Our midnight flight from LAX to Miami, then on to St Thomas was happily uneventful. Flying intercontinental USA isn’t anything special, American Airlines are the Greyhound of the sky. Flying just isn’t like it used to be, absolute minimal service, any special requests, like being seated together you have to pay extra. They had us scattered all around the plane on the way down, and being a midnight departure, we paid to be seated together, after getting settled we all managed a few uncomfortable hours sleep.
Descending into St Thomas, USVI, we could see steep winding roads leading up to the colourful houses dotted irregularly along the hillside. Stepping out of the airport, the heat & humidity hit, oh how I love the tropics.
Next we had to take the fast ferry from St Thomas, to Tortola on the British Virgin Islands, was a bit more eventful, the stomach churning 45 minute crossing had us feeling we’d been in a steeplechase race. The swell was a decent size & the boat wasn’t about to slow for it. After clearing through immigration, we were met by Mike & Karen (Tim’s Dad & step mum). The kids were excited to see them & instantly perked up enough to walk the short distance to the hotel, drop off our bags and out for dinner before passing out for 14hrs!
Then next day Karen & I set off for provisions while Tim & Mike got the run down and technical review of the boat. We pulled out of port by 2pm, on our way. Our sailboat is a one year old, 44’ Jeanneau chartered from BVI Yacht Charters, Road Harbour, Tortola. Over the next 14 days we sailed & explored our way around the islands.
This was our 4th time here, the last time was 2016 for Mike’s 80th Birthday. Charley was 5, Jaxon 3, and before hurricane Irma had unleashed her full fury on the islands. Many of the resorts were wiped out and are still not near ready to reopen. The towns, schools & churches are missing roofs, windows & doors. Twisted steel, heavy equipment & vehicles now have trees growing up through them, and in the back corner of the harbours there is a floating boneyard of once beautiful sailboats, half or fully floating & rotting.
The people are incredibly resilient they have soldiered on, cleaned up as best they can. The economy relies on tourism, the monster cruise ships have returned & tourists swarm what resorts are open spending the much needed dollar. For a few hours a day they arrive on excursion boats to lay on the beach, cool off in the waters, shop in the stores and snorkel the dying reefs. While the masses come by ship, there many, like us, who come to charter, the catermarans out number monohulls greatly as they are stable, spacious and easy to sail. Mike & Karen had their own sailboat here, 40′ Benneteau for 10+ years to escape the cold Canadian winters. They know these waters well and have a great route that takes in all the best parts of the islands.
Boat life is pretty laid back and the days roll by quickly. Our routine of the day always starts with early morning tea & coffee, swim, school work, sail or motor to the next island or bay, swim, lunch, then swim swim swim before dinner. The kids are loving every moment, they are averaging 4-5 hours a day in the water, jumping off the swim deck, diving off the bow, snorkelling, diving down deep, playing imaginary dragon games. All burning up energy and generating an appetite that would amaze you. I am astounded at how much they are eating, burning and growing.
The sun sets at 5:30pm its dark by 6pm, but no cooler. We aim to anchor far enough from shore to escape the mosquitos and position to capture the breeze yet minimize the rocking of the waves. We have noticed that over the years, the bays are becoming increasingly difficult to find a good place to anchor. Private companies have come in and dropped buoys, this is very convenient for an easy tie up, but you have to pay $35 US per night, camping fees with no facilities, it’s a cost that can quickly mount up. We anchor when possible, I think we pick up a buoys 5 out of the 14 nights.
We eat very well on board, probably too well for the little amount of exercise we are getting, just as well we are heading south, I’d be afraid to put my jeans on right now! >< This of course is due to the daily fresh baked bread and delicious sandwiches. We are lucky to be able to bake, as supplies on the islands are very limited and rather expensive. Not to boast, but my bread is much better. For breakfast we have a mix of cereals, oats, granola, yogurt & fruit. Lunches are home made gourmet sandwiches. Dinners we make use of the bbq, so steaks, burgers, chicken & Cornish hens with fresh salads, potatoes with NZ butter & fresh cillantro, tomato infused rice and pasta dishes, yummy! Cooking below is hot work so the cold beer or gin & tonic is actually quite necessary. Bedtime is usually 9pm and sleep comes easy, the gentle sway of the water is all it takes to send me off, ok it may have something to do with the amount of sun & alcohol too.
