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Tried and True Yet New!!! Sharing a Slice of Paradise

By Nancy Shipman                                                                   

The last time Mike, my husband, saw our boat, Oriana, a 2009 Lagoon 380 Owner’s Version was November 2012. He was leaving her in the capable hands of the Catamaran Company (CATCO) at Village Cay Marina in Roadtown, Tortola. Marianne, the charter base manager, was excited at the possibilities of the company’s move to Hodges Creek Marina near East End on Tortola.

He was looking forward to this new location for our boat as the Roadtown marina was a truly busy location. As we rode the bumpy taxi ride from the ferry to the marina both Mike and I were filled with anticipation. For Mike it was the anticipation of sailing her again since the transit from Florida and for me it was my first opportunity to sail Oriana.

Our daughter was excited about showing her best friend the beauty and rich variety of the British Virgin Islands. For our friends, Jeff and Candy, their anticipation was of sailing for the first time with the freedom and diversity that comes with chartering in the BVI.

Our travel guide, my husband and “captain” of our boat had planned for us to arrive in St. Thomas, spend the night near the ferry terminal, and then take the ferry in the morning to Tortola.

We had a lovely dinner overlooking Charlotte Amalie Harbor at Tavern on the Waterfront, a great night’s sleep at Windward Passage, and a speedy ferry ride on Roadtown Fast Ferry. The beautiful islands spread out before us and the amazing blues of the sea began to hypnotize us. Having just arrived in the islands, we took up watch on the stern of the ferry so we could be a part of all that surrounded us. The hour ferry ride passed quickly and soon we were in British waters with Tortola in sight.

The Catamaran Company had arranged a taxi to meet us and take us to the marina. So, after a short time in custom lines we departed and headed for the marina. Oriana would be our home for the next nine days.

Hodges Creek Marina is home to some thirty sailboats, a restaurant, showers, and a swimming pool all available for our comfort. Mike, our captain, had arranged for Rite Way to provision our boat on arrival.

The six of us boarded our beautiful Oriana and were thoroughly impressed with how well cared for she appeared. Lines were all ship shape, the cockpit, salon and cabins sparkled. Provisions arrived just as we finished unpacking and the two person kayak, we rented, was put on board.

Snorkel fins were gathered from CATCO and stowed. CATCO technicians went over some changes to the boat since my husband had been on it in November and we were off to Manchioneel Bay on Cooper Island.

Oriana pointed well into the east wind and after two tacks we motored into the bay to pick-up our first mooring ball. The crew had been briefed on the process and soon we were sipping wine in our first anchorage. Our daughters, Alyssa and Caroline wanted to go snorkeling so the wine drinking was quickly curtailed in favor of hopping in the dinghy for our journey to the beach near the south end of the bay.

After a sparse beginning along the shore, the waters came alive and sparkled with the red, yellow, and blue colors of the marine life. Alyssa guided Caroline on her first opportunity to float over the depths of the drop-off near Cistern Point. Her wide eyes showed her wonder with the experience. Shrimp on the barbeque, veggies, rice and beans sated our appetites as we watched the sunset from the cockpit. The steady breeze kept Oriana cool as we whiled away the time watching the lights of Tortola.

Waking up in nature is always such a wondrous thing. You live with the rhythm of the day and of the sea. Today was to be a sailing and fishing day. We dropped the mooring ball and eased Oriana out of Manchioneel Bay and set sail after rounding the northern point of Cooper Island. Our goal was the deep blue water at the drop-off of the Caribbean shelf with the hope of hooking a tuna or mahi for dinner.

Oriana eagerly took full sail and ran first southeast and then southwest in 15-20 knots. She managed 7 to 10 knots as we closed on Norman Island. No fish but plenty of great sailing as we rounded the southeast end to take refuge in the Bight.

Another mooring ball pick-up that was not quite as smooth as the first but there’s no shame in coming around again. Once moored we all decided to jump in the dinghy and visit Pirates Bight Beach Bar and Restaurant. The drinks were cold, the food was excellent and the band played steel drums as we talked about our day and what the next day might bring.

In the morning we were off to the Indians. This set of tiny islands has BVI National Park day moorings and is a short motor from the Bight. (2 through the looking glass)

This would be Jeff's, Candy's and Caroline's first snorkeling experience in the BVI. (3 ready for adventure)

The snorkeling was spectacular. (3 off they go) The motion of the waves and the precipitous underwater landscape enhanced the experience of seeing fish of every possible description going about their lives as if no one were watching.

As Mike and I swam lazily back to the boat we were excited to see a rather large but disinterested barracuda. Our friends, new to this magnificent paradise, all talked excitedly about the things they saw and felt while exploring the sea. With everything secured we headed for Cane Garden Bay on Tortola where showers, fresh baked pastries and dinner ashore waited.

