Sunday, January 31, 2010

SUNDAY LUNCH SNORKELING AND SEARCH FOR MISSING PERSON

I am having trouble moving pics again! So you will have to work out what goes where.







Met a British couple who were curious about Elephants Child and we finished up having Sunday lunch at Pirates bar. I suddenly had a flash of homesickness as I WANTED A TRADITIONAL SUNDAY ROAST DINNER! Alas no roast beef, it was a toss up between fresh fish and ribs and as I expect really fresh fish soon I had the ribs. Living aboard before has spoilt me for anything other than really fresh fish, half an hour between sea and plate was the goal, just seems off to me now.

I pootled out after lunch to a nearby rocky island and worked off the carbs in the water. The fish life was spectacular as was the see through cave.

The sun was out and the parrot fish seemed to be shined up and posing at times. It is clear that there is no spear fishing as even the good size fish are happy to come up close.

But there was a somber note in paradise today, I had heard a securite announcement yesterday to be on the alert for a person in the water in the vicinity of Norman Island and today there were boats out towing divers at depth around the anchorage to look for the body.

It took me a while to work out what the orange boat with the two large buoys was doing.

There are all sorts of stories flying around but no one is sure if it was someone who went for a midnight swim or fell overboard or did not return from a scuba session.

Perhaps poeple are mindfull that a couple of powerboat skippers have been jailed over lost "passengers" in the BVI.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Norman Island Buried Treasure

Buried treasure, what heart does not beat just a little faster when there is the possibility of coming across some. Well the walk up the hill certainly got mine beating faster but this island has had treasure buried on it and was the inspiration for the book Treasure Island by RLS.

Tons of silver from a Spanish treasure galleon named Nuestra SeƱora de Guadalupe were hidden here on the island then recovered by locals from Tortola but the local authorities undersome bigwig from Britain made them hand it over. Still I bet there was some considerable shrinkage before the handover. I got to talking to one of the locals off a dive boat and he said that we were standing close to the site where they buried this treasure in the 1750s.

He said there are also persistant rumours of one or more chests filled with gold coins being found in caves around the coast of the island. He told of a couple of fisherman who took refuge in a cave from a storm and then gave up fishing, moved to St Thomas and bought a bar.

It made me look harder around the caves off the western end when I swam inside them while snorkeling to cool off from the walk ashore but no chests of gold to be found..

Still the crowds of white butterflies all around me on the walk up the track to the overlook and the shoals of iridescent fish flocking to hoover up the breadcrumbs bought by the snorkellers was treasure enough today. I shall sleep well tonight.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

BARRACUDA AGAIN and a NOISY BAND!


I thought I would finish off scrubbing my swing keel blade but this pesky cuda keeps hanging about.

I wonder if he has been fed from boats because he was definitely invading my body space.

Discretion won and I did some other jobs including planning how to fit the HF radio, TV and sound system, and was looking forward to an early night when BOOM the band started. This has been a pretty quiet place up until tonight, even the Willy T has been pretty restrained, but these guys are really belting it out.

As Victor Meldrum would say " I don't believe it!"

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

ANCHORED IN THE BIGHT NORMAN ISLAND

SORRY YOU WILL HAVE TO WORK OUT WHICH PIC BELONGS WHERE AS I AM HAVING TROUBLE MOVING THEM TONIGHT.










Well I did not get much sleep Monday night as we rolled and banged around all night despite being aligned to the major swells so it was out with the charts and guides and I decided that the Bight on Norman Island looked like a quiet spot.

