A Private Spot in Privateer Bay

Saturday January 31, 2015

cave, Norman Island

I still haven’t gotten over the fact that we’re in the Virgin Islands.  Something about it just seems so surreal.  Maybe it’s because it’s the cruisers destination, or because they’re so beautiful, or because all of these islands that I’ve heard of through magazines, blogs and movies are now places I’m seeing with my own eyes.  And usually with the next one visible from where you are. Speaking of which,  still can’t believe how close all of these islands are to each other.

Dropping our lines from Road Harbor today we wanted to spend at least one night at Norman Island before switching our Virgins from British to US.  This little slice of water and land is famous among cruisers and rightly so.  It has caves for snorkeling, exploring and searching for hidden treasure, which of course I had to see after reading my friend’s posts about it here and here.

This had been on my list for quite some time, and in the past few days I’d even picked up some tips as well as specific GPS coordinates on where to anchor here to avoid the $30/night mooring fee.  Can you see a pattern emerging with us?  Marinas & Moorings = thanks, but spent our whole fall doing that and have too much of it ahead in our future as well.  So as we sailed passed The Indians and their legendary snorkeling and marked them as a ‘must see next year’, we pulled into The Bight and were greeted with nothing but mooring balls as far as the eye could see.  Big bummer.

Motoring to the coordinates we were given we found another boat already in that spot, and anything closer to shore were mooring placed very close to one another.  On the other side of this boat was 50-60 ft of water.  Not impossible to anchor in, but we were on a mission to find something under 35 ft.  One of us on board was very stubborn about this since they couldn’t find a need to anchor in this spot when there looked to be a perfectly good bay right next door.  The other one had wanted to see the action at Willy T’s floating bar that evening but was overruled due to the rationality of the other spot.  Damn you, logic.

So we motored out of The Bight and into Privateer Bay where our map showed plenty of 35 ft water.  There were also mooring balls lining the shore here but we were able to squeeze ourselves into these much winder spaced one and dropped in crystal clear water next to a shoreline that surprisingly reminded us of something we’d find in Northern Michigan.  I have to give it to the one of us that decided to anchor here.  It was much more quiet and serene than The Bight and afforded us great views of the caves.

Which…I only realized once we pulled up that only one person could explore now that I had sunk Matt’s mask and snorkel at Virgin Gorda.  Ooops.  We still could have dinghied over to check it out, but the caves didn’t look like they allowed room for such a craft inside and every other one we saw was parked outside while it’s occupants explored via swimming.  Well, looks like the caves at Norman Island will have to be added to the list of things to do & see next year.

It was a perfect little spot to enjoy just for the afternoon and evening though.  Listening to our daily rendition of ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ on the radio while sipping a cold beer in the afternoon heat and transitioning to ‘Drunk on a Plane’ with a gin & tonic and the sunset.  Which.Was.Breathtaking.  Seriously, are these islands even for real?  Now I can see why everyone flocks here.  We’re seriously contemplating making the jump right from the Bahamas to hear with the new boat.

Sorry Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.  I know we’re giving you a skip on our journey up this year, but you might be getting the same treatment next year too.  Try not to take it too personal.

Norman's Cay, BVIs

Jessica at Norman Island

Privateer Bay, Norman Island

caves at Norman Island

 

 

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An Up & Down Day, Ended on a Good Note

Friday January 30, 2015

Genevieve & Jessica

This morning was a bit of an adventure.  Full of ups and downs.  Come to think of it, the whole day was like that really.

When we decided today that we finally needed to get our anchor up from Big Trunk Bay and move ourselves over to Tortola we had to go through the hassle of upping our stern anchor which had been pointing us into the wakes and swells (I forgot that this was the method we were using, not a bridle).  Matt had taken the dinghy over to pull it up but wanted to dive on it first.  Having left his snorkeling mask on the boat I thought I’d just toss it over to him since he was only about 50 feet away.

