January 1, 2016
A slow day that I traditionally spend working on income taxes but today, couldn’t raise the enthusiasm while a series of rain squalls swept the anchorage. Once these had cleared, we took advantage of the now calm waters to take care of some “boat chores”. Annette fired off a couple of loads of laundry and I swapped out the spark plugs on the dinghy outboard motor for my last set of new spares. The engine fired up immediately and is currently burning its last tank of “break-in”, “double oil”, two-stroke mixture gasoline. Hopefully the plug problem will settle down with less oil in the cylinders. I dismantled a strut from the anchor locker that has just failed. It had a “pneumatic spring” that was supposed to hold the locker open when you are working with the anchor. I found the manufacturing company on-line but you must special order strut replacements for a two week delivery. When I called their technical support line, I received a message indicating they are closed until January 5th. Moving on then, the port air-conditioner refused to start producing a diagnostic message saying it has a “High Head Pressure”. Unlikely to be true since the compressor wouldn’t even start. I metered the sensor and it showed “open”. I then jumpered across the sensor contacts and the air conditioner fired up and now ran. OK, the sensor is bad. I could buy a replacement online for $25 but how to get it here? The other problem is that to install it you have to use a vacuum pump to pump all of the Freon out of the system, replace the sensor and then put the Freon back. Needless to say, we have no vacuum pump but it hasn’t been warm at night and we haven’t needed the air-conditioning anyway. Alternatively, I could just run the unit without the protection of the over-pressure sensor.
By now Annette had finished her laundry, I had started running the water-maker to begin the process of replenishing our tanks but since she is missing her grandchildren, she decided to bake a cake (the grandkids had cake every day from gran’lady). Almost immediately we were out of propane and I swapped the empty tank for our spare. I wondered if we could get a refill somewhere and took off in the dinghy to seek propane knowledge from the volunteer Park Rangers anchored nearby. They were away somewhere, so instead, I hailed S/V Calico Jack, and talked to Travis, Joanne and Brent. Travis and Joanne had circumnavigated and it was fun to chat to them about their experiences. There are estimated to be about 200 boats, of all nationalities, circumnavigating at any one time. This works out to be less than 70 boats per ocean per year. In the past few months this is the third boat we have met that has sailed all the way around - surprising odds. Perhaps it is something about the boats themselves that mark them as “real” sailors. Yes, they told me where to find a propane refill.
January 2, 2016
The Saturday after New Year’s Eve celebrations and we rode a “Safari Taxi” into town. We hit several car rental places and the story was the same everywhere. “No cars for rent – all sold out”. No changes here until the world begins again on Monday. We hung out at the “Tap Room” bar chatting to “Marty”, a pleasant and knowledgeable “local” about life in St. Johns, before heading back down the island towards DoodleBug.
January 3, 2016
This morning, Annette spread out plastic drop-sheets and began on a series of paintings she has been sketching and contemplating. She usually plays either opera or classical music at a “robust” volume when she paints, in order to “get into the groove”. I have no problem with this and regard it as simple retaliation for the “party” music we endured last night. In turn, I worked on “end of year” tax and financial stuff. The anchorage was calm with just a few rain squalls passing by to clear the beaches. A slow, easy week-end.
January 4, 2016
The first task of the day was to see if someone would rent us some wheels and on our third attempt, we found a company that had a four-door Jeep to rent, that we swore to return before 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday. The next problem was to get from DoodleBug into town and we waited for an hour before a Safari taxi showed up and rescued us. While we waited we watched a deer standing in the middle of the road watching us (the traffic was so heavy you could have laid out a tablecloth in the middle of the pavement and enjoyed a picnic in perfect safety). The deer wandered off to reappear a few feet from us, munching on a “Noni”. The latter is a disgusting light-green, warty looking thing about the size of a potato and is likely an alien life form. A pick-up truck pulled into the parking lot next to us, scaring off our deer and leaving us to scan an empty road while the mosquitoes hovered dangerously close to our Deet saturated legs.
We picked up our Jeep, a bulky monster with poor visibility for the tight and narrow roads, especially on hairpin bends and hill crests where you must drive on faith that the highway is still there. It did have good air-conditioning though and we drove over to Coral Bay, narrowly missing a rust colored mongoose that crossed the road just ahead of our wheels. We didn’t see any road-kill so they must be good at dodging the occasional vehicles. At Coral Bay we enjoyed lunch at the “Skinny Legs Bar and Grill”. Here we chatted to three folks from Reno who had recently purchased property on nearby Lovango Cay. Today, they were in the process of circumnavigating St. Johns by dinghy and had passed through Maho Bay where we are anchored. When they asked the name of our boat, they exclaimed that they remembered passing by DoodleBug and remarking that there was nobody aboard. True ‘cos we were sitting there talking to them.
Behind the restaurant we found the “marine supply store” we were seeking, a single rusting shipping container and lean-to with a gathering of interesting people, sitting around and chatting with the proprietor who was imbibing from a bottle of Heineken. They were friendly and helpful folks but didn’t have parts I needed. We continued our tour of the island, braking for goats and chickens and eased gently past some donkeys who we had to nudge to get them to move. They were probably seeking carrot handouts which we did not possess and could not dispense.
We stopped off at the lumber yard on the way back into Cruz Bay because Annette loves lumber and hardware stores. There we chatted with a store assistant who moved to St. Johns from East Texas about four months ago. Give us another week and we will know everybody on this island.
At the post office in Cruz Bay, I parked behind a “No Parking At Any Time” sign, blocking the gate to the rear of the post office. Here I waited for forty minutes, scanning the sidewalk anxiously for enforcement personnel, while Annette stood in line inside the building, in order to mail a single letter. This is not as much fun as the DMV but you get the same friendly efficiency.
Back at the beach where we left our dinghy, there was no parking anywhere, every potential spot had a vehicle jammed into it. Suddenly and fortuitously, people began to leave. It was 4:30, the witching hour for beach goers and parking.
January 5, 2016
We set off in our rented Jeep this morning to tour the west side of St. John’s and began by taking the less well travelled Centerline Road. At our first intersection we edged past a couple of rental Jeeps who were busy photographing feral donkeys. Despite having photographed them to near extinction in Bonaire, Annette needed more donkey pictures thus I stopped another half mile down the road for a second batch. The donkeys waited patiently while Annette took pictures and I watched to make sure she didn’t get run over. A wrecker passed us hauling an SUV and I noted that it was not a Jeep and therefore not likely a rental vehicle. The front end had been smashed up reasonably well but the rear had bumpers and body panel`s removed indicating that perhaps it had been in storage for a while on somebody’s lot and was now being moved. As Annette got back in the car, one of the donkeys ambled over, began scratching itself on our vehicle, wouldn’t move until we gently nudged it and then briefly galloped after us. What innocuous and friendly little beasts! Two minutes and a couple of hairpin bends later, we came upon a recently wrecked car that had crossed the centerline and crashed into a rock cliff-wall on a sharp bend. There was a wrecker backing up to it and a line of oncoming traffic stopped. Then I realized that these were the same vehicles that had just passed us. No need to worry that anyone was hurt, the crashed vehicle had been driverless. It had broken free from the wrecker and just ploughed into the first obstacle it found. Two tons of metal moving at 30 plus miles per hour would really spoil your day, particularly if you met it head-on in your car. Incidents like these really shock you back into an appreciation of how fleeting life is and how easily it can be snuffed out by a simple act of chance.
We toured the housing areas and spectacular cliff-top homes of the Fish Bay area, lunched at the Westin hotel, choked on the price of booze at the grocery store – near double BVI prices and then drove over to tour the ruins of the Annaberg sugar mill on the opposite end of the island. This had been a huge operation for a small island and was established in 1780 and operated by the Dutch for 150 years or so. It was hard to imagine that the jungle covered hillsides had once been terraced and planted with sugar cane. The Dutch had imported West African slaves for the labor intensive task of cutting and transporting the cane from the steep hillsides but had built a wind-mill to power the cane crushing plant. The operation had produced rum, molasses and sugar and was one of 25 on the island. All now lay in ruins with the jungle encroaching. I saw movement in a nearby tree and decided that it was an animal and not a bird. Sure enough, a minute later we watched as a mongoose ran across the ground and disappeared into the bushes. This was not the only wildlife unfortunately and the mosquitos were ferocious, partially warded off by the wonders of modern chemistry.
We have been watching the wind forecasts and will probably make a jump across the waters to St. Croix on Friday.
January 6, 2016
We returned the rental car this morning and upon our return, began to prepare the boat for departure. The wind forecast still looks better for Friday, so while Annette baked a carrot cake (still missing those grandkids!) I checked the engines for fluids and anodes. The engine anodes did indeed need replacement, even though this was done just 60 days ago. I then donned snorkel gear and dived under the boat to check the anodes on the propeller and propeller shafts. The propeller shaft anodes were eroded but the shaft anodes were OK. Unfortunately I don’t have replacements for the former and will need to find some in the next week or so.
By now we were both ready to play and launched a couple of kayaks. Annette has to use the “child” sized kayak, since I only purchased one of the bigger boats and this provoked comments about “half a kayak” from other boaters as we passed them by and headed out to explore the ruins on Whistling Cay, an island we could see across the Bay. It has been a long time since I paddled a kayak and I grumbled all the way across the bay as to how far it was but actually I needed to take a leak and was wearing a shorty wet-suit. It’s OK to do it when you are swimming – everybody does it - but not when sitting in a kayak!
We landed our kayaks on the pebble beach and wandered up to the ruins of a stone building. Naturally we wondered why anyone would build a structure there; steep rocky hillside behind and not a square inch of arable space. The internet claims that the Dutch built a Customs house there to monitor the brisk smuggling trade between the British Islands and their own. Must have been a fun assignment, unless you were into fishing and bird-watching.
That evening we had been invited to dinner aboard nearby M/Y “I Swear” and enjoyed a pleasant evening visiting with Frank and Judy, Cheryl and Wade. Frank barbequed some excellent steaks and this was coupled with lobster linguini. Tough living!
January 7, 2016
The wind was blowing this morning and large rounded swells entered the bay from the north. The forecast is for light winds tomorrow, thus we prepared for departure, tidied the boat and the like. A slow day.
Our hosts from last night had made a trash run to an onshore dumpster and reported that the swells created difficulty in both landing and launching their dinghy. We took our dinghy, looked at the beach from fifty yards out, then returned to Doodlebug to get our kayaks. It is much easier getting a kayak on and off a beach through the surf, even when you have a bag of trash balanced between your legs. The return journey is unencumbered and a few hard strokes usually gets you past the Orcas and ice-bergs.
January 8, 2016
This morning at 0755 hours we dropped our mooring and set sail for Frederiksted, St. Croix. Passing between Whistling Cay and Mary Point, we saw no British rum smugglers as we motored by Thatch Island and Tortola to our north. We were on almost the same route as when we sailed to “The Bight” on Norman Island with the grandkids but today the waves were noticeably decreased in size. When we reached the east end of St. John, we turned south southwest towards the west end of St. Croix, some forty miles in the distance. The sky was about 2/8th cloud, sunny but with a couple of scattered rain pods. The wind was light and the rain pods did not seem to be moving. About an hour out from St. Johns, we noticed a westerly current and adjusted our course to compensate, by then the island of St. Croix could just be seen as a shadowy outline on the horizon ahead.
As we approached the northwest tip of the island we could see few buildings and little infrastructure. We turned and headed down the west coast to the town of Frederiksted, the second largest town. We were now within a mile or two of our destination and could see no forest of masts. Where were the cruising boats? The guide book had been vague on the anchorage and the foolproof technique is to look for the masts and anchor in their proximity. We could see the town ahead where it was supposed to be, including a large pier projecting seaward and I scanned the seafront for other vessels. There were a couple of local small power boats on moorings, and two sailing yachts. One looked as though it was local and in storage but the other sported a dinghy off the stern, indicating life aboard.
We dropped our anchor at 1342 hours at N 17 43.0’ W 064 53.2’.
