Saturday, December 24, 2011

Recap on “Erwin 2011” boys trip. We met Captains Erwin, Hendricks, & Weber and their merry crews on their first day in the BVIs. We took the opportunity to provision at the nearby Right Way. Never seem to get out of these grocery stores for less than $60. Could be the $1.25 per roll toilet paper. What do the locals use? Zimbabwe Dollars?  Next day we sailed upwind to Marina Cay. The island is dominated by a Pusser’s bar/ restaurant and outlet. Pusser’s rum, had a long tradition with the British Navy.  Not only was it rum of choice for daily rations up until July 31’st 1970, I’m sure it had much to do with recruitment tactics just prior to a ships leaving port.  Pusser’s Inc. on Marina Cay has evolved into a slick marketed product, full of branded overpriced shirts and hats, and, on an island with no competition, a pretty overpriced place to eat and drink. We did enjoy our 8 dollar cocktails and 36 dollar Wahoo dinners, but I won’t be back anytime soon. In fact I was so miffed at the Wahoo pricing that I obtained a BVI fishing permit which took all of 15 minutes and 45 dollars. What I found most interesting was when I walked out of the BVI Administrative Building, I carried out only two pieces of paper, the credit card receipt and the license itself. If I was in the states I would have been buried with 25 pamphlets saying what not to do, when not to do it, a life study of some endangered species that no one gives a rat’s ass about although it has some lobbyist’s fingerprints all over it.  Not here. Nothing saying you shouldn’t fish with dynamite,  catch and eat new born sea turtles and use their shells for ashtrays.  Nothing.  Now this is government that can run lean! Team Erwin and Thai Hot went our separate ways for the remainder of the week with a promise to meet up at Cooper Is. on Friday or back at Conch Charter on Saturday. We started off at Cam Bay, Great Camanoe Is. which is just south of “Throw Way Wife Bay” (can’t make this stuff up) for a restful night alone at anchor listening to the breakers on the reef just off our bow.  We than worked South to Norman Island, where we first started noticing a trend develop,  no room to anchor. The “harbor master” has seen fit to carpet bomb most of the harbors with mooring balls making it damn near impossible to put an anchor down. You are then compelled to use a 25-30 dollar mooring instead of a free anchor. We made our way northward and upwind from Norman Is. to Cooper Is. in rather “snotty” conditions. Gusts of wind would tear the whitecaps off the waves and send them off in a fine spray. Enough rain water to fill the dink.  Cooper Island went through some management changes a few years back and the new group has reinvented the place. New open air restaurant and bar along with several cottages for rent, very professional staff.  A pleasure to go there.  Met some fellow North Jersey sailors from a neighboring town on the beach and shared stories and cocktails.  Always great to meet people with a sailing passion. Erwin’s fleet didn’t make it from West End, Tortola and had to put in at Norman’s for the night. We caught up with them in Road Town and had a wonderful dinner at the Dove. So good that we made reservations for Christmas Eve dinner there. It’s our first Christmas not being spent home or with family. And I don’t care how you spin it, Reggae Xmas overdubs and lights on palm trees don’t cut it. Although I don’t miss any of the holiday craziness, malls, over commitments and deadlines.
We made our way to Anegada.  An Island of the BVI’s that’s a bit off the normal path.  It was always billed by the chartering companies from which we rented from in the past, as a place that’s great to go to but the journey there leads through the gates of Hell.  The real reason is that it is “over the horizon” ie: you can’t see it from your current anchorage.  The chartering company isn’t sure their charters can read a compass or pick out a coral head in the crystal clear water. The main attraction to Anegada is its relative remoteness, fresh local fish, and what has become a staple in the Islands… a $53 Spiny Lobster grilled over a split 55 gallon drum fired up by loose branches and whatever is lying about.  Sucker!   The next day we thought of renting bicycles and touring the Island.  It was either $40 for two bicycles or $50 plus gas for a small car w/ac. After a brief description of the Islands road “system” we opted for the car and quite happy we did. We left with a stern warning to not drive into the pond and a “stay left” we were on our next adventure.  We ran into our first road crew just as the road ran out of concrete, just a few miles from “town” this crew was busily cutting side brush.

Just another example of lean government. No union guys leaning on shovels here… and fertilizer to boot!   We looked into all the pond openings we could find for the fabled Caribbean Flamingos but did not see any. Perhaps they have taken up new digs on the front lawns of America. We did find one of the last remaining great places to go, Cow Wreck Beach.  An open air restaurant and bar looking out at the reef system and breakers on the North side of the island. Incredible views, deserted beach, and someone had the foresight to put a restaurant there that could put out excellent ceviche as well as an ice cold beer. You were so close to the water that the leading edge of the cement slab the building rested on, was a tad undermined.  This was the BVI’s before merchandising areas got bigger than the bar.  Ms. Bell, the owner/operator made sure everything was right as she went about her chores.   

Ms. Bells Place.

Now that’s a beach!

Cowboy boot sandals, hand tooled! Soon to be a Dallas craze.

