Moonlight Adventure

The story of our travels on board Moonlight, our Vancouver 36.


Monday 24th January 2011

Posted by yachtmoonlight on February 22, 2011 at 12:57 PM

Keen to start exploring the British Virgin Islands, we sailed round to Necker Island (Richard Branson’s private island) in the morning on Monday 17th January. Although it is a private island and boaters are not allowed to go ashore, there are a couple of anchorages around the island and it was one of these, close to the shore that we aimed for. We motored up close to the island and then around to one side where there was a very small space in between the beach and a reef that I’m sure Moonlight would technically fit in, but it look more than a little squashy to me and I thought on more than one occasion that we were going to end up parked on the beach.

(Necker Island)

We dropped the anchor and were fine where we were, but unfortunately the wind was blowing from all directions and being rather unpredictable, and we weren’t really far enough away from the reef if the wind completely changed direction, so we decided to give up and more to somewhere with more space and less scary-looking security guards glaring at us from ashore and talking menacingly into walkie-talkies.

We upped the anchor, headed directly across the channel and anchored behind a reef of the island of Eustatia, where I sent a message to Richard Branson via Twitter inviting him round for a cup of tea and a sticky bun. He didn’t reply, which was probably not a bad thing as we didn’t have any sticky buns.

There was only one other boat in the anchorage and it left shortly after we arrived, so we had the anchorage to ourselves which was rather surprising as we’d heard the BVIs were extremely busy. This all became clear when we looked at the chart that came free with our Cruising Guide to the area, which was marked with big red blobs to indicate areas that boats shouldn’t go, not because boats are not allowed in these areas but because they are deemed to be too difficult to navigate around. This advice is aimed directly at the huge fleet of charter boats based in the BVIs, which forbids charterers to go to these areas, and as I direct result of this, liveaboard boats can often be found heading purposefully for these place to escape the charter crowds! I have not idea why the anchorage we were in was included in the charter no-go area as it was easy to navigate to and easy to anchor, but the charterers loss was our (very peaceful) gain.

The water looked very inviting and as soon as we had anchored, we jumped in for a snorkel. Well, John jumped in and I climbed down the swimming ladder into the water one inch at a time while a torrent of expletives flowed from me as I felt how much colder the water was than we had been used to further south!

We swam over to the nearby coral reef, which turned out to be more reef than coral and inhabited only by parrotfish. And the occasional penguin.

There was quite a strong current over the reef and we were soon tired swimming against it, so we headed back to the boat for a rest and to chip the ice off our feet.

After lunch, we upped the anchor again and moved to Drake’s anchorage, named after the evil state-sponsored pirate Sir Francis Drake, who for some reason has gone down in English history as a hero, when in truth he was a git. Yes, he circumnavigated the world, which was rather clever but being clever doesn’t cancel out crimes such as murder, theft, piracy and slavery. I have never heard of a serial killer being let off because he can do hard sums.

Anyway, the anchorage was nice, even if the person it was named after was not.

John snorkelled again to check the anchor while I stayed aboard not wanting to get wet and cold again!

We had a peaceful and relaxing day the following day, reading and snoozing and popping up into the cockpit every now and then to have a glance around and watch boats sailing by, including a large three-masted schooner, some rather large powerboats and the third cargo ship I had seen in three days carrying cement mixers. Which was odd.

It was a howly windy day, but we were safely snugged up behind the reef and thankfully the wind calmed down a little in time for sundowners in the evening, which we spent in the cockpit watching the sun set, shoals of tiny fish jumping out of the water all around the boat and the ship carrying cement mixers heading back the other way.

On Wednesday morning we sailed downwind past a ship carrying cement mixers to Trellis Bay and found the hoards of boats we had heard about. The bay was full of mooring buoys and almost every one was already taken, not that we wanted to pick one up of course, we would much rather anchor free than pay $25 a night just to tie up to a buoy, but the number of buoys made it very difficult for us to anchor.

