Monthly Archives: June 2016

Making Lemonade in Montserrat

On the morning of August 3, 1997, Jay and I left the Miami airport for our honeymoon in Mexico. That afternoon, unbeknownst to us, across the Caribbean Sea, a disaster was unfolding on the small volcanic island of Montserrat. Positioned between Nevis to the north and Guadeloupe to the south, it was a vacation paradise, a place where famous musicians like Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney came to record music and relax. It had a picturesque seaside capital. It had 15,000 inhabitants, a medical school, bustling businesses, and farms that exported tropical produce. It also had an awakening giant.

Plymouth, Montserrat

Standing on the hillside above the exclusion zone, it is hard to imagine what Plymouth looked like before the Soufriere Hills volcano eruptions. What little is left between the scars of pyroclastic flow and lahar is buried waist-deep in ash. The skeletal remains of buildings can be seen above the surface of the wasteland, and the hillsides around the old capital are covered in houses slowly rotting as nature takes over in danger zones that were evacuated after a series of eruptions, the most recent in 2010. A hardened crust of new earth fills in the gap where a half-moon beach once curved along the southwestern side of Montserrat. Today the mountain resembles a sleeping dragon with smoke slowly curling from its nostrils and an acrid haze creeping down its back.

Soufriere Hills, Montserrat

Still standing, like lone sentinels, are two sugar mills from plantation days, reminiscent of the faros of Sardinia, ancient stone markers of a history slowly being effaced by powerful erosive and, ironically, creative, forces. A hotel stands on the outskirts, its pool filled with ash and lush growth, only the tiles and a ladder to remind one what it once was. The lobby of the hotel is filled with ash as well, and the roof is caving in, its supports rusting in the sulfurous rain and wind.

Hotel Lobby

Beside us stand two men who look with different eyes—eyes that remember what this place once was. “Here is the dining room,” says Moose, our taxi driver and tour guide. “This was a very popular spot. They used to have barbecues on the weekends.” Cecil had a successful business (he is still a master leather-worker), but now they make a living taking visitors like us on taxi-tours into the zones surrounding the volcano’s exclusion zone, or selling burgers and beers to people who take a day to explore the island. As much as we would like to gawk at this act of God close-up, the two men remind us of the unseen dangers. Entire houses were buried under the pyroclastic flow, and the roofs have dissolved, leaving a crust of ash one might fall through if he went snooping. There are also hefty fines for entering Plymouth, the old capital.

Cecil and Moose

Moose has to drive by his old place every time he takes people to this side of the island. He doesn’t say anything at the time, but later he talks about what if feels like to see his building. It was built to replace his original business in the old city. At the time, the volcano was quiet, and the exclusion zone was small. He was set to open on a Friday, but Wednesday, there was a government announcement, redrawing the lines to protect people, and his property was inside that new line. The village he grew up in no longer exists, wiped off the face of the earth by the volcanic eruptions. To talk to Moose or Cecil, you wouldn’t be able to tell that they are sad about these losses. Moose says the words “positive” and “no problem” so often that I begin to believe them. These are people who lost everything—sometimes twice—and did not flee the island. They continue to rebuild, to smile, and to welcome visitors. It made me feel insensitive to take pictures of their ruined city, but there is another way to look at the situation: if life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. And that is just what Montserrat is trying to do. “We cannot focus on the past,” insists Moose. “We must look to the future.”

That’s a difficult task for an island that lost two-thirds of its usable land to a volcano, ten thousand inhabitants who resettled elsewhere (mostly England and other Caribbean islands), its capital and both the agricultural and tourism segments of its economy, all virtually overnight. Only 19 people died in the eruptions, but the island lost a whole generation; as schools closed or became temporary shelters, families with children left the island to find jobs and stability elsewhere.

But the phoenix rises: Moose has a new restaurant, not far from the government dock where visitors check in with customs and immigration. Cecil pointed out places where the government is preparing to build geothermal power stations. A group of caring recording artists (including such names as Elton John, Sting, Phil Collins, and Mark Knopfler) held a benefit concert in England and the proceeds built a new cultural center, where their handprints, cast in bronze, are on display. A new town is being built in a part of the island that used to be wilderness, and boats are coming back to visit, anchoring in Little Bay to the northwest. And a big draw for the island is the volcano that both put it on and took it off the map.