The forecast said 20 – 25 knots so I tucked in a reef and left to cross the St Francis Drake Channel to the Bight. It was only a short hop and it was exhilarating sailing with spray flying at times, six and sometimes 7 knots. Despite me fiddling with sail trim I could not get the boat balanced enough for the autopilot to cope with the gusts. Maybe I needed the second reef

Rounding the corner into the Bight I saw it had developed acne, white pimples all over the place. I do not want a mooring, it is tough to pick up a mooring singlehanded. I want to anchor, but after a tour around the anchorage I realized that all the plum spots were taken with moorings and I was relegated to the deeper water with the big boys and dropped the hook in 60 feet. I had got there quite early and as the afternoon passed boats came rolling in including this bald headed wooden schooner who came round the headland flying all sail. I dashed below for the camera and got a shot just as she dropped her headsails. I have seen her before at anchor, she is called the Pride of Massachusett.

As night fell the dinghies nosed up to the side of the Willy T, just like fat puppies to their mother, all looking for a drink. I will go over sometime as it would be criminal not to visit the institution that is the Willy T a replica of a lumber schooner, that has been dispensing food, drink and good times in the Bight for years.

After a really good nights sleep I was ready to go and explore the famed snorkeling site round the corner. I decided that an early visit should find it deserted as nearly all the boats had left, onthere way to the next must see point on their weeks charter. But before I left I dropped the centre board for the first time and went over the side to have a look at it.


Well it is bigger than I thought it would be, as the actress said to the bishop and good do with a scrub, but when I went for a closer look I saw that something was sticking out from the rear. Diving down again with the camera this time to take a shot I found this bad boy was what had tricked me into thinking there was something wrong.

Now I know that 'cuda are not supposed to attack divers unless they are wearing something shiny BUT!

The board is fine but after a quick couple of scrubs I realized that I was being watched by the cuda so decided to finish the scrub another day and dinghied over to the caves, as the snorkeling site is called.

Well I should have known. It was jammed, a cruise ship must be in and all the party boats were over here with loads of punters all snorkeling their pasty white buns off. But I got lucky as I searched for the dinghy mooring, the horns sounded and they gathered up their sunburned cargo and headed off leaving just a few heads in the water.



It was good to have clear water, lots of coral and plenty to see but I need to work getting my free diving ears and lungs back into shape. You could see that some coral kill had taken place as there were some whitening of the reef but mostly it looked healthy and the parrot fish were out in force crunching away at the coral and venting coral sand from their bums as they brunched on the reef.

How am I able to post this? Well despite being anchored off a tiny island with no roads, houses and as far as I can see only one bar there is free WIFI! Thank you Pirates, who ever you are!

Mind you despite the lack off shore facilities it is still possible to get milk eggs bread beer batteries etc from the sea going mobile shop Deliverance.

Now do I fancy an ice cream to finish off the day sitting in the cockpit, updating the blog while I watch with amusement the evening entertainment as the charters try to pick up a mooring buoy, some with much shouting and revving of engines..

Monday, January 25, 2010

Road Harbour Tortola

Checked out early from St Johns and had another good sail through Durloe Channel past Whistling Key and on through the Narrows to Tortola but I had to use the iron topsail for the last bit as the wind died in the lee of Tortola.
I poked my nose into Sopers Hole on the west end of Tortola but decided to press on to Road Harbour as it looked pretty crowded.

My speed over the ground varied a lot as there are strong currents flowing in the narrow channels betwn the different islands, I rockon that I had about 5 knots boat spped but the GPS was showing over 7 knots at times.

It was Sunday and I had heard that overtime would be charged but I was pleasently surprised to find that my total charges were $31 for 30 days. I was expecting it to be higher but either that $4 a day head tax only applies to charter boats or they rescinded it.

I was pleased to get in to Road Harbour and expected it to be quite sheltered but a large northerly swell has set up and it is finding its way in here and I am rolling like a pig in a barrel this evening. I will try a stern line to keep the nose into the swell but the wind is swirling around and I suspect it may not keep the bow where I want it to be.

As the swell is forecast to peak tomorrow and be around till the end of the week I will look for a protected anchorage tomorrow perhaps The Bight on Norman Island will do the trick.

