28 Dec 2018 – Christmas in the British Virgin Islands


January 10th, 2019


Caribbean – Leeward Islands, North Atlantic 2017 – 2019

Written by

Richard Farrington

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By Richard. Posted on January 10th, 2019 in Caribbean – Leeward Islands, North Atlantic 2017 – 2019.

18:20.85N  64:34.5W


At Nanny Cay

By the time Anna turned up on Friday 21st, Escapade was ready for Christmas: we offloaded some spare gear at Nanny Cay, did our best to empty the supermarket shelves in Road Town and broke out the Christmas decorations for our second Festive Season at sea.  We shuttled between the lovely little anchorage at Great Harbour on Peter Island, Nanny Cay and Road Town so often that the boat could probably find her own way, but eventually on Friday morning we pushed north along the coast of Tortola and west around the corner into Trellis Bay.  The anchorage here sits just off the end of the runway and although it’s quite full of moorings there is room for a few deep draft yachts to anchor.


Trellis Bay looking south towards Tortola and the runway

I suspect that before Hurricane Irma, this was a ‘happening spot’.  The bay is fringed with a narrow sandy beach and mangroves, with an eclectic collection of beach bars at the western end.  Sadly, Irma wreaked havoc here and the shoreline is now strewn with wrecked yachts.  Elsewhere on Tortola and through the BVIs there have been obvious attempts to clear away the debris and remove sunken yachts, but not here.  The landing stages are mostly trashed, deflated rubber dinghies lurk in the shallows just off the beach and there are wrecked craft of every description along most of the foreshore.  


The Trellis Bay boat graveyard

Still, how many airports in the world boast a dinghy dock a hundred yards from the main terminal?  Especially one with a cheery little beach bar selling beers at $2 a go?  Lord Howe Island is one; Beef Island, Tortola is another.  The Trellis Bay Market is beautifully placed for all those boats using the airport for crew changes, so whilst the overpriced bar in the departure lounge is deserted, the beach bar is buzzing. 

Surprisingly, the modern terminal building here has no information screens at all, so you have absolutely no idea if flights are arriving or departing on time.  That’s partly because many of the operators don’t really know either and nobody tells the airport staff, so we had plenty of entertainment trying to find out anything.  Fortunately, there were no holdups that day and Anna had flown to San Juan in Puerto Rico the night before and spent the night in a nice hotel there, so she arrived in holiday mode and we set off across the bay to Marina Cay where we enjoyed lunch and a couple of excellent ‘Painkillers’ in the Pusser’s Rum bar.  The original restaurant on top of the hill was badly damaged in Hurricane Irma so for now they are operating just by the beach, nestling amongst some bougainvillea and hibiscus.  Not too shabby!


Looking west from the Pussers Rum bar on Marina Cay

We needed to wait for Lizzie who was arriving on Sunday, so we moved round to the west side of Camanoe Island and into Lee Bay for the night.  ‘Pinball Wizard’ was there, so we called on Nigel North and the girls went snorkelling.  On Saturday we returned to Trellis Bay for their famous Full Moon Party.  Whilst Julie and I went ashore to access the internet, Anna stayed onboard.  A short while later a beautiful yacht turned up with a singlehanded sailor who had trouble picking up a nearby buoy in the breezy conditions.  Anna jumped in the sea, swam over, recovered the boathook he’d dropped in the ‘oggin, climbed aboard, took charge and got him secured.  We’re still waiting for the free drink!

There are three beach bars operating here now: the Market, another (name unknown) one in the middle and then ‘Aragorns’ which doubles as a sculpture and arts centre by day.  Aragorn has some real skill with metalworking and his Caribbean-themed work looks great.  If we’d bought a beach hut in Whitsand Bay I’d fill it with his stuff, but we didn’t and there isn’t room onboard Escapade anyway! For the Full Moon Party his team lit some really smart braziers, some sitting on platforms in the sea, which provided a splendid focus for people watchers of all descriptions; they had entertainers on stilts, gymnasts, hammocks to relax in, a (very average) buffet and pottery demonstrations to woo the largely American clientele.  The live music down at the Market was a bit disappointing: the wonderful reggae and calypso traditions of the Caribbean seem to have been supplanted by a grungy version of rap which lacks melody or rhythm and if it’s a form of protest song, sadly I couldn’t make out any of the words because the sound system was so bad.  Still, we had a cracking time, met some interesting people and went to bed late.


Gymnasts, stiltwalkers, exotic fireplaces and quality time with offspring at the Trellis Bay Full Moon Party

On Sunday we saw stingrays jumping right out of the water just a few boat lengths from us and Julie and Anna went snorkelling to see them close up.  Nigel North joined us for a dit-spinning lunch onboard Escapade off Marina Cay and later that day we closed up outside the airport arrivals gate at the appointed time for Lizzie’s flight from Antigua, which eventually materialised some 90 minutes late.  Fortunately the pre-Christmas ‘drone madness’ at Gatwick did not affect her scheduled flight to Antigua, so the only variable feature of her journey from England was the tiny rubber band aircraft that brought her to the BVIs with one other passenger and the pilot.  No wonder there isn’t an information board – who would keep it up to date?  This is the Caribbean, after all. 

