British Virgin Islands

The passage from St Martins to the British Virgin Island was the all-familiar downhill, stomach swilling, corkscrew, with trade winds blasting away behind us and a 3m Atlantic swell to keep the boat rolling from ear to ear. In a strange quirk, this leg was made a little frustrating because we went exceptionally fast. Favourable current, a soldiers breeze, a bottom as smooth as an apple pip and a perfectly burnished propeller all conspired to get us to our destination before we had planned to be there, in other words in the dark. A bit of a sod really; having spent 10 months trying to make the good ship go as fast as she could we now found ourselves trying to slow her down and to be honest we weren’t very good at it. Part of the problem was that whilst half your brain was saying we must slow the boat down or we’ll arrive before dawn the other, more dominant half, was screaming sod this for a game of cricket, go fast and we‘ll deal with the navigational problems of arriving in the dark when we get there. The result was a somewhat un-seamanlike reefing and freeing of sails every half an hour. In the end we weren’t far off and arrived in sight of land just as dawn was waking up.

We made landfall at Spanish Harbour, Virgin Gorda (Fat Virgin) in the British Virgin Islands. Virgin Gorda, which means Fat Virgin in English and was so named because Christophe Columbus felt that the profile of the island was very similar to that of a lady lying on her back. I suspect that he had been at sea along time when he named the island because we struggled to see any womanly profile and got nowhere close to seeing the nitty-gritty detail necessary to support a claim of virginity.

We dropped the hook in Spanish Town at 0815 in and amongst a blanket of unused mooring bouys which had been layed in such a way as to prevent if not hinder anchoring. The charge for these is a thoroughly nauseating $25 per night; it’s not rental it’s theft. We anchored. Poppy was soon inflated and we headed ashore to clear customs and explore.

We have described the Customs and Immigration experience elsewhere in the blogg but the BVI’s really takes the biscuit. We had arrived on the Easter weekend so not only was there the usual influx of visiting yachties but there was an increase of both holiday makers and locals travelling between the US and British VI’s. The Authorities had anticipated this increase and reduced staff accordingly. Every few minutes one of the officials would look up at the 2 hour long queue that had developed, sneer contemptuously at the idiots who had chosen to visit their islands and then return wordlessly to the tiring process of really pissing everyone off. The guy behind me had just arrived in a charter boat with 40 or so people he was taking out for a mornings snorkelling; except of course they weren’t going anywhere - incredible. In the end I could see he was getting so upset that I let him jump in front of me; a good deal because in return he gave me enough local pilot information to last several weeks, very nice bloke.

Finally, I approached the evil officials for processing and suddenly realised that I was a form down. Words failed me, the people behind me, who had been transformed in the 2 hour wait from nice laid back yachty types stuffed full of camaraderie to focused hunters, desperate to reach the glass kiosk at any cost; sensed my fear. They saw the opportunity for a quick and easy shortening of the queue and knew full well that I would be sent to the back of the queue if I arrived at the counter with a form missing - I was in trouble. At that moment my earlier good deed paid off when ‘very nice bloke’ saw the look of terror in my eyes grabbed the forms from behind the counter and threw them across to me for speedy completion. I filled them in at breakneck speed forging Selma’s signature for good measure and passed the post with 15 seconds to spare.

Finally, after 2 hours I was there. In front of me was the unsmiling face of evil-customs-woman so I said to her what everyone in the queue was desperate to say.

‘You are the rudest, most conceited and ignorant person I have ever met. Don’t you realise that the people you have been sneering at for the last 2 hours pay your wages and keep you out of the gutter where you undoubtedly belong. Would it hurt you to smile, say hello and apologize for the delay? Can you not exhibit the most basic of courtesies? Bitch!

Well, that’s what I was going to say, what I actually said was ’can I clear-in please?’ because I knew she’d just shoot me if I told her what I thought.

We had a quick window shop in the supermarket, gasped at the cost of everything and then returned to the good ship. That afternoon we mooched up the coast to North Harbour and anchored just inside the reef at a spot called Cactus Point. It was idyllic and we were on our own with our own private beach, it was really lovely and more importantly there wasn’t a mooring buoy in sight.

The next day we sailed 12 miles north to the sunken island of Anegada. The sail was blustery and when we arrived the anchorage was once again inundated with Theft Buoys. We anchored and wandered ashore to an island which is no more than 28ft above sea level. I’m not quite sure why but for some reason The Halsall’s didn’t click with Anegada; many people have said it’s one of their favourites in the Virgin Islands but for whatever reason we weren’t keen. In truth I think it was beginning to dawn on us that the end of the year was in sight, I was beginning to think about the trip back to the Azores, the kids were getting increasingly excited about seeing England and their friends and the picture perfect sights of the Caribbean were the norm; still absolutely lovely but simply what we were now used to.