Soufriere Hills, Montserrat

First stop on the tour is the MVO—Montserrat Volcano Observatory. Here, the volcano is closely watched by scientists, and anyone interested is educated. Every six months, vulcanologists from around the world meet here to discuss the state of volcanic activity and consult with local officials. At a meeting in 2010, the scientists were met with an ash plume as the dozing giant awakened again. Seismographs monitor activity in the earth, and GPS is used to show any subtle changes that may be taking place as the earth expands or contracts over the hot spot beneath the island. The before-and-after photographs on the walls of the MVO leave one breathless and wordless. The only thing more remarkable is seeing the devastation firsthand.

Plymouth, Montserrat

On Statia, one can hike into an extinct volcano, and on Nevis, one can bathe in springs heated by geothermal vents, but Montserrat has a living, breathing volcano, and it is a sight to behold. The island is often overlooked, written off since the disaster, but visitors have both something to offer and to learn. While tourist dollars help rebuild the island and a view of the exclusion zone reveals the destructive power of nature, talking to the locals uncovers an even more amazing phenomenon: the power of a positive attitude.

Bailing Out

We like to have contingency plans. The worst case scenario is usually imagined and planned for, we have backups for backups, and our travel itineraries always identify bailout points.

Yesterday we tried to go from Nevis to Montserrat. The weather we expected was wind from 90 degrees at 15-18 knots gusting to 20. Our only bailout option was a return to Nevis.

Like most catamarans, Take Two just does not sail well to windward. The sails will draw at about 35 degrees apparent wind angle, but we’re slow and make a lot of leeway. Speed reduces leeway. To build speed we have to bear away, but the increased speed brings the apparent wind forward again, so we bear away more. We reach equilibrium at about 60 degrees true, which is the number we use for planning. It’s pretty bad. Then there are the waves… We try not to go upwind.

The course from Nevis to Montserrat is 135 degrees, and with wind from 90 we’d only be able to sail 150, so we knew it would be an uphill battle. But the wind in these parts is seldom far from 90 degrees, it’s just something you have to deal with until you get far enough East. So we went out thinking we would deal with it.

The general strategies available are to sail giant 120-degree tacks that take us far out of our way and back again, to sail as close to the course as we can and then motor directly upwind for the final leg, or to motorsail the course (use the engines to provide the extra power needed to hold us closer to the wind).


Unfortunately, the wind we found was a lot stronger than was forecast, which seriously impeded our desire and ability to make windward progress, even with the engines. Motorsailing wasn’t going to work, sailing off the wind and then motoring upwind was going to be very hard, and tacking upwind would almost double our distance for the day. Once we were well clear of Nevis and confident we were seeing the real wind unaffected by mountains, a decision was needed.

On several occasions, I’ve felt compelled to apologize to the crew after days that were harder than expected. I did not want this to be one of those days. Ahead was a challenging upwind struggle to an uncertain anchorage dominated by an active volcano. Behind us was an easy reach to a calm anchorage with friends, a nice beach, and understanding customs officials. There wasn’t a reason why we had to do the trip that day. So 7 miles into our trip to Montserrat, I pulled the plug and turned us back to Nevis.

We rolled back into Nevis slightly abashed, but smiling. We were not defeated or damaged. So we’ll sit back and relax for a few days, celebrate Midsummer Day with our Swedish friends, and pick our weather more carefully next time.

The name “Take Two” is appropriate because it sometimes takes us two tries to get something right. If the first try doesn’t work out, we usually nail it the second time. But if it doesn’t work the second time, then in the immortal words of Curly, “If at first you don’t succeed, keep on sucking till you do succeed.”


Take a Hike

Known as the “Golden Rock of the Caribbean,” St. Eustatius, or Statia for short, was once the busiest trading port in the world. The reason was that the Dutch had turned it into a duty-free port. During the American Revolution, arms and gunpowder were smuggled through Statia to the rebelling colonies. St. Eustatius is a relatively small volcanic island in the Caribbean Netherlands. The island changed hands more than twenty times between the French, British, and Dutch, with the Dutch ending up with it in the end. Apparently everybody wanted it, but not enough to defend it well.


