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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Our Christmas Letter

It is over a year since we set out on this adventure, and Christmas is always a good time to put together a few photos to recall what we have done and reflect upon why we have done it.

So click this link if you would like to see the Christmas Letter we have sent to many of our friends and family. Our address book is in something of a mess so our apologies if we didn't send it to you, at least you have found it here!

Best wishes to everyone for Christmas, New Year and however you celebrate the season.

Ty Dewi in Tortola, British Virgin Islands. Christmas Eve 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Silver Cloud at the end of the rainbow

Silver Cloud is an 1899 steel schooner moored here in Coral Bay, owned by a nice chap who screen prints t-shirts for lots of local busineses. Anyway, a brief squal passed over in the morning, and the resultant rainbow ended right over his boat, just behind us.
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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Did you miss Gesa's Thanksgiving Post?

Gesa was learning how to post on the blog when she wrote about thanksgiving, so it only appeared a couple of weeks after the fact, and back down the list.

If you missed it, scroll down or view the archive for November.

Recycling - not everybody gets it.

Given the price of groceries here on St John, we were pleased to see that the local market is encouraging recycling by giving you 10% off if you buy over $25 and use the re-usable shopping bag. We always carry our own bags because we hate too much plastic, especially in the mainland american culture of 'put in two items then double bag it' supermarket packing.

So at the checkout I decline the plastic carrier bags, fill our own and ask for our 10% discount. "Oh no, it's gotta be a national park bag to get that". Er, but the whole point is to use less bags, right. "No sir, we only give a discount if you use that bag." So I've got to go to the park office, get an extra plastic bag that we don't need and it takes oil to make, then I get my 10%. "Yes, sir." She's getting a little annoyed with me now so I pack and go. "Happy holidays". Indeed, and shall I double bag that?

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What have we found?

We had an email from friends on another boat saying where they'd been these last few days and ending with the question 'what have you found?'. Such a simple but great question, I answered it with a long list of the highlights from the last few days....

  • Movie at Maho Camps was 'Finding Nemo'. We know every scene so it was a good one.
  • Bought beer to take with us. Virgin Islands Summer Ale. Read the label - it's Shipyard Ale from Portland. Ha Ha. One of my favourites when we were there but a little bit of a con to find it masquerading as local beer down here!
  • Park Rangers do know if you've paid. We missed a day at the start, it seems, having paid the next six in a row like good campers, and we got a visit and a ticket asking us to pay the $15.
  • Leinster Bay on the north east of St John is beautiful, and sheltered. Waterlemon Cay looks really neat but the (much) better snorkeling is on the mainland shore not around the Cay where all the tourists swim.
  • Annaberg ruins are well worth a visit. At the old sugar factory, if a gangly rastafarian approaches you and mentions the garden then listen to him, find the garden. He's called Charles and looks after the plants there. Showed us all manner of plants and fruits, cut sugar cane for us to munch on, gave us herbs, got shakshaks for the kids and is just an all round nice guy.
  • Three great families. P, S and kids from Cape Town/Denmark just setting out on their Bene411 for six months. R, C and kids from Vermont/Trinidad living on their boat in Coral Bay with great stories and fun plans. J, J and kids from Canada/Montserrat/USA running the Jolly Dog stores around Coral Bay, selling all sorts of stuff including J's t-shirt designs. And many many more interesting and lovely people.
  • A community - Coral Bay is much more 'local' than the other end of the island. It's the far end from the ferry landing so only the more intrepid tourists get out here and all manner of folks make their homes at this end of town.
  • Best value island tour. The bus from Cruz Bay to Coral Bay and back runs along Centreline Road, along mountain peaks and with great views of the island and ocean. A dollar each, kids negotiable.
  • A package of goodies. The reason we took the island bus was to see if a package from California had arrived at the post office. It had, containing a lovely knitted sweater for Max form Nana in the UK, and a lot of chirstmas goodies from Julia in California. Including chocolate covered coffee beans. Mmmm
  • Free beer. R has only had their new boat for two months and was cleaning out a deep locker. Found four cases of beer. He doesn't drink. Our gain. We'll take over some brownies, I think.
  • New outboard propeller, which is why we were at Redhook. Chatted to a chap on the dock who rents powerboats, he called a friend and half an hour later we had a used but serviceable prop for fifty bucks. Saved a trip to Charlotte A. And whilst Redhook is a miserable anchorage it's a darn sight cheaper to buy groceries at the Marina Mart there than on St John so a good call for a hit and run provisioning stop.

