BVI Redux ...
Since Penelope has never actually sailed in the Caribbean beyond the Bahamas, I took us on a week-long charter in the British Virgin Islands this past week, renting a 31-foot Beneteau from BVI Yacht Charters, which in my past experience is among the best of the small charter companies.
Hummingbird House B&B. Yvonne, proprietor of the Hummingbird, greeted us warmly, noted we were the only guests that night and showed us to a truly wonderful room away from the other rooms and overlooking bay at Road Town. We then took advantage of the honor bar in the lanai, made acquaintance with some of the feral kitties that Yvonne welcomed to the Hummingbird, had a rum and finally walked across the road to the Tortola Sports Club for one of the four reasonably priced and really good meals we ate while in the BVIs. (Few visitors to Tortola know of the club's restaurant and bar, which is open to anyone.)
In my experience, the BVIs have become less hospitable over the years. There have always been and always will be very welcoming people on the islands, and you can always count on the proprietors of inns, small shops and such to be among them. But, because sailing the BVIs means sailing from tiki bar to tiki bar and boutique to boutique in bays crowded with mooring balls, the tiki bars and restaurants connected to them have a captive audience. Consequently, the prices for dinner, when most charterers come ashore after a day's sailing, are awful ... for example fish a chips at Saba Rock (on the lunch menu reasonably priced) commanded $30 after 1700 hours. And, can you imagine being in the islands and the calamari and conch were imported, breaded, frozen varieties - really, not fresh?? In any case, all the meals we had that were good, fresh and reasonable in price were on Tortola and away from the water's edge.
Anyway, knowing this about the islands and knowing that we like to cook for ourselves anyway, we planned to do more meals on the boat than ashore. I wrote ahead to BVIYC to get the size of the boats refrigerator and ensure it was working well. Small but in good working order came the answer. So we planned our provisioning for four fresh meat dishes, some clam linguini, eggs and pancakes for breakfasts, sandwiches for lunches and, of course, snacks of chips, nuts and such. And, of course, a good supply of libations. We ordered most of it ahead through Riteway Market, to be delivered to the boat on our arrival Friday afternoon.
That morning, we enjoyed a nice home-cooked "breakfast by Yvonne" and then set off from the Hummingbird to explore Road Town and do some gift shopping. Wow, we did not expect it to be as hot as it was. It was like August in the Caribbean, not the first of December and we sweltered, spending as much time in air-conditioned shops as we could. We had our second good and reasonably priced meal at the Roti Palace, up the hill on a little walking street off Main, and on our way back toward the Hummingbird, we stopped at the Village Cay restaurant overlooking the harbor for a pick-me-up drink. We finally transferred our duffels from the Hummingbird to the boat at Joma Marina, really not that far a walk from the Hummingbird.
C&F Bar and Restaurant, a well-known local barbecue spot, which was a 1/2 mile walk from the marina. After talking to the chef/owner (on the right in the photo), who welcomed us warmly to his restaurant, we each ordered baby-back ribs, and were hardly disappointed by the amount or by the wonderful lime barbecue sauce. Overall, a really good meal, and we left with a doggy bag - as left-overs the ribs were even better than when first served. A lot of locals frequent C&F and they are very friendly and the atmosphere reflects it.
We returned to the boat and decided to sleep in the aft cabin, which had a couple of fans. I don't think it ever cooled off that night, and the fans were obnoxiously loud, but somehow we managed to get some rest. The next morning, I got up and perked us coffee (we brought our own bag of coffee, half Peet's Major Dickinson and half Dunkin' Donuts), and I discovered that the entire bag of ice in the refrigerator had melted. The cold plate on the fridge seemed hardly cold, and I noted that the house battery - even though on shore power - was only registering a little over 12 volts. I went up and got a couple of more bags of ice (on the house, this time), and we repacked the fridge, putting the ice down on the bottom as well as near the cold plate. Then, we walked to Riteway - just five minutes away - bought some provisions that we wanted to pick out ourselves and then returned for a 1000 chart briefing.
Great Harbour, just across the Sir Francis Drake Channel, where we decided to spend our first night, catch up on rest and get used to Chablis. This was also an opportunity for Penelope to try her hand at picking up a mooring ball. In the Bahamas and almost everywhere in Florida, we've found that mooring balls don't have "painters," a line extending from the mooring ball and on its own little float that has an eye on the end through which you can run a line to and from your boat. Without the painter, it's next to impossible to run your line through the mooring ball, unless you have a special pick-up device (commonly called a "happy hooker"), and naturally we don't carry a hooker, happy or otherwise. But, in the BVI, all mooring ball's have painters I happily told Penelope. She'd have no problems!
