After a week of attending to a variety of boat issues, Cutter Loose is finally underway from her slip in Red Hook, St. Thomas. Our plan for the next few days is to cruise the south coast of St. John. As we enter Pillsbury Sound, a 20 knot breeze is blowing from the east-southeast. Transiting the south coast of St. John under these conditions will make life uncomfortable. Instead, we decide to pursue the path of least resistance, seeking shelter in the lee of St. John.
Our first overnight stop is Hawksnest Bay on the north coast of St. John. In an effort to escape the northerly swell, Cutter Loose is tucked into the northeast corner of the Bay. For an afternoon outing ashore, we head to the western shore of Hawksnest Bay, landing the dinghy on a pristine white sand beach that is part of Caneel Bay Resort. We drag the dinghy above the tide line, carefully securing the painter to a tree.
Caneel Bay is a highly manicured resort complete with tennis courts, restaurants, gift shops and, of course, a gorgeous beach. Eager for exercise, we spend hours walking the cart paths and grounds of this lovely facility. In the middle of the afternoon, most of the guests are comfortably clustered near the beach, sipping on tropical beverages. At the Caneel Bay ferry dock, there is also a space for visiting boaters on moorings to tie their dinghies. We decide to explore the dinghy dock for future reference.
We notice a dinghy very similar to ours tied to the dock. Wait a minute. This IS our dinghy! Obviously, we have violated a resort rule by landing our dinghy on the beach. Presumably, a staff member at the resort has taken the liberty of moving our dinghy from the beach to the dinghy dock, a distance of about two miles from Hawksnest Bay by water. Everything is intact. Nothing is missing. There is no note of explanation. We decide that this might be an excellent time to conclude our tour of Caneel Bay Resort and return to Cutter Loose in our dinghy before we are discovered.
It is a clean getaway. Back in Hawksnest Bay, conditions are slightly rolly, but not uncomfortably so. The northerly swells are remnants from distant storms that may have occurred hundreds of miles to the north. We will endeavor to select our anchorages more carefully in the future.
On Sunday morning, we move a few miles east to Trunk Bay where Cutter Loose is tied to a National Park Service mooring. Trunk Bay features a long, white sandy beach and several snorkeling opportunities, including an underwater snorkel trail. From an NPS dinghy mooring near the beach, we don our fins and snorkels to explore the reef. The snorkel trail consists of a series of submerged plaques on the seabed in ten feet of water that identify types of coral and the fish that inhabit the reef.
While Trunk Bay is the perfect spot for swimming, snorkeling and a walk along the beach, it is not a suitable place to remain overnight due to the presence of northerly swells. After lunch, we move Cutter Loose a few miles further east to Francis Bay, the site of our Thanksgiving rendezvous with Caribbean 1500 friends. Here we select an NPS mooring in the northeastern corner of the Bay that is well-protected from the swells. The skies become dark and cloudy by mid-afternoon, signs of an impending shower or squall. Here in the tropics, we are accustomed to brief rain showers followed by sunny skies. But for the remainder of the day and throughout the night, one squall line after another brings gusty winds and moderate rain to Francis Bay.
On Monday morning, we move Cutter Loose to Leinster Bay, a few miles further to the east. The eastern corner of the Bay is buffered from Sir Francis Drake Channel by Waterlemon Cay, which serves the dual purpose of protecting us from the northerly swell while also being a good snorkeling opportunity. The coral reef at Waterlemon Cay is filled with colorful fish. The yellowtail snapper busy themselves feeding on tiny bait fish that swim in schools near the surface, darting left and right to confuse their predators. Angelfish and grunts are also in abundance. The water is crystal clear and warm. There is no need for a wetsuit here in the Virgin Islands.
Besides being relaxing, cruising from one anchorage to another provides a laboratory setting to field test Neal’s fix to the solar panel controller. What an improvement this fix has made! Between the solar panels and the D400 wind generator, the vast majority of our energy demands aboard Cutter Loose are now being met through passive means. We have not used the generator since departing Red Hook, and the diesel engine has been used only sparingly. The trade winds cascading down the steep hillsides that surround our anchorages are especially strong at night. As such, they serve a dual purpose. They keep the cabin cool while the wind generator works efficiently to insure that the house battery bank is fully charged come morning.
On Tuesday, we depart USVI and clear BVI Customs at West End. It has been almost a month since we arrived in Tortola. We are told that we must visit the Customs office in the capital city of Road Town to request an extension to our 30 day cruising permit. Since yet another squall is bearing down on Soper’s Hole, we decide to take a mooring for the night in West End and sail to Road Town in the morning to attend to this important item of international business.
During the past few days, the weather has been windy and squally here in paradise. Wind speeds have been in the 20 to 25 range with gusts to 32 knots in squalls. These easterly trade winds create lumpy conditions in Sir Francis Drake Channel. However, when the immigration man commands us to “go to Road Town”, we follow instructions. But Cutter Loose is clearly not happy with the decision to plow into 25 knot easterlies. She bucks and pounds into the waves, spraying seawater over the bow and across the deck and dodger.
By mid-morning, Cutter Loose is anchored in Road Harbor. The designated anchorage area is quite small in size, 35 to 40 feet in depth, crowded with boats (some of which are derelict) and exposed to the full force of the easterly trade winds. These factors plus the wake from ferry traffic passing nearby make this a most undesirable anchorage. We reach the Customs and Immigration office by dinghy. Apparently, there used to be a dinghy dock at this location, but it has been removed. We are forced to scale an unfriendly five foot concrete ferry dock wall with huge rubber tire fenders in order to gain access to the pier. The immigration man informs us that there is no need to request a 30 day extension to our cruising permit. Apparently, every time we re-enter the BVI from the USVI, a new 30 day clock begins on our cruising permit. As it turns out, our visit to Road Town today for customs purposes is unnecessary. We wonder whether the next interpretation from the next immigration man will be in any way consistent with that which we have heard today. No worry. This is part and parcel of the cruising experience.
We make the best of the situation by strolling through town and sipping cold glasses of fresh lemonade at the Village Cay Marina. A cruise ship is in port today and the shops are filled with tourists. Road Town has clearly been busy developing its waterfront since we last visited here in the mid-1990s. It has evolved into a major urban center with financial institutions, government office buildings, new shopping kiosks for cruise ship passengers and the resulting traffic congestion.
By early afternoon, Cutter Loose is underway from our Road Harbor anchorage and bound for Nanny Cay Marina where we first made landfall on November 12th. Luckily, we arrive in time for a Caribbean 1500 reunion with friends Ken and Laurie on Adagio.