Brand New World
It quickly became a running joke. “How come we never went snorkeling here before?” my wife, Shelly, would ask. “What a great beach. Why didn’t we go swimming like this the last time we were here?”
The answer in each case was exactly the same: we’d been sailing, beating our way up and around St. John, reaching through the trades, reveling in the sheer joy of our boat speed. Not until the sun was going down would we even think about grabbing a mooring or dropping the anchor.
But that was then. This was now. Since our first charter in the U.S. Virgin Islands, we’d acquired another crewmember, our 5-year-old daughter, Bridget, and our priorities had changed.
This was also our first time chartering a multihull, a Fountaine Pajot Mahe 36 named Mowzer. Tried and true monohull sailors, neither Shelly nor I were quite sure what to expect. I, for one, can be an inveterate stick-in-the-mud when it comes to trying new things and was more than a little curious about what we were getting ourselves into.
We would also be doing a fair amount of sailing off St. Thomas. The other time we’d been to the U.S. Virgin Islands, we’d picked up our boat in Redhook Bay, on the eastern side of the island, which opens out onto the sheltered waters of Pillsbury Sound. This time we’d be picking up our boat at CYOA Yacht Charters in Frenchtown, on the western edge of St. Thomas’s capital city, Charlotte Amalie. Getting to St. John would require venturing out into open water for what would likely be a 6-mile slog upwind, into the trades.
Every charter brings with it a certain number of unknowns. This one, though, had my imagination working in overdrive.
Stepping aboard after the short flight from Puerto Rico, my concerns quickly faded. Fountaine Pajot is one of the world’s leading catamaran builders for a good reason—the boat was incredibly spacious and perfect for our needs.
Things felt even better as we worked our way through the checkout process with CYOA. I don’t know if I have ever chartered with a company with a staff that is as helpful and professional. Today’s systems-heavy boats are fraught with sticking points, like hidden quarter-turn valves and fuses, but by the time we were on our way, I felt thoroughly comfortable with our new Mahe.
The CYOA staff also takes each of its customers out for a quick check ride. Some may think they’re too good for a little friendly advice from a charter company, but not me. It’s their boat. They know how it works. They know its idiosyncrasies. There’s nothing like knowing your boat inside out right from the start. It allows you to focus on the important things—like exploring and having fun. I’m surprised every charter company doesn’t do it this way.
Once we were on our own, we steered toward the mouth of St. Thomas Harbor and the open ocean. Chatting with us earlier, CYOA president John Jacob had noted that, with its minimal tides, deep water, predictable weather and line-of-sight navigation, the Virgin Islands are easier to sail than most charterers’ home waters—and he’s right. The only catch is the wind, a steady 20 knots or more when the trades are cranking.
Flying into Cyril E. King Airport, I’d seen plenty of whitecaps below and was wondering how we’d fare. But thanks to Mowzer’s powerful twin diesels and large props—as well as a couple of reefs tucked into the main well in advance, just to be on the safe side—motorsailing into the lee of Great St. James Island was a piece of cake.
Granted, there were a few sharper swells that had Bridget a little worried: “Daddy, big waves can be annoying.” But in no time she was up in the helmsman’s seat with me, helping pick out the Cow and Calf rocks guarding the entrance to St. James Bay, the Two Brothers rocks in the middle of Pillsbury Sound and our favorite, Blunder Rocks, off the eastern tip of Lovango Cay. I don’t think I ever really appreciated just how fun a chartplotter could be until I looked at the one on Mowzer with Bridget.