Another month starting with strong winds and Ocean Rainbow sheltering! Contrary to expectations we have not left Puerto Rico, we only made it as far as Salinas where we are sheltering and waiting for the winds and seas to abate before heading off to Vieques ......
Initially we took a mooring buoy in the bay believing that this was the recommended course of action to protect the sea bed etc but after a fairly unpleasant conversation with a local, Claire was left in no doubt that picking up a buoy was not the right thing to have done! We are happier anchoring so we swiftly dropped the buoy and anchored behind Lynn Rival with lots of swinging room. Salinas is pretty with nice marina staff, bar and laundry facilities but there is precious little else to recommend the town. We did take the bikes to explore, pick up a few provisions and get some exercise but the remainder of our time was spent cleaning and reading! James has also spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to get Claire's bike sorted out. If it isn't the spokes snapping, it's punctures!! Very frustrating.
After 5 days we spotted a little weather window and, together with Lynn Rival, we left early in the morning to motor 5 miles east to Cayos Caribes where we anchored and spent the day waiting for the winds to drop in the early evening. The decrease in wind was marginal but we made a break for it anyway following Lynn Rival through the reef and into the big seas. It was a tiring overnight passage as we had to tack so often trying to keep out of the biggest waves and then avoid the lobster pots in the shallower water. A number of squalls passed through but we were very heavily reefed so, apart from getting wet, we made good progress. By daylight we found that Lynn Rival was about a mile ahead of us. It transpired they had motorsailed and stayed close to shore during the night which had given them a much easier passage. When we finally sailed into Ensenada del Sol we had sailed 82nm to cover a distance of 45nm and we were very gratified to find that Lynn Rival had not beaten us there - in fact we had stolen a march on them with a lovely wind shift that meant we had been at anchor for almost two hours before they came in! Lynn Rival is 38' so we should really have come in ahead of them and we weren't racing .... or were we!?
Ensenada Del Sol is a lovely bay with a beautiful sandy beach. There is a causeway at the western end separating the bay from the town of Esperanza so when we took Puddle in we dinghied to the causeway, carried her over the sandy bit and relaunched her to continue on to the town dock. Vieques is a backpacker holiday resort so there were lots of young around but it is expensive. A small plate of chips for US$5, beers at $2 and 8 chicken wings for $12. We did take a hike to see Media Luna, Navio and Mosquito Bays. A lovely walk and we had taken swimmers with us but the pounding sea didn't look too attractive! Mosquito Bay is famous for its bioluminescence created by dinoflagellates. Unfortunately the weather had caused too much disturbance on the lagoon and there was nothing to see while we were there. Very worrying for an island that depends on it's bioluminescent reputation for business. We did attempt to anchor in the bay so that we could dinghy into the lagoon after dark, but were less than happy with the swinging room so we sailed out and back to our original anchorage in Ensenada del Sol.
After 5 days we thought we'd identified another weather window to allow us to sail further east so we said our farewells to Lynn Rival and sailed towards Salinas del Sur. After 13nm we decided we would head into Ensenada Honda rather than continue the battle east. What a brilliant decision. What a magical bay. Definitely one of our best anchorages ever. We spent a couple of days just anchored and chilling, with nothing to disturb us but the birds, leaping rays and lapping water. Very special indeed.
11th - 16th March
So we made it to Culebra. So many people just love this island we were looking forward to getting ashore and exploring. When we did manage to dinghy in we were rather surprised by the single street, limited facilities, overbearing ferry port and general shabbiness. So that's the negatives... the plus is the Dinghy Dock Restaurant which positively rocks! What an amazing drumming session on Saturday night (Tom from Honey Ryder where were you????) and what a great crowd of folk.
And we are given to understand that the beaches on the north west are stunning but that will have to wait for another visit ....... but then we did make it to Culebrita and just loved both the south eastern bay and the northern bay. We even managed to climb to the top of the lighthouse! Forgot to take a photo of the first stage of the climb ... the lighthouse is off limits as it is falling down but the view from the top was too tempting! We met goats on route and Americans as we as exited the lighthouse - their comment: Oh, we thought you were youngsters! What do they mean? We are, aren't we?!!!
