Were there dogs at the Bitter End Yacht Club, they surely would’ve been blown off their leashes by the unruly trades that for the last few days had whipped North Sound into a froth of whitecaps. It was the first Tuesday in March and the third day of the Jeanneau America rendezvous in the British Virgin Islands. Thankfully, the schedule had the 25-boat fleet of various-sized Sun Odysseys remaining tied to the docks at the Bitter End so that skippers and crews—those up for a bruising, at least—could vie for honors in a small-boat regatta sponsored that afternoon by our sister publication, _Sailing World_.
I, for one, was happy to volunteer to represent our efforts and help man the press/spectator boat, a high-sided inflatable, from which we witnessed the carnage unfolding around us as Lasers turned turtle and Hobie Waves pitchpoled their passengers into the briny blue. In the end, three Lasers actually managed to cross both the start and finish lines enough times to earn a podium finish. A sole Hobie pulled off one race.
Proving to be more appealing pastimes that afternoon were the sandy beach, the freshwater pool, and a walk in the hills that provided breathtaking views of the sound, the Jeanneau-packed floats at the yacht club, and the breaking surf along the island’s windward shore.
This rendezvous in paradise was the idea of Jeanneau America’s president, Paul Fenn, and was well organized by his Annapolis, Maryland, staff. Sponsors included both Cruising World and Sailing World, among other industry players. The fleet consisted of a few privately owned sailboats, whose owners were marching to various Caribbean agendas, several more Jeanneaus chartered from the Sunsail base on Tortola, and Cruising World‘s borrowed Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 44i, Mei Nu, which we picked up from CYOA Yacht Charters in St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. For many who made the trip from the frozen north, it was a chance both to romp in the islands as well as try out models different—perhaps newer or bigger—from the boats they sail at home.
Opening-night ceremonies Sunday were held at Peter Island, a short, though reefed down, reach for those setting sail from Tortola. First thing Monday, the group started their journey north with a visit to The Baths, the spectacular rock formations and snorkeling area located on Virgin Gorda’s southern end. From there, competitive instincts kicked in aboard several of the sailboats as the fleet bashed its way up Sir Francis Drake Channel to North Sound, tacking the afternoon away into 30-knot-or-better headwinds.
Monday night’s dinner at the Bitter End featured guest speaker Tania Aebi, who entertained us with slides and tales from her solo circumnavigation that caught the attention of sailors everywhere when she set off in 1985 at the age of 18.
At breakfast Tuesday morning, Jeanneau’s Erik Stromberg, director of Sailboat Product Development, fielded questions over coffee and briefed owners on upcoming models that they could expect to see at this year’s boat shows, including the company’s line of powerboats.
Cocktails, pizza, and regatta prize-giving topped off the day as attendees made plans for unscripted destinations on Wednesday and Thursday.
The trades were still hard at work on Wednesday morning, making the breakup on the docks a lively and entertaining affair. A handful of boats pointed their bows upwind toward Anegada (a few opted for a quick change of course once out of the lee), while others reached off toward Jost Van Dyke, where a reportedly rum-soaked visit to Foxy’s was encountered. We chose to run off under a reefed main and a partially unfurled genoa, bound for Cooper Island and its beach club of the same name, where we picked up a mooring and spent a rolly afternoon watching swells round the point and gusts lash down the steep hills ashore, kicking up water spouts throughout the anchorage. We snorkeled around the rock that lies midchannel between Cooper and Salt islands, and that night we enjoyed—dare I say it?—the BVI’s best chicken roti, washed down with mudslides and a bottle of good wine.
Thursday, we were up and off early, reefs still tucked into Mei Nu‘s main and jib as we reached northward across Sir Francis Drake Channel and around the tip of Beef Island into Trellis Bay, where preparations were well under way for the evening’s Fireball Full Moon Party. Though it was just after noon, we may have found the last available ball and pendant, for soon after we arrived, it was anchoring room only as cruisers piled in for the night’s festivities.
Ashore, we visited Aragorn’s Studio, a shop packed with local Caribbean art and the source of the sculpted metal balls that would be set afire along the sand and in the water come dark. The studio, along with Trellis Bay Kitchen/Cybercafé & Watersports, hosts the monthly parties that feature a Caribbean barbecue, reggae bands on the beach, and, after darkness has descended, the giant burning metal sculptures that are packed with cardboard and wood and set ablaze just off the beach. The fires burn well into the evening and illuminate the stilt-walking Moko Jumbie dancers who weave their way through the crowd and the torch dancers spinning devilishly about.
During the festivities, we ran into Paul Fenn and his family and several other rendezvous crews; all had chosen Trellis Bay as a stopover en route to Friday night’s closing party at Pirates Bight Bar & Restaurant, on Norman Island.
By morning, the trades had finally blown themselves out. For the first time all week, we were able to shake the reefs out for a leisurely sail back across the Drake channel to Peter Island’s Great Harbour, where we picked up a mooring and snorkeled along the rock-strewn shoreline. The groupers and other big fish I’d encountered in the harbor on other visits were nowhere to be found, but I still managed to get lost in a cloud of bait fish, small parrot fish, and schools of other colorful characters.
From there, it was on to The Bight at Norman Island. All the day moorings for snorkeling at The Indians, one of the BVI’s most popular dive sites, were taken, so we headed for the anchorage and a much-needed swim. As our lazy afternoon wound down, my shipmate Ted Ruegg, CW‘s advertising director, and his wife, Heidi, pulled out a suitcase full of pirate costumes for all aboard in preparation for the party ashore.
With the Caribbean sun still hot but sinking into the islands to the west, we made for land. As soon as we reached the dock, we were accosted by sword-waving buccaneers who forced their debilitating grog upon us.
The dancing and reggae rocked well into the night and compelled several of us, including teams Fenn, Jeanneau, and Cruising World, to visit the infamous floating barroom aboard the William Thornton, better known as Willie T’s, which on this evening lived up to its swashbuckling reputation as a den of iniquity. It was a fitting place to offer fond farewells to sailors drawn together by the lure of the islands and the love of their brand of boats.
Mark Pillsbury is the editor of Cruising World.
Web Extra: Watch video from the Fireball Full Moon Party here.