Sailing As You Wish

We left Panama and flew to Miami for a one night layover before our flight to St. Thomas.  We had to overnight somewhere because of flight times and it was a great opportunity to catch up with friends. Shortly after landing, we went to meet our friend, Ali, and her son, Seba. They’re from Miami but we originally met at the Kuala Lumpur Worldschool Pop-up Hub.  Dinner at the Cheesecake Factory in Coral Gables was a hit, and also a cultural shock after spending the last six weeks in Central America. The kids loved hanging out with their buddy Seba and the adults enjoyed a nice chat as well. 

Towards the end of dinner, we reached out to the Gregorys. The Gregorys are on a family gap year as well and coincidentally were in Miami for a few days.  They were staying at an Airbnb 20 minutes away so James and the boys paid them a late night visit. I would have loved to go but Claire was wiped out so we headed back to our hotel.  It has been amazing meeting up with people all over the world!

The following morning, we went to the Miami airport and met up with my parents who we hadn’t seen in nine months! It was a sweet reunion, and we were all excited to reconnect and begin our adventure in the British Virgin Islands.  This sailing trip would be a truly special one since my mom and dad had taken me and my brothers on this exact trip nearly 30 years ago.  It’s hard to believe that my dad skippered the boat without all the electronics and devices of today!

We took the typical flight to St. Thomas and ferry to Tortola, arriving to our floating home, As You Wish, in the late evening.  As You Wish is a 46’ Lagoon catamaran and bigger than we had originally planned to charter.  We “received an upgrade” when our original 40’ catamaran was sold after we had booked it.  We dropped off our luggage, grabbed a quick bite to eat at Omar’s, and James helped unload all our provisions onto the boat. 

Bingo exploring As You Wish

The first two days, James and I focused on getting our ASA114 certification to allow us to bareboat a catamaran.  Our ASA captain, Javon, joined us and taught us how to maneuver the behemoth of a vessel. It was surprisingly easier than expected due to its two engines.  We were excited to knock out this certification so we could charter a larger, more comfortable boat for guests.  The living space definitely was a convenience with four berths and ensuite baths.  Not to mention, it had a massive flybridge where everyone could lay under a cover on cushions surrounding the helmsman.  The boat made for a very comfortable living space for 10 days!

With our instructor, Javan

Our captain was an interesting local who attended college at Columbia in NYC, pursued a PhD in London and then returned home to now run several family businesses.  He was fascinating to talk to, and the kids loved speaking with him as well.  As it turns out, he is preparing for a trip with a friend to southeast Asia. So, the kids spent hours telling him all the places to go and what to eat! It was an incredible moment watching our kids share everything they had learned and what they had enjoyed about the places we visited. 

We spent the first night of our charter in Leverick Bay, a quiet mooring field in Virgin Gorda.  We enjoyed an evening swim and fajita dinner, then turned in early before the long day of learning ahead of us.  Early the next morning, Javon administered our written test and then we spent the next six hours practicing docking, man overboard drills, reefing, and anchoring.  It was a long day with one casualty (one ASA test flew overboard, unable to be salvaged), but we were successful and passed our ASA114 certification with flying colors! We celebrated that evening with a swanky dinner at Saba Rock, a small island resort close to the Bitter End Yacht Club, where we were moored.

Dinner at Saba Rock

The next morning, we raced to Spanish Town to quickly drop anchor and dingy Javon to his ferry. After that, we were on our own.  As we headed towards The Baths, it was surreal that James and I were now in charge of this vessel! Thankfully, when we arrived at the Baths we found the last mooring ball and hooked up like professionals.  It was our first solo test on the water!

We dinghied close to shore and jumped out to swim the remaining 20 yards.  We spent an hour hiking through the caves and pools of the baths and snorkeling along the shore. The weather was starting to turn cloudy, the waves choppy, and rain began to fall.  At the same time, Bingo turned to me and declared she didn’t feel good.  James raced back through the caves to grab the dingy and then we had to swim about 30 yards in the choppy water out to meet him.  Bingo was crying, I was trying to keep our bag dry, and my parents (thankfully with pool noodles!) were also swimming behind us.  It was a dramatic exit as we departed!

A day at the Baths

We left The Baths to sail back north towards Leverick Bay, for one more night there.  The main sail on a catamaran is tricky to raise (at least for us newbies) due to the battens constantly getting stuck outside of the lazy jack lines when the wind is strong.  We noticed several boats raising theirs while on the mooring ball and realized, after our twenty minute effort, that they are much wiser than us! We finally succeeded, raised the jib, hit go on our sailing playlist and enjoyed the quiet sounds of riding upon the water. 

