Charter Trip to the British Virgin Islands



 We’re off again to the islands in the sun.  Sandi Fox had spent the last month and a half looking for a boat to charter somewhere in the Caribbean that was affordable and finally found a 40’ catamaran thorough the owner that was a steal.  The boat is privately owned and chartered through Sunsail.

A 40’ cat would have been too much boat for the 3 of us, so we started looking for more people to join us.  Linda Chadwick, a friend of ours, eagerly agreed to join us.  Herb Wake, the owner of Twister and his girlfriend, Bonnie Ruleau also signed on.

On Tuesday, March 13th we drove to O’Hare and flew to San Juan, Puerto Rico and changed planes and then flew to Beef Island in the British Virgin Islands.  We arrived at Sunsail after a harrowing taxi ride over the East side of Tortola.  Our boat was not ready so we went to an outdoor bar and had cocktails while the sun went down.  Soon we were notified that our boat was ready.  Our boat turned out to be a 44’ four cabin & four head Leopard catamaran named Shazam.  This boat had a generator so we had air conditioning and AC power even on a mooring. It was so nice to have a toaster and a blender (although we never used the blender). We could never find frozen lemonade or limeade to put in the blender for frozen drinks. The boat included a pull-out refrigerator/freezer drawers and push button heads.  We were very spoiled.  Chilled champagne and fresh flowers awaited us in the main salon. We piled our stuff on the boat and changed our clothes & went out for an early dinner seated next to the freshwater swimming pool. Our waiter, Popeye said that he would have coffee ready for us the next morning.

After a good nights sleep, we awoke to a sun filled day.  We showered at the Sunsail facility and had a quick boat and chart briefing and we were off. Our first destination was Manchioneel Bay on Cooper Island.  We found an empty mooring and soon Linda, Sandi and Joe were in the water declaring the water beautiful.  Soon Joe & the ladies were off in the dinghy to Cistern Point to do some snorkeling.  They came back to the boat and reported seeing lots of fish and coral.

Soon the ladies wanted to go ashore to the Cooper Island Beach Club for a “fruit man drink” & I agreed to take them in.  Soon we were seated at a lovely patio for a drink. That evening we watched the sun go down over St Johns (one of our best sunsets as it turned out).  We grilled pork tenderloins on a charcoal grill & then played Shut the Box, a dice game that we all enjoyed. Our prize was winning miniature Hershey bars.

The next morning we tried to drop our mooring ball but our pennants had wrapped around the mooring during the night.  Joe jumped in the water & started to untangle the pennants.  It turned out to be a big job as we must have swung around the mooring all night long.  We launched the dinghy I went to help Joe.  Soon we were free and Joe & I got back aboard as Herb took the helm.  We were off to the Baths on Virgin Gorda & looked at the park moorings and decided to move on to Spanish Town not far away.  The cruising guide & the chart briefing both said that there were moorings outside the harbor at Spanish Town but we didn’t find any.  So we called the harbormaster on the VHF & we were able to get a slip.  Herb backed Shazam into the slip.

            We took a cab to the Baths not far away & Bonnie paid the park fee & we walked down through the boulders.  Hugh chunks of well-rounded granite were strewn around like children’s toys.  We had a late lunch at the Top of the Baths, a beautiful restaurant overlooking all of the Drake Channel.  The restaurant had a fresh water pool if you wanted a refreshing dip.

We cabbed it back to the yacht harbor for a nap & showers. Joe & I stopped & got a bag of ice and he bought me an ice cream; quite a sight to see Joe in a grocery store.   After our late lunch no one felt like dinner so we had hors d’oeuvres & watched the sunset over Tortola. Linda & Sandi wanted ice cream so we all walked to the foot of the pier & found that the grocery store had just closed.  We went to a nearby beach bar for a night cap.  Linda & Sandi found an ice store that was just closing and banged on the window & they reopened.

