The purpose of this post is to help anyone that is on the fence about taking the adventure of a life time. My advice: Invest in the training, plan, plan, plan, show a ton of respect to the sea (and other sailors), and go for it!
Our BVI Sailing Experience
Feb 2013: My wife Julia and I took a 7 day live aboard sailing class through Blue Water Sailing School out of Red Hook (USVI). During the week, we completed the following ASA courses: 101,103,104, and 106. Capt. Dick Dawson was our teacher, and I cannot say enough positive things about this man. If you want to have an awesome vacation, and learn how to safely bareboat a Cat in the BVI’s, this is one way to do it. Captain Dick teaches on a 44 foot Fountaine Pajot Orana Catamaran (Keremeos).
Feb 2014: Took the leap, chartered a 41 foot Fountaine Pajot Lapari for 7 days out of Road Town with my wife and 2 young adult children (and got totally hooked). We learned a lot this trip to say the least.
February 27 – March 9th, 2015: Since my wife and I had such a great time last year, we thought we would bareboat again, but this time with our friends. Our crew hailed from Kalamazoo Michigan (5), Chicago Illinois (1), and Madison Wisconsin (2). As part of the trip, each person was required to select a pirate name, which would be used during the entire adventure (including the countless e-mail banter that took place prior to the trip). The Pre-tip Pirate Tattoo was optional, but Grey Beard the Irish had to get one.
Grey Beard the Irish showing off his “Pre-trip Pirate Tattoo” – He is the MAN!
How we got there
Everyone traveled to Chicago and stayed at the Chicago Four Points Sheraton the night before ($130 per night and free parking for 14 days). We took the shuttle from the hotel for a 6:00am flight to Miami, then Miami to St. Thomas that got in at 2:52pm. I had booked a taxi with Kevin Campbell’s Taxi service (340-643-0025) to take us from the airport to the ferry dock in St. Thomas. We got off the plane, and Kevin was waiting for us next to the welcome center with free rum shots. Kevin took us to the ferry dock for $10 / per person and we caught the 4:20pm Ferry to Road Town. Kevin knows everyone on the island, and if your plane is delayed, he is the one person that can get you over to Tortola after hours.
At Road Town, we passed through customs without issue. Each couple brought a back pack each for clothes and 1 travel freezer bag per couple filled with provisions / liquids (steaks, chicken, brats, turkey, cheese, lunch meat, sun tan lotion, shampoo, girl stuff, etc). Our thought was given that we needed to have a checked bag for the sun tan lotion, we might as well bring down our own meat. We had zero issues bringing food into the BVI’s, and the 18 oz Ribeyes were awesome on the grill.
From the Road Town ferry dock we caught a taxi to BVI Yacht Charters, which is no more than 10 minutes from the ferry dock, and we were on the boat by 7:15pm. This year we chartered a 2014, Fountain Pajot Helia, 44 ft catamaran (4 cabins / 4 heads) and her name was CELAVIE. Both Debbie and Cassie at BVI Yacht Charters were excellent to work with, and typically returned e-mails within the hour. They were both highly organized, knowledgeable, and went out of their way to make sure every aspect of our trip was perfect. We had an excellent experience with BVI Yacht Charters, and I would highly recommend them as a professional source for your bareboat needs.
4 pirates waiting at the Charlotte Amalie ferry terminal
How we bought food for the week
My wife Julia (aka Pirate Salty Simone) took the lead for the provisioning. She had already placed an order through the local Riteway grocery store for the non-perishable heavy stuff (water, beer, liquor, pop, juice, mix, charcoal, lighter fluid, ect) to be delivered to the boat at 8:00pm. Once unpacked, Salty Simone took part of the crew and made the 10 minute walk to the Riteway grocery store in Road Town without issue. While they were gone, the Riteway delivery was made, and the heavy stuff was stowed. Salty and crew returned with the perishables by taxi, the remaining items were put away, and it was finally time for a cold one.
Our crew briefing
With everything stowed, and a cold beer in hand, we spent about 60 minutes taking the crew through the initial safety briefing covering the following:
“Please take care of the boat like it was your own. Our goal will be to bring her back cleaner / better than when we got it. Do not force anything, and ask if something does not work the way you think it should. There has been a $1,000 security deposit placed on the boat, be kind to her.”
