Thursday, December 29, 2016

Final Christmas aboard S/V BeBe

Sunset viewed from Francis Bay
Christmas day was an ultra-quiet celebration for us this year.  Ten years ago we spent Christmas day anchored in nearby Christmas Cove on the eastern side of Great St. James Island.  There, we enjoyed watching boats come and go all day as Christmas Cove is sort of the traditional place to spend Christmas day in the USVI.  This year neither of us felt the urge to go the short distance there -- and then have to deal with coming straight back into the wind to return to Francis Bay.  And we have come to really enjoy being in Francis Bay on St. John.  

Foxy and Judy

For a change of scenery a few days past we sailed up to Great Harbour on Jost Van Dyke. The first day there weather was lovely.  On Christmas Eve day we went ashore for lunch at Foxy's -- a 'must do' anytime one stops at Jost.  Foxy chatted with us and bought us a drink on the house to honor our having sailed around the world since last seeing him.  Foxy told us that when his youngest daughter graduated from university that he wanted to give her a trip around the world in 80 days -- as the classic Jules Verne book was entitled.  But he found that this was not possible.  Instead, his daughter and her mom enjoyed a trip around the world in 90 days.  A fabulous graduation gift!  

A charter boat moored next to us.  The guy
would lay in that swan & drink beer.
By the way, years ago we chatted with Foxy's wife one day while Foxy was singing and joking with the band.  She told us Foxy had no idea how much money he has; money means very little to him.  That sure appeared to be the case as we watched him and saw how much he enjoyed telling stories to the audience and singing with the band while sipping rum in his world-famous beach bar and restaurant.  Mama was the money person.  Thanks mostly to her, each of their children has graduated from Ivy League universities in the USA.  We did not see her this time and I was hesitant to inquire because feared she might have passed away.  After all, they are getting up in years!  I hope she is well and that we just missed seeing her that particular day.  Foxy remains as always, full of life and joy, and completely unpretentious, while being one of the wealthiest (if not THE wealthiest) person in the British Virgin Islands.

A house called Steele Point.  My favorite house
in the BVI.  Looks like they have added onto it.
It is located on NW tip of Soper's Hole and is
available to rent for a nice relaxing vacation.
Within minutes of returning to the boat after lunch Bill decided it was just too rough to remain in Great Harbour.  He went back ashore to clear out, but found the officials were out to lunch and about 20 people waiting in the office to clear out.  We upped anchor and motor-sailed over to Soper's Hole and cleared out there.  That was faster than waiting for the officials to return in Jost and then waiting our turn in queue.  Winds were solid over 20 knots and forecast to go higher and remain high for days.  Francis Bay on St. John was looking better and better by the minute.  That bay provides the best shelter from NE winds and swell.  We were back on 'our' mooring before 4 pm.  Next to us was S/V Allegro with Lee and Sharon aboard; this was the boat moored next to BeBe for the final 2 or 3 weeks in Trinidad. 

Christmas carolers
Just before dark several dinghies arrived at the stern of BeBe singing Christmas carols.  These folks were Salty Dawgs.  I do not know if they arrived in the Virgins with the Salty Dawg rally from mainland USA or if they arrived with the Salty Dawg North rally which sailed up from Bequia.  
Christmas carolers
That rally was in Bequia when we stopped there on our way north, but we moved on and did not attend their party.  This was the first time we had heard of the northbound Salty Dawgs. I do not know if this is an annual organized event or if people who had participated in the southbound Salty Dawg rally the previous year got together and sailed north in an unofficial group.  The Christmas carolers visited all the boats moored in Francis Bay on this Christmas Eve; then they gathered on one of the boats to party.  They invited us to join them but I did not want to intrude on their party since we knew none of the folks except Lee and Sharon.

