Tortola Toes

Waiting for the Sail-a-Cat Adventure Charter fleet to arrive, I embarked on a few pre-flotilla adventures with Caribbean friends.

tortola toes

Elaine Lembo

Before you head offshore, there are the things you must do: find qualified crew, lay in provisions, inspect the liferaft, prepare the ditch kit. Make sure hull, rig, and sails are sound.

And there is the one thing you absolutely must not do, according to girlfriends who are skilled offshore sailors and delivery skippers. They told me all this while we hung out on the docks at Nanny Cay Marina, on Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands in early December.

"You are not allowed to get a pedicure before a delivery," said Captain Sherry Burger, who'd recently sailed Sold the Farm, a Jeanneau 45, from Trinidad to the Virgin Islands for a winter of chartering. "You'll slide too much on deck."

But, deliveries in their wakes, and boats snug in their winter slips, Sherry and Capt. Val Doan of Manu Kai, a Perry 57 cat, set about to promptly correct that beauty deficiency, and asked me to come along with them to Road Town, the territorial capital.

You have to see the end result of a Tortola pedicure to believe it. The fancy patterns painted in to the toenails are done free form, not by stenciled pattern. The women who administer them are true artists. My green, red, and glittery gold toes are in a Christmas holiday pattern.

Now spa indulgements weren't the only way I whiled away the hours before the adventure charter. We had a reunion with Eddie Wheatley of Harbour View Marina, on Tortola's East End. We cooked dinner with our old friend Thorpe Leeson, who splits his time between Newport, Rhode Island, and the Caribbean, aboard the Swan Apsara.

Then I got down to business and checked in with Pat Nolan, of Sistership Sailing School (

Pat, who uses the American Sailing Association curriculum, helps her students prepare for chartering by teaching them aboard Seabiscuit, a Beneteau 44.5. She's a skilled racer and sailor herself, has been in the business for decades in the Caribbean, and specializes in teaching couples, families, and women-only groups. "People come here hoping to bareboat charter on boats just like this," she told me. "It's fabulous here. It's the best way to learn."

Among the advantages of students taking courses here, Pat says, is the opportunity to gain familiarity with the exact cruising grounds where they plan to charter.
"They learn to read the depths of water by seeing the color, boat traffic, and the likely weather conditions, especially the trade winds," she said. "Working together, they develop respect for each other and work as a team. It helps them turn their future charter experience into a safe and fun one." Read more about first-time bareboat chartering in the "White Knucklers File," in the February issue of CW.