THE BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS (BVIs)
The Virgin Islands lie 40 miles east of Puerto Rico and 140 miles NW of St. Kitts. It is believed that the Ciboney, Arawak and Caribs found this beautiful archipelago several centuries before Christopher Columbus but were not resident when Columbus made his second exploration of the West Indies. He noted that the islands were of unspoilt beauty and named them ‘Los Once Mil Virgenes’ after St. Ursula and her legendary virgin followers. The islands’ history involved explorers, privateers, pirates, plantations with slavery and fleeing, persecuted Quakers. With the steady trade winds and numerous sheltered harbours, they were described as “the place on the way to everywhere”, which in the past had a trading and military advantage. The BVIs are a British Crown Colony that has stayed mainly rural but reliant on tourism. The US Virgin Islands are a short distance away but UK residents require a visa to enter this part of the archipelago so unfortunately we couldn’t visit them by boat.
After a rolly down wind sail in an easterly wind with the waves hitting us on our beam, neither of us got much sleep as we arrived from St Barts into Virgin Gorda. Virgin Gorda (fat virgin) was named by Columbus. When viewing the island from the sea, the land resembles a relaxing woman with a fat stomach. We anchored in St. Thomas Bay and our first task was to check in with Immigration and Customs…..they were on their lunch break. So we went to lunch and found a beach bar where we could Skype Jaz to wish her a happy birthday. An early night was called for.
Despite not being the best of anchorages we decided to stay put on the Saturday and read up our pilot and dive books, to plan our three week stay in the BVIs. We came up with ten anchorages and four dive sites.
Sunday we set off for the Bight, Norman Island and had a marvellous, gentle Sunday sail. This is what cruising is about.
Norman Island is part of the “Little Sisters” and reputed to be the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”. Our first chosen anchorage was not to disappoint and despite being full of mooring buoys and charter yachts we found a peaceful anchorage in 20 metres of water.
After some leisurely swimming off the boat with Debbie working hard at scrubbing the waterline of weed, we indulged in some very nice BBQ steaks with homemade Aubergine Parmigiana, followed by a visit to “Willy T”. The William Thornton is a 100 foot schooner that is now a floating bar where anything goes! The people watching was fascinating with two local girls grinding against their prey and apparently we missed by only half an hour, six beauties running around naked. Stephen was able to enjoy his cigars beside the “No Smoking” sign – this is a wonderfully lawless place.
Monday morning we awoke to the sound of Terns wheeling above the feeding Pelicans. A school of large fish were rounding up their breakfast and the Pelicans, Brown-footed Boobies and Terns were all sharing the spoils. An amazing display.
We had some fabulous snorkeling experiences in the Bight. The first one was in Treasure Point caves, seeing the different species of fish depending on the light penetration in the water. Our second trip was off Pelican Island, The Indians. These rocks covered in guano resemble a Native American Indian’s headdress. The quantity of fish resembled a curtain at times, with the overhead surge of water crashing against the rocks above us.
We enjoyed Margaritas and freshly caught Wahoo at Willy T followed by swimming when the heat got too much.
At this time of year, the BVIs are not as busy so there is always room in the anchorages.
A short motor over the bay brought us to Jost Van Dyke which is also known as the party island. The few residents on the island are engaged in the running of the bars, restaurants, shops, ferries, customs and immigration. We anchored in Great Harbour in the early afternoon quietness broken only by the call of birds, goats bleating and the odd American accent travelling across the water.
Our first of many forays to Foxy’s Bar started on the first night with thunder, rain and sheet lightning illuminating the anchorage. The weather remained overcast throughout our time in Jost Van Dyke but this didn’t stop us from exploring. A trip in “M” to Soper’s Hole to find an ATM ended up with a $40 taxi ride to Nanny Cay to get some dollars. A cay is described in our on board dictionary as a coral reef. The journey was absolutely beautiful following the coast, so a few miles turned out to be an enjoyable if lengthy ride. No longer vagrants we returned to Soper’s Hole, bought the obligatory cigar supply and returned to Amelie. Snorkeling the following day in White Bay was an excuse to swim ashore to the Soggy Dollar bar. The cocktails were worth it and we can now claim to have visited the home and met the guy who invented the ‘Painkiller’ (a lethal rum concoction but very drinkable). Swaying back to the RIB we encountered geese and ducks waddling along the beach, as if they were having a day out and looking for a picnic site. Friday night is famous for BBQs at Foxy’s bar and it is probably the best organised mass BBQ that we have been experienced. Fabulous food, efficiently served with a smile and great music to dance to afterwards.
