Wow it’s been an incredibly long time since the previous installment of this tale. You see, I work on a computer from 7am to 5pm four days a week, so rousing myself to do so at home requires a little kick in the ass. Well, it was an incredibly busy summer, but I need to finish the story…
So where was I? Ah yes. Culebra.
With the previous night’s excitement, we all slept in a bit, and after breaking the fast, we weighed anchor and pointed Solstice’s bow to the Caribbean Sea. With the trades in prime form that morning, it was going to be a long upwind beat to round Punta Este. In fact, it was about fifteen miles of tacking along the southern shore of Vieques. But we rounded Punta Este around 15:30, setting Isla de Culebra firmly in our sights with a comfortable broad reach to Ensenada Honda.
We sailed in and dropped the hook without the assistance of the engine. There’s something magical about doing this – an entire day transiting between islands by wind power alone. So with Solstice looking shipshape again, and a dip in the anchorage, we hopped in the dinghy and headed over to a little waterside bar conveniently called “The Dinghy Dock”. Here, one can have a bite of local grub, a delectable coca libre, and feed the wild tarpon vulturing around the dock. Yes – I said tarpon. They’re like four-feet long puppies pacing to and fro for table scraps. I’ve never seen anything like it!
The next day we were bound for the US Virgin Islands. Our original destination was an anchorage on the western side of St. John, but as the day progressed and the tacking continued, Paul made the decision to head for Charlotte Amalie for the night. There is sufficiently deep water along the rugged southern shoreline of St. Thomas, which allowed us to sail right up into the cliffs. Words cannot describe the excitement and awe of tacking within hundreds of feet of these beautiful towering cliffs, adorned with villas and mansions. In retrospect, I wonder who had the better view? As we approached Charlotte Amalie, the afternoon jetliner traffic grew more and more frequent. This was such a strange perspective for me. I recall looking at those planes flying overhead, seemingly scraping the top of the mast, and thinking to myself – one of these planes brought me here and in a few short days will take me away. It was sobering really…
All three sails full, we cleared Haulover Cut – a small passage of about sixty feet – and with cheers and calls from passersby entered Long Bay, Charlotte Amalie. The capitol of the USVI, Charlotte Amalie is a fairly large town and is absolutely stunning at night. And thus we anchored out under the sparkling firmament of the city lights. I slept soundly out on deck that night, fully in tune with the wind and the periodic swing of Solstice on her anchor.
The last day was to be a busy one. Not only did we have to sail back to the BVI, but we also had to clear back into the country at Soper’s Hole, which is about twenty miles northeast to windward of Charlotte Amalie. No complaints from me, though. Sailing up through the narrow Current Cut and to leeward of St. John, we had one of the best sails of the entire trip. Solstice was obviously having fun too. As we leaned her into the oncoming gusts, she would dance happily forward, effortlessly riding the lifts of wind like a frigatebird. With a few tacks around Great Thatch island, we sailed into Soper’s Hole to get our paperwork in order. Paul dinghy-ed ashore to clear in, and for the brief time we were there, I had a nice repose in the shade of the covered mainsail. Looking around the anchorage I took note of a curious sight: there were Texas flags everywhere! I counted within eye-shot seven or eight boats that all hailed from Texas. Say what you will about our backwards worldviews and staunch conservatism, Texans are proud folk, and I’m damned proud to be one of them. And knowing that one day soon I’ll be among them aboard my own boat, really made me smile.
With the bureaucracy satisfied, we dropped the mooring and made way for our last anchorage of the night – Cane Garden Bay. The beam reach up to this sheltered little bay on the western side of Tortola was about as picturesque a sail one could ask for – the sun setting to port over Jost van Dyke, and dolphins to starboard slaloming against the backdrop of Tortola. We made our way through the bay’s channel, dropped the anchor, and closed the last evening of the expedition with a snorkel around the bay’s reef.
The following day we sailed Solstice back to her anchorage in Trellis Bay on the opposite side of the island, and had a few beers before going our separate ways. I reserved a room on St. Thomas before my flight the following day, so after taking the fast ferry back over to St. Thomas, I savored a piping hot shower and a clean shave. Feeling a sense of both melancholy and accomplishment, I prepared myself for a day of flying back the States…
Some reflections on this trip: On the surface, it may seem that this it was a much needed departure from Lorilee’s boat projects and the monotony of my day job. It was indeed, but it was also so much more than that. Before sailing with him, I knew Paul is a master of his craft, and that I could take my sailing education to the next level by taking this trip. I went into it with several expectations of what I wanted to learn and what I needed to do. Those expectations were exceeded. My grasp of navigation, seamanship, sail trim, and sailing dynamics had grown by leaps and bounds after this week. And that’s not to mention the storytelling, rum drinking, and friendship that accompanied it. This expedition gave me a true taste of the voyaging life that I long for, and furthermore, stoked the fire for me to get out there and actually do it.
p.s. I have some exciting news coming up that I can’t quite share yet. Stay tuned.