Oriana reached and ran under a single reefed main and full genoa in 20 - 25 knot winds past St. John and between the cut formed by Little Thatch and Great Thatch Island.

As we turned to the north and east she sailed close hauled with spray rising from the leeward hull. After a long tack we lowered sail and motored into Cane Garden Bay to another now practiced mooring ball pick-up.

Soon everyone piled into the dinghy for the showers at Rhymer’s that we’d read about in the guide books. Alas, no showers were to be had at Rhymer’s – only a rather abrupt clerk. Not to be deterred we explored further down the beach at Myette’s to find what turned out to be the most interesting showers of the trip.

Two shower booths made out of bamboo thatch behind the restaurant but in plain view of a good portion of the restaurant and the rooms at Myette’s.

Our giggling daughters showered in their swimming suits and enjoyed feeling refreshed by soap and cold water (no hot water provided). Charles, our waiter, made sure that we had drinks and appetizers during the Happy Hour and even checked with us with just two minutes left in the hour.

We decided to stay for dinner enjoying, among other items, fresh mahi in a mango chutney sauce as the special. We walked back to our dinghy listening to steel drum music resonating from Quito’s Gazebo.

For those sailors willing to do it, an early arrival at Sandy Cay affords one of the most unique experiences in the BVI – a deserted island and beach with no footprints. We landed our dinghy on the beach in mild swells and felt as though we were the only people in the world. This hauntingly beautiful uninhabited island with its soft sand, warm water, and blue sky set the tone for the remainder of the morning and most of the afternoon.

Sandy Cay is a National Park given to the BVI by Laurence Rockefeller. It has a beautiful nature trail that is alive with birds of all kinds, hermit crabs scurrying across the path and the occasional lizard peering from the side of a tree. The north side of the cay opposite the beach has a precipitous drop-off with worn and polished black volcanic stones clattering in the surf with each wave. We reluctantly departed Sandy Cay in the late afternoon knowing that our next journey would be under power and against the wind.

An hour and half later we were enjoying the activity of Marina Cay – the girls off to “real” showers and the obligatory visit to the Londonesque Phone Booth on the fuel dock. Grilled steaks were on the menu on Oriana so Mike and Jeff fired up the grill and treated the crew to beautiful marbled ribeye steaks. After toasting our day with a Cabernet Sauvignon that was included in our Riteway order, we settled in for a rousing game of Five Crowns, an addictive game that our whole crew enjoyed.

The next day we headed for Monkey Point on Guana Island having been told about the incredible snorkeling there by people we had met while at Myett's for dinner. This stop, new to all of us, turned out to be one of the best.

The waters around the boat churned in constant motion as blue caravelles fed on tiny neon colored fish while pelicans and seagulls cleaned up after the feeding frenzy.

Snorkeling proved spectacular as we watched hundreds of fish twist and turn as we swam through the schools. Bright corals and swaying anemones populated the seabed. People in the BVI are all really friendly and it pays to listen and learn from other cruisers. This recommendation was truly a hit and it was wonderful to discover something new in a place we felt we knew so well. Again venturing into new territory and following another cruisers nod of approval, we were off to Scrub Island Resort and Marina.

Scrub Island Resort and Marina lies just north of Marina Cay in the pass between Scrub Island and Great Camanoe. We were lured there by great prices for a marina slip, cheap electricity and all of the resort facilities which were many.

After tying up at the marina and registering, our exploration of the resort found snack shops, a small grocery, two fabulous restaurants, two swimming pools, swim-up bars, water sports and a generally relaxed vibe.

We decided to take full advantage of the facilities and soon found ourselves dancing to the music at the snack shop with Happy Hour priced beer and wine. The evening brought succulent cuisine with a spectacular nighttime view of the resort and the islands beyond.

The next morning a quick vote brought the decision to stay another day and enjoy the Pig Roast on the beach that evening. Sleepy hours around the pool and good conversation rounded out the day while the girls availed themselves of the swimming pool, paddleboards, the swim up bar for virgin daiquiris and the giant trampoline over the water.

That evening a quick car ride across Scrub Island brought us to a secluded beach with a pool where we were treated to mojitos and a steel drum band. The smell of roasted meats and island favorites filled the air as we relaxed into our evening feast.

Plans were made for the quick sail over to the Baths on the southern tip of Virgin Gorda, a must see for any BVI charter.

Mike and I set the sails early on Oriana while the crew rested in preparation for an in-depth exploration of the Baths. When Alyssa, our daughter, was asked what she wanted to see or do on this trip having been here once before, she quickly described the Baths as her favorite place.

Savoring her return, Alyssa eagerly described the area including the serpentine pathways through the boulders and relaxing in quiet warm pools among the rocks. Giant boulders, crystal blue waters and a relatively sheltered day anchorage greeted Oriana and crew.

Our friends began asking questions about the origin of the landscape before them. The Baths are a striking contrast to the other islands we had visited and our friends were amazed by this stunning display of nature.

