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Trip Review : Sailing BVI with Sunsail

By Mark Stillwell and Lois Heldenbrand



We had a great adventure sailing, exploring and diving in the BVI in July 2009. This was Dennis’s first introduction to the islands. For Mark, Suzanne, and Lois, it was a day (or days) in paradise revisited.


Lois and De sunsail sailing bvi

Lois and Dennis


Suzanne and Mark had sailed with a Sunsail flotilla in 2006. Suz was back in 2008 with Lois to lead an all ladies sail with a Sunsail flotilla. They can’t quit talking about it!


As we began planning for our 2009 adventure, we started wondering if there was more to the BVI’s than sailing (like that wouldn’t be enough)!! Don’t get us wrong. We sail almost every weekend March through October on Mark Twain Lake in Missouri. But Suz and Mark took up diving last year to complement their sailing adventures.


So when they decided to dive for three days Lois and Dennis exclaimed, “Hey, we’ll explore the islands topside while you dive!”


We chose Sunsail as we had a good experience on previous charters and they had good discounts at Strictly Sail, Chicago.


Mark knew we had found the right dive shop when he phoned Casey McNutt of Dive BVI. “Fly on down,” Casey said bubbling with excitement. “We have lots of great places to dive! We are near the “Dogs” which are great for a first dive…you have to dive the Rhône …” Twenty minutes later she had described many of the BVI dive sites. “Guavaberry Spring Bay is a great place to stay!” Casey explained. “They have two bedroom villas with a great view.”


We had all spring to practice our snorkeling and talk about “no-tan lines!”



Suz Diving sunsail bvi


Our adventure really began when we landed in Tortola and a short cab ride to the North Sound Ferry Dock. Dennis helped us wind down to “island time” by finding “Carib” beer. We quickly learned that Dennis has a real talent for keeping a Carib close at hand. Thank goodness for Dennis!!!


We knew we had made a good choice for our island stay when we arrived on Virgin Gorda. Hibiscus Villa, Guavaberry Spring Bay, was a peaceful two bedroom villa overlooking Spring Bay and Sir Francis Drake Channel. Our ridge top view was spectacular.


Suz and Lois bvi sailing

Suz and Lois


Dennis and Lois concentrated on sailing, swimming, and snorkeling, while the Stillwell’s dove. What to do – what to do? Virgin Gorda or the “Fat Virgin” (Spanish named her not me) has a population of approximately 8,000 persons and is approximately 10 miles long. All of the land over 1,000 feet high has been designated as National Parks. One option to get around on your own when the feet tire is to rent bright red scooters!


Born to be W…I…L…D!!


While the scooters didn’t quite equal the status of riding a Harley, they provided sufficient opportunity for loss of life or limbs. Top speed was approximately 40 mph and we wore helmets BUT sandals and shorts provided the only other barrier between us and the pavement. Driving on the left side of the road was fun and we quickly learned to “beep, beep.” What a polite, island way of saying “hello” or “get outa my way.”


While Virgin Gorda is the second largest of the BVI chain, the roads are few and look much like a ribcage connected by the spine of Hwy 5 and 35. We “scooted” past beautiful Savannah Bay and climbed up the hill through Gorda Peak National Park to eat lunch at the serene Leverick Bay. On the way, we meandered off the main road to put our “…toes in the water, ass in the sand, not a worry in the world, a cold beer in our hand…” and toured the beaches and the local villages. Drugged by the slap of the waves hitting the shore, beautiful white caps on top of the aquamarine colored water, and fresh sea breezes blowing in our hair, we were hooked once again.


Mark and Suz had three great days of diving aboard “Sea Monkey” with Anna as the dive master. Anna was very knowledgeable about the island and dive sites. Even more important she was very patient and helpful to us. This was only our second dive adventure.


They dove Wreck Alley, Vanishing Rock, Thumb Rock and Cistern Rock off Cooper Island and the wreck of the Rhône near Black Rock, BVI National Park on the west side of Salt Island.


The Rhône sank in October 1867 when an unexpected hurricane hit the islands. The “Rhône” is best known for its role in the movie “The Deep” staring Jacqueline Bisset diving in a thin, white t-shirt. Unfortunately, Suz dives in a wetsuit.



Hawksbill sunsail sailing bvi


Even though we were on “island time,” we were fast approaching the day to leave beautiful Virgin Gorda and head to Tortola to pick up the sailboat. Our final evening on Virgin Gorda found us tracing Heldenbrand’s scooter ride to Leverick Bay on Virgin Gorda’s North Sound. We enjoyed a great walk along the shore before a great dinner. Suz and Mark found their next sailboat, a 75 ft ketch. We even volunteered to crew!