The island is about four miles long, with large hills at one end, and a huge volcano called the Quill at the other. “Kuil” in Dutch means “OMG, that’s a big pit!” Fortunately, it has not erupted for thousands of years. Because of the island’s relative roundness, it makes for very rolly anchoring. The official language is Dutch, so of course everybody speaks English. The island economy is dependent on fishing, small businesses, and tourism.

Dad needed to work, so when he and mom went ashore to check in, he bought some internet. They also scoped out the community, and mom bought national park passes to go hiking on the Quill. When they got back, we packed up lunches and waters, and had the usual discussion about which shoes to wear. For me, the choice was easy: sneakers or crocs. Duh.  Mom ate some breakfast, and Dad ferried us over to the island.

As we surmounted the cliff that surrounds most of the island, I noted aloud what a long way away the actual mountain seemed to be. “Oh, it’s only a thirty minute walk” mom answered. Unsurprisingly, “walk” turned out to be an understatement. Our route to the mountain, Rosemary Lane, led in a straight line for what seemed like a mile and a half at a 30 degree incline. Only at the top of this did the actual hike begin.

Rachel almost made it to the top of the lane before complaining that she was tired. Mom managed to cajole her to the beginning of the trail, where we took a short break. After lightening the water-carrier’s load a little, we started the hike to the crater rim in earnest.

The hike was long. Not particularly difficult, just long. The rim trail wound up the mountainside in such a way to make the route feel like it was uphill both ways. The entire mountain was heavily forested, so the view was limited. By limited, I mean nonexistent. There was only one break in the trees, high up on the mountainside. From over 1000 feet, we got a great view of Oranjestad, the only city on the island, and our tiny boat in the harbor. We paused for a moment to enjoy the vista, and then it was back to the ever-steepening trail.

Aaron, Sam and I soon drew ahead of the others. Empowered by handfuls of goldfish crackers, we reached the summit well before everyone else. Our chests heaving, we staggered over to the rocky edge, and looked down into the crater.  Boy, was the view worth the hike. The crater floor almost a thousand feet below us was densely forested. Steep rock walls rose up on all sides to form the rim. Off to sea in the other direction, Saba, another volcanic island, was clearly visible. We ate our lunch while we waited for the others to catch up.


When they did eventually reach the top, they were equally impressed. They ate their lunches, and we discussed what to do. Rachel was tired and thirsty, as she had drunk all of her water on the ascent. Aaron and I still had some steam left, so we opted to go down the path into the crater. Mom gave us an hour to explore before we had to come back. She also gave us dad’s nice camera to take pictures of what we saw, but characteristically forgot to show us how to use it. We took our still-half-full water bottles, and descended into the crater. The hike down was short, but steep, in contrast to the relatively gentle slope of the hike to the rim. Ropes were stretched between trees at irregular intervals, to provide support in navigating the treacherous terrain. A dense rainforest filled the crater, with huge trees over 65 feet high. Large boulders lay all around. Thick green moss covered everything, accompanied by the scent of decaying leaves.

We had not been walking long before we came across a simply huge banyan tree. I knew I had to climb it. Aaron plopped the pack down, and sat on a rock and took out the camera. I went over to the tree, and tried to find a route up it. I settled on a thickish vine, and started climbing. Shimmying up the vine in this manner forced me to practically hug the tree. I might add that I had neglected to put my shirt back on after hiking (we were hot). As I write this, I periodically pause to scratch at the itchy rash that has magically appeared all over my chest and arms. Oh well. It was a cool tree anyhow. After about five minutes, I got tired of watching Aaron wrestle with the camera from a height of 30 feet, and came down. We continued down the sparsely marked trail. Once we saw a lone goat cross the path ahead of us. The trail was a loop, so we ended up going back the way we started. We climbed back up the jumbled slope to the others.

