Back from the BVI

Our latest Virgin Islands trip saw people brushing up on how to sail a yacht and how to kick it on a kewl cruise.

IN THAT PIC: a balanced helm during our first sail of the trip. En route to Spanish Town from Road Town. Stephanie was on one of our Italy trips before this.

Our (typically) annual trip in the British Virgin Islands was spectacular. Winds were surprisingly consistent, especially for this time of the year. The group got along like Kool and the Gang. There was less traffic than in the high season, and therefore parking, playing and getting dinner reservations were all easier.

For newcomers to our ramblings and Rants, these trips are instructional sailing vacations. People get a tour and vacay, but also can train at all the aspects of bareboat charter cruising. Those with the prerequisite background can earn one level of ASA cruising certification (either 103 or 104). On rare occasions, a student might pursue their 105 (coastal navigation).

This trip was full and waitlisted for any cancellations. Our last BVI trip was literally the week before the pandemic lockdown in early 2020, so we skipped two years in paradise. We did manage an Italy trip last fall which had been postponed for the same reasons. On this BVI trip, we had one couple who’d taken their beginner course with us last summer, one single guy, and three single women (one of whom had gone to Italy with us as well as sailed in our club and taken a course or two).

IN THAT PIC: Egret or Heron flying by a… frigate? Traditional sailing vessel that was moored not far from the hotel some of us stayed at the night before we met up at the charter base. Maria’s By the Sea, not fancy but perfectly fine, and they have good food and drink. Convenient and consistent.

So, what was new in BVI? What was the same? We skipped the “new” stuff. For example, we know peeps who played there a month earlier. They reported that Cooper Island, Bitter End & Saba Rock, and the restaurant above The Baths had all over done it. A few places had rebuilt bigger and badder than ever after the back to back hurricanes that preceded the pandemic. Others never rebuilt. Others were simply the same. It therefore felt like it always had, in a good way, and often felt as if we had it to ourselves.

I’d anticipated some dead zones where motoring was required to get anywhere. March had been like that a few times. Not so this early May! Winds were consistently about 12-15, and sometimes into upper teens. One day was honking as we got started, and we very conservatively double reefed the main. When it diminished somewhat, we shook out one reef but that was all I could get a basically lazy crew to do. Their party; their time. It was our last full day so they were kinda chill.

And, of course, it’s all supposed to be “island time.” There are some exceptions, of course. Want a guaranteed mooring? Have to be on the special app for that at 7am. Maybe not in the shoulder season, but certainly in the winter and early spring. Want a dinner reservation at Pirates Bight restaurant on Norman Island? Better make one early, especially if you want to choose your table time. How about dinner at all on Anegada? They do things different there. Call in your boat’s name and exact dishes (plus any choice of sides) by 4. Better yet, do it by 3. How many lobster? How many Mahi? Etc, etc.

IN THAT PIC: One of our stunning little semi-secrets from the BVI. Special beach on Anegada, a somewhat remote spot in the Virgin Islands, that takes careful navigation to get to without running aground on the fringing reef that basically surrounds the island. Great swimming and snorkeling here, and also a fun bar and restaurant.

We were on a nearly new Jeanneau 40 (Sunsail 40, as that’s who we chartered from). Nearly new here means 4 months. We paid extra for the privilege, and always do if they’re available. The sails were therefore perfect, and almost everything else showed new. There were some strange small failures that weren’t fixed before we set out on charter, such as the strut to hold up one of the top-load cabinets, and one door handle kept coming off for the aft head. But we dealt easily enough. The engine and electronics were all perfectly functional, and the boat performed.

IN THAT PIC: two of the crew enjoying the view as we sail back to the main island chain from rather remote Anegada.

It did poorly under the double reef; the boat needed to heel over and power up. The sail plan must have been inherently small, requiring reefing higher up on the wind dial. The crew had their chance to shake out the single reef when even that was too little but were enjoying it nonetheless. We got to our destination with plenty of time to do other activities despite that.

Turtles were doing well, and we saw them daily. Rays were a little down in the count. Snorkeling got us into all kinds of parrot fish, and numerous other species. One decent sized shark was spotted: almost the size of the 10-foot dinghy (so perhaps 7-8 feet, although it was an experienced snorkeler who’d seen sharks in the past, so maybe 9). That client asked for a pick up from the dinghy, as we were snorkeling off the boat close to shore, and he backed himself up almost onto it to keep an eye on the thing. He did say that the shark seemed to spook when they got close to each other and take off, but due to its size he wanted to play it safe. We drove over to the other snorkeler and advised. He wanted to see if he could see the shark! So, we let him be. Shark attacks in the Virgin Islands: how many documented attacks? One, in the 1970’s, on a diver in over 200 feet of water far from shore. Statistically insignificant, as I often say.

IN THAT PIC: empty-ish. There are some boats out of view to the right, but nutin happenin on poor old Marina Cay. I like it like that. This place had a great bar, mediocre restaurant, and very nice villas for rent. But, it was too busy and touristy. One of the more delightful small islands and anchorages in the BVI, with excellent snorkeling nearby. I even caught some fish prowling the shallow flat behind the reef you can see breakers on in the background.

