2016 / 2017
November 29 - December 3, 2016
Our first week in St. Thomas began of course with a check in with the US government! I had logged into their site to retrieve my float plan number since when I had filed the latter in St. Martin, I had been sitting at a noisy curbside bar trading beer for internet. When I arrived at “my float plan” page, there had been a message to the extent that all previously filed plans had now “expired”. OK then, I would just wait until after 0800 hours and call the Customs and Border Protection. “What is your float plan number?” the officer asked. I explained that it had disappeared from their website and offered my Federal boater ID. “No, you have to come in to our office and fill out the paperwork.” Another successful government internet program; no on-line check-in but the good news is, I probably obtained an Obamacare “Platinum plan” valid in North Dakota.
Annette has inventoried her groceries and supplies and together we have made several pilgrimages to various grocery and hardware stores and have begun filling up the the food storage lockers. I in turn have been attacking a series of mechanical issues such as relocating the dinghy fuel can into the dinghy bow locker (a non-trivial operation!) plus drilling down into our solar charging problems. Anyone who believes that solar power is the future of humanity, could use a little education here. Fortunately we have our new, beautiful diesel generator that we had hoped to use only occasionally for back-up but is now our primary source of power. With luck and some work, we will relegate it back to its former status.
On other fronts, daughter Marian (aka Claire) is doing a photography show (www.thesteeleshutter.com) in Corpus Christi and we had our ninth showing of the house we are trying to sell in Santa Fe (http://www.santafeproperties.com/listing/201601524-66-three-rock-road-santa-fe-new-mexico-87506/). The last set of prospective buyers want to know who maintains the access road – possibly a good sign!
We will likely slip across the waters next week to Nanny Cay in the British Virgin Islands, to get some hydraulic servicing work done on our steering system. Would be nice to have the boat go where you point it.
The kids and grand-kids arrive in two weeks time and the excitement is building!
December 4 - December 10, 2016
We continued to work on our various projects in a leisurely fashion. Annette has mailed postcards to a Houston first-grader to assist her “gingerbread man” geography project (an inevitable inherited liability when one has a teacher as a daughter) and has been researching on how to collect sand from below a vessel at anchor without resorting to dive apparatus. She has been experimenting with buckets, tin cans with fishing weights and has received a plethora of advice e-mailed from top sand experts from around the globe. She already has an article reviewing her microscope purchase, published in the “Sand Paper”, a quarterly publication of the International Sand Collectors Society and the editor has suggested that her submarine sand collection activities might form the basis of another article.
I am still drilling down into my solar panel issue and will attempt to repair the existing panels. I have now decided that the failure in my panels is at their “junction box”. This is the bit where a pair of wires attaches to the flat composite of silicon solar cells. Unfortunately, to gain access to the “junction box”, I have to get underneath it. Three panels are still working and three are dead and all six are “glued” to the flybridge roof. I need to positively identify a couple of “bad” panels to see if I can remove them without major damage - all of this without messing up the pair that are still producing electricity. Since I can’t directly access the panel output to determine the zero output panels, I will perform a negative by identifying the “live” panels. As Admiral Josh Painter famously quoted, “Russians don't take a dump, son, without a plan. And senior captains don't start something this dangerous without having thought the matter through.” For me this meant that a sequence of steps, definitively locating a couple of dead panels before attempting to remove them from the roof, followed by a dissection autopsy to see if I can determine the cause of death. For my plan I needed black trash bags and masking tape. The latter I had but raiding Annette’s supplies produced only white trash bags – project deferred!
I have also been addressing the installation of “stuff” I purchased months ago in the USA. One issue to be resolved is that the “Autopilot” doesn’t communicate with the “Chartplotter / GPS” system. It might have once but digging into the wiring on this boat leads to the discovery of multiple abandoned and orphaned cables. I had laid out a block wiring diagram a year ago when we first purchased the boat and were adding the radar, AIS and Autopilot remote systems and we just lacked one more connection from a first generation “Raymarine” device to a third generation connector. This was amazingly complicated and required that I build a third generation data bus, power it and then add two spur cables with the appropriate flavor of connector. At the level I was currently working however, I needed two blocks of plywood and some epoxy glue. While Annette filled the boat with the delicious smells of freshly baked cakes, I filled the boat with the stench of chemicals as I mounted my plywood blocks into position beneath the flybridge console.
On Tuesday morning we raised anchor and at 0923 hours set course for Soper’s Hole on the island of Tortola, British Virgin Islands. It was a clear sunny day and a pleasant sail through the islands. At 1104 hours we picked up a mooring just across from the Customs and Immigration shed and dinghied ashore to check in. In the past we have preferred to check in at the nearby port of entry, Jost Van Dyke because the officials there are so laid back and friendly. Today we got the “full bureaucrat with an attitude” treatment. When the Immigration guy complained about the quality of my handwriting I said, “That is arthritis and at my age, it ain’t going to get any better. Thank God for keyboards and spell checkers”. He relapsed into silence. The Customs “lady” slowly ate her sandwich in front of the dozen or so sailors who were waiting for clearance, sighed, scrupulously examined my paperwork and then demanded that I change the entry for my place of birth from “UK” to “United Kingdom”. And so on....
At 1310 hours we dropped our mooring and motored east along the coast of Tortola to our destination of Nanny Cay Marina where we tied up at 1410 hours at 18 23.8 N 064 38.2 W.
Wednesday morning and while we waited for the mechanic to arrive to service the hydraulic rams of our steering system, both of which were leaking fluid, I installed the Raymarine “bus” onto its plywood block and similarly added a power distribution block. When I threw the breaker, the Chartplotter recognized the autopilot, the AIS targets showed up on the radar display and all was well in the world! A small victory but it means that we can now set a “track” and the autopilot will guide the vessel along a programmed course, automatically correcting for course errors caused by currents or wind.
The hydraulic expert arrived, removed the steering rams and reappeared an hour later to reinstall them. Then began the tedious process of trying to bleed the air out of the system. This involved having a bottle of oil at the flybridge console, connected by a plastic tube to the steering pump and inverted as though to supply a “drip feed”. It isn’t intended to be a drip feed but the fools who designed this system neglected to include an oil reservoir. The bleeding process then involves turning the steering wheel from lock to lock, pausing to allow air bubbles to escape to the drip bottle.