Then on to STT - or St Thomas to those not in the know! It is a mega cruise ship destination with the inevitable shops stacked full of duty free jewellery, souvenirs and booze - all things we normally avoid. Imagine our surprise to arrive in the busy anchorage of Charlotte Amelie and find that we were surrounded by green hills and pretty houses with an anchorage full of bustle and busyness. Fascinating people watching stuff, ferries, sailboats, cruise ships, cargo ships and then, at night, a wonderful calm with twinkly lights surrounding us from hillside to heavens. Ashore we found friendly helpful people and we even managed to 'suss' the bus/taxi system. You have to look like a local for a local taxi bus to stop for you .... James tried to flag down a tourist taxi bus at the normal stop only for it to sweep on past - that's how local we now look! The next taxi bus stopped for him .... it was a local one. The only difference - the price. $2 in the tourist bus, $1 in the local. Thank goodness we look like locals!!
We had really only stopped off in St Thomas to sort out shipment details for Ocean Rainbow to complete her transatlantic circuit. We are delighted to report that this has all been organised and she will now be taken by Sevenstars Yacht Transport straight from St Thomas to Southampton in April. Once OR is loaded, we will fly back and meet her two weeks later and get her ready to sail back to Portishead. Maybe you have had to read this paragraph twice? It was a sudden decision, but now that we have made it, it makes enormous sense. We need to upgrade the electronics on OR and we need to redo the rigging. Why not bring her home and do it from the comfort of our own home rather than in Trinidad where we cannot visit family and have to rely on good internet to communicate with everyone? We will still be taking her to the Mediterranean next year but it will be via the canals. The more we think about it, the more we wonder why we hadn't thought of this before!!
But, back to the present. St Thomas' has the cheapest laundry service we have had in years!!! No joking. 3 loads of washing and drying all for $9!!! OK the three loads all went in a mega washing machine but with those wonderful colour run thingummyjigummies who cares about mixing whites with coloureds!!! In contrast we paid $4.29 for a brown sliced loaf of bread. I can recommend coming to STT for your washing but not if you need to restock your fridge or stores ... unless, of course, you need alcohol and then it is very good value!
We made a move from STT to STJ (St Johns) on the 15th. A wonderful sail with moderate seas and sparkling sun. We managed to sail through the cuts and only had to put on the engine and furl the sails for the last mile of the trip. We entered Moha Bay mid afternoon, picked up a buoy and were delighted to see our first turtle since ages. We were then entertained by a fish frenzy in the turquoise waters. Definitely a wonderful anchorage - even if we were surrounded by other yachts and it wasn't exactly a remote Caribbean island hideaway!
This anchorage will be forever etched in our memories because we then received a text message to say that our second granddaughter had arrived safe and well. A quick telephone conversation ensued and we agreed to find a better signal in the morning so that we could FaceTime Andrew and Claire and meet our youngest granddaughter (to date, no name!!!!). We shall report later with more details.
In the afternoon we went snorkelling and had a wonderful time swimming with turtles again. These turtles are quite a different colouring to the ones we have seen previously so we need to do a little research to find their 'brand' name! They were, however, as graceful as ever and totally fascinating. We got back to the dinghy frozen and wrinkled but very, very happy.
So now it's on to the BVI and a much awaited reunion with Claire's stepbrother Crispin Ruffell-Smith and his wife Enda. We visited them over 10 years ago when we had a charter yacht in the BVIs but this time is really rather special - visiting in our own yacht.
17th - 19th March
We had a sparkling sail across to Great Harbour, Jost van Dyke where we checked into the BVI. So easy, so quick and only $17 for customs and 20 cents for immigration! We arrived rather early so we had a chance to wander around this tiny town, made famous by Foxys Tamarind bar. We even found cinnamon buns at the bakery! What a treat. Once officially signed in to the country we sailed off to Sandy Cay through atrocious rain squalls. Memories came flooding back from10 years ago when exactly the same thing happened. Maybe it's a peculiarity of the channel? We picked up a mooring buoy just off the beach and stopped for a swim, snorkel, walk around the island and lunch. Then it was off again sailing to Tortola and our rendezvous with Cris and Enda in Nanny Cay Marina.
