From the Captain and First (and only) Mate of Paw Paw, we'd like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy New Year. We've had an amazing year and have enjoyed sharing all our adventures with you via our website and Facebook.
After leaving Christmas Cove, St Thomas, we made our way to Paw Paw’s home i.e. where she is registered – St John, USVI. Our first anchorage was Caneel Bay and Resort - Built on the site of an 18th century sugar plantation and where we had intended to stay for a few nights, visit Cruz Bay via dinghy and take a local safari bus to tour the island. However, after enjoying a day out in Cruz Bay and stocking up on some provisioning, we changed that plan after enduring another rolly night. We decided, instead, to head for St Francis Bay and do the more healthy option of hiking the island vs. the safari bus ride. Once we were safely moored, with hiking boots adorned – an arduous task, given that our feet were covered in sand from beaching the dinghy - we set off, only to get lost within the first few hundred metres. We realised we had beached our dinghy in the wrong spot and actually couldn’t get to our intended hiking trail - Just a minor problem that didn’t deter us. We still managed to find our way to the Danish Road and the Annaberg ruins. It was only on our return leg that we realised we had taken the long way – Oh well, we needed the exercise. It was also a laugh seeing Roy trying to walk in shoes after being barefoot or in flip-flops for 9 months.
The next day we decided to snorkel the Underwater Snorkel Trail for beginners in Trunk Bay, but so did a plethora of folks from a cruise ship. That, in itself, was no problem, although the sight of so many people snorkelling had us in fits of laughter and we acknowledge that everyone has to take that first step when learning something new, which includes snorkelling. There was one rather important prerequisite which some folks missed though - you need to be able to swim! Some had the good sense to put on lifejackets, but others did not. We felt so sorry for the lifeguards who, not only had to contend with the non-swimmers, but also had to try and keep others off the rocks and from damaging the reef. It was a pantomime to say the least. Anyway, once we recovered from that little episode we spent a lazy afternoon enjoying a picnic lunch on the beach at Francis Bay, watching the pelicans dive for their food, swimming in the turquoise waters and taking a long walk along the beautiful unspoilt beach.
Next stop was Watermelon Bay, where, unfortunately, Roy got terribly ill with Chicungunga. That meant a longer stopover until he was well enough to make the short journey over to Soper’s Hole, BVI. It is fair to say, that Paw Paw’s home is indeed stunning. Although very expensive, it is pristine, with beautiful unspoilt white sandy beaches and turquoise blue waters surrounded by mountains. Very picturesque. Sadly though, although the island was bequeathed to the citizens of the United States by the Rockefeller family to remain a Nature Reserve for infinity, someone has still managed to purchase the Mayo Bay campground, with plans to turn it into a private estate and many of the beaches, although open to the public, cannot be accessed over private land, which has been purchased by various resorts and enterprises. This has the potential to open the flood gates to other similar situations, thus changing the already delicate balance between nature and human invasion and is most definitely outside the spirit of the agreement.
On 18th December 2014 we arrived in Soper’s Hole - Back to where we started the outfitting of Paw Paw with the installation of the solar panels and where we awaited our "crew" to arrive from England in order to sail to Bonaire in May 2014. 517NM since leaving Bonaire for our short-handed return trip. 1355NM since moving onto Paw Paw 9 months ago.
