Monday, September 19, 2016

We met Illias Today

31 JULY 2016

We met Illias today.  We only know his first name, and that he is from Spain.  If I had to guess, and I do because we couldn’t cross the language barrier, I would say early twenties, slim, in great physical shape and not married (based simply on the absence of a wedding band).

We met Illias six and one half miles off the eastern coast of Gibraltar.  He had been having a very bad day so far and our chance meeting was just the thing to lift him up.  As near as we can surmise, Illias had gone for a Jet Ski ride earlier and had a problem with the motor. A problem big enough to punch a hole in the aft part of the sled and partially sink it.  With only the nose of the Jet Ski still above water he was hanging on and drifting eastward in the current and wind.  Ha had been trying to swim/paddle/pull the sled along toward an anchored cargo ship some 1 and one half miles away, but it was an exhausting and futile attempt.  His sport type flotation vest was waterlogged and barely buoyant and the distance to the moored cargo ship was much too far to swim in his exhausted state. He had been in the water for about seven hours, was drifting further and further away from shore and sunset was not far off.

Somewhere out there ...  

Robin and I were underway from Gibraltar to Formentera, the nearest Balearic Island.  We had left Gibraltar about 20 minutes later than planned, but actually two days earlier than planned and it was not much of a worry anyway as we were looking at a nearly 400nm trip into the Mediterranean. Our only concern was that the dreaded ‘weather window’ was rather short and soon we might be facing stiff headwinds and steep seas. So, today was the day to get going as we would have … well, we were forecasted to have ,,, light winds on the tail for at least the first forty some hours along the way. 

Leaving Gibraltar proved the forecasts exactly wrong as we found twenty-five to thirty knots of wind as we exited the Gibraltar Bay and turned east.  At least it was on the tail and we could set up for a downwind run until things changed.  So, we ran the main and mizzen sails out and enjoyed the first hour under a fine, fast but rolling sail with no jib at all.
Pretty soon the winds began to ease and we talked about setting the downwind poles to run the genoa out flat at dead-downwind.  It’s a great system that Amel uses, but it takes a while to rig up and involves two section of articulated poles and four control lines as well as the jib sheets. Once it’s set, it’s a very handy configuration though.

Once we had talked it through, Robin and I went on deck to set it up. We were making fairly good speed on Main and Mizzen but as the wind eased we wanted to be ready to set the Genoa sail.
With the first pole rigged we started to set the second. I was on the foredeck and Robin was on deck by the cockpit and we were both handling the longer, heavier pole.
In my periphery something drew my attention to the water and at about 200 or maybe 300 yards I thought it might be a dolphin or perhaps just some adrift junk but I spotted the nose of a mostly submerged jet-ski bobbing in the waves and the waving arms of a man in the water. At first, it took a moment to register that this wasn’t someone who had just taken a break to snorkel or something like that; it’s difficult to grasp that someone could actually be in serious trouble so your mind searches for alternatives. I yelled and waved and he yelled and waved, only his yell was a desperate almost-scream kind of yell that answered any doubt as to whether or not he was in panic driven difficulty.

It is hard to describe the feelings and mental process of seeing this situation. In the instant you somehow want to believe that everything is OK; that this fellow is just diving or waiting for the water ski boat to come back around or something.  But when I could really identify the Jet Ski nose bobbing in the water and hear the frantic cry it was pretty easy to decide what to do next.  Robin took the helm and I started dousing sails.  We were still going pretty fast and the wind was still pushing twenty knots. Thankfully the seas were only about three to four feet.  I think he (Illias) thought we might be passing him by, as he kept on yelling and waving and expending his last energy trying to attract our attention. In fact we were fully focused by then, but had to run away for a bit to get the sails down and the motor running.

