Monday, December 17, 2007

To charter or to own - the BVIs...

What to do? Own your own boat in the Caribbean or just spend oodles of money chartering? My sailing partner Deborah and I have been debating this one for a couple of years, and still have not agreed. So, while the jury is out, we agreed to continue the investigation.

After a short stopover in Los Angeles to check in with her family, we flew off to the British Virgin Islands for a six-week stint on a boat from BVI Yacht Charters, thence on to the Leewards (St. Martin, St. Bart, St. Kitts, and Nevis) for three more weeks with Sunsail.

I'll try to keep you posted here as the trip develops (and as our internet connections make it possible).

Travel time…

12/19-12/20 - The “red-eye” from L.A. to San Juan sounded good when we made our plans a year ago. It made possible a visit to her family in L.A. and then “guaranteed” that our checked bags would not be lost on the trip east.

Ha! First the plane out of L.A. was scratched for mechanical problemsjust after boarding. An hour and a half later we were on another plane, but one not quite as provisioned as the first, which, since we were in business class (thanks to collecting miles for months), it was a bit disappointing. More disappointing, we arrived with only an hour for our connection in San Juan to Beef Island (Tortola, BVI).

Ha, again! Bags not lost. Well, my checked bag made it through, but Deb’s got held back in San Juan and didn’t arrive until the next day. It happens all the time, and we’d not booked on it – the small American Eagle turbo-props that fly the islands can’t carry as much weight as we American tourists cart with us. The lesson – pack light and, if you must bring more (as we had to for this nine-week trip), be patient. Bags almost always show up a day or two later.

In any event, we finally arrived at the Fort Burt Hotel late in the afternoon, checked in our room, and then went across the street to The Pub, where we had the best baby-back rib dinner either one of us have ever had. We’ve eaten at The Pub before, but always midday when the fare was burgers, good but not exceptional. What a pleasant surprise.

With ribs lining our gullets, it was back to our room, where Deb, exhausted, went to bed soon after 19:00 hours. But my favorite Tortola musician was playing at the Pub, so I returned for a beer and some blues from M.J. Blues. But it didn’t last long, and I was soon falling asleep in my chair.

Provisioning and underway…

12/21-23 – Charter companies always offer to provision your boat with food, but we’ve found that their provisioning lists are usually not the food we want. Moreover, they’re set up for people on a week’s cruise, not a six-week cruise. So, we like to provision ourselves.

We had planned to put together a really good shopping list based on our previous charters, but time got the best of us and we had to cobble something together after we slept for almost 15 hours after our travel ordeal.

After a disappointing and unremarkable lunch at the Fort Burt Hotel on the 21st, we walked down from Fort Burt to Village Cay Marina in Tortola, where Deb made a hair salon appointment for late January. Then we took a taxi over to BVI Yacht Charters at Joma Marina, where we checked in, got a chart briefing, put three bags of ice in the “freezer” (refrigerator), and then walked a little way to the big RiteWay Market, then taxied down to Bobby’s Market to check out things there as well. We returned to Fort Burt, celebrated the delivery of Deb’s bag from the airport, and had dinner again at The Pub.

After a good night’s sleep and another disappointing breakfast at Fort Burt (quality changes over time, I guess),we transferred our bags by taxi to our boat and set out to do our marketing. We got two baskets of provisions at Bobby’s, got that on to the boat. Then another basket of provisions at RiteWay went aboard, followed by a few small bags of provisions from One Mart, near the marina. With things pretty well organized aboard, we had a tin of oysters with cheese and crackers and spent the night aboard.

Next morning, the 23d, we finished organizing things on board, made a couple of more short trips to the One Mart for items we’d forgotten (the result of not making a comprehensive shopping list), and finally around 13:30 we shoved off for the Pirate’s Bight at Norman Island for our first night aboard Syros.

With almost no wind in Sir Francis Drake Channel, we motored the distance of 6.45 nautical miles, reaching a maximum speed of 8.9 knots.


We think the Beneteau introduced its Cyclades model for the charter business in 2006. Overall the Cyclades uses less expensive plumbing gear and interior wood than Beneteau’s Oceanis series. It’s pan and headliner also appears to be of poorer quality than the Oceanis.

Syros is a 43.3 foot sloop, with a forward V-berth cabin and head, a large main salon, galley along the port side, salon table and seating on the starboard side with a nav station aft. There are two aft cabins, each with a head. The cockpit is spacious, with a fixed center folding table. There are two large lockers under the cockpit seats. The boat has two wheels and is equipped with Raymarine instruments and a C-80 chart plotter. She’s spacious, sails well enough, and is comfortable on a mooring, so I guess we can put up with the lower quality materials.

We’ve suffered through some pretty shabby boats in the Caribbean, and Syros’s systems are almost all operating without fault. The wind speed instrument and knot meter are not functioning, but that’s minor. The freezer and refrigerator are doing just fine.

Norman Island…

12/23-12/25 – The mooring field at the Bight was hardly full, perhaps 25 boats. We picked up our mooring easily, relaxed, and around 17:00 dinghied in to the Pirates bar for a Pina Colada. What a change! All the cruisers flags, mementos, and signatures gone from the walls, everything painting in bright Caribbean colors. This and new tables and chairs made the place generally a bit more upscale, but the rollicking atmosphere was missing. One thing we both liked was the remodeled boutique, although the merchandise hadn’t changed at all.

We lingered at the Bight, spending all of Christmas Eve day and night on Syros. On Christmas Day we arose to breakfast and Christmas music, and at 10:30 departed for Great Harbour on Peter Island.

A nice gentle sail of 8 nm; max speed 5 kts.

