We have decided to stay in the Virgin Islands, Culebra, Vieques and Puerto Rico this year and not go further south. Our friends left for Guadalupe today and will not be back until the end of February. We plan to visit new harbors in the areas I mentioned and not sail as far as we did last time.
This year is different from our last southern cruise in many ways: there is something about a new experience that can never be repeated: the tension of entering a harbor for the first time is not there and my imagination can not modify what I have already seen. But, it is replaced with the anticipation of going to a place with lots of great memories and the lack of tension is not all that bad!
The weather has been very different this year as well: we have periods of very strong winds with gusts to 40 knots. The powerful cold fronts have been getting as far south as the Caribbean bringing showers high winds and relatively cool temperatures. We always manage to find well protected anchorages, so we are relatively unaffected by the winds with one exception: one night we were having dinner and a gust hit the boat so hard that we heeled over as if we had a sail up! No damage, but unnerving to say the least. The winds have been light for the past couple of days and are predicted to stay that way until the weekend.
All the cruising boats planning to head south wait for a “weather window”: a favorable forecast for an ocean passage. Most of them have been holed up in Virgin Gorda waiting for the light winds for a couple of weeks and now are impatient to head south. Once the forecast predicted the weather window, the marinas started to hum with activity; boat crews rushed to the food stores to provision the boats – the remaining crew prepared the boat – lashing anything loose on the deck and stowing remaining gear below. This morning, the boats are streaming out of the harbor on there way to southern islands while Mafalda and I watch the excitement.
Many people visit these islands with anxiety about sharks, fire coral, high winds, pirates,etc. Mafalda and I have discovered the most dangerous animal here is a charterer: someone who once sailed on a boat or perhaps dreamed of one and now has the keys to a 50 footer and no clue about how to sail, anchor or motor without picking up a line in the propeller.
We were anchored in Frances Bay, St John the other day and the wind was blowing hard. We watched a boat with a couple that looked mid 70s as the crew, approach a mooring ball. They were going hull speed as the woman on the bow reached over the side with a boat hook. The mooring line yanked the boat hook out of her hands and she went over the side with it. She managed to get back on board and they tried a few more times with slightly better results (everyone stayed on board), but still no luck getting a secure line on the mooring.
I finally decided I would try and help (stupid move). I got in my dinghy and approached the boat with an offer to tie their line on to the mooring if they handed it to me. They picked up a large ball of line, not tied to anything, and started to hand me the mess. I suggested they tie one end to their boat and flake the line so that there were no tangles. They managed to do this and handed one end to me and I started to motor my dinghy towards the mooring. They did not motor along with me and my left arm is now slightly longer that it used to be. I suggested that I could not tow them and they had to motor towards the dinghy. They put the throttle down hard and approached the mooring at hull speed crushing my dinghy against the mooring.
I managed to get out without any real damage, but I learned a good lesson: every man for himself unless a life is threatened! It does make for some evening entertainment watching people try and do the simple things required for comfortable cruising.
We are having a wonderful time in spite of the charter boats. We spent the last few days at a rendezvous for Scandinavian yachts. We met some interesting people and got a tour of a Swan 56 and a 59; these are boats that cost in excess of a million dollars!
We are in a secluded harbor on the South coast of St John. Most of this side of the island is a national park and the natural beauty of it is astounding. The only building in sight is a parks department research station, the rest of the view is the Caribbean before discovery by Columbus. The only sign of modern times is that we have a cell phone signal! This is both good and bad: we can call family and friends, but I also read the news! I am sitting in the cockpit watching the sun set over Jost Van Dyke and listening to the Mozart Clarinet Concerto; I think I must be one of the luckiest people in the world
As always, we are governed by the weather and it has been spectacular for over a month now; little rain, cool temperatures at night and moderate winds – for the most part. I subscribe to a free service that sends me an email every morning with wind predictions for the next 96 hours. I specify the lat – long coordinates and the system sends me a map with pressure gradients and standard wind indicators.
Every morning we look at the intensity and wind direction and pick harbors that will be quiet and reachable without beating to windward. Having a laptop gives us access to weather in more detail than we ever had before and that makes the cruise much more comfortable.
We have friends on board and Sorcerer is with us; we are having great meals on board and lots of laughs.