British Virgin Islands Sunshine Cruise - SailCork rules the Caribbean
- On 30 01 2011
As our Yachtmaster and Day Skipper navigation courses draw to a close we are now covering one of the most important - and enjoyable - areas of the course - Passage Planning. The fastidious passage planning that goes into our cruises is what makes them so successful. This time last year when we came back from our Caribbean cruise in the British Virgin Islands we started planning for our 2011 cruise - our year of planning paid off - we had an absolutely fantastic cruise - that goes for the whole crew of ten.
I have been sailing in the Caribbean for nearly 20 years now and I had the role of skipper - my wife, Jo English, is also a Caribbean veteran and she shipped aboard as chef/hostess. We then had a crew of 8 from SailCork - 5 of whom had been on a SailCork Caribbean trip in the past. Our home for the week was to be a luxurious 50 foot yacht with 6 separate cabins as well as the main saloon. The ample galley was important as we dined aboard a lot - every breakfast and lunch and we had fantastic dinners aboard on 3 occasions. The boat sailed well too - especially to windward - after all it was a sailing holiday!
The SailCork Caribbean crew all made their way to Gatwick on Thursday 30 Dec where we did the "twilight" check in to save time the next morning. After checking in at the Gatwick Hilton we all met to begin our holiday - in the bar! We had an excellent meal later with really top class service from our Serbian waiter.
The next morning (Friday) we checked in at 07:30 before breakfast and some airport shopping. Our Virgin transatlantic flight was only half booked enabling all of us to have a lie down and catch up on some "Z's" . We had a friendly flight crew who pampered us and kept our glasses topped up.
The excitement mounted as we circled above Antigua before landing and we experienced Caribbean time as we waited for our transfer flight to the BVI's on our small LIAT plane. It was fantastic to look out and see the islands of Antigua, Barbuda, St. Barts, St. Martin, St. Kitts, Nevis and Statia from the air. Again the excitement mounted as we approached Beef Island airport as we could see the magnificent sailing waters of the BVI's below us. After landing we were in our minibus in a matter of minutes and we headed off Beef Island by bridge on to the biggest island - Tortola. It took us less than half an hour driving through local villages to get to the hill above Roadtown from where we could see the cruise liners and dozens of yachts at anchor in Road Harbour - we were nearly there!
It was beginning to get dark as we arrived at the Sunsail Marina and it was amazing to see the Christmas decorations in the sunny Caribbean. It was straight to the bar by the pool for the SailCork crew to see if the local Mojitos were up to Anna's standards- they were great but not as good as Anna's! We had a table booked at Charlie's at the marina just a stones throw from our boat. We had a great meal followed by champers, singing and dancing to bring in the new year and celebrate our arrival in the Caribbean. We had a long day and this was to be our latest night! Time for bed and a good sleep.
We were all up at the crack of dawn to prepare the boat for our weeklong voyage on Saturday morning. The crew were broken into teams- one to prepare the boat, one to attend the navigation briefing, one to buy the groceries and one to get drink and ice! There is an excellent supermarket within walking distance of the Marina so I was ready to brief the crew on navigation, safety and our social programme for the week. Our crew were all ready for action and Liam brought us out of the Marina at 11:30. Once out into Road Harbour we hoisted our sails and set sail across the Francis Drake Channel to the infamous Norman Island setting for R. L. Stevenson's "Treasure Island". We had a smashing NW warm breeze of 15kn and our course was to the SSW - giving us a broad reach and a cracking sail to our destination sailing past the snorkelling heaven of the "Indians". Our destination was the "Bight" on the leeward shore of the island where we up to 200 boats can moor overnight.
We sailed onto the best moorings in the whole bay and jumped into the warm sea for a pre-lunch swim! The Carib beer was on ice and after a super lunch the crew lazed about taking the sun for the afternoon. The lure of the "Willy T" was proving too much and we scurried across in the dinghy to join the party. The Willy T is a replica sailing ship permanently moored in the Bight. The lower deck is for storage, mid deck is a restaurant and bar and the top deck is for the brave to jump 20 feet into the Caribbean! There is always a great buzz aboard with many of the crews moored nearby mixing with people who travel the 10 or so miles from the US Virgin Islands in high powered speed boats. The SailCork crew are always well versed into how to enjoy the Willy T and this year was no exception. After a great party aboard we ventured into the dark to get back to our boat where we had an excellent tuna steak meal prepared by Jo and her team. (Anna and Anne were always part of the team even when off duty!!) We were all tired and glad of the cool breeze wafting through the boat as we were rocked to sleep.
