Sunday, February 28, 2010


We are in the lagoon now having entered through the bridge at the scheduled opening but not without some anxious moments. We were all queued up as the bridge tender is anxious to get everybody in as quickly as possible so he has you lined up and moving in towards the bridge. Well we were just entering the channel with one boat in front of us when the tender announced an emergency closure for an ambulance and we had to reverse out. I am still not sure which way Elephants Child goes in reverse so it was an anxious moment as we swung around at the mouth of the channel. However a few minutes later we were in the channel and through to the lagoon and the prospect of some calm water and a good nights sleep once the airport activities finished for the day.

There are 100s of cruising yachts anchored out and a 100 or so MEGAYACHTS squeezed into the marinas with their crews busy polishing and cleaning and primping their charges by day and telling “There I was” stories in the crew bars at night.

We have a few jobs to get done here and Iris says she will tackle the mast climb and the squirm into the confined spaces under the cockpit as we rig some halyards and connect up some plumbing.

I am still pinching myself over how lucky we were to get the perfect weather window to cross the Anegada passage. We averaged over 6 knots sailing all the way with benign seas and a nearly full moon. The Guru Bruce Van Sant says expect to motor sail all the way and we had a beam reach. We did bend our course to cope with the expected wind shift and it all went to plan. I am trying not to look smug but failing miserably!

Well, I must say the sailing from Virgin Gorda to St. Maarten was just amazing. John's calculation for the course was superb and the shiny almost full moon lighten up the wavy sea will stay in my memory for a very long time.

St. Marteen is very different to any of the BVI ports we have been before. A bunch of people, lots of shops and bars, people from everywhere speaking all kind of languages – its surely gonna be a fun week to hang out here. Maybe I'll even get a job driving a water taxi at the 30th Heineken Regatta next weekend! 280 boats are registered and it's definitely gonna be an exciting weekend watching the race.
The only downside here seems to be that I cannot hop of the boat for my morning swim - too many boats in the lagoon, dirty water and apparently some big fish! So we'll take the Dinghy to one of the beaches and have a look at the nautical flea market at Shrimpy's.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Arrived in St Maarten at 4 am

The Anegada passage has a bad reputation but we got lucky with a slow moving cold front and an accurate weather forecast which allowed us to ride the clocking winds down to St Maarten and we sailed all the way there. The old girl was flying with the dinghy on deck and a partially scrubbed bottom. 8 knots appeared and even reefed down for the night we were hitting 7 knots regularly. This was speed over the ground from the GPS and boatspeed would have been a little more as there is a NW current in the passage. Of course this unexpected passage speed meant that we arrived early and had to creep into the anchorage under moonlight.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Virgin Gorda to St Maarten

Well we are cleared out of Virgin Gorda and should be on our way down to St Maarten this afternoon. We expect to arrive in St Maarten on the Dutch side on Saturday morning after crossing the Anegada passage. We are riding a strong cold front down so may get some squalls and rain on the way.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Iris arrives from Germany to help me sail South

Although I am happy that I can sail Elephants Child by myself, on longer passages it is good to have some one to share the night watches and there are always situations developing that an extra pair of hands and a quick brain can sort out so I have been looking for crew to help me get down to my favorite cruising grounds further south and happily it looks like my crew problem is sorted with relays of people helping me get to Grenada via as many interesting spots as I can find.

Iris has joined me for a couple of months and will help me get the boat down to Antigua. It looks like we will be setting off on the first big step on Friday when we seem to have a favorable forecast to cross the Anegada passage down to St Maarten.

However we have been gunkholing around Tortola as Iris slows down from a hectic
life , a stressful journey to the point today when she said "I havn't seen my watch for a few days".

My little sailing adventure has already started at still home 'port' Frankfurt airport. The US Airways airplane was 2 hours delayed, which in the end lead to an 8 hours delay at final destination and extended my journey to 40 hours!
Luckily enough, John never seems to be in a hurry and welcomed me patiently waiting at Tortola airport on Wednesday night. It's always strange to arrive to a place in the dark, especially if it does as in this case include a dinghy ride to the floating accommodation.

