Our 2011 Charter Trip to the British Virgin Islands
By Joe McGauran
During the snowy, cold winter of 2011 Joe & Sandi Fox, Herb Wake & Bonnie Ruleau & I planned a bare boat charter in the British Virgin Islands. Finally on April 1st (how appropriate) Herb and Bonnie were driving to Racine when a call came in from American Airlines that our next day flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico was grounded. After several phone calls to American Airlines, we were able to get a flight from Chicago to Boston connecting with a flight the next day to San Juan. We drove to Chicago and flew to Boston. We had no hotel rooms so we had to sit up all night in the airport in Boston. It was a very long night as everything in the airport had shut down.
Early the next morning we were off to the B.V.I. We flew to San Juan without a problem. We got to San Juan with little time to spare. Joe, Bonnie and I decided to go out and enjoy the warm weather. By the time we got back through security our flight to the B.V.I. was closed with Herb and Sandi aboard. We begged the gate people to let us aboard and they finally relented. What a relief. We quickly got through customs upon our arrival at Beef Island and got cold beer for all. A short cab ride and we were at Sunsail in Road Town. Our boat was not ready so we changed into bathing suits for a refreshing swim in Sunsail’s fresh water pool. Soon the boat was ready and our provisions arrived. We quickly stowed them and after a few cocktails and hors d’ oeuvres we ready for a good nights sleep.
Sunday we arose to a hot, sunny, windless day & after coffee, showers & breakfast Joe & I went to the chart briefing. The briefing room was air conditioned and seemed very cold. We then had a check out of the boat, a Jeanneau 44I with 3 cabins and 3 heads and headed out of the harbor. Soon we were in a downpour which didn’t last long. Just east of us was the starting line for B.V.I. Spring regatta & we watched the 80 footers start. We then headed to the Indians for some snorkeling. The ocean was calm and warm & the snorkeling was wonderful, lots of colored coral and swarms of small fish. We were soon back aboard and headed for the Bight on Norman Island. We found a mooring buoy and called for reservations at the Willie T, a nearby shipboard restaurant and bar infamous for their night life. Sandi, Bonnie and I dinghied to the caves & Sandi & I snorkeled while Bonnie waited in the dinghy. Again the snorkeling was great. You forget how clear and warm the water is in the Caribbean. That evening we dinghied to the Willie T & had drinks and conversation with the locals on the aft deck. Soon both Bonnie and Sandi showed up with tattoos (temporary I hope). Dinner was good and we headed home for a night cap under the brilliant nighttime sky.
The next morning I heard a thumping on the bulkhead, " Coffee boy, get up and make coffee". We dropped our mooring & powered to Salt Island & the wreck of the Rhone. The Rhone is a 310’ mail ship that sunk in a hurricane in 1867 in 20’ to 80’ of water. There are National Park Buoys you may tie to provided you have a permit. When we arrived all the buoys except one was occupied. The one unoccupied buoy was broken just as it had been two years ago. We could not drop an anchor because of the coral so we headed to Manchioneel Bay on Cooper Island. We fetched a mooring ball and Joe, Sandi & I snorkeled to Cistern Point. We saw several large fish but little else. We all jumped in the dinghy for a quiet lunch at a restaurant on the beach. Back to the boat for a nap and after a shower on the swim platform and a few cocktails, we grilled pork loins, cooked rice pilaf and fixed a salad. Great dinner. Bonnie had brought a dice game called "Shut the Box" which was fun to have aboard & after a few games we were all in the bunks. Bonnie decided to make the coffee that night so all we had to do was perk it in the morning.
