Friday, April 20, 2018

Full Circle



I started sailing when I was about 12 years old, at Boy Scout camp, but still hadn’t sailed anything larger than a 25’ trailer-sailer until October 2012. That’s when I attended my first Interline Regatta in the British Virgin Islands. I originally only knew two of the eighteen members of “Team Zissou” (so named after the Wes Anderson movie) but soon got to know everyone quite well over ten days of sailing, partying, exploring, racing, and more partying. We chartered a Beneteau Oceanis 50 (which we raced) as well as a Leopard 46 catamaran that served as party central. I enjoyed the big boat sailing so much that the next summer I went out to Southern California and did the ASA “Bareboat Captain” course, which did a lot to fill in the gaps in my sailing knowledge. For the 2013 Interline Regatta, I was much more involved with the racing and even skippered the 50' race boat on lay days. Dawn came along and agreed that big boats were wayyy better than trailer-sailers! Since then I’ve been to two additional Interline Regattas with Team Zissou as well as the 2015 St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, where we won the fastest bareboat around the island award.

Team Zissou’s fun-loving organizers, Duncan and Katie Roberts, owned an Oceanis 50 (“Tak til Nordic” or TTN) in The Moorings charter fleet. They often sold their excess points at a discount, and Dawn and I ended up doing three charters through them, in the Bahamas, Thailand, and back in the BVI. When TTN’s term with The Moorings expired, Duncan sold her to a buyer who placed her in the secondary charter market, and he and Katie bought a new Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 51 (nee Moorings 51.5), which they named “Portlandia.” Sadly, Portlandia was in the Moorings fleet less than a year when Hurricane Irma sank her at the dock in Road Town. Undeterred, Duncan turned around and bought the very first post-Irma boat to enter the Moorings/Sunsail fleet, a Leopard 48 (nee Sunsail 48.4). Duncan and Katie’s young boys Bjorn and Calvin got the honors of naming the new boat, which they christened “Yo Dawg” (because it’s a cat, I presume?).

We rejiggered our cruising plans to come to the BVI a little earlier when we learned that Duncan, Katie and family as well as four of their friends would be aboard Yo Dawg from March 27th to April 3rd, the week of the boys’ Spring Break. Moorings owners don’t actually get to sail their own boat very often; it’s more of a timeshare-type arrangement. Duncan and Katie only sailed TTN once in five years, and Portlandia once as well. So it was pretty cool to join them for the last three days of their inaugural cruise on their new charter cat. It felt like coming full circle – it was sailing with Duncan and Katie in the BVI that sent us down this path to begin with, and now we were joining them to cruise the BVI in Windbird.

On Saturday, March 31st Dawn and I had a leisurely morning in Little Harbour, cruising around the picturesque anchorage on our paddleboard. Around 9am we untied the stern line, hauled up the anchor, and hoisted sails to beat up the Sir Francis Drake Channel. It was the second day of the BVI Spring Regatta and we got a great view of several classes including the Gunboats rounding their weather mark off Beef Island and bearing off for their next mark in the Round Rock Channel. We pulled into Trellis Bay around noon, poked around a bit in skinny water at the edges of the mooring field looking for somewhere to anchor, and ended up just taking a ball. We took Piper ashore in the dinghy and walked around marveling at how different Trellis Bay looked with most of its foliage missing, several prominent buildings gone (including De Loose Mongoose), and the shore lined with beached and wrecked boats. The Last Resort out on Bellamy Cay, which has been closed and sold and reopened several times over the last ten years, was in pretty rough shape and once again closed. Happily, Aragorn’s Studio was open and in good shape, as was Trellis Market which appeared to be doing very good business.

By the time Yo Dawg showed up a couple hours later, all the mooring balls were taken in anticipation of the Full Moon Party that night, so they ended up rafting up with us. It was supposed to be a pretty calm night, but Duncan put out Yo Dawg’s anchor to take some strain off the pendent and satisfy the mooring’s owner. We met Duncan and Katie’s guests, Jon and Wendy and their kids Sophie and Zander; it was all of their first time sailing, and a Leopard 48 is certainly a good way to get started in style! We’ve chartered other similar Leopards but Duncan showed me a few of the new features of Yo Dawg, one of the very last Leopard 48s to come off the line in Cape Town. Katie had provisioned quite amply, as usual, and invited us to eat with them all three nights; we contributed to the food pantry, wine cellar and booze stash. We headed to the Full Moon Party fairly late and didn’t stay terribly long on account of the kids; it was pretty subdued compared to our last Full Moon Party at Trellis five years ago. We stayed up pretty late talking on Yo Dawg, though.