Splendid to have us all together for Christmas! 

On Christmas Eve we slid south across the Sir Francis Drake Channel and anchored off the Cooper Island Resort where Julie and I had had a splendid few days earlier in the year.  The weather conditions were a bit squally though and the place was quite full of yachts.  I stayed onboard whilst the girls went snorkelling with some reasonably friendly turtles, but after an hour or so I decided to move.  Lizzie went to get the others in the rubber boat whilst I weighed anchor and picked up a buoy closer to the resort.  We then decided that it had been reserved by someone else so moved again, probably collecting the last empty mooring for Christmas.  We were right at the northern end of the anchorage, close to the headland, so we got knocked around a bit by some fairly strong gusts over the next 24 hours, but we were safe! 


Christmas Eve at Cooper Island, BVI

We had a jolly good dinner ashore that evening at the resort, which is one of the nicest venues we’ve come across in the Caribbean.  It manages to combine understated sophistication with a magnificent waterside setting, fine views of the other islands, a great Rum Bar, a well-designed, carefully constructed, airy main building featuring loads of local wood and a half decent (Philipino-run ) kitchen.

Christmas Day started with the first blocked toilet on a boat of ours for thirty years.  Despite the distraction and some slightly inclement weather, we had a cracking day snorkelling, good fillet steak for lunch and some rum truffles from the resort for ‘duff’.     Best present?  Having the girls with us.


Christmas Day 2018 at Cooper Island, BVI

On Boxing Day we moved north in some better weather to the Baths, a National Park area on the west coast of Virgin Gorda.  It’s a fairly small area of huge granite boulders sitting in white sand and shallow water, creating a wonderful maze of rockpools, tiny beaches, caves and gullies to explore.  Devils Beach at the southern end was deserted – the quintessential Caribbean white sand, turquoise waters, fish jumping, birds circling and some gigantic boulders to climb.  Very crowded when a cruise ship calls, our Boxing Day visit was as good as it gets.  There are fine beaches either side, some backed by very swish-looking homes, others apparently accessible only by sea.  We anchored off Valley Trunk Beach for the night and the following day returned to Road Town in search of spares for the aft toilet.


Anchored off The Baths, Virgin Gorda

Fortunately, the yacht charter fleet has plenty of experience of blocked toilets, so the chandleries in Road Town had a good selection of spare parts.  I had some too and made slow progress but soon realised that the discharge hose was the home of the blockage.  I had to cut it into bits to remove it from behind the sink and the vanity locker where we keep our first aid supplies.  It was a pretty miserable job in the heat and with the boat rolling a fair bit, but surprisingly straightforward and not too messy.  The offending pipe was probably a decade old and the internal diameter had reduced from three centimetres to about five millimetres with rock-hard limescale.  It was no longer a ‘flexible’ pipe so it wouldn’t move without surgery and I wished that I had replaced it in Scotland in 2016 when I fitted a new toilet and pipework in the forward heads, but I didn’t and that’s that.  After an hour or so of swearing and the loss of some knuckle skin, order was nonetheless restored.  We sailed for Peter Island around 5pm, later than we wanted to.  The weather forecast for the next couple of days was wet, windy and rough so everyone else had the same idea: find a secure anchorage and sit out the storm.  Our usual spot in the eastern corner of Great Harbour was jam-packed with yachts, so rather than risk two days of fending off charter boats and not enough room to swing round the anchor, we headed off round to White Bay on the south side of Peter Island.  We had not been there before and the Pilot Book is unenthusiastic, but it looked extremely well sheltered from an easterly gale and deep enough to absorb any residual swell coming in from the Atlantic.


‘Taboosh’, owned by the late Paul Allen of Microsoft comes with its own racing yacht.

It turned out well: three or four superyachts and a couple of private boats had the same idea.  There was plenty of room and whilst the options for going ashore were a bit limited (hence the Pilot Book’s reticence) it proved to be an excellent anchorage to sit out a ‘blow’.

On Friday the galley flooded.  The charcoal fresh water filter (a Jabsco Aqua Filta) split apart and sprayed a gallon or two around the locker under the sink.  Anna and I had a go at mending it without success: Super Glue and self-amalgamating tape could not cope with 35psi pressure; in the end we bypassed it using some garden hose… requiring an unplanned visit on Saturday to Nanny Cay (once the storm went through) to find a replacement filter.  We used the opportunity to take on some fuel before heading north to Trellis Bay to collect Matt (Anna’s boyfriend) and Ran (Lizzie’s travelling companion for Cuba and ‘bezzy oppo’ from Bristol URNU).     It was still pretty windy, but the rain eased off and the sun came out, so morale improved.  The fresh water situation was not a ‘stopper’ as we are currently making our own, extremely pure water using the Seafresh desalination plant, so the absence of a charcoal filter in the system is unlikely to give us all tummy trouble, at least in the short term.