And then we went over the following:
- Location of life jackets, fire extinguishers, flares, plugs, throw able flotation devices
- Electrical panel, batteries (isolation switch) , shore power, generator, battery gauge
- Lighting of the charcoal grill (captain needs to be on board)
- Proper use of VHF radio, and the importance of weather (mayday procedure)
- Docking, mooring, and anchoring procedures (never use your hands – roving bumper)
- Winch instruction and hand placement while operating sheets (ongoing training throughout the week)
- Toilet operation and water conservation (only things that come out of you go into the toilet), if you plug the toilet, you will need to pay to get it unplugged. Shower off the back of the boat
- Hats, sun screen, sun burn and hydration (the wind will make it not seem as hot)
- MOB situation, roles and responsibilities, what to expect as you may see the boat moving away from you initially. Always keep 3 points of contact with the boat , tell someone if you are going to sit on the back steps while under way
- Proper shut off of propane gas and solenoid switch. How to light the stove.
- Use of the spare tiller if steering goes out (not a real need with a twin engine cat)
- Use of the manual bilge pumps on deck.
- Buddy system for snorkeling, never leave your buddy in the water alone when snorkeling
- Buddy system for going ashore – never leave you buddy alone on shore, be courteous – let someone know where you are going and when you will be back
- Dinghy operation (secure all lines – watch elbows when starting engine to prevent the crew from getting a black eye) , outboard motor operation
- Expectations before getting under way (shut all hatches, all laundry inside, everything stowed and put away). Look around and use your eyes. If something does not look right, say something, ask for help
- You are on vacation, take a deep breath – enjoy. If someone does something that rubs you the wrong way, think about their intention (which was most likely positive), and let it slide. This is an adventure, and anything can and will happen.
- Right of way: Portly / Windy always give way, motor gives way to sail (on going training throughout the week, also check out the free “Rules of Sailing” App on your I-phone)
- In an emergency situation, the captain makes the call, follow the directions immediately, as it could save someone’s life.
Checking our boat out from the charter company
This was the first time that we slept aboard the night prior to departure, and it worked out great. If nothing else, it allowed me to read through the boat 3 ring binder the night prior, so that I could ask better questions during the actual check out the following day.
We woke up Saturday morning, and headed up to the office at 8:00am to sign our life away. The BVI Yacht Charter team did a good job explaining everything, and the paperwork took less than 30 minutes. Again, I would like to thank the entire BVI Yacht Charter Team for making us feel like “valued customers”. As part of their “quick check out process” you have the ability to complete an on line BVI chart briefing course through NauticEd ($12.99). The nice thing about the chart briefing guide is that I was able to download the 181 power point to my I-Pad, and take it with me on the trip. Tons of useful reference material on the BVI’s that we used throughout the week.
Anthony did an excellent job with our boat briefing which took approximately 60 minutes to complete. In hindsight, we could have easily delayed the trip to the Riteway grocery store until Saturday morning, as we would have had plenty of time to get the perishables, and be back on the boat before our boat briefing started at 10:00am. We were finally motoring out of Road Town, on our way to Norman Island by around 11:00am.
The wind report for the week of February 28th was for winds out of the East, 20 – 24 knots, with guests up to 28 knots. This is not typical for this time of the year in the BVI’s, and also resulted in larger seas (anyone that was sailing that week can confirm the above). We typically used Wind Guru as our go to source each morning to check conditions.
BVI Yacht Charters docks just prior to heading out
Once out of Road Town Harbor, we set the Jib only (with 2 reefs), turned off the engines, fired up the BVI Sailing playlist I had been working on for the last 3 months, and sailed South-West to Norman Island. Winds were 20 – 24 knots, and the seas were 3 – 5 feet. We knew we would need to reef the main due to the wind conditions, and decided to tackle that challenge the following morning. Instead of mooring in the Bight, we decided to take one of the 5 morning balls in Kelly’s Cove, which is located just North of the Bight on Norman Island. I highly recommend this as a mooring if available. The snorkeling directly off the boat was actually pretty good, and the treasure hunting on the shore turned up some good booty. We were on the North most mooring, which always seemed to be spinning in the opposite direction of the other 4 moorings. Not a huge deal, but would recommend one of the other 4 most southern moorings if available, as they appeared to be better protected.
