25 April 2010

Planning Tips for a BVI Sailing Vacation, BVI Day 10/10

BVI Planning Tips and After-Thoughts

Home from the trip now, I find myself wandering around the office in a daze. "Was that real?"
I have never had a more stress-releasing vacation.

By the third day of the trip I found myself looking at my watch - not to see what time it was - but to see what day it was. I was afraid I'd get sucked into neverland and forget to return home for several weeks. Actually, if we'd had the kids with us, I think we would have just bought the boat from Conch Charters and sailed off into the sunset as a family, never to return!

For the first two weeks after our return, my wife and I each woke up for an hour or two in the middle of the night, unable to sleep because everything was so firmly still. No rocking, gentle warm winds, no lapping of wavelets on the hull. Just rock-solid terra firma. How's a person supposed to sleep like this?

Hopefully my thoughts about our next bareboat sailing trip to the British Virgin Islands will be helpful to others planning a similar trip. Here's what we're planning to not do, do differently, and continue doing on our next trip (January of 2011).

What will we NOT do next time?

  • Don't fly in to St. Thomas. Instead, arrange flights all the way to Beef Island Airport on Tortola (assuming we are sailing from a Tortola-based charter company like Conch Charters.)
  • Don't bring fins. I had space in my luggage for fins, so I brought them.
  • Don't plan an exact itinerary. I had scheduled, by day, which islands we would visit and in which order. Because winds may shift or an anchorage may be full, plan for flexibility.
What will we do DIFFERENTLY next time?

  • Plan by Island. Research the various islands and what would would want to see on each. Then decide each evening where to go the next day based on weather, winds, and mood of the crew. If you have your research done, you will be able to maximize every day of the trip.
  • Take Less Cash. Turns out we didn't need as much money as we thought we would. Although the restaurants are a little more expensive than at home, there is relatively little shopping in the BVI's. (Of course, my wife and I don't drink, which probably saved us quite a bit of money.) Also, most places take a credit card, but there are often international fee charges for using them. Everyone take's travelers checks and cash.
  • Get a Tan. Go get a tan before we go. We missed out on a lot of activities due to a sunburn.
  • Plan for Less Food. We used one of the convenient provisioning packages from the local grocers in Road Town. They give you several options for ordering full provisions (do all your own cooking), or half provisions (breakfast/lunch and some dinners on the boat, the other dinners at restaurants.) We ordered half provisions, but didn't need near that much food. Something about being out in the warm weather all day leaves me just wanting minimal fruit, vegetables, and maybe some fish.
  • Spend more time at the Baths. Probably a full half day or more.
  • Spend more time at North Sound. Maybe stay at a Saba Rock mooring instead of Bitter End Yacht Club just to try something a little different (we were happy with Bitter End). Bitter End moorings are tucked in a little closer to the island and offer possibly better wind protection, but on a hot, still night the breeze might be desirable. Bitter End offers more variety on shore, but Saba currently gives free ice to its mooring renters. Both are so close together, it really doesn't matter.
What would we do again?

  • Pack Light. When you have packed your bag for the trip, take out half the clothes, add twice as much money, and you will be fine.
  • Take a SPOT Satellite Messenger. See links below for more information.
  • Stay on the boat. Some people say they prefer staying in a hotel on land for a night before and after their bareboat charter. Personally, I disagree. I found the boat to be much more relaxing, and a fraction of the cost of a hotel.
  • Use Conch Charters again. Although I hear good things about other charter companies too, Conch was very impressive. Boats were in excellent condition, staff was helpful and friendly, everything went as expected - no surprises. And their price can't be beat.

Recommended Equipment List
Finally, here's my list of recommended equipment for a BVI sailing trip. They're all going in my bag for our next BVI trip.

Best Cruising Guide
These are the best books I've found, after having read several. The cruising guide gives better detail, covers more unique coves and bays, and presents more history than any other guide I could find. I actually didn't get this one before my trip, but the charter company had it on the boat. As I compared the various cruising guides in planning each day's sailing, this one had the best information. You can purchase the cruising guide from amazon

Best Chart
The map I found to be most useful is the Imray-Iolaire Eastern Caribbean map (A232). Look for it on 2-sided water-resistant paper. Ask you charter company if they have charts on the boat and you might not need to take your map with you. But I liked having the map at home while I was planning the trip. You can purchase online from amazon.

SPOT Satellite Messenger
The SPOT can be used to call rescuers in an emergency, but it was most helpful because it can send your exact location to a google map which friends and family can watch back home. Oh, and when you load your digital pictures to SPOT's website after your trip, the site automatically synchronizes the time you took the pictures with the location you were at on the map at that same time, automatically placing the pictures on the map based on the time they were taken. Pretty cool. Click here to order one from amazon.

Conch Charters
Conch Charters was great to work with. I used them on a recommendation from a sailing instructor who uses Conch to charter every year, and I wasn't disappointed. I asked other Conch customer down there what their experience was like. None of them differed from mine, they were pleased with the boats and didn't have problems. I guess the real tell-tale sign is that we've already booked next winter's BVI sailing trip, with Conch Charters again.

Comparing Other Charter Companies
I talked with several other charterers in the BVI who had used first-tier charter companies - I was curious to know if there experience was different from the one we were having sailing boats a couple years old. I really couldn't tell a difference. Some of them had no problems, some had a few things go wrong.

