This upcoming Saturday is Sports Day at my school, which means the entire week is nothing but preparation for the event. That means for most of the time I have nothing to do but watch the students prepare, but it at least provides plenty of time to take care of things like writing my much-procrastinated blog entry about the recent sailing trip. So I might as well get that out of the way.
With a twelve-hour flight the previous day, the four-hour flight from Newark to St. Thomas felt like nothing. After a night of drinking with both my parents and getting to sleep around 11:00, I woke up at 3:00 and couldn’t fall back asleep due to jet-lag. I attempted to sleep on the plane-ride down but wasn’t very successful. Still, the excitement of finally getting back to the Virgin Islands for the first time in ten years was enough to keep me wide awake when we got down there.
The travelling wasn’t finished when we got to St. Thomas. We first had to get from the airport to the ferry dock, take an hour-and-a-half ferry ride to Road Town Harbour in Tortola, go through customs there, then get from there to the Sunsail Marina a few miles away. Dad and I were both anxious to finally get to the boat, but the ferry ride was enjoyable enough.
After the long and slow-moving customs line, we decided to walk to the marina, stopping for a beer along the way. Dad eventually regretted the decision not to take a taxi, but I was glad for the opportunity to take in some of the Road Town atmosphere. It’s a completely different world on these islands than it is in the tourist-driven harbors around them.
We eventually got to the boat and I said hello to Dad’s brothers Gerry and Ted, and their friend Rob. I hadn’t seen Gerry or Rob since the Antigua trip four years ago and I can’t remember the last time I’d seen Ted. The last member of our crew, John, wouldn’t be getting in until around 11:00.
We spent the evening drinking on the boat, then took a taxi to a nearby restaurant for a delicious first meal. By the time we got back to the boat I was already struggling to stay awake, so I crashed early around 9:00.
The first morning consisted of a boat-briefing and a chart-briefing, the latter of which took place in a large air-conditioned room. A British guy named Alan took us through the map of the BVI and told us a little about all of the harbors and important information like where you can or can’t sail. Some of the harbors are privately owned of just very upscale, so they don’t welcome the common rabble on charter boats.
The weather was overcast but still very nice when we were finally freed from the dock and under way, ours being one of the first boats out of there around 11:00.
Once we were free of the harbor we put up the sails and I got to experience the joy of pure sailing for the first time in four years. My Dad even let me take the wheel, something I didn’t get to do last time, so I enjoyed the experience even more.
We stopped at an outcropping of rocks called “The Indians” and took a mooring for a lunch of sandwiches, and taking a little swim in the absurdly refreshing Caribbean water as well.
From there it was a quick motor-ride into “The Bight”, home of the infamous Willy T floating bar which is a tradition for them to go to every first night of sailing. We took a mooring there and after a few drinks on board headed onto shore for a few drinks there. We ordered some Painkillers, the signature cocktail of the British Virgin Islands, and sat at a picnic table on the gorgeous beach.
We ate dinner on board, and took the dinghy over to Willy T shortly after it became dark. After ordering some more painkillers there I started socializing with a group of people my age there, feeling loose and happy and not particularly more drunk than I usually get at parties.
But as the night went on, shots were ordered and at one point my conscious mind just shut off completely and put me on drunken-autopilot for the rest of the night. I have no recollection whatsoever of anything after that first shot, but I found out the next morning that on the dinghy ride back to the boat I’d decided to go for a little swim, a pretty awful idea considering I still had my camera in my pocket. That camera is now dead, and I was only able to recover the above pictures after purchasing a new one after getting back to Japan. Luckily the memory card survived, but it was still a disastrously expensive mistake. To add insult to injury, none of the pictures I actually took that night are any good.
I asked Gerry and Rob to send me the pictures they took from the rest of the week but I haven’t gotten them and don’t know when I will if ever. So there are no more pictures to post on this blog entry, though it’s not so tragic when you consider all the islands and harbors look more or less the same.
The only hangover I had the whole trip lasted most of Monday for me. I’d apparently been puking a lot the night before, and that continued through Monday morning as my stomach refused to keep anything down including water.
We motored over to Tortola’s west end harbor for supplies, then motored up to a place called White Bay on the island of Jost Van Dyke. This was an absolutely gorgeous little bay with a beautiful beach, which the others say they now consider to be the nicest spot in the BVI. I laid out in a hammock for awhile trying to nap off the rest of the hangover, and being back on solid ground seemed to do the trick.
We had lunch and cocktails at a place called One Love, which the guidebook said makes the best Bushwakers in the BVI, a Bushwacker being a ridiculously delicious cocktail consisting of several different kinds of rum and Bailey’s Irish Cream, giving it the texture and flavor of a milkshake. I declined to participate in the first round, but after tasting some of my Dad’s drink I couldn’t turn down taking part in the second and third.