My hero lost last night, I am glad I was too tired to stay up and go to the pub. Brett Favre and the Vikings lost to the New Orleans Saints. Ah well no fairytale ending to his career.

I did watch a bit of the other NFL game in the company of a young couple who work for a big charter operation and they said it has been a pretty quiet year and right enough the marina is full of charter boats that should be out sailing around with happy punters.



This shows the Moorings fleet in oad harbour and there are few empty berths. I guess less than 15% of their boats are out. Some are not even back in the water.



But this is good news for me as the anchorages should be less crowded and there will not be a rush for the "honey spots" like the Baths or the wreck of the Rhone.

Mind you I have to devise a method for picking up a mooring single handed as I am not allowed to anchor in some places.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A JOLLY GOOD DAY AFLOAT

And at days end I discover I have wifi again even though I am in a National Park with little obvious commercial development. Alvin Toffler was right we do have a global village.

Pics are in random places as my drag and drop is not working!


After yesterdays rain and squally winds today was perfect. Blue skies and a gentle southerly breeze was promised by the weatherman and there it was. I topped the tanks off at Yacht Haven Grande, they were really nice and helpful but how pitiful the profit on my 9.6 gallons. A slightly bigger mobo had taken 150,000 gallons last week. I asked him to repeat the number and the units but he got it right first time.
OK it was a ginormous gin palace, the biggest seen so far.

Untied the reef and cranked up the main on Elephants Child as we left harbor and quickly killed the engine. Pulled out the headsail and cranked that in too, I briefly considered the inner headsail but I was not going far and 5 knots was plenty, so left it in its bag.

I had been this route before so there were no navigation jitters, I could just enjoy a jolly good sail, no heroics or buried rails just a beam reach on a sparkling sea. I was a good boy and followed the guides advice and started the engine as a precaution as we approached Current Cut but it was not needed.

I had hoped to anchor in Cruz Bay but it was crowded and buoyed off and the ferries were queuing up so I went round the corner to Caneel Bay and was faced with picking up a free mooring or anchoring. Anchoring is so much easier than trying to pick up a mooring so down it went and I dinghied back around the corner to Cruz Bay to meet Jan one of the former owners of Elephants Child and to see about checking out. I collected a cheque to cover a missing inventory item and returned some artwork that they had missed when they moved off the boat. There was a queue at Customs and Immigration and I was tired so it was back home for a sundowner.

The last of the ferries and the last of the high speed wake producing noise making rushed off home at umpteen gallons an hour, leaving a truly peaceful anchorage, a giant but more conventional catamaran rumbled in and anchored nearby, but they were quiet too.

While watching the sunset and the highlights on the cloud edges I ruminated on the day, it had been a jolly good sail, yet two thirds of the boats I saw were motoring. If you are going to motor on a day like today, why bother with a boat with sails. Maybe one or two were delivery jobs but not all surely. The first pic shows a cruising boat, even the sail covers are off, surely it would have been better to sail.

Friday, January 22, 2010

WOKE UP TO WIND AND RAN

My plan to get out of Charlotte Amalie today got put into storage when I woke up to a torrential downpour and building winds.

I am a cruiser, I do not have to go out in this, so I turned over, went back to sleep and had a late breakfast with an amazing rainbow over the sea as a backdrop.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I had forgotten just how spectacular Caribbean sunsets can be.


If you were painting them you would use technicolour acrylics on black velvet and even then I suspect that you could not capture just how strong and vivid the colours are.

The one tonight had three layers of cloud and three stages of colour. My pic did not come out so you will have to make do with last nights sunset shot.

Relaxing in the cockpit with, pelicans diving for their supper around the boat, some jazz, a rum and coke and a sunset to mark the end of the day. It just does not get much better.

I have had a busy day or two with helping out Mack and Rona on Double Time with an electrical problem and meeting Time after Time a cruising boat who knew the previous owners of Elephants Child and were curious about this stranger aboard her, flying the red duster.