Peter Island…

12/25-27 - We found a lovely mooring in Great Harbour just of the Seven Oceans Beach Club, which was closed both on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. We snorkeled in the afternoon and saw some great fish, dinghied around Great Harbour, fawned over some of the big yachts, and ended the day with barbecued chicken, which we ate in the cockpit overlooking the lights of Roadtown and some of the luxury yachts anchored outside us. The view was truly spectacular.

Next day we decided to motor over to Sprat Bay, the harbor of the Peter Island Resort, where we picked up a very expensive mooring for two nights (don’t ask how much!). We made a reservation for dinner at the resort’s Tradewinds restaurant, and then did some shopping at the resort boutique – upscale indeed, with lots of nice Tommy Bahama style menswear and a great women’s collection. We walked a quarter-mile to Deadman Bay, where we had lunch at the resort’s beach bar and restaurant.

Our dinner at the Tradewinds was lovely. Since it was Boxing Day - the day after Christmas - it wasn’t crowded, and we enjoyed ourselves immensely.

The weather has been lovely but for intermittent squalls coming through. We’ve come to expect the rain. Things dry out right away, and a benefit of the squalls are some very nice rainbows. The one in this picture appeared while we were still at the Bight on Norman Island.

Squalls also tend to keep us in the boat’s salon. We spent much of the 27th aboard Syros, dodging rain squalls and also taking advantage of the free wireless connection from Peter Island Resort. Using all this electronic stuff for the first time on a cruise – usually we’re trying to escape the -world completely – is frustrating. The wireless connection can be intermittent, using new software can be frustrating, and we agreed spending whole days doing this stuff is a drag.

As well, we blew a fuse on the “freezer” today. It took us a while to determine the problem (not too familiar with the newer style fuses), but we figured it out and found some spares aboard – thanks to Captain Deborah requesting them on the boat checkout. It turns out the “freezer” works fairly well, but we really need to run it three or four hours a day with the engine on. The two hours a day BVI Yacht Charters recommends just doesn’t do it. As for the “refrigerator,” it is just a hot box. Deb put some veggies it that became moldy within five days, so we’re now keeping only things that can take some heat in it.

Ice is just a daily line-item budget here. We’ve gone through 23 bags of cube ice in nine days. If we can get blocks, it lasts longer, but blocks are a rare commodity. Perhaps when we spend a night at Marina Cay – last April when our boat for two weeks had no refrigerator at all, we found block ice there.

At 16:00 I took Deb into the marina and she caught a shuttle to the Peter Island Resort Spa. Then I met her at the lobby bar for a drink at 18:00. A local musician was setting up to play sax to recording backing, and Deb suggested we splurge again for dinner. What the hell…why not! So we had a great sea bass and beef tenderloin dinner, listen to Everett play a very nice sax, danced a bit after eating, and soaked in the view of Tortola. Indeed, the food was so good, we decided on the spot to stay one more night and do it again.

Staying through the 28th gave us a chance to doing some exploring of the island, so we walked quite a bit. Peter Island is truly lovely, less spoiled partly because it’s been a private resort for many years. The original builder and owner of the resort died a couple of years ago, and his children took it over. They decided to open it up to visiting yachtsmen, so one can get a berth at the marina or moor on one of five mooring balls in Sprat Bay. One can also anchor in Deadman’s Bay and use a beach set aside for boaters as well as eat lunch at the resort beach bar, or you can anchor in Great Harbour and dinghy ashore and wander across a little spit to Sprat Bay (but not a very pleasant pathway). At any rate, spending a night on a very expensive mooring ball and having access to everything in the resort but the swimming pools is really a treat. Like us, you may be persuaded to spend a little extra and stay longer.

Cooper Island…

12/29 – We departed Sprat Harbour at Peter Island for Cooper Island around 09:45, arriving two hours later to pick up one of the last two or three moorings available. We’ve never seen Cooper so crowded. Several boats anchored out beyond the mooring field, and boats wandered through for three more hours hoping (often against hope) to score a mooring ball from some late leaving sailor.

We went ashore and, as is our habit, visited the boutique. Then we sat down at the Cooper Island Beach Club bar and restaurant for drinks. Our Suasa Gold tequila (mine a Margarita, Deb’s a straight shot) that we decided to have another. Meantime, Deb struck up a conversation with Gary Matthews, a charter boat captain from St. Vincent who had sailed up his charges from St. Vincent and the Grenadines in two days. He got into the charter business in St. Vincent with a small little company a decade ago, after getting a “mechanical engineering” degree from the local college. He was picked up by Sunsail, where he worked for several years, going over to Greece and Turkey with them in the off-season, and getting his captain’s certificate in Trinidad. Two years ago an Italian fellow started J T Charters in St. Vincent – vacnaze da sogno ai caraibi. Gary went with them, and since the company also has a base in Nanny Cay, he makes an appearance here now and again.

We had such a good time, we yet had another round, finally leaving shortly after Gary returned to his boat and see to his charges plans for dinner. When we arrived at the dinghy dock, lo and behold, our dinghy was not there. Deb had secured it very well, and we could only guess that someone had mistakenly taken it. Then Deb saw it up on the beach, and a sunbather told us it had just washed up, all in good condition, though with a little water in it. With the fellow’s help, we launched her and got back to the boat safely.

We had a snack dinner aboard Syros and then spent a very rolly night at Cooper.

Our day’s sail was 7 nm; 6.2 kts max. speed.

Leverick Bay…

12/30-01/02 – After one unpleasant night at Cooper, we decided to push ahead to the east end of Virgin Gorda Island and to the Leverick Bay Resort, where we had just made New Year’s Eve dinner reservations. This was a good day of sailing. We departed at 08:45 and arrived at 13:15, sailing 22.3 nm at an average speed of 5.1 kts and a max. speed of 9.6 kts.

Soon after our arrival, we made the obligatory trip into the boutique at Leverick Bay, which is one of several “Pusser’s Rum” boutiques in the BVI. I found a great pair of shorts and a really colorful lightweight shirt, and Deb found a spiffy necklace. Good thing we have an expandable suitcase for the return trip the end of February.

