“There are good ships, and there are wood ships, the ships that sail the sea. But the best ships are the friendships, and may they always be.”
There can be no more fitting quote to open this blog posting. We first met Ted and Jane Bispala while in college, and have been close friends ever since. In fact, it was Ted and Jane who got us firmly hooked on sailing in the first place, leaving their X-Boat in our care during the late 60’s while they travelled to Australia on a two year work stint. This time we connected at the St. Thomas airport on Valentine’s Day, as they arrived fit and tan after enjoying the prior three weeks in the Florida sun. It was great being together again.
The weather as forecast turned out to be almost perfect for their stay, albeit with the easterly trades a bit breezy for the first half, peaking during the middle of their stay, and then easing back as they prepared to return to the cold world of Minnesota after spending a few final days in Florida. We shaped our planned itinerary around the forecast … first heading to West End to check into the BVI’s, working our way east to Norman or Peter for our second stop, heading further up the Sir Francis Drake channel to Marina Cay for a night, then sailing further east to our turn-around point, Virgin Gorda’s North Sound, where we would spend a few days during the highest winds, followed by a leisurely downwind sail in slightly easing winds to the western end of Tortola.
February 15, St. Thomas to West End
As usual, it was a motorsail slog to windward from Charlotte Amalie to Current Cut at the SE end of St. Thomas. Luckily the seas in the partial shelter of St. Thomas and St, John weren’t too onerous for Ted & Jane’s first day. On clearing Current Cut we had a great sail between St. Thomas and St. John, continuing up the North Shore of St. John to Tortola’s West End. We were off to a perfect start.
The signature rum drink of Pusser’s restaurants everywhere is their Painkiller. They’re available almost anywhere down this way, but were invented at Pusser’s. After clearing customs we had to “officially” check Ted and Jane into the BVI’s with a round of Pusser’s Painkillers. Now officially on Island Time, they were ready to head further east with us into the BVI’s.
February 16, West End to Norman Island
One of our favorite islands in the BVIs is Norman to the south of Tortola and east of St. John. Winds were in the higher teens and above -- not uncommon here -- with apparent winds in the 20’s for the entire trip. We had pre-reefed the main (shortened the sail) way back in Fajardo, and will likely leave that reef tied in for our entire season. Last year we sailed only one day with a full main. We find there’s more than enough wind to drive the boat hard with the reefed main in these waters, and often, when heading upwind, with a reefed headsail too. Plus sometimes we run with only our small staysail up front. Wind is not a problem in these parts.
But it can cause other problems. Fittings on these boats carry tremendous loads, and sometimes even the strongest looking parts can fail. As we were heading out of Super’s Hole downwind around the point to begin our upwind tacking course to Norman our boom vang let go with a loud BANG! It turns out the 3/8” stainless steel boom vang fitting simply exploded. Luckily there was no harm done, but we would need to sail the rest of the week without the vang. Upwind that’s not an issue at all, but off the wind or downwind the vang keeps the main sail in shape and the boom from lifting too high. Our interim solution would be to use only the jib downwind (plenty of wind for that), and then get a new fitting fabricated next week. Such is the joy of cruising … improvising, and then fixing your boat in exotic places!
The Pirates Restaurant at Norman had been totally redone since our visits last year, right down to all new furniture, more space, a new bar, and a better area for the band and dancing. Chicken Roti’s all around were the order for our table that evening … a first for Ted and Jane. Ted tried to compare them to Iron Range pasties, but we don’t think that comparison holds at all (ever had a pastie with delicious hot curry gravy, beans, rice, vegetables and meats inside?). Sorry, Ted, that Finnish & Cornish miners food just isn't the same as East Indian cuisine!
February 17 – Norman Island to Marina Cay
One of the prettiest little spots down this way is Marina Cay, a small Pusser’s-owned island with an adjacent beautiful and protecting reef. Again our sail was almost directly upwind, so tack, tack, tack we went into a fresh Caribbean breeze. Tacking aside, it was a great sail. It doesn’t get much better than this! The accompanying photo shows Ted and Jane with the Marina Cay mooring field in the background.
February 18 – Marina Cay to Virgin Gorda’s North Sound
Still reefed down, we tacked our way further east past the Dog islands to what would be our turn around point for this trip …Virgin Gorda’s North Sound. It was yet another spectacular day in the tropics. While daytime temperatures remain in the low 80’s, the constant breezes while underway or at anchor make things quite comfortable. Sleeping is also comfortable in the mid-70’s as long as one isn’t stuck in a marina out of the wind (we seldom visit marinas).
