Friday, June 27, 2014

Norman Island, The Caves/Indians and Jost Van Dyke - Sailing the BVI's (Chapter 3 of 8)

After a few drinks last night at the WillyT and then back at the boat, we slept soundly until we had an awakening from a bit of drizzle.  It was almost a mist, but enough that when coming into the hatches and on me while I slept, it was enough to wake me up.  I removed the breeze booster and closed the hatch, then it stopped.  That was the way it went on this trip, we never really got any "rain" but just a few little misting.  Sadly we were all hoping for a bit of rain to rinse the salt off the boat and we all wanted to experience a fresh and natural shower on the back deck or trampoline up front.  O'Barr affectionately referred to this amount of rain as "Fairy piss" and that was all we got several times on the trip.  To be clear I am not complaining, when you book a charter in week two of hurricane season, this was a really good scenario that played out.

I mentioned a breeze booster above.  I have not seen one of this style but I will be getting some for our boat for sure.  The goal of these is to capture or scoop more air than you would get from just an open hatch.  I have seen these that look like a big upside down V and connect to a halyard and attach inside the hatch like this one that Amazon sells.
This one however was free standing.  It had a v that was stiffened by something like sail battens and two angled legs that go to the hinged side of the hatch.  They sit on the deck and the a string and a stick goes down through the hatch and it makes the upside down V look like a big huge scoop.  Here is a link to them at West Marine for anyone interested.  They would more than triple the amount of air flow coming into a hatch.  When at anchor your bow always points to the wind so these take advantage of a knot or two of breeze and still work wonders to cool you down.  We were in the tropics and most nights I would turn off the fan and sleep comfortably in 85 degrees which shocked me given we keep our thermostat at the dock down at 72.

Another morning of coffee as I got up, relaxing on deck and all discussing what we wanted to do that day and the rough details of the route and plan for the trip.  We decided on some snorkeling stops today pretty close to where we had started our day then a nice sail planned in the afternoon to head to Jost Van Dyke and dinner and drinks ashore at Foxy's.  After a breakfast of pancakes and pineapple we cleaned up the dishes while Mike went to go visit a boat in the anchorage he thought he recognized from his cruising days.  It was an "Oceans 60" (if I have that name right).  He dinghied over and talked to the folks on board.  It turned out not to be the people he met years earlier cruising but they did know of the boat and those people so they visited for a little while.

We dropped our mooring ball and motored out of the anchorage at The Bight and just went around the point to "The Caves" which is on the northwest side of Norman Island. 

The bay on the left is "The Bight", boats are ached in front of the Caves
Norman islands is said to be the inspiration for the book "treasure Island" based on the following history of pirate booty being stored there.  In 1750 a Spanish treasure galleon named Nuestra Seniora de Guadalupe was caught in a storm off the coast of North Carolina.  During that storm while waiting out the storm the crew mutined and the treasure was split up and taken on two different bilanders (smaller European two masted ships).  There was said to have been 55 chests of silver coins on the galleon that was taken by the crews.  One of the ships perished but the other was manned by Owen Lloyd who escaped with the ship to St. Croix.  After disposing of so e of the money, story has it that he went to Norman Island and buried the treasure.  Lloyd and his crew were eventually arrested bit word of the treasure spread to Tortola where people came in search of it.  Interestingly enough part of the treasure was recovered by Gilbert Flemming who was the Luitenant General for the Leeward islands and convinvpced the  Luitenant Governor of the BVI to issue a law where the treasure would be returned and the people that dug it up would retain one third of it.  There are additional interesting stories of a local fisherman taking refuge In The cave from a storm and having found gold doubloons.  There is no official record of this treasure being found but his family all moved off of Tortola at that same time and opened businesses in St. thomas.  Read more online with a search for Norman island and treasure.

You can see the caves along the shoreline
Back to our trip.  We picked up a mooring in front of the caves and were really close to shore.  The stern of the boat was only about 50 feet from the rock cliffs.  The wind was light and funky and a few times the boats on moorings swung in different directions.  We never made contact with any boats around us but a few times the crew that stayed on board manned fenders in the event they may.

We hopped off the stern of the boat with fins, snorkels and masks and swam along the shoreline toward the cave entrance. This was really a cool place because near shore it was 5-10 feet deep and then about 30 yards from shore there was a pretty good 10-20 foot drop off.  We snorkeled along the wall and saw great collections of coral and fish.  At the
You can get a sense of the drop off 
bottom of this blog post will be a link to a video of the snorkeling.  Some of the photos contained in this blog post came from those videos.

