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.