They had spent the hour playing with a chicken that had followed us up (and feeding it peanut butter and jelly sandwiches). Rachel was at this point very tired, and making it very well known. I took the time to eat an apple and drink the last of my water. We eventually convinced Rachel that the only way to go home was to go back down the path, and set off. Sarah, Sam, and Aaron soon pulled ahead. I was more tired (yes, even I get tired sometimes), and stayed up at the top to rest and finish my apple. When I was done, I followed Mom and Rachel. Unfortunately, Rachel had decided to wear a dress on the hike, and there were lots of roots across the trail. We’ll just say she fell down a lot.

We noticed nothing new on the trek down. Same trees. Same rocks. Same chickens. And then we reached the road at the foot of the volcano. The walk down Rosemary Lane was arguably worse than the hike. At least on the mountain there was shade and some breeze. The day had started out cloudy, but had turned into a first-rate tropical scorcher. Mom promised ice cream to keep the fainter members of the crew going. Tired and hot, the hardy mountaineers staggered through Oranjestad in search of ice cream. The first place we tried, the Cool Corner sounded likely, but turned out to be a pub. Mazinga’s, however, a gift shop named after the highest peak on the Quill, had a cold-snacks freezer. Mom, true to her word, bought us all an ice cream cone while we waited for dad to pick us up in the dinghy. We had been gone all day, and had had a great time. Anybody who doesn’t believe me can take a hike.

Off the Beaten Path: Anguilla, Statia, and Nevis

One of the things we love about cruising is the virtually limitless options and complete freedom to choose. It’s also one of the hardest things to deal with. Unless you are decisive and have a clear picture of what you want, the questions “Where should we go? When should we leave? How long should we stay?” can circle round and round the chart table. As we travel, we learn our preferences, and as we discover what we love and don’t love, they become guidelines for future travel.

For instance, we have discovered that we don’t love crowded places. It’s one reason why we like to travel in the “off season.” If a cruise ship stops at your port, we will avoid you like the plague. If renting jet-skis is a highlight of your waterfront resort, we shall sail on by. If your beach is rated “#1 in the Caribbean” it is automatically not first in our book, because everyone will flock there to see if it really is the best. So, as we do in every other area of our lives, we choose the road less traveled, and have not regretted it for a moment.

Anguilla, British West Indie


Of the ten boats that left Gorda Sound the same day to travel south, ours is the only one that stopped in Anguilla. We had been told that Anguilla was expensive, that it had no support systems for boats (fuel, marinas, chandleries, etc.), and that “no one goes there.” Our ears perked up. We anchored in Road Bay at Sandy Ground, a little white sand beach lined with local boats and beach bars (Roy’s is our favorite). We made friends with a “belonger” who had moved to an Anguillian tax paradise, and had a lovely evening at the restaurant Veya and talked at length with Chef Carrie Bogar and her husband Jerry, who moved to Anguilla from Pennsylvania with their three kids ten years ago to start over. We found the locals to be exceedingly friendly and helpful, and the beaches rivaled those of the Exumas. It is true that Anguilla does not have support systems for boats, and that they have made their cruising fees prohibitively expensive so that the only way to explore the island is by rental car, and it does seem that people pass it up for more popular spots to the south. But it is also beautiful, the restaurants are top-notch (our favorite places were Ripples, Blanchard’s Beach Shack, and Veya), and rental cars and food stores are reasonably-priced. If one doesn’t mind staying overnight in Sandy Ground, Anguilla is not expensive or hard to enjoy.

Sint Eustatius (Statia), Caribbean Netherlands


Between St. Martin and St. Kitts, there are two little volcanic islands that poke their heads out of the sea: Saba and Statia. People often skip these two places because they are less accessible, have no beaches, and the anchorages are notoriously uncomfortable due to ocean swells. The wind blew us toward Statia, where we shared the mooring field with one other cruising boat, and had the entire volcano to ourselves the day we hiked. Statia is old-world, charming, and has beautiful natural areas to explore. One or two nights here is enough to get a feel for the place, go for a nice hike, and have a cold drink or an ice cream under an umbrella at Mazinga’s. The anchorage is very rolly, and there is an oil terminal on the northwestern side of the island, but all the same, Statia’s history and national parks make it a worthwhile stop.

