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Ladies' Yacht Charter Week in the BVIs
Close quarters promote a great experiece
By: Cat Schield
Feb. 19, 2006 06:45 PM
When I signed up to sail for a week in the British Virgin Islands with a crew of women I hardly knew, I would never have guessed that we would have enjoyed such camaraderie or that I would have learned so much. Not having previously vacationed aboard a boat before and never in such close quarters with five other women, I trusted an old friend of mine when he told me that I would share “good karma” with these co-workers of his. Seven days on a 52.5-ft Sun Odyssey called Pure Indulgence proved him right.
We met at the airport at the too-early hour of 4 a.m. for our flight from Minneapolis to St. Thomas. In an effort to become somewhat familiar with each other, we had met a few times for dinner and had wisely used our final meeting to plan meals and order groceries online. As three of us stood in the long check-in line, we speculated about whether Shauna would be joining our adventure. Since she had not taken a vacation in five years, there had been a wager among her co-workers based on whether she would go. There was $230 on the line saying she’d stay home. However when we arrived at the gate, there she was. I asked her when she decided to go and she replied, “At three o’clock this morning when my alarm went off.” A key factor in the decision was shoes: she had purchased three new pairs for the trip.
An uneventful though bumpy flight carried us far from the snow-covered tundra of Minnesota to the green-and-blue wonderland of St. Thomas. We were a 50-minute ferry ride to Tortola and an hour-long cab ride from our home for the next week. As I leaned out of the cab window and tried to snap pictures of the towns and coastline while our taxi wound along the road that snaked between the towering inland hills and the spectacular blue water of Sir Francis Drake Channel, I was struck by the uncluttered landscape that featured tropical plants and cacti, as well as goats and chickens.
Our boat was waiting for us at Sunsail in Hodge’s Creek Marina. My first glimpse of her met all of my expectations. At 52.5 feet, she was the biggest boat I had ever sailed on. All members of the crew, experienced or not, were pleased with the accommodations. There was a complimentary bottle of Pusser’s Rum and Painkiller mix awaiting us in the galley, but not all of the crew could wait for the captain to crack her seal so a quick run up to the bar brought back the BVI standard. I was determined to try the special drink of each island, and where better to begin than a blend of rum, pineapple juice, cream of coconut, and orange juice over ice, topped with freshly grated nutmeg. A Painkiller is ordered by number, one to five, with the number indicating how many shots go into the drink.
With the arrival of dusk, Amy hauled out two strings of fish-shaped lights and draped them on the boat. Not only would these lend a festive air to our evening happy hours, but they would also help us find our way back to our boat in a dark harbor filled with similar-looking sailboats after we had dined, danced, and sipped our island concoctions.
After a quick map briefing, we head out of the harbor. The BVI are known for their steady trade winds, great snorkeling, and festive entertainment. They are also known for their coral reefs, a fact made immediately apparent to me as our depth gauge in the channel showed us a mere six inches of clearance. We all breathed easier in deeper water and headed toward our first destination, Cooper Island. A storm off Cape Hatteras had pushed clouds and a misting rain our way. The quick briefing we had received on the boat had not prepared us for the way the mainsail tangled in the lazy jacks as we tried to raise it, and since our crew had not all sailed together before, we had to establish who should be responsible for what lines. However, it doesn’t take a boat full of successful type-A women long to sort things out and half an hour later we were tacking toward that evening’s mooring. We decided it was too cold for snorkeling and that we wouldn’t be girls if we didn’t want to see what the gift shop had to offer. Shopping for t-shirts and ankle bracelets proved to be thirsty work, and we adjourned to the beachside bar for Cooper’s Dreams, Bloody Marys, and Painkillers.
The next day the famous BVI weather reasserted itself except for one thing: we had wind – lots of wind. With Amy at the helm, we put Pure Indulgence through her paces. She topped out at 11 knots, which was faster than I’d ever gone in a sailboat, and the adrenaline rush carried us into the harbor at Jost Van Dyke and through dinner at Foxy’s. We shopped, dined, and danced – a ritual that typified the nights to come.
Around the north side of Tortola our girl carried us into Marina Cay and toward real showers. At the top of the island is a happy hour bar as well as some rousing entertainment with a pirate theme by Michael Beans. As the sun set through the palm fronds, I glanced around at our crew, lost in revelry, and realized that I had not expected to so enjoy the company of strangers. We were six: three single, career-driven women, and three single moms. What we shared was a passion for sailing and new experiences. Our differences made us interesting to each other. Our differences also made us interesting to others. We ranged in age from 33 to 53. Three members of our crew were born outside the United States: Shauna from Korea, Anne from Hong Kong, and Sonia from Sweden.
The trip wouldn’t have been complete without a trip to The Baths at the southern end of Virgin Gorda. For $3, a taxi takes you from the marina to the National Park. We arrived late in the afternoon and the sun cast a golden tone over the massive boulders piled on the seashore. The trail through the pile of giant stones proved challenging to follow, even for my companions who had been there the year before, but eventually we returned to the top in time for a refreshing dip in the pool before dinner.
Our time for snorkeling was growing short so we decided to go to Salt Island and the Wreck of the Rhone, a 150-ft iron ship that had gone down during a hurricane in 1867. It is a popular site for snorkelers and divers. Our trip wouldn’t have been complete without an opportunity to explore the salt ponds and settlement. Once an important source of salt for the British Royal Navy, today the sleepy island offers one of the most unspoiled and charming spots we had discovered all week.
As we motored back into port, remarking how the week had ended unlike it had begun – without wind or rain – I pondered how I too had ended my time in the British Virgin Islands as a changed person. A week on a boat with all women has brought with it an opportunity to recall old sailing skills, a chance to get to know some amazing new friends, and above all, the experience of waking up in the morning and going on deck to look out at the water, inhale the trade winds, and realize that wherever we went that day the sun would be warm, the rum would be flowing, and the food would be simple fare with an elegant presentation.
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