Both the US and British Virgin Islands were devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September of 2017. After the storms had passed, a considerable amount of work was needed to infrastructure such as the docks and roads BEFORE the monumental task of restoring power and rebuilding the islands could begin.
Here’s what we saw while we were down there:
Progress is happening much faster on the larger islands. It appears that the supply path is Puerto Rico > St. Thomas > Tortola > outlying islands such as Anegada, Jost Van Dyke, Virgin Gorda, Peter, Cooper, Norman….. As a result supplies are slowly making way down the chain if at all. I met a man on Jost Van Dyke that gave up on waiting and made his own doors in order to reopen the first of his bed and breakfast rooms. Many people are still living in tents, and storm damage is still evident EVERYWHERE.
Having said that, rebuilding IS occurring, the cruise ship dock is back in service in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas and the Road Town, Tortola cruise ship dock is expected to welcome their first ship in November or December of 2018.
On Tortola, the yacht charter business was booming, with boats being brought back into service as we watched. Masts were being stepped, rigging and lifelines were being replaced, vessels were being either restored or scrapped for parts in a push to get things back in gear.
Many of the major resorts are 1-2-5 years out from reopening (if at all.) This impacts everyone on the islands as so much of the work is related to the service industry.
The people that we met were as friendly as we could have expected, everyone was happy to see us on the Islands knowing how vital the tourist dollars are to the economy.
What it boils down to is that spirits are up and the people of the Virgin Islands are working hard to rebuild. If you have ever thought about visiting the Virgins, book your trip NOW. Things are looking better every day, and more than ever before, they could REALLY use your business!
Morning found us wandering around Main Street in Charlotte Amalie window shopping diamonds, gold, platinum, precious stones and expensive watches. Lots of pretty shiny things which were all WAY over our price range. Back to the hotel for more packing and a cab ride to the airport for our flights back to the mainland.
Lots of packing and a quick trip to the ferry landing, since we were early we hopped into a taxi and took a ride around the island and up into the hills. It was really nice to see the views from the tops of the mountains, and all of the rebuilding that was in progress. A quick ~45 minute ferry ride later, we were in Charlotte Amalie and walked over to the Bunker Hill Hotel. Since it was Sunday most everything was closed so we hit the street market then the Green House for some Bang Bang Calamari for lunch. While there we popped into the back room where they have ~12 slot machines. 30 minutes later, I was the big winner with a $32 jackpot. This put us up $7.50 and we decided that it was time to quit while we were still winners. Dinner was at the Pie Hole again, good Belgian ales and a great linguine alfredo with shrimp.
Early departure from Peter Island so that we could reach SunSail before our 11am deadline. Once we arrived we packed up and did a quick clean up on the Lady Meta. In the debriefing we learned that we were supposed to be dumping the wastewater into the ocean and needed to head back out of the harbor to empty the septic tank or pay a $100 fee. We opted for the former and were rewarded with another ~45 minutes out on the water. Once ashore we spent the day lounging around the pool at the Hummingbird House before making our way to the Virgin Queen for a meal with the locals, this was definitely not a tourist spot, the food and atmosphere were wonderful, and the prices were a bit more reasonable than our other meals. We wandered off to the cruise ship pier and chatted with some of the locals, where we were informed that they expected to reopen the pier and entertain cruise ships as soon as November or December. We then decided that one last visit to Pussers was in order for another painkiller!
We took the SCUBA tanks ashore for refill and wandered around town while they were handling it. One of the tanks has a stripped valve and was problematic, with the tools at the shop we were able to get it working well enough for one more dive. Paul at Jost Van Dyke SCUBA was very helpful and pointed us to the Playground, a dive site that I had looked at but thought would be too deep for a new diver. With the local information, we headed to the Green Cay on the eastern end of JVD for a fantastic dive. LOTS of sea life, and no one else anywhere near us. Near the end of the dive we found big schools of minnows and a handful of barracuda chilling about 20′ below the surface. Then we set the sails for a route through the Thatch Island Cut on the way to Pelican Island and the Indians again. The Indians were even better than Rainbow Canyons and it was nice to finish with a last dive only a few feet from the first dive of the trip. This marked a complete circumnavigation of Tortola. I was able to get the 360° camera working for this dive lots of pics were taken. We cast off the ball and headed to Peter Island and the Willy T for one last night. And, YES, we jumped off upper deck of the Willy T in the proper attire.
