The afternoon sun cast long shadows across Cow Wreck Beach on Anegada, and though hot, the trade winds blowing across the reef just offshore helped cool the group of bathing-suit-clad adults who dug like chipmunks in the sand for bottles of rum that had been buried there. “I’ve got sand in my monkey! Nobody should have sand in their monkey!” I heard a woman shout. Well, that’s one way to put it. They continued digging as our band of observers looked on.
I was there on the beach as a guest of The Moorings, along with a couple of staffers and two other reporters assigned to cover the pleasure fest. Our home for the week was a Moorings 5800 crewed sailing catamaran, and we were doing double duty attending the annual rally of charter boat owners and getting a taste of a luxury charter experience, right down to the exquisite details that included little elephants fashioned out of bath towels, which I found on my bunk when I first stepped aboard. Over the course of the week the flotilla crisscrossed the British Virgin Islands, visiting Trellis Bay, North Sound, Anegada, Cane Garden Bay, Jost Van Dyke and Norman Island. Aside from group happy hours and dinners, activities included paddleboard races, a drink contest, a point-to-point race and this very sandy treasure hunt.
“Can you believe we make you do this?” joked The Moorings’ John Keyes. “You buy a half-million-dollar boat, and as a reward you get to dig in the sand for a measly bottle of rum!” Sure, he was kidding. But he and the team must be doing something right, because owners keep coming back for the rally, now in its 15th year.
“We’ve had to cap the event at 15 boats,” said his colleague Christine Joseph. “One year we had 30 boats, and it was too many. With four to six people on each boat, we couldn’t get dinner reservations anywhere — but it was a hell of a party.”
As the last of the rum bottles was unearthed, the treasure hunters migrated to the surf to rinse off. Standing chest-deep in water just cool enough to be refreshing, rally participant Ed McLaughlin described how he found himself in this slice of heaven. “When I was a young man in the Navy, I spent a very cold winter in Germany,” he remembered, smiling. “The officer I reported to had a boat in the BVI, and he would tell me about the warm breeze and sandy beaches. That winter I decided that someday I would have my own boat in the islands.” Not only did he follow through with the plan, he’s done it several times over. When his first five-year ownership contract with The Moorings was up, McLaughlin brought that boat home to sail the Chesapeake and purchased a new Moorings 4600 catamaran to keep in the BVI charter fleet.
McLaughlin wasn’t the only rally participant to have owned multiple boats in the charter program; repeat buyers, I discovered, are common. Derek and Diana Baranowski are on their second boat with The Moorings, and have been coming down to the BVI for over 20 years. “We like it that we can charter any available boat in the fleet, at any of the bases worldwide,” Derek explained at Quito’s bar the next afternoon. “It has allowed us to sail in Greece, Turkey, Croatia and Fiji. Thailand is our next target. We try to pick an appropriate boat based on which friends we’re bringing with us. If we have a big group, we’ll go with one of the bigger catamarans because they have so many cabins. If we’re bringing friends who really want to explore, we get a power cat to get to each destination faster.”
“And I like the monohulls the best,” added Diana. “I like the thrill of heeling over when we’re sailing.” The week of the rally, the Baranowskis were on their own boat, a Moorings 514 Power Cat. It was their job to serve as the committee boat on station at the finish line for the big event: the race from Cane Garden Bay, Tortola, to Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke.
Race day dawned gusty and bright, and the excitement in the air was clear as the course was confirmed over the VHF. The 5800 catamaran on which we were sailing, Dalliance, marked the starting line. Teams were decked out in matching apparel. Burgees from home clubs around the world snapped on shrouds and backstays. A few of the boats reefed, and it was a good thing, because a gust of 38 knots came hurtling through as the starting sequence began, forcing boats to abandon tricky maneuvers in favor of staying upright and in control. Then, with 30 seconds to go, the breeze completely disappeared, and the fleet ghosted over the starting line with sails and burgees limp.
Then the wind picked back up as the racers pulled away from the shadow of the island, and the race was on. The variety of cats and monohulls didn’t seem to matter. The racing was tight. The Baranowskis, meanwhile, on the 514 PC, were going full throttle to set up the finish line ahead of the fleet, weighed down by the three dinghies they were towing.
As the fleet rounded Sandy Cay, Dick and Pam Backstrom, aboard a Jeanneau 51.4, and Jim and Margaret Burt, aboard the Moorings 3900 catamaran We Are Nuts, pulled ahead of the pack. The Backstroms were on their third boat in the charter fleet, and just that week had decided to trade up for the 51.4. The Burts, in their fourth year of owning We Are Nuts, were racing for the first time. It was neck and neck in this surprising cat vs. mono duel. The finish boat got in position just in time to call the line, and We Are Nuts took the honors.
“That’s the most fun I’ve ever had!” Jim Burt yelled across the water.
After the race, we dropped anchor in White Bay, home of the famous Soggy Dollar Bar, to swim ashore for painkillers. With a swell running, the anchorage was too rough to stay long, so leaving the flotilla behind for a night, we let the bareboaters fend for themselves, which gave those of us aboard Dalliance a chance to fathom the full effects of the magic a capable crew can work on willing guests. We passed Soper’s Hole and tucked into Benures Bay at Norman Island, where we found a calmer anchorage. As chef Victoria Mark prepared dinner, Capt. Luka Senk got an impish grin on his face and started pulling out water toys. I could see a little bit of camp counselor in him as he equipped the dinghy with water-ski paraphernalia — a reminder that having a crew brings chartering to the next level.
Full disclosure: I’m a hands-on sailor type and was initially thrown off by the idea of a charter with captain, chef and stewardess. I thought it might be awkward to spend a week on a boat with people I didn’t know, being waited on at every turn. I needn’t have worried. Capt. Senk, chef Mark and stewardess Amy Carmichael were not only experienced and professional; they were friendly, engaging and fun to spend time with. Each morning, coffee was waiting and the breakfast table set. While we ate, cabins and heads were cleaned. Hoist anchor or drop the dinghy? All taken care of. At the end of each day, Amy mixed cocktails as Victoria finished preparing dinner. Did it take getting used to? Sure, a little. But it proved to be a true sailing vacation, with a heavy emphasis on the vacation. That evening in Benures Bay, after an afternoon of paddleboarding, snorkeling and waterskiing, it all clicked: So this is what all the fuss is about — the lack of fuss.
In the morning we headed around the corner to pick up a mooring at the bight. We piled into the dinghy and jetted off to a spot called the Indians to snorkel in some of the most spectacularly clear water I’ve ever seen. A little too excited about the GoPro camera I got for Christmas, I took about 400 underwater photos and videos in the hopes that one or two would capture the beauty of this place.
Just as we all finally became acclimated to island time, it was time for the farewell dinner. The rendezvous guests arrived ashore garbed entirely in black, the theme for the evening. As reggae music from a one-man band wafted across the beach at Pirates Bight Bar, they danced on the dance floor. They danced on the tables. Some wore wigs. Some wore unitards. OK, actually, just one guy wore a unitard, but one thing is for sure: These folks knew how to have a good time. They were borderline professionals at it. These were individuals, couples and families, after all, who have made a serious commitment to vacationing. Buying a boat and putting it into this program allows them to sail 12 weeks a year, every year, for five years. And not just in one port, but at any of the bases the company maintains around the world.
So what was the common element that bound this crew together? Well, they all love sailing. They all love boats. They all love to have fun. It’s as simple as that.
Eleanor Merrill is CW’s managing editor.