I serviced the generator, which just meant changing the oil and filter. A busy day with much accomplished. The following day, Thursday, the steering system was still burping air bubbles but in addition, was showing another disturbing symptom. As the steering was worked from lock to lock, the rudders gradually diverged from their initial parallel position until the steering was near frozen. The hydraulic expert reappeared, bled the two rams and disappeared again. We spent most of Thursday washing the boat and turning the wheel on the steering to little useful effect.
Friday morning our deadline was that if the steering wasn’t working correctly by 0900 hours, we would extend our stay a day. 0900 hours came and went but by this time we had used the emergency steering tiller, to prove that the port ram was leaking oil past the cylinder piston seals and reported this intelligence to the repair company by e-mail and phone message. By mid-afternoon our mechanic showed up, removed the offending cylinder and disappeared to his workshop, together with my spare set of seals. He returned shortly thereafter and reported that the offending piston seal had been “nicked”. The restored steering ram was then bled for air and immediately began working as designed. What a relief! The prospect of entertaining guests with a partially working steering system was not an attractive one.
While at the marina, we have enjoyed touching base with friends from multiple boats we had previously met in locations scattered across the Caribbean. We were trashed by three days of boat work and more than ready to meet everyone that evening at the nearby Mulligan’s bar / restaurant.
Saturday morning it was bucketing with rain but we did our last “air bleed” of the hydraulic steering system, rigged for sea and paid our marina bill. We eased gently out of our slip at 0915 hours and maneuvered around the other vessels at the dock without hitting any, before heading over to Soper’s Hole for the Customs and Immigration checkout. The officials there were more polite than last time and the ethnically, gender and gravitationally challenged Immigration official, actually apologized for failing to see me standing three feet in front of her for ten minutes or so, whilst wearing a neon green tee-shirt.
At 1115 hours we dropped our mooring and set course for Cruz Bay on the island of St. Johns, anchoring just off the channel at 1148 hours. The check in with USA Customs and Border Protection was painless and after hitting the grocery store, we again set off at 1300 hours bound for Maho Bay. At 1337 hours we had picked up a mooring at 18 21.6 N 064 44.8 W. What a beautiful place! We will hang here for a couple of days until a forecast blow has passed us by.
December 11, 2016
A beautiful quiet morning as we awoke in Maho Bay with the sound of waves lapping along the shore and the calls of a handful of sea-birds. This is a sheltered spot and we had determined to hang here for a couple of days whilst the forecast “blow” expended itself. I had also determined that today I would make a serious attempt to remove at least one of the dead solar panels from the flybridge roof. Since the wind was gusting, I lashed my step-ladder to the flybridge roof support so that it might still be there when I attempted to descend and clutching a variety of tools, wasted the next couple of hours with this task. I had always been a little worried that these panels could blow away in a storm. Not a chance! They had been glued on with silicone sealant and each corner additionally held with a screw. The screws were the easy part. I used a sharp knife to try to ease the tiniest separation between panel and roof and then tried both a cheesecutter (see assassination scene of Luca Brasi in “The Godfather”) as well as a small spatula. If I had no concern about damaging the solar panel this would be relatively straightforward job but I was trying to achieve the result of having both the fiberglass roof and the solar panel intact. I gave up. I need a different tool or abandon the idea of saving the panel.
We snorkeled during the afternoon and upon plunging into the water, couldn’t fail to notice a pair of remoras in the four foot long range, who have taken up residence below DoodleBug. They seemed curious about us, unafraid and seemed to lack large and sharp teeth. That evening Annette barbequed steaks and threw overboard the remains of some steak she didn’t want. The water boiled as “Jack and Jill”, our remoras, instantly devoured every morsel. What a great dinner show! Next went some bread and it was equally appreciated. We were now scrounging around to see what else they might eat when Annette found some tortillas. She offered a piece of the tortilla in her hand and it too was snatched away. The remoras seem to have tiny rough teeth, like a cat’s tongue on steroids. At least this is what Annette reported since Ed’s mommy didn’t raise a stupid baby.
December 12, 2016
The boat has been cleaned, the beds made, food lockers inventoried and repacked and we are just about ready for guests. Of course there is a quantity of “stuff” that is still un-stowed and I suggested to Annette that we simply smuggle it onto someone else’s boat during darkness. We still have five days before the kids and grandkids arrive and have already determined that they have outgrown last year’s lifejackets. Another round of shopping needed!
After lunch we fired up the Hookah dive compressor and I cleaned the propellers with some steel wool while Annette chased Jack and Jill around with her waterproof camera. Since remoras usually attach themselves to large sharks, I am wondering where their regular hosts are.
December 13, 2016
0935 hours and we dropped our mooring and headed west to Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas. It was already raining and the sky ahead promised more of the same. When we crossed the open waters of Pillsbury Sound, the the confused seas quickly built into 6 to 8 foot waves and we blessed the fact that most heavy objects were lashed down fairly securely. The shelter of Great St. James Island provided a respite from the violent motion and then we were again exposed to the wave action that had developed over the week-end we were hiding out in Maho Bay. To add to the entertainment, a large and dense rain-squall hit and Annette was dispatched below to close the doors and windows that were open to the wall of water coming from behind. I grabbed a rain-jacket which made little difference to how wet I had become but did keep the wind chill off. As we approached Packet Rock, a favorite scuba destination, I marveled at the antics of large catamaran that was cutting across our path and seemed to be attempting to become completely airborne. The deck was filled with people looking positively miserable and probably wishing they were safely back aboard their cruise ship.
At 1105 hours we dropped anchor in Long Bay at 18 20.3 N 064 55.6 W. This already felt like a hard day but we nevertheless launched our dinghy for an emergency beer and milk run, the first of many re-provisioning trips in anticipation of our guests.
December 14, 2016
The wind has dropped a little overnight and we began the day with a dinghy run to Crown Bay Marina, a stopping off destination for mailing beach sand samples and for visiting Ace Hardware. The real reason for the visit was to rent a postal address at the “Mail Stop” facility for a month. Annette had purchased a heavily discounted and life sized plastic skeleton on the day after Halloween and daughter Marian had mailed it to us since we didn’t want to purchase another airline seat. Lunch at the marina restaurant was a typical island experience. After waiting 30 minutes in a near empty restaurant for a burger and fries, we just paid for our beers and left. Who knows what the problem was.
In the afternoon we rode the $2 per person “Safari Bus” “up-country” to “the big” K-Mart followed by a taxi ride home with our immense load of purchases. As we arrived at DoodleBug with our brimming dinghy, we were approached by another dinghy-load of sailors seeking clearance information. This was the crew of S/V Nepenthe, a 65 foot Bruce Roberts ketch that had just made a 10 day passage from Florida. We told them we had cold beer on board and after their wasted trip to Customs and Border Protection, this statement enticed the return of John, Tom and Kyle for a merry evening discussing sailing. Part of the floor show were the airborne antics of a large Manta ray that leapt from the water a couple of times just off our stern.
