U.S. Virgin Islands
“Always plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.” – Howard Ruff
When we created the winter getaway float plan, we understood trip changes might
need to be made due to winter swells, wind conditions and a myriad of other
things. We researched several interesting bays along the St. John coast, as well
as a few in St. Thomas. A wise person once said “Luck is what happens when
preparation meets opportunity." Well, this extra preparation definitely met some
opportunities on this trip.
The first day of the trip, Saturday, January 28th went almost as planned, once we could board the boats. Storing provisions, deciding sleeping arrangements, and stowing gear consumed the next few hours. On Zosca, skippered by Bob Rainey, First Mate Craig Gill used a boat diagram and mapped out where items were stored, keeping similar items together. His “map” saved a lot of time the first few days. On Zibal, skipper Mia McCroskey took over checking the inventory, since only she knew of recent substitutions by the provisioner, while all hands stowed, also keeping similar items together. This led to prying open several under-floor compartments with corroded handles, but which yielded plenty of beverage storage, and a wine cellar. Once provisions and luggage were stored and sleeping arrangements decided, everyone headed to The Dive Bar at the marina for a well-deserved supper. The burgers were fantastic!
Sunday went as planned with an early departure after a quick boat checkout with Dream Yacht Charter staff. There was no chart review for our boats, but since the weather was good and forecast to stay that way, we headed out of the marina with high hopes of reaching Magens Bay on the north shore of St. Thomas. We anchored there with a few other boats and a mega-yacht sporting a massive inflatable slide. Supper was on board that night and the sunset was lovely. Powerful wind gusts funneled through the bay all night, but big anchors and lots of chain held us firm, even if sleeping was tough.
Another early start on Monday was needed, as our sail to Culebrita in the Spanish Virgin Island was a long one. Midday in rough seas and high winds, Zosca’s dinghy painter pulled the U-bolt out of the dingy. We were left with the painter and U-bolt, and evidence of the very thin fiberglass and very small backing plate. Dinghy recovery attempts by Zosca were unsuccessful, and it was clear that even if they caught the boat, rigging it to be towed without the painter, in rough seas, would be very difficult and unsafe. Zibal’s crew also tried to catch the wayward small boat, with crew members suggesting many creative – and unsafe – options. Ultimately, a crew member managed to get the boat hook onto the dinghy’s grab rope, but the rough seas forced her to let it go or be pulled overboard (did I mention unsafe?). Since we were just off the northwest corner of St. Thomas, it didn’t seem wise to proceed across to Puerto Rican waters short one dinghy. We abandoned our course and headed back around the west and south shores of St. Thomas to anchor on the northwest corner of Hassel Island.
Early the next morning Zosca headed back to the DYC base to have repairs made, then meet Zibal, at Christmas Cove on Great St. James Island that afternoon. Repairs and replacements were done quickly and Zosca headed for Christmas Cove a little after 1 p.m. It was a short sail, protected from swells and wind by Great St. James Island.
Arriving before noon, Zibal’s crew found Christmas Cove a bit crowded, but a mooring in the outer row of boats was unoccupied. Mia couldn’t recall how they’d picked up the moorings here last time she visited – most likely by grabbing a line on the top with a boat hook – which Zibal had lost yesterday. While Mia held Zibal steady near the open mooring, crew member Lisa climbed into the dinghy, and the others walked her forward. Mia motored up to the mooring, the wind gusts constantly catching the bow and pulling it off course. Lisa found the required line, but handing it up to the crew on Zibal’s bow was very difficult as Zibal kept turning away. Finally, wind conditions moderated long enough for the crew to get the boat’s line through the loop in the mooring line – but by then Lisa had gotten into the water and was clinging to the mooring buoy. Later she observed that there were few people she trusted not to run her over in such a situation.
A little later, while Mia was out snorkeling, a man from a nearby boat came by say that he’d been on that mooring the day before but moved because it was “hanging on by a thread.” Coincidentally, and unaware of this visit, Mia stopped to check the mooring on her way back. She found the frayed line, but also found a new line running from the mooring’s anchor up to the loop to which Zibal’s lines were attached. It just happened to be longer than the old, frayed line. Mia was satisfied that if the frayed line failed, the longer line would still keep the boat secure.
Erik at the helm of Zibal
Hallie at the helm of Zibal
Meanwhile, Zosca had the wind on the nose, requiring motoring most of the way to Christmas Cove. It is a well protected and rather busy place due to the popularity of Pizza Pi, a sailboat that produces the very best New York style pizza. Their dinghy delivery to our boats was a welcome service! Zosca ordered pizza delivery for a late lunch, while Zibal had pizza and salad for dinner. Life is good when you’re eating pizza in your bathing suit in February!
|Rainbows were appreciated
|Bob in “Blue”
Wednesday began with a relaxed breakfast, then both boats set off for Caneel Bay on St. John. Zibal’s crew decided to stop in Cruz Bay on St. John to take on water. They weren’t low, but they also didn’t see a better opportunity later in the trip. The fuel dock was easy to find and the attendant was very helpful, including taking the accumulated trash. That chore having been handled, it was back out and around the point into Caneel Bay, which is noted for its shallow snorkeling along the shore. Mia was thrilled to see one particular fish – a juvenile French angelfish – which she was certain she’d seen there last year. Until, as she swam further, she saw several more. Many on both boats enjoyed the snorkeling, while some simply swam off the boat and showered. Everyone enjoyed looking for sea turtles.
