Anchored at Benures Bay, Norman Island
This is detailed information for our cruising friends who might be thinking of coming to the BVI. For the "newsy" post, scroll down to the next one and skip this.
Clearing in is very easy, but the easiest spots are at Soper's Hole West End, Tortola or at Jost Van Dyke. Both of those harbors have mooring balls you can pick up for several hours without charge, so it is easy to go in, clear, and then move on. At West End, there is a wonderful grocery store called the Harbour Market which is at Soper's Hole Marina. The Customs Office is across the harbor at the ferry dock. For us, it cost $19 to check in and we think that allows you up to 30 days. To check out we had to pay $0.75. (yes, that says 75 cents). If you stay less than 4 days you can check in and out at one time, but there is far too much to see and do in 4 days.
If you want to anchor rather than take a mooring, it is possible. The locals think it is too deep to anchor most places, but they consider anything over 20 feet as too deep. The places we actually anchored are as follows: (1) Benures Bay on Norman Island. The wind swirls around so we and most of the other boats anchored in good holding sand and then stern tied to a tree. About in the middle of the curve of the Bay there is a trail leading to an overgrown road. It is about a 40 minute walk with great views over the hill and down into The Bight, which is a famous anchorage full of moorings. There is a beach bar with wifi. The room left for anchoring in the bight is right at the front of the mooring field to the right of the bar (looking from your boat as you come in). There is room for 4 or 5 boats to anchor, but be ready for noise. (2) Marina Cay, to the northeast of Tortola. This is a beautiful place with a restaurant on a little island. There are lots of moorings but we anchored just at the back of the mooring field in about 30 feet of water. Excellent holding in overnight winds of 20-25. At those winds, there was some swell coming over the reef. (3) Vixen Point, Prickly Pear Island, Virgin Gorda. This was the prettiest of all. There is a small mooring field off of the SandBox restaurant and beach, but just to the north of the moorings is lots of room to anchor in 15-25 feet on good holding sand. Here we had gusts up to 38 knots with no problems and flat seas. The view in the evening across the sound, with the sky streaked with color and late boats sailing into the harbor, was magical. (4) Inside Road Town harbor, right past the cruise ships and through the entrance leading to Village Cay Marina and the Moorings Marina, there is an anchoring area which can hold at least 6-8 yachts. The bottom is thick, gooey, stinky mud so a chain wash down is nice. It is totally flat and calm in there, and we used our dinghy to get to the best chandlery in the BVI, the Golden Hind, and then an short walk to a wonderful grocery store, called RiteWay. Go to the big one past Wickham's Cay II. By taking the dinghy to Village Cay Marina it is an easy walk to the ferry dock to clear in or out.
Other places we saw or have been told are good to anchor if you don't want to take a mooring: (1) Drakes's Anchorage at Virgin Gorda. We had a good view of the boats there while we were at Vixen Point, and it looked very good. (2) Deadman's Bay on Peter Island. Look for a sandy spot in the eel grass. There is supposed to be good hiking ashore. (3) on Jost Van Dyke, right up at the east end, there are some small cays and reefs. Go with good light and it is supposed to be easy to find a nice spot.
Bitter End Yacht Club, Virgin Gorda
We have just finished a week in the British Virgin Islands, and they are as beautiful as we remembered—but maybe even more full of boats. What can you expect, really? It is easy to get to the BVI from the US and Canada, they are warm when most of North America is cold, the winds blow reliably from the east in the winter, and with all the islands, the rough water from the open sea is blocked. We have never seen so many charter boats in one place anywhere else in the world. When we were sailing or anchored, they seemed to be everywhere, but when we went into the capital, Road Town on Tortola, to check out, there was an entire marina completely full of charter boats which were NOT out on charter. We can't imagine what it would be like if they were all rented, but the economy must be having a real impact on these businesses. In a very smart move, the government and individual businesses and marinas have put mooring balls in almost every nice anchorage area. One of the big problems with charterers has always been that they usually don't have good anchoring skills (we are being nice—most anchor with far too little scope, don't set the anchor, or anchor too close to other boats) so we full time cruisers try to stay clear. With the moorings, all they have to do is pick up a line floating from a ball, pass a rope through it and remember to tie both ends of the rope to their boat. At $25-30 per night, this is an expensive option for a cruiser, but for someone on a charter vacation it is peace of mind. The very best part of the BVI is that it is illegal to use a jet ski, AND it is illegal to smoke anywhere at all unless it is marked smoking! Our idea of good benevolent dictatorship.
