British Virgin Islands

Published: June 21st 2013
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The British Virgin Islands (or BVIs)

The BVIs are a spot that we knew well before this trip began. We had chartered a small Sunsail boat here in 2007 so we had a fair idea of what to expect. As we dodged around “The Blinders” (barely hidden rocks in the pass through to Virgin Gorda) we saw that there is good reason that so many people charter here. Immediately you almost appear in a hidden sea where the winds and seas are gentle. No little wonder that the BVIs are where many take their first tentative steps into tradewinds sailing – they are simply magical.

Our first stop was Spanish Town and check-in with all the customary obsequiousness to get officials to sign reams of duplicate forms. The BVIs must take the award for the most forms and associated bullshit! On arrival Russell had seen no staff behind the counter to deal with us but as he politely awoke several idle sleeping officials from their Saturday morning slumber we knew we were in trouble. The smaller the banana republic – the bigger the hats and the more mindless admin! Eventually we escaped a few dollars worse-off for our lack of politesse!

We now had a birthday party to get to! The lovely Mia, of Open Blue was having a 4th Birthday Party in Manchioneel Bay, Cooper Island, which we needed to attend. With the newly-arrived Rafikis and Mad Fish in tow we ploughed downwind and into a lovely bay that we remembered well from our previous visit. Dressed all over to mark the occasion we readied ourselves for a very British summer party on the beach – surrounded by slightly old and wrinkled / sozzled Americans (the BVIs are a bit like that!).

The kids had a lovely time with sandwiches, pineapple cheese cocktail sticks, games, chocolate cakes, sweets and even going-home bags! For the adults; beer and cocktails and left-over party food – bliss (and just the way that future kids’ parties should pan-out)!

Mia’s birthday by Samuel


We went to the beach. Rafiki, Mad Fish, Open Blue and Fabiola came too. First we had to chase Dad for the first clue to the treasure hunt. Poor Mia cried because she is not fast but I think she enjoyed it anyway. The last clue of the treasure hunt, was hidden under a swing. It led us to the party bags. Then we had lunch. I only had sweets for lunch. Then we played musical statue’s. James won, Ethan came second,I came third. Then we were jumping off the pontoon and everyone was flinging each other of the pontoon we had a lot of fun. Then we saw a stingray and finally we went back home.

The following day was spent recovering from the party and enjoying the surroundings. Mad Fish had to push on leaving the usual suspects putting in some serious beach time! To mark one of the last occasions before the Blues were to leave and the ladies had to endure the sausage-fest that is a male-only Atlantic crossing the girls decided to get the generator running to power up the belt-sander to smooth-off feet, paint toes, smear on the war-paint and frock-up, head ashore and get proper-rolling-pissed! What started as a quiet drink ended with many noisy ones, falling headlong into dinghies, getting lost on the way home, blabbing emotionally to sleeping husbands and not feeling right-well the next morning! Lovely!!! The boys remained sober and looked after the kids – role reversal it seems!

Our next date is with Paul on Juno. Juno is to be shipped back to Palma in Mallorca. He is tidying her away in Soper’s Hole at the southern end of Tortola. It’s an easy sail from Cooper Island to Soper’s and within two hours we are lying alongside Juno. Paul has been delayed by his shipping line and is stuck with no date for loading. We invite him to come and join us for a few days, and surprisingly -given our feral kids - he agrees!

The next few days are spent chilling out in the Bight of Norman Island – the Virgin Islands are so relaxed that you don’t really need to do much; they’re a bit like a Caribbean Ibiza. We snorkelled at the Caves (where we found the tamest fish of our travels) among American chowder – like American soup but with larger chunks! It was colourful but too crowded for us to feel remote. We had a lovely meal at the beach restaurant. The boys (Paul included) behaved in an exemplary manner – we’ll reap the whirlwind of this later on – and amazed us by managing to see Paul off the boat before chaos resumed!

On the close beat to Norman Island we broke the kicker on Fabiola. The second reef on the main bounced off the sheaf and the shock changed the angle on the vang causing unusual pressure and the spring burst out of the aluminium sleeve. Internet search begins at the same time as the jury rig options are assessed. Both workable blocks are sawn off and are sufficiently meaty still to do the job of the kicker but we need to be careful to maintain a minimal tension on the topping lift when we conduct sail changes or drop the main – not a problem as we have only a kicker and no vang on Niki. We order a brand new replacement that will come out with Jonathan on Fri and should fit beautifully.

Once back at Soper’s Hole we refill the water tanks and I get the chance to clean the rest of Fabiola’s bottom. Weed or growth will slow the boat down by a knot on pretty much every point of sail and for the journey home that is the difference to 24 nautical miles a day – which adds up over a week of solid sailing. Squeaky clean she should fly back to Europe.

We spend a lovely few days with Paul, only wishing that Caroline was with us too – we haven’t seen her since Mardi Gras in Martinique but too soon we have to say goodbye as he heads home with a delayed loading for Juno onto the Palma-bound ship. We head upwind into a pretty unpleasant chop on the north coast of Tortola en route to Anegada and Freddie’s 35th Birthday. We are going very well but it’s not much fun, so to break the journey and hope for a better wind angle and less wind we pop into Cane Garden Bay. Cane Garden Bay is a beautifully sheltered bay with a stunning beach, perhaps slightly overwhelmed by the number of beachfront bars and conflicting reggae soundtracks blasting out.

Anegada is a shallow coral island with coral reefs extending south east from the island and is crowded with wrecks. We don’t want to end up as a statistic so we get as close to the island as we can – about ¾ of a mile to be precise – such is the burden of a 3.2 metre draft. We brave the dinghy ride and arrive “chez les Blues” for a shower before heading ashore for a lobster meal with the Mad Fish, Rafiki and the Blues. Freddie and Tim, looking like they have just left Ascot after Ladies Day – multicoloured and a little bit booze-lubricated! We have a fabulous meal and lots of fun before the long dinghy ride home.

