48 Hours in Anguilla

We left the British Virgin Islands at least a week earlier than planned, because weather forecasts predicted very strong trade winds for the next few weeks. As Chris Parker from the Marine Weather Forecasting Center said, “Head east from the BVIs on Sunday January 5th – or don’t count on leaving until some time in February.” Yikes! That got our attention!

So we got everything prepped, staged ourselves in the north sound of Virgin Gorda, and took off on our first big passage of the season the next day. We left the sound around 1:00 pm and sailed 20 hours into wind, waves, and current. Uncomfortable, but never unsafe. The trip was soooo bouncy, that both Capt. Mike and I had wacky dreams when we tried to nap between watches. Mike dreamt that gravity no longer worked, and he kept floating away. I dreamed that we’d gotten into such shallow water that we were plowing Sanitas through mud, and then I had to jump out and push her up a dirt road. Obviously we didn’t get much rest, lol! Our buddy boats Tanda Tula and Willful headed straight to St Martin and it was comforting watching their mast lights all through the night. But Mike and I decided to squeeze in a quick visit to Anguilla before the big winds show up.

Visitors to the British island of Anguilla will find two main pastimes: going to the beach, and eating delicious food. Sometimes these pastimes are combined – eating delicious food while sitting on a beach! It doesn’t get much better than that! With 33 beaches to choose from you’d sure need more than two days to visit them all and to find a favorite!

We anchored in Road Bay and after a brief nap, cleared customs with the nicest customs agents in the world. It’s free to clear in for little boats like ours. I’m pretty sure they figure we’ll spend the money we saved in the restaurants! Road Bay was a nice change from the forced merrymaking of the BVIs in high season. The beach is made of the softest sand ever and is lined with beach bars and restaurants. There were only about four charter boats and a handful of cruisers in the anchorage. And the town of Sandy Ground is right there – so it’s a dynamic mix of visitors and locals.

After a long walk around the salt pond, talking to the ducks, we had one of Ivy’s famous rum punches at Dad’s Bar and Grill. Reviews from other cruisers said they have the fastest WiFi on the beach, so it was worth the price of the drink to catch up on our podcast downloads and to edit photos. For dinner, we had tapas at The Sandbar. You’d never guess by looking at this beachside shack during the day that after sunset, it turns into a world class restaurant and cocktail bar. After a plate of seafood fra diavlo and cumin crusted pork loin, we understood all the rave reviews.

The next day, we hiked from Road Bay on the north side of the island to Rondezvous Bay on the south. Google maps said it would take us 2 hours, but we found some shortcuts and shaved off 20 minutes. Whatever the distance, it was worth it! This beach has the softest, whitest sand I’ve ever seen.

I meant for us to walk the whole length of the longest beach in Anguilla before stopping for lunch. But the quirky Sunshine Shack beach bar pulled us into its orbit. We just stopped for a cold beverage, but the plates of ribs coming off the grill looked and smelled amazing. So we broke down. Ribs for Mike and whole grilled snapper for me, and it was every bit as delicious as we’d hoped. That’s the best thing about Anguilla – whether you eat it a high-end resort or at a beach barbecue, the chef takes great pride in her food, and stakes her reputation on every dish.

We FINALLY made it to Bankie Banx’s Dune Preserve just before the music started. It’s a bit different than your usual beach bar – a rambling wooden property built a bit back from the beach, with sea grape bushes and other dune vegetation growing through the gaps. And there’s definitely a pirate theme. Capt. Mike felt right at home. Bankie Banx is a world-renowned musician, so even though we’d planned to be back at the boat before dark, we couldn’t pass up the chance to see him live. Besides! All the celebrities come here on their visits to Anguilla. The bartender showed us where Cuba Gooding Jr signed the wall last summer. And he regaled us with stories about when Justin Bieber arrived unannounced and asked to perform. (Bankie Banx had never heard of him 😜) We thoroughly enjoyed Bankie’s set, which ranged from raggae to blues to soul, and we’d have stayed much later except that the wind picked up sending a thick cloud of that sugar-fine white sand through the bar, and chasing us out. I’m pretty sure we fit as much into our short stop in Anguilla as we possibly could!

Old Year’s Night at Foxy’s

On the day after Christmas, we made the short hop from St John to Jost van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands. Along with our friends Zach and Lindy on Holiday, we planned to find the perfect spot to wait for New Year’s Eve. The annual party at Foxy’s bar and restaurant is legendary. This year’s theme was “Aladdin” with costumes encouraged, and we’d learned that Foxy had already sold over 100 VIP tickets at $600 each. Yikes! Way above our cruisers’ budget, but we could hang out with the little people for free (or at least for the cost of a couple of rum punches).

