Those who have followed all of our posts this year know that thus far we'd already made three trips to the BVIs with guests. Each of those trips was special, as visits to the BVIs always are, but time in the BVIs tends to be pretty limited when flying in and out of Charlotte Amalie. Flying in an out within a week quickly translate to only four days spent in the BVIs, after allowing for transit and customs time to get to and from the BVIs. And with fewer days available, one either has to spend longer times exploring fewer places, or put lots of miles under the keel each day.
Of course the trade winds are a big factor also. Starting and ending at St. Thomas adds several sometimes-tough up-wind miles to each BVI visit.
But this trip would be different. We vowed to get as far as Anagada, if possible, and to spend more time exploring fewer places in depth. It turned out to be a good plan. Come on along. We think you'll agree.
4/5/2012 – Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, to Soper's Hole, Tortola, BVI
Against a relatively tame 10-knot easterly we motorsailed from Charlotte Amalie up through Current Cut, near the SE end of St. Thomas, and then enjoyed a beautiful sail tacking up the north side of St. John to reach Sopers Hole, West End, Tortola. After we checked in, we met our Calgary friends Bruce and Susan on Andiamo. Kevin and Mirian, aboard another Outbound 46 (Parati), were there too – we had first met them at Marina Cay about a week prior. That night the six of us were joined by Chris and Robin Blair aboard the catamaran Toucan Dream, and Carolyn and Bill (another catamaran couple originally from Edmonton), for a glorious dinner at the Jolly Roger in West End. If you get a chance, order their seafood pasta. It's outstanding!
4/6/2012 – Soper's Hole to Long Bay, near Trellis Bay and Marina Cay at the easterly end of Tortola
With an 8-10-knot ESE breeze, conditions were favorable to tack up the Sr. Francis Drake channel toward Marina Cay (see photo of Jubilee at left, taken by Bruce Harris on Andiamo). Sailing upwind gave us 12-15 knots apparent, plus after one tack out toward Norman Island (see video of Andiamo sailing across our bow near Norman) we found ourselves on an almost perfect single tack up the channel until we rounded Beef Island and eased the sheets for Marina Cay. The only fly in the ointment was that there were no available mooring balls and no reasonable remaining anchoring space at Marina Cay, even given our relatively early 2:00 p.m. arrival. Trellis Bay across the way was similarly packed to the gills. It was full moon party night in Trellis that evening, and it seemed everyone in the BVI's was there and ready to party.
Andiamo and we decided instead to head to nearby Long Bay, which proved a perfect spot for the night. Shortly after we were joined by three other boats also seeking an alternative to Marina Cay and Trellis, but Long Bay is a fairly large, so there was plenty of space for all.
4/7/2012 – Long Bay to Anagada … plus 4/8-9 Anagada Lay Days
Thinking that the crowds at Trellis and Marina Cay might also be looking at a hop to Anagada after the prior night's full moon party, we decided to raise anchor at 6:00 a.m. to ensure we could secure a ball on Anagada just as cruisers leaving Anagada from the prior night started vacating the limited mooring field there. The strategy worked. After a delightfully pleasant close reach in a roughly 8-knot easterly (12-15 apparent), we were secured in Anagada by 10:00 a.m.
Unlike the other Virgin Islands which are volcanic in origin, Anagada is a 15-mile-long very low lying coral island, with its highest point a scant 28' above sea level. The island is surrounded by miles of reefs where between 250 and 300 vessels are said to have sunk. Luckily we can report that Jubilee did not become wreck number 301. Many charter companies prohibit their boats from going there at all, and those who do come need to exercise care when navigating the area – e.g., see chartlet to right - while entry into the main anchorage area is very well marked and reflected by our blue track, the charted channel (dashed line) doesn't coincide with the actual reefs, shoals, or buoys.
As an additional consideration, depths in the mooring field run about 8' at best, and some moorings lie in but 6' or less at low tide (Jubilee draws about 6'). Anagada can be a bit tricky.
But cautions about reefs and shoals aside, those same reefs and shoals are part of what makes the island so special. There are nine miles of pristine beaches around the island, all protected by the extensive surrounding reef. Those same miles of reef provide a haven for the plentiful and famed Anagada lobsters … the main staple at each of the island's restaurants. For “Easter Dinner” that Sunday, Judy and I split a huge 3 pounder. What a meal!
Saturday brought beach exploring along the west side of the island; on Sunday we took a safari bus (pick-up truck “bus”) to Cow Wreck Bay (left) and beach for a swim; and on Monday we grabbed another pick-up truck “bus” to Loblolly Bay (Right) for some snorkeling there. The photos provide a sense of how stunning Anagada's beaches are - and of how few people come there. The island's views are simply breathtaking.
4/10/2012 – Anagada to Virgin Gorda's North Sound and Leverick Bay; 4/11 and 12 lay days at Leverick
With winds slightly south of east we had a brisk close reach (See video of Andiamo charging for the Sound) for the 15-mile run down to Virgin Gorda's North Sound area. The North Sound is literally surrounded by Virgin Gorda and adjacent smaller islands, and where not protected by land it's protected by reefs. It's arguably one of the most protected and beautiful spots in the Virgin Islands.
Our first afternoon at Leverick was spent exploring the Marina area and then joining Bruce and Susan on Andiamo for pizza and a movie that evening (Arthur – a fun flick). Wednesday Bill started stripping and re-greasing our cockpit winches, while Judy did a load of laundry, so by that evening it was time to party. That afternoon Tom and Irma on Farasha arrived in time to join us for the Micheal Beans Happy Arrr show at the Marina's open-air bar.
