CHAPTER 4    Image1

 

VIRGIN ISLAND CHARTER

 

OUR FIRST BAREBOAT CHARTER

            Time flew by and our charter vacation was rapidly approaching. We had been savoring the knowledge for the past few months that a yachting vacation in the tropics was in front of us. Though intangible, there is value in knowing you would soon be departing for "The Islands". That knowledge helps make living through the winter months easier. Another good thing about planning a vacation that has a committed schedule is that no matter what happens in the work world, you're excused, because it has been planned and paid for. The excitement was building. We hadn't had a real vacation for a long time, and this one required me to be the skipper of a 46' sailboat. A recap of the high points of the vacation belongs in this log because the entire event would not have happened without the experience we gained on Moonshot to qualify me as a bareboat skipper. In retrospect that's not true. We could have paid extra for a skipper, but that was not an option for me. It was my destiny to be the Captain.

            That brings up an important subject, one's style of skippering. It is a function of personality, skills and knowledge. There are many Captain Blighs in the world and being with one can take much of the fun out of sailing. You can have a good personality for the job, but it takes more. I feel I am well suited for it, because I'm flexible, agile, and quick. I meld with the personalities on board, assessing the skill pool and what each person can and wants to do. I then fill in the voids without a domineering style of leadership. This is easier if you have the confidence to single-hand the vessel, if needed. There is also skill and knowledge that goes beyond confidence. After gaining a few basics, I felt that I was able to deal with anything that presents itself to me when it comes to skippering. The more I learn, I realize that's fine for me, but a skipper has responsibility the safety and well being of his crew and vessel as well. I saw a plaque in the ship's store at the Bitter End Yacht Club on Virgin Gorda that read "The Captain is the one responsible when the vessel sinks."

 

GETTING TO THE BOAT

 

            We spent the evening of our arrival at the Ramada Yacht Haven on St. Thomas. It was sunny and warm. It had recently rained so there was moisture on the ground, and the scent in the air was sweet. We noticed on the way to the hotel that we had arrived during the Cinco de Mayo celebration. David and Marcy wouldn't be arriving until the next afternoon, but after checking in, everyone else met for cheeseburgers at one of the nearby restaurants. Soon we were awake, showering and repacking our duffels.

 

Figure 18: St. Thomas harbor

 

We were already beginning to savor the time. From the balcony of our hotel room, we could see out over St. Thomas Harbor. It was full of sailboats, most of which were outfitted for cruising. We saw no dodgers or windscreens as on the boats in San Francisco Bay, though there were many wind scoops funneling the warm breeze into open hatches. As we watched over the harbor, a rainbow gradually started to appear over the entrance, while a large cruise vessel comparable to The Love Boat entered the harbor from some overnight journey. There was much pent up anticipation to get to our boat.

            Since we opted to provision the boat ourselves, we had work to do before we could start enjoying the cruising pace, but first a comfortable breakfast in the garden gazebo for some nourishment. We were getting to know our crewmembers and rapidly developed things in common experiencing the sights, sounds, and smells of St. Thomas. We had prior experience with Jim and Jo. Jim is very easy going and likes to find the humor in situations around him. Joanne is a talker. She is well read with a good vocabulary and very observant of people. Their sailing experience is not why they were there.

 

Figure 19: Breakfast in the gazebo

 

We were just getting to know Jerry and Cheris. Marsha and I were the team A skipper and first mate; Jerry and Cheris were team B, at least on our cruising resume. They had joined us from Oklahoma. Their experience came from in land lakes on smaller boats. Jerry was a character, very expressive and animated, a funny guy. Cheris looked a lot like Marcy, We could tell they were sisters.

            After breakfast, we checked out, hailed a cab and headed for Jersey Bay, the location of Caribbean Yacht Charters. We decided to stop there first to drop off our luggage. Our taxi driver waited outside the market while we shopped. Once inside the grocery store, we found many of the shelves were empty because of the Cinco de Mayo celebration. We split the shopping list and reconvened occasionally to discuss substitutions. Marcy had organized the list ahead of time. If she was only here now for the fun part. We spent around $420 at the grocery store and $60 on the taxi. My half of the kitty had just taken quite a hit. Fortunately, the beverages were provisioned by CYC and were already on the boat. Because of the mix of sailing experience, we divided the work into two categories. The sailing work and the galley work. Jim, Joanne, David, and Marcy were the galley team, Marcy would be the galley skipper. Such a deal!

            We were in the Compass Point Marina. The vessel's name was "Rum Runner". It was huge. We had several things to do before getting underway. We had to stow the groceries and luggage, find our skipper, and go through the chart talk. While the rest of the crew got busy stowing the groceries in appropriate hatches Jim and I found a tavern on the marina grounds. The tavern served lunch so we could dine once again on cheeseburgers. We met our skipper there. His name was Randy. Randy used to be an executive for a large hotel firm based in New York. He and his wife decided there were better things to do with one's life than run in that rat race. He liked the pace of life in the Caribbean much better. I wasn't sure of his sailing credentials but he seemed bright and knowledgeable. We invited him to join us for lunch. While eating, David and Marcy arrived. I was sitting next to David as he was taking delivery of his first beer from the waitress. From the look in his eyes, the rest of us clearly had a head start on becoming one with "Island Time".

            Back on the boat after lunch, we had to choose who had which berthing arrangements so we could stow the luggage. We put 4 numbers in a hat, #1 for the V-berth, #2 for the convertible table in the main salon, #3 for the bunks in the hall leading aft, and #4 for the stately aft Cabin. Marsha and I drew 1, Jim and Jo drew 2, Jerry and Cheris drew3 leaving the aft cabin for David and Marcy. Marsha and I were happy with the V-berth as we were used to sleeping in the V-berth on Moonshot. We agreed we would rotate every couple of days so it would be fair to all. We still needed to do the chart talk and pick out our snorkeling equipment. Everyone picked out their size fins and a mask that held tight to their face while inhaling through the nose. We threw all the gear into an aft starboard hatch and proceeded to CYC's office for the chart talk.

