Sea Trials Part 2 and Our Big Journey

Sea Trials Part 2

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A couple of weeks ago, we flew down to Fort Myers, FL for 3-4 days of sea trials on Island Girl. Because the fuel in the tanks was over a year old, there was some water in the fuel and we got off to a rough start. (Water in boat fuel tanks is a "normal" thing.) Anyway, once we sorted all of that out, we spent the rest of our time running Island Girl and testing all of the new systems on the boat. She ran fantastic! The motors are quiet and really efficient. The new seats came out awesome. The 2000 watt stereo system sounds terrific. We have 4 different speaker zones that are individually controllable, so tons of flexibility. Guests will be able to connect to a private WiFi network so they can listen to their own playlist. We tested the new power steering, the anchor windlass, the freshwater rinse down system, and the retractable shade over the entire rear deck of the boat. We also did some testing of the built in coolers; our beers stayed really cold so, yes, they work just fine. Besides testing all of the new systems on the boat, we also had a goal of putting 20 hours on the new engines so we could get through the break-in period and have the first scheduled maintenance done before we shipped her to St Thomas. (20 hours is a long time, by the way.) We initially wanted to run down to Key West for lunch, but the marine forecast on the Gulf  wasn't favorable for a long journey such as that. We ran in and around Fort Myers, Sanibel and Captiva Islands and even made a run up to Cabbage Key for lunch.

There were a few small issues that needed to be addressed, so when we left, we handed the list to the great folks at Twin Screws Marine Service and went to the airport for our trip home.

One of our captains
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The Journey

This past weekend, I flew down to Florida so we could move Island Girl from the Fort Myers area to Port Everglades in preparation for shipment to St Thomas later this week.

We decided to take the shorter, inland route which involved transiting the Okeechobee Waterway through the middle of the state and Lake Okeechobee and the Intracoastal Waterway on the east coast  - approximately 210 miles. Our day started early; we were underway by 7:30am with a goal of being at the first lock by 8am. (There are 5 locks on the route and they are used to control the water height on the waterway and the flow of water from Lake Okeechobee.) It takes anywhere from 15-20 minutes to an hour to go through a lock. You communicate with the lock tender via VHF radio - he calls the shots. When it's time to enter, the light turns green, the gates open and you enter the "chamber". After putting fenders out, you pull the boat alongside the concrete wall and grab hold of the lines that are dangling over the side. Once all of the boats are in the chamber, the gates close again and the lock tender either raises or lowers the water in the chamber to match the height of the water on the other side of the gate. Once the water is at the right height, the gates on the other side open, and you're on your way again.

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The trip through the middle of the state was beautiful and the flat, calm water gave us an opportunity to let Island Girl stretch her legs! We made great time.

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She's quick!
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After 3 locks, we entered Lake Okeechobee. Because the water level in the lake was high and because Island Girl doesn't draw much water, we cut straight across the lake (instead of the longer route the bigger boats take) and shaved 30 miles and at least 45 minutes off our journey. We then made our way through 2 more locks and entered the St. Lucie river and eventually the ICW on the east coast for the 80 mile journey to Port Everglades. The ICW was calmer than the Atlantic so it made for a smoother ride, but it wasn't without its challenges. There were numerous no wake and "Manatee" zones which forced us to go slow and often for extended distances. There was a LOT of boat traffic as compared to the occasional fisherman we saw making our way through the Okeechobee Waterway. There were a handful of low bridges requiring us to request and often wait for a bridge opening. Then there were the rain squalls and thunderstorms which added to the fun. We finished the last few hours of our journey in the dark with our running lights on. We pulled in to a marina close to Port Everglades where we had a slip reserved a little after 9pm. We buttoned up the boat, gave the keys to the security guard and headed to the airport where we picked up our rental car for the long ride back to Fort Myers. Our day ended at around 12:45am.

Island Girl will be loaded on a freighter later this week with an expected arrival in St Thomas somewhere around November 6-8. Fingers crossed for a safe and uneventful journey.

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Gibney and Oppenheimer Beaches

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Did you know that one of the most picturesque beaches on St John was used for a few movies like “the Four Seasons“ and  “Columbus“ and only has parking for a few cars?

That’s right.  It’s Gibney Beach and Oppenheimer Beach located on Hawksnest Bay on St John. Originally owned by the Gibney family of New York, the 40 acre piece of property has been divided and sold in a number ways over the years. A small parcel of the property on the northeastern corner was sold to Robert Oppenheimer (an atomic scientist on the Manhattan Project, aka the Father of the Atomic Bomb) in 1957. The property was donated to the people of St John by Oppenheimer’s daughter after his death and now houses a community center that can be rented out for parties, gatherings and even weddings. Oppenheimer Beach is also the location of the iconic tire swing hanging from a palm tree that is leaning out over the water. Sadly, the palm tree and the tire swing did not survive hurricanes Irma and Maria.

