Leaving friends in St. Martin was hard and we miss them already but boy does it feel great to be cruising again. 2 months (less 10 days in Antigua) was more than enough. After a calm 20 hour passage (motoring all the way) we're in the legendary Virgin Islands. I don't think we've seen the seas this calm since we sailed in the protected Georgia Strait and this was our longest passage without seeing land (100 nm).
Just as we were preparing to leave St. Martin a new cruising family (Happy Times) pulled into Marigot Bay. We just had to say hi and ended up spending much of the day showing them a few key spots. We had so much fun with them that we put off our departure for one last St. Martin sundowner. We had a great time and wished we could have spent more time with them.
We finally got away around 9:30pm local time. The trip was rather uneventful. The seas were calm, the wind was light (too light) and we motored all night. By early afternoon we could see the hills of Virgin Gorda then the islands Ginger, Cooper, Salt, Peter and Norman all came into view. Due to our delayed departure and no help from the wind we calculated that we wouldn't make it all the way to Cruz Bay St. John before dark. The entrance to Cruz Bay has some hazards that are best left to daylight so we decided to "Q-flag" our way through Peter and Norman Islands.
Peter Island is shaped like a tipped over "L" with the top pointing south. The inside shores are sparsely populated and the anchorages largely deserted. The cruising guides say little about them but they looked perfect for us in this settled weather (they don't offer much protection if the wind is up from the south). Best of all, we were the only boat there! In no time we got the anchor down and set and turned off the engine. Oh bliss! The silence was just what the Dr. ordered ... except it wasn't silent. There was this strange, unfamiliar sound soothing our poor ears. What could it be? No, not bird song? Could it be? We couldn't believe it but sure enough, it sounded just like song birds from back home!
To understand what an incredible feeling it is to hear these birds, those of you reading this from Canada or the northern US need to think of the feeling you get in early spring as the song birds return. This is just what it was like. Only, unlike back home where different birds arrive at different times, this was like having all of them show up in your back yard overnight! What a sound. There are so few birds in the Caribbean, we haven't heard song birds since we left Vancouver last fall.
The sun rose the next morning to crisp clear blue skies. The tropical heat was already starting to shimmer off the glassy water by the time breakfast was done so we decided to put "school" on hold for a bit and go for a swim. I spied a skate on the bottom as we got ready, being shadowed by some large-ish fish. It almost looked like the fish was teasing it. As we swam closer we could see that it appeared that the skate would scare up some creature from the turtle grass and the fish would eat anything that the skate missed. Strange but there you go.
Austin and I went swimming first. And didn't bring the camera. Silly me, the reef we found near the rocky shore was one of the healthiest we've seen all trip. Lots of tube sponges, elk horn coral, gigantic violet fan corals and plenty of curious fish. There were even a couple yellow jacks that decided to follow a few meters behind as we explored. Kind of like a lost dog hoping someone would take him home. Aidan said they waved back when he went swimming with Carla later.
By noon we needed to get moving or we'd not make St. John before dark (again). The wind was a little stronger so we made decent time but still needed to motor the whole way. Entering Cruz Bay was a breeze in the daylight but we were glad we didn't consider it at night. While the rocks and cays are marked, it was a risk not worth taking.
The harbour in Cruz Bay is busy with a ferry dock and charter boats zipping in and out. We managed to find a temporary spot between the marked channel, a yawl and the beach in only 7 feet of water (we need about 5' 4"). All that practise in crowded and shallow anchorages the past few months sure paid off as the customs office was closing soon. We got the anchor down and set in record time before all piling into the dinghy. Just as we were about to pull away, a spotted ray leaped from the water not 10 feet from us. It would have jumped right over the dinghy if it were heading in our direction!
After one of the least intense experiences with US Customs and Immigration (perhaps it had something to do with the boat name, Singing Frog, that effortlessly evokes smirks from officials) that I've ever had, we zipped back to our boat, raised anchor and motored around the corner to Caneel Bay where we picked up a mooring from the US Park Service and free WiFi from the Caneel resort. Lucky us.
Tomorrow we head to shore to explore and see if the music festival we heard playing today has anything interesting to take in.