Diversionary Tactics

Is there ever enough, space between us
To keep us both honest and true?
Why is it so hard, just to sit in the yard
And stare at the sky so blue?

—John Prine, You Got Gold (added to hjsailing playlist)

Between celestial navigation and grief, our recent posts have been rather heavy. Given the news of the day, I figure we need something light and fun. So here goes…

I’ve followed John Prine for years and listened to the song You Got Gold many, many times. However, when it came on my playlist last night and I really paid attention to the first four lines above, I thought, “How absolutely apropos to our situation in the Virgin Islands and the world.” I’ve got a whole lot of space between anyone else and me, and a whole lot of time to stare at a bright blue sky rivaled by brighter blue water.

The not-so-good-news is that the British Virgin Islands started a total lockdown yesterday evening (Friday 3/27). It’s through next Thursday with possible extensions. For anyone on shore, they must remain in their home. Anyone on a boat must remain on that boat. No sailing, etc. however, I don’t see any problem with swimming or snorkeling. The good news is that I’m anchored up in an absolutely beautiful bay, I think the prettiest of my voyage. For anyone who wants to Google it, it’s Little Harbour on Peter Island, BVI. There are 10 or so other boats in the bay and the majority are sailing vessels. Most are “crewed yachts” meaning that an owner or owners live elsewhere and hire a crew to run the yacht. The crews are often a couple who serves as captain and chef (and everything else). They’re all great people and very supportive which is comforting.

Below is a picture from Hazel James’ bow (front of the boat). The bay is deep but small and the wind tends to swirl given the high hills surrounding it. If all captains just set their bow anchors and allowed their boats to swing with the wind, sooner or later the swirling wind would have boats bumping into one another. Therefore, the custom in the bay is to set your bow anchor in 30 feet of water and then tie your stern (back of the boat) to the shore. In the picture below you can clearly see the port stern line leading to the shore (right side of the picture), the starboard line is slack and under the water and a bit harder to see. It’s amazing in that the stern is 50 feet off the shore but we’re in 12’ of water.

HJ 50 feet off shore

Please don’t shed a tear for me and my lockdown. I could be in worse places. As example, there are green turtles in the bay and it’s pretty incredible to snorkel and watch them munching sea grass on the bottom for upwards of 5 minutes and then come up for a couple breaths of air (I think Santa might have an underwater camera in my stocking this year).

Hazel James in Little Harbour (anchor rode [line] visible off the bow as well as stern line to the shore)
Last night’s sunset from HJ’s deck in Little Harbour

As I’ve sailed the Virgin Islands, I’ve been intrigued with the names of various bays, islands, cays (a.k.a., keys) and points. Given the area is rich in a history of piracy and privateering, I look at the name and let my imagination wander as to how that geographical feature got that name. Here are some of my favorites:

Between St. Thomas USVI and St. John USVI is Blunder Rocks. I gave them a wide berth as I sailed by.

Just off the coast of Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas is Water Island. Charlotte Amalie is the capital of the USVI and Water Island is easy to figure out. It was named that because there are natural springs on the island—a rarity in the Caribbean.

There’s Cow Wreck Bay on Anegada Island. I like to think I have a good imagination but I have absolutely no idea on that one.

Hurricane Hole and its many bays is on the east end of St. John USVI, just east of the town of Coral Bay for those who have visited there. “Hurricane hole” is a generic and widely used term for any deep and well-protected bay that is a good place to secure your boat when a hurricane is coming.

Just south of Hurricane Hole is Drunk Bay. Too much rum I imagine.

Over in the BVI is Privateer Bay. Privateers were essentially pirates but under the loose protection of one government. Being a privateer was only legal in relation to the country for which the privateer had had papers. The privateer had the benefit of some protection. The benefit to the sponsoring country was that the privateer would harass rival countries’ warships, shipping and interests in the “new world”. As a side note, a “Buccaneer” is French/Cajun slang for a privateer.

The island of Jost Van Dyke has Boo Point. I have a hard time imagining pirates being scared of ghosts.

The BVI island of Virgin Gorda has some good ones. There’s Collision Point (similar to Blunder Rocks, I gave it a wide berth). Another is Pull and be Damn Point. I believe that “Pull” refers to rowing (i.e., pulling on the oars). In the 17th – 19th centuries, the typical smaller boats that would support a ship would have six or eight oarsmen, and a helmsman who would steer and serve as coxswain (pronounced COX-sun). The “Cox” would call out “Stroke, stroke…” to keep the oarsmen coordinated). I can just imagine a ship’s boat trying to get around this point in a raging gale and the helmsman shouting a threatening but encouraging, “Pull and be damn boys, pull and be damn!”

Getting to Peter Island where I am now there is the small island of Key Cay which is funny because it is pronounced Key Key.

Finally, just to northeast of Peter Island is my personal favorite. It’s the cay of Dead Chest. In pirate days, a “deadman’s chest” was a coffin. In the late-1700s the cay started appearing on charts with the name Dead Chest. According to legend, the pirate Blackbeard marooned fifteen men on the cay with only a bottle of rum. Some tried to swim the half-mile to Peter Island and didn’t make it. This the bay on Peter Island closest to Dead Chest cay is named Deadman Bay.

Dead Chest (picture taken from Sally the kayak)

The legends of Dead Chest have inspired the gamut of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island through The Pirates of the Caribbean series.

Thanks as always for reading, following and commenting. While I’m close enough to the USVI to get AT&T cell service (which is great), it’s a weak signal. Therefore this and my subsequent posts have to be composed on my phone and will be text-rich and picture-lite. I have so many wonderful photos from my good camera that I look forward to sharing when I have WiFi with bandwidth.

Hazel James out.

17 thoughts on “Diversionary Tactics

  1. Dan – I’ve been following along from early on. Timmy turned me on to your journey and I have been moved – thanks for sharing. My wife and I sailed solo in BVI for our honeymoon so I have a few reference points. I am also a ukulele player and get your transition. I’ve played guitar for decades and learned to play the Uke so I could teach my daughter. Caught me by surprise and have barely picked up a guitar since my conversion. Be well and continue questing.
    Bob Perkins

  2. Stay safe and healthy. It has been terrible week for the world in terms of this pandemic. Let’s all follow safe measures and stay fully healthy.



    1. Agree totally Raj. I can’t imagine this virus let loose in some of the poorer areas of Chennai or Mumbai, would be terrible for those families

  3. Dan, we have friends that have been pleading with us to sail these islands. You may have talked me into it!

    “We were born before the wind…” t

  4. More great stuff from you and Hazel (you too Sally). This has been so interesting. One thing I was wondering is, how difficult is it logistically for all of these tiny communities to manage a stable supply of fresh water? Is desalination an easy process or does it require some infrastructure and tech?
    Hang in there man….. can’t wait to see all the pics some day

  5. I can’t even imagine how beautiful the photos on your camera are, Dan. These are amazing! That sunset… wow! There are definitely worse places to be quarantined! Stay well and keep your distance!

    1. Oh that’s great an quite accurate MPL. FYI, when I’m sailing locally (island to island) or anchored-up, I don’t have my AIS unit on so the track for me is probably a bit choppy.

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