Sailing. It’s romantic. It’s poetic. It has a charm that wraps around you like a lazy sailor’s knot on a worn red buoy. Visions of crisp white and navy blue canvas, sunsets blazing on the horizon, and gentle salt tinged winds breezing past your cheeks fill your dreamy gaze. You’re ready to hoist the sails, catch the breeze, and let Mother Nature take you where she may.
The beauty of sailing lies in the fact that it can take you anywhere. The possibilities are endless ... you can escape to a world that is as simple or as complicated as you wish to make it. You can cruise, snooze, drift, float, race, relax, work, or do absolutely nothing.
Never mind that you won’t really sleep good for a week or that for the next 7 days simply using the bathroom becomes a unique challenge. Forget that your body and clothes are always going to be slightly sticky and that even when you shower you won’t feel 100% clean thanks to a steady supply of sunscreen, bug spray, sweat, and the forever presence of salt spray. True, your sheets will constantly feel damp and no matter what you do, your cabin will smell funky, much like an old gym shoe you left in the bag a few weeks too long.
None of this matters.
Because you are handed a pass across the open sea where all the cares that afflict you on dry land, all the things you worry about, all the things you were supposed to do but forgot, all the anxiety of your daily existence drops away like a ragged old coat you forgot to remove when winter’s chill was gone. Get ready. You are being given a ticket to a secret perspective of the islands that can only be viewed from the deck of a boat with the salt spray fogging your polarized sunglasses and the wind tangling your hair.
Day One: AntiSEApation
"Oh my gosh! It's 10:00 a.m.! We have to check out...we have to get groceries....we have to get Keith and Sydney at the airport....GET UP!" I yelled as I launched my lethargic body out of the bed.
"Zzz...huh?" was all that Matt could manage as he looked at me like I was from another planet.
We had arrived late the night before on St. Thomas and had such grand plans for how we’d spend the morning before our sailing friends arrived. We were going to have the food bought, the water and drinks purchased, and even get it all put away on the boat. Then, we'd arrive at the airport early to pick them up that afternoon, waiting with big smiles and drinks in hand. We had lots to do and we had organized it well, down to the minute.
But that was before we knew we were going to be lulled into a sleep coma the night before by eating too much of the most excellent pizza at Pie Whole and drinking one too many of their amazing Italian Margaritas (note to readers: Pie Whole. Frenchtown, St. Thomas. Go there).
We threw toothbrushes and jackets we no longer needed in our carryon and rushed out of the hotel about 30 minutes after check out. We picked up the Avis car at the airport and made a quick drive over to Red Hook because I had been given very explicit instructions that the meat was to come from Marina Market. I could buy the rest of the food at the Texaco gas station or from the stand at the street corner, for all anyone cared, but that meat had to come from Marina. Apparently, they had some darn good meat.
It was way too late for breakfast, so we stopped for lunch at Duffy’s in Red Hook. This stop was the second mistake (the first being the pizza induced coma) that derailed our well organized, well thought out, well meaning shopping plans.
Why, you ask?
Have you ever had a drink at Duffy’s? They are so fun that you can’t stop with just one. Who cares that it was only 11:00 a.m. When they bring you a drink in a smiling monkey, how can you not have another? When the second one comes in a hulled out coconut and they throw plastic leis and flowers around your head, how can you not have a third?
And so went another precious hour…or two….of our well intentioned morning.
We staggered out of Duffy’s entirely too late, covered with stickers and plastic shiny things, looking very much like the tourists that we were. And darn it all, we still had to buy that meat.
We found Marina Market and when I saw the meat counter, I understood Syd’s insistence. Good quality products. Bar none. We loaded up and headed out way past our self imposed deadline.
“It’s already 1:00,” I said. “We have to pick Keith and Syd from the airport at 2:30 and we still need to find the Big K-Mart, shop, and get all the way back over to the airport. It’s impossible.”
“Nothing is impossible when you’ve just been leid at Duffy’s,” Matt said with gusto, “Let’s go.”
