We’re not out of COVID country yet, so protect and then play.
It’s been a strange season, but as usual, we improvise, adapt and overcome. In March, we didn’t know if we’d have a sailing season at the Sailing Center! By June, we knew it would be closer to biz as usual on the water, in addition to our innovative and popular “Live 105” courses on Zoom for Coastal Nav (which no one else seems to be running). We figured we just had to play it safe.
We did. We limited class sizes beyond (below?) our normal capacities, further reduced classroom time for learn to sail courses, and mandated masks. Sometimes, people could take them off, but only when it made sense. Most people arrived at the Sailing Center pre-conditioned to wearing their masks all the time. (One or two prospective students were not invited to sign up after expressing a distaste or unwillingness to wear masks.)
Video clip for ya ! Mike and Kelly “deal with the heel” on a windy day…
We got through the season, which is winding down. It ends by early November for us. But, the country, and much of the world, is NOT through the pandemic. Politics aside, numbers don’t lie. People lying in ICU beds in hospitals are not faking it. Many countries are in their second or third waves or spikes, and winter is coming which will almost certainly make the pandemic worse. (And don’t forget the flu!!!) A COVID-19 vaccine is not immediately around the corner, nor is worldwide distribution of it when it arrives. So… wear that mask!
So…. it’s not over ’til it’s over. That sadly applies to the pandemic, but I’ll gladly take that this sailing season isn’t quite over and despite that, and eager anticipation of sliding down snow, we’re already looking forward to the next one!
We got back from the trip on Saturday and loved it. All a bit of a blur and a blend, and we detoured slightly from the plan. But, for what it’s worth, here’s the answer to the challenge we put to you: identify the “default itinerary” for our BVI trips.
Same chart as in last post- this time, labeled with the spots. Go ahead; zoom it up! See some detail. In the meantime, here’s the list:
Virgin Gorda: Spanish Town.
Anegada. There’s just the one anchorage.
Marina Cay. Again, the one spot.
Jost Van Dyke: east end, between Jost and Little Jost.
Norman Island: the Bight
Cooper Island: just the one – Manchioneel Bay.
We deviated on this trip. Not by fucking up our compass, no. We just stayed two nights at Norman and skipped Cooper this time around. We adjust based on what the people who paid to play had to say. And, sometimes the weather. Here’s a synopsis of this trip!
Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda. We anchored there after a snorkel and lunch stop at Great Dog. Then, we dingied into the marina and called a taxi to the Baths. Always breathtaking; never disappointing (except when super crowded. Several in our group were first timers and blown away by it. We grilled aboard that night.
Anegada. Our personal favorite, where we often spend two nights. One did the trick on this trip as all were eager to see as much of the BVI as possible. We anchored, lunched, and went ashore to explore the north side beaches (mostly by bicycle; one sailor opted for a taxi). The bikers did a beach crawl. Dinner: Anegada Reef Hotel on the beach. Various dishes were accompanied by a nice NZ bottle of Sauv Blanc. Chess match: competitive game with Gregor, but Captain Card managed to find a way to win despite a kibitzing (but entertaining) audience.
Marina Cay. Got a mooring early; had to move when crowded by anchoring cats. No problem. Then, off to snorkel the Coral Gardens which didn’t disappoint beyond slightly silty water column. The fish didn’t seem to care. No one on board had been to the relatively new and, post-Irma, refurbished Scrub Island Resort. A friend on another charter supplied intel on the merits, so we hopped in the dinghy. No one on board had been to the relatively new and, post-Irma, refurbished Scrub Island Resort. A friend on another charter supplied intel on the merits, so we hopped in the dinghy. Nice spot; very expensive drinks that were disappointing to decent, but, hey – it’s a brand new fancy joint so we should have expected it. Dined aboard once more. Gregor whupped Captain Card’s ass at chess, straight up. So it goes. (nb: the fuel/water dock was supposed to be open, despite the rest of the island not offering anything anymore. The hurricanes totally trashed MC. However, it was closed all afternoon, and again in the morning. Two yachts had parked on the pier overnight after seemingly waiting all afternoon.)
Jost Van Dyke. We did a quick snack/snorkel stop at Monkey Point on Guana Island first; surf wasn’t up too much, but water clarity sucked. Nothing special in the fish life department, but it was fun to see them regardless and the cave had a school of likeminded fin fish on display as well.