We sailed from Caneel Bay to Maho Bay on Thursday. It’s on the north side of St. John, with a well protected white sand beach, and little to no wind once inside the mooring field. Sea turtles were popping up for a breath everywhere! Having secured mooring balls near each other, some on Zibal swam to the beach and a few of the Zosca crew were dropped off, thanks to our accommodating skipper, hoping to walk to the ruins of the Annaberg Plantation rum distillery noted on a map. Others went in search of the fabled food trucks or just to enjoy a walk on the lovely beach. The two crews met on the beach for a brief parley, like pirates looking for treasure. Those wishing to hike to the rum distillery were disappointed to learn that it was too far away and had to make due with a swim in the warm tropical waters while awaiting dinghy pickup. Time off the boat, in the water or drinking a cool beverage was enjoyed by everyone who went ashore. Likewise those who stayed on the boat enjoyed peace and quiet.
Maho Bay was so enjoyable Zibal used it for a lay day the following day. Zosca went out to open water for a thrilling day sail after breakfast. The sail along the boundary line between U.S. and British territorial waters was great fun. But the treats offered by Maho Bay and an available mooring had us back on a ball by early afternoon. Several of the Zosca crew decided that ice cream was the next necessity, and two trips with the dinghy had everyone on land. Ice cream is always good; but ice cream after a day of sailing in a tropical environment is heaven. A few even had two!
Three of Zibal’s crew decided on a land adventure. They took shopping bags and money and caught a “safari” – the open sided vehicles serving as taxis on St. John – to Cruz Bay, but not before having another hamburger at Maho Crossroads with the rest of the crew. The others indulged in another drink, and then either swam or dinghied back to Zibal. Later a cryptic VHF radio transmission from the shopping party sent Dave Lee dinghying back to the beach to pick them up. They brought back shrimp to go with the risotto planned for dinner.
On Friday, both boats dropped their moorings and headed to Waterlemon Cay in Leinster Bay. Our course around Mary’s Point put us into strong winds blowing through the channel between Great Thatch Island and St. John, and provided another enjoyable sail. Waterlemon Cay was very quiet, and by all accounts everyone’s favorite. It had the very best snorkeling, if you slipped into the water quickly as the crew of Zibal did.
Unfortunately for those of us onboard Zosca, timing was everything. The forty minutes it took us to decide who was doing what gave time for a few heavy rain showers to move in and made the water cloudy. A few hardy folks from both Zibal and Zosca enjoyed a one and a half mile hike along the shore to the aforementioned Annaberg Plantation ruins, a part of Virgin Islands National Park. The more hardy snorkelers circumnavigated Waterlemon Cay and found bigger, more colorful and plentiful creatures on the rougher outside. Those that stayed onboard enjoyed a lovely rainy afternoon nap or just some quiet time to read.
Ruins of the Annaberg Sugar Plantation
Craig Gill during a hike at the rum plantation
On Monday, our last full day on the water, the sky at dawn
was cloudy, and so not good for snorkeling, but allowed time for a good must-go
breakfast in Waterlemon Bay. After breakfast our two boats set a course for Red
Hook on St. Thomas to refuel. Winds were very strong that day with sudden gusts
at or over thirty mph. Red Hook Bay didn’t give a lot of protection from the
wind, and quarters were tight by the fuel dock, providing some challenges. After
fueling, Zosca sailed with jib only toward the protected area around
Christmas Cove and motored quietly around the cove allowing everyone time to
make and eat their lunch in relative calm. Zibal spent a bit more time at
the fuel dock after the wind caused an unfortunate incident there. But once
paperwork was taken care of and fuel was paid for, Zibal fled for the
open water. After lunch, Zosca met up with Zibal and they had a
spirited sail back to the charter base at Compass Point Marina.
Dinner for both boats that last night was back at The Dive Bar, as everyone wanted another go at those burgers. We were off the boats the next morning by 10 a.m. - some a little earlier due to early afternoon flights home
John B, Mia, Erik, John F, Hallie, David, Lisa aboard Zibal
The crew of Zosca at the Dive Bar, Compass Pt. Marina
Photo credits: Linda Baker, Craig Gill, Mary Ann Gordon, Martha Haines, Hailey and David Lee, Mia McCroskey and Mary Wojcik
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