Yeah….kind of forgot I can’t throw an object of sustainable weight on a good day, let alone an 8 oz snorkel mask.  It didn’t even make it half way to him before it started sinking down into the water.  Well at this point in the morning I hadn’t even put my contacts in yet, so while I was being yelled at to retrieve it I scrambled to get from my pj’s into even part of a swimsuit and into the water while half blind.  Let’s just say that Matt’s mask was not recovered.

On my swim back from the search to the boat I ran into my first ever jellyfish with a bite to it.  I’ve swum through hunreds of those itty bitty things that are basically half the size of your palm.  I didn’t see whatever I ran into, but I know that it was painful.  Nothing I got tangled in, thankfully, but enough that it felt like I got caught in a swim by stinging from a few bees.  Once back at the boat I was able to get the rest of my suit together and took Matt out with the dinghy so I could motor next to him while he used my goggles to search for his on the seabed.

We could tell there was a bit of a current and that they had been most likely swept away further than we were willing to search.  Oh well, we’ll be back in Florida soon enough where we can buy him a new set and in the Bahamas and Caribbean again in a year to get some use out of them.  Motoring back to the boat we heard a call for help and suddenly realized that Matt’s snorkeling mask was not the only thing being swept away by the current.

There was a French flagged boat anchored behind us and in broken English we heard one man on board yelling to us that his friend went swimming and couldn’t make it back to the boat, could we please go get him.  We turned ourselves around to go behind the boat and found a man floating on his back about 150 feet behind the boat.  Luckily he was being smart and not tiring himself out by trying to fight his way back.  Coming slowly up to him we could see this poor man that was getting carried away had lost one of his arms, making what would have been a swim back even more difficult.

The dinghy from the boat he belonged to had just left with a few of the crew members, most likely to go to the Baths, and had we not been there, there’s no telling how or if he would have been able to get back.  Using his one arm to grab onto the lines of the dinghy we hauled the rest of him on and brought him back to his catamaran.  Just as we were dropping him off and his friend was helping him back on board we saw the other dinghy headed back.  We just smiled and waved as we headed back to Serendipity to get the anchor up and get moving.  Our good deed for the day had been done and we wanted to go before having to refuse a bottle of wine or any other kind of gifts, something we have found the French are famous for giving even for the smallest of favors.

With the sails up we were once again traveling in perfect conditions.  I seriously love the Virgin Islands.  15 knots of wind pushing us at 4 knots over calm waters to our next destination only 10 miles away.  If only all our sails could be like this.  Our intended stop for the night was Sea Cow Bay.  This is because in the bay right next door was Nanny Cay Marina, and sitting in that marina was my friend Brittany of Windtraveler.  Although I had been chatting online with her ever since her and her husband Scott left Chicago to go cruising in 2010, I already had the chance to meet up and hang out with her in the Exumas when we passed through there two years ago.  A ladies night on the beach that was quite fun and memorable.

We’ve still been keeping in touch and when we found out we were both going to be in the BVI’s at the same time we knew we needed to get together again.  Find a nice spot on the beach once more to drink a little (or a lot of) Sangria while she got some well deserved time off from watching her three adorable little girls, and I once more had a chance to get in some QT with a long long friend.  It sounded ideal.  Only, making it a reality was not quite as easy as I’d hoped.  Getting to the neighboring Sea Cow Bay, things weren’t looking very good for us.

Although our charts showed this as an anchorage, all we found when we pulled in was an extremely small space that has squeezed two sets of docks in, and what was supposed to be the anchorage was littered with moorings marked with milk jugs.  Which in my mind does not go synonymous with strong holding.  Something I’d normally be willing to forego this for one night, but the winds were beginning to pick up and these moorings were surrounded by land on one side, docks on another, and a reef on the other.  The only good place for us to drag if we did was into the channel and unfortunately we weren’t going to take that chance.  As much as it saddened me, I was going to have to give up my date with Brittany.

