Sunday, March 24, 2013

2030, March 24, Leverick Bay, Virgin Gorda

We have had a busy couple of days. I'll try to remember everything that happened, and fill you in.

We went through our checkout procedure at Conch, and it was very smooth and professional. It's interesting; prior to our trip we did a lot of research on the internet regarding the different companies. Generally, Conch got pretty good reviews, but there seems to be one guy that talks a lot of smack about them. It is kind of suspicious actually – one person, posting really negative stuff on multiple sailing forums. It almost makes me wonder if it might be a smear campaign from a rival company. I know that sounds a little cynical, but if that's not what's going on, then there is some guy out there with a lot of time on his hands that really has a hate on for Conch.

Anyway, the point of all that is to say that, in our experience, they have been very professional and above board with everything. The check out procedure was probably the most thorough, and efficient we've ever had (and that is on the background of having chartered 5 times previously on the West Coast of Canada). The boat was more or less exactly as advertised – not brand new and fancy, but clean, reasonably well maintained, and functional. Again, at least up to, if not exceeding, the standards we have seen in the Gulf Islands.

But enough about Conch. After the checkout, we hustled back to the boat, got everything sorted out, then contacted the front desk to say we were ready to go. It is kind of interesting how they do it – they send one of their staff out to the boat to take you off the dock and into deeper water. They say it is because it is very shallow at their base, and it's true, there is a really shallow sand bar right in front of where you come out. It is pretty easy to see though. I kind of think it is maybe because they save a lot of wear and tear on the boats by not having customers driving on and off of docks. Once you are off the dock there, you can easily do your whole trip without ever getting on a dock again until you get back (and they come out and help you do that, too). Anyway, the same guy who did our checkout came and drove us off the dock, and a few minutes into it, one of the other staff drove up in a dinghy, took him off, and we were away. It was funny, it all happened so quickly– the kids were up at the front of the boat, and when they came back, they said "Hey, where did that guy go?" I said, "He just jumped off, and he's swimming back to the base." The dinghy was gone so quickly, they couldn't see him any more, and the kids were a bit concerned for a couple of minutes until I told them how he really got back.

So, once we were out at sea, we set a course for Manchioneel Bay on Cooper Island. The reason we were heading there was because we wanted to catch up with Sara's brother Richard, who happens to be here with his family right now too. We didn't originally have any firm plans to "buddy boat" with them, but after talking a bit about it, we realized the kids would really have more fun with their cousins, and it is nice for us to have someone to chat with too. Also, Rich is a great sailor, with lots of experience, and he has already given us some good advice to make our boat go a bit faster.

Our first experience sailing the Leopard 43 was a bit underwhelming. The sail controls are not lead back to the cockpit, and it is all manual winches, so it is a fair bit more effort to get sails raised and things working right. Also, when we first went to raise the main, the battens repeatedly got caught in the lazy jacks if we were just a bit off straight upwind. It took a while to figure out that was happening, so there was a lot of raising, lowering, and raising the main again. All under my own power. I think I might be really ripped at the end of this vacation.

We finally figured it out though, and had a good beat up to Manchioneel Bay. We didn't sail for too long, since we had been warned it fills up with boats pretty much by 2:00 p.m. Sure enough, we got there just after 2:00, and found that there were only a couple of the 35 mooring balls left free. After putting on a bit of a show for the neighbours, we finally managed to grab the mooring ball and tie on. I like to think it was a show of excellent boat handling and poor mooring ball grabbing, but Sara might disagree.

We surprised Rich and Kim by showing up that night – they weren't sure when, or even if, we would catch up to them. They zipped right over in their dinghy once they realized it was us, and we quickly made a plan to go do some snorkelling  There is a nice little reef right by the mooring field in Manchioneel Bay, so we all headed over there and did a good long snorkel around. Alexander loved it, and Christopher's initial hesitation at all the fish started to disappear quickly as he saw some really great things. He was a bit worried about getting poked by one of the huge sea urchins we saw, but given that we were in 10-15 feet of water, he wasn't ever really close to any of them. Katie is still getting the hang of swimming in salt water – she doesn't really like the taste. Sara was quite happy to stay close to the boats with her – she doesn't really like cooling down in the water, so it works out well.

After snorkelling  we grabbed appy's and drinks on Rich and Kim's boat (a really beautiful 50 foot Voyage – definitely a step or two up from ours, but you really get what you pay for here in the BVIs). Then it was home for spaghetti, and a long, much needed sleep.

Today, we were up early, due to the anchorage being pretty windy and fairly bouncy. We headed off for "the Dogs", which are a group of rocky islands that are a national park here. There is no overnight anchorage, but lots of moorage, mainly aimed at divers. Since we got out ahead of Rich and Kim, we checked out the various moorage sites, but they were pretty wavy, with big swells, and not really good for snorkeling with kids. Finally, we picked up a mooring ball on the south side of Great Dog Island, and dinghied into the beach through a fairly tricky reef. Once inside the coral, the sand was great, and we all snorkeled the reef – it wasn't quite as good as the day before, but we still saw lots of fish that looked, to us at least, very exotic.

Off the mooring balls, we sailed north up along the east side of Virgin Gorda (the "fat Virgin). We had a great sail, with the tack taking us almost perfectly in the direction we wanted to go. This time, we got our main up with much less fuss, and things seemed to be working really well. Unfortunately, part way along, we noticed one of the battens (the long sticks that help the sail keep it's shape), was slipping out of the front of the sail, and was caught in the rigging. This meant it would be hard to lower the sail, and we couldn't easily tack without fear of snapping the batten off. It appears that one of the battens had been changed when the boat was in the charter docks (we know that happened, because they left the old batten sitting in the cockpit), and they hadn't properly seated the new batten in the pockets at the front and back of the sail. We finally decided to lower the sail gently, and sure enough, even though it bent a lot, the batten didn't break. After a lot of man handling, we finally seated the batten back where it should have been in the first place.

One of the other most exciting parts of the sail today was passing a really big sea turtle, just slowly motoring along. She went right by our boat, and didn't even seem to notice us.

Tonight, we have sailed into Leverick Bay on Virgin Gorda. We've picked up another mooring ball, and surprisingly, it is not that busy here. Still lots of empty mooring balls. In fact, the whole BVIs, while certainly busy with lots of boats, are not nearly as overwhelming as I had expected. Really, it is more or less the same as a busy summer weekend in the Gulf Islands. There are lots of other similarities as well. Island life and culture are pretty similar to the islands at home. Lots of small resorts which, except for the architecture and the staff, are very similar to the ones on the west coast of B.C.

Check out the boat in the back of that picture. It is called the Athos, and it has its own website. It is a 203' aluminum superyacht that comes with 2 laser sailing dinghies, 2 optimist sailing dinghies, two tenders, dive gear for 8 divers, and it is available for charter ( Maybe next year.

So, after a quick swim, followed by a trip to the resort for ice cream, and a dinner of steak and grilled vegetables (we finally figured out the charcoal barbecue), all the kids are tucked away reading in bed, and Sara and I are sitting at the salon table, planning the next few days, and blogging away.

Tomorrow, the plan is to rent a car and check out the peaks of Virgin Gorda, and the famous Baths. Hopefully we'll get there early enough to avoid the cruise ships.

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