Basking in the British Virgins: February 25 2011
The British Virgin Islands are comprised of two main islands (Tortola and Virgin Gorda), six lesser islands (Norman, Cooper, Peter, Ginger, Jost Van Dyke and Anegada) and cays, inlets and rocks strewn amongst them all. Despite the quantity of islands they are remarkably compact with nearly any distance covered in no more than half-a-day. Islands are green covered hills fringed by white sand beaches, mangroves or craggy rock formations. Animal life thrives in the air and beneath the sea. Frigate birds, pelicans and reef herons swoop and swish overhead while turtles, reef fish and corals densely populate the waters. Sparse human population in the BVIs is in direct contrast to St. Thomas of the USVI which is lit up like the Disneyland light parade...nice twinkling but we are happy to keep it at a distance for now.
The islands were originally settled by Amerindians such as the Cibony, Arawak and Caribs. Historically, the BVIs were described as "the place on the way to everywhere" for both military and trading purposes: Spaniards sailed through carrying Central and South American bullion; America, England, Denmark, France and Holland all wanted strategic outposts; pirates such as Henry Morgan and Sir John Hawkins plied the waters (as late as 1869); sugar cane/rum, cotton and spices were exported worldwide (rum triangle)...all the while warm temperatures defined the climate. The warm temperatures are what drew our east coast visitors...escaping an especially bitter Boston winter. Our initial reconnaissance was done and it was time to head to the airport at Beef Island, east of Tortola. We took a $25 mooring ball in Trellis Bay...no room left to anchor happily...but the convenience could not be beat. It was a speedy 5 minute dinghy followed by a 5 minute walk to the terminal (Feb 15). Hugh and Beth arrived just in time for sundowners and a gorgeous orange sunset. Welcome to the BVIs! Winds are forecast to be pretty light which means we have tons of itinerary options.
Jet lag is minimal from the east coast with only one hour time difference. Therefore, Hugh and Beth hit the ground running the next morning as we dropped the mooring ball at Trellis Bay and moved to Biras Creek on Virgin Gorda (Feb 16). Virgin Gorda (fat virgin) got its name from Columbus who thought the island resembled a reclining woman with a protruding belly...hhhmmm, whatever you say CC. We geared up and headed into Eustatia Sound for some snorkeling. Purple sea fans fluttered and a few shells were spotted like treasures at an Easter egg hunt. Shallow conditions allowed kinks to be worked out of equipment as a decidedly summertime activity replaced the snow shoveling and icy acrobatics of winter.
Later we made use of the calm conditions with a motor to Norman Island (Feb 17). We made a drive-by at the Baths but did not swim due to strong surge...clearly telegraphed by flying yellow caution flags. The Baths are a must-see stop on Virgin Gorda; a naturally formed labyrinth of crystal clear pools created by boulders the size of cars and small houses that have been tossed helter-skelter. Light filters in through the rocks and adds to the beauty. Hopefully, we will be able to swim them at a later time. We continued to our anchorage at The Bight on Norman Island located on the southern edge of the Sir Francis Drake Channel. There is wonderful snorkeling nearby but there is also Willy T's. Willy T's is a floating restaurant named for the architect of the U.S. Capital building (William Thornton). Evenings at Willy T's are legendary and often culminate in naked leaps for a free t-shirt from the top deck of the topsail lumber schooner (okay, only women get the free t-shirts...men jump naked...hhhmmm...just for the fun of it). We did not stay THAT late into the evening but enjoyed our dinner of burgers and fried chicken...and organized a morning snorkel with fellow cruisers s/v Interlude and their guests.
Snorkeling the nearby Indians was next on our agenda (Feb 18). The spot is approximately half-a-mile north of Norman Island with rock mounts breaking the surface as well as lying just below the surface...surrounded by deeper trenches. Coral and fish abound. We went over with Kurt and Katie of s/v Interlude plus guests (also escaping winter chills...of Vancouver) for safety in numbers due to the distance in case either dinghy had trouble. Wow, what amazing stag horn coral with swarming fish that are completely oblivious to us. It was a great snorkel! But drat, our dinghy propeller spluttered...not died but spluttered. It looks like the rubber bushing is shredded and the propeller needs to be replaced. After returning to the boat we dialed for dollars and found a replacement propeller at Tradewind Yachting Services located in Fish Bay, Tortola (www.tradewindsbvi.com, ph.284.494.3154). Holy cow, an effortless anchor and dinghy had us back in business...and on time for our lunch date aboard s/v Interlude in Soper's Hole...hot coconut pie in hand. Hugh and Beth must be our good luck charms because boat repairs are never solved this easily. Do they have to go home?
It is fun to have a gang of friends and we eight continued ashore after lunch in search of a cab and the full moon party at Bomba's Shack near Cane Garden Bay. The name is accurate...literally random boards, driftwood and tin stitched together at the edge of the sea. Twinkle lights and under garments stapled to anything that appears structural rounded out the decorating style. Rum drinks flowed but the real action started when the mushroom tea came out. That was our cue to head home. We had a great time and are certain that at least a few tall tales will be told tomorrow; tee, hee, hee.