Road Harbor, Tortola

Road Harbor, Tortola

Moving just a few miles further up the coast we pulled in to Road Harbor and found that was lacking for spots to anchor as well.  With the sun getting lower in the sky though, we weren’t willing to find yet a new spot.  Pulling up to a mooring at the mouth of the bay we tied ourselves off and jumped online to an open signal we found.  Imagine my surprise when I saw a post from my other friend Genevieve that she was also in Road Harbor that night!

I first met Genevieve the same night in the Exumas when I hung out with Brittany, and we’ve been close online friends ever since.  She was also someone I desperately wanted to see while we were in the Virgin Islands, only I thought they were still in St. John at the moment.  Quickly typing in some messages while hoping I’d get a speedy reply, I asked if she was available to get together that night and if I could dinghy out to see her at the marina she was staying in.  Luckily I did get a quick reply and she said she’d be more than happy for me to come hang out.

Going through a lightning pace to make and then eat dinner, I was getting in the dinghy just as the last bit of dusk was turning the sky black.  It was an interesting motor to the interior of the bay, running into some in-water construction that I had to find my way around, but soon enough I was at Moorings Marina and wandering the docks while looking for Necesse.  It wasn’t too hard to find since it was one of the only two non-Moorings charter boats there, and before I knew it Eben was tying off my dink while I was jumping on the dock to give Genevieve a big hug.

Coming out to greet me as well were her two super cute daughters, Arias and Ellia.  I had come prepared with gifts for them and if they had been excited to see me at first, they were even more excited to tear into the coloring books and temporary tattoos I had brought.  Genevieve was given some milk chocolate that I had brought from the Canaries, and Eben, well…..sorry, I didn’t have anything manly for you except a Star Wars coloring book.

For the first 20 or 30 minutes the five of us sat in the cockpit where the adults enjoyed some wine and the girls (now joined by their boat friend) were trying out the tattoos.  Ellia looked a little sad when she came out to show hers and at first I thought Genevieve said it was because she was worried it would rub off too soon.  So trying to make her feel better I said, “Oh don’t worry.  I put one on before and it stayed on for a month!  I was pretty sure it was going to be permanent!”  When her eyes widened even more I found out she had originally been worried that her temporary tattoo was in fact never going to come off.  I probably scared the little thing half to death with my ‘assurance’.

Just after that though, all the girls went next door to s/v Mirador and it was just us adults left to hang out and drink wine.  Although I had never forgotten, I was instantly reminded what a cool couple Genevieve and Eben are.  The conversation never had a lull in it and there was plenty to catch up on since the last and one time we had seen each other.  They have a very interesting Rickshaw Run coming up in India in a few weeks, but there was also lots of talk of the Virgin Islands and things to do there.  I had been devouring Genevieve’s latest posts about the area and had plenty of questions for her.  I quickly leafed through their guidebook of the area since we did not have one, and Eben was even nice enough to write down a list of the ‘must-see’ places with our limited time here.

As that conversation was winding down we were joined by the adults of neighboring Mirador, Joaquin and Maria.  A bottle of Moscato was opened and the hours continued to fly by.  There was one casualty of the night when I kept pestering Eben to take out his tripod to get a group photo of us and there was a distinctive plop noise when the connector piece when in the water, of which I take full blame for since it wouldn’t have been brought out in the dark in the first place if it wasn’t for me.  Do you still need a replacement guys?, I promise I’ll have one sent to you.

Other than that the night was nothing short of perfect.  I stayed out way past my curfew (What?  It’s past 23:30? I have to go!!) yet was already counting down days until we might be able to hang out again, hoping we’d cross paths again before my long trip home to Florida.  For a day full of ups and downs this was definitely a high high, and the perfect way to end the night.