The rain was torrential the following day so we waited until there was a break in the weather and motored across to Cane Garden Bay where our friends on Boomerang were anchored. We first met them in Durban through mutual friends, Leo and Karin. We spent three days in the bay, swimming, snorkelling, messing around on the RIB and Debbie tried out Boomerang’s paddle board and loved it. Certainly going to be on her Christmas list. Stephen became John’s dive pupil whilst he was examined for his Dive Master’s ticket and had a brilliant dive. Stephen chaperoned Nick and Luuk in the RIB, not that either of them needed any help. Luuk particularly enjoyed being the driver, bombing around the bay towing Nick, waterskiing on his paddle board. We located a sunken old barge close to Amelie and snorkeled the wreck several times. In the evenings we went ashore to listen to live bands playing in the bars. All in all a thoroughly chilled and happy time.
Wednesday, saw a flotilla of us motoring to Beef Island in time for the full moon party at Trellis Bay. The mooring field was packed so we anchored nicely in Marina Cay on the other side of the bay. As the sun lowered we arrived at the dinghy dock in Trellis Bay and immediately the atmosphere was tangible. The bars aligning the beach were busy, the unlit fireball sculptures were erected including three structures arranged in the surf, a saxophonist was playing from one of the stages and the aroma of West Indian food wafted along the shoreline. The fireball sculptures are an original idea from the artist, Aragorn Dick-Read. Shapes, symbols and figures are cut into steel spheres, pyramids and cuboid structures. The sculptures are packed with drift wood and lit when the sky darkens. The carved shapes and symbols appear to dance and twirl in the firelight. The artist is also involved in ceramics which are fired in an homemade kiln and cooled quickly underneath large steel pans in the sand with shredded newspaper. This causes the glaze to crackle and each piece is unique. The artists are striving to promote Caribbean crafts and only sell Caribbean products.
Suddenly from nowhere the stilt dancers arrived. They are known as Mocko Jumbies who wear circus acrobatic costumes and dance in the sand. The guide suggests that they originally performed to chase away evil spirits. The only spirits that were around that night were the rum punches. The music from the various bands and DJs encouraged us to dance on the foreshore and celebrate the full moon with new and recently re-acquainted friends.
Once again it was time to say goodbye to our friends, as several of them were preparing to cross the Atlantic back to Holland. Bon Voyage, Boomerang, D-Jay and Sea Quest……hope to see you in the future.
We set off for Prickly Pear Bay, Gorda Sound (North Sound), Virgin Gorda……the names of the islands and bays are imaginative and some very amusing. Deadman’s, Vixen Point, Great Dog, Devil’s Bay, Salt Island, Mosquito Island to name but a few. The anchorage was as beautiful as we’ve seen on our circumnavigation. Amelie anchored close to the reef in sand, alone, with just the sounds of the waves toppling over the reef. Turtles surfaced for air, Rays were flipping out of the water, Pelicans doing their ‘fly pass’ and cheeky Terns sitting on ‘M’ or using up too much energy fishing on such hot days. The swimming and snorkeling was fantastic, lots of exercise and a way to get cool quickly. Debbie saw her first Porcupine fish, just under a metre long with huge eyes, gorgeous spotted colouring with flattened spines. It obviously wasn’t threatened but was wary and shy watching Debbie’s approach as much as she watched it’s behaviour. Extremely cute fish and resembling Nemo!
We visited ‘Bitter End’ which is a nautical village a short dinghy ride from Amelie. A great place but not for us, too manicured and structured but great to visit. Later that evening we had sundowners with another Amelie (IV), Mark, Marie-Claude, Matthew and Megan from Canada on Saba Rock. The huge Tarpon fish swimming around the shallows in the moonlight were mesmerising. The two Amelies will be in close proximity over the next few years so hopefully we will be seeing a lot more of them.
The intrepid explorers were off again, sussing out the local area. This time, Leverick Bay which is an older resort and more in keeping with the Caribbean romance. We stocked up on supplies and had a magnificent snorkel with Amelie IV, we spotted a huge Spotted Eagle Ray with a lengthy tail. We enjoyed Satika’s kind present of fish on our BBQ and watched the sun go down. The anchorage became dotted with globes of light, we believe were phosphorescence algae, which exploded when gobbled up by minute fish.
The wind turned south easterly so we motored around the corner to Eustatia Sound and anchored off Eustatia Island with Necker Island on our beam. Stephen believed he sighted two juvenile Whale Sharks which are uncommon in the Caribbean. The visibility for snorkeling was becoming poor so we made a decision to sail over to Anegada, the only coral atoll in the BVIs, only 28 feet above sea level. Memories of the French Polynesian Islands flooded back and we weren’t daunted by passing through the passage in the reef, with Debbie in her Prada polarized sunglasses on the push pit, “bommie” spotting. At times we only had 0.2m under our keel. We finally anchored off the commercial dock in Settlement Point with 0.5m under the keel!
Anegada is “nature’s little secret” and some of the most beautiful scenery that we’ve seen anywhere in the world. White, sandy beaches with bright blue waters, crashing waves over the reef protecting us and shoes are not generally required. We quickly hired a jeep to explore the island and booked for the famous BBQ Lobster at the Anegada Reef hotel that evening. In fact we tried out their BBQ Trigger fish and ribs on other days, sitting on the beach with oil lamps on the table and fire beacons edging the water. The mosquitoes and sand flies were a nuisance but this was romantic paradise!
