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Monday, December 31, 2018

Day 9: White Bay, Peter Island to Great Harbor, Peter Island

We got up to a very quiet morning, with no generators nearby to wake us up. We could hear crickets and birds from Peter Island, as well as a cat! I got out the paddleboard and got Bowen on it and we prepared to paddle to the beach, but on the way there, I knocked Bowen's hand with the paddle and the camera flew into the water. I swam after the camera but to no avail. I immediately restarted my Fenix to mark the location and paddled over to the boat to get Mark, as Arturo had gone snorkeling.

I was devastated, as I had neglected to  back up the superlative pictures from the day before, having only elected to pick a few to post on social media. In retrospect, I shouldn't have been so upset but at the time I was determined to find it. We strapped on our scuba gear with the last of our full dive tanks and used the Fenix to navigate back to my marker. I now know that we probably didn't visit the right location as I didn't really know how to use the device properly. But it wasn't a wasted dive, as we saw the giant nurse shark that Xiaoqin had spotted the day before. It was very well camouflaged on the sea floor against some canvas and dinghy ladder racks (quite possibly there was a pier on the island that got destroyed by the hurricane).

After we ran out of air, we went back to the boat, and got out the paddleboard and tried to find the camera but in vain. At 10:00am I declared the search a failure, just as a monohull pulled in to the Bay and set up anchor.

The night before, we had determined that we were out of food. So a night in Soldier Bay (which would have been quiet and isolated) was out of the question, as we would either have to reprovision (not worth it for such a short trip) or we'd have to stay somewhere with food. I'd previously radio'd the Deliverance but got no answer, and later found out that it was out of commission for the duration of our stay.

We motor'd out of White Bay, fully expecting to raise sails but upon exiting the Bay discovered that we were so close to Soldier Bay that by the time we got the sails up it would be time to take them down again, so we sailed to Soldier Bay, and got in some fantastic snorkeling, seeing some of the cuttlefish we'd seen last time, except in much larger numbers! Of course we had no pictures, having lost our underwater camera.

After eating the last of our food, highlighted by the fact that our lunch (frozen Pizza) was spoiled. We thought about how that could have happened and realized that it must have been spoiled before we'd gotten it onto the boat 10 days ago. We'd also had several loaves of bread spoil during the trip.

It was a nice easy sail to Great Harbor, where we got a mooring ball well away from the Wily T's, not willing to put up with loud music after the isolated, quiet night before. Arturo and I made a scouting trip to the Wily T's to pick up a menu and chat with the bar-tender, who told us: "No shirt, no shoes, no problem!" I took out the paddleboard and paddled around the harbor, graced by a rainbow.

Being on a paddleboard is like being on a bicycle. You can paddle up to nearly any boat and they will talk to you, so I took advantage of this. I first paddled up to Serenity Now, which had a Laser dinghy attached to it. The person who sailed the dinghy was a German expat now living on Costa Rica, but showed surprisingly little interest in the provisioning, only saying that he'd paid for it and had no idea how to dinghy came to be attached to the cat. Fortunately, the owner/master of the boat showed up, introduced himself, and told me that he'd had to go all the way to a resort in St. Thomas where he knew the manager, and persuaded her to rent him the dinghy for the duration of the German fellow's charter. Confidentially, he told me that the thing was a massive pain, as he had to demast it every night and haul the dinghy up onto the deck!

I then visited the Maverick, a Horizon Yacht Charters boat mastered by another German, along with his wife and daughter. They were on a long trip through the warm places of the Carribean, and were cheerful to chat about Hamburg and other places in Germany, also asking me about the diving in the area. Horizon didn't allow them to visit Anegada, and so they were curious about that as well.

I then visited a boat crewed by North Carolinas, and they told me that they also used to charter with Conch, but found a place 30% cheaper, called Captains Compass. They praised the owner's work ethic and said that he only had 5 boats, so we'd have to book early to get the discount. I would later work out that with the 10 for 7 deal, the discount over Conch was less than 10%, but for years when we couldn't get the discount they were definitely worth checking out.
It was Xiaoqin's birthday the next day, so we headed over to Wily T's exactly when the kitchen was opened for dinner and ordered a meal where everything was eaten, as there was nothing left on the boat to eat! The two boys of course ate up mommy' birthday cake, fighting over the Key Lime Pie as though it was the last dessert on earth! I'd last been on the Wily T's in 2008, 10 years ago, and it was a new boat in a new location. The bartender told me that the Bight on Norman island was now a much quieter place because the Wily T had moved here, but that this was a quiet night.