December 15, 2016
We continue the marathon shopping effort in St. Thomas interspersed with some boat chores. Following the rebuild of the steering rams, we topped up the steering fluid in the hope that all air bubbles had finally been purged from the system. We also worked on a method to attach some navigation lights to our dinghy. It is SOP for dinghies to run around at night without any form of lighting but this is both illegal and dangerous. If the can catch you, the Coastie’s in Florida will bust you for doing this but enforcement in the islands is a little more casual. The problem from the cruiser’s viewpoint is threefold. First it is quite difficult to attach any form of device to an inflatable rubber tube and the versions that glue on, generally last several seconds before falling overboard. Second, if you go for the “all round white light”, it destroys your night vision so that you can’t see the mooring balls and unlit navigation markers, let alone the unlit vessels. Finally, a nice set of navigation lights are just crying out to be ripped off by thieving locals or skylarking kids.
Our latest attempt at navigation lights cost 13 bucks for the pair of red and green LED’s and came with a “lifetime warranty”. I didn’t bother to read the warranty card but would bet a six-pack that the warranty does not include “shipping and handling”. At 13 bucks, how can you go wrong? The lights are made from a sort of monolithic chunk of silicone rubber and I have no idea how you change the batteries but the $13 included a spare set of batteries! Today’s experiment was to buy some PVC fittings and glue them together to improve the mechanics of the light mounting method, rather than simply clipping them on the dinghy straps as we had tried earlier. The “new and improved” mounting method seems to work reasonably well but has added another $4 expense to our investment.
December 16, 2016
Our new generator had stopped a couple of times and last week, I had disconnected the exhaust temperature sensor at the telephone suggestion of the St. Thomas dealer’s mechanic. This had been a successful test. On Monday last I had called for a warranty service call to replace the faulty sensor and each day we had waited patiently for the mechanic to show up. “He will be there in twenty minutes”, “He is tied up but should be finished in an hour”, “He hurt his back and doesn’t want to ride a dinghy”. Since the promises were involving longer wait times, rather than shorter, yesterday I had made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. If they gave me the part, I would install it myself. At 0805 hours this morning we received a breathless call from Ashley, the “voice” at the other end of the phone, she would meet me at the dock in twenty minutes. At 0930 hours, I called to ask where she was and she was “still coming”, “half an hour at most”. At 1030 hours we made an firm appointment to meet on the land at 1100 hours. I stood in the sun and after ten minutes called her again. She was “leaving the office”. She did in fact show up at 1200 hours but I had been hanging for an hour in the sun and was further not impressed that she expected me to pay for the warranty part. If she had been a blind date I might have checked her into a drug rehab facility and then deleted her contact info.
Annette was not similarly tortured since she was buying groceries across the street and checking on me by phone, since she often chooses not burden herself with cash or credit cards.
December 17, 2016
The weather has been great all week with just the briefest of rain showers and balmy breezes. Because our guests arrive today, the rain too arrived, together with high winds. The forecast is for 25 to 30 knot winds with 8 to 12 foot waves offshore. This is also forecast to persist for the next three days - such perfect timing! I had been watching this scenario closely for the past few days and saw that early tomorrow morning might be a “not too bad” as opposed to a “really bad” time to subject non-sailors to passage conditions. We hurriedly raised and stowed the dinghy, set out fenders and lines and motored over to Crown Bay marina to top up our tanks with fresh water before returning to Long Bay and re-anchoring in the same spot. A final shopping run and we were done and could begin checking the fiction that is United Airlines flight reports. We knew that their flight was an hour late taking off when we made our way to the airport.
When we arrived at the airport, United was not showing an arrival flight on the screen behind the check-in counter. We asked the attendant for the estimated arrival time of the Houston flight and she folded the paper Annette proffered her without even glancing at it. She confidently informed us that the flight had been cancelled “due to weather”. “Well it took off”, I informed her. “It did?” she exclaimed. She would have looked surprised if there had been the slightest glimmer of intelligence behind those eyes, which then studied a half page printout for the next ten minutes. I wanted to snatch it out of her hands since I could have manufactured the paper and written the bloody contents myself in the interval. “Fifteen minutes”, she finally announced.
They are here! All kids, grandkids and luggage successfully retrieved and transported to DoodleBug, minus a pair of flip-flops that never made it out of the car in Houston plus a kid’s jacket that was probably left in the car at the St. Thomas end. We have the balance!
December 18, 2016
The weather forecast remained grim for non-sailors but Wednesday’s forecast of easing of conditions did not look too different from today. One feature I had noticed last night was that the forecast wave direction for early morning was from north of northeast, rather than the typical easterly trade wind driven waves. We only need to make the first five miles upwind, perhaps sheltered by the landmass from the forecast wave direction and then the balance of the route to St. John’s would also be partly sheltered. We had already raised and lashed down the dinghy thus in the darkness of an overcast and rainy morning, we raised our anchor and eased carefully between the moored vessels, heading out to sea. As it was, the waves were less than expected and the transit of the normally rough Pillsbury Sound was a non-event. We arrived in Maho Bay and picked up a mooring at 0742 hours, position 18 21.6 N 064 44.8 W where Annette immediately began cooking breakfast for our sleepy guests.
I in turn launched four kayaks and hauled out the snorkel gear. That afternoon the forecast winds blew hard and we could see the whitecaps out in the Windward Passage but Maho Bay lay quietly in the shelter of “America Hill”, the verdant jungle slope rising almost directly from the beach.
December 19, 2016
This morning I attached a pair of “beach wheels” to the dinghy. This would be their maiden voyage although I had attached their retaining bolts nearly six months ago. “Beach wheels” are a pair of wheels that bolt on to the stern of the dinghy and which you lower when coming up to a beach. They are intended to make the process of hauling the three hundred pounds or so of dinghy, up the sand slope of the beach and clear of the sucking waves, just a little easier. I had made the mistake of ordering the “quick release / removable” version of these wheels and discovered that the manufacturer required NASA level tolerances for their assembly but with the assistance of a hammer and a large crowbar, I was determined to make them fit. It was almost a success on the first attempt, except that the port wheel collapsed when the weight came on it. The dinghy was bodily lifted and this time the locking catch was properly engaged on the “drop down” undercarriage. Thus we made our first wheel assisted landing and tied the grounded dinghy to a tree, just in case we had badly misjudged the tide.
