Sunday, March 19, 2006

2006: British Virgin Islands

2 crew return to the British Virgins, while 8 more experience it for the first time

We were looking to get a large group and charter two boats again for this return to the quintessential cruising grounds. Instead, with only ten sailors confirmed and no more prospects in sight, we rented a five cabin Gib'Sea 51 and firmed up the reservations.
We met in Chicago at a park-n-fly on Wed night, once again, an opportunity to start vacation one night early and keep the next day a bit shorter. AA flights were good, although apparently some of the food in the San Juan airport wasn't - more on that later.
Entrepenuers have taken hold in the BVIs, as evidenced by the fact that Dawn didn't have to haul groceries for 10 people back in a taxi. With a menu in Word, a shopping list in Excel, and an e-mail we got our groceries delivered right to the boat, with a case of beer pre-chilled. We got one round of beer from the marina store to tide us over until said case arrived...if we'd remembered about island time, we might have bought a few more before the store closed since the delivery wasn't exactly prompt.
Anyway, after stowing the groceries we headed out to Fat Hog Bob's for more drinks and a great dinner, then back to the marina for our first night aboard "Nimba".
Friday morning was sunny and warm. After showers at the marina and a chart briefing, we loaded the scuba tanks and kayak and were underway. We hoisted the sails for a leisurely sail down the Sir Francis Drake channel, then south of Peter Island before tacking back to Norman Island. We took a mooring ball at the caves, and enjoyed the snorkeling and swimming.

Saturday we dropped the mooring to head over to the Indians, where several of us took our first dive, and the rest enjoyed some more spectacular snorkeling. At the end of our first full day on the water, we headed over to a secluded cove on Peter Island and enjoyed dinner onboard.
Our second dive took place the next morning, as we rounded Peter Island once again to the shallows near Salt Island, site of the famous wreck of the Rhone. We took off in small groups, and saw the entire wreck in the clear water, in addition to the lobster, parrotfish, squirrelfish, etc that abound on the site. I particularly enjoyed the midships portion, unseen on my last visit. After rejoining the snorklers on the boat, we headed for the Cooper Island Beach Club where we were able to pick up another mooring ball. There we ran into the "Deliverance", a floating mini-mart with more entrepeneurs bringing ice, fresh fruit, bread, and garbage removal. What service! Dinner at the Beach Club was good, even though we moved from our waterfront table to the back of the open restaurant as an evening rainshower started.

Monday morning, Corey revealed that he was still in gastronomic distress and ready to head back to the US for relief. Since Jim wasn't his usual "2 shows on Saturday" self, we deduced it must have been a bad burrito that they split in the airport on the way down. So, instead of exploring more of Cooper Island, we once again crossed the Francis Drake Channel, bound for Road Town and the infirmary. The shoppers got to see a bit of the tourist area, not too crowded as only 1 cruise ship was in. We picked up some gatorade and chicken soup for a reinvigorated Corey, and while he enjoyed his Cambells, we also ate dinner onboard in Road Town. Tuesday, with everyone feeling better, we headed to the Baths for some more snorkeling and exploring. Several of us took the entire route through the rocks to the remote beach, Benny even made it all the way around the beach for another photo!

After returning to the boat, we were met with silence while trying to start the engine. After calling in the issue, we tried not to let the troubleshooting interfere with coctail hour. Sunsail assistance arrived in a rubber dinghy quite soon, and got us on our way to Spanish Town for a berth in the marina, showers, and another great restaurant meal.

As most of us were rising the next morning, we found Corey packing as he was still not up to snuff. We saw him to the ferry back to the airport, and bid him farewell a few days ahead of us. After toppinng off the water tanks and checking out of the marina, we went to the Dogs for a dive. This group of islands has great reef and lots of fish, and lots of visitors. Linda even found a wallet from a gentleman from England who must have not noticed it squeezing out of a pocket as he sat on deck or went for a swim. After our dive, we went to Trellis Bay, home of the Last Resort. Some went to the bar for laughs and drinks, while others called it an early night.

Thursday found us diving again, after motoring out the pass between the Camanoe islands, we sailed for Anegada, but not without first stopping for an amazing dive on the Chikuzen,
in 80 feet of crystal clear water with huge cobia, passing eagle rays and reef shark, massive schools of fish and a snapping baracuda! After a great sail and dive, Anegada did not disappoint with it's palm trees and clean sand setting off the turquoise water. Dinner at Potter's Place was pulled from the ocean as we ordered, and cooked on grills 20 feet from the table before serving us the succulent lobster, shrimp, and fish.

