Archive for December, 2009

Bye Bye BVI

Friday, December 18th, 2009

We spent a few more days in the BVI’s – snorkelling the pirate caves at Norman Island as a family, putting in for a night at Nanny Cay marina to charge the batteries and complete the fabrication and installation of our new anchor roller (which is very sweet, btw), and then off to Trellis Bay on December 2 for the full moon party.

The full moon party on the beach is a neat affair – with a Caribbean buffet dinner, live music, a ‘slack’ rope walker, and just general kicking back on the beach. One of the highlights was the massive fire pits and the blaze that came forth from them. After dark, several iron “cages” filled with fire wood and located on platforms in about 3 feet of water were lit and their heat and light filled the beach for about 30 minutes. My words don’t do it justice, but combined with the full moon, it was really cool.

After the full moon, we headed into to Tortola to check out of the BVI’s and to pick up some outboard parts at the local chandlery. Then it was off to St. John, USVI where, at the customs dock, we enjoyed a full US style interrogation from the good folks representing the USDA. As we stood at the window looking out at Bojangles, our home, the man responsible for keeping mad cow and stickerless fruit out of the US food supply asked me questions like, “So, do you have any food on board?” (Me: “Dude, we live on the boat”) “Did it all originate in the States?” (Me: “Dude, we left the US over a month ago. The milk seems to be getting a bit lumpy, but yeah, it’s all American”) “Any luncheon meat?” (“I dunno. My wife does the shopping”)… and so on. Then I received a “science lesson” (his words) where I learned that Canada and Britain have mad cow disease but that the US is blissfully free of this scourge. (“Really? Beef farmers might beg to differ”) And to top it all off, I then learned that a USDA approved food package that is exported to the BVI’s, is purchased in the BVI’s and then brought into the USVI’s – with sealed packaging intact – is no longer considered USDA approved. (Because who knows what those sneaky BVIslanders may have done to it!) – Anyway, after all this, I changed my story and told him that we actually had no food on board. That seemed to be what he wanted to hear and then I could move on to the immigration process, where the requisite cavity searches from Homeland Security seemed to pale in comparison to the USDA guy’s interrogation.

From there we high tailed it around to Great Lameshur Bay where we picked up a mooring just before sunset and reunited with our friends on Ohana and Chasseur. Stolen Hour joined us the next day so that we had a complement of 4 boats, 8 adults, and 11 kids which made for a fun couple of days.

One lucky moment occurred the first afternoon there. I had hung my swimsuit on the mizzen boom to dry after my morning swim, but when I went to retrieve it for my noon swim, it was gone. This was quite distressing as I had just purchased this suit in Tortola and I quite liked it. Anyway, a few hours later we are hiking on a cliff about ½ mile from the boat, and I see a red piece of cloth washed up on the rocks about 50 feet below. The good news is that was probably my suit. The bad news is that there was no way down there by land, and by water, the approach was very rough and rocky. Undeterred, Mitchell and I fetched our kayak, paddled over to the crashing waves and then quickly tried to retrieve the suit before our inflatable kayak was shredded by the waves and rocks. We had success, but not before we suffered some new cuts and bruises.

We also did a monster 7 mile hike through the mountains at Lameshur. We started at sea level, rose to about 600 feet, descended back to sea level, then back up to 600 feet and then back down. The scenery was great and we also got to see petroglyphs, bats, and wild pineapple (very tasty).

Salt Pond Bay on St. John was our next stop where we anchored about 100 yards off of a very nice beach with great snorkelling and a great (short) hike that offered fabulous views of St. John as well as a good portion of the BVI’s. (St. John is adjacent to the BVI’s. You could swim to Tortola if you had to).

At Salt Pond, we said goodbye to Ohana, but welcomed Safari Tu, a Gulfstar 44 with kids on it. We also discovered a great bay for conch harvesting and pulled in enough conch to make a delightful conch fritter dinner for the 19 folks on our four boats. While the men folk cleaned the conch (stay tuned for a photo essay on this process) and prepared the fritters on Stolen Hour, the ladies were on Bojangles preparing dough for the next day’s baguettes. We had a great dinner and a great baguette and cheese breakfast the next day…. (You can see, we’re really roughing it out here!)

From there we went to Coral Bay, which is a community on the east of St. John which is characterized by a mix of hippies, bums, and wealthy folks who have retired to stately manors up in the mountain (and who can therefore avoid the unwashed folks in town). Think Haight-Ashbury — in the tropics. There is also a large collection of liveaboard and derelict boats in the harbour. On a short dinghy tour of the harbour, Gillian and I spotted no less than half a dozen sunken boats, a couple of which appeared to be still at there mooring while the others had drifted over to the mangroves on shore.

Anyway, the highlight of Coral Bay has to be Skinny Legs restaurant – which serves up cold beer and cheeseburgers in a great beach bar setting. Also, we got up close and personal with our first iguana there and also wandered amongst the local goat herd that roamed freely on the road and soccer pitch.

Finding the water at Coral Bay and its large liveaboard community a little too “cloudy” for our swimming comfort, we zipped around the corner to Round Bay where we anchored for a night, did some snorkelling, caught up on some schooling and I caught up on some work (Yes, I’m still employed). We also tried to hunt for some lobster there but alas, we were unsuccessful.