The jeep was great fun and we drove along sandy, rough tracks finding various bays and beaches to explore and enjoy. The skies were generally overcast whilst we there but we did some snorkeling, firstly in Loblolly Bay and the following day at Cow Wreck Bay. We came across a find in the form of the Anegada Beach Club. The open air bar with a thatched roof served exceptional cocktails and the kitchen provided us with amazing lunches despite still being built whilst the chef and his ladies were cooking. Benjy the builder spent most of his time on a bar stool recovering from his work in the heat. A short walk to the beach, with the pathway lined with Conch shells opened up into a glorious sight of the reef and ocean beyond. Stephen was in his element, sipping on his cocktail, puffing a cigar, lounging on a beach bed.
Anegada has reintroduced Flamingos to their salt ponds and at present have about a hundred. With the jeep we managed to get very close to one of these salt flats and sighted a couple of Flamingos. Unfortunately we got stuck and aborted our attempts to dig the jeep out. We ended up walking down a hot, sandy track towards the Anegada Beach club. We were kindly transported to the bar and the chef in his monster truck (Debbie and Stephen in the back, clinging on for dear life……capture the picture) who drove like a madman to our jeep and after sometime hauled us out of the mud, some of which had entered the jeep during the manoeuvre. He was loving it and is intending to take his 5 year old son there for a mud bath. Jeeps getting stuck offroad happens on a regular basis and it normally costs $500 to be hauled, but the chef was happy with his cocktail. We’re sure the whole island (250 inhabitants) knew who we were by the end of the evening.
Alas we needed to move on back to Tortola for some provisions and internet before our journey to Grenada. Soper’s Hole is very much like Disneyland and the ferries tear in and out of the anchorage causing huge wakes and slowly destroying the banks…..also soaking Stephen as he alighted from ‘M’. His language was tame, considering. This place is not for us and we set sail for Green Cay off Little Jost Van Dyke. Once again, unbelievably beautiful, rustic, uninhabited and no fast ferries! Huge Tarpons swimming very close to Debbie as she snorkeled to the shore with great displays of seabirds fishing. Pelicans dive bombing ungraciously with Brown footed Boobies more streamline and the beauty of tiny Terns, dancing above the water and then arrow like diving for their fish. A dinghy ride to Little Jost Van Dyke for a sundowner found us in a new beach bar called B-Line. Friendly people who have a weekly job on Tortola and run the bar at weekends for fun. During the week a local guy runs it and opening hours are when he gets there and when he leaves……very chilled. Great conversation, chatting about one anothers lives……refreshing and fun. Kids rolling in the sand and washing off in the sea, pub games on the tables, massive bowls of crisps and dip on the bar, killer cocktails, a local couple dancing seductively to the music as only the Caribbean’s know how. As the sun was setting, the male collected his ramshackle fishing dinghy, piled his family in and took off into open water. Looked precarious but obviously doing this regularly and the female was still drinking her cocktail out of her plastic cup, waving to a group on the beach.
Plastic…….most bars and restaurants near the beach serve their drinks in plastic cups. The amount they get through is staggering and from going around the world this is alien to us. What do they do with the rubbish? Do they recycle? The BVIs are very clean and the waters do not appear to be polluted as there is a huge range of plentiful wildlife and sea creatures. Most garbage that we take ashore is charged by the bag, between $2-$3. This is a mystery we need to solve.
The weather report suggested that the wind would be in our favour from Wednesday through to Sunday, the decision was made to leave for Grenada. Checking out quickly in Soper’s Hole, we sailed away under a heavy, grey sky. We have rarely sailed with the wind anything forward of the beam during our circumnavigation but this was to be the pattern for our three day sail to Port Louis, Grenada. Amelie and her teak deck loved the salt water crashing over her bow and progress was swift. We had a few hazards to avoid along the way, ie Isla Avres and various shallow banks complete with fishing boats. Isla Avres appeared as a rock jutting out of the ocean but as we got closer, it appeared that there was an old military structure built on stilts with heavy duty radar. When dark, the structure lit up the skies. We described it as similar to a James Bond filmset, was a modern day Dr No plotting world domination? Extremely eerie.
Food on this trip included prepared food from the freezer and Debbie getting her knickers in a twist and cooked Beef Goulash instead of Stroganoff (or was it the other way round!), using the wrong cut of meat. A chewy but flavoursome supper which prompted Stephen to suggest a cook book titled “ Don’t try this at home” the left page Debbie describing her delightful recipe and a Pru Leith alternative on the right hand page ! Once again ice cream and fresh pineapple saved the day.
We arrived in Port Louis late morning on Saturday and were welcomed by the marina team. Stephen quickly checked us in for six months and we celebrated with a well deserved cocktail in the cockpit.
A new lifestyle starts here. Retirement is varied, exciting and fun. Absolutely no time to get bored or set in our ways……….. Grenada, Amelie has arrived.