At first it was really interesting we swam through a hole bunch of little jelly fish.  Theese were not stinging kinds but the little quarter to half dollar sized translucent circular shaped ones.  It took me a few minutes to figure out what it was.
We saw schools of dark tangs with light tails.  They swam in groups of fifty or so and were just a few feet below us.  We saw amazing trigger fish, and what looked like either a clown
T and Oday Snorkeling
trigger or some type of spotted grouper.  We saw a lot of these silver fish with yellow tails.

Then as everyone was diving down a bit along the wall to get a closer look at the urchins in all the rock crevices we saw hundreds of zebra damsels swimming all around us.  

The Urchins had some of the longest splines I have ever seen.  We saw quite a bit of coral as well but I did not see any anenomies.  

Hundreds of Zebra Damsels in schools
 We made our way to the cave entrance and only went in the first edge of it and came back out and worked our way back toward the boat.  I wish I would have gone in further.  It got very shallow by the mouth of the cave so we didn't cross it for fear of touching the coral and damaging it.  I later found out that you only have to cross that one shallow spot and it gets deep again in the cave.

We were on a national park mooring which you are only supposed to be on for 90 minutes so got under way and headed a
I attempted to capture just how many there were above
short distance to the north to an area called the pelican and Indians.  For the record I do t know where these islands and Rock Archipalegos get their names, I can only assume that someone thought they looked like a pelican or an Indian.  The wind had picked up quite a bit and we actually struggled for the first time to pick up our mooring.  Wind and waves fought us and made snagging the pendant ( which didn't have a float) difficult.  Third time is a charm and we were moored.

At this location (The Indians), it was a bit
The Indians (just Rocks and a reef)
like The Baths in that you had to dinghy to a dinghy mooring. And jump off to snorkel.  Here the snorkeling may have been a little better than the caves and the water a bit clearer.  While snorkeling there was a lot of fish and coral spotted as well as a decent sized barracuda swimming g just off in the deeper water.  There was a school of blue tangs and several parrot fish.  There was fan coral and leather coral all around.
See the bottom of the Blog post for my photos from Snorkeling at the Indians.

Black and Blue Tang
Upon returning to the Dinghy, they found Oday just relaxing in the bow waiting on folks to finish snorkeling.  Robert and Oday came back in the dinghy but Deb and T decided to swim back to the boat to see what they could see over the deeper water.

Once everyone was on board, salt water rinsed from great and people, we raised the main while still on our mooring and prepared for a sail to Jost.  All of us on this trip have boats that range for 23 to 43 feet, all mono hulls and used to lifting sail.  That said, the sail on the catamaran is so big and fully battened with heavy duty sail car tracks for each batten, this sail is not easy to raise.  On my boat I get the sail about a foot from the top of the mast and use the winch to
raise it the last foot and tighten.  On the Cat, any one of us would get it about 80% of the way up and then have to use the winch to raise it the rest of the way.  The main halyard has a 2 to 1 purchase to make this easier but it means you are pulling twice the height of the mast in line.  So after a bit of panting and catching my breath the sail was raised.

Below is a video put together from the snorkeling at The Caves and The Indians.  Just click the video below, however if you are reading this blog post from an email subscription or other means, you will have to click on this link to see the video (Snorkeling Video Link)

We dropped the mooring and then headed northwest toward Tortola and unrolled the jib.
Saint John just behind us on the Port Side
The boat sailed nicely and we had the wind just aft of the beam.  When we got close to Tortola we gybed to the east to plan our next lay line to make it thought the cut near the west end of Tortola.  As we were on this tack we were headed directly toward St John in the US Virgin Islands.  There are very heavy penalties for going ashore in the USVI without first checking out of BVI, including a $5,000 fine per person and automatic confiscation of the boat. ( I am not sure our deposit would cover this ).  We had no intention of going to St John on this trip but most people on the boat did take advantage if the fact that we were close enough for US cell service without roaming charges.  A few people checked on pets at home, family members and to provide a quick update that we were all doing fine and having a safe sail through the islands.  We beared northwest again and set up a layline to pass right between the west end of Tortola and Little Thatch island.  We passed beautiful homes that just appeared to be stuck on the sides of the cliffs in the west end rope Tortola.  We passed a few small ferries in this area as they headed into Sopers Hole on the West End.  As we passed Tortola, we had a nice open water sail up into Great Harbor on Jost Van Dyke.
Robert and I setting up our Mooring Bridal

