With fresh provisions on board we slipped the mooring in Elephant Bay, St Thomas on 12 March with only a basic plan—sail towards St John and proceed somewhere from there.
We reached out the East Gregerie Channel making 6 kts with a single reefed main and working jib. Once clear of the channel, we hauled in on the sheets and beat east up the south coast of St Thomas in 15-18 kts of easterly wind and a 3-4’ swell. The wind had an unusual coolness which made for delightful sailing. We left St James Island, on the east end of St Thomas, to port then tacked around Dog Island just as the wind backed NE. Thus, we were forced to beat north across Pillsbury Sound too.
Two larger fin keeled boats converged on us and it was obvious to any man with even a modicum of competitive nature we were in a tacking duel. Gayle took the tiller and I called windshifts and handled the jib. Underneath her quiet demeanor Gayle has a very competitive edge. Over a series of about a dozen tacks the Far Reach left both boats behind.
We sailed along the south side of Johnson Reef and picked up a mooring in Francis Bay, St John Island. Total distance was about 20 NM. It had been a gorgeous day of sailing. The kind of day that makes all the effort to get to the West Indies worth it.
We spent a relaxing time in one of our favorite bays. We snorkeled along the rocks and coral between Francis and Maho Bays. We hiked the trails and just enjoyed our freedom, the kind of freedom that only a well equipped fine sailing machine can provide.
On Thursday 14 March at 0735 we sailed off the mooring in Francis Bay. We reached out between Whistling Cay and Mary Point in a light breeze and beat up the Narrows tack upon tack between St. John and the Thatch Islands. The wind increased as it got compressed like it does in the Narrows. It was a short sail. We worked our way into Waterlemon Bay on the north coast of St John. We picked up the required mooring in the National Park.
After lunch we snorkeled around Waterlemon Cay a short 25 yards away. Just gorgeous. Because the wind had been light for the past couple days the water was very clear. Maybe 100’ visibility on the north side of the Cay that fronts the Narrows. It was the best looking healthiest coral I have seen in the VI. Lots of variety of fish from rays to big parrot fish to trigger fish, butterfly and angel fish, flounder, and grouper, etc. Swimming side by side we watched an electric neon blue flounder swim past five feet away and cling to a piece of coral and instantly change to sand color literally vanishing in front of our eyes. Fantastic.
The weather was great. The boat had performed beautifully. We took a nice long row around the bay in Sweet Pea just after sunset. It was a beautiful Van Gogh “starry night.”
On 16 March we sailed off the mooring and reached across the Narrows in a 20kt east wind passing between Great Thatch Island and West End, Tortola. We sailed into Great Harbor Jost van Dyke, picked up a mooring and cleared into Customs. We spent a couple lovely days there. We hiked over to Little Harbor. We spent time with our friends Baba and Urinthia owners of Ali Babba’s Bar and Restaurant. I also rented a scuba tank and tested out our new Hookah Scuba rig by scrubbing the bottom of the Far Reach. For a report on our hookah click here.
On the 19th of March we cast off the mooring at Great Harbor and headed out to the east trailing behind a Halberg Rassy 37. She had been on a mooring behind us in Great Harbor. Great looking boat. HRs are very well made and are fin keeled performance cruisers. I admire them greatly.
She motored out and her in-mast leisure fuel main was deployed followed by the big jib on a furler. We raised our main with two reefs and slipped the mooring in the crowded harbor. We used the little Honda 9.9 to weave a quiet path between the big charter cats. Gayle took the helm and I shut the engine off and used the block and tackle to pull it up into the vertical stowed position. Next, I hauled up our hank-on working jib.
The wind was maybe 18 gusting 20-25. The HR 37 was close hauled on port tack. We were maybe 150 yards back and about 100 yards to leeward. We were towing Sweet Pea, which we don’t normally do but our destination was a short sail away. I figured the HR 37 would just pull away. But that’s not what happened.
At first I just glanced over at the HR. She looked good. Long and lean. She appeared to be a stiff boat too. She looked like a hunter…little did she know she was about to become the hunted. Cue the dramatic music.
I noticed right away she was not pointing much higher than the FR. Maybe 3-5° better. And we were gaining. Hmmmm…”I’m gonna check the jib leads. Gayle, easy corrections on tiller and pull up on the traveller and tighten the sheet. Check the flow of the tell tails on the leech of the main. Make sure you don’t pinch” The Far Reach was perfectly balanced. Helm almost neutral. Heel about 20°. She was powering up.
After 20 min we were about 200 yards ahead but still to leeward. The HR 37 tacked. We decided to cover and tacked too. Now we were well to windward and slightly ahead increasing our lead by the minute. Gayle did a beautiful job on the helm. Small corrections. I sat on the lee side and called the tell tails on the jib.
