There is something magical in casting off the lines, leaving the dock and going off the grid. With no need to be tethered to a dock, Windancer has been meandering through the Spanish, US and British Virgin Islands, looking for the quintessential sandy bottom.
After our hell day into the wind from Puerto Rico to St Thomas before Christmas, I swore we would never go back to PR, since it meant we would have to head into the wind to return. The beauty of the Virgins is the consistency of the wind – almost every day is 10-15knts from the east. So, even when heading up to the Bitter End in the BVI, we find comfort that the seas would be low and the winds bearable. But, when we crossed from PR to the USVI, we barreled into 35+ knts on the nose. Noisy, uncomfortable and tough on the boat and the crew. Thus, we weren’t going to go west, if it meant we had to return to the east.
After checking WindyTY for the forecast, I surprised myself by agreeing to go back to PR, or more specifically, the Spanish Virgins. Culebra, the largest island, is a sleepy little town, home to bars, a few shops, a dive shop, airport and smaller hotels. A small river big enough for a dinghy or two cuts the island in half and gives easy access to the snorkeling on the west side of the island. With our friend Barry (from Solitaire) aboard, we anchored in the main harbor and waited for John to return from the airport where he cleared customs. Small houses line the shore with docks of various size, colour and safety poking out into the harbour. Spying him on a nearby dock, we dinghied over and then headed up the river for happy hour of beers and fried cheese. Our waitress Daisy promised us the bakery would be open early, as she worked the morning shift. Dinghying in the next morning, we wandered the town which took us about 15 minutes from end to end. We popped into the bakery, bought Heilo (icecream) from a street vendor, grabbed 2 burgers + fries and bottle of water for $10 and then popped into the candy shop for dessert. Run by a French Canadian couple, we sat ourselves in the swing seats and feasted on made to order chocolate donuts. We also got the low down on what it takes to move to PR. That afternoon we dinghied up the river to the west coast for some of the best snorkeling we have done. Swimming along the shore for about a mile, we encountered colourful reefs, coral and schools of fish. While John barbecued dinner, Barry and I cast off the sugar scoops hoping to land a fish on Day 1 of the derby – 1 point for a definite hook, 3 for landing but releasing a fish (not edible or too small) and 5 for landing dinner. Evening ended 3-1 for Ziggy.
Early the next morning John went ashore for fresh baked goods as promised by Daisy and returned in the stillest of waters. We weighed anchor and set sail for Culabrita, the tiny island boasting sandy beaches, a turtle breeding ground, and a lighthouse on the hill. On weekends the anchorage looks like Ft Lauderdale spring break, as hundreds of Puerto Ricans head over for a day of fun in the sun. But on that day, we were surrounded by half a dozen sail boats. After a day walking the beach looking for brain coral and swimming, we set up the TV and watched a movie. John has rigged his computer to a TV in the outside cockpit and, with a few minutes of generator, we can make popcorn and settle in for our own personal movie under the stars. And, with no city glare, the stars are spectacular.
Friday, January 20th, we motored east to the USVI – wind was 5 knts and the seas were dead calm – just the way I like to do an easterly passage from PR. Heading along the north shore, we ducked into St Thomas’ most famous beach, Megans Bay. With no cruise ships in town, the beach was quiet. We watched pelicans dive for fish, minnows dance across the waters and turtles pop up over and over.
The next week we spent in the BVI – anchoring in White Bay at Jost and grabbing a drink at the famous Soggy Dollar Bar, aptly named as you are almost guaranteed to be wet from either swimming to shore, or hopping out of your dinghy and dragging it up the beach. We discovered a new anchorage on the northwest side of Great Camanou Island, right after Barry snagged a little Tunny. Barry 9, ZIggy 4.
Cam Bay is hidden around the point just minutes from Scrub Island resort, and can only hold about 4 boats as it requires you navigate around a reef and find the few patches of sand to drop anchor. Charterers are told to avoid this bay – the anchorage was ours alone for the next 2 days. It took us a few tries to hit the sandy bottom, as we hesitated dropping the anchor on the ray swimming below. We spent the days snorkeling with sting rays in the bay and off Marina Cay and dinghying over to Scrub Island to pick up free wifi, shower and take advantage of the pool.
We finally traded the anchor for a mooring ball off Marina Cay to ensure we were safely hooked for the day while John and I rented a car to pick up much needed generator parts and provisions.
Our last few days with Barry included a requisite day on Cooper, snorkeling the rock at the end of the bay and sundowners in the bar, a night in Deadmans Bay on Peter and a visit with Captain, the best bartender in the Caribbean and a chance encounter with Don and John, old Canadian friends, who were anchored just a bay away.
Ten days on the hook or on a mooring ball. Ten days of sunshine and 27 degrees, except for the freak cold snap when the barometer dropped to 25. Sailed in easterlies, southerlies and saw a day of westerlies up the Francis Drake Channel.
We mastered finding the sandy bottom, dropping the anchor slowly to avoid chain pile up, hooking the bridle and swimming the anchor – never dragged once. We are equally adept at mooring balls, snagging the line and running the two bow lines as quick as possible. We raised and lowered D’inge-y, our tender, countless times. Life slowed down and got really easy – hot days, clear water, snorkeling, fishing and starry, starry nights. We got enough wifi to know we miss friends and family, but don’t miss the political mudslinging and cold weather up north.