We had a short sail the next morning, but had to return the boat promptly, so the evening was spent packing up our stuff in readiness for our returning the boat.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Day 8: Cooper Island to White Bay, Peter Island

We woke up early in the morning and motor'd to Dead Chest before Arturo reminded me (kindly) that the Rhone was off Salt Island, not Dead Chest. This doubling back cost us an extra 20 minutes, but we were once again the first boat on the mooring balls, though another boat arrived and we moved our mooring after a snorkel check so as to have a shorter swim.
The 2 dives on the Rhone (with a surface interval during which I took Bowen snorkeling with warnings from Mark and Arturo not to do duck dives and free dives) were astonishingly good, with a giant reef shark that visited us on both dives, and plenty of wildlife to see, including a turtle!

After the dives, we ate lunch and then proceeded to motor to White Bay on Peter Island to see if it was worth an overnight. The chart briefing on Conch told us that it was a quiet place to spend the night, but the beach was marked as "off limits" because of the Peter Island resort. The wind was too light to sail, so we headed there purely on motor. Along the way, we looked for Carrot Shoal's dive balls in case there was diving, but it was very clear that those dive balls, like those at Lee Bay, had been swept away by the hurricanes and had not been replaced.

Indeed, the bay itself had buoys marking off the swimming area, but the next bay over which was still quite close, Welch Bay, was open. So we dropped anchor there in 15' of water, and then dove the anchor. Arturo said that the anchor wasn't quite dug in, so I dove the anchor, but by the time I'd got there the anchor had dug in. With a catamaran, 50' of chain was more than enough, as the weight of the chain kept the chain nearly horizontal at the shackle, which would end to keep the boat dug in. I was willing to add more chain, but on the catamaran it was a hassle: you'd have to raise the anchor, get the bridle off, let out more chain, and then put on the bridle. We'd already had several issues with the bridle, so we opted not to dick with it.

The snorkeling turned out to be quite good, given the small size of the reefs. Xiaoqin went out to the point and found a shark. We chilled for a bit and at 5:00pm, I got out the paddleboard and paddled to the beach with Xiaoqin, where after a couple of employees left, we got the beach all to ourselves. Along the way, we saw goats which we had heard from the beach!

The beach was superlative, with super  soft sand. It was quite clear that there used to be 4 gazebos on shore, but all but one had been destroyed by the hurricanes, and it was quite feasible that that one standing one had been restored prior to our arrival, along with the cordoning off of White Bay, which peeved me.

We took a few final sunset pictures and went back to the boat during the civil twilight.
That night, after dinner, the bay lit up with occasional flashes of bio-luminescence. Since we were the only boat in the Bay, there was no light pollution and no humming of generators to destroy the mood.  The star gazing was superlative, especially after we turned off all the lights in the boat except the floor lights, and I was astonished to find that after 8:30am with the pending moonrise, the light pollution from the moon was enough to destroy our stargazing.

This is the classic signature experience you can only have in the BVIs, where you can easily charter a sailboat and be the only boat in a Bay with everything to yourself. Those who travel to the area by cruise ship or on land resorts will never have this experience, and while I felt sorry for them, I was also happy that not too many people have discovered this lifestyle, as the last thing I wanted was for more neighbors in our little slice of heaven.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Day 7: Anegada to Cooper Island

We had a leisurely morning. Our goal was to make Cooper Island before the dive shop closed, so we could refill our tanks for the wreck of the Rhone. Interestingly enough, the wind had changed so we ended up sailing back towards Marina Cay into another headwind.
The passage was a lot calmer, and we took the time to stop in Cam Bay for a quick snorkel. This was a difficult anchorage to figure out,  but fortunately no one was there. After snorkeling, we discovered that we were meant to anchor behind the reef, and had in fact anchor'd in such a way as to block the entrance to the harbor! We quickly left the place and refilled our water at Marina Cay.

