Vieques to St John, American Virgin Islands
"You ok buddy" I asked Isaac as he hung low over the gunnels. "Yeah man, I feel fine when Im not chumming" he responded bravely. "Hey, looks as if it might have worked! ", I responded sighting a large silver & white body breaking water off the starboard side.
It was midafternoon and we had been motoring east steadily for about 9 hours. Conditions where a bit rough with waves running 6-8 and 20 knot winds. Not a challenge for Solace, but Isaac was a bit green around the gills. Vieques, which we had departed from the day before, was just a faint grey outline on the horizon. The bay of Charlotte Amalie loomed large off our port side nurturing no less than 6 mammoth floating cities, otherwise known as Cruise Ships. Our destination, St John, looked green and lush even at this distance of 13 miles.
The school of 12 dolphins treated Solace as their favorite playtoy for over two hours, shooting back and forth under the prow, surfing the wake, and occasionally splashing the cockpit to keep our attention. Not that they needed too, we where fascinated.
Although I have had the pleasure of accompaniment by these smiling merpeople on numerous occasions, I never tire of watching them play. And although Isaac sails often on his 26ft Bristol in NYC, I guess dolphins are not a common sight on the Hudson.
A few hours later we passed between St Thomas and Great St James Island (the name is bigger than the island) into Pillsbury Sound. The famous "Bare Ass Beach", yes that is really it's name on the charts, flashed by our port side. Isaac used the binoculars to scan for the promised booty, but I guess the day was a bit too blustery. As we made our way into the sound, the first thing that struck me was the sheer amount of islands visible, each with it's own grand peaks and valleys so that you cannot tell where one starts and the other leaves off. We spent the next few hours on our final approach to Francis Bay pouring over the charts trying to identify the beautiful vistas that surrounded us.
To preserve the delicate ecosystem, all of the bays of St John (80% of the island is a State Park donated by the Goldwaters) are equipped with mooring buoys. We found one right off of pristine Mahoe Beach in Francis Bay.
After securing the boat, we dingied into the beach and climbed the 189 steps of the well hidden eco resort to the restaurant nestled into the hillside. A juicy prime rib dinner and rum punches satiated our well deserved appetite (Isaac had not eaten in well over 14 hours) as we watched the sun set over Francis Bay. Jost Van Dyke was clearly visible only 8 miles away, our New Years eve destination.
Oh, I do have to mention one scary experience we had on this trip. About 4 hours out of Vieques, one of the anchors on the bow came undone, although I had it corded with two half hitches, and dropped while we where underway. We didn't notice until all of the 300ft of 3/4 inch line and chain had played itself out and a loud "thunk!" from the chain plate announced that something was wrong. Luckily we where cruising in over 200 fathoms (1200 ft) of water and it didn't catch on anything. Probably would have tore the bowsprit off if it had. Took Isaac and I 45 sweaty and terrified minutes to pull it up. Lesson learned and no less than 6 half hitches in the future.
Isaac was up early and ready to explore the island.......by taxi. "This is not New York City my friend", I muttered as we studied a chart of the island. Being a game soul, he allowed me to convince him that with a full day ahead of us, we could easily hike the six miles to Cruz Bay, the only village on the island. So we dingied into Mahoe Beach, secured the dingy and started off. Of course, this was one of those days where a squall line ran up the island chain. We where quickly drenched only 15 minutes into our journey. Rain...then sun...rain...then sun....steadily for our next 4 hours of walking. Since there are only two directions on St John, up and down, we started looking forward to the cooling downpours. At the top of each hill, the view was spectacular. Isaac commented on how clean the island was. Although we where walking along a main road, there was absolutely no litter to be found. We took that as a challenge and after 2 hours, Isaac spotted a bubble gum wrapper among the leaves. We explored the ruins of several Sugar Cane Refineries, what used to be the islands main economic base. Never did figure out where they grew it though. I guess the rain forest quickly reclaims what is not consistently cultivated.
Isaac picking out fruity lunch from roadside stand
As we entered the quaint village of Cruz Bay in late afternoon, damp and barechested, a dreadlocked local goodnaturedly informed us that going without a shirt was illegal in town and apt to get us fined. Strange rule for the heart of the Caribbean.
Ferries from St Thomas and other islands arrive in Cruz Bay about every fifteen minutes and the town is full of upscale shops and restaurants. Being a fashion connoisseur, Isaac felt the need to explore each shop. I grabbed a beer and headed to the beach to explore my own type of connoisseurism.
We later met Ingred, a local who was nice enough to give us a ride back to Francis Bay, stopping to introduce us to some of the other locals, a herd of wild mules hanging out on the beach.
Great Day...tomorrow we head for Jost.