United States Virgin Islands
January 23, 2006 - February 24, 2006
Hello and here we go again with another installment of the adventures of Indigo Moon. This is in fact our twelfth (12 th) trip report and thus we are now sharing “adventures by the dozen.”
We had a spectacular number of visitors to the website after publishing our last trip report on the B.V.I. Also, we received scores of fun messages from both old and new friends from around the world. Everyone is thoroughly enjoying our updates, and that is great. It’s all good!
So, let’s get underway with the next trip report! In this segment, we’ll cruise the U.S. Virgin Islands and make one last run east through the British Virgin Islands on our way “out the door” of the Virgin Islands to head south to into new cruising territory for us: St. Martin, the first island in the northern half of the Caribbean Archipelago known as the “Leewards.”
As I begin writing this segment, we are still at Bahia Redonda Marina in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela, getting the marina version of “cabin fever” and we can’t wait to move on; however, hurricane season and the “work” aspects of cruising demand that we “stay the course” and tend to boat projects and maintenance. Although tired of working on the boat, we are happy to be getting many tasks marked off the list. Indigo Moon is profiting greatly.
The latest: I stripped all the brightwork in the cockpit to bare wood, sanded it to perfection and dressed with ten coats of varnish. Also, I machine-buffed and waxed the gelcoat. Melissa has been polishing all the stainless steel deck fittings.
Fellow cruisers at the docks have been watching this process (going on for days now), and they poke fun at me when they walk by our boat: they shield their eyes or don sunglasses, or feign blindness because Indigo Moon is gleaming in the sun.
Yes, the Moon is shining brighter than new and she is happy. She’s ready to rock and roll on a new tour of the next Cruising Season!
Bahia Redonda Marina has been pretty cool, all things considered. Melissa took advantage of the beautiful pool and enjoyed the water aerobics every morning with the other ladies. We also enjoyed the air conditioning, cable tv and internet, as intermittent as it was. It was also a nice break from constant cruising.
As far a Venezuela goes, we are not sorry we came, but probably won’t return in the foreseeable future, mostly because we don’t plan on coming back this way.
The State within which the Bahia Redonda Marina is located, Anzoategui, has seen fit to institute and uphold a ban on the direct sale of diesel fuel to all foreign vessels. The law took effect two days prior to our arrival (timing is everything, you know!).
The legislation is allegedly designed to prevent foreign ships from buying hundreds of thousands of gallons of fuel at super-low Venezuelan prices and then selling it elsewhere in the Caribbean for a profit, etc.
The problem for us is that the new legislation doesn’t make any exception whatsoever for foreign recreational vessels. Thus, the bizarre result: in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela’s self-professed “world class” El Morro seaside marina and resort complex there are hundreds of foreign yachts visiting here that can’t buy diesel fuel at the fuel docks.
The officials will say that is not true – you CAN buy it. You just have to go through an insane process and get pre-approval for the one sale. You must fill out paperwork and visit several State offices. Then, you pre-pay for the fuel by wire-transfer between banks (at the international price for fuel set by the commodities market on that specific day).
We only needed 40 gallons of fuel. At the international price of a dollar or so a gallon, that’s maybe 40 or 50 Dollars and Eighty Cents! Can you imagine spending all day in taxicabs and filling out reams of paperwork and then asking your bank to wire $40.00 to Venezuela to get 40 gallons of fuel?
Now, mind you, this only applies in the State of Anzoategui (where all the yachts are congregated). You can still buy fuel in other Venezuelan States without all the new rigmarole. Complaints to the Governor of Anzoategui have fallen on deaf ears.
So, the “black market” sprung up immediately and a Venezuelan friend drove me to a service station in town to fill some jerry jugs and bring them back. That option is viable for sailboats, but large power yachts that came here planning on buying thousands of gallons of cheap fuel are out of luck and must go to another State.
You hear rumors too. One is that Hugo Chavez plans to take over this whole Puerto La Cruz marina complex to use as a military naval base. He has allegedly purchased quite a fleet of military boats and has no place to put them yet. So, could all the government red tape about fuel be intentionally imposed and limited to this area only to start the downslide of recreational boating and set the stage to usher in Hugo’s naval complex instead? Who knows?
Last week, a troop of “jack booted” militiamen came walking down the Bahia Redonda docks and started impounding boats here in the marina. There are a couple of catamarans right next to us that got seals put across the companionways and yellow “do not cross” tape put on the lifelines. About a dozen other boats in the marina got impounded as well. The reason: the troops reviewed all the paperwork at the marina’s office and tagged any boats with deficiencies in their cruising permits. It was a little scary, what with all the red berets, camouflage uniforms, guns and serious facial expressions.
