Let’s face it – my mum has always been pretty adventurous in terms of travel. My father was a drilling engineer for the big oil companies and as a result they lived abroad for most of their married life. She came to visit me in the foothills of the Himalayas in India during my gap year and endured various interesting journeys in trains, planes and automobiles. She also visited my sister twice during her time in Japan. With one daughter in the army and the other one as an army wife, there were countless opportunities for travel to wherever we were posted and she happily took them up. However, when we mentioned our sailing plans, I have to admit to being a little surprised when she said she was thinking about visiting. Yes, we had owned a small power boat when we lived in Norway but we used it to explore the inland fjords and enjoyed pretty calm seas and easy handling. I was not sure how she would take to life on a catamaran in the windy BVIs.
My mum arrived at 10pm one squally night when we were anchored in Trellis Bay. The airport is a five minute walk from the dinghy dock so it seemed like a great place to pick her up. I am not sure my mum was as convinced, climbing into our small dinghy with her heavy suitcase and a relatively big swell. Obviously I had imposed strict rules on what to pack, knowing only too well that her shoe collection could rival that of the famed Imelda Marcos, as we had a very long list of what we would like bringing out from the UK. Shoes can be surplus to requirement on Caribbean islands so I decided our needs certainly outweighed her need for footwear.
Having looked at the forecast, we decided our best bet was to take the hit and head east straight off and then work our way downwind to the west. Bitter End in North Sound, Virgin Gorda, was our first stop. After a slightly lumpy crossing, we entered the relative shelter of the sound. We spent three days on a mooring in Bitter End, enjoying the facilities of the resort. We paid $30 a night, the posh folk paid hundreds – not a bad deal. We bumped into Paul and Janey from Shian, who were fellow Royal Highland Yacht Club and Ocean Cruising Club members who we had met in Fat Hogs Bay a few days earlier who had unfortunately damaged their rig and were waiting for shipment of a new track for their mast. They were also fortuitously moored behind Halcyon who we had met at Normans Island, belonging to Karl and Kelly (with Siera, aged 12, and Eerika, aged 8) who had just bought their Leopard 46 catamaran and were on an initial trip prior to fitting Halcyon out before heading back to Florida and then setting out to Europe at the end of this year. We had an extremely sociable few days culminating in a kids sleepover that saw us with no kids on our boat – BONUS! Cooking pancakes for everyone the following morning was a small price to pay.
From Bitter End we headed to Leverick Bay Marina, tempted by the free 100 gallons of water, ice, showers and swimming pool. Our original plan had been to go to pull into Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour so that we could explore The Baths National Park and the 19th century copper mine in Spanish Town. However the Yacht Harbour was pretty pricey and we didn’t fancy anchoring outside Spanish Town with the weather the way it was. So I started looking at hiring a car from Leverick Bay and exploring the island that way. At $70 a day, it turned out to be a great plan. As a comparison, a taxi ride for each person one way would have cost us a lot more than this – taxis here are v v expensive.
After visiting the Copper Mine, built by Cornish miners brought across especially in the 19th Centurty. We were able to explore the Baths, which were well worth the visit and would have been even better had we got there before the crowds. We also enjoyed the absolutely fantastic views from the restaurant at the Top of the Baths, which I am not sure we would have discovered if we had dinghied in from a mooring. The girls also made the most of the restaurant’s swimming pool and joined the many other people who were subtly getting rid of the sand and salt water.
A note here. We have chosen not to pay the $50 a week license to use the National Park buoys for two main reasons. Firstly you can’t then use the moorings at night and during the day you are limited to 90 minutes use only. This might be fine for charter boat people, determined to “see” the whole of the BVI in a week and willing to whizz between the tourist attractions but for us without a timetable, a 90 minute limit just sounded nuts.
