Sailing in the USVI
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Last Updated on December 9, 2020 by Amy
David and I talk about the fun to suck ratio a lot. The USVI was a strong mix, heavier on the suck than we would like it to be. But we enjoyed some amazing bays and great times with friends.
Clearing out of the BVIs
After leaving Nanny Cay Friday afternoon, we went straight to Soper’s Hole / West End to stay the night. We awoke early in the morning to go clear out. Unfortunately the C&I office has a ferry dock right next door. The officers only assist private yachts after the ferry passengers, so we ended up waiting a while…should have gone to JVD!
Clearing into the USVI
When we cleared out, we immediately left for the USVI. We arrived at Cruz Bay, St John to clear into the United States. When you enter the bay, there is a channel on the left. To the left of the channel is room to anchor. We took the spot of a catamaran leaving, but by the time we got back to the boat, the little anchorage was full of catamarans! There’s plenty of room, in part because its shallow so you don’t need a lot of scope out.
Clearing in was easy and we stalled a few minutes to stop at the National Parks Office to pick up this awesome map, and the Dolphin Market grocery store for a few items. We moved off to Christmas Cove, our furthest point west we plan on going up here.
Christmas Cove is on Little St James Island, just across from Red Hook, St Thomas. The bay is long and narrow, with about 12 moorings in it. The moorings are free, but you get what you pay for. Some of them are nothing but plow anchors – and not very big ones. Ours was bolted into the ground, and the rope leading up to the ball which we dove to inspect.
Having just come from the haul out at Nanny Cay, Starry Horizons was very dirty. We also had piles and piles of laundry to do. David spent the afternoon and early evening cleaning Starry Horizons’ deck, even scrubbing in the rain!
Sunday morning, having a clean boat and sunshine to work with, I got started on laundry. Clothes had been piling up, and in the haul out we managed to use almost every towel we had on board.
Pizza Pi – The Best Restaurant in the USVI
We stopped for lunch – the eagerly anticipated Pizza Pi VI! We ordered a pepperoni and sausage pizza, and it was delicious!
Snorkeling in Christmas Cove
After I started the last load of laundry (for the day) I set off to burn some energy with a snorkel. I started at the shore near Pizza Pi, and swam south, following the shoreline. While the shore tended to be gravel or rocks, there was ALWAYS reef just about 20′ out from the shore. I swam all the way to the southern point, and then to the center islands, named Fish Cay.
As I snorkeled along, I dived close to inspect a head of mustard hill coral, only to realize, perhaps a foot away, that it was not entirely coral. The instant I realized this, the imitation started expanding and turning white – scuttling away in the form of an octopus. It was a truly wild moment – I just happened to pick the right head of coral.
In the late afternoon, we got a fancy pants neighbor, Venus, the mega yacht commissioned by Steve Jobs in 2011.
Catching up with Let It Be
Monday, I continued the laundry cycle and waiting with ants in my pants for our friends Frank and Mary Grace on Let it Be. LIB is Helia hull number 4, and they just pulled her out of charter this summer. You can read all about them on their blog, but we first met them in February 2014, and have become good friends ever since. As the last load of laundry was drying I got to hang out at our helm and watch for signs of LIB.
Let it Be, Let it Be, Let it Be…Starry Horizons
Slacker that I am, David spotted them first and we hailed them on the radio. It took a little while for LIB to get settled – finding a spot they were comfortable in and then taking their dog Captain for a potty break – but then they made their way over. Hugs all around, we gave them a tour of Starry Horizons, cracked open some drinks, and of course, called Pizza Pi.
Tuesday morning as soon as there were signs of life on both boats we headed over to LIB and it was our turn to get the grand tour. It was amazing to get to see another real life live aboard Helia. While it is obviously very similar, there are a lot of differences between our boats. LIB has the original interior colors, the four cabins, and the coffee table set up, in addition to their own personal touches.
David and Frank were off poking their heads in bilges and storage space. Mary Grace showed me some of her favorite touches around the boat and we talked galleys and storage. Then Frank gave us (but especially me) a special treat – fresh coconut water!
Frank had to head over to Red Hook for an errand (via dinghy), so David went back to Starry Horizons to tackle a project and MG and I puttered in her galley and made a salad dressing to go with dinner that night.
