Captain's Log, Stardate:2/1/05
Arrived St. Thomas!
Hello to All, una mas (otra vez?)!
This was the month when the Russians came, the Russians came! Two years ago, a Russian couple (Andre and Marina, now US citizens) came to visit us in the Virgin Islands and brought with them the Betin family, Sasha, Mila, and Darya. This year, the first couple couldn't make it but the Betins returned with friends of theirs, Sergei, Rita, and their son Misha.
The first day out from Puerto Rico, the wind was moderate out of the NE at 10-15, not so good because we would have to beat our way to St. Thomas but perfect for the 60 mile passage to St. Croix. We made the entire passage in 8 hours, a very comfortable way to make "easting" averaging 7.5 kts along the way. I had never been to St. Croix before. It was "different" from the rest of the USVI, quieter, less commercialized. But stronger winds were forecast so we had to leave the next day to make it back to the "main" islands. After spending a few nights in the USVI and an anchorage in "Flamingo Bay" on the North Coast of Culebra, a strong NE breeze pushed us back to Puerto Rico ending a week of beautiful night skies, good fishing, and brisk sailing.
Dave and Olga (yet another Russian) arrived and we were forced to head SE out of Puerto Rico making landfall in Vieques in the "Spanish Virgin Islands." We anchored in a place called, "Puerto Mosquito" which is known as a "bioluminescence" bay. There was no moon and the water was flat calm with very few manmade lights to mess up the night sky. We began by pouring a bucket of water over the side and watched as the tiny organisms emitted light in the presence of kinetic energy. Then, as it got darker, we noticed trails of light, as if produced by waterborne comets. We quickly realized these were fish darting about. Occasionally, we would see a starburst as, we deduced, a predator would dart after a smaller fish in a school which would "split" in all directions for safer waters. It reminded me of the cartoon in which a very small fish is about to be eaten by a larger fish who, in turn, was about to be eaten by the biggest fish. Captions above each fish read, respectively, "There is no justice in the world," "There is some justice in the world," and "The world is just." On this trip, we again caught fish (all cero mackerels) which Olga turned into a gourmet meal, competing with the treatment I got a week earlier when Mila did a wonderful job on the fish we caught.
But our goal was St. Thomas, NE of Vieques, and the wind was NE@20, right in our face so it was beat time once again. "Beating," is when you sail at angles to the wind because a sailboat cannot sail directly upwind. With the wind and waves pushing us to leeward, the 24 mi passage became 42 . . .even more enjoyable if you like sailing but even true blue sailors mostly don't enjoy the boat slamming into 10-15 foot waves. But Dave and Olga were good sports, or they didn't let me know if they weren't. Incidentally, when Olga began feeling a little queasy, she tried on my new anti-seasickness "watch" which emits a weak electrical current into the back of the wrist. She reported feeling better instantly.
On Jan. 7, Mary returned from MN after preparing our taxes and spending Christmas with our family including our new grandson (in case you hadn't heard). She brought with her sister, Teri, and her "boyfriend," John. "Boyfriend" is in quotes because before the cruise was over, his title changed to "fiancé!" Of course I, as captain, perform all marriages of unmarried couples at the start of each cruise but, alas, such ceremonies are "valid only for the duration of the voyage." But Mary's sister has never been married before so the announcement was cause for especially great celebration! Congratulations Teri and John! Steve and Robin also flew in from CA to join us on our cruise and we all had a great time. We again anchored in Puerto Mosquito (a bit of a misnomer because we found no mosquitos and, more importantly, none found us). Neither time were there any other cruisers anchored inside this "hurricane hole" and we attribute that to the shallow entrance, only four feet. As an amazing coincidence, Escape Cay draws four feet which is probably why we ran aground! But only lightly and we were soon off again but the grounding brought to our attention that our port engine wouldn't start. We later learned the starter had somehow burned out. We again witnessed a natural light show put on by these tiny creatures but this time, I threw caution to the wind and jumped in, diving from our deck 5.5 feet above the water. They say my splash was bigger and brighter than the one made by the bucket of water . . . so all my "training" on fatty foods finally paid off. It is an eerie feeling swimming in total darkness with a bright aura surrounding my body like some angelic being. However, the closest I usually get to church is dropping Mary off for Mass so I think the "bioluminescence" theory is the more credible.
