Jump into a Winter Escape
"Just checking out the babes on your boat," the rotund skipper called, grinning lecherously. Just then, a crosswind pushed his boat down on the next mooring over, and this time, he managed to wrap a pendant line around his saildrive and rudder. His boat met the neighbor's with a resounding crack of fiberglass, followed by lots of hectic screams.
Ah, karma. Those paybacks are a beautiful thing, I thought, as I kidded to the girls that it was obviously all their fault for falling asleep on the bow.
In the afternoon, we took another taxi ride, this time across to the north side of the island to snorkel on the reef at Loblolly Bay and explore the ribbon of white-sand beach. We sat on a bench under palm fronds and watched a black squall roll around the point to the east. Dave and the kids stayed to watch the show, while Peggy and I gathered up the backpacks and retreated from the horizontal rain and wind-driven sand to the nearby Big Bamboo, where we watched the employees string up Christmas decorations.
Driven by a too-tight schedule, we set out early on Thursday, headed downwind to Jost Van Dyke. We surfed down big rolling swells, pushing our speed well past nine knots with hisses of foam. Later that afternoon, after a lunch stop at Sandy Spit, off Green Cay, the girls sat on the swim step of one of the pontoons with their feet in the water, eating pie as we did a sail-through of Jost Van Dyke's Great Harbour before heading to Cane Garden Bay for the night.
By late afternoon, Dave, Peggy, and I were content to swim and sit on the boat, but the girls had other activities in mind: They loaded into the dinghy and went ashore, where they found the happy hour affordable and the company first rate. Before long, they were invited to grab percussion instruments and join the band on stage, or so I'm told.
The slow days on island time passed far too quickly. Friday morning, we were up early for the long trip around the western end of Tortola to Peter Island, our last stop before returning the boat to its rightful keepers. Dave tacked us upwind through the pass between Soper's Hole and Little Thatch Island, then into a blustery Sir Francis Drake Channel, where I think we had the best sail of the entire trip. We scooted along closehauled, spray flying off the bows.
The same charter captain who'd advised us to take the taxi over Virgin Gorda also recommended stopping in Peter Island's Great Harbour, where, he said, the snorkeling is quite good. He was right. We picked up a mooring along the rocky shore and swam along it toward the beach at the far end. We floated in swarms of glittering fingerlings and came face to face with grouper and silver tarpon, the first one of which scared the bejesus out of every one of us.
On the beach, we met Conrad Smith, who, with his cane, hobbled across the rocks in a one-man welcoming committee. He invited us to explore Great Harbour Point and the bay beyond, and he explained how the fishermen would set their traps when the tuna chased the bonito into the bay.
Later, aboard La Bella Vita, we began to organize our belongings and clean up in preparation for our return. With bags of food left, Peggy, Dave, and I returned to the beach and gave the supplies to Conrad, who said he'd put them to good use. After visiting his home, made up of a few small concrete-block structures, we were sure he would.
That night, we sat up enjoying a star show and the manmade lights along the hillsides of Tortola. As on earlier trips to the islands, we'd seen enough to just whet our appetite. We schemed ways to return.
Saturday morning, squall clouds masked the sunrise as we motored across the channel a final time. We were a quiet crew as we boarded the ferry for St. Thomas and the trip home. Back in U.S. territory, the border agent in St. Thomas asked the usual questions about bringing beef, fruit, or booze into the country. Then he turned to Lily and asked her how old she was.
"Eighteen," she replied. "You know, it feels pretty darned good to say that."
Can't beat a birthday like that.
Mark Pillsbury is the editor of Cruising World.