Saturday, February 27, 2016

Four Seasons of Fun (Mostly)

Today has been a beautiful, warm, and relaxing day on the boat in Simpson Bay Lagoon, Sint Maarten, which is a far cry of how we spent the day exactly one year ago. On that cold, rainy February morning, we departed Portofino Marina in Kemah, TX with butterflies in our stomachs and began this wonderful, crazy adventure.



We left with very little sailing experience under our belts and never had even anchored. Now, after sailing an estimated 2,500 miles, we feel very comfortable handling the boat and feel like we can deal with just about anything that is thrown our way.

Along the way, we have visited six countries and thirty-five islands, made lots of new friends, and became immersed in different cultures. We have also destroyed a lot of our electronics – two phones, one computer, one Kindle, one camera, and one hair trimmer. Just the other day David made the comment that we need to hurry back before everything else on this boat breaks!

So our year is up, and you might be asking, “Now what?” We decided to extend our trip a few more months so we will probably be back in the States in May. We plan on staying in St. Maarten/St. Martin another week to watch the Heineken Regatta, go back to St. Thomas just long enough to stock up on groceries, sail to the Turks and Caicos for a pit stop, go back through the Exumas in the Bahamas, and then head for Marathon in the Florida Keys. Of course, as we have learned on many occasions during the trip, things never go quite as planned!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

It's All About the Snorkeling!

Time for a new video! We have been sailing around the US and British Virgin Islands for a little over two months, and we have had some fantastic snorkeling experiences. Check out the short video I put together to see some of our favorite shots. David and I have taken a lot of footage, but we are still new to filming underwater so much of it was unusable. We are learning how to get better though!

While we have been here, we usually haven't gone more than two or three days without snorkeling. It is pretty awesome to just be able to jump off the boat anytime we want and swim a short distance to see interesting sea life. Snorkeling has become a favorite pastime of mine!

Whenever I go somewhere new, I always look on-line to find the top things to do in that area so I thought I would make a list of my favorite snorkel spots in the USVI and BVI.

Here you go, from most favorite to least favorite.

1) The Indians, BVI - The Indians are four tall, protruding rocks close to Norman's Island, and the only way to get there is by boat. You snorkel in about 50 feet of water, but the water visibility is great. You can see all the way to the bottom of the ocean. Lots of tropical fish, sea fans, and elkhorn coral. It reminded me of being in an aquarium.

2) Waterlemon Cay, St. John, USVI - Nearby is the Annaberg Plantation Ruins that are accessible by car, and a trail next to the waterfront runs from the ruins to a spot on the beach where you can swim to the cay. We just jumped in from the boat since we were on a mooring ball that was close by. You snorkel in 5-10 feet of really clear water and then can relax on the little sandy cay before the swim back. There were fewer fish here than at the Indians, but you will see a good variety. I was impressed with the number and beauty of the sea fans. It is definitely worth a stop.

3) Salt Pond Bay, St. John, USVI - This beach is accessible by car, but the best snorkel spot is kind of a far swim from the beach. The depth here is about 10-15 feet, and the underwater scenery was similar to Waterlemon Cay. I loved the pillar coral, which is the finger-like structure in the video. Near the beach there is a lot of sea grass so you have a pretty good chance of seeing some turtles.

4) Cistern Point, Cooper Island, BVI - A great spot in shallow water to see a lot of coral, small fish, and large sea urchins. This is were the big school of blue tang was filmed. We even saw an eel here, which are hard to find because they stay tucked away out of sight.

5) Buck Island, St. Croix, USVI - Buck Island is uninhabited and located a few miles from St. Croix. It has a beautiful beach on the west side, a good snorkel spot on the east side, and a trail up to the lighthouse, which is a hike but worth the view. There was a lot of coral here, but a good majority of it was dead. It was still a pretty snorkel spot, and we saw large schools of blue tang.

The best part of snorkeling is not knowing what you will see until you get out there...whether it is a starfish, bright, colorful fish, a ray, sand dollars, a shark, or turtles. Almost every trip is a cool, unique experience.

Meeting Dulcinea's Previous Owners

I never would have thought that we would run into the previous of owners of Dulcinea during this trip, but it certainly happened!

When we bought Dulcinea, the broker said that the couple, Jim and Sherry, selling her were down in the Virgin Islands doing charters so we didn't meet or speak to them during the process of transferring the boat.

In Luperon we met a friend of theirs, who told them that we were out sailing in the Caribbean, and they both 'liked' the boat's Facebook page.

Fast forward five months, and we were both at the same anchorage in St. Thomas. They came over so they could see Dulcinea again and of course meet us, and then we headed to Island Time Pub to get to know each other better over some pizza.

I was so happy that we finally got to meet them, and they had us laughing at all their crazy sailing stories! They too started out their sailing adventure with little experience - you can read all about it on their blog Bluewater Gypsies. Currently, Jim and Shery run a charter sailboat so if you have ever wanted to have a luxurious sailing vacation you should definitely book with them.

Friday, February 12, 2016

A Visitor From Texas

We have had our first visitor come out to stay with us – my Mom! Before she came, I warned her that this would not be a luxurious vacation (no big comfy mattress, no T.V., no A/C…etc), but she would have a huge, beautiful pool (i.e. the sea) to jump into any time, and she’d get to island hop somewhere new every day. She said she was up for anything as long as she got to see us. Isn’t she sweet?!