When Frank returned, MG and I went paddleboarding! We took Captain with us, and paddled around the mooring field, weaving through the boats and spotting sea turtles. We did get in a sticky spot where the wind was blowing us really hard on the outer edge of the cove, and I was struggling to make some headway but I did it! Not too bad for my second paddleboarding experience.
Next, we headed for a snorkel, this time instead of heading south we went north. I’m so glad we did, it was the best spot of snorkeling in the whole cove! It reminded me of the painted walls we dived with Dalit and Noam, every inch of rock had coral on it. My favorite were these stunning blue tubes. We also saw a shoal of 17 squids (or a squad, if you prefer)!
Dinner with Let It Be
After snorkeling, MG and I split ways to get ready for dinner. We had the LIB crew over for dinner – the last whole skipjack tenderloin. I couldn’t think of better people to share it with. MG had baked cookies but left them in LIB, so we made it a progressive meal and headed to LIB for delicious cookies and an after-dinner drink of a Deep Eddy Ruby Red Martini.
Snorkeling with Let It Be
The next morning we headed out for one last activity with Frank and Mary Grace – a snorkel. And it was a good one! We went back to the spot MG and I explored the day before and we spotted a sea turtle, lobster, and a nurse shark!
Back on LIB we ordered one more round of Pizza Pi. All told, David and I had taken part in consuming seven pizzas while in Christmas Cove! Yes, the pizza was very good. I loved that this was not your standard offerings; instead of choices like four-cheese or everything, we had special Pizza Pi unique choices. My favorite was the Sweet Home Indiana – pickled corn, sage sausage, white sauce, and spinach. Totally unique!
And then we had to watch LIB leave. It was sad. We spent two more nights in Christmas Cove by ourselves.
Francis Bay, St John
When we pulled into Francis Bay, there were two familiar boats there – Fault Tolerant and Archer. We said a quick hello to FT, but they were leaving that afternoon. We hadn’t met Rick and Julie on Archer before, but we had seen them in Nanny Cay. Their boat is a beautiful Outremer 51, bright red and hard to miss!
The next morning, Saturday, we went for a little snorkel but didn’t see anything spectacular. But later we had Rick & Julie over for drinks, and talked about their amazing stories out at sea – they’ve been sailing for a long time, on many different boats, with Archer being their first catamaran.
The next morning they invited us over for a tour of Archer, and of course, we happily came over. There are an amazing number of similarities between the two boats, but we walked away with some ideas for wish list projects…
Afterward, I went for a quick walk up to the Francis Bay Pond and ruins. As I pulled the dinghy up, it started to rain, so I had to duck under the cover of the trees. As the rain left, I got a treat of a double rainbow. But then the mosquitoes came out! I did not bring any bug spray, so I just decided to walk very quickly. The first part of the trail was entirely raised boardwalk, and on either side, there were hundreds of small, red crabs. In fact, I had a hard time determining what they were. I could just see the brief movement before they disappeared into their holes. Then I realized that I wasn’t really seeing the body of the crab, but their one enormous red claw.
Further along the path, I came upon these amazing ruins:
Monday, we got to meet the crew of Sail Pending, a Lipari.
Wednesday we headed over to Charlotte Amelie for work. When we arrived, we decided we needed at least some fun, so we went out to Hook, Line & Sinker for dinner. We stayed one night in Charlotte Amelie on a mooring with CYOA.
To get out of the “city” and off the mooring, we moved to Honeymoon Bay. There is a bar, Dinghy’s, where we had a cocktail and some wifi.
On Sunday we moved over to Lindbergh Bay, to be close to the airport to pick up a package. We spent two nights there, and it was time to get the hell out of there!! It was not a particularly pretty bay.
Wednesday morning (December 2nd) David and I were occupied with getting one of our air conditioning units repaired, so David dinghied to the yacht club nearby to pick up a Reefco mechanic and bring him back to SH in Christmas Cove. He determined there was a leak and he had to take the unit back to his shop and work on it. Hopefully, it would be done by Friday.
Well, Friday rolls around and no, it’s not ready. So we packed up and took off for St. John, first to Cruz Bay for some provisioning and then off to Francis Bay.
On Monday, we got word that our air conditioning unit was ready to be picked up. We made plans to leave early the next morning and head over to the CYOA dock in Charlotte Amelie to have the unit installed.
Tuesday we started up our engines and made to leave our mooring until we realized something was very wrong – we were missing a prop. David was driving, and he knew we’d lost the prop under our mooring. Unfortunately, that was 50′ of murky water.
