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Road Harbour, Tortola

From Trellis Bay we had another superb sail in some of the most beautiful cruising grounds I have ever seen.

The weather was beautiful, the wind was beautiful, the islands were – yes – fantastically beautiful… some of the best sailing conditions ever.

Just half a day sail to Road Harbour, and to anchor.

The purpose of stopping here was to get the ferry to the US Virgin Islands in order to get a US visa…. but that is another story….

Luckily – although the guide books all play Road Harbour down – we found it quiet and welcoming… we also bumped into old friends from SV Betsy – last seen in Antigua and also heading to St Thomas to get their boat shipped back to the UK.

 

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Idyllic sailing grounds of the BVI’s…..
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..next stop…The Last Resort…

From North Sound we sailed in beautiful weather and light winds towards the north coast of Tortola, our destination by nightfall would be Trellis Bay.

Located within Trellis Bay there is a tiny island called Bellamy Cay. Here the Last Resort Bar and Restaurant was founded in 1972.  Bellamy Cay gained its name after the infamous "Prince of Pirates" Samuel Bellamy, who used the island as his base of operations from 1715 to 1717 largely due to the 12-15 foot draft of the Trellis Bay which provided protection to Bellamy's fleet during bad weather. 

Until the 20th Century, Bellamy Island, remained uninhabited until it was bought by Władysław Wagner, Europe's "First Polish yachtsmen" who built a boatyard, marine railway, and many of the buildings you can still see today. 

The Last Resort Bar and Restaurant was opened by adventurer Tony Snell who prior to his arrival in the BVIs had lived a life of adventure.  During WW2 Snell had been shot down and captured by Axis forces, both times escaping from imprisonment with the help of beautiful women, a real life James Bond.  After returning back to the States, Snell experienced success in both music and film. Then, while sailing off to another island, Jost Van Dyke in the 1970's, he and his family stumbled upon Bellamy Cay and decided to take up residence upon finding the remnants of Wagner's structures.  He moved his business to the Bellamy Cay and began The Last Resort which has been greeted by on going success largely due to their great food and fantastic live performances by local musicians.

We met one of the young guitarists – from the UK – in the Last Resort bar and it was his band that had played for Obama on Mosquito Island just a couple of weeks before.

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..the Bitter End..

The entire North Sound is a safe haven for even a large fleet. It is here that many pirates like Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Hawkins, sought refuge and cover. The connection with pirates went on to modern times. Roland "Pop" Symonette was one of nine children born in poverty in the Bahamas. Although he had only six years of formal education, Symonette became one of the wealthiest men of his generation. A lifelong advocate of education, he was a school teacher early in his career, but, during Prohibition, Symonette transported whiskey to the United States. With the profits from bootlegging, he invested in real estate, hotels, a shipyard and and eventually a wide range of philanthropic interests, including Camp Symonette, originally built for the youth of the Bahamas. The Symonette family's holdings have never been publicly confirmed, but public speculation has placed it between $700 million and $2.5 billion USD. One of his sons – Basil – who was a keen yachtsman found himself in North Sound one day and established the The Bitter End pub.

Originally comprising five rustic cottages, The Bitter End Pub was originally meant to house charter captains and adventurous sailors, when Basil was feeling sociable he would encourage boats wanting to come ashore to sound their airhorn and he would use a megaphone to tell prospective patrons to come ashore and enjoy a meal.  By the 1970’s the area passed into the hands of the Hokins family who developed the resort that exists today. They have adopted an eco friendly design by the use of solar panels, rain collection, generators, and irrigation of the surrounding landscape by grey waste shower water.  The resort is celebrated for its world class watersports amenities as well as stunning natural surroundings.

We certainly had a lovely break here and would not hesitate to recommend the area to yachtsmen or landlubbers.

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Enterprise at anchor … dead centre  

Happy Arr!…

It was a nice respite to enjoy the Leverick Bay Restaurant with its beautiful views, a small sandy beach, and very friendly staff.  The steaks and mahi mahi were great too, and after a few cocktails the totally over the top evening entertainment provided by Michael "Bean" Gardner's "Happy 'Arr," was bearable and even enjoyable at times. Mr Bean’s real claim to fame is that all proceeds from show go directly to the Good Samaritan Foundation of Haiti, which strives to bring food, water, medicine, and education to Ile a Vache, a small island off the southwest coast of Haiti where. It was here, as a boy, that Gardner was abandoned by a shipwreck salvage company that went bankrupt.

Anyway – we joined in with gusto – and when we left it made for an interesting dinghy ride back to the boat!

