Friday, February 17, 2012

Idyllic Days in the Virgin Islands (US and BVIs)

Time flies as we cruise between the USVI and the BVI, watching the calendar so we don’t spend more than 30 days in the BVIs.  If we do, we’ll have to pay a tax of several hundred dollars to ‘import’ the boat for a year.  We’ll not be here long enough to make that our worth our while, so we count days as we await 3 groups of guests arriving between now and mid-March.

Jill & Hal
Jill and Hal, along with Cindy and Jim, relatives from Florida, joined us first for a week of cruising in the BVI’s.  My cousin, Douglas and his wife, Margie, joined us from Tennessee the following week.
Andy, Margie & my cousin, Douglas
Jim & Cindy

Bar tenders see us coming & are READY!
Pain Killers - the national drink of the BVI's 

With beautiful weather and easy cruising in these islands, we’ve spent our time visiting the Must See haunts: 

Douglas & Margie @ Soggy Dollar Bar

First stop is over to the tiny (3 square mile) western island of Jose Van Dyke, with its population of not much over 200 people,  to clear in with Customs and Immigration at Great Harbor.  Once 'legal' in the BVI's, a quick dingy ride over to the adjacent White Bay to the Soggy Dollar Bar introduced our guests to the original PainKiller drink.  Soggy Dollar Bar is aptly named - that’s what happens to the money in your pocket when you dingy anywhere...soggy bottoms & soggy dollars.

Foxy's is Adult Only

Party time that evening at the infamous Foxy’s on Jost Van Dyke was lively, even without Foxy’s performances anymore.  He’s retired, but hangs out in the daytime here.  

Sharon, Andy & the famous Foxy
 Meeting him on this trip, and never before during the 4 previous trips here as we always came in the summer, which is Low Season, we had the opportunity to chat.   I was absolutely shocked at his comments about people, about race, & frankly, about everything.  I also do not shock easily!   I didn’t find him funny, even though we have a CD of his, purchased years ago that I did find funny.  I intend to play it again, to see if I’ve become more sensitive or he’s become more insulting.   
Dancing the night away @ Foxy's

Andy's idea of pole dancing                                                             
View from Foxy's Taboo

Between guests, Andy & I  cruised into the Manchioneel Bay area and the island of  Little Jost Van Dyke.  This quickly became a favorite place - somewhat isolated, but with lots to see.  Almost everywhere in the BVI's it's required to take a mooring ball rather than drop the anchor off.  Doing so protects the coral, saves the bottom of the ocean floor and saves everyone from inexperienced boaters trying to get an anchor to stick!   Foxy’s Taboo, a charming open air  restaurant/bar is owned by Foxy’s daughter and is delightful.  

Sandy Spit - obviously named & this is high tide
Taking the dingy, we explored Sandy Cay, but due to rough wave action and swells,  we decided to NOT risk life and limb in an attempt to beach the dingy, so we departed, sadly watching the beautiful beach get further away.  We checked out Sandy Spit and Green Cay - all ever so beautiful with the waves of the Atlantic pounding on one side and so protected on the other, with the shallow waters glistening in the hues of blue, aqua and greens, but we gave up trying to get out of the dingy.

Exploring on foot later, on the mainland of Jost Van Dyke, we climbed the small hill along the shoreline away from Foxy’s Taboo, locating the ‘Bubbly Pool’.  This natural pool formed by rocks at the ocean’s edge is a lot of fun as the waves come crashing between rocks, creating a small bubbling tidel wave in a natural pool of rocks -- very suitable even with children - in life jackets.
Bubbling pool - the waves get really large & fun

Now I know what to do with old snorkel fins!
Jim, Cindy, Andy, Sharon, Hal, Jill & our guide - Virgin Gorda
A trip to Virgin Gorda (means Fat Virgin in Spanish) so named because this nearly 10 x 2 mile island looks from the sea like a fat woman lying on her back. 

There, the Baths top the Must See list - an very odd and unique formation of mamouth granite rocks piled up on the beach looking like some giant had hurled them there -  but which were formed by ancient volcanic activity.  Remember, all these islands were/are volcanic, rising up out of the sea.   Grabbing a Park mooring ball, (absolutely no anchoring allowed here) we took off in the dingy, tying it to the dingy line provided by the Park.  Phew, it was much further to the beach than we’d thought, swimming, swimming, swimming. 
The Baths - Swimming in from the dingy in the distance
Oops, some were not used to that level of activity and had a difficult time of it.  Actually, it was scary for them and for us.  Next time, we beach the dingy, drop off our passengers and return the dingy to the line......strongest swimmer gets that job! 
Beginning our hike thru the Baths

Climbing and wading through the maze of passages formed by boulders overhead, some with ropes provided and some with rudimentary ladders built into the rock, we peeked into caves and crannies formed by the wave action.