Fortunately, we found an awesome diver, John from Wreck Life Dives. Later, just after sunset, they were able to perform a search and rescue operation to retrieve our Flexofold prop. We had all the parts except for the 2 bolts required for our Rope Strippers, but that meant we couldn’t get our parts on. We also had spares, our original fixed props from the factory install, but we realized that we are missing the spacer required for those. So, with only one prop we limped over to Charlotte Amelie on Wednesday morning.
Why did our prop fall off? Well, embarrassingly, we installed the prop ourselves back in Nanny Cay. Now, it was not our intent to have to take apart and reinstall our props, but because the anode wouldn’t fit on the prop, we had to take it apart and reassemble. We had concerns about our bolt being tight or loose. At one point we had tightened everything up and our prop was so tight, I couldn’t even get it to turn (weakling that I am). Also, it requires some specialized adhesive (like loc-tite, but not) to apply to the prop. Technically, Flexofold says you are supposed to send for bolts with the proper additive on instead of apply your own, which is just ridiculous. Who has time for that?
After a very embarrassing time trying to pick up a mooring on one motor, we finally did get tied up. The staff at CYOA helped us out with a few things we needed (including the special additive to put on the bolt). We also got the air conditioning unit back and installed thanks to Reefco. We debated about installing the prop back ourselves and finally decided to call it quits for the day, and go out to dinner at Hook Line & Sinker.
Thursday morning, we once again called on John at Wreck Life, who came over very quickly and installed our prop for us. It took a few hours, but we felt comfortable with the install. John and his crew are really knowledgeable about work like this – John even taught us a few very valuable lessons.
With two functioning engines, we started crossing items off our departure checklist, eyeing the window of only slightly better weather to make it to SXM. We were all ready to loose the lines and leave for fuel when we decided to eat first. I usually have a cold lunch of tuna salad or something, but we had some leftover rice and I thought fried rice sounded good. I went to start up the propane – and I couldn’t get the control to stay on. When I pressed the button, the light flicked green for only a moment and then as soon as I let go it was back to red – and no propane came out.
We called Trident Marine, the manufacturer of the LP control, and they told us the item was under warranty, so they would ship us a new one. We gave them the address at CYOA, and were assured the part would be overnighted to us. Thank goodness we were still in the US!
We headed over to Water Island and Honeymoon Bay to anchor and wait. And wait. And of course, Fedex tried to deliver at 5:50 pm, and “left a note” on the door. Someone was at CYOA until at least 6 pm and we never got a note. I am suspicious. And of course, it being Friday that means the Fedex is closed over the weekend. Island time!
Sunday afternoon we moved to Lindbergh Bay, right by the airport. Instead of wait for the part to be delivered again I was waiting at the Fedex door at 8:30 (they opened at 9). I opened the package and to my dismay they’d shipped us the wrong part. So, now they shipped us a new one which arrived Tuesday. We replaced it, only to find that it still didn’t fix our problem.
Oh, and our heating element for our water heater stopped working as well. This means that the heating exchanger was still working, thus heating water from the port engine. However, the heating element that used electricity from our generator was not working.
At this point, we just knew we needed to leave. The propane system would have been nice to have working, but we can live on sandwiches. The hot water heater was no big deal, as the engine was still giving us hot water. And let’s face it, its hot here, we rarely take warm showers.
It’s disheartening to have so much go wrong all at once, but such is the life of a cruiser. We will post soon about our fun and productivity in St Martin!
On to St Martin
We left the USVI to motor sail to St Martin for a pit stop to provision and shop.
Cruising Guide to the USVI
The best cruising guide for the Virgin Islands is the guide by Doyle:
IMHO, a year of cruising, including an Atlantic crossing , is bringing out weaknesses in the factory-installed hardware, probably still under warranty. The prop loss is another issue entirely; y’all were lucky to find it. All your problems occurred in an area where good help was readily available, lucky again! Don’t be discouraged, cruise on. And learn to SCUBA, if for no other reason than to check the moorings.
That’s true, we were very lucky to be in the US technically. David and I both are open water divers, but we don’t have gear aboard. And we’ve only done one dive outside of our class – in the BVIs. But we are considering buying our own BCs, weights, and regulators. We just need to get some more experience under our belts!
Oh my. Glad everything is ok.