I heard some advice from a frequent charterer a few years ago that seems wise. He said to plan on losing part of a day to some kind of boat problem, and decide ahead of time you won't let it ruin that day. When it happens, just drop the anchor, call the charter company, and give them half a day to fix it. Go snorkeling, go exploring, read a book, enjoy yourself. As long as you are chartering with a big enough company that they have chase boats and a technician available, everything will be fine.

24 April 2010

BVI Day 9/10

We tried to sleep in, but were already so relaxed from a long wonderful sailing trip and really didn't need the extra sleep. So we got up, showered at the Marina building, and cleaned our things out of the boat. Here's a picture of us, with our boat in the background. This was the most relaxing vacation I've ever been on. My wife was a little hesitant about going, she had her heart set on a cruise ship. But by the end, she and I both agreed that sailing beat cruise ship vacations. (She wouldn't turn down a cruise ship vacation, but this trip had been so relaxing, stress-relieving, and re-energizing she was really pleasantly surprised.)

When Emma came to check the boat in, she carefully went over everything and wanted to know if there was anything that didn't work or that we'd suggest they check out before the boat was chartered again. I'm very impressed with the great care Conch staff takes for their boats. Emma told us to leave any extra food in the fridge because they had a local woman working there who cleaned the boats. She had a large family and took any leftover food home to them.

We took the ferry back to St. Thomas, and there at the dock was our cab driver. Conch Charters had arranged the taxis for us, and did a great job. We never had to wait or look around for our cabs - they were right on time and had signs waiting for us.

The flight from St Thomas to San Juan Puerto Rico was a little more exciting. Turns out we were in a very small plane. They seated us by weight. They sent my wife in first and told her to sit in front. "Front" as in "Co-Pilot's Seat". You have to understand, my wife is not one that craves adrenaline-inducing experiences. Probably has something to do with the prolonged adrenaline-inducing experience raising 6 kids or something. Or maybe it was the warning sign in front of her seat, visible in this picture. It reads "WARNING. To continue flight with an inoperative engine..." Anyway, I could see her anxiety rising as the weather-beaten little plane bounced into the air and started climbing. Just in front of her the yoke pulled back, twisted and turned as gauges swung wildly on the instrument panel. Someone in the back said, "wow, she's really brave to sit up there." I couldn't help it, I replied, "No, if you knew her like I did, you'd realize that you are the brave ones." I turned around, expecting a scolding smile from my wife, but she was too focused on imminent death to have heard me. I've never been one to deface another's property, but if I were to ever graffiti on something I would have scribbled "Orville and Wilbur were here" on one of the seats. But we survived.

From San Juan, we flew back to Dallas where we had an 8 hour layover so we stayed at the Marriott before flying home in the morning.

23 April 2010

Sandy Cay to Road Town Harbor, BVI Day 8/10

Early this morning we left the mooring and motored a couple hundred yards over to Sandy Cay. Sandy Cay is an uninhabited small island with great snorkeling and picturesque views from a gorgeous anchorage.

After dropping anchor, we pulled out the snorkeling gear and headed leisurely towards the beach. We started in about 40 feet of water and followed a ray along for several minutes as he glided across the ocean floor.

Sandy Cay has a beautiful beach. A few dinghies had been pulled up on the beach, their crews now exploring the nature paths around the little island. As the morning progressed, more boats arrived at Sandy Cay, so we were glad we'd come early.

After Sandy Cay, we started the sail back to Road Town Harbor. We had originally intended to overnight in a secluded little bay somewhere across from Road Town for our last night, but realized we hadn't seen any of Road Town.

The sail back was fun. I tried not to think about the fact that our vacation would be over tomorrow, and just enjoyed the sailing. As we neared Road Town, a large thunderstorm was passing over the island. I could look into Road Town Harbor, but could not see the channel markers or any of the town for that matter - is was a complete whiteout.

It was only mid-afternoon, so we decided to just circle outside the harbor for a while until the storm passed. I reduced sail in case the storm headed our way, and made large circles outside the harbor for about 45 minutes. Eventually the storm blew some heavy wind and rain our direction. With sail area already reduced, there was nothing to do but stand at the helm and look nautical in the sideways-driving torrential rain. I was completely soaked, but the rain was so warm there was no chance of hypothermia. It felt like a nice long shower.

Once the storms passed, we radioed in to Conch Charters office and told them we were coming in. They instructed us to take one of the mooring balls in the harbor as their docks were full at the moment.

I had planned to shower before taking the dinghy into town, but the rainstorm had taken care of that for me (the sea and I are one like that.) We debated taking a taxi into town, but decided to take a dinghy. It was a long dinghy ride, made longer by our running into two local fishermen adrift in a non-working boat in the middle of the ferry channel. They hailed us for help. All we could offer was a dinghy ride to shore, so we took one of them who planned to return with a larger boat to tow his friend out of the channel.

Most tourist-type shops were closed in town, so we took a long walk around getting a feel for Road Town Harbor. We ate a late afternoon lunch/dinner near the docks and picked up souvenirs in one of the few shops that were open.

When we arrived back at Conch Charters, the staff had kindly moved our boat into the docks. We sat in the cockpit relaxing and taking in our last night in the islands. Later that evening we decided to head up to the Fort Burt Hotel and restaurant for a late dinner. We were given a table overlooking the harbor, wow was it beautiful. We watched twilight fall on Road Town Harbor, and took this picture of the view.

