USVI to BVI
 

US Virgin islands
We stayed in Frances Bay for four nights, on the third day we took the boat to Cruz Bay to clear out and restock the boat. On the way we bumped into an old friend (Tony Newling-Ward) who was skippering a monster chartered catamaran. This was extremely good news, not just to see him but to be able to pick his brains on sorting out a problem I'm coming to. There was also a bonus for Mike. Four of Tony's charter guests were good looking girls with figures to match who arrived back on the boat in bikinis. Mike thought he had gone to heaven.

British Virgin islands
On January 6th we went to West End, Tortola to clear into the BVI. While there we got a taxi to take us into Roadtown (the capital) to buy a local SIM card and get some money out. We also had a problem to solve. Our wind speed/direction instruments failed on the trip from Puerto Rico to the USVI. The diplay was getting power but not data and Mike went up the mast to check the cabling hadn't come loose. It hadn't so it seemed to be a problem with the transducer. However we needed specialist help to check that. Tony had recommended Cay Electronics who are close to the Moorings (charter company) base in Roadtown. So we visited both companies to fix an appointment and hopefully book a berth in the Mooring's marina - which, to our surprise, they were happy to do (thankyou Moorings!).

From West End we had a pleasant sail up to Great Harbour on Jost Van Dyke where we stayed three nights, including a night out the the notorious Foxy's bar.

Then it was back to West End on January 11th to restock the boat and buy diesel. We stayed two nights.

Then we sailed upwind to Roadtown for our appointment with Cay Electronics. It took us nine tacks in winds that started out at twenty knots and increased to twenty five knots then gusting to thirty five knots (a near gale). In terms of boat speed it's probably the fastest passage we have done (never below 6.7 knots, top speed 7.7 knots). We stayed four days in the marina, the last two days because of bad weather. We took the opportunity to visit two chandlers to buy some much needed spares plus I discovered a 'Best of British' store. Walkers crisps, Heinz beans, tomato soup and salad cream, Fray Bentos canned pies, frozen Cumberland sausages, Sharwoods poppadoms...basically what Mike calls 'proper food'. We also had a very pleasant lunch with Tony who very kindly had spent a morning driving us to a good laundry and a supermarket and Cash and Carry (Gordon's Gin at $6 a litre!).

Benares bay on Norman island was next on the list (January 17th) for some downtime. There is nothing there except good snorkelling and a forty foot reef drop off dive where we saw a Southern Stingray and a huge variety of small fish, many in enormous shoals.

On the 21st of January we had a lovely one tack sail up to Fat Hogs Bay on Tortola. It's not the prettiest place but we were only there one night to restock and do the laundry.

The next day we went to Cooper Island, one of our favourites - a sandy, palm fringed beach, crystal clear water and a small hotel and restaurant. On the 23rd we booked two dives on the wreck of the RMS Rhone, an early steam/sail powered ship, three hundred and ten feet long, that was wrecked off Salt Island in a hurricane in 1867. On the first dive we looked at the fore section of the ship, at seventy five feet depth, and swam inside through a broken hatch. At the entrance it looked pitch black inside but once in there was sufficient light to look around. We swam about sixty feet and exited from a hole in the hull. It was one of the most amazing experiences of our lives - the sort of thing you see in films or on TV and never ever think you will do. On the second dive we saw the mid and aft sections at sixty nine feet: aft mast, hull and portholes, huge propellor, boilers that had exploded, a bronze port hole that every diver touches and makes a wish and, believe it or not, a solid silver spoon embedded in coral. We also swam though a narrow hole in the enormous rudder. The whole ship was covered in coral and sponges and some of the ship's frames were upright and looked like a coral Acropolis. We left the wreck and swam a short distance towards Salt Island to go up and over a reef and into a coral canyon which was beautiful. Two fish stood out, a monster Barracuda (locals call it 'Fang') and a monster Southern Stingray, part buried in the sand and watching us. I've only outlined part of what we saw and if you want to see what I've described and more get hold of a copy of the film 'The Deep', it was filmed on the Rhone.

On the 26th of January we reached (wind on the beam) back up to Fat Hogs bay to restock. After an hour and a half ashore we headed east to another favourite, Marina Cay which lies off the east end of Tortola. By now the weather was deteriorating, the wind was up to twenty knots with showers and squalls pushing the wind into the high twenties. Marina Cay is extremely pretty and is surrounded by various shades of blue water. On two nights we went to see an entertainer, the unlikely named Michael Beans. His act is extraordinary, he plays guitar, harmonica and drums with his feet, it's non-stop action. His great skill though is audience participation and he involves the audience within minutes of starting his act. He sings a lot of pirate songs and is incredibly funny, Michael is a must-see act if you are in the area and if you get a chance to meet him he is a fascinating character.

