Escapade 19.8 From Both Sides Now

by Larry Caillouet

Several decades ago Judy Collins had a hit song in which she sang “I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now, from up and down.”  Flying in an airplane gives you that experience to see those fluffy white clouds beneath you. There is a rock outcropping less than a half-mile from St. Thomas called Cow and Calf.  It lies very close to the passageway at the east end of St. Thomas, so I’ve wondered many times as we have sailed past it while carefully avoiding it, “Why don’t they just blast the thing and eliminate the navigation hazard?”  That thought reflected not only my selfish concern for eliminating anything that might cause me a problem, but also my limited point of view—I had seen it from only one side, the top. I heard recently that it is a very nice dive site, so I made plans with my friend Doug to dive the Cow and Calf.

Our adventure didn’t start out so well.  The sea was rough and we had a difficult time getting on one of the two mooring balls near the Cow.  Diana is skilled and persistent at hooking mooring balls and securing the boat to them, but the seas were quite rough and the bow of the boat was rising and falling dramatically as waves rolled under us from the open ocean.  Finally we succeeded and could get geared up. Escapade was not designed as a dive boat so it has none of the standard dive boat racks for holding heavy dive tanks or a purpose-designed seating area to suit up.  While we were figuring out how to put on our gear and get into the water, we came to the conclusion that the other mooring ball was in calmer water, so we released the one we had already secured to, and started the process over.  Diana managed to pull the heavy mooring pendant up and tie Escapade to it.  Now we could dive in.  We opened the gate in the starboard lifeline and took a giant step into the ocean.  We snorkeled against the current to the rocks to save air in our tanks, so both of us were water logged and breathing hard by the time we reached the Cow.  But then we entered an entirely different world. No longer on the surface being bashed about as land creatures, we had become water creatures. We were weightless!  We could breathe under water just like the fishes! We could see every rock and fish clearly. We could move our fins a little and go forward. We could go up, or we could go down.  Or we could just hover in one place with no effort. This transformation is the great joy of SCUBA diving, not just the things you can see under the water.

Then we saw the rocks that formed the base of the Cow. There were pinnacles to swim around, arches to swim through, pits to swim over, and cracks in the rock to squeeze through.  Many kinds of corals and fans grew on the rocks, and many kinds of fish huddled in the recesses or under the ledges. Some swam by us not allowing our presence to interfere with their daily business.  The dive was shallow, mostly 10 to 40 feet, so sunlight illuminated reds, yellows, oranges, and purples. And because it was shallow we had enough air to play among the rocks, fans, corals, and fish for about an hour before coming up.  After seeing the Cow and her Calves from both sides now, I would be aghast at any serious proposal to blast these out of the water.

After returning Doug to Cowpet Bay, we sailed to Caneel Bay on St. John.  Still anchored between St. John and Mingo Cay was “A”, the massive Russian yacht.  It was definitely the 800-pound gorilla of the sailing world at a cost of almost $1,000,000 per foot.  I didn’t see its owner, but I wondered what he was doing. And I wondered if he was having more fun than the young people we saw yesterday racing their pocket-change dinghies at Christmas Cove.  I think I’ve seen sailing from both sides now.

I’ve also looked at both sides of Escapade.  I usually see the top side, but the hull cleaning wasn’t finished and I had a tank of air I could use to see the bottom side with a scraper in my hand.  With an 8-inch drywall knife I dove under the boat and scraped away barnacles, slime, and various little feathery things. With my Scuba gear I could get all the way to the bottom of the keel and I could stay down long enough to make a big difference.  This sounds like work, and it was, but it was also great fun to see the current taking the clouds of crud away as fast as I could scrape it off. Schools of silver swallow tail fish came by periodically to inspect my work. I wonder why fish couldn’t be trained to eat the stuff that grows on boat bottoms?  It doesn’t seem to be much different from what they eat off rocks and coral.

Since 1996 when we first sailed in the Virgin Islands, we have been there 22 times.  From all those trips we have come to know the north side of St. John very well. Cruz Bay is the only real town and the place where you can clear in with Customs & Immigration.  Caneel Bay is the home of Laurence Rockefeller’s Caneel Bay Resort. It is so posh it doesn’t even have its name on the entrance, just a large “C”. If you drive by and don’t know what the “C” stands for, you don’t belong there.  Trunk Bay is a tourist favorite for its underwater snorkeling trail. Cinnamon Bay is the place where Kenny Chesney began writing songs about his love of the islands. It’s also the location of greatest concentration of multi-million dollar homes outside of Beverly Hills.  Francis & Maho Bays are the calmest anchorages in the Virgins protected on three sides by St. John, Mary Point, and Whistling Cay. And Waterlemon Cay is really WaterLEMON, not watermelon as some charts say. It is named for the waterlemon tree, not the watermelon vine. All these bays have wonderful beaches, wonderful clear waters for snorkeling, and easy access.  Why would you want to go anywhere else? Because St. John has another side also—the south shore. In all our visits to St. John, we had never bothered to sail around to the south shore, and we thought it was high time that we did.

We left Caneel Bay and sailed around the west end of St. John, past Cruz Bay, Chocolate Hole, Fish Bay, and Rendezvous Bay.  They were pretty bays, but they had too many boats in them already. Then we came to Reef Bay. Our charts showed reefs lining both side of the bay, but a snug anchorage back against the shore between the two reefs.  It was empty as we approached, and we were thrilled to think of having this pretty bay all to ourselves. I watched the chartplotter carefully as we motored back farther and farther into the bay to make sure we avoided the reefs that were getting closer on both sides.  Suddenly Diana yelled “3 feet! 3 feet!” meaning the bay had shallowed dramatically and we had only 3 feet of water under our keel. Knowing that the reef-free water would only get shallower and narrower, I threw the motor into reverse and we quickly changed our minds about staying in Reef Bay.  

