British Virgin Islands – snorkeling, sailing, & relaxing – always beautiful!

Since January, Glenn and I have mostly puddle-jumped our way north up the Caribbean chain of islands from Grenada. Our sails have ranged from 4 to 10 hours during daylight only.  The sail from Saint Martin to Tortola in the BVI was 92 nautical miles and took us about 14 hours. Glenn and I did it alone – alternating sleeping and taking watch at the helm. I was nervous, but Glenn was excited. He spent a lot of time analyzing the weather and winds, and felt good about our travel window.  In addition, our good sailing friend, Glen, who is single-handing his Privilege 49, Sirenitie, was going to buddy-boat with us.

Sirenitie – our buddy boat for the passage

We raised anchor at 1:30 am on March 20 from Marigot Bay in Saint Martin. I am not yet comfortable being alone at the helm during the night – so, Glenn took the helm to start, and I went back to bed.  I relieved him at sunrise, so he could get some sleep.  It was a beautiful motor sail – the winds were light, but that was fine with us for our first long sail alone! We arrived in Soper’s Hole, Tortola, around 3:00 pm, exhausted but happy.

The British Virgin Islands consist of the main islands of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke, along with over 50 other smaller islands and cays. The islands have a population of about 28,000 with approximately 23,500 living on Tortola. The islanders are British citizens as of 2002.  These islands are well known for their delightful sailing opportunities. The islands are close together providing line of sight navigation and usually, fairly consistent trade winds. There are beautiful, serene anchorages and snorkeling opportunities around every corner.

Over the past years, we have chartered sailboats many times in the BVI.  Our family has wonderful memories of sailing, snorkeling, swimming and exploring almost every one of these islands. Special memories for the kids include learning to sail Hobie cats at the Bitter End Yacht Club and climbing the boulders at the Baths.

Sadly, our first look at the BVI post-Hurricane Irma was distressing.

 

A shout-out to my children for my delightful Mother’s Day present – a donation to the post-hurricane BVI relief fund! I can’t think of a better present – thank you all SO much!!!

But, during our two weeks in the BVI, we discovered that the waters are still just as blue and the sand is still blinding white, and the islands will recover from this latest tragedy. There are many signs of progress – lots of building and activity going on – on every island. Especially on Tortola and in the capital of Road Town, the streets and surrounding areas are clear of debris, but lots and lots of buildings are still heavily damaged. It will take time.

Meanwhile, we loved every minute of our time in the BVI.  It was a special treat for us to sail our own boat to all of our familiar anchorages – where we had only taken charter boats previously.

Mira and Sirenitie in the marina at Oil Nut Bay.

We jumped from island to island – sailing alongside Sirenitie with Glen and Marilyn. And later on in our visit, my sister Cathy and brother-in-law Sam came to sail on Mira with us.

One of our first BVI stops is always The Baths on Virgin Gorda. The Baths are an unusual formation of large granite boulders. The sea washes in between the huge rocks, and pools have been created where shafts of light play on the water for a dramatic effect. A path weaves through the boulders – climbing and winding up and around – for a fun adventure. The beaches on either side of the boulders are beautiful with crashing waves and powdery white sand.

View of the Baths and the anchorage from the Top of the Baths resort.

Cathy and Sam enjoying the ride.

 

Our anchorage at the Bight on Norman Island. Sadly the iconic Willie T was destroyed in Hurricane Irma.
Lounging on Pirate’s Beach with Glen and Marilyn – a fun alternative to the Willie T on Norman.

 

Magnificent snorkeling at the Indians – just off Norman Island.

 

 

There’s always time for a rum punch after a long snorkeling trip!

We got a treat at anchor late one afternoon – mama and baby dolphins swimming right next to Mira.

 

We were “lucky” enough to find ourselves right in the middle of the one of the races in the BVI Spring Regatta. It was the offshore multihull class which includes Gunboats and catamarans over 60 ft. – they passed us like we were standing still!

Acting on a tip from a fellow cruiser, we discovered that Oil Nut Bay – an exclusive private resort that is normally off-limits to visitors – was allowing marina and day guests to use their amenities! Mira and Sirenitie flew over to take their spot in the lovely marina and Glenn, Pam, Glen and Marilyn spent some luxurious days – by the pool and beach and enjoying some pampering time!

Oil Nut Bay Resort

Beautiful end to our time in the BVI

Saba – Island kingdom in the Clouds

Mira sailed next from Nevis to island of Saba – about 44 nm or a 7 hour sail to the north, around the middle of March.

Saba is a magnificent volcanic island that rises straight up from the sea floor with very deep water on all sides and appears to extend straight up into the clouds. Only 5 square miles, it reaches 3084 feet.