While Gayle helmed and handled the main during the tacks I hauled the jib across. With the Dynex Dux (dyneema) forestay removed (the stays’l was still bent to the forestay but in the bag and lashed to the base of the mast) the jib came straight across. Almost no winching required. We made a half dozen tacks over the next 40 min. By then it was clear they would never catch us. Eventually, we split tacks with the HR 37 which bore off to Thatch Cut while we continued on to Cane Garden Bay. It was a fun informal drag race.
Under most conditions the HR 37 should have crushed us. Perhaps she was not well handled or had a fouled bottom. Nonetheless, we were dialed in. Our tacks were seamless. Without a propeller aperture to cause drag, the advantage of a bigger rig and the aerodynamic hank on jib, and a perfectly balanced helm the Far Reach was fast enough to cover herself with glory. Carl Alberg’s boats can sail very well when properly handled. I think many people underestimate them…but certainly not the owner of a particular HR37.
We sailed into Cane Garden Bay in the clutches of a willawaw that came blasting down the mountain increasing the wind briefly to 25-30 kts. Gayle did a nice job pinching the boat up into the wind to keep her on her feet while I dropped the jib into the foredeck. We had no trouble clearing the reef. We anchored in 24’ of fantastically clear water. I quickly dove the anchor. The 44 lb spade was buried in a smooth sandy bottom with the 5/16” high test chain snaking across the sand then arcing in a gentle curve up to the 1/2” nylon snubber and the bow roller.
We had a wonderful time at Cane Garden. It’s a gorgeous little bay on the west side of Tortola. The cool breeze blew down through the hatches and portlights all week. Gayle and I ate our sandwiches on homemade bread. We swam and lounged. The breeze was great for sleeping. It was a peaceful time. I have a clear memory of Gayle lounging on a folding cushion chair in the cockpit under in the shade of our sun awnings. Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away” playing over our little Bose speaker (a boat gift from my sister Tricia)—“Thanks for the joy that you’ve given me….” I was completely content.
The highlight of our week was a friendship we made with a very neat couple. We had met them briefly the week before at Jost van Dyke. Phil Richmond (a Brit) and Ashley Link (a Mainer) were cruising on a red-hulled Centurion 32 which they had sailed upwind from Panama (a grueling upwind bash in anyone’s book). Phil had previously sailed Bloodshot from the Baltic across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. They are both dedicated surfers and were having a fine time up early nearly every morning off to surf the local breaks. During a northern swell, which we were having then, the local surfing is quite well regarded in the larger international surfing community.
Phil and Ashely were fun and interesting. We sat in the cockpit at night with the kero lamp removed from its gimbal below and perched on the bridge deck casting a beautiful and inviting glow and talked about all matter of things.
Not content with the status quo western style cattle chute approach to living they both are enjoying a fascinating, interesting, and adventurous traveling lifestyle with a lot more living to do. We hope to link up with them again.
While in Cane Garden we saw a couple of lovely boats to include a 50’ish wood ketch. We also rented a car and toured Tortola. We swam, slept, read, and rowed.
While in Tortola we finally purchased a little Nissan 3.5hp two stroke for Sweet Pea. It seems like a good little engine to have for the long rides you sometimes have to make by dinghy when even my enthusiasm for rowing is tempered. However, rowing and sailing Sweet Pea remains the status quo. The little Nissan can be stowed easily under the cockpit sole (the old inboard engine compartment). I’ll have a padded bag with tie points made for it when I get home.
Though Gayle’s time was running out, we wanted to press further afield. So, on 27 March we weighed anchor and sailed back to Jost van Dyke (about three miles). The wind was honking at 20-25 kts. We sailed easily under just a double reefed main. We picked up a mooring once again in Great Harbor, rowed in to customs, and cleared out of the BVI. We said a painful goodbye to our friends Baba and Urinthia. They both had showed me what it is to work hard every day while alway demonstrating wisdom and great personal dignity. We weighed anchor, hoisted sails, and reached south crossing back into the USVI and picked up a mooring at Caneel Bay, St John.
We took the dinghy into Cruze Bay and tried to clear back into the USVI…only we couldn’t because the computers were down and they had no manual back-up way to clear us in to the US. Their solution was “go to Red Hook in St. Thomas.” Of course without an engine that was going to be a big hassle. The agents at Cruze Bay were neither friendly nor helpful. It’s the second time I have had a poor experience with agents at Cruze Bay. All I could do was shake my head and lament the lack of professionalism that had been put on display.