Once we had squared away DoodleBug and launched our dinghy, we motored over to S/V Exit Strategy and chatted to Rose (First and Last Mate according to their boat card) and Captain Dan. They have been anchored here since early December and have adult children living on St. Croix and working as missionaries. They were a wealth of information and Dan confirmed that Frederiksted was a good place to drop a hook and in many respects superior to the anchorage in Christiansted where most cruisers go. On his advice, we headed over to the cruise ship dock to land and tie up the dinghy.
Frederiksted seems a pleasant little town, many seafront businesses were shuttered of course, obviously only open when the the cruise passengers land. Nevertheless we found a bar and restaurant that served us BBQ’d ribs and pork chops for supper. We are here, St. Croix!
January 9, 2016
Daughter Helen had brought us an amplified WiFi antenna on her visit and this enabled us to find an unsecured internet connection from ashore. It was established in Frederiksted as a complimentary service for the 2015 Fair but not yet disconnected. Yesterday and utilizing our “complimentary” connection to the world, we had reserved a car from Avis rental. The pick-up location was not clear and I clicked on “more details” to get a map. The map popped up but with the legend that the office was only open when there was a Cruise Ship at the dock. I next called the support number and after a useless discussion about there being no Cruise Ship (we are anchored about a hundred yards from its mooring – sorta’ hard to miss!) was told to pick up our reservation at the airport.
Off to the airport we went. The AVIS office there had to be spoon-fed our reservation number and then predictably chimed, “but this reservation is for Frederiksted”........We did eventually get our car and headed east along a highway that was in reasonable condition as far as surface and sported at 55 mph limit versus the 20 mph limit for St. John. Our destination was the marine supply company at Gallows Bay, Christiansted. We had been assured that the island is “flat” and mainly agricultural but our sea approach had already shown us that it is maybe “flatter” than the similarly volcanic islands of St. Johns and St. Thomas. The agricultural output of St. Croix was dissipated in the 1960’s and the island depended upon the Hovensa oil refinery and Alcoa’s Alumina refinery for jobs and revenue. The alumina refinery shut down around 2000 and the oil refinery in 2012. There remains a rum distillery but again, the sugar cane is no longer grown here and the raw molasses are imported from the Dominican Republic and beyond. This leaves the tourist industry and when we passed the stark emptiness of the oil refinery, Annette had asked the taxi driver, “What other industry do you have?” He had responded with the single word, “You” and then shown us his baseball cap which proclaimed across its brim, “I am tourism”. St. Croix seems to be making a real effort here. We have enjoyed the “Potemkin village” at the end of the Frederiksted Cruise ship dock but have yet to see it spring into action (Tuesday is supposed to “Cruise ship day”).
By some miracle we drove directly to the marine supply store to restore our inventory of spare outboard spark plugs and engine anodes. Next we wandered the “old town” area of Christiansted with its 18th. century Danish buildings along the waterfront. The town reminds me of downtown Santa Fe with its jewelers, gift shops and restaurants. Traffic was light but again, it isn’t Cruise ship day.
We retrieved our rental car and headed over to such exotic stores as K-Mart and Office Max, before finding the grocery store and loading up on beer at half the price of St. John.
January 10, 2016
The westernmost (and probably the easternmost) point of the USA by longitude is in the Aleutians and is defined by the dateline where the measure switches from west to east at 180 degrees - but nobody believes those eskimos anyway - as far as we are concerned, the easternmost point is here on St. Croix and the westernmost point is on Guam in the Marianas, where we visited in 2013. The terrain became noticeably drier as we headed east, with lots of cactus and yucca instead of the jungle of figs, pandanus, mahogany, kapok, turpentine, breadfruits and vines of the western rain forests. When we arrived at the monument, built for the 2000 Millennium for some forgettable reason or other, the air was still, almost no breeze and standing at the easternmost point (imaginatively called “The East Point”) we felt as though we were standing on the prow of a large ship with empty ocean stretching to the horizon on three sides.
By now it was approaching lunchtime and we stopped at Southgate Marina for lunch but discovered most of St. Croix had the same idea and the wait for food was pushing an hour. Not! We continued on to the boardwalk at Christiansted and watched the boats bouncing up and down and bashing against the posts at the marina, blessing the fact that we were not anchored there. As we waited for our meal we were entertained by three largish crabs who sidled up from between the rocks and approached our feet. Were they begging for food? Annette dropped a morsel of French fry but a pigeon swooped down and stole it from between the crab’s claws. The folks at the next table proffered a tiny piece of ham which the crab managed to conceal from the aerial predators and mandibled away at in the shadow of a flower pot. Lunch and a floor show!
We continued our journey west, taking the scenic drive through “the rain forest”, an area of land that reaches 1165 feet elevation and seems little travelled judging by the condition of the roads. This was a beautiful drive and the strip of pavement wound through a tunnel of vegetation with overhanging branches that could not have permitted the passage of a motor-home, even if you could somehow transit the pendant power lines crisscrossing the road. A magical area.
January 11, 2016
Monday morning and we awoke to see a large Cruise Ship was approaching “our” dock. Local lore indicated “Tuesday” as Cruise Ship day, obviously false information and as if by magic, a cluster of small booths had already sprung into existence at the end of the pier, like mushrooms on an autumn morning. Annette began her laundry campaign with a couple of loads and I fired up the water-maker to replace the water used. By tonight we should be topped again. We then headed ashore clutching an empty propane tank to see if we could find the gas plant, somewhere on the south side of the island. We tied our dinghy up alongside the cruise ship pier and joined the passengers headed for the gated exit. The security guards were scanning outwards from the dock and paid us little attention.
Our trip to find propane was relatively uneventful, we passed the empty and forlorn refinery and found a run down looking building proclaiming, St. Croix Gas o”. The sign would have ended with “Co” but the “C” had fallen off. When queried as to the capacity, I explained to the young lady that the tank was labeled “10 liters” but after we had left, noticed on the receipt that she had translated this as 10 pounds. Our next goal was to find a replacement battery for Annette’s camera although this was to be a failed quest. These days it’s either Wal-Mart or the internet. If the the former doesn’t carry it in stock you will need to access to a delivery address.
We continued our auto-tour of the island heading for the north shore. Our chosen road was badly potholed with axle breaking pits, dropped to single lane and was heavily overgrown with creepers and vines dangling from overhanging branches and brushing the windshield like a scene from “The Dark Crystal”. A surreal experience tempered only by the concern that we might arrive at something impassable and have to back up a mile or two to find a turn-around. At one point Annette yelled “stop” and she bolted from the car to photograph and collect “wood roses”, a plant she claims not to have seen in the wild since she was fifteen. They are an invasive species of vine of the Morning Glory family that after the yellow trumpet flowers die, leave a seed pod surrounded by wooden “petals” in the shape of a “Tudor Rose”.
When we arrived back in Frederiksted, the Cruise Ship passengers were tricking back to their floating home for the scheduled 5:30 p.m. departure. On this occasion the security guys were carefully examining everyone’s boat ID card at the entrance to the pier. Naturally we have no such card and furthermore we were carrying a large tank of propane. I explained to the guard that the boat anchored off the pier was mine and that my dinghy was tied up to the pier. He seemed startled and asked if I had any ID. I showed him my Texas driver’s license and this was determined to be adequate.
By late afternoon the anchorage was plagued with north swells bouncing us around a little and with their arrival came four other yachts from the Christiansted anchorage. They reported that what we we seeing was a shadow of what was affecting the boats on the north side of the island. Tomorrow is forecast to be worse.
January 12, 2016
This morning we enjoyed the treat of two dolphins, a mother and baby swimming around and under our boat at anchor. Because of the new arrivals yesterday I listened to the marine forecast this morning that included a “small ship advisory” with 13 to 15 foot waves, presumably a result of the storm currently in the North Atlantic. We weren’t planning on leaving today anyway so headed over to the Crucian Rum Distillery for a tour. The tour guide was very knowledgeable and we learned that the distillery imports the sugar molasses, the oak barrels it is aged in and the oak chips that are placed in the barrel to provide the color and flavor to the distilled alcohol. The barrels are then emptied into tankers to be shipped off to Kentucky to be blended, flavoring and coloring added, bottled, labeled and marketed from the USA.
This made absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. Why bother distilling the raw alcohol here? The tour guide the rambled on about “single barrel” rum but this was obviously simply a marketing phenomenon. She explained that “single barrel” means that the various blended components are mixed in a “single barrel”. Connoisseurs will sip a “single malt” whisky, savor a fine brandy in a snifter or even sip a fine vodka but who sips rum? Even the “free” drink we were given at the end of the tour has such overwhelming fruit juice content it could just as well have contained boot polish rather than rum.
Watching a single worker fill wooden barrels using what looked like a hose from an auto filling station and then another moving a single barrel using a hand cart, convinced me that this was not a real industrial operation. There was no hustle, something else was going on. Back aboard DoodleBug I researched the operation and sure enough, discovered that the island economy hit hard times in 2007 with more than a 30% drop in tax revenues plus the usual underfunded pension funds. The governor cut a deal with some mainland based spirits producers that in return for a handful of island jobs, the Feds return to the distillery owners, all but 25 cents out of every $13.50 / gallon tax revenue on the distilled spirits imported to the USA. There it was, the ol’ taxpayer bailout.
That evening we enjoyed another breathtaking sunset. The anchorage is wide open to the west and we enjoyed nature’s sky paintings in all her glory.
January 13, 2016
We returned our rental car this morning and became pedestrians again. A couple of days ago we had met a couple of ladies playing with paddle boards just off the pier and Annette had been invited by Carole to join the “Women in the Courtyard” members of the Caribbean Museum Center for today’s meeting, where the ladies would be painting coconuts in order that they are transformed from agricultural produce, to works of art that can been mailed using the US postal system. I naturally wandered over to the museum courtyard with her and the founder of the museum, assured me that “friends” were also welcome. I felt like I had just gate-crashed the Savannah Ladies Bridge Club meeting, only without the parasols. Fellow sailors from S/V Sail Pending had joined us and while the ladies painted, I chatted with Captain Tyler following our discovery of the “honor system”, two dollar beers the ladies had stashed in the museum fridge.
The coconuts were thoroughly painted, set aside to dry and Annette and I rode with Carole to her home on the south shore where her son Ward Tomlinson Elicker had set up his art studio.
Ward had owned a casting foundry and studio in New York but the foundry had gone bust during the 2007 downturn. We viewed several of his pieces and he is obviously a gifted and talented sculptor, adrift in desultory economy. Ward had just completed a Marquette of a piece for the St. Croix Centennial celebrations, marking 100 years of US ownership of the islands. Ward’s sculpture is of the four “Queens of the Fireburn”.
In July of 1848 the slaves of the then Danish owned island staged a protest and were granted their freedom. However, they were required to sign contracts binding them and their families to the plantations where they worked, rather like the coal miners in the UK and the USA. In October of 1878 the laborers gathered in Frederiksted to demand higher wages and better working conditions and the protest turned violent when rumors circulated that a protester had been brutalized and died in police custody. The rioters threw stones, the Danish soldiers responded with gunfire and retreated into the fort leaving the rioters to loot and burn the town. After tempers had cooled and the laborers returned to the plantations, three of the women, the “Queens of the Fireburn”, who had led the riot, were arrested and jailed in Denmark. Almost 80 laborers had died in the riots plus two soldiers and an additional 12 laborers were sentenced to death and hanged that October. History shows little improvement in the laborer’s condition following the “Fireburn”.
January 14, 2016
This morning began with the arrival of Pieta on a paddle board, who knocked on the stern of DoodleBug as we were enjoying our morning coffee. Pieta is one of the ladies from “The Courtyard” coconut painting experience and naturally she was invited to join us aboard. Just about simultaneously, Pieta fell in the water as she attempted the move from paddle board to stern and five dolphins swam up and around her. If they had eaten her we could have taken some really cool pictures.