Food: better! I’m often less than impressed with the local food, sorry to say. Having said that, there are several places worth dining at. We ate out for dinner half the time, and every meal was excellent, with the possible exception of the first night before we took off on our adventure. I ordered duck that was under cooked, and when it came back, it was still undercooked and everyone else had finished their meals. I rejected it and ordered a salad, which came back way too complicated after I’d asked for greens with dressing. I’d go back despite that, as we’ve been there before and it was top tier.

Sadly, my personal favorite, and always a favorite of clients, is still not back up and running after the hurricanes. That’s Fat Virgin’s Cafe, not surprisingly of Virgin Gorda. Unpretentious; cheap; excellent. Slow, which might be to get more drink orders or, more likely, because they take their time to cook things right. Dinghy up to the dock; the picnic tables are two feet away. Limited seating; never full; hard to tell if reservations are ever needed or taken seriously. If a pro captain brings a group, he or she eats free. But, don’t be bringing no high-maintenance people late in the evening. Yup; we sort of did that once.

IN THAT PIC: About to be off to our last dinner of the trip at Norman Island.

It can be fun to cook on board, and everything just tastes better on a boat. We did stove top and barbecue grilling for some of our dinners. Simple stuff, and it came out great. No complaints here. One woman’s pasta dish caused me to totally overeat with healthy seconds heaped on. Plus, ice cream she’d gotten at the last port and somehow managed to fit into the tiny freezer! That was a feat of modern engineering.

Next trip? September. Where? Europe: either Croatia or Italy, both of which we’ve visited before. Excited to go back to either, so I’ll basically let clients choose assuming comparably good boat availability with doable pricing at both locations.

Hope to see some readers on that trip! Get in touch if that might be you. You never know; you might dial up the delightful experience you want for yourself.

IN THAT PIC: typical stunning sunset as seen looking from Norman Island to St. John, USVI. About to chow down at Pirate’s Bight. Excellent food and drink here, and nice ambiance.

4 thoughts on “Back from the BVI”

  1. Better trip if you were honest with us about the accommodations/heads and food shopped adequately—I enjoyed pitching in and cooking for entire group but not really interested in being lectured on vacation about conserving the number of egg’s being used for the benefit of the ENTIRE crew-after putting $2200 in your pocket! Giving you a 0 on both!

    1. Two months late and a few dollars short! You are basically lying about the accommodations and heads. You and I discussed this in person in advance and I offered a schematic of the boat. Your cabin mate and you were both fully informed to avoid this exact scenario. Your exact comment: “Who cares? We’re just going to sleep there.”

      He had no complaints. On the contrary, he offered very positive trip feedback.

      Eggs? Everyone else paid the same trip price as you. But, only you used up large quantities of food items we couldn’t replace during the trip to make lunch out of breakfast staples for yourself (and the group, despite none of them asking for it). Then, when you whined that we didn’t have enough avocados, I sprung for more. No good deed goes unpunished! You used it up for guac to go with your chips. Trip provisioning cost the school around $850 – a new record.

      Two women who didn’t know each other before the trip shared a cabin of the same exact proportions as you and your tall male cabin mate (who you knew was a tall married man before you agreed to share). They were both smaller than him and larger than you. Same diff; no complaints.

      Everyone else complimented me on the provisioning, including a woman who was particular in her tastes and dietary preferences, especially after I gladly signed off on buying supplemental provisions before we departed.

      Everyone else tipped heavily (not solicited), provided great feedback, or both.

      Everyone ‘got it.’ Except you.

      1. Very happy that you are delusional about what YOU did not disclose (any of the above—a schematic—ha!). Guess you did not hear the REAL comments! John was as “happy” as I . As for tipping—totally not true but I suppose you can say anything you like! EVERYTHING I prepared was completely eaten—and not by myself. You certainly helped yourself before most of the others! Only 1 guest of 6 will ever sail with you again.

        1. …so you’re HAPPY that I’m delusional? Normally, I’d say you’re a horrible human being, but…

          1. You say it’s not true that I got tipped. But, I have Venmo receiptS to the contrary.
          2. You say only one guest of 6 will ever sail with me again. But, 3 of six specifically said they’d go, and two others’ feedback suggest it. Here’s a telling quote:

          That trip was amazing, one of the best trips I’ve ever done. It’s like a whole other world that most people don’t know about, being able to get a boat and just sail around to different “hidden” islands with almost no other people on them (at least at this time of year). It’s like a membership to a secret club. Learning the skills and tips and tricks on how to do it right was awesome, so we can slowly start feeling more confident in doing it more ourselves in the future. Seems like an amazing thing to be able to do more throughout our lives. I already started doing research on other more advanced cruising locations that we could potentially try in the future after we do the BVIs once or twice more.
          All the best and thanks for the amazing experience,
          L + M

          3. The food stuff is a little silly at this point.

          So, I won’t say you’re a horrible human being. I’ll say that I’m sorry you’re delusional.

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