Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Cruising in Company

Dawn and I are sporadic buddy-boaters at best. While we're fairly social and have made a lot of great friends out here, we also decided early on that in the interest of comfort and safety we would sail our own boat and keep our own agenda. This has resulted in us buddy-boating closely with other boats for relatively short periods of time, or very loosely buddy-boating for longer periods, or sporadic combinations thereof. Our "closest" buddy boaters this season were Dane, Mak and Isla on S/V Sea Otter, but we actually only did two passages together, from Mayaguana to Provo and from Provo to Luperon (and three weeks of waiting in Provo in between!); since then we've met up in several places in the Spanish Virgins, BVI and USVI. Our friends Erin and Kara on S/V Vela were on a fairly different schedule than us this year, but we met up in Cape May, NJ, a couple places on the Chesapeake, SamanĂ¡ DR, and throughout the BVI.

We knew beforehand that our friends Lance, Chris and Mark would want to buddy boat with us while they chartered in the BVI, and we did spend several days with S/V Jada. What I didn't expect was that my birthday would kick off two weeks of buddy-boating with a good half-dozen boats! Dawn joked that my party never really ended. It was a dramatic change from the previous two weeks when we'd been slow-cruising the BVI by ourselves and getting boat work done. Now, sail every day and party every night became the name of the game. It was a lot of fun - but I'm not sure I could do it all season long (and Dawn definitely wouldn't want to do it for longer than we did)!

On April 18th we sailed back over from Jost van Dyke to Cane Garden Bay, a two-tack beat on a somewhat squally day. We were joined there by S/Vs Jada, Sea Otter, Vela, Savannah, and Carpe Ventum. In the afternoon we hung on the beach for a bit with Sea Otter, and then us, Jada and Vela walked over to the Callwood Distillery for a short tour and rum sampling; we subsequently hired the kid who working there (and about to close up) to drive us up to Stoutt's Lookout Bar for sundowners. That night we hung out with Jada and figured out our onward itinerary.

The next morning Jada, Windbird and Vela all left Cane Garden Bay at about the same time, and naturally a sailboat race ensued. It was a hard beat up to Guana Island, and I'm happy to say Windbird took line honors despite an accidental 360 when we were trying to come up to the wind to reef. I wasn't surprised to beat Vela, an IP40; while Island Packets are good stout boats, they're known for being not particularly weatherly on account of their shoal draft and full keel. But Jada (a new 48' Beneteau) should have been much faster and more weatherly than us, so I had to give Lance some ribbing over us beating them. We snorkeled at Monkey Point, after which Vela decided to return to Cane Garden Bay (and give up all that easting!) while Jada stayed with us as we motored another mile east to Lee Bay on the west side of Great Camanoe Island. It was my first time there, and I really liked it - since we were the first two boats in and were able to snug right up to shore and anchor in good sand. A number of other boats came in after us, and had a lot of trouble getting their anchor to set in the surrounding rock and coral. With polarized sunglasses I could see the available sandy spots as plain as day but none of the charter boaters could seem to find them; after several gave up and went elsewhere, a cruising catamaran zipped in, dropped their hook on the bullseye, and fell back pretty as you please.

On Friday morning Jada left early to drop Mark and Jim off in Trellis Bay so they could catch their flights out of the Beef Island Airport. Dawn and I were considering spending another night in Lee Bay, as seemed quite protected and calm though you get the full breeze from a low point on Great Camanoe Island. The downside is that, post-Irma, the former white sand beach is covered with large rocks and small sharp coral bits, making landing the dinghy a challenge. Piper hates beaches like that too; though he'll do his business, we try to get him some exercise during his shore visits. On Friday afternoon I ran Piper over to the nearest sandy beach, on Little Camanoe Island about a mile away. When I got back some wraparound swell had started to work its way into Lee Bay so we decided to leave after all, joining Jada in Trellis Bay. Lance's crew and guests for the second half of his charter wouldn't be arriving until the next day, so it was just him and us for the night.

