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Her Vital Statistics
January 2016 -- Website Update: DoodleBug has been "reloaded" and has made the transition from rental boat to cruising boat. I have moved all of the 2015 "blog" to "trip logs" which you can accessing by clicking the catamaran picture to the right. No pictures yet but I'll get to them eventually.
January 2016 -- Website Update: We have bid Australia a sad farewell for a while and our Toyota Coaster RV HAS BEEN SOLD!!! Thank You Ray at Koolah Kampers!! (see www.koolahkampers.com.au). I have re-ordered the daily entries into time order, moved the trip-logs to a new page and ADDED PICTURES!!. You will find the link to the right (click on the white bus picture).
The logs of our sailing circumnavigation were moved down a level and you will find the link to the right (click on the S/V DoodleBug picture to get to the "old" web-site).
We have also "cleaned up" the sailing logs and reformatted them into .epub files, so that they may be downloaded and read at your convenience on an iPad or Kindle reader as "e-books". Because there are about 6,000 embedded photos in the original website, I needed to split the log of the cruise into 18 "volumes". To date, I have tested these eBook files on both a "Kindle Fire" and an "iPad3". Click right on the "books" icon to access the files for download.
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 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”.
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.
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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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.