Kelly’s Cove – our boat is the only one facing the opposite direction
We also took the dinghy over to the caves that evening and snorkeled the entire area. Definitely recommend the caves as a must stop. You can almost envision the early pirates hiding there booty in these caves. Access was easy as there is a dinghy mooring tie up directly in front of the second cave (along with multiple BVI park day mooring). Overall a good start, tons of fun snorkeling, and the crew was starting to settle in on island time. Drinking Pain Killers and listening to either Reggae or Motown can be inserted at the end of almost every day.
The Caves – Some type of cool purple algae growing inside the caves
Since we had spent such a long time snorkeling Kelley’s cove and the Caves, we decided to by-pass the Indians that morning, and head directly to Salt Island to find more treasure (sea glass and shells as defined by my wife). We did hit the Indians last year, and thought they were awesome. Winds were forecast at 21 – 23 knots with guest up to 26. Time to reef the main, which we had minimal experience doing as a result of the calmer winds during previous trips. Overall, not a big deal as we used the following procedure:
- Head to wind
- Raise the main sail to the point just below the second reef
- Using a bowline, tie the reefing line on the mast to the second reef point tack on the luff (front part) of the main sail.
- Pull in on the 2nd clew reef outhaul line (back of the sail) which exited the boom at the mast, then set the roller clutch at the exit point on the boom to lock in the outhaul reef line. On this set up, the outhaul lines were color coded for each reef clew which made it very easy.
- Raise the halyard until the wrinkles were removed from the luff of the sail. We did have a power winch for the halyard, but I highly recommend manually setting the final tension of the halyard by hand, as it provides a better feel for how tight you are setting the main.
With our first successful mainsail reef in place, we put 2 reefs in the jib (2 dots rolled up), and were on our way sailing to Salt Island. Within 30 minutes of shutting down the engines, a solid, black wall of clouds could be seen to the East, completely obscuring the view of all the windward islands. Over our last 2 trips, we have experienced multiple rain squalls, but never have I seen such an angry looking wall of blackness heading our way, and it was moving fast. To error on the side of caution, we quickly made the decision to roll up the jib, and drop the main sail. Within 5 minutes, the winds increased from 24 knot gusts to 36 knot gusts, the seas rose to 7 – 9 feet, and it was a torrential down poor – what a rush. For at least 30 minutes, we had waves crashing over the top of the bow, as we descended down the back side of the waves. With both engines running, we kept the bow of the boat headed into the wind and continued under power towards Salt Island. Surprisingly, the storm lasted almost 45 minutes before things started to settle down and lighten up. We continued to motor to Salt Island and took a BVI Park mooring ball next to the Wreck of the Rhone. Two of us wanted to snorkel the Rhone, and the rest of the group wanted to swim to shore and find treasure.
Minutes before the big storm hit…….the facial expressions say it all
Wreck of the Rhone: The wreck lies in approximately 25 – 30 feet of water, and I personally thought it was very cool. The propeller, propulsion line shaft and gear box of the ships propulsion system are still very much intact and easily identifiable. The rest of the ship is somewhat scattered, but still a very cool experience.
On Shore Treasure Hunting: Julia took the rest of the group on shore to treasure hunt. It is approximately a 50 yard swim to the shore, which is very rocky and is loaded with tons of sea urchins very close to shore so bring your Keens. Also the waves made it difficult to see the bottom and everyone was a bit worse for wear from the coral. Once on shore, they found a bunch of treasure (sea glass), shells, and even found an old shallow grave with a few bones sticking out of it! They were not sure what was buried there and did not disturb it.
Grave on Salt Island (bones sticking out)……
After the 3 hour adventure at Salt Island, we were headed to Cooper Island to grab a ball at Machoneel Bay. I was surprised that there was nothing available as it was only 2:30pm, so we headed North-West across the SFD Channel, and grabbed a ball at Marina Cay. Although still very windy, the reef at Marina Cay provides excellent shelter from the waves. As you are heading to Marina Cay, there is a red buoy marker identifying the edge of the reef. The reef runs the entire distance between the red buoy and Marina Cay. Keep the buoy on your right as you enter from the Sir Frances Drake Channel and you will be fine. We took the dingy in, got everyone Pain Killers at the bar, laughed about our storm experience, lit up a cigar, and watched an awesome sunset.
