Friday, January 6, 2012

Virgin Gorda

Our overnight sail January 1st from St. Maarten to Virgin Gorda, the first of the British Virgin Island (BVI) chain, was a gorgeous sail all the way with the wind behind us. Seas were 2 to 3 metres but since they were behind us more than they were on our beam, we could ride waves and get a bit more momentum. In busy harbours we often hear radio calls asking for pilots, locally trained captains who are familiar with conditions and hazards, to take the helms of commercial ships and steer them in. Although we didn’t call for one, a pilot showed up for us at dawn about 15 miles east of Virgin Gorda, just as we came up on the reef shelf from a depth of 5000 ft to 100 ft. Since we had apparently forgotten to specify, our pilot was the non-human kind, a lone Pilot Whale about 25 feet in length. He surfaced several times off of our stern and sent a spray of sea water through his blow hole as we ran back and forth trying to spot him. He would disappear for several minutes and then swim right beside us upside down and under the boat so we could see the white patch on his belly. He stayed with us for over half an hour and when it seemed we were going in the right direction towards Necker Passage, he swam away. 
I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of Virgin Gorda because it meets all of our criteria for tropical paradise: scarcity of other humans, great snorkelling, clear green water, white beaches, warm days and cool evenings, and a secure anchorage. We have been tucked away for five nights, thanks to our beautiful Ultra anchor, in St. Thomas Bay just off of the village of Spanish Town. There is a quiet marina, a bar with a few tables mixed with sailors and locals, and a small grocery store along side a few souvenir shops. We walked 2 miles along the road up a thickly forested hill to The Baths to do some snorkelling and came upon the geological wonder that lines the south west tip of the island. It looks like a giant took a truck full of boulders and dumped them along the white sandy beach, creating caves and crevices as the 50 foot rocks came to rest in random piles. We wound our way down to the beaches through the narrow paths of geometric spaces between the boulders and with snorkel gear, explored the warm pools and coral-rich shoreline.

Another Virgin Gorda adventure took us by cab up and down steep fourteen hundred vertical feet of thickly treed hills with picturesque ocean vistas to the north end and the famous Bitter End Yacht Club and resort. It is written up regularly in sailing magazines and a ten minute ferry ride dropped us off at the base of a boardwalk-lined hill with thatched-roofed luxurious cottages creeping up the incline. We could see Richard Branson’s Necker Island with its 
65000 Euros per night price tag and settled for fish and chips at the pub. 

Chris Parker has advised us that Monday is the best time to leave on the 450 nautical mile trip to the island chain of Turks and Caicos where we will be picking up our “crew”, the Bowers Clan, for the rest of the journey to Miami. The VI-Turks passage could take up to four days so we are heading to the US Virgin Island of St. Thomas tomorrow for the farthest take off point from the Virgin Island Chain. Our 35 nm sail to the city of Charlotte Amalie takes us down the middle of the Virgin Island chain, passing Tortola (we squeezed in a day trip there via ferry to Road Harbour, the busy BVI capital). Virgin Gorda is marked in bold as a place we will return to. 
The Other Side of Sailing

On previous tropical vacations, I loved leaving my hotel windows open to hear the surf crash on shore because it was a relaxing and soothing sound. I even bought DVD’s of the rhythmic rush of water to play for its meditative quality. On the boat, the changes in surf crashing cause us to leap to alert out of bed. It means either the wind or sea swell have picked up, potentially breaking a mooring hold or dragging the anchor and us to shore, or dragging some other boat into us. Last night, we were awakened by yelling and clanking and watched a 100 metre barge about 200 metres away from us as its crew worked to turn it around. Although at a safe distance, the swells and wind could have complicated the situation at anytime and Alberta Crewed was wide open in its path. In an emergency, would we pull up the anchor or just cut it loose? We decided it would be quicker to pull it in. Although I would of course take the safest route, I was relieved that severing our beautiful anchor was not likely the fastest response. Thankfully, we didn’t come close to this drastic move and watched until the barge headed in the opposite direction before checking our land marks again to make sure we weren’t moving. It’s always something.

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