September 26, 2008
We arrived on Friday Sept 26th by plane, ferry and careening taxi. We came over the airways, seas and torturous two lane roads of Tortola, BVI, to rest in Road Reef Harbor at the TMM docks.
Our Cape Air Flight was somehow cancelled, creating a few minutes of panic and dashing to the Delta counter. They kindly got us a ride on an earlier American Eagle flight which shaved two hours off our schedule and put us there almost exactly when our fellow sailors arrived by Ferry.
We had been promised the A/C and fridges would be turned on early in the day, and they were. Unfortunately no one checked to see if the A/C was putting out cold air, so we stepped into a 95 degree galley just as the sun was setting. No one knowledgeable was around to check it out but a careful reading of the boat manual located a reset switch carefully hidden in the bowels of the compressor. Within a hour or so all was well in MarthaR-ville.
We missed supper call at the resturant next door, so it was decided to try out Pussers for dinner. After a 3 minute, $32 taxi ride we enjoyed some good vittles amongst the noisy crowds. We were all amazed when the Big screen TV over the bar was tuned in to the first McCain / Obama debate. Thought we had left that all behind. Several of us chose to walk back to save on taxi fare.
Back on board we all settled into our berths and slept as the rain storms came and went throughout the night. My night was especially unsettled, filled with dreams of the next days check ride and the responsibilities of being a rookie skipper with a (potentially) green crew.
September 27, 2008
I was up at dawn (and a couple of times during the night) surveying the boat and re-reading the manuals and checkout papers. David had brought some of his fancy coffee beans and battery grinder so he was up early, too, creating a tasty brew.
We sent the ladies off to Bobby’s and RiteWay to complete the provisioning and later went to the Yacht Club behind the marina for lunch. The skies had cleared out and the view was great from their deck overlooking Road Harbour. We ate our fill of fish and chips and returned to the boat to cast off.
Sayula was a Mexican boat which won the first Whitbread Around the World Race back in the seventies and was also the name of our checkout manager. I found the twin electric screws quiet and forgiving while manuevering out of the crowded marina, and Sayula was impressed with our knowledge of the MarthaR’s systems. That was good because when we passed the large green harbour marker and headed into the wind we had fits raising the main and tacking the jib. Sayula was generous and gave us the thumbs up to drop her off and head out.
During out short absence from the harbour, a large cruise ship decided to back off the dock and pirouette all over our intended route. We feinted left then veered right, finally deciding it was best to get completely out of the way. We watched in awe as the captain rotated the massive creature on its axis and dieseled away to the NorthEast.
A gentle docking to drop our benefactor off was followed by beating against a 15 knot wind to get to Marina Cay, our first night’s anchorage. I was thoroughly elated to be commanding a mighty sailing vessel, but the crew was not impressed when we tacked back and forth across Sir Frances Drake 3 times, making nearly no progress against wind and current. With our delayed start and the sun dropping, I relented and added the power of the 10 Kilowatt electrics to bring us to a safe anchorage just before sundown.
September 28, 2008
I rose early again and, after walking the decks and checking the anchor, decided to take a nap on the trampoline to catch the dawn over Marina Cay. With the breeze blowing over AND under me, I slept well and almost missed it.
Before long everyone was stirring for a breakfast of fresh fruit, granola and yogurt. Knowing there was a large reef just to the East side of the Cay we all headed out for a snorkel. We took the dingy, but soon discovered how shallow it was and just dropped everyone off instead. There was a significant current and not much to brag about here, a lot of dead and broken coral and little sea life. Several did make their way out to a wall near the warning buoy and found some lovely sea biscuits and lots of conch.
We also took the dingy in to the dock and were disappointed to find out they were as closed as they looked. We spent a while posing for the webcam at the Red Phone Booth, and took a few photos of the anchorage.
It was warming up, so we raised anchor and got underway towards the Baths. We joined three or four others on Park moorings and Norman ferried us to shore. I had missed the Baths on our first trip so I was loaded down with camera and video to capture every nook and cranny.
This whole end of Virgin Gorda looks like God emptied his rock tumbler. Gianormous boulders worn smooth by the flow of salt water, tossed together randomly, creating a maze of passageways accented by shafts of light and reflecting pools. We were entertained by a chorus of sounds as the sea water rushed through the crevices, echoed in the dark corners and then rumbled at the end of a rock organ pipe.
David, who had chosen to swim in to the beach, also took the solo swim back from Devil’s Beach to the MarthaR. He just missed Norman who visited Spring Bay and other local favorites on his way to get us. Kevin and I ran back thru the Baths and caught him napping on the sand, dingy hand in line. We helped him launch and retrieve the others.
