5 April - Coopers and Baths in Sir Francis Drake's Channel
We sailed on Thursday afternoon for Cooper Island, renowned for its snorkelling and a rather nice looking beach bar which had only reopened over the Easter weekend.
We arrived in time to jump in the water and were rewarded with some of the best snorkelling since Tobago Cays at Christmas. Just to the east of the anchorage is a small rocky island where the seabed falls away quite steeply and the current pushes in from the Atlantic. Not much coral, but no shortage of colourful reef fish. I pushed round to the east of the island where, as I crossed a small ridge, I was presented with a wall of ‘sergeant majors’ – the small black and white stripy chaps you see everywhere. Here, they filled the entire gap between the surface and the seabed, like pulsating wallpaper with a vivid blue background. It was like swimming in an aquarium and one of the few places where I don’t think a scuba diver would have got much better value.
We went ashore to the beach bar for sundowners and stayed for dinner. Coopers has its own micro-brewery and is modelled on the classic American beach bar that you see from the Florida Keys up to Nantucket. They had clearly put in a huge amount of work to get things up and running after the hurricane. Interestingly, most of the staff were of European or Philipino extraction.
Cooper Island Beach Bar and Resort – beautifully rebuilt
I wondered how much money was flowing from here into the local economy, not least as the local newspaper was full of the debate in the Tortola parliament over the terms of a £300m ‘hurricane recovery loan’ from London. Apparently those chaps in Whitehall wanted to see the BVI accounts for the last five years (to see where previous grants had gone) and the establishment of a special agency to oversee the distribution of this latest dollop of cash. Seemed reasonable enough to me, but one or two local leaders thought very differently. The debate was printed in full in the paper; the result? They have accepted the terms and conditions – after all, they need the money very badly. It was clear to us that the majority of the reconstruction work in the BVIs was being driven by private operators with access to cash, manpower and raw materials. The pace of Government funded projects was markedly slower.
Anchored off The Baths, Virgin Gorda
From Cooper island we headed north, towards the remote island of Anegada. Enroute, we stopped at The Baths, a well-known spot on the south west of Virgin Gorda. Here, the usual volcanic landscape is dominated by some huge boulders which appear to have been dropped randomly from a great height and created a unique area of National Park. The Rangers look after it very carefully – getting ashore is a bit of a rigmarole involving rowing, swimming and wading – but it’s definitely worth it. We were lucky: there were no cruise ships visiting that day and the moorings offshore (you are not allowed to anchor in order to protect the coral) were half empty. We wandered through a wonderland that reminded me of the set of ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’, watched carefully by a large tribe of iguanas, but very few people.
Looking north across Sir Francis Drake Channel from The Baths
We could have lingered quite happily all day, but we were keen to reach Anegada before the sun dropped too far. We had an interesting chat to the lady who runs the little beach bar at the landings there. She told us that the bar had not been damaged by the hurricane as it was so well sheltered by the huge rocks. Her house, higher up on Virgin Gorda on the other hand, was trashed. She had some cash but could not get hold of raw materials or specialist manpower to help her rebuild. She was quite fed up and I can’t say I blamed her. An interesting contrast with the scene a few miles north or south at Cooper Island or Gorda Sound, where the more affluent businessmen had got themselves back up and running without delay.
Bathing at The Baths