Captain's Log

Archive for the 'Atlantic Voyage 2008-2009' Category

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The Caribbean is Cool

We are under way the 200 miles from Anguilla for Dominica, just now off the island of Nevis. The Picton Castle is braced sharp up on the port tack with royals stowed in these fresh and warm winds. We had NNE head winds heading up, now we have ESE head winds headed down islands – the curse of having a destination! But the sky at dawn is pretty, the crew are getting pretty good at sailing “by the wind” now, which is pretty tricky and demanding, so all is good. Just got buzzed by a Dutch patrol plane piloted by a friend of an ex-PC Crew. They called and said hi.

So our visiting boat-builder Professor Flemming has headed home from Anguilla. It was great to have him along. He is a great teacher. He got our wooden boat carpentry gang started on planking and caulking this old 15′ Grenada skiff in frame, which we got for the express purpose of teaching something about wooden boatbuilding. And the Grenadines and all the islands are just as sweet as ever.

I don’t understand those that bemoan the Caribbean, how it’s all gone now and “not the same”. These islands are as awesome as ever (mostly) and in many ways, to my way of thinking, even better. Provisioning is better, mechanics are better, supplies are better, communications are better, shipping is better and being truly in a period well past the colonial days, islanders are better off, well educated, well travelled and warmly welcoming. Sure, it would be nice if development on a few of the islands was a bit less and that there were more island schooners around and all that old folksy charm was fully intact, but then the same could be said of Lunenburg and pretty much any other place. It ain’t over in the islands, dey plenty cool man.

That said, St Martin is quite a buzzing extension of France/Florida/Holland and Anguilla is in a condo development frenzy spilling over from St Martin that is a bit hard to see. It was a bit of a fright actually, although my guess would be that the brakes are on such speculative development for the time being anyway. But don’t get me wrong, we had plenty of good times in Anguilla at the Moonsplash Reggae Festival. Sandy Ground, Road Bay is fine. Great beaches, nice folks, lots of music. Now we are bound south again to the delightfully enchanting Dominica.

So a decision is taken, we will attend the Antigua Classic Regatta. We will distribute our crew among the fleet of big cool schooners and gaffers and the like and let the Picton Castle sit out the competition unless they come up with a square-rigger class. This Classic race series will be fun and very instructional for our crew who have learned so much that can’t even tell. Getting on other large sailing vessels for a couple days will tell a great deal.

Then when the racing and hoopla is over we will sail off to anchor in some obscure, aquamarine palm-fringed cove and retreat to a roadside chicken shack for a very cold drink and some hot and tasty barbeque chicken right off the grill. We will sit on odd-scrap plank benches in the shade under a big tamarind or breadfruit tree and keep on keeping on and look at our fine ship out in the cove.

Matt and Captain look at the Grenada skiff
PICTON CASTLE at anchor, Road Bay, Anguilla
The Mate at a roadside chicken shack

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Dominica

Picton Castle crew could make tourism commercials for Dominica. Every crew member I have spoken with thinks this is one of the most beautiful and unique islands in the world. I continually hear comments about how friendly the people are, how many different activities and sights there are to do and see, and about the natural beauty of the island. The interior of the island is mostly mountains and rainforest, the coastline is mostly rocky with a few black sand beaches. The island is lush with an incredible range of biodiversity. It has been fantastic to introduce crew on this voyage to old friends here, as well as meeting new people.

Two groups have taken trips to the Indian River, in the northern part of the island. This river is a protected natural area with a variety of species of birds, fish, crabs and other fauna. It’s also famous for being featured in the second “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie, when they rowed up the river to find Calypso in the woods. Our guide yesterday, whose nickname is James Bond, said that he rowed Johnny Depp up the river in the same boat we were in. All boats in the river must be rowed, no use of motors is allowed because the government is trying to protect it.

Crew have also been discovering the natural hot springs. A group went yesterday to Wotten Waven, which is inland from the capital city of Roseau, to soak in the hot springs at a spa. The hot water was diverted through a bamboo pipe into an oval-shaped cement pool, filling it chest-deep with warm water. Many local people on the island swear by the therapeutic properties of the hot water, saying that it is good for the skin and promotes good health. Dominicans can live a long time – the world’s oldest person was a Dominican woman who died in 2003 at the age of 128, and there are a greater percentage of the population that are centenarians (age 100+) here than anywhere else in the world. I think a good soak in a hot spring is good for mental health and stress relief as well.