‘Island Time’ in mind we dropped mooring and set off for Gorda Sound. Wind and current were not as cruel as the day before and we circled Mosquito Island and entered Gorda Sound just as the sun was setting behind us. We crossed over to Biras Creek where we joined one other boat in time to watch twilight fade to darkness. As it fell it brought a hoard of tiny thirsty things with sharp noses that chased us into the cabin for dinner.
We had turned on the A/C to substitute for the lost breeze in our mosquito cage, so a card game ensued in the salon. Hand and Foot (a north Alabama form of Canasta) was the order of the day and let six mates share the thrill of victory and agony of defeat on succeeding nights.
September 29, 2008
After sailing hard for two days the group decided the Sound was nice enough to warrant a lay over. We dropped the ladies off at the Bitter End for a little shopping (turns out they were closed) and motored over to Leverick Bay and dropped anchor.
Now this was a really nice place with all the options avaiable, even during September. We spent time and money in Pussers, the laundry, and the Market. I bought all the guys a Cuban Cigar to celebrate.
While the laundry was drying we found a great spot overlooking the bay to eat lunch. At first the manager wanted us to sit down at ground level, but we convinced him we would be a lot happier in the ‘loft’ – a covered eating area about 30 feet up on the western edge of the complex.
What a view and what great food! Debbie and I shared a Nachos Supreme plate loaded with Wahoo that might have been the best food we had all week. The check was less than $200 for all eight of us and, after soaking up the atmosphere, we left filled and smiling.
We moved the boat over to a mooring in front of Saba Rock, and Kevin , Katey, Debbie and myself took the dingy and Kayak around the corner to snorkle between Prickly Pear and Eustatia. We renamed the area along the southeastern shore "the Conch Plantation" because we saw hundreds of immature conch evenly spaced all throughout the shallow grassy sand just off the corner of P.P. We saw a lot of life along the rocky patches and also large piles of "harvested" conch shells spaced along the shore. Sundown was approaching so we headed back to the boat to share our new secret.
Just as the sun went down we saw a 50’ ketch belly up to the dock at Saba and fish out a hose to fill their water tanks. More on that tomorrow. Plenty of wind and no ‘skeeters’ here. We enjoyed another excellent ‘cook aboard’ of Chicken Tortilla Pockets thanks to the ladies and I slept well knowing we were moored (turns out it was the last time).
September 30, 2008
According to plan today is our "passage" to Anegada. While we were enjoying breakfast the local Mobile Mall pulled alongside and a nice young lady opened her wares – hand made jewelry from local shells, stones and seeds. Nothing like an early morning shop on the starboard pontoon, Debbie always says, so they all spent a few minutes modeling, ooohing and paying.
You may remember the water fill we observed yesterday at Saba. Well, one of our tanks ran dry overnight and we had heard that there was no water on Anegada, so. . . the mooring was free maybe the water was, too. Our other alternative was to motor back across the sound to Leverick and delay our early start to Anegada. Fast and Free won out. David took the helm and guided us to a perfect docking and we connected up a hose and started to fill. I took some cash up to the building to see if there was an office open or someone around to pay. The place was deserted. We had one tank almost full when a salty older gentleman showed up in a small outboard. You guessed it – the Saba caretaker from across the bay! It had been he who filled his tanks the evening before. We explained our situation, offered, even begged, him to accept payment before he let us off with a stern look and a mumbled "rookie charter".
We hightailed it out of there as soon as we could, and motored full speed to the rock marking the exit of Gorda Sound. It was another perfect day for sailing. David set the autopilot on 5 degrees and we sliced through the 5 foot swells with just enough spray to delight everyone on the foredeck. At one point we noticed a dark spot just off the port side and thought it was a school of fish. Only after we thought a minute did we recognize it as our shadow reflecting off the sandy bottom through 70 feet of crystal clear water!
A brief visit by some dolphins playing at our bow brought everyone’s camera out for a Sea World moment. One of our favorite group pictures was taken when everyone looked up as Flipper headed away towards faster playmates.
The trip to Anegada was the one part of the trip we thought might be denied by the weather or by TMM’s rules, so we approached the infamous Setting Point entrance with outrageous caution. Shoal lookouts were posted at every corner of the MarthaR. We crept from buoy to buoy, dismayed that one was missing, and fearful of a coral crunching, hull tearing surprise. The depth gauge dropped to 12 then 10 then 8 feet but the crunch never came and soon we were cruising through the large mooring field to an anchorage near a stately wooden vessel. We spent the night straight out from the Anegada Reef Hotal dock – a fact we all came to appreciate the following evening.