Think Cindy will fit???

Climb, hike, swim through The Baths

Bright white splotches of sand provide resting places along the way and the scenery looking from the boulders out into North Sound is breathtakingly beautiful.    

Finally Fun outside The Baths

The Baths (click to enlarge to read)
 Still on Virgin Gorda, we marked our travel schedule to hit Leverick Bay Resort & Marina on Friday night to catch their beach BBQ with live music and the Mocko Jumbies stilt dancers.  Any boater reading this blog should ask for the Travel Talk on Line special - you’ll get the marina slip for $30 + $20 for electric and all the water you want + a bag of ice.   Sweet deal & no long wet dingy ride in the dark after all the dinner and dancing!
Mocko Jumbies Stilt Dances wowing the crowd

Audience got really involved - music is great

High Fiving

I saw tennis shoes nailed to a platform on the stilts

How these dancers don't get tripped up is amazing!

Cruising on down to the Bitter End and tiny Saba Rock at the tip of Virgin Gorda, we dropped the hook off Prickly Pear Island at the edge of the mooring field.  

Passing Necker Island on the way, home to Sir Richard Branson.  Look closely & you'll see the burned ruins of this fabulous vacation spot that costs about $100,000 a night to stay on!  It caught fire this sad.
Necker Island- Private playground for the very rich
Off the deck of Finally Fun, at the Bitter End 

Viewing sunsets anywhere in these islands is always spectacular. 
Margie, at the Gift Shop at Bitter End
Both these resorts are upscale,  and encourage boaters to wander about, check out the happy hours, the restaurants and the happening events and participate.  Exploring by dingy with Douglas and Margie, we discovered nearby Biras Creek - a very very upscale private resort loaded with activities for guests, including all the water toys and even horses! 

This iguana never took his eyes off us, but never moved.
 Resting up, we dinked over to the beach at the Sand Box on Vixen Point/Prickly Pear Island, utilizing their facilities to swim and to cool off with a cold beer, sitting under their beach umbrellas.  Tough life, I know.

The Bitter End & Saba Rock quickly became the favorite place.  The Bitter End Resort is at the end of the island chain.  The very end of a rope, or line, as it's called if that piece of rope is on a boat, is called the Bitter End....the meaning coming from when that line pulls out of your hands and it's gone....bitter bitter moment when the end of the rope leaves your hands and you are not secured!

Andy, Jill, Cindy & Jim enjoying Copper Island Resort
Cooper Island is worthy always of a stop over, taking a mooring ball as the bottom is mostly sea grass, with very poor holding.  The beach is wonderful, the gift shop nice and the bar/restaurant, with its outdoor sofas, umbrellas, makes for wonderful ambiance.  

Humm, we, as a group, got ‘picked up’ by a gal, Christine, probably in her 40’s, as we sat around sipping our umbrella drinks.  Before most of us knew what was happening, she was part of the group; inviting some back to her rented cottage AND then suddenly she was having dinner aboard.  No problem, mon.  BUT she brought her illegal substances with her....she was a hoot.  Funny, what one does or does not remember............

Another Must Do is a stop at Norman’s Island - the most famous pirate island of all.  Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Treasure Island, using Norman Island as the basis for the tale.  Numerous legends abound as this WAS Pirate territory. 

At the entrance to a cave

Snorkeling the 3-4 caves where treasure was rumored to be hidden is a lot of fun. 

The Bight where we are moored on Norman Island has the Willy T pirate ship permanently moored and is always the scene for many a raucous evening of fun.  It’s claim to fame used to be that if one jumped off the top of the Willy T naked, one got a Willy T t-shirt - hence the crowds, awaiting the action.  Last time we were through here, Andy tried to get a t-shirt, willing to jump naked.  The bartender, in charge of it all, said, “Mon, you crazy asshole.  This is for WOMEN only!”  No shirt that day.  Jumping is no longer allowed.  The lawyers from the USA must have gotten to them somehow.  
Sunset at Norman Island

This is what happens when you have too much fun!

Andy & Sharon - Absolutely all 'fun ed' out

Jim can't handle the fun
Douglas can't take the fun either

This unnamed sailor can't take the fun either, but he provided a lot of laughs for us as he tried to take a nap & kept crashing down to the deck in a hammock he hung up!