            Randy and one of the managers of CYC went through all of the areas on the chart pointing out the boundaries of insurance coverage and where hazardous conditions existed. They discussed each of the islands one by one explaining details about the main points of interest. These included the anchorages, docking facilities, where we could unload trash, where the restaurants and bistros were, where the good snorkeling was, and where the best beaches existed. They also pointed out where we could get fresh water. There is always the "typical itinerary" but things seemed flexible.

            Randy next conducted the vessel walk-through, proceeding to explain all the ship's systems. We needed to understand the marine toilets, 12 to 14 long pumps wet then clear the bowl dry. It had a long way to travel through tubing before exiting the hull. Try to avoid swimmers. There was a shower in the forward head and a bathtub in the aft one. We would need to get more weight on the port side of the boat to get the shower water to drain completely. We had to learn about the electrical system. Some of the switches were in the cockpit forward of the steering wheel, on the binnacle. The rest were on a panel over the chart table. The running lights were disabled; an added reminder that CYC's insurance didn't cover us sailing at night. The refrigeration system was important. This system used cold plates. We would have to be running the engine for about one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening to keep frost on the plates. The engine drives a compressor that freezes the briny fluid in-between the encased metal plates located in the icebox.

            We learned where the water tanks were and how to switch between them. Good advice came from a returning group on the boat next to us. They said to top off your tanks whenever you have the chance, as it gets much more expensive the further east you go, ranging from 5 to 10 cents a gallon. We received instructions on how to operate the VHF radio, and who would be listening on different channels. Next we went through the contents of the navigation station. Rum Runner had a huge nav station, with plenty of surface area to lay charts on, and plenty of storage area underneath for tools and other items that needed to be handy. It contained detailed instruction sheets on the various systems on the boat in one notebook and another notebook filled with aerial photographs of the anchorages within our reach. We needed to understand our oven system that was fueled with CNG, compressed natural gas. We would probably need to change tanks before we were done, if we did much cooking. I trusted the galley crew to check it out. This got the sailing crew out on the cabin topside to check out the rigging. Has anybody iced down the beer yet?

            I had never sailed a ketch before, so it was fun to explore the mizzen. There was one jib, a roller furled Genoa. The mainsail was large, but the rigging was straightforward. The mizzen sail was rigged just like the main but smaller and located aft of the steering station. This combination of sails provided more flexibility than a sloop. With full sails up, the main could be smaller because of the sail area added by the mizzen, and therefore easier to handle. In heavy winds, you can sail fine with just the jib and mizzen, which can be taken in or put up very quickly. At anchorages, you can leave the mizzen up at night to provide additional stability, though Rum Runner was already a heavy, stable boat. Its gross tonnage was 24. The primary winches for the jib were huge, 3-speed models with large, heavy, double handles.

            The ground tackle consisted of a 45-pound CQR anchor nested in a bow roller. We had heard CQRs were great anchors from both Hank and Richard back on Dock 5. There was an electric windlass that didn't work, it needed a new motor. CYC stated they could bring the new motor to the boat in a day or two, but we would have to stay in American waters. They suggested leaving without it, because it didn't work well anyway. All we would have to do to retrieve the anchor was to motor the boat forward pulling in the rode as we approached, creating the same effect as a windlass. We bought the story. We later learned there was supposed to be a stern mounted Danforth anchor, but it was missing.

            We still needed to cover the swim ladder rig and the dinghy. The swim ladder was a large wooden ladder, necessary because the vessel had a high freeboard. It was made of 2" x 4"'s with carpet tacked on and a fender attached to each end. It stowed behind the port shrouds while the boat was underway. The dinghy was aluminum, with a large rubber rub-rail around its perimeter. It had the capacity to hold 4 people comfortably. Its engine was old but seemed to be well maintained. We learned about a job that would be required when motoring in reverse because we would be towing the dinghy. Someone would need to tend it, so the painter wouldn't get caught in the propeller. We recruited Jim from the galley crew to also be the dinghy tender. This was okay with him because there would be no fish killing this trip, and there was only so much galley work.

            Rum Runner had no telltales on the shrouds, so Marsha and Marcy volunteered the ribbon from their hats. We went through the engine controls, then started it and went back down into the cabin for a couple more details. The engine compartment was also huge. We would need to check the engine's oil and cooling water levels daily. It was fresh water cooled. Tap water would be fine to keep it topped off. We went through the refrigerator operating procedure again. We could only run the compressor with the engine running between 1100 - 1500 RPM's. Otherwise it would be possible to destroy the compressor. All in all, the vessel seemed sturdy and fit. We were all anxiously awaiting to get underway. It was getting close to 2:00 P.M. We needed to forge ahead or have to stay in the marina for the evening as the cocktail hour of 4:00 P.M. was approaching.

 

SAINT JOHN'S

 

            Finally, we were off heading out of Jersey Bay through the channel, which is tricky with all the various boats anchored or moored blocking sight of the channel markers. Randy explained that on our return, we were to contact CYC on the VHF radio. They would have one of their people bring out a skipper to navigate Rum Runner back in safely. Once out of the bay, we hoisted the sails. It was all straight forward. We had to get used to moving around the boat and where to throw the ties for the mainsail after the sail was loose. We also had to get used to how much grinding of the winches was required for the Genoa. The mizzen was just as it appeared, a mini-main-sail. Next thing on the break in list was to get a feel for the helm. The wheel was much larger than Moonshot's. It was also quite slow to respond to changes because of the hydraulic steering system. It didn't take long to get the hang of it.

            At long last, we were sailing along with the warm breeze in the clear blue water. It was time to break out the music. I can't say that I wouldn't enjoy sailing without music, but I'm compelled to bring a good selection for any type of sailing day. In the few weeks before the charter, I recorded a variety tape I thought would be good to listen to. Jo caught on quickly that it sounded like I had made the tape for this cruise.