We picked up a mooring ball for $30 per night – sort of like paying for a spot in a campground on land – and settled into the neighborhood. Great Harbor is the biggest “town” on Jost van Dyke, but that’s not saying much! One sand-covered road follows the curve of the bay, there’s the ferry dock and customs, and a few restaurants and bars. It’s the only place on the island where you can clear into the BVIs, so there’s plenty of boat traffic and comings and goings.

Just around the corner is the famous White Bay – home of the Soggy Dollar Bar and inventor of the painkiller cocktail. It’s named the Soggy Dollar because power boats anchor just off the beautiful sandy beach and their passengers hop in and wade ashore – ending up with wet wallets in the process. It’s a beautiful beach for a float!

One beach bar over from Soggy Dollar is Gertrude’s where, as the sign says “You are allowed to pour your own drink.” For $10 you get a cup, a pitcher of painkiller mix, a bottle of rum, and a nutmeg grater – get to work! Our buddy Zach might have had a bit of a heavy hand with the rum bottle. Gertrude gave him a stern look and said in her best mom voice, “I tink that’s enough now.”

As New Year’s Eve approached, the harbor got steadily more crowded. In addition to the usual cruiser and charter boats, a small cruise ship, a handful of mega yachts, and a triple masted schooner showed up and anchored just outside the bay. The theory that there’s always room for one more made for some interesting situations. We watched a moorings charter boat that had run aground on the shoal at the edge of the harbor get towed off the rocks. And a 54 foot monohull tried to anchor in the middle of the mooring field but their anchor kept dragging. Mike and Zach had to leap into action to rescue it when, unattended, it dragged quickly during a wind shift and almost ran into a huge catamaran. As Mike started the motor and put the boat in forward and Zach worked the anchor, the captain of the catamaran kept yelling at them, “I told you not to anchor there!” Capt. Mike finally had to set him straight, “It’s not my boat man! I’m just keeping it from hitting you!”

Finally, the night of the party arrived! There’s a term “Cruiser’s Midnight” which roughly equates to 10:00 pm. Maybe earlier on some boats! We’re kind of a rise with the sun sort of crowd. So I wasn’t quite sure how we’d deal with a social event that required us to actually stay awake until real midnight.

But I was pleasantly surprised to find that the party’s not only at Foxy’s. Instead, the whole town is one big street fair, with pop-up bars, barbecue restaurants, and little shops lining the one main street. In the crowd overflowing from Corsair’s we met the skipper of the boat Mike and Zach rescued earlier. He was very nice and thanked them profusely, even buying us a round of VooDoo cocktails.

Eventually we did make it over to Foxy’s where the band was fantastic and the crowd was sparkly and in a great mood. It was a super fun night and a great way to ring in 2020. I even made it past midnight!

My Favorite National Park

While St Thomas is cruise ships and duty free shops (and beautiful beaches, let’s be honest), St John is its more laid back, hippy cousin. So guess which one appeals to this Boulder, Colorado chick?

When we learned that SV Wilfull and SV Tanda Tula were spending one last night in St John before heading to the British Virgins, Capt. Mike and I raised anchor and hurried over to St John to see them one more time. Heading east means upwind, but we’re in no hurry, so we kept the motor off and enjoyed the sail tacking as close to the wind as our staysail would allow.

Once we’d settled in on a mooring ball in Maho Bay we could start to appreciate all that St John has to offer. About 2/3 of the island is National Park with protected rainforest and coastal waters. And it’s kind of hard to get there – no airport, a ferry ride away from Red Hook, only one big international resort. Which means the beaches are lovely, but not covered with lounge chairs. The waters are perfect for swimming, and the giant sea turtles aren’t the slightest bit afraid of us inconsequential humans. Independent travelers rent a van and pack a cooler and circle the island, exploring the differing delights of each bay just around the next corner or hiking the steep trails from the island’s mountainous spine down to its beaches.

Maho Bay is sea turtle paradise – small agile turtles, big turtles with remora fish clinging to their shells, and huge ancient turtles that stare back at you placidly when you dive down to their level. Mike and I never got tired of calling out, “Look! Turtle! Look! Turtle!” from the cockpit. And when we got tired of snorkeling, usually coincidentally right around happy hour, we’d head ashore to the new Maho Collective. This combination tiki bar, food truck park, paddle board rental, and boutique has an inviting island vibe and feels like a backyard barbecue at your cool friend’s house. The owner, Dave lived in Vail for a while so we sat on a wicker sofa after closing time and told island stories and mountain stories. Fabulous guy that he is, he even bought all six of us a round of drinks!