With the new fuel laws and the first-ever (we were told) impounding of boats in the marina, it is almost like the marinas see the writing on the wall and are giving up. For example, the marinas themselves are not opposing the fuel law, Instead, the marina management and one of the cruisers here (the so-called “Mayor” of the Bahia Redonda Marina – a cruiser whose been here tied to the docks for years), generated and circulated a letter (really a petition) by the cruisers to send to the Governor.
I asked why the Marinas in the area were not attacking the law directly – why were they couching it as a cruisers’ complaint only? Why aren’t the Marinas hiring lawyers to file suit about the new fuel laws, etc?
I was told, in hushed voice, that the Marinas can’t complain to the Government due to fear of severe retribution. So, it seems Venezuela has already swung its tiller toward a Cuban-esq regime where you can’t exercise free speech.
It is hard to imagine living in fear and not being able to freely confront Government officials and policies. Our stay here in Venezuela rekindles my pride in the United States. Our experiences here pointedly reminded us of the amazing level of freedom that we all enjoy in the U.S.A. (and often take for granted).
Don’t get me wrong, we still absolutely love the Venezuelan people. But, despite our affinity for the beautiful people here, we probably won’t come back as long as Hugo Chavez is in power. Chavez will probably get re-elected. If he stays in power, things can only get worse for visiting gringos and who knows when it will turn from mere inconveniences to potential detention and the old “political prisoner” rouse to keep the citizens under control.
As you know, Chavez spoke at the U.N. on Sept 20 th and referred to President Bush as the Devil and that “the smell of sulfur” was still at the podium where the “Dubya” had spoken the day before.
Just to illustrate how all that plays out on the street here in Venezuela, we were riding with a taxi driver the day after Chavez’s U.N. remarks and I asked him if he heard about Chavez’s “sulfur and Devil” insult to Bush.
He burst out laughing and said: “people all over Puerto La Cruz have been sniffing at each other all morning” each claiming that the other smells like sulfur. He thought it was very funny and the Venezuelans were getting a kick out of it.
I told our driver that Bush probably ate red beans and rice and it was not sulfur at all. Our driver laughed until he cried. There seems to be no transfer of Chavez’s hate toward us visiting gringos, just playful antics and honest laughs between us about our respective Presidents; humor completely sans Chavez’s hatred.
Then as our driver continued in laughter, he told us Chavez claims to have proof that the U.S. sends robots to the moon to look for oil. He was laughing so hard he was having trouble driving. He knows it all B.S. but it is very funny to him.
He also agreed that Chavez calling Bush the Devil at the U.N. was unprofessional and not productive, but hey, who cares . . . it was very funny!
We asked him if he was going to vote for Chavez. He said "Oh yes, Chavez does many things for the poor people all over the world.”
Melissa and I listened as he related a bizarre tale to exemplify the “good” Chavez does: “Our President has helped bring the poor people of the world together with oil. For example, there are only Black people in the Bronx of New York. Just to the north across the boarder of the Bronx, there is Maine, where only the Indians live. The Black people and the Indian people have always hated one another since the beginning of time. But, they are both a very poor people and both of them were too poor to afford heating oil for the winter. President Chavez sent very cheap heating oil to both the Black people of the Bronx and the Indian people of Maine. It brought the Blacks and Indians together as friends now, all because of our oil and the good that Chavez does for the poor people of the world.”
That is the kind of wildly insane propaganda that Chavez floats out into the streets, and “Everyman” Venezuelans actually believe it! Of course, what could we say except: “Gee, that’s really something, alright.”
Venezuela has been very interesting, but no matter how divine any particular destination is, cruising on a sailboat is truly at its most rewarding (at least for us) when new horizons and new discoveries are frequently rising up before us. Hanging around long-term in a marina quickly becomes like living in a trailer park full of retired, cranky, rule enforcing curmudgeons.
There are lots of folks, however, who love the social/political aspect of long-term marina life.
I often joke about it and remark that cruisers can be a strange bunch: “Hey, let’s buy a boat and sail away to remote islands and get away from it all. We’ll be free! And when we get to the remote islands, let’s organize all the cruisers and form a club. We’ll elect officers and draft a constitution and by-laws!” What a paradox. It’s like the old joke: “Anarchist Club meeting tonight at 7:00 p.m.; on the agenda: election of officers and drafting of a mission statement.”
So, while work our work on the Moon continues by day, the drafting of the trip log below continues by night. That’s what’s happening today as I begin this segment. Let’s get going and continue our Virgin Islands extravaganza!
I. Britain to the United States in One Morning’s Sail
We left off in our last report as we departed the British Virgin Islands, checking out of the Customs Office on the island of Jost Van Dyke (where the Immigrations Officer was almost willing to be nice). From the British Virgin Islands’ Jost Van Dyke, it’s only about a ten mile sail west to reach Cruz Bay on the western side of the U.S. Virgin Island of St. John.
