Friday, December 01, 2006

The History of AA "part 9"

We woke up to the sounds of a city with all the car horns and sirens that make up that reality. It was about 8 am and we pulled up the anchor to move over to the main dock. I had found it strange that we hadn't been stopped by the coast guard yet. After all, this was a 45 foot off-shore boat with triple outboards. This was the stereotype for drug boats and I was sure that we would set off all kinds of alarms coming in from out to sea at night. Towards the end in the calm I was doing about 40 knots too!
We got to the dock and still saw nobody. I saw someone official looking speaking with the crew of a ship behind us and went to ask him where I could clear in. He looked at me in amazement and asked me to repeat myself. You see the dock was very high and you couldn't see our boat below the concrete edge. He immediately got on his VHF radio calling several people. He told me to go back to the boat and wait for customs. First came customs in a jeep with three officers and a dog. They may have been called homeland security.....I can't remember. There was another car that pulled up with local police, then another group who came from the ship terminal. We had officers all around the boat wanting to know what we were up to. Ali and I had our passports and boat papers ready but they were not happy with us. Why I don't know because we hadn't done anything wrong. I think they were ashamed that we had come in without anyone knowing. Anyway, they jumped on the boat with their dog and big black boots and started searching. They turned the boat inside out looking for drugs I guess. It was very hot and we were very tired. All we needed was some fuel and a meal. At about 10 am they told me I could now go and clear in with immigration which was in the town 35 minutes walk away. Nice huh? The fuel truck starting filling our tank and when he was done took me to pick up burgers, and even took me to immigration. It’s so nice to meet cool people every now and then when you have been surrounded by mean people. Anyway, at about 12 we pulled out of Mayaguez (FINALLY) ready for a quick trip to San Juan and then on to the BVI. It was pretty calm in the lee of Western Puerto Rico, but then we hit the North-West coast. Oh my God!!!! It was rougher than anything we had seen up until that point. There were waves about 10 to 12 feet high but the thing that made them super bad was the steepness. They were what you describe as short waves with one steep wave followed by another and another and so on. As had been the case most of the way down we had to go straight into them along the Northern Puerto Rican coast trying to get to San Juan. It was awful even though it was sunny and clear. The boat was taking a terrible beating and we got several big waves over the bow. What would happen is that I would get the timing wrong every now and then and the front of the boat would just go right through a steep wave instead of riding over the top. When this happened we would usually get about 300 gallons of water into the boat in an instant. This was never fun and after about 45 minutes of this I decided that the angle was just too bad. If we slowed down we seemed to get more water over the bow and if we went fast enough to avoid this, we ended up pounding the boat too hard after falling off these monsters. I decided to do something that I had never done in all the years of power-boating….I decided to “tack” like a yacht going into the wind at angles towards San Juan. I would go out to sea for 3 or 4 miles and then turn the bow through the waves and head back at a comfortable angle into shore a few miles up the coast. We were probably doing about 15 miles per hour but actually doing about 8 miles per hour towards San Juan. It was very very rough and windy. I think the currents coming out between Puerto Rico and The Dominican Republic were going along the North-East coast of Puerto Rico in a North-Easterly direction, but the wind and waves were going the opposite direction making a dangerous mess of the ocean around us. We slowly got closer to San Juan where I expected the Coast guard, homeland security or some other authority to come out and stop us, but thankfully it never happened. We arrived outside San Juan Harbor sometime around 5 PM and stopped for a pee break and for ali to have a cigarette. We also stopped to try to decide what to do. We had two choices which comprised of chilling in San Juan for the night in a nice hotel or to keep going on to Tortolla where we would surely get in sometime after dark. Ali had to be at work in a few days and after all the stress in Mayaguez, we decided to push on to the beautiful BVI. We knew it well too which made us feel as though we were getting into our own neighborhood. After San Juan, the Puerto Rican Coast seemed to calm down significantly and we were able to point the boat right towards the North-West end of St. Thomas, USVI and cruise at about 25 knots. Before we left behind Puerto Rico we saw massive schools of small tuna thrashing about on the surface. We couldn’t see what they were eating but all the birds in the area had heard about the bounty too and it was a carnival of a feeding frenzy. We wished we had enough time to fish for a bit but we were in that RUSH which had plagued us since the start. After Puerto Rico and before the USVI the waves started getting confused again and we had to slow down a bit after getting some awful crashes off the tops of some steep ones.
It was very dark by the time we got to the USVI and we kept going and faster than most of our trip so far. The USVI and BVI has mostly protected waters and we were able to do about 35 knots going up in between these dark islands on out way to Nanny Cay, Tortolla.