Miraculously, we found the Big K-Mart without a hitch. We grabbed two shopping carts, split the list and made the most ridiculous mad dash you’ve ever seen. We were most certainly not on “island time” and we drew more than a few looks from the slow moving patrons of the Big K-Mart. I think they were looking for the hidden cameras, thinking maybe we were on that game show that takes place in a grocery store. The one where the people have to get lots of expensive stuff as fast as they can and the most expensive cart wins? Except, instead of lots of steaks, we had about 119 boxes of Zip-Loc bags and 800 gallons of water along with a cart load of chips, sodas, and enough beer, wine and rum to start our own liquor store. And we were still wearing all our Duffy’s stickers, necklaces, and leis. We looked a hot mess.
We flew out of the store in record time and had the car fully loaded when I realized that we had filled every available space with something other than Keith and Sydney and their luggage.
It was 2:00 p.m.
We raced to Frenchtown and tore into the parking lot like our trunk was on fire. We jumped out and saw Jay, our friend at CYOA, the boat charter place. JAY!!!!!
“Aren’t y’all kinda’ late? Sydney said you’d be here this morning…..” he started to say, looking at his watch, as we started shoving soda cases and water boxes into a cart. He got the hint fast and helped us unload at breakneck speed, took the cart to the canopy and let us run to the airport.
We got to the airport at 2:25 p.m. Keith and Sydney’s plane hadn’t even landed. HOORAY!
By the time they landed, we were cool, calm, and collected. We weren’t sweating anymore and appeared relatively normal.
They probably wouldn’t have suspected at thing if it hadn’t been for all the stickers and plastic flowers we were wearing.
We made one final shopping trip that afternoon to get the rest of the food that Matt and I hadn’t been able to pick up because of that darn Duffy’s smiling monkey drink. The only problem with shopping without a list is that you end up with 9 blocks of cheese. Why? Because we kept forgetting how much cheese we had and every time we walked by the cheese cooler, Sydney said, “I think we need a little more cheese.”
We had a lot of cheese.
Shopping done, we unloaded everything onto the boat, got unpacked, freshened up, and met Jay and his wife Deb at Hook, Line, and Sinker for a pre-sail dinner. I decided to eliminate that whole after dinner, “Do I get dessert or don’t I?” pretense (because we all know we are going to get the dessert, don’t we?) by ordering the Complete Lobster Dinner: salad, lobster and sides, and dessert. I was contractually obligated to order dessert. I was locked in. It was a requirement. And oh, was I glad. They have a key lime pie that’s out of this world.
We did a sleep aboard on the boat at the CYOA marina that night….our heads filled with dreams of what the week ahead might hold.
Day Two: Docked and Loaded, Let's Go Anywhere But Down
After a hearty breakfast at the Deli we grabbed a bag of their cold cuts, a roasted chicken, and some fresh baked baguettes to go, said "hello" to the dock iguanas, and we were ready to go. We did the necessary “pre-boat” stuff (like my super technical sailor speak?) and were off by 12:30.
It was a reasonably calm trip over to Leinster Bay, St. John. On the way over we had a snack lunch of salami and cheese, pitas, hummus, chips and salsa, and fresh cut pineapple. We got to our mooring around 3:00 in the afternoon. The sun was already dipping low, so we decided to snorkel immediately. I donned my brand new rash guard and ridiculous wet suit shorts, that truly provided no actual protection and that I am ashamed to admit that I bought simply because I thought they made my 40 year old butt look good. Move over Spanx! Seriously, I think once a woman is over 40, she should be allowed to make all of her pants out of neoprene. We jumped in for a quick snorkel around Waterlemon. I noticed right off that it was chillier than I was used to (primarily because my wetsuit was only about 2 inches long….but I didn’t care because I thought it made my butt look good), but not chilly enough to make it unpleasant.
With the exception of a near collision with a really large barracuda who was in a big hurry to get somewhere, it was good. We didn’t see anything extraordinary, but there were a LOT of fish.
This was our evening to settle down into boat mode so we took it easy, lounging on the decks with books and cocktails (and cheese), playing a little music, and watching the early sunset create a blaze on the horizon. We grilled some steaks for dinner and paired them with a Caesar salad.
It was quiet. It was peaceful. It was perfect.
Day Three: Knotty Buoys and Crazy Gulls
We were headed over to Norman Island for the day to do some snorkeling and to visit the Willy T and Pirates Bight.
