December 6th-December 20th
Owners of Counting Stars:
As owner’s of Counting Stars, we had been anxious to set foot on her and see Counting Stars in person after Hurricane’s Irma and Maria. We had heard she had come through the storms in remarkably great condition and this was definitely true. Thanks to CYOA and Nanny Cay, we were one of the few lucky ones. We are so thankful that we and future charter guests will continue to enjoy Counting Stars and all that the islands have to offer.
During this trip we were able to see parts of St. Thomas, St. John and the BVIs. Below is a description of our impressions of these areas and how the islands are recovering.
The St. Thomas airport was running as usual. Flights were on time and baggage arrived. New drywall, paint and ceiling tiles were visible inside the airport. We rented a car through Avis at the airport to buy provisions. There is also an Avis right next to the base so you can pick up the car at the airport and walk to return the car the next morning before setting off. The process went smoothly. In a little over an hour, we had picked up our car, provisioned and arrived at the base. We had packed a polar bear soft-sided cooler with some provisions, not knowing what we would find available on St. Thomas. Pueblo on the way to the base had everything we needed. In fact, it was better stocked this time than on previous trips.
The drive to the base looked quite similar as before. New palm trees had been planted. The notable difference was the presence of blue tarps on some of the houses.
The CYOA base and docks looked fantastic. Hook Line and Sinker also looked the same besides undergoing some improvements such as outdoor seating and the construction of a sushi bar.
Every time we arrive my heart skips a beat when seeing Counting Stars. We were even more excited this time and it was such a relief to see her and climb aboard and open those salon doors. The boat is a little over a year old but I was shocked to find she still smelled new. I had heard about boats on the hard having mold and such but she was as clean as before. The hulls were waxed and shiny. Truly a happy moment for us. Thank you to everyone at CYOA for taking care of her.
Sailing: Still fantastic! Same as before.
Snorkeling: Almost as good as before. Some damage to coral noted but most survived and the fish were abundant.
Vegetation: Everything is now really green. The vegetation is making a strong comeback. Damage to vegetation is still visible where trunks of trees can be seen but given that it had only been 3 months since the storms, the vegetation had really filled in. Beaches, where palm trees survived, have lots of new growth coming out of them.
Water: As blue and clear as always. No change.
Grocery Stores: Extremely well stocked on St. Thomas. Leverick Bay Pantry was stocked well also for those additional items you may have to pick up along the way.
Water, Ice, and Fuel: Hard to come by if your boat does not have an ice or water maker. Counting Stars has both so we never have to stop for ice or water anyway. A huge plus during this time. We heard other charterers on the VHF looking for water and having to ration. We only burned less than a ½ a tank in our two weeks so we only needed to top off the tanks at Yacht Haven Grande in Charlotte Amalie on the return.
Restaurants and Bars: Limited but more and more opening up every day. We often cook on the boat but it is always nice to have a few meals off the boat. We ate at Pirates on Norman, at the Cove in Leverick and at Cow Wreck and Wonky Dog on Anegada. Menus are more limited however the food was fantastic. We had Mahi Sandwiches, hamburgers, pizza, lobster fritters and lobster. Other places open at the usual stops are Omar’s Cafe and Pussers in Sopers, Foxy’s in Great Harbour and Hendos Hideout in White Bay.
Customs: We checked in and out at the same time in West End in Soper’s Hole. Customs is now a white tent. Agents were friendly. Two things to note: There is no longer a dinghy dock. You can tie your dinghy up to the concrete wall next to the customs tent but it is best to have someone take the captain in by dinghy and then pick up the captain when finished because the wall is covered in sharp barnacles and your dinghy will get damaged banging up against the wall. Also, it is really windy under the tent. Hold on to all of your documents! Note: We have heard that customs is now open in Great Harbour JVD so you may have that option too.
Homes and Resorts: Anchorages where homes are visible, damage can be seen. Lots of blue tarps. Also, sometimes homes that appeared to be well built sustained lots of damage whereas others next door remained intact. Go figure. The damage to some resorts is extensive. Our impressions were that Caneel Bay and Bitter End sustained the worst damage. Leverick is back up and running, busy and functioning well. Peter Island, Cooper Island and Guana Island busy with workers cleaning up the beach. On Anegada almost everything is open and beaches and restaurants in great shape.