We left Trellis early on Saturday morning, for we had a long beat ahead of us. We motorsailed clear of Scrub Island Sound but then killed the engine and headed ESE on a port tack almost to Fallen Jerusalem, then NNE on a long starboard tack just east of the Dogs and throwing in a short tack to clear the Seal Dogs. Tacking north again off Mountain Point, we came together with a Leopard 48 - and again a sailboat race apparently ensued as he tacked to cover, ahead and slightly leeward of us. He was faster than us but wasn't pointed as high; we tacked away SE to Mosquito Rock, and when we came back together near Necker Island we were well ahead. We sailed into Eustatia Sound from the north side of Prickly Pear and dropped the hook in the lee of Eustatia Island. What a beautiful anchorage! I've been to North Sound many times but was always too chicken to go past Saba Rock and thread my way through the coral. I don't know why not, it's perfectly visible in midday light.

Shortly after we arrived S/V Rondo came into the anchorage. They'd been hanging out on the west side of Virgin Gorda and we Facebook messaged them that we'd be coming to Eustatia. We really like the Rondo crew. Mike and Sarah aren't much older than us and are really great people; I think we're pretty close in temperament and outlook on cruising. Their kids Mikey (13) and Katelyn (12) are adorable, well-adjusted and well-behaved; it's been fun to watch them blossom into full-fledged cruiser kids this year, their first on the boat (we first met them in Staniel Cay, Bahamas). When we showed up, the kids served us virgin Pina Coladas and Bushwhackers they'd concocted (add your own rum!), and then Mikey and I had a good discussion about what fish do and do not have ciguatera in the BVI and his opinions on what color of squid skirts are best for catching Mahi, Wahoo and Tuna. He's become quite the fisherman, and has started making and selling his own lures. Sea Otter had bought one to give to me for my birthday, and as it was very well built Dawn and I ordered several others. Mikey would have gone on talking fishing all day but I suggested we go catch ourselves some lobster, and on the reef just north of the anchorage in about 30' of water I managed to catch a good big one. We donated it to that night's feast on board Rondo, and in gratitude Mikey sketched up charts of all his favorite lobster holes throughout the Bahamas, for our return there in a few years!

The next morning, Dawn and I went snorkeling a few places in Eustatia Sound. The first one was unimpressive but I did get another lobster; the next was pretty fantastic but there were no lobster to be found. Later, Lance and S/V Jada came into the anchorage with new crew: our friend Chris (another 1/4th owner of the charter boat) along with brand new sailors Jason, Devin, Rick and Rachel. We loaded up our two dinghies and took them snorkeling at another promising place I had spied on my last snorkel safari, a gap in the reef on the NE side of the sound. There were a ton of lobstery-looking heads about 40 feet down, which is about the limit of my lobster-hunting ability (I can free dive to about 60' but have absolutely no bottom time when I do that). I found a couple of lobsters but they were all on the small side so I left them to grow for the next time we visit Eustatia Sound, likely this fall. I really, really liked this anchorage. Protected, no mooring balls, no charter boats, beautiful water, fantastic snorkeling, great long sandy beach for Piper to run on....

At 2pm we headed over to Leverick Bay via the Saba Island cut; Jada and Rondo went the "long" way (actually shorter since you don't have to avoid coral). We anchored behind the Leverick Bay mooring field and were shortly joined by S/Vs Sea Otter and Carpe Ventum. I dinghied to the marina and arranged with a taxi driver to bring us all up to Hog Heaven, the cool BBQ joint overlooking North Sound from high on Virgin Gorda that Dawn and I had found earlier in the month. With seventeen hungry cruisers from five boats to be ferried up the hill, the taxi driver had to take two trips but it worked out well as the restaurant was able to clear three tables to push together right as the second load arrived. It was a really nice night, almost a repeat of my birthday bash, except with fantastic, inexpensive food this time. Everyone raved over Hog Heaven. I now consider it a BVI must-do.

After coming back to the boats, we hung out with Dane, Mak and Isla on Sea Otter as it was the last time we'd see them in the BVI. Originally bound for Trinidad, they had concluded that cruising with an infant was too difficult, especially since they're planning to have another kid soon; they decided to return to Florida and put the boat up for sale. We'd see them once more this season, though; we made plans to meet in St. Thomas early in May.