The next stop was Little Lameshure Bay.  This bay is at the foot of the trail that leads to the famous pre-Columbian petroglyphs which have become the symbol of St. John.  It had only one boat moored in it when we arrived and they left soon after they saw the neighborhood going down. So we realized our desire for a completely private bay.  This one had snorkel sites, a long beach, the ruins of a rum plantation and factory, and clear water with turtles that surfaced for air within a few feet of Escapade.  Zippety-doo-dah!  

After walking the beach and exploring the ruins, we were dinghying back to the boat when I heard a splash and saw the waterproof camera that had been in my swimsuit pocket sinking through the water.  We quickly took a fix on our location, not with GPS, since we didn’t have one in the dinghy with us, but by old fashioned dead reckoning. The splash occurred on a line between the orange Jeep on the beach and the mooring ball closest to us and at the intersection with a perpendicular from a large rock visible above the water.  We hurried back to Escapade to get my snorkel mask and fins.  It was getting late in the afternoon and daylight was fading, so there was no time to waste.  We returned to the spot and I jumped in and found my camera. I dove down and retrieved it to complete the day’s fine adventures.

The next day we moved to Great Lameshure Bay which has even better snorkel sites.  The rocky coastline continues beneath the water to form a virtual playground for snorkelers.  We could swim through narrow channels in the rocks or circle around pinnacles like the white hat cowboys chasing the black hats around the same Sedona rock in the old TV westerns.  Unfortunately I couldn’t take any photos of this because, as I found out, “waterproof” is a relative term and the waterproof camera I rescued the day before wasn’t relative enough.

A day and night in Salt Pond Bay completed our “circumnavigation” of St. John.  We’ve looked at St. John from both sides now, from north and south, and still somehow, with wonderful memories to recall–I still don’t think we’ve seen it all.


Escapade 19.7 Friends in High Places

by Larry Caillouet

The hurricane ravaged Virgin Islands have recovered in significant ways.  But it hasn’t all recovered. We saw the Bitter End Yacht Club after Irma had smashed and twisted it in 2017.  It was heartbreaking to see this place we loved and had visited so many times destroyed. It felt like a home away from home.  Now more than a year later we sailed back to North Sound on Virgin Gorda to see it again, with hopes to see a Phoenix rising from the ashes.  What we found was no Phoenix, no ashes, no anything. The view of a bare beach and mountainside was completely disorienting. The anchor for this end of the large North Sound was gone.  It had vanished without a trace.

It felt like a scene from the Twilight Zone when a man returned to his hometown and found no trace that he or his family had ever existed there.  Where he remembered his school to be, there was only an empty field. When he looked up his old address, there was no such street. That’s what we found where we remembered the Bitter End Yacht Club to be.  We looked at the narrow stretch of flat land at the foot of the mountain and wondered how a hotel and restaurant and reception area and gift shops could have ever fit there. I thought of Sandberg’s poem about Austerlitz and Waterloo, “I am the grass, let me work.”  Front loaders and barges had done their work at Bitter End. Now the grass, yuccas, and cacti were doing their work.

On the boat I had noticed the genoa pulling away from its track on the headstay foil.  I thought that tightening the genoa halyard would remedy this, but it didn’t, so I called a rigger in Road Town who had worked on Escapade before.  When Kenton came to the boat to see it, he knew immediately what was wrong.  “Your headstay foil is coming apart. You will have to remove the sail so that I can repair the foil.”  That sounds easy enough, but to remove the sail it has to be fully unfurled. When 700 square feet of heavy sail gets full of wind, it isn’t easy to handle, but we managed to wrestle it down and hog tie it.  We examined it and saw that the bolt rope was chafed in two where the headstay had lost a screw and had begun to come apart. So we loaded the genoa into the dinghy and took it to Doyle Sails not far from where we were anchored for repair.  Then the interesting part began. I learned that the headstay foil is actually seven 10-foot sections of extruded aluminum that are screwed together to form one 70-foot foil. “If one

joint was coming apart, others may be coming apart also,” Kenton told me.  “I will have to go up and examine each one.” We attached the starboard spinnaker halyard to his bosun’s chair, ran the bitter end to an electric winch, and I hoisted him up.  He removed a screw from the faulty joint, came down, and went to a hardware store to get more screws like it.

When Kenton returned the wind had picked up and the pitch and roll of the boat was increasing.  “Can you go up with this much motion?” I asked. “Yes. There is no other way.” This time I hoisted him to the top of the foil, 70 feet above the water.  He patiently examined each joint, replaced any missing screws, and tightened them all with LocTite on each one. When he finished a joint, I lowered him to the next one.  “That was quite a ride!” he said when he reached the deck again. I admired his fortitude in completing this task. I have been to the top of the mast several times, but always while the boat was at a dock.  This was a completely different story with the boat anchored in the bay and ferry boats passing by with no concern for their wakes rocking the boat. I was really glad to have a friend in high places.

With the genoa problem solved, we took to the sea again.  We sailed to Deadman Bay to enjoy a much more beautiful anchorage than Road Harbour.  The upscale Peter Island Resort was still closed, but the beach was as beautiful as ever, marred only by the No Trespassing sign.  After a night there, we sailed to another favorite place of ours, Marina Cay. We found the formerly picturesque buildings mostly destroyed, but life on the island going on.  Pusser’s had rebuilt its fuel dock, had moved its store to a small stone building that survived Irma, and was operating its restaurant under a large white tent. The dinner and music were great, but the best part of this walk down Memory Lane was a woman named Joy who was running Pusser’s store.  She had lost everything in the hurricane but her summary of the experience was totally positive. “The Lord was good,” she said. “I’m still alive. Those possessions were just material things. I trust Him to provide what I need.” Another friend in high places.

