Captain Woody Cruising Adventure

Thursday, October 15, 2009

British Virgin Islands - Suggested Route (116)

 I am packing to leave on a second big trip this year. I have halved my flying but further cut backs will have to wait. To help Bob and the magazine, I've agreed to run the Share the Sails to the British Virgin Islands, Nov ‘09 , and Thailand, May ‘10. Right about the time you are reading this, know that Bob and I will be working hard, basking under the Caribbean sun, quietly swaying at anchor, coldies in hand, discussing cruising tactics with 50 or 60 of our Lats and Atts friends and family.

By next issue I’m sure there’ll be a full accounting of our BVI adventuring for your reading displeasure. The BVI are where most cruisers-to-be go for their first charter, to get the feel of what cruising might be like. I thought this might be a good time to field a BVI question from one of my seven fans:
Capt. Woody, Hope things are going well with you. I'm going to the B.V.I.'s in January. We are sailing out of Tortola and was wondering what are the best places to see, what are the best Islands to visit and the best marinas. We are cheep and plan on cooking on the boat a lot. We love to explore the Islands and meet great people. Give me your thoughts. Best wishes, Randal

Randy, First thing to do is to get the Cruising Guide to the Virgin Islands by Cruising Guide Publications. We do sell it at Seafaring.com. The guide lists all the good spots and has little chartlets for each. Most charter boats come equipped with the guide but it’s fun to do some advanced planning and get a history of the islands. Though I'll go over the happening spots, there is also the option to hike the interiors of most of the islands and meet people that way. I bring down a couple issues of Lats to offer to the few real cruising boats you'll see. That is usually enough to get invited to a sundowner aboard a real boat.

Most of us do a counter-clockwise circle of the islands that looks a like this: Norman Island, Cooper Island, Virgin Gorda, backside of Tortola, across to Jost Van Dyke and around the bottom again to return to base. Keep in mind that everywhere you go now in the BVI, there are overnight moorings that cost $. The guide will suggest where you can still anchor, outside the moorings.

The first day we'll shoot across to Norman Island to hang out at the Willy T. If you get out early you can take a free mooring at the Indians for some great snorkeling. The moored schooner William Thorton is a permanent fixture in The Bight on Norman Island. The old steel boat has been there as long as I've been BVI chartering. The Willy T is a floating hamburger joint with a great bar that goes off late at night. You can dance the night away and even see the occasional naked lady jumping overboard from the top deck (they used to give away a free Willy T shirt for this). If you've got time, Pirate's beach is in the NE part of the bay and is worth checking out. Don't forget to dinghy around to the treasure cave just outside the SW corner of the bay.

From Norman we head north. If we have divers aboard we stop at the bottom of Salt Island to dive on the wreck Rhone. Kewlest dive I’ve ever done. No need to bring your gear. You can have a dive boat meet you at the site. Yes, I imagine this is spendy. Moving on. We usually stop at Manchioneel Bay on Cooper Island for the night. They have a little beach bar and restaurant.

Get up early and head N to the famous Bath's on the SW tip of Virgin Gorda. Take a free mooring and then tie up your dinghy just off the N beach and swim in. Walk through the Baths and chill on Devil's Bay beach or grab a coldy on the hill (swimming pool access for coldy purchasers). From there, some charterers head into Spanish Town to take a slip for the night. There are nice bar/restaurants on the quay and the Rock Cafe has nightly entertainment, just up the road. Don't be put off by the expensive slips, you can anchor out, dinghy in and hit one of the small stores for supplies for cooking onboard.

Three days into our charter we are usually ready for a longer sail and so we line up with our other boats and engage in some tacking duels to the top of Virgin Gorda. Inside North Sound are a ton of great options. If you get there early stop at Vixen Point beach for a beverage and some volleyball. The Fat Virgin, in Birras Creek, is a Lats Harbor Hangout and a great spot for awesome affordable grub. Say hi to Ethel. The Bitter End has some high end night spots and Saba Rock is kewl if just that it is it's own island. On the BVI Share the Sail we are scheduled to stop into Leverick Bay as they are hosting free rum punch for us. They have it all there too plus a pool.

From North (Gorda) Sound we either head to Anegada or down around the top of Tortola. Anegada is awesome if you have the time. Be sure to stop by and say hi to Randy at Neptune's Treasure – another Lats Harbor Hangout. Consider a taxi or a moped to take you around the island. Usually we head out of North Sound and sail downwind to Pussers on Marina Cay or Trellis Bay for lunch. From there it's a beautiful sail down the back side of Tortola to Cane Garden Bay. Do not skip Myett's on the beach there. It's a great dinner spot and they have the best live music/dancing I've found on the island.

Most people sail straight across to Foxy's on Jost Van Dyke but I prefer to make a quick stop at Sandy Spit – the perfect south seas islet. And then there are a slew of famous places on JvD including Sidney's Peace and Love, Foxy's, Corsairs (a Harbor Hangout) and The Soggy Dollar Bar. They're all in your guide.
 Provisioning can be done there at Great Harbor for quiet meals aboard. If you happen to be around on a full moon don't miss Bomba Shack for a loopy evening of free magic mushroom tea (Trellis Bay does a full moon fire party too).

From JvD we head down around the bottom of Tortola and often stop in Soper's Hole. There is a chance for some high end eating and souvenirs but we usually grab a bite at the Jolly Roger, W of the ferry. We'll sometimes spend our last night back at the Willy T., where the debauchery began.

Before you go you can become a Lats Cruising Club member for a free drink at Harbor Hangouts – Seafaring.com, click L&A Cruising Club. Have a great time (we'll try and leave you some rum).  

