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Sunday, December 20, 2015

Island Time

This is an article I submitted to the Seven Seas Cruising Association (SSCA) for their Commodore's Bulletin.  Enjoy!


British Virgin Islands: November 17th, 2014 through May 16th 2015

Robin and I arrived at Nanny Cay Marina in Tortola, BVI after having made our first ever Atlantic crossing aboard our new to us boat.  We participated in the ARC Caribbean 1500 Rally which provided us considerable training and plenty of help with preparations. The boat performed very well crossing from Portsmouth, VA to the BVI in 10 ½ days and the sail was very easy with mostly calm to mild seas and little wind to speak of … except that which was seemingly always on the nose. J The Caribbean 1500 organizers had everything arranged for us when we arrived and customs was even on site saving us from waiting for me to take a taxi ride to town.

After our arrival we spent a few days acquainting ourselves with the Nanny Cay area and meeting some of the other participating sailors for social events.  We received an excellent chart briefing from Kevin, the owner of Horizon Yacht Charters and I took four pages of notes about getting around in the BVIs.  We were very excited to be spending the winter here instead of just a chartered week.  While we had a glancing familiarity with the Islands, this was to be an adventure that would afford us a deeper look at the people, facilities and opportunities around the area. 
At Nanny Cay Marina we primarily spent our time socializing, exploring and cleaning/fixing up the boat.  Nanny Cay is a full service complex second only to the big marina in downtown Road Town as far as facilities are concerned.  Within the confines of the marina area are a full service restaurant (Peg Leg’s), a beach bar, a smaller café (Gennaker’s) a Rite Way grocery outlet, Budget Marine, Blue Water Divers shop, Horizon Yacht Charters, BVI Yacht Sales, a small but well stocked parts, pumps and filters store, an electronics and watermaker store, a full service machine shop, a sail loft, a hotel, a spa/salon and a taxi stand.  Fuel, water, electricity and ice at the docks (the dock hands will deliver ice to you) and you can contact Mr. Thomas to have propane bottles refilled for around $50US including pickup and delivery. 

During our 6 month stay in the BVI, Nanny Cay was more or less our ‘home’ port for anything we needed in terms of assistance and maintenance.  We short-hauled once and hired a diver once; both events were professionally handled and my expectations were met.  Advice in any dealings in the Islands is to firmly set the price for services before engaging the person or company providing the services.

On the occasion that we required assistance (broken bow thruster) the staff members at Nanny Cay were extremely good at handling our dilemma.  They handle and dock more boats in a week than most sailors will dock in a year. They were professional, quick and consummately courteous.  The Dockmaster, Brendan, is first rate and I cannot recommend him highly enough.  Dock facilities are nice; floating docks with metal treads, lit power posts and water taps at each slip. 
Nanny Cay is a very busy marina.  On three occasions we called in, on impulse, while underway and requested a slip only to find they were booked solid. Reservations are pretty much a must with 3 to 5 days lead time being about the minimum.  Reservations by phone at 284-494-2512 or on their website (which we used successfully several times) at http://www.nannycay.com.
The entry is well marked with buoys, entrance depth exceeds 12 feet. Dockside depth exceeds 9 feet and the only place to worry about is if you go wide while in the marina and wander into the mooring area to the west of the docks.  It is shallow (6 feet or less) so stay as close to the “T” heads as comfortable. 
Our overall experience at Nanny Cay has been very good. During our 6 months in the BVI we overnighted there perhaps 5 or 6 times and each experience was consistently favorable.
Find Devon at the Gennaker Café or the Beach Bar and have “the best on the Islands, mon” … no matter what you order J  

Peter Island was our first hop. This is a popular resort and has a rather high end beach, restaurant, resort hotel and mooring field.  The beauty is that you can anchor or take a mooring in nearby Great Harbour and after a short hike enjoy many of the same amenities along a beautiful stretch of beach with an amazing view of the fabled “Dead Chest” (yes, named for the “15 men on a dead man’s chest..” song) Island.  We enjoyed a few great days along the beach enjoying some great drinks, tasty pizza and on a Wednesday afternoon we were entertained by a fun steel drum band. 
Well worth the short hike from the Great Harbor mooring field, Peter Island Resort is a great spot to kick back and enjoy the sights, water, food and entertainment of the islands.

