Wednesday, April 22, 2015

St Croix, Buck Island National Monument, and back home

Argh! I'm on a downward slide, watching netflix and eating. Something is definitely missing and even sudoku seems rather meaningless. I've even removed all the rusty nuts from inside the boat and have cleaned them before replacing them... but it seems less fulfilling than I had expected.

So, let's review....

Cynthia just left yesterday. Yes, I suppose this COULD have something to do with my current lack of ambition and action. I definitely miss my partner in adventure, whether hunting lionfish together or fighting over who does the dishes ("Get out of my way! I get to do them!") or pointing out a lobster or a shark

Before she arrived on the 12th, I installed my new composting toilet. I love the fact that it has no pump and needs not be emptied for a couple months and that I could get rid of all the old smelly nasty plumbing. Despite the ventilation, it DOES, however, smell rather strongly like a compost heap: not the rotten nasty slimy type, but the sort with grass and leaves and other stuff decaying nicely. Still, I hope and expect that I will be able to find some sort of bacterial culture (perhaps scraped from soil, perhaps from a termite nest) that will assist in making everything even better. Tomorrow, perhaps.

Once she arrived, we took a day to recover from her flight, play,
 and have dinner with Peter. Then we dropped the mooring at dawn and headed across the water to St Croix, the easternmost possession of the USA and the only bit of US soil ever touched by C. Columbus. Now, it turns out that this is a LONG sail, about 45 miles as we did it, and we reached Buck Island National Monument (NOT the Buck Island off St Thomas) at about 4pm, dropped anchor in the patch of water at the west end where anchoring is permitted, and, after a leap into the cool water
  and a brief recovery nap, went exploring.

 Buck Island satellite map
 Wikipedia (but map is upside down!)

Shallows and reefs surround the island on all sides, sometimes reaching a half mile from the island. We paddled upwind, around the north side, wending our way around the coral heads brushing the surface in the eight-foot-deep water. I wanted to head offshore, figuring there would be better reefs there, but Cynthia pointed out birds plunging into the water by the shore and we paddled over, pulled on fins, masks, and snorkels, and slipped into the water.

Wonderful activity! A pack of tough-looking horse-eye jacks patrolled the edges of a school of 4" fish, picking off any easy ones that ventured out into deeper water. Birds picked off the bait that ventured near the surface or took shelter in the shallows.... and a gray shape about eight feet long swept by me in four feet of water and sped off in startled surprise: nurse shark? Lemon shark? Cool shark!

After a bit we left and swam among the coral heads and sand flats back to the boat, watched sunset and ate an incredible dinner,

 and hit the hay.... and slept very well on the improved bed arrangement, rocking gently with a cool breeze blowing into the cabin.

At dawn we rose, ate first breakfast (pancakes, I think),
 paddled a mile upwind to the underwater trail, and enjoyed a wonderful swim through the beautiful lagoon, full of healthy brain corals, reef fish, and barracudas, surrounded by a reef of elkhorn coral. We swam along the barrier reef toward home, then found a break and swam through into deep blue water over sand, the reef rising beside us looking like a peach orchard that had been bulldozed into a giant pile for burning. Impressive and beautiful and I wish we could have seen it when the elkhorn coral was alive. Gradually we made our way back toward our anchorage, pointing out cool things to each other, wishing we would see a sign of any lionfish.

Short on ice, we decided to head to Christianstead, Wending our way through the fringing reefs (all over the place in St Croix, not to be found in St John and St Thomas), catching a mooring at Susana Santana Park, paddling ashore and walking past the copious plantings of coconuts and tamarinds and other tropical species (including one that is very noisy in the wind),
 happening upon a good hardware store where I could buy some plumbing for the composting head, before finally finding a grocery store and staggering back with groceries and ice.

The next AM we hiked around Christianstead some more and did more shopping, then headed back to Buck Island (I dropped the mooring line at one end of the sail and the anchor at the other and helped with navigation, but Cynthia is quite a competent sailor and handled the remainder). Once back, we decided to hike the one trail on the island. We went through coastal forests,
found a wonderful giant fallen tamarind that still survived,
hiked to the top of the island and visited the overlook,

and down, then swam and cleaned the boat bottom to cool off. We swam out into the reefs to the west and saw three nice lobsters crawling about: too bad it is a monument, but someone would have taken them otherwise. Still no lionfish.

Rain poured in the night, first rinsing the salt from the deck, then filling buckets and both water tanks. Yes! In the morning we wanted to head home, but realized we were running short on ice, especially since we did not intend to hit a store for a couple days. We headed west to Christianstead again as the sun rose,
snagged the mooring at 7:30, bought (small and rather expensive) bags of ice at the local marina, and were sailing north by 8:45. I sailed a bit, but mostly read "Good Omens" aloud while the boat steered itself (nearly correctly) or Cynthia put her hand to the helm to adjust the course.