All the shopping made us hungry, so we split a 10 oz. burger and had some deep-fried calamari before returning to the boat for a relaxing evening. And, it was relaxing – calm waters and gentle breezes allowed us a good, long nights sleep.

We awakened New Years Eve faced with the task of replenishing provisions at the Leverick Bay Market. First we decided to take a walk, and walked about two miles up overlooking the harbor. Truly a beautiful view – of Saba Rock and the Bitter End as well as out to Anageda, which when we got high enough, we could see clearly.

Then we went marketing for a case of drinking water (1.5 ltr. bottles), some perishables, and a couple of other items we were running short on, picked up two bags of ice from the harbor master, and dinghied it all back to the boat.

After lunch we had hoped to take a long dinghy ride to Biras Creek, up by the Bitter End, but the wind waves were really up, so after getting a bit wetter than we’d planned, we ended up at the beach bar having a strawberry daiquiri. Deb signed up for a facial and foot massage at the spa, where she could also get showered and dressed to the nines for our New Year’s Eve dinner at the resort restaurant.

New Year’s Eve was great fun. We imbibed, danced, ate heartily – great sea bass and a top rate steak, though not quite as elegant as Peter Island Resort – and returned to the boat satiated at 11:30. No fireworks to watch, but lots of youngsters blowing horns and using other sundry noise makers.

Settling weather arrived on the first day of January 2008. We languished aboard Syros and eventually climbed in the dinghy and set off for The Fat Virgin Restaurant at Biras Creek. It was crowded when we arrived, but we recognized a couple we’d met at the fuel dock at Leverick Bay. They were waiting a table, chatting with the people leaving and waved at us.

At that moment, the man leaving the table dropped his credit card down between the decks slats and into the water below. It seemed like minor pandemonium erupted. A somewhat over-beveraged woman at an adjacent table began a boisterous and unending prattle of advice, bad jokes, and general obnoxiousness. Deb got so immersed in looking for the card along with the man that the loud-mouth immediately decided Deb was the fellow’s wife. The man’s son finally went into the water and managed to find retrieve the card. Photographs all round, with loud-mouth yelling at me that I was blocking her photographic angle.

At last we sat down and enjoyed a great lunch with the couple we’d met at Leverick Bay. They sailed an Alden 46 sloop and were leaving that night for St. Martin. We chatted about weather, retirement, our mutual love of boats, and life in general. A lovely lunch, and then it was off to the boutique and finally the long dinghy ride back to our boat.

We got back to Leverick Bay around 17:45, spent the evening at the beach bar and at dinner – not nearly as good a dinner as New Year’s Eve – and decided to top off fuel and water first thing in the morning and then sail to Anegada.


01/02-01/04 – At 07:00 we hung fenders, put out dock lines, dropped our mooring, motored over to the fuel dock. The harbor master was due to arrive until 08:00, so we made coffee and relaxed until, per Island Time, he finally arrived. At 09:15, fueled, watered, and iced, we embarked for Anegada. The forecast called for about 15 knot trades out of the northeast and 4 to 6 foot seas. By the weekend a front was scheduled to come in and a northerly swell to build, but that was three days away.

It was a beautiful sail. I had plotted the course to the entrance into Setting Point on Anegada carefully on the Raymarine C-80 chart plotter, but as things often happen on boats the plotter simply register “no data.” But I had my back-up Garmin 76X GPS, so I put the waypoint in it and punched go-to, and we went flawlessly to the spot. Overall we sailed 14.9 nm at an average 5.5 knots (8.9 max.) and made it into the setting point anchorage in 2:50 hours.

All the mooring balls were occupied, so we dropped anchor among perhaps 40 boats – the anchorage was crowded. She set quickly and almost before we could say we’re here, Sam (“the Man”) arrived by small skiff to urge us to have the obligatory Anegada lobster dinner at his little place, The Whistling Pine Restaurant & Bar. It’s not in our favorite guide book, Exploring the Virgin Islands by Joe Russell and Mark Bunzel, and almost an afterthought in the more well-known cruising guide, but Sam’s smile had us hooked (his lobster was only $50 compared to his competitors’ $60), so we signed up for 19:00.

Anegada is a new island for us. It’s a twelve mile long, three mile wide almost entirely flat piece of real estate protected almost on all sides by one of the world’s longest barrier reefs. The beaches are stunningly beautiful, the island landscape itself unremarkable. It’s only a few miles north of Virgin Gorda, but so flat you cannot see it at sea level until your about five miles out. Our exploration of it started with the inevitable boutique’s – Sue’s and the Anegada Reef Hotel – and a walk down the beach that took us to Sam and the Whistling Pines Restaurant.

Sam “the Man” is a charmer. Deb says he has the best smile she’s seen in the Caribbean. He welcomed us, served us drinks, and then described the whole operation. Whistling Pines (named after the Australian pine tree planted along the shoreline) is owned by Dervin, a quiet local fellow. Sam is the bartender, principal cook, and, clearly, the public relations director. Dervin’s son Keet works in the evenings along with other family members.

Sam took us along with him to the dock, when he went to harvest the lobsters for that night’s meal. Local lobstermen trap lobster on the reef and sell them to the restaurants, which keep them fresh in lobster cages in the waters just off their property. Sam hauled in a cage and pulled out about twenty small to medium lobsters, throwing them into a plastic garbage can. He hauled the can up to the dock and systematically killed each lobster using a machete. Then he split them and cleaned them, put them back into the can with seawater and perhaps a pint of vinegar. When all were cleaned he stirred up the can, drained off the seawater and vinegar mixture, and we carried the can back up to the kitchen. (Click here for photos of Sam and his lobsters)

That was sufficient for us, and we bid goodbye until later that evening, returning to the boat for a rest. When all were cleaned he stirred up the can, drained off the seawater and vinegar mixture, and we carried the can back up to the kitchen. That was sufficient for us, and we bid goodbye until later that evening, returning to Syros for a rest until it was time to go in for dinner.