Reluctantly, we left on Friday morning and sailed back towards Virgin Gorda with Irish drinking songs for a soundtrack. Yep St Paddys had arrived in the BVIs! We made a pit stop in the north sound for shopping and tank refills at the Pussers there. We couldn't resist the Dogs for another dive on the way back towards Tortola, and then we headed into Marina Cay and anchored for the evening.
Saturday found us returning to the Dogs for our final dive at Bronco Billy's, an aptly named site with swell, surge, current, and a nice rock arch that Rich got a photo of.

Back aboard, we headed down the length of the Sir Francis Drake channel to the other end of Tortola, to Soper's Hole, a spot we missed the first time around. It's a nice place with shops and relatively lush, mountainous scenery. Our final evening meal was onboard, before motoring back to Hodges Creek Marina and turning the boat back over to Sunsail. Nobody ate local food in the airports on the way back! We returned to Chicago late Sunday after another fulfilling trip.

Monday, May 30, 2005

2005: Martinique & Saint Lucia

Getting to the windwards was a bit more involved than our previous trips. After much searching, it looked like the best way was to layover on St Lucia enroute. We extended the trip to 10 days to allow for the extra travel time. The night before we left, Air Jamaica threw us a wrench by cancelling their flight and putting the group on two different AA flights. Mel and Laurie took the early flight, while the rest of us waited for an airport restaurant to open. After meeting back up in St Lucia, we discovered the advance party had done a bangup job, securing a taxi service and two hotel rooms near the airport. There weren't any open restaurants, but we had enough snacks to feed a small third world nation, so we got by. The next morning we left in a puff of blue smoke and hopped the flight to Martinique. Two taxis later, we were in Le Marin at the Moorings base. We created enough noise and confusion they let us go early and we took "Fabi" out of the warm, still harbor to the offshore breezes at the anchorage in Saint Anne. Rich, armed with "plongee=scuba" for translation, had secured the services of a dive operator for the next morning, so Saturday morning we did a single tank dive outside Saint Anne off Pointe Borgnesse. Luckily the divemasters' English was better than our French, and we enjoyed the dive, as well as the swimming and snorkeling in the clear water off Ste Anne. The next morning brought a sail past Diamond Rock on the way up to Anse Mitan, where we enjoyed exploring the city and a dinner at Fanny's (but not the white rum punch). Monday we were off to St Pierre. Past the fish farm and continuing up the coast with a little diesel wind, we finally got a fresh breeze just before getting to St Pierre, so we tacked back and forth across the harbor before setting the anchor and heading in for some sightseeing and dinner. Tuesday morning we saw someone on a surfboard heading towards a dive boat anchored nearby, so a quick intercept in the dinghy set up a wreck dive on two wrecks right in St Pierre harbor, one from the turn of the century volcanic eruption of Mt Peleu. We re-provisioned in the afternoon, then set out early on Wednesday for St Lucia, making Rodney Bay before sunset. We dinghied through the harbor to tie up at a recommended restaurant, only to find it full and the owner sending us to his other restaurant a block away.

Thursday we headed for the Moorings base in Marigot Bay to refill the water tanks and get some charcoal to go with our starter, and got our introduction to the famous Windward Island boat boys. This one's name was Tiko, although I wouldn't call him a boy. While I cleared customs and Tiko cleaned a new dinghy for us, the ladies returned with charcoal and rum punch. With Tiko never far away, we continued to Soufriere in the shadow of the Pitons and moored (with Tiko's help, of course) in the marine park. Rich set up a dive for the next morning, and we swam and snorkeled the afternoon away. The ribs enjoyed our new found charcoal and we enjoyed a great dinner onboard. Friday after our dive we returned to Rodney Bay to anchor off the beach and dine at another restaurant.

Saturday was a great close hauled trip back to Ste Anne, where we had our final swim before returning Fabi to the dock. Our final dinner was in town at a restaurant over the water, and then we packed for the Sunday flight back to Chicago. Little did we know it would take 14 hours, a cab ride across St Lucia, and 4 separate airlines before we would unite at the transportation center! No more Air Jamaica for BBS, we're sticking to American...since only 2 of the current crew had been on the original 1999 trip, we decided on a return to the British Virgin Islands for 2006. The adventure continues!