We awoke on Sunday morning to an unusual sound - RAIN! We were up at the crack of dawn and motored to an anchorage at Peter Island for a morning swim and breakfast. We hoisted a reefed main as we were facing a 20 mile beat in 15 to 18 kn. What a cracking sail - 28 degrees, sunshine and a flat sea. We scorched towards Virgin Gorda outsailing lots of boats including some under power! Flor enjoyed the helming for a while and I had my best few hours of the trip driving. The Francis Drake Channel is amazing - on the NW side to port is the largest island, Tortola, and the smaller Beef Island and to starboard on the SW are Norman, Peter, Deadmans, Salt, Peter and Ginger Islands. A great stretch of water with islands on either side and with Virgin Gorda at the weather end.
After a great sail we arrived at the world famous "Baths" where there are unusual boulders the size of houses with caves beneath connecting two golden beaches. We were lucky to get a moorings but it was a little rolly there so we motored to the marina in Spanish Town just 2 miles away. With the boat safely moored and after a great lunch we got a taxi with local driver Jerome to the Baths for the afternoon. We returned to the boat later but were sure to be on the top of the island in our favourite restaurant there - the Mineshaft where we were looked after very well by Emily. There is a stunning view to the SW over the whole of the Francis Drake Channel and we all watched the sun sink behind the US Virgins over 20 miles away. We were entertained by a clutch of hens sitting on the trees outside the restaurant and we relaxed in our unique Caribbean surroundings. When we arrived back at the marina there was a local band playing at the bar and some crew members enjoyed a few beers with dancing and singing with the local music and dance teacher - the "Professor".
As we prepared to depart from Spanish Town on Monday morning we saw Morgan Freeman board his boat next to us at the marina - as he settled in to relax we headed out into 25kn of head winds - we quickly solved that one - we motored the 10 or so miles around Virgin Gorda and Mosquito Island (owned by Richard Branson) to enter the North Sound where we unfurled the jib to explore the area under sail. We moored before lunch under the lee of the big hill behind the Bitter End Yacht Club. This is one of the most upmarket resorts and is open to visit and use the facilities by day. (Forget about staying there - rooms are about $1000 per night!). We were on a perfect moorings to watch the comings and goings with all sort of craft sailing by and various efforts being made to pick up a moorings!
We ventured ashore in the dinghy for some retail therapy and to soak up the sun on the beach with the really nice bar within easy reach! I wandered around the corner to watch the kitesurfers having a ball in the Eustatia sound in the lee of the reef and behind Saba Rock resort. Swimming, boat watching , shopping and sipping were the order of the day. What a fantastic restful afternoon! It was good to meet Oggie Fitzpatrick - a sailing instructor at the resort from Dublin and a friend of my niece Emma English. We repaired to the boat for a special Burger Bar B Q and later had a shore expedition which took in Saba Rock and the BEYC.
We sailed off the moorings at 07:00 on Tuesday morning in sunshine and NE 15-20kn. We hoisted full sail as our destination of Roadtown was some 20 miles downwind. We had a great sail with plenty of gybing practice for the crew - and everybody did very well on the helm. Chris was an expert on the ropes after so many gybes! It is really beautiful sailing between the islands and moving along at speed in the smooth waters of the Francis Drake Channel. We were stopping in Roadtown to take on water - I even got in a quick swim at the pool. We had a good look around Road Harbour before carrying on downwind for another 10 miles to the very bottom end of Tortola just beyond Sopers Hole at the West End. Shane did a great job of sailing the boat through the lulls and when we got there furled the jib and motorsailed the 4 miles to windward to Cane Garden Bay. We entered through the reef which was much calmer than last year and found a moorings within swimming distance of the beach. We had all enjoyed our nearly 40 mile sail and after lunch headed for the beach for swimming, sunning, shopping and snoozing --- oh and sipping the cocktails! We eat ashore in the evening in "Quitos" . The food was excellent, the live music with Quito was pretty good but the service was AWFUL! The only glitch in a series of 4 excellent meals ashore.
