Getting Ready Part 9 or BVIs Here We Come!
I realize it has been some time since I last posted to the blog. No real excuse, just a lot of good intentions with little follow through. Before I get back to the tale of how we got here, an update on what has been happening or not since I last posted. At last post, we had our big sale, I got to ride in a big vehicle with lots of flashing lights, and had people cut stuff out of me. I am happy to say, after some recovery, I am doing fine. October found Jo and me on the road until early November. The trip took us to Riverton NJ, Washington D.C. (during the shutdown), to Annapolis for the U.S. Sailboat Show, to the middle of N.C. for chicken and waffles, back porch sitting (and drinking). From there we headed to the OBX of N.C. for time with friends, family, and time by ourselves wandering the lower OBX, walking in the sand, and enjoying the beach life. Back on the road it was off to Biloxi via a couple ferry rides, short stops along the way, and a shock to our sense of all that is ascetically correct in "South of the Border" S.C. In Biloxi, a large time was had with a former student and her family with a side trip to LuLu's in Gulf Shores and some time on the Red Neck Riviera, complete with a visit to the Naval Air Museum in Pensacola FL. A long haul took us to Houston (Kingwood) where Jo fed her other passion at the International Quilt Show; we spent some quality time with her family before a pit stop back in Lubbock and then a trip to see my father in Colorado Springs. Overall, it was 6,000+ miles, many hotel bills, an unidentified smell from the back of the car, a case of Kalik, one of Carib, and 2 of Yuengling beer, and most importantly the time-off from life, health, our house not selling, and time with each other. Oh yeah, the house. Well, as I said, it had not sold as of the trip and remains unsold today. Currently it is for sale by owner and if you are wondering what kind of dump we are living in that has not sold in 20 months you can visit the website at
Ok now back to the sailing. When I last visited the subject, we had survived Captain Ron in the Abaco's and Homeland Security and Immigration let me back into the country after a few tense moments. Having learned a lot while on our two week bareboat charter we realized we had a lot more to learn so it was back to school back on the s/v Kathleen D, except this time with Captain Tracy in Florida, in February. Now the Chamber of Commerce would have you believe that it is always sunny and warm in FL; it's not, and it happened to be especially not this February. Even though, as compared to the Northern parts of the country, the upper 30's to mid 40's is relatively warm in February, when you are on a boat, on the water, it's pretty damn cold. The plan was to complete ASA 105 Costal Navigation and ASA 106 Advanced Costal Cruising in preparation for a 10-day bareboat charter in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) that summer and for our life aboard that, we had hoped would be sooner, not later. There was another student for the two classes, Bob (I think; sorry if not) from Pittsburgh and Jo was a
ridesail-along. As I mentioned, it was cold and we were cold,
and of having believed the Chamber without cold weather clothes but the sailing
was great, the classes were expertly delivered by Captain Tracey. Bob, being an engineer in the real world
helped me with the difficult (a.k.a. math) in the navigation sections. We passed our classes and were qualified on
spinnakers and kissed a migrating sandbar only once. As you might remember form earlier posts, s/v Kathleen D is a Maine Cat 41, she is
a fast boat, and we had seriously considered a Maine Cat for our live-aboard
home but for a lot of good reasons (budget for one) won't go that route. The sailing was wonderful with plenty of wind
and surprisingly from the right direction.
We sailed into Tampa Bay under the Sunshine Bridge, met up with Bob's
wife, who was staying on land during the class, one night for drinks and dinner
and with the exception of Jo's hair freezing to the inside hull had a great
time. From there we made the short
flight to Ft. Lauderdale and on into South Beach for the Miami and Strictly
Sail Boat Show. We had no idea what to
expect and no way to expect what we saw.
If it went in or on the water, it was there. From Cigarette Boats straight out of Miami
Vice to small dinghies and everything in-between. It was so big, that there was a shuttle
between the two docks and the Miami Convention Center. There were vendors of all things nautical and
a lot that wasn't who tempted us like carnival barkers and the scene was
completed with girls in bikinis posing
on the bows of sleek speed boats and grisly old-salts (Bob Bitchen) one of whom
I swear had a wooden peg-leg. Land Shark
Beer had a rest area complete with cold beer and great beach chairs and the
Florida Lottery commission was selling lotto tickets and dreams at every
corner. We looked at many cats,
seriously considered buying one through
a charter company and putting it into charter service for five years but alas,
my lotto luck was not with me (nor has it ever been) and the 56K needed as a
down payment was beyond the balance in our check book. Then each night, after our senses and feet
could take no more it was off to the cultural roux that is South Beach;
something right out of a Carl Hiaasen novel or Dave Barry feature. The one negative of the experience was it
was cold! Damn cold with a northern
front pushing through that brought extreme wind and rain one night. Like all good things, it had to come to an
end and life back in Lubbock beckoned so off we went, but still to come that
summer waited a 10-day bareboat charter on s/v
Birds Nest, a Lagoon 380 in Tortola BVI.