We spent four days in Marina Cay and on January 30th we sailed to Fat Hogs Bay to restock and visit Customs and Immigration, in Road Town, to try to extend our visas - we were still waiting for our wind instrument parts to arrive. They told us we could only apply for an extension two days before our visas expired so we sailed back to to Benares Bay again for more snorkelling and diving. On the way we had an interesting encounter with a cruise ship. We were sailing a few miles off Road Town when a cruise ship came out and began to execute a turn to the west. It was obvious that we were directly in his path. Since we had right of way we continued steady on our course and wonderd what the ship would do. Note: Collision regulations require you to stay on course because if both vessels change course the situation could be made worse. There is an override though that if a collision is imminent you must get out of the way.) The problem he had was his rudder wasn't giving him a sufficiently tight turn to avoid us, so...he used his bow thruster. He made the turn and passed us about one hundred yards away.

It was back to Fat Hogs and Customs and Immigration on February 3rd. Immigration gave us a six week extension, customs gave us four weeks (any more and we would have had to pay a temporary import charge for the boat). We stayed the night in Fat Hogs and sailed back to Benares Bay where we heard that the wind instruments had arrived in Puerto Rico and could be fitted in around one weeks time.

We left Benares on February 12th and sailled to Village Cay marina in Roadtown. The new part for the wind instrument was fitted and two days later we sailed over to Coopper island.

We left Cooper Islnd early on Monday 16th of February intending to go into Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda, clear customs and immigration and head off to Antigua. We had some great sailing and when when we pulled into the Spanish Town anchorage it quite full, so we decided to keep going round to Gorda Sound on the east side of the island and wait there for the next weather window to go to Antigua.

We stayed in Gorda Sound for ten days. For two days we had nice weather but then it got very windy with occasional showers and squalls. Eventually we moved the boat to get some lee from the wind and fetch. We were pretty much boat bound for a while but we did go over to Leverick Bay every few days to go shopping and use the Internet. When the weather perked up a bit we went swimming every afternoon on a a tiny, pretty beach which we had all to ourselves.

One day Mike went halfway up the mast to change the steaming light bulb. He managed to drop the light fitting which bounced off the deck and went overboard. The water was cloudy so we couldn't see it and also too deep to free dive. So it was on with Mike's dive dive gear, a square search pattern around the boat, then back up the mast after he found it. I wonder how many people have been diving and up the mast twice in one day?

We aslo got a visit from Customs and the police who arrived at speed in a big black RIB. We were expecting to be boarded but they just asked for our paperwork which was in good order. Yet again, when t****rs get a gun and uniform their manners and brains shrivel, it's so pathetic it makes you want to laugh. But they have the guns.

We got a taxi into Spanish town on February 25th to clear customs and immigration and left Gorda Sound at 11.30 heading to Antigua. The first part of the trip was to cut through between the reefs on Virgin Gorda and Necker island, and it's always a nasty upwind motorsail in horrible seas. Once clear of the islands we turned off on a southerly tack. The seas were still lumpy from leftover swells and yet again it was an upwind, upcurrent bash. The trip was mainly uneventful but unusual - the wind kept dropping at night requiring the use of the engine to keep the speed up. We tacked passed Saba Bank the first night and kept tacking passing Statia and the northern part of St Kitts on the second night. By morning we were level with the south side of St Kitts and we cut through the narrows between Kitts and Nevis. Then it was more tacking, motorsailing and basically slogging our way to Antigua. The only incident on the trip happened at night when Mike was putting on some sailing trousers to take the watch over. He thought he was properly braced but a big wave came through and he was thrown across the saloon. He came to a very abrupt halt when his head hit the sides of two picture frames that are screwed to a bulkhead. Obviously I was worried but you'll be pleased to know that neither the picture frames nor the bulkhead were damaged. We arrived off Jolly Harbour, Antigua at 03.35 on the 28th February.

The following day we cleared in and went into the Marina where we were intending to stay for a week. Having not been near a good chandler or yacht services for months we had a long list of boat jobs to do. Including: ordering some Mariner and Westerbeke parts, get the liferaft serviced, get a new screen for a Dell laptop, get a new watermaker membrane etc, etc. Some things we didn't even know where we could get them. Then we had a long list of small things we needed to restock - variouos light bulbs, electrical tape and connectors, engine oil etc, etc. In the end it took us two weeks.

In the meantime Dan from LateSail contacted us and said he had set up a charter from Jolly Harbour for seventeen boats and over one hundred Russians. Roughly half the boats were Horizon boats (based in Jolly) the others were Dream yachts coming in fron St Martin, Guadeloupe and Martinique with single handed French skippers. Would we be around to show the Russians to their boats, show them the facilities, help with any their problems, liaise with the French skippers on boat problems, immigration etc? It kept us very busy one Saturday afternoon and the following morning, until the boats left. I have say it was interesting to get to talk to Russians, we've only really met one before and they came across as charming. It's the old story that if only we could get rid of self serving governments, who cause trouble between countries, people of most nationalities get on well together and want and enjoy the same things.

Although we didn't have much spare time we did meet up with the UK flagged Sutton Hoo and we did manage to get to the beach once and visit two very good restaurants. Also the supermarket is good: Walkers crisps, fresh Cumberland sausages and much more.