Next we waited for the “Safari Taxi” to take us into the island hub of Cruz Bay to visit National Park Center, gift shops and the all important microbrewery. The wait would normally have been intolerable for the more active amongst us but the discovery of fallen coconuts, noni trees, termite nests, lizards and crabs provided more than enough distraction.
This morning we had carefully examined the horizon by binoculars and it looked very choppy with steep, closely spaced, possibly breaking waves. We had also watched a couple of vessels in transit, pitching and rocking violently in The Narrows between St. John and Great Thatch Island, BVI. The chart shows 3 knots of tidal current through this pass and with winds of 25 knots or so against this current, it was no wonder the they were experiencing such a punishing ride. I checked the tide tables and saw that low tide on the morrow was at 0730 a.m. This should mean that we would have about an hour of slack water plus another hour of light current that in combination should put us well clear of the worst of the rough water.
December 20, 2016
Although we had stowed and lashed most of the loose gear the night before, it was still a rush in the morning to get eight souls ready for an early departure, some needing breakfast, some needing sea-sickness meds and some just more sleep. As it was, we did manage to set sail at 0745 hours, bound for Virgin Gorda Sound. It was with great relief that we discovered we had correctly forecast the current. We shot through The Narrows with minimal wave action and headed out into the St. Francis Drake Channel. An hour and a half later we had passed Road Town Harbour and the wind and waves now picked up considerably. We “tacked” over to the shelter of the south end of Virgin Gorda to avoid driving directly into the steepening waves and then, after rounding Mosquito Point with its spectacular rocks, foam and crashing waves, we passed through the shallow channel between Virgin Gorda and Mosquito Island, with the depth sounder showing 4 feet of water depth. Exciting! We draw three feet so we should have had a whole 12 inches of water beneath our keel. I carefully matched the GPS track we had made last year on the assumption that if we hadn’t run aground then.........
At 1047 hours we anchored at Gun Creek, Virgin Gorda at 18 28.453 N 064 22.943 W and dinghied over to Customs and Immigration to check in. We had taken the precaution of picking up the necessary forms from our visit at Soper’s Hole and I was able to present 8 passports together with the completed Immigration forms and the Customs form. The officer charged me one dollar for the proposed visit and I certainly didn’t argue. By 1155 hours we were moored at the Bitter End Yacht Club at 18 29.9 N 064 21.6 W and were heading for the beach bar to find lunch.
December 21, 2016
Today we rode the 9:00 a.m. resort shuttle back across the Sound to nearby Gun Creek, where we had arranged for a rental van. Our destination was the famous “Baths”, a series of huge boulders on the southwestern tip of the island. The boulders are resting upon each other and are scattered out into the sea, surrounded by white powder sand beaches and crystal clear water. This is a National Park and a popular tourist site. Today it was so popular, that after the grandkids had expended some of their energy in the sea and sand of the Baths”, we discovered that the route into the Caves had been converted to a “one-way” system requiring us to hike back uphill to the parking lot and then down an alternative trail to the south entrance of the Cave trail. The Cave trail is a tortuous route between the huge boulders with all sorts of side passages and opportunities to paddle or wade through the water. Perfect for grandkids to scramble and explore because even when they inevitably fall off the boulders, they are landing either in soft sand or shallow water.
We ate lunch at “Hog Heaven”, a barbeque restaurant perched high on Fanny Hill with spectacular views to the north and east and where daughter Helen had visited on her honeymoon in 2003.
We had received multiple recommendations for “Spring Bay”, a natural swimming hole adjacent to “The Baths”. Again we found huge boulders to climb and explore but without the crowds of “The Baths”. A delightful spot.
As the sun crept lower in the sky, we reluctantly gathered our crew for a fast drive back to dock at Gun Creek, where we abandoned our rental van with about four minutes to spare to catch the 5:30 p.m. shuttle back to the Bitter End Yacht Club. An excellent day.
December 22, 2016
We made a leisurely take off this morning for a “downhill” run to Jost Van Dyke, dropping our mooring at 0910 hours and motoring through the gap in Colquhuon Reef before turning east, passing north of the “Dog” islands and the north coast of Tortola.
At 1153 hours we took up a mooring in Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke at 18 26.6 N 064 45.1 W. Great Harbour is well protected and we were close enough to the beach that we could turn the grandkids loose in their kayaks.
That evening we ate at the famous Foxy’s restaurant, famous for it’s food and party atmosphere, although less well regarded for the swiftness of its service.
December 23, 2016
Early this morning we motored over to the fuel dock to refill our water tanks and then returned to the same mooring. The balance of the day was spent “playing” on the beach in Jost. There is little vehicle traffic on the sand road along the waterfront, several bars and snack bars providing refreshments, plus a couple of gift shops. All the ingredients to satisfy children of all ages. After a lunch ashore I managed to misplace my wallet for a couple of hours, until it decided to reappear as a sort of Christmas present.
December 24, 2016
I awoke at 0400 hours and found the party ashore at Foxy’s still in full swing. After breakfast we quizzed our crew on how everyone was doing and the ladies felt that Jost was “too buggy” in the early evening, particularly “no see ums”. A rapid decision and we determined to cancel our Christmas dinner reservation at Foxy’s and head over to St. Johns.
I was soon ashore with all of the passports and exit papers and had always walked in and out of the Customs and Immigration office here. This morning there were eight or so crews ahead of me, checking “in”. I waited patiently as the various Captains, all of whom were operating charters, were discussing the bad weather and rough conditions they and their guests had experienced. Finally I made it to the front of the line and within minutes was cleared and bound for Cruz Bay, St. John.
Unlike the BVI’s, where only the Captain may leave the vessel when clearing in, the USA requires all crew members to show up. We anchored just off the Cruz Bay channel markers and dinghied the crew over to the Customs and Border Protection dock where we were admitted back into the USA. We were soon up-anchored and bound for Maho Bay, heading into a stiff wind and choppy sea. We picked up a mooring close to the beach and were in another world, with placid water and only a light breeze. As we approached the mooring buoy, grandson Maddox had exclaimed, “There is nothing here!”.
This observation was not entirely true and after sunset we were visited by a half dozen or so dinghies containing Christmas carolers. They seemed to know only two carols but were very welcome nonetheless.
