A Charter in the British Virgin Islands

Stepping off the plane from Boston, the five of us savor the deliciously warm air of St. Thomas in early April. We’re en route to Tortola for a week’s bareboat charter on a Footloose catamaran, and after the winter from hell back in the Northeast, our all-female crew reckons we deserve it.

Arriving at the dock I smile at the row of gleaming white catamarans. We don’t see many of these in New England, and while I’ve always been a monohull sailor, it doesn’t take long to discover the advantages of a cat. There is room to stow your gear, room to stretch out and room to sleep in peace. I also love the stability afforded by two hulls and the fact that the delightfully soporific sounds of tinkling halyards and lapping waves are far less likely to be interrupted by last night’s wine bottles crashing to the floor as early morning boaters leave the harbor.

Best of all is the galley. I am a cook, and over the years I’ve spent countless hours aboard mohonulls sweating profusely or fighting nausea belowdecks as I prepare a meal for my mates relaxing in the cockpit above. On a cat however, I can still be part of the party as I prepare dinner, as well as enjoy fresh air and a view.
A crew marches on its stomach

We’ve decided we’re going to eat on board every night, so Jean, Michelle and I provision Jeanharr, our Footloose 4600, accordingly. While it’s good to have a plan, you never know what you’ll find, so I’m prepared to be flexible. At the supermarket we find some very nice frozen fish, and a small section filled with locally grown produce, but surprisingly, no avocados or cilantro. Many items have no prices, but no matter; it’s still going to be cheaper than dining out, so what the hell. Everything comes to just under $1,000. Not too bad at $200 a person for three meals a day for eight days, plus snacks, paper goods and beverages, both alcoholic and non.

At Cooper Island we pick up one of the last of the 30 moorings in Manchineel Bay. It’s one of seven Department of Environment and Fisheries sea grass monitoring sites, so it is not a surprise to be greeted by one medium-sized and one very large sea turtle who seem to be staking us out. We also discover a stowaway chameleon, which has made a home beneath the wheel. It is ignores the lettuce I put out for it–what do chameleons eat anyway?–and if it’s a carnivore, it’s out of luck on this boat.

We quickly settle into the island groove: happy hour at the Cooper Island Beach Club with big, comfy couches, two-for-one Pain Killers and a perfect view of the sunset; dinner on board—grilled eggplant, fat spears of asparagus and couscous. After that it’s off to bed by 2100, the charterer’s midnight.

Next morning we leave early and fly past the Baths—where there isn’t a single vacant mooring—at 8 knots. Our goal is shelter in Biras Bay on Virgin Gorda, as it is due to blow later. By 1000 we are on a mooring and have a full day to devote to paddleboarding, snorkeling and lounging.

We all make the trip in to the Bitter End Yacht Club to enjoy a bit of Wi-Fi and a stroll around the lovely property, where fan palms, gardenias and many hues of bougainvillea line the paths. Perched on the hillside, individual cabins with conical roofs evoke Swiss Family Robinson fantasies. Then it’s back to the boat for a couple of pitchers of mojitos and a dinner of pan-seared mahi-mahi.

The lure of doing nothing much at all

Some of the crew are up at 0600, meditating on the foredeck. Others, not so much. A long swim, a bit of a lie-in, enjoying my book and the pleasant sounds of morning on the boat—water lapping, birds calling, the laughter of friends. Mid-morning we receive a visit from Anouk, who has been living on a boat in the BVIs for 30 years. She is selling the shell and sea-glass jewelry she and her son make. Jean and I purchase gifts. The others miss out, as they have gone ashore for some last minute provisioning before we head out.

There follows a cracking sail, 9 to 10 knots at times, out toward Anegada and then around to White Bay on Guana Island. Up until last year there were no public moorings at this idyllic spot, but the owners of this very private island reluctantly put in a few to save the coral from further damage caused by careless anchoring. If you are lucky enough to snag a mooring, you will be treated to a gleaming white beach, all to yourself.

We take full advantage of our good luck, some of us playing Gilligan’s Island ashore, others paddleboarding, accompanied by a curious but thankfully benign barracuda. Our onboard yoga instructor leads a late-afternoon class, first on the foredeck followed by an initially humorous but ultimately successful session on the paddleboard. We are off to bed at 2030—a new record!