On a bright sunny day, with Captains Nick and Thea still aboard with us, we sailed to St. John and Cruz Bay. Our check in there was a delightful experience. We were able to tie Indigo Moon directly to the Customs Office dock, step off the boat, walk ten yards to the office and complete the paperwork in five minutes and were done. What a wonderful contrast to the BVI!
Here are some shots on the way in:
We are checked in and can now enjoy St. John, our favorite island in the whole wide world!
II. Meet the U.S. Virgin Islands
First, let’s get all of you oriented with the lay of the land in the U.S. Virgin Islands
St. Thomas is densely populated compared to other Virgin Islands. The Capital of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Charlotte Amalie, is located on St. Thomas Harbor. It’s a big, fast-paced city compared to Road Town, on the island of Tortola. The port of Charlotte Amalie is very busy with freighter traffic and cruise ships.
St. Thomas has quite a history and the architecture in Charlotte Amalie dates back to the 1600’s and there are lots of interesting buildings and alleyways to explore.
Charlotte Amalie was actually named after a Danish Queen and has a rich history as a trade center for centuries. All goods, including those goods obtained through piracy and privateering, found their way to the streets of Charlotte Amalie. Considering the Danes declared the port Duty Free for all such goods, it quickly became the hot bed of trade in the Caribbean.
Modern day Charlotte Amalie still serves as a trade center where cruise-ship loads of sunburned tourists comb the Duty Free waterfront area of old town Charlotte Amalie for jewelry, liquor, and designer clothes.
Much like our beloved French Quarter in New Orleans, many spirits fill the air as you walk the streets of old Charlotte Amalie. It does not take much skill in the imagination department to vividly picture St. Thomas Harbor filled with square riggers and the streets filled with 1700’s traders. What a cool place!
The neighboring island of St. John, in contrast, is still relatively undeveloped and will stay that way. Once owned by the Rockefeller Estate, two thirds of the island was donated to the National Park Service and will remain in its natural, pristine state for generations to come. Truly, St. John is the centerpiece diamond of all the Virgin Islands, British included. The bays and beaches of St. John are some of the finest I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world.
St. Croix, situated 30 miles(?) to the south is industrial by nature and not really a tourist destination. Plus, it has a history of crime against tourists.
III. Our personal history with the U.S. Virgin Islands
It would be impossible for you to appreciate how precious the U.S. Virgin Islands are to us without a little background information.
My first introduction to the U.S. Virgin Islands was in the early 1970’s when I served as an enlisted man and radar navigator in the U.S. Navy. On our destroyer, we departed Norfolk, Virginia, and steamed to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to conduct various exercises, including shooting a few tons of ammunition at the tiny island of Culebra.
I was seventeen back then. Although having already made two ocean passages across the Atlantic between the U.S.A and Europe as a child, and already knowing the boundless beauty of the indigo-blue open ocean, I had never seen anything so striking and mesmerizing as the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Like it was yesterday, I remember that as our warship docked at St. Croix all hands were looking over the side with amazement as we gazed down through crystal clear waters. We could see all the way to the base of the wharf’s pilings and the bottom that was sixty feet below. Fish were everywhere; blue tangs, yellow tangs, angel fish, and teems of other brightly colored tropical fish, dancing around the pilings in perfect synchronicity.
It left me speechless. It was one of those days you never forget. And although my teenage Navy visit to the U.S. Virgin Islands lasted only about a week, it permanently marked my soul with an overwhelming desire to return to those islands one day.
Fast, forward. In April of 1997, Melissa and I traveled to St. Thomas and St. John for our wedding and honeymoon. Melissa had never been to the Caribbean or the Virgin Islands. Just the two of us, we had the most perfect wedding and honeymoon imaginable. Our accommodations were at the super-exclusive Caneel Bay Resort on St. John, where we were married late one afternoon on the lawns of Turtle Point overlooking Pillsbury Sound and St. Thomas.
After that flawless wedding and honeymoon trip, Melissa also found herself under the unbreakable spell of the U.S. Virgin Islands, especially St. John.
Fast forward again. After being married on St. John in 1997, in the early 2000’s we made three different sailing charter trips to the British Virgin Islands (always flying into and out of St. Thomas). Every time we had to return the rental boat and depart the islands it left us in tears with aching souls.
We were infected with an incurable condition. The only cure: work very hard, save our nickels, and garner the courage to leave successful careers and sail away.
So, although our arrival in the U.S. Virgin Islands aboard Indigo Moon may seem pitifully insignificant to record-setting-circumnavigators, it was nonetheless the fulfillment of an “against all odds” impossible dream for us.
