1 December 2002
Road Town Harbor, Village Cay Marina, British Virgin Islands N 18.7540 W 64.3710
BVI, BVI, thank God Almighty it's the BVI
As we approached the BVI we could smell the fragrance of land. It seemed that the winds now blew in a sweeter smell and after three days of almost no wind any change was welcomed. We approached from the north under power and as the islands became visible, we started to relax just in time to run through a line of lobster pots. All we needed was to tangle these lines into our propeller to ruin our arrival. As we picked our way through this mine field, the volcanic islands loomed larger and sailboats started to appear from everywhere. We were concerned about shutting off our sole working engine even though the winds were picking up in a favorable direction. This is the height of the season in the BVI and Christmas Week winds in the twenty five knot area with the flat seas attract yachts from around the world. Now for the most difficult part of the journey (especially when the port engine is the only one working) is to dock the boat stern in with a mooring ball off the bow. It was very ugly and I'm sure that everyone on shore wondered what the hell was going on but eventually we were nestled between two very nervous and helpful catamaran owners.
We were uncertain as to how many days it would take us to sail from Spanish Wells in the Bahamas to Tortola in the BVI. Such a passage is full of changing winds, sea conditions, barometric readings and lots of squalls. Upon leaving the cut in the reef at Spanish Wells, we motored due east because of the SE wind on our nose. Then our starboard engine died. We determined, through a rather lengthy process of elimination, that the fuel in the tank was fouling the filters and therefore choking the engines. After changing filters several times on the starboard engine we decided to shut off the engines and sail, even though that meant a lot of tacking to get to our easterly destination. There are many good qualities in owning a catamaran but sailing close to the wind is not one of them. Finally the winds clocked around to the south and we were able to sail southeast for four straight days with a breeze of around twenty knots. At night the winds typically picked up and we encountered squalls. We were thankful for the favorable winds. In total we were at sea for ten days and were able to arrive several days before Herb's scheduled departure back to Washington.
With the fuel suspect we were concerned about all sorts of power issues. We could not recharge the batteries with the engines or the generator and therefore had to rely totally on our solar panels. Some days the sun did not shine and we had to conserve power even more. No plotter, no SSB, no radar, no unnecessary amp usage. And to Rene's Moms disappointment, no emails, ha. Our first priority was to keep the auto pilot working. The wind vane feature on the auto pilot makes open sea sailing much easier and hand steering can extinguish the crew's enthusiasm. Water also became an issue since we needed the generator to run the water maker. Now our lives were really starting to change. It was an important lesson in the frailties of a highly automated boat with lots of luxury items.
So what do you do for ten days at sea; on three hours and off six:
Recount top movies you have seen with other crew
Analyze the weather
Try to uncover the wonderment of flying fish
Floss your teeth
Adjust sails, putting in a reef almost every night and
shaking it out in the morning
Change fuel filters
Pump the engine compartment of two feet of water
and Rene can add preparing meals, cleaning up and sending emails
It is a long voyage and the next time we will plan a more realistic schedule. We missed Rum Cay, The Turks and Caicos Islands, and a lot of other sights we would have enjoyed but we were more in boat delivery mode than a cruising mode. Maybe we can catch them on our way back.
All in all we were pleased with ourselves on this shake down cruise. We do have a few things to repair now that we are in port but it shouldn't impair our progress and we look forward to spending some time snorkeling and exploring the local islands.
Our friend Herb leaves on Tuesday December 2. He has been a significant contributor to our knowledge base and we want to thank him for his help.
Cousin Fred will arrive in Tortola on December 5 and we look forward to his (sailing) experience to augment our developing skills.
This is sailing vessel Shiraz, standing by at Village Cay Marina Road Town, Tortola, BVI.