The food was fantastic, the Fort Burt Restaurant is definitely the place to start and end a sailing trip down here.

21 April 2010

Fallen Jerusalem and Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbor BVI Day 6/10

We got up early this morning to beat everyone to the Baths on Virgin Gorda. We were up at 6:20 and underway before 7am. With a southwesterly blowing, we were able to make the Baths within an hour. Unfortunately, all the moorings were taken!

We decided to head west to the next little island, Fallen Jerusalem, where one of the cru
ising guides listed a small cove with two moorings. We arrived to find one of the mooring balls had its line cut, and the other was suspicious - just a line with a small float and no ball. We tied off to the line.

The seas were light, and with wind out of the south there was not much pressure on the mooring, so we thought we'd be ok to leave the boat and go ashore, but we were worried about why the line had been cut from the other mooring. I tied a stern line and took it over to the mooring ball, which would keep us straight in line with the wind, and thereby reduce any extra stress on the primary mooring line while I ran to shore to take a few pictures.

When I reached the mooring ball I realized that the line out
of the top wasn't cut - it was backspliced so it was only about 8 inches long. No problem, I tied to it with a sheetbend. Of course, I make this sound very simple and seaman-like, but Noel was shooting video and that will tell the truth. Which is that the stern line didn't quite reach the mooring ball unless I could pull the boat's stern closer. And the only thing I had to pull with was the little outboard on the dinghy. And as it turns out, the dinghy doesn't tow things very well.

As I pulled, the dinghy would inevitably wind up spinning a circle at some point, which had the comic effect of nearly drawing and quartering me several times as I struggled to keep one hand on the mooring ball, one hand on the stern line, and the other hand controlling the outboard. Hopefully the video will tell the tale, I'm sure it was very amusing. But I conquered in the end, and managed to secure a stern line.

Then I went up front to take a look at the primary mooring line, and noticed a large knot of sorts under the water. I pulled it up and found an unintelligible mess of knots. Through the algae and other marine life growing on it it appeared that a knot had been tied between to lines with eye splices in them. Since I couldn't recognize the knot, I didn't trust it. So I ran another bow line to connect to the line below the knot with another sheetbend.

Back on the boat, we weren't completely confident of our mooring, obviously this was not the way to secure the boat. But the cove was beautiful, and so we decided to just stay briefly. To make sure the boat was safe, my wife stayed on board while I took the dinghy to the beach for a few quick pictures. The cruising guide Conch gave us listed this as a picturesque stop in settled conditions, I'll have to ask them if the moorings have been fixed on our next trip, because I'd like to spend a couple hours exploring here.

Beach landing a dinghy in the surf - especially on a deserted Caribbean isle - makes one feel an awful lot like a conquistador. The trick is to watch the coral and rocks carefully so you don't hit the prop on them, and time the surf so you can throttle the dinghy just in time to catch an inbound wave, then while you surf in, hurry and shut the outboard off and swing it up so the propeller doesn't hit the coral and so the impeller doesn't suck up any sand. Very exciting.

I tied her off to a large rock and started climbing up the rocks along the s
hore. I carried the camera in a Ziploc bag, and when I turned to look at the cove, I couldn't believe how beautiful it was. It was like a screen saver. I took several pictures, vowing to return on our next trip with some more lines that could be used to run lines to the rocks on shore to better secure the boat when anchored in this cove.

Getting the dinghy back into the water was much simpler, I could see the bottom more clearly and found a small channel, just wide enough for the dinghy. I pushed it to ride on an outbound wave, hopped aboard, put the outboard in the water and fired her up. The dinghy is a Tohatsu, same make as the outboard on our Catalina 25. Great little engines.

Our plan had been to visit the Baths in the morning, then head to Jost Van Dyke by evening. That was clearly not going to happen now. We either had to head for Jost and skip the Baths, or revise our plans. We had heard so much about the Baths, we decided we better not miss them. So we motored over to the Baths and waited about 20 minutes for a mooring to open up. None did.

We then headed up to Yacht Harbor and Spanishtown to do some laundry and decided we will get up at 5am tomorrow to be first at the Baths. That sounds early, but its light so early here it really doesn't seem like its early in the morning (it gets dark early too, so we are usually going to bed by 9.)

Yacht Harbor is not a very touristy destination. It feels too much like a serious marina. There are lots of services ashore, you can get anything you need. There's a large haulout and dry storage business here, which makes me wish I were buying a boat to keep here.

Winds are supposed to shift to easterly tomorrow, and then back to northeasterly by Friday. This is good news for a run to Jost Van Dyke. We should be running down the channel tomorrow and then beam reaching up to Jost in the afternoon.

It seems like we've been close hauled or most of our sailing on this trip. No complaints, the Beneteau really points well and high, but I'd like an excuse to let the sails out and not have to tend the trimming so closely. When I'm close hauled, I always feel like I have to stay as tight to the wind as I can, making 1-2 degree corrections as necessary to sail as high as I can reasonably keep good speed.

One note on the lazy jacks on this boat. The top of the jacks are run through holes in the spreaders about 12 inches out from the mast. This gives a little more room for the main to be raised without the battens catching in the lazy jacks. Nice setup.

Its very humid here. The first part of the trip the humidity was not this high, but some system has settled in, and I feel like showering 3 times a day. And short of plugging an IV in, there's just no possible way to drink enough water.