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

2004: Antigua & Barbuda

2004 found our group ready to go again, moving down the Leeward Island group to Antigua. Don R was already booked on a vacation, so Melanie joined the rest of the 2003 crew to round out our eight. It was our first foray into a multi-hull boat. Sunsail was running a discount on boats under a certain size, and the only 4 cabin boat was the Lagoon 380, so we went for it.

We stayed in a park & fly hotel in Chicago, and the flight to Antigua was uneventful. We split at the airport with half of us heading towards the boat at Nelson's Dockyard, and the others going to provision at the grocery store near the airport. The Dockyard was a great place to start, with bars, restaurants, and stores nearby. The only problem we had was locating a scuba shop willing to let us rent gear for the week. We finally decided to shove off without gear. In heavy seas and winds, we did a Sunday afternoon shakedown cruise on our Lagoon 380 Tirnanog, I'll call it the "Sloppy Joe Shakedown" and say only that rookie Melanie earned her stripes that afternoon. After cleaning up the boat, we pulled back in to head to the "jumpup" at Shirley Heights. Despite some folks who hadn't quite recovered, we had a great evening listening to the steel drum band and eating barbeque. The view from the bluff of both the sunset and English Harbor was outstanding.

From the cruising guide, I had planned a clockwise trip. Based on the recommendations of the base staff, we changed that to counterclockwise. We headed out on Monday a bit late due to the aforementioned scuba equipment search, but pulled into Nonsuch Bay in the lee of Green Island and the reef creating the bay and anchored with plenty of daylight left. After some of Dawn's monster chef salads, out came the kayaks and snorkel gear, and we had a great afternoon.

Tuesday we set sail for Barbuda, and enjoyed a full day of sailing along with a whale sighting. The snorkeling wasn't good, but the crew had fun swimming, kayaking, and walking along the beach. The sand was indeed pink! A very scenic and remote area to relax. Wednesday we had a good reach back to Antigua and Dickenson Bay, where we snorkeled at Prickly Pear Island before anchoring at the north end of the bay. We did some provisioning and got in a single tank dive on a shallow wreck, with the snorkelers above us. I seem to remember a can of alpo and some key searching. Entertainment for some diners at the restaurant seems to come to mind also.

Thursday we set out late for Jolly Harbor. Our first night in we settled for a spot in the outer harbor as there was a sizeable contingent already in port. The next day we hailed the local dive shop on the bridge-to-bridge and set up a 2 tank dive with them on the reef. Upon returning, we moved the boat onto a mooring in the inner harbor, and then we dingied to a shower at the marina and a lively dinner in the harbor restaurant.

Saturday was a sail back around the reef to English Harbor, and a return to Nelson's Dockyard. We were looking forward to another shower ashore as water on the boat was running low, only to find out that they had no power or water. A quick trip across the harbor to the fuel pier yielded a tank of water and showers onboard. Dinner was back at the beach bar, resulting in some curry, a few recipies and a few more Wadadli before our time in this piece of paradise came to an end.

Pros & Cons on the boat: I think everyone liked the room in the cockpit and the upper saloon, especially with the standard door refrigerator.

Turns out that despite no heeling, the motion of the cat wasn't all that friendly to those with weak stomachs (or it could have been the sloppy joes). And, the bow nets weren't all that comfortable after a while.

Manuvering at the helm was a cinch with the twin engines, it brought back nostalgic thoughts of my time on a LST. The helm location took the helmsman out of the conversation zone on deck, though. The shorter hull length counteracted the planing speed of the cat to yield trip speeds comparable to the larger monohulls.

End result: everyone voted for a monohull in 2005.

Sunday, March 30, 2003

2003: St Martin

The weather turned cold, and the e-mails started arriving: Where are we going this year? Never one to disappoint, I made a few phone calls and found out when and where boats were available. One of the choices was during Cathie & Bob's wedding, so that settled it: March 15th. We lost Don W to a St. Patrick's Day gig, but filled a Beneteau 505 with the 8 of us: Rich & Kim joined the crew with Beth, Corey, Dawn, Don R, and Jim returning.

