Back in the Virgin Islands…a beautiful place of healing…

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North Sound, Virgin Gorda

Its been nearly a year since we were last here, and 4 months since hurricanes IRMA, MARIA, and JOSE passed through here and left devastation in their wake. These are the supposed 100-year hurricanes, and they did some significant destruction.

We knew that there was some damage and we didn’t know what to expect, (whether we could get food, fuel or water if needed, but reassured by several accounts on the internet)  We had discussed with family and friends about a place to pick them up to sail, and this is still one of the best places we have found to cruise around a few days for sailing, snorkeling, diving, beaching, and of course Rumming (is that a word?…it is now!)

We approached Virgin Gorda, the North Sound late in the afternoon. I called into Leverick Bay Marina and got an immediate response. I inquired as to whether the channels were clear and if there were any obstructions to avoid. I was told “all is clear and we are glad you are here!”. As we made the approach, we could see the destruction. The Bitter End Yacht Club was as awful as we had seen on TV, and Saba Rock nearly gone. It was like a ghost town from the Wild West, and just as eerie. There were still curtains hanging and blowing in the breeze, chairs and metal strewn up the hillside. The abandoned shorelines were littered with debris.  There were countless homes without roofs and structures that appeared to be homes with just walls standing.  Normally we would have seen 50-200 boats anchored in the entirety of Leverick Bay, but today we could count 15.

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Upon anchoring we were made aware of the sounds of chainsaws, hammers, and heavy equipment hard at work to repair the chaos. Our afternoon took us into the marina to patronize the bar. They were putting on new roofs, painting the dive shop, and repairing the electric that supplies the dock. We were among 3 other couples and families there. We had a long discussion with the bartender there about the events of hurricane Irma. He retold the story of moving boats out of the bay, preparing the marina buildings, and his own home for the storm. He told us that the only information they received on how bad the storm was to be was from information received by others from outside the island. Apparently, the notification system did not prepare them for the onslaught of 150-180 MPH winds.  We heard that they couldn’t believe that the storm lasted 6 -8 hours. Our bartender explained that with each increase in the wind speed he was certain that it couldn’t get any worse and yet it continued to build. One woman, he told us, lost her roof and was jogging down the road looking for shelter, a neighbor called to her to come into their house just as a refrigerator passed her going down the street taken by the forceful winds.  A woman, a local, sitting at the bar as well while her child swam at the marina pool, told us that the children are especially affected. She explained that they get very scared now with any approaching storm. They have lost their school, which we would eventually see on a walk we would take the next day. The school had to relocate to another school on the island and share supplies amongst double the number of students.

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Leverick Bay Marina, rebuilding. These boats are missing something very important!

 

They all recounted that the rising water came up 10-12 feet above the sea level, washing away anything left sitting around and most of the beaches in its wake. On that same walk the next day, we passed so much that was destroyed, previously million-dollar homes overlooking the beautiful Caribbean Sea. We met a couple from New York that were there for 6-week and had just had their water and electric resumed that week. They indicated they had good insurance, but pointed to neighbors that didn’t. A crude for sale sign was posted on what must have been a lovely hillside home. We saw from high above the marina fishing boats, sailboats, and commercial vessels shipwrecked on shore. There were downed utility poles and wires that were tangled to incredible masses.

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Spanish Town lettered with boats ashore

Yet, at the end of the many conversations we had, all part of the healing process after such a trauma, we heard the same words “we’re glad to be alive…we will rebuild”. It was that positive attitude that impressed us. We know that so many people are out of work in the hospitality industry, businesses literally gone, and so many that have relocated elsewhere because of having no place to live.

Our visit in the BVI’s took us in the next few days to Spanish Town on Virgin Gorda. Here we did find gasoline for the dinghy and a great food store open. Along the shore the boats that were taken out of the water to ride out the storm were sitting like dominoes, toppled over upon one another. We saw sailboats, with no masts, motoring in the bays (we suppose waiting out the season for a new rigging).

We sailed past the empty anchorage at the Baths onto Norman Island. We chose to anchor out, but found that mooring were available throughout the Bight. We witnessed the shipwrecked Willy-T’s bar as well.

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The Bight at Norman Island, as beautiful as ever
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Pristine snorkeling waters at Privateer Bay, Normal Island

 

On Jost Van Dyke, Foxy was there to greet the good number of folks who knew he would be open, but the town there is quite the mess. The old yellow church has no roof, the stained glass is missing and the beautiful gardens are gone. The dive shop and other small shops are also destroyed. We did find ice at Cool Breeze, where they were also running a bar.

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In the Virgin Islands, at St John, we had our pick of mooring balls in St Francis Bay and for an afternoon of snorkeling at Trunk Bay. Pizza-Pi is now open on Christmas Cove as well. We have found ourselves in St Thomas for the last couple of weeks to be here to pick up family and friends for a few days.

 

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Great dinner at Amalia Cafe, Charlotte Amalie!