Speaking of water, we are adding 2-3 bags of ice each day. 2 for the fridge and one for the cooler. Ice making is definitely the business to invest in down here. Although, I am a little concerned that with all the ice the charter boats melt through down here, the Caribbean might actually end up being desalinated within a year or two.

20 April 2010

North Sound to Marina Cay and Trellis Bay, BVI Day 5/10

This morning we took the Dinghy over to Bitter End Yacht Club and Saba Rock to pick up yacht burgees from each place. We've decided to start collecting them from the places we go. As we prepared to leave we were waiting for the fuel dock to clear so we could top off the diesel. There were 3 boats in front of us, so we decided to make for Yacht Harbor on the southern end of Virgin Gorda and refuel there.

I was a little worried about our fuel supply because we had run the engine for several hours on the trip, but based on what Conch's checkout person said during the briefing, we should have plenty of fuel in reserve. And in a 36 foot boat, I could always sail to the destination, then harness the dinghy up behind the boat to p
ower it into a fuel dock if we ran out at the last minute.

We cleared the North Sound and headed west around the end of the island. The winds had all shifted now, the weather report said they'd come from the southeast, but these were coming from the southwest. The previous day as we sailed around the north end of Virgin Gorda I'd noticed that the winds shifted several times as they came around the hills and different islands, so I hoped the wind would improve. Here is a map of the trip created with my Spot Satellite Messenger. You can turn on labels and zoom in/out to reference the island names.

I assumed I must be in a wind shadow of Virgin Gorda, so I let the sails out a little and decided to head out to Seal Dog Islands before pointing into the wind and heading up to Yacht Harbor. Unfortunately, the wind was straight out of the southwest, coming directly out of Yacht Harbor. This meant a very long day of tacking into the wind, which would be made longer by Virgin Gorda's wind shadow. Or, a plan B.

I ran down to look at the charts, and decided to make for Marina Cay and Trellis Bay, saving the Baths and Yacht Harbor for another day. Marina Cay was several miles ahead, but I could almost get there on my current point of sail. So we tightened up the sails and ran as upwind as we could.

There were two more boats headed in the same general direction - an Island Packet 40+ and a Moorings charter boat. The charter boat tried tacking upwind too early and showed very poor sail trim. The Island Packet was a private boat, and was skippered flawlessly.

Once we got all the way over to the bay north of Scrub Island, it was time to start tacking upwind to get around to Marina Cay. The Island Packet was two tacks ahead of me, and we'd passed the Moorings boat (a 40 footer) several miles back. The Moorings boat again tacked too early, and floundered a little in the lee of the Dogs.

Just then I thought I remembered there was another entrance to Marina Cay from the North. So I set the autopilot and ran do to look at the charts. One of the cruising guides described the cut between Camanoe and Scrub Island, mentioning that it was possible to motor through. So we decided to head into the bay and over to the cut. This would save us an hour or more of tacking. I was a little worried heading into the bay because I could not see the cut. But soon two boats came in directly from the north and into the cut.

At Deadman's Point we dropped sails and raised the iron genny. I was a little nervous about seeing the reefs through the cut, because the cruising guide said to do the passage in good visibility. Turned out I had nothing to worry about, the passage was fairly easy to see, and the reefs were clearly visible outside the channel.

When we dropped sails, we also set the docking lines and fenders for the fuel dock on Marina Cay. Arriving in the mooring field, a boat was just leaving the fuel dock, so we were able to get right in. We'd used 20 gallons of water, and only FIVE gallons of diesel! I was really surprised it was so little diesel. Even around the fueling dock, the water was a gorgeous, translucent blue. After fueling we stood on the dock and looked in the water, seeing straight to the bottom in 15 feet of water. There were dozens of little fish swimming all around.

Marina Cay looked like a nice place to stay, but we decided to head over to Trellis Bay because I was worried that the southe
rly winds might make Marina Cay a little rolly. And I had read about the shops and interesting local culture on the shores at Trellis Bay and wanted to check it out. So we motored across the channel to Trellis Bay.

Trellis Bay is a very peac
eful anchorage with many, many moorings around. Several of the boats had 'For Sale' signs on them. I always have to remind myself that I do not have enough PTO at work to make a boat down here a worthwhile investment. Well, that and the fact that I can't afford one. But it feels better to blame it on paltry vacation time.

The sun was out, and the water so clear you could see straight to the bottom in about 12 feet of water. We slipped past the moored boats and found a mooring ball closer to the beach, so we'd have shorter trips in the dinghy. As soon as we were secured, I grabbed my mask and fins and dove overboard for a short snorkeling trip. I was a little disappointed by the amount of trash I saw on the bottom. It was definitely still a marine environment (I chased a puffer fish for a while), and the water was clear, but there were a number of beer cans, etc. on the bottom. Cleaning the bottom of Trellis Bay would be a great Eagle Scout service project.

We went in to shore and tied up the dinghy at de Loose Mongoose's dinghy dock. De Loose Mongoose is a beachside bar and restaurant. Great tplace to unwind for the evening. We ate in the screened-in porch of the little restaurant, the food was simple and good. The Mongoose was introduced to the islands to rid it of snakes (good move). We saw several mongoose diving into their tunnels as we walked along the trees by the shore.

