We waited a long time before going to the British Virgin Islands (aka the BVIs). While these islands are located only 90 nautical miles (about 170 km) from St. Martin, the Anegada passage between the two countries can be difficult due to waves and current. The BVIs are directly west of St. Martin, which typically means downwind sailing thanks to the easterly trade winds. This is not Ar Sgrail’s forte, and after departing St. Martin in late January, we spent 20 hours rolling around in the waves, with not quite enough wind to propel us forward through the swell, forcing us to motor-sail for most of the passage. Despite the less than ideal sailing conditions, there were a few silver linings. The new moon made the stars pop out of the dark night sky, revealing entire constellations and awe-inspiring shooting stars as we sailed away from the bright lights of St. Martin and into the dark ocean. In the morning, after a very restless night attempting to sleep in three-hour shifts, we were treated to a beautiful sunrise, then a couple of hours later were greeted by a pod of dolphins (and a baby!) who stayed with us for a good 15 minutes, playing and jumping in our bow wake.
We weren’t quite sure what to expect once we arrived in the Virgins. From what we’d heard, it was a very popular spot for charterers, which in many cases means people with limited sailing experience renting giant catamarans and pretending to know what they’re doing. This is exactly what we tend to avoid, which is why we’d never been all that interested in the BVIs as a sailing destination. That, and the fact that to get back to St. Martin would entail a terrible 90-mile passage, this time nose into the wind and waves.
We landed in Virgin Gorda, the easternmost island of the BVIs, and dropped the hook outside of Spanish Town just before sunset. After a quick swim and some dinner, we tried to watch a movie but just couldn’t keep our eyes open, and were dead to the world by 8 p.m.
Eleven hours later, we woke up feeling reinvigorated. We cleared into the BVIs then decided to go for a sail—just for the fun of it! We really couldn’t remember the last time we’d done that, and we had a glorious sail across the Francis Drake Channel, reaching speeds of 7 knots! On our first day of sailing in the BVIs, we realized why the area is such a popular cruising destination. The islands are all close together, so you can get from one to the next in a matter of hours, and there always seems to be wind, so the sailing is fabulous! We were hooked from day one. Our sail brought us up to the Gorda Sound on the north side of Virgin Gorda, where we reconnected with our friends Al and Brenda on Haven from Comox, BC.
On our second day in the Gorda Sound, anchored by Prickly Pear, a national marine park, the wind died. This is a pretty rare event in the Caribbean, and we were shocked at how flat the water was in the anchorage. So we hunkered down for a few days so Mel could do some translation work, and David could get caught up on some boat projects. At dusk, we were treated to the incredibly noisy arrival of the flamingoes flying into the salt ponds on Prickly Pear to spend the night.
After spending the weekend in the Gorda Sound, we sailed over to Tortola to celebrate Al’s birthday in Cane Garden Bay. We made a quick midway stop on Guana Island, where we had lunch and went for a swim. Just as we were preparing to weigh anchor, we spotted another pod of dolphins slowly swimming between our boat and the shore—and they were heading right for us! They ended up swimming right under the boat before heading out to open ocean. It was a pretty magical experience! Seeing dolphins up close never gets old.
Al’s birthday was a fun night – it started with Painkillers on board Haven (a popular island drink in these parts, made with pineapple juice, cream of coconut and lots of nutmeg), then we went ashore for dinner at Myetts.
We ended up spending a few days in Cane Garden Bay, as it had everything we needed: a grocery store, a laundromat, and lots of beach bars to choose from. Plus, the view wasn’t half bad. We even saw a nurse shark while snorkeling the reef.
When it was time to move on, we headed east to Jost Van Dyke. Our first stop was the Bubbly Pool, a small pool protected from the open ocean by large rocks. When the ocean waves crash against the rocks, they are let into the pool through a small cut, producing a torrent of bubbles, much like a jacuzzi!
The next few days in Jost involved contending for anchoring space with charter boats, and dodging drunken vacationers while searching for the best Painkillers at the island’s famous beach bars: Foxy’s and the Soggy Dollar. This particular island has got marketing figured out, with each bar boasting a shop that sells an unfathomable variety of branded merchandise.
And that was just the first week! Stay tuned for more from the Virgin Islands!