Thus, in Great Harbour we approached our first mooring ball. WTF!?! No painter! "That's a fluke, sweetheart," said I, and off we motored to our next mooring ball. "You've got to be kidding!" I exclaimed. "No painter????" "Well," said I, "it's probably just because the Ocean's 7 tiki bar ashore isn't doing that well, so they've let their mooring balls deteriorate." Boy, was Penelope ribbing me, but nonetheless, I swallowed hard and motored off to yet another mooring ball, and lo and behold, there is a painter with a big orange float, and Penelope successfully picked up her first mooring. Until the last night out of our trip, when we came back to Great Harbour to pick up the same mooring ball with flawless technique, it was the only time we were not at anchor. Nevertheless, Penelope certainly looked relaxed and happy!
We cooked a linguini meat pasta dinner and spent a pretty good night on the mooring ball. It was still hot and the trade-winds seemed to have taken a break, but we were a lot more comfortable in the v-berth than in the aft cabin at the marina. Next morning, though, I found that the house battery was down to 10.5 volts, the fridge compressor was not operating (it had faulted out when the battery went below 12 volts), and the ice was about gone in the fridge. Just as a group from a cruise ship docked at Road Town came into Ocean's 7 for their on-shore party, I dinghied in and went up to buy some ice. One of the staff immediately said, "no way, we can't sell you any," whereas another, clearly one with seniority, listened to my plea and explanation that our fridge had quit on us, and agreed to give us some. For $5 they gave us an enormous bag of ice, which once we got it in the bottom of the fridge cooled the whole thing down and lasted for most of the trip, with us adding another smaller bag or two each day thereafter.
Once iced up, we dropped the mooring to head east to Virgin Gorda Sound. In mid-November, two-weeks before we started this trip, I saw a post on Facebook from Jim Burke, whom Penelope and I had met the Sea of Abaco in the Bahamas the Spring of 2010. We'd struck up a nice friendship and kept in touch off and on. While we moved Alizee over to St. Petersburg on the Gulf Coast, Jim sailed back from the Bahamas to Jacksonville, Florida, where he sold his little sloop Blondie and, with his new love Sharon, bought Sha Sha, a 47-foot Beneteau. They spent the next year or so preparing Sha Sha for cruising, sailed up to Boston and back to Beaufort, NC, and the message I got from Jim said he was headed out from Beaufort to the BVIs. He'd be there by the end of November. So, I got in touch with Sharon, who was still stateside and would fly soon down to meet Jim, and got a phone number for them in the BVI and told them we'd try and hook up while we were there.
Jim Burke - truly a happy camper aboard Sha Sha.
Leverick Bay for some ice. We put the cooler that BVIYC had provided us in the dinghy, stopped by and told Jim and Sharon our plans and agreed we'd all go into Saba Rock for a late-lunch/early-dinner after we got back. Leverick Bay is a nice resort, with a hotel, pool, marina, a Pusser's boutique and, naturally, a tiki bar. There's also a little grocery there as well. I found a really nice new breeze shirt at the Pusser's store; we stopped at the beach tiki bar for an island rum drink and picked up some ice on our way out and back to Chablis.
Around 1330, we picked up Jim and Sharon in our dinghy and took them over to Chablis. Then we weighed anchor and motored over to Saba Rock, where we found a spot to anchor along the north side of the mooring field. Once at the restaurant/bar, we settled in for what turned out to be a rather long sojourn ashore. We had appetizers and drinks, then adjourned to some couches set up overlooking the water, where we had more drinks. The place filled up more than we expected with charter boaters. Turns out that the entire Bitter End Yacht Club, the biggest sailing resort in the BVIs and almost next door to Saba Rock, had been rented out by an individual, probably for a major wedding celebration or such. The mega-sailing yacht Athena, which had pulled into Great Harbour the night we were there, now sailed in as we supped our rums. Athena is a 295-foot clipper-bowed three-masted gaff-rigged schooner that Silicon Graphics founder James H. Clark had Royal Huisman build for him in 2004.
The result of this, of course, was that all the sailors in the sound who didn't go to Leverick Bay pretty much ended up on Saba Rock. It was a lively afternoon that led into an even more raucous evening. We finally managed to eat dinner, our most expensive and poorest quality meal on the trip, with a price tag that would knock your socks off. But, it was great being with Jim and Sharon for the afternoon and evening.