Evening view from the cockpit
In our 10 nights in the BVI, we managed to find wonderful, free, spots to anchor for 8 of them. For one of the paid nights we went to a marina to do the wash in a machine (heaven!). For the other, we took a spot at the Bitter End Yacht Club because we wanted to go back to a place we had loved. As you see in the photo, the place is wonderful, but the mooring ball keep beating against our hull all night so we couldn't sleep, and some heavy drinkers playing loud country music on the big charter cat next door kept going late. The next morning we went about 2 miles away to a much prettier place, where we could relax at anchor. We stayed 3 days.
Monday we arrived back in Saint John, USVI, at Caneel Bay, to fix the leaks in our dinghy and clear off our spare berth (normally the "garage") for Mary Ellen who will arrive Wednesday. We'll do some relaxing, some hiking, and some snorkeling for sure.
Jeff (center) of Friends of the VINP
We knew from our friends Ken and Janet on Aquilla, who volunteered multiple times in the park at the end of their circumnavigation, that working in the park clearing sites and trails would be something we would like. Ken obviously did, because we were told by the coordinator, Jeff, that Ken holds the record at 28 times in one year! We have only done 2 days so far, but we both have beautiful green park volunteer T-shirts to show for it. It is something everyone can do and it is a great way to see more of the park and to give something back at the same time. Hot, sweaty work, but fun.
All we had to do was take our dinghy to shore and Jeff came by the Maho Bay campground beach at 8:30 with a van and other volunteers. The first day we went to the SW of Coral Bay, where we cleared two trails. Crossing the beach we saw several donkeys lounging in the shade. They are feral and a big problem for the park, but controlling the population is not easy. The park neuters all the males inside the park, but since 1/3 of the island is outside the park, it is not totally effective. The second trail we did passed along a salt pond to Drunk Bay. It is a wild and rocky place facing windward, but among the black stones on the shore are pieces of white coral and scattered coconut husks. Visitors and locals pick up interesting shapes and make figures on the rocks. We saw Elvis, Merry Christmas, and hundreds of others. On our second work day, we cleared the battery at the fort where the slave rebellion on St. John began. When we arrived, we could not see the walls or any cannons at all. When we left, the walls were exposed and 5 cannons lay out in the sun.
On Friday, we decided to sail the 4.5 miles to the British Virgin Islands, where we plan to stay for about a week. Clearing in was easy, because they have mooring balls everywhere and they are free unless you stay overnight. So we picked up a ball at West End, cleared customs, shopped at the best grocery store we've found in either the US or British VI, and by mid-afternoon were at anchor in Benures Bay and having a swim. No wonder this is charterers' paradise. More to come about the British VI
One of the largest cruise ships
After a beautiful overnight sail of 108 miles from Saint Martin, we were anchor down in the main harbor of Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, capital of the USVI, at 1:00 in the afternoon. There were a total of 6 cruise ships in that day, 4 in the main harbor and 2 more we saw later when we moved near Crown Bay Marina. Despite all that, the town is a sleepy little place, with open air safari buses (1 dollar), clear turquoise water in the harbor, and people who say hello when they pass you on the street. Our first concern was to get checked in legally, so we raised our yellow "Q" flag (technically it means quarantine, and vessels are required to fly it when entering a country for the first time until they are cleared), put the dinghy in the water, and went off to the customs and immigration office. It couldn't have been easier. We filled out 2 pages of boat and personal information, showed our passports, our documentation, and our clearance document from Saint Martin, and we were done. No fees. No hassles. The smiling officials welcomed us to the US, told us where to find free wifi, and gave directions for using the bus. We were happy. We hear it is not so easy if you are not a US flag vessel, and that must be true because we have seen very few international yachts here. We hope this is just rumor and not fact, because it is a shame if restrictions are keeping the boats we've know around the world from coming to this beautiful place.
