Teach­ing par­ents to sail in the BVI

Yachting Monthly - - CRUISING LOG -

David Peters and his girl­friend Frances spend a week teach­ing her par­ents to sail in the BVI.

‘We’ve sailed a dinghy around Mill­wall docks, but this is a bit dif­fer­ent!’ Af­ter a week sleep­ing aboard, knot prac­tice, dinghy train­ing – which was a slightly ter­ri­fy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for all in­volved – and lots of land-based fun on Tor­tola, my girl­friend Frances’s par­ents, Mick and Mandy, were ready to set sail for the week.

Frances and I were skip­per and mate. Our crew, her par­ents, were slightly anx­ious about trust­ing the kids to sail them around for a week. Frances and I had been liv­ing aboard Ven­ture of Tor­tola, a Beneteau 50, in the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands for five months, trav­el­ling to work at the lo­cal dive shop by dinghy. Fran had worked on a pri­vate char­ter boat while I was on the wa­ter most days pick­ing peo­ple up on var­i­ous is­lands and div­ing nearby. So we had plenty of favourite spots to show them.

Sail­ing for cock­tails

The first leg was a beam reach to Great Har­bour, Peter Is­land. It was a per­fect start, tak­ing just 45 min­utes in 10 knots of wind. On ar­rival, we jumped in for a snorkel with a hawks­bill tur­tle, then later toasted our maiden voy­age with an out­ra­geously ex­pen­sive and rather fruity cock­tail on the beach at Dead Man’s Bay. The bay over­looks Dead Chest Is­land, half a mile off­shore, where the pi­rate Black­beard is said to have ma­rooned 12 mu­ti­neers with only a bot­tle of rum be­tween them. The story goes that they could not swim and those who tried to make it to Peter Is­land drowned and washed up on Dead Man’s Bay with swollen chests, much like the slop­ing crest of Dead Chest Is­land.

The next morn­ing a cou­ple of tacks took us to Salt Is­land, a few miles north-east. This is the rest­ing place of the wreck of RMS Rhone, which sank on the rocks try­ing to es­cape to open sea dur­ing a hur­ri­cane in 1867. We snorkelled over the wreck.

We con­tin­ued up­wind for an overnight stop in Ma­rina Cay, near Beef Is­land (where the BVI air­port is). Then the fol­low­ing day sev­eral tacks took us up past the un­in­hab­ited Dog Is­lands, around Mosquito Rock and into Vir­gin Gorda’s North Sound.

The sail­ing area be­tween Tor­tola and the string of is­lands we had vis­ited so far is known as the Sir Fran­cis Drake Chan­nel, and as we en­tered the North Sound we passed Drake’s an­chor­age. This was the set­ting-off point for Drake’s last ex­pe­di­tion in which he led three ves­sels on a voy­age to take Puerto Rico (or Rich Port) from the Span­ish. How­ever, six Span­ish galleons were wait­ing for him and when he at­tempted to at­tack the is­land’s cap­i­tal, San Juan, they sank all of his ships. Drake man­aged to sur­vive the sink­ing and fled to Panama, where he later died of dysen­tery.

The com­fort­able, con­sis­tent 10-12 knot breeze re­ally did make the BVI wa­ters, in a lo­cal sail­ing in­struc­tor’s words, ‘the Dis­ney Land for sail­ing’. Mick was get­ting more con­fi­dent at the helm, with Mandy far more at home on the jib sheets. Mick’s flap­ping fe­dora, as he steered us up wind, made him look more and more like a real Sir Fran­cis!

An­other sun­set bev­er­age at Saba Rock was wel­come af­ter a four-hour beat into the ever-present east­erly breeze. The fol­low­ing day we mo­tored across the Sound, past some rather large megay­achts to­wards Lev­er­ick Bay to set about a loop of Vir­gin Gorda in a rental car. There is an im­pres­sively re­stored cop­per mine on the south­ern­most out­crop of Vir­gin Gorda, an old sugar plan­ta­tion, and the

ge­o­log­i­cal won­der known as The Baths is a must-see.

We set off from the Sound early and made way, on a broad reach, for Cooper Is­land. The shapely rocks that we were aim­ing for on Cooper’s east­ern shore were chris­tened The Cleav­age. They might as well be named the same on the chart: the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands is full of ob­scure names for dif­fer­ent rocks. Per­haps the pri­va­teers who orig­i­nally charted these wa­ters had sipped a lit­tle too much rum!

Cooper Is­land is named af­ter the crafts­men who man­u­fac­tured the bar­rels that ves­sels needed for trans­port­ing their wares. Nowa­days, there is a com­fort­able eco-re­sort, res­tau­rant, cof­fee shop, rum bar and dive shop to wel­come the bare­boat­ing crowds.

In the pi­rates' wake

The next morn­ing the breeze was at our backs and we had a dead run, wing-and-wing to Pri­va­teer Bay on Nor­man Is­land. This is a great moor­ing area away from the crowds, within dinghy dis­tance of the fa­mous caves and Trea­sure Point. This was the hid­ing place of a mu­ti­neer’s trea­sure chest, which was un­cov­ered in the early 20th Cen­tury by a lo­cal fish­er­man. The is­land is ap­par­ently pic­tured on the in­side cover of the first edi­tion of Robert Louis Steven­son’s Trea­sure Is­land. Mick’s fe­dora was look­ing rather more weather-beaten, his fa­cial hair rather more un­ruly – in short, he was get­ting a lit­tle too much into char­ac­ter.

The most im­por­tant as­pect of this sail was the text up­dates from fam­ily about the last day of the Six Na­tions rugby tour­na­ment. Could Eng­land pip Ire­land on points dif­fer­ence? The an­swer was no, but I did won­der what Sir Fran­cis would have made of our abil­ity to keep up to speed with events at home.

The next morn­ing we com­pleted our cir­cuit of the is­lands, sail­ing the short dis­tance back up­wind to Great Har­bour, Peter Is­land, where we had spent our first night. It was an­other pleas­ant night in this well-pro­tected an­chor­age, af­ter which we made our way back home to Hodges Creek Ma­rina, on the East End of Tor­tola. The wind had steadily in­creased through­out the week, along with Mick and Mandy’s con­fi­dence.

We sipped some cof­fee and re­flected on a great week. The wind blow­ing across our sails had trans­ported us through the chan­nel that Drake, Black­beard and so many oth­ers had passed through be­fore us. The kids had brought the par­ents back in one piece. The par­ents were al­ready plan­ning their next voy­age. Keep an eye out when you next pass the Mill­wall docks: a slightly floppy fe­dora, atop Lon­don’s lat­est pi­rate, might be sail­ing by.

Mick helms a yacht for the first time

Mandy, Mick and Fran en­joy the view across Vir­gin Gorda

David takes Mick for his first scuba dive

Un­der sail through the Sir Fran­cis Drake Chan­nel

Ven­ture of Tor­tola, a Beneteau 50, is David's home in the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands

Mick per­fect­ing his bow­line

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