We headed back to Leverick Bay in time to catch ‘Happy Arrr’ with the Michael Bean Pirate Show. You would be amazed how many words in the English language end in ‘Arrr’ – an amusing time was had by all. It was an immensely enjoyable two hour, family-friendly show with the great musical talents of Michael Gardner, who is the co-founder and President of the Good Samaritan Foundation of Haiti Inc, whose mission is committed to the advance of education, health and welfare of the underprivileged children of Haiti. Proceeds from his CD sales and donations from the audience all go towards this worthy cause.
The following day we headed across the bay and anchored up just off Prickly Pear Island, a quiet island at the north edge of the Sound. We had hoped to be able to do some snorkelling from the beach but the waters were pretty shallow and there was not a great amount to see. However a beach is a beach and it was another sunny day so we enjoyed our afternoon ashore.
There are quite a few Full Moon parties held every month in the BVI so we were keen to experience one. Obviously with small children (and a mother visiting) not all of them were going to be appropriate, so we headed back across towards Trellis Bay to have the evening at Aragorn’s New Moon Party. Understanding that Trellis Bay was going to be quite full of boats, we decided to take a mooring at Marina Cay and use the ferry service. Marina Cay is a beautiful eight acre island, which author Robb White and his wife Rodie bought for $60 in 1937, much to the displeasure of Rodie’s wealthy family.
It is now home to a Pussers Restaurant and Villa rentals. There is a reef surrounding the south side of the island so the shallow waters are ideal for snorkelling with small children. The beach was also pleasantly peaceful with great views across to Beef Island. We all agreed that it was a beautiful place to visit.
The following day, before the Full Moon Party in the evening, we decided to brave Road Town, again using a hire car which worked out a lot cheaper than taxis. Unfortunately when I called Hertz at the airport, I believed the lady when she said that they had no cars at the current time but they would most likely have one in the morning. Not so! We turned up at the car rental kiosks at the airport and all three attendants from the three different firms just looked at me casually and stated that there were no cars and showed no intention of helping us further. This was yet another reflection of the laid back island life. Having found a car myself just outside Road Town, done the taxi fare calculations to get to the car and return it at the end of the day, we decided that we would all just taxi into Road Town and not have the freedom to explore the island. Probably not a bad thing, given the roads and the standards of driving.
I had warned my mum not to expect too much of Road Town and so we tried to find a few historical places, the Botanic Gardens and we had the obligatory visit to Pussers. It was a long day with the traffic and the dustiness so we were pleased to find ourselves heading back out to Trellis Bay. The Full Moon party was a great night with flaming stuctures on the beaches keeping us warm in what -was a surprisingly windy and cool evening. There was food, there was music and stilt walkers, there was a steel drum band – it was a great night and we would have managed to stay longer had the girls not been so exhausted from the day in Road Town. We caught the ‘ferry’ back to Marina Cay at about 9.30pm. When I say ‘ferry’, I use that word very loosely. It was a 35 ft sports fishing power boat that proved a slightly interesting ride in the side swells down the channel. Fortunately the girls were showing no fear, however my mum and I were not so brave! It really did not help with the fact that it was night time and any sort of swell in the dark is five times more scary.
From Marina Cay we sailed down to Cane Garden Bay about half way down the N side of Tortola. In the notes I made from Brendan’s talk round the islands, all I have written against Cane Garden is ‘full of tourists’ and the cruising guides all warn against lumpy nights in Northerly swells. Having read some good reviews of beautiful sunsets and a nice beach in our guide books I decided that we had to give it a go. The beach was lovely and quiet and I couldn’t see the many tourists that Brendan had talked of. We took a mooring buoy the first night and we had one of the calmest nights since my mum had arrived – unfortunately it was a Friday night so it was not one of the quietest nights. Earplugs to the ready! The music didn’t stop till 2am. The following day we moved from the mooring that we had used to anchor off the beach at what we hoped would be a quieter part of the harbour. It allowed us to swim on to the beach which H did – no mean feat by a 7 yr old. However, the lovely, nice quiet beach we had experienced the day before was gone. As we walked through the rows and rows of sunbeds, it slowly dawned on us that everyone was sporting the same blue towels. The beach had been invaded by cruise shippers and a lot of them at that. The girls, of course immediately found the only other child on the beach and we ended up speaking to an accountant on holiday with his grown up daughters, whose whole purpose at the beach seemed to be to find who made the strongest rum cocktails…. Paradise had been ruined for the afternoon – fortunately, where there is a cruise ship, there is a tight schedule. As quickly as they had arrived, they were gone; packed onto buses by 4pm to get them back to Road Town. At this point we were able to enjoy the scenery and peace once again. Oh, and the sunsets – Cane Garden Bay faces out to the West and so the sunsets from the beach are great.
