We set sail early from Culebrita to St. Thomas. The winds were up, 15 kts plus out of the east north east so we beat as best as we could SE toward St. Thomas. We should have stayed on our tack longer however I was getting bored sailing past and parallel to the island. That is one thing about sailing, we spend a lot of time sailing what seems to be a parallel track to our destination. We tacked NE and started toward St. Thomas when we came upon a small squall and decided to tack back out and away to avoid the wind and rain.
The winds were swirling around the island so picking an advantageous direction was proving difficult. We tacked one more time toward Brewers Bay where we were originally planning to stop. Seeing all the activity, the boats, planes and people we began discussing why we were going into St. Thomas anyway. We had heard that Vagabond and Pepper had found a nice anchorage at Christmas Cove on St. James island just east of St. Thomas. It was still early and after considerable discussion between us all (Kaylee had some definite opinions on the matter) we decided to make the trek to avoid St. Thomas. Kaylee was especially vocal about being in Brewers in an hour versus Christmas cove in three. She finally consented and we cozied as close to the island as we could to get some protection from the high winds and pounded through 4 foot seas across the lea of St. Thomas. As we began to question our logic we rounded the point, the winds calmed and we could see Christmas Cove a few miles ahead. We were greeted by Dan from Vagabond sitting on a mooring ball waiting to help us tie-up. After a quick discussion and recommendation Danielle jumped in the dinghy with Dan and hoped over to Pi, the floating pizza boat who was about to close and ordered a great, but expensive pizza! Who knew, and what a great pizza that was. Maybe the day long sail added a special something to the taste.
While waiting for pizza Kaylee swam over to Selah to finally meet Bo and Allie whom we had been stalking since we got into the Bahamas. Kaylee is one of the few “floating” members of their “Jr Captains” program that follows the adventures of Selah as they work their way around the world. We have been following their travels from their start. We had just missed them in Georgetown and Palmas so it was great to finally meet them in person. Bo came over a little later as Kaylee was swimming between Aqua Vida, Pepper and Vagabond getting reacquainted.
We stayed in Christmas cove a couple of days, snorkeling and relaxing and catching up, chasing turtles that seemed to be all around us. Next stop was a short 5 mile hop to Cinnamon Bay on St. John, then another 3 miles to Leinster Bay. Both were great snorkeling stops and beautiful anchorages. Danielle and I had been to Leinster Bay on a previous sailing trip and we were anxious to visit the reef there again.
On to the BVI’s. One and a half miles north and across the Narrows and checking into Soper’s Hole on the west side of Tortola along with a stop at Pusser’s Company Store for one of their famous Pain Killers with lunch. We stocked up a little on some needed but very expensive groceries (a block of cheddar cheese was $9!) and got out of the very busy anchorage.
Our goal was Normans Cay a few miles south and back across the Narrows. The water is deep here and anchoring strategies so much different. Most anchorages now have mooring balls which have had a significant benefit to the health of the coral and grass beds. In years past sailboats dropped anchor anywhere and did considerable damage to the area. In some ways it is frustrating as what was free in the past now costs $30/night. The upside is the noticeable improvement of the coral and many fewer trenches through the sea grasses.
As we approached Normans we looked through the binoculars at the anchorage which was now very crowded. We realized we were late but had thought that it would not be a problem this late in the season. We veered back to St. John to a quiet but rolly and gusty anchorage for the night.
The great part about the BVI’s is that you are basically sailing on a giant lake. From Tortola on the north to the various islands on the south and Virgin Gorda guarding the east the interior is basically swell free. Moving east to Virgin Gorda we faced 20 kt winds most of the time but with islands all around the waves were very manageable. It took us two days to travel the 15 miles with a stop at Normans to snorkel the caves and the Indians, great snorkeling sites, an overnight on Coopers then a great stop at Fallen Jerusalem, a small island just south of the Baths. While the Baths were completely full we enjoyed an easy lunch and a few hours of bouldering along the island. Kaylee was in heaven climbing along the huge boulders as I tried to keep up. It was quite a workout and a very cool place to stop. The last leg of the trip was the 8 mile run up the lea of Virgin Gorda. We did this under a reefed main and headsail, still getting +7 kt speeds in the high winds and flat seas! At the end of this long day we slid into North Sound. This would be our staging location for the next 3 weeks as we entertained Fred and Kay and then the Conrads.
We arrived in North Sound a day early to “rest” before Fred and Kay arrived. These off days give us a chance to just do normal stuff, like clean the boat, laundry, get a few hours of school in for Kaylee, etc. before we move on for travel or play. Leverick Bay is just the right kind of place to do just that. Fred and Kay showed up in the afternoon and we appropriately met them at the Leverick Bar Jumbies.