            The next morning we had cinnamon French toast at the dock as Sandi had carried cinnamon in her bag; delicious. We then headed for the Dogs, a small group of islands in the Drake Channel.  Great Dog was already full of boats so we went to George Dog where we were able to find a mooring ball.  Soon Linda, Joe, Sandi & I were in the water.  The snorkeling was a little disappointing after all we had heard about the Dogs.  We didn’t stay long and soon we were headed for the North Sound on Virgin Gorda.  As we motored east mega yachts from the Caribbean Superyacht Regatta & Rendezvous were racing west.  What a sight!  “Hanuman” a  J boat (138’long) Royal Husiman was leading and was one of the smaller boats.  We entered the sound & found a mooring at Leverick Bay.  Linda, Sandi & I took the dinghy ashore to pick up a few things at a small market & make dinner reservations.  Joe then took all of us to for a tour of the Sound in the dinghy.  Our first stop was the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda marina where all the mega yachts were tied up.  We saw Indio 100ft Wally, P2 125ft Peri Navi, Zefria 163ft Fitzroy Yachts, Salperton 147ft Fitzroy Yachts, Sojana 115ft Green Marine and Marie 179ft Vitters Shipyard.  What a site; one bigger than the next.  These yachts were really something close up.  The crews were washing the boats down fore & aft.  At the Bitter End Yacht Club there was a Swan Rendezvous complete with 100ft Swan’s.  Any place else & these big yachts would have been really impressive.  We got back to Shazam and went for a refreshing swim & then a fresh water shower.  Soon we heard Sandi yelling from the shower as we ran out of fresh water.  Herb & I found the valves to switch water tanks & soon we were back in business.

We went ashore & were seated at our beachside table (a large wire spool) placed right on the sandy beach.  Our dinner was a beachside buffet with barbecued chicken, beef brisket and fresh fish which was delicious.  After dinner we danced and had a few more “fruit-man” drinks.  Soon the moko jumbie dancers appeared.  Jumbies dance on long stilts & are as tall as 12’.  The show is like nothing you’ve ever seen and it ends with the jumbie’s falling in the freshwater pool.

            St. Patrick’s Day dawned with a bright sun & light winds and no green beer.  We dropped our mooring and headed for the gas dock & filled with fresh water, got rid of our garbage and got ice.  All was free with the paid mooring ($25).  We motored to Saba Rock (near Bitter End) and had breakfast aboard.  Linda scrambled eggs with bacon & toast. What a treat to have a toaster.  We all dinghied (Herb watched the boat) to the island of Eustatia to find a spot to snorkel.  As we got into shallow water we say a ray.  The ladies were reluctant to get in the water so we had a quick tour of the area which included Richard Branson’s Necker Island.  We returned to Shazam  & motored out of the sound.  The winds were light & right behind us.  We set a course for Marina Cay which took us through the Dogs and through the racing course of the mega yachts.  It was really something to see those huge spinnakers.

We soon fetched a mooring at Marina Cay.  Joe, Sandi, Linda & I went across the channel to Great Camanoe Island to snorkel.  We agreed that the snorkeling was good, lots of fish & coral.  Herb took the girls ashore & all were disappointed as the condition of the island was not as pristine as previously.  The Pussers store had the same stuff and Herb paid $11 for a Painkiller.  The new Scrub Island Resort directly adjacent to Marina Cay seemed to have taken its toll on the lack of business Marina Cay was generating.  Scrub Island is a very posh resort with accommodations for large mega-yachts. That evening we had tacos aboard, played a few rounds of Shut the Box & had ice cream.  What a treat aboard a boat.  Our freezer kept ice and ice cream frozen hard just like home.

On Sunday morning we left Marina Cay & had a short ride to Monkey Point and found a park mooring. Linda, Herb, Joe & I went for a short dinghy ride to White Bay, a beautiful anchorage on Guana Island.  It was breakfast time for the pelicans & they put on a great show diving for fish.  We went back to Shazam & snorkeled around Monkey Point.  Bonnie fixed an egg bake that was delicious.  Soon we were off to Cane Garden Bay.  Light winds on our stern forced us to power.  Just as we made our turn for the bay, down came the rain.  It poured for a short time washing all the salt off our decks.  We entered the bay and found a mooring. Soon the sun was out & I took the ladies ashore and got rid of our trash & made dinner reservations.  The girls then found a boutique and I went to the bar & had a beer & then another (nice boutique).  We then walked up the humid street to a grocery store & picked up a few things we needed.  We got back to the boat and a nap was in order for me.  Dinner ashore was fresh fish & rice.  We enjoyed our night cap of either Bailey’s or Sambucca on the boat and then off to a bunk.

            On Monday we awoke to another beautiful day & as we finished our breakfast, Joe spotted whales just outside the harbor.  We quickly motored out to where Joe saw the whales & waited.  Soon they breached the surface & we were all thrilled & amazed.  Not long after the first whale surfaced a calf appeared.  We slowly cruised around waiting to see the whales.  After a few minutes, the whales again appeared.  Soon the humpback whales began to put on a spectacular show.  Raising their flukes out of the water and slapping the surface with their tail as hard as they could signaling the other whales in the area to stay away.  Then they would jump out of the water & land with a huge splash.  Soon they swam off.  In my many years on the water I have never seen anything like it.  We then motored a few miles to Great Bay on Jost Van Dyke.  I took the girls ashore again to do some personal shopping and after finding a tee-shirt I went to the bar at Foxy’s to wait for the girls.  We went back to the boat and Sandi & I took the garbage to a nearby marina & got ice.

