Hot Shots in the B.V.I.

Picture this: One boat, six people, countless anchorages, a dusting of nutmeg--and plenty of rum.

Hot Shots in the B.V.I.

Carefully groomed yet challenging Guy’s Trail, on Virgin Gorda, affords a spectacular view of Saba Rock Resort, the mooring field, and Prickly Pear Island. Flamingos roost at its salt pond.Elaine Lembo

The post-regatta beer flowed and the competing crews were feeling mellow and fine. Another bout of fun racing in their collective wakes, this hearty bunch congregated along the waterfront of a tiny New England village to chew the fat. The cool hint of autumn permeated the air, and thoughts turned to heading south to the Caribbean in winter.

“I’m a sailor but I’ve never been to the British Virgin Islands,” a crewmate said to one of the skippers.

“Are you kidding me?” he replied. “How can you call yourself a sailor if you haven’t been there? Come with us. We’ll show you the real B.V.I.”

With that, the crewmate became a newbie. The newbie chatted up another newbie, and the skipper (now called the vet) contacted his network of vets.

Not a moment too soon, their ride materialized in the form of an offer for them to take a weeklong bareboat charter aboard a swift Dufour 425 Grand’ Large from MarineMax Vacations, located on Tortola, in the B.V.I.

They went into high gear. The newbies scrounged around for flights. They packed loads of luggage, brought food from home, and ordered enough provisions to sink a cruise ship. Except they forgot to buy nutmeg, the spice that makes that tasty rum drink, the painkiller, such a hit. They arrived at a dock on Tortola after sunset, disoriented, sweaty, thirsty, giddy.

You could say they did their homework, sort of.

“Are Virgin Gorda and Tortola different islands?” they asked.

“Is Foxy’s place on Virgin Gorda?” they asked.

“Can we go ashore on Richard Branson’s island?” they asked.

“Can we go snorkeling, hiking, and kayaking?” they asked.

Yes, no, no, and yes, the vets told them over drinks.

Eventually an itinerary came together. The vets didn’t care where they went—they looked around at the familiar emerald waters and islands and were content to sail anywhere and do anything. True to reputation, the east-southeast trade winds blew steady and strong, and the vets knew that the performance-oriented Dufour was up for the job.

For all of their enthusiasm, the newbies were surprisingly realistic about our chosen route.

“We know we can’t get to all the high points,” they said, poring over the charts and guides. “We know we’re scratching the surface.”

But that’s life on a sailing vacation, and they came up with what I’ll call a fluid plan. No Foxy’s (it’s on the island of Jost Van Dyke), no Willy T (it’s on Norman Island). Instead of hitting the big-name bars, this crew would sail to The Baths, the huge granite outcropping at the southern end of the island of Virgin Gorda. And they wanted to go the distance and sail north, to the low coral and limestone island of Anegada, so they could kayak, walk the beach, and eat lobster. Then they’d sail south back to Virgin Gorda and Gorda Sound, or North Sound, as many call it.

Hammocks are strung from tree to tree throughout the B.V.I. The message is: Relax! Photo: Carrie Fletcher

“There are tons of neat little places to go in North Sound!” the newbies chirped. “You could spend a whole week there!”

Slathered in sunscreen and armed with compact cameras, the newbies and the vets took off. A quick, squally scoot from the base was followed by snorkeling and an overnight at Cooper Island. In the morning, they polished off upwind work in Sir Francis Drake Channel to get to The Baths. They scrambled all over the huge boulders, first along the guided path, then along the more daring, steep route—before being beaten back to the well-worn path.

All spent the next night at Leverick Bay, in North Sound, and the newbies were delighted to catch a bombastic fireworks display that the vets slept through. Then they dashed closehauled in less than two hours north to Anegada, an island they enjoyed so much they spent two nights there. One day, they shopped, and an islander refused to charge them for nutmeg. The next, they walked the shore from the anchorage to Cow Wreck Beach, had lunch, then took an island tour by taxi, past a distant flock of greater flamingoes, to Loblolly Bay, on the eastern end of the island.

They were steadily ticking off the items on their lists, pleased with the progress. They sailed back to North Sound and couldn’t get enough of it. One day it was a hike and a visit to the exclusive Yacht Club Costa Smeralda, the next, snorkeling at Eustatia Reef, then taking a mooring at Saba Rock Resort and mixing up a special batch of painkillers aboard the boat: more rum, less cream of coconut, plenty of nutmeg.

After a kip, snorkeling opportunities are just a few feet away. Photo: Pat Manion

Then, with one of them dressed in a pink bathing suit, the newbies swam and kayaked ashore to nearby Prickly Pear Island and were treated to another flock of flamingoes, closer and easier to observe in their roost in a salt pond behind the beach. By now, the painkillers had kicked in. The next thing you know, the newbies were standing on the beach at Prickly Pear, imitating the flamingoes’ one-legged stance so that the vets, relaxing aboard in the cockpit, could figure out the treasure they’d found. The pink suit added the perfect touch.

“What a beautiful place!” the newbies gushed throughout the trip. “It’s so laid back, quiet, and safe.”

They could’ve gone on for days, but the charter was over before everyone knew it. Groaning and moaning abounded during a punishing motorsail back to the base. The vets realized that they’d been good for the newbies and that the newbies had been good for the vets, too. Their enthusiasm got the vets energized and helped them discover parts of the B.V.I. that they’d overlooked in all those years of sailing: gems like Cow Wreck Beach; Guy’s Trail, above the Bitter End Yacht Club; vigorous sailing; and the flamingoes of Prickly Pear, of course.

“We’ll be back,” the newbies said. “Maybe get to Foxy’s and the Willy T next time.” Swapping the memory chips from their compact cameras, the newbies and the vets—who are now one and the same—copied each other’s photos for keepsakes. Here are a few.

On the heels of Christmas winds, the crew of a MarineMax 43 enjoy a vigorous sail to Anegada. Photo: Carrie Fletcher

_Once there, they couldn't resist taking a long walk, then lounging in chairs at Cow Wreck Beach. Photo: Pat Manion
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Appetites were later sated via Anegada's famed fresh lobster. Photo: Elaine Lembo

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_CW deputy editor Elaine Lembo writes and blogs about chartering. This article first appeared in the April 2012 issue of Cruising World.
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Do you have hot shots from your latest bareboat chartering vacation? Share them us for a chance to be published in the annual Cruising World bareboat charter issue, August 2012.