A holiday for cruisers
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The Nuts have been on Easter holiday to the British Virgin Islands
Even cruisers need a holiday. Holiday is all about doing something different from what you do normally. For us this actually meant to go sailing. There is not much sailing at anchor in Antigua for poor Coconut as she has turned into a "house boat". Especially as Trond has been travelling quite a bit to Scandinavia and spent as much time away as onboard. Funny to think that we have already lived on Coconut for 10 months. Her hull encompasses our whole universe.
Trond arrived in Antigua a few days before Easter. It was the third time he flew with Condor (Lufthansa charter flights) and the third time they managed to loose his luggage. Must be a world record or something. But unlike when Spanair lost Lesley's luggage in Spain, I did get my luggage back. It took 10 days.
Our plan was to sail to the Virgin Islands for Easter via St Marten to do some shopping. It also breaks the trip up as it is a 15 hour sail to St Marten and then another 15 hours to Tortola. We do preferred to sail at night as the kids then can sleep and do not need entertaining. Doing a routine check before leaving Antigua Trond found a fault in the wiring holding the mast up (Shrouds). Several strands of the rope wire had separated from the terminal. It was no way we could sail without having it fixed. The mast would come down! So off we went to Antigua rigging to have it fixed. Being used to quick turnarounds from busy charter boats they where able to help right away. The one problem was that they did not have the right terminal so Marine Power Services had to fabricate the piece for us in stainless steel. It is quite remarkable that they managed to do all this during a few short hours on a Friday afternoon. It would not have happened in Norway. I would not even now where to go. But in Antigua, a third world country with a "lazy" lifestyle, the whole thing was done quickly and to the highest standards on a Friday afternoon!
The trip to the Virgins was planned so that we could meet up with some of the boats we had sailed with across the Atlantic. It was to be our last trip together before they all set their course for home, be it Europe or North America. It was the dividing point for our different agendas. So we where to re-bond and then saying goodbyes to friends that have become very close through shared destiny and challenges. The question left un-answered is who, in spite of all good intentions, will we see again, and who will disappear and only live on in our memories.
Our sail north to St Marten was wonderful. The winds where fresh but not too much for Coconut. The moon provided light and we could clearly see Nevis, St Kitts, Statia and Saba to our leeward side as we passed during the night. It was quite magical to be on watch by yourself and just try to take it all in. Coconut kept good speed and the kids slept well. Truly magnificent sailing!
St Marten is an island for shopping and little else. You can get everything you need, and even more of what you would never need. The whole front street at Phillipsburg is one large jewellers store. It is all there for the cruise ships of cause. It beats me however how the cruise ship passengers can go ashore and on every single island visit the same shops (mainly jewellers and electronics) from the same chains. Surely there is a limit to how much jewelry you need or can possibly buy?
For yachting St Marten is a place of chandleries. Getting things in and out of there is smooth and whatever you need for your boat can be there in a matter of some short days. The main marinas in St Marten is inside the lagoon. To enter you have to pass through a swinging bridge. The bridge used to be much narrower but an owner of a rather large motor boat paid for it to be extended so he could get his boat inside the lagoon. We went inside and tied up to Simpson Bay Marina to shop for food and parts for the boat. We did get what we needed and headed off the next day.
Going through the bridge to Simpson Lagoon Colin at the helm
The Annegada passage between St Marten and the Virgin Islands is the longest open water stretch between two islands in the eastern Caribbean. It works as a effective barrier against American boats going further south as the winds can get strong and the ride across bumpy. 20 - 25 knots seem to be normal and more not uncommon especially around x-mas time. It does not help that sailing from the Virgins is an upwind slog. In Antigua you hardly ever see anyone carrying the stars and stripes. At Easter the winds have normally calmed down. 12 - 16 knots is more typical but then most are on their way north. On our crossing we had 10 knots average and SE direction. That meant straight from the stern and motor sailing. We wanted to get there and we are not shy of using the iron genoa when we want to make progress.
Tortola is the largest island of the British Virgin Islands. It has a town and an airport as well as several ferry harbors servicing ferries to other BVI islands and the US Virgins. But most off all Tortola is the bare boat capital of the world. bareboat - charter boat that you can rent without crew). Moorings bareboat company have more than 200 boats in Road Town with their own hotel and all the infrastructure necessary to keep the boats afloat. The influx of bareboat also meant that anchorages in the area are crowded. With many inexperienced sailors this can be an interesting exercise. The situation is now solved by putting down moorings at the popular bays and harbors. That way it is possible to pack in more boats and there is a significantly less chance that someone messes up during the anchoring process.
After checking in our main objective was to get my luggage. The airport in Tortola is in the north of the island so we sailed around to a bay only 5 min walk from the terminal building. A beautiful bay with lots of restaurants and shops that cater for sailors coming or going. After much to and fro we got our luggage and the kids where very happy to finally get their presents from Norway.
The beach next to the airport in Tortola
One of the main attractions of the Virgin Islands is The Baths in Virgin Gorda. While the islands are volcanic the boulders that make up the baths are granite. This rather puzzling formation was caused by old granite blocks being pushed up when the islands where formed. Reaching Virgin Gorda we met up with our friends on Koshlong and Regina and promptly organized a trip to the Baths. We all had a great time exploring the caves and tunnels made up by the rocks. We swam, crawled, climbed and dived our way through.
The north end of Virgin Gorda is made up by a large completely protected expanse of water called Gorda sound. It offers spectacular sailing, diving and scenery. At the far end of the large bay is The Bitter End Yacht Club. AN upscale holiday resort for rich American tourists. Fortunately they do want cruisers to hang out here too. It does create the right kind of atmosphere for a yacht club. So we took full advantage of the facilities.