 

            Variety Tape, 4/28/88

            The Weather, 10,000 Maniacs

            Savanna Woman, Tommy Bolin

            Walk on the Wild Side, Lou Reed

            Mellow, Olivia Newton John

            Heart Attack, Olivia Newton John

            Brother Brother, Tommy Bolin

            Pressure, David Bowie and Queen

            Head First, The Babies

            Stairway to Heaven, Led Zeppelin

            Cilia, Simon and Garfunkle

            Margaritaville, Jimmy Buffet

            The End, The Beatles

 

The only way you can really enjoy music on a boat is by shutting off the engine. Even without music, that is one of the finest pleasures sailing has to offer. Turning off the engine noise while traveling with the breeze.

            While Randy was gaining confidence in our ability to handle Rum Runner, he pointed out the way to pass through Current Cut, a tricky gap between the islands of St. Thomas and St. John. We would be anchoring in Caneel Bay, just off Honeymoon Beach. The next task to master was anchoring with the beastly 45 pound CQR anchor. Randy instructed us to develop an anchoring team and to develop sign language to communicate between the foredeck and the helm, as the boat was too long to shout over the engine noise. It was also noted as important for the rest of the crew to not involve the helmsman in conversation while anchoring.

            Jerry and I went to the foredeck for man handling the hook. Marsha took the helm and Cheris acted as a go between communicator, interpreting our yet to be developed sign language. Marsha kept getting distracted by the rest of the crew's idle conversation. Once we had the hook down, after the boat stopped moving forward, we signaled back to put the engine in reverse. We had payed out about 100 feet, which was a 5 to 1 scope in about 20 feet of water. We then set the anchor by tying the anchor line to a cleat and letting the engine pull the line taunt. We weren't moving in reverse, so we were at anchor. Shut the engine off!

            I don't know if it was David or Jim that first noticed that the woman on the boat next to us about 100 yards away was walking around their deck with no top on, but soon we were all realizing we had reached paradise. Rum drinks all around. Randy could see that the crew was ready for cocktails. He had to make his decision. Were we ready to handle the Rum Runner on our own or would he have to miss his flight back to New York? After 6 hours with the charter skipper, we graduated to become bare boaters and I became the Captain. Jerry and I took Randy around Lind Point to Cruz Bay by dinghy. There he would be able to catch the ferry back to St. Thomas. He pointed out the location of the customs office we would most likely be checking in on our way back from the British Islands. Randy was fun to have on-board so it wouldn't have been disappointing if he had stayed longer.

            Now I had to come to grips with my new responsibilities. Skippering Moonshot had started becoming second nature to me, but now I had someone else's much bigger boat with 7 other crew members and big water for 8 days and nights. Beginning to fathom this, I decided it was good practice to dive to check how the anchor was set. This would make for more peaceful sleeping for all. I geared up and headed down following the anchor rode. We settled in for the evening, preparing the charcoal grill, mounted on the stern pulpit, for dinner. Another daily practice I would be getting into, I learned the next morning, would be diving to retrieve the aftermath; cooking utensils, aluminum foil, parts of the grill, things that had been dropped overboard the night before, usually by David. David was deliciously stepping into the role of the Grill Chief, with Jim's moral support. Marcy was in good form organizing and running the galley and crew. We would be eating well. Joanne was helping Marcy however possible. The "Sailing Crew and Galley Crew" scam was falling into place, on schedule, as planned. Everybody was having a great time.

            Bedtime brought some unnerving information about the boat. Cheris's upper bunk had broken. It wouldn't stay up, so Jerry's lower bunk was out of commission. Cheris crawled into the large aft berth with David and Marcy. Jerry took his sleeping bag out into the cockpit. The next morning brought reading, snorkeling, breakfast, running the engine to charge the refrigerator and swabbing the deck. A pattern was starting to develop; scrambled eggs with leftovers mixed in for breakfast and icing down the beer around 10:00 AM. We all had to make the trip ashore for some hiking. David, Jim, and I made it to the top of St. John following a hiking trail. It offered great views of the bright blue water surrounding the island and the other islands off in the distance. Snorkeling around the rocks on the edge of Honeymoon Beach was pretty good. The visuals were amazing, observing the contrast between what goes on above and below the surface of the water. The swimming was good exercise.

 

Figure 20: Rum Runner at anchor off St. John Island

 

 

Figure 21: David, Jim and Steve on top of St. John

 

YOST VAN DYKE

 

            There wasn't much of a decision to be made regarding a destination for our first full day of sailing. Everybody heard about Foxy's nightclub on Yost Van Dyke, the island with the only British customs office available to us, if we would be going clockwise around the island chain. We would need to check in with customs upon entering British waters. Before leaving American waters, we sailed back to St. Thomas to make a stop at Red Hook Bay. Randy had recommended a place to stock up on some good seafood. While Jim and David walked down the road to shop, Jerry and I wandered in the opposite direction to check out the local marine supply store. It was interesting to compare prices and inventory with those back home. We ended up purchasing a remnant of a 1/4" nylon line and a roll of Duct Tape. Duct tape is like the force, there is a dark side and a light side, and it holds the universe together. It was Jerry's opinion that duct tape was the reason America won World War II. It was the most versatile fastener ever made. Duct tape became one of the private jokes of the cruise, because it solved so many problems. Every time we came up with some problem, Jerry would enthusiastically call out "duct tape" and fix it.