We left Jolly Harbour on Tuesday March 17th and sailed South then East to one of our favourites - Green Island. It's a place to walk on the beach, swim, look out for turtles and rays and basically chill out. That's the theory then the generator's salt water pump's impeller failed and it was half a day with the boat a mess trying to fix something that you need to be a contortionist to get to. Actually my small hands are very useful because I can reach into small corners to undo or put on washers and nuts. When an impellor fails you must find the broken bits otherwise they can block the waterflow and it will fail again. However, we couldn't find one small bit and it did fail again after three days. This time Mike took the whole raw water inlet piping, pump and heat exchanger apart and we found all the bits. Needless to say the boat was a mess for even longer, so much for chilling out.

On Sunday 22nd March we left Green Island heading west to English Harbour. We had obviously upset the wind gods because we had too much wind sailing upwind to Green island and very little wind sailing downwind to English Harbour. English harbour is a fascinating place, Nelson chose it as the Caribbean fleet's base and many of the original Georgian buildings are still standing - it's very pretty. He chose it wisely because as you enter the bay, which is sheltered from the prevailing winds, there is a large anchoring area. Move down the bay and there mangorove lagoons perfect for hurricane shelter. However, the most interesting thing is the bay entrance. The headland on the west is fortified, the eastern headland is not and is slightly south of the the west headland. There is a long reef off the eastern headland and a short reef off the western headland. What this means is that to enter the harbour you must run down the the eastern headland and do a turn to port. This places you directly under the British guns and thus there was absolutely no way enemy ships could have entered.

Odds and ends
Unfortunate radio call sign. Every boat has a radio callsign, ours is Mike Romeo Whisky Zulu Four (MRWZ4). Radio hams shorten their call sign to the last three letters. One morning we heard a lady checking in with one of the weather nets using the abbreviated format of her call sign - Charlie Oscar Whisky. Oh dear.

Diving the Rhone. If anybody is thinking of doing this, a few tips. It is possible to pick up a mooring buoy at the site and dive from your boat, we were intending to do that. However the site is very spread out and fairly deep (c. seventy feet) which gives only thirty minues dive time if you are nearly directly overhead each of the two areas. However the bow cannot be seen from the surface (which buoy do you pick up and which direction do you go?) Also many of the interesting things are difficult to find. We booked a two tank dive with Sail Caribbean Divers, based in Cooper Island and Maya Cove. Their whole operation was fantastic and obviously the instructor/guide will know exactly where everything is and point it out. Normally we don't like diving with dive shops (not least the cost) but it's probably the best money we've ever spent.

Crown Victoria. If you've read American FBI/police novels the agents/detectives all drive Crown Victorias and they all slag the car off. We've often wondered why. When were in Salinas, Puerto Rico the taxi was a Crown Victoria and it's a modern version of the Ford Grenada - it's quiet, very comfortable, well built and costs only USD22,000. Most odd.

Made us laugh. On the road between West End and Roadtown, Tortola there is a sign proudly announcing the opening a new incinerator plant. There was no smoke from the plant but there was smoke from the rubbish being burnt on the hillside behind the plant.

Boat maintenance. We often mention just how much boat maintenance we do and you might be wondering why that is and what maintenace experience Mike has. I asked him to write something about it. This is what he wrote... "When I was a kid my father bought a state of the art reel to reel tape recorder. Within half an hour he decided to find out how it worked. I don't mean just take the cover off and have a look, he stripped it down to its constituent parts! The parts were laid out in a long line, in the order they were taken off, so that he knew the order to put them back. Mother was somewhat tight lipped at the time and I was absolutely fascinated. From then on I watched my father whenever he fixed the car (they were unreliable in those days), or rewired the house etc. It was good basic grounding but to be honest when we took the boat over I was nervous about the sheer variety and complexity of the boat's equipment compared to having a house and car. And of course, if something breaks at sea you really are on your own. I'll put that complexity into context using the pumps we have on the boat as an example. We have two pumps on the outboard engine (fuel and salt water); three each on the generator and engine (fuel, fresh water, salt water); two foot pumps (salt and fresh), two manual bilge pumps, two electric pumps (fresh water and grey water); two pumps on the watermaker; two pumps on the fridge; one diesel tank pump; one toilet pump. That's an incredible twenty pumps to service/repair. The average house and car has six, two on the car and four in the house (fridge, washing machine, dishwsher, central heating). However the big issue is that domestic pumps are made to last, marine pumps are built for weekend sailors. Hence the maintenance, and that's just the pumps, I won't bore with everything else that can break, it's a very very long list and life's too short. The main thing is if you are happy to take things apart you learn and get more confident as you go along. Obviously to fix things you must have the right tools and the right spares e.g. nearly all our pumps are different. If you put all our tools and spares in one box it would be around eighteen cubic feet in size. I'll stop now, I need to go and fix something,".

Marine Plonkers award. This quarter goes to Simrad - again. All modern instruments have a chip that handles data and displays it. Occasionally, for various reasons, the chip crashes and you need to reset it. Think of rebooting a computer. The morons at Simrad haven't included how to reset the chip in their IS12 instrument manual. A cynic might suggest the the omission is on purpose to make you think the instrument is broken, thus requiring a new one. For Simrad owners: turn off the power to the instrument; hold down the on/off button; turn the power on; release the on/off button.