Norman Island, with “The Indians” and “The Caves” snorkeling area are among the most popular stops for tourists and week-long charter boats.  The Pirate’s Bight restaurant has been rebuilt into a more modern version of a bar/restaurant and we somehow felt it had lost some of its charm from the days of rough wooden stools and a sand floor.  The restaurant serves tasty meals however, but we didn’t return there because of the modernization; it now has the feel of any other resort restaurant and while we enjoyed it, it did not have the same enchantment.
While in the Bight, one can visit “Willie T’s”, a floating restaurant with a reputation for some pretty amazing parties.  Alas, our moods did not coincide with their particular brand of festivities and we left without getting a first-hand taste of things there.  Maybe some day ...

Cooper Island Resort is also a popular, very popular, restaurant stop for the charter boats.  We made only one attempt to find mooring space there, but as we passed through the full up mooring field and turned around for another pass, we spotted no less than four more charter catamarans heading in to the same mooring field.  It must’ve been a banner day, but we did not get into the mix and I cannot report on the facilities or amenities there.  There does not seem to be the needed capacity (maybe by design) to handle everyone who wants to come visit.
Trellis Bay is across the Sir Francis Drake Chanel and on the north side of Beef Island.  We arrived to find a very large mooring field with plenty of available spots and room to anchor further out.  Moorings are $30 per night, which is pretty standard among all the mooring fields.  A boat will come to collect in the late afternoon, or relatively early the following morning.
Several restaurants and a pretty cool crafts shop are to be found on the shore. There is also a moderately well stocked grocery store.  We had good meals at both “The Last Resort” and “De Loose Mongoose”.  It was fun to tour the craft store, where the owner may be wheeling or firing a new clay piece.
The beach dinghy docks are quite literally a three block walk to the Beef Island Airport (EIS) so if you are picking up or dropping off family or crew, this saves a cab ride. There is an ATM in the airport terminal, one of the few to be had on the Islands. 
We ran hard aground on a deceptively long and shallow shoal extending between the island where “The Last Resort” restaurant and the beach.  It wasn’t actually a huge issue, as we ran aground in our dinghy, but we did have to row out of the very shallow water.  Later that evening, from our vantage on the roof of “De Loose Mongoose” we watched as a chartered sloop hit the same reef at some speed.  Fortunately he was able to back off it. The tip is to stay in the mooring field when rounding the little spit of land in the middle of the bay.
Jason, the SSCA Station Host was at work that evening so we didn’t get must past the introductions, but it was good to meet him nonetheless.

Marina Cay, just a short hop across from Trellis Bay, is a very popular tourist and charter spot with easy to grab moorings. The Cay is a small island with a great history. Purchased for $80 back in the 1930’s by a starry eyed couple whose crowning achievement is a small house with a cistern up on the hill, there is now a Pusser’s Store and restaurant as well as fuel, showers, trash, laundry and a walkway to the old house.  Part of the old house is still used as an entertainment venue and we enjoyed the mini-bar and a first rate solo guitarist. The view and the sunsets are very nice indeed.

Rounding Tortola on the north side we passed Cane Garden Bay and decided we would press on to Soper’s Hole. I shied away from entering Cane Garden because of our nearly 7 foot draft. Our first visit was via Taxi from Soper’s Hole and we hiked the beach and streets exploring the area.  Highlights for us were Quito’s, Myett’s and the Callwood family distillery. Quito’s is a hopping bar and grill with live music most nights.  Myett’s is a more restaurant than bar, with specials and happy hours running off and on all week. The Callwood family distillery is worth the hike; its primary claim to fame being that it has been a family-owned operation for three-hundred odd years. The inside of distillery shows it, with dirt floors and hand-hewn timbers. A flight of 5 different rums is …wait for it … $1.  You are, however, kind of expected to pick out a couple of your favorites and take some home.  It wasn’t hard to deal with that one.
We thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon there, and took note that at 3:00 P.M. the beach was packed with people but by 4:15 we pretty much had the run of the place. It seems the cruise ships folks had all left and it was time for the locals to get rolling.  That’s something we came to appreciate, as we started asking around about when cruise ship would be in port and regularly avoided the high-tourist-density areas when we could. The cab drivers and shop owners were always well informed about cruise ship arrivals.