The number of charterers: There were more people chartering than we thought there would be. We had approximately 12 boats with us on Norman and Leverick and Anegada’s anchorage was almost full. Our impression was that people tend to congregate where there are places to eat. Guana Island, Cooper and Peter were very quiet. One or two boats and the anchorages on St. John were very quiet. We were happy to see people not canceling their trips. We also at no time felt unsafe. We were welcomed by everyone.
St. Thomas/ St. John
Honeymoon Beach- The beach had several people (likely from some of the Cruise Ships in town) and many palm trees on the beach were sprouting new growth. This is coming back quickly.
Christmas Cove- Pizza Pi is back in place and serving pizza. There are fewer mooring balls than before but even before they were not in the best of shape so best to inspect the balls or anchor.
St. John North Shore beaches. The beaches and clear water are still beautiful. In fact, the Trunk Bay and Cinnamon Bay beaches had more sand. Maho and Francis Bay had some boats on moorings. The many palm trees lost especially on Maho is hard to see but sitting on the boat looking at the surrounding hillsides and clear water still make for a lovely anchorage.
Leinster Bay- All in all this looks almost exactly the same. Mooring Balls are intact. The little sand beach on Watermelon Cay was now covered but it looked like it was starting to reappear. We had lots of tarpon and two other boats in the mooring field that night. It was choppy so we couldn’t snorkel Watermelon Cay but our impression of other snorkeling spots was good.
Salt Pond Bay on South side of St. John- The 5 mooring balls remained intact and are in good shape. The beach looks similar and a bit wider. Ram’s head hike is still great. Snorkeling in Salt Pond was fantastic again. The coral is vibrant and the fish were abundant. Some sponges were damaged but we were pleasantly surprised that overall the coral was similar to before the storms.
The British Virgin Islands
Privateer Bay- Norman Island- Looks really good. They have rebuilt the smaller Pirates restaurant and the staff was extremely friendly and the food was excellent. We snorkeled the Indians and it was still a great place to snorkel. We were the only boat there! When do you ever get that chance?
Peter Island- We looked at Deadman’s Bay but did not stay there due to weather conditions. There is some damage to the beach but the many palm trees remained. In a couple of months, it will be beautiful again. We also peeked into Little Harbour and it looked the same as before. We anchored in Key Bay. Lovely anchorage for those willing to anchor. By the way, Counting Stars has excellent ground tackle… Rockin’ a Rockna!
Cooper Island- Manchioneel bay looks really good too. Workers busy trying to get Cooper Island resort up and running. We anchored in Haulover Bay. Beautiful bay for more experienced sailors. Need to be careful anchoring because of the need to find a sandy patch amongst the coral heads.
The Baths- Virgin Gorda- Great place to still stop. The trail is open and looks pretty much the same. Beaches are gorgeous.
North Sound- Lots of activity at Leverick. Mooring Balls in good shape. Restaurant and chefs pantry open. Good food and drink. Saba Rock and Bitter End very heavily damaged and closed.
Anegada- Very little visible damage. Mooring Balls intact. Potters, Anegada Reef, Wonky Dog, Loblolly, Cow Wreck all open. We rented a scooter again to snorkel Loblolly and hang out at Cow Wreck.
Guana Island- Some mooring balls missing but about 8 remain. Beach looks in pretty good shape. Did not have a chance to snorkel Monkey Point.
Overall, we would have no hesitation planning a trip and chartering in the USVIs or BVIs. The anchorages, water, sunrises, sunsets are still some of the best in the world. The people are immensely appreciative. Some anchorages collected mooring fees and some did not. Most places, when eating out, only accept cash. The biggest thing that may affect your charter is that you have less “eating out” opportunities but plan and provision accordingly and you can have an unbelievable trip. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us through our website: www.sv-countingstars.com or reach out to us through our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SVCountingStars/. Happy Sailing!