Nevis, St. Kitts and Nevis


When we checked in at Bassterre, St. Kitts, we really weren’t sure where to go. Neither island had been on our “cruising itinerary,” but we needed a place to stop to wait for weather. I’m sure there are some interesting things to see in St. Kitts, but Basseterre is unattractive and uncomfortable, plus we had to dinghy past a cruise ship to check in, so we were already biased against it. A taxi driver in the crowded cruise ship shopping area attempted to sell us an island tour (right after a jeweler tried to sell us some duty-free diamonds), but we told her we were heading out as soon as possible, probably for Nevis. She said, “No—St. Kitts has more to offer! Nevis is too quiet!” That was all the encouragement we needed. And so we find ourselves in a beautiful place, with new boat friends, enjoying yet another great beach bar, and exploring the amazing history and beautiful natural scenery one finds off the beaten path.

Geography Report: Anguilla


Basic Facts

Capital: The Valley
People/Customs: Approximately 14,000 people populate the island of Anguilla, most are the descendants of African slaves, but there are a few of Irish descent. Anguilla receives almost 180,000 visitors each year.
Language: English
Climate: Average annual temperature is 81°, average annual rainfall is 35 inches.
Food/Farming: Used to export tobacco, cotton, and salt. A few local farms provide fresh produce to the restaurants, and there is some fishing and lobstering.
Government: Anguilla is a British dependency and has a governor appointed by the queen.
Currency: East Caribbean dollar or US dollar
Art/Music/Culture: Typical West Indian culture with a blend of African and British influences. Because of their dependence on the sea, they are known for their boatbuilding and racing. These churches can be found on Anguilla: Anglican, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, Baptist, Jehovah’s Witness, and Church of God. Holidays include the Annual Yacht Regatta in May, the Queen’s Birthday in June, and the Summer Festival the first week of August (Emancipation is celebrated on the first Monday in August, “J’Ouvert”).


Anguilla was populated by Amerindians about 3500 years ago, first by Arawaks, and later by Caribs. When the Spanish Explorers discovered this island they named it Anguilla, which means “eel” in Spanish, possibly because of its elongated shape. The first successful European colonizing attempt was made by the British in 1650. It has been a Crown Colony ever since, though England has thwarted a few French attempts to take control of the island. A plantation economy failed to develop here because of the arid climate, though there were some slaves imported to work the farms and salt ponds.

The early 1800s brought with it change and decline for Anguilla, which the British attempted to prevent by grouping it in with the combined colonies of St. Kitts and Nevis to make an associated state of the Caribbean. Anguilla viewed the effort as subjugation under the more influential St. Kitts, and revolted. They pushed St. Kitts police off the Island, and Britain, still commanding control of the three islands and apprehensive that the rebellion would lead to bloodshed, continued to try to reach a solution for two years. Britain finally agreed to drop the notion and leave Anguilla as a dependency. There were no fatalities throughout the entire ordeal.

Today, Anguilla is considered a tourist destination because of its upscale resorts, restaurants, and white-sand beaches, however, it does not have a cruise ship port or any marinas, like its busier and more-popular neighbor, St. Martin. Many people come here to have a quiet beach vacation.

Land Forms/Flora and Fauna

Anguilla is dry and hilly, most of the grass is overgrazed by the free-range goats that roam the island. Sea Grapes and Coconut Palms are abundant. Eighty species of birds can be found in Anguilla, including the bananquit and the green Antillean crested hummingbird.

Things to do

Take the ferry out to Sandy Island, visit some of the best beaches in the Caribbean (Rendezvous beach is #2 in the Caribbean), Scuba dive, go to Blanchard’s Beach Shack in Meads Bay or Roy’s Beach Bar and Grill in Sandy Ground, enjoy fine dining at Ripples or Veya (near Sandy Ground), rent a car and drive the island.


“Anguilla.” Random House World Atlas and Encyclopedia. 2007: Random House, New York.
Bendure, Glenda and Ned Friary. Lonely Planet Guide to the Eastern Caribbean, 2nd Edition. 1998: Lonely Planet, Hawthorn, Australia.
Hodge, Clemvio, Editor and Goerge and Selma Hodge, Founding Publishers. We Are What We Do in Anguilla: Official Island Guide, 2016.