A short sail from Marina Cay is Monkey Point on Guana Island.  I’ve never seen a monkey there, but plenty of fish. This is a good snorkeling site with interesting rock formations, not much current, and a very healthy fish population.  In addition to amazing schools of thousands of tiny neon fish, there are mid-size fish to feed on them and large tarpons to feed on the mid-size fish. Our most interesting find was a pair of squid hovering in one spot.  When we swam back to the boat Diana pointed to a 3-4 foot long barracuda lurking under the keel. This didn’t surprise us. For some reason barracuda like to hang out under boats. I was feeling energetic and the water felt good, so I got my drywall blade and started scraping the algae slime and barnacle growth from below the waterline.  Silver scissor-tail fish played under the boat while I worked. That soon attracted a squadron of 7 or 8 tarpon about the same size as the barracuda, which had gotten nervous or bored and had left. I hadn’t imagined that cleaning the hull would be so entertaining.

We enjoyed an 18-mile downwind sail from BVI’s Road Harbour to USVI’s Christmas Cove.  (I guess it’s Christmas there all year long.) While snorkeling there at Fish Cay, I saw four big sting rays and two spotted eagle rays, but the best spectator sport was watching the junior sailors from the St. Thomas Yacht Club racing near where Escapade was anchored.  We had 50-yard line seats near the windward mark.  We could hear their excited chatter and their calls of “starrrboarrrdd” as the boats converged on the mark.  These guys and girls were fearless as their boats raced within inches of each other or rocked wildly when their booms swept across the boats as they rounded the mark.  

In contrast to these high-energy low-cost sailboats, we saw the exact opposite anchored near Henley Cay as we sailed by St. John.  It was huge and its design was so strange that I thought at first it was a boat that had run aground and was sinking. [I’m not making this up—this photo is really what the boat looks like.]  We couldn’t tell how enormous it was until we got much closer to it. This is the world’s largest sailing yacht—a futuristic one-of-a-kind named simply “A.” It is 469 feet long, longer than two of Steve Jobs’s “Venus” end to end, and owned by the Russian oligarch, Andrey Melnichenko, at a cost of around $450 million.  Maybe this boat is why Mr. Melnichenko is called an “olig-ark.”

Escapade 19.6. Peaches and Gravy

by Larry Caillouet

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Our friend Doug had told me about a large ship wreck named Miss Opportunity near the St. Thomas airport.  It was over 300 feet long and was in 60-90 feet of water.  Doug brought air tanks to Escapade and we sailed out to the dive site along with our wives and another diver named Courtney.  The main attraction of this dive besides the ship itself is a resident Goliath Grouper that weighs about 500-600 pounds.  It was waiting at the bottom of the dive line when we descended to the boat. It looked to be about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.  It would have been scary if we hadn’t expected to see him, but this gentle giant was no threat at all. Swimming through the interior of the boat was fun and not nearly as creepy as Pirates of the Caribbean might lead you to expect.  

Our next guests were two friends from Toronto, Roger and Chiara.  (The Toronto-Escapade sailing connection is strong.)  They had lived in the Dominican Republic and Chiara is fluent in Spanish, so instead of heading east for the normal tourist tour of the British Virgin Islands we sailed west instead to the Spanish Virgin Islands.  Culebra has long been one of our favorite islands. It has several wonderful beaches and anchorages and the snorkeling there is great. Flamenco Beach is usually listed at the top of the Top Ten beaches of the Caribbean and I would rank it #2 in all the beaches I have ever seen, surpassed only by Whitehaven beach in Australia’s Whitsunday Islands.  For a small island with little population, Culebra has a great grocery store with the coldest air conditioning in the Caribbean and two excellent restaurants. Mamacita’s has authentic Hispanic food and seafood. It is on the narrow channel between the north and south halves of the island so it’s easy to dinghy up to it. Even better for dinghy dining is the Dinghy Dock Restaurant which serves excellent American fare.  It has a long dinghy dock which is usually full of dinghies and an occasional small Hobie cat. Many years ago when we were there we added two of our old license plates, LUV DOC and AMFIBY to its license plate wall. We were surprised to see that the wall had survived Hurricanes Irma and Maria and our license plates were still there.

Barely east of Culebra is Culebrita, a turtle sanctuary and a gem of an island without any development at all.  The only construction on the island is a lighthouse at the top. A trail that goes up to the lighthouse affords a panoramic view of Culebra, Culebrita, and several other nearby cays.  St Thomas is clearly visible in the distance. Culebrita’s beach is a perfect half-mile crescent of pure white sand with palm trees that survived Irma and Maria. The island’s turtles don’t mind people walking on their beach or swimming in their bay with them.   And paddling around the bay with your dog can be a lot of fun too!

When we left Culebrita we decided to complete our circumnavigation of St. Thomas by sailing around the north shore with a stop in Magens Bay.  We were adopted along the way by a brown sea bird who used Escapade’s bow pulpit for a perch between fishing sorties.  He rode with us for a few miles but left us before we made landfall at Magens Bay.  Magens is better known for its fine beach and its fine homes on Peterborg peninsula than for fish.