Work continues on the ship as well, mixed with some fun. Yesterday’s watch put the dory into the water and started to get it rigged for sailing. The ship’s dory, which has been named Sea Never Dry, doesn’t look much like a typical boat from The Dory Shop in Lunenburg now because of its Caribbean makeover. The boat is now painted a combination of two different shades of pink, some blue hues with accents in some other tropical colours. The sail, made on this voyage from a variety of fabrics, is also unique. Hopefully the watch that is on duty today will get to finish rigging the boat and take it out for a sail.

Hot springs tubs, Wotten Waven
Lynsey and James Bond row on the Indian River
Lynsey, Deb and Carl on the Indian River
Pool at the hot springs, Wotten Waven
Trees on the Indian River

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Motoroing Towards Dominica

As I write this log, we are about 50nm west of Guadeloupe, motoring towards Dominica. Most of the day was spent under sail, with the helmsman steering full and by, meaning to sail as close to the wind as possible while still keeping the sails full. To do this, the helmsman keeps an eye on the highest square sails set and watches for the leech (the side edge of the sail) to just start luffing, then falls off a tiny bit. Helm orders are usually given by compass course, so sailing full and by is interesting because the helmsman has to use some judgement and observation skills. All square sails were taken in at about 1600 at the change of the watch, and now we’re motoring. Not because the wind is not strong enough, but because it’s coming from the direction we want to go.

Today’s big excitement came just before dinner, as there were calls of “fish on” from the aloha deck. Second mate Paul had set the fishing lines this morning and a big mahi mahi decided to bite late this afternoon. Apparently the secret is to use real squid as bait, covered in a sparkly, jelly squid lure. We’ll see what Donald can create from this catch. Chibley showed a great deal of interest in the whole event, of course.

The watches were involved in a fair amount of sail handling throughout the day, taking in and resetting the flying jib and royals as wind conditions permitted. Carpenter Matt is continuing to put planks on the frame of a boat picked up in Grenada. David is working on rope coverings for a new sail, John is also involved in a sailmaking project, finishing the cringles on a new mizzen topmast staysail. Kjetil was teaching Sam to replace ratlines aloft, Erin was working on replacing ratlines as well. Deb and Nicki were assisting Paul with the monthly check of safety equipment. A number of crew, including bosun Kolin, Bruce and Spenser, were working at removing paint spots dripped on the well deck. Headsails are still set, so the 4-8 watch, including Kevin, Geoff, David, Gunner and Susie, tightened up the halyards using the handy billy, with the help of AB Ben.

The Captain posted a list of things to do in Dominica on the main scuttle door this afternoon, so the crew are getting excited to explore a new island. The ship spent an extended period of time there in the winter of 2007 while we filmed the reality-TV show “Pirate Master.” The Captain, Lynsey, Donald, Ben and myself were all there for almost three months and are very excited to go back. We’re looking forward to seeing old friends, visiting some of our favourite places again and introducing the crew to this incredible island, one of the most naturally beautiful and least touched by tourism in the Caribbean.

John works on the cringle
Kjetil teaches Sam to replace ratlines
Mahi mahi!
Paul and Matt confer on boat carpentry
Sarah teaches Nicola to steer full and by
Scraping paint drips off the well deck

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Motoroing Towards Dominica

As I write this log, we are about 50nm west of Guadeloupe, motoring towards Dominica. Most of the day was spent under sail, with the helmsman steering full and by, meaning to sail as close to the wind as possible while still keeping the sails full. To do this, the helmsman keeps an eye on the highest square sails set and watches for the leech (the side edge of the sail) to just start luffing, then falls off a tiny bit. Helm orders are usually given by compass course, so sailing full and by is interesting because the helmsman has to use some judgement and observation skills. All square sails were taken in at about 1600 at the change of the watch, and now we’re motoring. Not because the wind is not strong enough, but because it’s coming from the direction we want to go.