The day started off with Vicki’s Famous Pirate Coffee, guaranteed to make you lose an eye, hobble on one leg, and start stuttering like a parrot. It’s strong and dark, bites back, and if you aren’t careful, your cup is liable to just get up and walk away. Thanks to Deb, who loaned us an electric coffee maker, I didn’t have to sit on the counter with vice grips and a percolator this time. This meant I could make my sludge twice as strong in a fraction of the time!
Sufficiently jacked up on caffeine, we made our way to Tortola, where we could clear into BVI customs. We say that’s the reason, anyway. The real reason is because Syd has an unhealthy addiction to Pusser’s wings. So, as soon as we cleared customs, we ran into the brightly tropical Soper’s Hole to grab some painkillers, do some shopping, and grab some wings.
I love how you order your painkiller by number at Pusser’s. I got a #3, mainly because I simply couldn’t bring myself to say out loud, “I’d like a #2.”
Matt decided to be daring and he ordered a #4. You know it’s bad when the server laughs as she writes down your order.
While we were gnoshing on wings and Matt was choking on his Painkiller #4, who should arrive in Soper’s but Jay and Deb! They were joining us for our Norman Island adventure.
We took the boats over to Norman Island and found moorings. We made a lunch of smoked salmon wraps (and cheese) and then Jay and Deb ran us over to the Indians for snorkeling. The Indians are amazing. There is just so much to see. The fish were everywhere. Just like Waterlemon Cay, there were thousands of fish everywhere. I don’t think I have ever seen so many. I felt like I was in a Walt Disney cartoon, except that in a Disney cartoon, I would have been swimming in a princess gown, not in the equivalent of neoprene hot pants.
After boat showers, we had Vicki’s Champagne Rum Punch (don’t ask…all I know is that when I was done, we were less one bottle of rum and one bottle of champagne) and made our way over to the Willy T. It was early evening, but that didn’t seem to slow things down. The Willy T had been cranking out music and producing a steady stream of boats all afternoon long.
I only have a few things to say about our time on the Willy T: 1) The “ski shot” is not made for people of varying heights…designed for 4 people to do simultaneously while standing, the shorties get sticky…that’s all I have to say about that. 2) After a couple of ski shots, songs like “Stroke it,” “Baby Got Back,” and “The Bad Touch” take on a whole new level of fun. 3) I don’t know where my shoes went.
About the time I found my shoes, Syd wisely decided that food was a good idea.
We motored over to Pirates Bight and got another round of drinks. Seriously? Thank goodness we also got food. Lots of food. While we waited for our meals, Deb and I attempted a round of drunk Jenga on their giant sized game (made with 2 x 4s). I think someone needed to tell us the rules, because I am pretty sure that just removing the top until you get to the bottom and laughing continuously is not how the game is actually played. However, that is all we were really capable of and it seemed really fun at the time.
After a heaping platter of ribs and conch fritters, we made it back to the boat for a good night’s sleep. At least I think we did.
Day Four: Another Bad Hair Day
Every day on a boat is a bad hair day. You learn quickly that trying to tame your hair on a boat is fruitless…just as trying to keep your clothes neat is ridiculous and trying to keep yourself feeling clean and dry is impossible. Add to that the fact that my hair was still sticky from a badly aimed ski shot.
We had the traditional Post-Willy T breakfast of water and Advil before we said “Good Bye” to Jay and Deb and prepared for the day’s trip. Weather permitting, we were hoping to make it to Anegada the following day, so we chose Leverick Bay in Gorda Sound as a stopping point for the night. Primarily because none of us had ever been and because Syd got a deal on a slip for the night – same price as a mooring ball.
We made our way to Leverick Bay. It was a long trip, but the sun was up bright and bold so we made our way up front with a little music and settled in for the long ride. “Up front” is my favorite place. On a sailboat, it’s not really about the destination. The trip is the draw. The boat pitches gently under you as the occasional flash of sea spray rises to coat you in a salty kiss. The sun shines warm but the wind blows deliciously across your skin. The world is reduced to nothing more than blue and green, sea and sky, wind and water and you are just a tiny speck in the universe, looking heavenward as the sun travels across the majestic sky. I could lay there forever.
