A s my plane approached the airport on St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, I took in the gorgeous view of turquoise water and mountains and thought once again of how glad I was for this week away from the March gloom back home in Rhode Island. As far as assignments go, this one was a good one: the Jeanneau Owners Rendezvous in the British Virgin Islands, of which Cruising World was a sponsor. Having never taken part in something like this, I honestly had no idea what to expect. But fun, I was sure, would be a given. Particularly because I was told to bring a pirate costume.
The first BVI Jeanneau Owners Rendezvous was in 2012, and it’s been a biennial affair ever since. During his time as the president of Jeanneau America, Paul Fenn organized the event as a way to connect with customers. “I thought by offering a rendezvous in the BVI, it would give Jeanneau owners a reason to travel outside their normal sailing area and give all of us an opportunity to spend a week together, have fun, and be part of the Jeanneau family,” Fenn said when I spoke with him after the event. “It turned out exactly as I hoped.” For those who couldn’t make it to the islands on their own boat, a fleet of various-size Jeanneaus were available to charter from Sunsail, a co-organizer of the event.
Our week in the tropics began at the Sunsail charter base on Tortola with an island barbecue, complete with music and rum punch. Here I met up with my crewmates for the week — my colleague Ted Ruegg, his wife, Heide, and our friend Dave Robinson — and got to know some of the other rendezvous-goers.
Emory and Kim Zimmer hail from Cincinnati and were in the BVI aboard their new Jeanneau 53, Someday. For them, the rendezvous was a planned stop on their journey south from Newport, Rhode Island, to the Caribbean. “Kim and I had heard about the event from our broker, Glenn Walters,” said Emory. “We saw some photos online from a previous year, and it looked like a fun time. We also felt it would be a unique opportunity to spend time with the folks who design and build Jeanneaus, as well as other owners.”
The busy rendezvous itinerary began the next morning with our Sunsail charter briefing. While the boys went over the charts, Heide and I took advantage of our time on the dock to pick up a few more provisions. Our ride for the week was a spacious four-cabin Sunsail Jeanneau 53 named Aeolus. Once everything was stowed, it was time to cast off for Norman Island, but our route included a detour to the airport on Beef Island to pick up a special guest, America’s Cup-winning tactician and television commentator Gary Jobson, who was booked as a dinner speaker for the following evening. Once we had him aboard, we had a fantastic sail over to the Bight and met up with the rest of the Jeanneau crowd.
Participation in the BVI Jeanneau Owners Rendezvous is capped at 25 boats, and roughly 80 to 100 sailors participate. “This is about the maximum number of people the restaurants can handle in the BVI,” said Fenn. Dinner at Pirates Bight was a delicious island buffet, followed by dancing. Despite the name, the pirate costumes weren’t needed this night (I was, admittedly, a bit relieved).
One of the benefits of attending the rendezvous is the opportunity for Jeanneau owners to spend time aboard other models. This year, the boat to see was the company’s new flagship, the Jeanneau 64. I hopped aboard for a sail on Serenity, the 64 chartered for the week, from Norman Island up Sir Francis Drake Channel to the Virgin Gorda’s North Sound.
The day was blustery, with abundant whitecaps out in the channel. Several squall lines passed over and fairly drenched us, but the sailing was exhilarating. The wind frequently gusted to 25 knots, and Serenity handled it beautifully, easily staying on course even in the puffs. There was a crowd of people aboard, but the spacious boat was comfortable and had more than enough room for everyone. As we sailed into North Sound and on to the Bitter End Yacht Club, the sky cleared, and it turned out to be a lovely day. Being the largest, speediest boat in the rendezvous, Serenity was the first one to the dock, and we were relaxing with beers and cheeseburgers as the others trickled in. With all the boats accounted for, Jeanneau vessels pretty much filled the docks. Ted and I went boat to boat delivering Cruising World swag, and that evening Jobson regaled the crowd with stories of his recent sail to remote Sable Island and the infamous and deadly 1979 Fastnet race, where he sailed with Ted Turner aboard Tenacious and finished first.
With two days at the Bitter End, there was plenty of time to relax and enjoy everything the resort had to offer. Ted took out one of the club’s Lasers to do some beer-can racing, I went with a group on a surprisingly steep hike up in the hills above North Sound, and later we all relaxed by the pool, rum punches in hand. More adventurous crews took part in a scavenger hunt that had them zooming around in dinghies looking for clues at various spots in North Sound.
One of my favorite aspects of this downtime was checking out the Zimmers’ boat, Someday. Their Jeanneau 53 was the same model as Aeolus, our chartered boat, and it was interesting to see how they had made the space so homelike and very much “theirs.” Nick Harvey, the president of Jeanneau America, and Erik Stromberg, Jeanneau’s director of product development, also spent time with attendees, chatting over coffee in various cockpits while answering questions about the brand and the boats. No longer strangers, everyone seemed relaxed and in the spirit when it was time to don the pirate garb for the party on our final evening at the Bitter End, which included a pizza buffet and dancing under the stars.
The next two days were free days on the itinerary, and rendezvous boats split off to favorite BVI destinations before meeting at Peter Island for the last night. Several crews, ourselves included, chose to sail out to Anegada, a low-lying island about 14 miles north of Virgin Gorda that has a lovely, remote feel to it. Here we spotted pink flamingos, went snorkeling at Loblolly Bay, and had a lobster dinner on the beach, with the backdrop of the best sunset of the trip. By this point in the week, we were really settling into the sailing-vacation routine — waking up to gorgeous views, a short voyage and relaxing — and it was hard to think we’d be heading back home in a couple of days.
Our sail the next morning to Little Jost Van Dyke was easily my favorite of the trip, with a steady breeze, sunny weather, and good tunes on the boat’s stereo system. Once we had a mooring, we trekked out to the Bubbly Pool, a sort of natural Jacuzzi that occurs when conditions are right (they were), and followed it up with shrimp on the cockpit grill and a visit to Foxy’s Taboo beach bar. Not a bad day at all.
For the last day, Ted, Heide, Dave and I stopped at the Indians for a quick snorkel, and then all Jeanneau crews gathered at the luxurious Peter Island Resort. I spotted most of our new friends at the resort’s pool that afternoon, where a round of mudslides was the perfect treat. The weather that evening was simply spectacular for our last beach bash. The crowd chatted and mingled on the sand and sipped Peter Island’s tasty signature ginger cocktails. An excellent buffet dinner followed. The night closed with parting words from Paul Fenn and a lively raffle where everyone brought home a goodie or two.
As I left the boat at oh-dark-thirty the next morning to catch the ferry back to St. Thomas and my flight home, I had plenty of time to muse about the trip. It was with near disbelief that I realized that just a week prior, nearly everyone had been strangers, just brought together by a love of sailing and a passion for their boats. So, yes, while I expected the fun, the unexpected camaraderie was even better.
Jen Brett is CW’s senior editor.