The Bitter End Yacht Club reception building
Coconut at Bitter End
Renting a Hobie Cat for the day
Our first night at the anchorage a strong wind came through with lots of rain and from an unusual wind direction. It meant chaos in the anchorage. For Trond it was no more sleep as he sat up in his foul weather gear and watched the boats. As Lesley got up to have a look she switched on the VHF radio in case someone needed help. Our friends in Regina was dragging their anchor and was among those who had to reset their anchors during the night. Talking to Regina on the VHF Wild Alliance came on the line. It turned out John was on night watch sailing across the Anagada passage and could not believe it when he could hear us chatting on the VHF at 4 o'clock in the morning. Soon we where all together at Bitter End; Wild Alliance, Kosh Long, Regina, Tamarisk and Keoma. All boats with kids that we crossed the Atlantic with in November. We all had a ball.
Kids party on Wild Alliance
Our trip in the virgins was a trip down memory lane for Lesley and Trond. We have sailed there before with charter guests and where keen to see some of the places again. One such place was Norman Island famous because it apparently is the island Robertson Levis wrote about in Treasure Island. The interesting thing is that there are a few caves you can snorkel into on the west side of the island. We are all sure that this is where the treasure was buried as one of the caves even have a shelf cut into the rock in it's very end. It made it all exciting for the kids, and for Trond who had bought gold covered chocolate coins in Norway. They where spread on the sea floor to the delight of the kids who found Pirate Gold. For some reason they where not that easy to fool and soon figured out something was not right. Some adults swimming by on the other hand was easier to deceive and got wildly excited. We saw one person take off waving his hands when he saw the one gold coin the kids did not pick up.
Colin and Camilla outside the fat virgin cafe. Virgin Gorda actually means Fat Virgin. Columbus gave the island this name because the contours of the island reminded him of a fat woman.
Next to Norman island is another small place called Salt Island. The postal steamer Rhone sank here during a hurricane in 1867. The ship is still there, courtesy of it's thick steel plates, and make a great dive an snorkel destination. Trond had his big experience here as he grabbed hold of a turtle while free diving and was pulled along. Needless to say the ride was short as air was in short supply.
Lesley and Trond had an afternoon off as Colin and Camilla where both sleeping over at friends. Here pictures from Cooper Island where we stayed the night.
Our last stop together with the "gang" this Easter was Marina Key. This beautiful micro island is the home of Marina Key hotel and restaurant. Like Bitter End it was bought by an adventurer many years ago and then slowly developed into a resort. There is a famous book written by the first inhabitants of Marina Key called Our Virgin Island. It was set in the 1930's and was a best seller in 1953. Many things where different then but the sheer beauty of the place is still the same. The water is crystal clear and the island green.
Marina Key outside Tortola
The "Big Thing" at Marina Key was to go on a snorkeling expedition and see the BIG fish. We where tipped of by some locals as to where to go looking for them and organized an expedition. Jumping overboard after a 30 min dinghy ride the first thing Trond saw was 8 - 10 Tarpon estimated at over 2 meter long. That was quite a sight. They where huge and it was quite a strange feeling to be swimming along on the surface with all the bait while they where circling underneath.
The Asdam family posing on the foredeck of SY Coconut
Our holiday was nearing the end after endless partying, snorkelling, kids get togethers and rum punches. We had to get all the way south to Antigua by the weekend so the day came to say goodbyes and head south. It was not easy and marked in many ways a watershed in our cruise. The others went home to re-establish themselves while we will continue. Of the many families we met only a few had a job to go to when they went back. The cruise was for many a transitional thing. When they got back they wanted to start up a second career, sometimes very different from the one the left and based on different values.
After many recommendations we decided to stop at Saba on the way down south. It is one of the very few islands we have not seen in the Caribbean. It was quite an experience! Saba is basically a huge rock with some people living on top. The town at the top is called "Bottom", and the other town is "Windward". It is steep too, and provides very little shelter. It is famous for it's diving, Pinnacle rock being the most well known and rated as one of the best dives in the world. Basically it is a pinnacle coming up from the bottom of the sea to about 30 feet. Around it circles all sort of fish including large sharks.
Because Saba is so steep there is very little land by the sea. The consequence of this is that the dive schools are up in the mountains! So the first dive etc. is done in a swimming pool far from the sea. We rented a taxi to take us around the island. It was the most scary experience ever. He did not drive fast, but it was so unbelievabley steep. That his car managed to drive up these hills is to me a miracle of Japanese engineering.
Saba - A big rock with people on top!
Camilla and Trond went off snorkeling after our sight seeing. The first thing we came across was two turtels! A great experinece. Colin and Lesley were a bit more hesitant as it was deep and unprotected.
Sailing on from Saba we went to the leeward of Statia and St Kitts. Since the wind predominantly comes from the east in this parts of the world the trip easterwards to Antigua is never an easy one. We did not have a lot of wind but it ended up being an uncomfortable motor sail more or less straight into the wind from St Kitts to Antigua.
We called in to the new marina develoment in the west , Jolly Harbor, since it was the closest. Here we filled up the tanks with fuel and water and enjoyed the luxuries of being tied up to the dock. It always feels good to have the boat washed down and tied to something substantial after a passage. Next day we motored round the south point of Antigua behind the Cades Reef and back into Falmouth Harbor. It felt great to tie up to our mooring and see all the familiar sights. First thing we did of cause was to dive overboard.