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 Caribbean Cruise with Sunsail

British Virgin Islands
Island to Island in the BVI with Sunsail

by Brooke Cunningham

I have long suspected that the taxi men of Tortola use the steep inclines and harrowing hairpin curves to jiggle you loose from the routines of your life back home. This sets you up perfectly to greet the morning without any residual baggage from home. Unfortunately, this often includes the baggage that you checked at the airport on your way down.

I have long suspected that no matter which combination of flights you use to get to the Caribbean your luggage will most likely take another route. The two lessons from this are that although the “belongers” appear unconcerned about your missing gear, they will go to great lengths to deliver it to you in the morning wherever you are and with a big smile.

Conclusion: always carry overnight stuff, shorts and sandals for the morning in your carry-on, and be appreciative that someone made the delivery before lunch.

So I arrived in the dark of a moonless night, overnight bag in hand and thoroughly jiggled by the “wild mouse ride” dutifully carried out by the taxi man. In the darkness I had little idea of the surroundings, but I did have genuine appreciation for the lovely dinner and bottle of wine that waited in my room. I threw open the sliding door to hear the sounds of the sea, and settled in to enjoy the warm Caribbean night breeze and a glass of wine. It pounded rain for the customary 15 minutes, and then the rustling grassy sounds that accompany moonlight returned. I do love this sensual part of the world.

With the sun visible through the gently wafting white gauze curtains, the swoosh of waves rolling up the sand the smell of salty air filled my room. Loving that early golden light I bounced out to the porch to see for the first time where I was. The long view of the coast of Tortola flooded my senses with all of those luscious blues of ocean and sky. Yes, it is always good to come back to these islands.

Camera in hand I set out to explore the Sugar Mill. Old stone walls with many steps, buildings with only three walls and no doors, palm fronds for music and banana quits for company at breakfast until my companions awoke, made for a perfect start of the day. The Sugar Mill is famous for its breakfast. My friends and I lingered over a mélange of fresh, sweet fruits as we discussed our upcoming sail among the islands of the BVI.

After lunch we were to board a 53’ Catamaran called BonaVista and go island hopping. What the Cats lack in grace, they make up for in space for chatting, tanning, reading or enjoying the peace of your own thoughts along with cabins that are roomy and each has its own head are some of the advantages of traveling by Cat. Additionally, catamarans stay flat. This is an important feature for a less than adventurous sailor who wants the experience of life at sea. Even we die-hard monohull lovers appreciate that when you put a cocktail on the table, it stays there!

We did have some time until we boarded though, so I took my friends on a romp. We visited the Bomba Shack by daylight. Bomba Shack always brings questioning looks from belongers when you mention it, as if they silently ask if you know what you are getting into. It was just a short hike up the beach. In the full light of morning we climbed over the porch rail. My friends were at first speechless, and then laughing like kids. The first thing you notice as you enter this ramshackle collection of beach detritus assembled into a sandy pub is a sign that says “if you want a Bomba t-shirt, get naked and give him your underwear”. I have never seen this transaction but there is enough lingerie stapled to the rafters and walls to put Filenes to shame!

A roll of film later we were back for a glorious lunch of seafood and fresh fruit in the ramada on the sand that marks the beach restaurant the Sugar Mill operates for guests. Fresh, crunchy, sweet, snappy and delicious are the words best suited to Caribbean cuisine, and the Sugar Mill is wonderful fare.

Another hair-raising taxi ride got us to Road Town, the home of Sunsail on Tortola. The cat awaiting us was longer than the finger of the dock, looking like a fat woman in a skinny dress. Three crewmen greeted us as we chose our cabins, stowed our gear, got the ever important “head lesson” before letting go the lines from the dock.

Leaving the land feels like accepting an invitation into the beautiful sparkling blue adventure that waits. I never get over the thrilling sound of the sails going up, and there is no more resounding silence that the moment when the engines are shut down and the boat is pulling through the water on its own. Personally, I prefer the angle and heel of a mono hull, but any time at sea finds me more content than any other time. We headed out Road Town towards Norman Island, just a small bump of luscious green on the horizon across the glittering channel.

Rustling sails fluttered down to rest in the jacks as the windlass dropped the anchor for the night. Suddenly all was still and quiet. In that peaceful moment, cocktails arrived and we spread out to enjoy our thoughts and each other’s company. Shortly, along came a small open craft with a beautiful woman at the helm that pulled up to the steps of the pontoon. This is how we met Pearline. With her small boat filled with jewelry, pareos and gifts the encounter was lucrative for her and good fun for us!