This was an evening of star gazing the universe from the trampolines. We enjoyed a light hearted photo op with our Cuban cigars, and spent a long time contemplating the Dorfmueller conundrum – Can we determine our position in the Milky Way by observing the stars?
October 01, 2008
This was a really busy day so I’ll separate it into two blogs, Part one:
We rose (or at least I did) to the most spectacular sunrise of the trip.
We had made arrangements to rent two vehicles for the day so we cleaned up breakfast and headed for the Anegada Reef Hotel office to pick them up. After a couple of wrong turns, we found our way to the northern side and Flash of Beauty Beach which we heard was a premier snorkeling location. The northern swells we had heard about on the VHF were out in force. Huge waves were crashing against the reef, creating a cauldron of sand-fogged water and rip currents.
We walked along the beach for a while hoping in vain to find a protected cove. Finally, we reloaded the little SUVs and backtracked to the turn to Loblolly. Here we found a pleasant surprise – the grounds were well maintained and Big Bamboo was open for lunch. We hustled over the blue(hot) and green(hotter) concrete walkway to the beach. For months we had been picturing ourselves under the little palm frond umbrellas we Googled on Panoramio, so we all struck our best Lazy in Paradise pose and took pictures for the scrapbook.
The entire horizon was filled with translucent turqouise waves capped in white and spindrift as they were driven over the coral shelf and up onto a breath taking white coral sand beach. There we were alone with God enjoying the majesty of His creation! Each chose his own place and style of worship as we built memories of our own ‘Top Ten’ Carribean Beach.
Groves of Sea Grape served as a wind break and nestled among them were several colorful hammocks which the men quickly occupied. We quinched our nap need and then helped the cooks get rid of their inventory of cheesburgers and fries.
The women left to do a little shopping and pick up some baked goodies from Dotsy’s and the men confirmed the hammocks still worked. Next- part 2 . . .
October 01, 2008
Oct 1, Part two:
Once everyone joined back up, Kevin, Katey, Randy and Debbie headed out towards another GeoCache on the western end of the island and the rest returned to the boat to retool for supper.
With Garmin in hand we quickly narrowed the search for the cache site. driving to the end of a small side road and then tracking back down another deserted beach. It was dotted with unique pieces of coral to increase our take home booty, and led to a small ‘tree/bush’ which hid the marker and the cache. Katy placed her token and retrieved a ‘travel bug’ that wanted to go to England.
Our mission accomplished, we headed further to the north and west to the infamous TTOL Cow Wreck Beach and Bar. As with many of the establishments, it was closed for the season. But we did note the self serve bar and enjoyed the atmosphere – until the mosquitos came.
A little known fact about British mosquitos – they come out in droves just before sunset, and, although tiny, will suck you dry before disappearing again an hour after dark. rather like a bloody tea time. A kindly gentleman, perhaps Mangum himself, told us of their odd habits and gave us directions to his favorite spot to watch the Anegada sunset, so we left for our meeting with the famous purple flash.
We found his favorite beach, just past the old Navy landing pads, and took a few pics of the sun, the conch shells, and the gulls. The most interesting part of the sunset stroll was the small herd of ‘free range’ cattle we encountered. Fortunately, we had paid careful attention to Norman’s lecture on fly hypnotizing and used his techniques to good advantage when some of the bulls seemed intent on charging our position.
Content and hungry, we walked back through the bushes to the car, stumbling over the empty skin of a long dead cow – victim of an unknown disease or perhaps another less compassionate devotee of Norman’s dark art. We returned to Potter’s by the Sea for an excellent meal with the group, accompanied by even more excellent grill baked potatoes.
As a final misadventure in a jam packed day, all 8 of us piled into the dingy, only to discover we had forgotten to turn on the anchor lights that afternoon. Katey had brought along a pocket flashlight so we wandered all around the far reaches of the anchorage before finally spotting the reflective tape on the life buoy attached to the stern.
October 02, 2008
Early morning roll call had us off the anchor and back into the beautiful blue in short order. Our fear of the narrow channel behind us, we made great progress under sail toward the Dogs. Our friends the bottle nosed dolphins found us again, this time a pod of 5 delighted the crew with a brief show of water aerobics and led us back to the Sir Francis Drake.
We dove the area beside the West point of Great Dog in 2002 but we made the choice to try something new and picked up a day mooring at the West end of George Dog. We used the dingy to drop everyone at Kitchen Pt and the moment we got our heads in the water we knew we had made the right choice. Everyone was pointing and ooing thru their snorkel as one after another found something spectacular to share. A small school of squid passed thru us and led us to a totally healthy green brain coral nestled among the many boulders and other coral formations. As we worked our way back West to the boat we crossed a sandy patch and then another field of deeper, larger formations teeming with schools of all types. Trully a memorable spot!