            Yost Van Dyke was only 7 miles away from where we were, but we wanted to get more sailing in before getting there. We sailed the length of Yost Van Dyke to the east and anchored at Sandy Cay for more exploring, swimming, and lunch. On the way, we started running short of beers that were iced down in the cooler. We had purchased an inexpensive Styrofoam cooler on our provisioning run and kept it handy in the cockpit. When Jim went below to get more beer, he couldn't find where it had been stowed. We searched the hatches from stem-to-stern to no avail. Where were the 10 cases of stocked beer, we couldn't have consumed that much in one day. Finally I hailed CYC on the VHF. They found the paperwork from my original order and read it to me. I had discussed 10 cases with them over the phone, but had filled out 10 in the 6-pack blank on the provisioning form. We were running out of beer. I wonder what CYC thought of that call? At least I didn't report it on channel 16, the emergency channel. The sand on Sandy Cay was extremely white and the center of the island was covered with coconut palm trees. What more would you want in paradise? After lunch we hoisted the anchor and sailed back to Great Harbor to set the hook for the night, and visit Foxy's for an evening of dinner and dancing.

            It was subliminal, but this whole being Captain thing had caused a long term stress build up in me and that evening the delicious rum drinks really hit me hard. I was beside myself and trying the patience of my crew. It first became apparent I was losing control when I mutinied the dingy taxi service. David said, "But Steve, you're already the Captain!" Jerry was doing a good job of driving the dinghy, but I was insisting on going on each run with him. This created extra trips. Joanne was resisting my help getting her into the dingy from the boat, so I punched her. As I am told, I was being very obnoxious. As I started reentering my body, I was with Marsha on the beach. She was screaming at me. I felt my spirit wanting to get away and experienced a sensation feeling like I left my body again and circled the island, but found no way off. Back in the dog house again. Later, Jerry tooled me around the bay in the dingy to sober me up.

            Foxy's was dead that night because the band was playing at Rudi's place next door, so that's where the group ended up. Though the weather was once again shaping up to be bathing suit warm the minute we woke up, the next morning was a rough start. We had to clear customs, which proved to be time consuming. The British Islands culture was curt and proper. Ladies couldn't be wearing swimsuits and men had to wear shirts in the customs building. We also had to stock the boat with beer, as we were 7-1/2 cases under our plan. This meant a lot of hauling from Foxy's to the boat, paying premium dollar for the beer. David picked up a neat yellow T-shirt at Foxy's. It read, "Same Shit, Different Day". This phrase was an elaboration on the saying, "Shit Happens" that had been circulating around lately. I bought Marsha a Foxy's nightshirt as a gesture tying to make up for my behavior the night before. It was slow going, but we started getting past it.

 

MARINA CAY

 

            The day's sail would be short. Once underway, we traveled along the north side of Tortola, arriving early to get a mooring buoy off Marina Cay, instead of anchoring. The sail was a good one. The winds were steady at 15 knots. There was enough wind to power the boat, but not enough to notice any appreciable heeling, so Rum Runner remained level. We started noticing that many of the boats we were seeing around the islands were chartered by a company called Moorings. Their boats were built by the French company, Benateau, and seemed to sail well. They also appeared to maneuver a lot better than our Morgan. We saw a couple of the Moorings boats moored near us. They appeared to be chartered with skippers. The skippers were engaging their crews in a sling shot water balloon fight. It looked like great fun. It became clear by employing a skipper, you also got a tour guide and entertainment coordinator.

            The plan for the evening was to wear the best clothes we had packed and dine at the restaurant on the island. We had been hearing good things about the local lobster. A few weeks before the trip, we had gone shopping for vacation clothes at Target. They had their summer fun wear out by then and you can stock up on lots of loud obnoxious bathing suits and other attire. I did. It was fun to see the crew getting clean and dressed up. This has an impact on the water supply. You get to see who the main consumers and conservers are. Marcy took the lead in water consumption with showers daily. That evening we learned one of the two water tanks was not working so we only had 1/2 capacity.

            Dinner was good at the Marina Cay restaurant. Afterwards, back at the boat, people still had energy to sit topside and talk over cocktails. We took down the bimini cover so we could watch the stars. Jerry and David motored the dingy across the bay to Beef Island to use the telephone and check out the Last Resort Bar. Later reports of the bar were entertaining. There was a donkey that would stick his head through an opening in one of the doors. He was a hit with the yachties. After they got back from the Last Resort, David and Jim wanted to play chess or backgammon up on the foredeck. The weather was warm enough for it to be desirable to be outside. They needed light up there so we looked around for the switch. Marcy found it on the switch panel behind the steering wheel. We asked her what switch it was so we would know later. She bent down, read the panel and reported it was the Frederick light. This sounded strange. On Moonshot, the light on the front of the mast was labeled masthead light. Decoy's light was labeled steaming light. Neither Marsha or I had ever heard of the term. We turned to Jerry, to ask if he had ever heard of a Frederick light. He said "sure", so now we learned yet another name for it.

            The next day, after scrambled eggs but before leaving on the day's sail, we decided to motor the vessel up to the hotel dock to top off the water and ice supply. Getting more used to maneuvering with Jim also taking on the job of fender tender when docking, we eased the boat up to the dock. Jerry got the bow tied down, so I put the motor in neutral and jumped off with the stern line. It took a lot of effort to get the stern pulled in. Jerry had to run back and help. Finally secured, I walked up the path to find the attendant for water. While walking back to the boat, after making the necessary arrangements, I saw why the stern was so hard to pull in. So pointing at the boat, I shouted to Jerry. He looked up at the mizzen sail we had forgotten to take down. We were gaining more sensitivity about handling this ketch.

 

VIRGIN GORDA

 

            Stocked up and ready to go, we untied the lines and motored out of the channel. It was sunny and the wind had picked up, so we decided to try open water sailing. We headed north towards Anegada, which was off our chart, and beyond CYC's insurance boundary. It appeared that we could go on one long tack then tack back to end up on the north end of Virgin Gorda, the eastern most island of the British Virgins. The destination for the day was the Bitter End Yacht Club. We learned later that the scenery on Anegada was an illusion, that the short trees and overall low level of the island made it appear further away. We had gotten close to some shallow coral reefs, but we finally tacked. We were experiencing the rollers of the bigger open water on the way back, which made for great sailing.