Her travel day was the not the best. She was supposed to arrive in St. Thomas around 4 p.m., but there was a delay with her 7 a.m. flight due to something breaking on the plane and missed her connecting flight to Miami. The airline scheduled her on a flight to St. Croix that night, and then she would have another flight to St. Thomas early the next morning. There was no offer of a hotel, however, so we said she should go to the desk to ask if the St. Croix airport even stayed open for the night. Once she got to the counter, the man told her that they had one seat left on a flight leaving for St. Thomas in the next thirty minutes. He promptly put her on the flight, and she rushed to her gate. I was so happy to see her when she exited the airport terminal! Mom hugs are the best hugs!

The next day we left around 8 a.m. to check into the BVIs at Jost Van Dyke. There is a small, uninhabited island with a great beach called Sandy Cay that I wanted to take her to, but we couldn’t anchor there because the anchorage is exposed to high winds and would have been uncomfortable to stay overnight. We decided to anchor near Foxy’s Taboo and take the dinghy over, which was about a mile away. Bad idea! There were significant waves due to 20 knots of wind, and water drenched us every 5 seconds or so. I should have called it a failure a minute into the ride, but I really wanted to spend the day on this beach. I 100% thought (and this was purely on hopefulness) once we got to land things would be calmer. Well I was wrong. After suffering through a 10-15 minute ride with buckets of water being splashed in our faces, we finally got near the beach; only to discover that there was no way we could actually get to the beach with all of our bags, chairs, and umbrellas. The surf was way too rough. If the ride over wasn’t enough to warn me, there were definitely other clues, like the deserted beach and people on their boats watching us like we were crazy. That wasn’t the best way to introduce Mom to dinghy rides. Thankfully, the ride back was not nearly as bad. She was exhausted from the day before so we just stayed on the boat in an anchorage that we had all to ourselves.

Next up was Cane Garden Bay on the north side of Tortola, and we made the hop in just over an hour. This bay has a great beach lined with casual restaurants that don’t require shoes, shirts, or shorts for that matter. We ate at Rhymers where we enjoyed tropical drinks and some grub while watching pelicans dive bomb the water for their meal. We had never seen so many of them in one spot before. After setting up our chairs and umbrellas, David went back to the boat to get some work done, and Mom and I relaxed the day away with our toes in the sand.

We had planned on staying an additional day at CGB, but north winds brought big swells into the anchorage early in the morning causing our boat to see-saw up and down. The swell would hit the stern of the boat causing it to lift up steeply and then as it moved along to the bow, the stern would crash down. As it continued to shore, the bow would then crash down. If you can imagine that, then imagine cooking in that situation. Things fly all over the place while you try to remain balanced. Breakfast was definitely not happening so I handed out pre-made turkey sandwiches.

Boats everywhere in the bay were quickly making their departure, and so did we. As we left, we watched surfers riding six foot waves…not something we would expect to see in an anchorage!
We headed to Norman’s Island to anchor and took the dinghy over to the Indians for another snorkel adventure. Mom hadn’t been snorkeling in a few years so we did a quick tutorial at Norman’s before we headed off to snorkel in 50 or so feet of water. It was as beautiful as the first time!

As I mentioned in the last post, the true Norman’s Island experience should always include a stop at Willy T’s so we hopped aboard the bar/restaurant the next day after snorkeling the caves and having a drink at the Pirate’s Bight. There was some dancing, some jumping in the water, some nudity (not ours of course), some food, and of course some drinking. A great afternoon/night that might have resulted in a slight hangover the next day.


Notice the woman unhooking her top


We had to check out of the BVIs the following day so we made a quick trip to Soper’s Hole and then went to Cruz Bay on St. John’s to check in to the USVIs. We picked up a mooring ball at Caneel Bay for the night, devoured some pizza, and watched the rest of Guardians of the Galaxy….one of my all-time favorite movies.
Soper's Hole
The whole trip I had been trying to find Mom a perfect white sand beach with turquoise water, and it took until the end of the trip to get there. Caneel Bay is gorgeous!! It was my first time there, and it is one of those beaches that you can spend an entire week on and not get tired of. We spent the entire day there and went back the next day until we had to leave for St. Thomas.

Caneel Bay is now one of my favorite spots in this area. Super clear water, decent snorkeling from the beach, quiet and peaceful, a food/drink stand if you need anything, free hammocks, and all around great. We would be staying there right now, except for the mooring fee. It recently changed from $15 a night to $26, and it seems a little ridiculous to me that they almost doubled the fee.

After we got back to Red Hook in St. Thomas, we had dinner at Latitude 18 to celebrate Mom’s last night. We enjoyed delicious island food and listened to a very entertaining band with a fiddle called Sun Mountain Band. A great ending to a great visit!
I will say that not everything was hunky dory all the time. Mom had a tough time sleeping. It takes a while to get used to the noises that you hear on a boat. Some of the things you’ll hear are slapping halyards, random creaks, things rolling about (that stop making noise the minute you get up), waves lapping, loud music from nearby bars, and the dinghy bumping into the boat. Add in a rolly anchorage, and you can forget about a good night’s sleep. The dinghy can also be another obstacle for a landlubber. Anytime we want to go ashore means getting in the dinghy. Ever tried stepping into a moving dinghy from a moving boat? It isn’t easy. Also depending on the weather, we might have some wet rides on the way to town, which means dealing with wet clothes.

Thanks for being a trooper Mom and coming out to visit us!