No trip to the Virgin Islands is complete without visiting the iconic tourist destinations in the British Virgin Islands.  First we snorkeled at the Treasure Caves on Norman Island. Then we walked the nature trail on Sandy Cay. Irma had torn up its “grandfather tree” and its profusion of birds, lizards, and hermit crabs seem to have deserted the place, but tourists had been busy redecorating the beach with rocks that had been deposited on the shore.  My favorite was a large rock octopus. We finished with a visit to Foxy’s Tamarind Bar on Jost Van Dyke. Foxy wasn’t there holding court and entertaining visitors with his stories, but the wifi was strong, and the fix felt good. We missed seeing the most iconic place in BVI, the Baths on Virgin Gorda, but some people have to work and our friends had work waiting for them in Canada.

One of my colleagues at the University used to say “Life is not always peaches and gravy.”  I think he might have been talking about when the time comes to change the oil in the engine or generator.  There is no Jiffy Lube drive-in for boats. Every 200 hours of engine use or generator use the oil and oil filter have to be changed.  Changing the oil in my engine wouldn’t be very hard or messy if the geniuses at Perkins hadn’t mounted the oil filter horizontally so that dirty oil pours out while you are spinning the filter off.  Putting a pan under the filter to catch the oil wouldn’t be very hard if there weren’t hoses and wires in the way. So I used a heavy disposable aluminum foil loaf pan so I could squeeze it between the obstructions.  That part is easy. Squeezing it back out while it is full of used oil and not spilling it all over the engine is the hard part. If that were to happen, the time it takes to change the oil would triple. Don’t ask me how I know.  Can anyone tell me where I can properly dispose of 2 gallons of used diesel oil?

After changing the oil and then spending a couple of days crawling through the engine room with a St. Thomas mechanic/electrician, we set sail for Cane Garden Bay in Tortola.  This is where we and three of our friends had worked with a local church 16 months ago putting a roof back on the building after Hurricane Irma. We counted 20 boats in the bay, 19 more than the last time we were here.

On Sunday morning we dinghied ashore and walked through the town to the church. As we arrived before the worship service began, Pastor Turnbull was hurrying across the yard in front of the church.  “Good morning, Melvin,” we said, and he returned the greeting–then did a quick double-take. His face lit up in a smile and he hurried back to shake our hands and hug us. When we stepped inside the church Sister Michelle recognized us immediately and started hugging and kissing both of us.  I can’t describe how good it felt to be welcomed so warmly by both of these people with whom we had worked.

                                                                  The church building itself looked wonderful. The grounds were clean and orderly, the roof was fully repaired, the smelly salt-water soaked pews had been replaced by rows of individual chairs, and shutters were opened to let light through the windows.  The interior was simple and clean and radiated the sense of recovery and confidence that the congregation was experiencing. There were about four times as many people in the service as we saw a year ago. The praise and worship was led by six women that I call the Cane Garden Bay Supremes and the energy level was high.  If you have never worshipped with a black church, you should try it sometime!

Escapade 19.5. Just another day in Paradise

by Larry Caillouet

What do you do when you wind up in American Paradise by accident?  Well, you just have to make the best of it. There wasn’t much we hadn’t seen before in the Virgin Islands, but there were plenty of places worth seeing again for the second or even the twentieth time.  One of them is Coral Bay on the east end of St. John. Coral Bay is the name of the large bay that branches into many sub-bays and it’s also the name of the community. We had first visited this bay about 20 years ago on our first bareboat charter in the Virgin Islands and always enjoyed revisiting it.  The three outstanding physical features of Coral Bay are the eclectic menagerie of boats in various degrees of derelictness, the historic Moravian Church on the hill, and the Skinny Legs Bar & Grill. We wondered whether Hurricane Irma had changed Coral Bay for the better or the worse. The bay itself seemed cleaner, although we counted twenty sailboats with broken masts or no masts at all.  People were living on some of them. Some were being repaired. Some were probably like this before Irma and just got a good washing. Still, the bay seemed to have improved.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said about the Moravian church.  Its thick stone walls were built when the USA was still feuding with King George and it had weathered many hurricanes and storms over the past couple of centuries.  The walls were still there but the roof, like several roofs before, had been blown away. The congregation was no longer meeting in the building, and because they are small, we wondered if they would rebuild the roof and restore the church.  We hope so. We have good memories of their warm hospitality and their devotion to the Lord.

Skinny Legs, on the other hand, was still the vibrant cultural center of the community.  Its patrons, like the community, are a Bohemian mix of left-over hippies, people evading taxes and alimony payments back home, water squatters, island red necks, and a few yachties.  Skinny Legs had repaired its roof but everything else looked exactly the same, including the Boston Red Sox pennants and two large flat panel televisions over the bar. The food was good, the live Saturday night music was good, but the best part was watching the people.  Folks decked out in all the right brand name apparel talked and laughed with other folks who looked like they might have known Ernest Hemingway, or perhaps were the model for his Old Man and the Sea. Families with children fit comfortably with the singles. People of different ages tried the hula hoops in the yard at the edge of the floored section of the bar.  I don’t know if “everybody knows your name,” but it wouldn’t be hard to believe.

We returned to St. Thomas to spend four days at Sapphire Bay Marina so that some gelcoat work could be done on the boat.  The cowboy who towed us to American Yacht Harbor marina had scraped Escapade down the side of a concrete dock.  The towing company sent a top-notch guy to repair twenty feet of scrapes and gouges on the port side.  An ex-Rhode Islander named Niles manages the marina. He not only helped us into the slip using his dinghy as a tug boat against the strong cross-wind, but also loaned us his truck to go shopping.  On Saturday Niles and his Pomeranian ran in St. John’s “Eight Tough Miles,” a race which goes up and over a 2000 foot mountain. Not bad for a 77-year old with a hip replacement and a 3-year old with short legs.  Both were awarded medals for the race. We had many conversations in our four days there and by the time we left, Niles felt like an old friend.