We had not intended to publish another article about our experience in the BVI, since we had visited numerous times in the past and always left with fond memories. However, our return was something of a surprise and somewhat disappointing as well as disconcerting at times. The number of charter companies that had sprung up in a year was staggering and along with that came an inordinate number of “credit card sailors”, obviously compounded by the holiday season. We didn’t feel like we were in the British Virgin Islands as there was definitely an “American invasion” to say the least. Stores were stocked to the hilt with American products and were no longer selling the British products we looked forward to enjoying, like HP Sauce, Heinz Baked Beans, Back Bacon, Christmas Cake, Mince Pies, Christmas Pudding, Brandy Sauce, Birds Custard Powder, Cheese and Onion Crisps, etc. The only British brand we managed to find amongst all the other energy drinks was Lucazade. Additionally, more mooring balls had been added to every good anchorage, leaving no room for fulltime cruisers to anchor. That forced us into to the marginal, rolly anchorages as an alternative vs. incurring the cost of a ball, which for us, would have amounted to anything between $900 and $1000 for our months stay, when we have perfectly good ground tackle that costs us nothing to use. Elaine also learnt that cruisers are now restricted to a 30 day per annum stay or incur a $200 fee to purchase a mandatory temporary import license for the yacht. A restriction and fee that is not applicable to the charter companies. Couple that with the unfortunate displays of some of our fellow countrymen who only served to fuel the already less than desirable reputation we have abroad, making it an embarrassment, at times, to fly the Stars and Stripes off Paw Paw’s stern. From the individuals who careered through crowded anchorages, in the dark, where one marginally missed a yacht anchored next to us, to the motor yacht maniac, who came flying though a marked channel, which is suppose to take us safely through the reefs, leaving behind such a huge wake that yachts in front of us were hit abeam and knocked sideways or a similar character who did the same thing and nearly tipped us out of our dinghy en route back to Paw Paw after doing our laundry, to the folks who were prepared to anchor dangerously close to us and, only when questioned, decided to move, some admitting that they were a little concerned that they would hit us – One can’t help but wonder that, if we hadn’t said anything, would they actually have stayed in that location, knowing it was unsafe. Also, since most of the charterers spent their day racing from mooring ball to mooring ball, we had numerous yachts just about remove our bow in order to beat us to a ball and we watched in dismay as “sailors” fought amongst themselves over a single ball. Then there were those that had total disregard for the yachts which they had rented when we witnessed, time after time, “sailors” roaring the engines to get out of the extremely tight quarters they’d gotten themselves into or reversing at tremendous speeds when anchoring to the point that we could actually hear the chain slam and see the entire yacht lurch forward when the anchor eventually bit or racing though anchorages in the powered dinghies, trailing children, screaming with delight on wake boards or tubes, but completely oblivious to the fact that they were rocking every yacht around them violently, not once, but all day long and actually had an entire bay in which they could have enjoyed themselves safely outside the anchorage area.
We did, however, enjoy exploring some of the anchorages off the beaten track, although many provided very uncomfortable nights. Christmas and New Years Eve were definitely the highlights of this visit to the BVI. We awaited the arrival of our Christmas present (Keenan) on Christmas Eve moored in Trellis Bay. The next morning was an early start to get a ball for Christmas Day in White Bay, Iguana Island. We enjoyed a snorkel off Monkey Point on Christmas morning, installed Paw Paw's Christmas gift - a new topping lift and then Elaine cooked up a storm - Red Onion and Brie Tart for Starters, Chestnut and Pear Stuffed Cornish Hens, Thyme Roasted Potatoes, Lemon Dressed Carrots, Mint Peas and Port Cranberry Sauce for the Main Course, topped off with Raspberry Cointreau Trifle. Elaine surprised herself; firstly at being able to cook that meal, but then to do so in our small galley. We wrapped up a lovely day with a game of Mexican Train Dominoes, one of our Christmas presents.
On Boxing Day we had a great sail over to Salt Island where Keenan and Elaine enjoyed an amazing dive of the Wreck of the Rhone, a RMS mail ship which sank in 1867 after hitting the rocks during a hurricane. We then sailed to Cooper Island, enjoyed drinks on the beach, homemade pizza aboard and another game of Mexican Train Dominoes. Before we knew it though, our time together was over and we were setting sail back to Trellis Bay to say our goodbyes.
After seeing Keenan off, we headed for North Sound, Virgin Gorda the next morning and anchored off Vixon Point, where we spent New Year and where, at the time of this writing, we were awaiting a suitable weather window to head further east; back to the Leeward Islands of St Martin and St Barts, which would complete our mini-circumnavigation of the Caribbean in preparation for the World ARC. From Vixon Point we got to enjoy the delights which North Sound had to offer - Bitter End Yacht Club, Saba and Leverick Bay. We went hiking along Guy's Trail, Orchid Trail and Mangrove Trail. The views were spectacular. Needless to say, we needed an afternoon nap after that, but then enjoyed sundowners on a completely deserted, beautiful white beach - Just the two of us - Amazing, given how busy everywhere else was.