The Baths is the most visited spot in the BVI’s and an easy day sail for us so off we trouped for a beautiful 2 hour sail. We lunched, snorkeled in and had a great time exploring the “caves” and swimming in the baths. Our trip home, also a nice beam reach with gusts to above 20 to keep us on our toes was fast and we were able to sail in through the narrow channel of North Sound and softly over to Saba Rock for Pain Killers and snacks. We watched the staff feed the 6’ tarpon and met Elvis, the 4’ moray eel that they have in a tank with an anchor from the ill fated Rhone. Kaylee went back to the condo with Fred and Kay on the Saba Ferry while Danielle and I put up the headsail for a leisurely downhill sail the 2 miles across the sound to our anchor spot as dusk became darkness. Sometimes it really feels good to be in a place long enough to know the area well enough that you can do things in the dark.
It is easy to see why the BVI’s are so popular as we were able to entertain everyone as we zigzagged across the “lake” (the Sir Francis Drake Channel), taking in all the sites. Fred and Kay took the downwind leg of the trip to Road Town to pick up the Conrads. They smartly took the ferry back to Spanish Town at Virgin Gorda that evening.
A special thanks to LeAnn Conrad for her guest blog and description of their time with Aqua Vida - see previous post. A look at our chart plotter shows the numerous treks we made as we visited Road Town and rafted to Vagabond and Pepper in a very small corner of the windy Road Town anchorage, the Baths, Salt Island as well as multiple visits to Saba Rock and the top of Mount Gorda, a five mile straight uphill climb from Leverick. This climb culminated at a stop at Rada’s restaurant on the way down where we devoured the chicken and rice special.
Rada is a tiny Indian lady and we stopped because of the smell of curry. We unfortunately missed her curry at lunch as it was all sold out so we began to formulating plans for another visit where we could get her Roti, a curried chicken and vegetables in a homemade pea tortilla. We initiated discussions with her and quickly went from having Roti delivered to the marina to having her daughter’s boyfriend pick us all up in a pickup truck. Plans were quickly made and the Joneses, Conrads, Ungers and Howells (Abbey Singer), 14 in all, piled into the truck for the trip up the steep hill to Rada’s. Then meal was fantastic and as a special treat she had made us plates of banana fritters and ice cream for dessert.
Our time with Fred and Kay went very quickly, a week seemingly only a day or so but so has the time we have spent on the boat since leaving Carrabelle in January. I know Kaylee really enjoyed seeing her grandparents, lounging by pool and sharing meals on the boat. It was great to have them there for the week.
After dropping the Conrads off at Soper’s Hole to catch the ferry back to St. Thomas we were able to run on the north side of Tortola, visiting Jost Van Dyke and ducking into Cane Garden Bay. We had never been to Cane Garden before and were delightfully surprised at the congenial beach community where we found great conversation, the cheapest happy hour prices and some soccer on the beach with Kaylee. We would have stayed longer but the next day was Kaylee’s birthday and Vagabond, Pepper and Exit Stage Left were preparing a party for her (see Happy Birthday post).
One of the greatest parts of cruising is the people that you meet who become friends as you cross each others paths. Some stop to get off the trip for awhile (Yarika and Salacious in St. Thomas to work), others move ahead (Wandering Star bolted to Grenada for a new job; Utopia to Antigua to pull out and travel home, and Symbiosis just to move down the chain). Most of the time you keep in touch via email and sometimes AIS and there is always an expectation that you will cross paths again.
We met Abby Singer (Andrew, Summer, Paige and Sky) in Leverick Bay. An interesting family that decided to leave and sell their business, buy a sailboat and then learn to sail as they worked their way to Greneda. Pretty heady stuff! Sky and Kaylee are two peas in a pod, kindred spirits, their constant conversation is energetic and exhausting but they communicate better than any two I have ever seen after knowing each other for a few days. As we all waited for weather to make the sail to St. Martin (about 75 miles straight line) they were inseparable over the few days we spent together and we really enjoyed the enthusiasm of the whole family and were happy to add them to our ad hoc flotilla.
We were all working out our various strategies for the crossing to St. Martin, about 6 boats in all. All with a different approach which is the way you should approach sailing out here. You need to be comfortable with your sail plan and it is great to know that there our others out there, in the same general area, heading in the same general direction. It is amazing how nice it is to hear a friendly voice on the radio during an overnight crossing.
Vagabond, Pepper, Aqua Vida, Abby Singer, Take Two (a family of seven on a cat) and Exit Stage Left would be leaving soon in their own way and on their own time after a great time in the Virgins. On to the Leewards!
The last full week of May our family dropped in on the Jones family. In the middle of the Virgin Islands.
Yes, you read that correctly. Our family of four traveled to St.Thomas, then ferried to Road Town, BVI, and thought we would have a few hours to tour around Road Town before meeting up with the Jones. We walked 100 yards and see Kaylee coming out of a store with her grandparents. It was quite funny.
