Monday, May 28, 2018

Southside

On Friday May 11th the trade winds were down a couple knots from earlier in the week but continued to gust to 20+. We motorsailed out of Waterlemon Bay and then began tacking up the channel between St. John and Tortola, in the process getting a good view of the giant pile of post-Irma debris on the SW side of Tortola that had supposedly spontaneously caught fire a few days earlier and still wasn't quite extinguished. Eventually we were able to lay Privateer Point and then ease off into Coral Bay. There was some pretty big wraparound swell coming from the south side of Norman Island into the bay, and I suspected a lot of it would work its way into Coral Harbour. When we got there, it didn't really matter - the anchorage was far too choked with derelict local boats plus sunken boats marked by floats for us to squeeze in. Instead we moved a mile south to Johnson Harbor, where the reef off the point knocked the swell down nicely and we were able to find a perfect little patch of sand to drop the hook in and fall back into the protected area. It was a bit of a wet dinghy ride into Coral Harbor, but I'll trade a sporty dinghy ride for a smooth and safe anchorage any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

There's not a lot at Coral Harbor, it's considerably smaller and more spread out than Cruz Bay. The dinghy dock is well away from the grocery store (which is near the water, but nowhere convenient to land) so we got in a bit of a walk around the smelly salt swamp and grove of pretty beat-up mangroves at the head of the bay. Contractors were hard at work erecting new power poles - they're getting pretty close to reestablishing power to the entire island, and there are a lot of handmade signs at local businesses thanking them for their efforts. The Coral Harbor Dolphin Market isn't quite as good as the Cruz Bay branch (which is good indeed) but it was still decent for the size of town and we were able to find most of what we needed. On our way back we went just past the the dinghy dock for happy hour at the renowned Skinny Legs Cafe. They were cool about us bringing Piper in, and the waitresses fawned over him the entire time, a pretty common reaction. Over the course of this season Piper has become far more comfortable around strangers.

The next morning we sailed out of Coral Bay, around Ram Head point, and down to Great Lameshur Bay. There was still a big SE swell running and I was worried about how messy the bay would be. There was nobody in there when we arrived; by tucking ourselves into the very last mooring ball we were able to get out of the worst of the surge, and it ended up being a reasonably comfortable anchorage. I spent all afternoon scrubbing Windbird's bottom, which I'd let go far too long. It wasn't as noticeable when we were sailing, but the fouling was quite apparent when motorsailing into a stiff wind. Even using our Snuba rig, it took well over three hours to scrub the bottom and running gear clean. Dawn spent the time doing other boat work and taking Piper for a paddleboard ride.

My reward for Saturday's hard work was Sunday Funday. We started with a nice hike out to Yawzi Point, the peninsula separating Great and Little Lameshur Bays, then walked along the road up the hill to where we could get a little cell phone signal to call our respective moms and wish them a happy Mother's Day. We finished our hike with a climb up the Tektite Trail to its overlook of Great Lameshur Bay. In the afternoon, we loaded up the dinghy and cruised over to Little Lameshur Bay where we tied the dink to a mooring ball and jumped in to snorkel the eastern shore. It was just ok at first - it was shallow and the coral had been damaged by Irma - but as we got out towards Yawzi Point the snorkeling got better and better, albeit more challenging due to some pretty big waves which broke over the shallowest bits of the reef. Dawn hung back while I explored, then I had to come get her because it was too good to miss. The reef has a ton of fish and soft corals, and is criss-crossed by 20-35' deep canyons, two with arches you can swim through at around 20' depth. We'd done some snorkeling in Caneel and Trunk Bays and at Waterlemon Cay, all of which are shallow and were damaged by Irma; this was the first site I found that matched St. John's reputation for excellent snorkeling.

On Monday morning the wind had backed about 10 degrees, to ~095°, turning our sail to St. Croix into a 35-mile close reach rather than a hard beat. That was a good thing because the waves were pretty big, mostly a steep 6' with a few 7 or 8 footers thrown in there. It had been quite a while since we'd done any unprotected open-ocean sailing...the Mona doesn't count since it was calm when we crossed, so I guess the last one would have been our passage from Provo to Luperon. Anyways Piper was a bit uneasy at first but eventually settled down. We made good time, I "put some in the bank" by steering about 10 degrees above the rhumb line, and when we were 15 miles out I was able to come down and turn it into a nearly beam reach. We sailed most of the way down the Old Schooner Channel into Christiansted Harbor, then spent 30 minutes motoring around looking for a good protected place to anchor. There were none; the only protected spot, behind Protestant Cay, was crowded with local boats (though fewer derelicts than St. John). So we anchored in a quasi-protected spot on the north side of Gallows Bay, which at least had the advantage of being near a public park with a decent beach for landing the dinghy for Piper's potty runs. The anchorage ended up being the choppiest and rolliest of the season, and we probably would have left after a few nights except we ended up liking St. Croix so much that we extended our stay by several days.

Next post, Exploring St. Croix.

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