Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Quick Tour of the BVIs

What a whirlwind the last week and a half has been!! We arrived in St. John on January 12th and only had nine days to take a trip through the British Virgin Islands before needing to make it to St. Thomas, where we would pick up my mom for a week-long visit. I am beyond ecstatic to see her!! It has been eleven months since I last saw her, and that is way longer than I have ever gone. Plus, we will get to show off some of our sailing skills :) The last time she and my dad were on the boat was back in Texas when we were total newbies to sailing, and things did not go quite as planned. But this time we will be able to show her what sailing  is really like.

So in a nutshell, here is how our week and a half has transpired. It's a long post so if you don't make it to the end, scroll down to see a link for my dolphin video.

Round Bay, St. John – Jumped off the boat for a quick snorkel around some rocks. Not that impressive so went back to the boat. Fixed how the dinghy was put together because the guys at the marina didn’t seem to know what they were doing.

Hurricane Hole, St. John – Motored fifteen minutes to this spot and snorkeled in the mangroves. Again not impressive and moved to Coral Harbor since the moorings are only day use. No anchoring allowed!

Coral Bay – Went to shore to have a burger at Skinny Legs since we read it’s a must stop if in the area. It was a pretty good burger, but they only served potato chips as a side. It’s not a true burger experience unless there are fries. Am I right or am I right?!

Salt Pond Bay – Best snorkeling on St. John and pretty beach! In most of the bays on the south side of St. John, there are moorings with a $15 overnight fee that belong to the national park system, and anchoring is prohibited. As we pulled up, I could see that all of the mooring balls were taken and disappointment began to set in. Just as we were about to give up, I saw a snorkeler waving at us and pointing down at the water. I took it to mean there was a mooring there so we hightailed it to them, and they helped me tie off to the pendant. Thank you fellow cruisers! It was very fortuitous because they had just discovered the mooring line as we pulled up and also because there were two speed boats zipping around looking for a line. They told us the floating mooring ball had been ripped off earlier in the day by a boat under sail, which made the line slip under the water and become unnoticeable to those on a boat. After we tied off, we jumped off the boat to a snorkel spot that was about 150 feet from the boat, and there was lots of coral and fish. Next we headed to the beach to read and relax in the sun. I decided to go snorkeling again since there was lots of sea grass, which can mean turtles are nearby. I found two of them. My limited experience with turtles is they can either be scared of you and immediately swim away or just ignore you as they chomp away on their daily meal. These two were the latter so I got some good pics.

Soper’s Hole, Tortola – The next day we sailed to Soper’s Hole to check into the British Virgins Islands. It’s a deep bay full of mooring balls, which cost $30 throughout the BVIs unless owned by the park system. We wanted to check in and leave and wasn’t sure if we would be charged for only using the mooring for an hour or two so we elected to anchor in 50 or 60 feet of water. If you don’t know, that is really deep for anchoring and requires a lot of rode (anchor chain). It was more rode then we had to be effective against dragging through the sand so David kept the engine running while I took the dinghy over to Customs. I normally don’t go through the check in process since David does so I don’t have any experience with it, but these people were just plain rude. There was some eye rolling after I asked if I should pay in USD or British pounds (it’s USD by the way) and all around bad attitude. An hour later I finally left the office, and we were able to pull up the hook and head to Norman’s Island.

Norman’s Island – Home to the famous Willy T's floating bar, which is a boat made into what else, a bar/restaurant. There is nothing but fun happening at the place. You’ll see some crazy antics like middle age women lying on the bar getting fake tattoos on their booty and then jumping naked from the upper deck just to get a free T-shirt, but it is totally worth stopping by. And yes, we jumped, but kept the swim suits on! We met some nice couples who were on charter boats, which means they hire a captain to sail them around on a sailboat or sail themselves on a rented boat. The BVIs and USVIs are full of them. Usually when we are out sailing we never see any boats, but it's primo sailing grounds in this area so there are a lot of charter companies.

The Indians – Not too far away from Norman's Island lie the Indians, which are four protruding rocks that have awesome snorkeling. This is the best snorkeling I’ve EVER experienced. There were so many fish, swaying sea fans, and colorful coral. I loved just hanging out in one spot watching how the fish interact with each other - the bigger ones always chase away the smaller ones from THEIR spot. I loved it and can’t wait to show my mom when she gets here. I only posted a couple of pics from our time there, but I will post a video of the snorkeling after Mom's visit. It was only a short distance from Norman’s Island so we just took the dinghy there. Once we got back to Norman’s Island, we snorkeled around the caves.



Road Town, Tortola – Not much to say here except that we did some grocery shopping and hung out in a very rolly anchorage for two nights, which became kind of annoying. Why did we stay in a bad anchorage for two nights you ask? Because all of the good spots in that area were taken up by mooring balls that cost $30 a night. That’s a lot for cruisers on a budget. It was very frustrating in most of the BVI bays to find a suitable anchorage spot since there were mooring balls everywhere.

