Sailing the Virgin Islands

This year we went back to the Virgins, but chartered with CYOA out of Charlotte Amalie harbor on St. Thomas in the USVI instead of from Tortola in the British Virgins. Since we knew we wanted to hit up the BVI, it meant a couple of extra customs stops into BVI and back into the US. Turns out that wasn't a big hardship.

Anyway, it was the four of us, plus Ross's girlfriend, Hollie, and the our close friends Rick & Gitte with son Erik and new daughter-in-law, Sarah. Sadly, their daughter Emilie was unable to join us due to school commitments.

We had a honking big cat with the unhelpful*, but slightly descriptive name "Island." 46' long, 25' wide, 4 staterooms, 4 heads, air conditioning and all the comforts of home, driven by a separate diesel-fired generator. This makes it very luxurious - coffeemaker, microwave, and toaster, all on 110v AC power - but does take away a little of the "old tar" feeling that we used to get on the more spartan boats. And I wasn't thrilled that the "lap, lap, lap" of the waves against the hull was replaced by the thrum of the generator all night.

*unhelpful: on the VHS you call "This is <ship name> calling <port of call>, come in please", which comes out oddly as "This is Island calling William Thornton" or some such.

We all flew into STT the day before our sail and stayed at the Emerald Beach hotel. HAd a good dinner and breakfast there. In the morning we sent the crew out in two parties for food and beverages while Kathy and Ben went over to the CYOA Charter base for check-in and briefing. The provisioning crews came back quickly and everything was stowed aboard before 11am.

CYOA does a more elaborate checkout than Sunsail, and we got a bit of a late start, so we motored over to Christmas Cove on Great St. James Island. Some snorkeling followed by steak dinner there, a very good start. 

Next day we sailed in heavy winds (taking a second reef on the main) and large seas to Lameshur Bay on the south shore of St. John. More snorkeling, then burgers and dogs on the grill. Plenty of leftovers for our future spaghetti dinner. Day three we sailed up to Leinster Bay on the north shore. The bay there is gorgeous, though more accessible by landlubbers, so a bit more touristy. Ben, Rick, Erik, and Sarah went ashore to walk the half mile or so over to the Annaberg sugar plantation ruins while the rest of the crew did the snorkeling thing in the bay and out toward Watermelon Cay. Lots of nice fish and turtles there, plus Kathy found her lion fish. These guys are an invasive species from the Indo-Pacific. We've seen them before in the Red Sea, but they're over here now, and causing trouble. This was new year's eve, and after a steak dinner we managed to stay awake long enough to usher in the Danish new year.

Day 4 we got up early and Ben checked in to customs at Tortola West End (Soper's Hole) while the rest of the crew did a little shopping across the bay from the customs house. We also reprovisioned for the rest of the trip, picking up a bit more snack food and the makings for the one dinner we'd left uncovered (thinking we'd eat out a second night, but deciding against it). After that we sailed over to the Indians and did a little snorkeling there. We kept it short because it was quite windy and rough, plus we could see that the mooring field over in the Bight at Norman Island was pretty full, so we wanted to be sure to get there early enough to grab a ball. Then we sent the dinghy over to the William Thornton floating restaurant to make reservations. Dinner there was good, though noisy and a little slow. They kept us up well past our bedtimes, so we only got to sleep about 10pm.

From the Bight we sailed up to Marina Key. We made better time than we'd expected, so had plenty of time to snorkel as well as to explore the new resort that Marriott has built over on Scrub Island. The snorkeling was great, as usual, though Kathy & Ben almost got run over by a passing yacht that was motoring at too high speed through the channel between the snorkeling area and the moorings. The boat, which had nobody looking for swimmers, actually hit Kathy a glancing blow, but fortunately she just has a little of the blue hull paint on her shirt as the only long-term damage. After visiting the Scrub Island Resort, which is quite sterile, and nowhere near as attractive to us as Bitter End Yacht Club, we did a short visit to Pusser's on Marina Cay. Then our first pasta dinner, ho, hum!

Next morning we sailed off to The Baths on Virgin Gorda. Sadly, it appears that a couple of cruise ships also sent a huge complement of tourists right then, so the path through the boulders was very crowded. From Gorda we sailed back down to a different area in the Bight and (after the requisite snorkeling) Ross and Ben whipped up grilled tuna steaks with ginger garlic sauce, green beans, and rice. Everything tastes great aboard ship, but even factoring that in, we ate extremely well this trip! 

On our last day we sailed down to Caneel Bay on St. John, then dinghied over to Cruz Bay to check in to customs. A long, wet trip, with 9 people in the little boat, but we made it. We decided to spend the last night in Christmas Cove again. We had better luck snorkeling this time, finding a lot of nice fish and a couple of moray eels, as well. Dinner was pasta again, and we did a little cleanup on the boat in preparation for our departure the following day.

On the topic of fish, we did have some special sightings this time: the lion fish in Leinster Bay, along with really spectacular squid right there; we had never seen the indigo hamlets before; we had seen morays, but not this flavor, and they were always hiding; porcupinefish seemed a little more common.

I should mention a couple of star crew members while I think of it. Erik was usually the drink master, responsible for some killer Daiquiris, Pina Coladas, and Wrecks on the Rocks. Rick fulfilled his duties as Poop Master most admirably, going below to adjust the stopcocks in all 4 heads on Ross's "let the shit fly!" command. We also had Hollie and Gitte fighting over who had the privilege of washing dishes. Go figure. As usual, Kathy did great at the helm, relinquishing it whenever anyone else wanted to drive, but mostly taking us great places. 

On our departure day we got up extra early, motored over to the fuel docks in Charlotte Amalie harbor, filled up, then headed back to CYOA for final checkout and a nice brunch at the Hook, Line, and Sinker

On our arrival at the airport we found that air traffic was still a mess from a big snowstorm in the northeast a couple of days earlier so most flights were delayed. We all managed to get out and home, though, which was something of a miracle. 9 people to 4 separate destinations on three different airlines on one of the worst travel days in recent history. 

As usual with these sailing vacations, the hardest part is coming home, though even that is mitigated somewhat by the pets and friends we have waiting for us.

Lots of pictures, with captions, on the pictures page, and also a link there to hundreds more, unedited.

© Ben Littauer 2014