Departing Marina Cay, the wind was such that there was no point sailing: we'd be faster directly motoring to Cooper Island, and so we did, arriving at 2:00pm, plenty of time to refill the tanks. I got out the paddleboard and with Xiaoqin sitting on the fins, paddled out to cistern point and snorkeled there. Arturo and Mark joined us with the dinghy, doubtless thinking to provide us with backup, but we didn't need it, and paddleboarded back!

Paddleboarding was fun enough that others got into the act and tried it, and everyone could get onto the board, stand up, and paddle at least a few strokes within their first try, marking paddleboarding as an "easy" sport. I loved how easy it was to get it on and off the Catamaran, even single-handed, though having a helper made it super easy.  I do not think I will do another sail charter in the BVIs without also renting a paddleboard. Mark was surprised at how much I liked it: "You're usually more picky than I am," he remarked.

Sunset was gorgeous as usual, and we backed up all the photos from all the cameras onto Mark's Pixelbook that evening.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Day 6: Marina Cay to Anegada

We did the math the night before to compute the bearing to Anegada. It looked like coming out of Scrub island was a better point of sail despite a bit longer motoring, so at the crack of dawn we got up, moved the boat, and then setup the sail. The transit was a little rocky, but not bad. It was very strange to see the trees of Anegada pop up into view as we headed towards it.

We arrived at 10:00am, plenty of time to find a mooring ball (there were plenty), order the lobster dinner at the Anegada Reef Hotel, eat lunch, and then head onto land, bringing all our snorkel gear with us.
First stop, was to see the flamingos:
Then, we headed over to Loblolly beach, where the taxi driver told us he'd be there to pick us up at 5:00pm before the mosquitoes got really bad! This place was amazing, the complete opposite of Hawaii. We got the entire beach to ourselves for a 15 minute walk. It was uncrowded and beautiful.
The kids went for ice cream and lollipops, and we didn't deny them, after which Arturo, Mark and I went for a snorkel, which was also pretty amazing. We saw manta ray, jelly fish (which we were careful to avoid), and a huge ball of sardines that were being herded by a giant barracuda.

After we had dried off, we each had drinks at the bar, including the kids. And then we started getting a preview of what the night would bring, which was the mosquitoes/midges: too small to see yet irritating and would leave a rash on Xiaoqin's arms.

We went back to the boat to prepare for dinner, but just before dinner time, the bilge alarm went off and wouldn't shut up! We checked all the bilges and called Conch's technical support, but when it wasn't resolved by dinner time I sent Arturo with the family to shore for the lobster dinner and stayed on the boat while being on the phone with Conch. After passing through to 2nd level technical support, the conclusion was to just cut the wire to the speaker. We tried several places but eventually gave up on the speaker and just cut the wire from the starboard bilge float alarm. That done, Arturo picked me up just in time to help eat the lobster, which Bowen didn't like as much as he thought he liked.

It was Lobster Festival Night, which meant that the hotel had loud music playing the whole time. We made up our minds to now avoid any event with the word "festival" in it.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Day 5: Marina Cay

 Arturo had great memories of the Maze, a dive site in Lee Bay, and I remembered there was a mooring ball there, but when we got there there was no mooring ball! We ended up anchoring amongst the boats that had overnight there, and Arturo and Mark got into their snorkel gear to swim to the start while I got out the paddle board for more practice.

The night before at Marina Cay, I'd gotten out the paddleboard only to have to get rescued by the dinghy because the wind was blowing harder than I could paddle! This time in the morning in a quiet Bay, I discovered that in ideal conditions, the paddleboard was much faster than swimming or snorkeling, even with fins, and could take Bowen around the Bay before Arturo and Mark had finish exploring. This inspired Arturo and Xiaoqin to try it out as well.

By the time we'd done all that, the other boats had left the Bay, and I got in a bit of snorkeling with Xiaoqin before we left for Trellis Bay to reprovision for the Anegada trip.
Trellis Bay was one place where the devastation of the hurricanes that hit the BVI was still visible. All around the shore, we could see boats that had been pushed aground and destroyed but have not been recovered or salvaged yet. Upon visiting the Trellis Bay market in the dinghy, we discovered that not only was the market well equipped, it was also a short walk to the entrance to the airport!

