Saturday, February 21, 2009

Finishing up in the BVI

A few days before our friend Karl arrived in Tortola, we settled ourselves in Trellis Bay, a comfortable anchorage near the airport. It is always a bit crowded there, but with our shallow draft we can get pretty close to shore and we don’t need as much chain out as others. The nicest thing about this bay is its long beach. Darwin loved it and we took him for many long walks. His highlights were the visits from three black labs every afternoon. These remarkable dogs swam from The Last Resort, a bar/restaurant on a little island in the middle of the bay (with great Happy Hours), to shore every day. When they were done playing, swimming and “fishing”, they would swim back home. One of the dogs was an awesome playmate for Darwin. It had been a long time since he had so much fun.

On February 6th, Karl joined us on Irie. Darwin was very happy to see him and immediately accepted him as part of the pack. A nasty north swell and heavy winds kept us a bit longer in Trellis Bay. During this time, Karl could get used to the Caribbean atmosphere, taste the boat life, enjoy some cocktails with Nini’s crew and explore the area. It was chillier than normally and the weather did not want to cooperate. When the swell went down, the wind was still blowing pretty hard and it rained every day.

It was time to visit a few places, though. After filling our water tank at Marina Cay, we sailed Irie to Fallen Jerusalem, a rocky island south of Virgin Gorda. There, Karl swam to shore, chose a few big rocks and practised his bouldering techniques. The night was spent in Spanish Town.

The next morning, we picked up Ed and Emily from Nini and motored to the Baths, the BVI’s number one attraction. By 8 am, we claimed our mooring ball. While eating a tasty breakfast of American pancakes, we watched the mad rush of arriving boats. The remaining mooring balls grew sparser every minute, so everybody wanted to pick one up as quickly as possible. More than once, we saw multiple sailboats race towards the same mooring ball. It was pretty funny. On shore our little group walked the gorgeous trail to Devil’s Bay. We meandered through walls of stone, under massive boulders, in clear water and along white sand beaches. It was the first time the sun was out in all its glory and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Once we made our way back, the whole area was flooded with tourists and boats were –illegally- anchored everywhere. Time to head back. But first, we snorkelled a bit in the aquamarine waters of the park, where colourful fish nibbled on the submerged boulders.

The wind picked up again. Anchoring became more difficult and we decided it was time to find refuge in Gorda Sound, from where we hoped to leave for St. Martin. The day we tried to reach Gorda Sound, it was blowing more than 25 knots with gusts to 32 knots. Not the best day to head into that mess under sail! Even in these protected waters, the seas got bumpy and white caps popped up all around us. Irie battled her way up the coast but barely made any progress. We tacked back and forth for a couple of hours. Everybody was uncomfortable and waves kept splashing over the bow into the cockpit. Finally we decided to hug the coast more and motor sail all the way into the sound. We all survived, but this was the roughest weather Irie was ever in. And that is why, we (normally) never get out in winds over 20 knots…

As I wrote before, Gorda Sound is nothing special. It is a protected bay and the jump-off point for St. Maarten/St. Martin, the main reason we were there. One day Karl went to shore to do some hiking, while we stayed on the boat, slowly seeing our weather window for the crossing diminish. When, on Friday, it became clear that we couldn’t go to St. Martin the next day, we decided to pay a quick visit to Anegada. Something different to do. We had a perfect sail over there, and back the following day. The sun was finally shining again and the wind blew a nice 15 to 20 knots. We were flying and had a great time. Anegada reminded us of the Bahamas, a low lying island with white sand beaches and a very relaxed atmosphere.

Once back in Virgin Gorda, Ed and Emily convinced us to spend our last BVI night in Long Bay. That area is much prettier than Gorda Sound. The water was very clear, the snorkelling interesting and the beach ideal for Darwin. After a final rest and check up on the weather back in Gorda Sound, we set sail for St. Martin late Sunday afternoon. Our goal was to arrive there around noon on Monday. Karl’s flight was leaving early the next day…

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Welcome to the British Virgin Islands

A cluster of wonderful islands with green hills and few houses. The islands are close enough together so you can see the next one over and then some. Beautiful clear and turquoise water. Great snorkelling. White sandy beaches, with or without palm trees. Balmy days and cool nights. Colourful people and a relaxed atmosphere. Primitive beach bars with the sounds of reggae. Steady trade winds that make for wonderful sailing, every day! We have reached the British Virgin Islands, one of the best sailing grounds in the world. It is easy to see why.

With the huge amount of visitors coming for this very reason, sailing the islands, mostly on a chartered boat, some things are turned into negatives for us, the cruiser. Every popular anchorage is full of mooring balls, making it almost impossible to anchor. There are ways around it, but those consist of using two anchors and showing a lot of patience, tolerance, persistence and being inventive. The unconventional way of anchoring might also include a line to shore, being less picky about your spot, re-anchoring a few times, taking two hours to get settled, using lots of chain because the water is very deep or cheating a little bit with the length of it. Another advantage of the high level of tourism here is that food and drinks in (beach) bars are extremely expensive. Nothing wrong with having a cocktail in our cockpit and watch the scene, or grabbing a drink and finding a nice spot on the beach to watch sunset ourselves. Luckily, some places do have Happy Hour and we know how to find them.

We started our exploration of the islands in West End, on Tortola, where we checked into the country and met our friends Ed, Emily and Steve from Luperon. It was great to catch up on each other’s lives and stories. We would see everyone multiple times in different places over the coming month. Cane Garden Bay, also on Tortola, was a place we both liked very much. The atmosphere and the beach were wonderful, the bars affordable and the live music was great. Steve had the use of a car and took us tfor a pleasant tour of the island. The wind in the anchorage was very funky. Irie did all kinds of weird things and we felt we couldn’t push our luck much longer, so we sailed to Jost Van Dyke.

On its eastern side, Mark, Darwin and I checked out the “Bubbly Pools”. When big waves rush through the rocks, they flood a small pool of water, creating bubbles all around you. The water was so clear, we could see tropical fish without having to snorkel. We anchored at White Bay after that little visit and spent a few days relaxing on the beautiful beach. When the anchorage became uncomfortable because of big swell, we moved to Road Town on Tortola for one night, to get groceries and propane. Not that it was less swelly there…

Our next stop was The Bight on Norman Island, famous for the Willy T, a bar/restaurant on an old ship. We picked Ed and Emily up and sailed around for a couple of hours. Just for fun! That had been forever. We also stopped to snorkel in a cave. It was a great afternoon. After visiting the Willy T and a day of recovering, we moved around the corner and anchored a few days in a quiet bay without charter boats. A walk over the hills provided us with great views of the BVI and our anchorage.

On Peter Island, we found Little Harbour very pretty and relaxing. Since the bay is very deep, people drop their anchor, back up towards shore and tie one or two lines to trees or rocks, to keep them from moving and bumping into other boats. It felt as if we were parking Irie in a garage. Dead Man Bay was also a beautiful setting, but we could only enjoy the view for a couple of hours, since the anchorage was very uncomfortable.

Virgin Gorda is famous for the Baths. We skipped that tourist attraction for now and stopped in a couple of other places. The island didn’t do much for us. Gorda Sound was filled with expensive yachts and fancy resorts, not wanting Darwin on their beach. We will go back next week to visit the Baths with Karl, who will arrive on Tortola shortly. He will spend ten days with us on Irie (a few here in the BVI, then an overnight trip to St. Maarten and the last days over there), so we’re all in for another adventure!