Once the sails were furled we headed back toward him as I readied the throwing line and tried to drop the boarding ladder.  I say tried because I learned that it simply cannot be placed and latched while in any kind of forward motion. The drag of the ladder was too much to permit me to fit it into its retaining eyes. We had to get nearly completely stopped before I could get it set.  We have a Life Sling which could have been deployed (and would have been if we were in rougher seas).  We brought the boat starboard side just upwind and I threw the line.  Illias swam maybe ten feet and grabbed it with a huge yell and pulled himself to the ladder.  I grabbed under his arm to help him aboard and he instantly crumpled on his knees and was sobbing. 
In a couple of minutes we helped him into the cockpit, out of his wet stuff and into dry clothes and blankets. Although he wasn’t shivering his skin was ice cold.  We gave water and a banana and several minutes later some hot soup (which he never got to finish).  I think I heard “Thank You” 50 times.

I radioed a “Pan Pan” to Gibraltar Police and Spanish Coast Guard and was answered quickly.  When I explained we had rescued a swimmer from the water they directed me to another channel where I spoke to Tarifa Radio which controls the commercial traffic in the Straits of Gibraltar. 

We recently outfitted Adagio with an A.I.S. transponder because it is an excellent tool for traffic prediction and conflict resolution.  What I hadn’t considered when we made that decision is that the entities that can see you because you have a transponder no longer have to query you for your position.  “I see your AIS” said the controller at Tarifa Radio, “and will relay your position to the Police and Coast Guard”.  Well, that’s Big Brother watching, and in this case watching out for, us. The Coast Guard loads our coordinates in their GPS and bingo, we’re a waypoint.

We waited perhaps 40 minutes, slowly circling the Jet Ski that wouldn’t quite sink.  I did not want to try to take it in tow as it would mean trying to tie to it by coming alongside or getting in the water or launching the dinghy and Robin and I decided against any additional risk to the equipment.  We had the important part aboard and safe.
When the AIS sounded a “CPA” (Closest Proximity Alarm) it was apparent that the target moving toward us at twenty-two knots was our Cost Guard boat.  They came along side and asked if I spoke Spanish. I replied ‘no’, which is smarter than trying to say “yes, but only a little and very slowly” which is essentially a ‘no’ anyway.

The Coastie say only “make the transfer fast, very fast!” meaning that when they came alongside and we played bumper boats it would be imperative that Illias make the jump between boats as quickly as possible. We did, and he was off Adagio in an instant and with waves and thanks all around he was gone and we headed back on course and they went to see if they could salvage the Jet Ski.
Then we noticed we still had his wet life jacket and t-shirt.  But it didn’t make sense to risk turning around and trying to match up boats again so we will keep them for posterity or perhaps if we learn where Illias is from we can ship them back to him.
All in all a day like none other in our lives.  So many things came together exactly right to put us in the right spot at the right time and to be doing the right thing to see and hear him so that we could offer assistance.  It is impossible to say what would have happened had we missed him, but I am glad we didn’t. 

I wish we could have exchanged information or even had the presence of mind to take a photo (it never even crossed my mind) but I won’t soon forget the pictures in my memory of that sled bobbing in the water and the constant ‘thank you’ from Illias.

You might be right in saying that Illias was very lucky that we came by, but I can’t begin to tell you how lucky WE felt to be in the right place at the right place to pull him out.

The pieces fit. 


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Yell, No.

Yesterday morning we were docked at the marina. I was topsides puttering about when I watched another sailboat, perhaps 40' long and all decked out with solar panels, extra fuel jugs and and other things that led me to ascertain that it was a cruising boat and not a rental, approach the fuel dock. A couple, about our age I'd guess, were the only folks aboard. He had the helm and she was up front trying to get a line over a cleat to catch the dock.
I watched closely from three slips down and noticed she had a cool pole that held her dock line in such a way that she could easily catch a cleat. I thought I'd go ask about the cool tool so I hopped off Adagio and headed toward the fuel dock.
When I got there it was chaos.
The "he" and "she" were locked in a loud and bitter dispute over docking position and they just made an already bad situation worse by starting in with the dock hands as well. I changed my mind about engaging them in conversation and was turning back when they moved too far forward and crunched the rental boat in front of them.
Now they were really yelling and one actually pushed the other out of the way to get something tied or untied, I couldn't tell. It seemed that both parties were making sure that everyone around them knew that this was their partner's fault. 