Today’s big excitement came just before dinner, as there were calls of “fish on” from the aloha deck. Second mate Paul had set the fishing lines this morning and a big mahi mahi decided to bite late this afternoon. Apparently the secret is to use real squid as bait, covered in a sparkly, jelly squid lure. We’ll see what Donald can create from this catch. Chibley showed a great deal of interest in the whole event, of course.

The watches were involved in a fair amount of sail handling throughout the day, taking in and resetting the flying jib and royals as wind conditions permitted. Carpenter Matt is continuing to put planks on the frame of a boat picked up in Grenada. David is working on rope coverings for a new sail, John is also involved in a sailmaking project, finishing the cringles on a new mizzen topmast staysail. Kjetil was teaching Sam to replace ratlines aloft, Erin was working on replacing ratlines as well. Deb and Nicki were assisting Paul with the monthly check of safety equipment. A number of crew, including bosun Kolin, Bruce and Spenser, were working at removing paint spots dripped on the well deck. Headsails are still set, so the 4-8 watch, including Kevin, Geoff, David, Gunner and Susie, tightened up the halyards using the handy billy, with the help of AB Ben.

The Captain posted a list of things to do in Dominica on the main scuttle door this afternoon, so the crew are getting excited to explore a new island. The ship spent an extended period of time there in the winter of 2007 while we filmed the reality-TV show “Pirate Master.” The Captain, Lynsey, Donald, Ben and myself were all there for almost three months and are very excited to go back. We’re looking forward to seeing old friends, visiting some of our favourite places again and introducing the crew to this incredible island, one of the most naturally beautiful and least touched by tourism in the Caribbean.

John works on the cringle
Kjetil teaches Sam to replace ratlines
Mahi mahi!
Paul and Matt confer on boat carpentry
Sarah teaches Nicola to steer full and by
Scraping paint drips off the well deck

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Sailing Off the Hook

All hands mustered this morning, after some of the off-duty watch returned to the ship, to prepare to get underway and sail away from Anguilla. The crew seem to have enjoyed their stay in Anguilla, relaxing on beautiful beaches and taking in the annual Moonsplash reggae music festival. Lots of work was done on board as well – repairing the flying jib sheet which had parted the night before the ship arrived in port, varnishing the fly rail on the bridge, continuing to restore the boat that’s currently on the hatch along with the usual painting jobs.

Sailing off the hook is something that this crew has become accustomed to, having done it a number of times, but it’s actually fairly rare to do it. Basically, it involves getting the ship underway by using only the sails, no engine at all. There was a shoal off our starboard quarter, a big cargo-carrying ship that just arrived this morning was in front of us and another vessel anchored a little farther forward. The fore yards were braced on a port tack, the main yards on a starboard tack. The crew heaved up the anchor, then set the fore lower tops’l to get the ship turned, then braced the fore yards on a starboard tack, matching the main, to get the ship moving forward under sail.

At this point in the voyage, it’s interesting to see the crew working together. Sail handling must be done quickly and efficiently in order for sailing off the hook to work well, especially when there are ships and other obstacles nearby. The crew moved quickly around the deck, I even noticed some of them getting into place for what they anticipated would come next. There are a few new trainees who just joined the ship a month ago in Grenada and they are catching on by watching and imitating the crew who have been here for a while.

Just now we’re sailing along in Force 4 easterly wind, past the island of St. Maarten. The sky is mostly sunny and the ocean is a beautiful sapphire blue. The 8-12 watch has just taken the deck and ship’s work is about to get started for the day.

Band plays at Moonsplash Reggae Festival, Anguilla
Bill paints the steps to the foc sle head
Chris, Eric, Sam, Jackie and Job relax in Anguilla
Corey and Job repair the spanker clew outhaul
Norm, Carl and Captain walk towards the reggae festival

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Arriving in Anguilla

I arrived in Anguilla just in time to see Picton Castle sail into the anchorage at Road Bay. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the ship sail up to an anchorage from the shore perspective before, so it was interesting to see it from another angle. Once the ship was anchored, the skiff came in to the public wharf with two teams of people – Donald, assisted by Jackie and Charlotte, was off to the nearest market to get some fresh provisions while the Captain and Lynsey, along with Clyde and Flemming, were heading to Customs and Immigration to get the ship and crew cleared in.