III. Indigo Moon’s tour of the U.S. Virgin Islands
Ok, so we were checked in at Cruz Bay and away from the dock in short order. Just around a point to the north of Cruz Bay is Caneel Bay where we were married and we headed there to pick up a mooring and kick back.
In St. John’s Park areas you must use a mooring. Anchoring is prohibited in order to protect the environment and the “turtle grass” (turtles actually feed on it) that grows there. The moorings are operated by the National Park Service and there are pay stations ashore here and there where you put 15 bucks in an envelope with your boat name and the date, etc. It’s somewhat of an honor system. The fees help offset the cost of maintaining the moorings.
Here are some scenes from Caneel Bay:
One of the coolest things about Caneel Bay is the view to the west toward St. Thomas. In the evening at sunset and at night, St. Thomas sparkles like a jeweler’s best diamond case and reflects on the surface of Pillsbury Sound. I could look at that view forever.
Here are a few shots from Caneel Bay looking toward St. Thomas:
The waters around St. John are active with day trip charter boats of all shapes and sizes. During the several different stays we enjoyed at Caneel Bay we got used to seeing the same boats arrive with a load of snorkelers. The Lady Lindsay is a big beautiful navy-blue hulled catamaran that visited the reefs in Caneel Bay often.
We also explored Cruz Bay with Nick and Thea, and took a bus ride all the way across the mountain peaks of St. John to the eastern end and Coral Bay – a cruiser’s haven where many boats are anchored permanently with cruisers of various lifestyles all the way from fine yachts to floating wrecks that will never leave the harbor again.
Here are some of the sights:
We had a really cool tour of the Coral Bay area. The bus ride over from Cruz Bay was interesting too. Our driver was a stout young island woman of about 25 years old with a smile as wide and bright as the keys on a grand piano. Now we are talking a BIG full-size City Bus here. We are also talking hairpin switchback turns, steep mountain grades and sheer cliffs dropping hundreds and hundreds of feet from the road’s narrow shoulder.
As we departed Cruz Bay, it only took a few blocks for us to realize that our driver was brand new to the job. All the locals were cheering, laughing, screaming and jumping as we passed by. In the huge rearview mirror, we could see that our driver’s facial expressions were cycling between nervous laughter at the roadside antics and lip-biting anxiety. She was doing fine, but it was a bit disconcerting at first. There are some amazing vistas from the top of St. John and we were able to relax and enjoy the views.
Our ride back was probably more exciting, but for a different reason. This time, our driver was a young man whose main objective was to use the bus as a training tool for the Indianapolis 500! I think I stopped breathing a few times. We survived, but I am not exaggerating when I say his driving was absolutely beyond reckless and his abuse of the Bus’s brake system, going too fast down steep grades, was scary.
Well, the time came for Nick and Thea to head back to Ft. Lauderdale. They caught the ferry out of Cruz Bay to St. Thomas and caught their flight home. It was an absolute pleasure having Nick and Thea aboard and they are great shipmates.
Melissa and I remained at Caneel Bay for several days and reflected on our years of hard work and dedication that actually rendered a perfect result for us.
After finally getting our fill of Caneel Bay, it was time to move around a bit. We decided to head over to St. Thomas and attend to some boat maintenance and check out the streets of Charlotte Amalie.
Here are some scenes of St. Thomas:
Once inside the Harbor we decided it would be nice to give Indigo Moon a good scrubbing. We checked for room at Crown Bay Marina and they were able to fit us in. It’s nice to stay at a marina every six weeks or so, and take advantage of dock water, shore power, and cable tv!
In our slip at Crown Bay, we wound up next to a very nice Cuban gentleman from Miami (where his summer home is) and also from Washington D.C. (where his very successful Mexican restaurants are located). It’s fun to be in a marina now and then if for no other reason you get to walk the docks and easily make new acquaintances. Our neighbor had just bought a Hinckley Picnic Boat (a weekend cabin cruiser that is the Rolls Royce of powerboats). He was waiting for a Dockwise delivery ship arriving next week to pick up his boat and ship it to Miami.
From the Marina, we took a walking tour of the south shore of St. Thomas.
Here are some shots:
Melissa and I took several walks around the area over the course of a week or so. On one Sunday morning we walked for several hours through various sections of the city. We passed some graveyards that reminded me of New Orleans in that the tombs were above ground. We passed one church just as the congregation launched into a hymn. The vocals were awesome!
As we continued into town we passed through some pretty rough sections that made us a little nervous. Nonetheless, we made it into Charlotte Amalie without incident.
029 People do live here, and what you can’t see in this picture is that a guy right next to me looked as if he would stick a knife in my ribs at any moment!