I was determined not to clear in at St Thomas. So I spent a frustrating couple hours on the boat attempting to get the new Customs and Border Patrol App, called ROAM to work on my iPhone so we could clear-in electronically.
It was a painful maddening process trouble shooting the APP including making a number of dead end phone calls to government offices that only use voice mail and never call back. But finally, we were successful. I think it was the swearing that finally did the trick.
We did a little shopping in Cruze Bay. Gayle rented a SUP off the beach at Caneel Bay and had a fun time paddling along the shore. This was a delightful carefree time. It’s always cool here in the morning. The colors and soft lighting are soothing. We sat in the shade of the cockpit awning and took our morning coffee. This special morning time might might last two hours or more. It’s not often a couple can have so much companionable and uninterrupted time together enjoying the easy conversation made possible by years of shared experiences.
While at Caneel Bay we met Martin and Tanya a German couple about our age on a mooring near us and cruising on their 31’ Swedish built steel sloop Unity. They joined us aboard for snacks and vino one evening. They were warm and friendly. Gayle and I thought they were just delightful…interesting and full of great conversation. They apologized a number of times for what they though was substandard English language skills. We assured them their English was, in fact, very good. They warmed my heart by telling me the best experience they had in their travels in the Caribbean was their encounters with Americans. That’s nice to hear when Americans so often get a bad rap overseas.
They were on sabbatical for a year and had only learned to sail a few years before. They took some sailing courses. Did their homework. Bought a sailboat, installed the equipment they thought they needed, and left the Baltic. They sailed down the English Channel across the Bay of Biscay…down to the Canary Islands. Then across the Atlantic to Barbados. They sailed north through the islands. They are soon to head to the Azores and back to Germany.
We departed Caneel Bay early on 31 March in a flat mirror calm. We used the Honda 9.9 hp at half throttle to lazily motor three miles over to the east end of St Thomas, through Current Cut, and then anchored in 18’ of perfectly clear water on a sandy bottom at Christmas Cove. The snorkeling was excellent. While we were swimming around tiny Fish Cay in the center of the cove, a Hawks Bill sea turtle gracefully swam past us 10’ away. He saw us of course but paid us no mind. It was a magical moment.
That afternoon we hoisted the dinghy aboard and made ready for sea by removing and stowing the awningsOK and sail covers. We stowed gear below and generally readied the Far Reach for sea.
Reveille was sounded at 0400. At 0440 we weighed anchor in the dark with a gentle 6-8 knot east breeze. Within a few minutes we had shut off the outboard and were sailing a reach in 6-8 kts of easterly wind on 160° magnetic. We were headed for St Croix about 35nm away.
The Cape Horn windvane was doing it’s magic trick of steering a perfect course. We sat in the cockpit and took our coffee. We watched the “rosey petals of dawn” slowly appear and reveled in another glorious tropical sunrise, always a treat at sea.
By 1000 the wind had clocked to the ESE and increased to 12-15 kts. We tightened the sheets and were close hauled. We could just lay the channel into Christiansted. Right at the entrance to the channel we took a powerful blast of wind that showed no sign of abating. With the windvane steering disengaged and Gayle at the helm I quickly moved forward and reefed the main. Once past the headland the wind dropped back to a sedate 15 kts.
We bore left taking the old schooner channel. We sailed past the designated anchorage near St Croix Marine then tacked back from where we came. We left the jib sheeted so the headsail was back-winded. I released the halyard and the jib slid right down the headstay onto the foredeck in a nice neat flake. It’s a technique I like to use to to keep the jib dry and also I don’t have to muscle the sail over the lifelines. We gybed around and dropped the main in the lazy jacks and used the 9.9 hp Honda to continue down the channel and slipped between the prominent bright yellow Fort Christiansvaern to port and Protestant Cay to starboard. We worked through the tight packed resident mooring field. We found a nice spot in about 12’ of water. The spade anchor easily dug into the white sandy bottom. We had covered the 35nm in about 7 hours of easy sailing.
Christiansted is a picturesque town with a rich history. There is a long wide boardwalk running much of the length of the well protected harbor. After covering our sails and rigging our deck awnings we lowered the dinghy into the clear water and rowed 200’ to shore. We secured Sweet Pea to the boardwark and set out to explore the town.
It is the loveliest town we have seen in the Caribbean. Beautiful 18th and 19th century Dutch architecture. Lots of shops and restaurants. A laid back easy going vibe. Not near the hustle and bustle of St Thomas and far more appealing to the eye. Anyway, the big score was ice. Right on the waterfront, a dive-shop said we could fill up our LL Bean large canvas bag with about 60-70lbs of ice for $8. Not block ice of course but large hard very cold cubes.
