The Adventures of Ciao

Our 2013 British Virgin Islands Trip

Ever since we returned for our last trip to the British Virgin Island in 2010 we’ve been telling anyone that will listen and even some that were indifferent of how great a trip it was. We knew that it would not be long before we were able to make a return trip. As it turns out our neighbours’ Gord and Toni were interested in joining on our next BVI adventure and so the planning started.

The view from Norman Island

Gord has been up to the boat every May 24th weekend for the last seven or eight years and was an old hand around the boat. Toni however was a different story.

Although she was very excited about the opportunity to spend eight or nine days in the islands she was a bit unsure of how well she would cope.

With this in mind we had both Gord and Toni up a couple of times before we made the commitment. Although there was some nervousness at first everything looked good.

Just like our last trip this is not the actual “Adventures of Ninkasi” but this is the best place to tell and capture our “Adventures of Ciao”.

Getting There (January 10th and 11th)

Once again, we travelled to Buffalo on the Thursday night so we could catch an early flight to Charlotte Amalie on the island of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Both the parking and the flights are significantly cheaper from the US rather than Canada. We passed through customs when we crossed the border, so that extra hassle was also out of the way.

On our last trip Mike had booked us in at the Red Roof Inn by the airport and I saw no reason to break with tradition. Keeping with the tradition we also visited the same bar as last time. The Buffalo Brew Pub was just down the street and I knew it could be my last half decent beer for the next ten days.

Drink of the Day: Ithaca Flower Power - had by Steve

Quote of the day: Hey they make beer here – Toni (this was also the dumbass statement of the day). We had been in the "Buffalo Brew Pub" for about two hours and Toni was directly facing the Brew House.

Kathy and Toni Ferry Bar

The next morning we were up at four to catch our flight at 6:15 to Atlanta and switch flights to St Thomas. We had our complimentary rum sample on the way to get our luggage (I had the Mango) and jumped into our taxi to take us to the ferry.

The last trip we spent a night in Charlotte Amalie, however this time we were pushing to make it to Tortola the same day. We had arranged for the first night on the boat and we were eager to get the travel over with.

We were right on schedule and even had time for a couple of drinks and some Conch Fritters at the bar above the Ferry. Kathy and Toni had a Bushwacker, Gord and I had the Painkillers.

We arrived in Tortola just after five, passed through customs, met our taxi driver and were on the boat by six. We did a quick tour of the boat and then went to the Pub at the end of the dock for dinner and drinks. After dinner we walked into town and had a drink at Pusser's.

Time for a note on the boat. When we were looking to book I checked out all the charter companies in the BVI’s. I was tempted to re-book with Footloose as our last experience with them was great, however the choice of boats wasn’t the best for two couples. They were either on the small side (less than 35 feet) or they were a three cabin boat, which meant smaller cabins.

Our Boat - Ciao

Our friends Dave and Maureen had come down in 2012 and had booked with Conch Charters and raved about them. It turns out they had just the boat we were looking for, a Beneteau 40 centre cockpit.

We travelled to Annapolis in October to meet the staff at Conch and work out a good deal with a boat show discount. Unfortunately the Beneteau was booked for the time period and Conch suggested the Hunter 42, it was also a centre cockpit (which meant a large aft cabin) and came with a generator. It sounded good, so we gave them some money and signed up.

Now I should mention that we found Conch absolutely fantastic to deal with, everything was relaxed well taken care of, I had a great briefing and the staff were helpful and friendly. We would most assuredly book with Conch again.

The boat however was another story. Everything that was important, the engine, genset, sails and rigging worked great. The rest of the boat was extremely well worn, it was well past it’s expiry date and it sailed like a big floating turd. It was very obvious that the owner was not interested in putting any money into the boat, it had quite a few issues. No matter what sail configuration I tried it was a constant fight to get the boat to track. The helm had a huge wheel but was so stiff I added an inch to each bicep.

Well we were on vacation, in a great location and we were not going to let this affect our trip, or our moods.