December 25, 2016
Christmas Day! Somehow, Santa had found DoodleBug during the night and presents for the grandchildren were stacked on the salon table around an eighteen inch high, red foil Christmas tree. After the opening of presents and breakfast, all (save one) climbed aboard the dinghy and we cruised slowly parallel to the beach at Maho Bay, looking for a man dressed like a “pirate” who had been spotted earlier carrying a sack and a shovel. As we rounded Maho Point, lustily singing “Jingle Bells”, those of us more perceptive than others spotted Annette, running like a demented elf and trying to be inconspicuous on an empty strand while wearing a bright red Santa hat. We continued our offshore search along nearby Francis Bay beach before returning to where we had spotted Annette earlier. Here we landed the dinghy and the pirate crew were met by a huge (“dinner sized”) crab that waved his “fighting” claw threateningly and stood his ground on all eight legs. After he had been photographed to near extinction, the crew then set about searching for tracks on the beach that might indicate wherever the mysterious man had buried his loot. Several spots along the beach were examined and test holes dug but the excitement grew when a large “X” was found (made from black duct tape) on the sand. The possibility that it was made from tarred human skin was never even considered as it was roughly cast aside and an excavation begun on the spot.
The hole was becoming remarkably deep when finally a shovel hit something solid. From the hole a large purple bag was withdrawn that contained not one but three treasure chests. Even more amazing was that the chests bore names that matched those of our grandchildren!
We had earlier cancelled Xmas dinner at Foxy’s restaurant on Jost Van Dyke and substituted “made from scratch” pizzas, washed down with champagne, at least the big children got the champagne. Merry Christmas!
December 26, 2016
The wind was still blowing when Matt and I made an emergency run to Cruz Bay for beer. This was becoming a very rough ride in the dinghy and we were headed “downhill”, meaning it would likely be worse on the return journey. The waves grew as we approached the narrow passage between Ramgoat Cay and the rocks at Hawksnest Point, with its conflicting, swirling currents where the Windward Passage is compressed. It is times like this that you bless having a pair of heavy diesel engines instead of a single spluttering outboard motor. At Cruz Bay we stocked up on vital beer, plus less vital milk and dinghy gas before making the return trip to DoodleBug. On our return the wind had picked up strength, Matt’s hat was snatched away from his head, lost instantly amongst the waves and we made the return passage through the Ramgoat Cay pass with waves over six foot tall, towering when you are in a dinghy. Now we could see Maho Bay ahead of us and the wind and waves stayed high until we were within a hundred yards of DoodleBug when the shelter of America Hill asserted itself and we were in calm waters once more.
While we had been away, Annette had baked fresh bread and fixed an amazing gumbo that she has been “developing” the recipe for over the past few weeks - the color of the roux and proportions of seafood and okra requiring precise adjustment. The kids had spent the whole day swimming and playing on the beach, thus supper was well appreciated by all.
December 27, 2016
This morning we hauled all the water toys aboard and lashed them down, raised the dinghy and made ready for sea, dropping our mooring at 0915 hours. We then sailed to Charlotte Amalie and anchored in Long Bay, arriving at 1055 hours, position 18 20.3 N 064 55.6 W. We dropped the crew, save Maddox, onshore to wander through the downtown flea market and then Maddox, Annette and I made the dinghy trip to the “Mail Stop” at Crown Bay marina to pick up our missing crew member “Slim”. These are the same morons at “Mail Stop” who dropped and shattered the marble sculpture she had purchased in Curacao and they had sent Annette an e-mail in response to her enquiry regarding the status of her current shipment. This morning they claimed that described package had been collected by a “different boat” and that she had been notified of such by e-mail “several hours earlier”. Bullcrap! We left fuming. Maddox was thrilled however as we passed within feet of a container ship that was being unloaded by crane.
Next was lunch ashore with the whole crew and then back to DB for packing. That evening we again loaded everyone in the dinghy and drove in the narrow canyon between a moored super-yacht and a huge cruise ship, bound for the dinghy dock at Yacht Haven Marina for our final dinner ashore. The cruise ship was attempting to leave and hundreds of passengers waved at us while our crew waved back yelling, “Happy New Year!”. I am sure that the cruise ship captain was cursing us as he couldn’t use his thrusters until we were clear.
December 28, 2016
A final lunch together ashore at the “Fat Turtle” and the restaurant provided a “floor show” in that the chef emerged from the darkened depths of the kitchen to promise to show the kids “something special” and then re-emerged about five minutes later bearing a tray of Mahi-Mahi trimmings. He fed the pieces slowly into the harbor waters and we all watched as first the smaller fishes fought for the scraps and then the huge tarpon arrived, four feet long and shoving the smaller fish effortlessly aside. The next to arrive were the yellow jacks and these were so fast, they had snatched the food morsels and were gone before the large tarpon had turned around. Great entertainment!
All too soon it was time to make the run to the airport where we were soon separated by the security screenings. We returned to an empty and quiet DoodleBug.
December 29, 2016
A new day and we headed over to Crown Bay Marina to drop off the accumulated laundry and finally picked up “Slim” our missing crew member. Slim has been losing weight since Halloween and is a five foot tall plastic “pirate” skeleton with a gold tooth, wooden leg, hook on hand and skeleton of parrot on shoulder. We needed him here two weeks ago to help with the treasure hunt.
I faced the usual stack of boat repairs. Of the more serious deficiencies was the collapse of the “hold open” strut on the forward starboard bow locker. These locker lids are heavy and can do serious damage if they fall upon an unprotected extremity. By a minor miracle we already had a replacement strut on board. I had ordered a new strut for the anchor locker lid and the company had shipped the wrong unit. I could not find a copy of my original order, so I kept the part and re-ordered the correct unit. The current broken strut was so badly corroded that its provenance and labeled dimensions were impossible to determine. I discovered that my “new” stored part was the same length, switched the end fasteners and tested it. Perfect! Sometimes you win one.
December 30, 2016
We have checked the engines and generator for departure readiness and continued with our boat chores. In the afternoon we took a trip to the doctor for some prescriptions. I managed to get sick the day after we left St. Thomas with our guests. I would have gone to an Urgent Care clinic, if one had actually existed nearby, for a course of antibiotics, prednisone and an asthma inhaler, all of which were I had safely stored in my bathroom in Santa Fe. Now back in St. Thomas, the site of the nearest clinic, the doctor I visited prescribed all three items. I always trust doctor’s who agree with both my diagnosis and treatment plan.