We picked up the boat in Oyster Pond from Sunsail, and after provisioning we sent Kim and Beth in a taxi to do their Open Water scuba referral to Phillipsburg. After the orientation on Titouan, we sailed down the coast to meet them there.

On Monday Jim, Rich and I joined them on the dive boat while they finished their final two checkout dives (and learned it's much nicer below the surface than on it in a small dive boat). I also learned why the locals don't eat snapper.

We celebrated the evening decked out in proper St Patrick's Day fashion.

Tuesday we set out for Marigot, a nice sail and a great little town to explore. After a quick reprovision and some sandwiches, we scoured the open air market before returning to the boat.

Wednesday we set sail for the relatively long trip to Road Bay on Anguilla, where we cleared customs and paid for a stay in the marine park. There were some nice beach bars there in the bay. While visiting one, Don helped serve as an international ambassador, where we were warmly embraced by a cruising French cow farmer when the language gap was bridged and he realized we were also from cow country.

Thursday brought a trip to Dog Island, for beautiful scenery and a great reef dive off the sailboat. Too bad we couldn't eat the - how big was it, Jim? German Shepard sized? - lobster seen by Jim and Corey. With lobster firmly imprinted on Corey's brain now, we returned to Road Bay after a final snorkel in the marine park, only to find that the cruise ship we saw departing the harbor had departed with a significant portion of the local lobster in the cruiser's bellies. Undeterred, Corey wandered the beach and found the last few remaining crustaceans for our consumption.

Friday we intended to sail to St Barts, but after an hour where we went about one mile, we had to fire up the diesel wind to make it in time to clear customs. Any chance of mooring to the quay wall was dispelled when we saw the size of the yachts already there, we could have been hoisted aboard some of them! We settled for pulling into the ferry spot to take on water, and then anchored in the outer harbor.

Keen senses woke up several of us in the middle of the night as we heard the wind come up. Although we were securely anchored, we watched as another boat drifted by, reminding us of the importance of enough chain scope. Morning came clear, and French pastries for breakfast went over well as we headed for another great scuba spot, Ile Fourche.

We did a double anchor in close, and then suited up for a foray into what was advertised as formidable current. The reef was very pretty, and the current not so formidable! A nice dive, followed by a nice sail back to St Martin. We pulled into Orient Bay, to find the anchorage in the lee of the reef a bit rolly. Undeterred, we snorkeled, ate our last dinner aboard (with all you can eat rice!) before returning the next morning to Oyster Pond, the airport, Chicago, and home.

Wednesday, May 30, 2001

2001: Spanish Virgin Islands

Spanish Virgin Islands? Not quite as famous as their American and British sisters. Sure, you've heard of Puerto Rico, but haven't heard of Vieques unless you follow the news about the former US Navy bombing range on the island. OK, I admit I wouldn't have heard of it if I hadn't been in the Navy. Even though the sailboat lacked naval artillery for me to be able to shell the beach, I had just read an article in Men's Journal on Culebrita that sounded pretty good. And, the opportunity to save a few pennies by shopping on base in Puerto Rico sold me on this trip. Don W agreed to skipper again, so we planned on two boats and sent out the word through MHA. Dawn and Don R signed up again quickly, and the rest came along by association: Mary and Karen N on Don's boat, Beth on mine. Jim got tired of listening to us at the FACs and joined up, along with Corey, Karen H and her friend Ron. We thought we were leaving with 11 when Susan B joined MHA, heard of the trip, and signed up for it as her first event.

We flew into San Juan and were provided rental vans to head to Marina Del Ray on the east coast. We went to the marina and checked in, then I snuck my "sisters" Dawn and Karen N into the commissary and package goods store on base to provision. We packed it all into our Sun-Odyssey 42's Blackbird and Bloody Mary.

Monday was underway to the Palominitos, a quick shakedown sail. Lots of time to spend in the water...
Tuesday got off to a rocky start as BBS nearly lost the jib fairlead block during a tack because the stopper broke. Coupled with a kayak overboard and a bowline knot that slipped, it was a good drill (more like a chinese fire drill) for the crew. After retrieving the kayak and relaying to base through Don's boat since our radio didn't reach, the repair boat came out with the ice that Don requested but no new block or stopper. We settled for tying off the block and got underway for Culebra.

