4 January 2003
Cane Garden, Tortola Island, BVI N 18.2557 W 64.3965
Hey Mon, Come to the Islands for the Holidays
While waiting on the beach an Islander approached and asked if I were a teacher. His English was complemented with an accent but not the dialectic that keeps strangers at bay. He had taken me by surprise and was pointing to the books I was carrying and asked again if I were a teacher. He was wearing a tee shirt that advertised some event or beer but it was faded beyond recognition and his chinos were rolled up sprouting bare feet. He appeared to be something over sixty and the gray beard looked out of place with the dread lock hair that was no longer than the middle of his ears. His face was weathered and his eye lids drooped covering his blood shot eyes.
I replied that I was carrying the books because we liked to read but I was not a teacher. He then wanted to know where I was from and my guard was going up since in our previous life it was uncommon to engage in conversation with complete strangers that didn't want something.
"Indianapolis, ahh yes, the famous motor car race. I have heard of this city."
So here was an opportunity to talk to an old islander. I asked where he was from and he explained that he was a fifth generation islander. I felt it appropriate to ask him what he did on the island since he had opened the conversation about occupations.
"Oh I move things for the bar here, if they need movin and sometimes I help out with da band. I play a little guitar. What ever it takes to get by. Yaah ,what ever it takes to get by."
"Does that including fishing?"
"Yeah, went fishin this mornin and caught a couple of Toros."
With his index fingers he gestured as to the size of the fish and neither was more than nine inches. I was hoping to learn something about catching a Dolphin or Tuna or Wahoo. Not wanting to embarrass the old man since it was obvious he didn't have a boat that could take him to deep water, I let the conversation drop and excused myself.
We had completed our business at the Bakery/ Internet café/ Auto parts and Marine supply store, which incidentally was all the same store. Before getting in the dingy and heading back to the boat, Fred, Rene and I sat on plastic chairs and drank cold Heinekens as the noon sun started to warm the sand and our bodies. We were in no hurry since we had decided to a spend a second night at the anchorage. As we watched a golden retriever play in the shoreline water, a large catamaran pulled up to the dock, an impressive feat considering the water was skinny, the dock small and the boat close to sixty feet. Tourists from St. John's poured off the deck and made their way to the restaurant where lunch was waiting. To accompany the meal the restaurant had arranged for music and we ordered second Heinekens so that we might be entertained also.
The old man started with acoustical guitar and one song led to a routine of stories and jokes that kept the sightseers laughing. His melodious voice resonated throughout the open air restaurant which was no more than corrugated sheets supported by poles covering a sand floor. There was an up stairs which was also open air and any tobacco drying shed in North Carolina would put the place to shame. It did have a great deal of memorabilia in the form of signed articles of clothing hung from the low hanging cross beams.
As the group finished and headed back for the boat a power launch landed down the beach and the restaurant again started to fill and the aging Islander started into his repertoire of songs and jokes. Again another Heineken and by this time were we in a discussion with the waitress. Those of you who have visited the BVI probably know that we were at Foxy's on Jost Van Dyke and Foxy was the old man that we had met.
The restaurant owned by Foxy and his wife Tessa enjoys more than a little success. They have hosted the wooden boat regatta for many years as well as other races. Now almost a legend, Foxy's has become famous over the years amongst charterers and cruisers alike. For the millennium celebrations they drew over 10,000 people some of our friends were amongst the crowds - the Sniders', Willis' and Taylors'. At this years New Years Eve party they expect over 5,000. Seating in the upstairs will be $175.00 per person for dinner but a barbecue will also be available down stairs at $25.00. Drinks can be purchased at the bar. Put a pencil to that for just one night.
We departed the island around two with a beer buzz and when we last saw Foxy he was doing part of his routine for a couple standing on the beach. Did we mention that Foxy brews his own beer on site with the primary goal being 32 degrees from the tap. His advertising theme is Live de life, Drink de beer, mon!
To give you a sense of the holiday crowds, we are moored at Cane Garden tonight, January 4th, with only half the spaces filled. Two nights ago there were six times as many boats in this small harbor. If you think your local gym is crowded after the first of the year you should see the boats in the BVI anchorages for the Holidays.