Bitter(sweet) End

We spent a full month in the British Virgin Islands, and explored as many nooks and crannies as we could. We spent more time sailing our boat in that one month than we usually do in a year, as we crossed and re-crossed the Sir Francis Drake Channel, hopping from one island to another. Our last week was spent in Gorda Sound, where we enjoyed a safari truck excursion all over Virgin Gorda, an adults-only evening out with drinks at Saba Rock and pizza at the Pub at the Bitter End Yacht Club, and Hobie catamaran rentals with the crew of Abby Singer.  We checked out quite easily at Gun Creek and crossed the Anegada passage overnight to Anguilla, where we rest at anchor near Sandy Ground waiting to move south again.

Photo: View from Gorda Peak

Photo: Take Two + Abby Singer on Safari truck tour

Before we move on, I’ll take this opportunity to share our impressions of the Virgin Islands cruising grounds. If you have ever considered taking a sailing vacation, this seems to be the perfect place for either a crewed or bareboat charter. The place is swarming with Sunsail and Moorings boats, and it’s easy to see why. That said, I think we would have enjoyed the islands more if the anchorages had been populated with cruising boats instead of with vacationing novice-sailors. We are always looking for the quiet anchorage and the private beach, and that was difficult to find (though not impossible) in the Virgin Islands, especially if one cruises in the off-season.

We were also able to complete a couple of major boat projects: a full cockpit enclosure, jib repair, and a new stack-pack for the mainsail, thanks to Bob and Linda Phillips at Doyle Caribbean in Road Town, Tortola. When they said, “It will be done in three weeks,” they meant it! No need to readjust for “island time.” We had been told that Doyle was more expensive, but if time is money, then their punctuality is worth any extra expense. The only minor inconvenience was that we were required to go into Road Town every week for measuring, fitting, and installation, but it gave us an opportunity to re-provision and explore new anchorages. Bob and Linda are sailors and live-aboards themselves, experts who’ve been in the industry for 40 years, and really nice people. If you ever need any work done on sails or canvas, we highly recommend them for their reliability and workmanship.

USVI: St.Thomas and St. John

We stopped for only one night in the rolly anchorage near Charlotte-Amalie, St. Thomas, and then spent several days exploring the little bays on the northwest side of St. John, paying $30/night on National Park mooring balls (no anchoring within park boundaries). Our favorite beach was in Hawksnest Bay, but the quietest, calmest place was Francis Bay, where we had the pleasure of catching up with old friends Ralph and Kathy on s/v Simplicity. One can also hike to an old sugar mill and plantation from there.

Photo: Entering St.Thomas

BVI: Jost Van Dyke, Little Jost Van Dyke

We checked in at Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands and had lunch at Foxy’s, before moving around to Little Jost Van Dyke and anchoring near Sandy Spit. We hiked to the Bubbly Pool, where the ocean comes through a crack in the rocks to make a foaming swimming hole, but found that we came at the wrong time. The tide was low, the seas calm, and the bugs out. After swimming in Rachel’s Bubble Bath in Compass Cay in the Bahamas, the Bubbly Pool failed to impress. We did enjoy the one-palm-tree island of Sandy Spit because we had the beach to ourselves at the end of the day.

Photo: Andrew kiteboarding near Sandy Spit

Tortola: Cane Garden Bay, Road Town, Brandywine Bay, Trellis Bay, and Great Camanoe

We did not find Tortola to be the charming place we had hoped. After a night in Cane Garden Bay, where the beach is lined with bars and literally a thousand beach chairs (for cruise ship patrons), we sailed around to Road Town Harbor, where we were able to buy groceries at the Rite Way, get a sim card at Digicel, and talk to Doyle about our torn jib. We had no desire to spend a night in the commercial, loud harbor of Road Town, so we anchored in a small, quiet place called Brandywine Bay. There is supposed to be a lovely French restaurant on the hill above the bay, but we never made it. On our other two stops in Road Town to visit Doyle, we spent one night in Trellis Bay, where we enjoyed an evening at the Island Last Resort, and one in Lee Bay in Great Camanoe, a beautiful and quiet place we would visit again.