December 31, 2016
A rainy day. I am still going down the “fixit” list although we are now down to items such as, “repair screw-hole in starboard plastic sunscreen rail”, a job I have been procrastinating about for over a year. Annette in turn did her “small items” laundry while I began to catch up on the usual end of year financial items. Annette also chose the single worst day of the week to test her “solar oven” in an attempt to cook “chili”. This is an elaborate affair of reflectors, temperature gauges and black silicone pans that of course requires sunlight to function. She used the kitchen stove to finish the cooking attempt and although the chili tasted great, I couldn’t tell if it was 50% solar, 75% or zero %. Tasted just like chili.
I went to bed early, awoke at 2325 hours and then went back to bed on the assumption that any mid-night celebration would awaken me again. It was 0300 hours when next I arose and Annette said that there had been fireworks and someone beating a tin drum. I don’t believe her.
Happy New Year!
January 1, 2017
Sunday in the Caribbean and New Year’s Day. Needless to say this was a slow day. Annette made her second attempt to “cook” eggs with her solar cooker. This was supposed to provide the equivalent of “hard boiled” eggs within an hour. Unfortunately, it was again cloudy with lots of rain showers and I even ran the water maker to delay our need to head for a refueling / watering dock. The first egg cooking attempt can be judged a total failure but the fish might have been happy with the “test” egg. One of the major flaws of a “solar energy based” economy is now readily apparent. The second batch of eggs were left for about six hours of cooking instead of the claimed “one hour” and were then both cooked and edible without using the hydrocarbon based backup system referred to as a “kitchen stove”. The weather forecast had confidently predicted clear sunny skies for this week.
January 2, 2017
The third rainy day in a row! We made a necessary beer restocking and trash unstocking run but the highlight of the day was a trip to the movie theatre to watch “Rogue One”, the recently released Star Wars movie. This was a fun flick and the movie theatre here is conveniently adjacent to “Cost-U-Less”, a sort of “Costco” clone. St. Thomas is big on “cooking” sherry but drinkable quality is hard to come by, however at Cost-U-Less, we struck the mother lode of Graham’s Port and cleared the shelf. We now consider DoodleBug properly provisioned and ready for sea.
January 3, 2017
Our lethargy is over and we raised our anchor at 0905 hours to head over to Little Bay, Jost Van Dyke. Here we had arranged to meet Neil and Janet aboard S/V Imaloa, plus six of their friends from a Pensacola sailing club. We have been corresponding by e-mail for several months and it was great to finally meet up for a pleasant evening chatting with fellow sailors about all things marine.
January 4, 2017
We began the morning with a stint of rock and sand collecting. That is, Annette transferred from the dinghy to a kayak off a rocky beach on the windward side of Jost Van Dyke and landed. I then oriented the dinghy towards St. Johns and paddled aimlessly for the next thirty minutes or so, while chanting, “I want to come to America”. This was to prevent becoming a dinghy castaway on the rocks beneath my lee and I got to wave carelessly at about a half dozen boats that passed me by and gazed curiously. They were probably wondering where the porta-potty sail was. Annette then bravely managed to launch her kayak through the surf and I started the dinghy motor and rescued her from more physical exertion than she had planned. I then paid last night’s mooring fee at the nearby bar / restaurant and a man in a dinghy arrived minutes later demanding his fee. I explained that I had already paid and he insisted that I had paid at the wrong place and should pay again. I stated that my rule says I only pay once and it was his problem. He left angrily.
At 0930 hours we dropped our mooring and headed to Crown Bay Marina at St. Thomas in order to collect a batch of Annette’s laundered bedding, plus top up on diesel and water. We then checked in with US Customs and Border Patrol who of course insisted that we do the whole entry procedure of Customs and Immigration. It was a slow afternoon anyway.
January 5, 2017
Today was the day I decided to install an alarm system on DoodleBug. I bought the thing from Amazon last September and since then, it has been sitting at the bottom of the locker, growling at me occasionally when my hand got too close. The main hang-up as usual was running a power supply and I had run out of excuses to procrastinate over this. I had purchased the necessary wire a month or so ago and it too has been hiding in a locker and I had even labeled a breaker for the power take off. While Annette defrosted her freezer / fridge (boats generally don’t have frost-free refrigerators) after she discovered three penguins and an orca living in the freezer, I dismantled the rest of the boat to gain access to all of the hidden spaces. It took two hours but I finally gave Annette her kitchen back and restored most of the cabinetry to its original condition. I now had a power outlet where I needed it and the rest was straightforward since I had already played with the options of where to place sensors etc. In the past, we have never really felt the need for intrusion protection but the balance of the season’s travel plans call for us to go to some locations with a higher crime rate. Might have prevented the theft of our refrigerator trim cover in Grenada, though.
January 6, 2017
It has become an amazingly difficult world in which to obtain cash from a bank account. Back say in the 60’s, cruising boats would need a safe aboard plus several thousand in cash. You needed to have traveller’s checks when you stepped outside your immediate environs and the TV ad’s would exhort, “Don’t leave home without them!”. For you kids, be it known that traveller’s checks were a pain in the derriere, in that Bank’s would often refuse to honor them and the only reliable place to cash one would be a large grocery store. The banks who sold the checks charged a purchase commission (1% was common), plus they got to use your money for free; that is until you cashed the check and often “unused” checks would lie around in some forgotten desk drawer after a holiday. You signed the traveller’s check when you purchased it and signed it again when you cashed it. In some countries, a traveller’s check with two identical signatures was traded between merchants as though it was cash. Then came the wonder of ATM’s. You used to be able to travel to just about any country and stick a card in a machine to instantly access money from your bank account. Traveller’s checks became a forgotten anachronism and the need for the safe full of ready cash dissipated. Then came debit cards and the POS economy. The banks took a commission from the merchants and they didn’t even have to “loan” the money, it had already been extracted from the user’s bank account. More and more banks throughout the world converted their ATM’s so that they would only use debit cards and the old style ATM card that we carry, is no longer accepted. When we visited the island of Bequia recently, there were no ATM’s which would accept our card and I was forced to ride a ferry to the next island to find the correct flavor of money dispenser. Here on St. Thomas (which the locals insist is the United States – except when you have to fill out a custom’s form to mail a package to California), it is a tourist economy with cruise ships and all of the restaurant and jewelry store paraphernalia that is somehow associated with being a cruise ship tourist. There are ATM’s everywhere - in the cruise ship terminal, at the airport etc. The bust is that they almost all have a $200 withdrawal limit for a fee of $5. I make that a 2 1/2% commission to access your own money.