The marina is lovely with friendly staff everywhere and chickens! There are always chickens roaming wild on the islands in the Caribbean but Tortola must take the record. The roosters sound the morning alarm from all corners of the island (it's quite a racket!) and there are hens and their chicks in every bit of shade. We took the bikes off to explore and get some exercise! Nothing much seems to have changed. Lots of cars, all left hand drive, and driving on the left! It's a wonder there aren't more accidents with the number of hairpin bends on the roads. We felt quite safe as cyclists as the driver can easily judge the distance between himself and us - or at least that's what we thought and nothing happened to disprove the theory! Bobbys is still a great grocery store, the Sunsail/Moorings base is still huge, the cruise dock has lots of little colourful shops and the Police Station and Court House are still in the same place! It was fun to have all the memories come flooding back.
Cris and Enda came on board on Friday night to sample their first Ocean Rainbow cocktails. Sooooo lovely to see them. We had a great evening and stayed up way past our bedtime catching up. Supper was a simple 'spag bol' as we had planned a more special dinner for Saturday night. Again, we had another lovely evening with "the" duck turning out every bit as delicious as hoped. The French certainly know how to 'tin' their gourmet food. We'd bought 3 tins when we were in French Guiana - the first we had for Christmas 2015 with Team ACE, this was the second so, somewhere in the bilges, there is one more tin!!! Expiry date 2018 so not panicking yet! If you happen to be chosen to share the duck with us .... consider yourselves extremely highly favoured!!!
On Sunday we left Nanny Cay heading for good snorkelling grounds and turquoise bays. The BVIs really are an amazing sailing area. So many beautiful islands and bays, Fabulous coloured water and some nice snorkelling. Certainly the best this season. Even the volume of boats don't detract from our enjoyment. It's rather fun looking out into our 'back garden' and counting the number of boats and how many are sailing versus those that are just dead idle and motoring!
20th - 25th March
Monday dawned and Birthday Boy started his one day of the year being totally spoilt (rather than just spoilt)! The day started in Little Harbour, Peter Island but we weren't that happy with the proximity of a catamaran that had arrived late the previous day and anchored on top of us. It didn't help that at 3am the wind had died completely and we found ourselves drifting rather close to the rocks and shore. We weren't in any danger but just to be sure ... to be sure ... we stood on the bathing platform and paddled (!!) Ocean Rainbow back into the deeper waters. We must have looked quite a sight but it was a very effective way of moving the boat without starting the engine! Anyway, after a slap up breakfast we weighed anchor and sailed the short distance around to Kay Cay on the south side of the island. For a time we were the only ones there - idyllic. No party this year, but a delicious dinner à deux with a glorious sunset.
On Tuesday we invited our neighbours, Ted and Keith from Reggae, for coffee. They turned out to be two brothers who had been sailing these waters for the last 20years, were mad keen divers and they recommended a couple of places where the snorkelling was particularly good. So glad to have met them as we did find some lovely coral and a wider variety of fish as result of their advice. That afternoon new boats arrived, the wind changed direction and our lovely calm anchorage became very noisy and rocky rolly. So we moved on Wednesday morning. This time across to Norman Island and Beneures Bay. We anchored at the western-most end of the bay which meant we lost the sun slightly earlier in the evening but it also meant we had a wonderful view outside our 'back window' with not another yacht in sight. It was her that we were finally able to release George our Guatemalan Gekko. He has been with us for so long and required no attention in terms of feeding so we had forgotten about him! That is until we found him hiding in the bottom of the engine cover. An ideal opportunity to take him ashore and free him from the confines of OR. Since his departure have had a few mozzies on board so we're thinking we might have been a bit premature in letting him free!!
We snorkelled for ages absolutely captivated by the enormous tarpon. They were happy to swim with us, totally unbothered, just watching us. On Thursday we went for a walk to the top of the island where the views were spectacular. Had we been better prepared we could have walked over to Pirate Bay (The Bight) to view Willy T from afar .... absolutely no need to visit it!! The bay, when we sailed past it, was absolutely chokker. There were even two mega yachts with their own blow up amusement parks set up at the back of them!!! Yugh, yugh! We are definitely getting old!!