15 December 2002
The Virgin Gorda British Virgin Islands N 18.2989 W64.2159
Talk is Cheap, Communication is Expensive
Even though we did a great deal of planning and preparation on communications, we were unprepared for the cost of telephone service and the fact that internet cafes are ill-equipped to handle Microsoft Front Page and are unwilling to allow us to use our own computer. We must apologize to the readers on the tardiness of our updates. We now must mail a disc to the states and have them posted by our son Brad. Having only just started this, don't know how long it may take. We might add that the BVI phone service, Cable and Wireless or as the locals call it Cable and Worthless, is expensive at about $4.00 per minute to the US and very unreliable. Several islands we have stopped at had pay phones that had been out of service for weeks and the repair man was always due next week. Our phone cards do not work and AT&T works well if you want to pay $12.00 for the first minute and $2.50 thereafter. Gone are the days of cheap talk at $.05 per minute and we welcome the return of letter writing, well postcards anyway.
The Virgin Islands were first discovered by Chris Columbus on his second voyage to the new world in 1493 and tonight we are moored off the Virgin Gorda (the Fat Virgin) named so because Columbus thought it resembled a virgin in recline with her fat belly protruding. Well so much for history that can be gained from a small travel brochure.
Our first week of sailing in the islands could have been scripted by a travel writer selling cheap airline tickets to the BVI. We day sail from island to island and grab a mooring ball at night since our windless is now inoperable. The other day we sailed south of all the islands heading from west to east in order to cut down on the tacking and were greeted by pods of Spinner Dolphins. One day we are snorkeling at the Caves with schools of colorful fish in exotic shapes swimming among coral reefs and the next, sailing in Christmas winds of twenty to twenty five knots, catching fish, visiting quaint restaurants where the lobsters are cooked in a pot outside the restaurant in an open fire. Each night we are entertained with a beautiful sunset which constitutes most of our night life. Although we have managed to frequent a few of the local bars on various islands. The drink of choice in the BVI is rum and Coke. The rum is cheap but the Cokes are very expensive. With the sun rising at six and setting at five thirty our day is defined by nature. And since we have spent all day outside doing hard work we are ready for an early evening. Without a calendar we hardly know what day it is and only know the date because it shows up on our GPS. But then, we aren't on any particular time schedule. It takes a while to get used to that.
We have a new crew member. My cousin Fred joined us in Tortola on December 5th and has been a welcome addition. The guy knows nothing about sailing but just after a week he has become an adept sail and line handler. He has also provided fresh tuna for dinner several nights.
Now if we could just teach him how to tie a knot, wash down the boat, and fix dinner, we would invite him to stay longer. Our first attempt at mooring in Little Harbor at Jost Van Dyke entertained the few boats that were already settled in for the night. We rounded the ball and headed up wind with Fred on the bow and the boat hook in hand. Without a net on the front of our catamaran we had envisioned problems.. The helmsman had some difficulty holding a course direct at the mooring ball and finally Fred ended up jumping in the water, bridle in hand swimming toward the mooring ball. Now that's like watching a dog with a rope in his mouth trying to pull a 57 Chevy. It was then that we realized two things. One, you don't hook the bridle to the top of the ball but rather to the line under the ball. And second, someone had forgotten to take down the main sail. Later that evening over beer and lobster we laughed until tears rolled down our faces. Now our mooring technique is flawless and we sit back and watch other people come in making three or four passes until they hook up. Ahh life is good!
We sailed overnight to St Martin, well we motor sailed since the winds were light and on the nose. Having arrived after sixteen hours we were unable to find a suitable mooring or anchorage and went on to Anguilla anchoring in Crocus Bay. The sail back was even worse with no wind but it is always lovely to be at sea at night and we had the good fortune of a full moon. As we approached the BVI and made the passage between Horseshoe Reef and the Virgin Gorda we were the only boat underway. The large charter fleets in the area are restricted from sailing at night and only the large cruise ship ply the waters.
The Islanders are preparing for Christmas with a little less enthusiasm this year since the economic conditions in the states have a large impact on travel in the Caribbean. Restaurants are not very full and most places have cut back on entertainment. We have also cut back on entertainment, and have tightened our budget. With water costing us about $.15 per gallon and a limited tankage of 100 gallons our favorite past time is now counting the burping sounds the water pressure system makes when the other person is taking a shower. It's not live music, drinks, movies or theater but that's entertainment.
The crew of Shiraz would like to wish each and everyone a very Merry Christmas!
Want to see more pictures of Cousin Fred's visit? Just click on the arrows to start the slide show!
Cousin Fred relaxing - you'll see a lot of these