26 March – 29 April: St Maarten to Boqueron, Puerto Rico – 18 01N 67 10W
Farewell Auckland and Back to Balvenie
Goodbyes to family are always awful, this time was positively ghastly. We had a long flight to LA, a connection onto chilly New York, where we slipped in a very short sleep, followed by a quicker than anticipated downhill flight back to St Maarten. Then it was back to Balvenie, and back to work!
We had a week back in St Maarten before departing for the Virgin Islands and during that time we hauled out to do the annual (ish) antifouling/ bottom painting, had the engine through hull fitting replaced by a professional TWICE as we leaked the first time and ended up sitting a night in the slings and getting splashed again on Good Friday! We nearly burnt holes in our credit cards at Budget Marine – buying a new outboard for the dinghy, replacing several halyards (ropes), purchasing a spare anchor and then we topped up on spares for the Pacific, finishing off with anything else that we thought we “just might need”.
Meanwhile with Mark busy doing blue jobs I got to go shopping – for groceries, groceries and more groceries. Runs to the Dutch supermarket had us topped up on everyday things and then a big run to Super U the French supermarket had me overflowing the trolley with all sorts of goodies that we will not see again until French Polynesia. I seriously doubt the supply of canned duck, pate, ratatouille, chocolate brownies, cheap wine and other essentials will last until then but I have done my best!
Revisiting the Virgins
On April 6 we had a good weather window to sail the 85 miles across to the British Virgins Islands. With both poles out we “goosewinged” our way downwind after a 4am departure, we had a wonderful sail and conditions could not have been more pleasant for our first run of the season. We even landed ourselves a good sized mackerel enroute, if this any any indication to what the season will bring - long may it continue!
Although we spent several weeks in the Virgin Islands last year there were still things we hadn’t seen so it was time to knock those off. First up was a visit to “The Baths” on Virgin Gorda. It is in a Marine Park and although there are about 30 mooring buoys for use you are not permitted to stay overnight, so after checking in at Spanish Town we anchored just north of the park for the night, ready to pounce on a buoy early next morning.
As many of our friends know, our version of early is somewhat later than most peoples but at 7.30am there were only about 10 boats already there! We swam ashore and experienced the natural wonders of these huge boulders, plopped in the middle of nowhere at the waters edge, unlike any of the surrounding topography.
After swimming ashore (no dinghies permitted), we waded our way through rock pools - the early morning shafts of light flooded onto the still water We clambered over boulders, climbed up rope ladders and did some limbo dancing under low overhangs. Eventually we arrived at a beautiful sandy cove, somewhat spoilt by the 100 or so tourists (with very colourful noodles floats) that had now arrived by land. Our mistake, guess we should have got there at 6am to see it “totally unspoilt”.
Party Time At Peter Island
We moved on to one of our favourite spots and tucked ourselves into Great Harbour at Peter Island for a few days. It was time for major catch up with friends and first up were Iain and Fiona on Ruffian, last seen a few months ago on Barbuda. It was a quick but fun catch up but that was ok as we planned to rendezvous again soon before we headed west to the Pacific and they went north into the Atlantic and home to England.
We did a quick day sail up and back to Roadtown to hit the supermarket. There were a select few items I knew I could get there and unlikely to find elsewhere so the 5 mile sail was undertaken to keep provisioning! Back to Peter Island and it was time for a big reunion. Our good Canadian friends Gord and Ginny were between charters on the catamaran they run and American friends Sarah and GB, who now live in St Croix sailed up for a few nights and we had the most wonderful time together.
We have known Gord & Ginny (Ascension) since Darwin in 2006, and Sarah & GB (previously Djarrka and now new littler Djarrka) since Thailand 2007. We all sailed across the Indian Ocean and up the Red Sea the same year and were last together in Marmaris, Turkey 2008 – lots and lots to catch up on!!!
One day while the boys talked boats, us girls went out in search of turtles, and turtles we did find with Ginnys expert local knowledge. The water wasn’t quite as crystal clear as we might have liked for photos but we had an excellent time and saw a manta ray and several turtles, big and small, swimming, sleeping and feeding...
After very sad farewells it was time to part company, who knows when we will regroup again but we have special memories to last forever. With headsails poled out again we set off downwind for another Great Harbour, this one on Jost van Dyke. We took a mooring for the night as the anchorage was exposed in the current winds and we wanted to leave Balvenie safely to visit Foxys Bar. Foxys is famous for its wild beach parties, potent Painkillers (rum punches) and fun atmosphere, but I guess a Tuesday evening mid April was not the best time to visit. We can confirm the Painkillers are rather potent and the decor is very nautical and well done but it was quiet, very very quiet. Still ... been there, done that but didn’t buy the t-shirt but took photos – ahh but where are the photos? ....... stuck inside my phone not wanting to come out, oh well.
Bye Bye British – Another Visit to America
So that was the end of the British Virgin Islands, didn’t cross everything off the list, but we never do! We sailed the short distance to Charlotte Amalie on St Thomas, US Virgin Islands. Its just so different to the BVI’s, large hotels, busy roads, 4 Cruise Ships in port, K-Mart, rows of duty free shops – but it was good to be back.
We tracked down Ruffian for more happy hours and also caught up with Kit & Belinda off British yacht Quilcene, last seen in Greece around 2008! Our cruising community is a small one and emails, blogs and such give us a chance to reconnect after years apart, its great.
We got back into work and provisioning mode for a few days, we arranged for a check to be done on our rig, collected parts to fix the thermostat in our (new) freezer , fuelled and watered up and hit the supermarket – many times. The advantage of provisioning here is that you can wheel the supermarket trolley all the way to the dinghy dock, prices are very reasonable and all the labels are in English!! Now you may all think I’m going a bit over the top with this provisioning but potentially we may not get to Tahiti for 6 months – that's a long time to have enough of the things you like and can’t necessarily get in teeny weeny Pacific Islands with palm tree shacky shops like cereal, espresso coffee, spices, sauces etc plus it’s convenient and cheap, so provision we did!!, and yes we will be topping it all up to overflowing in Panama as well.
Final farewells were shared with Fiona & Iain on Ruffian for the last time, they will be looking for a weather window to take them to Bermuda, onto the Azores and home to England over the coming weeks. They plan to sell Ruffian, buy a bigger boat and set off again, one day we will sail up Waitemata Harbour to meet them and welcome them to Auckland.
With Balvenie lying much lower in the water it was time to head further west and we had a late start and leisurely sail downwind to lovely Culebra in the Spanish Virgin Islands. During our 2 night stay we reconnected with Quilcene and another British yacht Mithral who we met in Grenada during the hurricane season, sadly that just might be the end of our socialising for a while as we all go separate ways.
We had a slow sail in very light winds to the western end of Vieques for a night at Green Beach, then moved onto the Puerto Rican mainland and retraced our steps along the south coast stopping at Salinas, Gilligans Island and now we are at Boqueron on the southwestern coast. Life has been much quieter these last few days and we are missing our friends, but we have new places to visit, new people to meet and
Many Miles to Cover