Tuesday we awoke to east winds up to 20 kts and of course we headed east in the Sir Francis Drake Channel. We powered close to shore and the ride wasn’t too bad. We had a dodger so that really helped. The surf was up at the Baths so we went right on by. The scenery along the shore was breath taking. We arrived in the North Sound of Virgin Gorda in good time and found a mooring ball in Leverick Bay. We went ashore with our garbage and picked up a few groceries and ice. Joe & I ran the groceries back to the boat and then came back shore for lunch and a swim in their fresh water pool. After much discussion, we deceided to tour the North Sound in our dinghy. We headed across the sound and got soaking wet. Several mega-yachts were tied up at the Bitter End Yacht Club and at a new marina at the east end of the Sound. The ride back was pleasant and after getting cleaned up we again went ashore. There was an entertainer doing a happy hour show. He had a conch shell blowing contest. Joe Fox did the best at our table. The rest of us were not very good at it. We had one dance and our pizza dinner was served. All in all a beautiful evening in Leverick Bay.
The next day Bonnie, Sandi, Joe & I got up early & after a quick cup of coffee, we were off to Anegada. The winds were moderate easterly so we opened the genoa & soon Herb was on the deck. We all enjoyed a great motor sail out to the sunken island. Anegada is the only coral island in the B.V.I. so it is without topography. We could not find the first bouy so we slowly worked our way into the anchorage. We looked for a mooring ball but the only empty mooring was a milk bottle. A man drinking a large can of Red Stripe in a dinghy said "follow me" and took us to the milk bottle mooring & collected $25. We made sure to get a receipt. During our mooring Herb caught his foot on a cleat and after taking Ibuprofen and applying ice to his foot he was O.K.. We had a quick lunch & the four of us (without Herb) dinghed ashore & caught the shuttle to Loblolly Bay. I had a really bumpy ride as I elected to ride in the back seat of the shuttle to get a better breeze. Soon we arrived at Loblolly Bay. Absolutely one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. We snorkeled and walked on the beach. The snorkeling was just O.K., some big fish. We then went to a nearby beach bar for some afternoon refreshments. Our bartender was from South America and he came to Anegada for the money; his home must have been really poor. Soon the shuttle arrived and we were off to the anchorage. Bonnie asked the driver to stop so that she could take pictures of the farm animals along the road. We bought ice and went back to our boat. Sandi, Bonnie and I took a dinghy ride along the shore to the west end of the island. A lady and her son stopped by our boat with fresh bakery and we bought a few loaves of banana bread from them. That evening we enjoyed tacos in the cockpit under a starry night and a sliver of a moon followed by a few games of Shut the Box.
Joe & I were up early the next morning started the coffee & headed out of the mooring field. Again we opened the genoa and soon we were doing 7 kts. Sandi cut up the banana bread for our breakfast and it was delicious. We made our way between Great Camanoe & Scrub islands to Marina Cay. After finding a mooring ball and getting tied up, we found another that was more sheltered and moved to that one. Sandi, Bonnie & I took the garbage shore and climbed to the top of Marina Cay. We had a short, hot climb to the top which was well worth the vista we beheld was the whole of the Drake Channel. We made reservations for dinner at Pusser’s that evening, got gas for the dinghy and more ice. Joe, Sandi and I then dinghied to the shore of Great Camanoe Island to snorkel. The snorkeling was great, a lot of beautiful coral and many fish. I saw two turtles and a lobster. That evening we had dinner on the porch at Pussers and after one game of Shut the Box I was off to the bunk.
The next morning dawned overcast & windy. We had coffee in the cockpit & soon a cruiser left the dock at Marina Cay. We dropped our mooring and went to the dock for water. In a short time we topped off our water tanks with 80 gals of fresh water. We had been pretty conservative with our water usage. We had a short motor to Monkey Point on Guana Island & picked up a parks mooring ball. Sandi & Bonnie fixed a tasty breakfast & soon we were snorkeling along the shore. There were lots of fish and we saw our first Angel Fish. We then were off along the coast of Tortola to Cane Garden Bay. When we arrived the bay was calm and bathed in sunshine. We all went ashore and walked through the town. After dropping Herb and Joe off at a beach bar, Sandi, Bonnie and I walked to the Callwood Distillery & bought a small bottle of rum for emergency purposes. We joined Herb and Joe and had a light lunch on the beach & did some grocery shopping. We got back to the boat and took a refreshing swim. What a great way to cool off. Two small turtles kept surfacing near our boat & Bonnie tried to get a picture without success. I took Bonnie for a dinghy ride so that she could take pictures of our yacht. Joe and Sandi snorkeled along the beach and Joe brought an underwater camera and got some great photos of a large fish. That evening we grilled cheeseburgers and watched the lights of St. Thomas in the distance. Two quick games of Shut the Box and we were in the bunk.