It’s HOT down here, at 6am it’s a comfortable 23’C, but as the sun climbs, the mercury climbs with it. By 10am I’d guess it’s somewhere in the mid 30’s. Not to mention the humidity of what feels like 80-90%. Sometimes the first beer is cracked at 11am, not our normal pattern, as we don’t usually drink much, but a cold crisp beer on a hot morning while under sail at a steady 6 knots is pretty darn nice!
School work isn’t easy in the heat, so we endeavour to hit the books early so they can focus, each day we alternate between writing in their travel journals, reading and math. Jaxon prefers math over journal work and reading least of all. Charley is a fabulous reader, perseveres with math, but at this stage, journal writing holds little interest, but learning is constant and on many levels, the kids are soaking up great life skills.
On Jost Van Dyke we stumbled upon a local primary school’s cultural day. We are welcomed by the Principal to join in. The teachers & students sing the national anthem & songs passed down through the generation of how the people came to the islands and struggled to forge a life. Poems explaining the culture, spoken words of their national colours & meanings. We learn of local plants and herbs with their medicinal benefits. The children are all beautifully dressed in clean, ironed, school uniforms with hair neatly braided or tightly pulled back and speak with respect to the teachers. Unlike our schools where kids sometimes look like they slept in their clothes or haven’t seen a hairbrush in days, a lacking sense of pride. I’m not sure if it’s a school requirement, but here, everyone of all ages are proudly presented. We stay for lunch and taste local cuisine of this island, whole fish cooked in mayonnaise, dumplings and plantain. After lunch the kids enjoyed a donkey ride, before watching the students and teachers platting the maypole. The classrooms were neat and tidy, no glass in the windows, tarps hung ready to protect from the rains. The glass blew out in hurricane Irma and no money to replace them. On the walls hang the days lessons, nouns, math tables and handwriting examples, no desks to be seen, perhaps they too were lost to Irma. Back at the boat, after dinner we reflected on the day with the kids, and what they experienced.
We did take our kiteboarding gear with us, the winds teased bordering on 15km p/hr, we tried a couple of times to get out for a session. Our kites were just a little too heavy for the light winds. Anegada has a kite school & great beach to launch from, clear blue waters inside a protected reef for great flat water riding, but it just wasn’t quite blowing enough for us. There were a few foils out having fun on fast boards with small & light kites, lucky them. Green Cay, just had enough wind, launching off the leeward side, which wasn’t great if the wind died, which it did for me, and left me drifting off to the next island. Thankfully Tim cam to the rescue with the Zodiac. Tim did get out for a session but had to constantly fight to stay up wind. So all in all it wasn’t the greatest kiting experience, but would have been epic had the wind blown enough.
All too soon we were back in Road Harbour, bags packed and making our way to the airport. Entering BVI we paid $40 ‘environment tax’ and leaving we paid a further $80 ‘departure tax’. Our flight was delayed 3hrs, which meant we missed our connecting flight, and the start of a string of travelling challenges. Tim is travelling on a waiver, the border guards were unfamiliar with this and each handled it differently. Upon departing the USVI to mainland USA they separated us, sent Tim to wait a half hour in the office, and was questioned extensively. Finally they deemed him admissible and we were on our way. Arriving in LAX at midnight, the poor kids exhausted, but in good spirits, they slept 4hrs on the last flight. Super Shuttle had cancelled our ride down to Dana Point, days earlier due to lack of van availability, but with poor wifi connectivity in the islands, we didn’t get the emails. From Philadelphia I scheduled another shuttle, paid and confirmed I relaxed on the flight. Only that van too failed to turn up, so we stood, curtsied in LAX till 2am for a van to turn up. Exhausted and not impressed.
Ok, so now we are spending a couple of days with Rita in Dana Point, prepping for the next leg of the journey……