We spent the night in Lamesure Bay, then snorkeled in Salt Pond and delighted at the healthy specimens of elkhorn, staghorn, and other corals. We sailed back to Hansen Bay and sample Peter's rum punch (we bought two for the two of us... and it is delicious and knocks you on your butt. I'm sure I could find a metaphor there, but why?). We spent the night there and in the morning sailed to Hurricane hole and explored delightful areas we had not seen before: wonderful corals and fish and mangroves and sponges and giant crab claws and the shed shells of lobsters: so much to see, even in one's own back yard!

Then we sailed back to my mooring, finished "Good Omens", and packed, and slept well. In the morning, yesterday, we caught the bus to the noon ferry, hugged, and made our separate ways back home.... although I stopped into the store in Cruz Bay to buy my Coffee coffee buzz buzz buzz ice cream. Now she is home with her dogs and I am here without her.


Well, I think I'll go and polish the rust off the welds on my anchor chain and reinstall the nuts on my jib sheet traveler. Keeping busy is good.... anyway, I'll be up at the Cape in four weeks. And, in the meantime there are things to do and people to see. Time to get busy and quit wasting time.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

another trip to St Thomas... squid, sails, lionfish, et cetera.

After a long long day of sailing I am simply ready to fall into bed and zonk out, but first I want to write this stuff down:

OK, I needed to get a couple things done that required another trip to St Thomas: sail repair, waste tank pump-out, get teak plugs and bolts for various projects, replace some tools I have dropped into inaccessible spots of the boat. While I'm at it, why not do a few other things as well? Visit Buck Island, try a new route, see about getting another sail and my dodger repaired, go shopping at Crown Bay, Home Depot, and Cost-U-Less (Costco light).

So, Sunday morning I set out for Johnson Bay in light winds, bearing loads of gunk on my hull, towing Peter's dinghy ("Plan B") as well as my kayak. It took about two hours to make my way there, then dropped anchor, and plunged into the water for the first time since my return and spent a really quite delightful hour or so scraping Plan B and Dorado. The only downside was a nasty rash inside my left elbow: I even took ibuprofen and iced it and, after a couple hours, the burning diminished. I'm used to skeleton shrimp trying to set their hooks in my skin, holding on to a new surface, but this burned badly and looked like nasty poison ivy. There are SO many defensive critters around here!

Sailing around to Buck Island worked just fine: I used the nice heavy nylon line I got from Seth (a friend on Cape Cod) to let Plan B drag far behind so that it did not surf into the stern of my boat. I could have made it all the way to Hassel Island that evening, but dusk might have been settling in, so I decided to spend the night at Buck Island, snorkeling around in the southern mooring field. Decent coral, very nice fish, much more rugged and deep as you work south along the shore... and then I saw a lionfish hanging fifteen or twenty feet below me near a vertical crack in the rock face. I froze, wishing for a spear, wondering if I should swim back to Dorado, snag it, and paddle back in the kayak. Nope: it took a good ten minutes or so to swim back in a beeline, I had begun to shiver, and the sun was setting. Maybe in the morning...

Well, my morning swim was completely delightful, but no sign of the lionfish. *grumble*! So I made my way back to Dorado and swam around it... and an entire school of blue angelfish(?) were nibbling eagerly at the remaining life growing on the bottom. I'm delighted that they enjoy my boat! And, who knows, maybe they will clean it significantly.

Sailed to Hassel Island, caught a mooring, brought my jib in to Manfred (he repaired it AND another for $70!... and thinks he might be able to repair rather than replace my dodger.), played with the tennisball-sized hermit crabs eating corn scattered for them on the sidewalk, shopped in town (mostly good, but Home Depot had only two of the eight things I needed (out of the others)... and Costco no longer carries my cereal.), chatted, got my tank pumped, fed the danged mosquitoes, and, after 30 hours, departed at 1:30 on Tuesday with plenty of time to get to Buck Island, but not enough to get to further bays.

So.... Buck Island again.... same mooring again.... swam out (through about 50 tourist snorkelers) to see if I could spot the lionfish. This time, as last time, I saw loads of fish, but the highlights were a gray and yellow fish (parrotfish?) carrying a little urchin, unsure how to eat it; seven squid in a little school, a shark sleeping in a pothole in the rocks, a really beautiful little electric blue angelfish with gold specks.... and the lionfish, hiding in the dark recesses of that crack! I swam back, geared up, paddled back, dove down.... and it was not there. Holding breath, rising slowly and scanning the crack.... and there it was, several feet higher than before! Nearly out of air, I rushed the shot and only hit it with a single barbed tine of the six, but that sufficed and I rose triumphantly to the surface.