In the afternoon we tidied the boat in anticipation of a departure tomorrow and Annette touched up her painted coconuts, adding addresses, messages etc. and set them aside to dry. Amazingly she did this without spreading acrylic paint over our white gelcoat. We had been invited to an “opening” and exhibition of art work by local artist John Obafemi Jones to be held at the art museum. This was the place to be on St. Croix for Thursday night as there were well over a hundred attendees of local Crucian society, a jazz band, bar, plus volunteers offering trays of hors d’oeuvres. Annette had volunteered to take pictures of the gathering and rocketed around the group, getting people to pose and clicking away like crazy. The artist himself, John Jones was there, a very pleasant man to talk to who physically towers over Annette and me.
Annette has forced me to publish that today was my birthday and I was serenaded in “Marylin Monroe style” by Carole (sculptor Ward Elicker’s mother). This was a fun evening, more laid back even than a Santa Fe art opening.
January 15, 2016
We are leaving today but first we needed a trip to the post office to “mail” the “coconut postcards”. Those coconuts weighing in at over one pound weight required an additional customs declaration. We also had to sign a declaration maintaining that these coconuts were “non-hazardous”, a statement I verbally qualified by saying, “unless they drop on your head”. We were surprised at the reaction we received at the post office by both the employees and customers. The counter-lady said she “loved” sending coconuts and several customers asked Annette where she had bought them. When I indicated that Annette was the artist, several people asked if she any for sale.
Next stop was the art museum to drop off a memory chip of the pictures taken of last night’s opening. Unfortunately, the museum was closed and padlocked and there was no mail slot. We decided that a departure breakfast of pancakes, bacon and beer was appropriate and at the restaurant we met Yemaya Jones, the wife of John the artist and a renowned master textile designer in her own right. We handed off the memory chip and now were set!
At 1040 hours raised anchor and set sail for Charlotte Amelie, St. Thomas. The sky was 3/8 ths. cloud and sunny, some whitecaps and the waves ahead of the beam in 4 to 5 foot range. Every 12 seconds or so, we would maybe get an eight footer, probably caused by the swell generated far out in the Atlantic by hurricane Alex near the Azores. Our route was a 38 mile straight shot into the southern port of St. Thomas. A beautiful day with clouds of flying fish scattering ahead of us for the entire passage. We saw a large solitary dolphin that swam through the waves but did not stop to play. As we have seen before, the sea surface was streaked with long streamers of orange Sargassum weed, seemingly separate, disconnected segments. If they truly have no connecting tendrils, how do they stay in coherent patches?
We motored into Charlotte Amelie harbor besides two cruise ships moored on the West India Company dock. We could not get our anchor to set securely and after multiple failed attempts, finally anchored near the shore behind S/V Selah (first met at Curacao) at N 18 20.3’ W 064 55.7’ at 1540 hours.
January 16, 2016
The order of the day was a trip to Crown Bay Marina by dinghy to set up a temporary account at the “Mail Stop”. We need a delivery address for shipment of a new anchor. On our first DoodleBug we had used a Tunisian manufactured “SPADE” anchor of a modern design that was “self setting”. That is, if for any reason it became detached from the sea bed, perhaps a change in wind direction, it would reset itself and dig back in. We have ordered a Canadian designed Rocna anchor of similar design to the SPADE. It is also two thirds bigger than our current anchor. A sailor we met outside the “Mail Stop” commented, “That’s too big”. I responded, “There’s no such thing as an anchor that’s too big”.
That evening Jeff from S/V Selah came over to share BBQ with us and we spent a pleasant evening shared with a fellow circumnavigator.
January 17, 2016
Sunday in St. Thomas. We are anchored in “Long Bay” three hundred yards or so from the street that runs alongside the anchorage. Last night we were treated to the noise of hammering rap “music”, revving motorcycle and car engines and what sounded like a single gunshot. This morning all was quiet and we saw empty streets and deserted government buildings.
A slow start to the day and by lunch time we were ready for action, dinghied over to the Yachthaven Marina dock and walked from there to the local K-Mart. Our goal was a showing of the new Star Wars movie, “The Force Awakens” but that lay several hours away in mid-afternoon. We began asking for directions to the “Safari Bus” stop and the couple we had asked, Dr. Otto and his wife Lisa, kindly gave us a ride in their SUV, “up island” to the Home Depot. We were still too early for the movie so after purchasing our tickets, we headed over to the nearby Costco to check out the offerings. Here we were, wandering around a big box store to kill time, just like they do on Saturday evenings in small town USA.
The movie theatre was small by today’s standards but clean, odor free and the movie was even in focus, a sharp contrast to Santa Fe’s “traditional” movie theaters. We liked the movie, couldn’t believe that was really Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamil and “Googled” to make sure. They even used the same actors for Chewbacca and C-3PO (I didn’t even know that R-2D2 had an actor!). It was sunset as we walked to the bus-stop to hopefully get a bus back to the dock. After a looong wait, we jammed into a Safari bus, loaded to its capacity with local folks and barreled off down the mountain to the docks. We have noticed that when anyone boards the open sided Safari Buses, they greet everyone else on the bus and all respond in kind. A charming custom. By now it was becoming dark and certainly time to turn the anchor light on.
January 18, 2016
The first working day (government workers excepted of course) and we set up a service call on our port air-conditioner, determined that an engine service call will have to done in San Juan, Puerto Rico and ordered parts for delivery to our “Mail Stop” address. Then we waited for the A/C technician. He did show up at 3:00 p.m. and we picked him up from the dinghy dock – he had obviously serviced boats before! The technician determined that we have a Freon leak in the unit and it was removed for repair back at his work-shop.
Annette had used her electric bread-maker today and I had run the water-maker since we had cancelled our fuel dock run to replenish the diesel and water tanks in favor of getting the A/C fixed. We now had bread and water. A productive day although it seemed to involve a lot of waiting.
January 19, 2016
A rain day. It rained on and off all morning and we hung around to see if we were to get our repaired air-conditioner back. We didn’t. Our big adventure of the day was to run over to the dinghy dock, dispose of our trash and pick up a bag of ice so that we could defrost the freezer. I began researching how I can run power to the flybridge wet-bar for a refrigerator install and Annette began a four hour marathon to bake pizza from scratch. She used her bread-maker to create the pizza dough and was visibly excited as it rose to elephantine proportions. The pizza was excellent.
January 20, 2016
We waited around this morning for the repaired air-conditioner to be delivered and a different technician did show up to do the installation. He had to be coached through the installation process, such as locating where the previous technician had laid the various screws and fittings. Then he needed zip-ties for the wiring and duct tape to seal the duct – they actually use it for that! - which we were able to supply. A pleasant man though and everything seems to be working again. Annette was still catching up on laundry, slowed down by our persistent water shortage in that we have to “make” water so that she can run the washing machine. Our onboard water tanks hold 320 gallons but we never refilled these since the kids / grandkids visit over Christmas. The water-maker will fill a 60 gallon water tank running from a single day’s solar panel output but Annette uses about 20 gallons of water per laundry load, hence the “shortage”.
I am still trying to work out how to retro-fit wiring for a refrigerator for the fly-bridge wet-bar.
January 21, 2016
This morning we had an 0900 hours appointment at the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) offices in order to be “interviewed”. Every time we have endured clearance in the “USA” (the definition of which varies from government official to official and also from sentence to sentence from the same official) we have been encouraged to apply for the “Local Boater” program. This wonder is supposed to cut through all of the red tape and even negate a CBP inspection. I had filled out the usual stuff on the CBP website, selected the interview time and here we were. An officer came to the window and asked what we wanted. I said we were here for an interview for the Local Boater program. He said, “We don’t do that anymore, do you mean the SVRS instead of the LBO?” I replied, “Hey man, I got an e-mail from you guys saying be here at 9 o’clock and here I am”. He took our passports and left.
As we waited, several other yacht crews came into the office to clear in. The first captain produced 7 passports and when the officer demanded that all members of his crew be present, he pointed out that one crew member was outside monitoring their crew-boat as it was trying to demolish itself with the wave surge up against the dock, while another was on-board their vessel, monitoring a running generator. This conversation was getting fun as he had the same LBO versus SVRS gobbledegook thrown at him. The captain had an SVRS number and the on-board crew member an LBO and began demanding what possible benefits the program had for him. The CBP officer took his passports and left and we waited. Then the officer who had acted as receptionist began to explain the following. The government had instituted the Local Boater program to streamline the clearance procedure for US citizens who made frequent trips in and out of US territory. The program had been a disaster, huge and unwieldy and had required additional resources instead of saving them. Do the letters ACA spring to mind? The LBO program was therefore scrapped and the new and improved Small Vessel Reporting System (SVRS) was introduced. The CBP officer re-appeared and handed me our passports. I was now in the system but not Annette. I asked why he had not examined our boat documents. He said, “I don’t need to, I can see them on-line”. So where did he think we got the bloody passports from, Calcutta? I learned that I have to make a separate on-line application for Annette to be “in” the SVRS system and she needs to be “interviewed” again on Monday - at the same office!
Back at DoodleBug we lashed everything securely, raised the anchor and headed a couple of miles to the Crown Marina fuel dock in the next bay. Here we refilled our water tanks and took on a couple of hundred gallons of diesel. We are now set! We can do laundry or go most anywhere!
January 22, 2016
Since we now had water, Annette was able to complete her marathon laundry task while I checked the installation of the repaired air-conditioner and added an anchoring bracket that had been missing since we bought DoodleBug. I then checked the air-conditioner in the main cabin and after partially dismantling it, found the cause of the condensate leak that had been bugging us since day one. The pan where the drain fitting is located, is cracked above and below the fitting with a gap nearly 1/32” wide. The condensate leaks out of the unit, fills the locker and then fills the adjacent lockers, rendering them useless for storing anything other than certain marine mammals or perhaps a slug farm. I ordered a replacement part from a supplier in Florida. Buoyed by this success I again tackled the task of running power wiring to the fly-deck wet-bar. This is day four on the problem and I finally had a breakthrough. Certain of the ceiling panels in the salon are velcroed into place and by removing them, there are access ports that should allow me to get the wiring from the starboard side to the port side. Tomorrow!
We also have dinner guests invited for tomorrow and Annette needed some grocery items and I needed a jig-saw for the final step of the fridge install. We rode the Safari bus to and from the stores and the bus was packed with passengers, both up-island and on the return. The trip takes about perhaps fifteen minutes and costs us $2 each. We could easily take a taxi but then we would have missed the entire experience! As I have mentioned before, the bus is open sided and we ride with the local folks heading home from school or from work. Mothers with babes in arms, scowling teens with their phones clamped to their ear, ladies in business attire and shoppers like us. A fascinating cross section of humanity.
January 23, 2016
Last night DoodleBug had begun to rock and bounce with the wave action in Charlotte Amelie harbor. This morning it was worse. The monohulls anchored nearby had a near 60 degree roll, most uncomfortable and we expected dinner guests onboard tonight! The winds had shifted to the southeast and instead of facing east on our anchor chain, we were now pointing at the harbor entrance and incoming waves. A quick review of the chart and we decided to haul anchor and set sail for Magens Bay on the north side of St. Thomas. By 0740 hours we were passing the end of the West India Company dock and heading into open water. The waves increased rapidly and were soon in the 5 to 6 foot range with the occasional 8 footer augmented by the northern swells. As we motored east along the coast, we would occasionally get spray in our faces at the steering console, almost twenty feet above sea-level. After passing Long Point we were able to gain a few degrees northerly bearing and take the waves at an angle, finally passing through the east channel between Great St. James Island and Current Rock. The gap between these two is not much over a hundred yards and the water was boiling through with current like a mill race. On the other side in Great Bay, all was calm. We passed the peninsula protecting Magens bay, turned behind and anchored at 1007 hours at N 18 21,9’ W 064 55.4’, just behind a line of buoys marking off the swimming area. Magens Bay was flat and still, like a Billabong, a couple of permanently moored local vessels on the north side of the bay but no other cruisers, we had the bay to ourselves!
