June 11, 2019

A British Virgin Islands Blitz

After a little more than a week in the U.S. Virgin Islands, we set sail on Thursday, May 9 from Magen's Bay, St. Thomas towards Great Harbor, Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands.

We'd gotten a little lax in our micro weather planning (we listen to marine weather forecaster Chris Parker on our SSB radio each morning for big picture weather forecasting), and as soon as we rounded the point out of Magen's Bay, we were hit by a line of squalls with rain, 25-knot winds and 5-foot waves.

Surrounded by mini squalls on our way to the BVIs
A wet captain in the cockpit
For the first hour or so, we had water pouring over the bow of the boat from the swell, but eventually we made our way into the lee of a small undeveloped spit of land, Thatch Key, and the seas calmed for the remainder of the trip.

British Virgin Islands

Charter boat capital

After a three hour sail, we made our way into Great Harbor, where we got our first taste of charter boats in the BVIs. With its turquoise water, sandy beaches and island hopping convenience, the BVIs are likely the Caribbean's charter boat capital.

Probably 99 percent of the boats in any mooring field in the BVIs were charter catamarans in the 40 -60 ft range, easily identified by their Sunsail, Moorings or Dream Yacht signage and most had a dozen people aboard. It made our 37-foot monohull with its two crew, solar panels, life raft and jerry cans stick out like a sore thumb!


After clearing in with customs, Nick decided to fly the drone and capture a photo of the anchorage, which is when our day went from bad to worse! Nick misjudged the height of the hills surrounding the anchorage and was flying the drone backwards while taking shots of the anchorage, when all of a sudden POW! - the screen went blank. Despite Nick's near flawless record until then, the drone had crashed into the hillside behind us! We immediately grabbed our things and jumped into the dinghy to head ashore. Nick scrambled some 400-feet up the rocky and steep hillside and, thanks to the drone's GPS locator, was able to locate the drone belly-up in a pile of rocks. It was scratched and had a broken propellor, but thankfully it was fully functional.

That little speck of white is Nick halfway up the hill

Nick was rewarded with a nice view of the bay after his scramble up the hill
After sailing in squalls and nearly losing the drone, we decided to hop in he dinghy and head around the corner to White Bay for some well deserved painkillers at the famous Soggy Dollar Bar!

After returning to the boat that afternoon, we got a visit from Tyler, who was moored on a charter catamaran next to us with is wife, Tiffany, and several family members, and who invited us aboard for a cocktail (remember how we stuck out like a sore thumb!). We had a lovely time chatting with them about sailing, different destinations, and their dreams of someday untying the dock lines. Since they were wrapping up their weeklong vacation, the following morning they reached out and very graciously offered us their remaining provisions!

The generous provisions gifted to us by new friends Tyler and Tiffany
Before we left Great Harbor, we dinghied ashore to explore the small settlement, which has a few small shops and restaurants, where we discovered freshly baked breakfast patties, as well as the legendary Foxy's Yot Klub bar.

Sandy Cay, Jost Van Dyke

On Thursday, May 9, we untied the mooring lines and motored around the corner from Great Harbor to a tiny undeveloped island, Sandy Cay, where we grabbed another day mooring to head ashore and swim.

There was a large swell that morning, so we had a heck of a time getting the dinghy ashore and then up on to the beach, and while we thought we'd dragged it far enough, a few minutes after we landed we heard a shout from another group ashore who saw a large wave wash under our dinghy and move it a few feet towards the water. Thank goodness they were there, and we didn't lose the dinghy out to sea! The group helped Nick pull it a few more feet up the beach, and then off we went to explore!

Despite hauling the dinghy halfway up the beach, we almost lost it after a large wave crashed ashore

Cane Garden Bay, Tortola

After a few hours of relaxing and exploring Sandy Cay, which is only a day anchorage, we headed towards Cane Garden Bay. With all the charter boats in the BVIs, we learned very quickly that we needed to be into port by 2-3 p.m. each day, or all the moorings would be full, and in many bays anchoring either isn't permitted or there is very restricted room for dropping the hook. The moorings everywhere appeared to be well maintained and cost $30 USD for the night (in nearly every bay, a boat came around between 4-5 p.m. after the moorings were full to collect the fees).

Snorkeling The Indians 

The next morning was overcast and gusty, nonetheless, we had a nice downwind sail in 5-15 knots of wind towards The Indians, a group of four red rocks that jut out of the sea near Norman Island and are an excellent and well known snorkeling destination. We grabbed one of the half dozen day moorings available and quickly donned our snorkel gear.

This was one of the best spots we've ever snorkeled, with tons of colorful fish, rock tunnels, caves and huge corals. With large deep underwater canyons, we wished we had our diving certifications/gear for exploring further and deeper here, but alas we really don't need another expensive hobby!

The Bight, Norman Island 

After excellent snorkeling at The Indians, we motored around the corner to The Bight at Norman Island. We grabbed one of the several dozen moorings available in the large, well-sheltered bay. At the head of the bay is the Pirates Bight Beach Bar & Grill and a nice dinghy dock, where we landed to head ashore for a hike around the bay. There are numerous trails around the island, and while we only planned to hike to the top of the hill behind the restaurant, we were enjoying the scenery too much and ended up walking to the tip of the ridge overlooking the bay.