Dry bags were packed with towels and cameras and, with the entire crew in the dinghy, we were off to the Baths. Our exploration began on the marked trail entering the Baths but quickly led to tiny pathways and “secret” passages that Alyssa remembered from the previous trip. After climbing up and down ladders, wading through crystal clear pools, and clambering to the top of boulder formations, we returned to our dinghy for our snorkeling gear.

We had seen the beauty of Devil's Bay from shore and now wanted to explore what was beneath the beautiful waters. Corals and fish swaying in the swells captured our attention as we lazily coasted along the edge. Lone barracuda and groups of tarpon became visible as we neared deeper water at the tip of the bay. This amazing place in the BVI still held sway over us though we had been here several times before. Our friends, new to all that these islands had to offer, were delighted to have shared this place with us.

Our next stop was Leverick Bay in North Sound on Virgin Gorda. The wind cooperated perfectly for a close hauled roaring sail along the western edge of the island with Oriana’s leeward bow spraying water up through the tramp at our laughing daughters.

It seemed too soon to slow her down as we neared the pass between Prickly Pear and Mosquito Island. We sailed into North Sound and lowered our sails just minutes before picking up a mooring ball at Leverick Bay. Leverick Bay welcomes charterers and has been one of our favorite places since we first sailed in the BVI in the 1990’s.

They offer the full use of the resort including showers, swimming pool and restaurant as well as a free fill-up of water and free ice if you pick up a mooring ball. While the wind was still blowing rather hard, the cockpit on Oriana afforded shelter and shade as we reviewed the excitement of the day and toasted another sunset in the islands.

A dry land exploration of Virgin Gorda was on the agenda for the day. Car rental was available right at the office at Leverick Bay and we were quickly off exploring the island from a different vantage point. Spectacular views of the bays surrounding Virgin Gorda awed us as the road climbed toward Gorda Peak National Park. Pull outs at strategic points offered views of Long Bay, Savannah Bay and a myriad of other sheltered coves where sailboats nestled around the island. The winding road brought us to Copper Mine National Park which contains the ruins of a 19th century copper mine.

After the islands came under British control, the Copper Mine was constructed in 1837 and over the next 24 years, 36 Cornish miners extracted ore from this site with the aid of some 140 British Virgin Islands workmen. The crashing waves on this point, the windward side of Virgin Gorda, sprayed 50 feet high as they pummeled the steep rock faces at the base of the mines. Continuing along the southern edge of the island brought us back to the Baths but this time the view peered over the top of the boulders toward the islands to the south and west of Virgin Gorda . The expansive view was complimented by a succulent lunch at the Top of the Baths including Mahi sandwiches, conch fritters and strawberry daiquiris.

Back at Leverick Bay Resort, we were treated to the wonderful smells of the barbeque cooking for the Caribbean Buffet and Jumbie performance that were promised that evening. Our evening began with great seating in the “castle” overlooking the resort and the bay and continued with great food at the buffet. A bit later, little encouragement from the band was required to get everyone up dancing to the beat of the Caribbean music. Our entire crew soon joined in the dancing while Leverick Bay rocked into the evening. A bit later in the evening, the “jumbies” began their stilt dancing routines and soon had brought the audience into the act as charterers danced with the “jumbies”. The evening ended with the “jumbies” dancing right into the swimming pool. As we went back to the boat that evening there was still the excitement of the evening in the air but the reality that our last night of island hopping was upon us.

The next morning activities began slowly as we had only to sail back to Maya Cove and the Catamaran Company docks for our last night aboard. The group decided that sailing, just for the sake of sailing, should be the order of the day.

We dropped our mooring ball and headed out to let Oriana romp on our last day in the islands. The wind was fresh under full sail and we reached up and down the islands with Oriana clearly in her element as we topped 11 knots while leaping forward through the waves. The only interruption to sailing was that the fishing lines that we had dutifully trolled behind Oriana to no avail throughout the trip suddenly came alive.

A few minutes of tricky boat maneuvering and reeling rendered our first and only fish of the trip. It was to be grilled kingfish and lobster for dinner that evening in Maya Cove.

The sunset on Tortola reveled in the pinks and reds of the Caribbean while the conversations recounted the adventures of the trip. Cruising the BVI's sprinkling of islands - some uninhabited, some with just a beach bar, some with magnificent coral reefs surrounding them, and others with all the compliments of resort living had been a marvelous adventure, not soon forgotten.

These islands with steady trade winds meeting island-flecked channels with tame currents and hundreds of protected, salt-rimmed bays is a sailing fantasyland. More than forty islands welcome cruisers with an absurd amount of beach.

Mike and I had returned to many of our favorite places and had explored new ones. Sharing the Caribbean, that we have grown to love over the years with our friends, made visiting all the islands exciting and new.

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