Upon arrival in the Sound, we first took a mooring at Leverick Bay to catch the Michael Beans Pirates Happy Arrrr show, but found the mooring a bit rocky as winds were building across the Sound. Instead we moved east across the sound to moor directly behind Saba Rock with its protecting reef further to the east. It was a good choice, allowing us to return to Leverick to take in Michael Bean’s show a couple days later after the winds and waves in the Sound had settled down a bit more.
February 18-20 – North Sound Area
Saba would be our first of three mooring areas during our stay in North Sound. On the 19th, with the winds picking up and shifting a bit, we decided to move to the south end of Bitter End’s mooring field, and as the winds eased down on the 20th we moved back to Leverick for our last night in the Sound.
One could spend a week or more in the Sound and still not run out of places to go and things to do. We started at Saba where we had moored for our first night. The Happy Hours at Saba Rock are always lots of fun (especially the 5:30pm Tarpon feeding, the salt water aquarium feeding, and visiting the Toucan rescue birds on the hill).
After moving moorings to the Bitter End (only about a ¼-mile move), we proceeded to take the moderately strenuous hiking trail (Guy’s Trail, leading to Alacia’s Trail) above the Bitter End Yacht Club and resort. The hike is always worth every bit of effort for the spectacular views you’re rewarded on top, but do bring plenty of water.
Our final stop in North Sound was Leverick Bay, where Ted, Jane and Judy made use of their fresh water pool that afternoon. We took in Michael Beans high energy Pirate’s Happy Arrr that night, and capped the evening with dinner at Jumbies. Bill won that night’s conch horn blowing contest again this year, winning a six-pack of Carib beer (last year the prize was a bottle of Mount Gay Rum – but we won’t complain about the Carib).
February 21 – North Sound to Cane Garden Bay, Tortola
All those miles of upwind sailing were paid
back in one fabulous day with
a beautiful, relaxing, run downwind along the
north shore of Tortola to Cane Garden Bay.
We even got Jane behind the wheel
for a while (we’ll let her tell you what it’s like steering a cruising boat in
And to add to our downwind pleasure, a small pod of dolphins joined us for several minutes to swim alongside and play in our bow wave … always an exciting event.
Cane Garden Bay is a beautiful little spot at the western end of Tortola. Surrounded by high hills on three sides and some protecting reefs, its only negative is the chance of northerly swells curving around into the harbor. Luckily swell action was minimal while we were there. A trip to shore brought a visit to the glassblowing hut, a walk on the beach for Ted and Jane, and this memorable moment while enjoying a round of Caribs during happy hour at Myett’s restaurant on the beach. Life was good … as it always seems to be down here.
February 22, Cane Garden Bay to West End, Soper’s Hole, Tortola
All good things must come to an end, and so it was with our 9 days with the Bispalas. We had heard on the VHF of whale sightings off the SE shore of Jost Van Dyke on Thursday, so headed across to see if any were still cavorting there on Friday morning. Unfortunately, luck was not with us – no whales for us this trip. So after briefly checking out the waters around Jost we reluctantly turned our bow toward West End to close out this trip with a little more grand-kid shopping for Ted and Jane and a leisurely dinner at Pusser’s that evening, all finished with a little Courvoisier that evening in the cockpit.
The next morning Ted and Jane (waving from top deck) departed West End via ferry for Red Hook, St. Thomas, where after a bit of exploring and lunch they caught a cab across the island to the airport and their flight to Florida. The ferry connection is a slick way to end a trip, as it saves a long downwind day for us, a more complicated USVI check-in at Cruz Bay, and then the resulting windward slog to return east again. We each have Small Vessel Reporting System (SVRS) permits, which allow us to clear back into the USVI’s with a simple phone call as long as no one without an SVRS is on board. Pretty kewl! No stop in Cruz Bay, no mechanics of getting into and out of customs, and no clearance expense. The ferry connection also gives our guests the treat of a faster boat tour of the north end of St. John and Red Hook … a good deal all around.
All told we had put just short of 100 miles (97.8 nautical miles) under Jubilee’s keel since we picked up Ted and Jane nine days earlier. It had been a fantastic sail … great friends, wonderful weather, and beautiful islands, as can only be found down here in the Caribbean.
We plan to split the following week and a half between St. John and a short visit to Spanish Town in Virgin Gorda to repair our boom vang attachment, followed by a trip back to Charlotte Amalie to meet friends Niels and Vicki Jensen who will be flying in from Minneapolis to sail with us for a little over a week. As we always say … stay tuned. See you on your next blog site visit!