Friday, May 6, 2011

The British Virgin Islands
9th – 28th April 2011
We left the French island of St Martin early on April 9th. Not long  after setting the sails we spotted a large cat  to the west  and just slightly ahead that looked to be heading the same direction as we were. Great, we  had someone to play with. Sailing conditions were good with a steady breeze and during the 82 mile run the two boats seemed pretty well matched. Our competitor was  just far enough ahead that we couldn't  quite make out  their country flag. After passing  Sir Richard Branson’s privately owned  Necker Island we swung left into the tranquil waters of North Sound, Virgin Gorda, and the mystery cat continued on ahead. Shame, we thought , as we would have liked to have met these keen sailors.
 Arriving into North Sound we were greeted by the cheerie smiles of our Canadian friends , Ginny and Gordon from Ascension. They were essentially killing time for a couple of weeks until their flight out to Canada where they had secured a summer job looking after a  small marina in Ontario. It was  going to be great to catch up  again and the added bonus was that they knew these islands like the back of their hands  and had agreed to show us around. Sundowners were in order so we hit the cruiser  friendly venue of the Saba Rock Bar. This was to be our first but not our last encounter with the rum flavored  drink locally known as a Painkiller. Too many of them and you really do want something to kill the pain. 
North Sound is a haven for mega yachts, cruising and charter boats and is also home to The Bitter End Yacht Club, as well as a couple of very up market resorts.No matter what your budget this bay and it’s venues caters to all tastes.


The following morning we decided to hire a car for a day of island touring.Speedies is the biggest and perhaps the only rental car outfit on Virgin Gorda. They have an excellent service where by if you dinghy over to the Bitter End Yacht Club and catch the free ferry to Gun Creek, a Speedies rep will pick you up and drive you into town to their office. When it comes time to drop it off  at the end of the day, you just park the car at the Gun Creek terminal ,catch the free ferry back to the yacht club and leave the keys at reception. Now how easy is that.
After picking up the car,  we stopped in at customs in the capital, Spanish Town,  to complete our entry formalities. People say that there is only six degrees of separation in this world and  after bumping into an old school friend from 37 years ago who was anchored in the same bay as  us back in Barbuda, I'm starting  to  believe that the saying is true. So there we are in the  customs office  and Annie asks  the “surfer looking”, fellow who was also filling in his forms, if she could perch on the end of the table. When he looked up, there they stood with quizmical expressions for a few moments as  the memory wheels ticked over and then the penny dropped. Standing right there in the same office  was Bruce,  former owner of  “Wilson”, the sister ship to GWTW. We had not seen Bruce, his wife Toni and their daughter  Remi since Great Keppel Island back in 2006. The added shock was that they had recently purchased a Lagoon 57 and they too had sailed from St Martin yesterday… the riddle of our mystery cat was solved. Bruce  says he was sure that he could see  an  Aussie flag flying from our stern and he, like us, was wondering who the heck we were as we stealthily crept up on them. What a small world this is.
With the check-in business  all finished it was back  to the car and off we went sightseeing for the  day. Our first stop was at  the double whammy natural phenomenon of  ‘’The Baths” and “Devils Bay”. Set amongst huge granite boulders, the pure white sand and azure waters are a magnet for day trippers, snorkelers and the yachting fraternity. A short trail from The Baths  leads through tidal pools and tight caverns till you emerge at the picturesque Devil’s Bay. Both bays being part of the national park, have  mooring balls  available for day use ( fee charged) or you can anchor outside the park boundary at Spring Bay and dinghy back over and tie to the free dinghy balls. This spot is a major tourist draw card and  we were lucky to have finished our visit just as  the hordes from one of the visiting  cruise ships besieged the place.
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From here we continued our drive around the island stopping at, amongst others, Coppermine Point and Savannah Bay, then it was up to the islands highest point, Virgin Gorda Peak, where we had magnificent views back down over North sound and the surrounding islands.
As the afternoon grew late we decided to stop off at the Leverick Bay resort for sundowners and check out their happy hour (or is that happy arrr) entertainment.
Local musician, Michael Bean, a sort of all singing all entertaining a one man band, puts on his Pirate show a couple of times a week. It was a fun evening filled with much singing, laughter and  audience participation  including a Conch shell blowing contest. Gordon was certainly the best blower by far at our table.   
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                                                                        IMG_4168                                                                                                     We spent the next few days just chilling out in North Sound as we had been pretty much on the move since leaving Trinidad a few weeks earlier. Snorkeling the  surrounding reefs and hiking the trails around the  foreshores over to the Briar’s Creek resort in search of the famed hibiscus eating iguanas took up much of our days.  We never did find  the  illusive iguanas although some other friends did. Bruce and Toni moved their Lagoon catamaran  “Remi De” around to our bay the next day and it was nice to be able to catch up again and introduce them to our friends.  After chatting about our sailing plans they told us that their  ideas were similar to ours. It looked like we would have new cruising  buddies for the rest of  this season and possibly for all the way up the east coast USA to Maine.IMG_4174                        
The Virgin Islands as a whole are comprised of roughly 90 islands and cays and are divided into two groups, the  US Virgins, with 50 islands and the  British Virgins with 40 islands. After speaking with lots of friends who had passed this way earlier we made the decision not to visit the US Virgins as the choices were either stay in the  National Park area of St John’s,  where there was an obligatory mooring ball fee each night, or hang around the  big time cruise ship territory of St Thomas with it’s glitzy shops and loads of tourists to match. Not really our type of scene. Option three was to visit the more removed Island of St Croix. As nice as St Croix sounded, to go there would have seen us backtracking, so instead we elected to spend  our time in the British Virgins and we were not disappointed at all.
The BVI’s was  definitely  the Caribbean we had been looking for. Beautiful sandy beaches, clear warm  waters, swaying palm trees and beach bars and restaurants where you can feel the sand between your toes. Oh, and of course rum, and lots of it. Now for those of you following in our wake, there are mooring fields in the more popular bays mainly to accommodate the charter boats, however there always seems to be  plenty of space to anchor and, joy of joy, it’s good holding over sand in roughly 30 feet of water… gotta love that after the Mediterranean!
Right, moving along here. We spent  our 3 weeks in the BVI’s bay and island hopping. The charter fleets were still in full swing from when we arrived to when we left and we saw  more catamarans  than we’d ever seen anywhere, all gathered here in this one island group. We certainly didn’t feel like the odd ones out in this part of the world. Some of the highlights of our time spent here were visiting the popular spots such as Cane Garden Bay on Tortola, where you can sit in the Sailor’s Rest bar and watch the pelicans diving for fish  like kamikazes pilots, or take a  stroll along the 1 mile of soft sand and sample a few of the  watering holes and eating places dotted along the  shoreline.
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Then it was over to  the island of Jost Van Dyke to part with a few dollars at Foxy’s bar and grill where the man himself was sitting playing his guitar
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The anchorage at Sandy Spit at the northern end of the island was another  lovely spot to spend a few hours or overnight if the wind was from the right direction..
Liam and I  attended the Palm Sunday Church service while we were at Jost Van Dyke. The small Baptist church was positioned just across the sand  near the  waters edge and  the very welcoming parishioners  were led  in prayer and song by a  lighthearted, but engaging woman reverend. The congregation were mainly women and children but the drummer of the band was the show stealer. He could belt out the rhythms at only 8 yrs old.
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                                                                                               From here it was over to Norman and Peter Islands for a couple of nights. Peter island was one of our  favorite bays (no moorings and hence no charter boats) with big turtles swimming around the bay and the perfect beach for swimming or a  a quite sundowner under a thatch roofed beach hut .
At Salt Cay we dove and snorkeled  on the wreck of the 131 ft RMS Rhone, and at the rock formation known as The Indians we snorkeled and circumnavigated  the huge pinnacles rising up from the sea floor. A couple of days were spent at Machineel Bay on Cooper Island where we dived and snorkeled with spotted rays, barracuda and huge tarpin. The Cooper Island beach club was a great casual venue and we ventured ashore for drinks and a meal a couple of times. They also had free wi-fi.