Drink of the Day: St. John Brewers - Island Hoppin' IPA - had by Steve

Check out the map of our Trip

Day 1 - Norman Island (January 12th)

We slept in until 8:30, I guess the travelling took a bit out of us. I dropped into the office to try and organize our day. Although we would love to push off nice and early we still had to provision the boat, get a review of the boat systems, chart overview and find some place for breakfast. Conch was very accommodating, they suggested we go into town, have breakfast, get provisions and then they would go over the boat whenever we were ready.

Gord on the way to Norman

Conch called the driver from Bobbi’s supermarket to come pick us up, this is a free service for customers. Our driver “Raj”, who I kept calling Ron suggested we have breakfast at Marina Cay and then come back to do our shopping. Marina Cay was a great spot with an amazing view of the inner harbor and all the boats.

After breakfast we finished our provisioning at Bobbi’s and then persuaded out driver to take us the Caribbean Cellars, so I could get some half decent beer. I came out with a case of the Island Hoppin’ IPA and their Summer Ale. A quick trip got us back to the boat and I did the chart review while the groceries were stowed. Gord and I then did the boat review with Conch and we cast off around 1:30, a bit later then we wanted, but “hey we are on vacation”.

We were off to Norman Island, this is the first stop for many cruisers. It was our first stop last trip, however we were leaving a bit late and I’m always nervous about getting a mooring, especially the first night. The winds were about 15 to 20 knots so we set out under headsail only. I was keeping an eye on some dark clouds that looked like they were headed our way.

About 30 minutes later they were almost on top of us so I furled the sail and everyone else went down below. I could tell it was only going to be a short blast, but I came down in buckets and I could not see anything around us. Fifteen minutes later the sun was out and I was just soaked.

The dock at Norman Island

We pulled into the anchorage and picked up the mooring ball on the first attempt, not bad since this was Gord and Kathy’s first time. We relaxed in the cockpit with a few drinks and then jumped in the dinghy for happy hour at the “Pirates Bite”.

The Bite had gone upscale a bit since our last trip but the view is still spectacular. We had a few rounds and then some appetizers before heading back before dinner. The bill was a bit of a suprise, I guess we drank more than we thought.

Gord was the dinghy captain and he got turned around on the way back, but was straightened out by Kathy.

We came back for a late dinner and I had the best lasagna of my life. We stuck around for a few more dicks and finally left when the crowd was thinning out. Our dinghy captain did a bit better this time around.

Drink of the Day: Bushwhacker at Pirates Bite - had by Kathy

Quote of the day 1:"My crotch is hot and sweaty, I feel like I peed myself" – Kathy, after stowing all the groceries as the boat was heating up

Quote of the day 2: "Oh that's right the motor is at the back now" – Toni, getting in the dinghy after a few drinks at Pirates Bite

Day 2 - Trelis Bay (January 13th)

The Indians and Pelican Island

There was a lot of research and reading that went into planning for this vacation. There were a number of stops that we had visited before and just knew we had to do again.

We wanted to share our favourites from the last trip with Gord and Toni. We also wanted to visit some new spots that we either did not have time to get to last time or we learned about after.

Our original plan after Norman Island was to dinghy over to the caves in the morning and then make the short trip to Cooper Island. Well boating plans are often written in Jello.

For the last few days a North Swell had been coming into the area, which would make any north, northeast or northwest anchorages rather uncomfortable.

Kathy at the helm

This ruled out Cooper Island. Although we had not originally planned a return visit to Trelis Bay, both Kathy and I enjoyed last time, so change of plans.

Trelis Bay is where full time cruisers leave their boats for a few days or weeks while travel on land, head home or just take a break. So even though there are quite a few boats in the anchorage it is very quiet, except for the occasional plane.

We had to motor all the way from Norman, as we had thirteen knot winds right on the nose. Today we saw our first sea turtle, this one was huge. I had spotted something rather large in the water and as we got closer he (or she) must have been four feet in diameter.

We picked up a mooring about one in the afternoon, had lunch and then I had a quick one hour nap. Gord and Toni decided that two and a half hours was just right for them.

We jumped in the dinghy to catch happy hour at De Loose Mongoose. About three hours (and sixteen drinks) later we found our way back to the boat and got ready for dinner at the Last Resort.

Gord and Toni at the Loose Mongoose

On our previous trip the Last Resort probably had the best meal experience for everyone. The décor can best be described as Salvador Dali meets erotica.