Ellia with tattoo

Arias with tattoo

Eben & Genevieve

Eben & Jessica

Maria

group shot

 

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Big Trunk Bay

Thursday January 29, 2015

Big Trunk Bay, Virgin Gorda

We have found our own little slice of heaven here in Virgin Gorda.  A little secret I was tempted to keep to myself, but since I kind of let it slip in my last post anyway I may as well share it so that others can enjoy it as much as we have.  Are you ready for these three little words?  Big.Trunk.Bay.

Imagine that you are anchored in 15 feet of clear and pristine turquoise waters and just in front of that is a powdery white sand beach.  As if that wasn’t tempting enough, just behind this is a jungle of palm trees, and situated behind those are gigantic boulders rising out of the earth.

If that’s not enticing enough, just a few hundred feet down the shore is one of the most breathtaking natural wonders you’ll ever come across.  The Baths and Devi’s Bay. Enjoying it at your leisure, it’s just a quick dinghy ride back to your secluded paradise.  Less than a handful of boats may join you during the afternoon and once the sun begins to set it’s likely that you’ll have the entire place all to yourself.

This is where Matt and I found ourselves for three consecutive nights and had a very tough time tearing ourselves away from this morning.  Each day so far has been started with a cup coffee out in the cockpit followed by general lounging.  Afternoons have included a trip to the Baths, or snorkeling the offshore boulders.  Evenings are spent on deck with a cocktail in hand watching the sun sink behind the hills of Tortola.  At night the starts come out in the dozens and if the water is calm you can see the moon illuminate the sand below your boat.

Yes, this place seems to be as close as you can come to perfection. If there is one downside to this area though it’s that during the late morning to mid afternoon there are unfortunately a fair number of boats running people to and from the Baths which means you will get waked from time to time.  We had this along with just a bit of a swell coming through, but fixed it easily with a bridle pointing us west where the swell and wakes were coming from.

It’s safe to say that if we had more than just a few weeks to spend in the Virgin Islands we would have been in this spot for at least a week or maybe even more.  Although as it stands, we have other islands and eventually a panhandled state calling our name.  But now that the secret’s out you can enjoy this Shangri-la on your own.  Just don’t tell anyone I sent you.

Big Trunk Bay, Virgin Gorda

View of Tortola from Virgin Gorda

Big Trunk Bay, Virgin Gorda

Big Trunk Bay 2, Virgin Gorda

gatos del mar

Big Trunk Bay, Virgin Gorda

sunset over Tortola, BVI

sunset over Tortola, BVI

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The Baths of Virgin Gorda

Wednesday January 28, 2015

Matt & Jessica The Baths

After my incredibly necessary night with Kim and Jereme on Sunday night, we made our way to Spanishtown to check ourselves into the country on Monday.  It was such a surprise when we came out of Gorda Sound to find the close proximity of all the islands to one another.  Knowing that we just had to travel down the coast of Virgin Gorda a little further I kept looking at the chart plotter and then looking up to what I was seeing in real life and scratching my head.  Because what my eyes were telling me was that I was looking at Tortola, but my brain, which was so used to islands being 40 miles apart at a minimum, could not fathom that you could literally always see the next island you were sailing to.  I just expected a speck in the distance instead of lush hills right before my eyes.  But so it was.

After spending one somewhat uncomfortable and rolly night outside of Spanishtown, we knew that we wanted to visit the Baths at Virgin Gorda next.  Based on multiple friends blogs and posts we knew there were moorings available right at the park, but you could not stay overnight at them.  Motoring down the coast since we couldn’t see the need in raising the sails for a one mile jaunt, we ended up stumbling across a perfect little beach in which to anchor that was just a half mile up from where the Baths were showing on our charts. Anyone who has been here will tell you that The Baths on Virgin Gorda are an absolute must see.

What they are is a geological formation of granite boulders that are settled into the sand and shallow areas of the sea.  Filled with caves and small sea pools, they are an incredibly neat place to explore.  With some of the boulders having a diameter of over 40 feet, being dwarfed by them in such a beautiful location was not something I wanted to pass up. Making the move over to Big Trunk Bay on Tuesday morning, we made one attempt at the baths by just jumping in the dinghy and motoring over.  Having done no research at that point, we had no idea what to expect.