As you sail past Saba, the ruggedness of the island strikes you. Huge jagged brown mountains litter the island. Saba sits isolated and unprotected from the swells and wind of the Atlantic Ocean, which creates this stark topography.  Despite the forbidding perimeter of the island, we discovered that the interior of Saba is a hidden paradise, a Caribbean Shangri-la.

Like all good hidden kingdoms, Saba doesn’t come easily to visitors.  Saba only has one harbor for entry of all boats and people. Many sailors have been known to sail by this harbor and just keep going. It can have wild waves crashing against the concrete piers – making it very difficult to land a dinghy or small boat.  Glenn studied the weather and felt that the swells from the previous week should have diminished, since the winds had been lessening for days. When we sailed up to Fort Bay – the only anchorage on the island – we were met with huge waves crashing against the rocks surrounding the harbor and no discernible dinghy dock or place for us to tie up to clear customs. By VHF radio the harbormaster informed us that we should pick up a mooring in Ladder Bay about 2 miles away and dinghy in! As we motored around the west side of Saba, the winds miraculously dropped, and we were secure in a beautifully calm, picturesque anchorage. But, we still needed to dinghy around to customs. We steeled ourselves for the rambunctious ride – donned foul weather gear and PFD’s – and proceeded through the waves to Fort Bay. The ride was indeed a wild one, and all of our subsequent trips to the island were by larger tenders owned by Saba. 😦  Once ashore, we arranged an island tour for the next day, and also planned to do some hiking on our own.

Saba’s history is fascinating. Until the 1940’s the island was almost completely inaccessible. Some 800 steps up a sheer cliff in Ladder Bay was the only way for people and goods to come onto Saba. You can see the original steps if you look closely in the photo above – just beyond where we were anchored.

The 2000 full-time residents of Saba are descendants of hardy Dutch, Scottish and English settlers. The original settlers fought hard in the 1950s to hand-build a series of winding roads throughout the island – after being repeatedly told that it was impossible. Today the island is a wonder – beautiful white houses trimmed in green with red roofs, clean roads, happy and helpful Sabans welcome all visitors with open arms. We were charmed by both the people and the island of Saba.

 

Fascinated by the lush interior of Saba, we were anxious to hike up into the mountains and explore. We hiked a very steep, windy trail for several hours into the mountains of Saba.

The trail started out very lush but rugged.

The trail wound its way up into the mountains – for some startling views of the coastline below.

Even got a glimpse of Mira far, far below.
Exhausted by our long day of exploration, we were treated to another beautiful sunset to end the day.  We would have loved to spend more time on Saba, but it was time to press North to our next island.  Saba, we’ll be back for sure!

Nevis – on Mira? or at the Four Seasons?

Our travels took us next from Antigua to Nevis – a 50 nm – or about an 8 hour sail in early March. Beautiful weather.

When Glenn and I were sailing in Antigua about 4 years ago, we were having a few problems with our charter boat, and things got a bit tense. I remember distinctly saying – I just want to go to the Four Seasons on Nevis and lay on the beach!! 😔 Needless to say, I didn’t get to go, and here we are on Mira today – on Nevis!  And, I am so happy for that!

We spent 3 nights in a beautiful quiet anchorage off Pinney’s beach, just down from the Four Seasons, with a view of Nevis Peak – over 3,000 feet high – off our bow.
Nevis has a quiet and peaceful population of about 12,000 with lovely views, picturesque houses and delightful people. Nevisians have been careful to preserve their architectural heritage, and we enjoyed the history and their traditional Caribbean buildings.

The Nevisians are proud to call Alexander Hamilton a native son. We visited his modest home which has been restored and is a now a museum.

Abba, our well-versed and stoic guide for the day, toured us around his island for more than 5 hours. “Gingerland” is the area of Nevis just south of the Mountain. Many large, old plantations have been converted to small, luxurious hotels with magnificent grounds and views.

The Hermitage and The Montepelier are some of the most famous.
The Botanical Gardens of Nevis – six acres of plants from all over the world, and include orchids, cactuses and over 100 species of palms, flowering trees, as well as rivers and fountains.

The Golden Rock Inn’s gardens close to the rainforest  are vast, lush and spectacular.

We chose to return to the Golden Rock Inn the next day for a 4 hour round trip hike into the rainforest to the “Source” or the water source for the island.  An amazing trail wound its way up into the mountains – finally culminating in a narrow path with hundred foot drop off. We were rewarded by amazing views down to the ocean.

Monkeys were darting in and out of the forest.

Thank You Antigua!