It did not disappoint this time around either. Both the food, our barefoot waitress and the entertainment (the bartender played solo) were excellent.

Drink of the Day:The 12 rum punches and 4 Bushwackers at De Loose Mongoose - had by all

Quote of the day 1:"What are those little tadpole things on the sail" – Toni, this is a bit unfair to a non-sailor, but who said I'm fair. Toni was referring to the "Tell Tales" which indicate the flow of the air over a sail.

Quote of the day 2: "I wouldn't go down there... I almost passed out myself" – Gord, no more information required.

Day 3 - Saba Rock - North Gorda Sound (January 14th)

Saba Rock from the water

The north swells were still with us so we decided to visit the well protected North Sound at the top of Virgin Gorda. There is big money everywhere in the BVI’s, but the North Sound is where the blatantly big money hangs out.

We left Trellis Bay about nine in the morning, which is rather early for us, in hopes of an easy passage and a nice sail. The wind was on the nose and we were now going to have to deal with the north swell.

Our direction put the three to four foot swell on our beam (right angle to the boat) which gave an uncomfortable side to side roll.

As we approached the middle of Virgin Gorda we passed out of the protection of the Dog Islands, the swell increased to four to five feet but was now more directly on the nose. This gave the passage a little less roll however it also slowed our progress as we climbed up and over each wave.

Kathy at the helm

Since this is where all the money hangs out, they often want to show off their toys. When we first saw this boat we were further away and it looked rather odd from a distance. This is probably a forty foot drop, however we did not see anyone using it.

We arrived at Saba Rock around noon and the mooring field was pretty much empty so we had our choice of moorings and chose a quiet one next to the shore.

We sparked up the BBQ for some hamburgers and washed them down with a couple batches of Painkillers. After a short nap we took the dinghy over to the restaurant/bar on Saba Rock for happy hour.

Kathy had a chance to feed the tarpon, however no one was there to take her picture.

Gord and Toni at the Saba Rock

The Bitter End Yacht Club is the place where the wealthy and the celebrities stay. The lower end rooms are about $1000 a night and of course you could always choose to spend more.

Despite the initial sticker shock to stay there it is quite comparable to the rest of the BVI’s for meals. I should however mention that we did not check out the fine dining restaurant.

We found the pub had a great atmosphere and an even better view of the Sound. Toni and I had great stone baked pizzas, Kathy was equally impressed with the fish tacos. Gord however proclaimed that his Cuban sandwich was the worst he had ever eaten. I believe the sandwich was authentic Cuban, but just not to Gord’s refined taste.

Richard Banson's day catamaran

After dinner we took a stroll around the grounds and could not help seeing two of Richard Branson’s sailboats. The first is a 100 foot sloop which is now for sale, I didn’t ask.

The second is the Necker Belle a 32 metre catamaran. It has a 14 metre beam (width of the boat), weighs 171 tons, has a cruising speed under sail at up to 20 knots, 2-425 horsepower engines and the weekly rate is only $110,000 for twelve guests.

This price however does not include you provisioning, fuel, port taxes, dockage and other little items which may add another twenty-five percent.

Since we already had a boat we did not see the need to see if it was available.

Drink of the Day:Lemon Crush, made with vodka instead of rum

Day 4 - Leverick Bay - North Gorda Sound (January 15th)

We started the day with another boat issue. I realize one of the worst things to wake up to is “Steve the head is not working”. I worked on it for about thirty minutes and finally managed to get it flowing in the right direction. Enough said.

Bitter End Yacht Club grounds

After our dinner last night we wandered the docks at the Bitter End Yacht Club as we were considering picking up a slip for the next night. While we were admiring Richard’s yachts we met John (Walsh?), who happens to live only a few kilometers from us.

He was on his twelfth boating vacation in the BVI’s with three other boats and suggested that we might want to spend the night at Leverick Bay instead.

The recommendation sounded like a good one so that was our plan for today. Since it was only a thirty minute trip from our current mooring Kathy and I went back to the Bitter End to check out the grounds and pickup some fresh bread from the bakery.

As you would expect from a high end resort the grounds were immaculate. We also picked up a few gifts for the girls and a couple of shirts for me.

