Spirit heads north

Spirit’s journey continues. The log now reads almost 18,000 nautical miles since we took delivery in May of 2015 – a lot of water under the keel!

After spending winter and spring in the Caribbean, Spirit headed north to Bermuda – a due north 850 nautical mile trip that took only four and half days. With very favorable winds most of the way we were able to average almost 8 kts with sea states that were a sailor’s dream.

To clear customs and immigration we arrived at the far eastern end of Bermuda to St. George’s Town, a small quaint town that reminded us of what Bermuda must have been like before the tourist boom. We stayed in our anchorage for a couple of days before sailing around to the northwestern entrance to Hamilton Harbor, at the Royal Navy Dockyard, where we had a berth ideally located in walking distance to the America’s Cup Village. Just as we settled in to our berth we found out that the Opening Ceremonies, and first day of racing, were cancelled due to a major front moving through with winds expected to gust up to 40 mph. Oh, goodie! Needless to say, out came every dock line we had to tie on every cleat we could find, then we hunkered down for the “less than forecasted” front to pass. No problem, we survived!

While the finals of the 2017 America’s Cup won’t take place until mid June, we were able to see Oracle, America’s entry, and the other five “flying boats” compete in qualification rounds from a boat at the edge of the course. Quite a show! While the races and the celebratory spirit were the highlights, just seeing the number of spectator boats in Hamilton Harbor was a sight to behold.

Witnessing some of America’s Cup was really special, but when weather conditions permit it will be time for Spirit to continue her journey on a 650 nautical mile trip to Newport, where the crew will ready her for the summer ahead in New England.

The America’s Cup – another check mark on what seems to be an ever-expanding “bucket list”.

Spirit’s “straight as an arrow” 850 mile track to Bermuda

Spirit’s transit crew

Dawn over the Atlantic

An occasional rainbow

Just another Atlantic sunset

View of St. George’s Town from our anchorage

A view of Hamilton Harbor with spectator boats circling the course

A crane lowering Oracle into the water

Oracle all out

Oracle and the Swedish boat Artemis

The UK and Japan battling it out

Up really close…

A view of some super yachts next to the America’s Cup Village at night

A Journey to the Spanish Virgin Islands

When thinking of the Virgin Islands, the first things that come to mind are the U.S. or British Virgin Islands. But just 15-20 miles west, and only 6 – 8 miles east of Puerto Rico, are the Spanish Virgin Islands, also known as the Passage Islands. Handed over to the United States in 1898, this beautiful sailing area is made up of the main islands of Culebra and Vieques along with several smaller cays.

The Spanish Virgin’s have been a well-kept secret, even in the days of Blackbeard who used the islands for hideouts. The U.S. Navy and Marines used these islands for bombing practice until 2003, which kept land developers and sailors away until recent years when yachts like Spirit have now discovered this unique place. The Spanish Virgins are a step back in time with pristine unspoiled islands, deserted white sandy beaches, crystal clear turquoise blue water and intact reefs teeming with fish and coral. The islands reminded us of what the British Virgin Islands must have been like 35 years ago.

So, off we went, another adventure, leaving St. Thomas behind on a beautiful sunny day with following winds. If you don’t care to read all the boring copy in this post, you can just skip down to pictures below – they’re worth a thousand words.

After a 25 mile southwesterly crossing we sailed west along the Southern shore of Vieques – didn’t see one boat, but did see beautiful cliffs and totally uninhabited beaches. After 10 miles of coastal sailing we arrived in a little bay off one of Vieques’ two “population centers”, the town of Esperanza. Simply put – quaint, plenty of opportunities to satisfy one’s thirst and hunger, and a true step back in time. That night (a Friday night) the beach bar bands “entertained” us until 1:00 am – a short night of sleep.

The next day we motored to Sun Bay, just east of Esperanza, to anchor off probably one of the most beautiful beaches we’ve ever seen, anywhere. It took us almost an hour to walk its length – with a few dips in the warm aqua water along the way. There was only one other boat in the bay and we enjoyed a very peaceful and quiet (no bands) night with yet another one of Leah and Erik’s wonderful el fresco dinners.