Once our friends moved on, Capt. Mike and I set out to explore all the new and happening spots on St John – well, at least all the spots that the weather conditions allowed. After hiking St Francis bay, we dropped our national park mooring ball and sailed east to Hansen’s Bay just outside the park boundaries. Being outside the park, we were able to anchor for free, rather than spending $26 per night for a mooring ball. Hmmm… what to do with that extra money? Spend the afternoon at a floating taco and cocktail bar, of course!

Lime Out is a lime green barge, only accessible by boat, kayak, or paddle board. Tie up, jump in the water, and drift over to one of the huge floats or to the swim up bar. Look over the short menu of gourmet tacos (think seared tuna, shrimp with pesto, or surf and turf) and craft cocktails. Place your order with one of the cheerful, efficient young waitresses who can answer any questions about ingredients and allergies. Even when the place is jammed with people, your order will come out super fast – drinks served in insulated stainless steel mugs, so no trash or single-use plastics. Tacos come in these cute little divided take-out containers made of compostable material. If you’re sitting on a yellow float, they’ll place your order on a pool float and give it a push to drift across the water to you. Finished, and have empty taco containers? The waitress reaches out with one of those long handled swimming pool skimmers to collect your trash. They’ve got this whole thing figured out. And speaking of trash, if you eat your scrumptious tacos at the swim up bar, a few scraps of guacamole or lettuce are bound to fall in the water. Never fear! A school of fish hang out under the barge just waiting to swoop in and snatch up your scraps. I have to admit, it’s a bit unnerving the first time it happens! When you get hot, slip into the water and borrow one of Lime Out’s swim noodles or floating chairs. When you get chilly, clamber up onto one of the sectional-couch-sized floats and chat with your neighbor. All in all, spending an afternoon at Lime Out is tons of fun.

After the Lime Out restaurant raised anchor and motored away on Sunday evening, Sanitas was left alone for a quiet evening. The next morning, we ducked around the corner to Salt Pond Bay, back inside the park. The beach here is a bit off the beaten path, and it’s quieter than on the north shore. From the beach, there’s a lovely easy hike to Ram’s Head with wonderful views. The trail meanders through clusters of barrel cactus with bright red blossoms. If you look closely, you’ll find a few with bright pink fruits shaped like chili peppers that grow right out the top of the cactus. Very cool! If you’re visiting St John, the hike to Ram’s Head is a must!

After all this traveling around, somehow the holidays snuck up on us. Southerly winds drove us away from St John’s south coast anchorages, so we turned the corner to the west coast and ducked into Cruz Bay on Christmas Eve. Cruz Bay is the “big city” on St John, with all the services we were missing after our stay in the park – grocery stores, hair salon, restaurants, and strong free wifi at the ferry dock. We certainly took advantage of all these things, and soaked up the tropical holiday atmosphere. As an added bonus, we caught up with Carina on Northern Star who we met back in St Petersburg, FL in 2017. At the time, she and her husband and two adorable dogs were in the process of moving from Texas to the Virgin Islands on their sailboat. Lots of fun to check in two years later to find out how it went, and how much they are enjoying their new island home!

I hope all of you had happy and healthy holidays! Here’s to the best for you in 2020!

Returning to St Thomas – on MY OWN boat!

We took our ASA sailing classes in St Thomas back in 2013. You could say that’s where this whole crazy boat life thing began. We returned several times to charter sailboats on vacation and to hone those sailing skills. But how fun is it to return in 2019 on OUR OWN sailboat?!?! We grabbed a one-day weather window to motor-sail over from Culebra when the easterly trade winds were very light. We squeezed Sanitas in between all the other boats in the anchorage at Honeymoon Beach on Water Island. Wow! It’s really changed in the past six years! Now there are two beach bars, and tons of booze cruise boats come over from the main island for a swim and a little beach time. I took a whole album’s worth of photos of the strange crafts: pirate ships, the Kon Tiki bar boat with its steel drum version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and of course, the huge cargo ferries! We enjoyed the beach and the live music and dancing at Dinghy’s Beach bar on a Sunday afternoon. Also, a lovely island to explore by foot, enjoying the lovely vegetation and huge land tortoises.

After a couple of days of beach vacation, it was time to get to work! About two weeks since we left Puerto Rico, we were out of veggies, eggs, and low on water, so we motored over to the main town of Charlotte Amalie to get stuff done!

Errands take a lot longer when you’re doing them by foot. And in 85deg temps! We felt the need to sustain ourselves with tacos and a margarita at Greengos about halfway through.