At 19:00 we returned for a drink and our lobster dinner. Sam cooked everything in closed top barbecues made from 30 gallon barrels, and dinner was served on the beach. It was amazingly good, which was a real treat because we’d heard from other cruisers that, while lobster was the thing at Anegada, it was overpriced and not that good. It wasn’t cheap, but it was worth the price. Sweet and served with the best baked potatoes we’d seen in a long time, we couldn’t have been more pleased and give Whistling Pines the highest recommendation!

We spent a full day exploring the island on January 3rd, the principle exploration being a three mile walk around the west end to Cow Wreck Bay. Three miles is not too bad a walk, but we hadn’t taken into account that we’d be walking in the sun on a sandy road the whole way. We were really tired when we arrived at Cow Wreck Bar and Grill. Something to drink, some wonderful Conch Cerviche, and a really good burger got us revived. Nevertheless, we caught ride back to Setting Point, and spent the late afternoon and evening on Syros.

Wiling time away…

In Wind and the Willows, Water Rat says about being a boat person:Nothing really seems to matter; that’s the charm of it.” We pass time by doing little chores, cooking meals, lolling about on deck or below decks. I write a bit, Deb has gone over her notes for her novel. We do crosswords together, although lately Deb has become addicted to them. I read.

We’ve been gone three weeks and I’m into my fourth book. The first, a novel about World War II, was alright, the second about French refugees from German occupation in the late 1930s was intense. I decided to turn to books dealing with sailing and cruising that I’d brought along with me.

Perhaps my favorite book about the Caribbean is Herman Wouk’s Don’t Stop the Carnival. At Cooper Island, I saw Julian Putley’s Sunfun Calypso, about a British husband and wife who charter in the Caribbean and end up buying the charter company and its hotel. It’s clearly inspired by Wouk’s novel, which put me off a bit at first, but Putley is a good writer and the story was a fun read. I’d recommend it for sailors who’ve chartered, especially in the Caribbean.

I just completed Jerry L. Mashaw and Anne U. MacClintock’s Seasoned by Salt: A Voyage in Search of the Caribbean. I hadn’t expected much of it, just another cruising story by a couple who’d done it. But this is a truly lovely book, filled with human emotion, life reflection, as well as sailing. The author’s, one a Yale law professor and the retired from being counsel for a state regulatory bureau, bring a truly intelligent flair to the telling of what could be a pretty commonplace story of cruising. You’ll learn a lot about the Caribbean and its history that you probably didn’t know, and you’ll find yourself reflecting on lots of little philosophical questions as well as marveling at the author’s adventures. This is a must read for anyone contemplating cruising or for anyone who wants to live vicariously!

Back to Virgin Gorda Sound…

01/04-01/07 – We left Anegada on a lovely sailing day, with winds at about 12-15 knots on the beam and swells of no more than four feet. We could have stayed another day, but we knew a front was scheduled to come in that night with a shift to a northern swell over the weekend, so we decided not to stay and perhaps stay longer than we wanted.

We sailed the 15.9 nm in three hours, averaging 5 kts. and reaching a max. of 8 kts., and took a mooring up in front of Saba Rock, which turns out belonged to the Bitter End Yacht Club.

The mooring fields were scarcely half full. Looks like Friday after the New Year, a slew of charters ended and people went home. For the next couple of days we’ve enjoyed walking on the Bitter End grounds, had a couple of really great pizzas at the Bitter End Pub, done all the boutiques, and otherwise relaxed. It rained steadily the night of the 5th and morning of the 6th, so we hunkered down in the boat, read and did some photo sorting, writing, and internet browsing. The rain let up enough for a late afternoon stroll and then drinks and dinner at Saba Rock.

Cane Garden Bay…

01/07-01/11 – Monday morning…we dropped our mooring at motored out of the mooring field and began to raise the main. I had shaken out the second reef, and as the main went up (something I cannot see from my position cranking under the dodger and bimini) Deb saw that the main billowing out from the mast. Oops! The sail slugs had come out of the track and one was missing.

I found the missing sail slug on the foredeck, lowered the main, and rethreaded the sail slugs into the mast slot. The stopper had slipped down, and the sail and come out when we’d taken it down after coming in from Anegada.

Soon we were on our way, motor sailing (mostly motoring) to Cane Garden Bay on the north side of Tortola. We arrived around 13:30, after covering the 20 nm at average speed of 5.5 kts. There were few boats in the mooring field, as the north swell had just shifted to an eastern swell over night, so we easily found a favorable mooring just a hundred meters off the dinghy dock.

Cane Garden has become one of our favorite spots. The long curving white sand beach can be crowded with land-based visitors, particularly when the cruise ships are in at Roadtown and people are bussed over for an outing, but it is lovely still, with palm trees and colorful buildings. One looks west out of the bay, and the sunsets are among the best you’ll get at a BVI anchorage. And, there are lots of amenities: a number of restaurants, beach bars, and, of course, boutiques; a small Bobby’s market for resupplying and a spot just a few meters from the dingy dock that sells block as well as crushed ice; and since this August there is a nice little refurbished fueling dock, to which one can also tie up for the night, for a fee of course. Also not to be missed is Callwoods, the historic rum distillery at the south end of mainstreet through town.

We enjoy taking a walk in the late mornings, which always involves a steep climb up one of the roads leading to the hills that surround the bay. There are many homes and some lovely large villas perched on the overlooking hillsides, and the views are truly spectacular.