Marina Cay – getting ready to grab a ball
We were up early on day 3 to make the trip over to the Baths. We headed out at sun rise, and got to the Baths around 8:30am. We were the 4th boat on the mooring field, and it filled up fast. We made the swim from the boat onto shore, and headed into the Baths towards Devil’s Bay. We had the place to ourselves, and I continue to be amazed at how awesome this place is. We made it through the maze of giant granite boulders / caves, and finally made it to Devils bay. Spent some time swimming in the bay, and then headed back. To our relief, the CELAVIE was still on her mooring ball, and we climbed aboard to set sail for Virgin Gorda Sound.
Funny Selfie at the Baths…. (could be a future Christmas Card)
Winds were between 18 and 22 knots, gusting to 24, so we basically kept 2 reefs in the main sail, and at least 1 reef in the jib. We had an awesome sail North up past the Dogs, and into Virgin Gorda Sound. Virgin Gorda Sound has a well-marked channel between Mosquito Island and Prickly Pear Island. Although we saw one smaller cats head into VGS between Misquito Island and Virgin Gorda, I would not recommend it as this area was clearly marked as a “No Go Zone” on our chart briefing.
Once in the sound, we picked up a ball on the South-West end of Prickly Pear Island, at Sandbox Beach. There are several excellent places to moor in this area but we really wanted to explore the East side of Prickly Pear Island, and the Eustatia Sound area. We took the dingy around the South end of Prickly Pear Island, between Prickly Pear and Saba Rock, and found paradise. This area is incredible, and the snorkeling was amazing. After only 5 minutes, my wife had 4 huge Conk Shells in her hands asking me how I was going to bring all of them back with us. We saw tons of fish, lobsters, sea biscuits, and of course huge Conk shells. We also saw several kite boarders, kiting between Eustatia Island and Saba Rock. We took the dinghy back around Saba Rock, and did a drive by past the Virgin Gorda Yacht Club, which looked very nice. Overall a great day of exploring, sailing, and my wife finding her new “Best Beach Ever” on the east side of Prickly Pear island.
Sand Box Beach – Prickly Pear Island
Big sailing day, with the winds blowing between 18 – 20 knots, gusting to 22 knots. We motored out of Virgin Gorda Sound, put the CELAVIE head to wind, raised the sails, and sailed the 15 miles to Anegada. We kept 2 reefs in the main, and let the jib out full. Being out in the open, I expected the ride to be a little rough, but we had a nice sail racing 1 other cat, and 2 other mono hauls in 3 to 5 foot seas. The channel into Anegada is on the South West side of the island and it is very well marked. We used an app called Navionics on our I-Pad the entire trip to help with Navigation, and it took us directly to the channel. Once inside the channel, we followed it directly into the mooring field area. I have read lots of different opinions about making the trip to Anegada and my opinion is “GO”. Take your sails down well before the channel markers start, use your navigation tools to get to the channel and easily motor into the mooring filed following your channel markers. There are several restaurants serving great Lobster on Anegada, and be prepared to have a few of the cooks dingy out to your boat welcoming you with a song, and trying to convince you that their lobster is the best. These guys are great, and we had a blast singing with them and getting some prime photo’s. They are also very good ambassadors to Anegada, and will help you with everything from mooring to getting a rental car. Once hooked up to a ball, we took the dinghy into shore, and rented a pickup truck with benches in the truck bed from Dean at D&H rentals.
Underway to Anegada (Virgin Gorda in the back ground – left)
For $75 per day, we rented the truck (they call them jeeps) from Dean, and we were off to explore the North side of the island with our crew of 8. First stop was at the “Flash of Beauty” Bar on the East side of Loblolly Bay. In my opinion, this was the best snorkeling that we did on the north side of Anegada, but be careful as the current is very strong and the coral heads can be less than 12 inches from the surface in some places. While exiting the ocean, one of our crew stepped into a coral pocket near shore, and was knocked over by a wave, resulting in what we thought to be a sprained ankle – be careful (see pirate carnage at end of this trip report). Tons of live coral, tons of fish, just a great place to snorkel.
