Sailing the British Virgin Islands, February 1 - 13, 2015
Steve, Kathy, Ellen and Larry in the El Yunque rainforest, Puerto Rico
I like to try to take Kathy on a surprise vacation once a year, giving her just enough clues to tease her and enough packing instructions to make sure she has everything we need. This year, my trip was influenced by another couple's plans. Back in the summer of 2009, while preparing our triamaran for its initial launch, we met Larry and Ellen, who had been stranded in Muskegon when their sailboat's engine broke down during a cruise up the Lake Michigan shoreline. We got to know each other over wine and snacks aboard their boat one night. It turned out we were all quite compatable. Anyway, they were looking for chartering options in the Caribbean and contacted me to see if we knew of any. I related the fun we had on a past trip that had been planned by Captain Woody Henderson of Adventure Voyaging. After perusing their offerings, Ellen asked if we wanted to join them on this year's planned trip to the British Virgin Islands. Well, that was a no-brainer, so the planning was on!
The British Virgin Islands (BVI). Anegada is off the map to the northeast.
We flew out of Grand Rapids Sunday morning, in the face of an incoming snowstorm. The flights to Chicago were already cancelled when we arrived. Fortunately we were heading through Tampa on our way to San Juan, Puerto Rico. In San Juan, we met up with Larry and Ellen after checking-in at the Cape Air counter for our flight to Tortola. Larry scored the copilot seat on the little Cessna 402 we took. Kathy and I ended up in the tail, which provided a little more motion than Kathy preferred, but the flight went well.
A view of Road Town from the air
Our taxi driver gave us a brief tour on our trip to Road Town and dropped us off at Maria's By The Sea, where our room overlooked Sir Francis Drake Channel, across which we would soon be sailing. After eating dinner at the famous Pusser's, home of the Painkiller, (which I had to try -- I still prefer my rum neat), we headed back to the hotel to rest after a long day of travel. Kathy got a spurt of energy, so we headed downstairs where they were having a Super Bowl party and watched until after the half-time show.
Looking back across the harbor to Marias By The Sea (yellow building to the right of the ferry docks)
Monday, we explored Road Town, capital of Tortola, but not as picturesque as I would have hoped. We managed to pick up a few supplies we couldn't bring down with us in our carry-on luggage. After lunch, we stopped for the first of many ice cream stops we would make during the trip. It turns out Larry is quite the ice cream addict. The four of us took advantage of the view off our balcony by having a wine and cheese party, interrupted only by short walk to eat an excellent dinner at Cabernet (formerly the Grand Cafe).
Looking over the harbor and Sir Francis Drake Channel from our balcony
The hotel offered to keep our luggage until we were ready to head off to the Dream Yacht Charters marina, where we would start our sail. We took advantage of the day by traveling over to the east side of Road Town where there was a larger grocery and liquor store and touring The Moorings marina, where we checked out the shops and ate lunch. A wild cab ride took us to Hodges Creek, where our charter base was located. There we met the rest of our crew and Captain Woody. After transferring our gear on board, we all headed to Trellis Bay for the Full Moon Party. The wild party that night was supposed to be at the notorious Bomba Surfside Shack, and we had decided to avoid the craziness and go to a restaurant instead. Turns out there are two crazy Full Moon parties on Tortola (although the one at Trellis Bay is reported to be more family-friendly)!
Performers on stilts at the Full Moon Party, Trellis Bay, Tortola
Our boat for the week, a 52-foot Lagoon catamaran, proved to be quite spacious and comfortable. The cabins all had their own heads, and the common space was huge. We chose the starboard bow cabin for our quarters. We had air conditioning, a very productive water maker, a couple refrigerators, a freezer and an ice maker. All the winches were powered, which would make handling the lines easier on a boat that size.