After our walks we generally eat lunch ashore. Perhaps the best lunch place is the Big Banana Holding Company’s Paradise Club (but the ribs really aren’t as good as advertised), which is just between Quito’s at the end of the dinghy dock and Rhymer’s. A little farther south down the beach is Stanley’s Welcome Beach Bar, which like Rhymer’s, which is only a little less worn out than Rhymer’s. Stanley’s is rumored to be the spot where Jimmy Buffet wrote “Cheeseburgers in Paradise" - the paradise part is superb, but Buffett must have been very hungry that day - or, as other rumors have it, he wrote it at Village Cay in Roadtown - equally pedestrian food.

As the sun sets, live music begins at Myett’s, just south of Stanley’s. Kareem, a member of the Rhymer family, opened Myett’s hotel, boutique, and restaurant fifteen years ago, naming it after his brother. We met Kareem on an afternoon visit to Myett’s, and when he found out we live in the San Francisco Bay Area, he lit up in conversation, reminiscing about living in San Francisco in the 1970s and 1980s – the shooting of Harvey Milk, Diane Feinstein and Willy Brown as mayors, the price of real estate, his working on the Southern Pacific Railroad and in the City.

That evening we returned to have dinner and to hear Clem, our taxi driver of that day and owner of a little restaurant called Clem’s Place in Carrot Bay, play the steel drums with his son Ian. They were really wonderful, and not appreciated nearly enough by the tourist audience, who clearly would have preferred listening to "Kap-Eye," a Jimmy Buffett impersonator who also had been playing at Happy Hour the day before. We also met Valerie, who came to the islands to work for the Moorings twenty years ago, and met and married Kareem.

Clem and Ian had driven us over to Long Bay during the day in his taxi, and recommended we have lunch at Sebastian’s By the Sea, which we did and both agreed was some of the best food we’ve had in the islands. Deborah’s conch salad had the sweetest fresh conch we’ve yet found – why would anyone put batter on conch and destroy it as a fritter? – and I had probably the best chicken roti I’ve ever eaten. Moreover, we ate beyond the din of tourist music and peacefully on the shaded deck perched over the beach at Long Bay.

After our fine lunch, we walked a hundred meters back up the road to Tortola’s famous Bomba Shack (Steve Hendrickson's song "The Bomba Shack" is about it), where Clem agreed to pick us up later. Truly a shack, a local called Bomba started building it from scraps in 1976 and gradually has expanded it into a fairly large place. It’s perched over the water on one side of the road, and on the other has another building constructed of scrap wood and metal. One cannot sail there, as the surge and surf at Long Harbor has no good anchorage, but people come from all over the island in the evenings to drink and party there, particularly on the night of the full moon, when Bomba throws an all night party with live music. And gals are wont to leave behind a pair of panties or a bra hanging from the rafters, our take off their tops and pose with Bomba for a free T-shirt.

On Friday we went in for a walk, after lolling about aboard Syros for most of the day. We stopped at Stanley's Welcome Bar for a drink, and got to talking with a couple from Alberta, Canada. John and Lynda Fuller have been coming to Cane Garden Bay since the mid-1990s, and always stay in one of the villas operated by Stanley. They suggested we have dinner at Stanley's, so we met later for what turned out to be a super lobster and rib dinner, after which we walked over to Myett's, next door, to have a nightcap and to listen to M.J. Blues, my favorite BVI singer.

We clearly love Cane Garden Bay. The first night on our mooring was very roily, and Deb awakened to suggest we leave and go over to Foxy’s Taboo on Jost van Dyke, just about three nm away. But as the day went on, we decided to stay, and soon found we didn’t notice the rolling. One day turned into to two, then three, and then four, five, and six. More books read, many more crossword puzzles, walks, margaritas with lunch, and lovely sunsets. Very hard to leave….

Jost Van Dyke…

01/12-01/14 – We motor-sailed under the jib to Manchioneel Bay – 4.15 nm in 50 minutes – and took up a mooring just inside Diamond Cay off Little Jost Van Dyke. This is home to one of our favorite BVI spots: Foxy’s Taboo. It’s incredibly quiet here, especially in the late mornings after charterers on their one-week or ten-day forced march from island to island have departed for the next point on their itinerary and before their brethren a day behind have reached us.

Foxy’s Taboo is an attractive little restaurant-bar-boutique complex with a nice dock to welcome day trippers who come over for lunch in motor boats from as far away as the Bitter End and as close as Cane Garden Bay. They have the best cold calamari appetizer we’ve ever had – not quite a ceviche but close, wonderfully balanced in spices – and I think their lunchtime lamb kabobs on pita bread is also the best in the islands. Their boutique is also one of the better ones, although it’s hard to say there is a really good boutique anywhere in the BVI.

Speaking of bests, some of the other “bests” for the BVI are: best restaurant in the BVI – The Tradewinds, Peter Island Resort; best anchorages – Great Harbour, Peter Island, and Manchioneel Bay, Jost Van Dyke; best place to hang out – Cane Garden Bay; best Anegada beach bar and restaurant – Whispering Pines; best Bushwacker – Myett’s, Cane Garden Bay and the One Love Bar, White Bay, Jost Van Dyke; best lobster – Stanley’s Welcome Beach Bar & Restaurant, Cane Garden Bay; best pizza – The Pub at the Bitter End, Virgin Gorda; best ribs – The Pub at Fort Burt, Roadtown, Tortola; best sail on a good day – Gorda Sound to Anegada (either way); best Thai food – The Fat Cat Thai Restaurant, Roadtown; best coozies – Ivan’s Stress Free Bar, White Bay, Jost Van Dyke ; best spa – Peter Island Resort; best sunsets - Cane Garden Bay.

Other firsts (or lasts, depending on one’s point of view) include: cheapest charters – Conch Charters (you get what you pay for); most expensive charters – the Moorings and Sunsail (you don’t always get what you pay for); most mosquitos – Myett’s, Cane Garden Bay and Ivan’s Stress Free Bar, White Bay, Jost Van Dyke…. We can add to this over time.

