Tuesday, November 24, 2009
In the Virgins
Feels like we are now on Caribbean time now. The Virgin Islands are quite wonderful. There are, in fact, three sets of Virgin Islands. The British Virgin Islands are best known, followed by the US Virgin Islands (actually bought by the US from Denmark in 1917). The new kid on the block is the Spanish Virgins which are very old islands that have taken on the 'Virgins'moniker in recent years to take advantage of the brand recognition of the other two. So far we have been in the USVI and BVI. The SVI will wait until spring. The map below is not to scale since St Croix is actually 35 miles south of St Thomas and Anegada is 15 miles north of Virgin Gorda.The SVI start just to the west of St Thomas.
Charlotte Amalie on St Thomas, USVI was our initial destination here. It has a variety of useful features - an international airport for crew (thanks Burry and Marc) to catch flights northward, quite good shopping for groceries, marine gear and other things that we might need ... and at reasonable prices since it is a duty-free port. That latter distinction is important since many of the islands rely on duty for much of their government revenue. As a result, prices can be very high indeed. The duty-free ports, St Thomas and St Martin being foremost, are quite important overall.
We spent several days in Charlotte Amalie doing some repairs and shopping before heading off to St. John which is the most laid-back of the USVI. Most of St. John is a national park (land donated by the Rockefeller family in years gone by. The population is tiny with the largest town having something like 3000 people.
After only one night in St John we went to Jost Van Dyke (JVD) in the BVI since the BVI are regarded as the best part of the northern Caribbean. Some would regard it as the best sailing area in the world and it would certainly be in the running I feel. The winds are reliable and scenery is fantastic (pictures below are sunset in St Thomas and June getting ready to snorkel at a tiny sand island off JVD). The waters are remarkably clear and various shades of blue and turquoise depending on what is on the bottom. We anchored today in around 20 feet of water and you could see the anchor clearly.
JVD is a neat spot with a permanent population of only 175 people. It has only had electricity and roads in the last few decades. From there we went to a very popular spot called The Bight on Norman Island (one of the Little Sisters on the map) charter boats in great numbers for the first time. There were about 70 boats spending the night there and perhaps 10 were private boats. The rest were charter boats (the BVI has the largest number of charter boats in the world). There is nothing wrong with charterers but they are different from full-time cruisers. For one thing they are handling unfamiliar boats that are often larger than the boats they have at home. This can cause problems. Secondly, charterers are here for a week or two and tend be party a lot harder than those of us who are here for several months. The huge number of charter boats is also changing the nature of the experience. Some areas, The Bight being a great example, are being filled with moorings at the expense of places to anchor. The cost is generally $25 a night which is nothing for people spending several thousand for a week-long visit. Full-timers are on a tight budget and $25 a night is $900 a month - which can put a big hole in one's budget to be sure. The place we stopped in St John charged $15 but these moorings were also to help protect the natural environment in the park.
We spent a night in Roadtown which is the 'city'of the BVI - population is something like 17000 people. As is the case with St Thomas, Roadtown is a popular cruise ship destination. There were three cruise ships in port when we were there. Our last night in the BVIs is at Spanish Town on Virgin Gorda. We had to go there to 'clear out' of customs/immigrations since we are leaving for points south-east tomorrow. Not entirely sure where we will go since, to some extent, it will depend on the wind. The forecast is for ENE winds and the more north there is in the wind the easier it will be to get to the islands further to windward (St Martin or St Barts). If the wind is not far enough north then we will aim for Saba which is not quite as far east. In general our plan is to try not to repeat a visit to an island on the way down and the way back north in the spring. This will not always be possible though and there may be islands we want to return to because we find them extra special.
A highlight today was that June bought two bikinis. These are the first ones she has owned but virtually every woman of every age and shape wears one here. They are just very comfortable to wear (I understand) -- pictures to come later I am sure.
A lowlight of the last few days was our attempt to be environmentally responsible. We have been using a holding tank hooked to one of our toilets to keep nastier waste until we are several miles from shore where we can pump it out with a hand pump that is permanently attached to the tank - there are no pump-outs in the marinas as in North America and I get the impression that most people just poop and pump directly overboard wherever they are. Anywayyy, I started to pump and learned that the rubber diaphragm of the pump was shot. I will leave it to your imagination how I learned this, but it was quite a disgusting process to clean up and then remove the old pump and install a new one. Now we can pump overboard safely.
Posted by Bruce at 6:01 p.m.