We found a mooring out a ways from land to take advantage of the wind given the height of the island.  Upon anchoring we jumped in for a nice swim, we cleaned up and headed to shore for some ice and some provisions we needed.  We found out we were missing mustard and steaks from our provisioning list.  We tied up to the government dock right in the center of Great Harbor.m when you get off the dock there is a great sign welcoming you to Jost.  The police station and immigration Is the first building up the dock.  Mary, Deb and I went to the store, O'Barr and Oday made a trip to the ferry dock to drop off our trash and went on a hunt for ice.

One of the things you have to really think about on a boat is how much trash you create.  We did find that in some of the anchorages, a boat would come by and offer to take your trash for a fee.  We typically took ours to shore ourselves and most places it is free.  We did find one place on shore that charged $2.50 per bag.  We all met back up after getting what we all needed and headed to the boat.  The market had just about everything we wanted and needed.  Plantains, bananas, steaks (they were not delivered with our provision list and they substituted something else, but we wanted steaks), Propane for the grill and chips.  Obarr and Oday had picked up the ice and met us at the dock closer to the market to save us the walk around the cove.

The Dinghy Dock at Foxy's
Tonight we planned on going to Foxy's.  I thought I would include a few photos of how you actually get somewhere from your anchored boat.  Some places have a "Dinghy Dock" you can tie up to, other places you just beach the dinghy.  Foxy's does have a nice dinghy dock but as you can imagine, all of those dinghy's look a lot alike in the dark after a few too many PainKillers or Dark&Stormy's.

You just can't go to the Jost Van Dyke and not go to Foxy's.

He is an icon in this part of the world and his beach front bar/restaurant is famous in all sailing and boating and vacation magazines.  There is part of the place that has a wooden floor, but no walls.  The largest section of the restaurant has a roof but no floor.  Sit on benches like a picnic table, feet in the sand and just relax to the sounds of music (maybe a live band but not the night we were there).  You can go into the gift shop and purchase items if you want.
The food is pretty good (not great but again, you have to go there and get Conch Fritters for sure).  But, What Foxy is famous for is his PainKillers.  It is a sweet drink made with Cream of Coconut, Rum Pineapple juice, Orange Juice and some fresh ground nutmeg.  (No wonder my blood sugar was high).  They will, as their name implies have you feel no pain.

We were lucky, Foxy himself was there and was doing what Foxy does, walking around talking to guest.  I don't recall this from last time I was there a few years ago, but this time he was drinking straight rum from a glass and it hadn't been his first nip when we got there.
He was telling jokes and making small talk.  He is a nice guy but one thing struck me kind of sad actually.  Some of the jokes he was telling were a bit racial and it dawned on me that his perception is that white folks want to hear that.  Maybe I read too much into it or had one too many PainKillers already, but I hope he realizes that most people that come to visit him see him as a fellow human and not a color.

I had the camera going on the table to try to record some of the stories he was telling but they were just too quiet to hear them.  He was really nice though and posed for a picture with all of us.  OBarr and I went in search of the things that we have left tacked or tucked into the ceiling as a memento.  I can't remember where the heck I had put my business card when I was there on a company trip and Obarr couldn't find the flag he thought he had left there.  (Then again, there is likely 1000's of items that people put on the ceiling every year.)

Here is a little tip, if you go there (or anywhere in the islands) and are having dinner at dusk, the NoSeeUm's will get you pretty good so bring some skin so soft or off.  If you ask, quite a few places will have some they will let you use or some will put those small coils you burn in the sand beneath your table.  For those that don't know, NoSeeUm's are just that, you don't see them and they bite like hell.  They seem to stay close to the ground and only bite for about an hour or so as the sun goes down.  From the lower shin down needs to be sprayed.  If there is any wind at all, they are not usually a problem but along the ground under a table, they were active.

We did the touristy thing and went to Foxy's but you MUST, MUST, MUST go to Corsairs.  Corsairs is just down the road from foxy's past the government building.  The owners is an Expat named Vinny who sailed to the islands and never left.  The food at Corsairs is rated the best on the island and next time I will absolutely be going there instead of a meal.  Everyone was raving about it and after our trip, I even saw a write up in a magazine about how good the cooking was.