            Sandi, Linda & I took the dinghy to White Bay & the Soggy Dollar.  We beached the dink & soon we were sitting on the beach drinking Painkillers.  The sand & the water seemed so perfect.  The girls made me stay longer than we should; coercing me into another Painkiller while sitting in beach chairs with our feet in the water.  We enjoyed a light lunch & then re-launched the dinghy and made a slow trip back to Shazam.  We swam & had a fresh water shower on the after deck which revived us for that evening.  We ate spaghetti under millions of stars & after a couple of rounds of Shut the Box, I was off to bed.

            On Tuesday morning Linda was up making coffee as always.  It would seem that I lost my job as “coffee boy” as Linda was always up earlier than me.  We had a quick breakfast of bacon, eggs & toast. The fuel dock was nearby so we stopped for fresh water.  We then were off to the bight on Norman Island.  We powered as the wind was on the nose.  We got to the bight early & easily found a mooring ball.  The girls & I went to the caves & did some snorkeling.  The snorkeling was ok; not seeing as many fish as previous times but I did see a large barracuda.  Bonnie had sat and waited in the dinghy while we snorkeled enjoying the sun which in turn helped all of us get back into the dinghy.  After snorkeling we all went to shore for some lunch at the Pirates Bight, a beautiful beach side restaurant.  While waiting for lunch, Bonnie waded out and saw a small ray.  Back to Shazam for a nap and a shower.  No one was particularly hungry, so after a drink and few snacks we all headed for the Willie T.  The Willie T is an old lumber ship that has been converted to a bar and restaurant.  It was early when we got there and so we were able to get stools at the bar.  Soon the place was rocking.  We were dancing & the girls thought that it would be a good idea to get tattoos.  The bartender gladly provided the temporary(they hope) tattoos in a strategic place.  There is a waiting list to become a bartender at the Willy T.  I danced with a young lady who gave me her staw hat for dancing.  She and her husband were from Cincinnati.  Her husband has always wanted to sail the Chicago to Mackinac race. After several attempts we finally got everyone in the dinghy for a star filled safe ride back to Shazam.  The Willy T is always a fun-filled exciting evening. 

            We left the bight on a clear, warm morning & made our way to the Indians.  As it was early we had no problem finding a park mooring.  Sandi & I were the only ones that wanted to snorkel so we snorkeled for a short time.  The snorkeling was just OK as it was too early in the day and hard to see without direct sunlight.  We then headed for Sopers Hole on the west end of Tortola.  We opened the jib and had a leisurely sail.  We found a mooring near the shopping area & I took the girls ashore to get some groceries & sandwiches at a deli in the grocery store.  Since I lost my “coffee boy” title, I earned the “dinghy boy” driver for the girls.  After lunch Herb was good enough to take the girls to the Jolly Roger, a dockside restaurant to make dinner reservations & then ashore to do some more shopping (I don’t know what they need).  I took a well deserved nap & slept like the dead.  We had cocktails on the afterdeck and watched the sun set.  For dinner I ate most of a grilled Anegada lobster & then back to the boat for our after-dinner drink.

            In the morning Sandi & I took Herb and Bonnie ashore so they could take a cab to the airport & said our goodbyes; as they left for home a day earlier than the rest of us.  One more quick stop at the grocery store for drinking water and ice and we headed for Peter Island.  The winds were over 20 knots and on the nose.  We slowly made our way to Buttonwood Bay.  We had several cold rain showers during our crossing of the Drake Channel.  Once in the bay we quickly found a mooring and started to dry off.  We had leftover sandwiches for lunch and just sat around the boat as we continued to have showers and clouds covered the sun.  Good time just to relax & get caught up on my reading. Cocktail hour began early because of the rainy day & we had shrimp fettuccini for dinner.  I got stuck doing the dishes.  It seemed that Linda & Sandi used every dish aboard.  A Bailey’s for an after dinner drink and off to bed.

            The next morning we all woke up with a feeling of melancholy as it was our last day.  We motored a short distance and enjoyed the sunshine to Road Town and got the boat ready for our debriefing.  A young lady came out and we did a very quick run through of Shazam.

Soon we were headed to the airport and a quick trip to San Juan where we went through customs.  My feet had swollen up so I talked the TSA people in allowing me to keep my shoes on. They were very nice about it.  Apparently it has happened before.  A 4 ˝ hour trip got us into Chicago ˝ hour early.

            All in all a great trip.  I would recommend this trip to anyone.  If your sailing skills or experience are not what they should be, you can always get a captained boat.


Story by Joe McGauran