We stayed in San Juan for almost a week while the nor’easter continued to blow 30-40 knots. No way we were going out into that, even though it was “only” a 20 hour sail over to Tortula. Every morning we would look at the weather forecast and every day it showed the same – 35 knot winds, 3-5 meter waves. OK, we’ll spend another day in port.
We went wandering about historic San Juan and everything was as it should be – old narrow streets and old houses with big wrought iron balconies. Through the portals, we could see the courtyards, with cobblestones and fountains in the middle. Unfortunately, it has not become mundane in San Juan to live in the historic city. Many of the houses are in poor shape and most could do with a “loving hand”. When we think of Annapolis or Charleston where people buy the old houses and spend fortunes restoring them, this worn down old city becomes saddening. It could be a pearl amongst cities with the right attention.
Finally, the weather broke – or rather the weather abated somewhat, meaning now only 15-20 knot winds and only 2 meter high waves. There was a 36 hour window, so it was now or never.
Capri nosed out of the harbor channel, past the old fortress and under her great cannon. It took Spain over 250 years to complete the fortress and the walled city – but then it was impregnable.
We sailed straight out into large swells, followed by a couple of squalls (well, what did you expect? Vinni and Carsten are going sailing). But, by and large, the trip to Tortula was without any great drama. Yes, there were squalls, yes, there were large swells, but nothing like what we experienced when we sailed from Caicos. One thing did keep us worried, here you are sailing in a huge archipelago and all the islands have houses and lights on them. At night, judging distance to lights is very difficult, so despite being able to clearly see on our chartplotter that we were a couple of nm from the coast – it looked like we were getting ready to sail right up onto the beach. Well, it certainly kept the adrenalin pumping. Vinni was a bit annoyed that I went below to sleep, leaving her to sail alone through this, but I told her that it was just another bit of evidence of the high regard I have for her as a sailor.
Of course, we ended getting ready to enter the harbor at 3 a.m., something we did not want to do. So we circled some outside the harbour, along with another sailboat who also didn’t want to test the entrance in the dark. Dawn came and in we went.
Here in Road Harbour, you anchor and then take your dinghy in to Customs House to clear in. Our guide book said that there wasn’t a dinghy dock at Customs House, but you docked at the side of the ferry dock – not at the ferry dock, if you do they get pissed.
We dropped the hook, pumped up our dinghy (thank god – no leaks) and then our intrepid (handsome, suave, debonair – did I forget to mention humble and modest?) skipper (AKA – me) sailed off with all our papers. Only to find that the ferry dock was half destroyed and that there was a ferry sort of halfway inside the ferry terminal (Irma had simply tossed this several hundred-ton ferry up and through the brick walls as if it were a plastic toy). There wasn’t any place I could dock our dinghy.
So I sailed clear across the bay to where a couple of marinas supposedly were. Supposedly is a good word. They simply weren’t there – Irma again – the buildings all gone, most of the docks gone also. I found a place to put the dinghy and then walked the couple of kilometers around the bay to the Customs House. This is the Caribbean so everything, including Customs, runs on Island Time – nobody is in a hurry here. Besides, a ferry had just arrived from the USVI and they all needed to clear customs first(even though I was there before them).
Oh well – time is something we have lots of (we aren’t in a hurry either) – but it did take over 3 hours before I got back to Capri. The first thing I said to Vinni was, “Vinni, there are more houses here without roofs than there are with roofs – the 2 marinas on the other side of the bay have ceased to exist.) It is difficult to describe a town that is completely in ruins – even now 5 months after the hurricane passed through.
Everything is smashed – simply everything. In the inner harbor, there were boats lying half under water – a sad sight for any sailor. It was all so sad that Vinni and I decided to sail round the island to Trellis Bay, right by the airport. Mario and Grazyna were coming 2 days later and it is a 5 minute walk from the airport to the anchorage – smart huh?
A couple of hours later we rounded the headland and met a fearsome sight. The beach was filled with boats tossed there by Irma. We counted over 20 boats, everything from small sailboats to 60 foot catamarans. There was supposed to be a flowering nightlife here, including a little restaurant on a small island in the middle of the bay. Everything was destroyed. De Loose Moose, a famous watering hole for sailors was destroyed when the hurricane tossed a sailboat right through it. There is one restaurant/bar open and also the small supermarket.
We supported them as well as we could by shopping some food and buying some drinks.
Sunday came and so did Mario and Grazyna – what a happy day. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get here 3 weeks earlier to meet with Ove and Lene – the weather was simply against us – we tried a mightily as we could – but we couldn’t. They are tough though – they have already told us that they want to sail a couple of weeks with us in the Pacific – although this time they will wait until we are there to buy their plane tickets J.
We installed Mario and Grazyna in the luxury suite (the front cabin), while Vinni and I retired to the aft cabin. We’re not used to being more than just the two of us on board and suddenly Capri felt small. Fortunately, they are both sailors and therefore used to cramped quarters – so it was no big problem. They set about getting themselves installed and then we were all here together.
The plan called for us to sail around the islands starting the next morning, so promptly at 7:30 we all jumped in the water (we were visited by a couple of beautiful mermaids – see the video)and then we sailed the 8nm to Joost van Dyke, a small island just north of Tortula. We made for Great Harbour, where, according to the guide book there is a jumping night life.