We headed back to Marina Cay, taking a nice mooring ball right behind the reef, and then proceeded to head over to snorkel Marina Cay with Xiaoqin and Bowen, with Arturo and Mark diving. When the snorkeling was done, I shuttled Xiaoqin and Bowen back to the dinghy, loaded the empty scuba tanks onto it, and delivered a camera to Arturo!

All that effort was in vain, however, as when we got to scrub island resort the dive master there informed us that their compressor had just broken! We didn't need dive tanks in Anegada, so it wasn't a big deal. We shopped at the expensive gourmet market, and then headed back to the boat for thanksgiving dinner.
Bowen had asked for a turkey, but of course we hadn't provisioned any! Mark thought up to make a salad out of various vegetables to make a turkey, so that became our turkey dinner! We went to bed early, knowing that the next morning was the famed Anegada passage, which none of us had ever done.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Day 4: Prickly Pear Island to Marina Cay

In the morning, we discussed what to do. One of the reasons we were in Gorda sound was the potential to do the hike to the top of Virgin Gorda, which we did in 2014. There was no reliable information to weather the lookout tower at the top of the trail had survived the hurricanes, so the only way was to visit Leverick Bay and find out. We saw boats leaving Leverick Bay, so there was a high chance that a mooring ball was available.

We had no sooner tied up and sent Arturo and Mark on shore to find a taxi than when an on-call dinghy from Conch charters showed up to fix our water pump! We were nonplussed by this, since while we did have a water pump problem, none of us had called Conch about it! We suspected that some other boat had called them, but were nevertheless happy that they showed up, replacing the water pump.

Arturo and Mark told us that the taxi driver was found but said the lookout tower was gone, so there was no point doing the hike. They came back, hoisted the dinghy, and since we were in Leverick Bay, filled up with water and did some additional provisioning before leaving the sound.

It was a downwind sail to Marina Cay, so we had a nice easy sail, and arrived in Marina Cay ready to do lunch and some diving.
We started by delivering the family to Marina Cay, and then went on to do Diamond Reef, which had come highly recommended by the dive refill place Arturo and Mark had visited the day before. I was very impressed by the site, though not by the amount of traffic traveling through the channel.
At dinner, we discussed whether to head to Anegada. A look at the forecast said that the best days for doing so was on Friday and Saturday, so we had an extra day. I didn't want to return to Gorda sound, as there was not much to do there, while nearby there was Lee Bay, Trellis Bay, and Diamond Reef to explore. So the decision was made to spend another night at Marina Cay.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Day 3: Cooper Island to Prickly Pear Island

The day started with a 40 minute drive to the Baths. We had gotten up just about 20 minutes later than usual, and thus were not the first on the mooring balls. In fact, Arturo spotted a luxury cruise ship, one small enough to fit into the harbor just north of the baths and with a really long anchor, which was undoubtedly sending tourists our way.

Last year, Boen had cried all the way from the dinghy to the shore and then refused to let go of mommy once ashore. What a difference 18 months makes. This year, we towed him ashore with his snorkel vest on him, and while he cried a bit, once ashore, as long as I was carrying him on my shoulders he actually did OK. The hike was more challenging as a result, but we could do everything. We saw a girl from the Disney Princess cruise cry for what his dad said was 2 straight hours, and compared to that Boen was doing quite good.
On the other side, the kids played while Arturo and I, having decided that the place was way too crowded to attempt the hike back, decided to just snorkel back to the dinghy to fetch it, this being faster and also granted us the opportunity to snorkel.

Once back on the Omega, we decided to eat lunch, and then drove just a nautical mile north to the dive buoys marking the Aquarium. Arturo had great impressions of this, having much better memory for dives than I did, so I went along. It was a good dive, with lots of fish, and even a lobster!

Spanish Town had a dive tank fill, but I remembered that the harbor was a major pain to get in and out off, and there were no mooring balls inside the harbor, so I requested that Arturo and Mark make the run in the dinghy, since the harbor entrance was plainly visible! They did so without trouble, and then we headed north towards Lee Bay to see if it would make a good anchorage for the night.

