Welcome Cat MatThe British Virgin Islands are a great place to kick off our new life as full-time cruisers. They’re also the perfect launch pad for our exploration of the Caribbean. The BVIs, while still a territory of Britain, is largely autonomous. It is composed of 50 islands, covering 59 square miles. The largest island, Tortola is the economic and government centre but situated around it are various smaller islands, islets and cays, each offering their own unique attractions. Having been to the BVIs several times before on charter yachts for vacations we knew what the islands had to offer. However this time around we were looking for something a little different. On a vacation one has a big budget and is looking for a different experience. This time around we didn’t want to hang out at the more crowded spots and were seeking out quieter anchorages where we could do some snorkelling and kick back. There are many resorts in the BVIs, and they are beautiful but they are generally out of the question for us these days because they are very expensive and we are living on a cruisers budget. As cruisers we have a different agenda than when we came on vacations. So how do we entertain ourselves?
Frankly its a pretty laid back life here. We get up very early everyday, when the sun comes up. There’s usually a rooster calling somewhere in the distance about this time. In case the sun or the roosters neglect to wake us, Filbert is our constant, acting as a furry, charming alarm clock to ensure we’re awake early enough and up to feed him.
I usually work out first thing in the morning because it gets too hot when the sun comes up and anything aside from swimming is difficult in the heat. I brought my TRX which is excellent for working out on the boat as well as my yoga mat and 2 kettle bells. Along with the daily swimming and snorkelling I am getting a decent level of fitness activity in each day. Although, I do believe the positive effects are being countered by my beer/wine intake. After breakfast we usually have a good long swim. If we’re in a proper setting we’ll snorkel for an hour or so. Its been raining a fair amount since we came to the BVIs but it doesn’t stop us from swimming.
After breakfast and exercise we’ll choose a destination, which is typically decided by the wind. If the direction is good for an easterly sail then we go that way, if it calls for something else, we abide. The beauty of not having to be somewhere is we can choose the best point of sail and go with the wind. We’ve had great sailing since we came here, its usually a steady 15-20 knots of warm wind.
We’ve spent a lot of time on Jost Van Dyke, a large, high island to the northeast of Tortola. Its my favourite place in the BVIs. With a population of 225, much of the island is untouched and theres an abundance of white sandy beaches and anchorages, with excellent snorkelling. We have had the anchor down in White Bay, Great Harbour, Little Harbour and will try to check out Diamond Cay before we leave.
We’ve also been to Cooper Island, Norman Isand, Peter Island, Trellis Bay, Nanny Cay, Soper’s Hole, and a bunch of places on Virgin Gorda Island.
Virgin Gorda, another of the larger islands which is known for beaches and upscale resorts, has loads of great places. We spent a fair amount of time in the Bitter End which is where most of the Salty Dawgs are hanging out. The BEYC gave us free morning balls until Xmas, which is very generous. The Salty Dawgs call it the Dawg Pound and host a daily morning net talk via VHF, have coordinated events such as daily yoga or excursion trips. While we haven’t participated in all of them we have done a few.
One highlight was a day trip to a restaurant on Virgin Gorda called Hog Heaven. We took a water ferry from Bitter End to Gun Creek and a safari taxi from there up to the restaurant which is situated atop the island. The view is spectacular and on a clear day you can see for miles. So far in fact that you can see the island of Anegada, which is a 13 nautical mile sail from the Bitter End. The food at Hog Heaven was delicious; their ribs are done in a tamarind glaze that is unique and something I may try to replicate. I also loved the fried plantain that was served with the meal. The staff and management were very welcoming and I would highly recommend a visit to Hog Heaven if you find yourself visiting the BVIs.
Going with the group was an added bonus as the Salty Dawgs are collectively very nice people and its always fun to hang out with them. We meet them all over the place as they are easy to identify from their flag. Sometimes we’ll swim over and say hello or join them for a happy hour on their boat. I love to see other peoples boats!
Aside from our activities with the Salty Dawgs we’ve been checking out new anchorages and looking for good snorkelling spots. After we dropped Ken and Wayne off in Soper’s Hole, also known as the West End, Al had secretly purchased snorkelling gear for me and I was super excited about it. I kid you not, when we arrived at our anchorage and the anchor was secured, 10 seconds later I was off the stern with my gear on and GoPro in hand. This is one of the more exciting things about being in the Caribbean! The ability to swim, all the time in warm water with fish everywhere.
While swimming in the Bitter End one day I came across a little shark. Initially I think I scared him because he swam away. Al told me I should probably get out of the water but it was just a little guy and I didn’t feel threatened by him. But then I thought, well what if he’s with his Mom? But only for a second because there are many sharks that are not dangerous so I went back in and there he was swimming below me, looking very amazing and graceful. Unfortunately I did not get him on video and I have yet to capture a turtle on video either.
Scratch that because I have seen a turtle and it was amazing! We were on Norman Island and saw two turtles hanging out and feeding. I was swimming with them, and got so excited that I almost drowned trying to call out to Al and breath underwater at the same time. We had a few minutes with them but had to get out of the water because a catamaran was hauling up their anchor and we were in the way. Next morning however I was back out and sure enough there they were, two green turtles, feeding on the grass the bottom of the bay and coming up for air every couple of minutes. They are an endangered species and protected in the Caribbean. Both turtles were tagged as well. They were not concerned about our presence and let me swim with them alongside, diving and eating. There were also rays in the area and many schools of fish which are always so awesome to see. I always have my goPro in hand and can’t wait to review the video in the evening to see what I captured on film that day.
There is an interesting variety of birds as well and you can often see them diving for fish. The song birds are everywhere but very hard to spot and with a large feral cat population in the BVIs, I wonder how they make out. There also domestic farm animals all over the place. There’s chicken and roosters everywhere you go as well as goats. When we went aboard a yacht for a happy hour one evening, Mary our host asked us if we knew how to milk goats. The food ferry had been delayed for a week and the island had run out of fresh milk so Mary was game to go ashore at the anchorage we were in and try to milk one of the goats! Joking, I think.
The pace here is very slow and I think I finally understand why. If I had to work in this heat all the time I too would be moving slow. The temperature has been a steady 29-30º C and it fluctuates by only a couple of degrees at night. When it rains it cools a little. It took some getting used to but we’re acclimatized now and don’t mind it at all.
Filbert has also gotten used to life here and spends his days sleeping downstairs and his nights prowling up on deck or sleeping under the dodger. He has grown to love sailing and the minute we pull anchor he is up and running around, settling down in his carrier to have a big snooze. He does come out and watch me when I swim but is not interested in getting in the water. His fascination with treats reminds healthy but he’s not gaining weight so I give him plenty. I figure the little guy deserves a reward for being such a trooper.
So how do we like Island life? Is the Caribbean growing on us? Lets just say that the BVIs is the first step and we cannot wait to see what the rest of the Caribbean has in store for us.