The wind instrument which we thought again was working properly has continued to give us grief.  Intermittently the readings go very low, indicating like 2 knots of wind when we know it is more like 20 knots.  Most of the time it appears to be accurate but every once and awhile it indicates low readings.  Bill has been to the top of the mast to work on this 6 or 7 times already.  We now have 2 complete masthead units and each exhibits this identical intermittent low reading problem.  We have a new mount with attached cable and want to have that installed.  Since this is installed with 4 stainless steel bolts into the aluminum mast, we are positive that the 14-year-old bolts up there are seized.  So it is time for a professional to do this replacement!   Both BVI riggers we have contacted are booked solid until after 1 January, as is the B&G distributor.  We are on the 'call list' for all of them and will give the job to whomever can get to it first.  I find it difficult to understand that hiring someone for this job is so hard!!  We would like to have the wind instrument in proper working order before the new owners arrive 11 January, but it looks like that will not happen.  The rigger we spoke with in St. Thomas said he cannot get to this job until 26 January!

Today we went into American Yacht Harbor in Red Hook bay on St. Thomas to have batteries delivered and installed.  It was that time again!  Only 3 batteries actually tested bad; the other 9 house bank batteries still tested fine.  We were going to replace the 6 batteries that we bought in Montenegro since 3 of those are bad, and we were going to leave the 6 purchased in Turkey because all those are still fine.  But the purchasers of BeBe wanted us to replace all of them (including the starting battery, which also still tests fine) and they will split the cost with us.  We ordered the 13 batteries a couple of weeks ago and the shipment arrived in St. Thomas yesterday.  Each battery weighs nearly 100 pounds.  That would be 1300 pounds lifted up out of the battery compartment; moved up the companionway steps into the cockpit; moved up over the cockpit seats to the deck level; lifted up over the life rail and then down onto the dock.  And then another 1300 pounds reversing all those steps!  Bill and I have done this job ourselves in the past but decided we are too old to do such physical work anymore.  Don't get me wrong -- we could do it -- but we would ache for days afterward!  Time to pay someone else with stronger backs and more flexible legs for this heavy work.  Batteries were delivered right on schedule and all tested fine.  All installed and are charging as I type this blog posting.

We are spending the night at this marina.  Not sure where going tomorrow.  What you want to bet we end up right back in Francis Bay again?

A bright rainbow very close to our boat in Francis Bay on St. John, USVI.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Martinique to USVI

 Sailing up the island chain is now somewhat of a blur in memory; so much so that I must refer to our log book to remember where and when.

We arrived at Marina du Marin in Martinique on Thursday, 10 November 2016, and took a mooring, hoping to be there only 1 day so we could pick up a new propane gas solenoid from the Amel service center located in Le Marin.  The solenoid had failed on our final day in St. Lucia while I was baking muffins.  Gas supply shut down when the solenoid failed.  Bill found a union fixture at a local chandlery and installed that as a temporary fix.  The only solenoids available locally and online were the cheap kind and we wanted to replace it with exactly the same kind as original.  This is a German produced solenoid and costs about 6 times the price of the typical cheap versions used in most boats.  Bill telephoned Amel in Le Marin and learned they had 1 in stock, so we sailed up there. 

Rigger in Martinique replacing forward port shroud
That was quickly completed and we were ready to head off again when received an email from the buyers of BeBe stating that they would like to have a rigging inspection performed while we were there at the Amel service center.  There is a rigger nearby who is recommended by Amel.  The following day was a holiday but the rigger agreed to do the inspection then rather than make us hang around until the following week.  Next morning 2 riggers arrived shortly after 09:00 and 1 of them quickly was up the mast.  Inspection took less than half-hour.  The port side forward baby shroud had 2 tiny spots of discoloration near the upper swage.  The rigger said these 2 tiny discolorations could be an indication that 2 of the 19 twisted wires might be broken inside the shroud.  The rigger looked shocked when Bill immediately told him to replace the shroud.  Bill figured might as well replace it now while at a place recommended by Amel – why take a chance;  if there is any possibility of a problem with a piece of the rigging, then replace it immediately.  We moved the boat over next to the rigger’s office and work facility and within 2 hours the shroud was replaced and we were motoring out of Le Marin.