The Lagoon 52 catamaran, our home for a week of sailing (photo from Adventure Voyaging)
Wednesday we sailed to The Baths, giant boulders on the beach in Virgin Gorda that combine to form tunnels caves and pools of water. We swam to shore to explore. Unfortunately, there were multiple cruise ships visiting the island that day and busloads of visitors were crawling the beach. It was beautiful anyway. Later we sailed to tiny Marina Cay, our anchorage for the night. After more swimming, we went ashore for dinner at another of the Pussers outposts.
The Baths on Virgin Gorda
Thursday morning, Kathy and I cooked breakfast for the crew before we all headed out for Saba Rock, a tiny rock island entirely covered by a restaurant and hotel. We motorsailed to the obviously upscale mooring field. After lunch, Kathy and I swam while most of the crew went to nearby Bitter End Yacht Club for shopping and drinks. Later, our crewmate Jim dropped Kathy and Ellen off at the Bitter End, then took Larry and I on a dinghy tour of the area. That night we went to an excellent buffet at Saba Rock, arriving early for happy hour and to watch the hand feeding of the giant Tarpon that hang out by the pier there. Back on the boat, we watched the stars from the vantage point of the trampoline up on the bow before turning in early.
The next morning, after refilling water tanks -- yes, we managed to burn through an amazing 160 gallons already (there were a few people onboard that were not familiar with water management on a boat) -- we set out for a very pleasant sail across to the island of Anegada. I got the opportunity to man the helm the first half of the 15-mile trip. Our boat being the fastest of our little fleet, we passed our fellow boats underway, taking group photographs of each of them as we went.
Anegada is the lowest of the BVI's (only 28-feet at its highest point), being little more than a coral island, rather than of volcanic origin like the rest. After picking up a mooring there, it was time for a swim. Then, Kathy and I headed to shore with Flint, Jamie, Jerry and Ruth to eat lunch. After some meandering, we arrived at the Wonky Dog, a small bar and restaurant recently opened by Peter, the Scottish proprietor. It turned out Peter is quite the chef, and we all had spectacular lunches. Woody picked us up by dinghy and brought us back to the boat, where we relaxed until dinner.
Sam Potter of Potter's by the Sea hosted a BBQ party for us. After a filling meal, the party was on, with dancing and a limbo contest, where I managed to take fourth after Woody and a young kid. Sam himself won with an impressive demonstration of flexibility.
Steve competes in a Limbo contest at Potter's by the Sea
Saturday morning there was not much wind for sailing. The crossing from Anegada to Cane Garden Bay on Tortola was very calm, at least until we turned into the bay, where we caught a nice breeze coming down the surrounding hills. I got to take the helm for mooring the big cat, which was pretty exciting with the dual diesel engines. We dropped the mainsail at the very last moment when I mentioned to Woody it was still up (he had forgotten when he got busy watching our approach and scoping out a bouy).
We went onshore to explore. Our first stop was for ice cream. The women went on to check out the shopping, while Jim, Larry and I located the historic Callwood Rum Distillery for a tasting ($1 for 4 samples) and a brief tour of the old facility. We had drinks at a beach bar while we waited for the women to return. Back on the boat, it was time for swimming and kayaking. We watched the sun set over St. Thomas, then had snacks for dinner. It turned into a beautiful evening, with the local establishments lighting the shore and hills and the glittering of St. Thomas in the distance.
The historic Callwood rum distillery in Cane Garden Bay, Tortola
We awoke to some fairly good swells in the morning. The monohull in our group (Tania Aebi's boat) fled the harbor early. The women were challenged making breakfast on the rocking boat, while we prepared to sail to Long Bay, between Jost Van Dyke and Little Jost Van Dyke. We hiked out to the Bubbly Pool on Jost Van Dyke, which was really kicking it up with the surf from the north running through the narrow channel into the natural pool. Of course, we had to get in! From there, we were off to Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke. We visited legendary Foxy's then had a late lunch at Rudy's (Randy, the son, was very accommodating and friendly). They have a small restaurant and bar in front of their grocery store. I tried some Appleton Estate dark rum, a very good Jamaican rum. The rest of the crew had dinner reservations at Corsairs, but we opted to return to the boat for a relaxing evening and drinks.