From Cane Garden Bay we set out to White Bay in Jost van Dyke, the home of the infamous Soggy Dollar Bar. We arrived at about 1030 to a relatively quiet bay and managed to drop the anchor in a pretty good spot. What we hadn’t appreciated was that it was a Bank Holiday Monday as it was Commonwealth Day. As the morning progressed, the number of party boats in the bay increased in direct proportion to the volume of the music. We headed back to the boat for a late lunch and decided to spend the afternoon enjoying the bay from the slightly quieter foredeck. The girls were accosted by an Austrian live-aboarder called Sanna and spent the afternoon swimming off the back of their boat – even better!
We were joined later that afternoon by our old friends, the crew from Taia, who had just sailed across from the USVI. It was great to see them again and we both compared stories of our respective crossings from the Bahamas. They had opted for the ‘Thornless Passage’ via the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, whereas we had gone for the ‘Thorny Passage’ out into the Atlantic. There was a LOT to talk about and they got, I think the more thorns.
Following another, somewhat quieter, day in White Bay, Stewart and I had a grown up night out at the number one restaurant in the BVI, Corsairs in Great Harbour. The food was superb. A big thanks to my mum for babysitting and to Taia for the loan of their bigger and faster dinghy.
As with everything, all good things must come to an end. We headed East the next morning into a particularly unpleasant wind and chop to get to Fat Hog’s Bay ready for my mum’s return flight to Antigua the following day. Penn’s Landing, run by Nancy and her husband, is a great little marina that has free wifi, showers and a great laundry and supermarket just down the road. We were joined by Taia, who having had a child mutiny on board, were directed to stay with us so the kids could have some time together. Sleepovers and play dates were arranged while the adults got some admin sorted, including an excursion into Road Town for Stewart and Ernesto on their bikes.
You might remember that Stewart proudly bought a foldup bike in Georgetown for $50 and this was its first real outing. Following the coast road the 5 or so miles to Road Town seemed an easy cycle. Unfortunately, Stewart didn’t realise
- The chain and gears on his bike were half frozen with rust and jumped twice per revolution.Ernesto’s gears on the other hand were in perfect order, half again as big in gearing so Stewart was left pedalling like a mad thing to keep up on the flat.
- That the route was far from flat with large parts of it a 1:4 gradient, up and down.
- His bike’s brakes are so poor that he was unable to stop the bike on any downhill slope. With the steepness of the hills it meant he walked both up and down them.
- Ernesto’s shiny bike had none of these problems allowing Ernesto plenty of time to take photos whilst Stewart quietly died behind him. He was very kind and waited…lots….
In all it turned out to be a painful journey but he got some great photos. Admin wise, Ernesto got himself a sim card to use data against from the BVI provider Digicell, and Stewart managed to get visa extensions and a temporary import document to allow us to stay in the BVI until we move S in a month or so.
Although we could say that Stewart saved $40 on taxis just on this one ride, any future use of the bike will be carefully thought about before committing bum to saddle!
We waved a sad farewell to my mother at the airport later that morning. I think she would have stayed longer, had she had the chance. She said she had had an amazing week and was really glad that she had come, as were we. I think being able to see how we are living and what we are up to was great and now when we talk on the phone she knows what on earth we are talking about. Here’s to a follow-up visit further down the Caribbean………..