The next morning we brought Adagio back over and found my fears unfounded. There was ample depth and the entrance was pretty easy.   When we arrived, the water was relatively calm and we enjoyed the afternoon at Quito’s again listening to a band we had become familiar with the previous day. At one point the band was playing a bit that allowed each member to play a little solo and we clapped and cheered for Scott, the keyboard player we had met and chatted with the previous day.  The folks at the neighboring table asked us “Is that your son?”  It was a good chuckle and here again, we met and enjoyed some new company for the afternoon.
During the evening, however, the wind and waves shifted and we began to pick up some of the “North Swell” that Cane Garden Bay is known for.  The night was pretty rolly, but not completely unacceptable and we sailed out the next morning thankful for a bit softer night ahead.

Jost Van Dyke was our next stop and we eventually visited three or more times during our BVI stay.  Our preference was to moor in Great Harbour (not to be confused with the Great Harbor in Peter Island). This area has a stretch of relatively rough beach, but it is populated by several “staple” attractions including the renowned “Foxy’s” Bar and Restaurant and Corsair’s.  There are several other local attractions including Ali Baba’s (where you can, of course, have a “Baba-Que” Chicken dinner) a small grocery and chandlery (and I mean small) and, a couple of blocks off the main street, a bakery with some pretty amazing breads. 
White Bay is just around the point from Great Harbour.   We did not take our boat in there because the moorings were jammed with charter boats, the depth is ‘supposed’ to be good enough but I did not have firsthand local knowledge, and the swell was rather big.  We chose to just hop a $5 per person taxi from Great Harbor to White Bay.  When we arrived and saw how much trouble some folks were having, especially trying to get on and off shore with their dinghies, we were glad we’d made that decision.
On White Bay are, again, several well-known island attractions.  The Soggy Dollar Bar, so named because at one time you could only access the bar by anchoring out and swimming in to shore, is perhaps the main attraction.  It may be outright sacrilegious to say that we did not like their pain killers as much as we liked those at a couple of other places, but the Soggy Dollar does have the claim to fame that they invented them.  Down the beach are other beach bars including “Coco Loco’s” (look for our “graffiti” on their writing wall), the “One Love” café and a Roti (Indian curry wrapped in a tortilla) place.  If you hike across the rocks you can reach “Ivan’s Stress Free Bar” which is unique in its own sense and is also associated with a nice stretch of beach designated for tent camping.  Cruise ships will set up on-beach events occasionally so a portion of the beach will be ‘reserved’ for the buffet and the enjoyment of the passengers.
We then found what we would call the jewel of Jost Van Dyke and that is Little Harbor (Garner Bay).  When Great Harbour and White Bay were jammed with boats, there were ample mooring balls and quite waters in Little Harbor.  We made the grab and hopped in the dinghy to go sign in and pay our fee.  We met a wonderful lady at “Abe’s” when we checked in for the night and, in typical BVI style, helped us by opening up her little grocery store especially for us.  We saw a sight dockside that I will always remember; that of the water teeming with small, slender fish so tick in numbers it looked exactly like sea grass on the bottom.  It was fascinating to see a gazillion small fish in such a concentrated space. 



We took the dinghy to the other side of the bay and found “Sydney’s Peace and Love Café”. We arrived just in time for them to start preparing the lobster for dinner and Robin got to hold one for a while.  After that she said we couldn’t eat there since she’d “bonded with dinner”.  Still, we wandered around for a bit, found probably the most well stocked T-Shirt shop in the Islands and enjoyed a couple of adult drinks at Sydney’s bar.  It’s a little ‘different’ there, as they don’t really have a bartender, so you kind of make your own drinks, write it down on a spiral notebook and settle up when a staff member comes by.  I wanted a blended drink called a “Bushwhacker” so I got help from a staff member … who made about 4 servings at once …  and set the blender in the freezer in case I wanted to re-blend it later.  I did J.  After paying and saying goodbye we settled in for a nice, quiet evening. 

Sandy Cay is just northeast of Little Harbour and is a very small island with a mild to moderate surf and a few moorings available for day use.  The island has a very cool nature walk around the perimeter and the scenery is wonderful.  The geckos and lizards are everywhere and you can hear them skittering through the underbrush as you walk along. 