A few minutes later, I hear, “Mom! Bingo needs you!” I come downstairs to find Bingo with a raging fever and throwing up! Poor thing! About an hour later, the same hit Goose! We pulled into Leverick Bay and by then everyone was feeling better.  A nasty virus had snuck upon our boat and little did we know it would be a hovering presence for the next week!

We woke up early the next day as James had been studying and studying for a sail to Anegada.  Anegada is an island about 14 nautical miles north of Virgin Gorda and isn’t visible until you’re about 6 miles out. It’s called the drowned island and is almost entirely surrounded by coral. Boats have been known to run aground and even have so recently.  Charter boats must get pre-approval from the charter company in an effort to prevent disaster. 

James was well-prepared, of course, and we set sail and arrived without a hitch.  When we pulled up, we were greeted by sea turtles! The sea state was choppy, but we moored and the kids jumped in for a swim.  James and I enjoyed a celebratory pina colada at the Lobster Trap that afternoon. Then, we all went for dinner later.  Sadly, Dad had come down with “the virus” and had to sit this one out. But, the rest of us feasted on Anegada lobster pulled out of the sea just hours before!

Made it to Anegada!

The next morning, we were restless to depart Anegada given the slightly tricky departure from the mooring field through the channel between the coral and into open water.  There were about 15 catamarans chartered by MIT business school students and I can’t say they knew the seamanship rules well.  We wanted to make sure we made plenty of headway out of the channel before they started their departure. 

We sailed 21 miles down to Guana Island while relaxing on the flybridge and listening to music.  A magical way to spend a day.  We arrived at White Bay on Guana Island, knowing there were only six mooring spots, to a completely full bay.  It was disappointing at first because it was a quiet, picturesque little white beach.  We hung out for about thirty minutes, watching to see if anyone was departing, and our patience paid off! We snagged a ball and immediately jumped in the water to cool off and relax. 

The first thing we noticed, though, was sea lice! Tiny little stings as you swim around.  It didn’t deter us too much and the boys took off on the paddle board to explore the area.  As they were pulling back to the boat, the adults all noticed something slowly swimming around.  It was a nurse shark! Goose immediately grabbed his mask and snorkel and took off to watch it.  His confidence and intrigue with the ocean has been an amazing thing to watch.  Not five minutes later, James went in to join Goose and Bingo declared, “I want to go!” So off they all went to see the sharky, sharky (as our friend, Imam, from Gili T described them). 

In the evening, we took the dingy in to shore and enjoyed a walk on our private beach.  The kids played in the sand and collected shells.  This was definitely our favorite island of the trip!

Two sailors gazing into the distance

The following morning, we dinghied around the corner to Monkey Point, a well-known snorkeling spot.  As we pulled up, another group was just leaving and we asked about the snorkeling. The guy’s response was, “it’s a real maritime menagerie!” Quite the description! We saw beautiful fish but as we’ve noticed around most of the BVIs, the coral has completely died.  It’s sad to see, as I recall that nearly thirty years ago, it was filled with vibrant color. 

We returned to our catamaran and sailed to Diamond Cay on the east side of Jost Van Dyke.  More sea turtles greeted us and we swam all afternoon around the boat, enjoying the cool waters.  We made it over to the B-line bar and had an afternoon cocktail while playing cornhole.  Diamond Cay was another of our favorite anchorages. It was relatively quiet and the kids could swim and play without worrying about other boats zipping by. 

Bingo at B-line bar

When we woke the following morning, we dinghied into shore for a short hike to the Bubbly Pool.  The pool was located just over a hill and fills with water as the ocean rushes in and out.  It was a fun little land adventure and nice to spend some time walking rather than just swimming!

The Bubbly Pool with Nanny and Papa

Afterwards, we were going to one of two small islands but the anchorages were packed since it was a holiday weekend.  Instead, we decided to circumnavigate the entire island of Jost Van Dyke! We had a relaxing sail and ended the day at Great Harbour so we could check out the infamous Foxy’s! We dinghied to shore and immediately grabbed a “wreck on the rocks” cocktail.  I’m not sure what was in it, but let’s just say it tasted like a whole cup full of liquor!  Two of those and we were feeling alright, so we made our way to a nearby pizza joint for dinner.  Island pizza from Corsairs hit the spot. Then, we were back on the boat in time to see the stars before we slept off our beverages!

Enjoying Wreck on the Rocks at Foxy’s

We got an early start the following morning so we could grab a coveted spot at Sandy Cay.  Only four mooring balls are available at this tiny island and we snagged the last one! We swam into this gorgeous beach and saw a sting ray on the way.  The kids enjoyed playing in the sand and we all enjoyed a swim and relaxing lunch before heading south to Norman Island. 