The businesses along the shore of Trellis Bay are not the refined business we saw in other bays. These have a definite local flair and charm to them. Lots of old boats in various states of disrepair were interspersed through the trees. As we passed each one I wondered about the arrival of each on shore. Who owned her? What plans and hopes were tied up in her? And was anyone really crazy enough to take these out on the open water?

Aragorn, a local artist, has had his hand in so many interesting things along the shores. Giant metal balls that are filled with firewood and lit during the monthly full moon parties, huge brightly colored hammocks that would fit 10 people in them, tables built around and through the trees, and several quaint buildings selling his pottery, painting, and sculptures. There were several dogs and roosters running around, and lots of local kids who belong to the store owners and employees.

Trellis Bay is next to the Beef Island airport, and is within easy walking distance. If I ever had to pick up a guest arriving late, I would have them walk to Trellis Bay from the airport. What a great introduction to island life! Walk out of the airport, turn west and walk along a little road for a couple hundred yards to the ocean.

As we walked along the shore
, we could see a few stingrays gliding by in a couple of inches of water. Rays are very graceful, and look very fragile as they silently skim along.

A storm blew over while we were getting in the dinghy, and it was raining pretty hard by the time we got back to the boat. We hurried and closed any of the open ports, and then stood in the cabin under the bimini watching the rain fall. Enough rain fell that the salt was washed off the top of the boat, so it saved me some work!

After the rain, I noticed one of the nearby boats deploying their air scoops above the hatches. The air scoop is a large nylon tunnel that catches more of the breeze and sends it into the boat through the hatches. I had never seen this kind, and wasn't sure how it worked. But after watching the neighbor, it all made sense.

We wanted to go and look at Pusser's store over at Marina Cay, and didn't feel like a trip across the channel in the dinghy. So we called over there and found out there was a free shuttle. We took the shuttle over and looked around the store and the island. We also asked about mooring there, but they had all been taken. Pusser's store had a good selection of souvenirs, most of which were pirate-themed or nautically-themed. Pusser's is right next to the fuel dock and Marina Cay mooring field.

Marina cay is a nice stop. There's snorkeling south of the cay, and full services on the island (fuel, water, ice, laundry, restaurants). There's also a telephone booth on the fuel dock with a webcam that snaps a picture every 15 seconds. If you go online to Pusser's website, you can see the pictures taken. You can also call home from the phone booth, and let them see you standing there while you talk.

19 April 2010

Sailing from Tortola to Bitter End Yacht Club, Day 4/10

My wife was really sunburned yesterday, so we decided to delay visiting the Baths. Instead we set out early for the Bitter End Yacht Club in the North Sound of Virgin Gorda. Winds were 15-20 mph this morning, so we motored out of Maya Cove, and when we were about a half mile out from the tip of Beef island, we raised sails.

Northeast winds meant we could sail close-hauled all the way up the gangway to Virgin Gorda's Mountain Point. There were only a few other boats out this morning because we got an early start. (I had set my alarm for 6:20am, but was awake earlier.) We decided to put off breakfast until we arrived. It was a very exciting sail, we were frequently doing over 7 knots and occasionally putting the rail under.

I have to admit, I was a little envious of the catamarans we saw out there, that weren't heeled over with their crews hanging on for safety's sake. It was good though, I think I can talk my wife into the ASA Catamaran course now. I'm going to ask at Conch whether the course is necessary though. It seems like sailing a 40' catamaran really wouldn't be that different from a monohull. Maybe there's something I'm missing.

I raced a large trimaran much of the way up the sound. He was motoring under bare poles towards the Baths or Yacht Harbor on Virgin Gorda. With our full sheets to the wind he was barely out racing us. I want to get a video camera on the portholes along the hull in the main salon so people can see what its like to be sailing along when the portholes dunk under the waves occasionally. It's beautiful when the boat is in about 40 feet of water because you can see the reefs and fish down below. I can see it from the cockpit and its quite impressive. Of course, when the boat is heeled over that much, I don't have much time to come down and mess around with the camera.

My wife slept must of the way up the gangway, with one arm threaded around the bimini frame to keep from sliding off the cockpit bench. She wanted to go sleep down below, however that would leave me single-handing, and if I were to fall off no one would be able to rescue me, and no one would wake her up before running full steam into Virgin Gorda.

Christopher Columbus named this island Virgin Gorda (literally, "fat lady") because they thought its outline looked like a fat lady lying the sea. Noel and I agreed we couldn't see the resemblance, however to a ship full of guys sailing all the way from Spain, I suppose things looked very different.

Once we reached Mountain Point, I decided to drop sails and motor up to Mosquito Rock. I needed a few minutes to duck below and check the charts for the North Sound Passage past Colquohoon Reef, and I couldn't do that safely under full sails.

uito Island is actually Moskito Island, named for the Indians of the same name. On that note, we really haven't seen any bug problems down here, which is very nice. We do see bugs ashore, but only rarely, and they are usually bees or otherwise predisposed with the flowers.

As we neared Moskito Rock (a small rock outcropping north of Moskito Island), I saw a large cruise ship coming up behind us. I thought he might be heading into the North Sound, so I fell off and made a couple of big circles in the water outside of the passage so he'd know my intention of waiting for him. He passed in front of the opening to the sound, leaving every sailboat in the channel very confused. The boats scattered to either side of the channel, and then finally the cruise ship just dropped anchor outside the channel.

