We left Jost Van Dyke and sailed around the western end of Tortola, and then south east to Norman Island. It was a superbly fantastic sail, reminiscent of our 2004 sail, which even included a short sunshower! We were close reaching until we reached Tortola, and then in Sir Francis Drake Channel, we tacked upwind under jib and triple-reefed main in winds averaging 20 knots until we anchored in Benures Bay around 1 PM. This was a very brisk, exhilarating sail!
Benures Bay has no mooring balls and nothing ashore, and the place was usually deserted around noon, with 3 to 9 other boats arriving by dinner time and then typically leaving the next morning. It was a gorgeous bay with very clear water: we could see the bottom under our boat at 30 feet depth! It was entertaining to watch the pelicans sitting on the rocks (see photo; Tortola Island in background) and trees pounce on the fish swimming by. It was such a peaceful bay, barring a few noisy party boats.
The wind was quite light while we were in Benures Bay. This allowed Uwe to see a lot in the water, even from the dinghy. The fish life here was amazing. Nearshore were colourful reef fish, such as squirrelfish, banded butterfly fish, yellowtail damselfish, bluehead wrasses, and Anne also saw rainbow parrotfish nibbling at coral, and yellowtail snappers. Around "Stonefire" the water seemed to boil at times with fish, many of them jumping 6 to 10 feet in the air at the height of the arcs.
While Uwe was rowing back to "Stonefire" in "Firefly", and Anne was swimming back, about 8 very large (3 to 4 feet long), fast-swimming fish, possibly Tarpons, passed under and around "Firefly". They were apparently herding a school of smaller fish (2 feet in length) into the shallower water nearshore; the fish were right at the surface at times. Anne quickly swam to the ladder and got out, but calmed down when she realized it wasn't a school of barracudas.
We weighed anchor and sailed along the north coast of Tortola towards Jost Van Dyke Island. We had a stupendously wonderful sail downwind under jib alone. We sailed by the resort at which we had stayed for three days in 2004. We reminisced about being bored by the second day, as beautiful as the beach was! It was simply not our kind of vacation.
We arrived in Manchioneel Bay around noon and hoped to anchor near Sandy Spit. According to the guidebook, "The Cruising Guide to the Virgin Islands", by Nancy and Simon Scott, 2013, this is the "quintessential Caribbean anchorage. Light turquoise water, a small sand island with a few palm trees and no services. It doesn't get better than this!" Well, perhaps this might be so if a swarm of sunbathers is your idea of a perfect place (see photo of crowd of sunbathers on left side of Sandy Spit). We really had to squeeze between all the anchored yachts and when we tried to anchor, we found that the holding was very poor anywhere the water was less than 60 feet deep; it was either less than 20 feet deep or greater than 60. All the reasonably shallow areas seemed to be covered with rock, coral or anchors. We think that if we were ever to go to this bay again, we would anchor in the areas that are 60 feet deep, putting out 300 feet of rode: for us that means 150 feet chain and 150 feet 12-plait rope.
Disappointed, we left Manchioneel Bay and moved over to the next bay, Little Harbour. We had anchored here in 2004 as well, only this time the bay was full of mooring balls, but very few in use (only a total of five boats were on moorings overnight)! We decided to anchor outside of the mooring fields in 43 feet of water. One other boat also anchored after we did, on the other side of the harbour, near the dock. We spent one pleasant night here, although "Stonefire" was pitching a bit from the ocean swell from around the south-eastern point of the harbour.
We motored around Great Camanoe Island and anchored in Lee Bay. This was a much more secluded bay, with only one other boat, a catamaran, in the bay when we arrived; it left at noon after the scuba divers and snorkelers were finished exploring the shoreline. However, two more charter boats arrived before supper. Even so, this was the most uncrowded place we had been all year; it offered quiet respite for us wanting more seclusion, and it was another of the most picturesque places in the Caribbean.
There is a saddle between two prominent parts of Great Camanoe Island which meant there was a lot of wind from the ocean crossing over into the bay, but even so, the wavelets caused only a gentle motion. The weather on this and the next day was very windy, cloudy, dark and dreary, so we stayed comfortable inside the cabin with absolutely no rolling. One of the things we did was read some of Patrick O'Brian's 17th book, "The Commodore" to each other.
It was still windy (20-25 knots) but sunny. Anne had a swim.
Because the wind had died down a little, I rowed "Firefly" while Anne swam (see photo) to and along the shore for one and half hours. The cliffs and rock formations in Lee Bay reminded me of those on Keats Island.
Anne saw blue tangs and juvenile blue tangs with yellow tails, yellow jacks, yellow sea breams, sergeant majors (yellow with vertical black stripes), and beautiful coral. I was unable to see much because of the ripples even though the secchi depth was over 10 feet.
Uwe made corn flour pancakes (his own recipe) for breakfast. What a treat! After breakfast we weighed anchor and re-anchored north of Vixen Point off the west coast of Prickly Pear Island.
We got a soaking again as we motored over to Bitter End Yacht Club in "Firefly": it had been very windy and the water was choppy. In fact, rain squalls had been passing over Gorda Sound quite frequently.
The Bitter End Yacht Club was still as beautifully landscaped as we had remembered when we had charted "Caitlin", a Beneteau 34, from The Moorings Charter Company in 2004. We treated ourselves to local fish (grouper and wahoo) and a bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc for lunch at the Clubhouse Steak and Seafood Grille.