We had to again pay our dues while trying to get from Vieques to St. Thomas (32 mi but because the wind was fairly strong and nearly directly against us, it became 53 mi). It was rough but at least we didn't pollute the atmosphere with fossil fuel exhaust gases. Phoning ahead from Vieques, we were able to have a new starter shipped in into St. Thomas the very next day! (Contrast that with Greece 3.5 years ago when it took two months to get a special hose for our watermaker/desalinator shipped in from France to Greece. The French postal system, "La Poste," is certainly not to be confused with "La Posthaste." Luckily, we met Jim on Galadrial who loaned us his spare and, who with mate Francie, will be joining us in April in St. Vincent, a reunion Mary and I are greatly looking forward to.)
But I digress. After competing with the cruise ship passengers in buying up jewelry and electronics in St. Thomas, we all went snorkeling off Francis Bay in St. John and I had one of the best dives ever (in which I did not kill anything). I saw--and swam amidst--ten's of thousands of little minnow-sized fish and a like number of fish 1/20th that size. During this time, I saw a grouper-type of fish on the hunt. He would dart toward the school with lightning speed. (I have never seen a fish in the wild eat another fish . . . that wasn't bait.) Several times I was "imbedded" in a school of a hundred larger fish, yellowtail snappers once, bar jacks another time, and some other large (5-10 LB) fish a third, perhaps amberjacks. Then I came across a hawksbill turtle that did not seem afraid of me, perhaps because he--as did all the fish--knew it was illegal to take any wildlife in the Virgin Islands National Park. The best of all was when I was startled by a splash of a large object creating a four foot plume of foam some six feet in front of my mask! I thought someone tried to hit me with a bowling ball and narrowly missed! As the foam cleared, I could see that it was a brown pelican who was not going to let my presence intimidate him out of a tasty meal! I watched him down his catch, then wag his tail (as they only do after successful dives), and then lift off. Yes, a common sight repeated hundreds of times a day in Florida and the Caribbean but not often viewed from under water six feet away!
On Jan 23, our daughter, son-in-law, and 11 month-old grandson arrived. Mending the jib and roller furler foil delayed our departure from Puerto Rico a day but it was probably for the best. A cold front just grazed PR (they usually don't make it down this far) and produced 10-15 kt winds from the North! What that meant was, instead of beating to the East, we could "reach" that direction meaning the wind was on our beam. On most boats including Escape Cay, that is the fastest point of sail so we blasted all the way to the East Coast of St. John in seven and one half hours all on one tack. Along the way, we caught five fish, two bonitos, two yellowtail snapper, and a cero mackerel. From Coral Bay on the East Coast of St. John, it was all "downhill" back to Puerto Rico. On the way, we entered the BVI at Soper's Hole where the customs agents were very nice . . . but not nice enough to stamp the back of our grandson's birth certificate as I requested. I thought it would be no problem given that two years earlier, while entering Antigua, the customs agents fully accommodated a woman by dutifully placing Antigua's passport stamp alongside the other 15 or so stamps she had previously collected on her some 6-8 tee shirts. Oh well.
As I write this, Mary and I are alone contemplating our next 140 mile passage to St. Kitts (course approx.115 degrees true) where she will fly out and new crew will arrive on Feb 11. We are hoping for another cold front and one seems to be on the horizon with another one behind it due to spread into the Gulf of Mexico by Wednesday. I doubt either will make it all the way down here but one might get close enough to generate those marvelous (and very rare) north winds! You can see for yourself by visiting http://weather.noaa.gov/pub/fax/PWEE92.gif (24 hour forecast), http://weather.noaa.gov/pub/fax/PWEI89.gif (48 hour), and/or http://weather.noaa.gov/pub/fax/PJEK89.gif for the 72 hour "weather faxes" out of NOAA.
Hope all is well with you and your family!