First round of Absinthe
Deb, T, Oday and I went to Corsairs because we had read somewhere that they served absinthe (The little green fairy) and thought it would be interesting to try.  So we bellied up to the bar and told Vinny what we wanted.  He asked "Shot or some other way".  Hmm, I had heard that Absinthe, should be dripped slowly over a sugar cube on the back of a spoon into a cup with distilled water in it, So we asked him what the difference is.  His answer was classic, "Either way is going to f&%k you up, so not sure why it matters".  From that moment, I liked Vinny.  He did ask if we liked the taste of licorice, two of our party did not so his response was "Do a shot, it won't be in your mouth long enough for the taste to linger"

T and Oday at Corsairs
We sat a chatted with Vinny for a couple of hours.  Really good guy, he had just gotten a GoPro camera so we were talking about that and I helped him download the app he needs and I was letting him connect to my GoPro and show him how he can control it and what not.    The place is laid back, if he was busy, someone else would get us a drink.  They wrote down most of them but not all of them and at the end of the night, he asked how many we had so we could settle up.  I love that there is still a level of trust like that and that people are not all jaded into thinking
Vinny and the Girls.  That thing around his neck is actually a
monocle. I don't think I have ever seen that before.  It was very piratey
someone is going to rip them off.  Deb and T tried to get Vinny to do a shot of Absinthe with them and he said he will drink with them, "just to that shit" which again just cracked me up.  Deb and T were having a good ole' time and trying to ring the bigger dinner bell above the bar.  As I was going through photos for the blog, I found pictures of the girls with Vinny, behind the Bar.  I don't even remember who took those pictures and don't remember them being behind the bar.  Obarr came back to meet us after taking Robert and Mary back to the boat and hanging out for a while.  We left corsairs and wandered on back to the Dinghy dock.   As we were walking down the street, Deb seemed to find someone that you would think was her long lost best friend.
Deb on Swing, T as the Pusher
They said hi, Deb asked how she was, then they gave each other a hug like they had not seen each other in many years.  It turns out Deb had talked to her in Corsairs earlier, but I found it humorous that they seemed so close now.    Oh, and on the walk home,  Debs British accent came out.  She is not from there, never been there but for her it seems to be some kind of a Blood Alcohol Content measurement for her.   And before we could get all the way to the Dinghy dock, someone spotted a tire swing.  So a detour was required and all I kept thinking is that we are a long way from the emergency room :)

So a nice peaceful slow dinghy ride back to the boat and as you can imagine, we all slept pretty well this night.

Below is a short recap video of the days activities form our YouTube Channel.  Click the video below, however if you are reading this blog post from an email subscription or other means, you will have to click on this link to see the video (Norman Island, Snorkeling, Jost Van Dyke, Foxy's and Corsairs)

More Photos from Snorkeling at the Indians.
Schools of fish were everywhere.  These were Surgical Tangs
with Black bodies and a blue tail.

ODay contemplating swimming into an underwater cave

T doing some free diving to about 15 feet or so

OBarr found an rock bridge and was thinking about swimming
under to the other side.  The opening was pretty tight so
cooler heads prevailed

Robert was constantly diving down to 15 or so feet deep.
He is quite the frog-man
I think this may be a parrot fish, but not 100% sure

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Marina Cay, The Baths and The Bight - Sailing the BVI's (Chapter 2 of 8)

The sun rises early this time of year in the BVI's so most of us were up by 7 am.  It is nice to get out of bed, walk on deck still wiping the sleep from your eyes, seeing the gorgeous views and having to pinch yourself to prove you are really there.  Whoever woke up first would start a pot of coffee and prepare the second pot but not start it yet.   
So began the routine of coming out of my stateroom, passing through the galley for my cup of coffee, complete with sweetener and hazelnut creamer, then step out into the cockpit to relax and enjoy each other's company and the views.