So we continued into the North Sound, headed for either Saba Rock or the Bitter End Yacht Club. There were more moorings available at the Bitter End, so we headed into the mooring field and picked up mooring #2 close to shore, out of the wind. By this time, we were exhausted after a long sail, no breakfast, and hanging onto the heeling boat all morning. It was about 10am, and we'd been on the boat and in the water non-stop since Saturday morning. So we took showers aboard, put on our best smelling clothes, and dinghied over to the Yacht Club.

The Bitter End Yacht Club is gorgeous. It's like walking around a Disney Land set for Pirates of the Caribbean, only this is the real thing. There are palm trees everywhere, the little huts along the beach house a quartermaster's store, a couple of gift shops, and a few restaurants. We picked up some supplies (aloe vera for the sunburn and some SPF 50 Million for the rest of the trip. Then we went over and ate the buffet lunch. It was way overpriced, but hey, its all about the location.

The fare was very light foods - vegetables and seafood. Excellent for a hot day. Crab salad, mahi mahi, cheeses, tropical fruit, lots and lots of glasses of cold ice water. We strolled up the waterfront and spent a half an hour crashed in a hammock at the edge of the water, watching Mes Anges swing peacefully on her mooring. We stopped by the Quarter Deck on the way back to pick up a couple bags of ice for our fridge and the cooler, then dinghied back to the boat.

The wind is slight this close to the island, so we're running the fans for the first time this trip. Most of the time the temperature is perfect. When the temperature hits mid 80's in the afternoon, we just open the hatches to let the breeze blow through. Most of the hatches open forward, and the boats swings bow-to-wind on anchor. The hatches then scoop a fair amount of breeze through the boat all night long. I'm ready to go snorkeling in Eustacia Sound, but I think it will be a while before Noel's sunburn is up to that!

A few years ago I wondered why anyone would want to sail across an ocean. Then about a year ago I thought I could understand that desire. Now, after three days of constant sailing, I realize that the only way I could pull that off would be on something b
igger and more stable than a 36 footer. Its an easy size to sail, but if I were to spend days heeled over through the trades, I'd sure like a bigger boat or a catamaran.

The last two times I went to drop the main, I had to go up to the mast and pull her down the last 15 feet by hand. There is no downhaul for the main, so I am going to see if the onboard toolkit has some dry lubricant I can spray on the sail slugs before I forget.

For dinner, we took the dinghy over to Saba Rock. There's something very nautical about a restaurant that is only accessible to sailors in their dinghies. We got a table out along the dinghy dock, and enjoyed the view as the sun set and night fell. At night, there are several underwater spotlights along the dinghy dock that attract fish. The show is incredible, as large fish (2-3 feet long) swim by the lights, looking for smaller fish to eat.
Saba Rock was my favorite place to eat on this trip. We arrived at dusk, ordered dinner, and relaxed as night fell over North Sound.

With a forest of masts out in the mooring fields around Saba Rock and Bitter End yacht Club, the view is really magical with all the mast lights lighting the sky like stars. Looking across to Bitter End Yacht Club, we could see the lighted palm trees and hear a band playing at the restaurant along the shore. I'd like to spend more time here, maybe two full days next time.

Because of the sunburn we didn't get to go snorkeling in Eustacia Sound, around the corner from Saba Rock. There is a place there where old pirate canons are encrusted in the reef in about 10 feet of water. I'd really like to see those.

Above Bitter End Yacht Club is a point with visibility out to Anegada. Anegada is Spanish for "drowned", a reference to the hundreds of ships wrecked there over the centuries. Anegada is surrounded by difficult-to-navigate reefs (especially in a square rigger without a gps), so the pirates would sit on the hill where Bitter End Yacht Club now stands, and watch for cargo-laden merchant ships to run aground near Anegada, then head over at their leisure to pick up the booty.

18 April 2010

Sailing from the Indians to Maya Cove, BVI Day 3/10

The hull portholes have salt water residue on them from being dunked underwater yesterday. I want to clean them off so we can shoot pictures through them. The Beneteau is really nice boat. Very well though out and luxurious inside.

Beautiful morning in the Bight at Norman Island. Light winds and lots of sun. I have the greatest dreams sleeping on a sailboat. It must be the gentle rocking motion all night that unlocks the farthest corners of my imagination. I feel so rested when morning comes.

Caribbean laziness is setting in. The pressure of work and the real world are losing their grip on me. I find myself asking the question "What if THIS is the 'real world'?" Breakfast of bacon and eggs, then we're headed over to the Indians to pick up a mooring and spend a couple hours snorkeling. We'll be testing a new Flip Video camera with waterproof housing while we're there. After that we're sailing up Sir Francis Drake channel to cooper island, where we'll pick up a mooring for the evening at Manchioneel bay, and spend more time snorkeling, walking the beach, and watching the sun set.

We could see that the moorings at the Indians were all taken as we left the Bight, so we started circling the area waiting for someone to leave. A Frenchman was ahead of us in line, and took the first open mooring. The Indians are a national park, so there is a day-use-only mooring system, identified by red mooring balls. After a few moments, another boat joined the wait. And then someone left, so we started motoring towards the mooring ball. Just then the second boat sped in to the mooring ball, apparently unaware of the 'wait your turn' rule. As they took the mooring ball, the Frenchman started yelling at them. They signaled to me apologetically and made ready to leave, but just then another boat raised sail to leave, so we just took that ball.

