By Mark Stillwell and Lois Heldenbrand
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
We found the Anegada Approach way-point chart purchased from BVIPirate.com 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 …
• 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.
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.