After a spectacular two night, three day passage from Guadeloupe in near-perfect sailing conditions, we dropped anchor behind Long Reef off the coast of Christiansted, St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. We were home! Our arrival excitement was magnified by knowing we were about to reunite with several friends we had not seen in quite some time. Not long after the anchor splashed, we headed ashore for celebratory drinks with Will and Wendy on s/v Kailani, and Alex, who lives on the island.
Despite the devastating damage caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, our old seaside hangouts were still there and very much like we remembered. The signs of the destruction were everywhere, but so were the ongoing efforts to rebuild. As is normal after a major disaster, most locals had a survivor’s spirit and a renewed love for their island. They were happy to see tourists, and eager to regale us with tales of how they endured the storms, and of their ongoing plans for rebuilding.
We also reunited with Jennifer and Mike from s/v Three Sheets. Sadly, they lost their boat/home to Hurricane Irma. They are an inspiration to us and many others. Mike and Jen have channeled their energies since the storms into providing donated supplies to the US and British Virgin Islands. From their land base in St. Croix, they spearheaded a relief effort that is still ongoing to offer comfort and healthcare items to those in need. They are a superb example of the many grass roots efforts by locals for locals that have focused the generosity of those on island and abroad into significant aid where it is most needed.
After two short and fun-filled weeks in St. Croix, we weighed anchor and sailed north in steady and mild trade winds to St. Thomas.
More reunions were in store! After more than a year, we reconnected with Stacey and Jesse, on s/v Smitty, who gave us a car tour of the island. We were both awestruck by the scope of the devastation, and moved by the locals’ resilience and the magnitude of the recovery effort. Just like in St. Croix, we were welcomed enthusiastically everywhere we went and thanked repeatedly for visiting.
We were especially excited to be in St. Thomas since our friend Ashley was coming to visit from New Orleans. Ash holds the distinction of being our first repeat guest on ¡Pura Vida! She last visited us almost two years ago in the Bahamas, and we were thrilled to have her back onboard.
St. Thomas has one of those quintessential island airports where you can anchor the boat nearby and beach the dinghy within walking distance to the terminal. In proper Virgin Islands fashion, we greeted Ashley in the terminal with a Painkiller, an addictive rum/coconut cocktail, in hand.
Her time with us was short, but we lived it up. We started her visit properly with sundowners at Dinghy’s Beach Bar on Honeymoon Beach. The next day, despite heavy winds and seas, we sailed to Christmas Cove for a requisite stop at the famous Pizza Pi floating eatery. Gotta love getting fresh gourmet pizza delivered by dinghy to your boat while anchored in a pristine and calm bay. The next morning, after snorkeling the nearby reef, we set sail again heading east into heavy seas. We were determined to visit Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands.
Although it was just a thirteen mile sail, it was a slow and bouncy one. Ashley was a trouper; despite a bout of mal de mer, she had a smile on her face the entire time. Before her arrival, she had asked us if we could arrange for some “salty sailing.” Well, she definitely got that, and maybe a bit more. The waves were breaking over our bow and rails from the time we left Christmas Cove until we entered Great Harbour in Jost Van Dyke four hours later.
There are two must-see establishments in Jost Van Dyke: Foxy’s, the world famous funky eatery and bar, and the Soggy Dollar Bar, home of the original Painkiller cocktail. At the Soggy Dollar, we were surprised to find that their pre-purchased drink boards (you can buy drinks for friends that will be visiting later) survived both hurricanes. We knew from friends that vacationed here last year that there would be a few Painkillers waiting for us, so we scoured the “sacred scrolls” to find our name listed next to SIX delicious drinks. Thanks Dan Shapiro and family!!!
The winds were still howling over 35 knots, and the seas big, so our sail from Jost Van Dyke to Soper’s Hole, Tortola, was lively. Despite the rough conditions, Ashley took the helm and sailed Pura Vida on a close haul with multiple tacks like an America’s Cup skipper. Her knuckles were white, but she loved every minute of it. We only stayed in Soper’s Hole long enough to deliver four full dinghy-loads of relief supplies provided by Jen and Mike, then sailed, downwind this time, to Maho Bay, St. John, USVI.
Maho Bay never fails to delight us. Even with the heavy winds, the waters were flat calm and crystal clear. Within minutes of grabbing a mooring ball, we jumped in the water to snorkel the nearby rocky reef. We were not disappointed. Two octopuses out in the open, free-swimming moray eels, porcupinefish, and lobster greeted us. Finding one octopus in daytime is an extraordinary event, two within minutes is a spectacular thrill.
Back aboard, the evening passed quickly full of conversation, laughter, and card games. We treated Ashley to what has now become a tradition aboard Pura Vida, a rum flight. We love introducing guests to the varied types of aged sipping rums we have discovered so far in our travels. We’re always searching for new and interesting rums; if any readers have suggestions about their favorites, please let us know.
The following day, we hiked to the ruins of an eighteenth-century sugar mill near Waterlemon Bay. Unlike on previous visits, this time we had to meander our way around large boats that had been blown ashore by the hurricanes. The mill ruins, however, fared well. The recent hurricanes can just be added to the long list of storms that have tried in vain to demolish the massive stone buildings.
Ashley’s last full day aboard came way too soon and we sailed our way back to St. Thomas. Her flight was not till mid-afternoon, so we spent the morning being tourists in Charlotte Amalie. It was Mardi Gras Day, so these New Orleanians couldn’t help but to spread some cheer to mostly bewildered locals and tourists. It seems that in St. Thomas, it was just Tuesday.
A few days after Ashley’s departure, we started planning our voyage east. We had two guests coming to visit us in Sint Maarten in just a few weeks and needed a decent weather window to cross the dreaded ninety-five mile Anegada Passage. We needed the winds to die down a bit. We were not expecting a fabulous crossing of the Anegada — it almost never is — but the existing howling trade winds made the trek east nearly impossible.
The extremely improbable then happened! The massive “bomb cyclone” that was bearing down on the northeast US coast was changing the normal wind patterns as far south as the Caribbean. We could not believe our good fortune. For just two days, the winds stopped blowing from the east and clocked around to mild westerlies. We set sail at dusk for the overnight trip to Sint Maarten. For the second time in our cruising life, we beat the odds in the Anegada Passage as we sailed in smooth seas across this infamous expanse of water. The night was perfectly clear, the moon was full, the stars were bright, and Pura Vida left a trail of bioluminescence in her wake. All was right in the world. Most excitedly, more friends were waiting for us upon our arrival, but those reunions are for the next blog.
If we could leave our readers with one parting message, it would be to visit the northern Caribbean now! They are ready. They want you there! They desperately need your tourism!