Puttering in front of these massive pieces of granite for the first time was definitely awe inspiring, and even though a lot of my friends had been going a great job of capturing them on (digital) film, nothing compares to seeing them first hand. What we had not been expecting this first day is that to get to the baths by water you need to park your dinghy about a hundred feet out and swim in through a partitioned off area.  Since I had my non water proof camera with me and no water proof case at the time, this attempt was going to be a no-go.

We were however able to pull up to a spot on shore half way between the main attraction and Serendipity, where we did wander the beach a little and tried to climb through caverns in these massive boulders to get to the main park, only to realize that swimming would be involved anyway.  On the beach we met some very nice vacationers who said it was well worth the effort to go back to the boat to drop off my camera and head back once more.  “You will never find anything like this anywhere else in the world”, they kept telling us.

It was obvious that, yes, we would need to come back here fully prepared.  Running back to Serendipity to drop off my camera as well as devouring a quick lunch, we were back in the dinghy and making the swim through the properly named bath like waters and toward the shore.  Taking a second to catch our breaths we then followed the crowds to find there was a trail head through the boulders that led to an area called Devil’s Bay.

Ducking through the crevice of the grand bedrock over our heads we quickly popped out in an area where we were surrounded by walls of rock that towered over our heads with just a small patch of blue sky above.  The open air was swiftly gone as we continued to follow the path into one of the caves made by the formation.  Inside was a waist deep pool of some of the most beautifully turquoise water I’ve ever seen.  Taking a little time to ourselves to explore we wandered in and out of cracks and gaps of the boulders, splashing through warm puddles and gazing at the natural wonders surrounding us.

The Baths Virgin Gorda

The Baths Virgin Gorda

The Baths Virgin Gorda The Baths Virgin Gorda

Once we were finally back on track we followed fellow trekkers across the tops of slick rock while holding on to a rope along the side to help you keep your balance.  Getting let out at the end I made a graceful tumble into the ankle deep water and righted myself in time to continue on to other aids that helped us get across more trecherous areas.  One we actually found through you get get through without the little bridge if you can suck in your stomach to it’s limits to squeeze between a few boulders.

After one more steep ladder and then crouching under a few more boulders while scaling over others on a bridge, we were finally let out at the other side where Devil’s Bay awaited us.  Very much worth the maze, although truthfully that was just fun on it’s own.

The bay was a protected section of beachfront with boulders circling 2/3rds of the way around it.  Bright crystal waters gazed back at you and it was no surprise that the crowds were taking advantage of the refreshing waters and soft sand beach.  If there was a downside to the area it’s that it is in no way a hidden gem.  Everyone and their grandmother knows about it and will probably be visiting at the same time you are unless you happen to stop by first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon.  But for once, we actually didn’t mind the crowds.

Sitting in the sand we got in a great deal of people watching, and when it became too hot we moved ourselves to the giant shadows cast off by the rocks.  We both agreed that this place was unimaginably beautiful and there was no way we could make this our only visit.  Better prepped, we came back again once more stocked with a water bottle, snacks and the waterproof case for my camera.  We toyed with the idea of bringing our snorkel gear to make the swim in, something we had seen almost everyone else with a dinghy do, but we didn’t want to carry it around with us all day or pay for a storage locker.

If we didn’t have to keep our pace moving to see a few more of the islands, I imagine that we’d permanently park ourselves at Big Trunk Bay and make an almost daily trip to the Baths.  So my advice to you if you’re ever in or anywhere near Virgin Gorda is to see this natural wonder of the world.  Be prepared for some possible crowds, but otherwise, I don’t think there is any way you could be let down by this place.  Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.  I mean, just look at it…

The Baths Virgin Gorda The Baths Virgin Gorda The Baths Virgin Gorda The Baths Virgin Gorda

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