We also had a great time at the “Flash of Beauty” bar. Monica, who worked at the bar was part owner, part bartender, part medic, and totally awesome. One person in our group got some coral rash while snorkeling. Monica took great care of the patient. Once she found out one of her customers was in pain, she went into action with the following steps: poured 150 proof rum over the coral rash, then broke off a piece of fresh aloe to generously cover the wound, then lastly casted some type of magical spell over the wound in witch doctor fashion – completely awesome. She also made a mean pain killer and I had my first Bushwhacker (yet the start of another addiction).
Chillin at Loblolly Bay
We then piled back into the truck and headed over to the West side of Loblolly beach to a bar called the Big Bamboo. More Pain Killers, more awesome beaches, and more fun. We actually met a group from Grand Haven Michigan, which is less than an hour from where we live. They told us about a bar on Cow Wreck beach that was a must see. The direction were very easy, “head out of Bamboo’s, take the first 2 track to the right, then just keep going”. Their last piece of advice “if you think you are lost, you’re definitely going the right way, just keep going”. We picked up a few more cigars before leaving Bamboos, packed everyone up in the truck, took the first 2 track to the right, and headed out. Sure enough, after 15 minutes of going down this 2 track we thought for sure we were lost, so obviously, based on the directions, we were going the right way. The only problem was that 5 minutes later we see this minivan coming towards us containing our friends from Grand Haven Michigan, telling us “for sure we were lost”. What a hoot, we finally made it out to the main road again with our new best friends, took the first dirt road to the right (not the first 2 track), and ended up at Cow Wreck beach. Definitely a must see beach if you make the trek to the north side of Anegada. We pulled up a circle of beach chairs and continued to conduct taste tests on the pain killers and bushwhackers at Cow Wreck. Oh yeah, my wife had her 2nd this is the “Best Beach Ever” moment of the week.
The pirate crew at Cow Wreck Beach
We finally took the jeep back to Dean around 5:30pm, who drove us back to the dingy dock, and we headed back to boat. We ended up at the Whispering Pines restaurant for a lobster and steak dinner. Overall, an amazing day on Anegada.
We left Anegada on day 5 with 20 – 24 knot winds guesting to 27 knots, and 4 – 6 foot seas. Since we were running with the wind, the sail was actually pretty nice, as we kept 2 reefs in the main, and sailed with 2 reefs in the jib. We sailed south to Guana Island, and picked up a mooring ball at Monkey Point. This was the first time snorkeling at Monkey Point, and we thought it was actually pretty good, placing it behind Loblolly Beach and the east side of Prickly Pear Island. We were really looking to finds the elusive “Cuttle Fish” but did not see one. After a quick lunch, we sailed over to Jost Van dyke, and picked up a ball in Little Harbor to hit the Wednesday night barbeque buffet at “Sidney’s One Love” restaurant. This is a very cool place, as it still has a self-serve old school Rasta bar. All you do is sign in your boat name to the log book that sits on the bar, enter the number of buffets you plan on eating (# of your crew), and then start mixing your own drinks. You write down your drinks in the log book as they are consumed. There is something really fun about being behind a bar with a bunch of your new best friends, mixing drinks. The buffet was awesome, and then the DJ started up the music for a night of dancing. At the end of the night, you settle up with the owner Strawberry, based on your log book entries, and head back to the boat.
The pirate crew at Sidney’s One Love
The crew was feeling the effects of the previous night’s partying, so we motored over to Green Cay, and dropped the anchor in front of the island right out of the Corona Beer commercials. The areas South West of the island is pure sand with a depth of 10 – 15 feet. It was still fairly windy, but we had the entire island to ourselves for the morning. After the perfect photos were taken in front of the single palm tree on the island, we motored over to Cane Garden bay, and picked up a mooring ball. It was only 11:30am, and we decided we were going to stay in Cane Garden moored up for the rest of the day. We spent the day partying on Cane Garden bay, lying around in the sun – relaxing. We did have thoughts of taking a taxi over to the Bomba Shack for the full moon party, but only made it as far as the small full moon party on the beach in Cane Garden bay, and called it a night.
Our view of Cane Garden Bay during lunch- Amazing!