The talk got around to the best cruising boats and what beautiful headturners we had seen.


I was championing "Hearts Desire" an elegant old wooden topsail schooner and Mack was in raptures over an 80 foot cat that had just ghosted through the anchorage the previous might under full sail and dropped the hook silently




while Rhona wanted the slide out patio and helipad with MATCHING helicopter.





However we all fell silent when this strange, head turning, catamaran rumbled in with noisy diesels and anchored up.



Just goes to show that ugly works as well.






I went over to Red Hook to pick up something from the chandlery and on the way back spotted a herd of goats heading into the Bank to make their deposits.

If the weather is OK I am off to Cruz Bay St Johns tomorrow and on to Sopers Hole Tortola in the BVI the day after.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

MORE WET AND WINDY WEATHER + I WATCH HISTORY BEING MADE

After a brief respite including a good sunset it rained almost all of today. This is getting really old.

Yesterday after a wet start it cleared up long enough for some people to get their wet clothes and towels pegged out to dry, including these two charter boats who were rafted up and propably on a single anchor which is why they appeared to be reversing through the anchorage later on when the squalls returned.




Still it calmed down again for a good sunset. The boat is a CSY 44, the same sort as Pacifico, the boat I nearly bought down in Guatemala.

Any way all this rain today meant that I could watch the two NFL playoff games without feeling too guilty. Mind you to see the player I follow most closely I had to don my rain gear, bail out the dinghy and schlep up to the Fat Turtle where they had the game showing on cable.

Brett Favre the footballer I have followed since I first got interested in American "gridiron" football became the oldest quarterback to start a post season playoff game. At 40 he has retired twice but comes back, not for the money, he is a multimillionaire already, not to be champion he has already won a superbowl but because he just likes to play football.

He is part Choctaw and one of the all time great come from behind fourth quarter survivors. Not that he needed that skill today.

Favre led the Vikings to a 34-3 win in their first playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys, throwing four touchdown passes and no intercepetions. It was his first ever playoff win against the Cowboys, following three losses when he was the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers.

He holds numerous records including one which earned him the title iron man and the respect of fellow players, starting 307 consecutive games.

I just love watching someone who takes joy in what he does and boy o boy does he do it well.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A WET DAY IN CHARLOTTE AMALIE

It could be a wet day off the West coast of Scotland.


The rain started yesterday and the cold front came down during the night and is sitting right on top of the Virgin Islands. It has been drizzling on and off for 36 hours and the wind has really blown up. I am glad that the holding is good here as we are crammed into a corner but so far the only people who dragged are a couple of rafted up charter boats.

Charlotte Amalie is a bowl and the wind is swirling around making all the boats dance on their anchors. I must be getting used to it as I slept through it after getting up and having a look around when it first started howling.

I was going off with a bunch of fellow sailors to see Avatar this evening but may wimp out and stay aboard. It really is not pleasant at all in the anchorage just now.

I have been waiting for the last parcel to arrive from the US but I will see if I can get it forwarded and will be off toward the BVI as soon as the weather settles down.

Itchy feet I guess!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Moved on AGAIN!

Same policeman, different anchorage, asked me to move. This time only a 100 feet but again he wanted it moved now!

It was great to be able to wander up the front, stand on the foot switch and watch the chain rattle into the locker. Then once I had relocated watch it rattle out again under power. I like this electric windlass.

Been snorkeling again today but it is a bit disappointing around here just now as the water is not very clear. The camera works well though even if there is not enough light under water to give a decent picture.

The guy in the dive shop at Red Hook recomended it and said that it is better than the others costing 4 to 5 times as much. The SS 1000 Snap Sights cost a whole $50.

I am going to move on to the BVI in a couple of days and may have some hassle checking out and checking in as my friendly policeman has phoned in to check up on the boats registration. Still it must have happened before and I do have the bill of sale plus a copy of the old registration and the deregistration papers.