I hoped nothing was floating out there in the channel that would end out trip for us. At that speed hitting a log wouldn’t be cool. Anyway, we pulled into Nanny Cay at about 9 PM and went to get a room straight away. We didn’t need fuel and we only wanted a place to sleep for the night. Like real naughty brothers we didn’t clear customs or immigration before or after our sleep in Tortolla. If you remember what happened the last time I cleared into the BVI you will know why. Before going to sleep we had dinner at Peg Legs and I think we were sleeping on the way back to the room finding it just by luck. As I said, we were outta there before the fuel dock or anyone was open to see a big go fast boat tearing out of Tortolla. We felt like real bandits as we pulled out but I don’t think anyone missed us.
Nobody should go to the British Virgin Islands without making a stop at The Baths in Virgin Gorda, and Ali stressed that we had to stop. It was out last stop before we went on to St. Martin and we took a mooring to have an early morning swim and snorkel. As usual the Baths were beautiful, and we relaxed there for an hour before thinking about moving on. The Baths consists of several beautiful coconut fringed beaches divided by massive smooth grey rocks and the clearest waters you have seen. You can walk/hike through and under the rocks between the beaches and/or swim around them. We did some lovely snorkeling……. swimming down deep alongside the rocks, then we swam through caves in the rocks, checking out all the colourful fish both big and small. We saw a huge barracuda and a pretty big ray as well as large schools of tiny pilchards. It was a lovely peaceful break and we had our fill before going back to the boat. It was the first time we could enjoy a bit of relaxation in days. When we dropped the mooring we had another 100 miles to go directly into the waves towards St. Martin, but something strange had happened. The winds had dropped! Was it possible? Were we going to get lucky with calm seas on the way to St. Martin? It sure looked like it, and we kept the speed at around 28 knots all the way to St. Martin going through what were probably 4 foot waves. Lovely! We had to stop about 10 miles off to add fuel from the plastic containers, but we still managed to pull into St. Martin in time for a late lunch. I wanted to stay there for a day and to clear in properly. We knew the immigration was near the cruise terminal so approached the area slowly to see where we could dock up. As we got closer we saw a guy in a golf cart on the main cruise dock waving us down. We went closer and he said he was from the port authority and that we couldn’t be so close in a boat like ours to the Cruise Ship that was in port. We told him that we were just there to pick up some bits and pieces for the boat and would be leaving later that day or early the next morning. The guy said not to bother clearing in and to just go to Bobby’s Marina and tie up. Crazy I know, but that is St. Martin for you. The Dutch side of St. Martin has no real customs as it’s a free port, and boats usually don’t bother clearing in. It’s not legal but seems to be ignored most of the time, and in this case encouraged by an official. I have friends in St. Martin and we met up for dinner later that night after some shopping on the famous “Front Street” and securing a nice hotel as well. It ended up being a very very late night of intense partying as ali and I celebrated making it this far. Our friend Ricardi was our guide to all the late night spots and as usual was the best host in St. Martin. The next morning was a hard one, and the pounding I had experienced in the boat all the way from Florida was now taking place in my head. “I am never drinking again” I heard myself say to Ali, and with that I heard a crash of lightning outside just to add to the pain. I took a look from the hotel window to see sheets of rain falling. Oh well….we were not in a rush because we had less than 100 miles to get back to home and we could be there anytime before 8 am tomorrow morning. We didn’t feel like powering 100 miles in the rain and lightning either. My Dad who loves to know what we are up to when we are having adventures, and he was extra happy now to be able to reach us on our cell phones. He kept calling with weather updates and assured us that it was gonna clear up. He is an addicted weather junkie. With a break in the weather sometime after lunch we set off on our last ride. It was pretty bumpy but the angle was good and within 4 hours we were closing in on Jolly Harbour…..Ali shouted out “let her run” and I cranked it up to max RPM @ 6100. The Yamaha F225 four strokes seemed to enjoy the last few miles at wide open throttle and just before we slowed at the harbour mouth we were doing 53 mph on the speed-o. Mom and Dad were there to welcome us and gave us extra hugs. I think they knew how bad it had been for us after speaking to us a few days earlier. Although Ali and I were glad to be home in one piece with the boat, we were silently sad that another big adventure was over. As brothers we don't get to do them like we did in the old days. The drizzle that started as we left the boat seemed to make the reality of being back a little more sobering. Ali had a 5-midnigh shift the next day and I had a hell of a lot of Red Tape to sort out. Back to Reality!
The top photo of the Moon Jelly was taken at the baths as well as the one below of Ali in the middle of the pilchards. Enjoy!