Of course, our most important errand was to pick up the new water maker membrane that we’d shipped to a St Thomas post office via General Delivery. The question is: which St Thomas Post Office? We’d used the street address of the historic downtown post office, since we knew we could walk there from the anchorage. However, once we arrived, the clerk told us they don’t accept General Delivery. Uh oh. Worst case scenario, did that mean they’d returned our critical water maker part back to Defender? To my relief, the clerk told us it was probably at the main post office, and we could get there by riding the dollar bus to its last stop. So we were off again, hunting for the main post office. This one’s definitely off the tourist path! Second time’s a charm, we were thrilled to find our package had arrived, and we could put another boat project on the to-do list and could start making fresh drinking water again.

Frankly, one night in the busy and industrial Charlotte Amalie anchorage was enough. We popped over to Christmas Cove on Great St James Island (also known as pedophile Island ’cause it was owned by Jeffrey Epstein) Mike loves this anchorage, but there’s no access to land so it’s never going to be one of my favorites. There’s excellent people watching here as day charters stop by the bay for a snorkel and to pick up a pizza from the floating Pizza Pi restaurant.

The best part of our stop at Christmas Cove was catching up with TC and Suzanne – our first sailing friends who we met the day we pulled into the St Petersburg Municipal Marina in 2017. They untied the lines and started cruising last year, but we never ended up in the same place at the same time. We had a fun reunion, playing games and having sundowners in the cockpit of Anna Bella.

Our last stop on St Thomas was the best! We sailed to the north side of St Thomas to Magens Bay. It’s a gorgeous white sand beach, ringed with palm trees, and hosting the obligatory beach bar. With four cruise ships in town, the beach got pretty busy during the day. But that’s the best part of sailing – we shared the bay with only two other boats, and in the mornings and the evenings, we had the whole place to ourselves. In another attempt to beat the crowds, Capt. Mike and I walked the 3-mile “Nature Trail” which kicked our lazy sailing butts. The heat and climb were tricky, but the hardest part was the mud bog we had to fight our way through right at the start. I almost lost a Keen sandal in the mud, and expected to wind up on my butt and covered in mud at any moment. Mission accomplished though- we got a bit of exercise AND we didn’t see a single cruise ship tourist the entire time!

Exploring the Spanish Virgin Islands

If you’ve ever dreamed on sailing in the Caribbean, you probably have a picture in your mind of the Virgin Islands – St Thomas and St John in the USVI, and Tortola and Virgin Gorda. The Soggy Dollar Bar and Willy T’s. But have you heard of the Spanish Virgins? Just east of mainland Puerto Rico, the islands of Culebra and Vieques are technically part of PR, but have a much more laid back, island-time feel.

We untied the lines from the Puerto del Rey marina on Thanksgiving Day, and made the short trip to Los Palominos island. We celebrated the holiday with a quasi-traditional thanksgiving dinner (substituting the worlds smallest rotisserie chicken for turkey) and a mojito float party with Zach and Lindy of SV Holiday. Sanitas’ third year of cruising is off to a good start!

The next day, we sailed for 5.5 hours to Vieques and anchored back in Sun Bay where we finished our journeys last May. We were super lucky to be able to sail the whole way without motoring, because it’s pretty much straight east from the mainland. It gave Capt. Mike the opportunity to brush off those rusty sail trimming skills, and first mate Jenn the chance to tack and tack and tack! I measured the length of the white sand beach at Sun Bay while jogging barefoot one morning – 1.1 miles from the dinghy drop off on the east side on the bay to the last point of land on the west near Esperanza. It’s a gorgeous place to relax and wind down after the never ending boat chores and trips to Costco, Walmart, and West Marine in San Juan traffic!

It’s also a great place to check out all of the boat systems that we didn’t need to use in the marina….and to find new problems. Our dinghy outboard motor is super reliable. It always starts with one or two pulls. Until it doesn’t. Capt. Mike sweated through his t-shirt pulling the outboard starter dozens of times with just a small cloud of grey smoke to show for his efforts. We decided we must have gotten some bad gasoline, and luckily Zach on Holiday had some SeaFoam fuel conditioning additive to lend us. Over the next couple of days of frequent use, she went back to purring like a kitten.

But then our water maker broke. Ok, maybe it didn’t exactly break, but the water that came out smelled foul, and measured at 750-900 ppm. Might be better off just drinking seawater! So we replaced the filter, ran an alkaline cleaning cycle, put it all back together, and tried again. STILL over 600 ppm. Good thing we stayed close to civilization on this shakedown cruise! We ordered a new water maker membrane from Defender and had it sent to the USPO General Delivery in St Thomas. Phew! That’s a lot of work for our first few days of cruising life!