Where’s the Corona bottles?
Tearing ourselves away from near perfection, we continued our trip circumnavigating the Island.  We next hit the other main beach restaurant at Loblolly Bay. Nice for the family, but no Cowboy Wreck. Headed past the Airport and into the “settlement” as the locals call it, which actually shows they have a sense of humor.  There were herds of goats, chickens, more donkeys, and the best... free range cows and bulls. Luckily the little fella was following a clearly hot cow into the local garbage dump for a little dinner before dancing. We finished our adventure back at town, dropping off our vehicle and headed to Neptune’s Treasure Restaurant.  A bit away from the rest of the establishments, but far and away the best.  Great fresh fish and wonderful service with a view of the BVI’s.

Next, back to Jos Van Dyke

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas! Thai Hot in full X-mas mode. Facing Saba Rock and the Bitter End

Sunday, December 4, 2011

We are on our way today to meet up with Erwin and his annual outing of boys cruising the BVIs. Can’t wait to see some familiar faces.  Seeing the BVIs from the USVIs was like peering down a favorite ski trail last ridden long ago. Can’t wait to point the bow over.   

The wrap up on the USVIs (sans St. Croix for now) goes like this: St. Thomas, while being the most populated, has the most problems. Large cruise ships and a great port of entry make for an economy on fast food. Ships come in and hoards disembark, get delivered to ”downtown” via the local transportation with its overpriced yet lousy restaurants, tee shirt shops, bars and a plethora of jewelry shops. Barkers descend on the throng like whales herding bait fish, cutting to the weak, vulnerable and potentially lucrative. All of the characters are there; greasy salespeople that would make a used car salesman turn and run, a well-disciplined security team to eliminate the all too easy grab and go. And, of course, the prey. Not sure but I think footwear is the single biggest tell. Very new white sneakers, they are as subtle as laser beacons.  Outskirts of town are the usual Island mix of broken down, funky living conditions, children dressed in school uniforms, gated resorts and luxury properties. The Island reminds me of strip mine mentality, leaving the equipment to rust after the numbers go red.

Laura and I used the mass transportation, which are heavy duty pickups with a seating / hard top arrangement that’s welded or bolted to the truck frame. They sit about 20 and are called a “Safari”. For  1 $US per ride and 2 for across the Island they are a handy inexpensive mode. Generally the locals made us feel welcome if we worked through the sometimes thick cognitive dissidence. The expatriates were a trip. Fell into 2 groups: 1st those down for less than 3 months, young, looking for something other than the job they were doing. Ok, so they were all bartenders or wait staff, what did you expect, we’d hang out at a nunnery? And second, those that have no interest in the “states” and are planning on living their lives out in their hippy style with the help of food stamps and cheap rum.

On one of our excursions Laura commented on all the construction going on. It did seem like a lot until you cut the active from the inactive sites. About 90 percent were abandoned or stalled, they reached back in time to when the Incas got beaten off the Islands by the Spanish. Sites left for dead and overgrown, usable materials long ago pilfered. Construction techniques follow the common Island mentality.  There is not 5 linear feet of quality workmanship to be found on the St Thomas public areas.  Maybe that’s as far as you can put together in a day.

We anchored in Red Hook, St. Thomas, had to come back from St. John for some repair stuff, laundry, fuel, happy hour. Saw some great things, race horses being swam for exercise with loud snorts of exhalation.  An on the beach baptism of 6 people, each pulled violently backwards by the minister into the clear sea, giving the devil a “I’ll show you who’s in control!” Amen! Those gathered on shore howling in delight.  We also became aware of a people movement pattern we called “the migration” of those in the know.  Going to the early bars with the current, best, offerings of drink and food happy hour specials and working the streets until they have had their fill.  There were a few places that snare the newbie or casual drinker with something exotic. My favorite to watch being consumed, is produced at Duffy’s Love Shack and is called the “Shark Pool” it’s 62 oz. with 6 liquors, presented in a fish bowl that Gary Larson would be proud of.  It is the color of florescent aqua blue and comes complete with two, three inch rubber Great Whites, jaws wide, menacing, and liquor filled. The imbiber can either add the contents back into “the Pool” but more commonly has a mouth to mouth with the savage beast.   The bowl comes with 6 straws (perhaps a suggestion of how many patrons the drink should be divided by) which by the second round are usually adorning someone’s hat in a My Favorite Martin-esq manner. You can’t beat this for entertainment.

St. John has a few different personalities. The most dominate is the US Park System which keeps a tight ship on access and anchoring. The shores and coves are pristine and they have an abundance of trails and nature walks. Cruz Bay, the big town on St John has a decent night life and shopping for most of your needs. A bit too tight for more than a day.  And on the East end, Crystal Bay, it was labeled an anti-tourist destination and we thought that might fit our increasingly bohemian life style. Unfortunately it was populated with the expats that could not afford St. Thomas.

I’ve taken to turning on the Internet and skipping over the MSN page. The last time I looked, the media bashing had started in full earnest ahead of the election with only 11 months to go. Very glad not to have a cable feed.
We were just getting into a pattern of waking up, diving off the back of the boat, rinsing off, drinking coffee, (we’ve managed to hold off “cocktail hour” until 4 or 5) and either sightseeing, reading or working on the boat. Formal cocktail hour and dinner. Rinse, repeat. 
On to the BVIs