 

Figure 22: Great Sailing

 

            Jerry was manning the helm and I started thinking about the new term we had learned, Frederick light. I felt I should have known that term by now, so I went below to find the Sailing Handbook Cheris had brought along. As I came back out of the cabin with the book, Jerry bent over to check the spelling. He called out F - O - R - E - D - E - C - K. Jerry had sort of a shit faced look after he had admitted knowing what a Frederick light was. Marcy had misread the spelling in the darkness. This became one of the biggest private jokes of the cruise. The name remained Frederick light and new terms popped up such as Frederick deck, Frederick hatch, and Frederick berth.

            The approach to Gorda Sound was challenging, so the information in the "Virgin Islands Cruising Guide" was helpful. There was a long narrow channel to navigate. I kept noticing other yachts approaching us were going out of their way to keep to my starboard side. I thought this was strange until I realized that people drove cars on the opposite side of the road and they were just following normal rules of the road for Great Britain. There were many boats in the harbor. This was a popular spot. We were there early enough to get another mooring buoy for the night. There was a $10.00 fee for the mooring. This fee included taxi service to-and-from shore as well as a trash pick-up in the morning. More boats kept coming into the harbor and anchoring behind the already full moorings through the afternoon.

            Once settled in, we decided it was time for a snorkeling excursion on the reef near Prickly Pear Island close by. Jo is not a big fan of being in the water and decided to stay behind, so we left the engine running to charge the refrigerator. For something to do, she decided to clean the shrimp for the evening dinner, while we were gone. When we returned, Jo was in an awful state from devaining the shrimp in the hot galley while listening to the engine. We killed the noisemaker and helped her, proceeding to mix the afternoon rum drinks. The grilled shrimp dinner was great, but this meant more diving in the morning for utensils. This time it was the rectangular cake pan. It was in 40 feet of water. We could see it, but none of us could dive that deep. We would have to replace it later.

            The next morning we took the water taxi to shore for an anything but a scrambled egg breakfast and touring. The Bitter End Yacht Club has a prestigious facility. I purchased a BEYC polo shirt in their ship's store. After breakfast, everyone was up for more snorkeling, so we taxied two loads of people over to Necker Island. I encountered my first manta ray there. I carefully maneuvered around it then noticed a second ray next to me on my other side. They say I resembled a beached whale as I flippered to and up onto shore as fast as my enhanced adrenaline level would allow. Great snorkeling though.

            As we were departing the harbor, David noticed one of the cruisers near the back of the pack. It appeared equipped with gear for more than a short charter. They had one of the many wind generators we had seen so far. Of greater interest was the couple on board. The guy was swinging crossways in a hammock strung in the center of the boat underneath the boom. He was being gently pushed back and forth by his lady friend. She was topless and had very large, firm, perfectly shaped breasts. Her breasts were dangling close to his face. The male half of the crew were all breathless. It's too bad nobody thought of taking a picture. It would have made a great poster, one that would have a marked impact on interest in cruising vacations. The fond memory of the sight is still vivid. I don't think the female half of the crew felt the same way.

 

SALT ISLAND

 

            The day's sail took us along the west coast of Virgin Gorda. We sailed in close to the island to get a view of The Baths on the south end. The seas were picking up, so we decided not to anchor. We had a distance to go yet and Jerry wanted more open water sailing on our way to Cooper Island. The Baths are supposed to be beautiful. From what we saw, this appeared to be true. We would have to wait for some other cruise to see them. We sailed between Round Rock off the end of Virgin Gorda and Ginger Island. The south side of Ginger Island looked much like the rock in the Prudential Insurance commercial with its steep, sloping cliffs. The waves started picking up more. We were riding them like a bucking bronco with this 24-ton vessel. Jo started getting seasick, so we had her put on a pair of sea bands. These wrist bands seemed to help, employing acupressure instead of drugs. People seemed to agree that they work. I had gotten a prescription for the patches, before we came, but there was no need to break out the Scopolamine.

            Deciding it was best not to continue heading out, we rounded Ginger Island to make way for Cooper Island. Soon the water conditions eased and we were on a mild broad reach. We came close to the edge of Cooper Island but made it around without having to tack. Our plan was to anchor in Manchoneel Bay and dine at the Cooper Island Beach Club. We arrived at the anchorage late in the afternoon, so there were already many boats there. We made several attempts but the anchor kept dragging. There appeared to be no room left where the holding ground was good and we were just tearing up the coral shelf with our anchor. It was getting darker. I started getting nervous. Some folks on another vessel pointed off toward Salt Island nearby. Jerry's animated facial expressions were peaking as he hoisted the CQR for the third time. What was that about an electric windlass?

            The chart listed the anchorage at Salt Island as a day anchorage only, but we were running out of choices so we motored over. There were two large trimarans anchored on the lee side of the island so we went past them and set the hook. The central part of Salt Island was very flat. We could see the open sea on the other side of it. We were questioning the holding ground, so Jerry and I took the dinghy over to one of the trimarans, to see if they had knowledge of the area's ability to serve as an overnight anchorage. As we approached the closest trimaran, Jerry said he'd do the talking. Acting nautical, he hailed "Permission to come aboard?" I thought this was odd, because we didn't intend to go aboard, we just wanted to talk to them. A woman said to hold on and went to get their Captain. A tall white haired man appeared and said, "What do you want?" This vessel and man looked like old money. Its documented port was San Francisco. He thought the anchorage would be okay, as long as no storms were coming, and that we may want to set a second anchor. Looking motley, we were never granted permission to come aboard. We went back to set Rum Runner's second anchor with the dinghy, while the galley crew started working on our back-up dinner plan, hot dogs.