The next morning (Wednesday) we were off a the crack of dawn again - another full day planned with calls to Sandy Kay, White Bay on Jost Van Dyke and heading for Sopers Hole for the night. We were perfectly sheltered in the very beautiful Cane Garden Bay with the hills towering above it but when we got out from under the lee of the land we had a smashing NE 15kn giving us a beam reach across to Sandy Kay. Sandy Kay is the perfect desert island with golden beaches and palm trees. There are a few moorings to the west of the little island but there was a swell rolling in around the island so we decided to move on downwind to White Bay on Jost Van Dyke to the fantastic beach and the world famous Soggy Dollar! We sailed past Little Harbour and Great Harbour and as we passed a cruise liner/sailing ship some officers came out on the bridge wing and held up a card saying "UP THE REBELS!" We were all very proud of our home county!
We carefully threaded our way through the reef to enter White Bay and anchored close to the shoreline just off the Soggy Dollar (so named because the tradition is to swim ashore with some dollars tucked in your shorts for beer!) It certainly was one of the highlights of the trip - swimming in the warm blue water and wading out onto the golden sands, walking up the gentle slope and relaxing at the bar which is famous for inventing the "Painkiller".
We had no pains which need killing - we were all in TOTALLY Caribbean mode...... really chilled man! We had a great party and there is an excellent shop there too. (Very important for Gill to get in her retail therapy!) We all stood in front of the webcam and skyped home too!! It was great for us to hear the kids screams of delight. The place was a hive of activity with boats arriving from miles around to enjoy one of the best beaches and beach bar in the Caribbean! We swam aboard and had a great lunch soaking up the sun. It is very shallow in the area by the beach inside the reef and we got worried as we thought we touched the bottom but were relieved to find that it was just a seal like Mike Harris swinging off the anchor chain! (Mike was our underwater and in the water inspector - if given the chance he would have swam from Jost Van Dyke to Tortola!!)
We had a lovely reach across to Tortola in the afternoon and it was great to see some amazing superyachts at anchor as we entered Sopers Hole. We got a perfect marina berth - within 2 minutes of shops, showers and bar! We had a few drinks ashore at "Pussers" bar and the galley team served up an excellent chicken dish and needless to say this was washed down with an excellent vintage. No need for sleeping tablets and we were all snoring by 23:00 -- dreaming of our last full day afloat the next morning.
It was a beautiful morning on Thursday with a lighter 12-15 knots again from the ENE giving us a 20 mile beat to our destination for the night - Cooper Island on the south side of the Francis Drake Channel. We broke the journey by stopping for lunch at another White Bay - this time on the south side of Peter Island offering perfect shelter and a great suntrap. We had some great swimming but didn't hang around for too long as there are a limited amount of moorings available at Manchioneel Bay on the NW face of Cooper Island.
We had visited Cooper Island for a breakfast stop the previous year but Liam had returned since then and assured us it would be a good overnight stop - he was absolutely right! A really beautiful beach and a very tasteful small resort with a bar right on the beach with it's own dock and a decent restaurant. We swam ashore and had cocktails on the special tables in the water and relaxed in the soft couches in the bar. We had an excellent Italian barman who had worked in Dublin for a few years. He worked extra hard that afternoon as we were in special cocktail mode! We swam to the boat to freshen up for dinner and we were not disappointed - we had a fantastic meal in a very memorable setting - a fitting last night for our Caribbean Cruise. We were even treated to the "Bee " joke by Liam! - Good food, fine wine, excellent service, amazing sea view, very comfortable surroundings, friendship and laughter - what more could one ask for?
We were up as usual at 07:00 on Friday morning to enjoy our last sail across to Roadtown and the Sunsail Marina at Wickhams Kay 2. It was beautiful with a gentle breeze. As soon as we got into the marina we began the task of cleaning up the boat (it wasnt too hard as everybody had kept the boat in excellent nick for the week!) We had a late breakfast, a last swim and we were ready for the transfer to the airport. I was lucky enough to meet Clive Deasy from Crosshaven who is running a Swan based in Roadtown so we spent some time catching up. Then it was off across the island to the only airport that has hens on the runway !
Our long journey home was made much shorter by sharing the memories of the best moments of what had been our best cruise ever!! On Saturday morning were glad to get back to an Ireland that had warmed up a little since we left! Looking forward to Croatia in September and The BVI's next January!!