"Let's go sailing! Hey Dad, Keith wants to going sailing in the British Virgin Islands for his 40th birthday - would you like to join us and be our skipper?" Didn't take me long to say "absolutely" and start doing some research on sailboats and sailboat charter companies in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). I talked to lots of friends who had been recently, spent several hours Googling and browsing websites, and finally settled on chartering a 44' Fountaine Pajot Helia catamaran called Mon Amie from BVI Yacht Charters in Road Town Tortola. Now I'm really excited and ready to go.
It's hard to beat a sailing vacation in the British Virgin Islands:
We picked the Mon Amie because it had 3 cabins, 3 heads, a generator and air conditioning; a large galley and living area with wrap around windows providing a superb panoramic view, a modern two drawer stainless steel refrigerator, a freezer, three burner stove & oven, microwave; a cockpit with a table and seating for 8, an ice maker, gas BBQ grill, davit winch for the dingy, and easy access to the water; a dingy with room for 8; a raised helm station with excellent visibility and easy access from the cockpit and side deck . The helm seat had room for 3 plus next to the seat were cushions for two for sunbathing or naps - all under the large bimini cover - I never got lonely as the skipper! The bow chairs were a fun addition and the trampoline between the bow was perfect for the kids and adults. I also loved the electric wenches, the windless for the anchor, and the GPS and auto pilot - no pain.
We (my daughter, her husband, and their 3 kids - 5, 8, and 11, my brother, and the wife and I) flew into St Thomas from Austin, hopped in a taxi who dropped us off for drink and some food at the ferry dock, and then we boarded the ferry from St Thomas to Road Town Tortola. We checked out the boat and loaded most of our gear on board then walked across the street to a supermarket to buy 5 days of groceries and lots of beer and liquor for our "drinks of the day" and then loaded them on board the boat. A mediocre dinner was followed by dropping off my wife and I to sleep aboard the boat while the rest of the group spent the night at a nearby hotel.
I was impressed by the efficiency of BVI Yacht Charters in getting all the paperwork done and us checked out on the operation of the boat early the next morning. Even though I raced Hobie Cats for 8 years, have sailed on big boats in the San Francisco Bay, have owned ski boats and rented 50' houseboats, and have bareboated 3 times before in the BVI, I was told that because we hadn't sailed recently the insurance company required us to take a captain for a day to check us out and test our skills. Our captain boarded around 10 and said "let's go." I said "ok, you take the helm and I'll watch." "Nope, you can do it." That's when I started shaking and thinking of excuses. I had no idea how the boat handled, much less how to start it and maneuver a 44' long and 24' wide catamaran out of the berth and miss the rocky and shallow shoreline which seemed two feet away. We made it and then the captain says 'I've got to test you and your crews skills at docking, backing into a slip, anchoring, sailing and navigating, and picking up a mooring ball. Pass all of that and you can drop me off at the dock and be on your way." Now I'm really shaking and my crew started shaking also! We may end up with a captain for a whole week! Long story short, it took multiple tries on each one of the tests, but we finally got it right, felt more confident, stopped shaking, and asked for a drink! We dropped the captain on the dock and set off for 6 days and 5 nights of fun in the BVI.
I had meticulously planned our itinerary as well as our meals (6 breakfasts, 3 lunches, and 3 dinners on board) as well as appetizers and the drink of the day - but of course we never followed the plan, except for the drink of the day. After we passed the test we set sail for our first stop - Cooper Island and the Cooper Island Yacht Club for the first of many of the BVI's infamous drinks like Pain Killers (2 ounces Pusser’s Rum, 4 ounces pineapple juice, 1 ounces orange juice, 1 ounces cream of coconut, and freshly grated nutmeg - wow) or Bushwackers (4 ounces cream of coconut, 2 ounces coffee liqueur like Kahlua, 1 ounce black rum, 1 ounce Creme de Cacao, 4 ounces half-and-half, and optionally 4 ounces vanilla ice cream) or Lime In De Coconut (1 ounce dark rum, 4 ounce coconut rum, 2 lime wedges with peel on, 2 ounce Coco Lopez, 4 ounce Rose's Lime Juice) - all of which were outstanding. After 3 attempts to catch a mooring ball on Cooper Island, we finally got it, secured the boat, dove in the clear blue water, snorkeled for a while, and then took the dingy over to the bar and beach at Cooper Island Yacht Club. What an outstanding first stop - the beach was perfect, the bar and restaurant were great, and there was also a small rum bar, boutique, coffee shop, and a micro brewery. The snorkeling was pretty good.