Friday, December 19, 2008

More Max Treasures

We are turning into a bunch of scavengers. Max found a coconut beside a dock in Road Town, Tortola and insisted on it coming back to the boat. Without much hope I promised to open it, so we found a way to tear off the husk, which revealed a very small coconut nestling inside. Using the good ol'hammer trick to open it (tap the coconut sharply, turn it a bit, tap again, turn, tap, continue for a couple of full turns) we opened it and found it was good, nice sweet meat inside.

We are now unable to pass a fallen coconut without requests to bring them back to the boat, which we often do since even getting only one in three is good when they are almost two dollars in the store! They don't grow on trees, you know.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Just hanging out in St John

Not a lot to write because we've been doing a lot of not a lot, so to speak. St John is a lovely place just to take it easy and do very little, so we've been doing exactly that. A bit of school, a bit of swimming, a bit of walking and a bit of socialising. We've met a couple of other boats with kids and have spent some time with them, and we've met other kids on the beach for impromptu playdates. Then the local camp/resort had a movie night which turned out to be 'Finding Nemo', an all time favourite on this boat, so we took a few beers for the adults and popcorn for everyone and had fun watching that.

Yesterday we walked to the ruins of a school built to educate the children of slaves but, only opened a few years before emancipation, it rapidly fell into disuse as plantations closed and people moved towards the two main villages on the island, Cruz Bay and Coral Harbor. Nearby is one of those plantations with the remains of a windmill and horse mill, the sugar boiling room and the distillery where anything left over was made into rum. Interesting, and a nice short walk from our anchorage.

We're on our way round to Coral Harbor, at the east end of St John, to stay there for a few days before moving on to Tortola and preparing for the Christmas rush! We met some nice people who run stores in Coral Harbor, and they have kids of similar ages so we'll go see them again and sit still for a few days before we move on. It's hard to believe that Christmas is just around the corner, and so nice not to have been bombarded by carols, lights and commercial messages of the season for the last few weeks. We occasionally have pangs for Christmas past, and today something triggered a moment of longing for well wrapped up walking in snowy hills followed by pints of beer in the snug of a local pub but we know that's nostalgia and don't miss the cold grey days that surrounded it all. We'll have cold grey days aplenty once in Canada, I'm sure.

All's well. N.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

In and out

We've had a busy and not very relaxing couple of days doing necessities of life. After dropping Yan and Karla at the airport, we were in a convenient and OK but not wonderful place called Trellis Bay. It was blowing hard and the bay is too packed with boats for swimming, so we missed our usual relaxation. We wanted to leave the BVI's and return to St John for a while, so that we can come back into the BVI's just before Christmas and make the standard 30 days they give us last until we leave again in January.

We find ourselves trying to carefully work out the requirements of immigration and customs here, only to be confounded when the next official we meet has a different interpretation of things, to say the least. Generally, each time you enter or leave a country, you visit customs to get clearance for the boat, and immigration to get us as individuals allowed in or out. Sometimes you visit the cashier too, if that country is one that wants money to let you enter, or leave, or stay, or just because there's a 'y' in the day.

Only, the USA doesn't want to bother clearing you out, so when we left for the BVI's we asked how to do it and were told to do nothing, just go. So we did. The paper slip that the US stapled into my passport in Boston back in June remains there, snoozing happily.

Arriving in Jost Van Dyke, we say we're staying for maybe ten days, but perhaps we could have entry for fourteen just in case. 'Why do you want fourteen?' she asks, as if our extra few days might be for some less legal purpose than allowing her countrymen to extract more cash from us. 'Well, we like these islands a lot and might stay a few days longer'. She stamps our passports and I don't look at the stamp. We get charged seventeen dollars to let us, or maybe the boat, I'm not sure, into the BVI's. We also have to fill out a little form each for immigration, so I ask the lady for six. She interrupts her cellphone conversation to find them and asks me for ten cents (yes, cents) for each one. I owe them sixty cents, but have only a dollar bill. She says she has no change. Neither do I. We look at each other for a few seconds. I can't be bothered making a fuss. I give her the dollar bill. I guess the BVI administration won that one, but it leaves a bad taste for the sake of a dollar. If they'd charged us five dollars 'immigration admin fee' I'd have paid it without blinking. Strange.

I'm filling out the forms when I hear the official talking to the french people ahead of us. 'No, you have to fill out the forms in black ink, you've done it in blue. Get new forms and do it again'. 'Where does it say that?' 'It doesn't, but it's the rule.' I look at my forms, I've completed three and a half of them. In blue ink. Urg. My inner voice of caribbean customs experience says ignore it, keep writing, which is what I do.

The french crew have a few things against them. They have turned up en masse (I am keeping the crew out of the way and doing the paperwork as 'master of the vessel') They are in bathing suits and bare feet (I am in a fresh shirt, khaki shorts and sandals). They are French. (I am not).

So as the french mutter under their breaths about third world countries, I present my blue inked forms and am accepted without question. I'd like to bet my fees were less too.