It was too late in the day to go anywhere so we anchored at St. Anne’s once again.  Ended up staying there a few days before sailing 26.5 NM up to St. Pierre, where we anchored only overnight (rolly!!  & tight spaces!!).  At 05:30 the next morning anchor was up and we were motoring out of St. Pierre in the dark.  This turned into a very lively day of sailing.  Forecast was for 12-15 knots wind from 110 degrees but we never saw that.  Actual experience was solid 25 knots minimum, mostly 30, with gusts to40 knots – from 40 degrees to 80 degrees!  Forget that downwind sailing we were expecting.  Wind was on beam or slightly forward of the beam all day.

Strange clouds at sea
As we sailed well westward in the lee of Dominica the wind dropped to comfortable levels, but jumped right back up to ‘a bit too strong’ as we crossed the channel to Ile des Saintes.  About half-way across that channel is when the top half of our wind instrument blew away.  We still had apparent wind speed, but no wind direction.  No more TWS, TWA, AWA; just apparent speed.  Bill tied 2 long plastic strips on the aft mainmast shrouds on port and starboard and those little tell-tails acted as our means of telling apparent wind direction.  Back to the basics!

More strange clouds at sea

We entered via the southwest cut into Ile des Saintes – and would never do that again!!  We had motored through this cut years ago with no problems, but today both the southwest and southeast cuts are filled with literally hundreds of fish traps.  This could be a real mess if attempted during darkness or during rain when could not see the floats to maneuver around and between all those fish traps.  I was very glad to put those behind us!

Where we used to anchor near the town of Terre Haut is now all filled with moorings, so we picked up a mooring.  Ended up staying there exactly 1 week.  This is by far our favorite island in all of the Caribbean.  We first visited Ile des Saintes way back in 1984 when took a Windjammer cruise aboard the Mandalay from Antiqua to Grenada.  It was like a tiny piece of Brittany placed on a Caribbean island.  We were impressed by the women outside washing their stoops and doorways in the mornings. The structures might be meager but the owners took pride in their homes and kept everything very clean.  Those days are gone; the next generation living there today no longer go to the trouble of washing their stoops and steps and doorways each morning.   A little sad to see this change.

Bill went up the mast to assess the damage to our wind instrument.  He ended up going up that mast 3 times and it still was not repaired.  That would happen later.

Bill posted on the Amel Yacht Owners Group and on the Amel Owners FB Group about the parts we needed.  Lo and behold, several people who have upgraded to newer electronics offered up their old units for spare parts.  Pat and Diane on S/V Shenanigans shipped exactly what we needed to Connections in St. John, USVI.  We are very grateful to them!  Connections is a mailing and shipping service in Cruz Bay which we used when we moved aboard BeBe in 2006.  Great service and reasonably priced.

Also while in Ile des Saintes there was a chance meeting with another Amel owner.  Derrick Gates on S/V Brava, along with crew members Doug, Roger and Gracie, arrived and moored nearby for a couple of days.  It was a pleasure meeting them.  Derrick treated us to delicious dinner at a lovely little garden restaurant; the French do know how to cook!  Derrick has followed our blog and conversation was fun because he already knew so many of the places and experiences that Bill and I have enjoyed over the years.  This was a very enjoyable evening for many reasons – companionship, conversation, food, discussion with fellow Amel owners.  One of Derrick’s crew members also owns an Amel; I believe he said in Maine; and Gracie is his chef.  We enjoyed drinks and snacks aboard Brava before going ashore for dinner and I can attest to Gracie’s skills as a chef.  She produced some small fish cakes accompanied by a pickled lettuce garnish which tasted fabulous.  Thank you again for a lovely evening, Derrick!

Deshaies, Guadeloupe
Next leg of our island-hopping north was 35 NM up to Deshaies, Guadeloupe.  Once again, there were many fish traps encountered going out the northwest cut from Ile des Saintes.  If we were entering or exiting Terre Haut again, we would opt to go the extra distance and use only the northeast cut.  That is where all the ferries to and from Guadeloupe enter and exit and there appeared to be no fish traps hampering that route.  We arrived at Deshaies at 15:30 and the anchorage was pretty filled.  All the moorings were taken, plus there were 18 boats anchored outside the moorings.  And boats were pointed in every direction because the wind swirls through this bay due to the surrounding high mountains on 3 sides.  We dropped anchor pretty much in the middle of the bay in 9.9 meters depth and could let out only 46 meters of chain.  The bay was too congested to allow more scope.  Turned out not to be a problem; holding was excellent.