Our date with the toilet guys was in control of our schedule this day so we dropped the mooring and high tailed it back to Road Reef and TMM to check on the port side dump tank which was obviously not dumping. David brought us back in and took a small shortcut inside of a few anchored boats. I was at the bow and could see by the keel tracks in the sand that we were headed for trouble but he just thought I was hollering at the pretty view, I guess ‘cause he took us right over it. I held my breath waiting for the sound of sand on keel but the lurching stop never came. He told me later that the depth gauge had read less than our draft as we passed but I guess we must have slid through someone else’s tracks cause we made it OK!
While the TMM guys were poking and proding at the dump valve, the ladies discovered a smaller RiteWay within walking distance and bought a few provisions. One extravagant purchase was met by cheers form all aboard – one half gallon of scrumptious Blue Bell Rocky Road ice cream . . . ummmmm! We left with a chocolate moustache and an empty holding tank, headed for the nearest anchorage – Little Harbour.
We got over the Drake just in time to get anchored before sunset dropped its orange-red veil. We were joined by only one other – a large Moorings Cat inhabited as best we could tell by only two people. We grilled up some juicy burgers and enjoyed a pleasant night’s sleep (not pumping the backflow out of our john every couple hours).
October 03, 2008
Omelets graced our paper plates this morning thanks to Kathy and Debbie. As we ate we got a lot of pleasure out of watching the OCD lady on the Moorings boat swabbing the deck – three times!
Snorkeling along the southern shore was made memorable by a very large school (in the hundreds of thousands) of mullet fry being herded by a group of six 3-4 foot long Tarpon. By drifting slowly into the massive school you could immerse yourself in a shimmering pool that moved and shifted in unison with your every movement. The swirling was quite disorienting, but the effect was mesmerizing and could only be described as a National Geographic moment. Occasionally the river of silver sparkles would suddenly part in front of you, ushering in the stately Tarpon with their huge underbite, circling to see what was disturbing their ‘herd’. David towed Becky over and back to be sure she didn’t miss one of the highlights of our trip thus far!
Katey had another mishap here, losing her mask just behind the boat. It was clear enough that we could see the bottom 30 feet below but no one had the ability to get down that far, so she made another donation to the water nymphs. Maybe we’ll find it next trip?
Randy, Debbie, Kathy, Kevin and Katey all took the Kayak over to visit one of our favorite ‘ruins’ from the 2002 trip. The trail to the Peter Island Manor house was overgrown even more this time and the house itself had almost fallen in completely. I suspect that the next trip may find the entire structure completely gutted by termites and wood rot. Even the concrete was beginning to crumble. Beautiful hand made tiles still graced several spots on the walls and reminded us again of what was once a glorious estate. Worthy as a setting for a novel, perhaps I should let my imagination wander a bit and create some residents to walk its rooms again.
The Indians and The Caves at Norman
We left for the Indians and another amazing snorkel adventure. There were divers below us on several occsaions, and the large wall of rock dropping off to the floor 40-50 feet below was breath taking. It was hard to believe that we had found a spot to challenge the beauty of what we saw at the Dogs but this was it. Kevin voted to spend the rest of the trip right here, but I explained the moorings were only for day time use.
We motored over to Norman and the Caves to look for one of Katey’s Geocaches and located it on a ledge in the back of the less visited third cave.This cache was damaged by Hurricane Omar just a week after we left as it struck the BVI a glancing blow. The current was fairly strong across here and Katey had chosen to wear water shoes instead of flippers to go searching, so Kevin and I gave her a slow tow back to the boat.
After a brief swing into the Bight to get a picture of our fine ladies in front of the Willy T (couldn’t get their t-shirts off, unfortunately), we set sail for Soper’s Hole for some water and shopping. Met a quaint English gentleman when we docked. He filled us up with good water and amused us with his laid back demeanor. Turns out he has been the ‘dock master’ there for a couple of years and lives on a borrowed 30’ monohull just across from us. He had laid out every line along the dock and was washing the salt from them one by one – to extend their life, I assume. He was very meticulous about his job, too, writing up a detailed hand written receipt for our $14 purchase of water.
While we filled with water and bought some ice, shopping had drawn the ladies into several stores. We rounded them up and shoved off, when David suddenly realized his me amor was me a missing. Becky had been behind the rest, so we did a quick 360 and got in some more docking practice.