Late that afternoon another catamaran arrived and anchored nearby and we dinghied ashore to pick up our dinner guests. We managed to get Dr. Otto and Lisa from the beach and aboard DoodleBug where Annette was set up to BBQ pork tenderloin. Of course the return journey was in the dark but our guests were very game and managed the adventure without getting soaked. A beautiful night under a full moon, landing on a white, powder sand beach fringed by Maho trees and just a whisper of breeze.
January 24, 2016
A slow Sunday at Magens Bay. We are not allowed to leave a dinghy on the beach so we tested our “off-the beach” dinghy mooring technique. This involved anchoring the dinghy just off the rocky side of the Bay, about 30 yards back from the sand beach proper in about three plus feet of water and then wading ashore. It seemed to work; we walked the length of the beach past all of the life-guard towers, bathing beauties and sun worshippers and then drank a beer at the beach bar to offset the effects of the exercise. Our dinghy was still bobbing peacefully upon our return. That evening, dusk had cleared the beach of visitors and a new sound, the sound of breaking waves had asserted itself. The marine weather forecast warned of high swell conditions affecting north facing beaches and that included us.
January 25, 2016
This morning we were supposed to show up (again!) at the CBP office to register Annette for the Small Vessel Reporting System. We cleaned ourselves up and dinghied to the beach, dropped Annette off on the sand and then I attempted to anchor the dinghy on the side of the bay in about 4 feet of water near some rocks. The surge which we had been hearing about on the radio weather forecasts had not affected us aboard DoodleBug at anchor, nor impeded our beach landing but the dinghy anchoring was another story. The waves hurled themselves at the nearby rocks and the dinghy promised to do the same. This wasn’t going to work. Back to the beach, picked up my bride and then back to DoodleBug to reboot. The wind forecast for Charlotte Amelie Bay looked “back to normal” and we called the CBP to reschedule before raising anchor at 0850 hours and heading out of our haven from wind and waves.
At the head of Magen Bay, rocky cliffs guard the entrance on both sides and there are some fancy homes built along and into the cliffs. The northerly swell was producing waves that crashed on these rocks throwing spray 30 or 40 feet in the air, producing a mist of foam. We headed out into this and were soon experiencing massive swells in the 10 foot range that was like riding an elevator. What wind driven waves there were, were on our stern and we passed through the Brass Channel towards Salt Cay, the westernmost tip of St. Thomas. There was no other shipping and as we rounded Salt Cay, the waves were huge, confused, the seas boiling with current and spray shooting skywards from the waves crashing on the nearby rocks. What an awful place to be without power and I mentally blessed our two big Cummins diesels purring quietly away.
Now we were heading back east into the wind and our forward motion was added to the strength of this wind, which was blowing against the current and producing some sharp six foot seas as the water squeezed between the narrow passes. An uncomfortable hour and I had to tighten up the lashings on the dinghy to stop it from bashing about.
The Charlotte Amelie Harbor hosted two cruise ships and we wandered around looking for a space to drop our hook. We faced the usual problem in that charter boats typically come with an undersized anchor and not enough chain. This limits us to shallow anchorages only and all of the convenient spots were already taken. We squeezed between two boats on fixed moorings but did not get enough chain down to feel comfortable. To rectify this shortcoming we deployed our “third” anchor from the dinghy, an FX55 Fortress anchor on mixed rode (means we have 30 foot of chain attached to the anchor and then 150 feet of 3/4’ nylon line). This is the first time we have used this since we bought the present boat and the deployment went remarkably smoothly. Whether we will look as good when we retrieve it lies in the future.
Now we could leave DoodleBug and we shot over to our Mail Box to pick up our first package. We had also picked up fuel at Crown Bay marina and I suggested to Annette that she drive the dinghy back the couple of miles to DoodleBug. This she did and was leisurely motoring along when she noticed a float plane preparing to take off. Now our throttle was cranked open as we scurried across the front of the taxiing plane, hopefully to get out of its takeoff path and not get sucked up into the spinning propeller blades. What fun! This never happens at DFW.
Next was the CBP (Customs and Border Patrol) where after thirty minutes or so, Annette was declared a real person and is now in the “system”. The final task was to restock DoodleBug with beer and we took a dolly with us to the grocery store across from the Yachthaven Marina. By the time we had hauled it all to the dock, loaded into the dinghy, unloaded onto DoodleBug and stowed it all away we were tired. A full day!
January 26, 2016
After yesterday’s frenetic activity we looked forwards to a slow day of recovery. These hopes were shattered by a 7:00 a.m. phone call from the Mail Stop service at Crown Bay Marina. A very large and heavy parcel had arrived for us and was blocking access to their store. Could we come and remove it as soon as possible? We put our half-begun chores on hold and dinghied the two miles over to Crown Bay to rescue what could only be our “Hookah” dive system. This “Hookah” system uses a small gasoline engine driving a compressor to deliver air to divers on the end of a pair of 75 foot hoses. The divers use conventional mouthpiece regulators to breathe this air and therefore don’t carry tanks on their backs nor BCDs (buoyancy control vests). You still need a weight belt to sink your wetsuit etc. but this is usually only 5 pounds or so. The disadvantage of the system is of course that you are tethered to the compressor but this is designed to sit in a large truck inner tube that floats and can be towed by the divers. Our need for the system includes such chores as cleaning the hull and propeller of marine growth and for servicing the drive shaft anodes.
The box was indeed heavy but by dismantling it on the dockside, we were easily able to load the contents into our rubber boat. Back aboard DoodleBug we examined the dive gear plus the thick manual and determined that this is too complex a project not to require our full attention. Since we were expecting guests tonight, we stowed everything away and headed out to the airport.
At the airport we met our guests Forrest and Mary from Corpus Christi and after sampling the free rum samples at the “Welcome” booth, headed back to the Yachthaven Marina to transfer guests and luggage into a dinghy before making our way between the towering hulls of multiple cruise ships and super yachts before landing safely aboard DoodleBug.
January 27, 2016
This morning the wind was forecast to blow at 20 to 25 knots and the northern swells that had driven us from Magens Bay were still being felt. At our anchorage we were certainly being bounced around and Mary was feeling the effects of the unfamiliar motion. The seas outside the haven of Charlotte Amelie were under a “small craft warning” with up to ten foot waves, thus we had made the decision to explore the town today.
We walked the seafront into the town center and while Annette and Mary shopped, Forrest and I found barstools at a Mexican restaurant that served as a suitable roost until the ladies could join us for lunch.
After lunch we ambled back towards the dinghy dock, stopping to visit the magnificent Lutheran Church, completed in 1793 and the second oldest in the Western hemisphere. I was interested to find a memorial tablet on one wall for Lieutenant Colonel Charles Knight who commanded the 33rd. regiment of foot at the close of the 1815 Battle of Waterloo. He died in 1841 while on passage from Barbados to England. He was 51 when he died so he must have been 25 at Waterloo. Apparently he was not still living at home with his parents.
January 28, 2016
This morning we watched the Cruise ships easing out of the harbor and at 0840 hours we in turn, raised both of our anchors, a feat we have never performed before, from the deck of a single vessel. I usually retrieve the lighter FX55 anchor from the dinghy but with Forrest available and willing to provide labor, we raised the main anchor in the conventional manner using the windlass and then Forrest and Annette manually recovered the second anchor. Off we set for Maho Bay, St. Johns, fighting six foot waves until we transited Pillsbury Sound into the lee of St. Johns. At 1040 hours we moored in Maho Bay at N 18 21.5’ W 064 44.8’. The bay lay quiet, serene and beautiful in the verdant arms of jungle covered hillsides. The water was crystal clear. Forrest took off in a kayak to explore the surrounds and Mary determined to swim ashore to the beach. Annette and I motored the dinghy to the beach with snorkel gear for the crew and we were able to see Rays grazing on the sea grass, plus lots of fish, as well as the ever present pelicans and Brown boobies. When we returned to DoodleBug, we were greeted by the smell of baking bread from Annette’s bread-maker. They should bottle that smell, it is so wonderful.
January 29, 2016
This morning we dinghied ashore and then waited around for a Safari taxi to take us into town to pick up a rental car. After waiting thirty minutes or so, we caught a taxi headed in the opposite direction but there are few rides at that time of the morning and the driver took us on a circuitous route, dropping off his fare at the Annaberg Sugar Mill before continuing on into town. Once we had collected our ubiquitous Jeep, we headed along the coast road back towards that same sugar mill and hiked the trail up to the ruins. The sugar mill had both a windmill, one of three on the island, as well as a donkey driven mill for those times when the wind didn’t blow. The sugar industry was wiped out in the 1800’s with the advent of sugar beet, discovered in 1747 as a plant that could be grown in a temperate climate, rather than sugar cane that needed the tropics. The sugar beet tops were also edible by humans and the entire plant pulp could be used for animal feed. The labor costs for sugar cane, grown on the steep hillsides of islands like St. Thomas required laborers that were cheap and could work in a climate that would kill European laborers, hence the African slave trade. As we have learned, African slaves were used to cultivate sugar cane in the Mediterranean area one and half thousand years ago. The labor costs alone guaranteed the demise of slavery even if the moral issue had not exerted itself in the 18th century.
We stopped for liquid refreshment at the “Skinny Legs” bar near Coral Bay on our return and then Annette began her marathon vegetarian BBQ effort aboard DoodleBug (she was cooking marinated and seasoned, Bell peppers, onions, potatoes, green-beans, artichokes, zucchini, carrots, pineapple, banana and tofu) and tortured us with wonderful smells, long before she fed us. That evening Nancy and Jerry, the volunteer park rangers joined us for sundowners - a merry crew.
January 30, 2016
We awoke to the glad tidings that we have sold the motor-home in Brisbane, Australia and the funds were sitting in our bank account. The bus had been on the market for a year, with very few buyers due to the condition of the Australian economy. It was sold for a not-unreasonable price but unfortunately the Australian dollar had also crashed by a third since we bought the bus in 2013. Nevertheless we do not look a gift-RV in the mouth and we celebrated the conclusion of this endeavor.
We dinghied ashore to continue our island tour and following advice from Nancy and Jerry, we found Sloop Jones studio on the east point of the island. Sloop Jones (aka Terry McCoy) came here with his wife Barbara in 1986 with 300 Tee shirts and rented a beach shack. They sold the shirts they hand painted and for the next thirty years built up this curious art business, living a laid back island lifestyle. I personally have little interest in $100 tee-shirts and joined Forrest in exploring Sloop’s “back-yard”. The property is on a steep hillside and has several stands of exotic bamboo plantings. Forrest is an active member of the American Bamboo society and excitedly pointed out the different species and varietals.
We stopped at the Westin resort for a pleasant lunch at their beachside café before heading over to look at real estate in Fish Bay. The road we followed narrowed down to a single lane with a precipitous drop on one side and incredible views to the southern waters. Various homes had somehow been built, clinging to the cliff side and in some instances with parking on the roof.
That evening Cory and Bobbie, who live on nearby Lovango Cay, stopped by in their dinghy for sun-downers. We had met them three weeks ago at the Skinny Legs bar and it was a treat to visit with an adventurous couple who have chosen to move to a tiny island, accessible only by private boat.
January 31, 2016
Today we returned our rental car and then dropped our mooring at 1030 hours before setting course back to Charlotte Amelie, St. Thomas. There was some wind but the waves were in the 3 to 4 foot range across the open passages and we were going “downhill” with an easy motion. We dropped anchor at 1217 hours at N 18 20.3’ W 064 55.8’.
It has been a great visit with Forrest and Mary and we have enjoyed both their excellent company and the fun of sharing boating experiences with others.
February 1, 2016
This morning it rained on and off and we watched from Doodlebug as Forrest and Mary’s plane took off, heading back to Texas. We did some minor chores before heading ashore to seek dive weights for the Hookah system we have yet to assemble. Altogether a slow day. The internet claims that the refrigerator we ordered for our fly-bridge has made it to St. Thomas and is sitting at “Customs”.