Montserrat.  The light areas are the ash flow that covered the major
town of Plymouth when the volcano erupted not so many years ago.
Not a single person died as they were evacuated to the northern tip
of the island.  The volcano remains active.
At 05:15 anchor was up and we were motoring out of the bay.  An ‘Oh-Dark-Thirty’ beginning once again.  It was a black pre-dawn exit with no problems.  This day would be 78 NM to St. Kitts.  We motor-sailed or sailed 75% and motored 25% of the distance.  Our course was basically 320 degrees and wind 20 knots at 120-150 degrees apparent and 2.5 meter seas, which meant jib poled to port and plenty of rolling all day long.  This time we skipped Montserrat, going up the western side well off shore to avoid any volcanic ash in the breeze.  We have seen boats really messed up by that volcanic ash.  It is so acidic and destroys gel coat on boats.  Normally we have gone on the eastern windward side of this island but this time we decided to chance the western leeward side as that was better direction for our desired route.  Thankfully, the volcano was not burping that day and we slipped past with no ash landing on BeBe.

Sometimes what you see is not what is real.  This
is called Long Point and it does look like a long
point protruding from the SW tip of Nevis.
As we approached Nevis and St. Kitts squalls were building.  I checked our log book and noted where we had anchored when last here in 2006.  We headed toward that waypoint in Ballast Bay  as a squall rolled through.  I was very thankful to have that waypoint; knew if we safely went there 10 ½ years ago then we should be safe returning there today – even though we could see nothing past 25-feet around our boat.  We dropped anchor and put up the yellow Q flag.  

And do you see any Long Point protrusion from the
SW tip of this island?  Nevis is basically a round
island.  But the topography is such that the SW
tip does appear to be a long point jutting out
into the sea.  An optical illusion. 
The following morning we motored out of Ballast Bay just before 10:00 and almost instantly a large rib zoomed up beside us filled with Dutch marines and a guy who worked for St. Kitts (coast guard?).  We slowed and several of them boarded BeBe.  They did not even do a cursory inspection; 3 of the Dutch marines stood on the deck while the St. Kitts guy sat in the cockpit and filled out a form, just the basic information and basic safety equipment verification.  He asked to see 2 lifejackets and the flares and confirmed we had VHF and HF radios.  Everyone was very friendly and within 10 minutes they departed and we continued motoring away from St. Kitts.  In all our years of boating this was the 2nd time we have been boarded.  Coincidentally, the only other time BeBe has been boarded also was by the Dutch – in Curacao in August or September 2007.  That time they searched the entire boat; this time was just questions.  Each time everyone was very professional.

St. Kitts.  A fort on top of the small hill by the sea
The sail from St. Kitts to St. John was 146 NM and was very fast!  Course once again was basically 320 degrees with wind 20 knots from 80 degrees.  This placed jib poled to port and mizzen to port with preventer.  The mizzen acts to reduce twist and roll in the 2.5 meter confused seas; large swell from southwest and wind waves from northeast.  When in the lee of St. Kitts, again in lee of Statia and again in lee of tiny Saba, the seas calmed and sailing was very pleasant.  Other than in the lee of those 3 islands, seas were confused and uncomfortable.  When Bill glanced down and saw we were doing 10 knots SOG he decided to reef that jib!  We continued under single reef until sometime during the night when boat speed again crept up to over 9 knots SOG and I put a second reef in the jib.  Still our boat speed was faster than I prefer.  We sailed 146 NM is 20 hours – averaging 7.3 knots SOG.  And that includes the time for the Dutch marines boarding and the time motoring through the channel at St. John and finding a mooring at Caneel Bay.  So the sailing average SOG probably was greater than 8 knots.  I prefer 6.5 knots sailing speed.  I do not like fast sailing.