Shortly after we got back to the boat we had a visit from the British Virgin Islands Customs. They were in a rather intimidating large, black inflatable, about thirty feet in length.

There were six very friendly guys on board and they checked out the boat registry and our passports. I was hoping to get a picture but they asked me not to.

The girls with a Pirate

We dropped our mooring ball and thirty minutes later we pulled into a slip at Leverick Bay Marina. After we got settled we went over to Jumbie’s for lunch. The food was excellent and even Toni, a self proclaimed fish hater, unknowingly enjoyed the fish dip.

After a few more drinks it was time for Gord and I to have our siestas. The girls read for a while until the happy hour bell rang, then they snuck off for a few drinks and to read by the pool.

When I got up I realized they had left us so Gord and I wandered over and purposely ignored them on our way to the bar.

After a few drinks we grabbed our table for the Michael Beans show. Michael’s show was amazing and by far one of the best experiences of our trip. It can be difficult to put his show into words so I took this quote from his website which I think aptly describes the experience.

“He's part musician, part showman, part sailor and pure entertain~arrr. He's made a life out of pirate lore, sailor's tales and songs of the islands. Who is this guy? His name is Michael "Beans" Gardner and he's one-of-a-kind.”

The Michael Beans show

“His unique and lively show is aptly named "Happy Arrr"... a two-hour performance that turns an ordinary happy hour into a social gathering, complete with stories, jokes, sing-a-longs, audience interaction and musical participation.”

Kathy and I both participated in the conch blowing contest, under the aliases of Gord and Toni. I held onto first place for a little while with about a twenty second blow and was then summarily put in my place by what I assume was a professional trumpet player and a thirty something blow.

After the show Toni decided that she was not really hungry and would rather go to bed. Gord escorted her back where she decide to feed the fish and go to bed. We decided on something light and went back to Jumbies for some wings. When we were almost finished I commented on how my hot wings were not very hot but kind of sweet. Kathy replied that her thai chilli were rather spicy.

Drink of the Day:The 8 Painkillers and 2 Bushwackers - had by Toni (and the fish)

Quote of the day:"We are going to Happy Arrrr...."

Day 5 - Little Harbour - Jost Van Dyke Island (January 16th)

Today the plan is to make a longer run from the North Sound to Little Harbour on Jost Van Dyke. We were planning for a four to five hour trip so Kathy and I were up early to get in a nice hot shower.

Cruising Sailboat

When we got back to the boat Gord and Toni were up and Toni mentioned she was feeling pretty good. I guess she was well rested. She believes the reason for the drinking mishap was due to mixing Bushwackers and Painkillers in the same evening, quantity was not a deciding factor.

I highly recommend this marina. When we arrived they lent me a power cable and when we left they included a free bag of ice, power, water, hot showers and we could walk to the bar and restaurant all for only $48. A mooring ball is $30 so I would say the difference was well worth it.

The north swells were still coming into the islands and we knew that we would have to deal with them today. The trip started with a good wind, about 15 knots and the swell was about two to four feet and was for the most part rather comfortable.

The wind was a bit close to the direction we were headed so we decided to motor-sail as we had a longer trip. The engine also helped stabilize our motion as the swells picked up and were now six to eight feet.

We were just passing north of Guana Island, which was about the halfway point when the engine alarm went off. I noticed the temperature had suddenly shot up so quickly shut down the engine and we continued under sail alone. It is a sailboat after all.

With the engine down our trip was a bit more eventful but our sailing skills were tested as we had to tack a few times and line up the harbor entrance. There was a bit of excitement when the furling on the head sail jammed but a quick trip to the bow and some strenuous heaving took care of it.

Gord and Steve in for a Swim

I waited until we were almost at our anchorage before I turned on the engine and motored very slowly to pick up a mooring ball. Kathy and Gord have been handling the mooring ball pick up and so far have always got them on the first shot.

We went into have dinner at Harris’ Place and were hoping to see Cynthia, it was her day off and she was spending it with her family in Cane Garden Bay. Dinner was great, Gord and I had the lobster, Toni had chicken (big surprise) and Kathy had conch.

There was only one other table with three couples. This is by far one of the best anchorages in the BVI’s, it is very low key and relaxed. We were in bed by 9:30.

