11/27 Thanksgiving Day
We start our journey to the beautiful British Virgin Islands at the Austin, Robert Mueller Airport at 8:52 a.m. The anticipation of taking out a sailboat on the open ocean the next day built throughout the day. Although we change planes twice, itâ€™s an uneventful trip and we arrive in Tortola at 9:00 p.m., just in time to catch some dinner before the restaurants close. After we check into the hotel, we take a taxi to the Chop House at the Castle Maria Hotel to visit Tom and Fran, the “Hurricane Hosts with the Most.” Tom and Fran took care of my girlfriend, Michelle, and me during Hurricane Bertha last July when we were in Tortola, turning what was sure to be a disaster into a great experience and a story for another time. Our hosts make sure we have plenty to drink and eat, and the food and companionship are just as special as I remembered. After proper lubrication and a GREAT steak, we start getting into vacation mode.
Itâ€™s 8:00 AM and itâ€™s time for the skipperâ€™s meeting at the Moorings. Iâ€™m getting anxious because I want to get on board and get going. “Calm down” I tell myself, youâ€™re on vacation; time to get into island mode and slow down. At noon we finally board our 35â€™ sloop, stow our provisions and we are off to Cooper Island to hook up with some friends that arrived a couple of days earlier. It takes a couple of hours to get to Cooper and when we get there, there are no moorings available! I donâ€™t want to anchor here if possible, so we motor around for 15 minutes and then I spot sails going up! There are a few other sailboats circling like sharks, so I make haste and dash off to get to the mooring first. The boatâ€™s a small Offshore Sailing School vessel and they are leaving. Yes! We moor with little difficulty and head to the island to have a wonderful lobster dinner with our friends. The activities of the night continue until the wee hours of the morning. We wonâ€™t have any more late nights like this one the rest of the trip.
Morning and itâ€™s off to the Baths on Virgin Gorda. Weâ€™ve got a clear, beautiful day, winds are out of the Northeast at 18 knots, and the water is calm. Michelle, my trusty partner during the hurricane, and Connie, another friend, dinghy over to help us crew. We decide to take a single reef and it proves to provide us with a nice, smooth sail. The Baths are wonderful! The water is a turquoise color and we swim and snorkel for a couple of hours. After a few hours, itâ€™s back to the boat and off to Gorda Sound and the Bitter End. What a nice facility! We dingy over to the island for some appetizers and drinks, then barbecue steaks on the grill for dinner. The sky is so clear you can almost touch the stars from the boat. We call it an early night tonight and drift off to dreamland like a gentle Caribbean breeze.
In the morning, we decide to stay at the Bitter End for another day. Some people go diving, some off to snorkel, and we head off to the beach for a relaxing day of sunning, swimming and ultimately shopping. As dusk settles, we all meet for happy hour and watch the sunset – absolutely gorgeous. Itâ€™s another night of cooking on the boat, listening to CDs, and sipping wine. We are now absolutely relaxed and in island mode with no thoughts of work, stress, and chores, just breathing in the clean air and laying back. We head over to the bar and join the other crew for a few drinks at the quaintly decorated bar. Although the singer is lip synching poorly, we enjoy the music, the weather, the surroundings and the company.
Time to head over to Marina Cay. Skies are clear and the winds are running about 15 knots. Itâ€™s an easy sail today and we make great time as we sail past the wreck of an ATR and around the “Dogs.” Marina Cay is a funky little island with a few small guest houses, a library that doubles as a happy hour bar at the top, and a restaurant down by the water. Itâ€™s laundry day so half of us concentrate on doing laundry and the other half go diving. In the meantime, we have an absolutely wonderful lunch while we wait for the laundry. This doesnâ€™t seem like a chore at all. Once again we see a breathtaking sunset and we celebrate life over happy hour and have another great meal on board the boat. Time to play the Christmas tunes to get us in the mood. Throughout the trip we hear Christmas songs, reggae style, of course.
This is port Iâ€™ve really been looking forward to, Cane Garden Bay. Another great day, winds are 15 knots, smooth seas. We motor through a narrow channel and once we get out into the open sea, itâ€™s a nice long sail down to Cane Garden Bay. As we near what we think is the bay, there is much discussion amongst the crew as to its location. As the skipper I finally pull rank and give the order to check the GPS to verify our location. Low and behold, we pass by the bay and have to turn around, but what we see doesnâ€™t look much like the aerial picture. The crew was counting points of land but somehow got confused and lost track. Too many island drinks the night before perhaps? GPS is a wonderful tool, and although it helps us figure out where the bay is, itâ€™s the only time we use it during the entire trip. With the islands as close as they are, it is very easy to sail by sight in the BVI.
We race another boat to the entrance of the bay and pick the last available mooring. Time to head over to the island to check out the beach, the snorkeling and of course the local rum distillery. Tonight is the dinner on the island and it is probably the best meal we have on the entire trip. Although the Paradise Club is particularly memorable, all of our meals on the trip are wonderful. The lobster is huge and practically melts in your mouth. There are no desserts for anyoneâ€”no room left in the belly. We listen to the band for a while on the island, then head back to the boat to enjoy the evening and stargaze. During the night a little rain shower comes through, but other than a few wet towels, no damage is done.
We say good bye to our friends since we are leaving a day early and want to head over to Soperâ€™s Hole. Itâ€™s another glorious day, gentle waters, crystalline skies. Iâ€™m a little concerned about sailing on our own since Ray has only one dayâ€™s sailing experience prior to this trip. He is a real champ though, and picks up a lot during the week. I help with the jib as he controls the main. The wind is gusting up to 18 knots at times so the rails are in the water, itâ€™s quite a ride. We arrive at Soperâ€™s Hole without event. As we pick up a mooring, we congratulate ourselves on the accomplishment of sailing without the additional crew. We go power shopping here and after a bit of reprovisioning, make dinner reservations. Pusserâ€™s on the marina has a great view and again have a wonderful meal of Mahi Mahi and Conch Fritters.
Time to head back to Roadtown. Since we have to check out and leave for the airport by 10:00 a.m. the next day, we are staying at the dock overnight. The seas are rough today, 5 – 7 foot swells, winds gusting at 10 – 18 knots. This sail is not the most pleasant since we have to beat all the way and Ray is getting tired of tacking. In addition the boat keeps going up and down and up and down. We also have to tack a couple of extra times because it is clear that some skippers are not aware of the right-of-way rules. It is still a good sail and we are able to take some long tacks and enjoy the rush of the wind, though. I get a little concerned for Ray since he was seasick the first couple of days. On a few occasions, I am sure he is going to get sick again, but he keeps it all down and we finally get to the harbor and dock after a little confusion on chart reading by the crew. Once we get to the dock, I think we both feel a little down since we know this is our last night in the BVI.
Ray tells me that as he looks back on the experience he is jazzed, and wants to sail again. What a wonderful time we had. It is probably one of the most relaxing and enjoyable vacations I have ever been on. We had a lot of freedom on the sea and had the time to enjoy life the way it should be enjoyed. I know that Iâ€™ll remember this trip for a very long time and always long for that fair wind, bright sky and open sea.