We would relax for an hour or so, maybe jump off the back and swim, or just relax.  This particular morning a nice breakfast of egg's,  sausage and fresh cut fruit was prepared and consumed.  We would talk about what we wanted to do that day and plot a quick course.  The navigation is really easy in the BVI's, since you can see land all the time and the water is so deep, you can pretty much sail by sight until you get close to your destination.  We decided we would sail east and visit "The Baths" on the southwest portion of Virgin Gorda.  This is a park where you can't spend the night so our plan was to grab a national park mooring ball, dinghy to shore and tour the area.  We grabbed the mooring about 300 yards from shore.
Everyone but Robert loaded in the dinghy to head to shore.  As we approached we realized you can't get to shore by dinghy, you have to tie your dinghy to a mooring ball in twenty feet of water and swim to shore.
Mary was concerned she couldn't swim that far, so we looked for another place to land the dinghy, none existed so we took Mary back to the boat and we moored the dinghy and swam to shore.  It was quite a swim as the tide kept wanting to take you back out.

Then we got the bright idea of using the lines to mark the no dinghy access area to pull ourselves to shore and make it easier.  I got to shore and realized that my underwater camera had the side door open.  Not good, I pulled the battery and dumped way too much water out and figured i would see if I could get it to work later.
This is where you enter.  It was a 'turn sideways
and crouch' type of walk but not too tight

Once ashore, we walked a short distance to the giant granite boulders that formed this natural creation of paths, pools, caves, etc.  We crouched through the first tight squeeze (squat and turn sideways).
Once through, it opened up to 20 foot height, beach sand on the ground and some areas with a few feet of water pooled there.  We walked a few steps and saw a tour guide talking to some folks in front of us.

Deb and OBarr swimming over some coral to continue
(Look how clear this water is
We stood back and listened for a few minutes and figured he was pointing them in the right direction to get to Devils Bay.  There was a wide area where you could swim in waste deep, crystal clear water which was pretty cool too.

From here there was a spot where you would swim/drag your body over a bed of very smooth rocks into a larger pool of water.  From there you could see a long trail of water where the surf was working itself in and out of the rocks.

As we stood here talking and
checking it out we kept hearing these loud splashes.
It turns out it was the guide in front of us taking people through a unique route where you had to climb up one rock,sort of lay on the rock, squeeze between the rock you were on and the one above and to the right of you and just sort of fall off the rock in to a pool of water below.  You almost couldn't do it without belly flopping.  It was fine, it was only a three foot drop but it was fun and that was the way we decided to go.  One at a time we splashed into the four foot water below.  I attempted to get video of one of us making this move, but was not able to capture any that looked good.  This picture was taken right after OBarr had come up from under the water.  The opening to the right and above his head is where we dropped from.

It was at this point that we passed the tour guide and just wandered our way through this giant boulder maze.  In areas where it would be very difficult to climb the face of the rocks, make shift wooden stairs had been built to make it easier.  At some points you would climb up the granite and be on a trail in the woods, then right back into the rocks. In area's that were a bit open, there would be a sign indicating the way.  

At this point we walked along the beach with rocks blocking the view of seeing out to sea.  We did find a place where we could see our boat anchored off the shore.  It is easy to spot with the very large Texas flag on the left spreader.  

From here it was back over some rocks, climb some steps, crawl over one part and then drop onto a little beach cove that is unbelievably gorgeous.

This is likely one of the most photographed and magazine featured slices of beach there is.  It was simply magical to be walking toward the water for a dip in this crystal clear water.

To show how clear the water is, this is a photo I took by just placing the camera under water.  You can easily see 100 feet or more under water.  It was truly amazing to see how clear it was.  (When we got back to the boat, I jumped in and you could easily see both hulls crystal clear and the bottom and we were in 35 feet of water where we were anchored.

After a refreshing dip, we started to walk back and found an alternate route back,  the good news is that we got to see some additional portions of the path and we actually had a way around that drop off portion which we would not have been able to climb back up the opposite direction.  Once back at the entrance there was a little beach bar serving cold beer and selling shirts and such.  We all had a cold beer and Oday picked up a nice bandanna for a do-rag.  After a cooling beer, we prepped for the swim back to the dinghy.  Here is where i started to worry a little.  I didn't figure I was going to be able to jump back in the boat from water deeper than I am tall.  We all swam back, Oday and OBarr and T got there first and boarded.  Deb used a looped line over the side to help step up into the boat.  I did the same but made the loop a little deeper.  I was able to boost myself up, but not far enough to kick a leg over the side, so my friends just gave me a pull. I am a big guy, coming in at just over 300 pounds, I know this had to be a funny sight for anyone watching.  As I was getting pulled up, I kicked my left leg over the tube and someone grabbed my left leg to help pull me in.  I flopped into the bottom of the boat laughing hysterically.  In an effort to provide a visual, have you ever seen the show "Swamp People" about people that hunt alligators.  If you have ever seen the way they pull these things into the boat, that is exactly what I imagined this looked like to anyone that may have seen it.  The good news is, I was in the boat, which is better than hanging on the side which I thought I might do while we went slowly back to the boat where I would use the boarding ladder.
Once aboard, we used the shower on the aft deck to rinse off the salt and sand and lather up in another layer of sun screen.  