When we were in the Virgin Islands in 2017 we met Doug and Diane Rebak.  All four of us were an hour early for the Sunday worship service at the Dutch Reformed Church because their services were delayed due to the difficulties following Hurricane Irma.  We used that hour to get to know each other and found out that they are members of the St. Thomas Yacht Club. Mutual interests made fast friends, so when we returned to St. Thomas we got in touch with them.  Doug is a water enthusiast and eagerly accepted our invitation to sail with us to Buck Island a few miles from St. Thomas to snorkel with the turtles and over a submerged wreck. We were the only boat in the bay when we arrived and so we enjoyed the quiet setting as we snorkeled over the wreck.  Then we moved to the turtle cove and found two foot-in-face catamarans loaded with about 40 or 50 snorkelers each. We raced another catamaran to a prime mooring ball and jumped into the water with the other snorkelers. Then two more catamarans arrived and emptied their tourist snorkelers into the water.  So 200 snorkelers watched three turtles eating sea grass and we watched the snorkelers. Fortunately before all the crowd arrived, a turtle about 3 feet long came toward me and swam with me only arm’s length away. It was a magical moment not captured on film but in my memory.

We sailed back to Tortola, BVI, in order to get new halyard clutches installed on the mast and to go to the big barbecue hosted by our friend, Rayon.  Every year he organizes a giant barbecue to raise funds for poor people in BVI. The barbecue pork was great and the music was loud. Apparently that is the only volume available in the Virgin Islands.  The party went on until about 2 am, but we fizzled out long before that and went back to our boat where we could still hear the music carrying across the water. Life is getting back to normal in many ways after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, but some things are still a work in progress.  One of those is the customs and immigration office in West End. They operate out of a metal temporary building now, but the dinghy dock is just a large tire hanging on the ferry dock.

From BVI we sailed back to what I call the “Bongo Islands” in USVI.  This consists of Congo, Lovango, and Mingo Cays. Congo and Lovango are parallel to each other about 700-900 feet apart.  The channel is shallow, 15 to 35 feet deep and the water is a gorgeous shade of teal/turquoise, especially when the sun is shining brightly on it.  We were enjoying being the only boat anchored in this special hideaway when we heard a motor and music. We looked out to see Kenny Chesney’s 86-foot Gypsea motoring by us.  Five guys on board seemed to be taking photos or video of the 3 young women clad in black, orange, and neon pink bikinis.  We weren’t sure if Kenny was onboard, but we were sure that the guys were having fun. It might have been a photo shoot for swimsuits, or maybe a video for an upcoming music video.  Or it might have just been guys and gals partying on Kenny’s boat.

We were excited for Diana’s sister, Donna, to fly down and spend a week with us.  We eased her into island time by spending the first two days at Sapphire Beach Marina lounging at the swimming pool and visiting our new favorite eating places.  Our first voyage out of the marina was three whole miles over to St. John’s Caneel Bay. We went into the town of Cruz Bay to revisit some of our long time favorites like the Caravan shop at Mongoose Junction and Willamina’s fruit smoothie stand.  It just wouldn’t make sense to go to St. John and not drink a Willamina fruit smoothie. Her shop is really just a wooden shack but she said she had no damage from Irma and Maria except for water getting inside.

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We stepped the action up the next day and sailed to Jost Van Dyke to trek to the Bubbly Pool on the north shore.  It was at its bubbly best with waves crashing through a cleft in the rocks and flooding the pool with foam so thick that it looked like frosting on a cake.  Being in the pool we were treated to a bubbly full body massage, except for the times when the waves knocked us down and we were treated to a bumpy wild ride.  That experience prepared us for a day of snorkeling at the Indians and at the Treasure Caves on Norman Island. This area was the basis of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.  We capped the week by anchoring at Christmas Cove on St. James Island and ordering a pizza from Pizza Pi, a boat in the anchorage built specifically for being a floating pizza parlor.  We are hoping they will open a franchise on Barren Lake.

Escapade 19.4. Know when to hold ‘em

by Larry Caillouet

A slip opened up for us in American Yacht Harbor in Red Hook, so Towboat US came to tow us in.  Two inflatable rigid dinghies came out to serve as tugboats to put us into our slip and after a bit of confusion and shouted instructions we were in.  The misfortune of 2017’s Hurricane Irma was our good fortune on this day because after the Customs and Immigration office in St. John had been destroyed it was relocated to Red Hook.  A short walk and a few minutes was all it took to clear in. Now we were living in luxury with shore power, a good grocery store, and free WiFi. Man cannot live by bread alone. In 2019 he needs WiFi.  Days of unseen emails were dumped into our laptops, phones, and iPads. Answers to burning questions of geography, history, commerce, and philosophy were at our fingertips. Life had gone from good to great at the click of a few keystrokes.

A look around us showed that we were in good company here at AYH.  Our next slip neighbor was a beautifully restored and refitted 1994 Bristol 57.  I envied all of its gleaming brightwork, its impeccably polished navy hull, its golden teak deck, and its owners lounging in the cockpit with nothing to do.  They in turn admired my industriousness, climbing in and out of my lazarette in my ragged cut-off jeans, so they invited us over for some refreshments. I don’t know if they pitied us or just wanted some relief from watching us work.  On the other side of them at the T-dock sat the pride of the marina, an 86-foot powerboat named Gypsea.  No one was on it, but it knew it was king of the hill.  My admiration of it only grew when I discovered that it belonged to the patron saint of St. John, Kenny Chesney.  