Salt Island – Here were attempted to snorkel the RMS Rhone wreck, which is a ship that wrecked on the rocks during a hurricane in the 1800s and lost most of its crew. It was too deep to see anything good, but it's a great dive spot if you get the opportunity.

Cooper Island – We snorkeled around Cistern Point, which had pretty good snorkeling. There is a fish that David and I have seen in several areas that we had been trying to get a photo of. Its color is deep blue with neon blue spots, but it is tiny and moves quickly if you dive down. I think David got a fantastic shot of it this time. Don’t you agree? Next we headed to the beach club for  some happy hour drinks and time on the beach. Snorkeling this much kind of wears you out, but I’m not complaining!

Virgin Gorda, The Baths – Oh the Baths! This is the #1 thing to do in the BVIs according to several lists so of course we had to stop. It’s a unique set of large granite boulders where the sea washes in to create pools of water. The path starts at one beach and leads you to another spectacular beach called Devils Bay. Anchoring here is not allowed, and you cannot bring your dinghy ashore. Once we tied the boat to a mooring, we took the dinghy in to a closer mooring, tied off, jumped in with nothing but swim suits and a camera, and swam about 500 feet to the beach. Phew, that seemed like a long swim! It doesn’t get shallow enough to touch until you are almost right on the beach. There is a triangle-shaped entrance that we had to duck down to walk through and immediately entered a grotto-like shallow pool. Going down a short distance, there is an opening with sun shining through and water rushing in as the waves come crashing to shore. There is no way to describe the experience unless you’ve been there! We meandered along the path, sometimes going off-path to climb the boulders and look at the beautiful ocean before us. David even found a little “Jacuzzi” area, where bubbles would form from the surf, and we laid there enjoying some private time. I sometimes wonder why we want to give up this crazy, adventurous life!

The opening to the Baths


Anegada – The island of miles and miles of powdery white sand and turquoise water. This Virgin Island is different than her sister islands in that she is made up of coral and limestone instead of volcanic rock and is only 28 feet above sea level at the highest point. Once we saw it, it almost seemed as if Anegada belonged in the Bahamas since it was so different than what we had seen recently. After some bickering with a neighboring boat (I won’t go into it, but for the record, the guy was an a$$hole), we anchored and spent the rest of the day on the boat to relax. The next day we were ready to explore! Sometimes living on a budget means making tough decisions. So it was either rent a car or have a sumptuous lobster dinner which the island is famous for. We went with the car since the good beaches where on the north side of the island, and we could only anchor on the south side due to a reef that almost encircles the island. We started the day with cinnamon rolls and banana bread from Pam’s Kitchen, and wow were they good! It’s the first time we’ve had either in over a year. Next we were driven to get our rented jeep and headed to Loblolly beach to snorkel. It didn’t go so great since it was overcast and there was a crazy current. We spent the rest of the afternoon limin’ (a.k.a. relaxing in Caribbean slang) on Cow Wreck Beach, which got its name from a ship carrying cows that wrecked a long time ago. The sun finally came out, and we were able to enjoy the gorgeous beach in all its glory. After a few beers, rum drinks, conch fritters, and a shot of absinthe, we made our way back to the boat.

Trellis Bay, Tortola – We only stopped the next day to break up the journey to Jost Van Dyke. We made a quick visit to Bellamy Cay to check out Last Resort and then headed to Loose Mongoose for more fritters and a roti.

Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke – We came here the next day to check out of the BVIs. So long, we had fun, and we’ll see you in a few days!!

St. Thomas – We left Trellis Bay, went to Great Harbour, checked back into the US at Cruz Bay in St. John, and then motored to Red Hook in St. Thomas all on the same day. We had read that anchoring in Red Hook was almost impossible due to resident cruisers, but we found a great spot. It’s a little rolly during the day due to the ferries that cause a big wake, but evening/night is comfortable. Plus, there I s a dumpster and Laundromat very close to the public dinghy dock that makes life simpler!

Yesterday we went to the grocery store, which isn’t always easy. If an island doesn’t have public transportation or stores close to a beach, it can be difficult and/or expensive to get where we need to be. Thankfully, St. Thomas has taxi safaris, which are trucks with covered beds and benches and only cost $1 or $2 depending on where you are going. We hit up Office Max, K-mart, and Plaza Extra to get supplies that we needed. There was still a little bit of a walk after getting groceries and lugging them back to the bus stop and boat so we indulged at The Melt for happy hour $1 tacos and drinks. Life is good!!!

Check out our Facebook page to see a dolphin video I took on the trip from St. Croix to St. John.

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