But there wasn’t much there – most, if not all the buildings were storm damaged – not a whole roof to be seen anywhere. Foxy’s, the well-known bar was open, albeit still showing storm damage. We walked through the entire town, one house was completely gone, all that remained was the floor. The family was living under the floor until they could rebuild.
The picturesque church was a shell. The roof, windows and doors all gone.
Words are not adequate to describe all this.
The next morning we set sail for Soper’s Hole – this bay is known as a place “where it’s happening” with bars, dancing, music and just about anything you can desire. Lots of small stores selling virtually everything. Here again, nothing is left. There were two restaurants that were open – Ali’s coffee shop (missing the first floor) and Pusser’s Landing (missing the ground floor). Pusser’s was open for dinner and we ate there – everything was fine. We walked around what was left of the town and found a small market that was open – not many goods for sale.
The water, however, was crystal clear and wonder of wonders, the two lovely mermaids showed up again. It all looked so inviting that even the Mermen dove in.
The weather was a mixed bag – lots and lots of wind, some rain showers, a squall or two during the night. We decided to sail to Nanny Cay – a big marina. The old section of the marina has vanished with the storm – only the fuel dock is still there. There are several sunken boats in the middle of the basin. The new harbor is open and we got a slip there – though without water or electricity (good thing we have solar cells and a watermaker).
I don’t have the words to describe what we saw here. Heart-breaking, appalling etc. are words, but don’t encompass this. The entire area around the marina is filled with broken boats. Huge Hansa, Jeanneau’s Beneteaus, 50, 55 feet, 50+ foot catamarans, all with broken masts, many with holed hulls, crushed decks. Many of these will never sail again.
A graveyard of beautiful boats.
Overall boats are being repaired at express speed – the yard smells of fiberglass and paint, new masts are unloaded from trucks daily, the stainless steel shops churn out new railings and the sailmaker is sewing 24 hours a day. And slowly, while we are here, we can see that it is thinning out in the lines of boats waiting for repairs. Many are for sale and without a doubt you can make a good deal if you know how to evaluate the damage to a boat.
But we’re enveloped with sadness at it all. So many boats destroyed, in our inner eye, Vinni and I see Capri lying there, broken, if we are unlucky some day……………………
Suddenly, Mario and Grazyna will be leaving – time flies and we feel that they have barely gotten here. Early one morning they take a taxi and now Capri feels large again.
It was fantastic having them visiting us, Mario and I repaired a number of small things on Capri that I hadn’t gotten around to and we also repaired our mainsail (Mario is really, really good at sewing sails) so now we are hoping they will last until we get to the Pacific.
We have a couple of minor items that need repair on the boat and we are waiting for the spare parts to come from the US. Of course, they don’t arrive when they are supposed to and we are tired of sitting in a marina and waiting, so we sailed over to Virgin Gorda (the fat virgin), another island in the BVI chain, find a mooring buoy outside of Spanish Town and get comfortable for the night.
Despite lying in a sheltered bay, the swells roll in over us all night long and Capri plays “rock and roll”. On top of that, something is strange with the mooring ball. 5-6 times during the night, Capri gets pulled up alongside the ball and it sits there banging against the side of the boat. Vinni and I take turns getting and pulling Capri away from the ball. A sleepless night and we were both dog-tired when the sun rose.
Next morning, we dinghy’ed in. We were met by total devastation. The harbor, yacht club and marina have been blown away. This is true for most of the rest of the town.
We walked up the hill and around the town (what was left of it). We saw a young couple rebuilding. They had incorporated a container in the middle of the house as a room and built the rest of the house around it.
This was obviously their storm shelter when the next hurricane shows up. A very smart idea.
Vinni and I had mixed expectations about coming down here in the aftermath of the hurricanes. We knew it wouldn’t be what it was before they rammed through – happy days and nights and steel drums etc. We were aware that much had been destroyed.
We were not prepared for a war zone.
It has to be said that the locals are taking everything with surprising calm – they are rebuilding – it is clear that many do not have the money to rebuild and they are building is small bits and pieces. It is also clear that building materials are in short supply. Glass is missing everywhere – even the government buildings still have not replaced smashed windows.
This is a different “Caribbean Holiday” for us than for those that sailed through here a couple of years ago. We’re sailing around the world in order to have the experience of a lifetime (which we are), and seeing this is a part of that experience.
But we have no words to describe what we see. We’ll let our pictures, that tell a thousand words, speak………….
But when all is said and done, BVI is a fantastic place to sail. One big archipelago with many islands and each island has a multitude of bays so it is always possible to find a quiet place to anchor (with the exception of perhaps Spanish Town J ). There are so many places to explore that one can easily spend months here. We didn’t get a chance to get our scuba gear out, but with the water so clear that we could easily see 40-45 feet under water, snorkeling is probably just as good. The beaches are confectioners’ sugar fine white sand and empty – even the most critical beach gourmand would find it difficult to complain. The water is jade colored and warm (especially for us Scandinavian types – brrrr).
We finished off our BVI stay by going to a full moon party in Trellis Bay. Wonderful food and music lots of people and entertainment and, of course, a full moon shining down on all us. Vinni started drinking “painkillers” and since she has the backbone of a worm – she drank several. She certainly wasn’t feeling any pain that evening, but the next day was a different story.
You pay the price for having a lot of fun – hers was that we sailed for St. Maarten and she had to stand watch during the night. Well, both she and we and Capri survived and Vinni swore off ever drinking painkillers again (until the next time). We don’t get smarter with age – we just get older………………..