We found a spot close to the shore where we anchored about six inches away from the boat next door, in about 2.5 metres (Moonlight draws 1.8m, so this in itself was a little unnerving!).

We waited for the boat to settle on the anchor and were a bit concerned that we were too close to the boat next door, so we re-anchored, about eight inches away from the next boat.

Trellis Bay is always a popular spot, but that evening was the night of the monthly full-moon party ashore, which meant that as the day progressed more and more boats arrived and by the afternoon, boats were crammed into every spare inch of space.

We took the dinghy ashore and walked along the beach, which is lined with funky bars and a couple of interesting craft shops down to a small supermarket, where we paid an extortionate amount for two soft drinks to drink on our way back along the beach.

After lunch and a quiet afternoon on the boat, we headed ashore again in the evening for the full moon barbeque and party. We passed a charter catamaran on our way ashore which who had obviously decided to have their own barbeque aboard and whilst lighting the grill they somehow managed to set the steps at the back of the boat alight. They managed to put the fire out quite quickly, but I’m not sure how they’ll explain the resulting melted plastic blob where the steps used to be when they return the boat.

The barbeque was in full swing when we arrived on the beach, and we got a huge plate of fabulous food and a beer and sat down to listen to a reggae singer on one of two small stages.

We then had a walk around the beach to look at the beautifully crafted spheres that are stuffed with wood and set alight on the beach every month at full moon.

A band had arrived and set up on a second small stage and so we grabbed a great spot to listen to them, which was fine for the first couple of songs, until a large American couple pushed their way to the front of the gathering crowd and stood right in front of us. I soon saw them off with some rather loud ‘Oh how rude’ type comments, followed by a rather exaggerated sneeze, which combined with a well-timed handful of sand thrown at their backs seemed to do the job and they moved on to block out the moon for somebody else.

(The band!)

The band were good but the main entertainment of the evening turned out to be watching the Americans dance.

I am the first to admit that I cannot dance and therefore I don’t, which saves distress and discomfort all round and I am quite happy shuffling from side to side on the spot and may sometimes go as far as a little foot-tapping, but not being able to dance was clearly not a consideration when many of those around us were deciding whether or not they should.

The first spectacle was created by an extremely rotund American chap, who wobbled into the middle of the ‘dancefloor’ (the sandy space directly in front of the band), bent his knees, grabbed a buttock in each hand and then jumped up and down and occasionally round in a circle.

Seeing this as cue to for communal humiliation, the dancefloor filled up with further crimes against choreography, including a very skinny girl in a spray-on dress, who lifted her arms above her head with her palms facing forwards, bent her knees and then thrust her groin in and out whilst pushing her palms backward and forwards above her head.

Just as I thought I had seen the worst, another American couple appeared, wearing matching raincoats and matching leather sandals over matching white sports socks. The lady’s hair looked like it had been drawn on with a crayon (maybe it had?) and she had rather prominent front teeth/tusks, so I am really not being mean when I say that she looked a little odd. Her favoured method of ‘dance’ was kicking her legs up and down and thrusting her arms up towards the full moon whilst chanting. Her husband’s reaction to this bizarre behaviour was to dance around his wife pointing to her, as if she needed any help drawing attention to herself.

As you can imagine, we were feeling quite scared at this point, and left the music and dancing to go down to the water’s edge to watch the highlight of the evening, the setting light to some more wonderfully crafted wood-burning sculptures just off the shore.

(More firey sculptures)

It was a fun, if slightly bonkers evening.

We were up early the next morning as we had been assured by a lady in one of the shops on the beach that a bus picked up from the airport (five minutes walk from the beach) between 8am and 8.30am to take passengers into Road Town, the main town on Tortola. We got to the airport at about 7.45am and waited. And waited. And waited. Although we saw several taxis, we didn’t see any buses and finally gave up hope at 9am. We asked one of the airport taxis how much it would cost to take us into the town, but as it would have been cheaper to buy a helicopter, we declined and headed back to the boat, a little disappointed as we had been looking forward to exploring Road Town.

