January 2019 - BVI to Puerto Rico

1 January 2019 Jolly Harbour to Gorda Sound, BVI (Day 1)
The alarm went off at 06:30 and we were on our way at 07:00. It took us an hour to clear the wind-shadow of Antigua, but we were soon out into the 20 knot north-east wind. Our course was roughly north-west, so we were on a beam reach all day. The sea state was horrible with 2 metre steep, confused waves coming from the north-east, making us bounce about. Glenys made the mistake of trying to sit down below at the laptop and, after 10 minutes came up looking a little queasy, so she went back to bed for a couple of hours.

In the afternoon, the wind dropped down to 15 knots and the waves settled down a little, making it a more pleasant motion. We scooted past Nevis, St Kitts, St Barts and by nightfall, we were passing by Saba doing 6-7 knots with the wind just abaft the beam.

We had a very pleasant star-lit night until 01:00, when the first shower hit us. I was on watch and alarmed to see the wind suddenly jump from 15 knots to 25 knots in the space of 15 seconds. Fortunately, we’d already put two reefs in the main, so I ran downwind for a few minutes and then rolled away some of the genoa.

Gloomy approach to BVIs

The clouds built up for the rest of the night and the wind picked up to 20-25 knots, so by day break we only had a small scrap of genoa.

2 January 2019 Jolly Harbour to Gorda Sound, BVI (Day 2)
At dawn, we could see land and passed through the Round Island passage at 08:45 having averaged 6.5 knots over the 170 miles. It took us a further 45 minutes to motor-sail into the wind to Spanish Town. The anchorage is covered with moorings, so we picked one up – I believe that the moorings are free for day-time use and you only get charged for staying overnight.

It took us an hour to sort ourselves out and get the dinghy back into the water – not my favourite job after a tiring passage. We zipped into the marina and walked to the customs building, where the clearance was fairly straightforward – customs, immigration and the treasury departments are in one room at separate windows. It cost us $38 US to clear in.

We wanted to buy a permit for the Marine Park moorings, but the nearest place to buy a permit is at The Baths, which is too far to walk. The customs officer said that we can pick up a mooring and pay when a park office comes along. They didn’t know how much the fees are.

Now that we were legal, we did our usual task of buying a SIM card, so that we’ll have internet access. The Digicel office was a 10 minute walk up the main road from the customs office. I’m still annoyed that we have to buy a new Digicel SIM card in every country that we visit – this one cost us $55US for 3 GB for 30 days.

Anchored off Mountain Point

(I recently found out from another cruiser that you can purchase a €40Euro per month contract in Martinique, which gives you 40 GB of data and works in every island including the Bahamas and Puerto Rico. Apparently, you can cancel the contract after only one month. Of course, it’s too late for us, so we have to carry on buying a SIM card in every country…)

With our chores completed, we motored 6 miles upwind around to Gorda Sound, where we anchored at 18°30.37N 064°22.36W in 5 metres on good holding sand. We collapsed for the rest of the afternoon and had a quiet night.

3 January 2019 Gorda Sound, BVI
After breakfast, we took the dinghy upwind to The Bitter End Yacht Club only to find that it (and the Saba Rock bar) was wiped out in Hurricane Irma last year. Glenys chatted to the owner and she said that they hope to be back in business next year. We were planning to go for a 2 mile hike to the lighthouse on the island, but the paths have been neglected and are now too overgrown to use.

We returned to the boat, where we spent the morning planning what we’re going to do here in the BVI, which is mostly scuba diving. In the afternoon, I filled our dive tanks and ran the water maker, so we’re all ready to go diving tomorrow.

I read up on the Marine Park mooring system – it looks like Red moorings are for general use, Blue moorings are for dinghies, and yellow moorings are for commercial dive boats. We’ve still not been able to get a permit yet.

4 January 2019 Gorda Sound to Mountain Point, BVI
After breakfast, we upped anchor and motor-sailed the 6 miles around to Mountain Point where we anchored at 18°29.95N 064°24.81W in 10 metres on good holding sand. 30 minutes later, we picked up a red dive mooring just off the cliffs at Mountain Point and had a pleasant dive. We headed west down to 20 metres where the reef met the sand and then followed the edge of the reef heading north. At 100 bar, we headed back at 12 metres depth. We saw a large Spotted Eagle Ray, 4 nurse sharks and lots of friendly snappers – a nice easy first dive.

Flamingo Tongue

After lunch, we filled the dive tanks and made some more water – we’re using lots of water with washing down the dive gear and having multiple showers. We then went for a snorkel on the wreck of the Kodiak Queen. This was sunk by Richard Branson, who commissioned a huge, wireframe sculpture of a Kraken, which is grappling the bow of the ship. The ship was only sunk in 2016, so there hasn’t been much time for any coral growth, but it should be good in 20 years’ time.

The top of the wreck is at about 10 metres, so it was too deep to spend a lot of time there. After five minutes, we’d decided that it wasn’t worth doing a scuba dive on the wreck and went to have a look at the snorkelling over by the cliffs. We picked up a yellow dive mooring and swam to the shallower water by the cliffs which was interesting, with lots of fish and small molluscs called Flamingo Tongues.

