Obsession with the Sea
Snorkel and dive right from the deck of this 10-pack charter yacht in the BVIs
May. 7, 2005 10:00 AM
We sank into the blue-and-white striped cushioned lounges on the flybridge deck, sipping our drinks and enjoying the warm, gentle breeze. The captain settled into the flybridge, and we headed southeast toward Cooper Island.
As we motored along, Capt. Gene explained that everything in the Virgin Islands is governed by the trade winds. Just about 20 miles from one end to the other, the islands form a large ringlet that protects Sir Francis Drake Channel inlet from the heavy seas, thus making it an appealingly calm area, perfect for water sports of all types (jet skis, however, are prohibited). The channel divides the islands in half, with the British Virgin Islands on one side, and the U.S. islands on the other.
After a short ride, we anchored in a deserted little cove off Cooper Island. We headed for the aft deck, where Pam Costa, the chef – and the captain’s wife – had laid out a feast of her special homemade Crispy Spiced Crab Cakes with Mustard Sauce. Capt. Gene, who also loves to cook, had risen early that morning and made French baguettes to accompany the meal. “I love good French bread,” he said.
Throughout lunch, the captain and his wife kept us entertained with their many stories. They have traveled around the world but, says Gene, “There’s no place better than this.” Still he has fascinating stories to tell about time spent in southeast Asia, Australia, Europe, Alaska, and the Bahamas. He told other stories about excavating wrecks and participating in search-and-rescue missions. I particularly enjoyed the one about Gene and Pam’s attendance at an underwater wedding. Gene’s diving instructor and her husband-to-be exchanged vows on their favorite reef in the BVIs. The bride wore a white diving suit with ruffles sewn on and a veil over her mask. All the guests, as well as the minister, gathered around in full dive gear, kneeling slightly to stay in place. A sudden surge made everyone sway back and forth for the remainder of the ceremony.
The next day, after our snorkeling adventure in the caves of Norman Island, we were treated to a picnic lunch that Pam had prepared. Capt. Gene loaded us into the tender, along with a picnic basket packed with a mushroom and spinach fritatta, salad, spicy tomato-basil dip, another of Gene’s baguettes, and of course, a bottle of crisp white wine, and headed to the secluded beach just ahead of where Obsession was anchored. The crew laid the food out on a tablecloth on the powdery white sand, complete with china and crystal. Chunks of ivory-colored brain coral anchored the cloth.
After lunch, we floated in the calm, rippling water and gazed back at the picnic setting, where the scrub-and-cactus-covered island rose up from the deserted shore covered with patches of sea grapes and boulders. When the captain picked us up, we lazed on Obsession for awhile, then snorkeled off the boat on the surrounding reefs. No one else was in sight. Yellowtail snapper surrounded the boat, and the captain also spotted a barracuda or two. I knew the striped parrotfish were present as I heard the now-familiar crackling sound even before I spotted them.
Later that afternoon, Capt. Gene dropped us off at one of his favorite island beach bars, Pirate’s Bight (see sidebar), where we sat on stools in the sand and watched pelicans dive-bomb into the water to catch their dinner. A few small sailboats belonging to patrons bobbed on their moorings in front.
When we returned to the boat, Capt. Gene surprised us with a basketful of conch fritters for an hors d’oeuvre. We had told him earlier that we had never tasted them so he had whipped up a batch. Dipped in batter and fried, they were served with kosher salt and mustard sauce, and various types of hot pepper sauce. Light and crispy, not greasy, I ate way too many. The captain said he had worked on perfecting his recipe for some time, but was kind enough to share it with us here.
Fortunately we had saved a little room for dinner on the softly lit, covered aft deck: Shrimp Scampi over Linguine Aglio e Olio, followed by Cherries Jubilee over vanilla ice cream. We barely made it to the cushioned seating on the bow, where we looked up and saw nothing but stars. The breeze had died down and there was silence but for an occasional splash in the still, dark water.
Snorkeling the next day in a calm little cove off Peter Island brought me face to face with a large parrotfish, his turquoise eye flickering as he passed by. The sun above caused waves of light to sweep across the ocean floor in fluctuating chicken-wire patterns. Tiger barbs with stripes of yellow and blue swam in and out of the coral reefs that lined the rocky shore. A school of fluorescent-blue fish drifted in and out of fluttering purple sea fans waving in the current. Giant cannonball-shaped coral was visible on the sandy floor below.
Obsession drifted in the clear turquoise water just a few yards away.
Captain Gene's Caribbean Conch Fritters
• 1-3/4 cups flour
• 1-5/8T baking powder
• 1/3t salt
• 1/3t pepper
• 1/2t curry powder
• 1/2t celery salt
• 1/2t onion powder
• 1/2t garlic powder
• 1/2t parsley
• 1 large egg
• 5/8 cup clam juice
• 1/3 cup beer
• 1/4 cup onion
• 1/4 cup red bell pepper
• 1/4 cup green bell pepper
• 1/4 cup celery
• 2 cups conch
Finely mince the conch and the vegetables in a food processor.
Mix the flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, curry powder, celery salt, onion powder, garlic powder, and parsley in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and mix until blended.
Fold in the conch and the vegetables.
Drop by spoonful into very hot peanut oil. When golden brown, drain on paper towels.
Serve with a variety of sauces.
To avoid typical airport hassles involved with commercial flights, and to save time, Mainsail also offers private air charters. Fly direct to the island where your yacht awaits, skipping large airport hubs. A waiting car will then escort you to your final destination
aboard your own private yacht.