Virgin Gorda, by far our favorite spot in the BVI, is diverse and interesting from end to end. Starting from the North Sound, the famous Bitter End Yacht Club is a full featured marina, resort complex and tourist attraction.  There is a pool, a full service restaurant, a beach bar, a pizza café, a dive shop, water sports rental, a small grocery store with fresh pastries (which sell out early), a clothing and souvenir shop and nice walkways all along the beach.  Snorkeling is good if the surf is low and there are hiking trails through the hills. 
Close by and reachable by water taxi or dinghy, Saba Rock is a very small resort with a hopping happy hour and nice restaurant.  An interesting and fun diversion, at 5:00 P.M. a staff member will bring a bucket of fish food to the dock and feed the anxiously waiting tarpon. Sometimes they will let children feed the fish which is always a thrill for them.  They have a small enclosed fish viewing are on the grounds and they have a rather ominous looking eel that lives there. I think he’s pretty spoiled though so not really a threat to fingers J
A hiking trail will take you to Byras Creek Resort, about a mile away from Bitter End. The view from their restaurant is incredible and if you hike further, beach-side is very cool with a large chess set, beach side bar and just a short walk away, a group of rescued horses tended to by the resort staff.  You can arrange an ‘encounter’ with the horses and may even be able to ride one.  If you choose to dinghy over from Bitter End, you can tie up at the Fat Virgin Café and enjoy a nice lunch as well.

Leverick Bay Resort was probably the highlight of our entire stay in the BVI.  Anchoring is good and the moorings are very well serviced. The staff was beyond compare and the resort has some entertaining activities weekly.  In season (after Christmas) Pirate Michael Beans puts on a family friendly minstrel show each Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evening.  Be prepared to sing along, as it a fun show.  On Friday evenings, the beach barbeque will satisfy your hunger and the Moko Jumbie Dancers will wow you with their talents. 
The Leverick Bay Restaurant is very nice, perhaps a true 4 star establishment with 3 star pricing.  We enjoyed several meals there, including Thanksgiving dinner and were never disappointed. We found the burgers and appetizers at the beachside restaurant very good as well. The resort office is where you go to rent a car, call a taxi or get tokens to run the machines in their laundry facilities.
We had some minor difficulty when we spent a few days at their slip however, as it is open to some fairly big swell and will be a rough ride considering you’re at a dock (use more than one snubber!).  We also had an electrical issue which we eventually decided might be a current leak there at the dock.  Management was very responsive to us and tried to help out.  The dock master and hands are all very professional and we had a great time overall at the marina. 
Just up the hill via taxi or car is a small barbeque restaurant called “Hog Heaven”. Do not miss this place. The food is unique, but the view is simply take your breath away stunning.  Overlooking the North Sound you can see Anegada as well as Tortola from your table. It is windy up there though so hang on to your hat.
Further south on Virgin Gorda, famous tourist sites like the “Baths” await. Frequented by cruise ships, it can get crowded clambering through the rocks and caves but it is still worth it to see the beautiful and interesting rock formations.  The water at Devil’s Bay is good for snorkeling and swimming, but there are a couple of better ones immediately adjacent and less frequented by the tourists (Spring Bay and Little Trunk Bay).  Regardless of how you arrive, pay attention to the flags hoisted by the Park Service.  The Red Flag really does mean dangerous conditions. Surf pounding through those rocks and corridors can quickly overpower and injure a swimmer. 

Spanish Town is the main business area of Virgin Gorda.  It has several very good restaurants including our favorites “The Rock” (and “Treehouse”), “Coco Maya”, and the “Pavillion Restaurant” at Little Dix Bay Resort.  Our favorite breakfast spot was the restaurant at Fischer’s Cove with a beautiful view. We enjoyed several other spots on Virgin Gorda including the “Mine Shaft” restaurant, just a short distance from what turned out to be a very interesting tourist attraction called the “Copper Mine” (lots of history there).  One of our favorite acquaintances on Virgin Gorda was Marcus at the Bath and Turtle Restaurant, adjacent to the Spanish Town marina called Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbor.  Please look him up and say “hi” for us.
Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbor is a full service marina with a large grocery store, well supplied chandlery, 50 ton travel lift, dive shop and a small ‘shopette’ mall. The slips are wide and secure and the facilities are very nice overall.  We had two occasions to need service there and received excellent and prompt attention from Jeff Moore at “The Workbench”.   