Photo: Cane Garden Bay

Photo: Brandywine Bay–goat in a boat!

Channel Islands: Norman, Peter, and Salt

These were easily my favorite part of the BVIs. Norman Island has Privateer Bay, with caves you can swim or kayak in, excellent snorkeling at the Indians, and a beautiful quiet place called Benure’s Bay. Peter Island has two deep bays with good snorkeling and a resort with a gorgeous beach. Salt Island is populated only by goats, but has excellent hiking with breathtaking views and the wreck of the RMS Rhone for a good dive site (see Eli’s post). We spent the night there and had the place to ourselves. We did not stop at Cooper or Ginger Islands.

Photo: Hiking on Salt Island

Virgin Gorda: the Baths, Savannah Bay, Prickly Pear, Gorda Sound

This is a place we could visit again and again. The Baths, with Devil’s Bay to the East and Spring Bay to the West, with their unique boulders and lovely beaches, never grow old. We stopped there three times and would go again. We loved climbing on, jumping off, swimming in the caves made by the gaps in between, and kayaking around and among the giant boulders. We also had lunch at the Top of the Baths, with its swimming pool and great view. Savannah Bay to the West, and Eustacia Sound at the far side of Prickly Pear Island in Gorda Sound are probably our favorite off-the-beaten path anchorages, though we have discovered that deserted places in the BVIs attract clothing-optional charters (see Sam’s post). Gorda Sound is a great place for a date night, small-boat sailing, or hiking to the summit of Gorda Peak for an amazing view. Rada’s restaurant above Leverick Bay is a great local place with reasonably priced food (the home-made Rotis are the best I’ve had).

Photo: At the Baths with (left to right) Sky, Aaron, Paige, Sarah, Eli, Sam


The sail to and from Anegada was brisk and fun; with a steady breeze of 20-30 knots, we were making 9-10 knots of speed with the jib and reefed main. We found low-lying Anegada to be very similar to the islands of the Bahamas, with its casuarinas, family-run places (Neptune’s Treasure), low scrubby interior, and deserted beaches. Our boys got a chance to do some kiteboarding for the first time, thanks to the patient instruction of our friend Andrew. We spent a couple of afternoons at the Anegada Beach Club (a shuttle ride from the Lobster Trap), a very-cool resort at the end of everything, and well worth the trek.

Photo: Anegada Beach Club

Photo: Eli learning to Kite

Traveling Buddy

“Buddy-boating,” or making plans to travel together, is a common practice among sailing cruisers. On a grand scale, rallies like the Salty Dog, in which dozens of boats leave from Hampton Virginia at the same time each fall bound for the Virgin Islands, are a kind of buddy boating en masse. And on the other end of the spectrum, every year in Marathon, the white board in the boater’s lounge fills up with people looking for someone with whom to cross the Gulf Stream.

There is a myth, I think, with buddy-boating, that there is strength in numbers. While that may be true in bad neighborhoods like the Northeastern coast of Africa, I’m not sure it works on ocean passages, where circumstances that endanger one boat likely endanger another boat that tries to come to the rescue. At best, traveling together offers companionship and someone with whom to celebrate upon arrival. Once reaching the cruising grounds, however, buddy-boating takes on a whole new look. Now a few boats band together and hop islands, chatting on the radio about pot-luck dinner dates and beach days, group-snorkels, and game nights. This is common practice among kid-boats, for obvious reasons. Frequently, the desire to congregate dictates the cruising schedule, and departure decisions are as affected by who’s-going-where as by the weather.

Being free-thinkers and having a large social group of our own (self-sufficient in all things!), we have often avoided this type of groupthink, fearing that we would lose our precious independence or be caught in bad weather by herding from one island to another. At the same time, we are not anti-social, and we love to get together with other boaters, so we frequently find ourselves accidentally travelling with other boats, and surreptitiously hoping to see so-and-so at the next anchorage. I think that has changed in the Virgin Islands.