            Salt Island had only a few inhabitants; people that mined salt. Marsha being the most safety conscious of the crew, thought it was best to stand anchor watch in case we started to drag anchor. She and I stayed topside while everyone else went to bed early. It was very pleasant on deck in the cockpit, warm and quiet. So pleasant I fell asleep. Around 4:00 Marsha decided the anchor was holding fine and that no major storms were likely to blow through in the next few hours, so we went below. The original plan had been to rotate berths every two days but when the second day came, nobody wanted to move their stuff. Jerry and Cheris were piled around David and Marcy. Jim and Joanne were snoozing in the main cabin. We made our way through the darkness to the V-berth.

            Waking up later that morning was the nicest feeling I could remember. Everyone starting to get very relaxed. The Frederick hatch was open and a firm warm breeze from the open sea over Salt Island was coming in across our bodies. With the gentle motion of the boat in the water, it felt like being in a state of euphoric suspended animation.

            Eventually, people started getting up and making noise. The morning routine was becoming established. I would locate the cruising guide from wherever it ended up the day before, look at where we were, and study the likely options for the next destination. I would read about each place, then pass the guide around to anyone interested and point out the appropriate chart and paragraphs. This became a study in the dynamics of group decision making, which was fun with this group. You never knew who was going to have the final word. Whenever there was a decision to be made, anyone that had anything to say would speak up in turn and usually the right thing was converged upon. The galley crew would start the coffee, then figure out what to put in the scrambled eggs. Jerry or I would start to worry about what kind of mess we'd left in the cockpit and on deck the night before and start swabbing. Then I would dive for any grill parts or cooking utensils that needed retrieving. About 9:00 or 9:30, David would remind us that we better ice down the beer. Jim always agreed and started helping. Someone had stepped on the Styrofoam cooler and broke the lid, but Jerry mended it with duct tape. Day after day.

 

Figure 23: British Virgin Islands

 

            This morning, we decided to cross Sir Francis Drake Channel over to Road Harbor, the main port on Tortola. The plan was to stock up on provisions and have lunch, then head back to the southern islands. It was a short, smooth sail across the channel that goes through the center of the island chain, so we used just the Genoa and mizzen sails. Once across the channel, we motor-sailed along the south side of the island to recharge the refrigerator. In the harbor, we motored up to the end dock at the Village Cay Marina. By now, docking was becoming routine. The fenders would appear at the right place at the right time, the sails were all down, and there were no sounds of crunching dock or fiberglass. The dinghy tender was on the job preventing the boat from crushing it or its painter from getting caught in the prop. We stopped at the first restaurant we saw and ordered cold beer and cheeseburgers.

            Water was up to 10 cents a gallon, but we were treating dollars like play money, gladly paying to keep the prospects of staying clean good. We topped off the beer and ice, and then decided to tour the harbor. While the ladies decided to do some shopping, the men dinghied across the bay from Wickham's Cay to Wickham's Cay II. David and Jim took off down the road to find another seafood market while Jerry and I toured the Moorings facility. One of the funniest sights was two young couples trying to dock a Moorings 37' sailboat. The approach was good, the turn towards the dock was good, and then all four went forward leaving the helm unattended. We could see it coming and sure enough, the boat started heading for one of the pilings. They finally worked it out but it gave me second thoughts about ever owning a charter boat. We located the Moorings office and got details on their charter boats. They let us tour some so we checked out their 37 footer. That seemed about the right size for a couple to own and go cruising on. Much more manageable by two people than the Rum Runner. The 37' Benateau looked great. It appeared as if attention to every detail was done correctly. We thought it would be a good charter boat for 4 people; 6 if everyone got along very well. We took literature on the boats for charter and purchase, then left to find David and Jim. They came back with some delicious looking fresh tuna and swordfish. We returned to Wickham's Cay, collected the rest of the crew and prepared to move on. The ladies had found a rectangular cake pan to replace the one we had left behind. We mustered another group decision to head for the dock at the Peter Island Yacht Harbor. We had not stayed overnight tied to land yet and they had hot showers.

 

PETER ISLAND

 

            The sail over to Peter Island was yet another fine one. There hadn't been a single afternoon without wind. Daily, the winds averaged around 15 knots getting up to 18 max. We were able to sail the Rum Runner at an average boat speed of 6-1/2 knots. The normal sailing conditions on Sir Francis Drake Channel were like the best sailing conditions on San Francisco Bay, not taking into account the clean, clear blue water and the lack of industrial scenery. The idea of showers and plenty of water was appealing to everyone, so we anxiously approached the dock at the Peter Island Hotel Resort. By now our collective decision making capacity was just about burnt out. When the question, "What do we do now?" crept up, it was like an irritating buzzing sensation in the background and a wobbly sensation occurred in the legs that made you want to walk away. The sun, climate, and scenery were such that just existing was shear ecstasy and there was no need to do anything at all to make it better.

            A few of us hopped off the boat as the Dockmaster approached. He asked if we would be staying the night. It would cost $1.00 per foot of the boat length. We hadn't anticipated the cost, so we had to think about it. This brought back that irritating buzzing sensation. It gave our faces the expression that we just wanted to walk away. Before anybody had a chance to really think or say anything, the Dockmaster said, "Okay, I guess I could do it for 75 cents a foot." We said sure. We'll spend the night here. Some of us wanted to tour the island. Jerry and Cheris realized they were the only ones not wanting to, so they seized the chance to have some time together on the boat. They are still raising their children and don't get much time alone. With 8 people on one sailboat, this was a rare opportunity.