It sounds that it is prety grim back in the UK and in parts of Europe as well with much snow little grit or salt and in some cases 'Elf and Hatey' stopping ordinary poeple from clearing the roads. I did like the picture of the wild boars scavanging for food in the uncollected rubbish bags in Buckshaft.

I was really disappointed to hear the 'Elf and Hatey' had been at it again and the Bonspiel planned for the Lake of Menteith was cancelled as the organisers could not get insurance on safety grounds.



I wonder if the organisers of the Bonspiel I played in as a teenager on Loch Leven had insurance. I think it was 1963.


Thanks for those who worried about me not being able to get back into the dinghy from the water. I did have a rope stirrup prepared and was close enough to have been able to swim ashore. I did work out why I had so much difficulty though the first time, I was wearing a T shirt and that created extra friction. This time I was bare chested and slipped over the tubes like a greased ferret up a trouserleg.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Beard Trimming Underwater Swimming and Delapidation

Still can't find my electric clippers so gave up and attacked my beard with some scissors. It looks OK and the important thing is I should be able to wear my new prescription snorkel goggles with leaks from rampant whiskers.

The next job for today was to scrub the bottom of the dinghy for as every baby knows a dirty bottom really slows you down. As you can see it has grown a beard too.




Although this Caribe RIB dinghy is great when it comes to going somewhere and it is stable at speed and pretty dry it is much heavier than my old yellow non rib which I had on Carpe Diem and it was a real struggle to turn over so I could get at the bottom. Still with the red neck catch phrase " GIT R DONE" ringing through my mind I puffed pushed and flipped her over.

It was hot work and I had promised myself a snorkel with a chance to play with my new toy an underwater camera. So I anchored the dinghy just off some old posts from a collapsed pier and in I went. I know I know NO DIVER DOWN FLAG, NO DIVE BUDDY and maybe no hope of getting back into the dinghy. This was to be my first attempt to get back onboard from the water.



The amount of fish life was extraordinary but I suppose that was to be expected as it is a National Park and no fishing is allowed.




Lots of coral growth too!


Yes I did get back in the dinghy but it was a struggle. I did not need plan B though [ rope stirrup ].





On the way back I stopped off at this delapidated relic, I wonder how long it had been there and when the rigging failed bringing the mast down.

Returning to Elephants Child I was thinking that it is a year since I had my heart problem, a year that I would not have had but for the skill of Dr Klein and his team.




Somehow it made the sunset just a little more special

GUNKHOLING AROUND ST JOHNS

St Johns in the USVI is mostly a National Park and the park boundaries extend to the water too. So that meant that I was quite restricted as to where I could drop the hook for the night. But there are free moorings for short term use and it was pleasing to ghost up to one and pick it up under sail. [ OK I did have the engine running JUST IN CASE but it was not required. ]

However I found a legal spot on the south coast at Coral Bay for the night later on and went exploring. I soon realised that this was a pretty tony sort of neighborhood with expensive houses and pools with jacuzzis everywhere. Why I asked myself when you have a the sea a few steps away.

But a few more yards and I was following a trail into the bush. My camera at the ready I padded along quietly hoping to spot a mongoose.

The mongoose was brought here from India to control the rat population. Unfortunately the rats in the Virgin Islands are nocturnal and live in trees during the day. They were therefore able to eat as much sugar as they wanted by night, while the mongoose were sleeping and were safe, during the day, from the mongoose, which cannot climb trees.

The mongoose did have a great impact on other species, though. Mongooses sought out chickens, ground nesting birds and their eggs as well as turtle, lizard and iguana eggs. The rats meanwhile were free to eat the planter's sugar and the eggs of tree nesting birds.

The mongoose became a nuisance for farmers and an environmental problem. This was officially recognized at least as early as 1936. In that year there was only one sign posted in all of St. John. It was nailed to the palm tree nearest the town dock in Cruz Bay. It was signed by the Government Secretary and embossed with the government seal. It announced a bounty, dead or alive, for mongooses. Fifteen cents for a male and twenty five cents for a female.