The charter companies double their prices and still every boat is taken and with the crowd it can be fascinating to see the charter boats speed through a crowded anchorage only to run over someone's anchor line. This happened in Anaganda, where we chose to celebrate New Years Eve. Anegada is a low lying island surrounded mostly by reefs and coral heads. Many charter companies insist on a pilot to guide boats to visit this island due to the amount of coral heads and the distance off the beaten path. The Island has two main attractions, Anegada lobster and Loblolly Beach, a 12 mile long sandy beach on the north shore reef. After arriving on our first visit we rode in a taxi (read a red pickup truck with bench seats in the back) to this secluded beach. It was six miles on washboard roads of sand and limestone. The scrub landscape is filled with cactus, prickly pears, plants and wild cattle. These mean looking cattle ever would stare you down and not give an inch. You can tell they are range fed because you can count every rib and none was over three hundred pounds. Loblolly is a pristine beach with great snorkeling a short swim from the waters edge. Our first visit found only one co-inhabitant, a tall thin extremely tan fellow with thinning hair. We were to see the same gentleman at three other beaches in the BVI performing his sun ritual. During our New Years Eve visit to Loblolly the beach contained more than one hundred people but the size was held down by the nine foot waves and twenty five knot wind forecast. Still a full house and the lobsters were excellent. And the limbo dancers weren't half bad either! It was a family affair with people of all ages and nationalities.
We are glad that the holidays are over and are only saddened by our now departed Cousin Fred (meaning that he's back in Las Vegas). For thirty days we enjoyed his company and his help with the boat and we look forward to his return.
Our dinghy disembarked at Saba Rock, a resort on a very small island in the middle of a channel pass from Gorda Sound to the Caribbean Sea. The resort on the island has undergone a major renovation and is beautiful but still not as well known as the neighboring resort, The Bitter End. Cousin Fred wondered off after securing the dinghy and about 20 minutes later came searching for us to introduce us to Ronnie.
Ronnie had a special place on the island to show us, but first he would mix us a drink. The thin islander had worked hard all of his life and it was obvious from his bent back and the lean muscles of his arms. His blue Saba Rock polo shirt had a well worn collar and it was apparent that he was not an employee of the luxury resort. He coaxed us to a quite bench around the corner from the bar and pulled out his cooler. His quick bartender's patter was laced with innuendos of his sexual prowlness. We provided the Coke and 7-Up, limes, glasses and ice, and Ronnie started to mix. A little Coke in a glass poured from one to another, a squeeze of lime, a capful of "white sugar cane Rum", a small amount of 7-Up. Continually pouring from one glass to the next, he would taste the blend and then offer it to us for our approval. The sun beat down hard on Ronnie's little corner of Saba Rock and the cold drink tasted wonderful. All the while Ronnie barked orders to us to taste this, sit down, get more Coke , enjoy life, and so on.
When we had finished half the drink Ronnie led us upstairs to the gardens. In this hard chain of volcanic rocks the resort had hauled in millions of tons of dirt to build this beautiful garden paradise. Ronnie walked carefully on the Bermuda grass pointing out trees filled with green finger bananas, mangos, grapes, and a wide variety of plants, shrubs, small cactus and flowering bushes. After being in a salt environment for months it was a welcome respite. Ronnie had helped build the gardens, he knew the names of all the plants and one knew he took pride in this his major accomplishment of his life. He led us to a small picnic table at the point. The water was as many shades of blue as imaginable and Ronnie bid us goodbye. A Ketch moved it's way slowly through the coral heads, soon followed by another. The winds were building and this late in the afternoon we suspect that they were heading for St Martin.
Foxy and Ronnie represent the BVI as well as any two islanders that we have met. Many Islanders work two jobs in order to send their children to a US university. The economic disparity is great although there is little if any unemployment. The natural resource here is island beauty. There is little water, tillable soil, mineral wealth and for that matter no great fishing industry. The prices are high for many items unless you shop. We from the US don't understand how the typical islander can afford the prices at the local grocery store. The typical islander might not understand how we are so wasteful with water and air conditioning.
We have been here for about 40 days and plan on heading south southeast in another couple of weeks. For the first two weeks Cousin Fred would ask where we were going for the day and how long it would take. The answer would always come back, it depends. That's why they call it sailing, mon!
13 January 2003
Village Cay, Tortola Island, BVI N18.754 W64.3710
Flotsam and Jetsam
After working much too hard at enjoying ourselves the last month we are now relaxing and getting a few things done on the boat, so we will take this opportunity to share a few things about cruising and the BVI.
