INTO THE BLUE

From vol­canic coast­lines to par­rot fish, Vir­gin Is­lands of­fer prime snorkelling sights in the sparkling Caribbean Sea

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - FRONT PAGE - By Steve MacNaull

IT’S no co­in­ci­dence snorkel guide Branson Read is named after Vir­gin Air­lines and Vir­gin Mo­bile bil­lion­aire en­tre­pre­neur Sir Richard Branson.

After all, my wife and I are in the Caribbean’s Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands and Sir Richard owns sev­eral pri­vate is­lands here, pre­sum­ably lik­ing all the Vir­gin tie-ins.

When Read first in­tro­duces him­self on the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands Ad­ven­ture boat on our way to snorkel around the fa­mous Baths rock for­ma­tions in Vir­gin Gorda, we just think his par­ents must have been Sir Richard fans.

But upon fur­ther ques­tion­ing, he re­veals he earned his fa­mous name by be­ing born on Sir Richard’s Necker Is­land in 1986 while his par­ents were work­ing there as in­terim care­tak­ers.

“And I’ve met him, twice,” said Read of his name­sake.

“Both times at bars around the BVIs. When I told him I was born on Necker, he bought me a drink. He’s a cool guy and will talk with you as long as you aren’t pa­parazzi.”

The younger Branson is also cool, with his Caribbean ac­cent, par­tial beard, lit­tle pony­tail and laid-back vibe.

With the star dis­cus­sion over, we ar­rive at The Baths, a unique for­ma­tion of gran­ite boul­ders thrust up to the sur­face of a vol­canic coast­line by long-ago earth­quakes.

“Usu­ally vol­canic and gran­ite never mix, but they do to spec­tac­u­lar re­sults here,” said Read. They cer­tainly do. The shiny-wet black gran­ite is strik­ing amid the turquoise Caribbean Sea, backed by a small white-sand beach in Devil’s Bay.

We don our masks and fins and hop in to snorkel around the boul­ders and spot colour­ful par­rot fish, blue tangs, sea fans and sea urchins in the co­ral.

On shore, we take off our fins to wan­der through the shal­lows, crevices, caves and look­outs the boul­ders have cre­ated.

It’s cap­ti­vat­ing and the rea­son many a swim­suit-model photo shoot has been held here.

My wife and I pose for pic­tures in our swim­suits, not quite reach­ing high­fash­ion re­sults.

Back on the boat, we head over to Moun­tain Point for more snorkelling, this time through nar­row chan­nels and through arches to spy the sea life.

My wife and I sailed into Vir­gin Gorda on Wind­star Cruises’ Wind Surf.

With only a 312-pas­sen­ger ca­pac­ity, the Wind Surf is not a big cruise ship — it’s a sail­ing yacht that can nav­i­gate the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands’ closer quarters and small ports.

“Wind­star pas­sen­gers pick this line be­cause of the small lux­ury ships and the sail­ing com­po­nent,” said Cap­tain Stephan Frei­drich, when I bumped into him on board.

“I’m a tra­di­tional sailor at heart, so it ap­peals to me to have the sails up and use wind en­ergy and save fuel.” It also looks fab­u­lous. When the 187-me­tre-long Wind Surf un­furls her seven tri­an­gu­lar sails on five 67-me­tre-high masts, the ves­sel is mag­nif­i­cent cut­ting across the sea at 12 knots. But it’s not all about aes­thet­ics. The Wind Surf’s state­rooms are spa­cious and well-ap­pointed and the ser­vice is im­pec­ca­ble at the four a la carte restau­rants and three bars.

When at an­chor, the back of the boat opens into a sports deck. From there, we swam to the wa­ter tram­po­line, lounged on sun­ning mats and were even able to stand up on a pad­dle board, take out a Ho­bie Cat and go water­ski­ing on the glit­ter­ing Caribbean Sea.

The same sports, as well as a full-on beach party, were also of­fered when we went ashore for the Wind Surf spe­cial event on pri­vate Prickly Pear Beach on Vir­gin Gorda.

The Wind Surf’s Yachts­man Caribbean seven-day itin­er­ary also stops at the BVI’s tiny Jost van Dyke for beach-bar hop­ping and Tortola for beach time, as well as Antigua and St. Barthelemy.

The cruise is round-trip out of St. Maarten, so it’s worth tak­ing an ex­tra day to stay on the Dutch-in­flu­enced is­land and overnight at the all-in­clu­sive Sonesta Great Bay Re­sort, which is walk­ing dis­tance to cap­i­tal of Philips­burg and its swanky shop­ping street and at­mo­spheric beach­front.

Air Canada, WestJet and Air Transat fly from Toronto and Mon­treal non­stop to St. Maarten.

Prices for a seven-day Wind­star cruise are around $2,500 per per­son, based on dou­ble oc­cu­pancy.

Check out Wind­star­Cruises.com.

STEVE MACNAULL / POST­MEDIA NET­WORK INC.

STEVE MACNAULL

Above, guide Branson Read, named after bil­lion­aire en­tre­pre­neur Sir Richard Branson, leads snorkelling trips to the fa­mous Baths rock for­ma­tions in the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands. At left, re­porter Steve MacNaull and his wife, Kerry, pose among the gran­ite boul­ders at The Baths. Bot­tom, Wind­star Cruises’ 312-pas­sen­ger lux­ury yacht, Wind Surf.

HAND­OUT

WIND­STAR CRUISES

VIR­GIN GROUP

Vir­gin Group chair­man Sir Richard Branson at Necker Is­land, his pri­vate is­land

in the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands.

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