11,000 Virgins…

Columbus “discovered” the Islands in 1493 – some centuries after the native Ciboney, Caribs, and Arawaks had forgotten to plant a flag on their homelands. Columbus named the Island chain after the mythical story of the 11,000 virgins of the 5th-century Christian martyr St. Ursula. As an aside, my eldest sister went to an Ursuline convent school for girls in London. I am sure she can testify to the saintliness of her teachers and fellow students. Our own arrival off the coast of Virgin Gorda, at the head of the Island chain was magical. As dawn broke, and the philosopher slept, I slowed Enterprise down until, with no sail, we gently glided in the current between the north shore and the famous Necker Island. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of Branson or one of his guests jogging along the beach – but all was quiet in billionaire land. I was keen to avoid entering the North Sound until the sun had risen further – there was the small matter of reefs and a reasonably complicated entrance channel that “may or may not be marked” by marker buoys that “may or may not be” in the correct place. In the event – and as is often the case – the entrance was not as tricky as forecast – and we motor sailed through, in the company of a glorious sunrise.

North SoundNorth Sound is a large inlet protected by hilly islands which are virtually joined by reefs except in one place where a narrow entrance skirts the second Branson island – called Mosquito Island. We later discovered that ex President Obama had been a guest of the Bransons only the week before and had been happily dancing on the bar showing off his moves. Oh well, if he couldn't be bothered to wait for us it was his loss.

 

We motored in to Leverick Bay and dropped anchor some way off since the anchorage had been planted with 3o or so mooring buoys. The mooring field occupied the prime position near to the dock side facilities. We decided. to just get sorted and check in the following day. The dinghy had to be launched; the outboard fitted and the boat tidied up – and I needed some sleep!

The Oh-My-God-A Passage…

We planned on crossing the Anagada Passage in daylight. That way we figured we would be able to see whatever nature threw at us. The chart plotter was showing that at our current speed of 2/4 kts our ETA at Virgin Gorda would be 0400. We would be arriving when it was still pitch black, but I planned on “heaving to” and just waiting till dawn before approaching any reefs. 

The wind was light and fickle – the sun was relentless – we sailed, or more accurately flopped, along with a high pressure zone fixed directly above us. Eventually I had to give up with the genoa and sail with just full main and engine purring along at 1000 rpm. It was perfect cruising chute weather. But I just couldn’t muster the energy to haul the massive chute up from down below and spend the 30 minutes or so configuring sheets; furling line; leaning over the bow to clip it on to the spinnaker pole etc etc…. Perhaps if I had had just one working crew mate (Pete is never there when you need him..) … but I decided against it in the end. I was sad about that – this may well be the last chance to use it.

 But what was most remarkable was the sea state and currents. At least 3 different wave patterns – and although none were more than 2 meters – it was enough to make the journey one of those washing machine experiences. I had to use the engine to make any progress. For those of you who have slid down the Alderney Race, you will be able to imagine the sea state – except this was going to be home for the next 24hrs at least. Still, it was 300C and the breeze was like a gentle hairdryer.

I settled down into my solo watch rota – setting the iPhone alarm to go off every 30mins and arranging the cockpit cushions into as comfortable a fashion as I could. Around midday I heated one of the three packets of bolognaise that the Mathematician had made in Antigua and stored in the freezer. Luxury indeed. The Mathematician joined me on deck, but on taking one spoon of food decided that another nautical mile should be marked in the time-honoured manner – we had started to run worryingly low on sick bags.

The sea became eerily calm for a few hours – not a ripple and as if by magic we were joined by a pod of dolphins –  yes, I know I said I wouldn’t write about dolphins or sunsets, but….here is the sunset… – the dolphins came to visit too!

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The Mathematician stood watch while I got 3hrs sleep from 1900 to 2200. Then she was despatched to the bowels and lay down in the saloon. Or did she go down to the saloon to despatch her bowels. Its academic. I took the night vigil alone. We were only half way across the Passage. The high pressure meant that the night sky was peppered with star upon star, on and on into the depths of space; the planets were clearly visible as if their orbiting plane was a ring encircling the Earth, a shooting star careered into the atmosphere and flew into dust. The wake of the boat was shattered by phosphorescence. An inky black sea merged seamlessly with the sky at an imagined horizon and then, rising to a glorious arc above, it challenged me to truly consider those familiar questions that have engaged mankind for generations. I put a towel over the chart plotter to remove the annoying glare of man-made technology, and lay back on the cockpit seat, mesmerised. The work, and the intention of God was clear to see. At moments like this you have to balance the knowledge of your incredibly minute existence with the your love for life itself and all it has to offer. You can relax; meditate even but also be alert and ready to take on whatever your puny body can handle; constantly monitor your thoughts and fears about the project you have taken on. As Tony Robbins said “life is found in the dance between your deepest desire and your greatest fear..” 

Having pondered these weighty thoughts – I went below to eat the Philosopher’s share of the bolognaise – cold with some pitta bread – it doesn’t get much better than this.