Seas were out of the southeast, the direction we were heading, and the roughest we'd seen to date, about 2 feet. We sailed upwind well, but due to the late start wound up pulling in to Luis Pena with very little light left, and picked up a mooring ball there. A great morning swim & snorkel, then off to Ensenata Honda and Dewey, the major town on Culebra (at least by Culebra standards).

Wednesday night was dinner at the Dinghy Dock, about the only restaurant we found. Dewey harbor didn't look too great for swimming, so Thursday we headed back out to a recommended area for snorkeling just west of the lighthouse on Culebrita. The seas were running hard and I was worried about the anchor holding, so I stayed onboard to plan out a course of action. Nobody seemed too keen on taking the seas on the beam for a long sail to Vieques, so we decided to stay local and went around to the north of Culebrita to enter the beautiful half moon bay that lays well protected there. With the seas running from the SE, we didn't have any problem getting into the bay and the water was glassy as we entered. Turtles popped their heads up to watch us, and their tracks were still in the sand on the beach. This is BBS territory...

Friday we went back to Dewey for more ice, booze and some food. Jim, Don & I rented scuba gear and got a nice shore dive in on the reef along the west coast of Culebra. We originally anchored to the north of Luis Pena, but returned to the mooring balls to the west after Don had trouble holding. Saturday Jim & I used our second tank diving under the boat and along the reef in the bay with the snorkelers around us, then returned the gear and headed back to Isla Palominitos for a last swim before pulling back in to the marina.
We had a great group dinner ashore before packing up and catching a few hours sleep. Sun brought an early departure to return to San Juan airport for the flight back to Chicago, and a return to reality.

Sunday, May 30, 1999

1999: British Virgin Islands

The dream begins...

The story begins in 1998 on a ski trip to Rib Mountain. I was a member of a singles event club called Mile High Adventures (MHA), and was telling the event coordinator Herb about a service I had heard about from a friend: companies that rent sailboats like cars, without a crew. It was called bareboating, and I was trying to talk Herb into setting up a trip as an event. As we settled into dinner, another member with white hair and a beard said "Herb- we should go bareboating!". Herb introduced me to Don and we conspired to set up the first MHA bareboat trip. I got a half page ad into the D&D (monthly magazine of events) and Don and I started recruiting. Don R signed up right away, and another sailor I had met, Jenny. Susan was onboard, and soon Marcie, Ron, Dawn, Dan, and Allyson were also onboard. Susan recruited her friends Malcolm and Cristina, and I settled on two 3-cabin boats then called the trip closed.

The trip took long enough to fill that we couldn't get AA or USAir into Tortola, so we booked to San Juan and then hopped into charter Cesnas for the short trip to Beef Island airport. After a open taxi to town, we got settled into "Chateau", our Beneteau 445, and Don's crew did the same in "Fascination", then we provisioned and rented scuba gear right in Road Town.

Sunday we set sail for the south of Peter Island, where we grilled out on the beach. Monday we headed to Salt Cay and the wreck of the Rhone for our first dive. We picked up a bouy for the night, and set out the next morning for Virgin Gorda. After a swim, some exploring, and a beer at the Baths, we decided to pull in to the marina at Spanish Town. We walked to a group dinner, and Wednesday morning sailed for the North Sound. After visiting the Pussers and exploring, our first light rainfall sent us to the cabin for a few hands of cards. Thursday came clear and bright, and while Don W's boat did some parasailing, BBS went east past Necker Island for some great ocean sailing. We turned around for some snorkeling at the Dogs, before catching up with Fascination on the way in to Trellis Bay.

The evening was spent laughing and singing with the entertainment at The Last Resort. Friday was our second dive on a shallow reef at Marina Cay, then around the east end of Tortola for a swim at Sandy Cay before pulling into the famous Foxy's on Jost Van Dyke. The Friday night barbeque was outstanding! Saturday took us down the channel between Tortola and St John's to visit Norman Island and the Indians for a last snorkel. We were able to buzz the beach at Peter Island on the way back to Road Town, entering the harbor with Jimmy Buffett's "Lovely Cruise" playing and the sun setting in the West. Shrimp on the barbie and chocolate stuffed bananas were the final meal in paradise before the flight back on Sunday.

This was the most fantastic, relaxing, exciting, wonderful vacation I had ever been on. It left me wanting more...