We planned our general course for The Bight on Norman island which would be our anchorage for the night.  It was going to be a general southwesterly sail down the Sir Francis Drake Waterway
with the wind behind us.  It was a series of gentle gybes to get there. We sailed at about 6-7 knots in 10-12 knots of breeze.  During the trip, sandwiches were made and served in the cockpit while under way.  While on our way we heard a series of calls on Channel 16 about a boat on fire that had been seen, but must have sunk as it was no longer visible after the fire was spotted.  There were several boats in the area that were looking for people in the water.  They did find some floating debris but we could only hear the VHF traffic of the closer boats and not all of what was happening. It was several miles ahead of us and there were already boats on the scene so we were not needed to assist.
We continued our sail to Norman Island.  As we passed Peter island to our port side, we turned In to the cove and found a place toward the outer edge of the anchorage to take advantage of the nightly breeze to cool the boat without having ourselves get back winded along the shore.  When the wind comes over the land masses it tends to sort of "jump" over the land and curl back toward land for a few hundred yards or so.  Boats close to shore will often be pointing away from land and barely get much breeze.  If your are further out we face bow to the wind and it all scoops right into the open ports and just blows right through the boat like a cooling wind tunnel.

Once anchored we had our sundowner in the cockpit along with another great dinner.  I believe it was marinated grouper that had been marinating since that morning.  Brocolli and salad as sides rounded out another great meal.  Dinner time was cleaned up and we planned our evening.  Deb and I and T and Oday wanted to go to the "WillyT".   This is actually an old boat anchored in "The Bight" that has a resteraunts on one side and a wild bar on the other side.  We dinghied over to the small floating dinghy dock attached to the WillyT.  There were already 8 or so other dinghies there and 2 power boats one was a 45 footer.  
I didn't get a good picture at night so pulled this one from the web
We went to the bar side and ordered a few drinks, people were dancing and drinking and generally partying.  The WillyT is known for a practice they used to have where if you were willing to strip naked in the bar, climb the spiral stairs to the roof and jump off, swim to the dinghy dock and come back to the bar to get dressed, you would get a TShirt.  Now they don't give you a shirt and generally state that you are not supposed to do this, but it is still a common practice.  So it is a bit of an odd sight, but fun to watch.  It usually starts with a small group talking, then a round of shots or drinks, then all of the sudden there is one or two people standing buck ass naked in the bar.  They run up the spiral staircase and out of sight.  Everyone goes to the back of the boat and watches as they prepare to jump.  Then two bodies drop past the lower deck and you hear the splash.  Then all the gawkers go to the side to watch them climb the ladder and come down the dinghy dock and back intto the bar naked to get dressed again there in the bar.  We only stayed for two drinks each and saw two 20 something girls do it, them a couple do it.  The good news is the Deb and T got to see a dude do this as well so there was something for everyone.  The funniest thing for me was that one of the guys that was there with the two twenty something's put her bikini top on and was dancing to "Gangam Style" and he was fully committed to his dance.  It was hilarious.  

Deb and T considered the jump but when they found out that they would not get the T-shirt for doing it, they opted out.  It did appear that the twenty something's did get tshirts (to be fair maybe they bought them, but that was not what it looked like).  Deb was a little offended but in the end, they are trying to attract the twenty something's to come drink and party all night, and they want to see other naked twenty something's.  We are no longer in that category. :)

We dinghied back to the boat and enjoyed a relaxing time in the cockpit then turned in to sleep a sound sleep in a beautiful anchorage.

