Monday, November 06, 2006

British Virgin Islands, Spring Break 2006

April 1-9 - Tortola, Peter Island, Marina Cay, Spanishtown, Saba Rock, Peter Island, and Norman Island

As soon as we returned home from our Christmas cruise in the U.S.V.I., the Princess declared we had to go back. It was just too cold in Northern California to wait another whole year, so we immediately chartered a 36' Beneteau through Conch Charters for Spring Break. And, we picked right, because March to April has turned out to be a record-breaking rainy season for the San Francisco Bay Area.

April 1 - We arrived in Tortola at 10 p.m., March 31st, and taxied to the Fort Burt Hotel. Next morning we awakened to sunny skies and looked down on the Roadtown harbor from our room. We walked across the street to check in with Conch Charters, took a taxi to the market to do our own provisioning (turns out there was a better market, which we'll know next time), had lunch at the Pub.

By 3 p.m. we were motoring out the harbor with Conch's main man, Miles, and in an hour or so we anchored in Little Harbor on Peter Island, where we spent a stormy first night.

For this, we both thought, we left California? Oy vey! Nevertheless, as I attested to by skimpy dress at our first dinner, it was toasty warm, even in the rain and wind. We road our anchor safely, and next morning awoke to find that other sailors who'd arrived at the anchorage before us and anchored with their sterns tied to shore had actually been blown uncomfortably close to the island.

April 2 - After a breakfast of eggs and toast, we had a lovely sail up the Sir Francis Drake Channel and around Beef Island to Marina Cay. It's like landing in the middle of a postcard. This little island surrounded by a reef and with a sheltered mooring field was simply wonderful. We went ashore, shopped at the Pusser's Rum Store, had a drink at the beach bar, and spent the rest of our time aboard our Beneteau, Elbereth.

April 3 - Morning treated us to a lovely sunrise, promising a sunny sailing day.
We had a leisurely sail back across the channel to the southern end of Virgin Gorda Island. We decided not to stop at the Baths, and sailed up the coast to Spanishtown, where we had booked a slip for the night. The scenery along the coast was lovely, and Deb truly enjoyed being at sea.

April 4 - We departed Spanishtown for the north sound of the Virgin Gorda Island, home to the famous Bitter End Yacht Club. On the way, Deborah "raced" a Beneteau 42, beating her handily. As we passed by the skipper could be seen studying just exactly what it was that we were doing that he wasn't, but he never caught on. We were moored at Saba Rock for a full a half-hour before the poor besotted soul finally arrived.

April 5 - The Bitter End Yacht Club - now there's a disappointment - overpriced and slick. Maybe if we'd been with a big group the "club's" fixed-price dinner parties would have been more appealing, but we much preferred Saba Rock. Saba Rock is a truly lovely spot, and we decided to stay for a full day and dinghy about the sound. We motored up Biras Creek, stopped off at the Fat Virgin's Cafe (and gift shop), spent a bit of time at the Bitter End watching a bunch of Swan boats come in on a rally and buying the obligatory t-shirts, and returned to sun ourselves on the deck of Elbereth.
A bit of reading and eventually we found our way to the Saba Rock restaurant, where we met a very nice couple who gave us a tour of their Little Harbor 46, all high-gloss teak and in bristol shape. It was a glorious day, and we spent the evening barbecuing and planning our next day's sail to Cooper Island.

April 6 - We departed for Cooper Island, a pretty fair sail of 15 miles north and then west down the Sir Francis Drake Channel. The mooring field at Cooper Island had perhaps the clearest blue water we experienced, and we had a great dinner at the Cooper Island Beach Club and watched the sun set in pastel beauty over Salt Island to the west.

April 7 - It was a wonderful sailing day, with a brisk 15 knot wind. We sailed up the channel a bit, and then turned back and south between Cooper and Salt islands. This took us on a beam reach to the south of the BVI chain, and when we had gotten out far enough to tack northwest on a close reach, we turned and went back between Peter and Norman islands, finally going around Norman Island to its harbor, the Bight.

What a fun time for our last night. We had drinks at the Pirates Bight restaurant and lounged about on the boat for a time. Deborah took artsy photos of her foot plowing the water from the dinghy, and we found our way to the "Willy T," a floating restaurant that's a replica of a topsail lumber schooner where Deborah attracted a new friend - had me worried for a minute, until his wife appeared. We were sound asleep by 9 p.m.

April 8 - The end of our cruise. We sailed across the channel to Roadtown on a close haul, jib reefed, mainsail up full, in 15+ knots of wind. It felt a lot like the San Francisco Bay on a good day, but with the distinct difference that it was 80 degrees outside. When we tack just off Tortola, a gust of wind caught one of the four sitting pads on Elbereth, and we got an unexpected opportunity to do a "man-overboard" drill. It took us four passes in and 15 minutes, but we managed to hook the pad and pull it back on board.

We returned Elbereth to its Conch Charter home, had lunch at the Pub next to the Conch headquarters, and checked in to our "home away from home," room 107 at the Fort Burt Hotel. That night we had the best meal we had anywhere in the Virgin Islands, at the New England Culinary Institute branch that operates at the hotel - it hasn't found its way into the guidebooks yet, but it will! A fitting end to our escape from rainy, wintery northern California (where it is still raining as I write this).