There is an old Virgin Island saying: Mongoose say: "If I had a cent, I would leave this island" Chicken say: "If I had a cent, I would lend it to you."


A local said that they were trapping for mongoose and they were everywhere.

However I saw nothing not even a lizard and was glad to come down to this bay for a swim.

Note to self charge camera batteries more often!

Back on board and as night falls it is beautifully peaceful in the anchorage, no traffic , no kareoke bar and best of all no cruise ships with their bingo announcements and endless muzack.

Back on land one of the regular chores is wash the car, I have no car but the dinghy bottom is foul and tomorrow I guess I need to find a suitable spot and set to work.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

SURREAL MOMENT AS A LONE PIPER PLAYS AT SUNSET

It has been a bit uncomfortable in many anchorages the last few days a storm up north has kicked up a big swell and they have been finding their way into usually sheltered and peaceful bays.

Mind you discomfort is relative, I have just looked at what is going on in the UK Brrr.

So I have been a bit of a gypsy looking for a "honey spike" to anchor in and the approprialy named Elephants bay was it. The anchor was down, everything was squared away, the Cuba Libre was cold and the party boat with its amplified reggae had
departed so I was enjoying the sunset, albeit dozing a little due to lack of sleep, when I had a flashback to a similar evening anchored off Mull where the sunset was accompanied by a lone piper playing from the walls of the Duart castle.

The memories were so strong that I could almost hear the piper again, wait a minute I thhought to myself, I really can hear a piper. The unmistakable sound of the bagpipes were growing louder. I turned to look and a giant of the seas had sneaked up on me, with I hope, a real piper playing on the foredeck.



This leviathan was moving silently down the channel except for the strains of the bagpipes, however as it passed the spell was broken for at the rear of the boat was a giant stage with disco music belting out for the younger cruisers. I think younger in cruise ship terms is anyone under 60!

The picture is a publicity shot. Any picture I took looks like a firework show because of the flashes from the 5400 guests taking their pics of the sailboats at anchor.

Monday, January 4, 2010

PLUMBING VICTORY AND HARD WORKING PILOTS




Normally the centre of the harbour is empty which allows the sea planes a clear runway but as the NE corner had been cleared of anchored boats for the fireworks display there were boats anchored across the seaplanes usual routes in and out of the harbour.




But it was all in a days work for the pilots, they just slalomed around the masts and it was business as usual.
















I am enjoying the sunset with a Cuba Libre after finally cracking the combination on the plumbing system. In other words I have finally got my s*** together and under full control. I can make it go where ever I want.

The penny finaly dropped and I had a real "doh" moment as I finally understood where all the pipes fed too and from.

Friday, January 1, 2010

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE

The sun is shining again today and the wind has moderated. It was party time at Yacht Haven Grande on new years eve last night and "Rock the Dock" was doing just that. I had dropped in to be sociable and found myself chatting to someone from Kialoa V.

I had spotted this striking boat anchored in Christmas Cove and had done a double take when I realised I could not see any anchor rode. I like to know if boats are on rope rodes as they lie a little differently than Elephants Child which is on chain.

Even with the binocs there was nothing visible from the bow. I had guessed that there was some kind of below the waterline system and it was nice to have this confirmed. There is a special hatch in the hull underwater which opens up and out drops the anchor.

Now there is something for a really fast old lady!

She is a 79 foot ocean racing maxi converted into a fast cruiser by the Mills family. Mum Dad and one son are enough crew around the Virgins apparently. Mind you just look at that mast, I would not like to grind the mainsail up.




But I am no party animal and as the noise was getting to me I dinghied back home and watched the fireworks, in the rain, before turning in.

You can't see them in the pic but the harbour was full of boats with blue flashng lights keeping people from anchoring too close to fireworks barge. Or just maybe getting a really good view.