After a stop at the well stocked Harbor Supermarket we pulled up the anchor from Soper's Hole and headed north to the island of Jost Van Dyke (Feb 19). The island is relatively unspoiled, even by BVI standards, with a population of approximately 225 people. Roads are paved donkey-track paths that zig zag across the island...but, surprisingly, they have a customs and immigration office for country check-in/out. White Bay is named for its lovely strip of white sand beach located on the southern side of the island. Mooring balls have been installed since the small bay has little swing room for anchoring due to coral reefs. A mooring ball was fine for us and we headed ashore. Walking along the beach we saw a meandering road that looked destined for the top of a hill. This gave us a plan to stretch our legs. The incline was nearly vertical but the panoramic views were spectacular. We were joined periodically on the walk by families of goats but not a single car or person. Back down on the beach we settled into a shaded seat at the Soggy Dollar Bar (www.soggydollar.com). The laid back spot was easy to while away an afternoon...especially with their signature rum cocktail, the Painkiller. It is a delicious concoction of dark rum, cream of coconut, pineapple juice and orange juice served over ice and topped with freshly grated nutmeg. Yum! Back aboard Barefeet we feasted on Erin's Caesar Pork Tenderloin roast with asparagus and feta mashed potatoes.
The morning brought a rolly sea which meant it was time for us to move on...but not far. No more than a two mile hop and we were anchored in Great Harbour of Jost Van Dyke...the largest settlement on the island (Feb 20). The harbor is large, normally sheltered and embraced by 1000 foot high peaks...plus, it's home to Foxy's bar and restaurant. We relaxed with sand between our toes gazing out to the anchorage past a palm lined shore...ahhh. Tonight was another dinner aboard Barefeet...this time it was Chris' chicken tikka masala over rice....seconds are obligatory. The next morning was an early start back to Soper's Hole followed by a cab to the airport so that Beth could get back to Boston (Feb 21). We had a great time but do not know where the time went? It feels like she just arrived yesterday.
The choice to make the airport connection from Soper's Hole was because the wind had piped up...making a run to the airport itself NO fun. As it was we had a pretty bumpy ride as we hugged the shore for as much protection as possible. Oh, what's that alarm on the starboard engine?! Shut it down and investigate...aaaggghhh...a shredded alternator/water pump belt. We have a spare but making the change on the lumpy seas was not a desired activity...and the port engine will get us there just fine. Our foursome became three and Hugh felt a bit like the cat that swallowed the canary since he had three more days of sunshine....not snow like Beth. Initial plans were to anchor in Great Harbour of Peter Island (Feb 22). Unfortunately, gusty wind and tight anchoring convinced us to return to The Bight of neighboring Norman Island...not second best with Willy T's, snorkeling and protection from the wind.
Chris' Chicken Tikka Masala: 3 Tablespoons tikka masala spice (recipe
follows); 2 medium onions, roughly chopped; 1 yellow bell pepper, roughly
chopped; 1 orange bell pepper, roughly chopped; juice of half-a-lemon; 1.5 inch
ginger, roughly chopped; 6-7 cloves garlic, roughly chopped; 1/2 to 1 cup veggie
oil; 1 can tomato puree or chopped tomatoes; 1 Tablespoon tomato paste; 1/4 cup
water; 28 oz. thick yogurt; 2-4 half skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cubed.
Tikka Masala Spice Mix: 1.5 teaspoons cinnamon; 1/4 teaspoon turmeric; 3
teaspoons garam masala (recipe follows); 1 teaspoon ground coriander; 1 1/4
teaspoon salt; 1/4 teaspoon cardamom; 1 teaspoon cumin; 1 Tablespoons hot
paprika; 1/2 teaspoon cayenne. Garam Masala: 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon;
1 teaspoon cloves; 1 Tablespoon cardamom; 1 teaspoon black pepper; 1/3 teaspoon
nutmeg. 1) Heat oil and fry chopped onion, garlic, bell peppers and ginger
in a high sided sauté-type pan. 2) Lower temperature and add tikka masala
spice mix; fry well for 2 minutes. 3) Add tomato paste, can tomato, water,
lemon juice and salt; simmer15 minutes. 4) Puree sauce in a blender (or
with blender stick in pan) then return to sauté pan. 5) Add chicken and
seal well. 6) Add yogurt and simmer a few minutes. 7) Serve over
rice; garnish with chopped cilantro.
Norman Island is often called Treasure Island due to several stories of buried pirate treasure...and...it is believed to be the island that Robert Louis Stevenson had in mind when he wrote Treasure Island. As recently as 1972 a gold doubloon was supposedly found in one of the island's caves...keeping the myths alive. We did not think we would be lucky enough to find treasure but we did dinghy out to Treasure Point for a snorkel along the shore and into three caves (Feb 23). The fish were abundant and swam eye to eye with us...amazing. None too big but wonderfully colorful like parrotfish, sergeant fish and butterfly fish. Well, that was the activity for the day. Remaining time was spent reading and napping before a farewell dinner aboard Willy T's. It was sundowners on the top deck (sorry, no jumps from us) with music and dancing on the lower deck. As soon as the kitchen opened at 6.30pm it was as if a dinner bell had been rung. Dinghies piled onto the dock with trestle tables filled to capacity. It was a great send off for Hugh and we will miss his humor and shutterbug contributions. The anchor was up by 8am as we headed back to Beef Island (Feb 24). Northerly winds were at 18 knots nearly on the nose which meant no sailing but we had been to our anchorage before and easily tied to a mooring...under the watchful eye of a cheeky turtle. We walked Hugh to the terminal and were off to a more protected spot along the southern coast of Tortola. We tucked in behind Buck Island where views stretched out across the channel providing a grand vista.
We will continue west along Tortola and back to Soper's Hole where we will rendezvous with Erin's parents on Feb 27. We are getting the hang of this tour guiding stuff...the more the merrier!