When the initial elation of arrival had worn off, we began to deal with the realities of our situation.  Most pressing was the transmission problem. What did it need and who could do it? We were fortunate that the resident guru of diesel mechanics had a shop at Red Hook.  We were unfortunate that he was so good he had weeks of work scheduled. I camped at his office door toward the end of each workday to beg a few minutes of his time. He came to the boat, took a look, and said, “I can fix that.”  “When?” I asked, feeling both relief and anxiety at the same time. “In two or three weeks. I’ll let you know when I see an opening coming.” The awkward uncertainty of that schedule was compounded by the fact that hanging out at the American Yacht Harbor was costing about $150 per day.  

The guru did give me enough advice and insight that I could formulate a plan.  The transmission was installed in Road Town, Tortola, about 18 miles away by sea.  A call to the manufacturer assured me that Parts & Power in Road Town would be the best place to get warranty service.  So if we could get out of the marina without hitting a dock or another boat, we could make it to Road Harbor. Once there we could anchor and dinghy in.  

We escaped AYH without any further damage to our boat or our dignity and sailed to Road Harbor, the site of various mechanical miseries in previous visits.  Parts & Power was located on the east side of the harbor in an ugly industrial complex, but since there was easy access from an anchorage there to the shop, we chose to set the hook, spend the night, and bring a technician to the boat in the morning.  We had anchored here once before in the mistaken notion that it was a protected anchorage. It was one of the two worst nights we had ever spent at anchor. It was phenomenally rolly. Everything slid from side to side including us who were trying to sleep.  But that night was just a sample of one. Surely it wouldn’t be like that again. You guessed it—it was exactly like that again. That anchorage now constitutes 2 of the 3 worst anchored nights in our boating life.

We brought the technician to our boat in the morning and he was able to correct the problem that day and for numbers in the low hundred$.  In my imagination it could have been a lot worse. Finally the boat was ready to set out for the Panama Canal and the South Pacific. The boat was ready, but what about the crew?

We counted heads on the boat and could only find two—Diana and me.  By now our crew schedule was totally messed up. We have made it a policy to not sail more than two overnights with only the two of us as crew.  The rigor of having someone on watch all night long, even in shifts, takes a toll on anyone’s energy and mental alertness. Well, to be honest, I did exactly that in my college days, but those days were years behind me.  I’m either wiser or lazier now. Either way, I won’t do it.

Perhaps we could get some crew to help us sail on to Panama where we would get ready for transiting the Canal.  We counted days on the calendar and found that there just weren’t enough days to get a couple of crew onboard and sail across the Caribbean to Panama to meet the schedule that we had laid out.

What to do?  We had fought through storms, repairs, crew changes, and sea sickness to get here, but now what?  Kenny Rogers had built a music empire on the simple advice “know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.”  Gambling is not completely unrelated to ocean sailing. In spite of all our heartaches over the crashing of a lifelong dream, our sea gambler’s calculus told us that it was time to fold ‘em.  We would not cross the South Pacific this year. Equipment had been purchased for this voyage, fees had been paid, but we didn’t hold a winning hand. It was time to fold ‘em and walk away.

Escapade 19.3. No way to get there from here

Larry Caillouet

Wednesday, January 23, 2019.  Diana and I had been on Escapade in Bermuda for 13 days, and while Bermuda had a far more pleasant climate than the US was experiencing, Bermuda wasn’t where we wanted to be.  We had used the days to make several needed repairs to Escapade after our rough passage there, but the delay caused our two crew to have to fly back to their other lives, so we were looking for two more crew.  We talked to several folks back in the US who would have loved to sail down to the Caribbean with us, but couldn’t do it on such short notice. Our friend Elaine from Toronto, who had sailed with us several times before and is an excellent sailor, could come! We just needed one more for our standard four-man crew.   

An RYA instructor said he could come, but then he couldn’t.  Another ocean sailor said he could, but then he couldn’t get off work.  Then Elaine found Ian, a Bermudan friend from previous passages. He was perfect—he had significant blue water experience, was already in Bermuda, was an enjoyable guy, and could leave on Wednesday, our next weather window.  Early Wednesday morning my phone rang. Ian was seriously ill. He went to his doctor and the doctor grounded him. Now we were back to 3 crew.

Thursday.  We interviewed two local sailors who were available, but they both wanted to be paid a daily rate plus airfare.  We decided to sail with a crew of 3. We hurried to get ready to leave immediately even though we had missed our weather window on Wednesday.  Even though there was a horrible storm between Bermuda and the US east coast, there were no storms ahead of us. However, the seas would be 6-8 feet for a couple sof days and the wind would be directly on our nose for several days.  Sailboats can sail in any direction except directly into the wind or within about 30-40 degrees of either side of the wind. In other words, there was no way to get there from here.   By sailing to Bermuda we had checked into the Eagles’ Hotel California where you can check out any time you like but you can never leave.

If we decided to leave, the first few days would be slow and lumpy, but if we waited for a more favorable wind, we might get stuck for a long time.  We cleared Customs and Immigration, fueled up, and left the calm protected harbor at St. George’s and started motoring into lumpy seas, wind on the nose, as daylight began to fade.  

Setting sail just before nightfall was not my best idea.   People are usually more prone to seasickness during their first several hours on the water, and night time exacerbates the problem by making it harder to see the horizon as a point of reference.   Diana soon became very seasick again. Her days on terra firma cured the earlier seasickness but did nothing to prepare her for this new passage. We turned west to begin to return to Bermuda. West was a calmer point of sail and Diana got better, so after another debate with ourselves, we decided to press forward.

