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.

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