The next day Joe & I were up early to the sound of the roosters ashore & decided to take the garbage ashore and got caught in an early morning downpour. Under clear skies and light winds we motored out to Diamond Cay near Jost Van Dyke. We quickly found a mooring ball and had our breakfast. We went ashore and found the path to the bubbly pool. It was a long, hot walk with many twists and turns on our way there. We got in the water as soon we arrived and cooled off. Soon a few big waves came in and drenched us. It was a great way to cool off. We then motored around the point to Great Harbor and found a mooring ball & got it wrapped around the keel. It was my fault as I had run over the damned thing. We found another nearby mooring. We (all except Joe who was glad to have the solitude) dinghed to White Bay and the Soggy Dollar. We enjoyed a few Painkillers and a light lunch and soon we were headed back to the boat. I watched the Masters on Joe’s I-phone. Where will technology end? Joe & Sandi headed to shore to do some shopping and of course get more ice. That evening we had a buffet dinner at Foxy’s. A waitress seated us and made it very clear we were only to go through the line "one time". Bonnie had her picture taken with Foxy himself. A night cap aboard and some star gazing topped off a great day.
On Sunday morning we awoke to sunny skies and fair winds. We had a short order breakfast with everyone eating a different thing. Sopers Hole was our destination but we wanted to stop for some snorkeling. We were warned about going to the U.S. without checking in through customs so we crossed off St. Johns. We motored around Great Thatch Island but could not find anywhere that would have allowed us to anchor and snorkel. So we headed to Sopers Hole. We found a mooring ball close to the docks & Joe, Sandi and I headed to the market to get a few things and get sandwiches for lunch. The market has a wonderful deli and our sandwiches were made while we waited. After our lunch I took Sandi & Bonnie ashore to shop while I had ice cream and watched the Masters at the Pussers Bar. The ladies joined me for a drink and after picking up more ice we went back to boat for a cooling swim and a nap. We celebrated Joe’s birthday and dinghied to a dockside restaurant named the Jolly Roger. We saw the finish of the Masters and then had a great dinner. A dinghy ride under the stars and a night cap and soon we were all asleep.
A beautiful sunny day greeted us when we awoke. Sandi and I dinghied ashore and went to the deli. As soon as we entered the aroma of fresh cinnamon rolls hit us. Five fresh rolls had just come from the oven. Sandi said "we’ll take those". Back to the boat for coffee and cinnamon rolls. Soon we were off to Buttonwood Bay on Peter Island and again found an empty mooring ball. We jumped in the clear, warm water. The snorkeling was just so-so. Bonnie drove Sandi and I to another spot. It was Bonnie’s first time driving the dinghy. When we got back to the boat Herb and Joe were floating around the stern of the boat soaking in the salt water. We dried off and went ashore to pay for our mooring and have a around of drinks at a rustic little bar & restaurant. Soon we were back on the boat starting dinner. The days here see to pass by so swiftly. That evening we wolfed down a spaghetti dinner and after a melancholy night cap as it was our last night aboard we were off to the bunk.
Tuesday we were up early and quickly crossed the Drake Channel back to where we had started our cruise. Sunsail came out to the boat and docked for us and I was glad as it was a tight squeeze. I had to drop the anchor as we backed in. It was the first time we had to use the anchor during our entire cruise. Soon we were in a cab headed for the airport with long faces as we did not want to leave. We got our wish as the plane we were to take to San Juan had been grounded so we missed our connection. We ended up spending another night in San Juan and getting a plane to Miami with a connection to Chicago the next day. All in all it was a great trip and I would certainly do it again except for the flights both to and from.