However, when I woke up, I realized I finally made it and bright sunshine, incredibly blue water and a nice cup of coffee made by the captain himself were a great start into the day.

Our first joint destination was White Bay at Guana Island. According to the book, this is a private island (!) - wonder who's got so much money to live here. Anyway, looking at the beautiful beach is allowed, even walking on the beach and I had the chance to admire the beautiful diversity of fish during my first snorkel excursion. And this first day ended with a nice cold Gin & Tonic watching the first amazing sunset in the BVI. Difficult to top! Really wondered how the next 11 weeks and 6 days are going to be like!
Well, tonight, I actually completed my first week! Truly unbelievable how office stress, alarm clocks, snow & ice and short dark days just vanish so quickly... We have been doing short trips from one lovely bay to another, each with its own little charm and things to explore.

Even the very rainy and windy passage from Jost van Dyke back to Tortola was fun, since water and air temperature never dropped below 25C – and this fast old Lady carried us with some 7 knots over the waves.
Coming to speak of Celsius – I still have to get used to the mix of imperial and metric system that comes with being in the BVI. At least, now I finally remember that the chart indicates the depth in meter, the Tiefenmessgeraet does it in feet! Quite good to know to keep in mind... But John's being very patient and doesn't really mind repeating things various times.
The other thing I really have to get used to it is the prices for basically anything that can be bought. Though John had warned me, I still find it amazing that even basic things as milk, bread and fruit are easily twice the price from home. But every day, I care less (doesn't really help to worry, anyway). In fact, we are really happy if we manage to find some fruit and vegetable, preferably locally grown.
I'm so happy that John plays along with my Vegetarian diet and we actually seem to like each other's cooking and experimenting with whatever we do eventually find. In a real hopeless situation (the only, tiny supermarket at place only offered imported stuff from Puerto Rico and the US at and the very only local piece of vegetable, lying in the lowest corner of the fridge - was not for sale. Though, despite selling everything at ridicoulous prices, the nice lady from the shop gave it to us – for free!
This so far unseen type of Squash was actually quite tasty.
Anyway, the ordinary day is not full of supermarket experiences and the worries about the dollar prices is getting less every day – latest tactic is trying to think it's some kind of pesos currency.

So the days are mainly filled with long mornings, nice swimming, sometimes snorkeling, meeting nice people, relaxed conversations, explorations of the shore, nice sailings from bay to bay, some ordinary cooking and cleaning -

and just enjoying the life in 'island time'. Really, just what I needed!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

North Sound to Trellis Bay

Cruised over to Trellis Bay on Beef Island after a later start than I had planned due to a unoccupied dinghy rescue.

While I was breakfasting in the cockpit and watching the boobies fishing for their breakfast I ealised that the dot on the other side of the bay was about to drift out into the channel and seemed empty. A quick look through the bins confirmed it to be an empty dinghy so as no one else seemed to be taking an interest I popped over and towed it back and tied it up to the stern. Elephants Child was now a two dinghy boat, I was expecting a charter jobbie as they are renowned for losing dinghies but it was not the typical Caribe/Tohatsu combo but an Avon with a Honda 4st.

A call on the VHF bought no response and I was working on my second cup of coffee when a large RIB went past at high speed and suddenly swerved around to my stern.

It was the rather shame faced crew from a megasailboat on dinghy rescue patrol.

A dinghy line was passed over and a bottle of red promised as a reward.

As I was pulling the anchor up the bottle arrived and I was off making full sail for Trellis Bay.

Once clear of the windshadow we made 6 to 8 knots all the way but despite me fiddling with sail trim the autopilot seemed unable to cope; reacting slowly to changes in windspeed. I will have to get the manual out and see if there are sensitivity and speed settings to tweak.

It may have been that I was overcanvassed because once I rolled away the headsail it coped with just the main at 4 - 5 knots OK.