We recovered by hanging out on the beach, walking to nearby Playa Media Luna, and dinghying over to the town of Esperanza to check out the tourist scene and the beach bars. I give two thumbs up to Lazy Jacks for drinks, and Duffy’s for food!

One of the highlights of our stay on Vieques was a tour of the island with Angie of Vieques Tours and Transportation. Angie’s a native of Vieques and she and her entire family have lived here her whole life, except for a year of college in Connecticut (Too cold. Too far from home) She knows everything about the history of the island, and what she doesn’t know, she’ll make up! She described the sugar cane plantation history of the island, and how that led to a diverse population that came here from islands all over the Caribbean, and how the last names of prominent families still show those origins. She took us to Isabela Segunda, the capital of Vieques, where pastel painted colonial architecture abounds and the one main road is known to locals as “the wide street”. Compare it to the rest of the island roads that look pretty much like bike paths and you’ll get it! Fort Conde de Mirasol was the last fort built by the Spanish in the New World, constructed between 1845 and 1855. Pretty much, they ran out of money and colonial power right about then, but the building is almost entirely original and it sits on a lovely viewpoint and contains a museum of archeological finds dating back to the Taino indigenous people. Robert, the tour guide and caretaker of the fort, was Angies’s high school social studies teacher back when he first arrived from the mainland US and didn’t speak any Spanish!

But the most interesting part of the tour was learning how life on Vieques has changed since hurricanes Irma and Maria back in 2017. Angie’s family had no electricity for nine months after Maria. Since then, half of the schools on the island as well as the only hospital have closed with no plans to reopen. There’s no longer any landline telephone service on the island – the provider couldn’t come up with the money to replace the poles and wires. Most families started to grow their own fruit and produce because grocery shipments were so unreliable. And many of the mature trees that used to form a shady canopy of green over the island roads are gone. Many small businesses have closed, and tourism (particularly the stellar bioluminescent bay tours) is the only industry. Now, none of this is meant to scare you away! I’ve only visited Vieques after the storms and I found it stunningly gorgeous. There are cute boutique hotels and delicious seafood restaurants and beautiful beaches that put the ones on mainland Puerto Rico to shame. But when you hear of the problems Puerto Ricans had in the aftermath of the storms, just think of their small island brethren who feel completely abandoned by the government and by FEMA.

From Vieques, we sailed over to Culebra – a new island to explore! From calm Ensenada Honda, we dinghied over to the one main town of Dewey and watched the ferries come and go, and watched the town put up Christmas decorations. I don’t know about you, but doesn’t it seem weird to decorate with snowmen in the tropics? And shouldn’t southern Santa have a more weather-appropriate outfit?

Capt. Mike and I sweated our way to the only beach within walking distance from the town dock. Within two minutes of hopping into the water, Mike kicked a sea urchin and had to perform emergency surgery to remove painful spines from his second toe. Good thing I’m always prepared and carry a Swiss Army knife! His injury made the walk back seem longer than the walk to the beach, but I made it up to him with a Painkiller at the Dinghy Bar

Still milking the great toe injury of 2019 🤣 we shared a rental car with SV Holiday for $45 per day and explored pretty much every beach on the island. I can see why you need a Jeep if you live here! Those island roads run straight up, and straight down, and suddenly and unexpectedly turn to dirt! But at the end of every road in another stunning white sand beach, and I made it my mission to walk the length of every one.

After all that exertion, I think I earned the right to sit in our fabulous new beach chairs on the white sand of Flamenco Beach, sipping a Pina Colada from the beach shacks and enjoying the fabulous people watching. (Are people really still wearing neon? And thongs? Who is Daddy Yankee? So THAT’S how you keep a beach umbrella from blowing away)

Two military tanks sit on the west end of Flamenco Beach, reminding folks of the controversial history of the US Navy in these islands. Back in the 40s and 50s the navy took over large portions of Culebra, forcing the folks who lived there to pack up and move. Then they performed military exercises and target practice with live munitions for decades. Even now, large parts of the islands are off limits to visits because of the huge amount of unexploded ordinance. While sailing to Vieques, we heard the Coast Guard announcing ordinance removal activities. In the 70’s residents of Culebra staged protests and called world-wide attention to what they considered an occupation of their home island. Eventually, their tactics worked, and the Navy left Culebra in 1975, but stayed active in Vieques until 2003. The rusting, graffitied tanks remain on the beach as a memorial to the protestors and a symbol of peace.