Currently we are waiting out a big blow at Charlotte Amalie. We have found that although the cruise ships still come in 3-4 days a week, the number of cruising vessels is fewer than in years past. We were lucky to be able to get ice, great provisions, be able to find someone to replace our freezer condenser (it’s always something), and have some really great meals at restaurants that are re-opening (Café Amalia!! On the waterfront in Charlotte Amalie). We are happy to be here. The damage and destruction are sad, but the attitude of the people and the effort that is going into rebuilding is amazing. We have had to do without 4G data due to lost cellular service, but we have found free WIFI set up on parts of the islands. We see more and more charter boats every day, so hopefully the word is out. The weather is gorgeous, the water a clear turquoise, the beaches are cleaned up, and the sunsets still happen every afternoon! Oh, and the Painkillers taste as good as they ever have!

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Priceless
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Christmas in St Lucia!

 

 

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A year ago we were convinced, by whatever information we had heard about St Lucia, that there may be some concern for safety to cruisers, and on our way to Grenada in April passed right by the island in the middle of the night. We were in awe of the Pitons that were illuminated by the moon that Good Friday night and continued on with concern for safety at some of the anchorages.  But, here we are 6 months later, with updated information, and day 4 in Marigot Bay and loving it. We passed the Pitons now sailing north in the morning light against the rising sun…still pretty magnificent. Marigot is a pretty small anchorage that is populated by many cruisers and charters nightly. There is a large marina and resort facility that make up most of the harbor. We have been greeted by a few of the locals in the row boats selling fruit and other services, but in no way feel safety is a problem. We have even seen a patrol boat out at night (Christmas Eve!). We had an easy check-in at customs upon our arrival and found that the marina staff and other local personnel very helpful.

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We have decided to anchor and could have spent $30 for a mooring bouy, but after our anchor was firmly set in sand we are comfortable where we are. We can swim right off the back of the boat and snorkel to some reefs.  It is a busy place as some of the cruise ships docked in Castries ( a mile away) bring boatloads of travelers to see the beautiful port, and there are the comings and goings of local fishermen and dive charters.

We are about 100 ft from the northern rocky shore lined by mangroves and palms. The landscape quickly rises to nearly 900 feet. To the north it is rainforest, to the south it is populated with villas and luxury homes. To the east we can see the massive luxury boats and sailboats moored and at dock. And to the west is the Caribbean blue sea.

Our sail here was a bit eventful. We left in 15-18 knot winds just off the quarter bow and were so glad to be on the water with the sails up and moving somewhere. Overnight we found ourselves driving straight into the wind with variable winds from 10-22 knots. The seas were a bit challenging. Initially, coming from a few directions (called confused)  and the building for a few hours to 6-10 ft , then settling by early morning. I think it was about the time we both thought of the possibility of rouge waves and made sure we were clipped in. It definitely kept us on our toes! We also had the cruise ships to tend with. They were coming out of Grenada, heading to Castries or out of Castries heading to Grenada. We both tried sleeping below for a while and when it was too rough came to the cockpit. There comes a time when sleep is so desirable that a rolling sea and rough waters don’t matter….. you have to sleep, and trust the boat…….even dreams come easily. We took our usual turns on watch and by morning light we were excited to arrive at the south end of St Lucia and the Pitons.

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Early morning arrival at the Pitons of St Lucia

Above the anchorage here in Marigot Bay is a trail. We read about the challenge and were up for it. It starts at the garden gate behind the Mango Inn and ascends quickly. We stopped at the inn to get directions and who we presumed were the owners gave us valuable information for our hike…take a stick at the garden gate and “take your time”…oh and they also told Mike to fasten the straps of his Crocs! We looked at each other, recalling an energetic and muddy hike to waterfalls in Guadeloupe last year, wondering if that was what was in store????  We passed through the garden and the gate (locked to keep the dogs in….we never saw them??). We picked out a walking stick and headed vertical right away. It was fairly easy until we came to the ropes alongside the trail set there to assist one to move from rock to root to root again. The vegetation was dense, but we were relieved that it was so shaded. As is our usual, we hike midday…the heat of the sun at its highest.  The challenge soon became hanging onto the walking stick, the Go-pro and the ropes! We ascended nearly 900 ft and were rewarded by a beautiful lookout over the harbor and the shore to the south of the inlet to Marigot Bay. We found the meditation platform and then headed to Oasis Marigot, down the trail to the west. One more stop gave us a nice rest on a handmade bamboo bench and a short rain shower provided some cooling effect. We descended through thick palms, cacti and yucca. We were lucky to be THE only ones on the trail that afternoon…all to ourselves!

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Marigot Bay Harbor

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We were ready for a swim, but needed to investigate Doolittle’s Restaurant and Bar. We heard over the loud speaker of one of the tour boats passing us in the anchorage that this was the location from which the seaside scenes from the original Dr. Doolittle film in 1967 were made. It was a cool and eclectic establishment and we decided we had intent to return, but so needed a swim and returned to the boat!

We also had a visit from the “Black Pearl”, a local day charter! Pretty ominous on arrival though!

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We spent Christmas here! With our white twinkle lights up the flag halyard we made our (now traditional) holiday dinner of homemade cheese ravioli, fresh baked bread, and salad. Between the heat in the galley and the frequent downpours..it was a challenge, but worth the trouble. Best meal yet. We called family and enjoyed Christmas over the miles.

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Traditional ravioli for Christmas Eve!
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Lost Loon, lit for Christmas!

Hope your holidays were terrific!

We keep moving north…stay in touch!

Nancy