Trellis bay is chock a bloc with moorings and I just squeezed in on the edge of the mooring field but am sitting right by the airport exclusion zone.

Yes if you come in to Beef Island the pilot has to watch out for yacht masts. While they won't let you anchor there the charter boats charge through the zone regardless of aircraft passing overhead. 3 going through as I am writing this.

I wonder what the pilots guide to airports says about this.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Woke up to this as my new neighbor in the anchorage. As I sipped my coffee the garage at the back open up and equally futuristic tenders emerged. No winching a rubber dinghy over the side for this big boy.

A quick google came up with this

You’d be forgiven for thinking it was a freshly launched destroyer painted white just to intensify its stealth qualities, or a type of submarine. But the ship is, in fact, a new toy of reclusive Russian billionaire, 36-year-old Andrey Melnichenko.

The private mega-yacht is simply known as “A”. Being 120 metres (390 feet) long it cost its owner around $US 300 million. Melnichenko’s “war-yacht” is neither the biggest nor the most expensive yacht in the world.
What does make it different is its futuristic, naval design created by worldwide famous French designer Philippe Starck. From the outside the yacht does not look like a floating palace. Its aggressive streamlined look, with its axe bow and small superstructure, is reminiscent of the most advanced stealth warships.

I dinghied past the back on the way to a bit of snorkeling in my more modest tender and yes it is called just A and has Hamilton as it's home port. A high speed tender was circling the A and I got the feeling that armed guards might be the order of the day.

The water has cleared a little, the scuba crowd has been complaing about poor viz and attributing it in part to fallout from the Montserrat eruption but I think it was just the big swells that have been running recently but not today.

I spotted this a reef "Cleaning Station" The little yellow fish are nipping parasites off the bigger ones.

There was a queue of fish all waiting there turn.

I suppose there is a benefit for both sides, the little yellow guys get a meal and the bigger fish lose their parasites.

I watched for a while and it was clear that the bigger fish reacted to the attentions of the little cleaners, pain or tickling who knows. but there was no agression shown towards the cleaners by them.

Another spectacular sunset to finish of the day but no chance to check for the elusive green flash as I can not see the horizon.

Friday, February 12, 2010


I retreated from the western end of the sound when the swell started to build and had a close look at the sqare riggger at anchor in the sound. She is looking a little tired and needs a lick of paint but although a cruise ship I think I would like to be aboard when they make full sail and the captain says "Finished with engines"

At first I thought it might have been a conversion but a little internet research shows her to be purpose built and what a job they had. The skills needed for the masts and rigging is mostly gone but piece by piece, boat and shipbuilders, welders, turners and smiths in across Europe produced the complete upright and running gear – a bewildering and fascinating mixture of more than 13 miles of rope, steel wire and plastic cable. In the meantime, a sail maker in Poland produced 24 new sails and the masts were built at a Spanish shipyard.

Making sail is a labour intensive operation and while the crew has some powered winchs a lot of it is done the old fashioned way.

Any readers of this blog and people who know me realise that a cruise ship holiday is not something I desire but I would like to stand on deck and look up at that cloud of sails and hear the creaking of the rigging. It is as close as anyone can get nowadays to a tea clipper racing for the channel from the orient with a cargo of Earl Gray.

This is taken from their online brochure.

Back to the mundane I was polishing the brightwork in the cockpit when a tender from a nearby megayacht went past and I heard some one say " Oh look Elephants Child, what a strange name!" Now I don't mind, after all it is a little funny, but I am pretty sure they came from this boat.

All this polishing raised a sweat so I dinghied off and managed to find a spot away from the big breaking waves and came across a shoal of these strange and somewhat miss shapen fish but elegant little fish.

I need to get a fish book and look them up.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


I really like the style of the accomodation here

These rather nice ferry boats criss cross the sound all day and evening. Some seem to be free and they certainly respnd to a call on the VHF very quickly.

But while wandering around I came across this telling site.

