Happy summer! It’s been a month of fun and change for the crew of S/V Delancey, with friends, opportunities, and a pleasant lack of mechanical woes. Let’s catch up!
This installment finds us in the exact same place as the last, American Yacht Harbor in Red Hook, St. Thomas, where we reconnected with General Manager Mike Revier. Mike, once the manager of our marina back home, moved to St. Thomas two years ago to manage the two largest marinas on the island.
Over lunch, we told him of our plans to race down to Grenada and find jobs while we wait out the hurricane season. Mike suggested that we consider staying in the USVIs instead, citing more employment opportunities and cheaper (domestic) flights to the mainland. We asked how folks in the Vis deal with hurricanes. He explained that all boat owners must have a hurricane plan. For example: Mike’s marinas, while cushy and convenient, are fairly exposed. In the event of an impending hurricane, Mike orders all boats to leave, so sailboat owners either have pre-arranged agreements to haul-out somewhere or find a mangrove creek to snug the boat into (Powerboaters just blast themselves out of the danger zone). He identified some marinas located in Benner Bay, basically a mangrove swamp, that are reasonably priced and don’t shut down during hurricanes. We visited the one most convenient to the bus route and found they had a slip opening up in early July. Knowing it wouldn’t stay available long, we scanned craigslist to see what the job market was like. Confident that there was enough work out there to keep us busy, we signed a contract for the slip through November.
Having made this surprisingly quick decision, we returned to the boat a little dazed as the reality sank in. Over beers, we had the following conversation:
“So, we live here now.”
(Repeat every 10 minutes.)
We decided to not worry and enjoy the island life with a run to Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands. We jumped the five miles across Pillsbury Sound to Cruz Bay, the big town on St. John, where we checked out the National Park office (two thirds of St. John, and much of its surrounding water, is national parkland) and enjoyed a waterside lunch, then bounced up the coast to a park mooring in Hawksnest Bay, one of a string of postcard bays on the northwest side of St. John.
The next morning we crossed an international boundary during our one-hour sail to Jost Van Dyke, where we took a mooring in Great Harbor. After checking in with Customs and Immigration, we walked down the strand to Foxy’s beach bar.
For the uninitiated, the BVIs, with its many islands and cays offering a multitude of beautiful anchorages, all only a couple hours’ sail apart, is a cruising paradise with a thriving charter (rental) boat industry. In fact, Deb’s and my honeymoon was a 10-day bareboat charter (no captain, just us) in the BVI, an experience that first gave us the idea that we could live on a sailboat. As a vacation destination, the BVI have a number of touted must-see sites, among the most famous is Foxy’s bar. Foxy’s New Year’s Eve party is the stuff of legend, with boats crammed into Great Harbor so tightly you could walk from one to the next to get ashore. I’m only slightly exaggerating. Deb and I once went on a BVI charter vacation over New Year’s Eve and, at my insistence, attended Foxy’s party, a decision I quickly regretted. (There’s a reason that, when home, I don’t spend New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Don’t know why I thought this would be different.)
But this day, deep into the off season, found the largely empty Foxy’s a picture of quiet serenity. Deb and I sat with our Carib beers in the open-air bar, staring out at the anchorage, the only sounds the quiet calypso music on the speakers and the fluttering of the signed boater t-shirts hanging from the ceiling. On this unhurried afternoon, we even found Foxy himself sitting alone in a plastic chair on a terrace. Finding we were from New York City, he immediately launched into a description of our hometown, told entirely in rhyming couplets. He continued this entertaining, if well-worn, patter for ten minutes, pausing only to confer with an employee or sign a check.
Having come to know the entire spectrum of The Foxy’s Experience, we bid farewell to the man and dinked back to the boat. As it happens, we had taken a mooring right next to Crystal and Rob aboard S/V Kairos, our cruising buddies from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. That afternoon, we picked up Crystal and Rob and buzzed the dinghy next door to White Bay where we visited another fabled BVI destination, the Soggy Dollar Bar. Painkillers in hand, we surveyed the party scene on the beach.
The next morning we parted ways with S/V Kairos, checked back in with US Customs, and headed back to Red Hook in St. Thomas.
Now all that remained was to find jobs. We weren’t picky, we’d be happy to dig ditches for a few months to rebuild the cruising kitty, but we figured that we should at least first try to find employment in our field. We spent a weekend updating our resumes and researching the architecture firms on the island. Among the five or six firms we found, one clearly shone above the rest (most practices were mom-and-pop shops). Deb made a cold call, had an encouraging conversation with one of the partners, and emailed off our resumes. A few days later another partner contacted us and we set up an introductory meeting. She had project that needed additional hands while the project manager was on maternity leave. Would we be interested? Sure! See you in a week!
Why wait a week? VISITORS! Our super great friends Yvonne and Onat, whom you’ll remember from their visits to S/V Delancey while in Florida and the Bahamas, were flying down for a week of fun, sailing with us around the British Virgin Islands.