We motored out of Cane Garden Bay, and set the sails to make the trip back to the south side of Tortola. The winds were still blowing between 20 and 24 knots, with some gusts up to 26. We sailed South-West between Jost Van Dyke and Tortola, rounded the west side a Great Thatch Island, and hit the narrows between Great Thatch and St. John. We had sailed this section of the narrows last year, but the winds were less than 12 knots. We were slightly intimidated when we rounded the West End of Great Thatch, had 24 knot winds hitting us directly in the face, and not a single boat with sails up.
With 2 reefs still in the main, and 2 reefs in the jib, we decided to sail up the narrows back over to Norman Island. Initially we had the Narrows all to ourselves, balancing our tack extensions with the proximity to shore (for the first few tacks, we actually had both engines running but kept them in neutral, just in case). Then after our 5th tack it started to get busy. Not only were other boats starting to enter the narrows, but we encountered a grouped of 20 sea kayakers, multiple power boats, and ferries. Overall it was a very technical sail in 22 – 24 knot winds, and we tacked 25 times between Great Thatch and Norman Island. We decided to take a mooring ball in the Bight to minimize the return trip back to Road Town in the morning. While at the Bight, we spent the rest of the day doing more snorkeling at the caves, and hanging out at Willey T’s. I also dropped a few of the crew members off on the south shore of the Bight to look for more treasure. They walked the beach towards the Pirates Bight Beach club and found more booty (star fish, beech glass, shells). I took the dingy over to Pirates Bight Beach Bar for yet another pain killer while the girls treasure hunted. This is a very cool bar, and was an excellent place to just sit and chill. After an hour, I picked up the girls from the beach with their booty, and we headed back to the boat for some “last night” partying.
Avoiding Sea Kayakers in the WIndward Passage between St. Johns and Great Thatch
Day 8, 9, and 10,
Sad day, we motored back over to Road Town, stopped at the gas dock to refuel her, and completed the boat check out. We wanted to stay on the island to decompress from our sailing adventure for a few days, so we booked several garden view rooms at “Sebastian’s by the Sea” in Apple Bay – Tortola. This small boutique hotel is a stone throws away from the Bomba Shack, and is on a spectacular section of beach. We spent the next 2 days hanging out on the beach, retelling the previous week’s stories, and just relaxing before the long trip back to reality. This place is awesome, and we only paid $145 / night for a small, clean room with 2 queen size beds.
Sebastian’s Beach at day break
- Distance Traveled: 110 Nautical Miles (sailed 90% of the time)
- Max sailing speed: 10 knots
- Max Wind speed: 36 knots during the storm
- Max Wave Height: 9 feet during the storm
- Diesel Fuel Used: 1/8 tank (approx. 25 gallons)
- Water Consumed: 7/8 of the tank on the boat (did not need to refill, very good for a crew of 8)
- Alcohol Consumed
- 4 cases of beer
- 10 bottles of wine
- 3 bottles of Captain Morgan’s Dark Rum
- 3 bottles of Malibu Coconut Rum
- 3 bottle of Vodka (Smirnoff / Grey Coose)
- 2 bottles of 1800 Tequila
- 1 bottle on Gin (Tanqueray)
- 1 bottle of Dewars Highlander Honey Whisky
- 2 bottles of Baileys (a must with morning coffee)
- 1 bottle of Beehive Brandy
- Captain Morgan
- Salty Simon
- Grey Beard the Irish
- Lady Sea Weed
- Lady Vitara
- Calico Jake
- El Draque
- Lady Calypso
Days without wearing shoes
Best I-Pad Sailing App & Websites
Lady Sea Weed: When she got home, her sprained ankle turned out to be a fractured fibula which will require 6 week in a boot to heal.
Best Quote of the Week
“We have seen more shredded sails this week than we did the entire bareboat season last year” – Charter employee at Sopers Hole
We want to give a shout out to the following
Hallucination – as it seemed like we followed them around for the week, very nice boat, and even nicer crew.
The Grand Haven Crew – If it wasn’t for you guys, would have never gone off roading on Anegada, down a lost two track, smoking cigars with a bunch of drunken pirates in the back of the truck. We almost felt like Charles Bronson and Arnold Schwarzenegger in some weird action adventure movie…….
Overall another awesome week in the BVI’s “We will definitely be back”
Captain Morgan – Arrrrrrrrrrr
See you next year……