Sunrise the next morning found us packing to catch the ferry to Sunsail’s base in Road Town and our 10 day charter.


The Sunsail 43 is a Beneteau Cyclades series designed for the charter industry. “City Lights” was well maintained and ready to go when we arrived. The 9:00 captain’s briefing answered most of our questions. “Reef early and be at anchor or on a mooring by sundown,” the Sunsail captain recommended. Then, looking at Suz and Lois, he added “Don’t drink too much of Bomba’s mushroom tea!”



Lois sunsail sailing bvi


After provisioning with a refrigerator full of food and ice, six gallons of water, 6-8 bottles tequila/vodka/wine, and a case of Carib, we cast off the dock lines and sailed under a reefed main to Norman Island. We had missed exploring Norman Island on our previous BVI sailing adventures.


Norman Island is known for its protected harbor, great snorkeling at “The Caves” and as the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island.” It is also known for Willy T’s wild nightlife. All we will say is that with a few drinks, a full moon, and a midnight swim we were not disappointed!


Lois and Dennis sunsail bvi

Lois and Dennis


We spent the next week sailing, Lois practicing her navigation, snorkeling and exploring many of the bays and cays of the BVI.


Sailing around Jost Van Dyke in the rain; buying one of Bomba’s cups and getting the mushroom tea for free; watching pelican plunge for fish in Manchioneel Bay; sailing to Anagada among the “flocks” of flying fish; gorging on grilled Anagada lobster; and snorkeling with a 6 ft barracuda on Anagada Reef are certainly highlights we will never forget!



We found the Anegada Approach way-point chart purchased from to be helpful as another tool to successfully navigate through the Anegada reefs. We compared hand-held and boat GPS positioning with chart waypoints plus visual checks by crew stationed on the bow to ensure safe mooring in the bay adjacent to the Anegada Reef Hotel.


We all agree that the low point was when our time ran out and we had to fly home. We really enjoyed the mix of exploring the islands, diving and sailing as a perfect way to spend two weeks in the islands. But…we hadn’t had time to visit Ivan’s Stress Free Bar or Foxy’s or De Loose Mongoose, or snorkel the Dogs or Indian Islands, or …


We highly recommend Guavaberry Spring Bay Villas and Dive BVI. They provide great service in a great location for a competitive price. Each evening we tried a find a new view of the sunset.


Our evening on the beach at Sandy Bay was one of the best. A bottle of wine, white sand, romantic sunset, lovely ladies in the surf…it doesn’t get any better than that!


Overall our experience with Sunsail was very positive.



Lois and Dennis bvi

Lois and Dennis

• The captions briefing was great. They alerted us to the free water fill if we picked up a mooring at Saba Rock.


• The boat briefing was quick and a little disappointing. The Sunsail representative basically said “Here’s the boat, there’s the dingy. Any questions?” This may have been because we were experienced sailors and had previously chartered with Sunsail. Past experience with finicky dingy outboards had us double check it. We discovered the outboard revved too high and would not idle properly. A mechanic made a quick adjustment and sent us on our way. However, we had problems with the idle adjustment throughout the trip. Dennis had some experience with outboard motors, so we were able to survive. Next time, we will ask for a replacement outboard before we leave.


• “City Lights” was clean and comfortable to sail. All systems worked as expected. The two wheel helm was a great asset that allowed easy movement to the swim platform and dingy. She was easy to reef the main and handled the passage to Anegada with ease. The only complaint is that the Cyclades 43 brings the jib sheets inside the shrouds. This should allow the boat to point higher into the wind.


Suz and Mark sunsail sailing bvi

Suz and Mark


However, speed dropped quickly we tried to sail inside 60 degrees to the wind. This may have been due to the small jib.


So if you see one of us with a faraway look we may have relapsed back to “island time” and as Kenny Chesney sings, “…Oh I wish I was there tonight on Jost Van Dyke; Sipping on some Foxy's Firewater rum; Or kickin' back with Ivan; With all my friends down in the islands; Wouldn't take much for me to up and run; To another life somewhere in the sun . . .”


Note: As of this date, Mark, Suz, Dennis and Lois have chartered another trip to the islands in July 2011 on a Beneteau 46 with BVI Yacht Charters. The adventure was booked through Virgin Island Sailing LTD.


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