On to Jost/Little Jost, which gave us a downwind sail in swells and a few jibes for good measure and balance. We moored at the back of the bay, close to the shallows and flats and also the dinghy dock at Foxy’s Taboo (yes, offshoot of the famous Foxy’s around the corner x 2 at Great Harbor). We usually anchor here, but there was a prime mooring spot so we took it.
After some lunch we dinghied in to shore and made dinner reservations before trekking to the Bubbly Pool, a must-see spot that’s a light walk/hike from the dinghy dock. BVI Tourism aptly calls it “the East End’s natural sea-formed Jacuzzi.” I agree! As usual, we had it to ourselves briefly upon arrival before the hordes arrived. Just the way the luck rolls for us here.
Dinner was only for us. They’d let us know when we reserved that we were the only boat/table thus far, and to be sure to advise if we changed our plans. We negotiated a time of arrival, and we showed up. This is rare for this spot; it’s usually somewhere between happening and hopping. Easy night and early closing for them. But they took great care of us. Food was exceptional for BVI; we’ve eaten there before and enjoyed it, but everything was top notch including my baby backs, which were some of the best I’ve ever had.
Norman Island. Before stormin Norman, we stopped at Sandy Cay right off Jost. We had it to ourselves briefly as usual being the first to arrive. We did a hot drop with the dinghy, and Sir Gregor volunteered to drop it off at the yacht and swim in. nb: it’s seldom calm enough to safely beach the dink here; don’t risk it. Swim or snorkel in from the day moorings. The attractions here are to beach comb and hike the path up through the woods to several elevated plateaus with stunning vistas. It’s way higher up than it looks from shore or afar. Pro tip: hit it early in the AM before heading to your next destination. The alternative, late afternoon, is often too late for securin’ your berthin.’ (This works at many popular BVI day stops before the crowds arrive.)
We enjoyed Norman itself enough to stay two nights! That’s a first on our trips. Anegada and Virgin Gorda are other spots where we’ve lingered an extra day & night sometimes. We anchored at the Bight in a spot we can usually get away with that strikes a nice balance of serenity and equal opportunity to get to where we want to play here. We snorkeled, chilled, etc and then BBQ’d for din din.
The next day, we chose to do the moderate hike up the ridge for amazing vistas, and then day sail around Norman before grabbing a mooring at Benures Bay for the day. Yup; both Benures and Soldiers now have some moorings; this wasn’t the case when we were last here a year ago.
We enjoyed the day here; Gregor did a second hike to another location. Then, back to our anchor spot and drinks and Danger Jenga ashore at Pirate’s Bight before a last supper aboard.
The next morning was both gloomy and beautiful as we motored back to the base and prepared to head home. We got lucky; as soon as the boat was docked and the engine off, it rained. But, as is usual, it was brief and we didn’t get soaked before we departed, and we wished we could have stayed just a little longer.
We’re off to the Virgin Islands this weekend for one of our Sailing Vacation Courses. We go to BVI every winter, and sometimes twice or even three times (historically in the boom days; now it’s usually once but probably as we’re now going to Europe every fall).
By the way, we can accommodate one more person. Discount off the full trip price of $1650 to offset your last-minute airfare, too! (Talk to us about this, or see our BVI/Med trip page.)
Anywho… where shall we sail to this time? We do have a default itinerary (hence “ITIN”). It works: it hits the spots we prefer to take people, especially if they have little to no prior exposure to the Virgin Islands. Of course, prior exposure, weather, etc can change our destinations and our route to get to them.
Sometimes, we spend two nights in a special spot when people fall in love with it. This was especially true before the hurricanes ravaged Virgin Gorda. Gorda Sound (when did people start calling it North Sound, anyway?) had so much going on it often took two nights and days to get it done. Anegada, a much simpler place, was so appealing in this sense that, especially if we arrived on the later side, we occasionally spent an extra night there.
So, where shall we go this time?? We have two clients who’ve been here before. We have two who are Virgins. Tell us!.. just don’t tell us here by public reply to the post; hit us up directly. See if you can come up with our default ITIN based on your own experience, what others have posted about their trips, etc, etc. Get it right, and you get $50 toward anything we do here. (Credit; not cash.) If no one gets it right, whoever is closest gets $50. That applies to all who get the same “closest,” whether they exactly match or not. If we deem two different submissions as equally close, we’ll award them both – and anyone else who submits the same ones.
Some basis for you to start:
We depart from Road Harbor, Tortola, on Sunday mid to late morning (this coming Sunday, March 1).
We will spend 6 nights out in the Islands.