A replacement strop waiting to be fitted

There are mooring balls everywhere in the BVI but quite a few are missing this part. It connects the mooring chain ar warp to the boat.

One parted last night at about 3 in the morning and there was much shouting and fending off of a runaway boat across the way. I looked out and saw it was well away from us so it was back to sleep.

Well the dink has a clean bottom and the antifouling means it should stay that way.

My old Johnson will not have to work so hard to get us up on the plane.

I should not have said anything about cruiseships because one arrived next day.

At least it has sails. However I am not sure that it has many passengers as it is quiet ashore.

I had a closer look at the accomodation and although well built and well landscaped they are wooden shacks with warped timbers and see through bits.

Some people might find it a bit of a shock considering the price. Basically if you have to ask you can't afford to stay here.

Mind you the really really well off rent Necker Island.

The island is Sir Richard Branson's home and favourite hideaway. He first purchased the island in 1978 and it opened as a luxury retreat available for private hire in 1984. Necker Island is now part of Virgin Limited Edition, Richard's portfolio of unique retreats. There is a team of 60 fabulous staff on island plus more than 200 flamingos who are all part of the Necker family!

Mind you the less well off are catered to as well. There is a special offer on at the moment for the Kiteboarding festival and a couple can stay on the Island on an inclusive basis for $25,400 for the week plus flights. Just the $3,485 a night. (GULP)

Had a sundowner with George and Joan on Sea Venture a CSY44 last night. They run a 'pick your own' apple orchard outside New York. They have owned their CSY from new in 1977 and know this area very well so I was picking their brains about where to go and what to do all night.

They knew Burt Kilbride and were reminiscing about the simplicity and profitability of his Saba bar and did not think the new incarnation was doing as well. They certainly have empty rooms. They were also saying that Richard Branson has purchased another island that is part of the sound with the idea of turning it into a Mega Yacht resort.

I am off exploring the western end of the sound today and should be anchoring off Bransons latest Island tonight.

Monday, February 8, 2010


This place is a bit special. After the production line tourism of the cruise ship ports this is bespoke and very very laidback. The rich and famous come here to get away from it all. Apparently I was rubbing shoulders with some last night, shame that we were all watching the Superbowl. How about them Saints then.

Although one nearby group was loudly critiqing the adverts and seemed to ignore tha actual game. My hero Brett Favre appeared in a ,real tongue in cheek, ad.

I was exploring ashore today and loved the layout and the landscaping, flowers everywhere without that regimented look.

Here is a bit about the history of the club and it includes a reference to another of my heroes Robin Lee Graham.

In the summer of 1964, the Hokin family visited Little Dix Bay and brought their 24' sportfisherman, REM, to explore the British Virgin Island's angling opportunities. They spent many days in North Sound, Virgin Gorda. The Sound was remote and quiet, much as it had been three centuries before, when the English pirates and freebooters, Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Hawkins, anchored in its shelter, planning daring raids.

The natural beauty of the Sound captivated the Hokins and during the sixties, they returned in the chartered ketch Tontine, and later in their own ketch, Alianora.

One year they found that a shorefront pub and five cottages, called Bitter End, clung to the unlandscaped hillside. Basil Symonette, a pioneer Virgin Island yachtsman, had built the place for charter captains and adventurous sailors. During construction, teenage circumnavigator and author of Dove, Robin Lee Graham, sailed into the Sound. He wrote, "Some people here at a place called The Bitter End are building a resort. They have found a really lovely spot and they've hauled in all the material they need." His stay turned from days to months as he lent a hand in the construction. The walls, windows and tiles he installed still stand in the resort's five original cottages.