S/V Eos.  We last saw this mega yacht in Ponce, Italy.  A friend
worked as crew on this special yacht back then but now works on
another mega-motoryacht.  Eos anchored near us in St. Kitts.
This final overnight sail was bittersweet.  It marks the ‘last time’ and in some ways I am happy about that and in other ways quite sad about it.  The ‘last time’ for watching the bio-luminescence flow down the side of the boat at night.  The ‘last time’ for my enjoyable solitude at sea at night.  The ‘last time’ to see the sky laden with hundreds of thousands of stars, as only can be seen from sea with no ambient lighting from nearby lands.  The ‘last time’ watching other vessels pass in the darkness.  I will so very much miss these things and am very grateful to have had these experiences.

We picked up a park mooring in Caneel Bay, St. John, before 07:00 on Thanksgiving Day.  We rested a bit and then went into Customs and Immigration in Cruz Bay to handle inbound clearance.  While clearing in we learned that our LBO (Local Boaters Option) cards which we had obtained in November 2006 are still valid!!!  The official said these LBO cards are “pure gold” because these are much better than the current SVRS program.  With the SVRS program vessels are supposed to file float plans.  With the LBO cards, we merely need to telephone when we arrive in USVI or Spanish Virgins or Puerto Rico.  As long as we own this boat then these LBO cards remain valid, although these are not available anymore.

Update:  Effective 31 December 2016 all LBO information was purged from the systems.  The only option today is the SVRS scheme.  Biggest difference between the old LBO system and the SVRS system is that SVRS requires filing float plans online.  Which can be difficult since cruising boats are not connected to the internet 24/7/365.

That afternoon I roasted the small piece of turkey which was purchased at Ile des Saintes.  Our Thanksgiving feast was comprised of roast turkey, peas, mashed potatoes and gravy and followed by pecan pie.  The worst pecan pie I have ever baked, but appreciated by both of us regardless.  This was an impromptu Thanksgiving meal as we had thought we would be at sea all day. 

The following morning we loaded 7 of the 10 boxes of books which I had packed back in Trinidad and took these to the US Post Office in Cruz Bay.  There we learned that for whatever reason this particular post office location will not allow any shipments in boxes which have names of liquor or beer or wine printed on the outside.  The clerk said those alcohol boxes are the strongest boxes but she is not allowed to accept these for shipment.  She loaned me a black marker and I crossed out those offending words on some of the boxes, but the Heineken boxes had the word Heineken all over them.  We took these boxes down the street to Connections, where we purchased heavy brown paper and packing tape and wrapped the boxes.  Then back to the post office and shipped them.  We returned to the boat for the remaining 3 boxes and got those posted also.  Got to love the US Post Office right now!  They consider USVI as domestic postal rates and also allow media rate from here to the mainland.  We shipped 200 pounds of books in 10 boxes for total cost of around $130.  That is a deal!

While at Connections we picked up the package of wind instrument parts shipped from Pat and Diane on S/V Shenanigans.  They were life savers!  These parts are exactly what we needed.  Bill has already tested everything and between what we had and what Shennigans gave us, it all works perfectly.  If it works down here at deck level then it should work when mounted at the top of the mast.

All the shipping taken care of that could be handled this day, we slipped the mooring line and motored over to Francis Bay at the northeastern side of St. John.  This bay brings back many memories of our charter days with friends back in the 1980s and very early 1990s.  The following day friends Pam and Larry Shelton on S/V Southern Girl arrived from the BVI.  It was great finally catching up with them while on our respective boats.  Pam is one of those friends with whom we chartered back in the 80s and 90s.  They headed off towards Puerto Rico the following morning, while Bill and I remained on this mooring for several more days. 

We have made a couple more trips to the post office to ship more boxes, each time returning to the same mooring in Francis Bay.  Bill has installed the repaired wind instrument on top of the mast and all works perfectly once again.  I am very glad this is so.  It was more difficult than I imagined picking up a mooring pennant without knowing the exact direction of the wind.  Once we had to make 3 attempts to pick up a mooring.  That is shameful!  We normally get it accomplished effortlessly on the first attempt.