That was a really pleasant afternoon. We sat around drinking and occasionally going into the water for a swim. After we’d gotten tired of One Love we headed over the Soggy Dollar, the place where the Painkiller was invented but which ironically makes the worst Painkillers I’ve probably ever tasted. We met a group of people from Australia and chatted with them for awhile, they having just sailed up from Antigua and and on their way to Miami.
We ate dinner on the boat again and it was a nice mellow evening, though I took it very easy with the drinking because I still hadn’t fully recovered from the previous night and wanted to feel relatively refreshed the next day.
We started the day off by motoring over to another harbor in Jost Van Dyke to a place called Sydney’s Peace & Love which apparently has the best selection of T-shirts on the island. I didn’t get any but it was fun to look around.
After that we headed over to another little bay on Jost Van Dyke which had a particularly good lunch restaurant. Unfortunately, John was having back problems and dinghy riding was painful for him, so he didn’t join us.
After eating the best fish sandwich I may have ever had, I took with a walk with Dad and Rob to a secluded little area of the island with a tidal pool. It was just as cool to walk through the natural-scenery of the island was it was to dip in the pool.
When we got back to the boat we freed ourselves from the mooring and took a quick hour-long motor-ride back to Tortola to a place called Cane Garden Bay. Some of us went to shore to re-stock on things like ice, beer, and whiskey, and after getting back to the boat and showering most of us went back to shore for a nice dinner at one of the many restaurants there.
With the exception of Monday, it rained for at least a little while every day of the trip, but Wednesday was by far the worst. It rained on and off the whole time we were motoring up to Trellis Bay on Beef Island, a small island connected to Tortola where they also have the BVI’s only airport.
By this time John’s back was really killing him, so Dad and Gerry took him to shore to find out about getting him to a doctor. I stayed on board with Ted and Rob, and we had lunch and basically just laid around and tried to stay out of the rain. When Dad and Gerry came back and finished their lunch we all went to shore, where John had already come back from Road Town having seen a doctor and picked up some subscriptions for painkillers (the pill kind) and muscle-relaxers. He had to decline to join us for Bushwackers though because the doctors were adamant about not mixing the pills with liquor.
It was raining nearly the whole time we were on shore, and everything was pretty subdued without much conversation going on whatsoever. John is the most lively guy out of all of us so without him in an up-beat mood it’s a different atmosphere altogether.
When the rain let up a little we went back to the boat for showers and more drinking, and eventually came back to shore for a dinner at 7:30 which was decent but nothing special.
It was nice and clear the next morning, and we sailed up to a group of three small uninhabited islands called The Dogs where Rob went diving and I did my first and only snorkeling of the trip. That was nice, but the coral was mostly dead and there weren’t too many fish around, so it didn’t live up to my memories of particularly awesome snorkeling from the trips ten and fourteen years ago.
I got to do some more sailing in the afternoon as we head up to the North Sound of Virgin Gorda, the second-biggest island in the BVI. For whatever reason, sailing up to that harbor is the nicest memory of the trip for me. I was taking in the beauty of the scenery and appreciating the wonderful feeling of sailing more than at any other point.
We took a mooring near a restaurant called The Fat Virgin that Alan at the chart-briefing had said offered “good food at reasonable prices” but when a couple of people came back from shore with a menu and it looked like there was nothing but lunch-food anyway we decided to eat on the boat. It was a pretty good dinner anyway, and afterwards we spent the evening playing a surprisingly fun dice game that Gerry had brought along. Somehow, miraculously, none of the dice ended up in the sea.
While the day had been one of the best of the trip for me, the night turned out to be the worst. Our boat was moored in such a way that the particularly strong winds had us swaying back and forth with the mooring rope rubbing along the booey and making a disastrously annoying sound that Ted and I in the front bunks could hear as though it was right next to our heads. I tried to go up and sleep on the deck but it was too windy and I felt like I’d be blown right off the boat, though I did have a nice time listening to some music on my I-pod and looking up at the brilliant starry sky. I eventually was able to fall asleep in the main room below deck, only moving back to my cabin in the morning and somehow managing to get another hour or two before the noisiness kept me up completely.
After docking at another North Sound marina to fill our water tanks in the morning, we sailed down back past Virgin Gorda and into a place called Manchioneel Bay on Cooper Island, one of the three small islands to the south of Tortola. Manchioneel Bay is a particularly lovely spot, almost as nice as White Bay. It’s also a very popular spot, so we made sure to get there early enough to take a mooring ball. We were among the first to arrive around 11:00 but the rest were taken up within the next two hours.