Attack of the jellyfish

The morning routine of meditation at sunrise continues. Another advantage of this mooring is that we are perfectly situated to motor around the corner to a favorite snorkeling spot, Monkey Point; with just eight National Park day moorings available to cruisers, it pays to get there early. Unfortunately, an unprecedented jellyfish attack cuts things short. Stinging and shivering, we return to the boat for tea and sympathy. Still, the wealth and variety of the sea life we encountered made it all worth it—sort of.

Afterward we enjoy another exhilarating sail, this time taking us to White Bay on Jost van Dyke. As we come in toward Jost we encounter the most activity we have seen so far—many boats, both sail and power, coming over for the day to enjoy the justifiably famous beaches and beach bars. There’s a choice of two beaches at White Bay, but while both are lovely, one is far busier than the other. To the left are two well-known beach bars: the One Love and the Soggy Dollar, self-proclaimed home of the original Pain Killer. Both have a party-hearty atmosphere popular with charterers and booze cruising day-trippers. We choose the other, the aptly named Ivan’s Stress Free Bar, to the right. Decorated with shells and sporting a tire swing and a roof deck, the atmosphere is decidedly more laid-back, and we enjoy a prolonged sunset and a few painkillers. Back on board, we dine sumptuously on Calypso Shrimp Stew and turn in at 2115—our latest night yet.

What, day 6 already?

In the morning a boat comes by offering ice, milk and freshly baked bread. It seems the universe is providing for all of our pressing needs. Diamond Cay, between Jost and Little Jost, is our target, just a short sail away. We capture the mooring closest to the reef and are greeted by a remarkable abundance of sea turtles. The snorkeling off Little Jost is absolutely amazing, with a little bit of everything in the very healthy reef. We continue on to Diamond Cay and settle in for the day, paddleboarding, snorkeling and sun bathing. No one wants to move, so we decide to stay the night too.

The next morning, we reluctantly leave Diamond Cay for a great sail through Thatcher Island Cut toward Bandaras Bay on Norman Island. Finding no available moorings, we head around the corner to Soldier’s Bay and snag one of the five moorings there. Having paid strict heed to the captain’s firm dictates on water rationing, we still have over a full tank and the ban is lifted. All clean, Pip, Dawn and Michelle head around the corner to check out the Bight and indulge in a cocktail on the infamous Willy T. On their return, motoring into the wind and waves, they are thoroughly drenched and arrive back bedraggled and brined. So much for showering!

On the last night before we must head back to the marina, with island tunes playing, we valiantly finish up the last of the rum. We have done a good job of provisioning and aside from a few cans of beans and what remains of the condiments, we have very little left. For once, we haven’t overestimated our capacity or succumbed to the siren song of cheaply priced booze. Off to bed at 2100. Oh well.
And so it ends

Meditation, breakfast, snorkeling: it’s a tough routine, but we can manage it. We start the process of cleaning the boat, pay a visit to the oddly cheerless new beach bar in the Bight, and then head back to the Moorings base in Road Town. Showers, rum drinks, dinner by the pool: it’s a new routine that we could also get used to. We are so reluctant to have this wonderful week end that we finally stay up past 2100—way past, actually—as we enjoy the last of the wine and our last evening together. Next morning we awake to a torrential downpour that soaks us as we lug our bags off the boat and onto the ferry to Charlotte Amalie. At least it has stopped snowing back in Boston.

Charter companies in the BVI: We chartered our Leopard 46 (aka Footloose 4600) catamaran from Footloose Charters (footloosecharters.com). For a list of other charter companies based in the BVI, go to sailmagazine.com.
Getting there: You can fly direct to Tortola from some U.S. cities, or connect via Miami or San Juan. You can also, as we did, fly to St. Thomas and take a ferry to Road Town. This is the more economical option.

Currency: The U.S. dollar is accepted everywhere, and most credit cards are accepted almost everywhere.

Jennifer Rich lives, sails and cooks in Marblehead, Massachusetts

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October 2015



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