As it happens, we decide to retire to St John in the US after just six days so I go to clear out in Road Town, the capital of the BVI's. Leaving the crew (Gesa and kids) aboard the boat, I walk a few blocks to the offices. Customs first. She looks at my inward clearance forms, we note that two crew have left (I have to write 'NOB' for 'not on board' against their names) and she stamps the papers. She writes '$0.75' on them and sends me to the cashier.

I go downstairs, eventually find the cashier, have a jovial conversation about the weather and dig three quarters out of my pocket. Then it's on to immigration, next office across the hallway. Here's where I expect the real cash hit, probably a five dollar departure tax for each of us. I present our paperwork and passports and mention that we're coming back for Christmas.

'Oh, you're stamped in until the twenty fifth'. What? So after that conversation about ten days, why do we want fourteen, the lady in Jost stamped us in for twenty. And that means that we can't be stamped out and back in again before that expires. Why not? I still don't know the answer to that. So it seems that Ty Dewi can leave but we can't. Well, we can, physically, but bureaucratically we are still there. After a little chat, it seems that we can re-enter before Christmas, then go up to the main office and ask for an extension to our stay. It won't be a problem, as long as we pay ten dollars each for the privilege. Ho hum. I'm pretty sure it won't be the same immigration official when we return, so the story may well be different then.

We sail over to St John, making it to Cruz Bay about half an hour before customs close for the day. This is the easy bit, US customs might be officious and pedantic, but they are usually polite and always by the book. There's no 'local variation' from day to day, and there's no charges to go into the wrong pockets. There's a bit of stress getting the dinghy launched and the kids into lifejackets with the minutes ticking away but we get there just in time.

Only it's not as easy as anticipated. The Canadians (meaning Gesa, Issie and Max) are waved through without questions. Come and go as you please, just keep giving us your lumber and oil and we don't care. I get a bit more grief. It turns out I left the USVI's just a few days before my six months was up since arriving in Boston. That paper slip has woken up, got out the wrong side of my passport and is grumping about my time in the USA. Now here I am, five days later, asking to be let in again for another six months. 'Where do you live, Sir?' Well, the UK but yes, officer, I've not been there in fourteen months but we are UK residents but we do live on our boat but we are emigrating to Canada arriving in April but we will be in the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Florida on and off till then but I haven't been working and there's no way I want to live in the USA even if you've now got a decent president (OK, I didn't actually say that). There are a lot of questions about all this until, being the end of the day and there's clearly a bar to be got to soon, he stamps my passport and I watch nervously as he completes the 'admitted until' line. June 2009. Phew.

So today, after all that, we need a quiet calm day but actually go to do laundry and make some calls and move anchorage and try to find someone to fix the outboard for our dinghy and it's not until four thirty that we are happily moored and dive in for a quick snorkel around a lovely headland with nice coral and lots of fish. Ahhhh, that's better. And a beer. And another. And a cocktail. Much better. Ahhh. And remembering that back home four thirty was not the end of the work day so a bad day on the water still beats a good day at the office.

current favourite cocktails:
a: Bluegherita: Tequila, blue curaco, lime juice, salt
b: Painkiller: Rum, pineapple, orange, coconut, nutmeg
c: Reef juice: Rum, pineapple, banana
d: Beer: Beer

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Sunday, December 07, 2008


Today is Nikolaus, 6th of December when chocolate gifts are given and the countdown to Christmas begins. The kids were delighted to wake up to packages of goodies and, especially, the Lebkuchen House which dispenses a cookie each day till Christmas. As we said to our friends, we hunt down any festival involving chocolate and celebrate it, regardless of creed.

But this isn't the only treasure found today. Last night, Karla had been for an afternoon dip then changed and hung up her bikini on the rail. A couple of hours later it is noticed, with dismay, that the top is there but the lower half has gone. So either we have a failure to properly peg or there's a phantom bikini thief on the loose. Yan borrows the dinghy to search downwind in the darkness but finds nothing, unsurprisingly. Perhaps I can dive for it in the morning, he suggests. I look at him with my 'yep, sure you could' look. It's twenty feet deep, a bit murky and, well, you could search a big area down there. Karla reminds him that it's her new bikini that's only been worn twice and gives him a different look to mine.

Love wins over reason, and in the morning Yan dons a mask and free dives towards the sand. From half way down, he can see the bottom fairly well and dives again, and again. I would have given up by now, but after about twenty minutes of ear popping deep diving he surfaces with the missing bikini bottoms in hand. I am amazed, and contrite. Well done that man. Of course, I am most pleased to be reunited with one of the two missing clothes pegs, still attached to the scrap of cloth. His eardrums will never be the same but that's a small price to pay.

