The Virgin islands, so called because Columbus, on first seeing them was reminded of St. Ursula and her 11,000 martyred nuns (virgins). They are a sailors dream come true, particularly the ‘British Virgin Islands’ (BVI’s)!
cruising the virgins
As a sailing ground, I love them but I also must be straight and frank about their little downsides. The truth is that the Caribbean is not always what it is pumped up to be in the brochures, and more often than not man is to blame; the so-called ‘latitude attitude’ cultured by some locals and a brash and selfish nature cultured by some cruisers. A good place to start one’s exploration of these islands is the easy cruising route along the Drake Channel islands off Tortola, the main island of the BVI’s. We started with an idyllic stay on anchor at Cooper Island. We swam a lot and took the dinghy on little safaris to good snorkeling spots and hidden coves. We explored these quiet coves; myself, always on the lookout for hidden treasure. Alas, no treasure - only evidence of twenty first century man - the odd flip-flop, a broken snorkel and the like. The snorkeling was good but much of the coral in the vicinity of the popular Virgin anchorages is damaged or destroyed by careless anchoring. In some places, hurricane action plays a further role. The water quality however was pristine, with incredible visibility. At Cooper Island, we could clearly survey the bottom 8-10 meters below.
“Cooper Island beach club, Cooper Island beach club, this is Vagabond, over!”
The VHF is always busy in the virgins!
Onward bound from Cooper, we headed southwest, weaving among the Drake Channel islands. It was easy, lazy sailing, downwind with only the foresail up, giving us ample opportunity to take in our surroundings. We passed Salt Island, an amazing littler place with a tiny population of slightly eccentric locals. Continuing, we passed ‘Dead Chest’, a small inhospitable island. It was here, we are told that the notorious ‘Blackbeard’, marooned sixteen of his pirates with only a bottle of rum to ‘sustain’ them and it was this action which gave rise to that famous little ditty, so loved by many:
“Sixteen men on dead man’s chest”
Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of rum!”
Sailing on, we headed for ‘The Bight’ on Norman Island, the ‘Treasure Island’ for an overnight stop. 'The Bight', one of the best anchorages in the Virgin Islands – is one of the few that actually deserves the name ‘anchorage’. It’s a beautiful narrow bay surrounded by high terrain. We set our anchor close to the north shore and plunged into the warm translucent water. I swam along the shore, beaching myself often, looking for anything ‘shiny’. The anchorage is (potentially) a cruisers haven. Regrettably, however it is also the site of one of the BVI’s wildest dens of noise and nonsense. Afloat in the anchorage, lies the ‘William Thornton’, or ‘Willie T’, a 93foot replica of an old lumber schooner, a floating bar/restaurant known for its riotous partying, and the scene of some of the heaviest drinking and tomfoolery in the islands.
I am partial to a lively party – but not in one of the most beautiful and tranquil anchorages in the Virgins - at 2am!
The 'Willie T' warming up
We hit on for West-End”, Tortola, so called because it is just that, the west end of the island. Just over an hour out of ‘The Bight’, we entered ‘the cut’ between Frenchman’s Cay and Little Thatch Island at West End. We then turned for the inlet known as Sopers Hole, another good anchorage. Ashore it’s a little hive of activity. The new shore-side ‘village’ is designed in that mock Caribbean style often seen in postcards or paintings. It appears tastefully done from the water but can look rather like a film set, on closer inspection. We went ashore to replenish our galley supplies and then spent the rest of the day exploring ashore, to reactivate our land legs. In the evening, we dined at Pusser’s quaint waterside restaurant.
A virgin Beach
Next morning, we took on water (at 10 cents a gallon) and then set course for the island of ‘Jost Van Dyke’. Once through ‘the cut’, we raised all sail. With a good breeze on our beam, we surged forward, pointing our bow at ‘White Bay’, on ‘Jost’. This notorious island called after a Dutch pirate. It is a lovely island with a few hundred people and a handful of vehicles. Going north it's a great sail. It has three attractive anchorages, and............
“Foxys, Foxys, Foxys, this is sea nymph, over!”
Two of the anchorages are ‘picture postcard’ and the third is …….
“Foxys, Foxys, Foxys, this is Sea Nymph; Over!”
“Sea Nymph, this is Foxys, what can we do for you; Over!”
“Foxys, this is sea nymph. We would like to book a table for twelve for 7.30; Over!”
“Sorry, Sea Nymph, we cannot do that time; Over!”
“Foxys, this is sea nymph. What time can you ‘table us’; Over!”
“We can do 5.30 or 10.30; Over!”
“What; why that’s………………”
“Will the vessel using ‘channel 16’ for dinner reservations please change to a working channel! Channel 16 is for call-up and emergencies only!!”
Ah yes, we were en route to one of the loveliest spots in the Virgins - and one of the liviliest and wildest; and the VHF was there to constantly remind us of our approach.
“Foxys,. Foxys, Foxys, this is…………….
“Oh, shut up, the lot of ya”, yelled a voice below, as she snapped the radio off!
I spoke earlier of the ‘Willie T’. Now I speak of the BVI’s undisputed ‘monument of madness’, the pick of the crop for the harvesters of social mayhem. You may want to give it a miss but few can resist checking it out. It’s called, yes you’ve guessed, “Foxys!” It started out as a tiny beach shack selling a cold beer or two to the occasional passing cruiser who sailed in when Jost’s ‘Great Harbour’ was the stuff of dreams. Many years on, the place has turned into a ‘monster’ and the hapless owner, Mr. Foxy, seems at a loss to know quite how it all started!
He sits, looking slightly dazed with his guitar, singing the blues and telling a tale or two to the wildest, noisiest crowd in the Caribbean, as they throw back the ‘rum-punches’ and ‘painkillers’ like there was no to-morrow. For many, there would be no to-morrow worth remembering. The place is rated among the top ten venues worldwide, to be on New Years’ Eve, when cruisers in their hordes arrive and party like mad till dawn and beyond!
Rounding ‘Pull and be dammed point’ (yes, you read it right) to port, we set the anchor in the bay and took the dinghy in to check it out. It was 6.30 pm as we tied up to Foxy’s dinghy jetty. ‘Happy hour’ was in full swing. We looked at the sea of faces and had a beer. Foxy was sitting on a stool with a bottle of beer and his guitar, addressing the faithful.
After an hour or so, a red-lipped sea nymph kinda’ fell towards Foxy, hands waving aimlessly.
“Hey Foxy, ya just must come to Wisconsin. Gee, the folks back in Tillville would just love ya, hic! Will ya come, Foxy, hic?”
Foxy carried on strumming
“Please say ya’ll come, Foxy, hic”
We took our leave. Our floating sanctuary lay peacefully on anchor in the bay.
She never looked so inviting !
a virgin sunset