Virgin Islands: December 18-31, 2011

Click on the above thumbnail for a map during this time period

Arrival, Cooper Island, BVI

We arrived in the BVIs late in the afternoon, the  sun casting a warm glow on the rocky barren islands south of Virgin Gorda.  We veered slightly to port and settled into Machioneel Bay to the west of Cooper Island.  We grabbed the penultimate free buoy -- no anchoring permitted -- and frowned at the message painted onto the buoy:  $25 mooring fee, payable at the Beach Bar.  We had no intention of checking into the BVIs, and were consequently technically not permitted to land ashore.  Besides, the dinghy was on the upper deck, and we were feeling lazy.  Then a sailboat occupied the last buoy, right next to us.  Would they be less lazy?  Yup, they were engaging their dinghy and should pass right by us on the way to the Bar.  We hurriedly stuffed $25 dollars into an envelope, labeled the outside "Tusen Takk II", and hailed the dinghy as it passed by.  The nice guy willingly took our money in and stopped by on the way back out with a receipt.  We left the next morning and anchored in Caneel Bay, St. John, from which we made a (wet) dinghy ride into Cruz Bay in order to check into the USVIs.  Did some shopping while we were there, including purchasing a SIM card for our unlocked cell phone and a plan that for a flat fee gives us unlimited calls to the US and USVIs and unlimited texting to anywhere in the world! There was superb wifi in Caneel Bay, but the place is almost always rolly, magnified by passing ferry boats, so we moved over to Francis Bay and moored behind old cruising friends John and Ann (Livin' the Dream).

Francis Bay, St. John, USVI

Diving Equipment Blues, Part 1

We made plans with the Dreamers to dive the next morning on nearby Johnson Reef, but while kitting up for the dive discovered that three of our four tanks had lost significant amounts of air during the long hiatus; John made a similar discovery for one of his two tanks.  So, no diving, but instead a dinghy run in to the dive shop associated with Maho Bay Camps, where the meticulous manager immediately spotted that all of TT2's tanks needed a VIP (Visual Inspection Protocol).  Couldn't argue with the facts, but inwardly sighed at the contrast between St. John and Bonaire, Dive Capital of the Caribbean, where the VIP was also due but ignored.

Maho Bay Camps, by the way, is an "eco friendly resort" that features accommodations consisting of canvas-covered cottages perched along the hillside. Canvas notwithstanding, the fees are surprisingly steep.

Returning to the boat w/ filled scuba tanks


When the winds picked up, making the long dinghy ride to Johnson Reef unappealing, we temporarily set aside our diving plans and instead went for a walk along the trails and roads heading eastward.  Our turn-around point was the Annaberg Sugar Mill ruins, deserted when we were there, but on "cruise ship days" hosted by knowledgeable docents, which fact we know from previous visits.

Looking northward to the nearby BVIs


Christmas Eve Dinner

On Christmas Eve Day Barb and I took our kayaks out for a short cruise, and then landed in Maho Bay for another walk, this time westward and southward.  That evening almost all of the cruisers in Francis Bay, including newly-arrived Don and Heather (Asseance), convened at the restaurant of the Resort, where a delicious Ham-and-Turkey buffet was offered.  Barb was so impressed that she insisted on documenting the Christmas tie worn by one of the celebrants.

Christmas Dinner

On Christmas day the Dreamers had us over for a noon-time dinner.  Barb provided mashed potatoes and squash and a relish dish and ice cream, but Ann prepared most of the meal, including a turkey breast, cornbread dressing, and pecan pie.  We ate fairly early, because we were all planning on joining the Christmas Float later that afternoon.

Christmas Float

Someone conceived and publicized the idea of everyone in the anchorage gathering at a central spot where the dinghies would all be bound together.  Thereupon nibblies would be passed from dinghy to dinghy.  After our huge Christmas dinner, we weren't very hungry, but it was impossible to resist most of the morsels that passed through.  Notable participants included Ribbit, the well-travelled frog from Salacious, and the guitar-strumming and singing-Admiral from Persephany.

This photo provided by Salacious, all others by the author


When the winds finally subsided enough to permit a dive on Johnson Reef, we had immediate and tremendous luck at snaring lobster.  Almost immediately we came upon a "lobster hotel" featuring four lobsters.  John snared the biggest while the next-biggest just sat awaiting his turn to be pictured in a blog.   I snared him at about the same time John dropped his snare while preoccupied with a problem with his of an over-inflating BCD that had him raising to the surface.  When Ann realized that John had disappeared, she retrieved the dropped snare and surfaced, in the process missing John who was on his way back down.  Without a snare, John served as "spotter" and soon showed me a legal but much smaller "bug" that I added to our catch bag.

Back at the boat, John replaced the inflator on his BCD and we then took in our tanks to be refilled. 

Diving Equipment Blues, Part 2

We were kitting up for our second day of lobstering when I discovered that Barb's BCD had broken; the plastic receptacle that served as an attachment point for the inflator hose/AIR2 to the BCD had failed.  The BCD was toast.   The AIR2 hose wouldn't fit any of the rental BCDs at the Dive Shop, so Barb was forced to rent a BCD and regulator (with octopus).  We went back to the Reef with high hopes, but returned with adjusted notions about lobstering, John having gotten two smaller ones and we having seen none.

Water Island, St. Thomas, USVI

The Maho Bay dive shop recommended that we try to find a BCD at Hi Tech Dive Shop in Crown Bay, St. Thomas, so on December 28 we moved to an anchorage near Water Island, just across from Crown Bay Marina, as well as a dock for cruise ships and a dock for a vessel that transports boats across the Atlantic.  At Hi Tech, Scotty had a nice woman's BCD that had never been used, but that he had purchased for his daughter.  He offered it at a substantial discount, but then had trouble fitting Barb's AIR2 to it.  That took an extra day to sort out, and then we weighed anchor and moved back over to St. John, joining the Dreamers at Lameshur Bay, on the south side of the island.

One of two cruise ships that departed that morning

Vessel that transports boats across the Atlantic -- a way of getting TT2 to Norway?

Great Lameshur Bay, St. John, USVI

Diving Equipment Blues, Part 3

While kitting up for our first dive with Barb's new BCD, I discovered it was broken.   The plastic frame that attaches the inflatable bag to the tank mount had failed.  The BCD was toast.   So I joined John and Ann as a third, and Barb snorkeled.  The reef was in good shape, had lots of fish, and had plenty of "hidey holes" for lobsters, but we saw none.

Next day, Barb caught a ride to St. Thomas with Jim and Debbie (Loonsong) and then used public transportation to return the broken BCD for a refund and to visit another dive shop where she found a BCD that she considers "perfect".  She caught the ferry back to St. John, and then discovered that the buses were not running on St. John because of some holiday.  Taxis were not willing to bring a single fare to Lameshur Bay or its nearby neighbors.  What to do?  She finally found a taxi that would eventually take a load to Maho Bay and would then continue on to take her to Lameshur.  By the time she arrived back at "our" dock, it was dark.

And the new BCD, how is working?  Dunno.  Stay tuned, we will be diving soon.

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