The Bubbly Pool
Foxy's on Jost Van Dyke
Monday was a great sailing day. Conditions were perfect for tacking upwind to our next destination, Peter Island. We found a spot to anchor next to a megayacht in Dead Man's Bay. A rather exclusive resort sits above the beach there, but we got to enjoy the same scenery from the comfort of our boat. After lunch, part of the crew went ashore and a few of us headed to a rocky area along the end of the bay for snorkeling. That evening, we hosted a potluck dinner on our boat for all the crews. There was a tremendous amount of food, as everyone tried to use up their stores.
We were awakened over night by a brief, but intense, downpour that sent us scrambling to close the hatches. Breakfast consisted of leftovers from last night's party. The sail across to the charter base was disappointingly brief. After finishing our packing and tidying of the boats, we said goodbye to crewmates. Woody complimented Kathy on all the work she had done in the galley and around the boat during our adventure.
Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
We ate an early lunch at the marina, then caught a cab to the airport. We were able to catch an earlier-than-scheduled flight back to San Juan by flying stand-by. The flight back in the little Cesna 402 was bumpier than Kathy would have liked due to the winds. After clearing Immigration and Customs, we took another cab to The Gallery Inn in Old San Juan. This unique inn has very interesting architecture and decor, thanks to its artist-owner, Jan D'Esopo.
One of the courtyards in the Gallery Inn, where we enjoyed cocktails and several meals
The pool at the Gallery Inn
Dinner was at Punto de Vista, on top of the Milano Hotel. Kathy and I both had the Mofongo with shrimp, which was excellent. After a brief walk, we headed back to the Inn to read and relax.
Wednesday was tour day! After breakfast at the hotel, we walked to Plaza de Colón to await our guide, Victor Martinez of Yokahu Kayak Tours. He picked us up and took us to El Yunque National Forest, a tropical rain forest, narrating along the way. He was a wealth of information on the history and nature of Puerto Rico. A Chinese couple on the tour found humor in the very short history of Puerto Rico compared to the ancient history of China.
We stopped first at El Portal, the welcome center, then hiked to La Mina Falls, where I joined a group of people enjoying the refreshing water. While we were there, Victor demonstrated how the Taíno would find colored basalt in the stream and use it to make war paints. Then we were off for brief stops at the Yokahú Tower and another smaller waterfall.
Ellen and Steve enjoy the pool below La Mina Falls
Victor took us to a row of restaurants in Luquillo for lunch; we chose a Peruvian place called Ceviche Hut. Then we went to Fajardo to kayak the Biobay. That was quite the experience, trying to navigate narrow channels through the Mangroves in the dark with a group of novice paddlers. The bioluminescence wasn't as impressive as we've seen on Vieques, but we still had a lot of fun. When we finally arrived back at the hotel, the four of us enjoyed wine overlooking the city from the roof top terrace.
Larry and Ellen went to tour the two local forts on Thursday. Kathy wanted to do some browsing in the shops of Old San Juan, so I packed my Kindle and found a shaded spot where I could sit, read and enjoy the sites in the park across from the old Catedral San Juan Bautista, the first cathedral in Puerto Rico.
We ate lunch at St. Germaine's, a small but very popular restaurant we had discovered on our last visit. Kathy enjoyed a ginger margarita with her salad. After lunch we read some more in the courtyard of the Inn. Larry and Ellen joined us later and we stuck around for Happy Hour and dinner prepared by the in-house chef.
Kathy and Steve in the Gallery Inn
Friday it was time to fly home. Time sure does fly quickly when you're having fun! Larry and I toured the Museo de las Americas in the morning while the women checked out a few final shopping venues. Then it was time to say goodbye to our traveling companions and catch a taxi to the airport. We ate lunch in the Orlando airport. It was snowing when we arrived in Grand Rapids. The long slow approach (probably to gain visualization of the landing strip) made Kathy nervous, but the the landing was spot-on. The cold and snow were a harsh greeting, but we have some great memories to tide us over until Spring.