032 By the time we made it to the Catholic Church, Services were over.
Part of our affinity for Charlotte Amalie is surely rooted in our adoration for old New Orleans architecture. Many of the old buildings in St. Thomas have the same style.
There are many things to see in Charlotte Amalie. One landmark we had missed on prior trips is the old stairway referred to as “99 Steps” (actually 105). Built on a mountainside overlooking the Harbor, the topography of Charlotte Amalie becomes very steep as soon as you are a couple of blocks inland. To get a better look at the Harbor, we braved the 105 steps of “99 Steps” and hiked straight up the mountain side and enjoyed the view.
We enjoyed our Sunday walkabout and got to see a few things off the beaten cruise ship path. Our Marina at Crown Bay is pretty far west of downtown Charlotte Amalie and is quite a hike from the marina. With the sun high in the sky, we opted for a cab ride back to the marina where I needed to figure out a new problem that had arisen with Indigo Moon’s electronics.
We used the autopilot perfectly all the way into St. Thomas. About two nights into our stay at the Crown Bay Marina, a pretty nasty weather front came through and I turned on the B&G system just to see what the wind speed was. I don’t hear super high frequency beeps of some electronics very well anymore; my history of hot rods, dirt bikes, and decades of full-throttle rock drumming have caught up with me, I’m afraid.
But within a few seconds of turning the system on to check the wind speed, my “hearing” eye dog, Melissa, remarked: What’s wrong with the B&G stuff; what’s that beeping; it’s never done that before” (those are Melissa’s infamous words that always mark the beginning of a new journey through the tool bag).
The Brookes and Gatehouse (B&G) electronics on Indigo Moon include three control/display units at the helm: 1) autopilot; 2) depth, speed, water temp; and 3) wind angle and speed. Last December, I added “repeater” displays inside the boat as well, along with a remote control for the autopilot.
Numerous sensors (transducers that send back pulses of electrical information) are mounted here and there on the boat to collect necessary data for the system’s operation: 1) a transducer for speed with a little paddle wheel unit that just barely protrudes through the bottom of the hull so that the paddlewheel spins at a rate relative to the speed we are moving through the water; 2) another transducer for depth and water temperature that also goes through the bottom of the hull, but it has no moving parts and it’s surface is flush with the hull; 3) a set of two transducers at the top of the mast that measure wind speed and direction using a wind vane and set of three little teaspoons on sticks that spin around; 4) a fluxgate compass mounted in a cabin closet that tells the system which way the boat is headed; and 5) a transducer mounted on one of the rudder’s steering arm that tells the system what the angle of the rudders is.
Aside from the B&G sensors, our Furuno GPS system also “talks” to the B&G system and provides it with information regarding waypoints that have been selected on the GPS system. All that input data is fed into a sophisticated black box “brain” unit mounted under one of the aft bunks that collects all the information and controls the mechanical portion of the autopilot system: a 12 volt motor driven hydraulic ram connected to the rudder shaft that will move the rudders as necessary to keep the boat on a certain course.
It’s all pretty amazing. With all that data at hand, the autopilot can be programmed to follow a certain wind angle, follow a magnetic course, or steer to a waypoint that has been activated on the GPS system. Also, the autopilot can be set for faster or slower rudder response for various sea conditions.
Sounds like a lot of complicated stuff to troubleshoot, right? I guess it is, but if you have manuals and time and phone numbers for experts and don’t have to go back to work on Monday morning, you can eventually get it done without hiring anybody to bail you out.
The B&G audible alarm was accompanied by a flashing code on the autopilot display at the helm that indicated a compass error (according to the B&G manual). I studied the wiring diagrams and all the information available.
After getting up to speed, I opened the brain unit and disconnected the compass wiring from the circuit board, inspected everything and reinstalled. No obvious problems found, except the jerk who installed the system tightened the little lug screws so tight that I was afraid I’d crack the circuit board getting the wires loose. Also, the compass wire was under too much strain where it entered the brain box housing. This was stupid, because about thirty feet of extra cable was tie wrapped together under the bunk. Basically, the installer was lazy and did a crummy job where it could not be seen.
A year ago, I bought additional B&G displays to add display units inside the boat at the navigation station and wound up with some spare cables and parts I keep handy. I had a new cable and installed it to see if the original compass cable had been overstressed and compromised. No dice. Alarm still sounded. Next, I took the compass apart and the guts are a sealed unit. The innards were visible though, and the compass’ needle (actually a little plastic doughnut wrapped in wires), spun freely and there was no obvious physical problem.