Friday and actually time to leave BVIs and head back to the USVIs to meet up with fellow Warrior owners Pete and Robbie on PR2. We hadn't seen them since Curacao in December 2015 so we were really looking forward to seeing them again. Pete is a source of non-stop corny jokes .... it's the way he tells them! First plan was to meet in St Johns (STJ) but, as with all boat plans, they get modified! PR2 needed to get outboard engine parts so were stuck in St Thomas and unable to move. However, when we received the email we were already in STJ in Watermelon (also known as Waterlemon!) Bay so we made the most of our stop there, hid from the rain, collected enough fresh water to sink a battleship and went to see the sights ashore. We walked up to the ruined rum distillery. Had we not been to see a working rum distillery in Grenada, it would have been very difficult to work out what was what, but as it was we were able to walk around and get a very good feel for the place. It would be good to say that we could tell the difference between a former Dutch owned island (as in STT, STJ and St Croix) and a French or British one by the quality of their slave quarters but that would be stretching things a little too far. However the slave quarters at this particular distillery did have a view. And, so did the overseer's mansion - known as Murphy Great House - the views were spectacular even on a grey and grimble day! Despite the rain, the snorkelling was fun with another lovely ray, and then when darkness closed in we had an amazing display from some massive tarpon who came and flirted outrageously with our 'lucy light' (inflatable solar powered light). Oh to have a spectacular camera that could have captured the images better ... the tarpon glided past with their sides uppermost and scales glistening in the lamplight like twinkling diamonds. It was a mesmerising performance.
26th - 31st March
So to Sunday... we slipped our mooring buoy in Waterlemon Bay and headed for STT and Brewers Bay to meet up with PR2. It was lovely to sail downwind in perfect conditions. Very good for morale! Brewers Bay was a real surprise. Beautiful calm, blue waters with a long sandy beach. Turtles and rays around the boat and plenty of room to anchor. We would never have visited the bay had it not been for PR2s recommendation as it next door to the airport runway! However, it isn't like Gibraltar and the aircraft engine noise does not really impinge on the tranquility of the bay.
Lovely to meet up with Pete and Robbie again. Robbie cooked a delicious meal for us on board PR2 - such a treat! On Monday we all went into town on the safari taxi bus for a mere $1. Excellent value. We finalised our paperwork for OR's passage back to Southampton, did a bit of shopping at good old Pueblo and then headed back. Over the next couple of days ... in no particular order! ... we entertained PR2 on OR, went into Crown Bay and did our laundry, took a long safari taxi bus ride to the end of town and the large Pueblo with a short walk up to the Fruit Bowl (excellent fruit and veg as well as gourmet stuff like salami, Brie and granola!). Stopped off at the Happy Valley Shop by the airport and found Ting - a vital ingredient in Ocean Rainbow's rum punches!!
On Thursday we set off again back to Culebrita. A very lively and rapid sail with OR touching 8.5knots - morale back to pre-DR levels!! When we entered Tortuga bay it was empty. Wonderful! We picked up a buoy (daytime only, but the locals use them for overnight) and decided that the swell caused by the northerly winds was quite manageable so we'd stay the night. Shortly afterwards a catamaran entered the bay and went to take a mooring buoy. It soon became obvious that they had had a bit of a snafu so James donned his mask and flippers and went across to see if he could lend a hand. Gottfried was very grateful. The mooring buoy he had tried to pick-up was firmly wedged between the hull and prop with the extremely long mooring line firmly wrapped around the prop as well. James succeeded in getting the first loop free and between the pair of them they managed to free everything else with no damage to the mooring buoy. James returned to OR very pleased that he'd been able to help. Later in the afternoon Gottfried and Nora rowed across and invited us to Leve Leve for sundowners. What a truly lovely evening we had with some very delicious wine. We must look out for more potential rescue opportunities! Later, we had a bit of a shock snorkelling, as under our boat were a family of sharks ..... well, they did look remarkably like sharks but we we're reliably informed by Gottfried that they're remoras and, had we looked closely at their heads, we would have seen the suction pads!
That night we rolled considerably in our little monohull - so much so that both glasses of wine rolled off the cockpit table! Hmmmm ... time to move. Rolling we can manage, glasses of wine falling over, we can't! So, first thing on Friday morning we sailed to Culebra and anchored in Ensenada Dakity. En route we passed Ensenada Almodovar and spotted what we thought was another Warrior flying a red ensign, but we couldn't make out a name. We were long past the entrance to the bay so we decided that if the boat was still there when we sailed back towards St Thomas we would detour and say Hi.
And so ends another month and we find ourselves in another new anchorage. We are so enjoying our sailing in the Virgin Islands.