With the help of another sailor I managed to move the rental boat about 10 feet forward (I don't know where those folks went) after getting the cruiser boat's anchor freed from the rental boat's aft lifelines. 
Eventually it was over, he stomped off their boat and she just sat topsides staring away from everything. You could tell by her overall countenance that she was just so ready to call this off and be somewhere else.

SO many things wrong with this scene. Among them a total lack of expectation management, pure crap for planning and communications, a complete disregard for safety in favor of ego supremacy and just plain bad seamanship.
I cannot fathom what life must be like on a long haul but after what I saw it wouldn't surprise me if only one was found aboard at the next destination. 

The boat was not ready to dock; fenders were not on the correct side of the boat and lines weren't ready.
The dock was too crowded already. They decided they didn't need dock hands' help to catch lines and secure the boat.
They changed plans at a critical moment.
They obviously don't like each other. Anger overruled common sense.
Robin and I have a lot of rules we play by in order for us to make it look "easy". One of our foundational doctrines is that we'll keep sailing "as long as it's fun." 

Even as a couple who have done docking and mooring a hundred times now we still talk out the steps of our plan and a contingency. We don't move our boat until things and systems and WE are ready. It simply makes sense, reduces stress and ultimately increases both our safety margin and fun factor. 

I am so truly blessed to sail and live with Robin. She is a great partner in so many ways, but as a sailor, whether Captain or crew, she's the best I know.
Those other two? I'll bet they wouldn't say that.
Never did find out about that dock line stick smile emoticon

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
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.


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

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Here we go again!!

Countdown: 8 days until we sail 1450 miles from BVI to the Chesapeake Bay area.

 We're planning an uneventful trip, but you know what they say about sailing and plans ... Preparations are underway, and it is with a lot of mixed emotions that we prepare for this trip. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in the BVI. The people make it special here. While I have some (appropriate, I hope) trepidation about the crossing, I know and trust that the boat can do it and that we will work through whatever pops up along the way. After all, how bad can 8 days in the Atlantic really be??? (ummm, yeah, I know ... :)

We are right in the middle of cleaning, stowing, oil-changing, impeller swapping, fixing those last few projects that inevitably got put off in favor of one more pirate party, Jumbies dancing, hiking/snorkeling/touring day or just a sit-and-soak-it-all-in afternoon. No worries; there were a ton of unfinished projects when we came here, but we came anyway. If we waited until everything was perfect, we'd've never cast off.

Still have laundry, paperwork and things like mounting the life raft, running the jack-lines and inspecting all the life jackets to make sure they are in good shape. It's going to be a long week ahead, then we can relax into the rhythm of swells and watch rotations and just point her toward the northwest for a few days before we really even have to think about actually navigating.

Nervous? yep, a little. It's a big ocean and a lot can happen.

Happy to be coming back to the States? Yep, we have some serious catching up to do with friends and family and a few projects on land too ( got to sell our first boat still.

I'm anxious to get going, and sad to be leaving this wonderful place.

It's quite a mixed bag of feelings, but that's OK because we have a ketch and it's understood that we are bi-polar (groan...sorry).

Honestly, the people here .....

I'd like to take a moment and completely stereotype an entire population... Yeah, I know I shouldn't make such generalizations because they aren't 'sensitive' but I just have to get this off my chest.

For the past 5+ months I have sailed and explored the British Virgin Islands with my wife. We have been simply taken aback with the friendliness of the people, their general courteousness, regardless of age or station, and their willingness to help cruisers like us. Not once did we feel put upon, cheated or mistreated on any way.... well... some marinas are overpriced...

Today, a couple of natives of Tortola cemented my opinion by going above and beyond to cover for my oversight. ... A week ago I walked away from breakfast and left my small dry bag behind; complete with phone, camera, SPOT, and a portable USB battery. Nearly $1k worth of possessions.

We'd sailed off and by the time it was noticed it was too late to turn around. Several phone calls revealed little hope.

A week later I returned in person, retracing all my steps and asking around.
Turned out that a conscientious and honest employee had recovered my stuff and taken it home so that no one amongst the cruise ship crowd would grab it.
She tried calling a few numbers but couldn't speak English well enough to really get the message across.

