A Completely Different Passage - June 10th, 2002
Sailing back to the Virgin Islands was a homecoming of sorts. We had friends on St Thomas we looked forward to getting in touch with, the water and islands were familiar territory and we were once again back in the United States.
At least we thought we were back. But, getting ourselves legally into the USA proved to be an experience unto itself, thanks to unknown regulations and an immigration official with the charm of a rhino.
After an overnight sail from Saba we pulled into Cruz Harbor in St. Johns around noon ready to eat, check into the country and rest - in that order. We scarfed down brunch at a local greasy spoon and asked the waitress to point us in the direction of Customs and Immigration. We headed over to the low white building abutting the harbor seawall, stepped inside, presented ourselves and our papers. We were handed a form to fill out in triplicate. We began scribbling down the dates, numbers and other details we had memorized from practicing this procedure numerous times in varied countries throughout the Caribbean. Before we could complete our surnames we were asked to step outside, the air conditioned room was intended for the official employees only! Our dealings were to be conducted through a plexiglass window with a half inch gap at its base. We shuffled outside completed our forms and slipped them under the window to a woman sitting on her air conditioned stool as if it was a throne. She looked at the papers and pronounced that Miranda was not allowed in the country. Confused Miranda and I looked at each other and then stammered our whats and whys back in the officers direction. She looked neither concerned nor sympathetic and, from what we could tell, didn't feel any need to help us solve what we saw as something of a problem. Placing my mouth down near the opening of the window I bowed my head to the queen, it was the only way to communicate with her. I asked if she would mind open the window a bit more so we could talk, but she clearly wasn't in a talking mood. She hoisted the window another quarter of an inch, shoved a paper toward us and curtly told us to read the back. It gave little insight into the situation, so we resorted to groveling."Please," we told her "we're not trying to do anything wrong Your Highness. Tell us what we have to do and we'll do it... please, thank you." Before revealing her secrets, she let us know that she had the ability to fine us $4000.00, that we were completely at her mercy. We acknowledged her power and our helpless state as simple commoners and once again pleaded with her to have mercy on us. Finally she spoke: "The Australian can't come in here on a private vessel. She has to arrive on a Signatory Carrier, an airliner or ferry. Take her to The British Virgins Islands and put her on a ferry boat back to the US. Then she will be let in... IF she is eligible." With the Queens final threat ringing in our ears I signed a paper saying I would remove Miranda from the county. We left shaking our heads in disbelief, desperately wanting to laugh at the stupidity of the situation, but scared to do so because Miranda was still not back in the States.
We sailed over to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands and anchored for the night. The next morning, rested and fed after our passage, we went ashore and checked into the British Virgin Islands without drama. We then bought Miranda a ferry ticket to St Thomas and I checked out of the BVIs. I would sail Baggywrinkle back to St Thomas while Miranda would take the ferry. At 5 knots it was going to take me a good hour and a half to two hours. The ferry would cover the same distance in forty five minutes. To make up for the difference I left Miranda at the ferry terminal early, lifted the anchor and headed out of the harbor while she watched and waited. It was strange for us to go our separate ways. We had spent almost every minute of every day for the past 6 months together. Although we would be separated for only a few hours (if all went well) our farewells that morning were quite a production.
All did go well and we were soon together again in St. Thomas. We were overwhelmed once again by the generosity shown to us by our friends the Wardwell's. Even though they were off the island during our stay they lent us a car and place to stay. In many ways St. Thomas is like a small town. On our first visit to the island we had been quickly befriended by friends of the Wardwell's so despite their absence we had people to contact. We spent a week enjoying the compny our friends Cara and Paul. We enjoyed the luxury of TV and a freezer in which we could keep Ice Cream! We caught up on our movies with screenings of Star Wars and Spider Man.
St Thomas was where we had dropped off Sam, our crew member on the way south. Now we were to pick him and his girlfriend Lizy up for our return trip. Together they helped us sail Baggywrinkle up to the Bahamas from the Virgins Islands, a six day trip as it turned out. In addition to relaxing Miranda and I used our time in the Virgins to provision the boat and prepare her for the upcoming offshore trip. Because of this within twenty-four hours of Sam and Lizy's arrival we were all aboard Baggywrinkle, packed and ready to go.
Before heading offshore Lizy, Sam, Miranda and I spent a couple days enjoying the Virgin Islands, and St Johns in particular. We snorkeled the underwater trail, rented a sail board, watched glass blowers at work and ate dinner ashore at Maho Bay. We even managed to catch a slightly long winded slide show about marine organisms presented by a Sponge loving marine biologist. Sam enjoyed being back aboard Baggy, and felt very much at home having been aboard for over a month not long before. Lizy, who had never been to sea before, quickly proved to be an able seaman. It was fun having another couple on board with whom we could share our experiences.
The next day we headed off toward the Bahamas with the wind at our backs. We rolled with the swells that overtook us from behind. The ride was dry and comfortable once we became accustomed to the movement. Sailing with the wind is very different than sailing into it. For one we were not healed over at an awkward angle the whole time. We were not dodging spray from every second wave. Not only did we have the wind on a different quarter than on our first passage, we also had much less of it. The wind came and went but we had less than 15 knots the whole trip. We motored along while we lounged in the cockpit reading, eating meals, and talking. One day when the wind was nonexistent we shut off the motor and rigged the spinnaker pole out over the starboard side of the boat. We spent the next hour playing in the water, swinging out over then dropping down into the deep blue over and over.
Little wind makes for a comfortable trip, but not a quick one. What we thought would take four to five days actually took six, many of which were spent motoring. When we arrived in the Bahamas we were out of Fuel. Our arrival under sail was quite eventful... but I'll save that for the next entry.