Thank you Antigua Yacht Club! Once again, Mother Nature reared her ugly head to fool with our sailing plans. Huge northerly swells swamped many Caribbean islands as a result of a tremendous weather storm system in the Northeast US in early March. Yachts were advised to hole up in southern harbors around the Caribbean for several days. We were lucky enough to get a tremendous slip right in the middle of the super yacht dock in the Antigua Yacht Club! Mira was a little overwhelmed, but Pam and Glenn were not!! 😉

Small world! Our friends, Walton and Paige, from Atlanta were guests on the super yacht right next to us on the dock.
Enjoying a very fun evening and amazing sunset at the Shirley Heights traditional Sunday night Jump-Up – with our good friends from Sirenitie, Glen and Marilyn.

Spent one day on the beachfront at Catherine’s Cafe – yummy rose and brie.

We had our choice of delicious freshly-caught fish on the dock in Falmouth Harbor.

 

Iles des Saintes and Guadeloupe

A temporary break in the weather appeared, so we dropped our mooring in Dominica and headed off to the Saintes, a quick 3 1/2 hour sail north. We picked up a mooring ball in the quaint anchorage just off the only town on Terre de Haut… Bourg des Saintes. We were in France once again! Dinner out every night and lots of wine shopping on the agenda! The Saintes are another one of our favorite island groups of the Eastern Caribbean and are considered part of France. Bourg des Saintes is an adorable seaside town, sparkling clean and picturesque with red roofs, balconies, gingerbread and colorful fishing boats.

We rented bikes and spent one day exploring all of the beaches and attractions of the Saintes. Thank goodness the bikes had electric boost, or we wouldn’t have made it!

The view from on top of Fort Napoleon. Mira is a tiny speck in the anchorage.
The prettiest beach was Plage de Pompierre.
The locals go everywhere on their scooters – this was one of the more unusual passengers that we saw 🙂

Happy Hour on Mira!

Sadly, more unfavorable weather and strong northerly swells were headed in – so we were forced to cut our Saintes visit short. Our goal was to take shelter in a safe southern facing harbor within the next two days. Off we headed on a 7 hour sail to the northwest corner of Guadeloupe to Deshaies, a town that was a perfect stopping off point for our next long sail.  It would be 42 nm to Falmouth Harbour which is on the southern coast of Antigua and well protected – a perfect spot to wait out the next predicted bit of bad weather.

Mira stayed and stayed and stayed on St. Lucia

Embarking on our sailing adventure to see the world very, very slowly, Glenn and I were looking forward to lingering and getting to experience each island’s people, culture, and food. Little did we know that we would come to know St. Lucia very, very well!

St. Lucia is a beautiful island where we had planned to spend two weeks – one week with Mom and one week getting some boat work done on Mira. We would end up spending 22 days (Jan 23- Feb 16) on this lovely island. While we anxiously awaited the arrival of boat parts from Argentina, the volatile Eastern Caribbean weather took a turn for the worse. Our good weather window was slamming shut. Glenn spends part of every day analyzing the weather. Since we live on the water, direction and strength of the wind and waves is really important to us. We use a variety of weather reports. Mira receives a daily email report from the Marine Weather Center. We also usually listen to the MWC’s morning broadcast on the SSB radio. Glenn also favors both the PredictWind and Windy apps – both provide amazing amounts of weather detail by the hour. On St. Lucia, by the time the boat parts arrived and were installed – every weather source Glenn could find declared only emergency boat travel between islands for the foreseeable future. Winds were gusting over 40 knots and waves were 10-13 feet with short duration. Even worse, we were planning to head north – straight into the gusts!

So… we stayed and stayed and stayed ……. snorkeled, dove, hiked, swam, picked up trash, ate lots, and finished many boat projects.  St. Lucia is a tropical paradise, and we made the most of our time there!

Stunning coral and fish during our dive and snorkel on Anse Cochon off the west coast of St. Lucia!

Naturally hot Diamond Baths along with a beautiful tropical garden.
Drive-in Volcano that looks like a scene straight from hell, barren with bubbling grey mud oozing up with huge spurts of steam. Such a contrast to the amazing lush of the rest of the island.
Amazing tropical plants and fruits
Diamond Falls filled with minerals pours into a pool.

Climbing to the top of Pigeon Island, the main base for the British navy in this area.
There’s always a cool cave or cliff to explore.

Early one Saturday morning, we joined a group of Island volunteers to clean up a long stretch of road through Rodney Bay.

The best part of the clean-up was the wonderful Beach BBQ and rum punch lunch on Pigeon Island!
Living on a sailboat, we are fortunate enough to meet some wonderful people – miss you, Sara and Mark!! 🙂
Valerie and Tim, let’s meet in Australia sometime soon!
Mira – heading out of Rodney Bay, so happy to be sailing again!!