We passed the Indians, the blue waters around them already dotted with white boats. Islands passed like the backs of great green giants rising from the waters…Peter…Salt…..Cooper…Virgin Gorda loomed in the distance. I could make out the boulders of the Baths as we passed but from our distance they were no more than pebbles on the shimmering horizon.
When we arrived, I was sea tossed, sun kissed, and wind blown. I had my sea legs and the breath of the ocean in my lungs. The pale waters of Leverick Bay seemed illuminated as we neared our destination. In the distance, strips of deep blue hugged the shoreline of neighboring cays, bold in the light turquoise of the water that surrounded us.
The water in Leverick looks lit from within, as though light were bursting from the bottom of the ocean to the surface, giving it an unearthly lightness. The bright red of an old phone booth and the happily painted buildings of the marina jumped out in stark contrast to the electric blue of the water.
We made an easy lunch of turkey sandwiches….with cheese….. and chose to spend the afternoon landside, enjoying the pool and small beach at Leverick Bay, a perk that came with the boat slip. We could also have land showers, get some ice, and unload some garbage, if we wanted. We could even use a land toilet. On a boat, it’s the small things that make you happy. Oh Happy Day!
The “star” of Leverick Bay had to be Matt’s girlfriend. He seems to find these girls wherever he goes and they are drawn to him like old ladies to Bingo Night in the church basement. Her soft brown eyes alone were enough to make him fall in love.
She was on the next boat and Matt kept her supplied in turkey and other snacks that her owner likely had absolutely no intention of giving her and no idea she was eating. If the owner of that dog is reading this and if she ended up with severe digestive upset and pooped all over your bunk later that night, all I can say is I told him not to do it.
As evening rolled in, we made taco salads on the boat, opened a bottle of wine, and watched the sky change to colors that one can only see from a boat that is bobbing gently in the Caribbean Sea.
Day Five: Gotta Goto Gada
We woke early to the sound of serious rain. The skies were gray and thick with clouds and they were dumping everything they had right onto us.
Today we were supposed to head to Anegada, the Drowned Island, the farthest of the far, the flattest of the flat, the island with more bottles of beer on it than residents.
With its highest point at only 28 feet, sailors can’t even SEE the island until they are within a few miles of its shore. How the heck were we supposed to see anything in this downpour????? Some charters are told not to take the boats to Anegada because of the shallow waters and tricky entry due to the reefs surrounding the island.
It’s flat and scrubby. There are only a handful of residents and a smaller handful of bars and restaurants. The island has no amenities and the entire island has only one gas pump. If you are lucky enough to score one of the few rental cars, expect it to come with sand already in it as well as a spill of the beverage from the previous occupant still running stick and sweet down the dash. Cows outnumber people and roam freely about the island and poop on the beach.
So why go to Anegada? Because it only has one gas pump and because cows outnumber people. Because the island has a special magic that seems to come from its sheer isolation and limited resources. The beaches are magnificent and seem to stretch to eternity. The people are warm and gracious. The island has a sweet and quiet personality that ebbs and flows with the tide.
Despite the weather, we were Anegada bound, baby. We were not going to be stopped.
We sailed toward the gray horizon, gray water blending with gray sky, misty rain drifting in and out of our path. There was nothing to see. No bright emerald islands dotting our path. No crescents of white sand filled with bright white boats curling into mountainous harbors. No candy colored buildings flowing down happy hillsides. We saw nothing. Just water. And sky.
And then…just as it seemed you couldn’t tell where the horizon even was anymore, Anegada appeared like a whisper, a memory of something carried in on the breeze….you’d see it for a moment, and then it would disappear, you’d see nothing but clouds, and then there it was again. First…a shadow….then a tree…then two trees….. then there was the faint outline of trees…trees that seemed to spring from the very sea because you couldn’t see any land beneath them. Just ghost trees floating on a gray horizon. And then the masts appeared. Bright white sticks in a line, marking the place where the island that you couldn’t see should be.
We carefully made our way in and a thin strip of land emerged, not looking substantial enough to hold the few wispy pines that rose up from it. The island looked like a mirage, just a heat hazed apparition floating in a distant desert, but there it was.
