Tuesday, Jan 15 --
It was not a good night for me last night. We ate late, I didn't stretch, it was too hot and the bed was still sloped. Nevertheless we were all up and eating a hearty breakfast by 7:00. We pulled out of Great Harbour at 8:30, motoring over to a beach which we read was a good snorkeling spot. With the strong wind and high wave action again today we could not see a suitably calm place to bring the dinghy onto the beach.
It was a great day for sailing though, so we hoisted the main sail, unfurled the jib and sailed to Salt Island to snorkel in the Rhone Maritime Reserve. The big draw of this Reserve is the 310' iron Royal Mail Packet Steamer HMS Rhone shipwrecked in quite shallow (20-80') water. It sank in 1867 while trying to get out to sea during an approaching hurricane. It is visible even to snorkelers and is rated as one of the best scuba diving sites in the Caribbean. Many of the underwater scenes in the movie 'The Deep' were filmed here. I swam over to see it but preferred to explore the fish and coral up close among the rocks near shore.
Next we dinghied over to Salt Island to take a look at the salt ponds on shore. At one time the salt in the ponds was harvested for export. There are still canals where the sea water was let into the ponds then blocked and allowed to evaporate, leaving only the salt. There are (reportedly) only three people still living on the island. We saw the house and their goats but not the residents. Their annual rent is one pound of salt, paid to the British Queen via the BVI Governor. Reportedly, the bright pink fruit of the Turk's Cap cacti are edible, tasting a bit like strawberry, but there were no fruits to try. The pink flowers attract insects and hummingbirds.
Finally we set the sails on a close reach (generally heading northeast) toward Tortola. We saw two turtles during the Drake channel crossing. Once we were upwind enough we tacked back across the channel to Manchineel Bay on Cooper Island to race for the three remaining mooring balls, being closely beaten to the more sheltered ball we wanted by a catamaran which left an hour or so later (grrrrrr). The bay is named for the Manchineel tree which is common throughout the Caribbean Islands. Also called Beach Apple, the smallish green fruits smell and taste sweet but are extremely toxic. In fact, every part of the tree, including the smoke from burning the wood, can cause severe pain and even death.
I and one other hardy snorkeler swam to the rocks at the north end of the beach. We had to fight to swim to the point of the bay, but coming back was an easy float. This spot was the best so far for seeing fan coral and bigger fish. I saw a trumpet fish (maybe) and a small group of big light blue tangs(?), as well as the more common parrot fish, skip jacks, etc. The others dinghied over to the Beach Club to look around and pay the $30.00 mooring fee.
Preparing dinner presented quite a challenge in the tossing boat. The menu plan called for us to grill the two pork loins on an open grill on the deck but instead we opted for the simpler Indian curry meal tonight. Everyone chose to eat on deck in the cockpit instead of down in the galley, even though we had to wear wind protection to stay warm. Dinner was done and cleaned up by 18:30. The forecast is for calmer seas and winds by tomorrow evening.