Each day of our trip started off pretty similar to the previous except that we were at a different and very beautiful location. We would typically get up early, enjoy a breakfast and a morning snorkel or swim, set off for our next destination, stop for a snorkel somewhere along the way, and try to get to our next mooring ball by 2 or 3 in the afternoon. And at each beach our oldest grandson had to try a back flip, while youngest one built sand castles, and the adults enjoyed the bars!
Our second stop was at the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbor on Virgin Gorda. I got pretty nervous coming in when I saw all the big cats had backed into their slip! We got lucky when we were told we could stay tied up along one of the long docks - coming into the dock I had a very negative vision of driving one of the hulls through the dock, knocking the dock mate into the water, and spilling my the drink of the day! But we made a miraculous landing with just a minor bump on the bow of the cat and got a congratulations from the dock mate.
We had decided to stay in the Yacht Harbor so we would have a full day at the BVI's most famous tourist attraction - the Baths - and then dinner at one of the most highly recommended restaurants, the Asian Fusion Coco Maya restaurant. The Baths were formed by granite eroding into huge boulders on the beach which formed natural tidal pools with lots of fish, tunnels, arches, and scenic grottoes that are open to the sea. It's a blast climbing over, under, and around the boulders, snorkeling the clear blue water, and carving your trail through the rocks. The Top of the Baths, which as the name implies is at the top of the trail leading down to the Baths, is perfect for drinks, appetizers, and a dip in their pool after the hike up the hill from the baths. We had an excellent dinner at Coco Maya - a beautiful open air restaurant over looking the ocean, fun waiters, and great service.
The next morning we restocked with some groceries and ice and set off for the North Sound of Virgin Gorda and the Bitter End Yacht Club. What a fun day we had here - dinghied over to some snorkeling, drinks and apps at San Saba Resort on a small rock island, racing hobie cats around the mooring balls, and a good dinner.
After a dip in the ocean, we set off early for Jost Van Dyke which is one of the most well known islands thanks to Soggy Dollar Bar and Foxy's Bar and beautiful white sandy beaches - which is exactly why we were headed there. By now we're getting good at grabbing mooring balls and within a couple minutes after we were attached we were in the water for a dip and snorkel. That was followed by a dingy ride to have a drink at Foxy's, make a reservation for the buffet dinner, and then take a 5 minute dingy ride around the corner to White Bay.
White Bay is beautiful - a horseshoe shaped bay with white fine sand, mountains surrounding the bay, perfectly clear turquoise water, and great people watching. Plus a row of fun bars like Soggy Dollar which invented the Painkiller. After a few hours at White Bay we were back in the dingy and at Foxy's for a huge buffet dinner of fresh fish, ribs, chicken, sausage, rice, beans, salad, and more followed by dancing in the sand.
We were a tad late getting going to our last nights mooring at Norman Island. First stop was a dingy over to The Caves for some snorkeling - The Caves are rumored to be home to hidden treasure but we came up dry. So we dinghied over to Pirates Bight to have some beach and bar time and a Bushwacker - they claim it was invented there.
Dinner was on the boat and then we dinged over to the always lively Willie Ts for drinks and to possible earn a free t-shirt if one of us was brave enough to jump naked off the top of the boat. The kids all jumped but the rest of our party kept our clothes on and egged others into jumping. A fun last day and night.
It was quiet and depressing the last morning as we undid our mooring and headed back to the end of a fantastic vacation.
Here is a video of White Bay that I found on the Internet. It'll give you a great idea on how beautiful Jost Van Dyke is and what fun place to spend a few hours. When we where there it wasn't nearly as crowded.