The day was ugly, not an ideal entry for a first view of Anegada. We could see storm clouds rolling in the distance and could see the rain coming down, making its way toward us. Uh-oh.
We knew that for dinner on Anegada, you need to let the restaurant know before about 4 pm that you are eating with them and what you are having, otherwise, chances are good you aren’t eating (of course, we still had all that cheese). We also wanted to rent a car and knew there were only about 3 rental cars on the island, so we didn’t want to wait to try to get one. We had been told about the famed lobster dinners of the Anegada Reef Hotel and knew they rented cars, so Matt and I braved the impending storm and took the dingy over to the hotel dock to make a reservation and to see if we could get a car for the 2 days we were here.
We were able to rent a car (I use that term very loosely) and made our reservation for four lobster dinners. She asked for our boat name to put on the reservation.
“Who Cares,” I said.
She looked at me like she didn’t have time for my funny business, “I cares. I need da name of your boat,” she laughed.
“Who Cares is the name of the boat,” I explained.
“Ah,” she laughed, “I tought you was being smart wid me. I will remember dat name, Who Cares.”
That’s when the rain arrived. We tucked ourselves safely under the Reef Hotel bar as everyone ran that way. If you are going to be stuck somewhere during a rain storm, this seemed to be a fine place to be stuck. We ordered 2 of their famous “Smoodies” and let the slow pace of the place sink into our bones.
When the rain let up, we headed back to the boat and had a lunch of prosciutto wrapped melon, deviled eggs, CHEESE (because we had a lot of cheese), and roasted chicken. The rain stopped but the gray clouds were there to stay. Because the real draw of Anegada is its beautiful beaches, we decided to save the beaching for the next day and do a driving tour of Anegada to fill up our gray afternoon.
We headed to our car. Remember when I said that I used that term loosely? The floorboards were filled with sand. One door was stuck because someone had shut the seatbelt into it. There was something dripping down the dash. And there was no gas. It’s a far cry from renting a car in the US where you have to run back inside to make sure they know the tiny scratch on the door was there when you rented it and make sure they mark it on the little piece of paper. Instead, we just went inside and said, “We didn’t break the door and where do we get gas?”
We were told to go see Jose at “the gas pump” and he’d fill us up. THE gas pump was easy enough to find. The gas pump is the only one. On the island.
We started driving and quickly figured out why the rental car looked like it did. The roads were mostly unpaved and covered with rocks and holes. It was a teeth chattering affair. I think some of my guts even got jiggled loose. Anegada is the only place I have been where a sports bra is more necessary for riding in a car than a seatbelt.
On Anegada, there are no street signs, barely any roads, no landmarks, and no maps, yet it’s nearly impossible to get lost. The road goes in a big circle and in the few places where there is something to see, a little road shoots off toward the edge.
We stopped at Loblolly Bay and headed to the bar at the Big Bamboo for drinks.
We also checked out Cow Wreck Beach. At Cow Wreck, we found Enrique, who immediately grabbed Matt’s hand and didn’t let go until we left. Just as he is a magnet for dogs, Matt is a magnet for children.
With our bones sufficiently rattled and our teeth sore from banging together for 2 hours on the rutted roads, we called it a day and headed back to the boat, at least now having a plan for the following day. We knew what we wanted to see again and what we didn’t.
We were told by the Anegada Reef Hotel that our dinner seating would be at 7:00 pm but that we could go early for drinks. So go early for drinks we did.
“Hello, Who Cares,” the hostess said as she waved and welcomed us over and showed us to our table.
The setting was beautiful. Tables were scattered outside along the water’s edge, warmly lit with candles. After ordering drinks, we were brought salads and bread. These were followed by family style dishes of baked potatoes and green beans. Then each of us was brought a gigantic lobster. The lobster had been seasoned and boiled until it was soft and then grilled to perfection.
Dinner was a long and relaxed affair. They treated you more like visiting family than restaurant guests and no one seemed in a hurry to leave.
When we did return to the boat, we spent a rolling night thanks to the weather, the boat tossing and pitching all night long. It was a very long night.