Below is a video capturing a 3 minutes run through of our day.  If you are not viewing this online, you may need to click on the following link in order to view the video.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Sailing in the Dream like Waters of the British Virgin Islands (Chapter 1 of 8)

Since we got our boat five years ago, we had talked about chartering a boat with our dock mates at Pier 121.  Typically these discussions would happen late at night when anchored out/rafted up In some small cove on the lake.  It would typically be after many drinks and we would forget the discussion the next morning.
These discussions ebbed and flowed like the gentle tide and it never seemed that anyone, including us, would commit to a date and just do it.  Years went by, Deb and I moved but stayed in contact with our friends there and would all get together a few times a year and these discussions continued over drinks.
Then all of a sudden it happened, the charter discussion came up, someone threw out a date and we all went and made the appropriate plans for taking off of work, budgeting, etc.  With that the plans were finalized.  Seven of us in early June on a catamaran in the British Virgin Islands.  Done.  Flights made, provisions ordered, booze planned, lists of things to bring, deposits made and then it was just counting down the time until it came time to depart.

So Thursday we all met in PuertoRico at the airport and then all took the same flight to Beef Island, Tortola.  We arrived about 8pm and the charter company had arranged for a van to pick us up at the airport.  Even with a delayed flight the driver was patient and waited for us.  Upon arrival at the charter base, the office was closed but there was a note on the door telling is which boat was ours.  We loaded our stuff in the boat, popped open a few beers and relaxed on the back deck of the boat.  We had made arrangements to spend the night before our charter on the boat rather than a hotel.  

A little bit about the charter company and boat.

We chose Conch Charters.  They are what some would call a tier two charter group meaning that the boats are not brand new.  If you use someone like Moorings or SunSail you will typically get a boat less than 5 years old.  When boats are a bit older than that they often go to the tier two charter companies.  As a matter of fact we could see on this boat where it once said "Moorings 4300" on the side.  The boat we had was in great working order, it was a 2005 if I recall and we were nothing but pleased with it.
Photo taken off Sandy Cay (Yes, we were flying our Texas flag proudly)
The boat was a Leapord 43' catamaran.  She was 24' wide and had a large cockpit that easily and comfortably sat all 7 of us.  The helm station was protected from the elements and the sun.  The large cockpit led forward through a set of opening glass doors to the large salon.  Galley to port, salon to starboard, and nav station to starboard facing aft.  There were views in all directions from the galley and salon with 6 opening ports/hatches in that area not counting the two large entry doors aft.  Down and to port forward was a stateroom with a large double berth and head with shower.  Forward of that was a small crew bunk that we used for storage.  The forward stateroom had 3 opening hatches and the head had two.  Aft of the forward stateroom was another that also had a double berth, head with shower and the same number of hatches/ports.  Under the aft bunk was access to the engines, bilges and water heaters.  The starboard hull was the same as the port so there were accommodations for 8 easily without feeling cramped.
We were very pleased with the boat.  The engines started right away and ran great.  Running them for two hours each day was enough to heat water and recharge the house battery bank with enough juice to run water pumps shower sumps, fans, lights, freezer, refridge, instruments, radios, etc and only one time in 10 days did we actually trigger the low battery alarm which was easily remedied by running the engines a little longer the next day.

Now on to Conch.  They were great to work with from the initial reservations, confirmations, answering questions, etc.  they provided a simple way to get them the information and experience of all crew members including the Captain and coCaptain.  When we arrived they had the boat lights on, air conditioning had been running to keep it cool and greeted us the next morning when they opened  They left a sign near the door of their office letting us know which Boat we should go to and where it was.  
They came aboard and briefed us on all systems, operations, etc.  This took less than an hour and was very thorough.  We then had the captains briefing where they went over the charts, provided all of our park permits, 
suggested anchorages, restricted areas, showed us where some of the more challenging reef navigation and provided us a cell phone in the event we needed to reach them or use it.  We scheduled our charter at the beginning of the "low season" which is essentially the first few weeks of hurricane season.  We had weather on the VHF and weather fax if we needed to download them.  Because it was low season, the rates were cheaper and the anchorages less crowded.  There was only one place where we didn't get a mooring like we had hoped to but were able to get one close enough that our destination was still just a short dinghy ride.
Upon return, they were just as good.  They asked us for anything we found that may be in need of repair and we pointed out a few routine maintenance items that would not be out of the ordinary for any of our own boats so certainly doesn't reflect poorly on the charter company or the boat.  These were as minimal as a sticking bilge pump float switch, a slow to drain shower sump, two heads with a joker valve that is likely approaching their time to be replaced but still working.  The only maintenance item we were not happy with was the anchor appeared to be bent and because of that just did not set very well.  We had a spare on the boat to use if we chose, but made do with what we had and picked up a mooring if it was a particularly grassy or rocky bottom.  They did a quick inspection of the boat, said that they would top off the fuel when the fuel dock opened and would charge it to the credit card on file.  They were going to have a diver check the bottom of the boat to be sure there was not contact with any rocks or reef that would do any damage to keels, rudders or props.  Check out took about 30 minutes and they arranged transportation for us to our hotel.

