Friday, February 25, 2011

Just the two of us......

Chicago Winter
Polar opposites are common in life.  Night/Day, Love/Hate, Winter/Summer....

Chicago Summer
Mary and I were dealing with the prospect of another Chicago winter when we decided to book a Caribbean Holiday.  We both know the value of some warmth and sunshine during the darkest months.  Biting cold.  Wind chills that freeze.  Digging out.  You get the picture.

Get me out of here kind of stuff.

Ali Baba
It was kind of a crazy idea; we had just returned from our Honeymoon in late October.  A slow trek through Andlaucia with long stops in key towns and a special ferry ride for our first steps in Africa....  We considered three trips for our Honeymoon (Spain, BVI Cruise, Multisport) and on a whim we will do the second one too......  We had seen a lot (and spent a lot) in Spain, but I was to turn 35 in January and there seemed to be a special reason to go before kids and a house...etc....

The Crew of Vytis on Norman Island, BVI.
I had been to the BVI in November of 2009 as the recipient of a free charter for winning the National Offshore One Design (NOOD) overall in Chicago.  Im all the way to the left in the photo.  To say the crew of Vytis had a blast would be an understatement, but while there I promised myself, and Mary, that we would return just the two of us; to one of the most beautiful and stress free places in the world.

The British Virgin Islands are situated in such a way that makes them the most incredible cruising grounds.  Short sailing distances, pristine beaches and consistent wind compliment the natural splendor perfectly.  Cheap rum doesn't hurt either.  Tortola, the main island, is surrounded by smaller islands making an entire weeks worth of sailing possible with never leaving the comfort of the sight of land.  Our plans were helped along by a special $233 round trip airfare to St Thomas (thanks Kayak Explore), and then a special rate on a perfect Beneteau 311 from BVI Yacht Charters (thanks Abbie).

Our, Feb 10th 2011, flight down to St Thomas went off without a hitch.  Easy as pie....we made our ferry and into Road Town in time to grab some drinks before running our errands.  

Mary on the Ferry to Road Town
Planning a trip like this is a little different from your normal trek.  You will be on a boat for 6 days.  You need things.  Water, Food, Booze, Snacks, Food, Booze and Water come to mind.  How do you get this stuff to the boat?  Where do you get it?  How much do you need?  Luckily there was a 1st class grocery store (Riteway) just blocks from our charter base.  We filled a cart do we get it back to the base?  Taxi!  We pay the man $12 to take us and our provisions just a few blocks....but we got it there.    Unpack groceries....unpack personal stuff.  Have a beer.  

We catch another taxi into town for dinner at Pussers.  A quick cheese burger and a few painkillers to start the trip.  Pussers is not a great place by any stretch, but it is convenient, cheap (-er than most) and Mary had never been to the home of the painkiller.  Get a buzz on then.....Taxi back to BVIYC Base and go to bed.

Sleeping.  We are on a boat.  A swell builds into the harbor overnight.  Lots of rocking and rolling.  Also, for those of you who dont spend time on 32 foot boats.....the sleeping quarters could be bigger.  Both in length and in height.  As a tall guy, I had a little difficulty; but we managed.  We started in the aft cabin and finished the night in the forward cabin.....  Breathing air or foot room.....Ill take breathing any day.

Mary on the helm, Day 1.
Morning.  Sweet we go.  First.  Chart briefing.  Easy...been here before.  Usual no go zones on chart.  No problem.  Anegada.  No problem with my experience level.  Getting to the North Sound, Virgin Gorda on day one.  Might be a little bit of a problem.  25kts out of the east with a building chop.  Not dead on the nose, but close.  No problem we say!

Off the dock.  I must admit, I have taken many sailboats off docks over the years.  The first time I did it alone with my wife my heart was POUNDING.  No problem.

Time to settle in.  Motor sailing out of Road Town was easy.  We follow the contour of tortola out the eastern edge towards Virgin Gorda.  No problem.  A little lumpy but really not bad.  

In all it took us about 4 hours to get to Leverick Bay, sailing  past the Dog Islands, around Mosquito Island and coming into the Sound properly.  I think we got lucky and grabbed the last mooring ball.  Mary's first cast was perfect and set the table for six perfect snags all week.

As I drive upwind towards the mooring ball,
Mary uses the boat hook to grab it.

Mooring [moor-ing–noun
the act of a person or thing that moors.
Usually, moorings. the means by which a ship, boat, oraircraft is moored.
moorings, a place where a ship, boat, or aircraft may bemoored.
Usually, moorings. one's stability or security: After the deathof his wife he lost his moorings.

Mocko Jumbie Sky Dancer
The word Mooring became the ONLY stress in our lives for an entire week.  We did not want to anchor for a multitude of reasons; first being I dont have much experience, but also because it simply complicates our stress factor.  I think I'd have a hard time sleeping through the night the first couple of now when I want to do that?  So one challenge for us was getting to our next harbor early enough to ensure our getting a mooring ball.  It was really only a problem twice.....on our longer days.  Definitely made it interesting!