Sandy Spit and Sandy Cay
Rounding the end of Tortola we caught a nice beam reach to Sandy Spit with our first dark clouds of the trip hanging just to our West. Fortunately the weather stayed to port and we enjoyed a few glorious minutes posing for pictures and making footprints in the near virgin sand. At one spot we did spot a drawing made before our arrival – I Love You . . . with the name washed clean by the last night’s waves. The Spit was the ultimate sandy paradise, just one palm and a few scrub bushes, but it’s north side was a monument to former visitors, lined with stone cairns from end to end. We built our own before leaving and vowed to return to add to it soon!
Fearful of the stiff winds beginning to blow from the ENE, we decided to slide back down to the Spit’s big sister, Sandy Cay, for the night’s anchorage. Some party-ers in a power boat were the only others around and they left us before sundown to enjoy our version of Gilligan’s Isle. The wind was strong even in the lee of the island, but the skeeters still made an appearance for their bloody tea. It was nice to have the breeze coming in the hatches all night, cool enough to use the sheets for more than privacy.
October 04, 2008
Debbie and I left the boat early to kayak in to Sandy Cay. We had read that it was owned by one of the Rockerfellers. When we got ashore we were surprised to find a trail lined with plants in a semi-lanscaped sort of way. The trail lead around the periphery of the small island and up to the highest point where we had a marvelous 360 view. Waves from the East crashed into a jagged shore line strewn with rocks of all sizes but only two colors – the black ones of volcanic origin and white ones from the coral. We named it Salt n Pepper beach and found several keeper pieces which were speckled with red coral. We made one mistake – we followed the trail back down through the interior of the island and found the swampy areas breeding mosquitos!
Green Cay and Little Jost’s Bubbly Pool
Katey and Kevin took the dingy to go to Green Cay and locate another Geocache while the rest of us raised anchor and headed for Foxy’s Taboo in nearby Long Bay. We had our designs on a hike to the Bubbly Pool. We hiked a good 1/4 mile and spent a lot of time crawling over gaps in the rocky wall looking for the pool itself.
We found a group of curious goats before walking up to the real thing – a level spot with a large clear water pool and small beach. We had begun to wonder if it would be worth the trip, but the scenery alone cinched it – another memory for those cold days of winter. It was flanked on either side by huge jet black boulders that framed a crevice where the waves slithered and gurgled in. Kevin and Katey had rejoined us and climbed up high to take in the whole scene. There was a submerged rock shaped like a chair – just the right size for one or two to rest and enjoy the refreshing ebb and flow.
Jost Van Dyke – Great Harbour
I hustled back and brought the dingy closer to save everyone some steps and soon we were back onboard the Martha R and pulling into Great Harbour. The ladies took the dingy in for shopping, sightseeing and geocaching and Kevin tried out the snorkling along the Eastern shore. Not much to brag about. The rest of the guys were entertained by a newly arrived couple, apparently making their first attempt at anchoring. We were amused as the let out only about 10 extra feet of rode in the twenty foot depth and saw them drifting until they were almost touching the boat aft of them. It became a little less funny when they dropped anchor again, this time closer to us. As they drifted closer and closer we took in some of our extra scope to stay away, but they continued to swing closer. Fortunately the ladies returned and we spared them the embarrassment by moving on to White Bay, our planned anchorage for the night.
White Bay on JVD is recognized by the Travel Channel as one of the Top Ten Beaches in the Carribean and we were looking forward to the afternoon ashore. Entering was a little tricky because one of the marker bouys was missing, but the clear water made it easy to navigate by sight through the narrow gap in front of Soggy Dollar. We dropped anchor and rode the dingy in for some qulaity beach time.
Once in, each couple found their own entertainment. I tried my luck with the swinging ring at Soggy and found I was pretty good, ringing three out of twenty attempts. There was a small crowd sitting around and we introduced ourselves to the group from Me and the Sea. One of them had corresponded with me on TTOL and we struck up a lively discussion about the respective merits of their 440 and our 420. The invited us to join them later for a boat tour but we never got the chance.
Katey found another cache, and everyone enjoyed walking up and down the lovely beach until it was time to get ready for supper. We had made reservations at Soggy Dollar (who knew they had four course gourmet dining after dark??). The guys dressed up in their finest dinner sandals and the ladies dug out their makeup and dolled up quite pretty. The meal was tasty, but I missed the baked potato from Potter’s. We returned to the boat (which had the lights on this time), regretting that four of us would be leaving the next morning. The night was a short one, interrupted a few times by PainKiller fueled revelry from nearby boats. We were again glad it was the off season.