Island’s Marina and Resort on Thursday, Ron and Kerry had a bit of excitement, for the engine stalled and died just as they were heading back to Equinox, rounding the point back into Great Harbour. With the wind and waves kicking up, they tossed out the anchor to keep Eclipse from being thrown up on the wickedly rocky shoreline of Peter Island. 
After the initial suspicion of bad fuel was ruled out, further investigation found that the fuel line was cracked along at least half its length, and had cracked completely through just prior to the connection fitting to the engine! This small leak caused enough of a loss of fuel pressure for the engine to die, and while the anchor kept them off the rocks, the boys had no recourse but to wait for assistance or swim....which Ron was seriously contemplating! But, as always, fellow cruisers to the rescue! A couple off Sibonee, a lovely sailing catamaran, came by in their dinghy, saw Ron and Kerry lurching on anchor in the waves and upon realizing their plight, towed Eclipse back to Equinox. Whew!! 

Ron and Kerry investigating the source of the engine trouble
And...once again, Rescue Tape to the rescue!! Since we didn’t have a fuel line aboard to replace the one aboard Eclipse, we were forced to improvise, and wrapping RescueTape around the small leak worked like a charm. We were startled at the horrid condition of the fuel line, since it’s only a couple years old, but Kerry told us of this same event happening to several tenders and center consoles in Florida, with fuel lines corroding and cracking, apparently from the inside out, due to all the ethanol in gas nowadays. No proof of this, but...clearly we were in need of a new fuel line, so off to Road Town we went, after dropping off a bottle of champagne at Sibonee for their assistance!
Ron wrapping RescueTape around the small leak in the fuel line
Thankfully, there are several marinas and marine stores in Road Town. Ron and Kerry went to Marine Depot next door to Village Cay Marina, and with the assistance of David, one of the managers there, they found a properly-sized replacement straightaway. Ron and Kerry replaced the line within ten minutes (improving things as well, replacing the original rather shoddy pressure clamps with bona fide fuel hose clamps) and Eclipse was back in business in no time! At least this time, a ten-minute job didn't turn into a two-hour job!!

Norman Island & Peter Island, British Virgin Islands

We cruised from Jost Van Dyke over to the Bight at Norman Island, where we anchored along the northern side of the lovely cove. There were many moorings there, and initially, they were  mostly empty, but as the day went on, they filled to capacity. We dinghied ashore at the Pirate’s Bight, and enjoyed a fun lunchtime meal of mahi-mahi sandwiches by its beautiful beach. 

Ron and I then took Karen and Kerry over to the Caves at Treasure Point, where we snorkeled for a good hour or more along the shoreline, enjoying the reef life along the craggy hills. The three caves themselves were fun to explore, each only partially filled with water so the dry areas above the water level shimmer with the reflected light. Below the waterline, there are schools of glassy sweeps and tiny silversides swirling about. The soft corals and sponges are vibrant and colorful, and outside the caves, the schools of sergeant-majors and yellow-tail snapper were everywhere.  It was a good day!
Afterwards, Ron and I did a scuba-dive off a mooring out by the Pelicans. It’s a pretty area, although we  basically did a reef clean-up dive, picking up lost items/trash we found draping the reef and littering the sand as we went along. The trash total: 4 snorkels, 1 dive mask with broken strap, 2 fins (not a matching pair), 1 rash-guard, 1 wash-cloth, and 1 weight belt with about 25 pounds of lead! Ron could barely stay buoyant with the extra weight, he was practically pinned to the bottom! But...we figured it was better for the reef environment to remove what trash we found, even though it was a bit cumbersome to be swimming with our hands full. We also came across a small spotted moray tucked under a coral head, and the reef was home to a very large lobster as well, who came right out and tried its best to look menacing, waving its antennae around. A good dive!
The next dive was much better, the next day when we moved to a new anchorage in Great Harbor on Peter Island. Ron and I took the dinghy out and dove on the wreck of the Fearless, a 110’ minesweeper that was scuttled intentionally. The vessel sits upright in about 80’, listing to port, with her mast and shrouds towering over the pilothouse and lower decks below. The visibility around Peter Island isn’t that great as a general rule, so the dim light filtering through the silty water only added to the ghostly aura of the shipwreck. It’s a beautiful dive though; the wreck is intricately encrusted with all sorts of lacy hard and soft corals, purple rope sponges, and clouds of bushy, wispy coral with small, almost-translucent juveniles stationary inside them. There were small schools of snapper and other varied reef fish inside  but the main attraction here is the wreck itself. The scattered remains of the wreck of the original Willy T were off to the south, but we never found them, as we explored the reef near the mooring pin before finally ascending. Again, another fun dive and a good day! Looking forward to what tomorrow will bring!