Michael Beans, a self-described pirate troubadour, is no doubt the best known performer in the Virgin Islands, playing to full houses whenever he performs. His shows are packed with sailing tunes (his own and others'), spirited audience interaction, pirate lore, and more, for an almost not-stop two hour, high energy performance. See the attached clip for a sense of what one of his shows is like.
Every show has several contests, one of which is a conch horn competition. Bill entered and won 1st prize with a 52-second toot (he almost expired holding the note that long – it's been a long time since he played trumpet in high school).
And the 1st place prize … drum role please … a bottle of Mount Gay rum! Not bad booty for a pirate wannabe, don't you think?
We learned that in the summers, Michael "Beans" Gardner has recently been playing at Beaver Island in Northern Lake Michigan. Great Lakes boaters might want to try making one of his shows there. Click http://www.beansmusic.com/ for more information. He is also one of the two founders of the Good Samaritan of Haiti Foundation, which aims to to enrich lives and bring sustainable programs to the people of La Vache Haiti. For more information on this worthy charity, click http://www.goodsamaritanofhaiti.com/.
The following day Bruce rented a pickup truck safari van (opposing bench seats in the bed with a canvas roof) to pick up his boat storage cover in Spanish Town at the other end of the island. Along the way, Bruce and Susan, Tom and Irma and the two of us made a full day of it, exploring Virgin Gorda from one end to the other.
Later we worked our way along the spectacular eastern shoreline toward Spanish Town and beyond, to the historic copper mine, and to Sandy Bay near the Baths for a swim among the boulders. Our return to Leverick followed the west coast of the island, a road paved only that prior year. At one of the highest points in the road we stopped at “Hog Heaven”, a restaurant-bar overlooking North Sound far below, before winding our circuitous path back down the hillside to Leverick. It had been a full day.
4/13-16/2012 – More North Sound Exploring from the Saba Rock Area
Friday brought a 2.5-mile motor across North Sound to grab a mooring ball near Saba Rock. The small island there is almost totally taken over by a restaurant, bar, and gift shop in the middle of two reef-strewn openings east to the ocean (see accompanying Saba Rock photo taken from the “Guy's Trail” hike at Bitter End a few days later). We couldn't resist Saba's $2.50 happy hour Pain Killers, so sundowners were at Saba on Friday night.
Saturday turned into a work day – finishing the cockpit winches for Bill and major cleaning for Judy, before the skies opened up and the wind piped up for a major wind and rain event throughout the night. Everyone stayed put on their boats for the evening.
On Sunday the two of us, Bruce and Susan, plus their Canadian friends Joyce and Dave aboard Autumn, took our dingys to the near-by Bitter End Yacht Club and quickly set off to hike the “Guy's Trail” (extremely steep and rocky), followed by the more reasonable Orchid Trail, which looped back down to the Bitter End. The views were incredible. We returned just in time to dingy over to Saba, where our motley hiking crew expanded to ten for happy hour there.
Monday brought another hike, this one starting at Biras Creek, a short dingy ride from Saba and the Bitter End. There an ascent team of nine climbers successfully summited the Alvin's Heights trail. The walk takes your breath away in more ways than one … the hike and the beautiful views all along the way.
Seven days may sound like an extended amount of time to essentially “stay put” in North Sound, but it wasn't. There is so much to do and see there, so many beautiful, if sometimes-rigorous, hiking trails to explore, plus the entire island of Virgin Gorda to check out ( e.g. swimming in Sandy Bay at right). But unfortunately time was marching on, so we reluctantly had to start moving along again.
4/17/2012 – North Sound to Norman Island
After stops at Autumn and Andiamo to say our goodbyes, it was finally time to depart the North Sound. It was particularly hard to say goodbye to Bruce and Susan. We'd had so many good times together this winter, just like we had when buddy boating with them back in the Bahamas for two seasons. But our time in the Virgins was coming to an end for this year, as was theirs. They decided to remain in North Sound one more day, while we headed out the channel and turned West.
Just before we were about to leave we noticed a boat card in our cockpit … Galamar, with Gail Bowdish and Barry Lyon, were in the anchorage! Gail is an ER physician, very active sailor (has single handed the length of each of the five Great Lakes), owns and sails Shanti as their Great Lakes boat (previously owned by our late friends Derck and Shirley Amerman and the boat Bill did his first Caribbean 1500 on), and is the immediate past GLCC Fleet Surgeon. We had originally met Gail years ago at a Lake Superior GLCC dinner in Minneapolis when she was practicing at the Hennepin County Medical Center. Small world! We quickly dingied over to say hello, but unfortunately we wouldn't be able to spend time together on this trip. Gail and Barry were about to jump east to St. Martin on their way to Trinidad for hurricane storage, while we were heading the other direction to Puerto Rico for the same reason. Nevertheless it was great seeing them, albeit briefly.
Our sail to Norman Island was gentle and mellow, flying only our headsail downwind all the way. Our ulterior motive in stopping at Normans for our last night in the BVI's was a final visit to the Pirates Restaurant, where each of us wanted one last chicken roti. The Pirate's rotis are some of the best we'd found in the islands. Delicious!
4/19/2012 – Back to US Territory
From Norman we sailed on the quarter the short seven miles to Soper's Hole to clear out of BVI waters, went on to Cruz Bay on St. John to check back into the USVI's, and finally motored back upwind the short distance to St. Francis Bay to spend one final night together with Hans and Ruth Deller. It was so good spending time with them this season, but as we continued west the next morning, they headed east for their final days in the BVIs for the year. It was hard to imagine our first winter in the Virgins coming to a close so quickly.
We apologize for the very late posting of this blog update, but in our next post covering our return from the USVIs to Fajardo we'll explain that. 'Til then keep watching this space!