British Virgin Islands Part 2 – February 19th - March 1st 2011
Saturday, 19th February
After an interminable journey which had involved much island hopping and copious identity checking we were finally deposited upon Beef Island, Tortola around midnight and allowed to emerge beyond Passport Control to be met by Scott, the charming Captain of Boo Too and be driven some way to a bay with the wonderful name of Soper’s Hole where we were ferried out to the boat to be greeted by Boo and Oliver. We were introduced to the rest of the crew consisting of the beauteous Ashleigh whom we were to discover could conjure up culinary delights on the high seas at the drop of a hat and Mike who turned out to be a highly qualified and multi-skilled engineer, his only shortcoming being his inability to handle china and glass without feeling the need to multiply it into many pieces. (A common urge, perhaps, amongst those with a good knowledge of physics and wishing to demonstrate laws of gravity?)
Within minutes of our arrival we were plied with glasses of chilled wine which, along with the balmy air and gentle motion of the boat were combining to eliminate all memories of our lengthy trip from rainy England and we all soon sank into our bunks full of happy anticipation of what the morrow would bring.
Sunday, 20th February
The morrow did not disappoint! We arose to a gloriously calm, sunlit day in a bay surrounded by steep hills dotted at lower levels with brightly coloured houses. Patrick immediately took possession of what became known as “Patricks Corner” where he could stretch out and rest his recently broken leg. Lorna hit the deck running by instigating an on-deck pilates class for the girls which, as they put their legs in the air, duly inspired a fair amount of comment from passing craft who could be heard intoning : ‘and one and two and three – lovely! Go for it girls!’ Said girls, who were battling for decency as a breeze had blown up, were extremely relieved that it was only the legs that could be seen!
After a leisurely breakfast we departed for the American Virgin Island of St. John whither we were ferried to once more present our credentials in person. The plan was to spend the next few days exploring some American Virgin Islands which Oliver had not yet visited. Imagine our dismay when we found ourselves being told that we were not wanted as we had not got US Visas! We bore the blow bravely and retired with heads held high, our quick witted Admiral Oliver instantly revising our itinerary to cover some lovely British Virgin Islands and a long sail onward to Antigua, thereby avoiding much of the island hopping experienced on the journey out – a stroke of genius! A refreshing swim in azure waters, a delicious lunch and we had all recovered completely from our rejection by the Yankees.
We then made sail for Jost van Dyke where we arrived in the late afternoon and went ashore to ‘Foxy’s’, a cavernous emporium on the beach selling all manner of beach clothes, jewellery and souvenirs a selection of which were purchased for sadly neglected daughters who had been left behind . Our first experience of Scott’s rum punch awaited us upon our return to the boat as we watched our first beautiful sunset at the end of a glorious day.
Monday, 21st February
A cloudier, windier day made for an interesting sail past islands resisting the high waves as they crashed into them, sending incredibly high spumes of spray up their rocky cliff faces. The weather became calmer in the afternoon as we sailed into a bay on Peter Island where we went ashore and walked through the island from one beach to another where there was a rather unexpected smart hotel full of guests taking afternoon tea. After a brief ‘cuppa’ the girls left the boys tuning into the ether and walked up a steep hill from the top of which they had beautiful views of the island and of the sun declining into the sea. By the time the girls had descended from their peak the men had given up and abandoned land but happily Scott took pity on them ferrying them back to Boo Too for the eagerly anticipated pre prandial rum punch and strange ‘reverse bridge’ card game which became a regular fixture – the only card game that Mary has ever been known to win!
Tuesday, 22nd February
Another breezy day as we headed out to Guana Island which is privately owned (by some very lucky person!) and which had the perfect white sand beach fringed with graceful palm trees. A gorgeous late afternoon was spent here, with Lorna painting some of the most elegant trees whilst Boo and Mary bobbed in the waves which were gradually turning golden in the setting sun.
Wednesday, 23rd February
A lovely early morning swim and a sunny morning’s sail brought us to Virgin Gorda and a place with the wonderful name of ‘Bitter End’. Here we went ashore and took a cab over the mountainous centre of the island, stopping at a breathtaking viewpoint to look down on miles and miles of azure and turquoise sea interrupted only by the occasional island or a boat cutting through the waves. Lunch was taken at Leverick Bay overlooking the sea after which we were collected by the hard working team of Boo Too and given the good news that Ashleigh had caught a fish, so supper was already well in hand!
We left Gorda as the sun was setting, sailing past Richard Branson’s Neckar Island whilst sipping champagne and feeling that we were beginning to understand very well how ‘the other half’ live! Scott was discovered in the kitchen preparing some delicious ceviche with Ashleigh’s fish. By this stage of the trip it was becoming clear that this Captain was truly a multi-tasking, multi skilled man and, as such, a very rare specimen!
An interesting dinner as the sea grew choppier and soup and food was served in mugs to prevent us throwing our meal all over the place. Even so it required considerable concentration to prevent us from doing so and Lorna finally gave up the struggle and lay down until someone brought her some of that wondrous elixir Stugeron, aka ‘sturgeon’. We then all prepared ourselves for the overnight sail to St. Barth’s : Lorna and Patrick were literally tucked into their bunks with canvas sides to stop them rolling out of their beds during the night, the crew slept in the saloon, Mary on deck keeping semi-conscious company with whoever took the helm. A night of exceptionally heavy sea traffic and, (for those who were not having to concern themselves with that but remained on deck) a very beautiful sky every time one opened one’s eyes, with a myriad of intensely bright stars set in darkest velvet. Later the moon appeared, turning the waves to molten silver sliding underneath the boat in powerful pulses – a magical experience.