None of us had ever been to the BVIs so a decision was made to stay on land a few days prior to our charter and enjoy what the island had to offer. This meant finding affordable lodging. We tend to book charters in the off-season, in this case the middle of the hurricane season. There are several reasons we do this but the primary is that it is considerably cheaper. In the Abaco's life seemed to go on at the same pace, hurricane season or not, in the BVIs however, most locals close down shop and head off island. So I found this place to stay, The Jolly Rodger(JR) which had a restaurant and bar attached and I paid extra for an air conditioned room (meaning it blew warm air instead of hot). I got what information I could from online sources and it looked like it might be ok, and while not "cheap" was far less than the other resorts or hotels. After a long and expensive cab ride from the airport on the north end of the island to the JR on the south end we settled in. We were all very crowded in one room so since they had no one else staying there they offered us a second room; later I found it was not out of the goodness of their heart but the benefit of their pocket. While we were having dinner at the aforementioned restaurant, the waiter said there was a party that night and for $20 you could drink all you want since they were closing the bar down as well as the restaurant down the next day; we had three more nights booked. When I booked the room (now rooms) I was assured that they would not be closing down until 1 August at which time we would be on our charter. Seems they decided to close early since business was slow. This left us without food, drink, or any type of services for the next three days with the closest restaurant a 30+ min. (each way) walk along a dusty, buggy, and dark road. We survived and had an adventure that included a grueling blister-inducing walk over the hill to a beautiful beach and a very kind beach vendor who offered us a ride back to the JR. We rented a jeep, toured the twisty-turney island roads, and learned to drive on the left side, mostly. The day before we were to start our charter we stopped by BareCat whom we were chartering from and after hearing what we had gone through the past several days invited us to move aboard Birds Nest early so that afternoon we used the rented jeep to shuttle all our stuff from the JR to the s/v Birds Nest. Along with it being the start of the offseason, also the Emancipation Week celebration resulted in a more difficult and time consuming process for returning the jeep that turned into a larger than expected bill for the cab ride back to the boat, but we were one-step closer to being on the water. The take-a-way from this experience is that if you intend to spending some relaxing time before your charter don't go cheap, go with a resort of hotel that is a known quantity, your crew will thank you in the long run and your stress level will be much reduced.
For all the BVIs are not like the Bahamas, they do have catering to the chartering industry down since this is where it originated. Provisioning the boat is one of the most thankless jobs there is and one in which the person doing the provisioning is often blamed for not getting the right stuff, or enough of this or that. You have to go to a market (usually several) arrange for a cab and try and get your frozen and cold items back to the boat before they are neither frozen or cold. Some charter companies offer to provision the boat for you for a fee but that has never appealed to me. In the BVIs, several of the markets offer a delivery service, for free (well you should tip the delivery guy); we used Bobby's Market and are quite pleased. How it works is a week or so before your charter you go online and fill out a form with all your requests, whatever you wish for the time you are there, give them your CC information and they fill it as close as possible. Then at an approximate time (it is Island Time, mon) the stuff shows up at your charter vessel and you unload the food, beer, sodas, more beer, rum, well you get the idea and the delivery guy takes the cardboard boxes away. Note: cardboard onboard equals roaches onboard so no cardboard of any kind is allowed. You can rent about any water toy you want, including dive gear or in our case a hammock and even rent a local pre-paid cell phone. So the morning of the charter the provisions arrived, the hammock arrived, we received our walk-thru and briefing which consisted of telling us where we could go and where we couldn't and what to look out for. The BVIs are comprised of the main island of Tortola that has a basic north-east to south-west orientation with a series of islands on the Atlantic side roughly south-east and one main island towards the west. The body of water between Tortola and the islands to the south-east is the Sir Francis Drake Channel. Now if the name, Sir Francis Drake sounds familiar then you are either a British Naval history buff or fan of swashbuckler pirate movies; that would be me. For those of you who are neither he is described by the Google as a sea captain, navigator, slaver, and privateer; that is a sanctioned pirate by one government usually to pillage another countries ships, think of them as a government contractor. While the English see him as a hero, the Spanish wanted to hang him as a pirate. Yes my friends, this is the real Pirates of the Caribbean part of the world, replete with the real Dead Chest, so yo-ho-ho, here we go!
