Thursday, April 12, 2007

Saratoga comes to St. Thomas

Before the authorities arrived we made a break for it and journeyed east to St. Thomas, USVI.

We were able to sail most of the way that morning until the wind and current started giving us too much cross track error. Again, we saw the Watt family, this time at their condo in Red Hook Bay next to the local St. Thomas Yacht Club.

A yacht club cruiser-hater was quick to inform us that we were anchored illegally in a marine park, we could not stay overnight. I was pleasant and thanked her for her dissertation and assumed her we would not dump our sewage overboard. Our friend Chris, a member of the yacht club introduced us to the president of the Yacht club and all welcomed us and our boat to St. Thomas. The boat wasn’t movin’.

The Christina, Sabrina, Parker and Meghan reconnected and we had a great time lounging for the next few days. After enjoying the space of condos and the luxury of a pool, bar, restaurants, kayaks, hammocks and the company of good friends, our host family had to go back to Saratoga. We rented a car to tour the island. The roads were busy, steep and twisted. St Thomas also had some beautiful, bays, architecture, and views. Charlotte Amalie, the cruise ship hub of the Caribbean offered up duty free shopping in rehabbed shipping warehouses around the bay. Except for the rum (which we stocked up on), we sailors don’t have any use for high end boutique clothing, fine jewelry and perfumes.

Early the next morning we visited some of the historic places including the 99 steps. “Why are we having to climb all these steps?” the children wined. When we reached the top we had only counted 87. Hhhmm, what happened to the other 17 steps we wondered? As we strolled along the hillside historic area, we found the 99 steps for the walk back down. St Thomas is a delightful island overall. They are blessed with beautiful harbors, beaches, and lush mountains. They and many of the other islands are challenged as they try to retain their history, support their locals’ needs, guide their development, and preserve their natural resources.

Ponce, Puerto Rico

Night Swimming, Vieques

Vieques is a relatively small island off of Puerto Rico that was used by the military for bombing practice. After several locals were killed by a misguided bomb and protests ensured, the US relinquished and stopped bombing. We explored the town, called our friends on St. Thomas and were ready to move on.

Our guide book suggested anchoring in a beautiful bay away from town with a solid 8’ of water and an easy approach. Nonchalantly, we motored up this narrow harbor entrance and drove our boat into mud, stuck. We backed off and Angie asked a local fisherman which way to go. He gestured and spoke volumes of Spanish in an effort to help us. I think he was telling us about his family’s upcoming reunion and how well the local cricket team was doing this season. Based on our interpretation, we hugged the port shore and really parked Side By Side deep into the mud. I abandoned ship on a falling tide to sound the bottom on foot. Fortunately, I was able to find water passed my navel and we were able to ease our way out with both engines churning. We were lucky to get out of there.

At the next bay over, we found lots of water and a beautiful bay. Breaking the "no swimming during big fish feeding time" rule, we quietly immersed ourselves in the phosphorescent bay after dark. Like magic, swaths of water flashed to light as we moved our arms and legs about in suspended freedom of night swimming. Of course the peace was broken when the kids surmised a “cannon ball” splash off the boat would be awesome!! They looked like streaking balls of light exploding in the water.

The next morning, I was thumbing though the Spanish Virgin Islands mariners guide. To my surprise it said that starting a year ago, the bay we had been trying to access prohibits the use of motorized vessels and imposes a $1000.00 for entering this marine sanctuary. So that’s what the fishermen were saying. Also, the bay we did anchor in was off limits for bomb clearing. The canon ball could have been Side by Side had our anchor hit an old bomb. We are definitely getting new guide books!