Onat is a man aquatic, and the first morning out found him diving for bounty. He returned shortly with a conch and, after a few minutes of research, expertly separated the animal from its shell, cleaned it, and made the freshest conch salad lunch we’d ever had.
After that excellent start, we returned to Jost Van Dyke to swim, grill, and share the Foxy’s and Soggy Dollar experience.
Our plan was to make one long windward passage (about five hours, long for the BVI) to Anegada, at the northeastern extremity of the island group, then spend the rest of the week enjoying short, downwind hops among the islands surrounding Sir Francis Drake Channel as we head back toward St. Thomas. We set out early the next morning, motorsailing along the north side of Tortola through the ultramarine water with Half-Fish-Half-Man Onat manning the trolling line. Within the first few hours, he landed a plump and shiny Albacore tuna.
(Everything I know about this kind of fishing I learned from Onat. Over nine months and nearly 3,000 miles of cruising, S/V Delancey has dragged a trolling line whenever conditions permitted. In all that time we have caught exactly zero fish. I would blame my equipment, except I just watched Onat use it to hook the Albacore. My only logical conclusion is that Onat must be a terrible teacher.)
Unlike the tall, volcanic islands that make up most of the Caribbean, Anegada is a low-lying coral island, more like those of the Bahamas. Rather than the mountains we’ve come to expect since arriving in the Dominican Republic, the first indication you are approaching Anegada is the sight of treetops along the shore. Due to this, a narrow dogleg channel, and shallow harbor with numerous coral heads, many charter companies restrict first time customers from going to Anegada. The chief attraction of Anegada is its abundance of Caribbean spiny lobster, the clawless cousin to our northeastern delicacy.
Lobster, simply prepared without any fancy-schmantzy sauces, is Deb’s favorite ceremonial meal. I had been promising her one since failing to find it for her birthday last month. Here in Anegada, we’d hit the jackpot. Thermidor? Nah. Fra Diavolo? Nooope. Here we watched as the staff of the Anegada Reef Hotel fired up 55-gallon drum grills on the beach, awaiting the giant meaty insects.
We sat at our table (also on the beach; everything is on the beach) for our candelit meal. As night fell, we toasted to birthdays, new jobs, and great friends.
I take this moment to note that Deb and Onat enjoy lobster more than Eve and me. They are joined in a shared love of disassembling animals (see Onat and fish, above) and dining on meals that require effort. Lobster is the intersection in the Venn diagram of these two interests.
After each stripping their own lobsters down to the carapace, including sucking out whatever is on the insides of the antennae, they both turned greedily to their spouse’s plates, astonished that we’d left so much lobster-y goodness behind.
That evening, the crew of S/V Delancey collectively slipped into comfy lobster-induced coma, awaking in the morning to ride a cloudy tropical wave under full sail to Virgin Gorda.
After a day at Saba Rock in Gorda Sound, we moved on to another storied BVI location, The Baths.
Located at the southern end of Virgin Gorda, the Baths are a group of giant granite boulders and caves, scoured smooth by thousands of years of wave action. The rock formations and isolated pools make them both a colorful snorkeling spot as well as a natural jungle gym. During the high season (i.e. winter), they can be very crowded, with bathers from both charter boats, cruise ships, and shore resorts crammed suited cheek to tanned jowl, making it difficult to fully enjoy the experience. Here in late June, we didn’t exactly have the entire place to ourselves, but we had pleasant isolated moments where we were able to explore (and act silly).
Feeling a little woozy from lack of indulgence, we sailed across the channel to tiny Marina Cay for painkillers and a restaurant dinner.
That evening, while planning our next stop, Onat had a brainwave: why not push all the way back to St. John so we can spend an entire day at a mooring? We could sleep late, snorkel the reefs, and laze about before Eve and Onat fly home. Convinced, we took off early the next morning for a glorious downwind sail and, after four long gybes, arrived in Cruz Bay in St. John to check in with US Customs before taking a mooring in Hawksnest Bay.
The next day was perfect. Even after the fun of Jost Van Dyke, the lobster dinner, the Baths, and the painkillers, this was the day of Eve and Onat’s visit that I’ll remember best. We snorkeled, played games, swam with green sea turtles, sang songs, and stared at stars. Onat is a genius.
And then, with hugs and well wishes, our pals were off and we were back in Red Hook. Our new jobs were starting next week, so we took a local slip while waiting for our hurricane hole slip to become available.
Our work with the firm concerns a large private residence in St. John. Our first day required surveying some existing buildings on the site. We ferried across with the Partner-In-Charge, who drove us to the jobsite. We got out of the truck, saw the view, and, after collecting our jaws from the pavement, got to work.
Once we tuck into our hurricane hole, we expect to say here in St. Thomas until November. It looks like the firm has enough to keep us busy for a while. And we need to be busy. When we're traveling, moving from place to place, the days are full of action and incident. In the days since Eve and Onat flew home, we've been quite impressively lazy, sleeping in, staring at our phones, grazing, and watching TV via the internet. In addition to making money, adding a little structure to our days hasn’t hurt.
So, (until November) we live here now. Yep.