Rather than sail around the island to anchor in the always crowded Great Harbour or in White Bay, where holding is not so good, we decided to take Frankie’s taxi from Foxy’s Taboo to White Bay for an afternoon. White Bay is the destination du jour for day trippers and their motor boats from both the U.S. and the British Virgin Islands. They back them up along the beautiful white sand beach, planting a Danforth or Fortress anchor up on the beach and then spend the day sunbathing and drinking at the numerous beach bars. It’s the gathering place for the young and beautiful people, along with a smattering of cruisers.

White Bay is home to the Soggy Dollar, so named because in its early years, patrons would swim in from their boats and pay for drinks with soggy currency. There is still no dinghy dock in White Bay, so wet currency probably still changes hands, but the Soggy Dollar is pretty upscale these days. Less upscale is the One Love, located at the west end of the beach. And at the far, east end of the beach, which you must cross a rocky out point to get to, is Ivan’s Stress Free Bar. Ivan is a great island singer and guitar player whose good friend is country music singer Kenny Chesney and with whom Ivan has played concerts in Atlanta and elsewhere. It is truly a relaxed place, but for the mosquitoes – wear lots of 100% Deet repellent.

On our second day at Manchioneel Bay, we went on a shell gathering trip along the reef shore that separates Jost Van Dyke and Little Jost Van Dyke, and then we walked lazily over to the Bubbly Pool, where the waves wash into a little rounded basin creating a natural sort of whirl pool bath. We lingered there until a couple of parties of people arrived, and then we hiked up the rocks to the blow hole – only a few people seem to know about it, and we aren’t telling. It’s remarkable – as Deb says, we can hear the earth breathing there.

Cane Garden Bay again…

01/14-01/15 –

In order to vote in the upcoming California primary election on February 5th, we went to a lot of trouble to persuade our county’s registrar of voters to email us our ballots – our address on the ballots is British Virgin Islands, c/o BVI Yacht Charters, St Thomas, USVI. The ballots were to be faxed on January 11th, so we decided to sail back to Cane Garden Bay, where internet access is easy, to receive them. So, we sailed over on the jib in the morning (one hour, 4.16 nm, 4 kts average).

Lo and behold, the ballots had arrived by email, and we printed them out on Deb’s little Canon printer. We’ll vote and then FAX them back to the registrar later this week, when we go into Roadtown to extend our BVI visas.

Having a computer and wireless internet access has changed our cruising experience. When we first started chartering, it was a total escape from the world – no work, no worries, just let things go. But we were only gone for at most three weeks, and we did have the luxury of working cell phones should emergencies crop up. But being gone for almost ten weeks is a different story; we couldn’t just leave the world behind – Deb’s got family issues and the family business, I’ve got some essays to review and conference paper proposals to look at in order to meet deadlines, and we both want to keep up a bit on our investments.

We thought all this would be a bit hard, but with free wireless internet access at most large anchorages that we can access from the boat (with our nifty Engenius antenna) and with Skype to make phone calls home at two cents a minute, staying in touch and handling business matters is a breeze.

Meantime, we’re again enjoying Cane Garden Bay immensely. We had a couple of good sundowner Margaritas at Stanley’s Welcome Bar and ended up staying for a rib dinner – scrumptious. Then on our way down the beach to our dinghy, we got waylaid by the sounds of MJ Blues at the Big Banana Holding Company’s Paradise Bar, so we danced ourselves silly for almost two hours. When we finally got back to the boat, Deb was so tired; she fell asleep in the cockpit, sawing ZZZs until 02:00.

We decided to spend yet a couple of more days here, giving us a chance to clean out our refrigerator/freezer and stock it with block ice, buy and barbecue some chicken thighs that we’ll give us more than just one meal, walk up our favorite hills, and relax at the beach bars and on the boat and watch the world of charter cruisers and local life go by.

We get a particularly joy watching charter cruisers coming in to pick up moorings, often at high speed, then jamming the boat in reverse, the person on the bow (usually a slip of a girl) trying mightily to tame the mooring pennant with their boat hook while being berated by the hot-rod helmsperson (most often the “guy”) for not smoothly picking it up.

Deb is very good at driving the boat up to a mooring, inching in the last few feet, while I direct her with hand signals as to the mooring ball’s location and to her direction and speed. Only once and a great while do we have to make a second pass at a mooring ball; we’ve become pretty good at it, and yelling is a thing of the past.

We also get a real kick out of how many people can pile into a dinghy to go ashore. I believe we’ve counted ten, and we’ve often seen nine. The gunnels are close to the water, and usually the driver is putting along a mighty good rate of speed. But somehow they all seem to make it back alive, and I can’t say that we’ve ever seen anybody go (pardon the pun) in the drink. The gods of the sea truly must look after these novices.

I got the chance to finish another wonderful sailing book, Cruising at Last: Sailing the East Coast, a collection of essays by Elliott Merrick. His essays encompass several years of sailing on his 20 foot Carinita ocean-going sloop designed by Al Mason in 1952, which he built at his home near Asheville, North Carolina in the late 1960s. He and his wife Kay and later his second wife Patricia, made several trips on his little sloop Sunrise between North Carolina and Maine. His essays written over the years about various parts of these several voyages were finally compiled by Upton Brady, and they recount the boat building and sailing education of the remarkably talented Merrick. It’s such a treat to read the work of a truly fine author, and I savored Cruising at Last over several days.

Roadtown and immigration…

01/17-01/19 –

Late morning, we at last left Cane Garden Bay and sailed 22.5 miles to Roadtown in 4:45 minutes (average of 4.8 kts.; max. of 8 kts). By the time we refueled at BVI Yacht Charters and got into a slip for the night, it was after 17:00 and we were bushed, so we changed clothes and around 19:00 sat down at Spaghetti Junction for a drink and dinner. We were surprised how much the sail had taken out of us, but at least three-and-a-half hours had been beating upwind in 20 knots plus through the Sir Francis Drake Channel from the west end of Tortola to Roadtown. We were still rocking during dinner.