With the last easting of the season behind our transom, it was time to enjoy some downwind sailing. On Monday morning we headed out of north sound ahead of all the other boats except Rondo, sailing all the way down to the Baths. It was already a zoo when we got there and instead of fighting for a mooring ball we elected to anchor just north in Trunk Bay. It was a pretty choppy, rolly anchorage but we weren't staying on the boat; we swam ashore to tromp through the Baths and relax on the beach at Devil's Bay. We were eventually joined there by Rondo, and then also S/Vs Jada, Pura Vida (who we hadn't seen since my birthday) and Britican, who we'd heard a lot about but hadn't yet met. After returning to Windbird and eating lunch we headed down to Cooper Island, where S/V Vela had already anchored on the south side of Manchioneel Bay. Every mooring ball was full; while Dawn and I motored east of the mooring field deciding where to anchor, we heard a mighty splash from the bow followed by a metallic scream as the anchor pulled the chain over the gypsy and straight down to the seabed 70' below! I had pulled the pin securing the anchor in preparation for anchoring, but clearly this was a bit premature; it fell off the bow roller as soon as we got into chop. Thankfully after a quick sprint to the bow I was able to arrest the chain's escape, we cranked the anchor back up with the Windlass, and headed to the north side of the bay to anchor clear of the madness of the mooring field. Jada meanwhile decided it was too full for them and hightailed it off to Peter Island. We got together with Vela for the Cooper Island Beach Club's excellent happy hour; unfortunately, they ended up spending a good portion of the night and early morning fending off charter cats that anchored way too close to them.

We and Vela both set sail fairly early on Tuesday the 24th, Windbird's last day in the BVI. We were most of the way over to Peter Island when Vela called on the VHF and informed us that Little Harbour was completely full, they had just grabbed the last spot. I really wanted to anchor there for our last night, so we ducked into Great Harbour and grabbed a mooring ball to wait an hour or two for the anchorage to clear out. Meanwhile Jada was underway to Jost van Dyke for the day to introduce the BVI newbies to the charms of the Soggy Dollar Bar; they said they'd be back to Little Harbour later. After a bit Vela called again and said a few boats
had left, so we motored around the point. My favorite spot in the northeast corner of the anchorage was available, and this time anchoring stern-to went much more smoothly than our first time a month prior. We scooched right up to shore, and spent much of the day paddleboarding, lazing in the water, checking out the ruins on the point up the hill, and paddling over to say hi to Vela and borrow them our Snuba rig for cleaning their bottom.

In late afternoon Jada came back from Jost with a good part
of the crew well lubricated from their visit to White Bay! Little Harbour had filled up again so they rafted up on our starboard side, which worked well as it was a calm night and we were very snugly
situated. Vela came over to Jada for happy hour and dinner; we had a perfect view of the sunset over St. John. We ended up staying up pretty late talking, drinking, and looking at the stars. As popular as Little Harbour has become, it's still one of my favorite BVI anchorages, especially in that NE corner where you can't see the lights of Tortola.

And that wrapped up our month in the BVI. The next morning Jada cast off her docklines pretty early so we could take in our stern line, pull up anchor, and sail over to West End to clear out of the BVI. From there it was a long and at times rowdy downwind sail along the north side of St. John, through Current Cut, and along the south side of St. Thomas to Brewer's Bay. The wind started to ease in the afternoon and Dawn decided to get some laundry done enroute so it had a chance to dry before nightfall; I needed some of it for the work trip I was leaving on the next day. And then the wind died further and I decided to fly the Spinnaker; of course setting it up interfered with the laundry Dawn had hung out to dry, she lost a few clips and one pair of underwear overboard to flogging sheets, and by the time the kite was set we only had five or six miles left. It ended up devolving into an angry shouting match, over pretty much nothing. Dawn and I have very rarely fought throughout the 15 years of our marriage, and had got along well during the first six months of this season, but this was our third or fourth blowout in April. We were obviously getting on each others nerves; seven month of very close proximity (and ten weeks since I'd last left the boat) were clearly taking a toll. It was a good time to go make some money - and take a 5-day vacation from each other!

Next post: Adventures in Commuting from St. Thomas, and our 10-day cruise of St. John.


  1. Thanks for the great update Sam! Sounds like it has been a good sailing season for you thus far!

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