March 23-26, 2011... Buck Island, St. Croix

This must be heaven. Just 5 miles from Christiansted and its like another planet. Buck Island is part of the National Park system and closes at sunset. For three of the four nights we were anchored off West Beach we were the only boat there. Local boats would come over for the day, half day, a couple of hours, but when the sun set, we were on our own. Aahhhh...

Quickly we fell into a rhythm. In the mornings we set out by dinghy for the lagoon moorings on the east side of the island. The snorkeling was wonderful, but the reef had been destroyed in several places -- either by storms, or bleaching, or both. Huge stands of coral on the eastern reef were broken. Still lots of fish though, especially huge schools of blue tangs and surgeonfish, the biggest parrotfish we'd ever seen, and very menacing barracuda. More about them later.

After exploring the east, we moved around to the moorings on the north side and went 'into the blue' -- the deeper water. There the coral seemed healthier with interesting sculptural patterns, creating windows to swim through from the shallow to the deep. One morning we turned just as a large stingray was headed out to sea and John got some wonderful photos. Another day as we were headed out, a shark watched us as it basked on the sand under a rock ledge. We were safe, but scared. But maybe not as unsettled as when we swam back to our dinghy and getting into the boat, the handle of the camera separated from the body, and our shiny metal camera went down to the bottom. It was only 12-15 feet down, so we were able to recover it, but not before one large, evil-looking barracuda became very interested in it as well!

Afternoons we would kayak or read, or do nothing. One day we hiked up to the top of the island for the excellent views. Everywhere we looked, gorgeous water. How could anyone ever leave here?

By the second day we were noticing who came to the anchorage. Several folks came every day. We met the Ferris brothers who sailed out each afternoon. Tom and Charlie invited us onboard and we talked and talked. They were snowbirds who lived in St. Croix half the year, then returned to the mainland (Tom to MN and Charlie to Chevy Chase, MD (small world...)) Next day they came back (with Wendy, Charlie's wife) and we had them on Anhinga. Another wonderful lazy afternoon of conversation in the beautiful Buck Island breeze. They told us they had never met anyone who lived on a boat before and were interested in every aspect of this strange life we've chosen. After almost two years onboard we had forgotten how foreign this all could seem to most of the world.

Buck Island, St. Croix: 17d47.155'N 64d37.716'W

March 17, 2011... Frederiksted

Now seasoned visitors of a whole week here in St. Croix, we decided to try the bus system. VITRAN is only $1 and takes you a long way. So off we go on one of our favorite means of transportation. Destination, Frederiksted. We had been here once before, as cruise ship passengers around 8 years ago. The place now bears no resemblance to that sleepy, broken-down village we had seen then. There is a beautiful park at the end of the cruise ship dock that extends all along the waterfront with a manicured esplanade. And of course shops, restaurants, and other services. Anchorage looks good too -- we'll need to come back here with the boat sometime. We stopped in a coffee shop, walked through the old streets, and got back on the bus to return home to the big city at the end of the day.

March 15, 2011... East End and Shopping!

The first day we arrived in town, we met GB and Sarah, who have lived aboard Djarrka for 16 years and circumnavigated the globe. They recognized us as cruisers (how do people know?) and took us under their wing as they have been here before and have decided to settle in St. Croix. They invited us to go by car to the east end of the island for a little touring and to run around to some stores. Can't say enough about how helpful that is when you are new in town. So not only did we spend time with some fascinating people, but we also got to see some beautiful scenery at the easternmost end of the entire United States at Udall Park, and drove through the rainforest and had lunch on the beach west of Christiansted.

And we bought a new vacuum cleaner (we are so excited!) as well as replaced our pillows and of course provisioned at a huge supermarket. We filled up the car trunk, forgetting that we still had to get everything back to the boat by dinghy. But we managed. What a terrific day. Thanks again to GB and Sarah for helping out some fellow cruisers.

March 11-22, 2011... Christiansted, St. Croix, USVI

We have certainly settled in. We are back in the USA and everything just seems so easy. Its hard to put a finger on exactly what it is that makes it so, but we do feel like life is simpler. Our encounters with officialdom here have been nothing but pleasant and professional, from Customs, to Park Rangers, to the Coast Guard. We saw our government in action from our cockpit as the Coast Guard upgraded the markers in the harbor (including our own #13) to LEDs.

