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.

1 comment:

  1. Dustin, Your photos suggest an enviable tranquility and I enjoy reading your tales from the sea. Happy Sailing! Linda