Time for a snorkel on Sandy Cay

We hadn’t planned to stay in the Bight on Norman Island but were planning to go somewhere a little quieter so the kids could swim as much as they wanted.  However, Goose’s heart was set on going to Willy T’s to jump off the upper deck into the water. Goose had been talking about it for several days so we made a last minute decision to stay in The Bight anchorage.  As soon as we moored, everyone was off in the dingy to Willy T’s for drinks and jumps!

Upon arriving at Willy T’s, we all grabbed a drink and headed upstairs. A middle aged man showed us the way, walking past the sign that says, “no jumping” before proceeding to jump in. It was such a fun environment, reminiscent of a college dive bar but one with partying 20 year olds, families with kids, and empty nesters just looking for a good time. Goose was the first of our crew to jump off the top, followed by Manji and James.

It was almost time to go when Bingo ran over and said she wanted to jump. She had been patiently watching all of the other folks jump off, slowly building the courage to jump herself. She, James and the boys went off the top and she was all smiles as she was so proud of herself for actually jumping. We then rounded up the crew and heading back to the boat for the night.

A big jump at Willy T’s

We spent our last full day on the water snorkeling at two sites, the Caves and the Indians.  Thirty years ago, when my family traveled to the BVIs, our first stop was the Indians and I remember the beauty of the coral and fish! Sadly, our snorkel this time was lacking colorful coral, but the fish were still there at least! We then began our sail to the last stop at Manchioneel Bay at Cooper Island.  As we hoisted the mainsail, James heard a pop and noticed the main halyard line had frayed significantly.  So much so that you could see the inner cord of the rope.  He decided to take the sail down and motor and we’re glad he did because it shredded even more as we lowered the sail!

We were bummed about spending the rest of the afternoon motoring, especially because the wind was so good, but we knew it was the safest choice.  One of the most exciting things about being out on the water is the amount of problem solving that’s involved.  It challenges you to think outside the box and is definitely an area where my husband thrives! As for me, I’m a great assistant (ha, ha).

As we approached Manchioneel Bay, we saw some other boats arriving at the same time.  It’s a popular stay on the evening before departure since it’s so close to the return location for boat charters on Tortola.  Early in the morning, James had tried to reserve a mooring ball, but the reserved spots filled up within a minute. So, were looking for a first come first serve ball. 

As we approached the bay, we quickly located a ball on the outer edge and made a beeline to it.  When we got closer two other boats came up behind us, then passed us, also approaching the same ball.  We stared each others boats down as we came to battle for the lonely ball.  We were told things could get wicked battling for mooring balls, but sailing always seemed like a gentlemanly sport so it’s hard to believe that people would act so irresponsibly as to put themselves and their boats at risk. 

Anyway, as we continued toward the ball, the other boats looked back and then detoured thinking they found another ball available closer in.  We continued as we planned, hooked up, and watched as the other boats ended up having to anchor. 

There’s a whole set of rules of the road designed to protect both people and boats on the water. We’ve learned these throughout our sailing courses and it seems obvious that everyone on the water would want to follow them. But apparently for some, a battle for a mooring ball is worth risking the safety of both crew and boat. We had a backup plan as we didn’t have the gumption to break the rules of the road in pursuit of a lonely mooring ball but it all worked out in the end. I can’t imagine the intensity of finding mooring balls during peak season! And I don’t really want to find out!

As we settled in, the kids got in for a swim and quickly spotted sea turtles and barracuda! We then made our way to shore to visit the Cooper Island Beach Club for a drink while the kids played darts.  Afterwards, it was back to the boat, eating what remained of our provisions and reflecting on the past week.

Dinghy practice with the kids

The next day, we left around 8am to motor back to the charter base at Nanny Cay.  We arrived and James had one last big challenge…docking our 46’ catamaran.  We approached the dock and the marina crew asked us to move to another slip while trying to avoid a jetty as well as a fishing boat that decided to sit directly in our path.  After the initial panic by me, screaming, “Watch the other boat! Watch the rocks!,” James easily docked us.  James and I did have a major emotional drain after docking.  We had done it!  We sailed the BVIs for 10 days, on our own and didn’t have any catastrophes!

Woohoo! We made a safe return to the harbor!

Overall, the trip was an amazing feat for James and me.  We completed another bareboat charter and obtained our catamaran certification.  The best part, however, was sharing this experience with my parents.  My dad kept calling it a “full circle” moment and I completely agree.  It’s safe to say we are feeling more and more like sailors and, who knows, maybe our next big gap year will be on a boat!

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