Often the scene of legendary parties at Norman Island, the famous Billy Bones is now under new management and called Pirates. Some of the gang went to see what was new over there, and pronounced it good entertainment. I wanted to stay on the boat, feel the wind roll across my chilled-from-New England skin, sip a little wine, enjoy the quiet motion of the boat and soak up as much warm air and water as I could.

Life in the Caribbean rolls between two yellow gold suns. The first rising brings with it a freshening breeze as the waves seem to stretch and yawn into the brightening newness of a clean slate. The second setting with the sweet slowness of bio-luminous waves, and fresh scented ground breezes. I sat on the trampoline with the sounds of laughter and music drifting across the water from Pirates. As I watched the nightly miracle of emerging stars I heard the soft siren song of the Caribbean reminding me that tomorrow all of these beautiful things would happen again.

Snorkeling in the BVI can be everything from relaxing to exhilarating, depending on the area of exploration and the conditions of the particular day. The caves at Norman Island reliably deliver good adventures to even beginner snorkelers, and we had among us two who didn’t swim without jackets and had never snorkeled. We towed our non-swimming friends from the boat to the caves as I swam deep to chum the water with bread and the indigenous wildlife swirled around the coral heads in hungry appreciation. Sitting on the rocks at the back of the cave looking out towards our boat, the light bounces around the inside, painting glittering masks on everyone’s face.

Our next outing was at White Bay on Jost Van Dyke. The Soggy Dollar Bar claims to be the originator of the signature drink of the BVI, the Painkiller. Whether they made the first one or not, they make a pretty fine one every day. The first one is delicious, and the second one has earned its name. Wide white sand beaches, waves sliding in like fingers of iridescent blue silk and the slowly setting sun, ah yes, another day in paradise.

Dinner aboard included rich sweet avocados fresh from the trees and tasting like rain. Fresh grilled fish, salad that snaps in your mouth, and fruits with crème Fraiche for dessert are enhanced by flickering candles and phosphorous shimmering seas. Anchoring for the night in Great Harbor of Jost Van Dyke put us just past the pier of the world famous Foxy’s. The last time I was here, Blue Guitar, Eric Clapton’s yacht pulled in right behind us. The party was on as dinghies dotted the small dock like berries on a vine, and the music flowed until everyone fell over. Such is life on Jost.

After breakfast on board followed by a swim to the tiny island of Sandy Spit, we headed out for a morning on Anagada, and an evening in North Sound, Virgin Gorda home of a sailor’s paradise called Bitter End Yacht Club. I have been to BEYC many times, and every time it gets better. As a guest there you have choices of over a hundred different sailing boats that you can take out at will. The restaurant is surrounded by gently lapping waves against the beach, and there is more delicious variety at each buffet meal than imaginable. Every day starts by walking past the fresh squeezed orange juice in pewter pitchers set in ice, right next to the open champagne. BEYC is the best place I have found in the Caribbean for families divided among those that sail and those that don’t. There is plenty to do, and plenty to share for both sides of that family or group. I never want to leave Bitter End, but after breakfast we did just that.

We moved between islands for 5 days on BonaVista. Our non swimmers learned to snorkel, albeit in life jackets. Some of us went to the top of the mast in the boson’s chair and found that the panoramic view down the chain of islands is worth overcoming the nerves it takes to get there. We got into the timeless rhythm of life on a boat for a few days, waking & eating, swimming & reading, eating & sleeping, eating & dancing on shore… life is good in the islands!

We left our boat at the Moorings dock on Tortola, and headed out for lunch at Fat Hogg Bob’s for absolutely the best blender drinks we had found so far! Each of us ordered a different one and we passed them around to sample. The lunch menu was fun and a perfect complement to the cocktails. From there we headed out to Lambeth Beach, a place you don’t hear much about but if you are looking to have your own tropical paradise, it is worth the effort to find. A mile of wide white beach with jungle at each end with turquoise water as far south as the horizon separated from your cottage on the sand by only a line of palm trees. Very sweet. There are two restaurants, two bars one of which is in the swimming pool, and nothing else to disturb the feeling of being alone in paradise. On the other hand, a ten minute taxi ride gets you to the playland of the BVI, Tortola! Welcome to the islands!

For more information:

TMM Yacht Charters

The Sugar Mill Hotel, Tortola

Bitter End Yacht Club, Virgin Gorda

Fat Hog Bob’s Restaurant, Tortola

Executive Tour Guide, Doug Penn, Tortola [email protected]

Lambert Beach, Tortola

Gen: Jost Van Dyke

Brooke Cunningham

[email protected]

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