At Gun Creek we bought some groceries, and then re-anchored at Saba Rock, a tiny island sitting astride the channel to Eustatia Sound between the Bitter End and Prickly Pear Island. The island had a beautifully landscaped resort, a marina, a restaurant and a gift shop.
None of the anchorages in Gorda Sound were completely comfortable because of the constant boat traffic. Inconsiderate people rip by at speeds far in excess of 5 mph in dinghies with high-powered motors, causing the anchored yachts to roll and pitch unnecessarily. I believe that the tenders and their motors are bigger now than those used in 2004, and the anchorages have become far more crowded, partly because no-one wants to take the expensive moorings ($25 to 30 USD per night).
In 2004, Road Town, Tortola, we were very disappointed in the contemptuous attitude of the some of the local people toward tourists. We have sailing friends who were also disappointed in the local folk's attitude during their visit to the BVI a month ago, when they found that "... the people were unhappy, rude and resentful of our presence. ... No one smiles or engages in small talk." In contrast, at least so far, our experience has been very different: we have noticed that the attitude of the staff of the various stores and restaurants in Gorda Sound has been great: the locals have been very polite to us and have displayed a marvellous sense of humour.
When told about my gluten sensitivity, Keesher, our cute waitress at the Saba Rock restaurant exclaimed, "Yo gun STARVE here, girl!", and then proceeded to tell us about her near starvation once she had decided to become a vegetarian. I told her that I could eat a beef patty without the bun, and a wedge of lettuce. She said she'd have to check with the chef she was stuck with that day, "a chef who has an attitude", so she couldn't promise me anything that was not on the menu. She came back and said that the grill had crumbs from bread on it, so would it be okay for the chef to cook the patty in a frying pan. I was very pleased! Then she said with a big smile that it would be "like pulling teeth" but she would try to get some carrot sticks to go with the lettuce wedge. Keesher had been successful about coaxing the chef to peel some carrots, so we gave her an additional tip (on top of the requisite 15%).
We weighed anchor and sailed toward Marina Cay, our next destination, an island nestled behind a reef and lying between the islands of Great Camanoe and Scrub. We had arranged to meet up with Yacht Shots Photography at 10 am somewhere just past the Dog Islands. This company had taken fantastic photos of "Caitlin" in 2004 and we had wanted to get some more recent photos of "Stonefire" under sail. However, because the winds were very gusty (15 to 30 knots) and the clouds looked threatening and ominous, we reluctantly decided not to put up all three sails for the photo-shoot. In fact, we were heeling heavily with a sail plan that included only a triple-reefed main and one jib. We tacked back once, hoping to see the Yacht Shots dinghy, and got hit with some really strong but short gusts that pushed "Stonefire" right over and submerged her toe-rail. I suppose it was just as well that the photographers didn't show up with their cameras, but talk about exciting shots if they had captured this on film!
We dropped anchor just west of the mooring field off Marina Cay, "the quintessential tropical island" (as described in "The Cruising Guide to the Virgin Islands", by Nancy and Simon Scott, 2013). We spent an uncomfortable night rolling (inclination 15 to 15 degrees) due to waves coming from the east, strong wind from the north east, and heavy water taxi and ferry traffic. To put things into perspective, it was the most rolling we had ever experienced at anchor in the Caribbean to date, though still not as much rolling as we had experienced during our first Atlantic Ocean crossing.
We finally surrendered! After the mass exodus of charter boats (more than half of which were catamarans) from the mooring field in the morning, we raised anchor and took a mooring ball inside the Marina Cay wind shadow close to the island and spent the next 24 hours with no pitching or rolling. What luxury $30 had bought us!
We went onshore to the beach restaurant for old times' sake. The view above the restaurant was just as spectacular as we had remembered (see photo) and it gave us a natural high to realize that we were here with our own boat this time. I ordered a half-lobster (as I had done in 2004). An adorable black and white cat befriended us and received bits of Uwe's fish and my lobster, often jumping up to snatch the bits from our fingers.
Anne has been making some very strange friends in the Caribbean. In Jolly Harbour, Antigua, it was a handsome young pirate. Then in Leverick Bay, she made a very similar friend (see photo), though you'd almost be convinced it was the same young pirate after a bit of wear and tear. At any rate, the skinny fellow was wearing the same clothing as the young pirate, though badly torn, and had the same hook for a hand and a peg for a leg. So it must have been the same fellow, right? In spite of some lumpy seas, the trip from Antigua to the BVI was obviously less stressful for us than it had been for this pirate.
From Drake's Anchorage, we motored over to Leverick Bay in "Firefly". The spray from the waves and wakes soaked us, but the trip was worth it because the grocery store had beautiful fresh vegetables and fruit.
We had lunch at "Jumbies Bar" on the beach, which provided us with free WiFi, and offered us a breezy view of North Sound. We also bumped into, and had a fantastic visit with Andreas and Andrea ("Lady Jean"; we first met them in Madeira; see photo).
It was uplifting to watch the enthusiasm with which Andreas told his stories, and the loving adoration in Andrea's face as she watched him. They plan to head further north in the Caribbean, cross the Atlantic Ocean a second time, and then sail home to Germany. They told us that they do not wish to trade up to a larger boat when they get back home because they felt that they would not want to make all the necessary alterations for a second time on another boat, they have as much space as six people would have in a 45 foot boat, and it is easier for a couple to handle a smaller boat. How very interesting that we had come to the same conclusion based on the same reasons!