Christiansted is sort of off the beaten track for most cruisers -- they seem to stay north in the other USVI islands and the BVI -- but we find this town just beautiful and the water and landscape worth seeing. The 200-300 year old Danish buildings have all been refurbished and integrated into every day life -- shops, restaurants, offices -- not just tourist attractions. The cruise ships don't land here but west in Frederiksted, so the town doesn't get overwhelmed with hundreds or thousands of visitors at once.

This is a very low key place. Except on St. Patrick's Day! This day is turned into a major celebration with a parade and lots of music in town afterwards. The best part of the day is watching all the people who come to town dressed in green wearing outlandish costumes including green hair and body paint. (Sorry we have no photos -- but we knew we'd be dancing at the Luncheria to the blues of Reverend Raven and the Chain Smoking Altar Boys, so we didn't want to be weighed down with the camera... BTW - the Reverend and his band were super!)

We are now waiting for weather. Next stop Buck Island (5 miles away) to snorkel in the marine park. Big winds and seas expected today-tomorrow, so we'll head over after Mother Nature calms down again.

March 9-10, 2011... Passage to St. Croix

170 miles. The question was -- break it up in two (stopping either at St. Kitts or St. Barts) or push through. We opted for the latter. Anchor up, we motored out from behind the reef, raised the sails and off we went -- westward ho. Fabulous sail that day, the weather was beautiful, and we saw whales! We don't know how many, but did we ever hoot and holler! We tried speaking whale to get them to come closer so that we could get a photo -- but no dice. Must have been the wrong dialect of whale. By sunset we were passing St. Kitts and Statia, and the stars started coming out. Promised to be a nice night.

Not to be. By 9pm the winds were up to 25 knots popping to 27. We had reefed the main to prepare for night sailing (forecast was for 15-20 knots), but now we thought we had to change headsails -- roll in the jib and raise the staysail -- just to slow the boat a bit. Patti made John wear a harness and tether so that he wouldn't fall off the boat while trying to make these changes. (It's been too long since the last man overboard drills...) Successful changes got the boat speed down to 7-8 knots and the heel up to 20 degrees. But the winds roared through the night, finally easing at around 4am. Neither of us got very much sleep. But it is always wonderful to see the sun come up. Then the winds came down. By dawn we saw St. Croix in the distance and the Anegada Passage was almost behind us. We motored to the anchorage near Gallows Bay in Christiansted, set the anchor behind green marker #13 and collapsed!

Christiansted, St. Croix: 17d45.026'N 64d41.938'W

March 1-8, 2011...Antigua to Barbuda

We waited for the 'Christmas Winds' to die down so that the trip out of Falmouth would be easier. Tuesday morning we headed out around the SE coast of Antigua making for Nonsuch Bay. Only one tack to make it to Green Island in Nonsuch -- great technical sail -- but the winds and seas were (again) higher than advertised. We were only too glad to stop and take a breather for a couple of nights.

Thursday morning we made the 30-mile trip up to Barbuda anchoring off the beach at Coco Point. Dolphins welcomed us to the island. And it was great to be where there was nothing between us and the sunset.

By Friday the north swell was churning up the anchorage so we moved around to the south side to Gravenor Bay, behind the Palaster Reef near Spanish Point. What a fabulous place! Beautiful water in an empty quiet anchorage. For the first time in a long time we could see the anchor from the boat -- but the water was so clear we could even read the label below! We swam off the boat to snorkel every day finding healthy coral and lots of fish.

The days clicked by and we never even went ashore. But the winds were turning to the north and a weather window was emerging that would favor a trip to the Virgin Islands. So, we readied ourselves for the passage, fighting the urge to just stay put for another week...or a continue to drink in this gorgeous place.

To clear out of the country we had to get to the village of Codrington -- 10 miles away. That project took all afternoon, and we couldn't have done it without the help of Ivy and Gene, a couple who live part time in the fishing camp nearby. They got a taxi to come pick us up and drive us along the torturous dirt roads to town, depositing us at the port authority, then customs, then immigration and back to Gravenor Bay -- round trip -- 3 hours! Everybody we met that day, from the taxi drivers to the officials to Ivy and Gene, seemed to have been trained as a tour guide. We were 'guests' of the island and were given all sorts of information about the history, geography, and economy of Barbuda. They wanted us to feel welcomed and hoped we would return. We will!

Nonsuch Bay, Antigua: 17d04.581'N 61d40.294'W
Coco Point, Barbuda: 17d33.195'N 61d46.223'W
Gravenor Bay, Barbuda: 17d33.015'N 61d44.941'W