The next day we had to go to immigration to renew our visas for two weeks. I suppose we should have guessed it would take the whole day, but nobody warned us and we ignored whatever signals we might have picked up during our stay. We arrived at 10:00 to find about 90 people at the tiny office that houses labor and immigration. We picked a number (44). Number 91 was showing on the two-digit electronic counter, and we soon discovered the counter didn’t move quickly. By noon the counter was to 99. I’d held our place while Deb went to reschedule a hair appointment to January 30th and get something to eat at Bobby’s Market. Then around 13:00, she held our place while I went to a little restaurant and picked up a ham-and-cheese sandwich for lunch.

The flow of people in and out not only seemed snail-paced, but rather than just following the numbers, the immigration officers would come out and call people in by name. After talking with others in the line (mostly immigrants from the Caribbean who live and work in the BVIs), we discovered that these were people who had gone to labor first to renew their work permits, the paperwork for which was then carried over to immigration by labor. We also discovered that virtually everyone who went in by numbers came back out and then waited to be called in by name again to see the immigration officer. And, a friendly local explained that the office would only allow as many numbers as they felt they could handle during the day to be given out, and around 14:00 this was confirmed when an official came out and took away the number dispenser (it was at about 65 by then).

Number 44 was called a little after 16:00. We went in and the window official took our passports and our entry/exit cards and airline tickets for exiting the country; then she said: where are your airline tickets for entering the BVI? We explained that the airport immigration officer had told us the three items we’d given her were the only things we needed to bring to extend our visas. Back and forth, and finally…okay, wait outside until you’re called.

Twenty minutes later we were called back and into the immigration officer’s office. A very nice and friendly fellow, he apologized profusely for the system, saying they’d tried all sorts of ways to speed it up, put part of the blame on the labor office, generally blamed “bureaucracy,” and finally extended our stay.

We were exhausted, and decided to go to the Village Cay restaurant for a drink and something to eat (they serve what they claim is Jimmy Buffett’s cheeseburger in paradise), where I ended up having a mediocre calamari dish and the worst Margarita ever in the islands. We had hoped to leave Roadtown that afternoon, but we still had to go to the market for some provisions, which we finally did, returning to the boat around 19:00.

Next morning we slept in, topped off the water tanks, made a second short provisioning trip to the market, got some ice and finally escaped around 13:00 for Great Harbour on Peter Island – we made the 4 nm in a little over an hour, hitting 7.3 knots on just the jib in the 20-25 knot breeze.

Great Harbour, Peter Island…

01/19-01/22 –

We had picked up a five-day weather report on the 18th at BVI Yacht Charter, and it was clear that things were changing, for it reported increasingly higher winds (19-24 knots climbing to 22-27 knots on January 22nd) and swells (5-7 feet climbing to 5-8 feet ). As for rain possibilities, it reminded me of the San Francisco Chronicle’s local weather predictions during the summer: morning fog then sun, fog then clearing, sun after morning fog…. This report said: scattered showers, isolated showers, scattered showers then isolated showers.

We got our first squall not long after we’d secured our mooring at Great Harbour just of the new Oceans Seven Beach Club. But things lifted and we decided to go into the beach bar for a drink and lunch. It was crowded (there was a small cruise ship in the bay), and although the cruise ship was running a private party, the local staff agreed to cook us a burger. Another downpour came and went, and we went for a walk, along the way meeting four other charterers with whom we struck up a conversation, found we had much in common (all retired teachers), and ended up spending the rest of the afternoon with.

Oceans Seven was roasting a pig on a spit out back and planning a big buffet – salads, mahi-mahi, chicken, short-ribs and Caribbean spiced veggies, steamed veggies, roast pig, veggie lasagna, and deserts – all for $28 a head. We all made a reservation for 19:00.

If you’re familiar with the BVI, then certainly you’ve gone to the Bight at Norman Island. The Pirate’s Bight Restaurant used to be a really funky and lively place – names written all over the walls, burgees, t-shirts, and flags hanging – and the staff was really lively, especially Jason, who managed the bar and, with great flare, made the best Pina Coladas and Bushwackers anywhere. He was an icon there for several years, but this year he was gone and a not-to-humble New York twenty-something who called himself one of the top “mixologists” in the world ran the bar (yech).

Well, lo and behold, who arrives in late afternoon behind the bar at Oceans Seven? Yep, Jason! Turns out he left the Pirates Bight after the owners changed the mood and started bringing in New York mixologists (who he said he had to train), and after he was asked if he’d manage this new spot. So, we figured the dinner buffet would be great, and we knew the drinks were. None of us were disappointed. It was among the best buffets we’ve ever had, and the price was generously reasonable. And we were glad we got there at 19:00, for an hour later 50 Israeli charterers from the Sea-Gal Yacht Club, who were on six catamarans, came in, cleaned up the buffet, and soon were doing great Israeli dances.

Our friends, Joe and Cathy and Mike and Barbara, turned out not only to be retired teachers (secondary, elementary and community college level), but good sailors and great conversationalists. They all hail from Burt, New York, near Niagara. Joe sails a 34 foot Irwin, and Mike has a slightly smaller Irwin, and they belong to the Olcott Yacht Club, which sounds as lively as our Encinal Yacht Club in Alameda. Joe and I also found another commonality in that we both are musicians – him guitar, me piano – and love playing gigs. We finally ended the evening with promises to keep in touch.