The miracle of the internet allowed us to locate a Scotia Bank ATM on the island that did perform like an 80’s style ATM – i.e. more than $200 yet still for the outrageous fee of $5 and that was todays’ big achievement. If Scotia ever go out of business, we will be reduced to carrying around cowrie shells and beads for trade.
January 7, 2017
Today we were supposed to meet brother Brian and his friend Penny at the airport. He had texted me yesterday to say that KLM had conveniently cancelled the first leg of his flight from Birmingham to Amsterdam. I texted him back a note querying the parentage of all Dutchmen but the bottom line is that our guests are delayed a day of their visit.
As usual, the weather presents some concerns in that the cold front that swept over the lower 48 last week is slowly approaching the eastern Caribbean. From Tuesday onwards we are forecast to have strong northerly winds as the front stalls out. The problem for us is that the majority of popular anchorages in the Virgin Islands face north and will be at best uncomfortable and at worst untenable. There are south facing anchorages and we will need to make a fast decision as to which will fill our entertainment needs best.
January 8, 2017
Brian and Penny had spent the night in New York and their flight to St. Thomas was supposed to land just after lunch. This morning we watched the internet flight status updating their ETA until they eventually took off, two hours later than scheduled. Isn’t flying fun these days! This evening we finally had all safely aboard DoodleBug.
January 9, 2017
Monday morning and the cold front is still forecast for Tuesday. We raised anchor at 0730 hours and set sail for Maho Bay, St. John’s, taking up a mooring at 0845 hours. Our guests got to walk the beach and swim in the warm sea as opposed to hanging around in airports. We decided that Virgin Gorda Sound should afford protection from the forecast strong northerly winds and associated north swell and that will be our destination tomorrow.
January 10, 2017
This morning the forecast swell had waves breaking far up the beach at the old Custom’s house we could see across Francis Bay on Whistling Cay. Although there was little wind where we are moored, all vessels have swung during the night and are now facing north. The frontal system has arrived! We dropped our mooring at 0645 hours to catch slack water in “The Narrows” and were soon motoring the length of Sir Francis Drake Channel with some choppiness plus four foot swells from the beam. We normally take the pass off Anguilla Point as our entry into Virgin Gorda Sound. This entrance is narrow, bordered by reefs, has a shallow water bar and is off-limits to rental boats. This morning the reefs guarding the pass were easily identified by the huge, crashing surf of the swell and we decided to give the pass a pass and continue around to the northern entrance. We anchored off Gun Creek, checked in with Customs and Immigration who charged 50 cents for the form used and then moored at the Bitter End Yacht club for lunch. The mooring field here was near empty as most boats headed for the sheltered area behind Prickly Pear Island. We too motored over and tried a couple of spots but wound up too close to other vessels. We finally anchored at 18 30.3 N 064 22.4 W. No Wi-Fi anywhere close and just a little swell wrapping around and coming across Cactus Reef. We dinghied over to Saba Rock to use their WiFi and might have had a couple of drinks too.
January 11, 2017
Last night was relatively quiet, not much wave action, just the remnants of swell coming through the gap in Cactus Reef. The air was cooler behind the cold front but by no means sweater weather. We dinghied over to the Vixen Point resort and then hiked a trail across the island. On the north side of the island was an empty beach with beautiful golden sand and nary a footprint. Annette gathered a sample of course and grumbled at the absence of sea-shells. Not enough flotsam for a dedicated beach comber!
January 12, 2017
It was still blowing hard but we made it to the Bitter End Yacht Club by dinghy without shipping too much water and caught the shuttle to Gun Creek to connect with our rental car. Our first destination was the National Park of the “The Baths”, named for the batholithic geologic formations found here. Our approach was through “the Caves” and although the beaches had been closed to swimming, it was still possible to transit the rock formations along the beach. This trail involved wading across flooded sections made even more exciting by wave action hurling extra water through the narrow passageways.
After lunch we toured the abandoned copper mine on east side of the southern point. The mine had been opened in 1837 and the shafts sunk to around 250 feet with workings out below the sea. The copper ore was extracted and shipped to Wales for processing and the returning ships would carry Welsh coal to power the steam engine used to pump water from the mine and to raise the ore. The rusting cylinder of the boiler was still on the site but the beam engine had been relocated.
The wind is still blowing strongly from the NNE but with just a few rain squalls.
January 13, 2017
We moved from our anchorage to a mooring at Vixen Point at the “Sand Box” resort, hoping to get WiFi. Although the resort advertised WiFi for $10 it was not operating. Nevertheless this is a sheltered spot and we managed to pirate WiFi from a nearby chartered vessel which conveniently broadcast an unprotected signal. Brian and Penny went ashore to explore Prickly Pear Island whilst we did laundry, ran the water-maker and caught up on business.
January 14, 2017
Our free Wi-Fi sailed off this morning (so thoughtless of them!) but the weather forecast shows wind speeds dropping and the wind direction veering to the northeast. We plan on leaving tomorrow and heading for St. John’s. Brian had provided Penny with the gift of a conch horn and the estimated sunset event was punctuated with the lowing and growling sounds of practicing “Pu” aficionados.
January 15, 2017
At 0700 hours we dropped our mooring and headed out of the shelter of Virgin Gorda Sound into the wind and waves of the Colquhoun passage. The rough waters were only experienced for ten minutes or so until we made the turn to the west past Mosquito Island and Mountain Point. Thereafter it was smooth sailing with the wind from astern. We anchored in Cruz Bay and slid our dinghy in front of the arriving Tortola Ferry in order to clear Immigration and Customs before the crowd debarked. The folks at the National Park headquarters confirmed that the mooring fields on the north side of the island were still plagued by large swells thus we hit the microbrewery for lunch and continued our voyage, counter-clockwise around the island. We picked up a mooring in Great Lameshur Bay at 1352 hours, position 18 19.1 N 064 43.3 W. This is a beautiful, quiet bay, nestled in amongst the trees and the site of the 1969 and 1970 Tektite experiments.
The Tektite program was a so called “scientists in the sea” and was a habitat built by General Electric’s space division. The habitat was placed at a depth of around 50 feet and occupied by four scientists from the US Department of the Interior for 58 days to study the effects on the human body. In 1970 some ten additional missions were run, allegedly with the goal of studying the psychological effects of scientific teams working in a close environment. The project has some NASA funding but the timing I find suspect. The Apollo program was coming to an end and saying “NASA” was the 1970’s equivalent of saying “studying global warming” – mandatory for getting your project financed. The Wikipedia description of the project suggest a government program that was funded in the heyday of the space race but by the time the habitat had actually been constructed, the proposed experiment had been overtaken by other events. Nevertheless it was interesting to think that this quiet little bay had been the site of some grand project, probably with hundreds of workers involved.