We must return the boat by around 9am on Saturday, March 7. (The gradual dragged/kicked off screaming in protest takes a little longer…)
We might make day stops along the way to our “night” anchorages. Get those right, and you get extra credit to offset any “mistakes” in your guesses! (Remember: we actually want you to win the $50 to use with us.)
We must be anchored, moored, or berthed no later than 30 minutes before sunset. Having said that, we always get to our destination for the night far earlier for many good reasons: finding parking, enjoying the area, sunset drinks, getting the grill started in a timely fashion when cooking aboard, etc.
40-foot yacht; near-new; total of 5 humans aboard including our “HBIC,” Captain Card. (See below for acronym to be spelled out.)
And, here’s a photo of a chart we have often taken on our BVI trips! Just in case it helps. (Of course, we took a pic of our default ITIN laid out on the same chart before we announced any of this, and we’ll share eventually to ward off any case of the shenanigans.)
To submit your, well… submission, just hit us up privately.
“Lay it on me, Card- how is it down there? Really.“
Well, it’s like this…
We all know that there’s an elephant in the chat room. It’s been hard to get a good sense of what it’s like down there post Irma and Maria. So, we up and went, on the assumption that despite boat and building damage, the islands would still be there.
Our report? Not half bad! Better than that. We recommend it.
Of course, that depends on what you’re looking for in a tropical sailing trip. If you want an endless variety of bars, restaurants, and gift shops, go elsewhere. If you want beautiful islands, healthy reefs, and an abundance of fish to gape at while snorkeling, a representative sample of shoreside fun, and some well deserved tranquility, then head on down or join us on one of our trips.
Islands: what’s good and what isn’t
Most islands in the British Virgin Islands were impacted by the hurricane. Some did quite well and it was not an issue for tuning up for the tourist season. Others had extensive shoreside damage and the facilities (restaurants/marinas) were basically wiped out. These areas are under reconstruction, and will be restored, but some have a way to go.
A-Z, to the extent we could ever bother to spell while down there…
We didn’t go this time around due to a short trip and rough weather for more than half of it. However, we’ve heard all along that Anegada fared well in the storm and was good to go. Once we were down there for our skippers meeting at Moorings/Sunsail, this was confirmed. The Anegada Reef Hotel and many other restaurants on Anegada await you.
Beef Island/Trellis Bay
Pretty beat up. Many boats still littered around the anchorage and shore, and as it’s connected to the mainland, it remains a busy and crowded anchorage. There’s a market to get supplies which might be adding to the crowding. This was from observation, briefing, and first hand reports from people who just went there.
Cane Garden Bay, Tortola
Didn’t go, but it has a restaurant open on the beach (supposedly a good one). The satellite branch of Bobby’s Marketplace is not open yet. As this anchorage is uncomfortable in any north ground swell unless you get a good mooring, either skip it or arrive very early with a Plan B in mind. Having said that, they’re recommending it subject to the swell, and based on past experience, we agree. It’s gorgeous.
Restaurant not open yet. Can sort of get ashore to walk on the beach a little; if you do, honor the signs for private property when you get close. There are plenty of moorings here, but get there early. This is the only anchorage in the area where anchoring is legally prohibited. You will be chased out if you try it, so if you’re getting there past early afternoon, have a plan B.
Snorkeling from the dinghy mooring at Cistern was above average for the location with plenty of fish. (A certain secret spot where a VERY large barracuda liked to hang was all but destroyed so didn’t go looking for trouble. To this day, dear friends/clients argue with each other and me as to whether this was actually a shark. It wasn’t.)
Jost Van Dyke
Here’s your nightlife. Most places on the island are up and running, including Foxy’s in Great Harbor, Sydney’s and Harris’ in Little Harbor, and the Soggy Dollar Bare in White Bay. One can dock up to refill water tanks in Great Harbor. Foxy’s Taboo at Diamond Cay (near Little Jost) is not open yet.
There are some moorings in each harbor, although traditionally, one expects to anchor at Jost due to the volume.
Gone. The island is still there, of course, and anything concrete and steel remains. The fuel and water dock, English phone booth, restaurants and bars are gone. The island is off limits and (fairly) strictly enforced. That makes it nice and quiet! Get there early, get a mooring directly in the lee of the island (protected from the prevailing wind), and enjoy a nice quiet night.
Snorkeling at the Coral Gardens was amazing. It’s always good, but we enjoyed something different this time. Schools of parrot fish were behaving a lot like predator gamefish, snapping at floating weeds at and just below the surface! We’ve never seen them more than a few foot off the bottom, cruising around or nibbling at coral. Their were several varieties in attendance, but the ones schooling were fairly colorless with gray/black highlights. There were rainbows and other color varieties around as well.