Next morning, Joe and Mike dinghied over to Syros, and I gave them a ration of Stugeron for seasickness (Barbara was having a hard time), and then a bit later we bid them fair winds as they headed off toward Marina Cay. Some of the day was a beautiful one for sailing, but lazily, we decided to sit aboard and do crosswords and read. We probably should have taken a short sail, for late afternoon brought showers, then a good sized lightning and thunder storm followed by steady rain (“scattered showers…then isolated showers”). We just hunkered down and felt really sorry for those charterers (like Joe, Cathy, Mike and Barbara) who are just here for this week.

The rain came pretty steadily for two days, finally letting up a bit on Monday afternoon. I bailed the dinghy – perhaps 15 gallons of water – and we went in for dinner at Oceans Seven around 18:00. Not too many people were there, but all were friendly and we hooked up with Matt and Sasha, a couple of thirtysome Brits who had left home in November and crewed on an 1888 gaff rigged wooden boat across the Atlantic to St. Lucia as part of the annual Arc rally. They had managed to make their way up from St. Lucia to Antigua, spending Christmas along the way in Bequia in the Grenadines, and then flew into the BVIs where they decided to charter a little 322 Beneteau from the Moorings for a week. They’d had quite an adventure, about which they were pleasantly modest.

Another Peter Island Resort visit…

01/22-01/24 –

Next morning the sun came out a bit and we decided to visit Peter Harbour Resort again. We motored over and I had to get in the dinghy to pick up a mooring that had no pick-up line attached to it. In the process I lost a hat in the wind, which sank like a lead balloon, but we settled in well enough. Deb got a massage, and we had another great dinner at the Tradewinds Restaurant. We wiled away a second day and ended up having dinner at the resort’s beach bar restaurant. The weather finally turned for good, and we decided to go up to Marina Cay and then on down to our favorite spot, Cane Garden Bay.

Marina Cay…

01/24-01/26 –

We sailed 11.5 nm to Marina Cay in three hours, tacking across to Tortola at a point just south of Beef Island, then over toward Cooper, and then back to Marina Cay. It was an okay sail, but the channel was pretty choppy and our average speed was not much more than 4.1 kts.

Marina Cay, home to one of the three Pusser’s bars restaurants in the BVIs, was almost empty when we arrived around noon on Thursday. We had a good rib lunch ashore, enjoyed our crosswords and lounging about, and we happy to just relax on the boat. I’ve been avoiding a lot of walking and snorkeling because of an infected blister on a toe, and Deb has been taking it easy as well, though she complains about it more than I do.

Cane Garden Bay revisited…

01/26-01/27 –

There really isn’t much to do at Marina Cay unless one sunbathes or snorkels, so to avoid boredom, we departed for Cane Garden Bay early on Saturday morning (it was Saturday, we think). We motor sailed with the jib the entire way, as the wind was very light, covering the 9.71 nm quickly. It was a lovely day, and the bay was virtually empty of sailboats. We enjoyed lunch ashore and then watched the mooring field fill up. That night we chose to nibble on board. We were going to go in and hear some music, but Deb was feeling poorly so we stayed and read aboard.

The night was quite something. We went to our bunks at about 21:30 and fell asleep to the music of Quito and his band. But around 23:00 Quito’s DJ started spinning and the music got louder and louder…until 02:00 or so…almost unbearable. Then, perhaps an hour after the music ended, a northern swell started building in and the boat responded with a lot of rolling. I finally got up at 06:45, unable to tolerate it, and by 07:30, Deb was up and we agreed to drop the mooring and go around to Soper’s Hole on Tortola’s West End. As we motored out of Cane Bay, we saw a surfer riding the eight to ten foot waves on the east edge of the bay. Later that day, I discovered on the NOAA site that a six to eight foot northern swell was to last for about a week.

Soper’s Hole…

01/27-01/28 –

We’ve always avoided Soper’s Hole because it’s a crowded stop. We thought we might visit when we were thinking of going over to the U.S. Virgins for a week, because we’d have to check out of the BVIs there. But our immigration office experience dissuaded us from going to the USVI.

Now, however, we had the chance to come in. It only took us a little over an hour to motor over from Cane Garden Bay – again no wind – and we arrived at 09:00. There were several moorings, and we took one just off Pusser’s Landing.

We had left without breakfast, so we went in and had our first real restaurant breakfast in a month at Pisces restaurant, then did some shopping at boutiques and at the market, got ice, and returned later for a light lunch at Pusser’s, where we listened to a nice steel drum band. Deb found a couple of portraits of local women by an elderly local artist and couldn’t resist them, so she splurged. I confined myself to a couple of really lightweight shirts.

I’ve been talking about getting a boat of my own here, perhaps in time for next year’s winter season, and when Deb decided to go for a walk while I listened to the steel band, I suggested she find me one on the docks. Lo and behold, she came back and said: “I’ve found it.” She struck up a conversation with some folks on the dock who spend winters taking care of boats in the BVI, and they were caring for a 1989 Freedom 45 center cockpit (a Gary Mull and Gary Hoyt design boat), which was for sale and up in Spanishtown on Virgin Gorda. One almost like it was on the docks (an aft cockpit version), and I went back with her to look at it and talk with the folks. Later I checked and found three or four for sale in Florida and California and found the one they were caring for. Maybe it’s a bit premature, but looking was fun.

Back to Roadtown...

01/29-01/31 - We left Soper's Hole and sailed 10.9 nm up to Roadtown and into BVI Yacht Charters. We spent the next 24 hours aboard Syros, packing up our belongings and preparing for the next leg of our trip to the Leewards. Deb had a hair appointment, I stopped by a yacht broker and chatted, and we generally took it easy. We spent the next two nights at the Fort Burt Hotel, and we confirmed that the Cullinary Academy ended its lease with the hotel about two months ago. That was a loss, and so was the quality of food at the hotel. The Pub, across the street, became our breakfast place as well as dinner, and we spent our penultimate night dancing to M.J. Blues and having ribs.

For more photos