Seas were rough but manageable.  Wind was 15-20 knots, good for this boat but right on the nose.  We couldn’t sail against it. We tried motoring but made very slow progress.  At that rate it was clear that we wouldn’t have enough fuel to keep motoring for days until the wind changed.  We added the mainsail to increase stability and speed, but we had to head off our due south course in order to benefit from it.  This was the beginning of 48 hours of motor sailing.

Friday and Saturday.  Tacking upwind even with motor assist was very slow.  We gave it up and decided we could power through the waves better with full spread of sail.  Speed increased but so did heel. Escapade heeled 15-20 degrees, sometimes 25 or briefly 30.   15 degrees is no problem in a small day sailing boat, but try walking on a bouncing tilted floor.  Then try opening the refrigerator door and spotting and grabbing what you want before food starts falling out.  Or try putting it in the oven or microwave and catching it sliding out hot when you open the door. This problem occurred only on starboard tack when we were heading east, so we tried to time our meals to be on port tack sailing west.

The fridge quit cooling.  Uh-oh! Our supply of lunch meats and lasagna would soon be endangered.   And who wants to drink warm ginger ale? Maybe all the bouncing across rough seas had forced air into the sea water intake which was essential for the water cooled compressor.  I emptied the cabinet over the sea water intake, pulled up the floor boards and bled the supply line to the refrigerator pump. Success! This solved the problem and the refrigeration started working again.   Our food was safe—boat crisis averted.

We tacked several times over our first two days and were always disappointed that we had gained so little southing for all the hours spent.  Lots of east and west, not much south. After two and a half days we were only about 225 miles south of Bermuda, about one fourth of the way to the destination.   

On Sunday we encountered our next boat problem.  We decided to sail east with full main and Genoa to better position the boat for expected wind changes.  This would also smooth the ride, although it would increase the heel. Steadier and faster would be better.  We were trimming the big Genoa when boat crisis #2 happened. The block on the port Genoa car exploded with a bang like a gunshot.  It took a while for us to figure out what had happened, then we saw it. The block was split open like a smashed pumpkin, leaving the Genoa sheet flying high above the deck and pressing against the life line.  The sheet wasn’t controlling the Genoa properly and chafe would soon saw the line in two. We needed to replace this turning block but there was nothing to attach another block to but the old Genoa car, which still had the twisted broken block on it.  I used the cordless angle grinder to cut the wreckage away and shackled a spare snatch block to the car. Would it hold? Yes! Second boat crisis averted.

By Monday we had come to grips with the realization that this was not going to be a three-hour tour.  With more favorable winds or more favorable positioning 900 nautical miles would be a five day cruise, six if the winds turned light.  Our amateur mathematicians calculated the sines and cosines of our track thus far and projected landfall in 9 more days, twelve in all.  Which land wasn’t exactly clear. Maybe St. Thomas, maybe Puerto Rico, maybe Dominican Republic. Cuba?

We were enjoying our most pleasant sail thus far when with sundown approaching we noticed that the dingy, which should be securely hoisted under the dinghy davits at the stern was swinging around rather oddly.  Wearing my PFD and tether I crawled out the back of the cockpit to investigate the situation. I discovered that the wire cable that hoisted the bow end of the dinghy had snapped and the only thing holding the dinghy up was the webbing belt that ran under it.  I was able to rig up a temporary hoist with a couple of spare lines and secure the dinghy to the davits. Third boat crisis averted.

We had made a lot of easting on a long tack.  In fact we were 150 miles east of the rhumb line from Bermuda to St.  Thomas. So we decided it was time to turn back toward a southwest heading.  This fit our overall sailing plan, plus it put the boat on a port tack, heeling to starboard.  This was the most comfortable tack for cooking dinner and for sleeping.

At 4am Tuesday morning, we had sailed 135 miles on an ESE tack and a SW tack to achieve 65 miles south in 22 hours.  We had come 320 miles from Bermuda in 4.5 days. The steady east Trade Winds were still 200 miles south of us.   15 hours later we had sailed 95 more miles but made only 21 miles of southing.

Somewhere in the night boat crisis #4 occurred.  We started the engine to assist with a light wind tack.  Within a minute or two we heard a hissing sound like steam from the engine room.  We shut the engine down immediately and completed the tack the old fashioned way. The next morning I examined the engine and found orange residue of engine coolant on the starboard side of the engine.  We started the engine again and found the leak. Several turns of a screwdriver on a hose clamp solved boat crisis #4.

On Tuesday we finally found gentle seas and a bright sunny day.  We tacked back to the east again and enjoyed a picture perfect sailing day.  The wind had dropped so we opened the full main, Genoa, and staysail. I’m not sure of how a staysail’s physics work, but it seemed to allow us to point higher as well as sail at 6 knots on 8 knots of wind.   75% efficiency is good for a heavy blue water monohull.

Tuesday night was dark but not stormy.  Cloud cover moved in turning the normally crispy bright stars into soft glowing orbs.  The seas gave the boat a galloping effect. When Escapade rose up on a wave, you could feel yourself being pressed into your mattress.  When the wave dropped out, you could feel yourself slightly levitating, just before the next lunge into the mattress.  It was a lee cloth night. Heeling 15-20 degrees to port is a formula for rolling out of bed, but with your lee cloth raised into place, it was easy to snuggle up against it and sleep, knowing that Lee had your back.

By sunrise Wednesday the good breeze had faded but the seas were almost flat so we were still making 4 knots on 5 knots of wind.  Winds increased during the day, but when evening came the winds were light again. The evening watches were peaceful but required a different vigilance.  The highest priority was keeping the boat moving. The exact direction was less important. The best combination of speed and direction occurred when the wind was at 60 degrees apparent to the boat, so steering became a matter of constantly making small adjustments to keep the wind at 60 degrees.   