The Indians were fantastic. We ended up on the south-most buoy. Noel was a little hesitant about jumping in, so I offered to swim over to the Indians and see if there was anywhere to stand. I had to swim clear around to the other side to find the main snorkeling area, which is in 5 to 15 feet of water. I came back to get her, and we decided to take the dinghy over and tie it off at one of the blue mooring balls in the snorkeling area.

It was fun snorkeling around and watching all the fish and the fantastically shaped coral. I could spend hours snorkeling. S
norkeling is probably the closest man will ever come to free flight. Practically weightless in the water, and propelled by fins, its so relaxing to swim along the coral reefs, suspended just inches above the rock or swimming through schools of brightly colored fish.

We snorkeled around for about half an hour, and then decided to set sail for Manchioneel Bay on Cooper island.

The sail to Cooper Island was fantastic. We took several long tacks up Sir Francis Drake Channel. The boat was heeled over nicely in the steady 15-20 mph winds, and the windows along the hull were underwater several times. I took very long tacks, not being in much of a hurry. Noel laid down on the leeward cockpit bench and slept during the tacks. I only woke her when tacking so she could move to the new leeward bench. I don't know how she slept, the sailing was incredible. When we arrived though she was thoroughly rested, and we were both very content.

Sailing conditions such as these are what make the British Virgin Islands the premier cruising grounds in the world. Long leisurely tacks up the Channel, thinking what it must have been like to sail here during pirate times and in the colonial era.

Speaking of Pirates, we sailed past Dead Man's Chest, an island where Blackbeard marooned 27 of his crew as a punishment. Leaving them with only a sword and bottle of rum each, at the end of 30 days only 15 men survived. This island was named by Robert Louis Stevenson in his pirate shanty of the same name, "Dead Man's Chest." The island is uninhabited now, which somehow adds to its mystique.

When we finally reached Manchioneel Bay around 4pm, all the moorings were taken. There was one unoccupied mooring ball at the south end, but when we picked it up, it had a "Do Not Use" sign on it. So we motored out of the mooring field and called Cooper Island Beach club to inquire about the mooring. They said the bolts were coming loose at the bottom, so the mooring was not secure.

The cruising guide indicated a small bay to the south around Cistern Point, which we decided would have to do for the night. When we got there we noticed the boats in the anchorage were really swaying, and the only available spot was against a low rise on the island which would not afford enough wind protection.

So we went to plan C, which was to sail across to Maya Cove on Tortola. As we entered the cove, we could see with binoculars that there was only one available mooring ball in the harbor. Instead, we headed into a small cove between Tortola and Buck Island. Good choice, it was absolutely beautiful. Whoever owns Buck Island has done a fantastic job along the shore planting palms, and making the place look fantastic.

There were 3 mooring balls, and only one was taken. As we approached the mooring ball, Noel noticed that it said PRIVATE on it. Darn, have to head elsewhere. But the other boat in the cove, a Norwegian couple, hailed us and said they'd been moored there 3 days and no one had said anything to them. It was getting late now, so we decide to take our chances and tied up to the private ball.

A few minutes later a catamaran came in and took the last ball. As we barbecued steaks off the stern barbecue, we noticed that the Norwegians' dinghy was drifting off. Because the cat's dinghy was up on the davits, the rescue fell to us. I dinghied over and towed their launch back. They hadn't realized it was missing.

Excellent steaks tonight, we sat coveting some of the gorgeous beachfront homes around the cove as we ate dinner.
Tomorrow we're going to get an early start for the Baths at Virgin Gorda, and then head up to the North Sound to unwind at Saba Rock and Bitter End Yacht Club.

17 April 2010

Sailing From Tortola to Treasure Island, BVI Day 2/10

I woke up early this morning anxious to check out and go sailing. My alarm went off at 5am, I showered onshore at Conch's showers, then strolled out to see the sun rise and walk around the docks, and watch morning happen in Road Town harbor.

Turns out everyone runs on island time, so there isn't much happening until at least 7am when a couple of other bareboat captains got up to watch the empty docks with me. Conch Charters' staff showed up around 8 and were busy all morning preparing boats, walking skippers through yacht functions, and otherwise getting the boats out on the water.

About 830am a guy from Renport showed up with my USB Modem for the week so I could have internet access in case of an emergency at work. It took him about 10 minutes to get it set up on my laptop, and it has worked very well thus far. He said there were two places in the BVI with poor coverage, otherwise the modem could reach everywhere. One of those places was the Bight at Treasure Island (Norman Island) where we'll be tonight, and the other was some other place I cant remember right now. But I'm sure we'll find it.

While waiting for the boat orientation and chart briefing, I pulled out the charts, my itinerary, and Conch's chart rules to find any problems. I found a couple, which were really good to know. Most charter companies do not allow you to take boats into dangerous areas, i.e. places with difficult navigation, strong currents, or other hazards to their boats.

The staff member who checked us in the night before, Emma, was going to do our boat orientation. While we waited, we walked down to the Rite Way supermarket which is about a 3 minute walk from Conch's offices. We picked up razors, more sunscreen, and a few other items. The inverter in our boat was mounted to a wall in such a way that my laptop charger would not plug into it. I wish the engineers who designed chargers actually had to use their own products - it would save the rest of us a lot of headache. Luckily, Rite Way had a small overpriced powerstrip that would do the job perfectly.