The next morning, after one last Sun Bay beach walk, and an encounter with four of Vieques’ wild horses, we headed east along the southern shore, stopped for a swim and lunch, then proceeded to the largest, and most protected, bay on the island – Ensenada Honda. The highlight of this leg was getting into the anchorage. Spirit has a deep keel of 8’ 10” and snaking our way into the deeper water anchorage through cuts in a few reefs and a bottom that at times was only inches below our keel certainly made for an interesting afternoon. Once anchored, and blood pressures back to normal, we marveled at the beauty of the huge anchorage, totally surrounded by mangroves, and no other boats. Talk about being at one with nature…

The mangroves were calling so for happy hour we grabbed our Painkillers, jumped in the dinghy, and explored an incredible maze of waterways, which at times were quite challenging. Somehow we found our way back to Spirit by dusk. We were all confirming with each other that indeed the sun does set in the west.

Vieques was a great experience but it was then time to head 10 miles north to the other major island in the Spanish Virgins, Culebra. After a brisk sail we entered into a deep bay with the same name as the bay we had just left – Ensenada Honda. We anchored off the town of Dewey where we briefly explored the town and had a nice dinner ashore.

After waking up with the roosters we headed for a small island off the southern coast of Culebra for some incredible snorkeling. We were fortunate to get this in before noon as the skies decided to open up and deliver a 9-hour non-stop downpour. So, after lunch we headed back into the Ensenada Honda Bay in the rain to the Dikity anchorage behind a reef at the entrance. Our day concluded with naps, reading, an extended happy hour and a movie – not all bad!

The next day we sailed a short distance to the western shore of Culebrita where we hiked up to an old lighthouse that was built in 1880 – not functional but it looked like it was in the midst of some type of restoration. After we hiked back down and cooled off with a quick swim we motored across the channel to what the cruising guides described as a Spanish Virgin Island’s premiere anchorage, Bahia de Almodovar. The guides described the anchorage this way – “on one side lush mountains, on the other side the reef shields the anchorage from the sea. With the crystal clear blue water, trade winds blowing over the reef out of a clear horizon, it’s like an infinity pool effect”. One problem, just like the day before it rained all afternoon so we could only imagine how beautiful it really was.

Our last Spanish Virgin’s stop was back to the small island of Culebrita. We anchored in the Bahia de Tortuga anchorage while we ventured off to Treasure Beach so Sue could beachcomb and find “treasures”, we then took the path to Snorkel Beach where we once again paid a visit to the endless varieties of reef fish.

That evening was a night of reflection on how we appreciated the untouched islands and how we could only hope that there were more of these type places waiting to be explored.

As the sun rose It was time to head back east toward, St. Thomas, with a lunch and snorkel stop at a secluded anchorage on the north coast of St. Thomas, Santa Maria Bay. From there it was on to one last overnight stop at the remote Saba Island, just 3 miles southwest of Charlotte Amalie. The island, less than a quarter mile wide, is nothing more than a large outcropping from the sea with a small anchorage tucked in behind a beach – a memorable last stop before heading into the marina the next morning.

It was a great week, but then we went our separate ways – Sue boarding a plane back to reality while Dick stayed aboard with the crew getting Spirit ready for the 865nm transit north to Bermuda.

Spirit’s journey continues…

Leaving St. Thomas

Leaving St. Thomas

The Southern Coast of Vieques

The Southern coast of Vieques

Esperanza's seaside walkway

Esperanza’s seaside walkway

Overlooking Esperanza's anchorage

Overlooking Esperanza’s anchorage

An Esperanza sunset

An Esperanza sunset

Spirit alone in Sun Bay

Spirit alone in Sun Bay

The Sun Bay beach that seemed to go on forever

The Sun Bay beach that seemed to go on forever

Sue chillin' with Spirit off in the distance

Sue chillin’ with Spirit off in the distance

A few of Viequis' wild horses off the beach

A few of Vieques’ wild horses off the beach

Surrounded by mangroves in the Honda xxx anchorage

Surrounded by mangroves in the Ensenada Honda anchorage – no other boats!