February 2, 2016
I called the Mail Stop this morning to give them a “heads up” of another large package headed in their direction and then jumped into finishing off my wiring project while Annette began to catch up on laundry. When I removed the kitchen cabinetry to gain wiring access, I noticed that I could “short-cut” the wiring run. This is desirable in that we will be providing 12 volts at the end of (up to) fifty feet of wire and we want to avoid a drop in voltage caused by resistance in the supply wiring – that is, the shorter the better! The “short-cut” involved my removal of all of the work it taken me four days to achieve. By lunch time it was finally complete and hooked up to a breaker. All we need now is the refrigerator. The internet noted that it has moved to Fedex’s local terminal but the estimated delivery time has been removed from the display.
Last week we ordered a replacement pan for the salon air-conditioner (the current pan is cracked and leaking condensate) and we learned that it has shipped. Our new anchor is in transit from Canada to the USA and is supposed to ship to St. Thomas next week. This is what we do on boats – wait, wait, wait for parts!
February 3, 2016
I fully expected a call early this morning to retrieve my refrigerator from the mail drop. No call. I checked the FedEx web-site and it still claimed that the shipment had been released from Customs, and was in transit. However, there was still no estimated delivery date. We ran some errands and since we were nearby, called in at the mail pick-up office. No fridge. The lady there made a few calls, sat “on hold” for a while and then gave me an e-mail address in order to contact the FedEx agent. (Why not just mail a post card?) We duly sent an e-mail requesting the shipment status.
Next we rode the Safari bus across the island to K-Mart and return. It was now late afternoon and there was still no response from FedEx. I called again. This time I was transferred a couple of times and finally got through to the person who was resolutely ignoring my previous e-mail. She said that FedEx needed a “commercial invoice”, thus I e-mailed her my copy of the invoice from when I had ordered the fridge several weeks ago. A couple of hours later, I received a cryptic note from her saying I needed to provide an invoice showing the country of origin and also stating that the fridge is a “warranty replacement”. Where did that come from!? Perhaps she thinks I’m the vendor. Night falls over St. Thomas.
February 4, 2016
More chores as we wait on our parts. We received another e-mail from the FedEx rep asking for proof that the fridge is a warranty replacement even though I had already told her it wasn’t. I stated this again. She doesn’t exactly strike me as the brightest bulb in the box.
The vendor charged me for the new anchor, this usually means they have shipped it but I don’t have a tracking number yet. The FedEx lady called saying my fridge will be released “tomorrow” but that I will have to pay some “import duty”. We have noticed how St. Thomas is “the United States of America” until they want money from you, in which case it isn’t. I asked why the fridge was “dutiable” when the island claims tax free import of parts for vessels in transit. She said that the fridge doesn’t make the boat “go” and is therefore not eligible for this waiver. My air-conditioning part has shown up at the mail drop but too late to collect today. Apparently air-conditioners make the boat go but refrigerators don’t.
February 5, 2016
Today we have a goal! Well, at least for this morning. We shot over to the Mail Stop, picked up the part for the salon air-conditioner and by 10:00 a.m. were back on board, tearing the old unit apart. This had to be done gently as we were replacing the pan that all of the air-conditioner components were sitting in and is designed not only to contain any condensate water but also to provide structural integrity between the compressor, evaporator, temperature sensors and valving. By noon it was all back together again and reinstalled. We tested the unit to see if it would still run – it did, but the real test will be a longer run tonight when we see if the condensate drains without leaking into the adjacent lockers.
Still nothing heard from FedEx and I began a series of phone calls. After the fourth transfer / call, the lady suddenly paused in her conversation and then announced she had just received a message that the fridge was on a delivery truck and had left their depot twenty five minutes earlier. A quick call to the Mail Stop provided the intelligence that FedEx made their afternoon drop-off there by 3:30 p.m. Progress!
We still needed some duct tape to wrap up the air-conditioner install and Annette is into several of her projects, thus we first hit Ace Hardware, one of Annette’s favorite stores, before heading over to the Mail Stop. By now, the mail lady recognizes us when we walk in and indicated that our refrigerator had beaten us there by five minutes. We dragged the huge box to the doorway, transferred the cardboard packing to their dumpster before hauling the exposed fridge to the edge of the nearby dock. I rescued the dinghy from where it had been “legally” moored and brought it to the dock below the fridge. Although it weighs just over fifty pounds without the packaging, the fridge has a lot a nasty sharp corners and was lowered gingerly into the middle of the inflatable dinghy. An hour later it was safely aboard DoodleBug and I was trying to decipher the installation manual that look like it was written by the Ikea people or perhaps encrypted by the Ancient Egyptians. There was no way I was going to begin installation this evening and we squelched even the possibility by inviting Jeff of S/V Selah to join us for beer and BBQ. We ate inside while running the air-conditioner and the lockers next to the air-conditioner remained dry!
February 6, 2016
Refrigerator install day arrives! The first tool I needed to use was a tape measure and do you think I could find one? I have two on board and Annette usually carries a third small measure in her hand-bag. Forty five minutes of searching later and I located a tape measure. The next step was to reverse the hinges on the fridge door so that it would open from the right side. For this I needed a “Torx” screwdriver bit (It has a six pointed star shaped fitting in the screw head) and I knew that somewhere I own at least two sets of these. An hour later I dinghied over to S/V Selah and borrowed one from Jeff. Our early start was now ten o’clock but by noon, the door hinges had been reversed and the hole had been cut in the wet-bar pedestal to fit the fridge. We stopped for lunch and Annette suggested that we take a break. This we accomplished by dinghying over to the marine supply store and buying my own Torx fitting plus sufficient oil to change the oil in the generator. The latter is showing signs of age related problems.
I will digress here slightly and note that the generator has stopped unexpectedly three times since we have owned DoodleBug. It boasts 13,000 hours of operation, equivalent to a truck driving over 800,000 miles on the original engine. When a diesel stops running it is usually due to fuel starvation problems and I had eliminated this as a cause by replacing both inline fuel filters and also by noting that the generator restarts soon after it has experienced its unscheduled shut off. The other reasons for a shut down are that generators usually have high temperature and low oil-pressure sensors to protect the engine, as they are typically running unmonitored by the operator. I had checked the coolant system and it seemed to work OK. This leaves the dreaded “low oil pressure”, caused simply by the fact that the engine is worn out. As the engine heats during normal operation, the oil thins and the pressure drops. Each stoppage has occurred after the generator has run for one or two hours. The oil I just purchased is “single weight” and slightly heavier than called for by the manufacturer. We will just have to see if we can eke out a few more hours of operation.
Back aboard DoodleBug Annette reminded me that we had been invited to dinner this evening with friends Lisa and Dr. Otto. This entailed vacuuming up the fiberglass mess I had made on the flybridge and putting all of the tools away before cleaning up myself to go out. While Annette was cleaning the stern platform, a large dolphin swam up within a few feet and then hung around our stern for several minutes. Perhaps he / she liked the Bocelli opera that Annette was playing on the sound system.
On our late evening return to DoodleBug, there was a large swell in the harbor and DoodleBug was bouncing around uncomfortably on her anchor making boarding from the dinghy trickier than normal. The wind shift causing this had been in the weather forecast but I had hoped that we could complete our chores before it arrived.
February 7, 2016
Last night it bucketed with rain and I blessed the fact that we had taken the time to clean up the fiberglass dust and re-stow the tools. The chop in the harbor was now even worse than the previous evening and since we are not expecting our new anchor shipment until Tuesday, we decided to split for the north facing bays on St. Johns. We raised anchor at 0755 hours and motored into six foot waves as we headed east along the southern coast of St. Thomas. The passage between the islands put these waves directly on the beam but we were soon in the shelter of St. John and picked up our favorite mooring at 0946 hours at N 18 21.6’ W 064 44.8’. (It’s close to the dinghy landing and boasts cell phone reception). DoodleBug lay rock steady at her mooring and by noon the refrigerator was completely installed, wired up, turned on and had a two six-packs of beer inside to cool down. Jeff had given us DVDs of the first three seasons of “Game of Thrones’' and we celebrated by vegging out and watching the first few episodes. I had read the first book some time ago but we had never seen the HBO version.
February 8, 2016
This morning we checked the newly installed fridge and determined that the beer it contained was cold. A good start to the day. I then changed the oil in the generator and have decided that it now “sounds better”. This may be wishful thinking of course but hey, you take what you can get.
In the afternoon, Nancy and Jerry of S/V “Always Summer” picked us up in their dinghy for a ride to the beach and thence in their car to the Concordia Resort on the south side of St. John for an “open mike” concert. This was a Blues / Folk session with guitars, two harmonica players, saxophone, trumpet, clarinet, keyboard, accordion and vocals. The resort had two “anchor” players who were paid but the rest were simply volunteers who signed up on a list to perform. They were all very good indeed and St. Johns must be where professional musicians go to retire, or at least to pass the winter. An excellent outing and we returned to find DoodleBug lying quietly at her mooring, a lone anchor light in the darkness.
February 9, 2016
This morning the internet announced that our new anchor had been delivered late yesterday afternoon to the Mail Stop over in St. Thomas. Our thoughts of a leisurely departure evaporated and at 0723 hours we dropped our mooring and set off for Charlotte Amelie Harbor once more. We enjoyed light winds and the waves experienced in the open passages were now “behind the beam” and just rocked us around and reminded us that the beer in the newly installed fridge needs to be padded with something to prevent the rolling about noise. We arrived back in Long Bay at 0905 hours and anchored at N 18 20.2’ W 064 55.8’.
We now faced the logistics of retrieving the new anchor and installing it. The internet claimed the shipment weights 100 pounds but the specifications for the anchor indicate 88 pounds. Nevertheless it is heavy. We launched our dinghy and shot over to one of the several black painted “pirate ships” that ply the harbor providing tours for the cruise ship passengers. The pirate crew was preparing for departure and we asked permission to use their commercial mooring in their absence, for the anchor swap. Next we planed the two miles to the Mail stop, dodging the seaplanes as we went. At the mail stop we borrowed a dolly and wheeled the anchor to the dock’s edge and then lowered it into the dinghy. So far so good and we returned to DoodleBug with far less élan, motoring slowly into the wind driven chop and trying to avoid the spray. The dinghy was now tied to the stern while we raised anchor and motored over to the “pirate” mooring. With the anchor raised I was able to measure the width of the shackle that connects the chain to the original anchor. Next I jumped back in the dinghy to move it underneath DoodleBug but before Annette lowered the original anchor into the dinghy using the windlass, I measured the width of the new anchor. Two millimeters too big! Bugger! Change of plan.
We lifted the new anchor from the dinghy to Doodlebug's stern and lashed it down before dropping the mooring and re-anchoring in our original position. I called the CBP (Customs and Border Patrol) office and asked the officer if we needed to “check out” to go to the Spanish Virgin Island of Culebra and thence to San Juan, Puerto Rico. I also mentioned that we had registered for the SVRS (Small Vessel Reporting System) and asked if we were supposed to file an online float plan. The officer assured me that it was not necessary to do either as we were travelling, “within the United States”. We just needed to “call when we get there”. Great! We raised our anchor for the third time today at 1125 hours and set sail for Culebra. The waves again were “behind the beam” and a sunny day with perhaps 1/8 th. cloud cover provided a pleasant run with flying fish scattering ahead of us.
Again we experienced the “empty ocean” phenomenon as soon as we were west of Charlotte Amelie, with no other vessels on the horizon, no sails and no commercial shipping. The “Sail Rock” marked the mid-point of the passage and we passed by these wave scoured cliffs close to. As we approached Culebra I noticed what seemed to me to be whale spouts about three quarters of a mile ahead. The waves were still in the four to six foot range and even with binoculars I could not make out any whale shapes. The chart showed deep water so I could not have been seeing spray from rocks and the sky was clear, thus atmospheric phenomena could be ruled out. I scoured the seas ahead, occasionally glancing to the sides and behind. Nothing. Whales can easily hold their breath for over twenty minutes and about thirty minutes later, I again saw what I thought were whale spouts, now about a half mile behind. No sighting of breaches though, otherwise I would have turned about for a closer look.