Thinking the phone might be in bad hands I locked it remotely.
She then began spreading the word and a lot of business folks knew she had it. I got connected with her and she would only accept a hug as a reward.

So... my opinion?

Everybody in the BVI is awesome. and you can't argue me out of it smile emoticon

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Full Circle

“Full Circle”, “Close the Loop”, “Coming Back Around” …  whatever the term, there is a certain satisfaction to the process of coming back to where it all started.

On Saturday, November 15th, 2014 at around 2:00 PM Atlantic Standard Time Robin and I sat at a small café and clinked together two Coronas with lime.  The café, a small cantina adjacent to the Village Cay Marina, was where it all started.  Over 9 years ago Robin and I sat at the exact same table, overlooking the marina and watched a grand sight as a rather large, blue hulled sailboat found and backed into her slip. With the help of her bow thruster the captain made it look easy and elegant.  That was a trigger for the comments between us that eventually found us pursuing a dream to do the same thing.  That day was April 23rd, 2005.

This day, we had arrived by taxi. Our own sailboat happily docked at Nanny Cay Marina some 6 miles south, two days after we had just accomplished an Atlantic crossing of some 1,500 nautical miles to reach our destination.  The story of the preparations, trials, setbacks and exciting successes are laid out in the previous pages of this blog. It has been quite a road and when Robin and I clinked bottles together in remembrance of the first time we did the same thing at this location, all I could think of to say as a toast was “God is good”. It meant so very much to both of us to share that moment.  It was hard not to cry, emotions being high after such a long and hard fought chase for this dream. 

Now, we are here. Sailing our own boat among the British Virgin Islands for the time being and in a situation where we really, truly have no bounds as far as future exploration and adventure is concerned.

We are soon to have fewer ties to land. The house in Longmont may well be sold next Spring, the truck and RV are in storage, with for sale signs on them and the motorcycle was sold back in July. That’ll leave us with a Toyota pickup as our only land based asset. We think we will hang on to it for the time being as is would be handy to have the ability to drive when we get back to the states.  Having said that, there is a case to be made for not making insurance payments on a vehicle that we don’t use … but there’s also a case to be made for keeping insurance in effect on something, anything … if you let all insurances lapse, it can be difficult to get insured again.

But, I digress … SO, we sat at that cantina, sipping on a Corona, and trying to recapture all the events that led us here. It has been a truly amazing journey.

It’s always fun to dream about stuff.  To toss around the ‘Someday Isle” visions and ‘wouldn’t it be fun if…” talks.  Our talks weren’t all that serious right off the bat, but it really didn’t take long to realize that to dream about stuff like that was one thing and to plan for it quite another. We had some big decisions to make and the very cool, amazing and wonderful part of it all was that it was totally safe to have wild-eyed dreams and to experience the freedom of to share those dreams Robin in a supportive and likeminded relationship.

The very first thing we needed to discover was whether or not we even liked sailing.  We signed up for a basic sailing class (ASA 101, Basic Keelboat) in Lyons, CO of all places.  The classes were at the “Anchorage” in Lyons and the sailing days were in Carter Lake aboard a 24’ Santana sailboat that had obviously seen its fair share of hard use and tough winters. Nonetheless … it was fun and while the winds on Carter Lake are cantankerous I think we both got the basic idea that the boat can go where the wind will let you and we learned a little bit about reading the water and waves to find wind. Oh, and how to tie a Bowline.  You must know how to tie a Bowline.

We rented that same boat for a couple of outings, just to practice up and then life and work and planning and other worldly stuff intervened for a few months. Still, we talked about it and kept the dream alive.

Then, it was crunch time …  we kept making plans, scheming schemes and drawing up our hopes for what could be. But it came time to make some decisions that would set things into motion toward those dreams and that’s where it usually gets scary because it means you are going to roll the dice and give up some of the nice, cozy security you think you have.  It also means you go public; it was time to let others know what we were thinking about.  This carries its own risk and reward opportunity, but it makes the whole thing ‘real’ instead of a wish.  The more people we told about it, the more it became real to us as well.  Now, it was a plan more than a dream.  We had few specifics yet, but it was still a real, honest goal that we would push toward.

