10 April - Movin' on from BVIs

Escapade of Rame
Richard & Julie Farrington
Sat 14 Apr 2018 18:36

18:19.3N  064:37.2W

On Sunday 8 April we re-entered Sir Francis Drake Channel, heading south towards Norman Island, where our friends Andrew and Kate were at anchor in Wildside.  It was another fine sail, with 15 – 20 knots on the beam and pretty flat seas in the sheltered water of the Channel.  It was spectacular, very like the Inner Hebrides, except that you could see the view all the time and there was only a limited requirement for protective clothing!  Mid-morning, I overheard a VHF conversation involving a yacht called Mina2.  My ears pricked up: she is an Oyster 485 owned by Tim and Maria Barker and they have cult status onboard Escapade: Tim has taken that boat from Antarctica to the Arctic on both sides of the Atlantic, recording their epic adventures in an inspirational, highly amusing blog.  When Julie and I were researching the purchase of a boat to do this trip, Tim’s ditties were instrumental in our decision to buy the Oyster.  I strongly recommend reading his work: you can find it at https://mina2.com.  I called him up: they were in the US Virgin Islands, not twenty miles from us, so we resolved to meet the following week to allow us to buy them a beer or two.

In the meantime, we skirted west of Peter Island, round Pelican Island and the Indians and into Kelly Cove where Wildside lay happily at anchor.  We had last seen them in Les Saintes, so enjoyed a splendid evening eating and drinking on their uber-comfortable catamaran and comparing cruising notes, defects, bruises and offspring! The following day we went snorkelling at a couple of sites either side of The Bight on Norman Island.  The Treasure Chest is a series of caves along a steep rock wall.  Here, the fish were busy grazing in the tiny crevices, reminding me of worshippers at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.  The colours of the rock and fish were enhanced by the morning sunlight and we were enthralled.  As we pushed south off the end of the promontory, we met the largest barracuda we have ever seen.  These are menacing fish and this one was about four feet long.  I followed him through the rocks until he led me into a narrow crevice, which I decided I was too wide for.  I circled round the top and there he was, braced to defend his patch, his jaws open and a fine set of molars on display.  Not able to reciprocate without swallowing too much ‘oggin’ and making him laugh, I retreated a foot or two.  After a respectable pause, he moved forward, past the stupid human with his bright red shorts and his silly facemask and wandered off in search of something smaller to terrorise.  Evil-looking thing.  I swam back to the dinghy without looking astern.


Unpolluted beachcombing in the BVIs

Later in the day, we swam around the Indians, a pile of rocks next to Pelican Island.  What a magnificent contrast to the morning excursion!  The area between the rocks and the island is quite shallow, but it deepens rapidly on the offshore side.  The underwater landscape was a marine version of the Garden of Eden – a fascinating collection of corals, grasses, marine fauna of every kind, texture and colour.  Plenty of fish – and then, just as we thought it couldn’t get any better – a leatherback turtle wandered into view.  Unperturbed by our presence on the surface, he grazed amongst the fruits of the Garden about ten metres below us.  We followed him for several minutes until he came up for air.  He had a good look at us (up periscope, all round look) before diving back to the seabed and the peaceful sanctuary of the deeper water.  We felt suitably privileged.

We could have stayed a lot longer, but we were keen to rendezvous with Mina2, so set off the next day over to Soper’s Hole on the western end of Tortola to complete customs and immigration formalities for the BVIs.  Soper’s Hole used to be one of the more colourful and quaint seaside villages in the islands but was hit hard in the hurricane.  It was good to see plenty of evidence of reconstruction underway, but a little surprising to find that the Customs and Immigration offices were languishing in a gazebo on a wrecked jetty.  We picked up a slightly dodgy looking mooring buoy close by and whilst Julie remained onboard in case it all parted company with the seabed, I attempted to get ashore in the dinghy.  Having scrambled onto the jetty, I found the officials sat around a trestle table with their papers held down against the wind by rocks of varying quality and size. 

They were as unfriendly and uncommunicative a bunch of people I have met since the rather scary Panamanian paramilitaries who arrested me some years ago.  I was unable to engage them in conversation and they threatened me with prison (again) for outstaying the declared period of visit to the BVIs.  I explained that we had enjoyed ourselves and decided to stay, had encountered some mechanical problems and had done a bit of hurricane clearance (I did rearrange the debris on Salt Island to make it look less grim) but they were impassive.  Almost reluctantly, it seemed, they let me off with a warning.  As I was waiting for about ten minutes for them to read the stamps in my passport, I sat down on one of the four vacant seats at the end of the table.  A very heavily built man with a t-shirt advertising that he worked for the Treasury Department appeared.  The Customs Officer mumbled something.  Twice… I realised that he was addressing me and asked him to repeat. ‘That’s his chair.  Move!’  I wondered privately whether the Treasury Man had swallowed his tongue with the burger he was relishing and needed his colleague in Customs to speak on his behalf, but I stood up quickly to avoid being squashed. 

Clearly experts in the art of minimalist conversation with the customer, I wondered if they resented having to work in a tent without walls whilst their brethren raced around the islands at the weekend in a brand new, shiny speedboat with three 300hp outboards on the back, no doubt claiming overtime whilst visiting the beach bar at The Bight?  I also wondered if their superiors knew that the ‘welcoming faces of the BVIs’ were quite so surly?  I wish I had a camera handy.

We left Soper’s Hole at speed, bound for the US Virgin Islands.


USVIs in the far distance on the left