We hauled water from St Croix Marine and I got a new wire leader for my Laser Pro trolling lure. I also worked on the bungee cord that is a key component of the trolling rig. I used my block plane to remove a little wood from the swollen ice box plug. One night I rowed ashore with my sweetheart and we ordered brick oven pizza right on the board walk. It was a nice change of pace for us.
Later in the week we decided to rent a car and tour the island. Driving clockwise we saw some gorgeous beaches along the north shore. The island is mostly gently rolling hills. Very pastoral.
We were told by some local sailors they have a good farmers market on the island. We saw more coves and long protective reefs on the south side of the island. Later in the day, we drove through a high forested part of the island on the west end that is much loved by the locals and considered a sub-rain forest. It was quite lovely. Eventually, we worked our way back to the north shore and chanced upon a terrific elevated beach bar called “eat@canebay” at…you guessed it, Cane Bay!
We departed St Croix early on 5 April sailing out the old schooner channel with a single reefed main and working jib. Within 30 minutes we needed a second reef. We were on a fast beam reach. We had a weird encounter with a couple boats—a large cabin cruiser and a big center console. They kept repositioning themselves in front of us and closer to our line of advance. I was anxious for a bit but, eventually they sped off in opposite directions….
Our course was close to 010°mag most of the way to allow for a west setting current. The wind was brisk with the NE swell running 5’-8’.
As we closed on the gap between St Thomas and St John we footed off and broad reached towards Christmas Cove. I dropped the working jib and hoisted the smaller and more easily managed stays’l. We sailed up into the cove at 1230 and dropped our sails just as we entered the mooring field. With the little Honda purring we cut deep into the moored boats and found an open mooring. The 35 nm trip back took six hours.
We immediately got the sun awnings up, sail covers on, and cleaned up the boat. I used the pump up spray bottle to rinse the turnbuckles with fresh water. We had a long snorkel in the gorgeous water. Gayle swam next to me while I washed some scum off the waterline. We made delicious Cafe Bustelo in the aero-press. We enjoyed a lovely sunset. Serious easy living that gets addicting.
We spent a couple lazy day at Christmas Cove. Gayle made bread. We read, napped, talked, watched other boats. We enjoyed the lovely night sky that was punctuated with trade wind clouds and bright twinkling stars. It was a restful total chill out.
Across from us in the cove was the “Pizza Boat.” You can read about it here: https://www.pizza-pi.com. The business was started during our last trip here 2015-2016. The original owners sold it last year. It seems a clever business model. They seem to do a brisk business based on what I have read and seen so far. There is a constant stream of boats pulling up to the stern or along side to pick up their pizza. Entrepreneurship is alive and well.
There should be no mistaking how clear the water can be in Christmas Cove. It’s like you are suspended in the air hovering over the coral and dozens of species of fish. It’s fantastic.
On the last day there the water clouded up a bit since it had been quite windy for several days. But I took the GoPro into the water anyway and shot a few pictures. Film does not do the water justice. It’s so enjoyable to swim around the boat in warm clear water.
The bottom paint is about 20 months old. It is failing. Not the best paint for the tropics. I had a diver scrub the bottom the day before I left Beaufort this past December. He was much too aggressive as most of them are—metal scrapper and thick 3M maroon scrub pads. You need to be very gentle with ablative paint. I only use a plastic West epoxy squeegee and a piece of soft indoor-outdoor carpet. I use the gentlest touch possible. The idea is to leave as much paint on the hull as possible. Otherwise the life of the paint is dramatically shortened. I’m undecided if hard racing paint or the softer ablative paint is the best choice for us.
Gayle’s flight date was fast approaching. So, reluctantly, we departed Christmas Cove. Departure was later in the morning than we would have liked due to a series of morning rain squalls. Finally underway, we sailed downwind in a light easterly wind with a sloppy NE swell for about 8 NM. We dodged a few more squalls, but still got a little rain.
On the way down the coast we passed the schooner Eros, under power, heading the opposite direction. She is a wooden 115’ Banks Schooner based out of USVI. She was launched in 1935.
The wind picked up as we closed on Water Island. We dropped the jib and sailed up the East Gregerie Channel with the main. About 1250, Gayle snagged our mooring in Elephant Bay.
We were out almost a month. We had a great time. The boat sailed wonderfully. She continued to prove herself to be fast, maneuverable, rugged, comfortable, and sea-kindly. Her simple systems have largely freed us from the tyranny of excessive labor and fiscal expense of maintaining complex systems so pervasive on modern cruising boats. The Far Reach and her “simple elegance” has in fact proven to be for us, perfect.