Diana was on watch at midnight when boat crisis #5 occurred.  Escapade had hit the wall between northerly winds and southerly winds.   The air movement in the narrow gap between northerly and southerly winds seemed wildly random.   No matter how we turned the boat or set the sails it was wrong. Part of the problem was that this was occurring at night when we had very little point of reference.   The cockpit enclosure panels were so drenched in salt spray that it was virtually impossible to see through them, so we opened them to be able to see the stars for reference points.   We tried port, we tried starboard, we tacked, we jibed, and finally the boat seemed to find a heading it liked and began to move forward. Looking back at the track the boat left on the chartplotter showed that we had changed direction 16 times in about 30 minutes.   

After so many days of fighting lumpy seas and wind directly on our nose, Thursday was the kind of ocean sailing day you dream of.  The early morning hours were gentle with 5-knot winds still moving the boat steadily forward at 4 knots.  Wind and boat speeds picked up during the day and by noon we had reached 25 degrees north latitude, the soft northern boundary of the trade winds.  Not only did speeds increase, but the wind had a pronounced shift to East Southeast allowing us to turn to 195 degrees true, the most southerly course we had been able to achieve.  Now we were racing toward our destination. This is what we came for!

Then night fell and a whole new world of beauty emerged.  Bright stars were splattered all across a dark and cloudless sky.  The boat was tending to itself and freed us to watch the sky in wonder.  The clarity was breathtaking. Orion’s Belt across our lap, Ursa Major at our shoulder, and Gemini’s twins watching us from above made us feel not so alone on the big ocean.  It had been 6 days since we had seen another ship of any kind, so our companions in the sky were comforting and beautiful neighbors. Such a starry, starry night!

Friday morning.  The wind is a sailor’s friend, but she can be such a wicked woman.  She sits down south blowing the perfect east wind while giving you nothing but wind in your face.  With an enticing smile and soft eyes she coaxes you, “Come on down here, sailor man, I’ve got just what you want.” So you fight through hell and high water to get there and just when you reach for it she laughs, tosses her hair, and pulls it away from you.  “Northeast wind? That’s what we asked for a week ago! Why are you doing this to me? What have I done for you to tease me and treat me so wickedly?”

We had been eagerly awaiting the 15 knot trade winds from the east.  They would give us our best speed and steadiest sailing, but the wind shifted so quickly from southeast to northeast we had only an hour or two to enjoy true easterlies.  But what’s wrong with a northeast wind that will blow you down the rhumb line to the Virgin Islands? How soon we forget the wind that was in our faces or no wind at all.

Saturday midnight.  It had been more than a week since we had seen another vessel of any kind—not a cargo ship, not a cruise ship, not even an airplane, and certainly not another sailboat.  Then around midnight we saw two cargo ships about 10 miles away and they had us in their crosshairs. Paulina was approaching from the west at 20 knots and E.  R. Soule was approaching from the east at 14 knots.  Our AIS told us that each was projected to pass about two miles away from us.  That’s a safe distance, but deserving of vigilant monitoring. We felt relieved when Paulina passed 2 miles behind us and E R Soule passed 2 miles in front of us.  We could relax and enjoy another beautiful starry night.     

Saturday 4am.  Can you sail too fast? Ordinarily sailing too fast is like being too rich or too good looking—no such thing.  But if you are trying to time an arrival, you might be sailing too fast. We wanted to arrive in the Pillsbury Sound between USVI and BVI in the daylight because there are many navigational hazards in this area.  Some are tiny islands, some are rocks that barely protrude above the water’s surface. Some rocks and reefs don’t quite protrude, making them the most dangerous of all, lurking just beneath the surface. Sure, these are all marked on our charts, but it is still safer to navigate them in the daylight.

Saturday was our last full day at sea and it was picture perfect.  The blue sky dome over the Atlantic was decorated with white, puffy clouds.  The wind was a steady 13 knots on the beam, driving the boat at 8 knots over long rolling waves.  Escapade heeled 10 degrees to starboard, and if a boat could purr, she would have.   We plotted a course to enter Pillsbury Sound between Jost Van Dyke to the west and Cane Garden Bay on Tortola to the east.   Then we would turn slightly to starboard and angle down to Lovango Cay. That would put us in US waters for the first time since we left the Chesapeake Bay.   US waters was important for two reasons. First, it meant that our AT&T phones would work as local phones and emails would be free. Second, it meant that we would be eligible for free towing by Towboat US since we are members of BOAT US.   

Towing?  Yes, due to the problems we had experienced with the transmission and the collections of strange sounds we had heard from the engine room, I was nervous about going into a marina anywhere and having to wonder if I could maneuver and stop the boat on command.   I had paid for this insurance, so why not use it?

Would we be able to navigate to an anchorage by Lovango in the dark and avoid the rocks that are numerous in this area?  The wind must have read our minds because when we entered the semi-protected waters of Pillsbury Sound, the wind dropped significantly and our speed decreased to 3 knots.   This slowing allowed the sun time to rise and when we reached Lovango it was already early morning. We executed a 180 degree turn into the wind and dropped anchor in about 50 feet of water.   We could relax now. We were finally at home. St. Thomas was only 3 miles away.

The American Yacht Harbor marina at Red Hook, St. Thomas wasn’t ready to receive us on Sunday morning, but we were happy to relax on the boat in 80 degree weather with soft breezes.   There were several tasks to complete on the boat after the 10-day passage, so this was a good time to do them. The marina could wait.