The angelfish came back to my boat and I counted about 50 to 70 of the hand-sized critters. Other fish joined them: rainbow parrotfish, needlefish, jacks, and others. Very nice. I love that this location, clearly a favorite of humans, is actually benefiting from their attention: fewer lionfish and fishermen, far more reef fish, nice clean coral.

This morning I headed out well ahead of sunrise and headed SE, into the teeth of the wind, and (soon) into a beautiful sunrise.
 A bit later, looking behind me, I could see the first cruise ship of the morning heading into the harbor.

Plan B had been taking on lots of water (about 15 gallons per hour), so I made some changes that reduced that to just a few per hour. It also really reduced the shocks of the boat hitting the end of the tow line. Normally I head offshore, well away from the traffic, but this is where waves and wind are highest and Plan B worried me, so I stuck close to shore, even threading the narrow channel between Great St James Island and St Thomas. SO busy! I even raced a hobie cat for a bit.

By noon or so I decided I should check Plan B, but didn't want to snag a mooring. Then it hit me: I could heave-to! This is a maneuver I practiced once on my 8-day sailing course and have heard great things about. The general idea is to tack, but don't switch the jib. Then steer upwind until the boat balances and sort of sits in the water, making slow forward/sideways progress. I've heard horror stories about how hard it is to get right and we had some trouble on my 8-day course, but I spun the wheel to tack, spun it back to head up.... and the boat locked in, sitting stable and luffing slightly, eddies showing where water is sliding sideways past the keel, Plan B sitting on a nearly slack line. Very nice!
Five minutes later, with Plan-B bailed out, I tacked the jib and set off again.

Got home hours later, about 5pm, snagged my mooring, and furled jib and dropped main before the boat swung around on the mooring, then staggered back to the cockpit to pick up, clean up.... and install teak plugs on Gigi, the neighbor's boat.... and water Peter's plants... 

So, today was mostly a long and boring, as well as slightly stressful, sail in full sun after a couple excellent days of getting stuff done. I even had to use sunscreen today, but at least did a lot of reading and took a couple cat naps. And now to climb into that waiting bed and sink into slumber: I hear it calling....

So much waiting for me tomorrow! Composting head (toilet), taxes, plan for a sailing trip to St Croix, get airline tickets for other trips, etc, etc. But, first, sleep.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Oysters, deck work, and back home... for lots more work

Well, here I am, back in St John, sweating lightly in the closed cabin while a light shower passes... a pretty nice change from the cold of Cape Cod in the spring... although I miss my miss.

The last week or so on the Cape after ice-out (the amount of ice was really amazing and unusual... just as was the dry warmth of the west coast. Is this a symptom of "global weirding"? Well, one winter hardly constitutes proof, just data.).

So, what to say about the last week? Spring comes late to the to the Cape, so winter lingers. Cynthia and I collected oysters at an unnecessarily extreme low tide. These made a wonderful pre-dinner snack a few days later.


A local red fox really enjoys the bits and pieces we toss out into the "meadow", our local "kitchen midden". I tossed out some compost and nearly hit it before I looked. It dodged into the underbrush at this assault, but returned within two minutes to check for anything edible, watching warily for further missiles.

Another day, we took a walk on Morris Island with a north wind biting. The island sheltered us for most of the walk, but the wind really tore at us for the final five minutes. Cynthia pointed out that the multitude of bird carcasses on the south end of the island bore tags.... I wonder if researchers are investigating deaths or other details of this harsh winter. Anyway, we had fun looking at them and locating blueberry bushes for revisiting in July.

The deck is coming along nicely, but I'm having back issues and didn't get much done before heading back south. At least I got the posts & decking installed and set the top rail installed to keep folks from walking off the edge. I'll finish up before June.

Now that I am back (slightly over two days now), I've been going nuts with working on the to-do list. I've installed the required "St John, USVI" on the stern, installed the trim on Gigi (I brought Dorado alongside so I could use my power tools), repaired the aft pulpit feet, measured my spare jib, ordered materials on-line, & installed the trim for the jib halyard on the mast.

My back enjoys the flat, harder bed I have on-board. Sometime in the next few days I need to scrape the bottom and head down to St Thomas to deal with the waste tank and the sail repairs. I feel tired just thinking about the endless list.... maybe I should eat more coffee/chocolate. At the very least I need to do some of my night yoga on the deck: that always leaves me ready to face the day. Well, time to hit the hay...