Andy & Dianne on Spirit Borne
We met Andy and Dianne in February, 1999, in the Bahamas and cruised off and on with them until November when we sailed west for the Pacific and they continued cruising in the Caribbean. Now, 13 years later, they are still living aboard, but now on a mooring in Saint Thomas where they are both enjoying good jobs and sailing on the weekends. We traded emails all the way across the Atlantic and were eager to get together again, so we anchored right next to them in Elephant Bay. They filled us in on all the cruiser info--free dinghy docks at Yacht Haven in town and at Crown Bay, near our anchorage; how to ride the open air one dollar safari bus, how to get connected with phone and internet on the boat, where the good grocery stores are, and so forth. It is such fun to see friends again after so long. We always say cruisers never say "good-bye", only "see you somewhere, someday".
Maho Bay, Saint John
On Sunday we left the "big city" feel of Saint Thomas and sailed the 6 or so miles over to Saint John, which is almost totally a national park. Words can't describe it, so just absorb this photo of our boat (the closest sailboat) moored at Maho Bay. As a national park, there is no anchoring allowed, but the moorings are just $15 a night, with half price for those over 62! Tomorrow we are going to do a morning of volunteer work in the park with the Friends of the VINP, so we will have more about that in the next post. We hope all of you in the US are enjoying the Martin Luther King Jr holiday.
The Dutch side bridge, Sint Maartin
We made landfall on Wednesday, 28 December, and fell into paradise. Well, a lot of people say that about the Caribbean, but lately a lot of people also talk only of how overrun it is with people, and boats, and thieves. We weren't at all sure what we would find. After all, the last time we were in Saint Martin it was June of 1999 and that was a long, long time ago. What we have found is a place where people are smiling and friendly, and genuinely so. If a store doesn't have what we want, they walk out front to show us the way to find it somewhere else. For a yachtie, the 2 large chandleries are bigger and better stocked than anything we have found anywhere else in the world—and we have shopped most of it for boat parts! We couldn't imagine a place we could walk in and find all 5 new AGM batteries we needed, charged and in stock, and then to also find in the same store the 6 new Aero6gen wind generator blades we needed. Next door is FKG rigging and welding, and they made the new pole for the wind generator in one day, and the work in excellent. Just yesterday, we stopped by the canvas and sail loft called Tropical Sail Loft. Ernst can do our canvas replacement in early February, he has the material in stock, and he didn't even want to take a deposit, just a handshake. Contrast that with the person we "talked" with via email in St. Thomas, who did not have the material but could get it quickly at extra cost, does not use the gortex thread we wanted but could substitute, could get the good quality clears we want but again at extra cost. And couldn't say when she could do it. Needless to say, at this point our plan is to go to the USVI early next week, enjoy the national park on Saint John's, and stay there through the end of the month when Mary Ellen, Harry's sister, will come for a visit—and then we'll sail back here.
Warm days, warm nights, dinner and breakfast in the cockpit; a beautiful anchorage with lots of boats but lots and lots of room; fresh mango, papaya and avocado; French wine and Caribbean beer. It just doesn't get much better.
Next week we will sail to Saint Thomas in the USVI, see how hard it is to check into the US with a yacht these days, and see cruising friends from 1999.
Our Atlantic crossing was all downwind, so in the Cape Verde Islands we decided to try going all the way without the main--and we did! This photo was taken on the way from the Canaries to the Cape Verdies, but on the Atlantic crossing we even left the cover on the main. We weren't the fastest boat to cross, but we probably were the most comfortable. Probably through sheer luck--but we'll take it--we made the whole trip without any strong winds, squalls, or even rain. Only 17 1/2 days after leaving Mendelo we were anchor down on the French side of Saint Martin. With knowledge from the cruiser information network, we knew it was free to anchor in the French side of the lagoon, with charges for anchoring outside and even higher charges to check into the Dutch side. So we anchor French, and mostly shop Dutch. Easy.
Here are more photos from the crossing. We will do another blog post in a few days about our time here in St. Martin. No more yotreps reports until we get underway again.