Just off the coast of Culebra we spotted a kite surfer who was moving around at great speed and passed a couple of boat lengths off our bows. He was using a board that had a hydro-foil leg below and seemed to “fly” smoothly, a couple of feet above the choppy waves. The last time we saw a similar rig was off the coast of Puerto Rico in 2009. We motored through the reef gap into Ensanada Honda, Culebra and dropped our anchor at 1435 hours at N 18 18.3’ W 065 18.0’.
I immediately called the local CBP officer and he asked me if I had filed a “float plan”. I told him that the officer in St. Thomas had told me it was not necessary to either check out or file a float plan. This was incorrect he maintained, I should have done both. Nevertheless he was friendly and courteous and I provided him with all of the details over the phone that should have been available on-line in our “SVRS” profiles. He in turn gave us a clearance number and announced that we were now “domestic” again and it would not be necessary to check in when we get to San Juan.
February 10, 2016
We raised anchor at 0702 hours and following our inbound track, we motored out of Ensanada Honda into a stiff headwind. The reef passage is quite narrow and at this time of the day, the reefs can’t be seen by water color, showing themselves as smooth water edged with rocks. The waves were evident as soon as we exited the sheltering reef and we pitched sharply until we were able to begin our turn towards Punta del Soldado, the southernmost tip of Culebra. Here the big waves and swells were on our beam and we passed huge rocks with crashing surf as the energy of the storm generated swells expended themselves on the land. We turned to the northwest and enjoyed a smooth run up the west coast of Culebra, passing between Culebra and Louis Pena Island. Back in open water again, we saw a line of six foot swells with about a ten second period coming at us from ahead, while the wind driven waves were heading in the opposite direction from astern. I was just marveling at the empty seas in this area of reefs, currents and wild water when I noticed a cruise ship ten miles to the east. Our AIS named it as the “Freedom of the Seas”, a vessel that had been docked nearby when we were anchored in Charlotte Amelie.
We were still looking for whales, since the internet confirmed that it is high season for whale watching and we had been in a prime location yesterday. We saw no whales however but we did see a type of wingless flying fish that “walks” at high speed across the water using its tail fin. The day was again sunny with 2/8 ths cloud and 4 to 6 foot seas added to the six foot swells. Our route lay just north of a line of Cays (islets) and reefs that likely are part of an undersea fault line. When we passed Devil’s Cay, we saw the skyscrapers of the town of Fajardo, Puerto Rico on the mainland beyond. We continued along the north coast of Puerto Rico, the skyscrapers of the new town of San Juan standing shoulder to shoulder along the beachline and then the old town, dominated by the ancient Castillo San Felipe de Morro. This edifice sits atop towering cliffs and guards the entrance to San Juan harbor. Just as when we arrived here in 2009, the swells behind us grew as we approached the passage and huge waves crashed upon the rocks at the base of the fort and on the rocky shore of Isla de Cabras at the far side of the passage. One of those adrenalin moments. We edged as close to the rocks on the port side as we dared, fighting the swells that were trying to cast us into the maelstrom of foam and heading for certain destruction just ahead. As we passed close by the port entrance marker, we began our sweeping turn and by the time we reached the far side of the dredged channel, we were in calm water and heading into the port. We anchored at 1358 hours at N 18 27.6’ W 066 05.6’. We are in Puerto Rico.
February 11, 2016
The Marina Bay of San Juan lies at the confluence of bridges, water and highway overpasses. We left our dinghy at the marina dinghy dock and then tried to work out how a pedestrian might transit this mess of multi-lane, high speed traffic. We began by jay-walking across a couple of lanes and then spotted a pedestrian crosswalk with stop-light. Reversing our course, we arrived at the “legal” cross-walk to discover it was completely inoperable. This time we jay-walked across more than a dozen lanes of traffic but eventually found the haven of a sidewalk and a grocery store. On our return, Annette had been rattled enough by the experience to stop in at a dry-cleaners to ask if a safer route was available. One of the customers within gave us a ride to the marina in his car as the circuitous route required was “on his way home”.
Back aboard DoodleBug we were awaiting a diesel mechanic, the main reason we are in San Juan and scheduled for an “afternoon” visit. At 10:30 a.m.we received a call to say he was already at the dock for pickup. The problem we have been experiencing is with a minor diesel leak from one of the injectors on the port engine. I had determined it was probably on the low-pressure return line and had already tried loosening and retightening the fitting without success. The engines are under warranty and I had called the Cummins customer support to determine that San Juan is the closest dealer. We dinghied the mechanic aboard with his tools, he changed out the washers on the injector plumbing, inspected and blessed both engines and then left. By noon we were done. The only other item on our wish list for Puerto Rico is a second “adult” sized kayak but the car I have reserved is for tomorrow and Annette is not ready to hazard the traffic as a pedestrian.
February 12, 2016
Our anchorage is wedged between Isla San Juan on the north side and Isla Grande to the south. The northern island has the “old Town” of San Juan including the massive sixteenth century fortress, Castillo San Felipe del Morro. A few feet from DoodleBug lies a Polish registered bulk carrier unloading something from its hold with huge grab buckets. It is tied to a line of wharfs that host tug boats, with warehouses behind and lots of barbed wire. On the south side of us is a surprisingly busy light aircraft runway and another line of wharfs. This morning we arose to see the bows of a cruise ship towering above us and a second moored close astern of it. They weren’t there last night. We may need to put up a sign on our rail saying something like, “Security zone, do not approach within 100 meters”, after all we were here first.
We had reserved a rental car for today and paid the necessary premium to have a “roof rack”. This was to enable us the transport our purchase should we be able to find a suitable kayak, thus we began the day by walking over to the rental office at the Sheraton hotel we could see on the far side of the runway. From here we attempted to navigate the dreaded San Juan traffic, first using a paper map printout showing the route to our first store and then giving up and trying to use an iPad navigation program. These technical wonders do not take into account one way streets and roads that have a heavy fence across them, backed up by concrete blocks to prevent transit. This reminded me of an experience as a 23 year-old, driving across Paris, France in the 1970’s. When I stopped to ask a man if he knew the route to Marseilles, he responded, “Why would you want to go there?”.
We eventually found the sporting goods store we sought and even found the the rental car again where we had left it in an underground mall parking lot. Our next destination was Wal-Mart and again, another marathon urban navigation exercise. We saw a lot of San Juan this way but if I lived here, I would get a Tom-Tom or similar auto navigator. Just as on our previous shopping expeditions to San Juan, getting to the store was only half of the problem, the balance of the task was to find a parking spot. Again we were amazed that despite the traffic jams, double parking and the like, nobody seems to get upset and will give you a friendly wave allowing you into line in front of them. After seven hours of this entertainment, we cancelled plans to motor over to the town of Fajardo and instead unloaded our goodies back at the dinghy dock and hauled all back to DoodleBug.
That evening we visited and chatted with a paddle-boarder, out for his daily exercise in the harbor. Dr. Ricardo lives and works locally and works in sports medicine and chiropractic. A very pleasant man who reminded us yet again that these chance meetings are what make cruising such a fun endeavor. We have a weather window from tomorrow afternoon and will make a late return to St. Thomas.
February 13, 2016
We refueled and dropped off the rental car this morning becoming pedestrians again and while Annette tackled the marina laundry, I began stowing Doodlebug and preparing for sea. Although the weather forecast is for light winds this afternoon, we have little faith in these prognostications and our destination lies directly upwind. The marina here had no room to berth a catamaran and charged us $5 per day to use their dinghy dock. We have cheerfully paid this for the perceived security of leaving the dinghy and the folks here have been friendly and cooperative when we asked to dispose of trash and used engine oil from the generator service. Annette has further enjoyed the rare marina phenomenon of operable washers and dryers.
Chores done, we were ready to leave by noon but the wind was still blowing briskly and we remained at anchor for the next couple of hours, watching a 1983 release of “The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E”. Somehow “Rotten Tomatoes” rated it at 78% favorable but I can’t see how.
At 1410 hours we raised our anchor and set off for “The Return to St. Thomas”. Earlier that morning I had attempted to file a “float plan” using the SVRS (Small Vessel Reporting System) online “Wizard”. This works about as well as Healthcare.gov and is reported as replacing the previous version, described as “terrible”. The new “improved” system allows you to leave from a marina, a boat slip or a residential address and requires a postal zip code. Apparently anchorages aren’t used. Then I got an error message saying that I have to specify a date and location of my return to “US territory”. One way trips not allowed. I sent an e-mail off for support assistance and one day, they will probably mail me a post-card. The wind was still blowing briskly as we exited the harbor entrance back into the Atlantic Ocean with whitecaps on the wind driven waves but the crashing breakers we experienced upon our arrival were absent. We motored on both engines at 1800 RPM, bucking into the short, sharp waves that reduced our forward speed to just over 6 knots. Cloud obscured half the sky and the waves remained in the 4 to 5 foot range for the next several hours. By 1715 hours we were at N 18 27.8 W 065 48.4 and although the waves had dropped about a foot, there were still whitecaps but we had picked up about a knot in speed. Again we were visited by a kite-boarder who shot out from the coast just before a hazy sunset.
With nightfall the waves were illuminated by a quarter moon and we motored onwards into an empty sea with the wind and waves dropping as we passed north of Culebra. The Virgin Passage brought cross current and bigger waves, plus the only two other vessels we were to see, a cruise ship and a cargo freighter who followed each other, northwest bound up the Caribbean Island chain. At 0039 hours we dropped our hook in Charlotte Amelie Bay, St. Thomas at N 18 20.2’ W 064 55.8’ weaving between the silhouettes of moored vessels, helped by the city street lights illuminating the anchorage.
February 14, 2016
For the second time this morning, we gazed upon Charlotte Amelie harbor and marveled that this was perhaps our best effort yet at finding a spot to anchor. We were nicely spaced between other anchored vessels in about twenty feet of water depth. DoodleBug is an ex-charter vessel and charter customers rarely anchor, thus she came equipped with the absolute minimum of anchor and chain. The sales brochure claimed 165 feet of chain but we have run out of chain with 145 feet displayed on the chain counter providing us with anchoring capability in no more than 25 feet water depth. Our previous DoodleBug boasted 220 feet, which we considered barely sufficient at the time. Ideally we would like to have 300 feet, about double of what we carry today. Then there is the anchor. We now carry on board a “real” anchor but have yet to install it. There were no cruise ships at the West India Company dock, hence no “pirate ships” offering harbor tours, hence no unoccupied moorings. It was again Sunday in St. Thomas and we totally vegged all day, watching movies or reading. Installing the new anchor could wait.
February 15, 2016
This morning we arose refreshed and energized, ready to tackle a new week. DoodleBug was bouncing around on her anchor uncomfortably as a short chop entered the harbor and rain clouds threatened. We checked the weather forecast and noted a 70% chance of rain, plus winds increasing to 30 knots over the next several days. The dinghy and other stowed items had never been unlashed so we were able to make a near instant decision to sail for St. Johns before the weather locked us in. We raised anchor at 0655 hours and set off to the east, with rain already falling heavily behind us as we exited the harbor, dodging two inbound cruise ships. An hour of bashing into six foot waves and we transited Pillsbury Sound into the shelter of St. Johns, picking up a mooring in Maho Bay at 0837 hours.
It was not even 9 a.m. and here we were, lying quietly on a mooring. Seizing the long waited opportunity, I launched the dinghy and Annette lowered the anchor into same while I disconnected the anchor shackle. Next was the reverse procedure wherein I connected up the new anchor to the chain rode and Annette carefully raised it from the dinghy with the windlass. It fits! What a relief! The thought that it would be too large for the under-deck mounting has been haunting me for the past week. Of course we still haven’t tested its anchoring ability but since it looks at first glance to be three times bigger than the “original” anchor, (it is 60% bigger by weight) we have all sorts of confidence.