Sharon racing to grab the mooring ball first!
I must say, I do prefer these islands in the off season as compared to this High Season.  

Charter boats abound, crowding the favorite spots, fighting over any remaining mooring balls. “I saw that FIRST!” was screamed at us as I hooked the last ball at Foxy’s. Too bad - “I GOT HERE first!” was my reply.  

Scary later, however, as that charter boat tried for 1.5 HOURS to drop the anchor.  They had no clue how to anchor - they put two people into the water with snorkel gear to ‘help’.. doing what I have no idea.  They continued to drop the anchor to the bottom, straight down, with limited rode (that is line out into the water which should be a ratio of 3-5 feet per foot of water under you + each foot of boat out of the water) and wondered why the anchor never set.  We only kept hoping they would remain well behind us, so they would not drag into us during the night. 
 Add poorly trained Charter People to the list!
Now, in hindsight and realizing how much we’ve learned about boating since moving onto our own boat four years ago,  I think the charter companies should require a ‘test’ of the basics, such as how to drop an anchor, what makes a safe anchorage and the Rules of the Road before turning over the boat.   Charter companies do give a test run, taking one out to make sure you can handle the boat, but they never question those basics I mentioned.  I also recall how we ‘exaggerated’ our boating skills resume when we applied to charter a boat and know most others do likewise!  
Charter folks pay more attention to these signs
We laughed (but it wasn’t really funny due to the potential accident waiting to happen the other day) at an angry exchange on Channel 16 as one sailor screamed at another “I had the right of way!”  The other boater replied, “No, you do not.  You are a sailboat UNDER POWER and are therefore treated as a power boat. I  had the right of way and you nearly hit me.”  Two other boaters chimed in, explaining the Rules of the Road over the airwaves....all on Channel 16 - another No No.  They should have switched channels to talk, leaving 16 for emergency traffic (MayDay!), for the US Coast Guard announcements and for hailing another boat only.  
Brits DO have a sense of humor!
I keep driving Andy crazy with ‘Do you see that boat?”  “Get further away from this guy” and those type comments.  I’m leery of being around these charter boats as one cannot anticipate their next action.  So many, as we were back in the day, are inexperienced, unaware and do stupid things such as tacking right in front of us, suddenly and unexpectedly....humm, they have the Right of Way they think.  One of these days one of these boaters might be DEAD RIGHT and truly dead....sobering thought.

It reminds me of a joke - a guy called the Charter Company on day 4 of his cruise asking where the rest of the anchors were on the boat.  He’d been out 3 days and used up the 3 anchors he found and now he needed the rest to finish out his week.......ahhhh.  Stupid, but you get my point.
Do boys ever tire of being boys?  Knockers Up @ Bitter End
More charter happenings:   We watched a charter boat cut to closely in front of another boat minding its own business, gently swinging on a mooring ball in Marina Cay.  The boat chopped the line to the mooring, freeing the unoccupied boat.  Thank goodness for other boaters and some help from marina personnel, who re-secured the unoccupied boat while the hapless charter boat crew, red faced, quietly cruised out of the area.
Doug, Andy, Sharon Joanne, George & Margie @ Bitter End
More ‘old friend’ encounters.  Hearing RomantaSea hailing on the VHF, we connected with George & Joanne from our Port Louis Marina days.  Meeting up with them at Marina Cay and onward to the Bitter End, we spent several days poking about together with our guests and with their two.  
George & Joanne dancing the night away
Bite Me!  Damn charter boat hit us today, cracking some gelcoat and scratching our paint.  THEN the guy tried to blame us!  Tied to a mooring in West End/Soper’s Hole on Tortola, having just dropped off my cousin, Douglas and his wife, Margie, to catch the Ferry to St. Thomas and their flight back to the USA, we were down below when I saw a catamaran right on us.  Racing topside, but not in time to grab a fender or anything, I watched the cat, who was now parallel to us, swing his aft end into Finally Fun.  He had been moored behind us on another ball, departed, and managed to run over his mooring ball, which I could see now stuck under him.  He was maneuvering close to us -- trying to free themselves from the ball and line - and clipped us.  
I shouted that he’d hit us.  He shouted back - “It is your fault.  You have too much line out front of your mooring ball.”  Ummmm, “Captain, I am tied to a mooring ball.  You are UNDERWAY, at power.”  Bottom line, I got him to give us a check for $150 to cover potential cost to repair the gelcoat and promised him I’d send him any left over $$ - in June, when we could get it repaired when we returned to the USA.  I think his pride took a beating as he had guests on board.......