leg 19: British Virgin Islands (BVI)
The month we spent in the BVI was the highlight of the Caribbean, crystal clear sparkling water, easy sailing and friends in every anchorage. Our arrival however was less than textbook. After a hard sail up from Martinique with a middle of the night cruise ship near miss (it was one nautical mile away but I consider that far too close) we pulled into the anchorage at Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda to clear in and attempted to anchor on what turned out to be a rock shelf. Eventually got the anchor to hold only to discover on closer inspection an undersea cable a bit too close. Not wanting to inadvertently cut communications to the island we upped anchor, providing some breakfast entertainment for the luxury charter yacht next to us, and moved over to the mooring ball field where I attempted to pick up a mooring ball. This is not my forte and I still have ptsd from the Saldanha fiasco, managed to hook it on the second pass and then forgot how to tie a bowline resulting in Denzell raising his voice (which doesn‘t happen often) and us providing more morning entertainment for the selection of yachts moored in very close proximity. Anyway we secured Irene and remained married. After checking in and getting a one month visa to stay in the islands we moved around to the next bay to meet up with Karen and Graham on Red Herring and this time the anchoring went smoothly. We named this bay secret mountain (I have no idea what it’s really called) but it had a perfect beach for a braai and a nice steep hill to walk up for some leg stretching and a view of the short cut pass to Leverick Bay. The pass looked a bit shallow but we thought we’d give it a go as practice for the Pacific islands to come. Felt significantly more confident when we saw a bigger cat than us go through at quite a clip. Red Herring opted for the long way around since they have a keel to worry about. We anchored off a nice little private beach and swam ashore early the next morning for a sunrise coffee up on the rocks with some chairs left behind by hurricane Irma. Callum developed a temperature and our first thought went to ciguatera poisoning as we had eaten some snapper (we’d been told the snapper was safe on Virgin Gorda) mad panic google doctor researching ciguatera symptoms ensued until Denzell looked in his throat and discovered he actually ‘only’ had tonsillitis. Relief. He improved quickly and so we continued our exploration of Virgin Gorda and moved around to Eustacia Island.
This was the most perfect anchorage, a sandy bottom in 2m of water where I could watch the anchor set itself. The nearby reef revealed seemingly acres of staghorn coral, most of it damaged by hurricane Irma, but it was encouraging to see new growth and I’m sure one day it‘ll be back to it’s former glory. This is a private island (owned by someone from google I think) but us mere mortals were allowed up to the high water mark so we enjoyed a day at google beach. Richard Branson’s Necker Island is just next door but we gave that one a miss and headed back to Tortola to get some boat jobs done.
We anchored at Sea Cow Bay with only about 10cm of water under the keel and sat on the bottom at low tide, but it was convenient to get laundry done, stock up on groceries and order parts for repairs. Irene needed a new alternator (our expensive repair in French Guiana hadn’t held out) and a new ball joint for the rudder steering arm. We also decided to buy a new raymarine radar unit and get a new mainsail made up by Doyle sails, who were incredibly helpful. Our in mast furling mainsail was constantly jamming and it turned out that the old sail was just so stretched it was time to replace it. We’d already ordered a new foresail from Far East Sails so Irene will be super smart with her new sails, except for the mistake I made on the colour of the UV strip which means we are going for all different shades of turquoise for our colour scheme. The best bit about Tortola though was meeting up with an old school friend who we hadn’t seen for years. Steve runs a surf school at Josiah Bay and has been living on Tortola for so long he’s a permanent fixture. It was such a treat to see someone from ‘home’ and catch up.
After waiting for high tide to float us off the bottom we had a bumpy sail over to Peter island and then started island hopping back up to Virgin Gorda. At Salt Island we met up with Red Herring for the last time before they started their crossing to Panama and home to New Zealand. We introduced the kids to hermit crab racing and had an idyllic sunset burger braai on the beach. Denzell took a long swim around the point to dive the wreck of the Rhone and then we moved on to the baths at Virgin Gorda.
My hot tip for visiting the baths is to anchor overnight and then get up really early to have the baths to yourself for a bit before the charter boat madness sets in. The boulder formation and crystal clear water with the morning sun sparkling off it is really special and to have peace and quiet all to yourself is worth the early start and chilly swim ashore. We upped anchor just as it started getting really busy and headed back over to Tortola, this time to Trellis bay near the airport, in preparation for the big birthday weekend.
We kicked it off with the full moon party on Friday night for our tenth wedding anniversary, followed by the Josiah Bay surf classic on Sunday for my 40th birthday and then back to Josiah Bay on Tuesday for a pirate party for Callum and Denzell’s shared birthday. We met the crew on Frenchie during this crazy weekend and the kids were ecstatic to have some friends their own age for a change.
We felt that we hadn’t spent enough time on Virgin Gorda and so we headed back over there for our third visit - the marina at Spanish Town reportedly had the cheapest water so that was our excuse. There are so many special memories from this island - beach braais - new friends - sunrise coffee anchored with only the Atlantic ocean in front of us and no other boats around - freediving the Kraken sculpture wreck. But there were also sad things, we found a cache of conch shell on the reef that had clearly been harvested for meat and the beautiful shells dumped. I’m sure it wasn’t the only one. The destruction left by hurricane Irma was also hard to see, not only the completely destroyed resorts but also the yachts and other water craft still lying abandoned where Irma placed them. The power of mother nature is a frightening thing.
Our time in the BVI was coming to an end, and as much as we wanted to stay hurricane season was approaching and we needed to start getting down to Panama and through the canal. We dropped anchor briefly at Josiah Bay whilst there was no swell and left our faithful tender - the original pillager - for retirement with Steve. She was needing a pump up way too often to be reliable for the Pacific Islands but I’m sure will enjoy the easy life in the BVI. One last island stop at White Bay on Joost Van Dyk to say farewell to the Frenchie crew and we set sail for Panama at 11:59pm on Thursday 9 May - never set sail on a Friday!