Nearly 1 year ago, I realized just how easy it would be to bareboat charter a catamaran given that I could fill up all the bedrooms. A quick poll of friends told me that this wouldn't be a problem, and it actually would be a fairly economical vacation. After months of researching and planning, we arrived in Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands on November 10th. We were greeted with complimentary rum in the airport by the local tourism department, and at that point I already knew this was going to be an interesting adventure.
The next surprise was when we learned the rules for driving on the island as we picked up our rental car. We were given 3 rules, in the following order:
1) No talking on the cell phone while driving.
2) Wear seatbelts at all times (unless you are in the bed of a pickup truck, because that is safe of course.
3) Remember to drive on the left (minor detail of course).
We quickly determined those were the only
rules followed by locals. The strangest law we discovered? Open containers are not only allowed, but you could theoretically drink while
driving. As long as you aren't on your cell phone, of course.
After gathering our group of 8 together at the Greenhouse Bar & Grill, we took care of all the logistics. All our luggage and gear was placed on the boat, people explored the storage spaces, and we started studying and reading the information. A small group of us took the car to purchase all of the provisions for a week away from land, including food, drinks, supplies, and more. We had our kayaks delivered, loaded and packed all the provisions, and settled in shortly after dinner, sleeping aboard the boat while still at the dock for the first night.Sarah Sue - 40' Lavezzi Catamaran
Day 1: St Thomas to St John
We began the day by doing some last-minute provisioning errands and meeting our captain for the day. He was incredibly helpful, taught us all the intricacies of Sarah Sue, and gave us a great set of tips for our exploration of the islands over the next 7 days when we would be on our own. While Justin, Andrew, and I learned all of the sailing, procedural, and engineering details of the vessel, the others enjoyed the sun and began their relaxation process.
After practicing picking up moorings and basic navigation while in the Charlotte Amalie harbor area, we raised the sails and set a course for Buck Island. 75% of the way there, we had a minor mechanical issue with the rigging which warranted returning to the CYOA dock. They made the repairs while we had lunch at Pie Whole
, an excellent pizza place that I highly recommend if you are in St Thomas. Back on the water, we motorsailed past the east end of St Thomas, and then sailed across to Caneel Bay in St John, tacking many times and practicing our sail handling skills. After picking up a mooring, Kyle reviewed the navigation charts with us, and Justin and I dinghied him over to the Cruz Bay ferry dock so that he could get home. Dinner consisted of Mike's Rain'n'Sea Burgers, and some classic card games were played after.
Background: If you don’t know me that well, the preface to this is that in September of 2008 I bought a “fixer-upper” sailboat, a 25 foot Coronado (well, kind of). My boat was actually a kit sold by Coronado, and her particular builder or builders had created a bulletproof boat which unfortunately had very little hardware left. After a year of labor including the complete fabrication/ installation of an interior (galley, head, bulkhead, companionway, hatches), new-used sails, new rigging and sailing hardware, brand new electrical system, new-used outboard motor, portlight replacement (windows to all you landlubbers) and a giant topside paint job, I finished her in June 2009. As you can/will see from all my trip reports in summer-fall 2009, I didn’t really have a free three-day weekend to make the 26 nautical mile trip to Catalina from Redondo Beach, but I vowed to as soon as possible.
March presented itself as that opportunity. I had three days off that weren’t being used for desert trips or snow trips, and decided it was now or never. Aaron drove down Thursday night (arriving early Friday morning) and I began packing and loading the car early Friday.
Due to a hectic week at work, I hadn’t prepared as well as I normally do, and it was not until 1pm that we were all at the harbor with the kayaks tied down, sails ready, head emptied, motor idling, and the food supplies, clothing, and gear all packed away. I then refilled all my gas tanks at the marine fuel pumps, and made our way into the entrance channel before discovering I had left strips of Velcro at the top of the mast holding the mast-light wire (which I had never got working the day before or that morning). We would not be able to raise the sails without them off, and I knew it would take 20 minutes for us to turnaround, get back into the slip, climb the mast, fix it, and get back out with the sails up. So instead, I slipped on the bosun’s chair and climbed the mast with Marie as a spotter while Aaron drove us in circles around the King Harbor entrance channel. It was easy enough to fix, and really not dangerous or scary at all IMHO, but it was certainly funny to be waving with people at eye level on the third floor of the condo complex overlooking the harbor. All in all, it was a short period before I was back down and the sails were fully up, with Ship Happens
on a starboard tack heading directly to Isthmus Harbor.
The day presented us with moderate winds that really picked up as we cleared the point and made our way across the channel. I underestimated how strong the southeastern currents would be, and our heading eventually required us to do one set of tacks as we neared the island. After 6 hours on the water across large swells, waves, and the roughest ocean I had been on in anything less than a cruise ship, reaching the safe protection of Two Harbors was glorious. However, my main source of relief was knowing that we actually had gotten a stringline mooring, since I had heard horror stories about the difficulty of getting a spot late on a Friday evening. It seems that in March nobody goes there, despite the weather being beautiful. We tidied up on board after the relatively painless mooring process, and then hailed a water taxi on the VHF to take us to the best bar in the area (and coincidentally the only) to try some Buffalo Milk, grab some fried food, and relax onshore.
On Saturday we spent the day exploring our area of the island as much as possible for new visitors. We started by kayaking down to the south (still on the north shore) toward some neat ocean caves and landing on some nice pebbly beaches, getting as far as Paradise Cove before turning around. This totalled 7 miles round trip and tired out our upper body, which we followed with a hike to the overlook on the cliffs above Cat Harbor (opposite of the isthmus from the northeastern harbor that we were moored at). Luckily, this uphill trek was only a mile or two and didn't completely wipe out ourThe rest of the day was spent relaxing and Sunday was spent prepping to leave for the long sail back. With the wind atrociously minimal, it took a large amount of motoring to return, but it was soothing and even allowed us to spot a few nearby pods of dolphins and a few seals near the kelp before rounding the point and heading back into the harbor.