…fast forward

Not having kept up the  blog for some months it takes quite an effort to catch up – especially since obtaining wifi is such a performance – there are only so many coffees and cocktails that a man can drink just to get wifi. So I thought I would just skip forward.

Appropriately April Fools Day was spent doing the 167nm journey from Jolly Harbour, Antigua to Gorda Sound, Virgin Gorda. The passage is in two parts. First the channel that separates a number of islands. To the South lie St Kitts & Nevis; Sint Eustatia; Saba and to the North St Barthelemy; St Martin and Anguilla. Normally speaking at least two or three of these would be worth a visit. It breaks up the journey. But I have to get to USVI by 14 April for the shipping. The second half of the passage entails navigating the Anegada Passage – sometimes affectionately referred to as the “Oh-My-God-A” passage.

I had intended leaving on Thursday and crossing the Anegada Passage during Friday – but as I watched the weather data it became apparent that delaying one day would mean getting to the Anagada Passage on Saturday – a day with very light winds – which was a pity – but more importantly only 2m swells funnelling in from the Atlantic. It would mean motor sailing – but I chose that option rather than put the philosopher and the mathematician through hell on their first long trip out for months. 

The picture below will give you an idea why the underwater profile and sea mounts cause such confused seas on the best of days. You get a minimum of 2m swells from the Atlantic, plus the waves caused by the wind from the SE plus the curling of currents caused by the underwater seamounts. You definitely don’t want to be here in bad weather.

 

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We set off on Friday March 31st. The forecast was for E or SE winds – so it was no surprise when N winds greeted us as we left Jolly Harbour! To be fair to the computerised weather models, there is a wind and current effect for at least 20nm around each Island, which these models cannot take account of. So for the next few hours we went from close hauled to beam reach to broad reach and then dead run. A normal day at the office for a sailor.

I had also intended leaving at 3pm but boredom and an itch to get going meant we left at 11am – 4 hrs early. I knew that time difference would have to be adjusted somewhere to ensure that we did not arrive at our reef strewn destination in the middle of the night. Our destination was North Sound  – one of the favourite anchorages for Sir Francis Drake – on the Island of the fat virgin – Virgin Gorda.

“…A fair easterly wind filled the square sails of more than 20 British warships surging westward three days out from Guadaloupe on November 8, 1595. Sir Francis Drake, a hero of Britannia and the scourge of Spain, could easily see the lush green hills of the present-day British Virgin Islands from the quarterdeck of the flagship Defiance. He knew he was getting close to battle, and he looked forward to it. Apart from his exploits against the Spanish, Drake was also famous as the first Englishman and only the second captain to circumnavigate the globe during an epic voyage between 1577 and 1580. Ferdinand Magellan was the first to circumnavigate in 1522. Drake’s achievement, which included claiming California for Britain, earned him a knighthood.

Drake was no stranger to the Caribbean, one of the most popular yacht charter destinations in the world. He had first sailed there in his late teens and in the years following those initial piratical adventures he had returned several times for more loot, plundering Spanish galleons and making himself wealthy. Drake was preoccupied with his latest objective: seizing the treasure aboard a galleon undergoing repairs in the Spanish stronghold at San Juan, Puerto Rico.

But in 1595 Drake had fallen out of favor with Queen Elizabeth. Several failed expeditions against the Spanish had seen to that. In his mid-fifties, Drake badly needed a victory. He had to capture the Spanish galleon at San Juan.

Soon Virgin Gorda came abeam. Ahead was North Sound, at the north end of the island, which today is home to the world-famous Bitter End Yacht Club and many other resorts. Guiding the warships through the channel into the picturesque bay would be challenging, but ultimately the fleet gathered inside and anchored “in a sounde in the Virgines northe northeast from Santa Cruse.” The anchorage was well protected and exquisitely beautiful. The fleet stayed for only one night while Drake and his co-commander planned the attack on San Juan…”

The first half of the journey went to plan – except for the Philosopher marking each nautical mile with a sick bag. I sent her below to sleep. She emerged from time to time over the next two days but over excitement drew her back to her bed on each occasion. Not to worry. The old Bentley and I were a good team. She did not react quickly to extremes of weather – and frankly, I didn’t react quickly to..well… anything.

Saba_with_seaThe first day drew to a close – the wind dying to 3/5kts and the distant lights of the amazing Saba Island to help guide the helm.

 Saba Island looks so small it could be mistaken for a container ship at night with a small necklace of lights strung along the top and down one side. It seemed like hours went by as we sailed towards Saba – actually it was hours at our grand speed of 3/4 kts.  As the sea became pitch black and the sky littered with stars I wondered if my plan to cross the notorious Anagada Passage while it was calm would become a reality. I had been careful not to use words like notorious the day, before when I briefed the crew. Dawn broke at about 0700 and there was Saba, looming out of the sea, a truly formidable rocky remnant of an ancient volcano. But not as formidable as the people who colonised it. They said no one could inhabit it – so some early white and black settlers proved them wrong by building two settlements. The lower one can be reach by a flight of stone steps from the rocky bay where it is virtually impossible to land a boat – virtually – but they did it. They said the two settlements could not be joined by a road – so a local man took a correspondence course on road building and started to build one – after 21 years of hard labour the road was completed. They said that you couldn’t build an airstrip – so again the locals built one by hand and a mad French pilot landed on it to prove it could be done – the airstrip starts and ends on a cliff edge.