All in all, I would highly recommend Conch Charters.  We were all very pleased.  I had heard that in the past (late 90's) their reputation for good clean working boats was not that good, but that seems to have all a been completely remedied based on our experience.

Now back to our trip.  On the day of our charter we had preordered food for provisioning and the market would deliver right to the boat.  The first delivery was food and it came in boxes on a few hand trucks.  With a line of us handing boxes from dock to boat to salon we quickly loaded it all on board and the girls stocked the freezer, fridge and all of the dry goods.  Next came our booze/drink delivery.  This was embarrassing.  There seemed to be more of this than groceries.  The first load came down the dock and contained 3 cases of coke, 2 cases of Ting, 1 case of seven up, 2 cases of diet coke, 2 cases of bud light, 10 bottles of wine, 6 or so bottles of rum and 6 gallons of water.  Then the next load came down the dock and it was somewhere around 14 or 16 cases of Coors light. Conch provided us two coolers so we had cold water, soft drinks and beer.  We stores al the bottles of liquor in the salon seats and the cases of beer and soda in the aft end of the amas with plenty of room to spare.

We had planned on heading to Norman Island and anchoring in "The Bight" for our first leg of the trip.  The good news is that all of us on this trip have our own boats and most of us have or still live aboard, so we all "go with the flow" and on day one we needed to practice that.  During our flight to Tortola, one of our crew members arrived but their bag didn't.  We had confirmation in the morning. That it was on a flight and what time it would arrive.  It could be delivered to Conch but it would be a couple of hours after the flight arrived, so we decided that we would sail toward the east side of Tortola and stay in Trellis Bay right by the airport.  This meant day one was dead into the wind and as we got close to Trellis bay, we saw all the boats in the anchorage and chose to anchor inside the reef on Marina Cay instead.  It would be about a two mile dingy ride to get to the airport to pick up the delayed luggage.

The reef was nicely marked and we slid right in parallel to the reef and picked up our first mooring ball.  It was like we all knew what we were doing :)
             View to our right (See Reef)                                            View to forward, small waterside Cafe and Bar

Mike, ODay, and T took the dinghy to the airport.  Going between Beef Island and Marina Cay waves and wind conspired to make it a wet dinghy ride.  There were a few waves that broke over the dinghy and swamped it pretty good.  Running fast and opening the drain plug removed most of the water.  At the dinghy dock, there was a small store so trash bags could be bought to cover the duffle on its way back to the boat.  Those of us that stayed on the boat were oblivious to how wet the ride was until three soaking wet passengers unloaded from the dinghy and told us what they faced.  It was not dangerous, so just added to the stories that will be part of what has come out of this trip.

Oday and T took a swim over to the reef for a bit of snorkeling while the rest of us just relaxed in the sun and started to prepare for dinner.

We ate really well on this trip and just took turns making meals.  The first night Oday and T cooked and we had burgers cooked on the grill (mounted on the stern rail of the boat)For some reason food prepared on a boat just plain tastes better.  These had all the fixing including tomato, lettuce, cheese and onion.  We had a great fresh salad to go with it and chips to snack on.  The galley was fully stocked so we ate on china plates every day.  Someone other than the person that prepared the meal would clean up and it just sort of fell into a very well working routine on day 1.

The first evening we spent commenting on just how clear the water is, the weather being beautiful, the boat and how nice it was and just enjoyed being with good friends having a sundowner in the British Virgin Islands.  One of my favorite island type drinks is a rum and ting over ice.  I prefer spiced rum and I must say that Arundel Rum made in Came Garden Bay is pretty darn good.  Fill a glass with ice, add 1 part Rum to 4 parts Ting.  It is cool and refreshing. After a few hours of story and drinks, people were starting to get tired.  It is amazing how the fresh air, sun and water make you ready for an early bedtime.  With that, we each started to retire to our staterooms for bed.

What a great ending to our first night out on the water as opposed to at the dock.  There will be more blog entries related to this trip over the next few weeks.

We were playing a little bit with a little movie trailer for the trip.  This was based on little clips from the first day.  If you are reading this via email, you will have to click this link to see it.