You’ve Never Really Been There and Done That

After many trips to the BVI’s – I am pretty sure I just had the best one ever.

Culebra – part of the Spanish Virgin Islands

What made it so good? The people made it special, we had an onboard cook who made simple but MIND-BLOWING meals, but I realized you can really never “been there done that” if you dig deeper – was what made this trip the best.

I am so excited to be returning with the J World Flotilla in February to do it and more again.

I live in Annapolis, but I opted to fly out of DCA. My flight left DCA at 0600. Often in the past I have opted to stay the night at a lower cost hotel near the hotel, but this time I decided to drive. I left Annapolis at 0400, but construction on US-50 put me a little behind schedule. I ended up in garage parking – which is expensive. If I had planned better I might have saved $30 dollars spending the night somewhere nearby – but I would have left my wife a night early and had the hassle of getting to/from the airport.

You have to consider what is most important to you. You also have to make sure you are prepared for the little things that do add up.

I flew from DCA to MIA and had about an hour layover. It was easy and the Miami airport is nice enough. Connecting gates can be FAR away – don’t miss the airport shuttle train if your gate is a million miles away unless you are looking for exercise. One of the advantages of flying DCA to MIA is that you are headed south. In years past I have had issues flying to Philly or Newark as their weather is just that much less predictable this time of year.

MIA to St. Thomas is a nice flight. If you can catch a window seat you will get nice views of the lower Bahamas chain. Andros and Eluethra are calling. If you want to go to either… call us – we’ll put a trip together as soon as their is critical mass of interest. One thing you should know is that while their is WIFI on the flight from DCA to MIA, once you leave the US – the WIFI shuts down (at least on American that is true.). They will let you buy it – but it is short lived. Again – if you can skip the web and look out the window at the real thing.

Once you land in St. Thomas you have a short combat period before paradise is found. Don’t skip the free rum shots – and they don’t appear to mind if you come back for a second round. Once you have your bags you need to make your way to a ferry terminal. A cab to Red Hook is fun because you get to see a little bit of St. Thomas. It costs $20 and you will share it with 12 other people. The cab to the ferry terminal at Charlotte Amalie will run $10 – with the same level of sardine like compactness in the van. At Charlotte Amalie there is a actually a decent bar upstairs called the Petite Pump Room. Rum punches are good. Presidente beer is cheep. The view is above average.

The ferry to Tortola varies in price. All of the boats that go have inside and outside seating. It seems to me it is as much a matter of timing as it is anything else. They will get you for checked bags ($3) – but it is probably worth it to not have to schlep you stuff on and off the boat. I suggest you bring a water bottle or two – the run is long enough that it helps and they don’t serve cocktails (with one exception… the Providence III.). You will pay $30-$60 for the ride – which is actually a nice little view of St. Thomas, St. John and some of the other islands. I tend to skip Beef Island and flying straight to Tortola just because I like the ride across – even if it is a wash time and money wise.

Once you arrive in Tortola you will pass through customs and immigration. Usually a no hassle affair. No money changes hands on the way in, but you will pay a departure tax ($15) on the way out. It isn’t onerous, but it is there and if you haven’t mentally prepared for it, well it can feel a bit “nickle and dime.” I usually come through West End rather than Road Town, just because I find it easier and more pleasant and often I meet boats there. That said, if you add the cab from West End to Road Town then it is a wash.

On this trip I left the BVI almost as soon as I arrived. I checked in, and then we decided we would tackle the Spanish Virgin Islands or Passage Islands. They are a series of islands held by the US between the USVI and Puerto Rico. Best decision I’ve made in the islands in a while.

We sailed downwind to Culebra, checked into the Puerto Rico (easy enough) and then sailed over to Culabrita.

In a word – AMAZING. Alone on a beautiful reef we enjoyed a simply epic sunset. Did I mention we were alone? I mean it was as though we had the whole Caribbean to ourselves. The reef was off the chain beautiful. Goats played on the island. I can’t stop thinking about how great it was. I want to go back.

The next morning we sailed to Vieques. Again, we were the only boat in an incredibly protected harbor that has some of the world’s brightest bioluminescence. At night when you dive in the water it explodes with blue-yellow-green light. You have to see it to understand how mesmerizing it is. Few places on earth have something so amazing – I need to find a way to capture it with a camera.

We got up the next morning and explored the reef at the “the turtles.” I haven’t done as much diving and snorkeling as I’d like to – but this place is special. Easy to do, HUGE variety of fish, coral and other cool things. Really felt “untouched.”

We needed to provision so we sailed to the town of Esperanza. A very nice grocery that only lacked fresh vegetables. The town (very small) is full of cute shops and open air bars and restaurants. There is a nice walkway and a cool nature center. You could spend a day here and be very happy. We spent two hours and wanted more. Much of the island is a National Wildlife Refuge. It is worth exploring.

Because this was a training trip we set off on an upwind passage around St. Croix. Navigation, sail trim, steering, watch standing, living at sea. Good lessons. If we weren’t looking for open ocean we would have taken a different path, but this was a cool way to get some sea miles under our keels.

We sailed for about 30 hours upwind and around the island before reaching into the BVI and Norman Island’s Bight. The next morning we snorkeled the Indians (a must do) and then checked into the BVI at Spanish Town. We left Spanish Town around 1300 and arrived in Anegada at 1700. The mooring field was nearly full, but there were still a few balls to be had. That said, the anchoring there puts you arguably closer to the action and if you find a sandy spot is not a big challenge. In fact you are upwind from the craziness generally – which may result in a better night. Use good anchor technique, swim your anchor and sleep easy.

We had lobster dinner at a place I have never been to. It was right at the main dinghy dock and it was delicious. I will be back. Our normal place (which has a beach to die for) is a short cab ride away. This place was close, fun, lively and reasonable. Lobster, salad, sides and more painkillers than we needed and it was about $100 per person. Might seem speedy, but I would say it was well worth it. If you are going to go, dinner is served at 1930 and you must make a reservation by 1600.

We actually skipped Cow Wreck and the rest of the island and went training the next day. BVI fishing regulations has changed and are enforced so the hunt for conch, lobster and lionfish was usurped by MOB drills and learning to fly a ParaSailor spinnaker.

We ended up on Guana and snorkeled Monkey Point – a must do. From here you can seek solitude in a number of nice anchorages or you can go 1 mile away and get into Trellis Bay. I think I know what I am doing on SuperBowl Sunday. Ask me about the Tarpon we saw, the turtles, and the Lionfish ceviche.

Folks had flights so we did the short hop from Guana to West End to catch 1000/1015 ferries back to St. Thomas. There is an exit tax and the ferry isn’t peanuts. Again, grab a water and sit on top. The views are great. The boat continued onto Roadtown and other folks left from there.

Many folks were flying out the next day from St. Thomas, but due to the ferry schedule it was a wise choice to get to St. Thomas the night before. Getting to the airport and getting through the airport take a bit of time. If you find you have some extra time on your hands there is a really nice little restaurant bar just outside the airport. A three minute walk to good good and fabulous service. The people are incredibly kind. It is a good place to contemplate the question of why are you going home?

TSA Pre will get you through the airport pretty quickly, but even if you don’t have it the process is relatively painless.

The highlights of this trip were the people and the places that were off the normal path. If you’ve been to the BVI 20 times, it is nice to know you can still find something new. If you think it is a zoo (and it can be) know that you can find solitude.

Go there. Go Back. Go.


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