We left Anegada the next day and sailed back south to the mass of islands and Marina Cay. According to the pilot this was the romantic haven of an American couple who bought the island just after the war and made their home there, the implication was they lived happily ever after. This version of the story wasn’t strictly accurate; in fact they bought the island, battled away for a few years trying to survive with little or no water and no sanitation and then got divorced. In any case we quite liked this tiny spot not least because they had a good bar and a highly entertaining busker called Michael Bean. Michael ran a rum drinking ‘Happy Arggg’ where all parties joined in the singsong and were rewarded for increasingly extreme behaviour with tots of rum. Of course the two are complementary so the more the audience drank, the more extreme they acted and the more they drank. I think it worked well by the end of the evening Selma and I were well and truly hammered. The situation had been made worse because the kids were winning rum tots right left and centre so Selma and I were drinking for four - still we did our bit. By the end of the evening Selma and I had exchanged almost all our blood for rum and I am quietly confident that had we died at that exact moment we would have been perfectly preserved forever.

We returned to the dinghy dock only to find that the usually impotent tide of a few feet had trapped the Poppy the dinghy under the fixed pontoon. No amount of pulling and shoving would shift her but it didn’t matter because the rum had given me an incredible clarity of thinking; no problem was too much and this one was a mere trifle … I would simply let the air out of the dinghy. Overwhelmed by my newfound analytical and problem solving skills I enthusiastically implemented the plan. In hindsight, perhaps I was a little over enthusiastic because by the time I’d finished the dinghy was barely floating and I had inadvertently created a semi-submerged death trap. Once again, however, the rum saved me because as well as gifting me with awesome clarity of thought I now also had the courage of a lion and jumped bravely into the dinghy. The effect was spectacular; the dinghy folded up around me, not unlike a giant clam consuming an unsuspecting diver and at one stage there was doubt from the small audience whether the modest amount of air remaining would be sufficient for both Poppy and I to stay on the surface. I persevered, however, and was able to shove the oars out sideways through the mouth of the clam and very slowly row the dinghy back to GSB. En route I had to repeatedly reject offers of rescue. I pumped the Poppy up and returned to the shore a hero and a better and wiser man. This said Poppy never forgave me for this further humiliating episode and was to run permanently away from home (again) only a few weeks later. As William Congreve probably meant to say in 1697, Hell has no fury like a dinghy scorned and Poppy had been badly scorned.

From Marina Cay we moved through BVI’s visiting Cane Garden, Sopers Hole and Jos Van Dyke, Peter Island, Norman Island.

After a few weeks we arrived in Road Harbour Marina, our first marina for several months. We needed to visit immigration to extend our stay. We wandered the half mile down the road to Customs where we waited whilst a ferry had it’s passengers processed and then finally it was our turn. We hovered around the entrance and finally someone showed modest interest and waved us at a woman sitting in an office. Although not immediately apparent it turned out that she was raving mad and in the late stages of a serious breakdown presumably before they pop you inti a secure home but this was not clear so we pressed on with our request to extend our stay. ‘Well you can’t do it here, you need to go to the other office … and they’re shut which means you need to leave now’. Bloody Hell Selma and I both thought - we’re going to get deported again. I then asked whether there was anyway round the problem - we really didn’t want to leave the BVI‘s yet. It was at this point that she went bananas. ‘JESUS CHRIST’ she screamed ‘YOUR NOT LISTENING TO ME’ and on she ranted. We cleared out and left but at least we had avoided deportation so a good result by all accounts.

The next day we sailed over to St Johns which ironically is where we were deported from on our last trip. It was a nervous group of Halsalls that tip toed into the all-to familiar customs building after a short, brisk sail from Road Harbour but they were marvellous! They were polite, helpful, informative, obviously someone, somewhere had realised twigged that these are the front shop of the USVI's for yachtsman, either way it was a pleasure. We stopped cowering and left with a spring in our stride.

For the next week we explored the familiar coast of St Johns. The US have also installed mooring bouys but these guys charge $10 which is not unreasonable and only put them in where there is a genuine threat to the environment.

After a week or so in the USVI's we decided we would check out a marina that perhaps we could use as a base when we split up. Coincidentally our visit coincided with Carnival in Charlottesville so we were able to enjoy the full
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