We are a bit late in the season for a Florida-to-Caribbean run, so we find ourselves more alone than usual. The large group of southward boats we met in George Town seems to have spread out considerably, some stopping in the Dominical Republic for the hurricane season to finish the transit next fall/winter. Others are far ahead of us, well on their way to Grenada, and still others behind us in Puerto Rico. What we find in the cruising grounds here are charter boats—lots of them. With a 7-10 day itinerary, they are on the move, staying one night in each lovely spot before moving on. And so we find ourselves on the slow track with but one other boat: s/v Abby Singer.


We met Andrew and Summer and their two girls in the Exuma Land and Sea Park in mid-March, and met up with them again around Easter in Black Point, and left George Town on the same day in April. We arrived in St. Thomas the same day in May and have been hanging out off and on since then. They are a delightful family, and we have enjoyed getting to know them. Paige (13) and Sky (10) fit right in with our crew, playing games, doing art projects, jumping off the high dive, and playing music. (They even have dedicated cups that sit in the lineup with the other color-coded kid-cups.) The grown-ups sit in the cockpit and talk boat projects, philosophy, drink recipes, and provisioning. We have dinners together, go snorkeling, play cards, watch movies, go to the beach, and plan excursions. In short, we who have eschewed the practice in the past, are buddy-boating. However, because both Jay and Andrew remain fiercely independent in their decision-making and weather-planning, we frequently leave anchorages on different days, parting ways and rejoining elsewhere, allowing all of us to keep our individuality but also enjoy fun times with friends.



The Wreck of the Rhone

Over the course of our family’s snorkeling career, we have dived on the wrecks of several planes and ships. The most recent of these is the wreck of the RMS Rhone. The Royal Mail Ship Rhone sank off of Salt Island, BVI, in 1868 during a hurricane. Another mail ship, the Conway, also sank in Drake Chanel in the same hurricane.

As it sank, the metal steamship broke into two sections. The bow section fell in 80 feet of water, and is largely intact. The stern section sank closer to shore, in 25 to 70 feet of water, and broke into even more chunks. The largest piece, the very rear of the ship, is in 30 to 45 feet. Clearly visible in the wreckage is the gear box, drive shaft, rudder, and huge bronze propeller.

We were anchored nearby, and decided to check it out. We dinghied out to the wreck, laden with snorkel gear, and tied up at one of the numerous moorings over the area. We were joined by some friends on Abby Singer, who also wanted to see the wreck. We swam towards the buoy, looking for the debris of the sunken ship. We found nothing but rocks and a school of squid. It wasn’t until an enterprising young diver (me) decided to search in the other direction, did we find the stern chunk.

I made several dives over the main section, looking for the captain’s silver tea spoon, which was, according to our diving guide, resting on the gearbox. Unfortunately, I never found it, but I did find a large number of colorful corals and reef fish. I swam on to view other pieces of the wreckage, including the ship’s disco (with checkered tile floor intact), and the engine. The side of the engine was laid bare, revealing the barnacle-encrusted crankshaft and pistons as large as myself. It was weird to imagine that these rusted and overgrown pieces of machinery once operated smoothly.

The coolest thing though, was the prop cavity. Twenty feet deep, the area where the broken propeller used to spin left a cave that led under the hull and out the other side. The inside was coated in a dense layer of multi-colored sponges. There were also large schools of little brown fish with forked tails and bulging eyes, and five or six grouper.

I swam down and inspected it, weighing my odds of success if I went through. It wasn’t that far to the other side, only 15 feet or so, an easy distance (for me). But what if I can’t hold my breath long enough… Nah, I’ll be fine. I swam in. It was weird, the minute I went underneath the hull, the urge to breathe lessened, allowing me to leisurely swim through the prop cavity and up to the surface. I made several such dives. I don’t know why it’s so fun to swim under things, but I sure get a kick out of it!

The next day, Andrew on Abby Singer and I went back to the wreck, him because he wanted to get video footage of the ship, and me because I always want to go snorkeling. I swam through the tunnel a few times, and once again searched in vain for the Mystic Spoon. This second trip to the wreck no-doubt contributed to my advanced condition of TMF (Too Much Fun), but it was so worth it. The Rhone was even better the second time! Visiting it was one of the coolest snorkeling trips ever.

Rhone 1

Rhone 2

Rhone 3

Rhone 4

Rhone 5