Dawn and I were up before everyone else on Easter Sunday; it's 20 miles out to Anegada and we’re a lot slower than Yo Dawg. They ended up getting underway only an hour or so after us (the kids were apparently expert Easter egg hunters!), and caught up to us shortly before the channel into the Setting Point anchorage, taking photos of Windbird under full sail as they passed. The wind was both stronger and more southeasterly than forecast, giving us a really nice close-to-beam reach in 10-12 knots of wind, good for about 5 knots boatspeed. Once in the Anegada anchorage, I originally turned to port and started sniffing around the skinny water in front of the mooring field, intending to anchor next to a big 60’ crewed charter cat. I had heard that the anchorage had silted in a bit during Irma – and sure enough, we started finding less than 7 feet, I decided to abort, and I didn’t even get all the way turned around before Windbird started bumping on the bottom and ground to a halt. It was our first time actually running aground on Windbird! I killed the engine and we prepared to launch the dinghy to kedge off, but before we could the wind and waves had already nudged Windbird off the high spot and set her afloat again. It was about as benign a grounding as you could hope for, but I’d had enough of skinny water – we headed east to the deeper water near the government dock and anchored in 10’ over deep sand.

Sunday afternoon we took the free shuttle up to the Anegada Beach Club on the north side of the island. It’s one of mine and Dawn’s favorite spots in the BVI, and we were relieved that they suffered very little damage from Irma and are fully up and running again. We enjoyed drinks and appetizers from the bar, lounging in the pool, and combing the beautiful, endless white sand beach. Jon and Sophie were snorkeling just off the beach and found a number of large conch in the seagrass; we collected six, of which Dawn used four to make cracked conch on Sunday night. It was my first time cleaning conch, with Bjorn’s assistance, and it required quite a bit of effort. By the last one we had it down pretty well, Dawn did a great job of tenderizing and cooking it, and everyone loved the treat. I saved two of the biggest conch to make conch horns – one for Windbird and one for Bjorn. We’ve been wanting one all year long and I just haven’t found a large enough conch shell that hadn’t already been notched (this is done to access and cut the conch’s tendon, at which point they slide easily from their shell). Evicting the current occupants without notching their shells was a long and trying process, however! I engaged in a long tug of war with the conchs and was able to remove much of them with a flexible knife, but eventually placed them on the seabed next to our anchor and let the crabs and various other sea critters eat the shells clean over the course of several days. I used our dremel tool to remove the tips of the shells, a punch to open the mouthpiece, and sandpaper to smooth it – and voila, a perfect conch horn! Our new Windbird tradition is to blow it every night at sunset, and I’m getting pretty good at it. Bjorn’s horn is ready for him but I finished it after he was back in Portland, so I’ll ship it to him the next time I’m back in the States.

On Monday morning, everyone from Windbird and Yo Dawg went ashore and rented scooters to explore the island. It was our first time doing this, so we got to see a lot more of Anegada than we ever have before, including the central lagoon, The Settlement, and Loblolly Bay. We snorkeled Loblolly, had lunch at Big Bamboo, and returned the scooters at around 1pm. Dawn and I went ahead of the others, got Windbird ready, and were anchor up before 2pm. Initially the wind was light enough that we had to motorsail, but once we got a few miles from Anegada it picked up to 10-12 knots out of the east, a light broad reach to Guana Island and the perfect opportunity to fly our spinnaker for the first time all season! As a matter of fact, I think this was our first time running since early January. Nice to not be beating for once, and I love cruising under spinnaker. The Yo Dawg gang got some good pics as they steamed past us as we approached Guana Island. Unfortunately our late start from Anegada meant that we got to Guana Island at almost sunset, only to find that the White Bay mooring field was full. It’s supposedly a no-anchor zone, so our only other option before it got dark was to move south to the Monkey Point national park moorings. They’re supposed to be day-use only, but we decided their use was preferable to anchoring in coral at White Bay. We had a really nice final night aboard Yo Dawg, and planned another buddy-boating adventure with Duncan and Katie in the Leeward Islands next season. 

Yo Dawg was off the ball pretty early Tuesday to steam to Road Town in time to catch the 10am ferry to St. Thomas; we got underway a few hours later. We were headed to Road Town as well, but just to do some more provisioning and other chores before heading to Norman Island. We had no guests or buddy boats to meet for the next ten days or so, and were really looking forward to slow cruising some of the lesser-used anchorages of the BVI while getting to work on our long-neglected boat project list.

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