We had lunch on board and then did our typical routine of going to shore for cocktails (Painkillers again), back to the boat for showers and more beer, and then back to shore again for dinner at the restaurant there. They remember it being one of the best restaurants in the BVI and I would not disagree. The meal we ate there was easily the best of the trip.
We had to have the boat back at Sunsail by 3:00 p.m., but that gave us plenty of time from when we all got up around 8:00. The first order of business was to head over to the wreck of the Rhone, the BVI’s most popular diving spot, where Rob—the only active scuba-diver among us—had been wanting to dive.
But when we got there, the swells were enormous and there was nobody else diving. After waiting a good 40-minutes and contemplating whether to go for it or not, Rob ultimately decided not to take the risk. Diving without a buddy in waters with such an extremely strong current is not a good idea, so the rest of the air in the scuba tank he’d rented had to go to waste. Still, it was the smart decision.
The plan was then to head over to a place called Maya Cove on Tortola where we’d stock up on some much-needed beer, have lunch, then sail around a little before heading back to the Sunsail Marina. Maya Cove turned out to have no moorings available, so we motored over to Fat Hog’s Bay which had plenty of moorings and a grocery store on shore to fulfill our beer needs.
John, whose back was thankfully now feeling mostly better, cooked up the rest of the food our boat had been supplied with for lunch, and after that delicious meal we did our last sailing of the trip.
I put on a CD I’d burned of the second half of Dave Gilmour’s live On And Island concert, hoping I’d get to have another one of those Comfortably Numb moments I remembered so well from the last stretch of sailing on the Antigua trip. I managed to have that song playing and me at the wheel for the last eight minutes of actual sailing, and while I certainly enjoyed the hell out of it I’d spent too much time worrying about making the moment perfect to just relax and appreciate it as much as I should have. Still, it was the best possible way to finish sailing.
We docked at the Sunsail Marina and spent the afternoon in the pool area there, drinking Bushwackers and occasionally going swimming.
Dad, Gerry, and I each had a glass of scotch on the boat before heading off to dinner, and during that time we got into a discussion about the first trip I’d gone on back in 1998 which was Gerry’s daughter Melissa’s graduation present. Dad and Gerry were talking about who’d gone on that trip—them, me, Melissa, her friend Jody, and Melissa’s mother Jenny with whom she did not get along. I reminded them that Ed, my Grandpa, was also on the trip, but they didn’t believe me. My dad said he hadn’t been in a position to invite anyone on that trip and Gerry said there’s no way Ed had been there. But I was completely sure of myself, and told Gerry that I bet him $100 that he’d been there. Gerry was apparently so sure of himself that he immediately took my hand and shook on it, and told me to leave the money with my Dad before flying back to Japan. Both he and I were sure we’d just made $100.
In the evening we took a cab to a Pusser’s—a chain restaurant they have down there—the same place where Dad and I stopped for a beer on our walk to the marina that first day. We had a very delicious meal of pub-food there and chatted with a newlywed couple on their honeymoon one table over from us. It was a very pleasant evening and a perfectly nice note on which to end the trip.
Gerry, Ted, and Rob were all gone by the time I woke up Saturday morning at 7:00. I showered and had a quick breakfast before we had to catch a cab to the ferry dock at 8:00. While sitting there on the boat I considered what a long distance I had to go from there to my apartment in Togane.
After saying goodbye to John and taking the cab to the ferry dock, there was a bit of annoyance there because the ferry company we’d paid round-trip tickets for a week earlier wasn’t running the return-ferry we’d bought the ticket for, so we had to buy a whole new ticket from a different company (though they eventually refunded half the price of our original ticket).
We took the ferry back to St. Thomas and from there a cab back to the airport. It was a three-hour wait there before the four-hour flight back to Newark, but when we finally landed my Dad got a text from Gerry informing us that he’d talked to Melissa and she told him that Ed was definitely on the 1998 trip. So at least I got $100 to off-set the cost of my broken camera.
At the end of the thirteen-hour flight back to Japan the next day I was astonished to make it through immigration, baggage-claim, and customs all in under 20 minutes. Before I knew it I was sitting on the train, looking around me and feeling a strangely comfortably sensation that once again I was now the only American in sight.
All in all, the trip was as enjoyable as I’d hoped it would be. It didn’t feel like as significant an experience as the last one did, probably because the Antigua trip happened during a particularly significant period of transition in my life, having just moved back to New Jersey from Santa Barbara and still months away from getting the job in Hannover. Back then I still felt like a child, just insanely lucky to be able to have an experience like that. This time, though I was still the youngest guy there by a long-shot, I felt like an adult, and it wasn’t luck that brought me there but my own hard-earned money.
But when all is said and done and you consider how rare the opportunity for an experience like that comes along, especially to share it with my Dad and other rarely-seen friends and family members, I’d consider it money well spent.