Monday, April 29, 2013

Incredible Crossing from BVIs to St. Martin

Sunset en route from Virgin Gorda to St. Martin

A good crossing is a beautiful thing. In need of some pricey items (two 4D batteries, 200 feet of anchor chain, and a new windlass, the device that pulls up the anchor chain), we headed to St. Martin, which has the best prices on marine equipment in the Caribbean. We spent a lovely couple of days working our way up the BVIs (more on that later) so we could hitch a ride on the back of a cold front (cool front down here) with some northeasterly winds. And what a ride we had! The swells were 8-10 feet at times, but very long, so we just rode over the top of them like a cork. The winds weren’t much more than 10 knots, but at such a good angle that we scooted along at 6+ knots (yes, that’s slow in car terms, but really good in Mr Mac terms). In fact, we had to take in most of our sails during the night and slow down to about 3 knots so we wouldn’t arrive too early. As it was, we arrived about 6am and had to anchor and float around for the bridge to the lagoon to open at 8am. AND, this was the passage that started with two humpbacks surfacing right next to the boat, and another breaching in the distance, and I haven’t even mentioned the stars twinkling in the sky and the phosphorescence twinkling in the sea. Oh yeah, a nice passage.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Creature Feature: Starfish

Reticulated starfish

Comet starfish (not looking very comet-like)
Starfish are cool. How many other critters can you cut up into multiple pieces, only to have each piece regenerate a whole body? Not that we’ve ever done this, of course (more about this later). Also called sea stars, starfish are not really fish, but invertebrates called echinoderms, related to sea urchins and sea cucumbers.  The species we’ve seen the most in the Bahamas and Caribbean is the reticulated starfish, so called because of the network of ridges across its body. It’s also called a cushion sea star, because it’s so puffy.  Puffy it might look, but it’s solid and big. Once in the Bahamas, we were entering an anchorage and, from the bow, I called out every reticulated starfish I saw: “There’s one. There’s one. There’s another one…” I probably kept this up for a full minute before Chris finally told me to stop it, the point being that this species can be VERY common and occur at high frequencies (and also that I can be very annoying).  We usually see them on sand flats or in seagrass. If you come across a starfish, pick it up and look at the bottom. You’ll see deep ridges along each leg, and if you look long enough, you might see the little hydraulically operated tube feet emerge. If you hold the starfish on your hand, it will eventually start to walk, the tube feet sucking onto your hand, then releasing, as it pulls itself across. It feels neat! Starfish walk along the bottom slooowly on their little tube feet, feeding on benthic invertebrates such as clams, snails, or anything that moves more slowly than they do. So, back to the regeneration. Some species can regenerate an entire body from just one arm and a piece of the central disk. Nice trick! This ability is particularly conspicuous for the comet sea star. Below is a picture of Chris holding an intact comet star, but take a look at the picture here, which shows an individual regenerating from a single leg (the large leg). It does look like a comet, doesn’t it! The name of the comet sea star is particularly apropos, since true starfish are in the class Asteroidea.  Asteroids, comets, stars—this sounds more like astronomy than marine biology.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Chris' Great Online Interview with Kara Ashley Dey

Check out Kara Ashley Dey’s inverview with Chris on her website.  She asks great questions—very personalized, and not the just usual “How did you start writing?” I may be biased (all right, full disclosure, I AM biased), but I also think Chris’ answers are terrific. Our lives basically revolve around cruising and writing, and Kara’s questions really delve into how these two passions influence each other. Kara also has some very nice things to say about this blog. Thanks, Kara!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Yacht Spotting: Roseway

Okay, the Grand Banks schooner Roseway is a world away from the other yachts I’ve presented, but boy, isn’t she beautiful. Like me (Anne), she originated in Massachusetts, built from local white oak in Essex in 1925 (though Anne is flesh and blood, from Quincy, and born much later than 1925). Although ostensibly a commercial fishing boat (one day catching 34 swordfish), she was specially designed to be raced against the Halifax boats in the fishing vessel races in the 1920s and 1930s. In the 1940s, Roseway was bought by the Boston Pilots Association and used during WWII to guide ships through the harbor when the navigational lights were turned off. Now she belongs to the World Ocean School, providing education programs and day sails for the public.  She’s got a beautiful schedule, summering in Boston and wintering in St. Croix. This picture is from the day we saw her sailing out of Cristiansted, St. Croix. I got the above information at the World Ocean School website, which has lots more of interest with regard to Roseway and their programs.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Cinnamon Bay, St. John, USVI

View of Cinnamon Bay hills while floating in Cinnamon Bay

The island of St. John is scalloped with beautiful little bays, many of them with National Park Service moorings that are free for day use. So one day Chris and I, along with our friends Steve and Lynn, took a day jaunt from St. Thomas to St. John. Mooring at Cinnamon Bay, we dinghyed ashore and did an easy hike along the Cinnamon Bay Loop Trail. The trail wanders through some ruins—including sugar and bay rum factories, manor house, and cemetary—and the forest. Informational plaques pointed out such sights as bay rum and sweetlime trees, some animals and insects, and the historical spots. Particularly interesting was the way that the hills were terraced for planting, the stone rows still discernible, albeit a bit worn and knocked out of place. We ate lunch at the T’ree Lizards Restaurant at the Cinnamon Bay Campground, which had sites for tents, and also some great cabins right on the beach. Finally, we went for a nice snorkel around the reefs. All this, and a great sail back to Charlotte Amalie. The short distances between islands here can be really handy. 
Danish cemetary crypts, a little creepy out here in the woods

Ruins tower

The T'ree Lizards Restaurant-casual and inexpensive, good sandwiches

Pretty soft coral over white sand

Chris showing Lynn a sea urchin