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