St Martin to Virgin Islands
10th to 22nd April
Not sure if I told you already but I’m now a member of two different boat-related clubs. This is pretty extraordinary for someone who is very much non-clubby. (Clubs for the most part seem contrary to the spirit of independence and self-reliance that are surely among the attractions of sailing. Clubs too can become exclusive, cliquey and self-important, even sinister or threatening to outsiders. They should I suppose be approached with caution.)
Whatever my opinion, I’m now a member of both the Cruising Association and the Ocean Cruising Club. Impulsive decisions perhaps, but I’ll give them a try. A good-natured fellow sailor (in fact more than one) persuaded me I was missing out by not joining; they’re a very good way of meeting fellow sailors and learning lots of useful stuff of course. And sure enough I have now met many experienced and knowledgeable sailor folk, and delightful people, through these groups. Furthermore I have two additional colourful burgees to flutter from aloft.
This is all by way of telling you that I’d been sailing northwards to attend a Cruising Association gathering in the British Virgin Islands (BVIs in local parlance). When, a month ago, I sent an email saying I’d like to be there, I had a reply to say I shouldn’t expect too much: last year only two boats turned up, and one of them was a day late. I thought this sounded like my sort of low profile club.
Anyway, after a long slow overnight sail from St Martin, I reached Virgin Gorda to find lots and lots of Cruising Association boats loosely gathered at the agreed anchorage. There followed an unprecedented few days of sociability. With at least six different nationalities, and I guess over 25 friendly sailors on about a dozen boats, with an age span of four or five decades, I’ve delighted in two delicious meals ashore, a party on the beach and final on-board gathering, at three different anchorages on three different islands, over about three or four days. We’ve now pretty much scattered to go our own ways; but for me, it’s always heartening to rediscover that I like people; I really do – I’m just a loner by circumstance not inclination, I suppose.
I’ve now moved from BVI to USVI. The stars and stripes courtesy flag is a bit small but it’s up there, dangling limp from the starboard spreader. I am surrounded with Americans of all shapes and sizes, but almost universally warm, friendly and approachable. (Americans want to be liked. For the most part, they seem likeable.)
What to make of the Virgin Islands? Well, I suppose unless you have visited them, they all look more-or-less the same. Like a herd of dairy cows, from a distance they appear roughly similar. But again like dairy cows, once you get close and look carefully and wander round them, they are very different from one another, each with its own identity and colour and idiosyncrasies.
So far, it’s St Croix in the USVI that seems the most idiosyncratic so I’ll tell you a bit about it. St Croix used to be Danish until the Americans bought it. It’s 40 miles south of the other Virgins and my pilot book says it’s the biggest Virgin, twice the size of ones you may have heard of like Tortola and St Thomas, which makes it nearly as big as the Isle of Wight. And it is surrounded by the largest island barrier reef system in the Caribbean, and thus has fantastic diving and snorkelling – and some challenging navigation. (Incidentally, they pronounce it St Croy (with American accent) not St Kwa (with French accent). “Christiansted”, the capital, is apparently “considered by many the most beautiful town in the Caribbean”; though that seems crazy to me. It’s not that amazing.
You may have known, but I didn’t, that the USVI are American Territory; in contrast the BVI are of course independent. I had even needed my US visa to visit. I like it here in St Croix because it’s quite empty, a bit artyfarty (St Ives crossed with Palm Beach), very friendly even by Caribbean standards, and it seems to cheerfully blend the USA with the island’s history. There are some really fine Danish colonial buildings: shaded colonnades and courtyards, pastel coloured half-timbered houses, open spaces. All now overlain with American efficiency, shopping malls and eating places and big cars…..though they drive on the left but keeping their left-hand drives.
For some reason there don’t seem to be any charter boats and the big catamarans that dash about elsewhere in the Virgins are absent. Instead, as I write this a horse has just swum past with its owner, snorting as it goes – we’re anchored at least 100 metres offshore. Horse swimming seems to be very popular here. Horses not catamarans!
Rambling on a bit again so I’ll stop…
NO! First I’ll tell you about the cockroaches. (Trouble with single-handed sailors is they don’t have people to talk to all the time, so some of us drivel on with the blog – and our personal diaries – quite a lot. Hence, you’re going to hear the start of the cockroach saga.)
Cockroaches. It started a few days ago when one came out of the bag with potatoes and miscellaneous vegetables. I reacted quickly I thought, grabbed spray and sprayed, slapped briskly, smacked wildly, lashed out with weapons at hand etc. But not quick enough for the little beastie, who disappeared, scurrying ever so fast into a cupboard. Next night I had Spanish friends aboard for a meal; and el cockroach was spotted again, lurking furtively by the sink. Quickly and with the combined energy of English and Spanish forces, the intruder was ruthlessly despatched and buried at sea (thrown overboard). European unity can deal with any problem.
Is that the end? Trouble is, I do not know the reproductive system of cockroaches. Might that dead one have needed a mate to give me baby cockroaches, in which case that may be the last chapter of the saga? Or, do cockroaches come preloaded with millions of fertile eggs, in which case Henrietta will be overrun, and I just await the patter of tiny excited insect feet? Meanwhile, a friend has advised a bait of boric acid and milk, so we’ll try it. Anyway, I don’t really know why I’m making such a fuss. These are tiny cockroaches, not a bit like the brontosauraroaches that used to invade Javanese bathrooms. I’m not a wimp; I just don’t want uninvited visitors.
That’s it for now. I’ll give an update if it’s needed.