Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Unspoilt Virgin

Prior to this cruise, my knowledge of the "Virgin Islands" basically extended to the popular parts of the BVI plus St. Thomas airport, ferry terminal, Charlotte Amalie, and Red Hook. I've never had a very high opinion of St. Thomas - and still don't. It's too crowded, too noisy, too dirty, too crime-ridden, with too many cruise ship passengers waddling between too many jewelry stores and souvenir shops. Mind you, there are places I like in the world that are crowded, noisy, dirty, and beset by pickpockets and tourists (offhand, Bangkok comes to mind)...but those places have charms to offset the negatives. St. Thomas is just woefully short on charm, and that opinion has solidified as I've become familiar with the other Virgins: Culebra, Vieques, St. Croix and especially St. John. The contrast between St. Thomas and St. John is all the more stark for them being a stone's throw away from each other. Basically, we're all lucky that the Laurance Rockefeller bought up a good chunk of St. John and donated it the National Park Service to form the nucleus of Virgin Islands National Park, thereby preventing the developers from ruining it as they did her sister to the west.

We picked up a mooring ball in Caneel Bay, just off Honeymoon Beach, on the afternoon of May 3rd. We noticed Pura Vida on a nearby ball but they were not on the boat; we had seen on Facebook that Ainsley's mom was in town and they were hanging out with her. We took Piper for a potty break on the beach - which is signposted no dogs, so we kept him on a leash and took him more inland to do his business - and then headed to town (Cruz Bay). We landed the dinghy at the National Park Service office, visited it and got a hiking map of the island, then headed to the nearby St. John Brewers Taptoom. I've enjoyed their beers for years - particularly the Island Hoppin' IPA - so it was a treat to visit them in person. Afterwards we had an early dinner at Rhumblines, a pan-Asian restaurant and bar with a killer happy hour (half off all drinks and shared plates, of which they have about 20 awesome creations).

On Friday morning I was busy with boatwork when someone rapped on the hull. To my surprise it was Stephen from S/V Carpe Ventum - I hadn't seen their boat in the anchorage. We chatted for a bit and agreed to meet that night in town. We didn't know where they'd be - but Cruz Bay is pretty small! Indeed, Stephen and Luiza saw us walking on the street and shouted down at us from the balcony of the Quiet Mon Pub, an unique Irish-Rasta bar. They introduced us to John and Belinda from S/V Be As You Are, another couple on the thorny path we'd heard about multiple times but hadn't yet met. John and Belinda had been coming to St. John for about 15 years before they bought a boat, so they knew the island very well. John, Belinda, Stephen and I made plans to hike early the next morning (plus Piperdog) - plans that were thrown a bit into doubt when both couples came back to Windbird for a nightcap and stayed very late!

To our mutual surprise, everyone showed up on Honeymoon Beach at 7am. We hiked up the Caneel Spur trail to the coast road and then up Caneel Hill. The trail wasn't as steep as I expected until the very top, and it was something under 800' vertical. John and Belinda were planning to go down the hill via the west side for coffee and banana bread at the North Shore Deli in Cruz Bay, but Steve and I elected to keep going up to the next, taller hill and then down to the coast road near the entrance to Caneel Bay Resort. We had just topped that second hill when John and Belinda caught up to us - they had decided to do the full hike after all. The entire thing ended up taking about 2 hours; unfortunately a security guard wouldn't let us onto the currently closed Caneel Bay Resort (a classic eco-resort created by Laurance Rockefeller that took massive damage from Irma), so we had to walk back via the coast road. I invited John and Belinda over to the boat for breakfast, and told Stephen to spread the word that everyone was invited that afternoon for a combination Kentucky Derby / Cinco de Mayo party.

It ended up being quite the full boat: John and Belinda, Stephen and Luiza, the four Keys from S/V Pura Vida, and a French-Canadian couple who are friends with Stephen and Luiza (don't recall the boat name, though). Everyone brought food to share - we grilled up some Carne Asada that had been marinating all day - and I mixed up lots of Margaritas and Mint Juleps. Unfortunately our AT&T data connection wasn't the best and our stream of the Kentucky Derby cut out halfway though the race! We restored it to see that race favorite Justify had won by two lengths. The party went fairly late, though everyone said they wanted to go hiking in the morning. I had my doubts.

To our mutual surprise, everyone again turned out for hiking at 7am! We again went up Caneel Hill, but this time took the west trail down to town for breakfast at North Shore Deli. We then returned via the coastal trail, all in all a very nice hike. As always, Piper sure seemed to enjoy the exercise. We usually take him off leash while hiking; he's very good about scouting a bit ahead and then returning or waiting for us to catch up.
 
After returning from the hike I ran a bag of garbage into town and then we motorsailed over to Maho Bay. S/V Be As You Are was staying in Caneel Bay as they had to reposition to St. Thomas in a day or two, while S/V Pura Vida jumped over to the BVI to rejoin Vela, Rondo, Savannah, and Britican as they waited for a window across the Anegada Passage. S/V Carpe Ventum, however, came over to Maho shortly after us, which was nice as we'd been getting to know Stephen and Luiza. They're a friendly, energetic couple in their early 30s, who recently got engaged.

We really liked Maho. It is far more protected and calm than Caneel, which was pretty exposed to wakes from the ferry boats that regularly pass nearby. The beach is gorgeous, and there are tons of sea turtles in the bay. During our three days there we and Carpe Ventum snorkeled, paddleboarded, hiked from nearby St. Francis Beach to the ruins of the Annaberg Sugar Plantation, and took a dinghy adventure over to Trunk and Cinnamon Bays. Finally on the morning of the 9th they took off for St. Croix, from which they planned to cross the Anegada Passage to Saba or St. Kitts.

Meanwhile we headed over to Waterlemon Bay, via an excruciatingly slow passage through The Narrows against 25 knots of wind, big waves, and 2 knots of current. Waterlemon was perfectly protected, though, and there we spent two days hiking to nearby ruins and snorkeling the bay and nearby Waterlemon Cay. There was only one other boat in the bay when we got there, and we mostly had the place to ourselves. There are lots of turtles, sharks, and rays, plus a lot of smaller reef fish on the west side of Waterlemon Cay. On Thursday afternoon I was at the beach with Piper when I was approached by three older women with snorkeling gear who inquired how they could get out to Waterlemon Cay. I indicated they could walk to the end of the beach and then swim, but then added that Dawn and I were about to go snorkeling out there and I could give them a ride. I should know by now that no good deed goes unpunished! As I dropped the women off at the dinghy mooring, I learned that it was the first time snorkeling for two of them. I went and got Dawn, and by the time I returned one of them was standing on the coral-bound island (which is signposted no landing). I didn't realize it at the time, but she got pretty badly cut up by coral while getting out of the water, and later apparently brushed up against fire coral. I ferried them back to the beach and then retrieved our first aid kit to disinfect the cuts and apply butterfly bandages. The area that had touched fire coral looked terribly inflamed and I advised her to keep hydrocortisone on it and see a doctor if it was still bad after a couple days. "For future reference," I told her, "Don't touch any coral while snorkeling!" Guess I should have made that clear beforehand.

Waterlemon Bay was the last protected anchorage on St. John's north coast, as strong easterlies / southeasterlies continued to feed big swells into every bay with any eastern exposure. It's been an unusually windy May (after an unusually windy winter). We planned to stop at a couple places on St. John's southeastern side before crossing to St. Croix, which was a close to beam reach that could potentially be a tough beat across 35 miles of open ocean.

Next Post: Coral Harbour and Great & Little Lameshur Bays, St. John.

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