Sailing to the Beach Bars of the BVI
There was a 25-kt breeze blowing down the Sir Francis Drake Channel and Debbie was on the starboard jib sheet as I turned the big cat, “Blazin’ Lady” into the wind for the tack. In her haste to do a good job she released a tad too early and the boat came up, staggering in irons and stayed there. I cheated and fired up the starboard engine to bring her through the wind and for the rest of the trip to Trellis Bay the boys were imagining how good the drinks would be that Debbie was going to have to buy everyone.
It was Sunday, the first day of the six-day charter, and the group had heard of the beach barbecue at Loose Mongoose ‘with live music.’ The large inflatable took everyone, a total of nine, like the proverbial sardines, and we sped towards the sandy beach where the pretty beach bar stands adorned with gingerbread molding and fairy lights. Outside is a gazebo with TV and the Sunday football game was on. Tampa was vying for the superbowl and cheers erupted in between turns at the horseshoes, which four of the guys were pretending to be expert at. By 7 o’clock the crew were munching hefty portions of grilled swordfish while sitting under the stars. Sometime later the band struck up with powerful blues and reggae by Philip Thomas on lead guitar with synthesized percussion. Sax solos were awesome and soon dancers were kicking up the sand. It was nearly midnight when we finally made it back to the boat.
Next morning we set off early for the Baths, the single most popular spot in the British Virgin Islands. It’s nearly always an exhilarating sail from Trellis Bay to the Baths tacking into brisk trade winds. Big Jim and Debbie grabbed bow seats on the tips of the pontoons and shrieks of fear? or joy? were clearly audible from the helm as the boat reared up a wave and then crashed into the trough almost catapulting the joy riders into the drink. Joe, Stan, Shirley and Lorraine started out on the trampoline but after five minutes of drenching retreated to a comfortable seat under the awning.
The Baths were spectacular on this day with no swell and clear water. Stan and Shirley went off snorkeling on their own and saw two turtles on their way to Devil’s Bay. The four others did the trail through the Baths and came back with some extraordinary digital pictures, the sun’s rays on the giant pools reflecting on the huge boulders behind. It turned out that Joe was a cinematographer.
That night we moored off Saba Rock Resort: The steel band was on the menu for the night’s entertainment. We ate dinner aboard and dinghied over to North Sound’s dancing hot spot at just after nine. The place was packed and the more the dancers gyrated the harder the pan players played. Like most northerners who have never seen a steel band there was much curiosity over the steel drums and the cleverness of their design. Big Jim was big in girth and tall with a deep voice. He had been a linebacker for his college team in Dallas, Texas and must have been close to 300 pounds. He was on his forth Mai Tai when the limbo contest began and to everyone’s surprise he made it to the last five. Dave, the manager, treated the big guy and girlfriend Debbie to drinks on the house for his efforts, beyond the call of duty. Strains of the Caribbean favorite “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” were heard wafting on the warm evening air as Joe steered us, somewhat erratically, back to the boat.
Lobster dinners at Anegada are legendary. In fact they were on everyone’s mind as we reached across the 13-mile body of water between Virgin Gorda’s North Sound to the BVI’s “Island of Beaches.” Powdery white sand beaches surround Anegada and the translucent turquoise sea stretches for miles as you approach this island gem. Joe and Lorraine were the bow riders on this leg and “land ho!” was decried when we were just five miles off. The island is so low (28-ft high at its highest point) that initially only trees are visible. We motored through the marked channel and anchored off the Anegada Reef Hotel at Setting Point in 8-feet of water.
On the beach by the hotel blazing fires are prepared in 55-gallon drums that have been cut in half lengthwise and set up horizontally on struts. The lobsters are taken straight from the pen and they too are sliced horizontally and wrapped in foil, then slowly baked in their own juices. You won’t get a fresher lobster anywhere. The Blazin’ Lady crew decided on a long happy hour this day so we tied up to the rickety dock next to the fishy smelling lobster pens and headed to the beach bar. The girls ordered the bar special, the “Smoothie,” a rum and fruit juice with the accent on guava. Everyone else had a beer.Our table was on the sand under the stars and was surrounded by colorful bougainvilleas lit with floodlights. When our lobsters arrived ooooohs and aaaaahs were clearly heard above the sounds of the “Lashing Dogs,” the BVIs’ favorite fungi band. “A whole lobster, I mean look at the size of these portions!” exclaimed Lorraine. Big Jim didn’t complain; he was already dipping large chunks into the melted butter.