            The harbor we were in was in Sprat Bay. A short walk over a hill took us to Deadman's Bay. This was a much larger bay with a long white beach. We swam in the surf, and then sat around on the beach enjoying cold beer served from a beach bar. David assumed what was becoming a common position for him, horizontal under the sun, with his hat covering his face. This was becoming such an everyday sight that we nicknamed the after deck on Rum Runner the Albert deck. Jim and I strolled around past the beach and through the sandy coconut palm grove. For a brief moment we discussed business, but then came to our senses and started walking back trying to decide if we wanted to rent a wind surfer. Maybe later. There were two choices for dining out that evening; at the hotel, which required blazers and dresses as attire, or the outdoor restaurant on the beach. We checked out the restaurant on the beach, which seemed like the obvious choice. The group gradually started walking back to the boat to get cleaned up for dinner. Once we crossed over the hill, the view of the resort complex, the beautiful flowers coupled with the rest of the greenery, clear blue water, the islands and the setting sun was the most breath taking sight I've ever witnessed. It was so rich and full of well-proportioned natural elegance. The fragrance was like candy. I am sure it is just as pretty, if we hadn't anticipated the trip for so long, but the sensations were climactic.

 

Figure 24: Enjoying the beach on Peter Island

 

            We had to round up everybody's American quarters for the showers. The cost was $1.00 each for enough hot water to do the job right. It was great to get really clean again. The boat had showers, but here we could get drenched with fresh warm water. We dressed up again and everybody was looking smart with the brown Caribbean tans we were developing. Back over the hill for another great dinner that we didn't have to cook and clean up after, then back to the outdoor hotel bar for some dancing to steel drum music. There was a somewhat stuffy looking group of people sitting quietly at tables in the inside portion of the bar and a group of younger charter people outside. Marcy initiated the dancing that livened things up. Marcy and I went up on stage to request the band play Bang Bang Lu Lu. The bandleader called me a bad boy, but let me try out the drums. They gave Lu Lu their best shot. Later this evening turned out to be sex night, where it was okay for anyone to make noise on the boat at roughly the same time, no questions asked.

 

NORMAN ISLAND

 

            After watching the barracudas swimming under the docks the next morning, we decided to get underway early. We weren't going to travel very far today. The plan was to go to Norman Island, the next island over from Peter Island. CYC told us there was some great snorkeling around the caves on the west side of Norman. We got a couple of hours of sailing in first, heading out Flanagan Passage between Flanagan and Pelican Islands, then back in towards our destination to anchor in The Bight. We had our pick of anchorage locations, because it was still early. We anchored about 100 yards away from a large old sailing vessel that had been converted to a restaurant and bar. I'm sorry we didn't get to visit it, but we still had an abundance of provisions. There was plenty of time for reading and relaxing.

            The good snorkeling spot was around Treasure Point. We would have to get there by dinghy and anchor just off the rocky shore. Snorkeling in and around the caves was some of the best yet, though climbing in and out of the anchored dinghy wasn't easy. On one of the trips back to the mother ship, we rescued another dinghy whose driver couldn't get the engine started. An older woman and a young girl were attempting to tow it back by swimming so we gave them a tow. Showers afterwards had to be brief, as we had to start conserving our water more carefully. There was still another night and we weren't planning to stay or pull in anywhere where this valuable commodity was available. We lazily took our time making it through the cocktail hour, sunset and dinner on the boat, and then slept well. The anchorage was calm. We still had one more night on the water, but that feeling the great vacation was coming to an end was lurking. There were comments made suggesting it would be good to have one more week, but that it would also be nice to have one night on shore, in-between, with another good shower and an evening of privacy.

 

GREAT SAIL BACK TO SAINT JOHN

 

            After the morning routine, we got underway. For the first time we saw a few rain clouds in the sky. The wind had not picked up as usual. We had planned to do more sailing to explore the last bit of the British Virgins. Instead we motored towards the north end of St. John to traverse the channel between St. John and Tortola. As we passed by St. John's east coast, the sailboats closer to Tortola's southwest shore had wind so I motored in that direction. The refrigerator was fully charged so we desperately wanted to kill the engine. This observation was good. We finally had wind and could start sailing.

            It was a pleasant broad reach. Jerry was at the helm so I tried to optimize the sail trim. We were on this point of sail for the first time, so I moved the jib sheet fairleads forward to billow the Genoa. Suddenly, we were in a gentle rain shower. If rain would have happened earlier in the week, people would have been scurrying for protection but instead we were thrilled to be able to rinse the sails and ourselves. David and Jim continued their backgammon game. I enjoyed the fresh water shower. We kept going at a moderate pace, enjoying the sailing and music. Suzanne Vega's first album seemed perfect for the mood and conditions.

 

Figure 25: Relaxing, waiting for the wind

 

            Soon, the sky started to clear and the wind began to build giving us better boat speed. We were in the channel between the islands and our point of sail changed to a beam reach. The fairlead moved aft along the track on it's own, the pin that secured it in place hadn't set. The boat speed kept building, so I trimmed the sails again. The Rum Runner started heeling for the first time as Thomas Dolby's "Wind Power" was playing from another variety tape. This was the sailing high point of the trip, finally getting some thrilling performance out of this heavy cruiser.

            We passed the end of Tortola and were trying to identify the channel markers that would lead us around to St. John. Marsha was in rare form as navigator, identifying the markers correctly while the rest of us were speculating in error. We planned to anchor off the north west end of St. John, near where we spent the first night at anchor because we had to clear American customs before returning the boat the next day. The wind was easing up as we rounded the tip of St. John, so we gently cruised by the beaches heading for port in Cruz Bay. It was Sunday, so we risked having to pay extra or not even being able to clear customs until Monday morning. This would have meant an unnaturally early start to make it back by the noon checkout time.

            We entered port and saw a few old dilapidated mooring buoys that looked like they weren't public. They belonged to a local fishing company. We tied up to one, hoping because it was Sunday, we wouldn't be noticed for a while. We were told, and it was certainly true on Yost Van Dyke that everyone would need to be present while clearing customs. Unsure if we were going to be able to clear today, I collected the crew's passports and Jerry, Cheris and I dinghied over to the customs office. We won again with the scrupulous look on our faces as tough negotiators. This was really due to the lost ability to make decisions quickly. While the large gentleman behind the desk was explaining our costly options, we absent-mindedly muttered aloud to ourselves that we could wait until morning. He said, oh well, hand me your papers. He was cool, when I stated the vessel's name. He asked me if it was spelled Rhumb Runner, after the navigational rhumb line. It should have been. He cleared us all with just the passports at no weekend overtime charge. It took less than half the time as when we entered the BVI.

