Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Night moves... and boobies on the rocks.

Sight matters: one finds it easy to sail into trouble and far easier when one can not see. So, in the past I have been very very reluctant to sail at night. Last trip down here, however, we suffered through days of really light winds and, determined to get out of the BVIs, tried sailing one night. It worked delightfully and we managed to drop anchor in Brown Bay about 2am. We did another similar sail the next night, setting out after midnight so that dawn would give us the gift of vision by the time we needed it. So...

Cynthia arrived in St Thomas on the 12th and, as usual, I sailed over to meet her at the airport. We then walked a quarter mile, paddled a hundred feet, and climbed into our floating home. We did the usual adventures, hunting lionfish in our usual spots... and then got bored...and frustrated at not being able to confidently eat the tasty lionfish since ciguatera toxin is common near the BVIs. I turned to her and said "if we head out now, we could sail all night (a first!) under the full moon and be in Culebra at sunrise."

Her face lit up in a big grin and, ten minutes later, we set out from Leinster Bay.

An hour or so later, nearing sunset, we came across a couple in a dinghy at a dive mooring at Carvel Rock. We swung in close and said hello as we passed. They were apparently planning to watch the full moon rise and share a large bottle of wine...but forgot a corkscrew...and as we passed, asked if we we had one. Well, we heaved-to and they motored over and rafted-up with us and I popped out the cork. They offered us some, but we declined and continued on while they motored back to the mooring.

The sun set in beauty and the moonrise during dinner took our breath away. All night we slept in shifts, near dawn a cruise ship, shining like a city, passed within a few hundred yards (yes, I had been watching it for over an hour and they had probably been watching us), and we enjoyed our sunrise. Around lunch time we dropped anchor at the ferry terminal at Culebra, paddled into town, saw a couple big iguanas,

and got groceries, ice, and our favorite celebratory lunch.....ice cream!

We did the usual lion hunting and ate some delicious lion fillets, sauteed in butter, salt, and pepper. We saw a little blue fishing boat with a fisherman and diver, clearly poaching as much as possible from the south side of Cayo De Luis Pena,
but I had minimal phone signal and the FWS does not have a texting tip line. After a few days we were bored and set out in a home-ish direction.... going up-wind is never fast or direct.

The first tack pointed us straight for the east end of Vieques, a place we had always meant to visit... and we would be arriving a few hours before nightfall....and there were some big rainstorms expected all night, so harbor before dark would be quite welcome. We rounded the east end (spotting several brown boobies on shore... sorry, no pictures came out well),

Sailed slowly for a mile or two over fairly shallow waters (15' and more) where Cynthia put on her mask and  enjoyed a fast scan of the ocean bottom,
pulled into Bahia Salina Del Sur, dropped anchor, and slipped into the water to scout. Incredible stuff!...just not incredibly good.

The first thing we noticed was lots of rocks along the shore and minimal coral. We also found quite a few things that looked like wine bottles and ranged from the 2-liter size to more like 6' long, some with fins:
unexploded bombs from the recent decades of bombing, still not cleaned up. We even found one that had tail fins on it. Clearly there HAD been coral, but all turned to rubble. So much was dead, dead, dead and covered with algae, but we did find spots with some fish and fire coral and found one small spot with ten lobsters, huddled together in the only shelter around, several standing piggy-back on others!

In the morning we departed in rain
and doubt we will return.... except, perhaps, for the dark dark skies: no nearby lights or habitation (due to bombs remaining) mar the night

We sailed in light rain from Vieques toward St John, wind changing and dying and building again, clouds initially covering so much sky that our panels brought in zero power before 10 AM. At sunset, over ten miles from any land, a caribbean cave swallow circled us, tried hanging onto a stay, then a lazy-jack, then a lifeline near the bow, then a nook next to us (but hidden by the blackout curtains),
all the time twittering lightly. Finally, it cautiously crept under the curtain and into the cockpit....

then flew through the open companionway and into the cabin where it quickly settled down (with much twittering) on the clothesline, tucked its head beneath a wing, and slept the night away.
We delighted in our new companion and that it had found a refuge with us rather than falling in exhaustion to its death in the water. Light seemed to disturb the tired bird, so we used a red light when we needed light.

Another beautiful sunset passed as we sailed on, catching a mooring at Flat Rocks (near Saba Island off St Thomas) before midnight. We had moored there earlier in the week, so our chart plotter gave us perfect directions to the mooring we had caught before.

A night of wild rocking and poor sleep. Set sail at 4:30 and were close to the south coast of Water Island when it became light enough and the swallow emerged from its "cave" with a chirp and headed eagerly for land, leaving us with numerous little white piles on floor, bedding, and hanging clothes by which we might remember it.

By late morning we caught a mooring at Buck Island, swam for fifteen minutes, found some of the best patches of staghorn coral we've ever seen, then continued on.

Approaching St James I, the wind became fluky and light and continued this way until near sunset, so we swam and looked at the remora under the boat
and collected debris (gold mylar horse shoe shaped balloon)
and tried to hold onto our sanity. By early evening, the wind picked up and we sailed nicely and Cynthia cooked our first hot dinner on the high-seas: a very tasty veggie/chicken/simmer-sauce dish. Skies cleared gradually and, by the time we glided into Johnson Bay, the sky sparkled with stars.

OK, maybe not glided perfectly....weird wind had me choosing between taking a course through shallower water than usual or taking longer.... and I knew the bottom was softer than Cape Cod sand. We moved silently... then stopped slowly and firmly, grounded. Half-an-hour, two anchors, and the jib sheet winches had us free quietly enough that no neighbors woke. I appreciated Cynthia's calm assistance and felt considerable gratitude for all the experience I've had pulling boats off shoals on Cape Cod.

So many firsts! First all-night sail, first sailing cooked dinner, first bird hitchhiker, first rafting-up, first grounding of Dorado, etc. We took photos of a string of planktonic tunicates (it broke up and the freed individual bits zoomed about the bowl), found and photographed iguanas, and so on. More memories!

And we have decided that we love sailing at night, enjoying the cool breeze and bright stars, getting to good dive sites for our dawn dives/lion hunts (24 Lion fish removed by Cynthia on this trip).

And Cynthia really wants a working motor......more on that later.


  1. Hi Skip, any new adventures? Doing lots of winter winemaking here at Shalom Orchard!

  2. Love the night sail description. What's this about I exploded bombs?

    1. The US navy used part of Spanish Virgin Islands of Vieques and Culebra (parts of Puerto Rico) for exercises. Activity on Vieques ended in 2001, apparently, and not everything that should go "BOOM" does so: there is a surprising amt left around and cleanup proceeds slowly.... if at all.