Once the clearing in and first provisioning was as complete as it could be, the crew who were off duty were able to come ashore. I went the opposite way, heading to the ship to get on board and say hello to the crew. I received a very warm welcome from all, even Chibley. It was great to finally meet some of the trainees in person – I have corresponded with all of them as they prepared to join the ship, even interviewed some, but there are a few who have joined on later legs of the voyage whom I had never actually met before.

Life on board seems to continue on as it always has. Donald continues to create excellent meals, last night’s dinner included breaded fish, roasted potatoes and a fresh salad. Lynsey had told me how musical some of the crew members are, and as a guitar, mandolin and drum were played on the hatch last night by Mike, Sam and Gunner, I could see that she was right. There’s a lot of this voyage for me to catch up on, Donald started last night by showing me the photos he has taken along the way.

PICTON CASTLE approaches the anchorage, Anguilla

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Small boat day, Down Islands style

It is often said around the Picton Castle that we only have a 300-ton barque in order to carry wonderful small boats around. This is only half a joke. Being competent at small boat handling is an essential component of being a good seaman therefore we have been on the lookout for a good place to launch all of our boats and use them without too much in the way of distractions from ashore.

After gale-driven bays and being alongside much of the time last summer in Europe, followed by increasing opportunity for small boat handling as we made our way down the coast of Africa, many of our gang have become well advanced in small boat handling. This they learn in the course of making boat runs to and from the ship and through direct study and instruction at sea and in the different ports. Recently in Carricou our crew has been learning and practicing beach landings in modest surf.

From Bequia we sailed south in the Grenadines for Mayreau, a tiny island with about 300 inhabitants and a sweet, quiet crescent moon bay with smooth waters, making this anchorage perfect for boat practise. The good Sloop Bob, Alex Brooks, Master and Picton Castle shipmate, with fellow Castle alumni John Gallagher and friends Sarah and Kiera sailed in company with us from Bequia to this secluded cove. Once anchored the Mate went straight at getting boats launched. One brightly painted 23-foot dory with new sailing rig, our 20-foot wooden skiff, our 24-foot fiberglass rescue boat and one 12-foot Senegalese fishing canoe. The next day was spent sailing the dory around with its big rig and tooling all around with the other boats. An island schooner sailed in for a couple of hours too. The day naturally ended with a big barbeque.

dory sailing Mayreau
Senegalese sails dory Mayreau
silhouette ship dory Mayreau
sunset cruise Mayreau

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Report from the Grenadines

The Picton Castle sailed into Hillsborough Bay, Carriacou – a part of Grenada in the Windward Islands – after a superb trade-wind passage from Brazil. We made landfall in the Caribbean at dawn with Petty Martinique, Carriacou and Union islands in sight ahead. Winds were strong, a steady force six and seas piling up as we roller coasted in steering due west. The Picton Castle sailed hard under upper topsails as we shot through the channel between Union and Carriacou. Braced up sharp, we made our way south in the lee of Carriacou, seas laying down naturally and delightfully. Around Jack A Dan Rock and braced up even sharper, the crew sailed their barque very close-hauled under lower top-sails and staysails right up to the anchor without engine assist. They had just sailed 2,030 miles under sail from anchorage in Fernando to anchorage in Carriacou in 13 days, 18 hours averaging a little over 6 knots. The only fuel used went for the generators and to feed the galley stove and I think to clean some paint brushes. This you can only do in a ship like this one when you have a “cracker-jack” crew like we do. This was a wonderful sailing ship passage.

