Many have told me I was insane to
have said no to the offer; my reasons are now
certainly quite old and mostly irrelevant.
But I finally seized an opportunity to go there and see just
what it was I had passed up way back in 1980… in
early November my wife and I joined my cousin
and his wife for a Caribbean vacation: a “bare boat” charter of a
sailboat out of Tortola, BVI. It was
possibly the most incredible journey we
have yet taken; it was beautiful, peaceful and
also very enlightening.
For those who have
had the good fortune of being able to visit the area of the
Caribbean in question, you are well aware of the warm temperatures,
humid air, the beautiful water surrounding numerous volcanic islands
and the smiling and friendly natives. You also know how the
pace of life is decidedly slower than it is here; if you want
something done quickly, you best find another vacation destination.
So the question of the speed of travel becomes moot (at least
It's all relative to the preferred pace of life: slow, relaxed and
motorized watercraft are generally not always reliable (our "fast
ferry" became quite slow when it blew the transmission on its way to
Tortola from St. Thomas...). Blow Boats or Snail Boats (the
pejorative for sail boats) are preferred for the true sailors there. As long as there is a breeze -- and rarely is there no
breeze in the Caribbean-- a boat with a sail will reliably get one
to a destination. Who cares how long it takes?
It is at least
somewhat appropriate at this point to mention the fact that, many
years ago, I got my first taste of real silence -- and peace
-- on the water when I purchased an electric trolling motor for my
"stinkpot" (pejorative for a motorboat).
Getting there fast is nice... but hearing only the wind, water and
wildlife is indescribably comforting for the soul; when fishing, an
electric trolling motor affords exactly that comfort. So when
I discovered I had the opportunity to experience the soothing sounds
of wind against the sails and ocean water sliding past the hull --
not to mention the chance to finally stop at the abovementioned
venue where I had turned down a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,
let's just say that I didn't need to give the subject much thought
before saying yes to the trip. Except for the fact that I
still had a concern for the sea-sickness thing, I was more than
psyched for the journey.
So, back to the
original conundrum about speed -- at least when it comes to boats
that travel using only the wind as their source of power...
One constant in the BVI is the wind: it blows fairly consistently
from the northeast -- at least in November -- at a velocity of about
fifteen knots (nautical miles per hour) or just over seventeen miles
per hour. With properly-trimmed sails, the result will be a
boat speed-over-ground (SOG) of five or six knots -- sometimes more and sometimes less
-- through the water. This is certainly a speed fast enough
to accommodate stops at several island destinations in a week's
time, yet slow enough to allow for one to contemplate life at the
slower pace of the BVI...
In any case, my
cousin tells me that in our week of sailing, we likely covered
roughly a hundred or so miles of ocean. Some quick math will
indicate that the required time for such a trip under sail would be
in the neighborhood of perhaps 20-25 hours. Our journey lasted
just over five days, so the calculation sounds about right.
But the time seemed to fly at a much greater rate than that.
And I could have easily sailed for another several weeks if it was
Oddly -- perhaps
even miraculously -- I never experienced even the slightest amount
of motion sickness. Perhaps that could be attributed to a
small patch of sticky scopolamine-impregnated Mylar applied to the
skin behind an ear... I'm not sure. What I do know is
that 1) I had more fun that I ever would have imagined, 2) I would
return in a New-York-Minute if it was possible (and if finances
allowed) and 3) I was able to see -- in person -- the location of
the job I had taken a pass on oh, so many years ago: a place called
the Bitter End Yacht Club.
The Bitter End Yacht Club is much
different from the 1980 description in the brochure I still keep,
yet – although no picture can ever do it justice – it looks today much as
I had pictured it. It is still top-notch, vastly improved, though,
and larger; it offers the ultimate getaway for visitors from all
points of the compass. It
resides in an
absolutely stunning setting and is definitely
everything I had thought it might be, and then some
(Try to imagine though, a cocktail at a high-end yacht club for
$1.50. Times have definitely changed...).
Picking up a
mooring ball in the harbor at adjacent Saba Rock, soaking up the
18-degree north latitude sunshine and marveling at the azure blue
water, I now have at least a small sense of what
might have been my future. I also have a far better understanding of the allure of the
sea and distant ports of call. It is not
for everyone. But if by chance you might be looking for a
vacation that provides something just a bit different, I would
highly recommend you give it at least a bit of thought. The
sounds of wind and water have a very hypnotic and alluring affect)
Should that thought perhaps take
you beyond the "just dreaming" stage, as it did for me, I would at
the very least suggest taking a gander at the
map of our journey. After a flight that took us to St.
Thomas and a ferry that got us to Tortola, we sailed to Norman
Island, then on to Jost (pronounced "Yost") Van Dyke, Marina Cay,
Saba Rock (and, of course, Bitter End Yacht Club), The Baths at
Devil's Island National Park and finally to Cooper Island before
heading back to Tortola. The map is linked if you'd like to
get a closer look; there are also additional descriptions of our
individual moorings at those islands in the event you might be
interested. By the by, there are dozens of island destinations
that can be selected; each is different but has all the amenities
necessary for an enjoyable stop.
View BVI Bareboat Charter - November 2012 in a larger map
Our particular voyage is obviously
way outside the boundaries of the local (Fox River Valley) area, but
I just couldn't help share it with you; it had that great an impact
on me and I couldn't resist; it was that memorable. It was my
first trip to that location and the very first time that I did not
get seasick, so you can imagine my joy at that -- especially if you
have ever suffered from the same malady!
To be clear, I'm
not sure that a replica of our trip would be especially suited for a
family with young children; I say that only because those I observed
sailing on other vessels did not include young children. But
hey, who am I to judge? The British Virgin Islands are a
marvelous destination and a place where time can stand still, even
on a moving boat... Be the skipper or hire a captain.
Cook on board or have dinner ashore. The food is excellent.
The snorkeling is excellent. The weather is excellent.
The sailing is excellent. The connection with Mother Nature is
beyond excellent. It can also be an excellent time and place
for your family to connect.
Who cares if it takes five hours
to go twelve miles? You're there to relax and enjoy some of
the finest water on the planet. The trip to the BVI was at the
top of my own personal "Bucket List". I can now, with no
regrets, move on to number two.