The next day, on a Monday, I called Jake at Wheelhouse Electronics in Ft. Lauderdale and explained the situation and my troubleshooting efforts so far. He agreed that it sounded like the compass itself had a problem. Just so happens, Jake had one in stock. Three days, FedEx, and half a boat unit later (a boat unit is one thousand dollars), and I have a new compass in-hand. It took thirty seconds to unplug the old one and plug in the new one and viola, everything worked perfectly! Cool! I professionally went through all the wiring to the brain and made sure that all of the original installer’s careless acts were eliminated.
All we had to do after that was commission the new compass. You have to take the boat out on a very calm day and perform a series of very large, slow circles as the system electronically talks to and calibrates the electronic compass. The system will eventually display “Pass” or “Fail.” On our first series of five circles, we were blessed and got the “Pass” indication right off the bat and that completed that particular job. The autopilot was back in business.
That is pretty much representative of the huge advantage of doing things yourself. I not only saved the cost of an expensive repairman’s labor, more importantly I learned exactly how the brain is wired, detected an overstressed cable and corrected it, detected that screw connectors on the circuit board were too tight and about to freeze up to the point that they could not be serviced without breaking and ruining the expensive circuit board and corrected it, and gained more in-depth knowledge of the B&G system.
Many, many problems have been sorted out exactly that way on Indigo Moon: fix the actual problem, but also take the time improve everything else you see while resolving the breakdown. The end result is a boat that is transformed to a much higher level of quality and reliability than it was when new. The old saying “if you want to done right do it yourself” is never more applicable than when spoken boats.
It’s been said that a laborer uses his hands; a craftsman uses his hands and his brain; and an artist uses his hands, brain and heart too. By that standard, Indigo Moon is making the slow transition to art.
With the B&G system sorted out, we returned to vacation mode and rented a car to drive around the island. Although way too populated for our tastes, St. Thomas is still beautiful nonetheless. Here are a couple of photos from our driving tour:
One thing you don’t see everyday is a submarine for charter. There is a company named Atlantis that operates real submarines for tours of reefs and marine life. One of the subs was based in Crown Bay Marina and we saw it go out occasionally.
We got our fill of St. Thomas in short order. The boat was washed. The B&G problem was fixed. Stocked with groceries and ready to go, we decided to head over to Water Island just offshore from St. Thomas. The weather was bad though and we could not find an anchor spot we liked. So, we decided to simply head back to our favorite island, St. John.
Hawknest Bay is on the northwest shore of St. John. The western shore of the Bay has a nice beach and is part of the Caneel Bay Resort. Our room in 1997 was actually on this beach.
The south shore of the Bay hosts a large, beautiful public beach with open pavilions and bathroom facilities. The eastern shore is rocky and steep.
Hawknest Bay is somewhat famous. For one, Oppenheimer, who invented the Atomic Bomb, lived here in a beach house that is still there. Second, part of the movie Four Seasons, starting Alan Alda, was filmed here in this Bay. It really is strikingly beautiful.
It was kind of cool watching the couple get married on the beach. The beach was crowded with the general public clad in swimsuits and sunscreens – all accidental wedding crashers. Everybody stopped moving around and respected the ceremony, though. Once the vows were complete, all the chance spectators cheered. How cool is that!
Melissa and I took the kayak to the beach and went for a short hike up Wadsworth Peace Hill to the east of the Bay where the ruins of Denis Bay Plantation remain.
Here’s the photo log:
After a few days in Hawknest Bay we headed a couple of miles east to Francis Bay and picked up a mooring. Yet another location that is picture perfect, we enjoyed brilliant sunsets, calm clear waters, and perfect beaches.
Melissa and I spent almost a week at Maho Bay (a small beach area at the south of large St. Francis Bay). In ten feet of water, we could see the bottom clearly and the beach was within the distance of a good swim. It is a great place to relax.
One chore I wanted to complete was installing new propellers. Back in December, when the boat was in the yard at Lauderdale Marine, we bought new propellers and installed them. The old ones, original to the boat, had worn out. The props are made of two parts: 1) a cylindrical center section that is internally splined to slide onto the splined shaft of the saildrive’s lower unit; and, 2) the propeller itself. The center section is forced into the prop with a very tightly fitting cylindrical rubber bushing in between so as to not allow the prop to spin on the center section, but nonetheless dampen the shock between the prop and the center section and saildrive shaft.
On the old props, the bushings had worn out and the props had become deformed where the center section had worked on them. Vibration was becoming noticeable.
Trouble is, Yanmar (actually Volvo) no longer manufactured the props in the exact pitch that came on the boat. What I had was 12” pitch props. All that was available was 11” or 13” pitch props.
Okay, so what is prop pitch you ask? It is the measurement of the distance that a propeller would travel through a solid mass in one full revolution. Pick anything that makes sense to you to visualize this: spin the prop once in a block of jello maybe, or perhaps marsh mud in Louisiana. The bigger the number, the steeper the angle of pitch of the blades and the deeper it will cut into something in one revolution. A 12” pitch prop would travel forward exactly 12” in one revolution.
