Sunday, January 13, 2008

Day 13: January 5th, 2008

Rain hit the slightly opened hatch above my face, spraying mist on me and waking me up at 4:55am. I ran around closing all the opened hatches on the boat, and then settled in to making pancakes. As I did so, the crew started to stir --- no mean feat as many of them had apparently stayed up till 1:30am the night before. As folks worked on breakfast and lunch, I started clearing the deck to prepare for departure.



My heart stopped as I looked up. It was beautiful. The sky was all in different colors, and it looked very much like an island paradise looked. Our charter terms had us returning the boat by noon, but it's really 11:00am or so, as we had to get our boat refueled before returning it to CYOA. So I hurried the crew along, and at a little past 7:00am, asked Przemek to come up to help me raise anchor so we could get going.



With the electric winch, the anchor was raised without any ado whatsoever, making it the smoothest "anchors aweigh" call I ever had the pleasure of hearing. I powered the boat out of the bay, and called the crew out to see the beautiful sights before I put them right to work again. Yes, I am a slave-driver. As before on our early sails, it rained, producing lovely rainbows, but even though we raised the sails, the wind did not cooperate --- the 18 knot winds we had yesterday did not cooperate , even as we sailed between St. John and St. Thomas.

Past the trio of Cays, the wind picked up again, but it died down because we were in the wind-shadow of St. John just a little later, and I had to power up the motor and motor sail our way towards Charlotte Amalie. Even with the engine at cruising power and the sails up, it would take until 10:30 before I spied the opening to Charlotte Amalie harbor, where we ate a hurried packed lunch in anticipation of rapid action. I hailed Yacht Haven Grande and got approval to use their fuel dock, but it wasn't at all easy to find the fuel dock, which was a little out of the way. Spurred a bit too much perhaps by the clock, I went into the fuel dock a little too fast, but fortunately Lisa was handy with a fender and there was no problem.

In a week of sailing, Rya Jen had only used $36.60 worth of diesel fuel. The fuel gauge had not budged at all, from where it sat, so I guess the fuel gauge was busted. We hailed CYOA on the VHF and they instructed us to hang out near their slips and someone would come out by dinghy. I then went through the gates to the marina office with the fuel-dock boy, and paid for the fuel. Our departure was easy enough, with plenty of shore help to allow us to leave the slip, and before we knew it we were headed back to Frenchtown Marina, from whence we had came 7 days earlier.



Chris came out on his dinghy and we quickly unfurled and furled the sails for him so he could see that our sails were in good shape. I then handed over the helm to him, thereby giving up responsibility for Rya Jen. But our travails were not over, for we had to help Chris dock, which turned out to involve a bit of waiting for the winds to die a bit, where upon he had to reverse the boat, have me hand the bowline to shore-help, and allow him to come into the slip. With that, our sail was over but not our journey, since we still had to clear customs.

Customs and immigration was at the ferry building 3 blocks away, but we were not prepared for the amount of waiting we had to do. Clearing customs was not a problem, though the lady behind the counter asked why I had cut it so close, arriving at 11:55am when the office closed at noon. She was apparently in a hurry to get out, so took my form perfunctorily and told me to wait for immigration. In front of us in immigration was another boat. The master of the boat, which was a fully crewed charter, told us that two ferry boats had just pulled in, which meant that the immigration agents would service both of them before talking to us. "Clearly, they've never heard of queuing theory," declared Hector.

Well, the long wait meant I got a chance to query a professional skipper as to how to approach the virgin islands. First of all, they had a long motoring day to Virgin Gorda, which was where they cleared customs. Apparently, Virgin Gorda's customs agents aren't too picky, so even if you arrive at night, you can wait the next morning before clearing customs and they won't bother you. It also meant that all their sailing was downwind. The man also had a low opinion of Soper's Hole, regaling us with stories about all the stupid nit-picky things the customs and immigration agents there did.

Another little tidbit I got was that apparently the best time to visit is between October and December, and May. That was the best weather as you could apparently get really poor weather the time of year we did our trip. "But you got lucky this year, as the weather's been exceptionally nice. We got our bad swells in early December this year." I filed this away for future reference. Of course, when you have twin totoros on board, the weather gods are literally with you.



It was 12:15pm before the ferry was all cleared and we got our customs agents on our side. It didn't take them long to clear both our boats (she wanted to go to lunch too!), and we were back at Frenchtown Marina, where the crew went to eat while I finished checking Rya Jen back in. Chris had been busy, and said that the dive check (unthinkable in the Pacific Northwest) had showed that we brought back the hull even cleaner than we had left. The boat's systems and fittings were all still in place, so the only problem we had, mechanically speaking was the propeller on the dinghy. They had replaced it already, and found no other problems so we were good there. Chris and I went over the entire checklist and I showed him where everything was, and gave them feedback on Rya Jen. After this, it was a matter of getting our luggage off the boat and cleaning up, so I took my shower, went to lunch with the crew, and came back and got everything off.

Finishing lunch, we got our luggage and cleaned up the boat a bit more, but it was already 2:00pm when I headed over to clear the boat one final time with CYOA. Chris was away, so someone else checked the boat out, and this time, he complained about the condition of the stove and sand in the cabins. We were feeling screwed for the security deposit at this point, since we had to depart, but then I realized the Przemek was actually not departing today, so I asked if he was OK with working with CYOA to address their concerns.

With this, we said farewell, grabbed a taxi, and headed to the airport, where our flight to Washington DC departed on time. On the way home, we discovered that our timing was just perfect, as a winter storm had just hit San Francisco the day before, creating air traffic delays all around the country, especially into San Francisco. We smiled and pulled on our sweaters, anticipating the cooler weather we would soon face.
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