After a few days we decide, however nice Anegada may be, we cannot stay any longer on such a rolly anchorage and must head back to the relative shelter of the Virgin Gorda. The Blues come with us and this is to be our last anchorage next to Open Blue.

After 9 months together we are heading our separate ways; the Blues to the US Virgin Islands to load Open Blue aboard a ship to send her back to the UK and we are to sail back. It is really heart-breaking to say goodbye to them. If we were to tally up the amount of time we have spent (mainly in bars and restaurants) with another family they would be the clear winner. We have had such a fabulous time with them, shared great highs and lows with them and it was desperately sad to see them motor south to load Open Blue and send her home to Hayling Island – it is feeling very much like the end of the holiday and hard work is about to begin.

Several days later we are in Soper’s Hole having maintenance conducted on a recalcitrant windlass and one of the fridges, which has a very hot compressor. Like all electrical devices in a salt environment for 21 years the windlass motor has taken a fair dousing over its lifetime and is very badly corroded it must be replaced and is at huge expense with parts being flown in from St Maarten. We must return in a few days to have the new motor fitted.

We have a few days before then and so off we head to Deadman’s Chest and Deadman’s Bay on Peter Island – a private resort frequented by De Niro and other ‘slebs. We watch a beautiful yacht sail into the anchorage called Klara Mia. I cannot resist going over to speak with them and see their very lovely Swan 48 and to meet Paul and Jen who keep her in Nanny Cay and are looking to sell because they don’t get the chance to use her and his kids don’t enjoy sailing – “make me an offer” he says temptingly mmmm...

We are now at the beginning of May and need to collect our new crew; Jonathan Baumber, a family friend from Devon whose wife, Vicky, and children, Sam and Olly, have released to help us across the ocean and Alex Banham, a former Royal Navy aero engineer who worked in Paris with us and his 12 year old son, Bertie. We sail into Trellis Bay on the eastern end of Tortola, within spitting distance of the airport. We are also delighted to hear that both Paul and Caroline, from Juno, are flying back in again to load Juno – later than expected – onto their home-bound ship.

Waiting for Alex and Bertie we sit and have a delightful and simple dinner and drinks with Paul and Caroline. We too are dinner for the hordes of sand-flies enjoying the new meat in town (or more precisely all bar Paul who professes never to have been bitten). Lisa and Caroline are discussing plans for a new business venture and lists of ideas and names for their potential website are bounced around. The boys bombard Paul with questions on all manner of topics and eventually we release them both, shattered with jetlag, into a taxi and Juno-bound for the other end of the island.

A few hours later Bertie and Alex arrive, delayed and equally exhausted and the following day Jonathan, or JB, arrives complete with a 3-metre-long parcel which will become Fabiola’s new vang or kicker. To all intents and purposes we are complete and ready to tackle the trip home – or at least we would be... While warming the engine to do the oil and filter change we smell electrical burning and see smoke emanating from the engine compartment – not a good omen with 3000 miles ahead. Luckily there is no fire but there is a requirement to work out what has happened. Alex and I pore over the engine, it would appear that the stop solenoid (used to cut the engine from the cockpit) is no longer working, but neither is the starter motor – back to Nanny Cay... We can’t be seen until later in the week by a Yanmar agent and we still need to wait for our windlass motor to be fitted so we can use the time to get our new crew up to speed on how the sail controls on Fabiola work and enable them to see a little of the BVIs. First stop Manchioneel Bay to meet up with the Paul and Caroline on Juno and then into Nanny Cay for repairs and final preparations.

Finally with all our shopping done we leave Nanny Cay with a functioning engine and windlass and go to await the weather in Gorda Sound, specifically in Biras Creek where we chill out, clean the boat and enjoy our last sundowner in the Caribbean. On the way back from Saba Rock we spot Necker Belle, Richard Branson’s very smart catamaran – it was too good a target to miss out on so we conduct a covert raid between the hulls at maximum speed (which for our tender loaded with 7 passengers and powered by 2.5 hp outboard must be a perilous 4 knots!). Passing underneath the boat we create an after-hours hullabaloo of knocking as we work our way down it’s length and away into the night – slick!

The following morning sees us fuelling and watering up for the trip to Bermuda. Again we blast out towards Anegada and north leaving the Caribbean, our tramping ground since 13 Dec, behind. We have had a fabulous time in the Caribbean – each of us has our favourite island and experience and we have made, and been parted from some fabulous friends – some Europe-bound ahead of us and many heading westwards across the Pacific. All of us agree that the less-developed southern islands appeal more to us than those north of Antigua. Ahead lies the return to Europe and the climb into northerly latitudes, longer days and shorter nights. It feels very much like the beginning of the end of our trip and we will have to be very careful that we don’t simply become a delivery crew and that there are still some fabulous places to see.

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21st June 2013

Jealous, me??
Looking good guys! Brilliant catching up with the Duncan's voyage on a Friday afternoon and knackered after a weeks work - picked me up a treat!! That said I have secured a dream job that even Mr D will be jealous of - Guess which manufacturer of a machine that gives you mobility I will start with in September - 3 guesses!!
21st June 2013

3 guesses
Ok Mate - my guesses are 1. Ducati 2. Swan Yachts 3. Porsche - Glad you guys are well. We are so behind on our blog - prepare for a few more entries in the near future! We are back on 31 Jul - what are your summer plans? I guess a blow-out before Sep...? Gill & Lisa x

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