Finally, around 11a
m, it was our turn to check out. Emma walked us through all the boats' systems and had us ready to go very quickly. She knew the boat inside out and backwards, which was really helpful to us. She even pointed out difference in bulb wattages to help us conserve battery power (like running the cockpit's overhead light instead of the anchor light when in mooring fields. The cabin light draws less power and since you are in a forest of anchor lights at most moorages, the cabin light will give you sufficient visibility. We'd need the anchor light for more isolated anchorages, obviously.)

Conch Charters runs a very impressive operation.  When Emma was going over the engine operation, we heard one of the engine's belts whine after startup for a few seconds.  This is a very normal occurrence for belts and did not concern me as it stopped so quickly.  However, at the end of the boat briefing Emma called one of the mechanics over to check it for us.  He started and stopped then engine a couple of times and we could no longer hear the whine.  But he went ahead and quickly changed the belt out for a new one.  That kind of attention to detail and quality is pretty rare.  Conch runs a tight ship, literally!

The chart briefing went really well. Irene was very knowledgeable about each of the islands, anchorages, restaurants (including chefs, menus, and prices), and helped us make some adjustments to our itinerary to make sure we had the most fun possible.

Finally, we were ready to go. To help navigate out of the Fort Burt marina without running into the sandbar, a Conch staff member rides along with you out to the channel. Once in the channel, they jump off to an accompanying dinghy to return to the docks and let you get on your way. There is a sandbar near the marina that has grounded more than its fair share of boats.

I absolutely LOVE the wind in the British Virgin Islands. It is so constant and steady. Winds were running about 15 mph out of the Northeast. We were headed for Norman Island, which was just a bit off a broad reach. There were a lot of Moorings charter boats headed out at the same time, so we decided just to pull out the jib for a bit and later, once we were clear of the other boats, turn upwind to raise the main.

The history and legend of Norman Island, or Teasure Island as it is known locally, was the inspiration and setting for Robert Louis Stevenson;s book "Treasure Island". And the stories aren't just stories. There are still several unlocated chests of silver on Treasure Island. Numerous companies and ventures have been formed over years to try and locate them. The last find was in 1910, when a chest of silver was found in the caves on the west end of Norman Island.

Under jib alone we were making about 7 knots. There were slight swells running, probably 6 feet but spaced comfortably far apart. Noel got a wee case of mal de meer, but switched to sitting on the leeward side of the cockpit where she had the wind in her face and could see the swells rolling into us and within 20 minutes was feeling much better.

It's very difficult to describe how BLUE the water is down here. I kept feeling like I was sailing across someone's screen saver. The run to Treasure Island was a brief afternoon sail. I was beginning to understand much of the advice I'd read about sailing the British Virgin Islands. The sailing really was "line of sight". I had loaded waypoints on my Garmin GPS, but only needed to use the GPS in a few locations, or possibly if I ended up sailing in the dark for some reason. The islands are close enough together that you can easily identify your location by looking at the nearby islands. And there are very few hazards to navigation, most of the approaches are clear, and any hazards are well marked.

This was our first time picking up a mooring ball on our own since our ASA certification some time ago.  In all of our sailing, we either anchor or dock, but have not used mooring balls since sailing in Galveston a few years ago.  So we were a little concerned that the happenings of the next few minutes not end our marriage. There are plenty of stories about the frantic, stressful shouting matches between a wife on the bow and a husband at the helm. So we went over hand signals, and approached the mooring field very carefully. We approached into a 15 knot wind while my wife tied one line to a bow cleat and stood hanging over the bow. She looked good up there, like Ned Land, king of Captain Nemo's harpooners aboard the Nautilus. After a few quick hand signals, she reached over and hooked the pendant on the very first try. I was so proud I almost forgot to run up and help her secure the lines.

The mooring system here is color coded to help you know which are overnight moorings and which are for day use, large commercial vessels, dinghies, etc. The overnight mooring balls are white, and have the managing company's name written on them. After you pick up the mooring, you stop by that business ashore to pay for the night's mooring. In most anchorages, you don't need to try too hard to find the owners, they find you pretty quickly. Overnight mooring fees are about $20-25.

The person on the bow uses a boat hook to pick up a pendant - a 10-15 foot heavy line with an eye spliced in the end. A redundant bridle is made by cleating a docking line to the starboard bow cleat. The running end of the line is then fed through the pendant's spliced eye, and run back to the same starboard cleat where it is cleated off with a hitch. The a second redundant line is run from the port bow cleat in the exact same manner. This two part bridle provides redundancy in case of a line failure, and also prevents the boat from riding too far back and forth along the line, which could chafe the bow. The boat in this picture is only using a single line. Once secured, we swung peacefully on anchor with the other boats in the anchorage and watched the sun set.

The anchorage was dotted with dozens of sailboats. Many were eating dinner on board, some were headed over to the (in)famous Willy T, a floating bar, and others were headed in to the beach to a small restaurant there. We had been given a tip to choose a mooring far from the Willy T, unless we wanted to be up til the wee hours of the morning listening to the thumping music played for its patrons.

For dinner that night we barbecued steaks out on the grill. With just two of us on the boat, there was so much extra room. We enjoyed dinner and relaxed for the evening watching the stars overhead.