January 16, 2017
This morning we headed ashore to hike from the beach to visit the petroglyphs off the Reef Bay trail. This rock art is believed to be the work of pre-Columbian Taino people. The Taino tribes were at war with the neighboring Caribs and the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors pretty much sealed their fate. They had no naturally immunity to the European and Asian diseases such as small pox and by 1548, their population had declined to less than 500. A few minutes after we arrived at the petroglyphs, a park ranger showed up with about 30 or so tourists in tow. She proceeded to explain how the site had been dated by carbon analysis of pottery shards (really? I never knew that fired pottery contained carbon) and went into detail about the customs and beliefs of the Taino peoples. This too was amazing information about a culture that had declined to less than 500 individuals some five and a half centuries ago and had no written records.
It was a great hike shaded by trees for much of its length and providing spectacular viewpoints of the bays and distant islands as we crested the ridgelines. We took a side trip to visit the decaying mansion of a Danish sugar plantation owner. The buildings were extensive and must have required considerable staff. The structures themselves were deteriorating as the jungle moved in around them but had received some maintenance or human interaction in the not too distant past, at least judging by the weathered PVC water tanks sitting on rusting angle iron frames at the side of the building. I’m pretty sure they didn’t have PVC in the early 1800’s. The plaster sheath of the “Doric”columns at the front of the edifice had flaked off in places, revealing their inner construction of fired red bricks. We haven’t seen any sign of red clay in the Caribbean thus concluded that these were manufactured in Denmark. We pondered upon the age of the abandoned buildings. Emancipation of the slaves here was in 1848. If we assume that the sugar industry had already collapsed and the various substitute crops such as cotton had been attempted and discarded, the economy must have been in the tank for a while before the “moral” decision was made to “free” the slaves, or at least stop feeding and supporting them. This would mean the buildings we were viewing were at minimum 200 years old? Maybe.
Annette was going to hike with us but was distracted by a “bat” experiment near the Tektite museum. She spent the morning trying to track down the researcher performing the trapping experiment but discovered that the previous night was the last night of the effort and the researcher had already departed St. Johns. Her morning was not wasted however and she collected even more beach sand samples.
January 17, 2017
The mooring field at Waterlemon bay was reputedly both popular and “full” since it offers some protection from northerly swells, thus we dropped our mooring at 0815 hours and set off again on our counter-clockwise circumnavigation of St. John’s. At 0958 hours we took up a mooring just off the beach at 18 21.8 N 064 43.3 W. This is another great anchorage, quiet, calm and with great snorkeling on the surrounding reefs. We dinghied ashore and then hiked the trail up to the ruins of the Annaberg sugar mill. It is always hard to imagine the chaotic jungle covered hillsides sprouting uniform stalks of sugar cane. The winds have dropped away and Waterlemon Bay lay calm and serene, the perfect conditions for kayaking. While Brian and Penny explored the bay, Annette and I began our preparations for our next leg of the adventure, hampered by the lack of either cellular or internet access in this place. This is the reason we have not stopped here before and we plan to move around the hill, “Mary Point” to Maho Bay, where we know there is connectivity.
January 18, 2017
After a slow morning, we dropped our mooring at 1310 hours and towed our dinghy around to Maho Bay, taking up a mooring twenty minutes later at 18 21.6 N 064 44.8 W.
January 19, 2017
At 1000 hours we dropped our mooring and set course for Long Bay, Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, anchoring at 1140 hours at 18 20.3 N 064 55.6 W. Today was a “ship” day meaning that a couple of cruise ships were tied up at the West Indies Company Dock. After lunch we hired a taxi to take us on a tour of St. Thomas and we circumnavigated the island, stopping at most of the scenic overlooks. It was well that we did this today as tomorrow is a “no ship” day and the majority of the tourist sites are closed.
January 20, 2017
Today was set aside for a “walking tour” of Charlotte Amalie and clutching our tourist map we set out. The first stop was the Seven Arches Museum, a former Danish artisans residence that supposedly featured seven arches to support the staircase. It was remarkable in its absence or at least anything that identified it as a museum. Annette went in to the governor’s residence next door and the plain clothes security guard explained that it had moved “somewhere else”, “some time ago”. When we asked if we could have a tour of the Governor’s pad, he explained that the Governor didn’t actually live here, even though his car was parked in the designated spot. The building was used for offices and we were welcome to visit the lobby. The lobby was nicely furnished, had a couple of Pissaro’s on the wall (poorly illuminated though) as well as a flat screen TV showing the presidential inauguration in DC. It was also nicely air-conditioned and we determined that if we got some chicken and a couple of six packs, we could settle in here for the afternoon. But we didn’t. Instead we continued our search for Bluebeard’s castle. When we located same, the man painting the wall outside informed us that it was closed for “no-ship” day. Ditto the rum tasting “museum” next door. In fact the only places we found that weren’t closed were the restaurant where we ate lunch and the post-office.
January 21, 2017
Brian and Penny flew home today and we will miss them of course, as it is so much fun catching up with far flung family. We ate a final lunch together before turning them loose in a taxi for the airport. We in turn prepared DoodleBug for sea, stowing the dinghy and setting up the navigation for the island of Culebra in the Spanish Virgin Islands. We raised our anchor at 1325 hours and set off to the west with 1/8th cloud, sunshine and waves in the 1 to 2 foot range on top of the residual swells coming from the north. We arrived in Ensenada Honda, Culebra at 1615 hours and anchored in shallow water at 18 18.4 N 065 18.0 W. We immediately called the Border Protection people because although they claim that you are in the United States in the US Virgin Islands, when you meet up with the next pod of federales, you discover you are not. I gave the immigration officer all of the information over the phone as to passport numbers, boat statistics and registration number as well as the number of our 2017 flavor of the $27 Customs sticker. By some miracle we actually found the thing. He then announced that were back in the United States and said the Customs guy would call us. About ten minutes later the Customs guy actually called and we made more declarations about not having either pets or firearms on board. He then gave us an eighteen digit clearance number that I dutifully transcribed to my log book. We are mostly cleared into the USA at this point. The same process took four and a half hours when we cleared in at Ponce, Puerto Rico and is part of the reason why we cleared in here instead.