Our next task was to “test” the kayak we purchased in San Juan and we launched both of the adult sized kayaks we carry and set off to tour the anchorage. The “newer” kayak is obviously a superior design to our original purchase in that it sports a holder for beer cans.
Still on a roll and back on board, I tackled the Hookah dive system we had yet to use. Step one was to fill the engine crankcase with oil. A tricky procedure to do without spilling and the tiny four-stroke Honda engine holds but one pint of oil. Once this had been accomplished, I was ready to fill the tank with gasoline, however Annette had just fired up the BBQ to cook shrimp. The gasoline slopping could wait till the morrow – shrimp marinated in honey / soy and barbequed takes precedence.
February 16, 2016
Back to the Hookah. The tank was filled with gas, the fresh air intake snorkel installed with “divers below” warning flag and we were ready to go. I had determined to test the system by running the compressor system from the stern of the boat and fired up the engine to let it warm up. I was initially concerned with the amount of smoke coming from a “new” engine but quickly realized that this was the “T9”, high-tech, anti-corrosion protectant, I had liberally sprayed over everything and that was now burning off. I wasn’t anxious to breathe in these fumes so let the smoke dissipate before hooking up the air line and regulator. I haven’t used a Hookah system before but the principle is that you use a surface pump to compress air to around 75 psi. and this is supplied to the diver via a 75 foot hose. At the end of the hose is the conventional “demand” regulator that most scuba divers use. The differences between “scuba” and “Hookah” diving are that the latter is not carrying a tank of compressed air, a primary regulator, the weight necessary to sink it or the buoyancy control vest to compensate for the changing volume of air in the tank as it is used up. The negative is that the Hookah diver is restricted in depth and position by the 75 foot air umbilical linking him to the compressor. The latter can be “towed” and is designed to float in an inflated truck inner-tube but this we have yet to try. Today I just intended to inspect and clean the propellers and shafts.
The dive experience was certainly different. I was carrying a weight belt with 8 pounds of lead shot in order to sink my shorty wet-suit and my accumulated fat, plus typical snorkel gear. The Hookah regulator mouthpiece and air-line seemed weightless. I spent the next 45 minutes scraping a near inch of barnacles from the propeller shafts and support brackets plus a thick layer of the more tenacious mollusks from the propellers themselves. The air I was breathing was tasteless and I was not as dry-mouthed as I would have been from a tank dive, presumably because the lower compression factor allowed more delivery of water vapor.
After lunch we dinghied to the beach and managed to flag a “Safari” style taxi for a run into town for groceries. Our guests are scheduled to arrive Friday and tomorrow begins the boat clean-up from my various construction projects. One in particular is annoying in that I cut the metal trim around the fly-bridge refrigerator with a power jig-saw. The metal filings from this have somehow covered the boat from one end to the other and have disintegrated into pepper sized rust spots on the white gel-coat. Not hard to remove but tedious.
February 17, 2016
Today we cleaned rust spots of the gelcoat, applying gelled oxalic acid with Q-tips. A tedious process that dissolved the oxide but left behind tiny flecks of raw metal that will surely rust again. In other words, we will have to redo this in the not too distant future! By afternoon we had just about used up all the rust remover we carry and will need to buy more. The gel-coat does look better though.
February 18, 2016
We returned to St. Thomas dropping our mooring at 0905 hours and putting in at the Crown Bay Marina fuel dock to top up on diesel and fill the water tanks. Whilst I handled the refueling operation, Annette shot down the dock to the Mail Stop and also hit the marine supply store for more rust remover. We anchored at N 18 20.3’ W 064 55.6’ at 1200 hours and the new Rocna anchor set firmly almost instantly. What a relief to have a “real” anchor! Our guests Will and Jo fly in tomorrow thus we made our dinghy run to the grocery store before recommencing the rust spot removal process. This procedure was complicated by Annette’s insistence on finishing up her laundry whilst I sloshed around oxalic acid and buckets of sea water. I also managed to accidentally drop my rubber utility bucket over the side and by the time I had grabbed a boat-hook, it had floated out of reach. I jumped in the dinghy, fired up the motor and tore after it, reaching for it just as it dipped below the waves. I never liked that bucket anyway.
February 19, 2016
By now the boat was just about free of rust spots and we had completed the grocery re-provisioning but the wind had been building all day and there was a chop on the water. Again we blessed the new anchor and only need to install a high strength shackle to achieve anchoring nirvana. The anchor chain has a working load of about 5,000 pounds and the anchor is easily stronger than this. For some reason or other, just about all marine supply stores sell shackles that connect the anchor to the chain that have a working strength of 2,000 pounds, less than half of what the chain will bear. I searched the internet high and low and eventually found an American manufactured shackle that will fit the chain and has a working strength of 5200 pounds. I had ordered three of these and received them yesterday in the mail. Now I just need to get the anchor out of the water to swap the shackles!
In the afternoon we taxied to the airport to meet Jo and Will flying in from Houston. By the time we had eaten supper near the marina landing, it was growing dark and the floating dinghy dock was surging with the wind driven swells. This meant that we needed to load our guests plus luggage into a bouncing dinghy from a moving dock. A new experience for all involved but we are doughty and everyone arrived unscathed aboard DoodleBug.
February 20 - February 25, 2016
We spent the week playing with our Houston friends Will and Jo and after spending Saturday at anchor in Long Bay, the 30 knot winds subsided and we headed over to the National Park moorings at St. Johns. Here we swam and snorkeled, marveled at the flying and fishing abilities of the sea-birds, watched turtles bobbing up around us and learned all about nighttime dinghy landings onto starlit sandy beaches. A fun and relaxing week.
February 26 - March 7, 2016
Will and Jo flew home this morning and we already miss them. We too will make a trip back to the USA mainland to take care of business and decided to leave DoodleBug on a mooring in Great Cruz Bay and have her looked after by a local company “St. John Proper Yachts”. We plan to return to St. John in early April.
April 6, 2016
We flew into St. Thomas last night after a chilly departure from Santa Fe. This morning we awoke to the distant sounds of roosters crowing and doves cooing on the balcony outside of the hotel window. Blue skies, sunshine and glistening clear waters, we are back in the tropics!
DoodleBug is laying to a mooring at “Great Cruz Bay” in nearby St. John’s thus we began the day by hauling our luggage downhill to the ferry dock. The ferry trip was followed by a dinghy ride for the two mile journey between the bays and we finally got to unload our suitcases and bags aboard DoodleBug, looking just as we left her, perhaps a little dustier, some 36 hours after we had begun our journey. While Annette slopped buckets of seawater across the decks, I unpacked the bags that had been weighted down with boat parts and art supplies, the token garments being used as padding. Now we needed lunch and a few groceries, so back into the dinghy and we reversed our course to Cruz Bay, where we had arrived earlier. As we exited the Great Cruz Bay, there was a large (730 ton) black painted, work boat at anchor just outside. It hadn’t been there two hours earlier and I noticed the name as the “Iron Cat”. I recognized this name immediately as that of a Research / Survey vessel that my former business partner, Jerry had sold last year. He had mentioned to me that it had been reflagged with a hailing port of “Zanzibar” and sure enough, this was the name on the stern. We took several pictures and then headed over to the Tap Room at Mongoose Junction for a balanced lunch. I texted the Iron Cat picture to Jerry without comment, waited a few minutes and then called his wife Caroline to see if he had received it. Caroline answered the phone immediately and said she was at the hospital with Jerry who was having a pacemaker installed. Bad timing! I did get to talk to Jerry and he is to be released from the hospital tomorrow so crisis averted.
April 7, 2016
A week ago we had received a phone call from our real estate broker in Corpus Christi, that we have a contract to sell our house there which has been on the market for the past twelve months. Praying that this is not some elaborate April Fools prank, we have been making our plans on the assumption that this deal will close before the end of April and we will need to be back in Corpus Christi the week before, to clear out the furniture etc. While Annette was stowing away the goodies I had unpacked yesterday, I repaired the fresh water system with a new pressure accumulator, replaced the missing “hold open” strut on the anchor locker and checked and tested both engines. All good, we are ready to move. Annette had deployed her new “kites” earlier today, a man in a bathing suit with a cigar and a pirate with a wooden leg. I noticed that the kayakers from the nearby Westin hotel have been making orbits around DoodleBug. I smile and wave at the kayakers wearing bikinis.
Annette decided that we needed to replace the bucket that I had inadvertently dropped overboard a couple of months ago and we made the pilgrimage back to the port and walked over to the hardware store before stopping off again at the “Tap Room” for emergency rehydration. You would be amazed at how many comments you get when you walk into a bar carrying a bucket.
April 8, 2016
This morning we tidied up the boat for heading out to sea, dropped our mooring at 0905 hours and set course for St. Francis Bay on the north side of St. Johns. We had decided to tow the dinghy instead of lifting it onto its davits and as soon as we exited the bay, we realized that this was a mistake. Each time we have done this we have regretted it, not because of any mishap but we finish up fretting as to whether we will dump the dinghy in the rough seas we were now encountering. These were caused by a combination of northerly swells and wind and current combinations as we passed the various headlands.
We arrived at Francis Bay at 1005 hours and took up a mooring at position N 8 21.96’ W 064 44.89’.
Francis Bay was calm enough and we launched our kayaks to explore the shoreline and then crossed over to Whistling Cay. The landing on a stony beach was challenging in that the northerly swells curved around both sides of the islet and then the two wave trains crashed together on the southern point where we were approaching. The technique used was to pick a quiet spot between waves and then paddle like hell for the shore, jumping out and dragging the kayak up the slope before the bigger waves hit. Annette wandered the beach looking for the perfect rock while I sat outside the ruins of the old Customs house, enjoying a beer and contemplating life and the fact that unlike Annette, I was barefoot.
Launching a kayak into waves can also be tricky and from a sandy beach we usually wade out a ways before trying to board our vessel. This beach was both stony and steep, plus I had seen sea urchins in the shallows with their long spines threatening the unshod. What worked was to sit in the kayak on the strand and wait for a big wave to lift the boat and then drive hard to get past the breakers. Exciting! On our return journey to DoodleBug the wind had picked up a little and was also a headwind providing more than adequate exercise for the day.
April 9, 2016
Today we faced a crisis when we discovered that we had run out of beer! We were headed for Nanny Cay tomorrow but that was still 24 hours away. We fired up the dinghy and ran four miles back along the coast to Cruz Bay where we corrected the deficit.
That evening we shared sundowners plus BBQ’d hamburgers with Nancy and Jerry aboard S/V Always Summer and also enjoyed the company of Al and Helene from S/V island Girl.
April 10, 2016
We dropped our mooring at 0820 hours and with the dinghy safely raised on the davits, set course for the island of Jost Van Dyke, a port of entry into the British Virgin Islands. This was not a particularly long voyage and at 0905 hours, we picked up a mooring in Great Harbour at N 18 26.5’ W 064 45.2’, re-launched the dinghy and motored ashore to the Customs and Immigration office just as they were opening. Although our final destination today is on the island of Tortola, we have discovered this particular office to be far less hassle with conveniently available moorings, plus laid-back officials. The immigration lady was singing in a high soprano as she arrived for work and settled into her office. A baritone voice joined hers from the customs official in the next office. You just don’t get this kind of reception at the DMV in Corpus Christi, Texas.
A short delay while I returned to DoodleBug to retrieve the wallet I had forgotten to bring and we were checked into the BVI’s. Next door to the Customs and immigration building is a beach bar / restaurant and we headed there for breakfast. The proprietor solemnly informed us that the girls were just leaving for church and couldn’t cook our breakfast. I asked him if there were any sinners on the island who could perform this task and he blinked before nodding in the direction further along the beach. It wasn’t too far to the next bar and there we enjoyed the traditional sailor’s breakfast of eggs, bacon, fried potatoes and beer.
