With the Caribbean hurricane season officially starting June 1, our time here in St. John’s is fast drawing to a close. Having arrived over six weeks ago, we have fallen into a pleasant routine of exercise, boat projects, snorkeling, scuba, dinghy trips to Cruz Bay for provisions and the morning newspaper, hiding from the scorching afternoon sun whenever possible, and enjoying “sundowners” with fellow cruisers either on their boats (ours is too small) or at our local beach. At least once a week, a group of us (no more than 5 couples by orders from the Governor) cruise our dinghies into town for a take-out dinner at a local brew pub, which we can enjoy al fresco in the Mongoose Junction mall. The pub has so much extra beer made before the pandemic, they give away a free six-pack for every food order over $20. Each couple typically traipses back to their dinghies with full bellies and a couple of six-packs. We love this place!
While many non-essential businesses have opened since May 2, masks are required to enter any establishment, and compliance is extremely high, from what I have seen. Today I noticed a couple of bars were actually letting people sit inside and consume alcohol, but they may have been doing so illegally. Ferry boats are running between St. Thomas and St. John’s, but the schedule is limited.
Since we’ve been hanging on a mooring for six weeks, with only day sails to keep our skills sharp, not much has broken on “Nor’easter” since we arrived. However, once our departure for the Northeastern U.S. became imminent, one of the watermaker pumps started to fail. Fortunately, I had a replacement, which after 3 hours of “Yacht Yoga,” as we call working upside down in dark, cramped spaces, I had swapped out the offending pump for a used on I had in reserve. Unfortunately, when I powered it up, it sounded more like a bartender’s blender than a water pump, and after five minutes of tortuous running, it died. The pump I had just replaced was still somewhat operational, so I took a quick ferry ride to St. Thomas and visited the local authorized Spectra Watermaker dealer, who did a quick rebuild and sent me on my way, but with a much lighter wallet. After procrastinating a few days, I did another 3 hour yacht yoga session, removed the old pump, installed the new one, crossed my fingers and flipped the switch, and got…..nothing. Recalling how the last pump had just died a screaming death, I brilliantly located the in-line fuse, which was blown, replaced that, and got our water machine cranking out 15 gallons per hour, as designed.
While this was a big job that involved wiring, plumbing, dismantling and reassembling, it was nice to fix something while safely on a mooring in American waters with expert technicians and spare parts easily accessible. This was quite a contrast to last November when our alternator stopped charging our batteries 3 days before we reached Cocos Keeling, a tiny atoll in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Had it not been for the kindness and technical expertise of our fellow American cruisers and World ARC participants Joe Grosjean and John Hochradel, who fixed our problem, “Nor’easter” would still be anchored in Cocos with dead batteries.
We reunited with both Joe and John on their respective catamarans, “Charm” and “EQ II” in Caneel Bay, as they, too, awaited warmer weather prior to heading for the mainland U.S. John and his crew departed for Florida two weeks ago, and we bid farewell to Joe and his family yesterday, who were also headed to Florida. Back when Travis was sailing with me, we spent a lot of time in Mauritius, Reunion, and Cape Town with the “Charm” gang, who have been living aboard since they bought their boat in France three years ago. Their children are now 13, 9, and 7. Joe and his wife Lara hosted a birthday party on their boat for me May 4, complete with a homemade carrot cake, balloons, gifts and hand-made cards from their 2 girls. My previous birthday was celebrated aboard “Nor’easter” at the dock in Papeete City Marina. We’ve sailed a lot of miles since then.
Joe and Lara are always dreaming up fun activities to keep their children entertained, and invite us to join them whenever possible. Last week Joe and his 13 year old son, Cobin, took me along while ploughing their dinghy through big seas about a mile offshore to Carvel Rock, which they wanted to scout out as a possible cliff-diving venue for the family. While the surge was huge around the cliffs, Cobin skillfully put the dinghy alongside a low ledge on the sheer face, which Joe deftly mounted, then climbed about 25’ up the cliff, plunged into the water, narrowly missing a rock at the bottom, and deemed the site “too much for our 7 year old.” I was invited to take the leap as well, but demurred, figuring it was also too much for a 69 year old. The Grosjeans own a climbing gym in Colorado Springs, so their kids are completely fearless. When the youngest, Tully, was 6, I saw her and her 8 year old sister Marin jump off a 60’ cliff on a zip line on Reunion Island, plunging into the waters below. Just your typical American family, right?Last week, again at the Grosjean’s instigation, we sailed to nearby Hull Bay on St. Thomas, which is probably one of the best surf spots in the Caribbean. Upon entering the bay, the rollers begin to form immediately adjacent to where the boats are anchored, which made my wife extremely nervous. I convinced her to just try it for the afternoon, and agreed to leave if it got uncomfortable. Joe and his family were going to body surf, but one look at those 6’ tubes convinced me to just go play on the beach. After a somewhat “rolly” night at anchor, we moved to the adjacent Megan’s Bay the next day, which was much more sheltered. That afternoon, several of the cruising families got together for a football and Frisbee session at the water’s edge. It was great fun.
As the USVI loosens up their SD rules, our fellow cruisers are doing likewise. We have befriended several couples here in St. John’s with whom we congregate regularly, and hope these friendships can endure once we depart this magical place. Bob and Kristin Beltano own a Swan 60, “Nai’a,” and have given us a lot of good advice for our upcoming passage north. They have made the trip between Newport and the Caribbean 17 times. Greg Dorland and his wife Debra, aboard “Escapade,” also appeared in our bay a few days ago. I knew Greg back in California when he worked for North Sails and I was a sales agent for Swan yachts in Newport Beach. Between Bob and Greg, we had probably dozens of people we knew in common who had Swans. Another couple we enjoy a lot are Dan and Rita Akol on a Hylas 66, “Trinity.” Their large center cockpit is half the length of our entire boat, so they get to host all the gatherings.
Given that Jamie never, in her wildest dreams, wanted to help me bring “Nor’easter” from the Caribbean to the U.S. East Coast, we’ve had some negotiations lately regarding the conditions under which she will make this trip. Her first demand was that we find a third person to join us, in the event that I “had a heart attack or got COVID.” She also was extremely nervous about managing various sailing manoeuvers while I was off watch, such as reefing the main and genoa, navigating, and trimming the sails. Since the weather at this late date shows little wind between here and Bermuda, Jamie is now comfortable with just the two of us on board. We have gone sailing together in 25 knot winds at least 4 times over the past two weeks, and she has all the basics needed for the trip. I think she is actually looking forward to this last phase of our great adventure, but she won’t admit it.
Our tentative departure date is now May 21. We will get a slip in Yacht Haven Grand Marina at Charlotte Amalie on the 19th, provision, top off the fuel tanks, stow the dinghy, and head due north to Bermuda. While we can’t get off the boat in Bermuda due to quarantine rules, we can again top off fuel and provision (without going ashore), wait for a weather window, and knock out the last 600 NM to Newport in about 4 days. Once there, we hope to leave the boat for a few weeks, go home, and probably put “Nor’easter” on a truck back to Lake Erie.