It was 9 o’clock the next morning when we all jumped into the back of the open- air shuttle bus for the half hour ride to Loblolly Bay and a little “hair from the dog” at the Big Bamboo. We bounced our way along the dirt road, got a glimpse of the pink flamingoes standing in the salt ponds off in the distance, and finally arrived at the beach. We were early enough to grab a couple of hammocks and the aroma of the conch stew wafting out from the kitchen was enough for Jim and Stan to put in an order for lunch. In the meantime everyone went snorkeling. With the rolling Atlantic breaking white frothy spume on the fringing reef and the calm translucent water in between reef and sandy beach, the vista is spectacular. Add to this the gentle trade winds and exceptional snorkeling with a myriad of colorful, tropical fish and yes…you have arrived!!
Our plans had been to continue on to Cane Garden Bay and Jost van Dyke but it was decided to stay another day on Anegada. Our itinerary was flexible and relaxing in hammocks with intermittent swimming was the order of the afternoon. That evening we all ate at Neptune’s Treasure, the BVIs’ legendary fishing family’s restaurant. The meal of fresh fish was served on the patio overlooking the anchorage. Big Jim couldn’t resist another lobster and declared it even better than the night before.
The sail from Anegada to Cane Garden Bay is almost always exhilarating, especially on a big cat. With the wind aft of the beam and the seas moderate the whole crew enjoyed the ride lazing on the trampolines forward. For a brief spell during the four- hour ride a small pod of dolphins joined us, cavorting in the bow waves and seemingly laughing at our slow speed of only 10-knots. It was a highlight of the whole trip and professional photographer Joe managed a few shots just before they all flashed away in different directions.
Cane Garden Bay is not only a magnificent palm lined sandy beach but also the home of some of the islands’ best watering holes. By now the crew were getting into the routine of trying island specials (drinks, of course). Two of the crew had got hold of copies of “The Drinking Man’s Guide to the BVI” by Juswon Moore and Lillibet Tiddely and wanted to put it to good use. By the time they’d had a Quito’s Legend, a Stanley’s Special, a small pizza at The Big Banana…all free, they decided to do the ribs at Myetts. “Absolutely delicious,” was the unanimous verdict.
The sixth and last day of the charter arrived all too soon. We had to fit in snorkeling at Sandy Spit, Painkillers at the Soggy Dollar bar and end up at Foxy’s for the grand finale. We upped anchor at Cane Garden bay early and sailed across to the almost cartoon like island of Sandy Spit. With one palm tree and perfect white sand on all sides it provoked many comical jokes about shipwrecked sailors and genies appearing from magic lamps. At the Soggy Dollar bar the Painkillers lived up to their reputation as being the best in the islands according to a majority of four to two. Pusser’s Painkillers No. 4 came in a close second. The delicious concoction of Pusser’s rum, orange, pineapple and coconut cream, topped with a generous sprinkling of grated nutmeg is legendary in the BVI.
Later that evening we all sat down at Foxy’s and after a fine meal from the a la carte menu dancing began in earnest. Dean Callwood’s one-man band soon got the crowd gyrating in wild abandon, like only a Foxy’s party can do. Debbie and Lorraine unashamedly danced on the tabletops in their tropical sarongs and loud applause with shouts of “encore” kept them there for another round. It was a night to remember.
The final morning had us fast tacking up the Sir Francis Drake Channel back to the base in Road Town. Debbie was on the starboard jib sheet and she didn’t miss a tack. Her timing was perfect. As a reward Big Jim promised to buy her a lobster dinner that night at Peg Leg’s Landing but I’m not sure his motives were purely unselfish.
By Julian Putley