We rose and left Anegada early as we planned a long sail to Jost Van Dyke with hopefully some more diving on the way. The winds were perfect, even the squall that hit us couldn’t dampen our spirits. Shortly after the squall passed, i went up on the foredeck for a nap and found this 22° halo above. After sailing for 4-5 hours we picked up a ball at Sandy Cay for a quick dive. For some reason neither of us were in particularly good shape for this dive and we decided to keep it short and shallow. Returning to the vessel, we promptly headed to Great Harbor and made our way to Foxy’s for another great meal.
We motored from Leverick Bay to The Bitter End to pick up our freshly filled SCUBA tanks, then hoisted the sails and departed Virgin Gorda settine course across open water for Anegada. There’s something about aiming for the horizon with no land to guide you, a very zen moment for me.
As planned, ~3.5 hours later we were passing the channel at Anegada, this is where things turned. We wanted to get a dive in so we sailed past the channel to find a protected spot on the NW side of the island. An hour later, we discovered that all of the balls in this area were for dingies and much smaller craft than our sailboat. We decided that the safest course of action would be to head to port and sort things out.
On arriving at the anchorage in Anegada, we headed for one of the mooring balls close to shore. I had been informed by a VERY capable and knowledgable friend that he had found the ones closer to shore had a little more water under them. Well….. We promptly grounded and with the prevailing winds we quickly found ourselves in a situation that required 6 dinghies to pull/push/drag us to deeper water. After that debacle, we secured to a mooring ball and decided it was time to start drinking.
The chart above was our course in the dinghy where we tried to deliver beer to everyone that helped us out.
I have now been granted the honarary title of Captain Run Aground!
We woke up early and motored to port in Spanish Town to refill the SCUBA tanks and top off our boat tanks. They were disappointed when we only needed 5.5g of diesel. That and our 50g of water will probably be their smallest transaction of the month.
Headed north under sail to Long Bay on the northwest side of Virgin Gorda in search of the Kodiak Queen. The Kodiak Queen was a US Navy fueling vessel that survived the attack on Pearl Harbor.
For our first dive, we dropped to the bottom @ 55′ and headed away from shore, did not find the wreck, but had a lot of fun swimming the reef.
We moved to another mooring ball, cooked up some breakfast and rested. After a nice surface interval, we dropped right onto the Kodiak Queen. Wonderful dive, the boat is in great shape, lots of doors and hatches to poke our heads in and look around.
Weather was looking ugly so we headed into Leverick Bay for a mooring ball. Big storm hit just after we entered the lagoon, heavy rain, lightning and big winds. We motored through it and Shelby picked up the mooring ball with ease, all of the boats surrounding us were impressed! The Restaurant at Leverick Bay served us the best meal we have had so far.
After cooking breakfast onboard and refilling our SCUBA tanks, we decided to try our luck at the wreck of the former US mail carrier the Rhone again. Much better this time, not only did we find some of the hull, we also found some Banded Coral Shrimp, a Spotted Eel, and convinced a squirrel fish to pose for the camera.
From there we set sail for Ginger Island and the Ginger Steps dive site. Alas the wind and waves were coming from the wrong direction and that made the anchorage extremely uncomfortable. The plan was to tie off to the mooring ball, then relax on the ball for a bit before diving. After only a few minutes the wave action took its toll on Shelby and we decided that scrapping the dive was the proper thing to do.
We cast off the ball and set sail for the Baths on Virgin Gorda arriving well past 17:00 and found that we had the area entirely to ourselves. The setting sun made for some exceptional photos and it was nice to swim around and explore alone.
A quick motor found us on a mooring ball outside Spanish Town shortly after sunset where there were several boats enjoying the view. With the gallery watching, Shelby hooked the ball and secured the line like an old salt. Dinner tonight consisted of pasta onboard while going through the photos.
Today was simply marvelous. Started off the day with some snorkeling at the Caves on Norman Island where we found some coral polyps out feeding in the dark of the caves, what an unexpected treat! After a quick motor over to Pelican Island we had a very successful first dive at Rainbow Canyons. Following the dive we quickly set sail for Salt Island and the wreck of the Rhone. The conditions weren’t as good and visibility was probably less then 50′. We saw a couple of scraps from the wreck, but never found the main portions of the Rhone. We followed that with a quick motor to Cooper Island where we filled our stomachs with a stunning selection of appetizers promptly hit the sack early to rest up for another day of adventure.