So, next question. How do you know what pitch prop you need? That is a function of engine rpm’s at wide open throttle (WOT). All marine engine manufacturers specify that their engines must operate at a specified upper-rpm limit when the engine is at WOT (even though you wouldn’t want to run the engines all the time at WOT, that is how you calibrate props to the engine). All other engine operation speeds will be correctly “propped” and within specification as long as the WOT specification is met.
But all boats are different: weight, hull shape, drag, etc. The only way to regulate the load on the engine and arrive at the right WOT rpm is, by trial and error, to change props and sea trial the boat to arrive at a prop pitch that does not load the engine down too much with trying to take too big a bite, nor err the other way by allowing the engine to over-rev by not taking a big enough bite.
This is especially critical with diesel engines. Too little load and the cylinders can become glazed. Diesels are designed to live under a load. Too much load, though, and the engines are unhappy and create black smoke and soot up the transoms, causing problems and premature wear and failure.
In Ft. Lauderdale, faced with taking more bite, or less bite, we went for more. Yanmar specifies props that will result in 3650 rpm’s at WOT. With 13 pitch props in place of the 12’s, I went from 3650 to 3400. Not enough rpm’s and too much black soot on the transoms. The boat was less responsive when docking. Indigo Moon was not happy and that means I was not happy.
So, I contacted Frank and Jimmy’s Prop Shop in Ft. Lauderdale and had them take some 13’s and custom pitch them down to 12’s. They have the expertise to precisely reshape the curvature of the propeller blades so that when spun one revolution they would only travel 12 inches in a solid, instead of 13 inches.
Nick and Thea brought the new, custom 12” pitch props to me weeks ago when they flew in for a visit, but Maho Bay was the first place shallow enough and with perfectly-clear water and a pristine sand bottom where I felt comfortable that I could find any errant tools or parts.
A few tools, a tube of Mercruiser 2-4-C waterproof grease, and in 30 minutes Indigo Moon had new props. We motored around Francis Bay and warmed up the engines and then let her rip, slowly increasing the throttles up to wide open. PERFECT! No vibration at all. Not even a hint of soot. Yanmar’s specified 3650 rpm’s was on the button and the boat was its original responsive self. Man was I happy. Thanks again, Nick and Thea for packing those props for me. You made Indigo Moon a happy girl! I have kept the 13’s for spares, just in case.
After touring the Maho Bay area, we ducked over to Cinnamon Bay. As usual, we can’t figure out if it’s our new favorite bay or not. Everywhere is just too good to believe. On the western end of Cinnamon Bay, a point extends out and it is one of the few developed areas outside the National Park. It is covered with multi-million dollar mansions. The biggest of them all is under construction at the foot of the very end of the point. We were told it is a mere forty million dollars. Dubbed “The Rock Slide” by locals, it is a huge complex built of stone that unfortunately blends too much with the mountainside and really does appear at a glance to be just a pile of rocks – but it is a very, very nice pile of rocks!
We went ashore several times at Cinnamon Bay. There are public campgrounds, hiking trails, a surf shop that rents all types of watersports equipment and a few gift shops and a restaurant.
Here are some scenes from our Cinnamon Bay adventures;
A short walk inland from the beach is one of several trails, the Cinnamon Bay Loop Trial with various landmarks regarding the wildlife and plant life of St. John, along with the history about local ruins of sugarcane operations from the 1700’s.
Melissa and I enjoy inspecting the area.
After touring the half-mile loop trail, Melissa and I got ambitious and hiked up the Cinnamon Bay Trail that over a mile long through steep grades and switchbacks.
Our hike up the Cinnamon Bay trail was magnificent and really got our blood pumping. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Cinnamon Bay. There was such a very vibrant population of young sea turtles there that it seemed one would be popping up its head everywhere you looked.
Also, we had fun visiting with Kendall, a park docent who was also managing the surfshop at the beach. He was living on a catamaran moored in the Bay. We enjoyed talking with him and he had a wealth of local information.
After a few days at Cinnamon Bay, we went west again and back to Caneel Bay for the fourth time! From there we could speed over to Cruz Bay in the dinghy and get groceries, check our e-mail and get eat some sushi!
Back at Caneel Bay we enjoyed more interesting sights:
Where to next? Well, we decide to sail down the west coast of St. John and then along the southern shore to Lamshure Bay, a remote, undeveloped part of the Island where the National Park extends as far as they eye can see. With scuba diving spots and great trails located there, it was a logical choice where we could explore a part of St. John we had never seen before.