            Back at the boat, it was clear that we weren't being hassled being tied to this mooring buoy, so we decided a shore party was in order. It was great not having to go through an anchoring maneuver for just a short visit. It seemed timely to rustle up some conch fritters, we had been hearing so much about, for a late lunch. Marcy was suffering from too much sun, but she had to come along for the expedition because my part of the cruising kitty had been depleted and she had the travelers checks. We toured for a while finding the sought after fritters from a street vendor. We also stocked up on enough beer and ice to finish the trip. The port was crowded but it was a fun place to hang.

            Ready to leave, we dropped the mooring buoy and motored through the anchorage, keeping one eye peeled for more topless crew buns, another new term that entered our vocabulary. Not being lucky, we anchored a few hundred yards further around the point than where we had the first night. There was time for one last snorkeling excursion before cocktail hour. We were closer to the rocky edge of a beach than we were the first night, so the snorkeling was much better and within swimming distance from the boat. During the cocktail hour, while fixing newly created concoctions out of the last remaining provisions, we learned we had run out of water from the one working tank. All eyes were on Marcy's most recently showered body, but we all agreed we could brave the last night without fresh water. When it became time to make dinner, we had to rinse the lettuce for the salad in seawater. It turned out to be one of the tastiest salads I can remember eating. After dinner, everyone stayed out late talking and enjoying every last possible minute with the unfortunate knowledge that this great vacation was soon to be over.

 

SURRENDERING THE SHIP

 

            I was the first of the crew to get up the next morning. I put on the same tee shirt that I wore the previous day. When I reached the galley, I saw the bottles of Scotch and margarita mix, and then saw David watching me from the lower broken bunk in the hallway. I grabbed the two bottles, looked at David and went pllutuuutttecchhh, throwing the bottles into the trash and went up to the cockpit. David later came up to the cockpit wearing his "Same Shit, Different Day" tee shirt. I looked at him and stated, "I had the same thought, same shirt, different day."

            Sadly, it was time, time to go back to the homeport. David and Marcy had to catch a mid-afternoon flight to Miami. The rest of us would be spending the night again at the Ramada Yacht Haven. There was enough wind for one last good sail. I kept worrying about making sure we flaked the mainsail neatly when we took it down, so we wouldn't appear careless. The last major decision we had to make was which side of the rock formation in the center of Current Cut we were supposed to pass on. This was a memory exercise more than a decision because Randy gave us explicit instructions, but it seemed more like a decision when we discussed it. Important lesson, take notes. We passed on the right side. I'm not sure it was the correct side, but we made it with no problem.

            As we approached Jersey Bay, I raised CYC on channel 16. They instructed us to keep heading toward the lagoon and they would have a man out shortly to bring in the Rum Runner. It wasn't much longer before two men in a small powerboat approached. One of the men climbed aboard and took over the helm. My job as Captain was done. As we were motoring in, we were discussing the broken bunk and inoperable water tank with the skipper. Our tone was factual, but casual. He said we were lucky we had good weather. He said you should hear the folks complain about the boat, if all they had was rainy weather and no wind. We laughed. He brought the vessel to its berth stern in first. CYC was very accommodating. Maybe it was we had finally reached the pace they lived at all the time. It just seemed like they were tuned in to our thoughts.

            David and Marcy were all of a sudden on a schedule, packed, and gone. They wanted to have time to shop in Charlotte Amalie before their flight. Before they left, we coerced a couple of guys walking by to take photographs of us with each of our cameras in trade for some cold beer. It wasn't a hard sell. Except for me, everyone's pace started picking up as if there was an agenda. I wasn't ready to be hurried yet. The climate was very warm and humid. You could stand on the dock drinking a beer and sweat would come out of your body about as fast as the beer went in.

            We were asked to complete a list of things we had noticed about the boat that required maintenance or attention. This required a good nautical vocabulary. No one remembered that the aft edge of the mainsail was referred to as the leech, so it took a while to describe the fraying we noticed near the top. Packing our luggage was the next task. I was last. I waited until everyone else was through, so I could look for forgotten items. I also wanted to shower before leaving, having missed one when we had run out of water the day before. So everybody was standing about, ready to go somewhere, while I was finishing up. CYC made it very easy to check out. Their comment regarding how we left the boat was "Come again." It never really seemed to matter that we didn't flake the main upon our return. I now had a big fat credential to add to my cruising resume. They gave me a certificate of successful completion as a bareboat skipper aboard the mighty Rum Runner.

 

Figure 26: Crew of the vessel Rum Runner

 

            Finally, it was time to head back to the hotel for the night before our return flight early the next morning. We still had the afternoon for shopping in Charlotte Amalie. Marsha bought David and Marcy's housekeeper a tropical shirt as a gift for baby-sitting Cindy. Dinner was fairly low-keyed as everyone's relaxed minds started migrating back into reality. As our plane took off, we got great aerial views of the islands with their shores spotted with boats at anchor. We were changed people. For the next few days after our return, mornings were terrific with early dreams feeling like floating in the islands with full color visuals, similar to the feeling we had waking up anchored at Salt Island.

Figure 27: Course of the vessel Rum Runner

            When the next weekend finally arrived, we went to the marina to check out our little Moonshot. As we walked down the dock, there was a horrible feeling looking at the icky brown water of our homeport. Moonshot felt like a toy with a tiny little steering wheel. We needed a bigger boat. We would be planning more charters, but not for a while. The thoughts just wouldn't organize themselves.

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Keys to the Golden Gate, Copyright © 2002 by Steve Sears