Sunday – Hillsborough, Carriacou. I wasn’t sure we could clear in on a Sunday. Luckily, it turned out that we could as Donald, Cory and I went in to find out. The ship was out of fresh food so we were hoping some shops would be open and have something green to chew on. All around town we saw small booths being set up, sand-stands built, colourful flags on string snapping in the fresh breeze. Hillsborough was clearly getting ready for Carnival. Ferry boats arrived from Grenada packed with folks, all in a party mood, on this pretty Caribbean morning. We were just in time for a couple of days of Carnival there with plenty dancing in the streets and steel band into the wee hours of Jouve Morn, which requires getting up at 4 a.m. in your pajamas and more dancing in the streets. Not as crazy as the Trinidad or Rio carnival, but it was just right for us. After a month at sea from Senegal by way of the coast of Brazil, the legendary Grenadines were an enchanting archipelago to sail into. After our small Carnival we had a pleasant day sail down the 35 miles to St Georges, Grenada where we planned to stay awhile after all our many miles and months at sea.

In Grenada the gang stayed very busy. The duty watch looked after the ship: painting, sailmaking, small jobs in the engineering department. Our famous cook, Donald, has his home nearby and took all the crew there for a big barbeque, actually several times. For some of the gang their Picton Castle time was up and new folks showed up to take part in our West Indian island odyssey soon to come. Around-the-island tours, old sugar plantations, waterfalls, meeting my old shipwright friends, treks in the woods and plenty of roadside BBQ chicken any time you wanted. At this point a meal is not complete without chicken. The joke is “what’s for chicken tonight?”

From Grenada we sailed back north for Carriacou and Petite Martinique. Along the way the big and beautiful full-rigged ship, the Royal Clipper rounded up and sailed close to us and gave us a salute. As fun and appropriate as it is, two days of Carnival excludes much of what is interesting at this quiet island so there was much yet to see and learn and thus we returned. Boat building is a big thing here over in Windward and the crew wanted to check that out. Beautiful 50-foot gaff sloops are built for fishing and general inter-island transport. I got to see an old sloop that I had sailed in years before pulled up on the beach for possible rebuild. The Vaeta is her name. I would love to see her fixed up and sailing again. Maybe…

Bequia (part of St Vincent & Grenadines, the next nation to the north) came next with a fine overnight sail. Bequia is famous for whaling. They still have and maintain their first old whale boat called Iron Duke. I believe her to be an old New Bedford whale boat. She has been rebuilt many times, like George Washington’s ax – only four new handles and three new heads but there she is. The iconic “two bow” boat of Bequia and the other islands nearby were inspired by this one 28’ double-ended wooden boat – quite something. I think everyone pretty much fell in love with Bequia.

In these islands we are getting a good chance to get lots of small boat handling in for as many of the gang as possible. We have our Lunenburg Dory Shop-built 20-foot lap-strake skiff, as well as our 24′ fibreglass rescue boat. But now we also have an excellent 23’ dory all rigged up for sailing. Brightly painted with a mainsail made from colourful African fabric we got in Senegal, she is perfect for getting the feel of sailing small craft. So that’s what we are setting about to do, find a small anchorage and get everyone into the small boats. In the meantime we are sailing from anchorage to anchorage with the crew getting plenty of drill in close quarters ship handling under sail alone, followed by swim calls with a swing rope from the fore yard arm.

job jackie john underway Grenada to carriacou
lucas kevin kolin swincall
royal clipper
Sammy swingrope
sandy island carriacou
stowing sail underway Anguilla
Susie Saba inbackground

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We Must be Near Land

We must be near land… Early this morning the Picton Castle has a few small birds flying near by. These little birds swoop and dart over the steep rolling peaks and troughs of the large seas rolling along with our ship as we make good time NW towards the Caribbean . These little guys do not look like they can swim so I think they are land birds. The day comes in with fresh winds and squally skies but making eight knots is just fine too. The ship is under t’gallants and the spanker is stowed as well. Steering is fine.