Accommodations were rustic. Beds were made with paper sheets, and only cold water ran in the bathrooms. Evening lights were provided by an old diesel generator and water was collected on the roofs and stored in cisterns that doubled as cottage foundations. If visiting yachtsmen came for dinner, they were required to approach a long wooden pier and sound their boat's air horn. If Basil, the eccentric son of the last colonial governor of the Bahamas, felt sociable, he would respond by megaphone and the visitor would be allowed to come ashore and buy a meal. The evening would last until Basil would abruptly decide it was time for lights out and shut down the generator


Saba Rock used to be just a shack called Pirates bar now is a World famous tiny resort with award winning food. I will have to try their all you can eat buffet before I leave.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


Did a little boatwork and decided that when I haulout next I should paint the hull. It is a bit chalky and while it is purely cosmetic it needs doing.

The wind is dead south which is unusual but makes the trip to Anegada a downwind sled ride and the VHF was full of early morning chatter as a charter group played follow my leader past Pomato Point into Anegada. They are not allowed to go by themselves but must have a lead boat from the charter company to make sure they get the entrance right. I was half ways tempted to make the trip over but in the end laziness won out and I settled back to try some power lounging before a swim and Sunday lunch.

I dinghied out past Saba Rock into Eustatia sound expecting the swell to be running but it had one down overnight and it was only 1 - 2 feet. I took the opportunity to snorkle the drop off outside the barrier reef and found great shoals of Tangs and Blue Angels [ I think ].

I met another liveaboard out on the dinghy mooring on the reef and it turns out he is heading south as well. Perhaps we will buddy boat down to St Maarten. He single hands a 48 footer.

Saturday, February 6, 2010



It was a dark and stormy night when the Mail Packet Steamship Rhone came to grief on the rocks at the western tip of Salt Island. The captain had asked for full steam in an effort to drive the ship out of danger but the wind was too strong and when the rocks breached the hull the seawater rushing in caused a boiler explosion and the ship broke in two.

I had motored the 6 miles across to Salt Island keeping my eye on the new pump and it's repaired pulley but all seems tickity boo. Dropped anchor in Lee Bay and went off to snorkel the must see wreck of the Rhone. Again I was lucky as I was expecting queues at the dinghy moorings and underwater traffic jams at the popular spots but there were only a couple of charter boats on the visitors mooring buoys and no commercial dive boats at all. The water was empty of bodies and I had the Rhone to myself.

Flopping over the side of the dinghy into the water and I only needed a couple of kicks and there it was, iron plates, ribs and pipes clearly identifiable as parts of a ship. I was surprised by how little growth there was on the plates considering the 143 years of submersion in tropical waters. I am sure if I did not antifoul my bottom for 143 years there would be lots more growth than I saw.

Many parts were easily identifiable, here a gate valve, here an actuator arm.

It is no longer a ship shape, the plates mostly lie flat on the bottom, the ribs no longer attached to the keel. I wonder what this was, maybe part of the steam distribution system or a mast? Now the Sargent Majors school around it.

Ah Note to self point camera at fish! Gosh those eyes are scary!

I am anchored in a Bay off Cooper Island just round the corner from the Rhone and regretting my choice of spot as I seem to be betwixt wind and current and am dancing around my anchor at the moment, sometimes getting crosswise to the slight swell and rolling.

Still it was another spectacular sunset!

I am off to the Fat Virgin tomorrow and the delights of Spanish Town and the Baths.

Well the Baths was an interesting stop although a little overhyped by the tourist board methinks. I gave Spanish Town and Savanah Bay a miss as there is a big North swell running and the reefs at both sites are breaking mightily.

I poked my nose, in saw this and decided discretion was the best thing!

So it was on to North Sound and the Bitter End yacht club where I had hoped to pick up my boat papers.

Here is Elephants CHild anchored off Saba Rock the smallest inhabited Isalnd in the BVI, At low tide it measures 1 acre. The Bitter End is to the right.

Again I had fair winds and regularly saw seven knots even though I am towing the dink. It is too much hassle and time to move the engine to the rail and lift the dink on my own.

Speaking of dinghy engines what about this one, bet it was loud!

Now it is decision time, do I watch the Superbowl at Saba Rock or the Bitter End, It is tough out here having to make these hard choices you know.