West End/Soper’s Hole.  After leaving Virgin Gorda, we traveled along the north shore of Tortola nonstop to West End/Soper’s Hole. We made this journey 3 or 4 times to meet or drop off guests connecting with the ferry to St. Thomas.  It is still considerably less expensive to fly in to St. Thomas compared to Beef Island. This is a fact know by the Tortola Tourism folks but not fixed yet.  In the meantime, arriving in St. Thomas, catching a cab to the ferry terminal and purchasing a ferry ticket is still collectively less expensive than airfare to Beef Island.  However, if the money means less than the convenience, entering country through the airport at Beef Island is faster and easier than from off the ferry and the airport is quite close to the mooring field at Trellis Bay meaning no taxi, no ferry and a time saving element.  All of our guest except one have opted for St. Thomas though just because the airfare is significantly less. 
Soper’s Hole is a complete community unto itself.  Technically located on Frenchman’s Key it is a very busy mooring field with only deep water anchoring available (20+ meters) on a rocky bottom.  There are a few boats anchored there but the majority pick up the moorings.  This can be tricky as well because the mooring field gets full and there are boats prowling around like drivers in a Wal Mart parking lot some times.  Arriving early in the day (before 1 P.M.) will alleviate some of that stress. 
The complex has a complete boatyard with haulout, but very little storage space.  There are several places to eat including “Scaramouche” which is a unique Italian eclectic restaurant unlike anything I have experienced before. The staff is completely Italian and they know their fare and wines very well.  Next is a Pusser’s restaurant and company store then “De Best Cup” café and coffee shop with great breakfasts.  Around the bay is the “Fish n Lime” restaurant with pretty decent fare and enjoyable specials.  The grocery store is well stocked, there is a dive shop, clothing and souvenir stores and a day spa.  There are no laundry facilities on sight requiring about a ½ mile walk to the coin laundry down the road. There is no ATM there either.  The water was usually pretty smooth even in higher breezes.  We did have one gusty day that flipped several tethered dinghies over.  It was an adventurous afternoon. Thankfully, we have an electric motor so it was fine after righting the dinghy. Our neighbors were at it for several hours before they got their 2 stroke motor going again.   Thankfully there were no reports of lost boats of parts that day. 
The best restaurant in the whole BVI is at Frenchman’s Key.  If you go with 4 people, order 4 different appetizers and 4 different entrees. You’ll want to try everything.  Ask Karen about Cherry M&Ms …She’ll understand.

IN SUMMARY:

GO!  It is a fun and interesting place to visit.  We can wholeheartedly recommend an organized rally for a safer crossing and to help negotiate your arrival process.
Tell the locals you are a cruiser.  They see so many cruise ship passengers and week-long-charter people that they will welcome a cruiser with a different view.  Learn their names, share your story visit them more than once and see if they don’t remember you too.
Be prepared for the bugs.  Most common are the no-seeums and mosquitos.  We had no trouble with anything else but when the wind falls off they come out and are fierce.  Almost all bars and restaurants keep cans of “Off” handy but there are a couple of local repellents sold in dive shops that work very well using natural ingredients.  I had no success with wearing repellent bracelets because the wind won’t allow anything to linger.

Rent a car instead of taking a taxi.  We discovered, especially on Virgin Gorda, that a taxi ride would be the same for two people as the price of a rental car for the day. Don’t be scared about driving on the wrong side of the road either. It’s not hard J

We had only one instance of a charted depth being wrong and that was in the water near Fort Burke (near Road Town in Tortola). Once we got stuck, we suddenly had help from two dinghies to get us loose. People are really willing to help. Most of the channels we used were very clearly marked (Anegada being the exception).

Water can be purchased at most of the Marinas.  It ran between 15 and 30 cents per gallon depending on the location.  Leverick Bay Marina offers 100 gallons of water and a bag of ice free with each night on a paid mooring or in a slip. Dockside water everywhere is desalinated (RO) and consistently tested as very good quality.

There are scant few ATMs on the Islands.  When you find one, remember it.  We found ours at the Beef Island Airport from Trellis Bay, at the banks in downtown Road Town and at the bank in Spanish Town.  As far as we know none of the resorts had one.

The laundry facilities we found used only cold water. Some were pricier than others. There were a couple on the marina (Leverick Bay, Marina Cay and Village Cay) and some required a long walk or short cab ride (Spanish Town, Soper’s Hole). We did not inquire about facilities at the resorts; they were likely reserved for guests only.

There is a local magazine “Limin’ Times” that has weekly line ups of social and entertainment events.  It is stocked at most businesses.

We are going back. Perhaps we will see you there!

Gary and Robin Wells

s/v Adagio




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