We have had plenty of fairly stiff squalls for the last few days and good strong winds in between. Not sharp violent nasty squalls with radical wind-shifts, just proper, blowing good, rain squalls that send this barque rushing ahead at 9 or so knots, sometimes 10 knots. These squalls trundle down on us from the windward quarter, darkening the horizon, pelt the watch with rain as the helmsman puts the helm up to fall off to make sure the power of the growing breeze is behind us, the watch standing by to take in sail muy rapido if needed. Usually the mate has gotten any kites in already, sails like flying jib, gaff topsail and maybe royals have already been taken in and stowed. That’s the mate’s job to see these things coming. And to call the captain…always call the captain…

First the dark cloud of a squall climbs above us blotting out stars or blue sky. We feel the wind pick up and the order is given to the helmsman to fall off a couple points or about 22 degrees. This done to make sure the wind is well behind us and to allow for sudden wind shifts and to avoid getting caught abackthis latter is very important—soon we will see the curtain of rain smattering at the sea and then we can hear it just before it lays into us. Then for short period (usually short) we go for an exhilarating ride rushing over the seas before we come back to course. The squall eventually rolls over us and usually steals a little wind when it does pass leaving the ship rolling awkwardly for a period with darkened wet canvas sails slating against the rigging until the old wind fills in again and sends us back along our way. And sail taken in might be reset if all looks good astern and the wind comes in steady again.

But these little birds seem unconcerned with squalls and maybe they can sit on the seas surface and swim after all – I am sure we are near land anyway…

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A Stunningly Beautiful Day off the Coast of Surinam

Our day comes in fair and clear with a nice Force 4 trade-wind on the starboard beam of the Picton Castle . White caps are all around and they allude to the 15 or so knots of wind that is flowing over us and sending us along our way. The sky is a fulsome blue with small puffy fair weather clouds in pleasant abundance. A couple days ago we had some curious sea-birds set down on the taff-rail next to the spanker sheet as well as the entire watch on duty there. Good thing Chibley didn’t see them, she is rough on birds. Early in the morning the sea is yet a rich dark blue as a few flying fish launch themselves airborne to get out of our way or the way of some bigger fish that wants to eat ‘em or maybe they shoot off and fly simply because they can – if I could fly I think I would set off into the sky quite frequently just for fun. Who says fish cannot have fun? Scientists say it hasn’t been proven but then scientists are always “baffled” about things anyway…

Deck wash down with hose and brushes was taken care of just after dawn. In the low early morning sun galley gang are shunting back and forth from the galley with pots of coffee, muffins and porridge and scrambled eggs to the covered stern area where we usually take our breakfast in good weather. Fresh fruit is long gone but with lush garden islands up ahead, soon come. At the end of a long sea passage that is what we miss most, fresh fruits, vegetables and salads.

The fore royal is being sent up to be bent on after coming down for repairs. It is a pretty old sail but its holding up well enough. Soon bent and drawing once again. On the quarter-deck David and his sailmaker helper, John are working on two new topgallants and a mizzen topmast staysail. A new inner jib just got roped and covered and we have put away our new strong main topmast staysail to save it and have bent on an old, well worn and plenty patches stay-sail in its place for these balmy conditions.

Matt, who has become keen to learn ships carpentry to compliment his already high level of accomplishment as a cabinet-maker carpenter has been variously making a new stunsle boom, new hardwood trim for the bronze windows of the chart house and will soon have some boat carpentry to look after.

Baggywrinkle is under way up on the well-deck. We hope to shift out all our 12 year old baggywrinkle on the fore and main-stays in the islands soon up ahead. It takes about a foot or so of linear baggywrinkle to make an inch of applied baggywrinkle. In olden times baggywrinkle was removed form a ships rigging as she entered port as it was considered unsightly and thus uncool to have aloft as a point of pride in port. Today we see big floppy dustyruffles of bag o’wrinkle all over the rigging of vessels. An examination of black & white photos of sailing ships even well up into the end of the age of sail will reveal limited use of baggywrinkle. The goal on a ship is to reduce chafe as much as possible with smart leads to rigging and not just festoon the rigging of a ship with baggywrinkle making her look like a sailing forest of Spanish Moss. Baggywrinkle serves really only one purpose; to reduce [but not eliminate] chafe between sail canvas and wire stays, it can do no more than that.

Up ahead lay Guyana , Trinidad and Tobago , all of which we sail blithely past on our way to Grenada , Carriacou and the Lesser Antilles . Of course we want to get where we are bound – the crew are extremely excited at the prospect of sailing the Caribbean in a way only a few ships do or can but we can wait our time – this passage under sail is too sweet to not savour.

Picton Castle in the Caribbean
sailing in the BVI
what to do at Jost Van Dyke

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