The next day we sailed from Road Town to Leverick Bay in a wind that had the boat heeling in rough waters, which made me thankful for Dramamine almost immediately. We did stop for a snorkel on Salt Island, which was the first of several “jump in and swim” opportunities that were delightful and amazing. Fish with colors I could only dream of seeing in my lifetime. Coral that National Geographic had covered in pictures. A barracuda under a dilapidated dock, seemingly uninterested in our party of seven. Welcome to your vacation.
Leverick Bay provided a much-needed shower, a swimming pool for the kids, laundry services, and a day to turn rocking back and forth into sea legs. After a relaxing day, it was off to Saba Rock for a happy hour, Tarpon fish (4 to 5 feet long) feeding, an introduction to Elvis the Morey Eel (4 feet long) in a tank, and a date night for my husband and myself. So, picture if you will, being in one of the most beautiful places in the world, traveling with family (fun), then people who invited you on their boat offer to give you and the hubby a few hours for a really nice dinner for just the two of you, with an open-ended return time. Be still my soul. That’s a date that we won’t easily forget nor be able to replicate for a long time. What a gift!
The next day was a hike for the Jones adults and the hubby, which ended up with them finding a wonderful, local Indian restaurant about halfway down the 2 mile hiking path. Little did the rest of us by the pool know that dinner reservations would be made, complete with a back of pick-up truck ride before and after dinner by the owner’s daughter’s boyfriend? Quite the adventure, and the best roti I have ever had.
The next day was a sailing excursion to The Baths, which proved to be really neat to climb, swim in tide pools, and snorkel. Post-Baths, it was a sail to Savannah Bay, which was almost totally untouched beach and coral everywhere. Savannah Bay also provided our first experience with a 30 knot wind gust that left almost all of us gasping for air and grabbing our spaghetti plates with cat-like reflexes. The girls were to scrape dishes that night, and it took a lot more convincing after the blast of air that sent everything flying.
We stayed in the bay 2 nights, then sailed to Soper’s Hole to catch a ferry back to Road Town, a cab to Emerald Coast Resort, and a night’s sleep before boarding a plane early the next morning for the continental 48.
Sure, we had issues. A child sick in the back seat of our car due to a nervous stomach. Another child who was sick to her stomach around day 4 due to heat and motion. Moments of nausea and frustration with kiddos. Sleeping on a rocking surface for a week. 3 days without a shower and the smells that ensued.
However, overshadowing all of those issues was the graciousness of our hosts. They fed us, and fed us, and fed us. They warned of waves the night before our first sail and recommended to “pre-game” the Dramamine. Ken jumped in for lost glasses and a lost plate. (Proud moment: I did beat him to jumping in for a hat that was lifted by a wind gust off of my head.) Their flexibility and inclusion of our family in theirs immediately. We invaded their space for a week, and they acted like it was just a normal day on the boat. Kaylee shared everything, and our girls played their hearts out daily.
In addition, Danielle’s parents had been at a resort in Leverick Bay for several days prior to our arrival. What a joy to get to know them and share their adventure and ours also. New opportunities brought new friends.
The Jones’ graciousness was matched by the others sailing around them. Everywhere we went we happened to start up conversations with various boats who were doing the same thing the Jones family is doing. Each boat has a different story on a similar, but unprecedented adventure that is as individualistic as the captains themselves. We so enjoyed getting to chat with those who are sailing on Vagabond, Pepper, and Abby Singer. Each crew had a different tale to tell of how they decided to embark on an adventure like this, where they had been, and where they were headed. It seemed as though we had been brought into not only the life of the Aqua Vida, but also a bigger community of sailors with a desire to enjoy the adventure and whatever it brings, whether positive or negative. Immediate acceptance, immediate trust, immediate care.
I also didn’t realize how much of the sailing life had been engrained in my vocabulary until I told my mom on the phone earlier last week that we had to get the cat “out of stowage”. Now rolling up car windows is “closing the hatches”. I also know now that anchoring, docking, and mooring are all very different.
I am so thankful to my hubby (who organized all of the details and made the journey happen), the Jones family on Aqua Vida for their graciousness, and to our girls who took everything in and enjoyed the ride. I could not be more proud of our girls stepping out of their comfort zones to tackle a journey that isn’t your average trip, yet would prove stretching and challenging in lots of great ways. They practiced flexibility, which is what we’ve been talking about for years. I don’t know yet if they quite understand just how unique this trip was, and yet I think we will be telling and retelling stories for a very long time.
As for me, I will eternally be grateful for the Jones’ willingness to have us and will remember the journey for a very long time. Once my sea legs go away, I will remember it even more fondly as the trip that stretched me too.
To Aqua Vida, Pepper, Vagabond, and Abby Singer: May the winds carry you all to your next destination safely, and may you continue to enjoy the adventure. When you arrive back on land, you all have a place to stay and rest with us.
And who knows, we may drop in again in the future…..