First as everyone knows British traffic moves in the left lane, but none of the cars in the BVI is equipped with right hand drive making for mayhem at sharp corners which are usually blind anyway due to the overgrowth of vegetation. Speed does not kill in the BVI but potholes can. There are very few luxury cars and the pool consist of Jeep Pioneers and a host of small Japanese SUV's. Taxi's are expensive not due to the price of petrol but rather due to the wear and tear on the vehicle. There are no parking meters, few traffic lights and no junk yards.
What's with this nude sailing??? Once in a while you find a French flagged vessel with a topless mate but yesterday a couple anchored near and for over a half hour the man stood on the transom of the boat and adjusted his dingy in the buff. Pleeease. The only thing worse was a charter boat flying the skull and cross bones with five nude male sailors. Now come on.
Ribs, chicken and lobster, Ribs, chicken and lobster... that's the menu wherever you go. It's great but you better like it or else. Where do all the fish go. We've never seen Tuna on the menu even though we've caught a few. The chicken is Tyson and the ribs also come from the US. The lobster are technically not lobster at all but rather langoustines. There are no fast food chains in the BVI, no McDonalds, no KFCs, no Subways. You can find these franchises in Russia, China, and the US Virgin Islands just a few miles away but you can't find them in the BVI.
The currency is US dollars and cash is king gaining as much as a 10% discount at the marine supply store I visited today. This helps highlight a little know fact that there are more total US dollars in circulation outside of the US then at home. The telephones and coin operated machines will not accept the new quarters so leave those at home.
Why do the people who disembark from the large cruise ships wear socks and gym shoes?? Cruise ship tourism is a large part of the BVI's gross national product.
They have a host of ferries and buses at the Road Town Harbor to help spread the tourist dollars throughout the archipelago. The beach at Cane Garden can have a hundred people one day when the cruise ships are in and ten the next.
Why is it that English is the primary language and still many times I need an interpreter. As the sign says "English is an easy language to speak, it's just hard to understand." There is s fast paced Island dialect that most non-natives can't understand. It helps make this a more interesting place and allows the natives a degree of separation from so many tourists.
Most commerce is based on trust since it is unautomated. We have found only one bar code scanner so far and all receipts are hand written. It's important to keep your receipts but if you try to return or exchange an item you will find the receipt is for reentry into the US not for returns, sorry. A trip to the largest mall in Road Town found that parking is not a problem.
Tonight Rene did laundry with the wife of the owner of Walgreen's. You never know who you might run into. This leads to a significant collection of boats. Our little boat is again the smallest in Village Cay Marina tonight. Crewed boats are everywhere, hundred footers abound and each day we see mega yachts among the modest charter fleets.
People ask what we do with our time and the standard answered is "boat things." If you read some of our previous logs you would think that everything breaks all the time. Well our first long trip was really a shake down and we did find some things that needed repair. Let's take for example the trampoline in the front of the boat. We lost it during our trip to the Bahamas in a bad storm. After we talked to the manufacturers, we understood that the previous owner had purchased a special design, against the manufacturers recommendation. The net was one inch webbing with only a one inch opening. Comfortable yes but in high seas it carried twice the water it should have. Things do break of course. The boat is ten years old but most of the systems are two or three years old. In our discussions with other owners of both new and old, it's a constant battle against salt water corrosion, dirty fuel, sea life that attaches itself to your boat and the constant pounding a boat can take in high seas. Some of our pain has been self inflicted. We did not use our windless for three months and corrosion froze it solid. It's important to use every system frequently. The other night we had dinner with the owner of a new 56 foot Swan probably the most expensive production boat built and this one had many many extras including Waterford crystal and still the owner had a list of thing not working on his boat. It's why redundancy is so important.
Why are we doing this? More and more the answer is, "Because we can!". It can be physically demanding and uncomfortable at times but it comes with it's rewards.