Keith and Mary at Leverick Bay Marina

That night in Leverick Bay was incredible.  Awesome food at their $25/pp Caribbean Style BBQ Buffet, Live Music and the Mocko Jumbies.  After a bunch of Bushwhackers and a few Caribs for Mary we took the dink back to the boat for the night.  

The next morning we woke with the sun.  Not planned, unexpected, but ok with me.  Mary....not so much.  She was feeling a little "under the weather."  So I asked her to help me get off the mooring so I could start our journey to the most remote island in the Caribbean.  She then took a nice nap as we sailed......

Anegada is mysterious.  

Few go there.  Cows roaming the streets.  Places called "The Settlement."  

Charter companies typically do not permit clients to go, large boats are unable to reach it due to depth and many dont even know it exists.  You cant see it until you are on top of it.  The highest point is 28 feet above sea level.....that is the tallest tree.  Highest land point is only four feet.  

What a beautiful place.  Go for the seclusion, stay for the Lobster.  We rented a jeep(thanks Dean!) for the day and drove all over the island with the top down!  We tried to do a little snorkel but it was too rough, at least Mary got to get her feet wet and put on the gear for the first time.  It went well and we looked forward to better conditions.

Unfortunately, we had another long night sleep.  We had the outermost mooring and a bit of a blow so we were rocking and rolling all night.  Not a problem.  Get up early and go!~  

We had planned on heading from Anegada to Jost van Dyke to hang out at Ivan's Stress Free 20th anniversary party.  But since we were both quite tired we decided to forgo the 6 hour sail and head to Marina Cay where we can get in early and relax.  

Marina Cay is one of the most interesting places I have ever visited by boat.  It is a tiny island, owned by a rum producer, and is completely set up to cater to travelling yachtsmen.  It has showers, food, two bars and will take your trash for $2 a bag.  Perfect.  Exactly what we needed.  A little nap, a little snorkel, cocktail hour on the boat, happy hour up the hill and dinner.  Awesome.  Marina Cay also has one of the best protected harbors in the Island chain.  So we were fully able to recharge our batteries and head over to Jost van Dyke via the Camanoe Passage.

Our sail to Jost was by far the best of the trip.  We woke up early and made the most of perfect conditions for a run over the top of Tortola.  15 knots at a broad reach with some rolling swell made for a perfect day.  I had seen a few dolphins in this area in 2009 so we kept a close watch for them but never saw any.  

Coming into Jost you pass one of Earth's most idyllic spots.  In one view it proves the existence of God.  Nothing else could make such beauty.  Sandy Cay is a mini version of all the islands, but it is only about 100 yards long and wide.  One the lee shore is it a picturesque beach with palm trees and white beach, on the weather shore it is craggy and shows it's hurricane age.  Amazing.

Tiny little Island Time right in the center.
White Bay, Jost van Dyke
We pull into Great Harbor and find a mooring near Foxy's.   Mary was perfect again.  Since we left so early we decided to hike over to White bay for the day.  On our hike hp the hill we had a nice view of great harbor and got a shot of our little boat, Island Time, on her mooring.  I had heard that it is one of the best beaches in the world, but when we walked to the top of the hill and saw it we were really stunned. We spent the afternoon drinking Caribs and Painkillers on the beach, playing in the sand ans swimming.  Oh my rained for 20 minutes.  Speaking of weather, the conditions have been all but perfect.  I was in the mid 80s during the day and mid 70s at night.  It would rain for about 30 min a day, but it 10 min segments as clouds pass and you get unlucky to be in their path.  I am sure many just tack and avoid the rain.  I just tried to get Mary to grab a bar of soap so we could get a free shower!  

Before dinner Mary took a short nap while I took the dink out to see the real yachts in the out harbor.  I got a few cool shots.

Chef Keith
That night we had dinner and drinks on the boat before going back ashore to Foxy's after to hang out and dance.  Mary made a few fast friends as we hung out and partied into the late hours of the night.       

By now we had a little bit of a problem.  Mary was developing a rash on her stomach of little red bumps.  We thought she might have an allergy as I was not experiencing any issues (no bugs, sanitation, etc..).  We decided to pull into Cane Garden Bay to stop at a pharmacy and grab some cortisone cream and benadril.  If it persisted we could always pull into a clinic in Road Town.  We had a nice breakfast at Meyette's on the beach and I went to buy the required items.

Tortola Villa
We then set sail again and sailed from Cane Garden Bay to Cooper Island.  Almost the polar opposite of Tortola from where we were.  But a beautiful day again, so what the hell.  We had to sail through the Thatch Islands, past Soper's Hole and back into Sir Francis Drake's channel.  As we sailed we saw a really cool villa.