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Our friends Ginny and Gordon hauled their boat out of the water for the hurricane season and then moved on board with us for their last few nights before flying out. We’d heard that a  guitarist named Eric Stone, a bit of a legend in the BVI’s, was due to  play at the  small  island named Marina Cay over the next few days. This was perfect timing as we really did want to see his show, and  we had to be up that neck of the woods in a day or so to drop Ginny and Gordon off at the airport at Trellis bay. The show was a lot of fun, as live music usually is. Eric’s  music style is a bit like Jimmy Buffet so being fans of Jimmy’s music we knew that we’d enjoy the show, which of course we did.The Liam and Gordon  also enjoyed the free shots of Prussers Rum that Eric was giving away. So if you find yourself around Marina Cay and Eric is playing, put the show on your to do list. There are plenty of local mags that advertise which nights  he plays as well as any other live bands which play in the various bars throughout the islands .

We were now coming to the end of our time in the BVI’s. Having dropped our visitors off at the airport  it was time to head back over to Jost Van Dyke to check out with customs out and point the bows towards Puerto Rico and the Spanish Virgin Islands. And that was just what we did on the morning of April 28th. We had a great time in the BVI’s, we spent time in so many wonderful bays it is hard to list them all, plus my memory isn’t what it used to be either. The Leeward and the Windward islands of the Caribbean we good too, but so far this has been  the  best.                                                                                    
CRUISER INFO: Formalities: Check-in at Spanish Town, cost $15.10 usd, Check –out at Jost Van Dyke , cost $5.00 usd.
Supermarkets : Riteway, they are well stocked and have good produce. Locations: Tortola: Cane Garden Bay, behind the bar at the centre of the beach . Rhode Harbour: across dual carriageway, tie dinghy at Port Purcell marina  (free) 5 min flat walk. Virgin Gorda: small market behind Yacht Harbour marina at Spanish Town.  Note : Very, very,  limited supplies on Jost Van Dyke. Stock up well before going to  any of the smaller islands !!
Mooring Balls : $ 25 usd per night.
Wi–Fi : Unsecured sites at Marina cay (prussers) , Virgin Gorda (Saba rock 1 or 2),Cooper Island Beach club ( cooper island is password). There may be others, however these are the ones we used.
Cruising Guides : Virgin Anchorages by Nancy & Simon Scott. This is a flip book with excellent photographs of the anchorages and very good info on where to anchor and tracks to avoid the reefs. Grenada to the Virgin Islands by Jacques Patuelli, this is also a very good guide to the  BVI’s and the USVI’s.


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