Back aboard DoodleBug and she was straining at the mooring with the wind picking up. At 1220 hours we dropped our mooring and set course to the south again, passing by Soper’s Hole marina and then turning easterly into a rising wind, along the southern coast of Tortola to the marina at Nanny Cay. As we motored into the short, choppy sea, we could hear another vessel attempting to hail Nanny Cay on his VHF radio. There was no response and we assumed that there was minimal staffing there on a Sunday. He did eventually receive a call back and was requesting assistance in the form of a tow, as he had a failed engine. We passed the outbound marina dinghy as we turned into the entrance and rightly assumed that we would be docking without assistance. This might have been problematic since we needed to turn broadside to the wind direction before backing into the haulout slip. Fortunately the marina environs were almost completely sheltered from the wind and we made our maneuver without hitting anything, tying up at 1405 hours at position N 18 24.0’ W 064 38.1’. We are to be lifted tomorrow for renewal of the anti-foul paint.
April 11, 2016
It began at 8 a.m. when we were lifted out of the water and moved to a nearby work area to be balanced precariously on stacked baulks of timber like a giant child’s building blocks. While a crew power washed the underside of the vessel, I discussed the painting job with the yard manager and arranged for the delivery of the paint that I purchased several months ago from nearby “Budget Marine”. The paint retailed at $300 per gallon and I had pre-paid the purchase of 8 gallons to buy it from Budget during their annual 20% discount sale.
We had a couple of other minor repairs to make and took advantage of our position on dry land to get the rear water-tight collision compartments re-sealed. The stern of the boat is protected by a teak rubbing board that protects the gel-coat from hitting against a dock. We had diagnosed a water-leak from beneath this board and sure enough, when removed, it exposed a dozen screw holes that had never been sealed. Another minor defect was a slight hydraulic oil leak from the port side steering ram. Again a small job to rebuild the unit with the new seals which we had on board. Finally we needed to replace the rubber seals around the rear cabin hatches. In a heavy rain they would leak slightly, dripping water onto our bed. Not good. I had purchased the replacement seals and read an internet admonition that this repair was not a job for an amateur. OK then, we will let the professionals do it!
While this was going on we were organizing our communications to make sure that our BVI cell-phone was working and were communicating with our real-estate broker in Corpus Christi regarding the roof repairs that the purchaser of our home there was now demanding. We were also getting e-mails from Santa Fe saying that one of the door locks on the property there was inoperable. Phew! Who thought retirement was easy?
By afternoon the hull had been sanded, acid washed, rinsed and was drying. I took the opportunity to replace the anodes on the propeller shafts and propellers. This was going to be simple but although the two propellers are identical, their retaining nuts are not and I was only able to obtain a replacement anode for the starboard propeller. To add to the entertainment, we were informed that the replacement seals for the hatches were the wrong thickness. Rats! Now we would be delayed and we now boast a large hole in the cabin roof, covered with a sheet of plastic against the rain. A typical boating day!
April 12, 2016
The hydraulic repair guy is supposed to begin work this morning and after leaving the required seals where he could find them, we headed into the island capital of “Road Town”, to seek the missing propeller anode. In Corpus Christi the roof has been inspected and diagnosed as having windstorm damage. We have filed a claim with the insurer and await their inspection. We began our search at the Golden Hind Chandlery where the owner searched parts books and the internet before declaring that he had never encountered an anode of the type we needed. We next sought out Robert, the Moorings service manager and he found the man who had installed the propeller. “Yes”, the man said, “we can’t get those anodes. If you want to fit one you have to change out the retaining nut for another type.” OK, then. Back to the Golden Hind and we bought another propeller nut with anode. This all makes sense to someone.
By the time we reached the boatyard again, Doodlebug had been washed and waxed above the waterline and freshly painted below. She looks great and just needs her propeller anode installed so that she can be re-launched. We have delayed the re-launch until Thursday afternoon because in-water catamaran slips are in short supply at this marina and this is the earliest we can be accommodated. We will be delayed here until the hatch seals are replaced.
Meanwhile, we have been staying in a hotel room while all this has been going on and watched the television news this afternoon. We discovered that nothing in the world has changed of the past few weeks. We turned the TV off.
April 13, 2016
Early this morning the hydraulic cylinder was re-installed and the propeller nut replaced with a version that can support an anode that is actually available for purchase somewhere on the planet. We are ready to launch! Unfortunately the marina claims there is no space for us at a dock and we have delayed our launch until tomorrow afternoon. We are still waiting on the window seal replacement, promised for this afternoon. Our big task for the day was to install the dinghy wheels on our dinghy. These allow a heavy dinghy to be pulled up the beach by using a pair of drop down wheels on the stern where it is usually heaviest. Of course several people stopped by to ask what we were doing and I solemnly explained that these wheels were in case we ran aground and they would then prevent damage to the hull.
Annette met the window seal installer and he assured her that the window seals would be delivered today and installed Thursday morning. We also had a problem with the port air-conditioner and the refrigeration technician promised to take a look on Friday noon. Progress everywhere.
April 14, 2016
Launch day! Another early morning start but the window installer never showed up. We paid our yard bill, receiving the coveted pink slip for the lift operator and then did the same with the hotel. I next asked the lady who is paid to be the “dock master” what our slip number is to be. “What is the name of your boat?” I repeated it for the fourth time and spelled it for the second time. “Do you have a reservation?” She stared at her computer screen for five minutes or so, perhaps willing the queen of diamonds to go onto the king of clubs, before abruptly stating, “Check back with me later”.
When we stopped in to check the window seal status we were told “tomorrow”. Not good. The launch will be unaffected however and we spent time re-stowing everything so that it wouldn’t fall over when we were lifted. Our lift time of one o’clock came and went. We walked over to the yard office to get un updated status and were told to check with the lift operators of whom there were none in evidence. Back to the boat. This is what you do in boat yards, hang around and wait. You can’t take off because they need you aboard at launch time to drive the boat away. We heard a voice yelling at us and discovered the missing lift operator resting in the shade below DoodleBug and presented him with the pink slip of paper, proving we had paid the necessary ransom.
Two hours later DoodleBug was floating again, we had checked below to confirm that we weren’t sinking, cast off and motored over to the slip, whose location we had determined by asking the “dock master’s” boss - which took him about three seconds to determine from his Blackberry when we intercepted him as he rode down the dock on his bicycle.
We called the air-conditioner technician to give him the slip location and discovered he was working on the adjacent boat, thus he arrived around five o’clock to take a “quick” look at the unit. This is a seawater cooled device requiring both power and a sea-water supply to operate and test. He immediately decided that the seawater supply was inadequate and began tearing out the plumbing and checking for blockage, one a pipe at a time. I acted as sorcerer’s apprentice by supplying him flashlights, screwdrivers, paper towels etc. By nine o’clock we were both exhausted and ready for him to go home. We knew he would return on the morrow, since he inadvertently left his cell-phone aboard DoodleBug. We plugged it in to charge it up. A long day.
April 15, 2016
My first task this morning was to check the plumbing job that the air-conditioner technician had done yesterday evening. As expected, just about every fitting was leaking like a sieve. He had needed to cut a hose to remove it from the fitting and the trimmed section was now too short to reach properly and was “crimped”. I walked over to Budget Marine to buy a replacement section and spent the next hour listening to the salesman tell me how hung over he was. As I stood there chanting “low blood pressure” over and over to myself, I was finally able to buy the five foot length of plastic hose.
Back at DoodleBug the window seal installer had shown up and one window was done. He also offered to lend me a heat gun and with this I was able to fit the recalcitrant plastic pipe onto the respective fittings. The air-conditioner tech showed up to retrieve his cell phone and was also bearing my sea-water supply pump, which he had bench tested and declared fully operational. He left. I installed the pump and turned on the air-conditioner. Still no water supply. I then went to the forward locker where I had stored my custom diagnostic tool I had constructed last August – an extension cord with the plug cut off. I wired the pump to this and plugged it into a wall outlet. The pump ran normally proving that the control board is bad. Five hours wasted playing with non-existent plumbing issues but the good news was that at least we had new window seals on the two hatches over the stern bedrooms.
Back in Corpus Christi, Texas we have negotiated our way through the various inspections and it looks as though we will close on the sale of this property at the end of the month. I scoured the internet for flights from St. Thomas to the mainland and after discarding an offer that only took 27 hours travel time via Newark for $2,300 each, settled on a 6 hour flight via Houston for $650 apiece. Isn’t air-travel exciting?
April 16, 2016
At 1005 hours we let go the dock lines and motored out of Nanny Cay, bound for the island of Jost Van Dyke. The Nanny Cay boatyard, like all boat yards was a filthy place to be, with the inevitable paint and fiberglass dust coating our white gel-coat but the marina itself seems a pleasant place to stay and we can see why there are many long term residents. However, at $114 per day dock fee, we would prefer to be elsewhere. We picked up a mooring at Great Harbour at 1045 hours, cleared out of Customs and Immigration for the British Virgin Islands, dropped our mooring at 1155 hours and continued on to Maho Bay, St. John’s. Here we grabbed a mooring at 1235 hours at N 18 21.6’ W 064 44.7’. It is so nice to lay quietly on a mooring in a beautiful bay such as this and watch the pelicans and boobies fishing, turtles bobbing their heads up to look around, particularly after last week’s frenetic activity. That evening Nancy and Jerry of “Always Summer“ stopped by as well as Bob from a Hunter 45 on the next mooring (It’s pointing at me so I can’t see the name).
April 17, 2016
Nancy and Jerry were entertaining some number of grandchildren and friends with the result that we saw their dinghy approaching DoodleBug very gingerly, loaded to the gunwales as they were with six kids. Last night we had offered them the use of our kayaks and they had determined to take us up on the offer. As we launched each of our four kayaks, the occupant would take off paddling furiously towards open water but that still left two kids without their own craft. We assumed rightly that they would work it out. After this excitement I called the Customs and Immigration folks to say that we had “just arrived” back in the USA, although what I had declared on my on-line float plan was that we would arrive this afternoon. The office looked up my “float plan” number and stated that Annette wasn’t on it. I explained that I had made four attempts to add her and although the website accepted my input, the summary page steadfastly maintained that I was both the Captain and also the only passenger. I had waited until the following day to enter the system again, deleted myself as passenger leaving me as Captain of course and then re-entering Annette as a passenger. This time she did show up on the summary page but apparently that was just to make me go away, as it was never “saved” by the system. The officer said no problem, he would take care of it and we were now legally cleared in.
Of course the reason that we had called Customs and Immigration early was that the impromptu party aboard Doodlebug last night, had wiped out our beer stock and we were preparing an emergency run in the dinghy to Cruz Bay to restock. If the Customs folks had demanded our physical presence for check in we would have gone there first because their office is near the grocery store. The logistics of sailing!
Back once more aboard DoodleBug, Bob of S/V Discovery passed by in his dinghy and claimed he was off to hunt lobster. If he caught any, we were invited to Discovery to help eat his catch. About an hour later he returned empty handed, claiming that he had caught one but it was “too small”. Yeah right, Bob! He did invite us aboard Discovery that evening for sundowners however and I really don’t care that much for lobster.
April 18, 2016
This morning we stowed the boat and set course for Great Cruz Bay, picking up the same mooring we had left ten days earlier. This location has much better cellular reception and we used the enhanced communications to catch up on reservations and the like for our upcoming return to Corpus Christi. There have been series of requests for documents in order to finalize the sale of our property there and we have been fortunate that we have been in digital possession of everything requested to date.
In late afternoon, our friends Cory and Billie, who have property on the nearby islet of Lovango Cay, motored over in their RIB dinghy to pick us up for a run into Cruz Bay for supper. Their neighbors Scott and Sharon were also visiting and it was a full dinghy load that cut through the ferry boat wakes bound for the dock. We rarely go ashore after dark, thus for us it was treat to wander and explore the Cruz Bay night life.
April 19 - 20, 2016
Just tidying and packing; we fly to Texas tomorrow but expect to return in a couple of weeks to begin the run south towards Grenada – outside of the “hurricane box”.