January 31, 2003
Simpson's Bay, Sint Marrten & Saint Martin, Netherlands Antilles N 18.0195 W63.0587
Before heading South and more correctly for this leg east, we made one last swing through the BVI searching for anchorages we had not yet visited. One night we had the occasion to eat at Ivan's barbecue a small place on Jost Van Dyke in White Bay. The floor is sand and in these out of the way places each restroom has a little saying on the wall that goes something like, " In this land of fun and sun, we don't flush for number one. But we don't mind at all if you flush if you do a number two." This is of course an attempt to conserve water which can be expensive. The meal this evening was served family style and Elvis from Bequia was the evenings entertainment. Elvis plays a steel drum and has an electronic backup and can sing for twenty to thirty minutes straight. It is an amazing feat. Not that anyone can understand what the words are but the question is how can he go that long without a beer. Thirty two people were signed up for dinner that evening and we found ourselves seated next to young retired physicians from Seattle. It was their second trip to the BVI, the first one being some thirty years earlier. They are very active in charitable work and have a keen sense of the environment. As the evening progressed we started talking about our favorite anchorages. They recommended a rather small anchorage on Guava Island call White Bay. Many islands have a white bay but this island was privately owned and therefore there were no restaurants or bars and it was not allowable to hike the island although a few people were using the beach. Anchoring was difficult until we caught some rocks and probably a coral head. We had tried to avoid injuring any coral and followed the recommended location. In diving the anchor later I found that we were wrapped around a large coral formation and this shortened our rode by half the 150 feet we had put out. A two foot sea turtle lumbered on the bottom and remained close by the boat. We had seen turtles before but this one appeared unencumbered by our presence and went about its business below our boat whether we were swimming around or not.
That evening around seven fifteen we saw iridescent reef creatures surface from the water by the dozens with green luminous spots about a half inch in length. The water looked like a field of fireflies only composed of brighter and larger creatures. Some of the spots would explode and form lighted glowing circles about a foot in diameter as the other smaller now brighter spots would race for the center. Many were right next to the boat and although it was difficult to tell it appeared as if our boat was anchored just in the right spot to view this star like display. The waterborne display lasted only fifteen minutes. As the moon came up the creatures were gone. We decided to stay another night and at about the identical time the show got underway. Of course we were unable to take pictures of this phenomena but maybe that's just as well. We have asked around and now believe that the show was put on by jellyfish releasing spores for reproduction purposes. This may have given us pause on our swim the following day had we known.
From those secluded anchorages, we are now in one of the most popular islands in the West Indies, Saint Martin. We are anchored outside of Simpson's Bay in the midst of high rise buildings, casinos and the best chandeliers in the Caribbean. Quite the contrast from the BVI with only two elevators in the entire archipelago. Inside the Bay is where the mega yachts hang out as you can see from the picture. The Leeward and Windward Islands stretch from Anguilla to the Granada and most were or are products of European colonialism. Many of the islands traded hands among European nations due to conquest or the need to finance European wars. St Lucia for example has exchanged hands between the British and French fourteen times before ending up as a British colony. St Martin has had greater stability since it was divided by the French and the Dutch in 1648 with the Dutch occupying the Southern half and the French the northern and so it is today.
The success of St Martin started with the duty free status established in 1939. St Martin is now the shopping mall of the Caribbean with a great number of cruise ships stopping daily in Marigot Harbor and Phillipsburg. Prices are competitive on most items and it is recommended that you stock up on everything before heading south.
The day after we arrived we took the dinghy to Marigot Bay on the French side to dine on fresh mussels, french onion soup. pommes frites, baguettes, wine and espresso. The starting cord on the dinghy broke the morning we left, the carburetor needed adjusting and on the way back the prop stripped out and we limped home. It's the same thing you encounter with your second car when you wonder if it's worth repairing or is it time to trade. The dinghy motor proudly carries the Nissan name on the side and with that label it will never be stolen. I don't believe Nissan is still in the outboard market and nobody would steal a 5 horsepower engine anyway. Complicating matters is the size of our inflatable. If we trade up we want greater horsepower but our dinghy is limited to 8hp. So it's all or nothing. What a dilemma.
But hey the dingy problem isn't what spoiled my day, it was the fact that when we paid the bill for lunch I found that the Euro has now surpassed the USD in value. Just as we are about to enter the Leeward and Windward islands where the Euro is the primary currency and our dollars are now worth less. What's going on here? Is this the world economy at work. We have no idea since we see no papers or magazines nor do we watch TV. There was one exception recently. The Jolly Roger Bar, Restaurant and Resort was having a super bowl party and we were invited, along with a hundred other people. As you well know the commercials were the highlight of the evening and what about those previews of upcoming reality shows. I'm thinking of investing in a satellite disc for the boat just to stay abreast of what real life is all about! It must have changed considerably since we left. This was the first TV we've seen since leaving Ft Pierce, FL.
We plan to head north to visit Anguilla after leaving St Martin. We are looking forward to fishing during the trip since we have stocked up on lures and other paraphernalia here in St. Martin. In the last few weeks we have caught barracuda, shark, and lost a few tuna but nothing edible has been put in the freezer. We calculate that the fish we do catch cost us about $25.00 per pound when you take into consideration the dollars spent on equipment.