At Round Bay, I also spent some time – too much time – trying to solve a problem with our raw water cooling system. I replaced the water pump impeller, and despite donating the required amount of blood, sweat, and torn skin to the diesel gods, I could not get good water flow through the engine. In fact, I think I made it worse. Beaten, I decided to take the boat to St. Thomas and get a diesel mechanic to fix it up.

We pulled into a marina around noon on Friday and the local shop assured me that the mechanic would be around that afternoon and would get us sorted. Raw water cooling issues are straightforward to them and they can fix them lickety split. Well, fast forward FOUR days to Tuesday and a new water pump brought in from Tortola and there still ain’t any water coming out the back of the boat. At this point, the mechanic is suggesting that I may need a new muffler ($$), or worse, a new exhaust manifold ($$$). (On a personal level, my head gasket was just about to go at this point).

Finally, we ascertain that the blockage is in the manifold and while the mechanic wants to pull it off the engine to clean it, I’m reluctant. We then decide to get some muriatic acid and pour it into the manifold (do NOT try this at home, kids). Well, we shoot this stuff into the manifold and the thing starts bubbling like Hecate’s cauldron. After a two minute wait (while we reconnected the exhaust hose) we fired the engine and lo and bold water – accompanied by all kinds of rust and scaly bits – came forth by the bucket load. We do it one more time – this time with a diluted solution – and then we’ve got a cooling system working like a charm. (Yeah, I’m sure the acid isn’t great for the inside of the manifold, but given that the alternative was to replace the manifold, I think this works out OK.)

Minutes later – at 1:30pm – we were on our way, (with a new water pump that we really didn’t need! We also spent four days at a marina when the solution we employed only took about 30 minutes and didn’t require ANY new parts. Ouch, is all I can say. Boaters reading this will no doubt empathize. Non-boaters will think I’m nuts.) We motor sailed the 25 miles west to Culebra and managed to get our hook down at about 4:35pm.

We rigged the dinghy in record time and then went in search of Homeland Security so we could check in prior to closing at 5:00pm. The only problem was we didn’t know exactly where to go. We tried one area that looked somewhat official but we learned from the folks in a dinghy near there that Customs was at the other end of the bay, and that there was a dock with a blue boat on it where we could tie up and walk ashore. Well, we zip over to the first dock with a blue boat, walk ashore, and then learn from a man on the street that Customs is at the airport and it’s a 15 minute walk from there (it’s now 4:55 and Customs closes at 5:00).

So we try a different dock with a blue boat – but that is at the wrong end of the runway. We’d gone too far. So, I split the difference and tie up at a private dock that I hope will be near the airport terminal. We pull up to this dock – which is clearly a dock at someone’s house – I trespass across his lawn carrying all our passports and boat papers, run down the street to the terminal, into the terminal, find the distinctive Homeland Security decal (right beside the scooter rental place) and then push the door.

It’s locked. The lights are out. It’s ten past 5. Shoot! We’re quarantined to the boat until morning. Wait. There are guys inside. They let me in. Because I had called earlier on the satphone to check their hours, they knew I was coming and they were waiting for me. Nice. They clear me in without hassle and then we return to the boat, having successfully cleared in from the US Virgin Islands to Puerto Rico.

(At this point, the astute reader will say, “Hey, aren’t the USVI’s and Puerto Rico BOTH IN THE US?” The answer is yes, however for some reason, you need to clear customs when traveling between the two. Probably something to do with terrorism.)

Anyway, as I write, we have just arrived in Culebra – a small island between St. Thomas and Puerto Rico – and it looks beautiful. We’ll spend the next week or so exploring it.

Cheers,
Colin

A couple of photos from US Thanksgiving

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

Yes, I know Thanksgiving was a couple of weeks ago and that we’re due for an update on our adventures.  (One has to take a break from the adventuring in order to write about it!)

Until I get the time to do that, I thought I’d share a couple of photos from our recent Thanksgiving dinner on Virgin Gorda.  It was very traditional with turkey, stuffing, and the like, but what was different was the venue…. for which, of course, we were all incredibly thankful.

Here’s a photo of the kids with their boat friends…

Cruising kids at Thanksgiving

And here are the parents lining up for the buffet….

US Thanksgiving Buffet 2009

Stay tuned… Shortly, I’ll provide an update on our time in the US Virgin Islands – St. John and St. Thomas.

Today (Dec 15) we hope to head to Culebra – one of the Spanish (actually Puerto Rican) Virgin Islands

Cheers,
Colin

We finally made it in the Villager!

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

We’ve lived in our Toronto neighbourhood of Bloor West Village / Swansea for over 15 years and now, after we’ve left, the local community newspaper (& bulk junk mail delivery mechanism) has chosen to write an article about us.

Here it is.

Cheers,

Colin
in St. Thomas, 79F

Google Earth Page Updated

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

Just a short note to say that I updated our Google Earth page of anchorages we’ve visited so far.

Click through (and download the plugin if necessary) and you can get a bird’s eye view of where we’ve been.

Here’s the link

Cheers,
Colin