Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda, BVI to Marina Cay, BVI: March 4, 2008

Conditions Preceding Departure: Wind has seemed to have calmed a bit from the previous months of “Christmas Winds” we had experienced on St. Martin. We’ve had a week of 10 to 15 knot trades out of the east/northeast with occasional days over 20 knots and some rain, but the weather certainly seems to be calming down. Our intended destination is Trellis Bay, Tortola (six miles across the Francis Drake Channel) to visit Martin, Leslie and their daughter Daniela, friends and past neighbors of ours in the JMC Boatyard, Marigot, St. Martin that were recently employed at a local art studio.

On the day we planned to leave, April 3, 2008, we woke to cloudy skies and gusty northeast trade winds. Sailing across the Francis Drake Channel in these conditions would have been effortless, but gracefully anchoring in a potentially crowded anchorage could pose some problems in adverse conditions, and I had no idea what to expect at our destination.

We prepared the boat for the sail to Trellis Bay and by noon we were hit by a 25-knot squall that lasted about an hour and a half. The wind clocked all the way around the compass toward the tail end of the squall, which resulted in the twisting of our two anchor chains (we set two hooks out anticipating the same wind we had in St. Martin), so when the squall stopped and the wind completely died, Preston had to dive the anchors to untangle them.

As we got the anchors in and the sails raised (about 3:00pm), the wind was so light that it did no good in pulling us away from being drawn by a current into the other boats at the anchorage, so we started the engine and pushed our way west out of the lee of Virgin Gorda. Once around the point, we picked up a light north breeze and slowly made our way across the channel. As we progressed, the wind increased to 12 knots out of the northeast, which put us at the mouth of Trellis Bay just before sunset.

Our exposure to the charter boat community in Spanish Town did not prepare us for what we were about to experience on the other side of the channel. Certainly The Baths (just south of Spanish Town) are a huge tourist draw, but the lack of “good” anchorages near them makes it more of a ferry destination than a charter boat destination. It’s true we had a few charter boats pull up beside us and tie off to the mooring balls, but due to the southern exposure of the anchorage and the few days of rolling that we experienced (though nothing near what we had lived through in Marigot Bay) there were often days where the moorings sat empty.

Not so in Trellis Bay. When we rounded the northeast point of Tortola, there was literally a wall of hulls against the yellow buoys (the airport southwest of the bay prohibits anchoring outside the yellow buoys – for some reason they don’t like masts in their take-off zone) blocking all access inside the bay. As we approached the line of boats looking for the smallest of openings we could squeeze our 50 ton vessel through, we were greeted with many cruisers on their decks with hands on there hips and shaking there heads in a, don’t-even-think-about-it sort of posture. We turned around and headed north to Marina Cay where our luck was not to change for the better; it was packed as well. We tucked up in behind the edge of the reef as close as possible, but the 15 to 20 knot wind and the resulting chop coming out of the southeast was barely thwarted. Also the fact that we had anchored upwind of two boats whose combined value exceeded $10 million prompted me to issue an all night anchor vigil.

Preston and Alexis took first watch while I pretended to sleep (I just knew I was going to hear those dreaded words, “We’re dragging!”), then Lauren and Sara took the watch until 2:00am (while I continued to pretend to sleep), then I took over until 8:00 the next morning, at which point an unexpected mass exodus of the charter fleet had begun, the two private yachts behind us being the first to leave.

The way the mooring balls work is the white ones are pretty much for the charter fleet (though anyone can use them) on a first come, first serve basis and cost around $15 per night. Unfortunately for us, they only accommodate boats that are a maximum length of forty feet (about half the size of us). Any colored balls are reserved for commercial use, owned by others, or reserved for dive boats. I had my eye on a big orange ball right up in the crook of the reef near the fuel dock, and luckily enough, a huge privately-owned catamaran untied itself and departed with the rest of the fleet. I asked Lauren to jump into the dinghy with Preston and ask the guys at the pump for permission for us to tie off (we’ve learned long ago, never send a man to ask another man for a favor, when there is a woman there who can do the job so much better). The guy at the pump’s response was more than gracious, “Yo beautiful boat would be da perfect fit tied off to dat der mooring, mon.” It ended up that it was the private, yet un-used, mooring ball of the guy who owns the island (and Pusser’s Rum), Charles Tobias, and ours for nearly two weeks for a mere $15 a night.

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