We pulled into Manchioneel Bay on Cooper Island and had a race for the last Mooring Ball with a much larger yacht.  But....they forgot one thing.....they still had their main up.  So Mary and I were able to snag it because they had to slow down, turn around and drop their sails; we did that a little earlier and that was how they caught up to us.  Cooper Island is an incredible place to watch sunsets.  Mary and I made dinner on the boat again, listening to local music on the radio as the most spectacular sunset I have ever seen kept track of time for us.

Manchioneel Bay, Cooper Island
That evening we headed to shore for a few cocktails and thoroughly enjoyed the new Cooper Island Beach Club.  What a swanky place to spend a few hours.  Buy some wine at dinner and finish it on their beach couches.  I wish I had taken photos, but we diddn't have our camera with us that evening.  Resembles a scene from a Bond movie.

In the morning we break free around eight am.  We diddnt bring a watch, there was no clock on board and so we judged time by the height of the sun.  The photo above would be around 650pm or so.  The sun set around 7pm.  When we returned out jeep on Anegada we did it at sunset!  

We headed for the Baths to try and get a mooring ball.  Our backup was Spanish Town and then take a taxi to the baths.  Mary's rash was getting worse so we wanted to get to a clinic as well.  There was one within walking distance of the harbor as learned so we needed to get there.  

photo via
The Baths are a unique geological formation.  These giant boulders of granite were volcanically eschewed all around and  mostly look out of place on the rolling hills of Southern Virgin Gorda.  You can hike to the top for lunch and a great view and you can hike within them in pools of surf coming in with the swell.  Both offer a fun time so both we did.

Did I mention you cant take the dink to shore?  We had to swim in about 100 yards with all our stuff.  It was kind of fun and good to know Mary could Robinson Crusoe it no problem.

Keith at clinic
We hiked to the top first and immediately got a taxi to take us to the clinic.  We figured we could quickly get the bumps checked and get back to the fun.  The taxi takes us into town, about 5 min, and back into the local village where we come to Apex Clinic.  From our perspective this is not medical.  But, hey, were on the islands.  Very smart people live inj shacks around the world.  Lets just ask.  It took the doctor over an hour to see us as he was visiting a patient at home, but once he did he allayed our fears.  Mary has an aversion to salt water which is very common to fair skinned people.  She/we were not rinsing off the salt each and every time we got out of the water.....hell we swam to shore....and as a result the salt was causing havoc with her skin.  He sees it all the worries....start will take a week or so to clear up.  (I can now say it is all gone in 9 days).

Taxi back to the baths....back to the fun.  We hiked inside the baths after having lunch at the top enjoying the view.  What a great morning!

We swam back to the boat.  Our camera was protected by 3 zip lock bags in my pocket.

We set sail again, this time for Salt Island.  We were hoping to grab a mooring ball for the afternoon and snorkel the wreck of the Rhone.  When we got around Lee Bay we saw no one there!  Oh Joy!  We quickly realized that there was no one there for a reason.  The swell was probably around 6 feet and made diving/snorkeling impossible.  Dammit!  A 100 foot wreck 20 feet under would have been really cool.  Oh well....back to sailing.  

This time we head for the Bight at Norman Island.

The Indians
As you sail to Norman Island from the East you pass a unique island and rock formation called the Indians.  It is supposed to be a great snorkel.  We did not do it this trip.  Next time I hope.  I was trying to save a few hours of sunlight for the caves. The bight is one of the largest natural harbors i have ever seen.  It is very well protected and offers something for everyone.  A secluded corner for those that dont want the noise, a beach bar that serves fine fare and good drinks and Willy T.  We chose Willy T.  There are no photos from this evening.  We did not jump in is all I will say.  Absolute blast.  Dont remember dink home.

Going Home

It was time to go home.  We woke up a little later than I had hoped to make our last 4 mile passage back to Road Town thus completing our circle.  I did this exact sail back to road town a year and a half earlier with the crew and it was no easier this time.  As thoughts of real life started to seep in and you start to realize you need to know the exact time again all you can do is reminisce.  We got back to Port Purcell around 11am and finished the check out by 12pm.  Both of us showered and we took a taxi to town to catch the ferry.  

What a great trip.

A few acknowledgements.  In planning for the trip was instrumental.  Their forum readers helped me think through everything.  Mary and I used Walker's notes to navigate to Anegada.  We did not buy the approach chart.  Just followed his notes.  Did the sail with a chart and a compass from Leverick Bay.  I wouldnt do the trip without good sunlight and a keen understanding of how current changes our course.  Other than that it was easy as pie.  We used the Simon's Anchorages (thanks Wayne) and the Simon Cruising Guide tirelessly.  I had the nautical chart on deck at all times.

We met some really nice people.  Those people form Gran Rapids were really cool.  The dude from Louisiana was kind of creepy.  But all in all we had a blast!     



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