A few observations:  1: It is very, very easy to convince yourself that your goal is unrealistic, impossible, irresponsible or a hundred other things that make you want to turn back to your ‘secure’ routine. 2:  Friends and family are awesome!  Without exception we found two polar opposites with nothing in the middle. Those opposites were a> “You’re crazy” and b> “I’ve always wanted to do that.” It was still pretty amazing to be able to share the dream. It also makes it a bit easier to make commitments toward that dream if other people know what you are chasing. 3: Chasing a dream is hard. Very hard.  It takes a lot out of you, gets frustrating and it seems like there is a new obstacle at every turn designed just to thwart your success.  I am certain, for instance, that the financial meltdown in 2008 was custom crafted to set us back so far that we’d never recover. 4:  You will never be ready.  We’ve heard it time and time again from nearly every source imaginable and it’s true.  If you wait till all the affairs are in perfect order, you will never, ever get to your goal. You simply have to have some faith that things outside of your control will fall into place and ultimately it’s going to work out.  If you succeed then good on you, if you fail miserably it is still better than not trying.  We were going to try for this one.

We took two advanced sailing courses in Florida; Coastal Cruising and Bareboat Chartering (ASA 103, ASA104). With those two tickets in hand, one can go pretty much anywhere and rent (charter) a sailboat after a check-out ride.  We did that.  We chartered in Seattle and Marina Del Rey and in the British Virgin Islands. All amazing and fun times. It was a bit cumbersome trying to find good sailing experiences though. Sailing in Carter Lake was not really a long term option because it was basically around in circles with silly winds. Sailing on the ocean was tons of fun, and what we wanted to learn how to do, but it always involved airfare, hotel, rental car, restaurants and boat rental. Not very efficient from several respects. So we decided we needed to move and be near the water. We looked all over Colorado and could not find an ocean so it meant a really big move. 

We considered all four corners; Seattle, San Diego, Miami, and Northeast US (maybe Connecticut).  Seattle was cold, San Diego was too pricey and we couldn’t really come to grips with the Northeast US just yet so we set our sights on Miami and when the opportunity was provided moved there.

It was a huge step toward the dream. We were pretty much all in now. The houses were rented, we purchased and moved into the RV, towed across the country, learned the new jobs and bought our first boat to learn on.  Now it was more than just a dream; we had made significant life changes, invested heavily financially and were pretty much running forward as fast as we could. Some people thought we were crazy, some people said “I’ve always wanted to do that.” 

We put our goals on the calendar.  Now … it was a deadline, not a dream.  Instead of saying “someday I’ll do this..” it was “Oh man, I only have this much time to get ready because I have to do this.” Maybe not as romantic, but it changes the whole perspective and kind of gives you permission to take actions, brave actions, to get where you want.  That’s very different from waiting for things to come together. Now, we were doing things with a singular focus. The trials and hurdles (and there were many!) were now part of the things to be dealt with because we were chasing our dream and we pushed through (most of) them with that mindset. 

We shopped for boats way before we could possibly afford one, we looked and listened and read and watched videos and became as in-tune what the future might look like as we could.  We learned what we wanted and what we didn’t, all the while keeping our drop-dead calendar date in mind.

Of course, some setbacks were pretty big, and it was disappointing when we had to slip out deadline out 2 more years but, as I mentioned, the crash of 2008 was particularly rough.  We needed a bit more time to recover and move forward sanely.

From 2009 to 2013 we worked on putting things in order.  Finances, of course, were the biggest challenge.  In October, 2013 Robin got to retire while I stayed at work until the financial situation stabilized.  In January 2014 we first saw the boat we would eventually own and in March we took delivery.  I retired in April, we moved aboard in May and did our first sailing of significance in June. 

Finally, on Oct 23rd, we sailed from the Annapolis, MD area to Portsmouth, VA to stage for the Caribbean 1500 rally to Tortola.  We departed on Nov 3rd at noon. It took 11 days, 7 hours, 20 minutes to get to the dock at Nanny Cay.  We secured the boat and on the next day did what we could to clean and recover the boat from the voyage.

Saturday, we caught a cab.