One of the hikes we enjoyed was up into the mountains of St. John where the stones at the edge of a small waterfall and its lower pools bear Petroglyphs, carved by pre-Columbian Tainos and their ancestors. The carvings date back as 900 A.D.
Per a placard at these carvings: “Archeological discoveries at Cinnamon Bay confirm that these petroglyphs were carved around 900 to 1500 A.D. by the pre-Columbian Tainos and their ancestors. The carvings exemplify the designs found on ceremonial Taino pottery. The pool and symbols were sacred dwelling places and ritualistic sites for the spirits of their ancestors. This spring-fed pool stays at nearly the sane level despite rainfall causing an interesting perhaps intentional mirror effect of the petroglyphs -- a duality of both the spiritual and living worlds often reflected in Taino art.
After our day of hiking, we went diving right off the boat at the east end of Lamshure Bay. Here are a few shot with the underwater camera:
We had a great dive and were pleasantly surprised at the numbers of fish and the fairly good health of the coral. There was not much traffic during our stay in Lamshure Bay. Considering it is off the beaten path and on the opposite side of the island from all the famous beaches and developments, it’s probable that it is not under as much pressure.
Well, we’ve burned up all of January and almost all of February in the Virgin Islands. It’s time to make serious plans to head south into the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean and start moving toward Venezuela, our ultimate destination to hide below the hurricane belt during hurricane season 2006.
As such, we made our way back to the British Virgin Islands and all the way east to Virgin Gorda and Bitter End Yacht Club where we can depart to St. Martin with the best sailing angle in the easterly trade winds.
So, we’ll head to West End, check back into the BVI, head to Virgin Gorda and then spend a couple of nights to provision and get ready for a one day crossing south to St. Martin. We were lucky enough to get through Customs and Immigration at West End without too much drama. A ferry was coming in and the Officers were processing things rather quickly. I had almost forgotten how bad the Wicked Witch was at Road Town a couple of months ago.
Melissa and I ultimately went to Spanish Town and Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbor for the night, because there is a Customs and Immigration Office there where we could check out.
We got a slip for the night at the Marina and gave Indigo Moon a good wash down. Late in the afternoon, we headed to Customs and Immigration to check out, planning on leaving at first light. Wow, the officer here is as nasty and grumpy as the Wicked Witch. After ignoring us for a while, he turned his attention my way and collected our papers and asked “When are you leaving?” I said first light. With the rudest affect a human can produce he informed me that I could not check out because I must leave with 12 hours of checking out and they close at four p.m. The morning will be too late and he refused to check me out.
We can’t leave Spanish Town in the dark before 4 a.m.; it’s too narrow a channel. We can’t wait for Customs to open in the morning, because by the time we could get checked out and back to the boat and underway, we would never be able to make it to St. Martin in daylight. I explained this to the Officer.
The mechanism has yet to be invented that could possibly measure the depth of his rudeness about the situation. I won’t bore you with a blow by blow, but it was awful.
The next morning, I was first in line and “Mr. Charisma" had to wait on me first. With hate in his heart, he took my papers and asked: “When are you leaving.” My response: “immediately and as quickly as humanly possible.” We simply left Spanish Town and sailed to Bitter End and picked up a mooring. Knowing North Sound well and feeling confident about leaving it in darkness, at about 4:00 a.m. on March 4, 2006, we slipped the mooring line and headed out of North Sound and went southeast between Virgin Gorda and Necker Island into the open sea known as the Anegada Passage. By dawn, we were several miles southeast of Tortola and out at sea without incident. Our most-excellent two-month Virgin Islands extravaganza was sadly at and end and we were a bit melancholy about it.
But, as usual, Melissa started reading to me about a new destination and excitement quickly eclipsed our sadness. We will be in St. Martin during the world class Heineken Regatta! It will be a very big event. There are world-class chandleries in St. Martin. There are even movie theaters! This will be cool! We are on our way again!
We’ll pick up next time as the sun rises over Anegada Passage while we sail directly toward St. Martin at seven knots, close-hauled on a port tack in 19 knot winds.
As I wrap up this segment, it’s mid-October and we have been cruising the offshore Islands of Venezuela for two weeks now. Mahi Mahi, grouper and lobster are keeping the grill busy. There are some really nice reefs in the Los Roques and we have seen quite an array of sea creatures.
It won’t be long until we reach Bonaire, a world-renown diving Mecca where you can pick up a mooring and enjoy spectacular diving right off your own boat on some of the most vibrant reefs on this planet. We are very much looking forward to Bonaire and plan to spend a month there diving everyday!
Stay tuned. Our next segment will be the Leeward Islands.
Until next time, hoping this finds everyone happy and healthy,
If you would like to receive an e-mail notifying you of updates to the web site, subscribe here.