Drink of the Day:Anything after dealing with the eight foot swells and no engine.

Quote of the day:"I think it was the fish dip" said by Toni and referring to the previous nights escapades.

Day 6 - Sopers Hole (January 17th)

The original plan was visit Cane Garden Bay, we didn’t have time for it our last visit and it was high on my list for this year. Unfortunately the damn swells were still up and it might be an uncomfortable anchorage. Since it was rather close I would usually have still given it a try and moved on if there was any issues. However we were still dealing with a barely working engine.

Anchorage at Sopers Hole

So the plans were altered and we were able to sail almost the entire way to Sopers Hole. We had never been here before, so it was we were fine with the change of plans.

We had to find a spot that a mechanic could easily get to us and repair our engine. I had taken a look at it the night before and was pretty sure it was a shredded belt, it wasn’t very hard to miss. However since it’s not my boat it’s not really my responsibility and the charter company might frown on it.

After we rounded the cut towards Sopers Hole the wind was no directly on our nose and was being funneled by the surrounding landscape.

I started the engine which seemed to be working at low RPM’s (I was to find out later from the mechanic that this is a design feature for most marine engines). We put Gord in the dinghy and he was able to push us from behind for the final mile into the anchorage.

Since we were only making about one and a half knots it was a rather slow process. With Gord in the dinghy it was now up to Kathy and Toni to catch the mooring ball.

House on the Cliff, going through the cut

Before they had a chance to try another boater noticed our situation and came over to give us a hand. He complimented Gord on his dinghy handling.

I picked up the mechanic at the main wharf. While he was working on the engine I managed to confirm that we were on one of the low end boats from the charter company, no surprise here. After I dropped the mechanic off we polished off a couple batches of Painkillers and then headed to Pussers for lunch and Happy Hour.

We all decided to have a nap today, Toni and Kathy took the cockpit until they were awaken by the guy collecting the mooring fees. We watched a great sunset and Toni swore she saw a “Green Billed Penguin”. It looked like a Pelican to us and we were still more than one thousand miles from the southern hemisphere.

Sunset at Sopers Hole

We went back to Pussers for dinner, it was now the only restaurant in town, but the food and drinks were still great.

It was a normal 9:30 bedtime, however we were up in a couple of hours closing all the hatches as it just poured for about an hour.

Drink of the Day:The two jugs of Painkillers on the boat, we finally nailed the recipe.

Quote of the day:"The only nautical term I remember is the davidads, those things on the back of the boat" said by a woman with pride in her voice sitting next to us in Pussers. She obviously knows nothing nautical! She was referring to the "Davits"

Day 7 - Big Harbour - Jost Van Dyke Island (January 18th)

Bird at Corsairs

Today we were going back to Jost Van Dyke, this time to Great Harbour. Before we left we dropped back in at the stores in Sopers Hole to pick up some bagels and juice for the Painkillers.

Sopers Hole turns out to be rather well stocked and the prices are not bad for the BVI’s.

It was a short hop back to Great Harbour and seeing as the engine was no fixed we didn’t really need it and had a good sail. We picked up a mooring and went to Corsairs for lunch.

This is one of my favourite spots, amazing view of the harbor, great food and about as casual as you can get while still wearing clothes. I’m sure there would be no problems if you chose to go without.

Our name was still on the wall from the last trip and Toni added the new crew list for this trip.

After talking to our server we decided we would take the dinghy around to White Bay. We had done this the last time we were here, however it was a rather butt clenching beach landing in three foot breaking waves, the launch was even more memorable.

This time it turned out to be a non event, and we casually pulled the boat up onto the beach at Ivan’s Stress Free Bar and Campground.

Ivan's Stress Free Bar

We sat under a tree on the beach and had a few of Ivan’s drinks and a nap before we jumped back into the dinghy so we could go a few hundred feet down the beach to the Soggy Dollar.

The Soggy Dollar is famous for inventing the Painkiller and they do a great job.

There was a bit more action at the Soggy Dollar so we grabbed a table on the beach, enjoyed the view, relaxed and of course we has a few Painkillers.

Kathy and I at the Soggy Dollar The view of White Bay from the Soggy Dollar
Gord and Toni at the Soggy Dollar

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