An Egrit standing guard over the mangroves

An Egrit standing guard over the mangroves

Water paths through the mangroves

Water paths through the mangroves

Interesting navigation

Interesting navigation

Escaping the maze

Escaping the maze

Dick and Sue after escaping the maze

Dick and Sue after escaping the maze

Leah and Erik after escaping the maze

Leah and Erik after escaping the maze

Spirit left the lights on for us

Spirit left the lights on for us

Spirit at anchor off Culebrita

Spirit at anchor off Culebrita

The trail up to the old lighthouse on Culebrita

The trail up to the old lighthouse on Culebrita

The old lighthouse

The old lighthouse

View from the path to the lighthouse

View from the path to the lighthouse

View of Culebra from Culebrita

View of Culebra from Culebrita

Tortuga Bay anchorage on Culebrita

Tortuga Bay anchorage on Culebrita

Island street signs

Island street signs

A distant St. Thomas from Treasure Beach, Culebrita

A distant St. Thomas from Treasure Beach, Culebrita

Sunrise in Culebra

Sunrise in Culebra

The remote Saba Island, our final nights anchorage just south of St. Thomas

The remote Saba Island, our final night’s anchorage just south of St. Thomas

Spirit's Spanish Virgin Islands Journey

Spirit’s Spanish Virgin Islands Journey

Oyster’s 2017 BVI Regatta

 

“Regatta” means “a series of yacht races”, but both this year as well as last, we found the social gathering of like-minded sailors from many different countries to be as much a part of the experience as the racing itself. So many great yachts – so many great crews.

Last year at this time Spirit won her class at the Antigua Regatta, a high bar for us this year. As the largest boat in our class, we had to overcome an approximate 12% handicap against our competitors. We were ready for the challenge. The photos below pretty much tell the story.

Race one from Nanny Cay, Tortola, ended at Norman Island. The winds allowed us to use our spinnaker on the final leg, which literally pushed us across the finish line for a first place in our class. Erik, our skipper, creatively used the spinnaker as an upwind sail – highly unusual but effective!

For the second race from Norman Island to Scrub Island, we decided not to use our spinnaker, improving our handicap, but putting us at a potential speed disadvantage against the competition, all of which chose to use them. We had some mid-course doubts about our decision, but by poling out our jib on the final downwind leg we were able to achieve another first place finish.

Unfortunately, the winds died on the final two race days, forcing both races to be canceled. This was disappointing, but the beautiful beaches of the British Virgin Islands weren’t a bad place to hang out.

One conclusion: racing is as much an art as a science. After each race, the team reviewed and analyzed its performance – a refreshing exercise and I’m sure a factor in Spirit’s success.

In less than a month, Spirit will make another transit north to Newport via Bermuda for the summer season and highly anticipated sailing off the coast of Maine. Our stop in Bermuda will give us an opportunity to see some of this summer’s America’s Cup trials. Spirit will not be competing. 🙂

For a complete summary of the 2017 BVI Oyster Regatta CLICK HERE http://www.oysteryachts.com/events/regattas/oyster-bvi-regatta2017

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Spirit's race team

Spirit’s race team from the left – Erik, Leah, David, Dick, Nick & Pat

The track of race #1

Race #1 track

Looking back at the rest of the fleet in the Sir Francis Drake Channel

Looking back at the rest of the fleet in the Sir Francis Drake Channel

Spirit crossing the Race #1 finish line - showing off her spinnaker

Spirit crossing the Race #1 finish line – showing off her spinnaker

Race #2 track

Race #2 track

Spirit rounding the corner of Cooper Island

Spirit rounding the corner of Cooper Island

Spirit team receiving awards for finishing first in her class (minus Nick who add to leave a day early)

Spirit’s team receiving awards for finishing first in her class (minus Nick who add to leave a day early)