The next morning, we hopped in the dinghy to explore the caves off Cistern Point, at the southern end of the bay. We had another amazing snorkeling experience here and promise to get back someday with an underwater camera (ours developed a leak in the Bahamas); swimming into the three caves was a unique (and dark) experience, and we saw huge tarpon fish and massive schools of tiny fish that followed us into the caves and were so thick they swirled around us!

On the way back to the boat, we stopped to check out the wreckage of the famous Willy T, a 100-foot steel schooner converted into a bar with a reputation for being on the raucous side. The Willy T broke free of its mooring during the hurricanes and was beyond repair. It was one of the very few remaining hurricane damage boats we saw in the BVIs, since most have been salvaged and removed from the water and land. We learned later that the Willy T still remains there because a crane trying to remove it toppled over and damaged another boat.

The original Willy T bar and restaurant washed ashore after the hurricanes

Peter Island

The following day, Sunday, May 12, we sailed 10 nm in 15-18 knots of wind to nearby Peter Island. White Bay in Peter Island is the home of the new Willy T bar, which didn't receive approval to stay in Norman Island bay. We grabbed a nearby mooring and took the dinghy in for lunch and a drink and to watch several brave souls leap off the stern of the upper deck into the water below. (Apparently, if you do it without a top, you can earn yourself a free Willy t-shirt, but Sara wasn't willing to give it a go).

The new Willy T after the previous boat bar was destroyed in the hurricanes

Salt island and the RMS Rhone

After our lunch on the Willy T, we made a quick stop at Salt Island, just 2 mm east from Peter Island to snorkel the site of the sunken RMS Rhone, a 200-foot cargo ship. In 1867, the ship was caught in a hurricane and survived the first bands of the hurricane at anchor. During a lull, the boat tried to weigh anchor, but a shackle caught and broke and it dropped its 3,000-pound anchor and had no other option but to head out to sea. The Rohm was nearly past the rocky channel, when it was hit with the second band of the hurricane (with winds in the opposite direction) and was blown into the rocky shore, broke into two, and sank.

Manicheel Bay, Cooper Island

After Salt Island we headed to nearby Cooper Island for the night. Cooper Island is a small, two-mile long island with a nice sandy beach and dinghy dock. The only thing ashore is the lovely Cooper Island Beach Club with cottages, restaurant, dive shop, clothing boutique, microbrewery and rum bar, which apparently boasts the Carribean's largest rum bar. While enjoying a half price happy hour microbrew on the beach club patio that evening, a charter boat guest sitting nearby started to chat us up and said Nick "looked like a local," which can only mean we are starting to look salty after 8 months of cruising! :)

Virgin Gorda: The Baths and Gorda Sound

The following morning, on Monday, May 13, we raised the headsail for a slow downwind sail 12.5 nm to the northeast towards Gorda Sound, with a stop along the way to explore The Baths.

The Baths

The Baths are a must-see natural wonder. Massive granite boulders are stacked along the shore, which allow pools of water - and people - to wonder along and get lost in the mazes under and between then. We arrived to the baths mid-morning and already the several dozen moorings there were taken, so we had to anchor in nearby Spring Bay. There is a dingy landing and tie-up area at the head of the bay, requiring you to swim the last 100 feet ashore in deep water, which is well worth the challenge. There are also stalls ashore the sells souvenirs, drinks and snacks.

A full mooring field of boats outside The Baths

Gorda Sound

After leaving The Baths, we headed towards Gorda Sound, a large protected bay on the northern end of Virgin Gorda. Since the Leverick Bay Resort and Marina moorings were completely full by the time we arrived that afternoon, we anchored Borealis across Gorda Sound along Prickly Pear Island and were soon joined by a dozen other boats.

Saba Rock and The Bitter End Yacht Club

The next morning, we jumped in the dingy to explore the remnants of two well known marina complexes, Saba Rock and the Bitter End Yacht Club. Saba Rock is a tiny island with a once popular resort, was nearly completely destroyed in the 2017 hurricanes. It was great to see crews working and the beginning phases of reconstruction.

Reconstruction of the resort on Saba Rock

Sadly, nothing remained of the nearby Bitter End Yacht Club resort and marina. All of the severely damaged post-hurricane structures were razed and only a large pile of debris remained ashore.

On our last full day in the BVIs we went ashore to the Leverick Bay Resort and Marina, which has docks and several dozen moorings as well as fuel, showers, laundry and a pool. They host weekly pirate parties and BBQs and also have a small nautical shop and a pantry onsite, where we picked up a few final fresh and deli items for our next passage.

Despite our short time in the BVIs, we spent time at nearly all the places we wanted to visit, and definitely enjoyed ourselves.

Heading south

Next up, rather than island hop our way south, we make a somewhat last minute decision to catch a great multi-day weather window, and so we head offshore on May 15 on a three-day passage.

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