We started our New Year’s Eve celebration early with Anegada Lobster and Champagne (Elaine) / Beer (Roy) for lunch the day before. On the morning of the 31st we started the day doing laundry (Just had to be done). Then Roy packed a picnic lunch for us and we headed for The Sandbox at Vixon Point. After a lazy afternoon on the beach sipping G&Ts (Elaine) / Beers (Roy), it was back to Paw Paw for the New Year's Eve festivities of wining, dining and dancing. Elaine was back in the galley. This time a French themed menu of French Onion Soup for Starters, Pork Loin in White Wine, Duchess Potatoes and French Green Beans for the Main Course, followed by Crepe Suzettes for dessert; all washed down with copious amounts of Bordeaux wine. We started the new year the same way we ended the old one - dancing under the moonlight in a fairyland of lights, courtesy of all the yachts crammed into North Sound. An evening to remember indeed.
Unfortunately our fairyland changed drastically within 12 hours. The charter company responsible was Dream Yacht Charter, whose charterers, as part of The Yacht Week, proceeded to turn our very pleasant, relaxing New Years day into a nightmare. We had spent the day aboard, pottering around and listening to a steel band play on shore, compliments of one of the cruise liners who were entertaining their guests. Then it happened – Just as the wind began to pick up as forecasted, a swarm of yachts descended at dusk and we got to witness something we had never seen in our lives before and could never imagine happening in our wildest dreams, not within the yachting community anyway:
- In excess of 10 yachts rafted together on two mooring balls, where rafting is strictly prohibited as the balls are not rated to hold the additional weight
- Attempts to anchor on top of the cruisers who had picked their anchoring spot, as we did, specifically to stay away from the madding crowd and out of harms way
- Collisions with cruising yachts whose occupants weren’t aboard and continuing on as if nothing had happened
- Countless yachts arriving in the dark and then trying to anchor or raft to other yachts when they couldn’t see a thing in front of them and coming perilously close to Paw Paw in their attempts.
The unruly behaviour of the occupants of these yachts, who definitely could not be called sailors by any stretch of the imagination, included smoking dope, which we had to smell, since we were downwind of them, racing through the anchorage in their dinghies and rocking all the yachts in their wake, hanging lighted balloons off the yachts, loosing most of them in the strong wind as they floated across North Sound – Again something prohibited, as it endangers the sea life and then, just to add insult to injury, proceeding to keep the entire anchorage up to all hours of the night while each yacht blasted out its specific brand of music. Don’t get us wrong - We can party with the best of them and have been known to be the rowdy neighbours, but jeopardising the property and safety of everyone else in the anchorage was completely nerve-wrecking and unacceptable on every level.
After speaking to one of the organizers when they first arrived, we spent hours directing some yachts to get safely anchored around us, while redirecting other yachts to safer areas. While some cruisers decided to leave altogether, we put out every fender we owned, and prayed that we’d get through the night without further incident, knowing full well that, when they awoke from their alcohol and drug induced "stupido", they still had to unravel all the yachts in order to move to their next destination.
Here’s our theory on this generally bad behaviour that we witnessed: Since life is somewhat restricted in environments governed by excessive laws and, for the most part, strictly enforced, when folks get out of these environments, and enter those with limited law enforcement, they really don’t know how to behave. Regardless of whether or not this theory is accurate, we fly the flags of all the countries we represent with pride – America, South Africa, Ireland and, soon to be, Britain when Karen and Dave join us for the World ARC - and hope that we are good ambassadors to each as we sail the world. While one accepts the various cultures encountered while traveling the world, including the American culture of “loud and proud”, albeit somewhat daunting for the reserved British, this lot did nothing to redeem themselves or the countries they represented - The fact that they were guests in someone else’s country, completely escaped them.
That said, it is clear what the strategic tourist objective is for the future of these islands. However, known as the sailing Mecca for many years, they now run the risk of loosing their identity and their charm. Sadly, the spell has been broken for us and, although this was the location of our budding sailing careers, we will not be back in a hurry. Sailing comes with its inherent dangers, which we accepted when we decided on our retirement plan, but there are plenty of other beautiful islands to visit, where we do not have to accommodate the hazardous and entirely unnecessary situations which we encountered. I guess that’s the beauty of having our own floating island!