We got there to find that the place already had 3 boats. "Marina Cay or Leverick Bay?" "Let's try Leverick Bay." What I hadn't anticipated was that with the destruction of Saba Rock and the Bitter End Yacht Club, Leverick Bay had become the most popular place in Gorda Sound! We arrived at 5:00pm only to discover that every mooring ball was taken and every anchorage was also taken. I thought about trying to squeeze in and decided that it was this sort of decision that would lead to a sleepless night for all involved, so we went across the sound to Prickly Pear Island where there were 3  boats already anchor'd but ample anchoring room for us.

We dropped anchor in about 20 feet of water and I asked for about 80 feet of chain, but Arturo must have been off because we ended up using all the chain, which was 200'. We raised enough chain to get about 100', but then some confident guy came in and anchored in front of us. Well, we were there first so any problems would have been his fault, but after Arturo dived the anchor I checked his position and the anchor was well behind the new Catamaran. The anchor was well dug in and so we could have a reasonable dinner and sleep well for the night.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Day 2: Privateer Bay, Norman Island to Cooper Island

We woke up bright and early as usual, and moved the Omega 15 minutes to be the first boat on the Indians. Arturo did a snorkel check, and after much debate we decided that the water was too choppy to bother with a dive, since much of what we wanted to see could easily be seen while snorkeling. One of Mark's goals for this trip was to dive the Rhone again, but I hadn't dived since the last time I was in the BVIs, so Arturo wanted a checkout dive for me. "We can always dive at Cistern point in Cooper Island. There's also a dive refill there."

We thought also of diving Pelican Island, but by the time we left the Indians the mooring balls there were full and it wasn't worth the wait, so we raised sails and headed up the Sir Francis Drake channel towards Cooper Island. The sail was rather rough, however, so after a couple of tacks we lowered the sales and turned on the engine to grab a mooring ball on Cooper Island, which was strangely full of empty mooring balls for this time of day. What I would realize later was that with the Wily T's move to Peter Island, Peter Island would become a much more happening place, drawing traffic from Cooper Island.
We got into our dive gear and went to cistern point for a dive after delivering the rest of the family to the beach resort on Cooper Island. Mark was very good at spotting critters hiding in crevices, while I unfortunately drowned my waterproof lights bought 7 years ago for this trip! Fortunately for me, my 18 months away from diving hadn't hurt me at all. I was entirely comfortable in the water, and it was as though
When we were done with the the dives it was too late to get the tanks filled (the shop had closed at 4:00pm and she had a backlog to fill, so even if we'd arrived in time she might have turned us away anyway). I got out the paddleboard and practiced with it. I'd watched a Youtube video ahead of time, which must have helped because I didn't even fall into the water once. Earlier, while setting up for the dive, I'd seen a couple of men paddleboard out to cistern point with snorkel gear and then snorkeled there, which struck me as studly as cycling to the start of a hike to do a hike. I didn't think I'd be skilled enough to attempt that!
Once again, we had a beautiful sunset. The seas were still churning, so we decided that it would be prudent to move to protected waters, which meant that diving the Rhone was out of the question. The Baths, however, were protected from the East, and there was diving nearby, and a visit to Marina Cay or Gorda Sound as feasible from there.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Day 1: Road Town, Tortola to Privateer Bay, Norman Island

Our paddleboard had gotten delivered the night before, and Mark's flight was thankfully only delayed an hour, so we could get the ship's briefing and get the scuba gear delivered and installed before doing one final provisioning run. Mark showed up from the airport just as we'd come back to the boat and then we were off!

In past years, I'd moor'd at Kelly Cove and then dinghy'd over to the caves for the snorkeling. But from last year, I remembered that there were a fair number of mooring balls at Privateer Bay, which was right next to the caves, so we made for it and arrived at 3:00pm or so to find a couple of mooring balls left. We picked one up and proceeded to get into the water.
The caves on Norman island are a snorkeler's delight. You can snorkel along the reefs and watch the wildlife, or dive into the caves, take off your fins, take a break on land, and then go back to swimming. We did all that, and also discovered a bunch of cuttlefish that we would also find again later, in large groups.

By the time we'd finished exploring and returned to the boat the sun had gone down, so we enjoyed the sunset and the barbeque dinner. At this point, we knew what would happen the next day, which was a visit to the Indians and then Cooper Island to refill the tanks!