Thursday, 24th February
Dawn saw us drawing near to St Barth’s and entering the main harbour escorted by Frigate birds and Grey Boobies. Some very large yachts were to be seen moored in the harbour of this very exclusive island. Exclusive shopping was to be the order of the day once everyone had fully awoken from their somewhat disturbed nights and been fortified by yet another delicious breakfast from Ashleigh. Sadly the Admiral awoke with a bad attack of gout so there was a mass exodus from the boat, Scott to Immigration, The Admiral and his lovely Consort to the Doctor and Lorna, Mary and Patrick to open the first volley upon the shops. This attack was sustained and additional support was obtained in due course from Boo whose tactics and expertise were considerable. The group eventually retired victorious but spent (literally!) to a lovely restaurant by the sea in a hotel called Isle de France which was owned and run by a Vicar and his social xray/ hippie of a wife. A beautiful place – all white and blue – with delicious food and pet iguanas trying to share it!
Friday, 25th February
Another overnight sail to Barbuda, this time cloudier and damper for those on deck as we were heading into the wind - but enjoyable nonetheless! We arrived at Barbuda just before lunchtime with the redoubtable Scott once more going off to sort out the necessary paperwork as well as seeking for a boat to take us to a renowned Frigate bird breeding ground situated on the island. The afternoon turned cloudy with a stiff breeze but, undeterred, the team disembarked from their magnificent craft and, nothing daunted, took to a tiny cockleshell of a boat manned by two locals and sped away across a lagoon which was not behaving in a remotely lagoon-like manner, proving very choppy indeed, as a result of which we all arrived at the breeding ground much refreshed and soaked to the skin! The experience was well worth the drenching as the birds were there in their thousands, the males seated in the mangroves with their gorges puffed up into immense scarlet balloons and the females circling overhead calling loudly or harbouring fluffy white young in the bushes beneath – an incredible sight. We returned damply to welcome hot showers on Boo Too followed by enjoyable drinks with an intrepid and interesting family from a neighbouring boat whom Oliver and Boo had met on a previous trip and who were sailing around the world with their young.
Saturday, 26th February
The girls arose to a gloriously sunny day determined to walk along the endless coral beach before setting sail for Antigua. It was well worth rising a little earlier than usual in order to walk along the strand of pink coral sand fringed by aquamarine waters, beachcombing for shells which varied in size from cowrie to conch and swimming in the sea’s perfect, glass-like waters. We could easily have spent all morning there but the Admiral was keen to set sail so we were scooped up by Scott and set off after a quick breakfast, vowing to return one day to the tiny hotel we had found there.
The sail to Antigua was really stunning with the boat leaping through the waves in the sparkling sunshine and all of us on deck enjoying every moment of it. We saw a whale fleetingly – a very exciting first for Mary - and several flying fish before anchoring off Green Island in Non Such Bay where we were greeted by a reception committee of dolphins. Going ashore we found jewel-like humming birds and several other types of brightly coloured finches in the bushes. After some gentle swimming we returned to the boat to find that it had been completely swabbed and all of us hurried to do likewise to ourselves for fear of letting the side down!
Sunday, 27th February
We arose the next morning to find the Captain submerged, looking for the steps which had detached themselves from the boat in the night. Happily they were finally found - a surprisingly long distance away, near to a neighbouring boat. Disapproving Admiral mollified by this retrieval! We then sailed over to have lunch at Harmony Hall, a lovely restaurant on a hillside overlooking a perfect cove. An old windmill tower gave us beautiful views over the bay and our stunning craft. A very jolly lunch with all three of the crew, after which we returned to our original bay of the night before for some evening swimming as the sun set.
Monday, 28th February
The morning saw us going to a beautiful little beach just beyond the reef where we swam and found numerous sea urchin shells in pastel shades. The girls then moved to another beach on the inside of the reef where we were quietly settling ourselves in for a Robinson Crusoe morning of painting, shell seeking and bird watching when an enormous craft came roaring towards us, right up onto ‘our’ beach and proceeded to disgorge a hideous number of great unwashed, lightly salted folk. It took a while for the men on our boat to stop laughing and to come and rescue us. We felt extremely spoilt retreating to our beautiful, exclusive Boo Too!
In the afternoon we sailed along the dramatic rocky coastline of Antigua arriving at the spectacular, fortified English Harbour where Oliver dropped us off to visit the old Georgian customs, trading and dockyard buildings which have all been beautifully restored. We then walked through into another world in the neighbouring bay where Falmouth Harbour holds some of the largest and newest yachts in the world – an impressive sight but only that – Boo Too has to be the perfect size! We learnt that some yachts staffed by as many as sixty staff would still only be allowed only a maximum of twelve passengers which has to be rather intimidating!
A flurry of packing was followed by the most sensational feast prepared for us by Ashleigh as our ‘last supper’. As the boat gently turned it was rather like being afloat in the middle of Manhattan, with lights shining out from those huge floating edifices owned by the billionaires of global renown. A huge contrast with the idyllic and peaceful nights spend in remote island coves!
Tuesday, 1st March
An early rise, with the sun, to catch our plane to Barbados saw us bidding farewell to the great trio who had made our time on the boat so effortless and so special. Having time to kill in Barbados we went to a lovely hotel called Coral Reef where we had a delicious lunch and walked in their beautiful tropical gardens. This interlude made us feel even better rested and refreshed especially as we were all easily several decades younger than any of the other guests there, which made us realise how thoroughly rejuvenated we had been by our fantastic holiday! A final taxi brought us back to the airport and our to overnight flight back to England which looked very grey after such a brightly brilliant time on the waves. Thank you Oliver and Boo for an unforgettable experience!