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The remaining Gibney property is private and contains the original Gibney family home as well as two guesthouses. One is the Gibney Beach Cottage and is one of only a handful of vacation rentals directly on the beach in St John. The other is the Gibney Garden Cottage.  The beach area in front of the vegetation line is open to the public, but when visiting, please be respectful of the tenants there. The cottages are both visible from the water now due to Hurricanes Irma and Maria, but previously were tucked in behind luscious palm and seagrape trees that are beginning to grow back.

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Still beautiful even now, Gibney Beach and Oppenheimer Beach is a perfect place to relax and feel like you are the only ones on the island.  Be sure to get there early as parking is limited. Driving along North Shore Road, look for the white picket fence on the left after Hawksnest Beach. Just after the picket fence is an iron gate that marks the entrance to Gibney and Oppenheimer Beaches. Do not block the gate. If you are lucky enough to get a parking spot, head through the gate and down the paved road to the community center on the right and beach to the left.

Hiking Ram’s Head

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In our opinion, a boat day will be the best day of your vacation, but you probably won't spend every day on the water. On our USVI vacations, we always try to carve out some time to try different hikes. We usually head out first thing in the morning, get our hike in, and then we're on the beach by late morning, give or take. Where we go really depends on what we need that day. For example, if we don't have a lot of time or energy, we'll do a short easy hike, like the Lind Point Trail down to Honeymoon Beach. Or, if we need some time in the shade, we'll do the Reef Bay Trail and check out the petroglyphs on the way.

One of our favorites is Ram's Head on the east end of St John. The trail is pretty exposed, so don't forget water and sun protection. I don't recommend flip flops on this trail. This hike can be hot but there's usually a breeze, especially at the end of the trail, high atop the bluff. Expect the hike to take 45-60 minutes each way.
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To get there, head over to the Coral Bay area and make a right at the intersection with all of the signs. Follow this road until you see the Salt Pond parking area on the left. Walk down the hill to Salt Pond beach and keep on going. Follow the curve of the shoreline to the right and you're on your way. The trail is pretty obvious. On the way, you'll descend to a blue stone beach after which you will begin your ascent up to the bluff. The climate on the east end is different - much drier - and you'll notice a lot of cactus on your way up. The panoramic views at the top are awesome and make it worth the effort!

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Get Your Shades of Blue Merch!

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Short sleeve shirts are a 60/40 blend - super soft and super comfortable.
Sizes S - XL.
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Long sleeve shirts are dry-fit, moisture wicking shirts that offer great UV protection. Perfect for the beach, fishing, or wearing while in the water.
Sizes S - XL.

We will offer both shirts for sale on the boat - $20 for the short sleeve and $30 for the long sleeve.

Plans As We Look Ahead

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Back in March, only days before the COVID-19 pandemic set the US on its side, we were doing our final preparations getting Island Girl ready to be loaded on a freighter and shipped to Tortola. Our ship was delayed indefinitely and a state of emergency was declared in our home state of Massachusetts. Island Girl wasn't going anywhere any time soon. With so much uncertainty, we made the difficult decision to delay shipping our boat until the fall, after hurricane season. With travel restricted and so many people having to cancel their Virgin Islands vacations, we knew it was only a matter of time before people would start re-booking their trips. This was our motivation to finalize our plan with regard to on-line booking. We decided to partner with Peek, and in very little time, on-line booking capabilities were added to our site.

So here we are, a few months later, and the US Virgin Islands are open for visitors once again. In late July, we plan to make a trip down to the islands to meet with several people who have and will continue to play key roles in the formation and growth of our new business:

  • our insurance agent
  • our resident agent who has been helping with the formation of the business, licenses, permits, etc.
  • the manager of the marina where we plan to keep Island Girl
  • our captains

Also this summer, perhaps after our trip to the USVI, we plan to travel to Florida for a few days of testing and sea trials that were postponed in early March. Basically, we're going to go cruise around in Island Girl and spend some time breaking in the new motors and getting familiar with all of the new systems on the boat. We did some sea trials in February, but at that time, the boat was not finished and not all systems were installed. So, we haven't even seen the completely finished, shiny new Island Girl in person in all of her glory. Sure, we've seen pictures and have done many, many FaceTime calls with our friends at Twin Screws Marine Service in Ft Myers, but that's just not the same as seeing with your own eyes in person. So for now, Island Girl is safe and all buttoned up in a secure boatyard.

While we are disappointed with our current situation, we plan to take advantage of the extra time afforded to us and do everything we can to best position Shades of Blue Charters for a successful first season. Stay tuned...

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