We motored out of the protected cove that was charter base to BareCat into a 25knt wind. There is a saying that the wind is either too light or too strong but always from the wrong direction and this was the case. Instead of beating into the wind inducing even more queasiness in daughter #2 we motored across to Soldiers Bay and grabbed a mooring. Ah moorings! In the Abaco's we had anchored everywhere with rare exceptions. There the islands are low and the water depths are relatively shallow and the seabed is mostly sand and turtle grass. It's what you might think of when you picture an island in the Caribbean or South Pacific. However, the islands that make up the windward and leeward islands of the Caribbean, including the BVI, are volcanic in nature (some still active) with very deep harbors and for the most part coral seabed. Anchoring in coral is never ok since it kills the coral, which is the heart and lungs of the ocean. Therefore, throughout the islands the anchorages are placed and allegedly maintained mooring buoys to which, for a fee, you can tie your vessel. It is not as easy as it sounds and takes coordination between the helmsman (who is usually the man/captain) and the happy hooker (usually the spouse/admiral) so if you want to play 'happy hooker and the boat boy' later in your cabin you should not take on the persona of Captain Bligh during this process. Watching other people attempt to pick up a mooring can be an entertaining way to spend your cocktail hours. We got pretty good at mooring and there wasn't as much shouting as expected or predicted. We worked our way from anchorage to anchorage, hit the popular spots such as the Baths (where parts of the Johnny Depp movies really were filmed) and Willie T's (a floating Bacchanal) and docked a cat for the first time by ourselves; three times! As I had mentioned it was offseason so many of the on shore diversions were closed but also gone were the crowds of bareboat sailors, credit card captains, and cruise ships that dominate the waters during the winter. We sailed on to Cane Garden Bay just like in the Jimmy Buffett song and drank the Foxy's Firewater Rum that Kenny Chesney sings about and drank a lot of Carib Beer and good cheap rum. Once Daughters' # 1&2 got over their displeasure of being denied their cell phones they began to enjoy themselves. Still seeking their independence from mom & dad I decided to let them take the dink ashore to Pussers at Marina Cay once we had snagged a mooring and the deck was swabbed (yes I am that captain). Jo had gone below for a nap and I had cut the auxiliary engines. Daughter 1 & 2 got gussied-up and with spending cash in hand (shopping after all) they were ready to go. As I have explained in past blogs, the dinghy is akin to the family car and like the family car; it is hard to get it from point A to B without the engine, outboard in this case. Yes you could row it and with an inflatable dinghy you would be just as successful as pushing your car down the street. The big difference here however, is the dinghy will go on its own willy-nilly at the whims and forces of current and wind. For this reason, it is best to start the boats family car while the painter (the line you use to tie and tow the dinghy) is still attached to the mother ship. Well you know what happened next, right, they couldn’t get the outboard started but had already untied the painter and off they drifted. Now this was the first of many bad decisions that were to be made that day. As I watched them drift away and shouting instructions, I had two, well maybe three options. One really good and prudent something a good captain would do, the other ok but not as fast, and the third one. Option one would be, start the engines, cast off the mooring bridle and go retrieve the daughters and as sound as this might have been it didn't come to me at all. Option two would involve getting on the radio and calling for assistance, ok help. Now I did consider this but decided on option three; captain hero dad! Now in preparation for my cruising life I had gotten a gym membership and actually went 3-4 days a week for the past two years and I was in pretty good shape for a ageing fat man, so of course it was time to channel my inner Johnny Weissmuller and dive into the ocean, swim to the daughters and save the day, except, well I had seriously misjudged their distance and drifting speed and my physical abilities. As daughter #2 put it "daddy you just kept disappearing behind the waves" while in reality I was in the trough between waves but it was humbling. Luckily, for all involved, there were several boats coming in and one plucked me out of the ocean and went to retrieve the arrant dinghy. Unfortunately, mom did not sleep through the commotion and was waiting for us when we were dropped off by the other boat. I do believe this is where daughter #2 developed the philosophy that if you were going to be in trouble, get yourself in said trouble when another around you was in more trouble; in this case, that would be me. Shore leave was canceled for all, needless to say.
From there we headed to Virgin Gorda first to the Baths then into Spanish Town to replace the bucket the daughters lost over board, which, as we all know it is bad luck to kick the bucket. From there off to Saba Rock in Gorda Sound. This proved to be one of the nicer places to stay complete with up to 60 gallons of free water with your mooring. We also had a free drink coupon from the bar, they had hammocks for their guests under swaying palms, and did I mention the free drink coupon. The next morning rose on my birthday and to celebrate we left the protection of the Drake Channel and skirted Sir Richard Branson's Private Island (Necker Island) out into the Atlantic for a run down the outside complete with a following sea and seasick daughter #2 who after a Dramamine slept the day away. We surfed down the waves and I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday. That night we ended up in the Bight at Norman Island for an evening at the infamous Willy T's and even thought I came home with a T-Shirt, I did not get it for free by jumping naked off the upper deck. The next morning, was time to fuel the boat up clean her up and return her to her caregivers. The BVIs held many other wonderful experiences ranging from dodging jellyfish while snorkeling to the self-service bar and wonderful people at Sidney's Peace & Love in Little Harbor Jost Van Dyke. A cab ride to the airport, a night spent in Puerto Rico followed by a long flight home and we felt one-step closer to our dream.
Next time, back to the BVI's, introducing friends to cruising, 2 weeks just the two of us, and for our last sailing trip to date.
Photos From Getting Ready Part 9
Sailing in Tampa:
Sailing in the BVIs:
Last Night; But First....Willy T's