Friday, October 9, 2009

Delivering Junk (115)

 Hurricane season is ending here in the northern hemisphere. Most of my boat delivery work occurs in the tropics where warm summer water breeds hurricanes. This means that I get the summer off to work on other things, visit with friends and family, take long bike rides and hang out at the beach. That is what usually happens. This summer I starting doing smaller local deliveries up and down the coast of CA. On the upside I know coast well, I’m never away for long and the flights are short one way deals. On the downside, these local deliveries are mostly racing sail boats and you know what that means, no dodger and a lot of hand steering out in the elements. I can get real cold. My high-end foulies make all the difference but it’s still not sailing in the tropics. I feel like I’m actually earning my money, sometimes. And then there are the boats that are just being moved from one marina to another … often because they had been asked to leave.

I got an email from a guy in one of our local marinas. He just wanted his boat moved from Marina del Rey to Marina Salinas which is south of the border. I didn’t ask a lot of questions about the boat because that’s an easy downwind trip. Like we say about the sail to Hawaii, “Just push the boat off the dock and she’ll eventually end up there on her own”.

When I first saw the boat called Noname I noticed that she had not been maintained very well, I mean at all. She was a sloop rigged Yorktown 35 and she was a beater. The decks were green with mold, the sails looked original and ready to fail. Below was not much better. The companionway stairs/engine cover was hardware store plywood and didn’t fit right. That should have been my first clue that this boat was handmade in someone’s backyard.

I offered to work on the boat before the trip at my hourly rate. We talked about the work that had to be done before leaving, the work that should be done soon and the work that would simply make sailing more enjoyable. I suggested a couple weeks of pre-trip labor. We settled on 5 hours. I do enjoy a challenge.
I came down the next day with my tools. I had to clean a spot in the cockpit so I wouldn’t get them dirty. I checked all engine fluids and set out to find all through hulls. The eco-unconscious owner was pumping the oily bilge water into the marina each time he came down to the boat. It’s a simple thing to keep the bilge oil free - keep those marine diapers under the engine. I poured in some of our oil eating microbes that we sell at Lats. He wanted an old battery removed. On it’s way out I bumped a rusted throughull valve. It crumbled and fell away as a jet of water shot up playfully. So there I was, leaning over a battery with my hand on an open hole in the bottom of the boat, no one around to fetch me a plug. I put a piece of plywood on the hole and weighted it down with some tools. I did find a plug onboard which indicated that he was prepared, at least, for sinking.

It was a short trip so I was able to tear my friend Randy away from his day to day. Randy taught me how to sail (as he tells it) and more importantly, taught me plumbing. I was 17 when I bought my first boat with a friend. Randy was walking up the dock when he saw me standing on the deck of our little boat, a coldy in one hand and the “main halyard” in the other. I was looking up bewildered (as he tells it). He offered to take us out and we learned a lot. When we got back he hopped off the boat and continued his walk up the dock. I called after him to thank him. He looked back and said, “I just didn’t want you to hit my boat on your way out”.

I also brought a local guy that had been bugging me to take him on a delivery. I think John expected to be invited on a much bigger adventure. We took fuel at the fuel dock and motored off into the sunset. The motor continued to run all night but our speed kept decreasing. Usually this means the boat has acquired some kelp so we backed down to release it. But the boat remained slow. I checked the packing gland and it was not dripping anymore. I bet the boat had not been run for that long in years. The packing had expanded and clamped down on the shaft. I had to build a tool to release the lock nut.

While I was jammed back behind the engine I decided to remount the exhaust hose. It was loose and shaking and quickly wearing through. Hours later I emerged triumphant. John and Randy were chillin’ in the sunny cockpit, talking and eating cold fried chicken. They had started lunch without me!

John put it in gear and a whirring sound emerged from the engine room. “Nuetral,” is my response to most problems. The gear oil still looked good (which surprised me considering the state of the rest of the engine). It seemed that little bit of extra pressure was too much for the ancient clutch.

Looks like we would be forced to … sail! The rotted old sails went up and there we sat, waiting for wind, for hours. We sailed all afternoon, and thankfully, the wind stayed with us all night. Salinas has a tricky entrance and I had never been there. I was curious to see what the marina looked like. But the wind was dying and we couldn’t risk being trapped at sea for days. We turned into San Diego and tacked up the long channel, the slowly shredding headsail fluttering in the breeze. It was fun maneuvering through the traffic and trimming for more speed.

The wind died off of the Customs dock. We pulled out the oars and rowed the rest of the way. The boat was a kinda big for rowing but we made it to the dock. Just before landing a Customs officer came out and waved us off. He knew it would be hard to get rid of some ugly vagrant boat that was engineless. Still, where was his seafaring attitude, his desire to aid and assist his fellow sailors? We drifted over to the public docks close by. “Arrival coldy anyone?”. But of course.

I called the owner and offered to arrange a mechanic in my home away from home. He wasn’t interested in the easy task of getting the work done in the boating mecca San Diego. I worried, where he was going, he wouldn’t be able to get it fixed. He released us. He must have figured we’d run into trouble because he had a plan B. He came down to the boat the next week, pushed off the dock and called Sea Tow. See, he was now in range of his Sea Tow coverage to get towed to his “home port” Salinas. Clever.

It is one of the kewlest train rides, the Amtrak from San Diego to Los Angeles. For a good part of the trip the train goes right along the beach. We three enjoyed another coldy and some warm train food while the best part of socal drifted by our window.