After lunch back on the boat we decided to take the dinghy over to a nearby reef to explore the snorkelling there.

We anchored the dinghy on a sandy patch near the reef and then swam hard into the reasonable current, so we could then enjoy a leisurely drift back to the dinghy.

The reef was teeming with fish and there were large rocks that reached up to the surface that were covered in Christmas tree worms, crabs and shoals of small fish. We found a large porcupine fish hiding under a ledge and a very hairy hermit crab inhabiting an old conch shell.

That evening we decided to go ashore to the tiny island in the middle of the bay, which is home to The Last Resort, a famous bar that offers cabaret evenings over dinner. The bar advertised a happy hour from 5pm to 6pm, so we tied the dinghy up to their small dock just after 5pm and headed into the bar.

A lady was busily laying the tables for dinner, and having to serve us (the only customers in the bar) was clearly a great irritation to her. She poured John a rum punch, which even at ‘Buy-one-get-one free’ was still the most expensive we have bought in the Caribbean and consisted of orange juice and half a pixie’s thimble of rum.

John asked if it wouldn’t be too much trouble to actually have some rum in his rum punch and she reluctantly poured a little more in.

We looked at the menu for dinner that evening but decided against eating there. Not only was it very expensive, but being the only people there, there was no atmosphere to counteract the grumpiness of the barmaid and we weren’t made to feel very welcome, so we finished our drinks and headed back to Moonlight for dinner.

It’s always a shame when a place that has a good reputation is a let-down, but such is life.

The bar used to be famous for its donkey, which would stick its head into the restaurant through a hole in the wall at some point during the evening. The donkey is no longer there as it apparently escaped one night, swam ashore and was never seen again. To be honest, I can’t blame it.

We left Trellis Bay the next morning and, as a lot of boats had already left straight after the full moon party, getting out of the bay was a lot easier than getting in!

Motorsailing round to East End Bay, we spotted a ship carrying cement mixers. Either there was a lot of construction going on nearby or we had stumbled upon a major cement mixer smuggling racket.

Like many of the bays in the BVIs, East End Bay was packed full of moorings, but we managed to find a spot to anchor in shallow water not to far from a small marina.

We took the dinghy ashore and headed along the dusty main road to a supermarket where we stocked up on groceries.

We carried on down the road a little further, only to find a bigger, cheaper supermarket just a short walk from the first!

John had a swim from the boat in the afternoon, but the water was too murky for my liking, so I stayed aboard the boat.

We had a pleasant evening on the boat and I spent a happy half an hour watching John catch and put out of the window a number of moths, before I told him it was the same on that flew straight back in the companionway every time he put it out of the window.

On Saturday, we decided to make another attempt at getting into town after being told that buses don’t look like buses, they look like taxis and even had a ‘taxi’ sign on the roof. How on earth we were supposed to tell a bus (that would apparently charge us about $3 each to get into town) and a taxi (that would charge us the income of small nation) we had absolutely no idea.

We found a bus stop outside the marina and waited to see what would happen.

The first vehicle that stopped was a minibus that had a taxi sign on the roof. When we told the driver we were wanting a bus he drove off, so we established that it was probably a taxi.

A few minutes later, a large bus with open bench seats at the back and a taxi sign on top stopped. We said we were waiting for a bus and the driver said he was a taxi but would take us into town for $10.

Utterly baffled, we hopped in.

Road Town was a strange open dusty town with lots of concrete buildings amid piles of scrubby rubble.

We found a nice winding backstreet that had several interesting shops and a nice café where we stopped for lunch and shared our patties with passing chickens.

(One of the chickens that joined us for lunch)

John was keen to visit the Pussers Rum store, which was advertising great deals on John’s favourite rum, which was the original rum brewed for the British Navy.

The bottles of rum were very cheap, but John was gutted to find that it wasn’t the same Pussers rum that we buy back in England, but a weaker version of it. The ladies in the shop came up with lots of excuses why this was the case, one of which was that they had weakened the rum as they had received complaints that it was too strong!