But Jost Van Dyke is a special place, where magical things happen, and our treasure hunting is not yet over. In fact, it had begun yesterday when, here in Great Harbor, we were having trouble setting the anchor in the thin sand. We tried about seven times before getting it to grip but on one try the anchor came up with a piece of rope attached, and it turned out to be a chain hook - a piece of line and hook used to transfer the load from the anchor winch. We'd just replaced our worn one with a new one, and now have an excellent spare.

After the 'miracle of the bikini', Gesa is looking across the harbour and sees some rubbish floating by. She's in the mood for a morning swim anyway so decides to be a good citizen and swim out to collect the irresponsibly dumped trash. I pass her a net bag and she swims off. A few minutes later she's back, very pleased - said trash turned out to be four full cans of beer. Lord knows how they ended up there but we threw them in the fridge and it's cold Red Stripe all round later.

We lift the hook and motor twenty minutes around to the gorgeous White Bay, picture perfect Caribbean beach, white sand, palm trees and all. The only downside is a cross swell that makes boats roll, but we are ready for this and lay out two anchors, pull ourselves around to face the swell and bob happily and comfortably with the back of the boat just yards from the beach. We all jump in gleefully and swim to shore.

On the way, diving to check our anchors, I find a pair of sunglasses and a towel. The sunglasses are useless, apart from making a good joke stepping out of the surf with a pair of oversized 'aviator' sunglasses on - they go straight to the bin, but the towel is fine. It's been a good treasure day, appropriately enough for an island named after an old Dutch pirate.

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Under da sea

We have a new underwater camera, so we are having fun!
- Stingray and two harlequin basslets, very pretty
- Gesa. Also very pretty.
- Sea urchins and small fry
- Our own small fry being a mermaid
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Back in the warm, at last!

- Gesa and Issie enjoy swimming!
-Yan and Karla, no longer in thermals and wet weather gear
- Looking out as we approach our anchorage in Charlotte Amalie
- Even when the sea is rough, Gesa can still smile if the sun is shining!

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Beard or no beard

Did I mention I grew a beard? Issie insisted it got shaved off pretty quick. I don't think it looked too bad though...

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Small plane!

Gesa and the kids got to St Thomas by flying through San Juan, Puerto Rico. After the joys of an American Airlines transcontinental cattle truck, they changed gear completely and flew on a ten seater (one pilot + nine passengers) plane to the island.

Looks like fun, especially the landing!

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

First name your cruise ship....

This morning, the cruise ship circus came to town in St John. Three arrived, each carrying over three thousand people. They docked, nose to tail, at the long cruise ship dock which leads straight into the 'duty free shopping complex'. Yippee.

I noted the names. Carnival Liberty, Adventure of the Seas, Carnival Splendor. These are a popular theme - the ships are named things like 'freedom', 'explorer', 'tranquility'. Without a hint of irony, these free spirits of the oceans follow each other nose to tail around the caribbean and disgorge their passengers to follow each other, nose to tail, around that day's shopping mall of choice. That's some kind of freedom.

We even noted that many passengers have, dangling around their necks along with their video cameras, a badge on a string with their name, the name and dock of their ship, it's departure time and a barcode. I'm sure it's a great way of making sure few people get lost but if it was me, I think I'd put it in my bag or pocket until I got back to the ship, not wear it around my neck. I guess many people are used to wearing a similar badge each day at work so why change on vacation?

I'm glad we got out of town this morning, it wasn't going to be a good day to be sightseeing.

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The family arrive.....

They're here! Gesa and the kids arrived on Sunday at the airport in St Thomas. I took along a surprise for them - my new beard! Having not saved for the best part of three weeks I looked a little different (Gesa had been warned so as to avoid total shock from the kids) Issie was a bit shocked, then announced that the FIRST thing I had to do on the boat was have a shave. We walked from the airport terminal, about five hundred yards to the beach where Yan came out and picked us up in the dinghy. They were home.

We motored a few minutes across to a nice bay with a good beach and re-acquainted the family with Caribbean beach life. The next day we went over the Charlotte Amalie, the main town which is an OK yet uninspiring place, but it does have a big grocery store so we stocked up for the days ahead.

This morning we filled up with water (strange to be paying for water again - this is not mainland USA) and motored a tough three hours into the brisk tradewinds to get to a beautiful bay on the south side of St John. A beach, thickly wooded shore, trails, a snorkeling reef - everything we've come to love about St John. Although Issie said this isn't the real Caribbean, there are no palm trees. Sigh.

Yan and Karla have gone off on their own for a couple of days, with tent, and will meet us back here later to explore a bit more of the island and onto the BVI's.

We've discovered margarita mix and cheap tequila, so margaritas are the drink of choice right now. Mmm.

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