 Eventually Saba became owned by the Dutch West Indies Company and today it’s claim to fame is that at 887 metres (2,910 ft) its the highest point of the entire Netherlands. As we sailed passed I saluted out of respect for such a magnificent symbol of human spirit.

…more next time….

Essequibo River, Guyana..

Approaching the estuary of the River Essequibo takes timing. There is a sand bar and you must enter at the correct state of tide. After entering it is advisable to anchor off one of the little islands – the estuary is huge – and then do the 50 mile journey up river with a full day ahead of you.

As Enterprise approached the coast, we were far too early so with only a scrap of mainsail, we drifted along silently on a calm and moonlit sea. The mouth of the river lay ahead. I could see on AIS that my friends on Nautilus, Aztec Dream and Fenicia who had all started from Tobago had kept their one day lead and were already anchored on the other side of the bar. Behind me, the AIS showed 4 or 5 boats closing fast – German. I was NOT going to follow boats in….

I started the engine and motored, it was 0330. I took an angle to the sand bar so that I could turn at about 0600 and head in with the tide. At the allotted moment I turned – as dawn broke on a deep blue and flat ocean, all I could see was a a dark brown line that crossed our path about a mile ahead. I was heading directly for it – gunning the engine to keep ahead of the pack behind me. As the bow of the boat broke out of the blue and into the murky brown I fully expected a crack and for Enterprise to grind to a halt. But no – with only 1 meter of water below the keel we were still progressing. Relief.

By 1130 we were at anchor inside the estuary next a small island. Some other boats had caught up and decided to anchor nearby.

As the sun set there was only the green jungle; the scream of howler monkeys and the squawk of the parrots going home to roost. Absolutely magical.

 

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Nereids Rally…

Its the start day of the rally – 5 Sept 2016. The much anticipated Nereids Rally. Only a few boats are leaving from Trinidad. Most had opted for leaving from Tobago. So Enterprise sails alone one more.

Its customary to hug the Trinidad coast to avoid the counter current and wind, then to head out into the Atlantic to clear pirate alley off the coast of Venezuela, out through the oil rigs and traffic of the oil fields and then south – against the currents and the wind – what could go wrong …?

The sky was grey most of the time. We sailed close hauled all the way (into the wind) – than goodness for the new main sail!… Electrical storms were a feature every evening. Initially they were in the distance but each passing day brought them closer. Eventually around 6am, a dark foreboding cloud started to cover the entire sky – it seemed like a scene from a Harry Potter movie, I fully expected a bat to fly down out of the cloud. Then the lightening and thunder began. It seemed directly overhead the crack and flashes were virtually simultaneous. I thought of putting as many electronic gadgets as I could in the oven for protection – but I couldn’t leave the helm. With the sea rushing past the boat furiously but with only slight waves the wind started to scream through the rigging. This was a new one on me. I had never heard the wind do that so loudly. The wind indicator at the top of the mast started to whine like a child’s top. I watched with interest as the wind speed went to 30kts (ok, I had sailed that before); 40kts (oh, perhaps I have to much sail up  – I took the genoa in); 50kts (the main sail was reefed – but only one reef); 65kts (oh shit… this could be bad) – the apparent speed reached 73.4kts because of our forward motion – it is greater than the true wind speed – Enterprise just ground to a halt. I froze in awe. The boat stood perfectly upright – head into the wind and the sea and wind screamed past. It was dreamlike – I didn’t do anything except watch. I knew if I touched anything this perfect balance may be disturbed and we would be blown flat. I waited – it seemed an age – but was probably no more than 20/30 mins. The wind subsided to around 25kts … with much relief, we continued on our way.

 

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Its behind you …! If you were asleep and you had to take the helm – you may have to do it with only underpants on …
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Electric storm and 65kt winds… Into the black..
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A new day… Land ahoy..

Message in a bottle…

Having returned to Trinidad, we do at least get to be at the celebration dinner hosted by the Nereid’s Rally organiser – David – an ex Italian banker… dont ask.

David has also arranged for children and parents from the local special needs school, to come down to the yard and be shown around a few boats – Enterprise included – and have a little talk given to them by each of the skippers present.

We then join the children at the roti hut to write their messages in a bottle. Each bottle will be given to the rally participants to launch into the Atlantic off the coast of Venezuela.

 

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