5 January 2019 Mountain Point, BVI
After a quick breakfast, we headed over to the Dog Islands and picked up one of the two red moorings in the lee of George Dog Island. We assembled our dive gear and took the dinghy to a yellow “commercial dive” mooring at the south side of Cockroach island to do the dive called “The Visibles”.

We descended the mooring line down to 12 metres and then headed North West descending to 20 metres, until we came to the steep rocky reef of the Visibles pinnacle. We then followed the reef to the right, swimming into a slight current. The visibility was poor because of the poor light with overcast skies and there was a lot of particles in the water – not very good for photography, but there were dozens of Great Barracuda hovering in the current waiting to pounce on the huge shoals of grunts.

We had a nice encounter with four or five African Pompano, who swam circles around us for a couple of minutes. When our tanks were half empty, we retraced our route back to the mooring. I believe that you can come back via shallower water at the north side of the pinnacle, but I didn’t feel too confident in my navigation in the poor visibility.

Gin Palace Toys

After washing and stowing the dive gear, we toddled over to look at the moorings on Great Dog island. There are four red moorings and a yellow one at the Chimneys on the west coast and four red moorings and a yellow one at the south side. The south side is very exposed to the prevailing winds and waves, so looked to be very uncomfortable, which is a pity because there’s a sunken aeroplane there, which would be interesting to dive on.

We headed back to the anchorage at Mountain Point and anchored at the same place. It’s a lovely, well protected anchorage with a huge area of good holding white sand and thankfully no moorings other than the Marine park ones for snorkelling and diving. The main charter boat fleet doesn’t seem to come here because it’s nice and quiet, with no restaurants or bars, but huge power boats come and anchor further off.

It would be nice to say that the power boats come so that their guests can enjoy the peace and tranquillity of the anchorage, but unfortunately, they bring their toys with them. Huge inflatable slides are rigged, plunging 40 foot down into the sea and inflatable paddling pools shaped like “My Favourite Pony” float behind these huge gin palaces. Of course, smaller 30 foot tenders zoom about with guests wake-boarding or kids hanging onto inflatable tubes.

The latest fad seems to be motorised hydro foil wake boards – it looks like a lot of fun when you get the balance right and the board rises out of the water on the hydrofoil, zipping along at over 20 knots. They only cost $12,000US, maybe a belated Christmas present for me?

6 January 2019 Mountain Point, BVI
We woke to a grey, drizzle, but the sun soon came out and it turned into a lovely day. I filled our two dive tanks and we then dived on the nice reef off Mountain Point.
After running the dive compressor again, Glenys ran the water-maker, while I went for a snorkel near the cliffs. And then the day was over. This is a lovely anchorage and I’d quite happily stay here for another week, but we ought to explore more of the Virgin Islands.

7 January 2019   Mountain Point to Benures Bay, BVI
After breakfast, we sailed down to the Baths, which is a section of coast line where hundreds of giant boulders are packed together, creating passageways and caves.  We had a look at anchoring in Spring Bay, but the sea bed looked to be all rock and rubble, so we picked up a Marine Park mooring.  The Baths is a “must-see” in all the cruising guides, so there were about 50 boats hanging on moorings and scores of dinghies full of expectant tourists flocking ashore.

We joined the throng and took our dinghy to the dinghy mooring line - there are so many people visit The Baths that the Park Authority has banned any dinghies from going closer than 50 metres from the shore.   This means that after tying up, we had a 50 metre swim to the beach.  The beach was packed with people enjoying themselves, but rather than opting for a Pina Colada at one of the bars, we chose to walk along the trail which weaves its way through the boulders and visits a couple of lovely beaches.

The Baths, BVI

We had a fun couple of hours ashore and then sailed across to Cooper Island to anchor in Haulover Bay, which is a spectacular spot next to some impressive cliffs.  We dropped the anchor at 18°22.52N 064°30.66W in 8 metres on good holding sand.  Unfortunately, there was a large swell hooking around the corner making us rock and roll, so after 30 minutes, we upped anchor and set off towards Tortola.

One of the great problems with the British Virgin Islands is that all the best anchorages are covered in moorings that cost between $25US and $35US per night.  We don’t intend to pay anything, so we headed for Buck Island, where we last anchored in 2012 and remember it being very pleasant.  We anchored at 18°25.53N 064°33.73W.  Unfortunately, it was also very rolly.  By this time, we had 3 hours of daylight left, so we immediately pulled up the anchor and headed for Peter Island six miles away.

Key Cay was one of our favourite anchorages in 2012 and we had high hopes.  We arrived at 16:10 and anchored at 18°20.75N 064°35.82W in 6 metres of water over good sand.  Unfortunately, the swell was worse than the other two anchorages.  With less than 2 hours of light remaining, what were we to do? We could stay and roll our guts out all night or move again.

We pulled up the anchor with the intention of motoring back to Buck Island, which was the least rolly of the three anchorages, but then spotted that there weren’t many boats in Benures Bay on Norman Island.  As it was only a mile away, we scooted over and slammed the anchor down in the middle of the bay at 18°19.35N 064°36.33W in 13 metres of water.  I dumped 50 metres of chain out, it rumbled a bit, but held firm, which was good enough for us.  It’s a lovely peaceful anchorage, so exhausted, we cracked open a cold beer.