The Bight, or Pirates Bight, is a large anchorage that always has room for more boats, and a little more now that the Willy T (William T Thornton, a large sailing vessel semi-permanently moored in the Bight), is semi-permanently wrecked ashore. Sad. Benefit? That was a LOUD boat, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. So, much quieter now until if/when they replace it.
The restaurant is supposed to be open but we didn’t go ashore to investigate. Snorkeling along the walls at the Caves, around the corner from the anchorage, was average to slightly above for this spot (which is excellent if you do it right).
North Sound (Gorda Sound), Virgin Gorda
Mostly gone. This area’s facilities were mostly wiped out. One can anchor or moor in many places, of course, and enjoy the tranquility and the reefs for snorkeling.
The one facility open in the Sound is Leverick Bay, and the Pussers (eh) restaurant is open. I don’t remember if water was available at Leverick to top off tanks, but one can check before planning on it.
No facilities open yet ashore. Who needs it… Peter Island had an expensive and snotty facility which, if memory serves, required a jacket of gentlemen for dinner. So NOT going down there for that. The allure of Peter, as we see it, is that the harbors have nothing. Just protected anchorages and scenic tranquility. We anchored along the east wall of Great Harbor and loved it. Good snorkel trip along the rip rap on the bottom (which had been there forever). Not a coral spot, but lots of fish as they love this kind of structure. Not bad for jumping off the back of the boat!
Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda
Marina is open. This is very enclosed with slips. There are also a few moorings outside, and an area where one can anchor and dinghy in if it’s not rough. No dockside market, and might not have any restaurant facilities running yet, but there are several in town within walking distance, which lets one see how the locals live. Also, one can get a taxi from here to go to the Baths. If it’s a little lumpy in the harbors due to weather conditions, and people need a break, this is your spot. Flat calm, plus you can step off and walk around on solid ground.
Our trip revealed what we’d hoped it would: a resilient populace living in a natural environment, both of whom roll with the proverbial punches of Poseidon, Neptune, etc. If you want to see and explore the British Virgin Islands closer to the way they were before the charter industry really built up, now’s the time! Expect to provision your boat more and dine ashore less. If that’s the price to pay to play here, I’m more than happy to go back ASAP.
We did the first weekend of a Bareboat Cruising course (ASA 104) on the 11th and 12th. Marc and Sheri, prior grads and ongoing Sailing Club members, wanted an overnight cruise experience as part of their training. We decided on Oyster Bay. Say hi to Marc & Sheri…
Moderate, slightly gusty breezes tapered off as we departed, so it was light winds all the way. They became variable in direction as well so it was a good challenge to keep the boat moving. Too many people just give up in these conditions, and never learn to actually sail a boat in them. This is one of the fascinating challenges in sailing, and as Long Island Sound and the Northeast are light-wind regions, it’s a critical skillset to develop. We did motor-sail briefly when it was futile to sail. After all, there was a sunset to catch while relaxing on the mooring!
We arranged for a mooring and the timing was perfect. After the yacht club’s sunset cannon went off, we walked into town in time for our dinner reservation at Wild Honey. Appetizers and entrees were all excellent as usual. We did have to reject the first bottle of wine, but the replacement was fine.
The next day saw winds increase beyond what had been originally forecast. We expected Northwest winds of 10-15 with gusts to 20. We were greeted with 20-30 from WNW. Higher gusts were to be possible. So, after taking our time with breakfast and boat prep, and preparing quick access sandwiches and snacks (as well as water), we headed out with our smallest genoa and a single reef in the main. First thing we encountered in the mouth of the bay? A fleet of little Optis zipping all over in perfect control, and one chase boat seemingly with nothing to do. We knew we then had no choice but to tough it out on our Pearson 10M (33-foot) keelboat! (Opti, short for Optimist Pram, is the most popular kids training boat in the world. We see them everywhere we cruise in the Caribbean and Mediterranean.)
But it wasn’t a big deal despite a confused sea state with short choppy waves. Kilroy ate it up with a balanced helm. The seas became more rhythmical the further west we progressed. But after a brief lulling of the breeze to mid-teens, it picked back up. By the time we had to negotiate the entrance to City Island Harbor, winds were 30-35. That’s getting into gale forces. Whew! But the boat and crew both took it in stride and it was a rewarding finish to a fine trip.