Even though the store was the home of Pussers, which was traditionally brewed in the BVIs (although it is now brewed in Barbados), the proper stuff wasn’t available to buy in the shop at all, even though it was served in the attached pub!

The shop did have some other nice things for sale though and John bought a fabulous rum decanter and we each bought a metal mug with the Pussers logo on, so although John was disappointed not to be able to buy the rum he wanted, we still got some goodies to take home with us, along with a free bottle of the weaker rum that came with the decanter.

(John outside the Pussers store and pub)

I had seen an advert in a local magazine for a shop that sold all things British, so we went to find this and I was disproportionally thrilled to find Walkers prawn cocktail crisps and a copy of the previous week’s Sunday Times, and John treated himself to a can of Tetleys beer.

We popped into a small dive shop nearby and got a great deal on three days of diving, which we booked for the following week and then we headed out of town in the vague direction we wanted to go to find a bus stop, which we found after about a quarter of a mile walk.

Within a few minutes of waiting at the bus stop, a minibus very similar to the one that said it was a taxi when we were trying to get into town stopped and the driver said it was a bus and he would take us back to East End Bay for $3 each.

The bus ventured off the main road and up into the hills, giving us fabulous views down the island to the coast. The very pleasant and chatty driver explained that he needed to drop one of his passengers off this way and that it wouldn’t be much of a diversion but we were very happy to go via the scenic route rather than the main road.

Back on the boat, we dropped off our shopping before heading back ashore again a couple of times to collect diesel from the nearby petrol station and I made use of the large book swap in the marina office.

Once the boat’s fuel tank was full, we settled down with sundowners in the cockpit after quite a tiring day!

On Sunday morning we headed round to Great Harbour off Peter Island and anchored behind Mike and Bet aboard Papageno. It was quite a large bay with lots of space in the shallower water close to the shore all around the bay, so there was lots of space to anchor.

(Great HArbour anchorage)

After anchoring, we had a snorkel around the boat in very clear and very cold water and found we had been adopted by a remora, which was enjoying the shade underneath the boat and swam up to have a look at us when we got in the water.

(Ronnie the remora)

Venturing over some rocks near the shore, we found a very curious Porcupine fish who seemed just as interested in us and we were in him and kept swimming out of its hole between some rocks to look us over before becoming shy and swimming back in again.

(The friendly porcupine fish)

On the way back to the boat, we spotted a small turtle swimming across the sea grass which was littered with conch of all sizes which we couldn’t take as a fishing license is required to take anything from the sea in the BVIs.

We enjoyed the snorkel so much we had another swim after lunch.

Mike and Bet joined us aboard Moonlight for drinks in the evening and we had a peaceful night in the very quiet anchorage.

This morning, Mike and Bet picked us up in their dinghy in the morning and we all headed ashore for a walk on Peter Island.

The island is home to a very posh resort and not a lot else and we walked up a steep road that let up to some of the resort’s villas and enjoyed some fabulous views down to the sea and across to some of the other nearby islands.

(The view from Peter Island)

We found a very welcome bench and sat to enjoy the view along with a cup of chilled water from a large dispenser next to the bench!

(A welcome break, with chilled water!)

Back down the hill we wandered into the resort for a peak around and while the boys enjoyed a seat in the open bar area, Bet and I had a browse around a small boutique but decided against the $200 swimming costumes (who on earth would pay $200 for a swimming costume???).

(At the posh resort on Peter Island)

We walked back along a beautiful white sandy beach and dinghied back to Moonlight where we jumped in for a swim with Ronnie our pet remora, who was still lounging under the boat, before heading over to another part of the shoreline rocks where we found a scrawled filefish, a shoal of ballyhoos and lots of flamingo tongues.

(A flamingo tongue on a seafan)

We spent another very pleasant evening with Mike and Bet aboard Papageno and had an early night in preparation for the three days of diving that we had planned from the next morning.

Categories: The Caribbean

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1 Comment

Reply Mum
3:46 PM on February 22, 2011 
Wow! What stunning pics:-)